Evenings with a Knight – An Interview with Sir Stephen Hough | The Flying Inkpot
Sir Stephen Hough is no stranger to Singapore audiences, having performed here numerous times since his 1st concert with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at the Victoria Concert Hall in January 1986, playing Saint-Saëns’ “Egyptian” Piano Concerto. He returns to Singapore – and the VCH – with a solo recital and Brahms Piano Concerto 2 with re:Sound chamber orchestra led by Igor Yuzefovich. This will be Sir Stephen’s 1st concert here since he was awarded a Knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honour’s List in June this year, and Aileen Tang took the opportunity to chat with him about how music is misunderstood and the rhythm of words and music.
The Flying Inkpot: We love welcoming you back to Singapore! What has been your most memorable experience from your many visits to Singapore?
Sir Stephen Hough: Ah, Singapore is one of my favourite places to visit and to play. I cannot count the number of wonderful dinners and warm friendships I’ve experienced there over the years. But also, of course, music making. It’s hard to say which experience is the most memorable – perhaps singing Noel Coward’s ‘Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington’ for a group of friends in the bar at the Raffles Hotel about 8 years ago is high on the list!
TFI: Your performance of Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2 with re:Sound is going to be sans conductor. That’s not something audiences here see a lot of, especially with a Romantic concerto. What’s the most challenging thing about leading the orchestra from the piano?
SH: It’s an interesting question, and the concertmaster, Igor (Yuzefovich), will have a large role to play. With a great conductor there is an extra energy uniting the soloist and the other instrumentalists. But when the conductor is not there it somehow forces all of us to be even more intimately connected. With this concerto the horn begins and I respond to it with sympathetic arpeggios. On this occasion it will be, for a few seconds, just the two of us without anyone in-between. Similarly, in the slow movement, the cellist will be leading us all with that ravishing melody. It makes rehearsing more challenging but there are many pluses, and I think it will be especially fascinating in this piece (which has, after all, the spirit of a big chamber work) to be heard in this way.
TFI: You were knighted this year in honour of your contribution to British cultural life. What would you say is the one contribution you are most proud of? Is there an area of arts and culture – not necessarily British – in which you feel compelled to do more?
SH: I was especially delighted by this honour because it tells me, and the whole of the UK, that classical music still matters. We classical musicians are an endangered minority in some ways, always fighting for space in the media or in the public‘s imagination. This art form is often misunderstood as being elitist or merely a kind of old person’s entertainment. For me classical music is of vital, central importance in human cultural history and its relevance is as crucial today as it’s ever been. And, I have to say, this is understood much better now in Asian countries than in Europe or America.
TFI: You are a pianist, composer and writer. Can you tell us a little more about that intriguing relationship between music and words? Does a keen ear for music make one a more poetic writer, for example in considering the rhythm of words and flow of phrases?
SH: I think you can often tell when a writer has a love for music. Certainly when I’m writing words I’m aware and alert to their rhythm and “tune“. People often speak of music in terms of singing. But I think they neglect to think of it also as speaking – the sense of phrase lengths, the importance of consonants for clarity and shape.
TFI: You’ve been described as a polymath, remarkable, distinguished, a “true renaissance man”, and “one of the most distinctive artists of [your] generation”. Phew! How would you personally most like to be known as and remembered for?
SH: Perhaps as someone who was kind – and had a sense of humour. They don’t always go together! 🙂
Tickets for Two Evenings with Sir Stephen Hough are available from Sistic: https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/stephenh0822
Two Evenings with Sir Stephen Hough
Nightscapes: Sir Stephen Hough in Recital
Wed 31 Aug, 8.15pm
Victoria Concert Hall
Chopin 2 Nocturnes
Scriabin Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53
Debussy Estampes, L.100
Liszt 3 Petrarch Sonnets & Dante Sonata (from Italian Années de Pèlerinage)
A Very Small Concerto: Sir Stephen Hough plays Brahms 2
Sun 4 Sep, 8.15pm
Victoria Concert all
Bartók Divertimento for String Orchestra Sz.113
Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83