Interview with James Anagnoson

cdIt’s 40 years that James Anagnoson has been part of a duo with Leslie Kinton, to be celebrated in a sold-out concert Sunday November 13th at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

By coincidence I happened to listen to their version of the 1st Slavonic Dance on the radio yesterday morning, pulsing with energy, fierce yet full of fun.

I need to get this recording!

Anagnoson is not just a pianist but also a teacher, and the Dean of the Glenn Gould School of Music.  This is a great opportunity to ask him a few questions.

1)Are you more like your father or your mother? 

The music I got from my mother, who was a relatively accomplished pianist – but in terms of temperament I am probably more like my father.

2-What is the best thing or worst thing about your musical life?

I am living my dream. I have had the amazing opportunity to bring great music – the music I love so deeply – to audiences all over the world. At the same time I have the opportunity to teach wonderfully gifted  students – it just doesn’t get any better than this, and I appreciate it every day. The job as Dean of The GGS, which came at the right time in my life –  has been in many ways like teaching. The GGS is a small school of only 125 very gifted young performers, so running the school has given me the opportunity to positively influence the lives of young and aspiring musicians  on a larger scale than before.

3-Who do you like to listen to or watch?

I love sports – baseball, tennis and golf in particular – I play a lot of tennis and enjoy watching all of these sports. I also love going to concerts in a great hall – I love to hear great players play great music. I also like TV Dramas (The Killing for example) – and in summer I read a fair bit.

4-What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

I wish I had learned to play tennis when I was younger, but I don’t waste a lot of energy on this – I love the game and am progressing every day. 

5-When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favorite thing to do?

Sports, movies, or TV Dramas


And now we shift gears to ask about the professional-artistic side of things

1- At one time before you met Leslie Kinton, and before either of you started playing piano duo music, was either of you aware of piano duo music as a genre, and did you listen to any piano duo music (and any specific duo)? or was it more a matter of approaching/ discovering the rep on paper (in a score)?   And now decades later, do you ever listen to any other piano duos; if so whom do you admire?

I had a piano duo class when I was about 14 years old in the Prep Division of New England Conservatory – I remember it as being a lot of fun. I also played the Bartok Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion in Aspen when I was about 21 – otherwise before I played with Leslie I did not know a lot about duo rep or duos.

I love hearing Perahia and Lupu when they get together and do duo work.  

2-How did you meet & begin to collaborate?

We met as students in Aspen, and a few years later decided to do a duo piano recital for the fun of it. I was living in NYC and Leslie was in Toronto. We chose our repertoire and learned our parts, and I flew to Toronto for a first rehearsal. From the minute we sat down and played in The Royal Conservatory Concert Hall it was clear to each of us that we had instant musical chemistry. We then were fortunate to meet many mentors who strongly encouraged me to move to Toronto to pursue this career. And I am glad I did!! 

3-How do you understand your musical & professional roles in your partnership?

Although we play naturally well as a duo, we are very different players – so when we choose a new piece we read it and immediately know which part we want to play, and it always is the one the other guy didn’t choose! We have a very 50-50 partnership – our manager (Andrew Kwan) handles the business end of things and we stick to the music.

4-Please describe your working process.  By now you’ve got a huge repertoire, but if you’re learning something new such as a commission: do you go off separately and learn the music, and then have a first read through together? Please describe what that’s like.

We tend to do a quick read together before working much on a piece – then we spend the time to get our parts secure before doing intense rehearsals. This was much more difficult when we first started – over the years as we played a lot and grew together in the same direction it became easier and easier to learn new rep.

5- Is there anything you’re looking forward to exploring in the next decade that you’ve not done so far? My personal hobby-horse is film music, so have you ever played any Herrmann (thinking of Vertigo or Psycho) in transcription of course. John Williams’ music too would likely work brilliantly for you two, thinking of Star Wars or Jaws, music that people under-estimate.

I love Star Wars – I think John Williams is a genius – but we tend to stick to original two piano (or 1 piano 4 hand) scores, rather than arrangements or transcriptions.

There are many pieces we have not gotten to – the Stravinsky Concerto for 2 Pianos for example – that we will chip away at in future years.

6-Over the decades of your collaboration you’ve managed to be more than just duo pianists, particularly on the academic / pedagogical side. I’d ask each of you to reflect for a moment about the relationship between your creative practice as a duo and your lives teaching the younger generations of pianists.  

When we first started touring – playing 12 concerts in 14 nights – I would often think “what am I learning that I can bring back to my students?” Meanwhile when I was teaching I would often observe how a young mind dealt with things in an interesting way and try to bring that approach to my own playing. So the relationship between playing and teaching has been quite profound and extremely satisfying.

7-Please describe the program for the upcoming concert commemorating your 40th

We have chosen pieces that had a significant impact on our career. So we begin with the Brahms f – Sonata for 2 pianos Opus 34b (well known in the piano quintet version) because it was the very first piece we played, and it was a piece the eminent pianist Gina Bachauer hears us play in a master class, after which she gave us tremendous support and encouragement about making a career as a duo. Then we play a movement of a piece by Pierre Gallant – the first piece we commissioned – and on from there….

8-Is there a teacher or influence you would care to mention?

Gina Bachauer had a big effect on us, but I think my teacher Eugene List was the strongest influence as a mentor. He not only strongly encouraged us to pursue this as a career, but we also often coached pieces for him – he would say very small things that always made us sound so much better – what a gift he had!   We also played quite a lot in the very early years for Karl Ulrich Schnabel (Arthur Schnabel’s son) and he was SO imaginative – he  also influenced us a great deal.



Anagnoson & Kinton
40th Anniversary Celebration is
Sunday November 13th at 7:30,
at Mazzoleni Concert Hall in Ihnatowycz Hall,
at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

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