My Listening: Xenia Pestova

Xenia Pestova. Photograph Carla Rees
Xenia Pestova. Photograph Carla Rees
What does one of today's most innovative pianists around listen to at home?

The space

Where are you?

I prefer to listen live in concert if I can. There is the ambiance of the space, the reaction of the audience, the humanity of the performers, the full spectrum and range of each instrument. Isn’t it amazing to physically feel the sound vibrating in the space? Knowing what goes on behind the scenes in terms of editing, I often wonder

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how far contemporary commercial recordings are removed from the real experience … It becomes a different art form, a sub-genre of electroacoustic acousmatic music.

Otherwise, we often have music playing at home, sometimes when cooking. Normally this is not contemporary classical music: my partner (composer Ed Bennett) and I are both so immersed in this world that it’s healthy to have a break from it.

What are you doing?

I wish I could say that I stop everything, sit down and really listen. I can’t concentrate on work with music playing, so normally it has to be one or the other. Since I started working in academia, pure listening time has been a rare luxury. Alongside my work as a concert pianist this effectively equates to having two jobs. If I am lucky enough by the end of the day to have prepared and delivered my teaching, attended meetings, answered emails and hopefully done some playing, there is little space for listening to more music – certainly if I also have to perform.

However, I have just finished reading Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Pang – a fantastic book that everyone should read. Perhaps I will implement some ideas on how to carve out leisure time and relaxed research time that will include dedicated listening.

What are you looking at?

At home, we have a big window looking out onto neighbouring gardens. This way, we get the benefit of greenery without a garden of our own – it’s an amazing effect, considering how close we are to the centre of a massive city. There is a lovely big tree with resident wood pigeons, which go about their day, cooing and feeding. It’s very relaxing, except when magpies vie for nesting space with the pigeons. They can be quite aggressive, and even peck the poor pigeons.

What’s the gear?

Ed has a large vinyl collection, so I benefit from access to it. It’s a special feeling to take the time to have this tactile connection with the music. It also sounds great! Ed is a major influence on expanding my listening habits beyond the narrow world of contemporary or classical keyboard repertoire that I sometimes find myself stuck in, like a locked groove. He has introduced me to a wide range of artists and genres including masters of Ethiopian jazz, doom metal, Krautrock, Icelandic pop and more!

The sounds

What’s cued up at the moment?

Gayle Young: According (JWD Music). This is a very rare 1980 first pressing gifted to us by the composer after I premiered her latest piano work. She is an amazing Canadian artist: composer, performer, instrument designer.

Which recordings do you always return to?

Just a very small selection: Murray Perahia’s English Suites (Sony Classical); Giuliano Carmignola’s Vivaldi Concertos (Archiv Produktion/Sony Classical); Boards of Canada: Music Has the Right to Children (Warp); Artur Schnabel’s Beethoven Sonatas (Seraphim); Aphex Twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments (Warp); The Beatles: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Parlophone)… and so many more, of course – the list goes on!

What’s on the to-listen pile?

Rivers (Samskara) by Shawn Mativetsky, a fantastic tabla player I work with, who has just released a solo CD of traditional North Indian repertoire; Peter Adriaansz: Enclosures (Ergodos); Kurzwelle (Neue Musik Köln) by hand werk, an ensemble run by my friend and another frequent collaborator, the amazing clarinettist Heather Roche.

Name a fantasy recording (real or imagined) that you haven’t heard yet?

That would have to be my next recording – but I can’t give it away just yet!

Pianist Xenia Pestova’s performances and recordings have earned her a reputation as a leading interpreter of uncompromising repertoire by composers of her generation. Pestova’s acclaimed recordings of core piano duo works by Cage and Stockhausen are available on four CDs for Naxos, while her solo debut of premiere recordings for the US’s innova label, Shadow Piano, was described as a ‘terrific album of dark, probing music’ by the Chicago Reader. She is Assistant Professor and Director of Performance at the University of Nottingham.
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