Profile: Cordelia Williams, pianist

On 29 April Cordelia Williams will be providing a programme featuring Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, Schumann’s Waldszenen, and Schubert’s Sonata in C Minor D598 in the intimate environment of Portsmouth’s Menuhin Room.

What are you looking most forward to when performing at this concert?

I love to play Schubert’s Sonata. It’s a very intense piece, and I’ve recorded it on CD. The Prokofiev and Schumann pieces offer fleeting visions into parallel universes through a kaleidoscope of colours.

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

My mother is a harpsichordist and taught piano while I was growing up. She took me to concerts from an early age and it was almost inevitable that I’d also want to play.

I’d like to acknowledge the good influence of all my piano teachers. I’m playing in the Portsmouth Menuhin Room owing to the connection with Diana Bell. I’d also like to mention Murray McLachlan at Chetham’s, who gave me a good technical grounding; Bernard Roberts who played the piano with an incandescent joy; Hamish Milne, who helped me gain attention to detail; Joan Havill, who helped me gain an awareness of how a piece can develop as a whole; and Richard Goode, who inspired me to look at all the elements of a piece and to mould them in my own way.

I’ve got two young boys. Becoming a parent has changed everything, making me question my motivation for music-making. The need to fight harder to find the time to practise and perform has focused my intention, and I’m really aware in a deeper way of how much I truly love the instrument and the music I play.

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

I know that Covid has been very hard for many people, and the lack of childcare options was definitely challenging, but in my case the time away from the stage also gave me a chance to refocus and recalibrate in my practice, and as a result my playing has become richer and deeper.

Juggling the demands of parenting and having an intensive career is hard. I have to be really organised and determined.

Pre-concert nerves aren’t necessarily bad but I’ve had to work hard to harness them so that my best playing is reserved for when I’m in performance as opposed to when practising. When nervousness comes, I now embrace and channel its power – I cannot fight it. I’m also discovering new techniques for focusing and providing calm.

I think I’ve now learnt to play how I feel in the moment and not worry so much about what others think. But there’s always an elusive balance to be struck between control and freedom. You need both of these to deliver an effective performance.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I’m currently entering into a new performing partnership with the violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen. It’s lovely to play with another person at a high level, as that’s another exciting journey, no matter how experienced you are. The hard work you have to put into this kind of arrangement results in unexpected excitement, magic and alchemy as you observe what develops from the partnership and as you learn from one another.

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity? 

I’ve got a strong connection to Schubert and Schumann. I’ve have an instinct for what they are communicating and the emotions they are unleashing.

Schubert’s music is right at the intersection between the classical and romantic periods. He has a romantic soul which is trying to get out, within a classical body. His music has a shimmering quality and subtlety which you cannot easily grab, and a wistfulness that I really connect with.

Schumann is so emotional and there’s a lot of drama and strong feelings trapped inside him.

How would you define success as a musician?

As I am becoming more confident in my playing, I am growing to see success differently. It’s nothing to do with prestige or money. Success for me is developing and deepening my relationship with the piano. Also, family life is more fulfilling and rewarding than I could ever ask for: I feel I’m being successful in balancing life’s demands.


About Cordelia

Go to https://www.cordeliawilliams.net to find out more. Visit her YouTube channel, which enables one to go behind the scenes of a pianist’s life, including practice tips, backstage and the most beautiful piano music. She’s also on Spotify.

Read Petersfield Orchestra at the Petersfield Musical Festival: Romantic masterpieces uplift and inspire.

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