Canadian pianist Carson Becke performs at Bradford Cathedral at May’s Coffee Concert

Canadian Pianist Carson Becke has performed extensively as a soloist and chamber musician and will be performing at Bradford Cathedral on Tuesday 14th May at our next coffee concert. Set to play pieces by Edvard Grieg, Frederic Chopin, Alexander Scriabin we spoke to him during his Canadian tour about his music, career and favourite pieces.

Could you tell us how you started performing?

I started playing the piano when I was five year old. My piano teacher was my great-grandmother Mary Mackey – she sadly passed away about three-weeks ago at the age of 104. She was educated at the Juilliard School in New York in the 1930s, and played for people including Sergei Rachmaninoff and Josef Levhinne – she had quite the life.  I moved to Great Britain in 2005, when I was sixteen, to study at the Purcell School, then completed my undergraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London and then Masters and Doctorate degrees at the University of Oxford.

I’m most interested in music from the late 19th and early 20th century; that’s my specialty area, particularly the music of Richard Strauss, [on whom] I did my doctorate.

What did your doctorate focus on?

It was about what Strauss was like as a pianist. It’s not really known that he was a pianist, and I think his piano playing tells us a great deal about his music. Instead of looking at his scores and thinking ‘it’s weird how he doesn’t play that’, I was trying to look at the scores through the recordings and think ‘well he’s doing this fairly consistently through all these different pieces; why is he doing that? And what does that tell us about the way he notates music?”

What can we expect from your coffee concert?

I’m going to be playing music by Grieg, Chopin and Scriabin. Maybe the piece that’s the most unusual in that programme is the piece by Grieg, the Ballade in G minor, op. 24. If I was to say come for one piece, it would be that one! It is Grieg’s largest piano work: it’s a 20-minute epic which for some reason is rarely played.  Having played it now for about a year, I’m not sure what it is about that piece that deters people.

It’s this huge exploration, in the form of variations, on a mountain folk song. It really does make you feel like you’re in a musical evocation of a Norwegian mountain environment! That’s the highlight of the programme for me.

Are you performing around the world at the moment?

The Bradford concert comes at the end of a short series of concerts. I’m playing one at Bury and then I’m in Germany, then flying back to Bradford. I love travelling to play and it’s interesting to see how different music works in different places, and the varying audience responses, and different audience customs. I find it interesting how different people engage with music.

If you could pick a favourite piece, what would it be and why?

If I was to pick one piece, it wouldn’t be a piano piece!  I have to say my favourite music is operatic and orchestral. But if there was one thing I could play on the piano, and make it as operatic and orchestral as I could, it would be the opera ‘Salome’ by Strauss. There’s something about that opera; there are very few pieces that do as much to me as that.

What are your plans following the coffee concert?

It’s actually a big year for me. Though I’ve lived in the UK for about fifteen years I’m actually making the move back to Canada at the end of the year. The rest of the year is busy; I’ve got work and concerts in the UK until August and then after that I’m packing up and moving home, and it’ll be the first time that I’ll be living in Canada as a functional adult! That’s going to be a big change and transition for me.

The things I like most about Canada are the people – they are wonderful people – but also the environment and the natural beauty of the country. It’s spectacular! I do a lot of hiking trips in the summer and I’m looking forward to exploring the country a lot more. There are  infinite hidden corners, mountain ranges and incredible lake systems that I’ve not visited and that’s the thing I’m most looking forward to; being closer to the natural world!

Join Carson Becke at our Coffee Concert on Tuesday 14th May at 11am, with refreshments from 10:30am.

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