Stephen Hough: 'To me art makes life full of colour'

You've appeared with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra many times now, can you remember your first concert with us? It was 1986 or 1987 the first time. It was the same piece, of course - Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No.5. I really love coming to Singapore. And I have done every time. I remember I stayed at the Shangri-La, it was right at the beginning of my career so I hadn’t played in many places. I just fell in love with Singapore. I loved the weather in the beginning and I still do.

Do you remember your first experience of being in Singapore? There’s a kind of a mustiness that you get in tropical countries where there’s a lot of moisture in the air. The furniture becomes damp and has that smell which I think is a beautiful smell actually and it reminds me of the old Victoria Concert Hall. You’d walk in there and you’d smell this kind of decadence of wood rotting or plaster that was coming off the wall because of the dampness and I loved that. I think it is a country for me which combines more different things than almost any country I know. The history of it and the people and it’s somewhere where it’s always been a joy for me to be. People are so kind, things work – I’m always happy to come back.

Can you share with us what classical music or art has done to you or people around you? For me art and music is a humanising thing. To me, if I took music and literature and painting out of my life, I think it would be a shell. And I think it would be somehow inhuman. Of course I’m biased, because I’m a classical musician. But here we are, this piece by Saint-Saëns is already over a hundred years old. And yet it’s completely fresh and valid today. Why do we create music? Why do we go to concerts? We want to be taken to another dimension. And so in that sense it’s very similar to religion. It’s just colouring in. If you think of everyday existence, where you get up in the morning, you have your breakfast, you go to work and you go home, it’s all black and white. And to me, art is making it full of colour. I think this is why it’s always going to be relevant. It’s why we want people to come to concerts. We want people to go into an ecstasy. We want them to leave the concert hall feeling changed.

You've just released a book called 'Rough Ideas'. Can you tell us more about it? I published a novel last year called The Final Retreat and that’s a very dark, serious book. Rough Ideas is small essays, thoughts about music, mainly, and about other things in life. A lot of them grew out of a blog I had, on The Daily Telegraph website. So I took the ones that I thought were interesting and rewrote them, combined them and re-thought them. And then it also includes other longer essays I’ve written, speeches I’ve given, thoughts on theology, all kinds of things. We go backstage – what it’s like warming up, how do you trill, so there’s a lot of advice for pianists. It’s 450 pages of thoughts that I’ve had while I’m travelling around the world.

Don't miss Stephen Hough performing Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto No.5 on Friday 13 September at the Esplanade Concert Hall at 7.30pm