An audience with…..Guy and Tom

Guy asks the questions

TP, what memory do you have of our first tour to the Middle East after the BBC competition?

A few of the images which stick in my mind are of driving in the desert and feeding camels in Qatar; staying at the amazing Al Bustan Palace in Oman; playing concerts on white pianos; and our truly appalling karaoke rendition of ‘Killing Me Softly’ in a bar in Bahrain. At the time, I somehow thought the whole experience was fairly representative of what a life in music would be like, and only looking back do I realise quite what an extraordinary and unique adventure it was. But maybe the most meaningful memory is of the two of us reading through the Beethoven A major Sonata in a hotel lobby (perhaps in Abu Dhabi?) – I had a profound and immediate sense that this was a collaboration and friendship which would become a big part of my life. Crazy to think that’s half our lifetimes ago…

What memories stand out during the last 20 years?

Too many to list… A plethora of unforgettable concerts and festivals from Irish castles to the hills of Spoleto; from the Aberystwyth coast to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Also the very many great life experiences alongside the musical memories. And among the more amusing highlights: my piano sliding several feet across the floor in the middle of a live BBC broadcast from the Hay Festival; joining the bass section of the Two Moors Festival choir to sing Zadok the Priest and dissolving into hysterics on stage while attempting the coloratura runs; turning up to one of our first ever duo recitals and being asked by our hosts whether we wanted one bed or two…

Can you pick a favourite work on the CD and does it bring back memories?

Nearly all the pieces bring back memories, and I struggle to choose a favourite! I might have to pick the Chopin Polonaise brillante for its sheer exuberance – it’s been such a thrill to perform that piece from our first recitals together (including a live broadcast on BBC TV in our undergraduate days) to the present day. But then there’s also the Schumann Adagio and Allegro, which I think is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written and which we both feel a deep connection to. So many of these pieces have felt like real companions as we’ve navigated our way through the ups and downs of our lives so far!

How does working with cello/GJ differ from other collaborations – what draws you to this particular combination?

I played the cello a lot through my teenage and university years – it was an instrument I absolutely loved, but I was never really good enough to express the things I wanted to. I’ve always felt that the way you play the cello, Guy, is exactly the way I wish I’d been able to! I also feel we’ve always had very compatible musical instincts – it’s not that we haven’t had to work at things, but there’s so much that seems to happens naturally and without the need for long discussion, and always a sense of musical homecoming when we get to share a stage.

What repertoire would you love to explore more of in the future/how do we plan on continuing our collaborations whilst in different countries?!

I’d be really keen to dig out some of the more neglected sonata repertoire and see if we can uncover any gems. I’ve loved adding the sonatas of Grieg and Ethel Smyth to our repertoire recently, and there are plenty more works I’ve never played even within the relatively well-known repertoire – Fauré D minor, Mendelssohn B flat, Saint-Saëns and all sorts else…

It’s funny how we’ve both ended up having transatlantic lives, for different reasons both professional and personal. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that our UK and US schedules will coincide enough that we can continue to play plenty of concerts together on both sides of the pond!

Tom asks the questions

What were your favourite (or least favourite!) moments from the recording sessions?

I got into such a tangle with the difficult 3rd variation of the Mendelssohn Variations that we had to stop and have a break. Recording can be a real test of stamina, with highs and lows against the clock, and it can be easy to lose site of all the good things that are happening when you’re also being very critical listening back in between takes. Having said this, I think one of my favourite moments was waking up with tremendous energy on the last day and performing the Martinu Variations, which we seemed to rattle off quicker than expected. Overall there was a wonderful energy in the room during these recording sessions, and I’m happy we’ve captured this moment at this stage in our musical journey. My grandmother would have loved to hear a CD full of, in her words, “Lollipop music!” Of course it’s more than that, but I know what she meant – music full of memorable melodies.

Which memories stand out from our many festival adventures over the years?

I think one of the most memorable festivals was in Spoleto, Italy. We went there a few times and felt on top of the world working in the hills, eating and drinking in the family run restaurant, enjoying those warm summer evenings, playing lots of chamber music with friends etc. I still remember those experiences vividly. Of course there’s also the IMS Prussia Cove where we learnt so much, Aberystwyth Music Festival where we’ve been nearly every year since we began playing together, the numerous BBC New Generation Artist appearances with the Aronowitz Ensemble and more recently at my festival at Hatfield House.

If you could choose any composer to write us a piece, who would it be?

Gosh, this is a hard one to answer! There are many British composers doing great things at the moment, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a number of them – Mark Anthony Turnage, David Matthews, Charlotte Bray, Mark Simpson, Matthew Kaner, Huw Watkins and more recently with Judith Weir. I think the MacMillan Kiss On Wood piece we recorded is very special, and I’d be curious to see what James might come up with if we approached him to write something.

How many times do you think we’ve played The Swan as an encore due to not having practised anything else?

Haha!! We’ve always imagined swapping instruments for an encore, but never actually had the guts to do it. That being said, you’re a far more accomplished cellist than I am a pianist, so there’s a good reason for it! But it’s so funny now that you mention it that we’ve got to a stage of playing it by memory together, and only need to glance at each other with a knowing Swan look when the audience appear to want more..

Are we ever going to follow through with our long-standing ambition to perform naked on Radio 3’s In Tune?

Hahaha!! I think it would take a tremendous amount of courage, but the good news is I’ve got a big instrument to hold in between my legs that would at least allow me to keep some sort of dignity, whilst I’m not sure you’d be so well covered up!! If we make it a reality one day, I think it should be a gradual strip during the interview and in between performances to see how long Sean could last without losing the plot! I do remember we had a dare to see who could say marvellous the most times during an interview once..

Have a listen to Guy and Tom playing Rachmaninov here on Apple Music