Simon Trpčeski, pianist

Virtuoso With an Ethno Soul

Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski (1979) performs alongside the world’s foremost orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Dutch Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, WDR Sinfonieorchester Cologne, the Helsinki Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, the Orchestre National de France, Real Filharmonia de Galicia, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the New Japan Philharmonic, the China Philharmonic and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He also regularly performs solo recitals in all cultural capitals

The conductors with whom he regularly collaborates include Marin Alsop, Lionel Bringuier, Thomas Dausgaard, Gustavo Dudamel, Jakob Hrůša, Vladimir Jurowski, Susanna Mälkki, Andris Nelsons, Gianandrea Noseda, Sakari Oramo, Antonio Pappano, Vasily Petrenko, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Lahav Shani, Dima Slobodeniouk, Robin Ticciati and Krzysztof Urbański.

During the 2017/18 season, Trpčeski found himself reunited on tour with the San Francisco, St. Louis and City of Birmingham symphony orchestras, London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, as well as joining the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Ulster Orchestra and the Slovenian Philharmonic, amongst others.

Autumn 2017 marked the beginning of a string of diverse performances at London’s Wigmore Hall as an Artist in Residence, featuring his regular duet partnership with cellist Daniel Müller-Schott, as well as the UK debut of his self-made folk-based project “Makedonissimo”, celebrating the music, culture and people of his native Macedonia.

Trpčeski has recorded prolifically to widespread acclaim. His first recording (EMI, 2002) received both the “Editor’s Choice” and “Debut Album” awards at the Gramophone Awards. In 2010 and 2011, his interpretations of Rachmaninov’s four piano concertos with Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra were recognised by Classic FM, the Gramophone “Editor’s Choice” and the Diapason d’Or accolades. Trpčeski’s March 2012 recital at Wigmore Hall, released on “Wigmore Hall Live”, was immediately hailed by UK daily The Telegraph as “Classical CD of the Week.”

Born in the Republic of Macedonia, Trpčeski is a graduate of the Skopje School of Music, where he studied under Boris Romanov. A previous BBC New Generation Artist, he was also honoured with the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist Award in 2003.

According to The Guardian – “In the hands of Simon Trpčeski, Prokofiev’s First and Third Piano Concertos really crackle: fiery articulation, brazen rhythms, an ability to navigate corners with a swagger that feels sturdy and nimble at once.”

On a personal level, Simon instantly wins people over with his wide, sincere smile, ennobled with warmth and sincerity, while as a pianist he is natural, charismatic and fascinating. The youngest of three siblings, his father is a judge and his mother a pharmacist, Simon showed his natural talent for music from his earliest years.

The music is a challenge by itself. In a good way of course – because it enriches the soul and makes life much more beautiful, especially in these crazy times

Recalling the beginnings of his career, Trpčevski says:
“The London World Piano Competition was a turning point, because it helped me to understand more about the phase of my development at that point. I had lots of experience with competitions before that, but when you get to the final round of such a great competition as that one, and you have a chance to play in a great hall like the Royal Festival Hall, and with one of the world’s best orchestras – the London Philharmonic – you certainly think differently afterwards. A year after the competition, I had a chance to make my debut at Wigmore Hall, which was certainly memorable, because it was another breakthrough in my career. It was a wonderful feeling to play there and the atmosphere was warm and suitable for a great evening of classical music. The enthusiastic reaction of the audience also provided great motivation and inspiration for the future.

“The Grieg concerto was the 2nd piano concerto I learned in my life, when I was 15, together with Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin. That piece is obviously full of captivating melodies and is very easy to listen to. Although I come from the South of Europe and Grieg is from Scandinavia, I find it very natural in a way. Grieg is actually the founder of Norwegian classical music, but I find him very close to the language of nature which I experienced as a child back in my father’s village in the mountains of Macedonia. The simplicity of these tunes, the freshness and calmness, are just incredible. It’s a really sophisticated piece of music.”

You started with the accordion, the so-called “poor man’s piano”.

The accordion is my first love, and will always remain so. I’m surprised I haven’t yet shocked the audience with an encore on the accordion. That might happen in the future. I come from a small country, but a very important country with a great history: Macedonia. The accordion is used here for folk music, but also for classical music. The country has a rich folk heritage that’s very interesting and has rhythms that are unique compared to the rest of the world. Having that intensive social life in my childhood is part of the mentality of the people and the way people live.

I was lucky to grow up in a wonderful family with a great and warm atmosphere. Every other day we were either visiting people or welcoming them into our home, singing and dancing. As such, my knowledge of old Macedonian folk songs was very helpful. It gave me a natural flow, a natural control of the lyrical themes of classical music, as well as the rhythm.

Our rhythm is full of uneven metrics, with several different rhythmic patterns; we have a million different combinations, and this is a strength of my rhythm. My personal capabilities played a role here, but the folk music I was playing and singing and dancing helped with my natural understanding of classical music, which I find very natural. All the composers of the classical music world certainly knew their own folk music and folk music from other nations as well, which were included as quotes or as inspiration for their music.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I was certainly greatly influenced and had great schooling from my Russian teachers, the Romanovs, who taught me the greatest things from the good old Russian tradition and understanding of music in general. Then I listened to many of the piano legends who have inspired me in many different ways. During my concert career, I have met many people from different fields around the world who have inspired me to share musical views and depths with music lovers. One learns each day and has many different experiences that form part of one’s personal life and interpretation as well.

Do you take any other steps to protect your hands?

I’m careful. I don’t play basketball and am careful with suitcases, for example. On the other hand, there aren’t many specific things that I do to prevent myself from playing the piano. We’re just careful in general. I hear that some artists hardly ever shake hands with people. I can’t close myself off in a glass bell and live on my own. I can’t agree with that. I’m a normal human being and do normal things in life apart from playing the piano. I believe that everyday life is actually the thing that motivates us and inspires us for what we bring on the stage. If you just play music all the time, non-stop, and don’t have the chance to enjoy life, in my opinion, something is missing. I also have to be careful because of the way you produce sound on the accordion, and with the left hand my wrist stretches, which is how you produce the sound, and that can be painful on the wrist, so you have to be careful.

I am looking forward to the release of the recording done at the beginning of 2019 of my new folk project “Makedonissimo”

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The music is a challenge in and of itself. In a good way of course – because it enriches the soul and makes life much more beautiful, especially in these crazy times. It is a challenge to keep such a high level of understanding and sophisticated taste on the music circuit and in the music scene nowadays, especially due to the very commercialised world. I am a person who likes purity and embraces life, and who tries to share that in the most natural way with colleagues and audiences.

Which performances/recordings have given you the greatest sense of pride?

Oh, that is a very difficult question! If I really have to give one example, then my very first CD for EMI, with the Scriabin and Prokofiev Sonatas, as well as Pletnev’s Nutcracker arrangement and Stravinsky’s Petrushka, is a special one for me, for Stravinsky’s Petrushka, is a special one for me, for many reasons. I’m certainly looking forward to the release of the recording done at the beginning of 2018 of my new folk project “Makedonissimo”, with transcriptions of Macedonian folk music, which will hopefully be released in the near future.

“Makedonissimo” is your personal project?

Yes, I ordered it. That was my idea. I always believed that if one has a sophisticated approach to folk music, it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with classical music. All the great composers were excellent connoisseurs of their own folk music and music of other nations, all of which were incorporated into their mental language. Makedonissimo is dedicated to the Macedonian people. One part is dedicated to my parents…

However, when you have the time and when you’re in the mood, you also compose pop music.

Sometimes [smiles]. I wrote several hits for Toše Proeski. We were together in the choir at the university … “Northern Stars” and “Forgive Me”.

How do you find the time to manage all that?

That emerges from my soul and is the most sincere. There’s not much to explain in that. When one works with love, then it emanates from you and sounds as it sounds… my brother writes the lyrics. The last song we did together was sung by my daughter, Lara, who won in our biggest contest – the Golden Glory, Zlatni slavuj.

Your concert repertoire includes a lot of Russian composers. Are there any other pieces you’d like to add to it?

I was really lucky to have great teachers back home, and that I learned very fast. I have a considerable amount of pieces in my repertoire with a great variety, from Bach all the way to the 21st century. It’s true that I have a good amount of Russian music, my teachers were Russian, but they gave me different pieces by different composers. They believed that I should try to find myself in every piece I play, regardless of the period of musical history. Being a pianist who comes from a Slavic country, it’s true that I’m addicted to Romantic music. I’m glad I went back to the classical piano repertoire, to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5., and to Haydn and Mozart in my solo repertoire. I do try to broaden my repertoire, as that’s very helpful for building one’s musical personality. I would feel limited if I stuck only to one style or one period.

How about living composers?

I haven’t played much contemporary music. I try to be a bit careful about the choice of music I play. Lately, I’ve been playing a new suite by Macedonian composer Pande Shahov, who is 36 and lives in London. He wrote a suite for me – Songs and whispers – to honour Chopin’s anniversary. It included six pieces, two of which are derived from Chopin’s pieces, while the rest are arrangements of Macedonian folk songs in jazz and classical music forms. That’s my latest piece by a living composer. So much has been done so far that what else can be done? Searching for musical ideas, expressions, harmonic language, everything is somehow connected. I’m glad that, in my current situation, I have a chance to present something from my country that is done in a very professional way, based on Macedonian folk music.

Being a pianist who comes from a Slavic country, it’s true that I’m addicted to Romantic music. I’m glad I went back to my classical piano repertoire

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are really several. The first are certainly strong ones, but it isn’t easy to single them out.

If I have to give one or a few, I will mention my debut with the Macedonian Philharmonic, as well as my Wigmore Hall debut. I certainly remember my recital at the Light House in Poole, which brings back wonderful memories.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being truly dedicated to what you do, pure and not pressured, and to share that in the most natural way, without any “external” needs. That should help you to be at one with the music, and that can be felt by the audiences. Keeping one’s feet firmly on the ground and not “flying in the clouds” artificially. That way you can certainly sleep calmly during the nights… and fulfilled.

What do you consider as the most important ideas and concepts worth imparting on aspiring musicians?

To be true to themselves after following the most natural guidance of the composers – written in the scores. Retain the logic and nature of the music. Don’t try to pretend just for the sake of being different in an unnatural way. It gives the opposite effect.

Apart from performing classical music and also composing pop songs, do you have any other hidden talents?

Sometimes [smiles]. Well, writing pop songs is my love. I do it for pleasure, but when I have time to do it, I do involve myself wholeheartedly, because I appreciate the art in pop music. I do have a couple of hits back home and that makes me happy because people know them and like them. My brother Jovan wrote the lyrics. I don’t do that regularly, only from time to time. The last song we did together was sung by my daughter Lara, who won in our biggest contest, Zlatni Slavuj (Golden Glory). I also wrote several hits for Toše Proeski. We were together in the choir at the university … “Northern Stars” and “Forgive Me”.

I love football, although I don’t play it as often as I did as a child. I wasn’t bad when I was younger. I can play the accordion a bit. That’s my first love. And I can also sing fairly well.

Your family would sometimes go on tour with you. How have they supported you?

Any way that you can imagine. They have supported me more than they could afford, given the very modest circumstances in which me, my sister and my brother grew up. For them to study economy or law while I was “pounding” Prokofiev’s Toccata in the living room of our small apartment certainly wasn’t easy. Also, being in a country that doesn’t have a strong tradition of classical music, and that didn’t have any real sense of support, was very difficult. That is why a few family friends supported my trips abroad because my parents’ resources were limited. I am happy their trust paid-off.

The trust, love, warmth, and support of my family are priceless, and that’s why I consider my success as being their success too. I don’t live in the clouds, and I don’t forget my roots and the people who showed me respect during my most difficult periods.

I don’t live in the clouds, and I don’t forget my roots and the people who showed me respect during my most difficult periods

It is interesting that you first glorified the world and only then became famous in Skopje, in your native Macedonia. Today they are celebrating you as a real date.

That sounds a bit tragicomic. And that hurt me in the past, but I overcame that today. I did not leave my country or my city, but it’s a wonder I’ve stayed. Recently I became a deserving artist of Macedonia. But it seems to me that such is the fate of all talented people, regardless of the profession. Such people should have the support of their country. I am free to say that my potential in my country is practically not even used.

What helped you when you were just a talented young man?

What helped you rise above your surroundings and follow your star? As I said, huge family support, but above all my grandfather. My grandfather kept repeating to an old Macedonian saying that would more or less translate as – not to break the child during their maturing. To not allow oneself to be obstructed by pebbles. That’s why young people first need to believe in themselves and to love what they do, and not to react to hindrances.

Stage fright was among your greatest fears. Do you still get the jitters and, if so, how do you cope with that?

I had stage fright as a very young pianist, but that gradually dissipated. That’s healthy anxiety, as it’s referred to in psychology. I’ve grown accustomed to people over the years and learned how to focus. And that’s why it’s important to have balance in life, not to burn up.

And you emerge complete relaxed in an auditorium of several thousand people?! What’s the last thing you do prior to emerging on stage?

I say to myself: Come on, Simon!