I was recently shocked to discover that the last interview I did with pianist/composer Craig Urquhart was in 2003! How did that happen? Craig recently released his thirteenth album, Dreams Remembered
, so we decided that this was a good time to catch up. If you are not yet familiar with Craig and his music, you are in for a real treat!
Born in Michigan, Craig's mother was the neighborhood piano teacher, so music became a passion at a very early age - especially after watching Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts," which were televised in the 1950's. Right after college, Craig moved to New York City and left some of his music with Leonard Bernstein’s doorman at The Dakota. The two became friends, and Craig eventually became Bernstein’s personal assistant for the last five years of his life (1985-1990). This sparked a close musical relationship which influenced Craig’s work and encouraged him to write music from the heart. Craig moved to Berlin in 2016, but the internet makes it easy to stay in touch! We did this interview via email in April 2022.
Click on album covers to go
to Kathy's reviews.
For more information about Craig's earlier life, the 2003 interview is here
KP: I just re-read the interview we did in June 2003 and am stunned by how much proverbial water has gone under the bridge since then! How are you?
CU: Almost 20 years and yet it all feels like today. Actually, I have never been happier in my life. Of course things have changed - friends have died - and many things have rewired - but I can honestly say - the loss has taught me the importance of Love, and the changes have given me confidence to move forward and express myself for who I am.
KP: Wow! It's great to know that you are in such a good place!
You recently released your thirteenth album, Dreams Remembered, which I'm listening to again as I write these questions. Tell us a bit about the album.
CU: This is my second "covid" album. During this strange time of viral politics, that made a disease a cause for ignorance, I used the time to create my beauty. DREAMS REMEMBERED is about dreaming and letting our visions become reality. Growing up, I never could have imagined that my life would be so wonderful, worldly, accepted and filled with so much Love. I had dreams – yes, but when I look back at them, I realize that those dreams were just the ability to dream - not the reality of what was possible.
KP: I have reviewed all of your albums since your 1990 debut, Songs Without Words. Lucky me! It has always been impossible to categorize your music. There are classical elements, some pieces have the freedom of jazz and improvisation, and yet your music seems to, more often than not, fall under the new age category. New age seems to be a catch-all category for (mostly) instrumental music that doesn't fit into any of the other categories. How do you feel about that?
CU: Kathy thank you for your loyal support of my music. I have always enjoyed your reviews as they are always thoughtful and spot on! I dislike categories – I am an artist, just like all the wonderful colleagues and musicians we both know. We all have our individual voices, and we sing and perform not thinking about a category. My music comes from my heart experience, from all the influences in my life, be the other wonderful creators, nature, or loving people – and that does not have a label. I am who I am and create from that place which is me.
KP: I totally "get" that and always really appreciate artists with voices that are uniquely their own, but does having an original style like yours make marketing your music even more difficult?
Kathy, I am not interested in “marketing” my music. I create my music to bring beauty into the world. I believe that music is a healing energy and those who we connect with through our open hearts is what matters. But with that said, I find many people around the world who resonate and enjoy and share my music.
KP: I couldn't agree more, but unless people are introduced to your music in some way, how will they find it? There is SO much music being released all the time - and especially the past couple of years - and I'm sure a lot of great music is being overlooked because it doesn't necessarily fit a specific format. I hate that, but it seems to be a reality in today's music world. I just find it discouraging.
CU: Yes it is, and I find the categories that are offered are limited and simplistic.
KP: Definitely! When did you move from New York to Germany?
CU: I have been coming to Berlin since 1982 – it was a very different city then, but now it is an international melting pot of wonderful people. I moved after the election in 2016 – I could no longer embrace the USA.
KP: How so?
CU: I do not like what the USA has become – guns, ignorance, intolerance and hate speech – it no longer represents me. I loved my country when it was positive but now it supports people who no longer stand for its true ideals.
KP: That's also very discouraging!
My impression is that Europeans are much more supportive of their artists than Americans are. Have you found that to be true?
CU: Of course, artists are respected here. Arts are taught in the schools, subway stations are named Goethe, Beethoven, Mozart etc. That’s just a small part of it. There is a belief here in the “long line” of culture. When we look at European history, it is not the violence that one remembers, but the beauty that has been created despite all the stupid wars.
It seems that I've been getting more and more music from European artists and labels for review, and I'm often really impressed with the artistic quality of the music. Do you think European audiences listen more carefully to music and encourage a higher level of artistry? I don't mean necessarily a lot of flash - just more in-depth understanding and appreciation.
Click on album covers to go
to Kathy's reviews.
CU: I think people are more open to listening, yes. But culture in Germany is not just the television, the arts are an integral part of the culture. Berlin has three great opera houses, five super orchestras and so many musicians - and they are supported by the government (the people). During Covid the German government gave all freelance musicians money to keep creating. That’s enlightened. And with this exposure to more culture I believe there is a greater sophistication and openness to all different kinds of music – for example.
KP: Interesting! There has been an amazing amount of great music created during the two-year Covid-19 pandemic. Has that been true in Germany, also?
CU: We creative artists have been doing our best to keep creating. I have been composing, my friend Daniel Hope did a series of wonderful You Tube broadcasts bringing musicians together during this difficult time, as well has my dear Yo Yo Ma with his “Songs of Comfort” project which I was honored to be involved with. Music heals and brings people together; this is so important, and I know all our fellow musicians feel this way.
KP: Absolutely! Are live performances starting up again there?
CU: Yes, we are back and live and what a joy it is to come together and make music together.
KP: Do you perform live very often?
CU: Not as much as I’d like to, to be honest. I love to share my music live, but back to that “marketing” issue – presenters don’t get it. I do monthly house concerts and share them on You Tube. It is always wonderful to perform my music and feel the synergy with my audience.
KP: Do you come back to the US to visit very often?
CU: These past few years – not often – though I will come this spring. I need to see my grandnieces and nephews, my nephews, my brothers and friends. That is what is important to me.
KP: Are you still working with Leonard Bernstein's organization?
CU: Yes, it is an honor to work for his wonderful legacy: musical, educational and humanitarian.
Let's talk about some of the music on Dreams Remembered
. The first track is "Ballooning." I assume that refers to hot-air ballooning. Is that something you've done much of? The piece is so free and relaxed that it really does feel like you are floating through the air!
CU: Kathy, this represents dreams I could not have imagined. I had the great fortune to balloon over the temples in Bagan, Myanmar and over the Masa Mari in Kenya. Who would ever have thought this boy from Michigan would have these experiences – exhilarating indeed!
KP: "The Caress" is so tender and expressive - almost a massage for the mind.
CU: This was written for my husband’s brother’s wedding – it was a gift to Kai and Maire, who have blessed us with their love and our Goddaughter.
KP: Did you have a specific painting of Degas' in mind when you wrote "Degas' Dancers"? I love the sweet simplicity of that one!
CU: Not really. The Metropolitan Museum in NYC has an extensive collection which inspired the title, and my grandnieces all enjoy ballet – and with this composition I see them in their tutus being sweet dancers.
KP: That really comes across in the music! "Shadow Play" is somewhat darker and more mysterious. What inspired that piece?
CU: Inspired? Good question, titles always come last. When I play "Shadow Play," I feel those dreams of dark journeys which help you realize that it is not awful to explore the sadness, because that is part of one’s life – sadness enables happiness.
KP: If I had to choose one favorite on the album, I think it would have to be "West Wind." What inspired that one?
CU: Actually, it was inspired by the Chopin Etude in f minor! Opus 10 #9.
KP: What about "Circle of Light"?
CU: After I wrote this composition, I felt bathed in a “holy” light – surrounded by safety and beauty.
Do you have any idea of what your next project is going to be?
Click on album covers to go
to Kathy's reviews. Michael Debbage also
reviewed both of these albums. Michael's review
CU: I am already into my next album; I am fortunate that I have come to a place in my life where I let my music flow. I am also working with a wonderful flutist – Stathis Karaponas – and we will be doing some collaborations together. He recently recorded my Lamentation for Flute and String Orchestra – but my voice will always be the keyboard.
KP: Sounds great! If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?
CU: 1: First of all to stop this nonsense in the Ukraine and bring Vladimir Putin to justice.
2: To stop spending money on weapons that kill – we could do so much better.
3: To be a loving and kind person every day of my life
KP: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
CU: I would like to say how honored I am to be a part of this wonderful community of creative artists, who all have an individual voice and have the courage to share. It makes us all better people – thank you!
KP: Thank you, Craig!
For more information about Craig Urquhart and his music, be sure to visit his website
and his Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.