Tell us a bit about yourself!
I started playing the piano when I was 9 years old and the rest is history, I suppose. I have a twin brother who is a wonderfully gifted chiropractor, and my mother has degrees and works in criminology and criminal justice. I went to the Purcell School and was surrounded by inspiring peers and teachers and during those extremely formative years I was encouraged to work hard and embrace creativity, individualism and to follow my dreams. I am fortunate enough to travel extensively and often to give concerts, but try my hardest to fit in some sight-seeing - I find I draw a lot of inspiration and energy from admiring great paintings and architecture. My favourite cities include Vienna, Budapest, Paris, New York, Cape Town, Melbourne and Tokyo. I love to read, and am particularly passionate about the Russian masters. I hugely enjoy cooking and find it a creative and therapeutic outlet - and a social one, since practising, travelling and performing is almost always done alone. I am a dog lover! The most unusual place I ever played a concert was at a crocodile farm in the humid subtropics of rural KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa!
Did you ever consider a career outside of music? Doing what?
Never! I am not alone in having doubts as an artist, and whilst there are quite possibly many other means by which I could make a living, I don't suppose that any of them would see me happy on a very deep level.
What's the most useful advice you've had from a teacher?
I don't think that a single piece of advice can ever be the most important thing to any musician. A great teacher is one who brings out all that you can be as a human being and an artist; it is rather a process. It is a very special thing to have contact with genuinely incredible people, for it inevitably makes us work harder, think deeper and keeps us humble and curious.
A few years back you recorded Chopin's piano concertos with the Regensburg University chamber orchestra. How does preparing for a recording compare to a live performance?
Preparing for a recording should, in theory, be the same as preparing for a concert. Everything has to be as meticulous as possible, but in the studio there is definitely a slight sense of being straight-jacketed and everything being examined under a microscope. One has to try hard to get a sense of abandon in the playing and to connect with the communicative power of the music. Later this year I will be recording a solo CD with Willowhayne Records, and am hugely looking forward to it!
How did you choose your programme for your November concert at Wiltshire Music Centre?
The two main works are Bach's magnificent Partita No. 2 in C minor, with its dramatic potency and almost biblical grandeur and sense of scale. All of Bach's music contains deeply spiritual qualities and I thought this would contrast very effectively with the supernatural Gaspard de la Nuit. The Liszt Fountains of the Villa d'Este, nested between them, is the perfect antidote to them both in a way - it is a work of pure radiance and the heavenly luminescence a great contrast to the Bach and an intriguing foreshadowing of Ravel's Ondine and so much of the Impressionistic School in general. I felt that the variety of styles and power of these amazing works would be really enjoyed by the Wiltshire Music Centre's public.
Ravel's Gaspard is one of the most incredible piano works. What's your experience with it?
Gaspard de la Nuit is arguably Ravel's greatest composition for solo piano and a source of endless fascination for pianists and pianophiles alike. I have performed it many times over the past ten years or so, but continually find something new and engaging. The three movements are based on three macabre poems by Bertrand and I will be reciting these in the concert because I feel that they add a special dimension to hearing the music.
What new repertoire are you working at the moment?
Too much! Lots of Bach, sonatas by Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Chopin, I am working on Brahms Op 118, both books of Debussy Images, Schumann's Fantasy Pieces, Op 12, Schubert's Impromptus D 899 and concertos by Beethoven, Schumann and Rachmaninov. I am lucky that my neighbours actually enjoy the practising!!!
What projects are you excited about in the future?
There are always exciting projects to look forward to, but I am especially looking forward to recording my new CD, mentioned above. It will be released in early 2018 and will feature some of my favourite solo piano works!
Ashley's recital was supported by Wiltshire Music Centre's Young Artist's Fund and the Fenton Artist Trust