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The sonatas, particularly the earlier ones, can be seen to be highly influenced by Russians such as Rachmaninov and Skryabin and through them, by Liszt. Liszt is in fact a composer that Wass feels drawn to, describing him as a great poet of the piano and Wass likes playing such works as the Années de Pèlerinage.

When learning new repertoire, Wass tries to avoid listening to other pianists' versions of the same music. For the Bax series he made a conscious decision not to hear earlier recorded versions so that he could start from scratch. When learning a new sonata you may be traversing ground which is reasonably familiar. But with Bax, Wass welcomed the sense of learning something afresh, the chance to create his own sound world as Bax was a new language for him. He views as positive the process of starting from scratch; at first there were moments when he questioned the quality of the music and had doubts about what he had agreed to do. But he feels that it was a very rewarding process to work towards being comfortable with the music.

With recordings, Wass finds it difficult to get the sort of piano sound he would like. This can be a time consuming process and such things as the exact location of the piano in the studio can cause differences in the recorded sound. Regarding pianos, he expresses a preference for Steinway, finding the tone of these possessing body. Even though they require work, he finds them rewarding and misses their depth of tone in some other pianos.

Wass was born in Lincolnshire but left home at eleven to board at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester. For him this sort of specialist musical environment has good and bad points; it is a small school and was very competitive. This can be intimidating; though Wass found that it helped to prepare him for life in the music industry he comments that he would not send his own children there. Some people thrive in this environment and some don't; Wass notes that many of his contemporaries went on to have careers outside music.

Wass was only the second British pianist in twenty years to reach the finals of the Leeds piano competition (in 2000). He is reasonably positive about the effects of a competition on a pianist's career. Wass found, rather than increase the number of engagements, success raised the level of his professional engagements, giving him access to better venues and promoters. He also points out that a young player can often have few engagements for which to prepare, so the work preparing for the three to five hours of repertoire needed for a competition can be very beneficial. But for Wass the experience was very stressful and after Leeds he vowed never to do another one. He also wonders whether, nowadays, there is something of a stigma attached to competition winners that can be a hindrance to your career; that winners are stereotyped as clean and uninteresting players even though this is in fact not true.

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Copyright © 2 September 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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