In February 2017 virtuoso harpsichordist, Mahan Esfahani joins Britten Sinfonia to perform, and direct the orchestra, in a sizzling Mediterranean programme featuring the world premiere of a new Harpsichord Concerto by Francisco Coll. We caught up with Mahan ahead of these performances to find out a little more about him.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
That’s a difficult one to answer. When you’ve got a mission, I think that probably every day feels like a highlight because every day is spent working towards an important goal. I’d say that playing the Goldberg Variations to an enormous, packed hall at the Leipzig Bach Festival felt like quite a ‘highlight,’ because it was as close to Bach as I’d ever gotten.
When are you happiest?
When I play the harpsichord (seriously).
What is your greatest fear?
Having a sort of injury or situation in life which meant that I couldn’t play the harpsichord.
What is your earliest musical memory?
My father always had a lot of music in the house and was himself previously a musician, so it’s hard to pinpoint what I first heard. I suspect it was something like Led Zeppelin, actually.
Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Grigory Sokolov, the living god of pianists. He just wants to be the best pianist he can be, and everything else is irrelevant to him. He’s the closest thing to a ‘Romantic’ artistic hero that I can think of.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Probably the first time I played at the Wigmore Hall. It was at the tail-end of a tour playing a couple of concertos with a certain ensemble, and I was maybe 24 at the time and felt browbeaten and basically shell-shocked by a bad personnel situation. It was also at the end of my first six months in Britain and I just didn’t feel confident and basically went on stage absolutely terrified. I probably looked like I would have rather been getting dental surgery without anaesthetic than to be on stage. After that I resolved to always enjoy my time on stage and not subject the public to my personal anxieties.
What is your most treasured possession?
My library. I don’t know what I’d do without it.
What would your super power be?
To go back in time, for sure – only in order to help my ‘previous self.’ I suppose it’s always a case of ‘if I knew back then what I know now…’
If you were an animal what would you be?
Anything other than a human; we seem to be the only animals who show really dreadful traits. I suppose a chimpanzee would be a nice animal to be: you get to eat bananas and wear bow ties and smoke cigars.
What is your most unappealing habit?
I hum aimlessly to myself, especially if I have headphones on (or so I am told).
What is your favourite book?
Anna Karenina, probably. Or really anything by Tolstoy.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching whole seasons of The Simpsons.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Malcolm Arnold, because he’d mix drinks the entire evening; ‘Papa’ Haydn, because he’d be good fun and make everyone feel at ease; Voltaire, because he’d make the best conversation; and Morton Feldman, because he’d mock the proceedings and all the insufferable guests whom I haven’t mentioned.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I’d go back to when I was at university and would tell my 18-year old self that I was ‘worth it’ and would encourage him to be happier, work harder, and be less afraid of the world.
How do you relax away from the concert platform?
I actually like to play the harpsichord in my free time. I also read a lot, study languages (German and Chinese right now), and when I have time I try to keep fit (this is obviously not going well lately!).
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Having gotten this far relative to the many limitations I have as a musician and person.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Don’t waste time when it’s possible to use your time to best advantage. In other words: life is too short.
In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?
If you think you’re doing a good job, then you haven’t worked hard enough.
Catch Mahan Esfahani performing with Britten Sinfonia on Friday 3 February at Milton Court, London and on Saturday 4 February at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden. For more info and to book tickets click here