This month we're starting a new feature here at Sound Garden: performer interviews! We're looking forward to sharing performers' stories and getting their takes on the music they love!
First up, we're excited to feature pianist Haley Myles! Haley is a Young Steinway Artist, and today marks the release of her second album, dedicated to Chopin's nocturnes. That's right, the album is available now!
In February 2021, Haley began the "Chopin Nocturne Project", where she undertook the challenge of recording and releasing a new nocturne each Friday until completing the set. "The Complete Nocturnes" is an extension of this.
Back in Chopin's time (1810-1849), composers and other musicians often performed in "salon" events - living room performances, hosted by wealthy socialites. Some of their music was composed specifically for this setting. Inspired by this intimate salon aesthetic, Haley recorded and produced her album "The Complete Nocturnes" (link to Spotify) at her home in Lyon, France. Interpreting each nocturne as a story, Haley invites her listeners on an inward journey. Her natural sense of rubato, attention to nuances, and extended phrasing create heartfelt interpretations from beginning to end.
Read on for the interview and a track-by-track breakdown!
Want to purchase the album? Click here (link opens in new tab)!
How did you get started in classical music?
I grew up being exposed to classical music; I went to symphony performances when I was a child, and I had a CD of Daniel Barenboim playing Mozart concerti. I travelled a lot as a child, so I wasn’t in a place where I could pick up an instrument until I was 15. At that point, I was living in Spain, and across the street was a library with an upright piano; I started to noodle around, and I loved it! I found a really encouraging teacher who introduced me to composers I hadn’t heard of previously.
My first teacher didn’t really focus on technique, he would just introduce me to music. For example, he would place a Beethoven sonata in front of me and tell me to play it through. When I got back to the US, I was lucky enough to study with a teacher who got her degree from Juilliard. When I went to her, I told her I wanted to become a concert pianist (she didn’t say that I couldn’t!). She gave me a lot of études and studies, so I had to take a step back from the repertoire; I had to go back to basics. After that, I continued with different teachers and got my Masters. At that point, I felt ready to go the competition route (I’m a laureate of seven different international competitions).
There was one competition, and the audition was being held at the Steinway hall. I came in a week early, introduced myself, and asked if I could try the piano. They said yes; the manager heard my playing, really enjoyed listening to me, and suggested that I apply for the Young Artist programme, which I did. 6 months later, I was officially a Young Steinway Artist!
Who are your favourite composers and why?
Chopin - not surprisingly - and Schubert. I gravitate toward Classical (era) composers as well as the Early Romantic composers. I resonate more with their musical language; I feel like it is direct in its (perceived) simplicity.
I feel this way about Schubert’s music; it is so focused on a singular melodic line. I feel like Schubert’s “Drei Klavierstücke” (which are very close to my heart) represent the scope of Schubert’s personality: the first movement is quite serious, the second is more lilting, and the third is comedic.
Chopin has a lot of focus on the melodic line, too, but with extra flourishes. Chopin’s music is very passionate, and it can become dark at times, but there are always elements of pride, hope, and perseverance. I think that is a beautiful message. That’s how I feel when I play his music! As well as the Chopin nocturnes, I love the piano concertos. I fell in love with the first concerto first, when I was younger. As time has gone on, I have grown to understand and love the second concerto just as much.
What is your favourite performance memory?
Two moments stand out:
One of my first “real” (professional) performances - just outside of Milan, Italy. I was playing a programme featuring a piece by Liszt (“Vallée d’Obermann”), which is technically challenging. I was incredibly anxious beforehand, and was asking myself “Can I pull it off?”. I did, and I was very proud of myself in that moment! My mentor Paul Badura-Skoda was in the audience, and he gave me a standing ovation; it touched my heart, and gave me a lot of confidence.
In Portugal, I was supposed to be playing the Schubert “Fantasy in F-minor” with my duo partner, and he dropped out the day before. Paul Badura-Skoda said “I can play piano, too!”, and said he could perform it with me. I was grinning from ear to ear! As we were walking on stage, he asked me why I was smiling so much - it was a dream come true!
What do you enjoy doing outside of music?
I practice yoga daily, and am certified. I love yoga because it can be anything you want it to be! You can express yourself however you want to on a yoga mat.
I live in the countryside, so I love spending time in nature - I often go outside with my dog (Rachmaninoff!). Nature grounds me and centres me, and I draw a lot of inspiration from it.
There are lots of other things I enjoy - like eating great food and drinking good wine!
Tell us about the Chopin Nocturne Project!
I started the Chopin Nocturne Project in February (2021). When it first started, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the back of my mind, I had this idea of creating an album, but I wasn’t sure if it was possible - mostly due to financial reasons. I made a promise to record a nocturne every Friday, and I thought this would allow me the time necessary to really dive deeply and explore these works without pressure. Surprisingly, I received a lot of encouragement, as well as donations and contributions to this project. Because of the support of these wonderful people, I was able to create this album.
I recorded 95% of the album in one day - it was a 10-hour day at the piano! I had my incredible technician come in, and he was able to create exactly what I wanted. The piano was in perfect shape, so I played all of the nocturnes in succession - a piano doesn’t hold its tuning forever! I did about three takes for each nocturne. When I was editing, if I found a chord or trill I didn’t like, I re-recorded that section and edited it in. In three days, the recording and editing was all done. My brother-in-law mastered the tracks for me, and the whole album was done in less than a week!
Which of the nocturnes is your favourite (impossible question!)?
When I first started playing the piano, I remember my teacher showed me a recording of Yundi Li playing Chopin’s Op. 9, No. 1. When I first heard that, I remember thinking, “This is what falling in love feels like”. It’s because of that piece of music that I decided to pursue piano professionally; it was a big turning point for me.
What do you hope listeners will gain from listening to this album?
Music is so special because it allows us to transcend our reality; it’s something ephemeral. It lingers in the air, and it can take us to another place. We can connect directly with another person to give them a moment of peace/repose - to heal their soul. There is something so human about music; I just want to connect with others!
What would you say to someone who is new to classical music and wants to get started?
Visit Sound Garden: classical music immersion - there are resources for all different ages and levels of experience (Note: Thanks, Haley! We didn’t ask her to say this)!
Classical music isn’t boring, classical music is for everyone. Now that concert halls are opening back, I would encourage somebody to go and see a live concert. There is nothing that replaces being in front of a symphony orchestra, for example. I think if everyone experienced it for themselves, they would gain a new appreciation for it. There are well-known pieces that are well-known for a reason - the staples in the classical repertoire. Everybody knows Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” - that’s because it’s really worth listening to!
Out of the Chopin nocturnes, the most famous is Op 9, No 2. You can argue that it’s overplayed, but it’s overplayed for a reason: because it is really beautiful music! On my recording I did something different with this nocturne - I added ornamentation that Chopin included in another edition. They are hardly ever played, and I think they are very beautiful!
"The Complete Nocturnes": Track-by-track
Haley's thoughts on each of the tracks from the album:
Op. 9, No. 1
This nocturne evokes a desolate and barren winter landscape as the sun gleams on a snow-covered field and trees. The narrator, isolated and forsaken, fosters such a strong memory of spring that, for a moment, it becomes reality.
Op. 9, No. 2
This tender nocturne announces the arrival of spring almost as a lullaby. The narrator, healing from previous wounds, is opening his heart again to hope and love.
Op. 9, No. 3
It is early summer, the sun is high, and the narrator and his friends are out for a hike in nearby fields. They sometimes lose their footing while traipsing in the high grass, but never their spirits as they laugh and enjoy the company and sunshine. Suddenly, the wind picks up and clouds roll in, darkening the field and threatening the entourage with rain. However, the sun returns just as swiftly as it disappeared, leaving the friends to continue enjoying their promenade.
Op. 15, No. 1
This piece is a delicate assurance, the promise of safeguarding another person, a sweet sense of security. Life intervenes and menaces the narrator and his beloved. Ultimately, the tempest was not as threatening as it first appeared to be and all is still well, all will continue to be well.
Op. 15, No. 2
This nocturne elicits a moment of tranquillity and laziness on a humid summer’s day. Moments of inward reflection intertwine with placid enjoyment.
Op. 15, No. 3
On a fair autumn day, a farewell pierces the heart and causes the narrator almost physical anguish.
Op. 27, No. 1
After an unexpected and unjustified loss, the narrator attempts to find peace in nature. As dead leaves fall onto the lake on a bitterly frigid autumn day, the narrator attempts to shield himself from the cold and from life’s cruelty. The nocturne ends with the calm that the narrator was desperately seeking. Despite the hardship and grief, his heart thaws and he perseveres.
Op. 27, No. 2
This piece is the blossoming of a new love, tender yet passionate, treated gently. The lovers embrace at dusk against a dusty purple sky.
Op. 32, No. 1
One of the most gentle nocturnes - the newfound lovers cherish having found each other. They bask in being around one another and in simple actions, such as the exchange of smiles and holding hands. A sudden jolt sharply brings them back to reality.
Op. 32, No. 2
This nocturne elicits sweetness and a sense of security. An older couple still finds contentment in their daily life. Despite disagreements and their faults, their love remains and they always find a way back to acceptance and joy.
Op. 37, No. 1
The narrator gazes into her fireplace as she allows her thoughts to wander. A memory comes and repeats itself, swimming before her eyes in the flames, becoming distorted and fuzzy. For a moment, she resigns the memory to the past and finds acceptance before melancholia once again overwhelms her.
Op. 37, No. 2
This nocturne brings forth an image of laughter over aperitifs with friends and loved ones on a summer’s day. Sunshine and light-heartedness pervade most of the afternoon.
Op. 48, No. 1
It is the Polish insurrection and the Poles are fighting Russia for their freedom and independence. Snow surrounds them and the Polish forces are suffering in the bitter cold. They try to draw comfort from a fire as they kindle wistful memories of their family and loved ones, but the oppressiveness of the occupation is never far from their minds. Despite their hardships, the Polish soldiers are proud of their country and they do not lose hope. They are resolute and will continue to fight for their freedom.
Op. 48, No. 2
In the midst of the arduous insurrection, a woman replays a memory. She refuses to let go of it and does her best to imprint the moment in her memory. For an instant, she is deeply comforted as she enters the memory and forgets about the current difficulties. Perhaps it is a woman waiting for her beloved soldier to return home.
Op. 55, No. 1
This piece shows one of the darkest moments of the narrator’s mental health as he risks succumbing to depression. He finally manages to transcend the blackness.
Op. 55, No. 2
This nocturne creates a feeling of suspension as the narrator leaves his worries behind and focuses entirely on the wonders and miracles of life.
Op. 62, No. 1
This nocturne evokes a newfound feeling of compassion and tenderness towards the fragility of life.
Op. 62, No. 2
This piece is about finding happiness and gratitude in day-to-day life and treasuring the simple and mundane moments.
Op. 72, No. 1
The narrator wraps himself in self-absorbed unhappiness and momentarily allows himself to wallow in nostalgia.
No. 20 in C-sharp minor
In this piece, there is a sadness so acute that it develops into a physical pain that the narrator feels in his core. His stomach is heavy and he feels his heart sink.
No. 21 in C minor
This nocturne is a folk song sung by a solo voice. It is the story of someone who has suffered but still has hope and pride - an anthem of resilience.
Want a copy of the album, for your listening pleasure?