First of all, how old were you when you began to play the piano and at what age did you begin your studies at Chetham’s School of Music?
I started playing the piano when I was almost eight and then two years later I performed in a masterclass to the head of Keyboard at Chetham’s, Dr Murray McLachlan, who invited me to the Summer School there. I really enjoyed the whole experience, one thing led to another and I was invited to audition to the school, so that I joined when I was 11.
Who was your first piano teacher?
When I was young I had quite a lot of excellent teachers, but my first teacher was a local lady called Fiona Austin and it was because of her encouragement I decided to work hard to become good at the piano.
In an average school day, how many hours will you spend at the piano (lessons and practice)?
At Chetham’s, there are normally two hours of instrumental lessons in a week, with additional chamber music rehearsals and coaching. If I could, I would easily spend the entire day practising, but because of academic lessons and homework, I can’t realistically do much more than six hours of playing.
A tough question, but do you have any favourite composers?
I love whichever composers I play! At the moment I have been exploring the works of Russian composers: Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky - but every composer has something different to say and it would be impossible to pick a favourite.
Do you have any favourite pianists?
Martha Argerich and Mikhail Pletnev. I absolutely adore Mikhail Pletnev’s recordings of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concertos with Vladimir Fedoseyev - when I was younger I would listen to them every day.
How do you build up your repertoire? Is the aim to add a certain number of pieces each year?
I try to learn as many pieces as I can - there are so many pieces I would love to play, but it’s not just for numbers. I think it is very important to fully make each piece yours.
And what are you working on at present?
The biggest thing at the moment has got to be Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto, which has been one of my dreams to play since the first time I heard it!
Do you listen to any music other than classical?
I listen to any music, but to me classical is the most important.
Now to your concerts. Anything special that you like to eat before a concert?
It depends on what I’m playing. I find it very difficult to play if I haven’t eaten anything, but I try not too eat too much either.
Here's a cheeky question: do you keep a note of which dress you wore for each concert?
I can’t say I do! But I like to pick dresses that will fit with the music and the concert venue.
We can be cruel here on the CMS blog and like to ask a disaster question. Imagine that in the future some tragic circumstance forced you to live without space for a piano. Which smaller instrument would you choose to have with you so that you could continue to make music?
Would an electric keyboard count?
Okay, we'll allow that. No piccolo or mouth organ, then!
Do you have any future playing engagements in Cumbria?
I am honoured to have been invited back by the City of Carlisle Orchestra to play Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, with their fantastic conductor, Leon Reimer, on March 24th.
Thanks again, Leah. We look forward to hearing you play for us on February 22nd in St Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle, also in March with the City of Carlisle Orchestra.
See our Concerts page for details of Leah's programme.