Now Hear This: an Interview with Stephen Nielson, piano
Steinway artist Stephen Nielson headlines Sunday's Basically Beethoven Festival concert, "Stephen Nielson & Friends," on July 23. He'll share the stage with violinist Motoi Takeda, the Associate Concertmaster Emeritus for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and with Caroline Nielson. Ms. Nielson is not only an accomplished mezzo-soprano in her own right – she happens to be Mr. Nielson's daughter! Continue reading to learn about Sunday's performance and to get to know Mr. Nielson.
As a pianist, what do you love about chamber music? The interaction of the players in an intimate setting; discerning a composer’s weaving of thematic material between the instruments.
How old were you when you started playing piano? As I often say: about nine months before I was born, since my mother was a pianist, church musician, and teacher. I demonstrated an early affinity for the piano and never considered other instruments simply because commitment to serious piano study was so consuming.
What type of music did you listen to as a child, and what do you listen to now? What type of music did you share with your children when they were growing up? Always classical. On Sunday mornings my father played recordings – LPs, you know! – of the legendary organist E. Power Biggs and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Musical education for our two daughters was in place from the beginning. I took our older daughter, Christiana, to her first opera at age 6 – the Dallas Opera’s presentation of Hansel and Gretel.
You have been based in Dallas for most of your career. What would surprise out-of-towners about the Dallas area? What's your "hidden gem" in Dallas? Except for undergraduate and graduate years at Indiana University School of Music and then seven years as Artist-in-Residence at a college in the Chicago area, Dallas has been my “home base.” Out-of-towners are frequently surprised by the richness of the musical offerings and activity in the North Texas area. Hidden gems? Marvelous people and relationships plus fantastic food possibilities forever changing!
It’s not unusual to hear of humorous stereotypes for certain musicians and their instruments. What would you say a typical pianist like? There is no typical pianist, I think. Though as a Steinway Artist I play Steinways often, sometimes in out-of-the-way locales that is not possible, and I must adapt to what the sponsor provides. In piano circles, such a piano is sometimes cynically referred to as a “P.S.O.” – piano shaped object. I've played my share of those!
Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To play? Difficult to answer on both counts! I like the composer whose music I am preparing for the next concert. I'm probably a romanticist at heart, but am overwhelmed by the mathematical brilliance and symmetry of Bach, the depth of Brahms, and the color of the great Impressionists, Debussy and Ravel. I also love the great choral masterpieces of Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Berlioz, Mahler, Fauré and Duruflé.
What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical)? Least favorite? Favorite is the sound of Caroline's voice! Least favorite – the yard crew mowing and blowing just outside my studio windows when I'm practicing or teaching.
Once you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert are you looking forward to? Hands down – “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Handel's Messiah.