Jamie Cochrane, pianist – a profile

Jamie Cochrane is playing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2 along with Petersfield Orchestra on Thursday 21 March at 7.30pm in Petersfield Festival Hall.

What are you looking most forward to when performing at the Petersfield Musical Festival this year?

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is one of my favourite concertos to perform as the piano and orchestra are extremely closely intertwined, so it really feels like a collaborative effort and that I’m engaging with and sharing the music with every single player in the orchestra.

I think one of the main musical challenges with this piece is that, because the writing is so lush and wears its heart on its sleeve, it can be easy to (over-)indulge in the music. It’s interesting to listen to Rachmaninov’s own recordings, which, whilst always incredibly emotional, are often also stately in character, and I hope to try and emulate this in my performance of this masterpiece.

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

Not coming from a particularly musical family, there was no expectation that I would go for a career in music, so I definitely owe a lot to my grandparents who decided to buy me a small electric keyboard from Woolworth’s one birthday!

Without a doubt, my teachers have been the most important influences on me musically, as well as how I have developed as a person. Each of them has, through their own ways, instilled a real love and passion for music, as well as a desire to do justice to the music.

For instance, my current teacher, William Fong, has really encouraged me to think with great precision and focus about the artistic image that I want to create and the means by which I achieve that, whilst still maintaining flexibility and room for freedom in my interpretation.

Beyond teachers, recordings offer a great source of inspiration. I’m a particular fan of older recordings (by e.g. Rachmaninov, Moiseiwitsch, Horowitz, Sofronitsky, Lipatti – to name just a few!) but I very much enjoy listening to different interpretations—old and new—that make me reflect on and challenge my interpretive views.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Being in the early stages of my career, one of the main challenges I’ve found is the sheer amount of repertoire that you have to learn, often in a short space of time. It never feels like a chore though, being exposed to so much fantastic repertoire.

Another challenge at this stage is having a clear vision of what I want to do artistically. For me, artistry is built on life experience (not just musical experience!) so it naturally develops with time, but I look to wider cultural inspiration to aid this. Reading music at university, where I had the chance to explore music from many different perspectives, significantly changed the way I think about music.  

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I always enjoy collaborating with other musicians because I learn so much from them. I’m always keen to learn about key issues for other instrumentalists (e.g. breathing for wind; bowing for strings) and like to explore how ideas can inform my own work at the piano. Moreover, working with other instrumentalists helps me to think more orchestrally at the piano and search for different colours and tones. On top of that, there’s always the joy of engaging in a “musical dialogue” with the other performers, and not much beats thinking, feeling and breathing as a single “organism”.

It can be challenging to decide how to perform a particular passage when there are differences of opinion, but I believe even those moments of discord can be productive. In trying to see and understand the music from a different viewpoint, it has made me reflect on my own interpretations and challenge them, and encouraged me to be a more empathetic person.

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity?

Two composers that first come to mind are Mahler and Beethoven. I find their music incredibly philosophical: it’s quite hard to define what I mean when I say that, but perhaps offering a glimpse of what it means to be human, captures the spirit of what I’m trying to get at. I only wish there was more music for piano by Mahler!

I’m also known by friends and family for being a huge fan of Rachmaninov – I’ve loved the soaring melodies, rich harmonies and sumptuous counterpoint from a young age, and the fact his music is written so pianistically makes it a complete joy to perform.

Which works do you think you perform best?

That’s difficult to say! I don’t think I can truly give an “objective” view of my own playing. I particularly enjoy performing larger scale works (such as the Liszt Sonata) where there is a real sense of going on a journey with the audience, as well as the aforementioned composers for whom I feel a particular affinity, but I’ll leave it to the audience to decide if I perform them well!

What are your most memorable concert experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

Two concert experiences in particular stand out – one as a listener, one as a performer. I heard Mahler 9 last year at the Southbank Centre with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer. Searching, intimate, heart-breaking – the performance explored a huge kaleidoscope of human emotion and was unbelievably well-judged, almost to the point of being unbearably moving. It took me a couple of days to recover from that performance!

As a performer, a recent performance of Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety with Robin Browning conducting was particularly special. It’s not a widely performed piece, so I was thrilled that Robin wanted to programme it. Based upon W.H. Auden’s poem of the same name, the piece explores the human condition and a search for faith and substance. It felt like we’d been on a huge journey by the end of the performance and I can only hope that the audience enjoyed it as much as I did.

Honourable mention must go to the first time I performed Rach 2, with my school orchestra: it was incredibly fulfilling to see the project come to fruition after a number of years in the pipeline, and share the experience with many friends in the orchestra or audience.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

I think having an open mind and being willing to explore different musical styles and pathways is really important. There are so many different directions that a musical career can take—and not all of those involve performing!—so trying out different things (e.g. contemporary music, arts administration) can help to clarify what you want to do.

I also believe in the importance of a holistic approach towards music studies, and studying more than just music. Studying music broadly helps to situate repertoire within wider cultural contexts and inform how you interpret it, whilst studying literature, art, philosophy etc. can nourish the soul and provide inspiration. In my opinion, this is crucial in developing a sense of musical artistry.

How would you define success as a musician?

For me, the success of a particular performance comes from performing as well as possible, and moving the audience. I always want every audience member to leave having felt something, whether that is simply enjoyment at my performance or more profound feelings. If that is success relating to an individual performance, then I’d perhaps define success as a musician as achieving that consistently over an extended period of time.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?

As a young professional it’s equally daunting and exciting to imagine what I might be doing in 5 years’ time! But I hope to be performing even more music, discovering new repertoire, and working with many inspiring musicians.

About Jamie

A sensitive and versatile pianist, Jamie Cochrane is equally at home as a concerto soloist or in more intimate settings as a solo or collaborative pianist. He is keen to bring music to a wide audience, programming less widely-performed works alongside audience favourites. The Essex-based pianist has performed at venues including the Royal Albert Hall and the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, and recent performances have included Bernstein’s The Age of Anxiety with the de Havilland Philharmonic Orchestra, and Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody with the Essex Youth Orchestra.

Jamie has also been fortunate to receive lessons and masterclasses from pianists such as Steven Osborne, Ivana Gavrić and Tom Poster. Upcoming performances include Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto with the St. Botolph’s Music Society Orchestra. From 2019 to 2022, Jamie was the pianist in the Oxford-based contemporary music group Ensemble ISIS, where he had the opportunity to work with composers Shirley Thompson and Cheryl Frances- Hoad, amongst others, as well as collaborating with and performing works by student composers. During this time, the ensemble was also involved in a recording project in connection with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Chamber music continues to be important to Jamie, and recent performances include the Brahms Horn Trio and Rachmaninov’s Suite No. 2 for two pianos.

Having won the prestigious Essex Young Musician of the Year competition in 2018, Jamie went on to study at Merton College, Oxford, where he was awarded both instrumental and academic scholarships. Having graduated with a first-class degree, he went on to hold the position of Graduate Musician in Residence from 2022-23 at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, while continuing his studies in London. Jamie is currently in his final year of studying for a Master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Music, where he studies with William Fong and Michael Dussek. He is generously supported by the Wayne Sleep Foundation and the Cullis Bursary Fund.