WITH HALEY MYLES
During this interview, I change seats, place myself in front of another artist and ask him the questions I wish people asked me. Today, I speak to American pianist and performer Haley Myles who has just released her take on Chopin; The Complete Nocturnes, a well-known collection of pieces, yet approached freshly.
Haley, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a classical pianist and Young Steinway Artist. I grew up in the United States but currently live in the countryside just outside of Lyon, France. My happy place is in my living room, playing my Steinway, with my Pomchi — pomeranian chihuahua mix! — Rachmaninov, napping at my feet.
What about your latest project; why Chopin, why the Nocturnes?
In short, Chopin is the reason why I fell in love with the instrument. I was fifteen when I started playing the piano and I am very grateful for my first teacher, who encouraged and supported me despite my late start. A turning point for me was when my teacher showed me a recording of Yundi Li playing Chopin’s first nocturne, Op. 9 No. 1. Upon listening, I told myself — “This is what it means to fall in love.” From that moment, I was fully dedicated to finding my way as a professional pianist. During the pandemic I had the opportunity to explore many works and composers. I typically play classical and early romantic repertoire but decided to branch out and delve into works by Russian composers including Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Rachmaninov. I suppose that after pursuing this new repertoire for several months, I wanted to “return home”. I had the desire to deeply explore the music that initially inspired me to become a musician, so I made the decision to revisit Chopin’s Nocturnes.
What are the challenges when recording such a standard of the classical repertoire? How did you approach adding your own personality to the music?
I am never concerned about “being different” or adding personality to the pieces I play. I simply do my best to expose their truth. When playing pieces, it is very important for me not to listen to others’ interpretations so that I can discover the “truth” for myself. I resonate deeply with Arrau, who placed an emphasis on being faithful to the text as well as maintaining relaxation in the body, which allows a connection to the soul and musical message. Arrau also believed that if you have a unique message, it is your purpose to deliver it, not to impress others. It is not the artist’s responsibility to be likable or impressive. My aim was to play Chopin as he intended.
How did you approach the shaping of your sound; both while performing and producing?
The Complete Nocturnes is the first album that I produced myself. I am very fortunate to have a Steinway & Sons M, which was just restored last year. I work with an amazing technician, and with his help, I was able to create the “piano of my dreams”. Even though my piano is smaller than a concert grand, I am always in awe of its power and wide range of dynamics and colour. I was inspired to record this album at home as Chopin intended these pieces to be performed in a salon-like setting. By recording this album at home and producing it myself, I had complete control over the sound and was able to maintain an intimate atmosphere.
What is the biggest challenge in recording Chopin’s complete Nocturnes?
Before recording this album, I had already embarked on my Chopin Nocturne Project, which consisted of recording one nocturne each week. Because I had worked on these pieces for three months before recording, I was able to record and produce the album in three days. It is essential for me as a musician to have time to “sit” with the repertoire I play. Even if there are not technical challenges, I often find that it can take months and even years to be truly comfortable performing a work and conveying its message.
Tell us about how you place yourself — a classical pianist, in 2021 — within our times?
I feel that this is perhaps the most difficult time to be a musician. After the pandemic, there has been an avalanche of recordings, as many musicians who could not perform decided to take their programmes to the studio. There are so many dedicated and talented young musicians who have a story to tell. The high number of musicians makes exposure increasingly difficult. My goal as a musician is simple — to connect with others. I enjoy performing because I can immediately establish a connection with an audience. This album, however, allows me to reach people who otherwise would have never heard me play. I believe that Chopin’s music, which always maintains an element of hope even in its despondent moments, has the ability to heal. So much love went into the creation of this album and I hope it brings listeners a moment of peace.
So after The Completes Nocturnes what’s next?
I am absolutely delighted that I will be performing again at the end of July, after a break of eighteen months! I continue to post videos of my playing every Friday, but am expanding to include other composers, such as Mozart and Schubert. Who knows — maybe these interpretations will develop into a future album!
Thanks very much Haley. Last one for the road — one book, one album, one film —, tell us about your latest cultural pearls?
I adore the classics and a few things come to mind. Book: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Album: Cyprien Katsaris - Live at the Schubertiade Festival. Film: Anything featuring Audrey Hepburn!
Bouncing on Haley’s words, context is often the key to understanding a piece of art, and when it comes to Chopin it is all about how he connected, intimately, with his audience. Read my review of The Complete Nocturnes.