The Classic FM Q&A: pianist Alice Sara Ott

The brilliant pianist tells us about why she'd like to go for a drink with Bartók and her shock when she discovered that Liszt was short…

Alice Sara Ott

What’s your earliest musical memory?

There was always my mother playing piano at home, but my first conscious memory is a piano recital to which my parents took me when I was three years old. It changed my life.

Why did you choose to start playing the piano?

As a little thing of three years old I couldn't verbally express myself the way I wanted to, and I think that any child is subconsciously looking for some tool that allows him or her to communicate. When I heard this piano recital I was so impressed by the power that music had on the audience I decided this is going to be my new "language". My mother didn't quite like the idea though and it took me a year to convince her.

What would be your one piece of advice for anyone trying to make it in music?

Find your own definition of the words "happiness" and "career".

What do you wish someone had told you while you were training?

That Liszt was a short man. I always imagined him being tall and my world collapsed when I saw his shoes in a show-case at his last residence and realized that my feet are bigger than his were.

Which recording or project are you proudest of and why?

I haven't listened to any of my recordings since I recorded them. But I remember my very first recording for Deutsche Grammophon being a big challenge. Lots of people around me kept telling me that nobody wants to listen to all of Liszt's Études d'Exécution Transcendante , but I believed that there was a way to show people the musical depth behind the virtuoso surface. I have never regretted taking up this challenge.

What music (of any kind) are you enjoying listening to at the moment?

I just discovered the beauty of jazz trombone.

Which recording would you like to do differently?

Probably none and every single one at the same time! That's why I never listen to them. Recordings are fingerprints of a moment in your life and life goes on.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve got coming up?

This month Ólafur Arnalds and I go on tour with "The Chopin Project" and it's going to be the first time for me to travel, live and sleep on a tour bus. I usually travel by train or plane and stay at hotels, so I am very excited to get an insight into how our pop and rock colleagues travel.

Which composer, contemporary or from the past, would you most like to go for coffee with and why?

Bartók. Maybe not coffee but some nice tokaji wine.

Alice Sara Ott performs with the Basel Symphony Orchestra this month in London's Cadogan Hall (24 September), Cheltenham (25 September) and Dublin (29 September). She also performs at LSO St Luke's in a lunchtime recital on 29 October.