Behind the piano: Ros Gilman

Behind the piano: Ros Gilman

A while back I wrote about the track Falling Snow by the composer and piano player Ros Gilman. Today – we go Behind the piano to get to know Ros a bit better!

What’s your real name?
My real/full name is Rostislav Gilman.

How did you come up with your artist name?
I was once on the phone to a film music agent in L.A. I introduced myself as Rostislav Gilman. The agent didn’t seem to quite understand me and repeatedly asked me for my first name. She eventually said: You really have to change your name! Nobody can remember that. And so I went ahead and changed my name to the much easier Ros instead of Rostislav. 

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I was born in Moscow, Russia, and grew up near Munich, Germany where my family moved to, while I was still young. I spent my student years in Vienna, Austria, studying at the University of Music and Performing Arts. I also received a scholarship to be an exchange student at the Royal College of Music, in London, UK. This was when I fell in love with London, so after completing my Masters I made it my new home and that’s where I am based today.  

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I’ve been playing the piano since I was 3 years old, but my first instrument is actually the violin, which I started playing at the age of 3 as well. 

Tell us about how you started playing music. 
Both my parents are professional musicians; my mom is a violinist and my dad is a (now retired) music theory lecturer, composer and pianist. So it wasn’t really a conscious decision, I just followed in their footsteps. I still remember the time when my mom brought my first violin — I was only three years old back then, and the violin was tiny. I was very excited and immediately tried to play on it. At that very moment, Mendelsohn’s Violin Concerto was playing on the TV and I immediately tried to imitate what I was hearing.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t work out quite as well as I had expected. But right then and there, my musical journey had begun. And some 15 years later, I finally performed Mendelsohn’s Violin Concerto as well!  

How long have you been making piano music?
I’ve been improvising on the piano for as long as I can remember. However, it was only after my hand-injury, which forced me to give up my violin career, that I started taking composing more seriously. To me personally, playing the piano is an essential part of being a composer. After entrance exams, which were spread over three days, I was happy to learn that I was once again accepted to the University of Music Vienna, but this time to the Degree program in Composition. I went on to study Composition for Screen, Jazz Composition, Orchestration and Conducting. 

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
There wasn’t really a moment of realization per se. Since I was young, I had always improvised and created my own music; be that on the violin or on the piano. Creating music has always been part of me and always came naturally to me. 

What are your favourite artists in this “piano genre”?
From the great composers of the past, I’d say Ravel, Schostakovich and Rachmaninoff are some of my influences. Playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor had been a goal of mine for some time. Piano is not my first instrument, so it was a challenge, but I’m happy to say that I was able to accomplish this goal last spring and even put up a recording of my performance on my YouTube Channel. This was one of those big personal moments for me, so I wanted to document it…  

From my contemporary colleagues, I really like the music of Alexis French. An excellent composer and highly skilled pianist.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
To be honest, most of the time when I sit by the piano, it’s either to compose or to practise. I don’t play just for fun all too often these days. That said, when I do find time for it on occasion, you might hear me play music from a Disney film… maybe one of the wonderful songs by the great Alan Menken. In fact, at one point during lockdown, there was a “window” between projects, so I sat down and recorded a short clip of A Whole New World from Aladdin for my social media. Such a great Disney song!

What rules (in making music) need to be broken?
I always say that, before you can go off and break rules, you should study them diligently. I’ve always thought that studying the great masters is a good investment of time for a young musician. 

How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
That really depends. I’ve done both. My latest release Falling Snow for example , has been fully recorded in my home studio. But back in August, I travelled to Prague to record the music to the beautifully animated film The Last Cloudweaver (a short produced directed by Judit Boor and produced by Dragonbee Animation). We recorded with the Prague Metropolitan Orchestra at Czech Television studios with a line-up of 64 live musicians and I had the pleasure to conduct myself. 

What’s your take on sampled instruments?
Much of my work is for film, for which I very frequently use samples for practical reasons. But whenever I can, I try to record with live musicians – the emotional impact of live recorded music is just unparalleled.

The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from? 

Good question! Often, I will just hear music in my head. All I need to do then, is to record it in some way – be that as notes on a piece of paper or as digital information in my studio software. Other times it can take days or even weeks to write and produce a particular piece of music. However, it is often the pieces that form very quickly and easily – almost by itself – which turn out to be the most “natural” of compositions. When that happens, the music leads you on its own. That’s the case of my latest release for example, Falling Snow, which came to me on a quiet weekend evening, while at home, and only took me a few minutes to write. ‚Falling Snow‘ is one of those little pieces of music that are particularly close to my heart. 

Thank you very much for this Ros!

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