Q&A with pianist, Danny Driver

Friday, February 2, 2024

International Piano meets Danny Driver

Pianist, Danny Driver
Pianist, Danny Driver

Thank you for sitting down with us, Danny. We're excited to hear what you've been up to!

Q. Who were your principal teachers?

A. I started aged about six with Judith Paull, my music teacher at school and an all-round inspiring figure. She encouraged me to apply to the junior department at the Royal Academy of Music, where I started aged 10 with Pamela Turnlund and later Alexander Kelly, also taking chamber music with Antonietta Notariello. Alex died unexpectedly while I was studying at Cambridge University, and at that point Piers Lane became my mentor, and helped to prepare me for subsequent postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music with Irina Zaritskaya. After that I went for some lessons with Maria Curcio. I am deeply indebted to them all.

Q. Beyond your teachers, who have been the biggest musical influences on you?

A. I try to learn from every situation and to incorporate ideas from many disciplines. I love Ravel’s statement to the effect that his greatest teacher of composition had been the writer Edgar Allan Poe; from my own experience, stumbling across Stanislavsky’s An Actor Prepares many years ago challenged me to consider what I was doing on stage in a new light. György Ligeti’s remarkable range of musical and extra-musical interests is an awe-inspiring model.

There are very few artists who have not been nourishing and influential to me in some way. From the piano family I would include Murray Perahia, Sviatoslav Richter, Krystian Zimerman and Alfred Brendel. Their styles of playing are rather different and I don’t necessarily love everything they do, but they all demonstrate complete dedication, integrity and thoughtful service of their artistic vision.

Q. If you could take just one recording to a desert island, what would it be?

A. Something very distilled that draws on our extensive past tradition, but that looks forward to the unknown, and allows reflection and reconnection with a presumably lost world. The solo piano music of Morton Feldman might do this nicely.

Q. What was your most recent musical discovery?

A. The Piano Quartet of Herbert Howells (1916). I was invited to play it last summer in the USA. It is a masterpiece of English chamber music, sadly almost entirely forgotten.

Q. What was the last thing you were practising?

A. I was refreshing Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, a work I adore and have performed many times over more than two decades, and also Ligeti’s Musica ricercata.

Q. Which solo piece would you most love to learn but haven’t yet got around to playing?

A. I have quite a list! But today, you’ve caught me thinking about Medtner’s Improvisation No 2, Op 47, which has been on my mind for some years. It’s one of a kind.

Q. Which piano concertos should be heard in concert more often?

A. I have performed and recorded quite a few rare concertos. Of the Romantic ones, I would argue strongly for Amy Beach’s C sharp minor Concerto, and also York Bowen’s Fourth Concerto in A minor. Despite being architecturally strong, virtuosic and impassioned pieces that would appeal strongly to a general audience, one barely hears them. What a shame! Then there’s Erik Chisholm’s Hindustani Concerto from the late 1940s, a work of great ambition and ingenuity. But even from among the composers we know better, there are piano concertos that rarely appear – Dvorˇák’s G minor is a good example.

Q. Which composers are the most underrated or wrongly neglected?

A. I often think this about CPE Bach. When we study classical music we are immersed in Baroque and Classical styles from an early age, with seemingly little understanding of or curiosity for how one style evolved or progressed to such a wildly different other. Carl Philipp Emanuel, who was much more famous than his father Johann Sebastian during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was perhaps the leader in this period of transition, at least as far as keyboard music was concerned.

Q. What are the major works you’re playing over the coming months?

A. Among other things, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, Scriabin’s Black Mass Sonata, piano quintets by Dvorˇák, Shostakovich and Eleanor Alberga, and Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.

Q. Do you have a personal favourite of your own recordings?

A. I rarely listen to them, so couldn’t say.

Q. Do you have any concert memories that especially stand out?

A. Playing the entire collection of Ligeti’s Études in a single concert. I have done this more than once, with a smattering of different companion pieces ranging from JS Bach to Bill Evans. It’s a very intense evening for everyone in the room!

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