Piano star plays second fiddle to opera singers

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Pianist Jayson Gillham… “I’m loving getting into this music, it’s beautiful.” Photo: Scott Tresham

“THEY don’t call it ‘accompanying’ any more, they call it collaborative piano playing,” says Australian star pianist Jayson Gillham as he talks about his impending performance in Canberra, where he will play with husband-and-wife opera stars soprano Nicole Car and French baritone Etienne Dupuis.  

“I don’t mind what you call it,” he says. 

“It’s about the way things come together – it’s its own thing… I wanted to see what the difference was working with singers, so it really is a collaborative partnership.”

Queensland-born Gillham is a rising luminary on the classical concert platform, so it seems a little unusual to have him perform in this supportive way. 

Accompanying, he believes, is a specialised art, with which he’s had “just a little bit of experience… I played for a couple of song cycles at Wigmore Hall and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but it’s something I haven’t done for a few years.”

“It’s a very subtle art,” he says. “You need to do everything played in a concert, you’re playing the flute, the horn – everything.” 

Gillham, whose first public performance was at the Dalby Eisteddfod, calls London home these days and he’s enjoying every minute of it. He’s been living there for 12 years after graduating from the Queensland Conservatorium and heading to the Royal Academy of Music for a masters at age 21. He’ll be turning 33 just after his tour to Australia and has fitted a lot in. In 2012 Gillham was named Commonwealth Musician of the Year and later won several piano competitions and, in 2015, a three-album deal with ABC Classics.

“After the Royal Academy, I got into the piano competition circuit, which culminated in 2014 when I won the Montreal International Musical Competition,” he says.

“But by then I had also won the Leeds International Piano Competition, which was a big deal because it got on to BBC TV – these days that’s important.”

The concert coming to Canberra will feature French and Spanish songs, arias and duets and a five-to-six minute solo by Gillham in each half, “to complement the work of Nic and Etienne and to provide a variety of experience”. 

“I was invited to Paris where Nic and Etienne are living, who said: ‘Let’s get together and do some of these pieces and get used to working with each other’.”

The program claims he’ll be playing the Granados piano suite, “The Lover and the Nightingale” and some Debussy but he quickly realised the Debussy didn’t fit with the theme.

Determined to have his music complement, not fight the singers, he came up with an extended nocturne by Poulenc instead, arguing: “It’s not fast and loud, but a very intricate piece that shows what I can do in a different way.”

“I’m loving getting into this music, it’s beautiful,” he says, particularly “Invitation to a Voyage” by French composer Henri Duparc. 

“It sounds like the waves, I’m like another character in his story… we’re also doing some Spanish-sounding songs but most of those are by French composers.”

Nicole Car, Jayson Gillham and Etienne Dupuis in concert, Canberra Theatre, 7.30pm, Friday, August 9. Book at canberratheatrecentre.com.au

 

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