Kit Armstrong Q&A
Fanfare Cincinnati: What is your experience with Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto? How do you approach this work?
Kit Armstrong: I have very happy associations with Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. I gave my first public performances of the concerto in 2005, with Sir Charles Mackerras in London, and later with the Baltimore Symphony. I also performed it on tour with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. One of the performances landed on my birthday. I performed it another few times on my birthdays following that. I think that my associations with the concerto are happier than Beethoven’s. Apparently Beethoven was composing the finale of the concerto the day before the first rehearsal and handing the score to the copyists, ink still wet, all the while violently ill and vomiting. Then, at the first rehearsal he found that his piano was a half step flatter than the winds so he played his part in C-sharp major.
FC: Do you have any favorite works or composers you like to perform?
KA: I admire and enjoy playing a large section of the classical literature. At different times there are different projects that particularly motivate me. Recently, I have been performing a program with the music of Byrd (Hugh Ashton’s Ground), Sweelinck (Mein junges Leben hat ein End), and Bull (Walsingham), and exploring the connections between those works and the Goldberg Variations. A DVD was just released of my performance of this program at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam.
FC: You achieved musical success at quite a young age. What have been some of the rewards and challenges along the way? How did you overcome the challenges?
KA: I think that all of the challenges have been very rewarding. I imagine that most people think that the rather peripatetic existence I’ve led has been challenging. I don’t see it that way. I’ve had a chance to study topics that interest me at great universities. I continue to meet and exchange ideas with some extraordinary people who inspire me.
FC: You’re not only a gifted pianist but also a composer. What have been some of your favorite or most successful compositions? Do you ever perform your own work?
KA: This is a question I am often asked. My response is that my favorite composition tends to be my most recent composition. My most recent composition was a percussion concerto which had its premiere this past July. Alexej Gerassimez was the percussionist and Shiyeon Sung conducted the Konzerthausorchester Berlin. The Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommen commissioned the work.
One composition that I have particularly enjoyed performing myself at the piano is a quintet for piano and winds that I composed about 10 years ago.
I will admit to having a somewhat perverse enjoyment of performing my Struwwelpeter Character Pieces for Viola and Piano. Violists sometimes find it a bit of a challenge.
FC: The CSO’s mission statement is “To seek and share inspiration.” Where do you seek and find inspiration, musically and otherwise? How do you think you have inspired others along the way?
KA: For me one of the most inspiring possibilities of classical music is to create connections between the past and the present. I like to elaborate this in composing as well as in performing. In composing, I am always thinking about tradition. In performing, I become the nexus among the thoughts of the composer, the flow of music in the moment, and the present perception of the audience.
Equally, I find my inspiration from the audience and from my musical partners. I recently performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 with the Vienna Philharmonic. I found great inspiration in performing with them. There is no other sound that fill the senses in that way as that orchestra’s, and to be part of them as they create it is very special.
I don’t know if I have inspired others. I hope that my performances take people outside of themselves and give them a chance to find a connection to the composer and the composition.
FC: What is next on the horizon for you?
KA: I am the owner of a former church, Église Sainte-Thérèse, in Hirson, France. The building dates from 1929, and is in an Art Deco style. While visiting the church, I was struck by its beauty and its unusual history and conceived the project of saving and reawakening it by giving it a second life through music.
Since I became its owner in February 2013, my project is to establish an international creative center for music, culture, and art, with the goal of contributing to the rediscovery of a repertoire neglected today, particularly of old composers such as Guillaume de Machaut, in the region that was home to many important movements in Western music history; bringing together researchers, interpreters, scholars, and enlightened amateurs in musical conferences; organizing creative encounters between musicians, painters, sculptors, and other artists.
We have already developed, organized, and hosted 10 concerts since 2014. This summer we had a very unusual art exhibit there, and the filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon participated in several concerts and recounted his experiences of making some of the most important music documentaries of our time.
FC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
KA: This will be the second Beethoven performance I have shared with Maestro Langrée. The first was in New York this summer where I had the chance to perform the Beethoven Chorale Fantasy with him. It will be great to see him “at home” in Cincinnati with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. It is a particular honor because it is the inaugural concert of the newly restored Music Hall. It is inspiring to see that Cincinnati, the home not only of the CSO, but of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, is a city that honors its famous musical past and continues to invest in the future of music. Thank you for allowing me to be part of that celebration.