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Piano alumnus Harriet Stubbs releases new album featuring Marianne Faithfull

Tue 30 October 2018

Highly regarded pianist and Trinity Laban alumnus Harriet Stubbs has just released her debut solo piano album, Heaven & Hell: The Doors of Perception, inspired by the philosophy of William Blake.

The album, which features singer-songwriter and actress Marianne Faithfull on its opening track, was produced by multi-Grammy award winner Russ Titelman. Harriet gave a performance this week at a launch event at Blue Whale in Los Angeles and will give another next week at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City.

Harriet was a child prodigy, gaining a full scholarship at the age of five from Elsie & Leonard Cross Memorial Foundation to Guildhall School of Music and completing her Grade Eight with distinction at the age of seven. Her career has gone from strength to strength, with performances across the globe and for film and television. She now divides her time between London, LA and NYC as an artist for Yamaha and the TJ Martell foundation and she has given a talk at the United Nations on the future of classical music.

In spite of her busy schedule, she found the time to answer some questions with press and PR intern Will Howarth for us about her new album and her time studying at Trinity Laban.


What drew you to William Blake and the philosophical concept behind Heaven & Hell: The Doors of Perception?

I have always loved William Blake since I was a teenager and I became re-engaged with it while studying for my master’s degree in New York as part of a humanities elective entitled “Genius and Madness”.

Blakean philosophy has informed and complemented many aspects of my life. My vision as a classically-trained artist has always been to provide a three-dimensional experience so Blake made sense to me. He was a copper engraver by trade and used this medium to publish his own works as a complete vision with poetry, illustrations and texture.

Blake was ahead of his time and his concepts were only really later understood by Aldous Huxley in The Doors of Perception, and then Jim Morrison with The Doors. But the revolutions their work represent in literature and rock also have a place in classical music. My new album sets out to cleanse its listeners’ doors of perception, to encourage them to re-evaluate what classical music should be, who it should be for and what its relevance is in today’s society.


How did the concept inform your choice of repertoire and the album’s narrative?

Producer Russ Titelman and I spent years constructing the album. It is a mix of pieces that were already in my repertoire, pieces that Russ had suggested and music that I felt thematically fit the journey.


The album covers a broad range of styles and composers from different eras. What are the challenges of playing music by such differing composers as Bach, Prokofiev and Ligeti alongside one another?

I think that creative programming is key to bringing music back to the people. All of these are artists communicating and it is our job to deliver their humanity in its rawest form to our audiences. I personally believe that there is a linear transition between them that makes them fit together well, regardless of historical chronology.


Singer-songwriter and actress Marianne Faithfull lends her voice to introduce the album’s Blakean concept in the opening track, Phrygian Gates by John Adams. How did she become involved in the project?

Once Russ and I had decided on the narrative, we thought some text would make sense to accompany it. I curated extracts from different plates of Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell that would embody what I wanted the album to say. Our shortlist included Meryl Streep and Patti Smith but it was Marianne Faithfull who was most enthusiastic about the project. She recorded four versions in Paris that were all wonderful. We, of course, could only use one.


What was it like to work with multi-Grammy award winning producer Russ Titelman?

Russ’s background is as a rock and roll producer of acts such as Eric Clapton, Elton John, The Bee Gees and George Harrison. This was his first classical project. He is strikingly well versed in classical music and has knowledge spanning across literature, art and film. This informed our entire working relationship and the process of putting the album together. Russ would often send me books to read and music to listen to. We had a lot of fun together making this record.


Do you have a favourite piece on the album?

Performing the Bach Busoni Chaconne is always a lot of fun, but the Adams with Marianne Faithfull is so personal and special that I can’t help having it as my favourite.


Do you have any plans for future recording or performance projects?

Yes I do! I am currently writing this from LA as I’m performing tonight at my West Coast album launch. Earlier this week, I met up with David Bowie’s pianist Mike Garson who is writing and producing my next record!


Speaking as an alumnus, how did Trinity Laban prepare you for your blossoming international career?

Trinity was a fun and nurturing environment. The pianos were well looked after and its location is stunning. Not only that, but the countless ways in which Trinity Laban went above and beyond to help and support me during my undergraduate degree were unlike any other conservatoire I have experienced. I was always encouraged to take on interesting projects and given wonderful introductions. I had a very happy time there and I would highly recommend it to any young artist embarking on a career.

I would also like to thank Douglas Finch who, for the last eleven years of my life, has been a touchstone for advice, solace and grounding. I could not have got through the ups and downs of this journey without him and I respect him immensely.


Do you have any advice for pianists or musicians in their final year of study at Trinity Laban?

Appreciate what you have and make the most of every opportunity that you are given and the facilities that are at your fingertips. Don’t compare yourself to others. Aspire to be the best version of YOU, because no one else can be that.


Harriet Stubbs’ debut album Heaven & Hell: The Doors of Perception is available to download and stream online.