Pianist Yulia Chaplina continues her series of interviews “Musicians in Isolation”. Her interviewee today is the wonderful British Pianist Steven Osborne.

StevenOsborne. @Ben Ealovega.

Yulia Chaplina: Many concert halls have started performances without an audience. Will you consider this format for the remaining future performances this year? Do you have any planned live performances? If you have done one already, would you mind sharing your experience/thoughts?

Steven Osborne: I’d certainly be happy to play in an empty hall for broadcast. There are discussions about possible concerts but nothing concrete yet. The only thing I’ve done so far is a pre-recorded performance at home with my wife Jeannie (she’s a clarinettist) for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Performing in one’s acoustically-dead living room is a bit of a challenge, as is summoning the energy to create a true performance when you know you can always try it again. That’s the hardest bit I find.

Yulia Chaplina: Do you think people will be cautious to attend live concerts for a long time? Has this pandemic changed the performing art world forever or will there be a return to “normal”?

Steven Osborne: I imagine people will be quite nervous for a while but I’ve no doubt things will eventually return to normal as long as the institutions and halls survive.

Studio Boardroom, London, 1 December 2015 HMU: Gemma Aldous

Yulia Chaplina: Do you listen to any of the live concerts online? If yes, has there been anything you have particularly enjoyed? What is your feeling towards the informal home streaming many musicians turn to?

Steven Osborne: A little bit, but honestly I’ve been very busy practising and when I’m engrossed in my work I tend not to want to listen to much music. We watch Netflix instead – almost at the end of Mad Men now.

Yulia Chaplina: I know it is very uneasy to make any assumptions, but do you think younger people will appreciate live concerts more or less after the pandemic? Will the high level of online streaming result in more younger audiences in the concert halls? There is a lot of free streaming music available online, do you think this might affect the classical music industry in the future?

Steven Osborne: Well it’s a long-standing problem by now, and it has certainly had a profound impact on the recording industry. Somebody somewhere has to pay or the records won’t get made, and the money from streaming is so derisory that it’s basically irrelevant unless you’re someone like Taylor Swift. After 5-6 million streams, Tasmin Little got £12.34 from Spotify. But I very much doubt that people are going to want to stick with streamed concerts when the real thing becomes available again. With the best will in the world, it is hard to focus on a concert coming through a computer screen in the same way one does in a hall – you get so much more information from the acoustic and the shared attention of the people around you.

Yulia Chaplina: What do you think about online teaching? Have you done any online tuition? Do you see it as a viable option for the time being or a waste of time?

Steven Osborne: Absolutely a viable option, though of course there are limits. I’ve been giving a free lesson each week by lottery during the lockdown (if you’re interested, details here). There don’t seem to be any truly reliable platforms which stream the sound realistically but there’s “good enough”. I find the biggest loss is the difficulty engaging with the physicality of what someone is doing – you can’t walk around to see if their left arm is tense; that kind of thing.

Yulia Chaplina: Would you mind sharing the books you are reading at the moment (and maybe any online productions, if any)? Would you mind sharing 3-5 of your favourite books, recordings?

Steven Osborne: just finished rereading Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth. I just love his writing – great stories, always a sense of meaning, but not self-consciously ‘literary’. Some other favourites: the whole of Pullman’s His Dark Materials; Doris Lessing – The Marriages Between Zones Three Four and Five; Alice Miller-For Your Own Good; The Mahabharata.

CDs – off the top of my head: Steve Reich Music for Large Ensemble/Octet; Joni Mitchell-Hejira; Bill Evans-Live at Town Hall; Keith Jarrett-Vienna Concert; Sibelius Symphonies with Berglund/COE.

Steven Osborne, London 30 May 2013

Yulia Chaplina: Do you find yourself drawn to certain pieces at the moment? Do you have any particular pieces that ease anxiety for you?

Steven Osborne: Honestly, none of that has changed much – I’m just working through the next pieces on the list. But I have been obsessed by this Keith Jarrett tune.

Yulia Chaplina: Do you have any special routine at the moment? 

Steven Osborne: Yes, it feels particularly important to have regular hours at the moment, so I work 10-1 and 3-6, mixing practising the piano and doing emails. The 2 hour break always feels like a mini holiday! Then I generally take the weekends off. 

Yulia Chaplina: Steven, thank you so much for your time again.