Lifting the Lid on the World of the Concert Pianist
Interviews With Concert Pianists by Michael Johnson & Frances Wilson

Pianists have an aura of mystique. More often than not, alone on the stage with just that box of wood and wires for company, stretched before the performer like a sleek black limousine, pianists seem more removed, almost other-worldly than other classical musicians.

Lifting the Lid book cover

There is a great curiosity about what classical musicians do, not just life on the concert platform – the visible, public aspect of the profession – but ‘what musicians do all day’, as it were. A certain urban mythology surrounds the working life of the concert pianist; we may imagine pianists slaving away at their instrument for hours on end, cut off from family, a social life, or the normal activities of daily life. For how else could these people learn and finesse so many notes, so many details, in order to bring the music alive for us in performance and on countless recordings?

In reality, the life of the concert pianist today is rather different from the clichéd image of the wild-haired virtuoso, confined to their practice room or studio with only the instrument and its literature for company. A startling level of commitment and executive function is required to learn, memorise and perform complex music; added to that, the profession today is highly competitive, tough, often lonely – yet as these interviews reveal, the instrument and its repertoire exert a strong attraction, seducing would-be professionals from a young age and continuing to bewitch, delight, frustrate and excite.

The interviews in this book offer remarkable and often surprisingly honest insights into life as a professional pianist today – from years of intense study with some of the leading pianist-teachers and pedagogues of our time to practicing and performing, repertoire, and recording. There are also more esoteric reflections on the nature of “success” as a musician and advice for young musicians who are considering a professional career.

Marc-André Hamelin

Marc-André Hamelin © Sim Canetty-Clarke

I must bore some people because I don’t move around when I play. Some people take this as emotional detachment but my contention is that one should come to concerts to listen, not to watch… Reproducing my gestures just wouldn’t work. (My plain) always looks effortless, like I’m just brushing the keys, but there is force at work, a lot of force.

Marc-André Hamelin

Samuil Feinberg: Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 3 – I. Prelude. Lento assai, ma sempre inquieto e rubato molto (Marc-André Hamelin, piano)

Some of the world’s greatest living concert pianists are included here – amongst them, Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Joanna Macgregor, Rudolf Buchbinder, François-Frédéric Guy, and Tamara Stefanovich – but we have also included interviews with lesser-known pianists and younger artists too, who are beginning to make their mark on the international stage. The interviews were chosen more for their interesting qualities rather than the reputation of the interviewee. I hope that readers will find these interviews insightful, giving a glimpse “beyond the notes” and the concert stage to the daily exigencies of “being a pianist”.

Tamara Stefanovich

Tamara Stefanovich © Harrison Parrott

Think about what the role of a musician is today and how you can be at best useful for today’s society – for me certainly not playing only older repertoire, but thinking how to link music of all times to extraordinary creations of today. Challenge yourself by not copying someone else’s path …In short, less image, more substance

Tamara Stefanovich

Béla Bartók: Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op. 20, BB 83 – No. 2 Molto capriccioso (Tamara Stefanovich, piano)

The interviews have been selected from face-to-face interviews conducted by Michael Johnson before and after concerts and at music festivals, and my own popular Meet the Artist series, launched in 2012 on my blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and now comprising a significant archive of over 500 interviews with musicians, composers and conductors active today.

If we are still going to persuade people to come and hear live music, we have to find ways to make that experience more meaningful and relevant, be it collaborating with other genres such as dance, the visual arts, or theatre, working with living composers, or simply being able to talk to your audiences in an engaging manner.

Margaret Fingerhut

John Metcalf: Endless Song (Margaret Fingerhut, piano)

Following in the footsteps of books such as Dean Elder’s Pianists at Play and David Dubal’s Reflections from the Keyboard, Lifting the Lid is an important survey of the thoughts and attitudes of today’s professional pianists and a significant resource for all those who are fascinated by the piano and those who play it.

“Few people ask musicians more pertinent or revealing questions than Frances Wilson…..and so the answers of her interviewees are always interesting.” – Sir Stephen Hough, concert pianist

“Frances Wilson’s Meet the Artist series is something I read every day to discover what musicians from around the world are doing and thinking. It is a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into their challenges, influences and experiences via probing interviews. I highly recommend it.” – Beth Levin, concert pianist

“Not since David Dubal’s ‘Reflections from the Keyboard’ have I read a set of interviews in which music and the written word join hands so compellingly.” – Jack Kohl, concert pianist and author

Lifting the Lid is available in paperback from

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