Tag Archives: Wigmore Hall

Concert review: Leon McCawley at Wigmore Hall

Leon McCawley (Photo credit: Clive Barda)

British pianist Leon McCawley presented a programme of music by Chopin, Debussy and Schumann, all played with evident relish and enjoyment, at a charming lunchtime recital at London’s Wigmore Hall.

Read my full review here

Leon McCawley kindly participated in my ‘Meet the Artist….’ series. Read his interview here

Meet the Artist…..Leon McCawley

Leon McCawley (Photo credit: Clive Barda)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

My parents didn’t come from a musical background but bought an upright for my two older sisters to learn so I am eternally grateful for that decision. For some mysterious reason I was drawn to the sound of the piano as an infant. I finally got my way and started piano lessons at the age of 5. It was my own choice and by the time I was 12, I had decided that I wanted to be a concert pianist.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

My amazing teachers: Heather Slade-Lipkin, Eleanor Sokoloff and Nina Milkina. I feel very fortunate to have studied with the right teacher at the right time in my development. My playing is also very inspired by my wife, the artist Anna Paik. As she works hard on achieving a subtlety of different colours and nuances in her studio upstairs, I’m not that far away from these creative concepts in my own studio downstairs.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

An artistic career will inevitably have its ups and downs and often many aspects of it are out of one’s control. The greatest challenge is remaining true to oneself, to forge an individual path without any compromises and not to be shattered by any frustrations that one may experience along the way. I feel so fortunate that I am pursuing my childhood passion and making my living out of something that I thoroughly enjoy. When I face any challenge, I always remind myself of this.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

With every recording I feel I am growing and learning more as a musician, as in every concert season. Recording the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas for Avie Records in 2006 was a huge undertaking and I am very glad to have accomplished this early in my career. I am happy to have a wide variety of repertoire in my discography: Barber, Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann to the less familiar Hans Gál and British composer Ronald Corp. I have two more discs out this year of Brahms solo piano works (Somm) and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (Naxos).

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

We have so many good ones in the UK so it’s hard to single out one. I love Wigmore Hall, The Sage Gateshead, King’s Place and Symphony Hall Birmingham to name but a few. I have happy memories of playing in the Rudolfinum in Prague and also the fine acoustics at the Meyerson Symphony Hall in Dallas.

Who are your favourite musicians?

From the past, I aspire to the pianism of Sergei Rachmaninov and Artur Rubenstein. I’m a great fan of Murray Perahia and always try and attend his concerts in London whenever I can.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing at the Musikverein when I won the Beethoven Competition in Vienna back in 1993 is high up there. Also the sheer thrill of walking out on stage at the vast Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms is special.

What is your favourite music to play?

I love the music of Schumann and am currently wrapped up in his glorious Carnaval. As a pianist there is endless scope and I am constantly updating my repertoire from season to season.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

Concentrate on your own goals and try not to be affected by all the pressures around you or make unhealthy comparisons with other musicians.

What are you working on at the moment?

As well as Schumann’s Carnaval, I am currently preparing Bach’s Italian Concerto, two Chopin Nocturnes, Debussy Pour le Piano and trio of bell-inspired works by Liszt, Debussy and Rachmaninov.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Lounging on the sofa with my cat on my lap!

What is your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring: a gold band with a blue sapphire, designed by my wife.

English pianist Leon McCawley leapt into prominence when he won both First Prize in the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and Second Prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition at the age of nineteen in 1993.

Since then, McCawley has given highly acclaimed recitals that include London’s Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, Lincoln Center New York, Prague Rudolfinum and Vienna Musikverein. McCawley performs frequently with many of the top British orchestras and has performed several times at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. He broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 3 in recital and with many of the BBC orchestras. Further afield he has performed with Cincinnati Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Vienna Symphony among many others. Conductors he has worked with include Daniele Gatti, Paavo Järvi, Kurt Masur and Simon Rattle.

McCawley’s wide-ranging discography has received many accolades including two “Editor’s Choice” awards in Gramophone and a Diapason d’Or for his boxed set of The Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas.

McCawley studied at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester with Heather Slade-Lipkin and at the Curtis Institute of Music with Eleanor Sokoloff. He also worked with Nina Milkina in London.

Leon McCawley is a professor of piano at London’s Royal College of Music and is married to the painter, Anna Hyunsook Paik.



Pedalling with the Olympianist

Anthony Hewitt

Anthony Hewitt is the Olympianist. Combining his twin passions cycling and the piano, he’s pedalling the Olympian distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats over 20 days in May, starting on 9th May. And the “pianist” element? He’ll be giving recitals along the way on his piano which will follow him in the ‘BeethoVAN’.

Repertoire for the tour includes music by Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Janacek, Rachmaninov and Franck (with Manchester Camerata), works chosen to express energy, movement, dynamism and a sense of journey. Concerts will be given at established venues, but Anthony will also give spontaneous recitals along the way. Requests for concerts can be made via Anthony’s website: as he says “no place is too remote, no venue too small”.

Anthony aims to raise £20k for a number of charities, including CLIC Sargent children’s cancer charity, and the National Autistic Society and Sistema Scotland.

For more information, sound clips, the route, and to donate, visit Anthony’s website at www.olympianist.com

Ahead of his Olympian tour, Anthony will be giving a coffee concert at London’s Wigmore Hall on Sunday 5th February. Programme and tickets here.


My concert year

A brief review of the great, the good and the fair-to-middling concerts I have attended this year. As regular readers of this blog will know, since April of this year, I have been reviewing for online listings site Bachtrack. This has given me the opportunity to enjoy even more live music, and combines two of my great passions: music and writing. I have included links to my reviews, where appropriate, in this post.


Ian Bostridge at Wigmore Hall. I have been a fan of tenor Ian Bostridge for some years now, after hearing him as the Evangelist in Bach’s St John Passion. A striking concert of songs of love, loss and longing by Purcell, Bach, Haydn, Britten and Weill.

Maurizio Pollini at the Royal Festival Hall. Grand elder statesman of the piano, Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini demonstrated his great range in an extraordinary concert of music by Chopin, Debussy and Boulez.

Prom 54: Marc-André Hamelin. My first ever late-night Prom, and a superb recital of music by Franz Liszt in this his bicentenary year.

Watch this space

Two young performers greatly impressed me this season: the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani (who I discovered via Norman Lebrecht’s blog), and cellist Joy Lisney. Esfahani, a fiercely intellectual musician, brought the Goldberg Variations to life in new and wonderful ways in his Prom at Cadogan Hall, while Joy, in her London debut at St John’s Smith Square, demonstrated a musical maturity far beyond her years, as well as a commanding yet modest stage presence, and beautiful playing.

Other highlights

Leon McCawley at King’s Place. The final concert in McCawley’s four-recital survey of Mozart’s Piano Sonatas, my first review for Bachtrack, and my first visit to King’s Place.

Charles Rosen all-Chopin concert. How wonderful to see the 85 year old Rosen still performing, touring and enjoying it. A concert which divided critics – there was some uneven playing and several scary memory lapses – I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Prom 68: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Hélène Grimaud. A concert which definitely falls into the category of “a great night out”. The Pittsburgh SO impressed me with their fine brass and woodwind, and convinced me that I should start going to orchestral concerts again.

Penelope Roskell at Sutton House. Despite a 2-hour trek across London to get to Hackney, it was a pleasure to hear my piano teacher in a concert juxtaposing Bach with Schumann. And Sutton House is a charming venue which deserves our support. (Sutton House Music Society)


Di Xiao at Wigmore Hall. Despite her glamorous photographs, Miss Xiao failed to impress me in her debut at the Wigmore Hall. I think part of the problem for me was the appallingly badly written programme notes and the rather saccharine title of the concert ‘Moonlight Reflections’. However, she gave convincing performances of Ravel and Messiaen, and I would hear her again when she has matured a little.

No review of my concert year would be complete without a mention of my students’ summer concert, a very enjoyable occasion featuring a wide range of repertoire, selected by the children.

Looking ahead to 2012, I have tickets for Peter Donohoe and Mitsuko Uchida (in Schubert’s last three sonatas) at the Southbank, and hope to review Jonathan Biss and Peter Jablonski in January. I am also embarking on a new ‘career’ as an arts reviewer for Bachtrack’s new sister site, OneStopArts, thus adding yet another string to my already rather busy bow!

On audiences: a view from the stalls

My reviewing job for Bachtrack.com has enabled me to attend many more concerts than I used to, and I am at the Southbank at least as frequently as I am at the Wigmore Hall these days.

Each venue has its own audience, with its own quirks and foibles. The Wigmore audience is famously high-brow – or at least would like to be regarded as high-brow – elderly and “north London” (the hall is often nicknamed ‘The North London Concert Hall’). Members of the audience are expected to sit in reverential silence, to know when to clap, and to generally behave impeccably. I have twice been asked to remove my watch at the Wigmore because “the tick is too loud”. Sometimes, if a member of the audience coughs too much, or fidgets, or – Heaven forfend! – rustles a programme, they will be met with fierce looks and angry, hissed “shusshings”. It is therefore always interesting to see who has turned out for a more unusual or adventurous concert programme, or a young performer debuting at the Wigmore (“doing a Wigmore” as it is known in the trade). At Di Xiao’s recent debut, the audience were younger, many were fellow Chinese, and my friend and I also spotted quite a few musical “slebs” including cellist Julian Lloyd-Weber. The presence of such “slebs” may suggest that these people know something we don’t, or that the soloist is “one to watch”. Last summer, at a charming and touching Chopin concert with readings, organised by pianist Lucy Parham, one couldn’t move for theatrical lovies: both the Fox’s, Martin Jarvis, Timothy West and Prunella Scales, to drop but a few names. Stephen Hough tends to attract young, mostly gay, acolytes, and if Till Fellner is performing, you can almost guarantee to see his teacher, Alfred Brendel in the front bar. As a member of the ‘press pack’ now, I often arrive at a concert to find the venue has put all the journos together (excellent seats at RFH and QEH, right at the back at the Wigmore), and we all scribble away trying not to read what our neighbour has written, just like being back at school!

The audience at Cadogan Hall is different. Stepping into the champagne bar there’s always a great buzz of chat and shouts of laughter, enough to suggest that this audience is likely to be younger, more awake and maybe more receptive to what they are about to hear. Audiences on the Southbank are generally younger, more trendy, more relaxed, while the Proms audience is different again – a real mixture of music afficionados, groupies, students, curious tourists, old timers who go year after year and people who are just beginning to explore the great annual music festival. The enthusiasm of the Proms audience is really infectious and undoubtedly contributed to my enjoyment of the Proms this summer.

Sometimes the soloist or musicians themselves can affect the way the audience responds and behaves during a concert. At Maria Joao Pires’s wonderful Schubert series at the Wigmore a few years ago, the musicians (the Brodsky Quartet and singer Rufus Muller) remained on the stage while Pires played her solo pieces (a selection of Schubert’s Impromptus) and the audience was asked not to applaud until the end of the first half. This created a wonderful sense of an intimate, shared event, and we might have been in Schubert’s salon, enjoying an evening of music making amongst friends, for friends.

But if we, the audience, are too much in awe of the soloist, we can put up invisible barriers which can affect the atmosphere in the concert hall. This was very apparent when I heard Daniel Barenboim perform as part of his Beethoven Piano Sonatas series some years ago.

Recently, I’ve attended and performed in informal concerts in other people’s homes. My husband likes these kinds of concerts, with wine and friends and chat between pieces. As he rightly points out, this is a much more natural way of enjoying music that was written before c1850 (when Liszt, almost single-handedly, made the concert into the event as we know it today), and reminds us that music is, above all, for sharing. With the increasing popularity of presenting music in more unusual and intimate venues like The Red Hedgehog or Sutton House (London), or in the beautiful library of the cloisters in Wittem (Belgium), musicians are able to bring music much closer to the audience, literally and metaphorically, while events such as Speed Dating with the OAE (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) offer audiences the chance to meet the musicians after the performance.

Audiences Behaving Badly

Some other small venues:

Woodhouse Copse, near Dorking, Surrey

Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre, Walton, Surrey

Guildford Guildhall, Surrey

The Forge, Camden, London

Rook Lane Arts Centre, Frome, Somerset