Clearly a Musician: Sarah Beth Briggs

British pianist Sarah Beth Briggs discovered her musical talent at the age of four when her father, an amateur pianist, began to teach her how to play the piano. Her mother also encouraged her, but neither parent pushed her. Now she pushes herself: Not yet 30, she is a world-class musician, playing with orchestras and at major concert venues throughout Britain and in Europe. She made her U.S. debut in 1991, and has since made regular return visits to San Francisco's Midsummer Mozart Festival, where she works with the renowned American conductor, George Cleve.

"The only possible reason for doing music is if you absolutely cannot live without it," she said in a recent interview with Moxie. "Music is hard work, tough, unpredictable. You can't live just anywhere when you've got a 7-foot Steinway. I practice 6 hours a day, pretty hard on neighbors. The sound needs space, high ceilings. Relationships can be difficult too. "At heart I'm a home-maker with a love of children, but I also am highly ambitious. And after a concert, when all attention is focused on me--that certainly can be difficult. It takes a special kind of bloke to accept this kind of package!!"

Indeed every aspect of Sarah's life has been imbued with music, including her relationships. She married a man who ran all the entertainment at a famous stately home in England. She wanted kids; he had grown children. After four years together in a remote but exquisite18th century cottage, they decided to divorce--on very amicable terms. They remain extremely close friends. At a recital she gave recently, he found himself lying at her feet under the piano when a pedal broke and he sacrificed his own comfort so the concert could go on.

Sarah gives her first professional teacher the credit for what she has accomplished musically. At age 8, she began piano studies with Denis Matthews, who had been a superb pianist during the war years. "I owe everything to him," she claims.

Under Matthews' tutelage, Sarah made history by becoming the youngest finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at age 11, and made her debut as a concert pianist within a year of winning. At 15, she won the International Mozart Competition in Salzburg, Austria. The only second thoughts she has center around winning these prizes so early: many of the promoters who might have offered work were put off by her being so young, and the fact that they would have the additional expense of paying for a chaperone, had they booked her.

But when Sarah was 16, Denis hung himself. "That affected me for years," she remembers. "It was a lot for an adolescent to take on board. I felt somehow responsible. I had already started some intensive music study in Switzerland. The style of teaching was very different--probably just what I needed, making me concentrate more on my technique. But I was still missing Denis' inspiration terribly, both musically and personally. He was an all-round musician, equally at home discussing quartets and opera as piano music."

And yet Sarah's career took hold during the two years she spent in Switzerland. She was part of a chamber musicfest, and there were lots of bookings and engagements because of the Salzburg prize. Her career built from there.

Sarah has just formed Trio Melzi based in Manchester, England, not far from her present home base just outside the historic city of York. She now meets people at parties rather than through music. "Being a solo pianist can be lonely. Orchestral players tend not to socialize with their soloists. I've been seeing someone for a little while who's not in this field, but I need to take time now, and meet the right person in every sense. Someone who's prepared to take the whole package on board. This time I want to get it right."

Moxie would say that Sarah has got quite a lot right already. We look forward to the next installment in her career. To find out more about Sarah and her trio, check out www.sarahbethbriggs.co.uk.


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