ONEof the finest interpreters of classical and romantic repertoire, Imogen Cooper is a regular on the international circuit playing with the likes of the Berlin Philharmoniker and London Symphony orchestras.

Thanks to Colchester-based charity Roman River Music, she’s performing works by Haydn, Beethoven and Schoenberg at the Mercury Theatre on May 29.

For tickets call 01206 573948 or click here.

Growing up, and with your father being a musicologist, was it kind of inevitable that you would be some kind of musician?

There was indeed music around the house all the time - my father was a good amateur pianist who could also improvise well, my mother had a beautiful voice and they often played and sung together - my first Schubert lied experience was through them.

I am the youngest of four and all my siblings played an instrument. Also my father would regularly have new recordings to review, so there was always operatic symphonic and chamber music in the house.

As a music critic he would go to concerts or opera sometimes five or six times a week, sometimes we would be allowed to go with him. So the world of both live and recorded music was a very real one to me. It would I think have been strange if I had not been drawn in that direction.

And was it always going to be the piano – did you try anything else out in your early years like the Tuba or Drums?

No it was always the piano. The choice was not great, my older siblings had all chosen wind instruments and my father - rather harshly, I now feel - forbade string instruments. He would say that the learning process was akin to a pig being killed. Anything else like snare drums and tuba didn’t come my way.

Where and when was your first concert, what do you remember about it?

My first concert was at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire, at my brother’s school. I must have been 12 or so and remember that my ‘fee’ was £5 which to me, then at that age, felt like a fortune. I remember it was a dauntingly male audience. I might have played some Chopin, but don’t ask me more.

Gazette: Imogen Cooper Picture: Sim Canetty-Clarke

Picture: Sim Canetty-Clarke

What’s the most satisfying piece you’ve ever played and why was it so?

The Diabelli Variations, which you will hear, rank right up there. Monumental conception, extraordinary piano writing, moving, humorous, Beethoven at his very greatest which is saying something. Performing the last three Schubert sonatas is a similarly epic experience.

His inner world is so rich and varied, dark and light alternating in quick succession, and did any composer write such wonderful melodies that manage to reach the emotions so directly? But then how could I leave out a good performance of a Schumann song cycle with a like-minded and wonderful singer?

The truth is that there are so many major and moving masterpieces out there for a pianist, that it is a) a question of your own taste as to what ranks highest b) the satisfaction comes from having maybe given a great work a more than respectable performance, feeling that you really have managed to contribute something.

You’ve been a champion of new music. Why is it so important in the classical genre?

Because the best of contemporary music stems from the tradition in which I have been steeped, and finds a new language relevant to our own era. This is exciting, and it is good to open one’s ears to a new language.

Yesterday I heard Gyorgy Ligeti’s First String Quartet - not exactly contemporary as written in the late Fifties, but it sounds newer - and it was a thrilling experience, it really blew my mind. The performance was by the Belcea Quartet which certainly helped, I cannot imagine that anyone plays it better.

Thomas Adès’ music is unfailingly interesting, stimulating, exciting and beautiful. The experience of learning the piece I co-commissioned from him, Traced Overhead, was unforgettable. A very complex piece on paper, but real music. I came to love it even if it took a few years off my life.

And why did you set up your Music Trust, have any of your students go on to super great things?

You must give them a chance! They are mostly in their early to mid 20s as yet. Best not to be in a hurry as a musician.

But you will hear of some exciting things in the next months - not for me to divulge. I started the Trust because I wanted to give back to young musicians at the start of their career the same time without parameters given me, at a similar age, by such people as Alfred Brendel, Clifford Curzon and I wanted to offer this time in a place of beauty and quiet, away from noisy urban life.

A wonderful opportunity came up, through generous Australian friends, and now, twice a year, young artists can experience music in an environment of silence, in southern France. The development of ideas in such circumstances is far richer and quicker than from noisy within urban life, exciting as that can be.

I think that the cross-generational thing is very important at that age, and the one-to-one stretched over an intense few days seems to work for them - it does for me too! I get a lot from it and find it very thought-provoking, and enriching.

Where’s the most exciting place you’ve played, and why was it so great?

Well, I am lucky, and I have had a long life, and so that means, many places.

Recently I played with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Simon Rattle in their hall in Berlin, which has great acoustics - and they are of course a wonderful orchestra. Difficult to say otherwise, it’s never so much the place…more what goes on in it. As far as buildings go, Severance Hall in Cleveland is drop dead gorgeous, its acoustic too. Another great orchestra.

The hall in the Franz Liszt Akademie in Budapest is fantastic, if, like me, you are in to Jugendstil architecture - every lamp and coat hook is of the period; and by the way, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer with whom I played, are one of my favourite orchestras in the world.

In London, how can I not mention the Wigmore Hall - I have had so many wonderful experiences, onstage and in the audience, in that space.