Years of memories

New Zealand pianist Michael Houstoun. Photo: Robert Catto
New Zealand pianist Michael Houstoun. Photo: Robert Catto
On the eve of playing what is probably his final concert with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra — he retires next year — Michael Houstoun answers a few questions about his 40-year career.

Q Where did your love of the piano come from?

As far as I can tell it came with the talent ... completely natural and utterly mysterious. My life has been spent exploring both the naturalness and the mystery.

Q How hard was it to carve out a career as a pianist in New Zealand?

I don't feel I carved out a career, or even that I've had one. People asked me to play when I was a little boy and then kept asking for the next 50 years.

Q You have said that Marama Hall, the Glenroy and the Dunedin Town Hall played a significant role for you.

And the old house in Castle St where I practised when I was at university. In 1973, I essentially abandoned my academic classes and spent most of my time there. The other three are venues where I honed my performance skills under Maurice Till's watchful and demanding eye.

Q You had a nerve condition, focal distonia. What impact did it have?

My spiritual, philosophical and psychological reading gave me the wherewithal to withstand the emotional impact without any drama. For a few years, until I renovated my right hand, I only played the left-hand repertoire publicly.

Q How has the music world changed in New Zealand during your 40 years performing?

It has changed a great deal and will continue to do so, but it would take me too long to try and enumerate the changes. If I was to pick a couple of things, I would say that the advent of social media has had a huge impact, much of it negative, and that the recording industry has been irrevocably altered by new technologies.

Q How do you remain ''fresh'' in what you do over so many years?

Every day I wake up with a natural interest in how I'll play and in what music will show me.

Q How do you spend your time away from the piano?

I have a busy domestic life and I like to read and work/play in the garden.

Q What do you plan to do in your retirement?

Next to nothing.

Q What is your advice for aspiring pianists?

Continue to aspire and try to find out who you really are.

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