Piano Notes – Jack Thompson

I met Jack Thompson at the Dulwich Piano Festival in 2012, at which he gave an atmospheric performance of Godowsky’s transcription of Isaac Albeniz’s sensuous ‘Tango’.

I have been playing the piano for (too) many years – say, 70. I enjoy playing Ravel, Debussy, J.S. Bach, and the Spaniards – Albeniz and Granados. I rarely try Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin – I have decided they are just too difficult to play and therefore to enjoy. But I have returned to Brahms recently and took pleasure from the ‘Intermezzi’.

I enjoy practising but find it hard to timetable it. In my younger days, I played a lot of jazz and wrote music for songs and revues. I also earned a bob or two playing in working people’s clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Latterly, I attended The Oldie magazine piano weekends for many years until the death of its much loved director, Raymond Banning, in December 2012. I had some lessons from him and they opened my eyes to the possibility of tackling material I otherwise thought too difficult.

Playing the piano is all part of an attempt to understand life and art in general. It is almost a religion. Together with reading and the writing I indulge in, plus attending theatre, film and art exhibitions (like the current Murillo at Dulwich Gallery), playing the piano persuades you to think through intellectual problems.

To adults considering taking up the piano or resuming lessons, I would say, in one word – “Patience”! But persist.

As for the one piece I would love to play perfectly it would be Ravel’s ‘Sonatine;, not least the third movement. I might swap that for ‘Evocacion’ in Albeniz’s Iberia suite. Hard to choose.

Jack Thompson was born in the north of England and studied Law at Trinity College, Cambridge. After a series of jobs – teacher, bus conductor, industrial spy and pianist in working men’s clubs –  he joined the BBC and eventually landed the post of foreign correspondent for the World Service. He reported from South East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He followed the Vietnamese army into Cambodia as it overthrew the Khmer Rouge and saw the grisly aftermath of Pol Pot’s killing fields. He was nearly blown to bits by militiamen in Lebanon and verbally pilloried by Saddam Hussein’s information ministry for a report on human rights abuses in Iraq. His bosses at the BBC described him as “curmudgeonly and subversive”, a badge he wears with pride.

Jack left the BBC in 1995 and became a newscaster for Deutsche Welle TV in Berlin. Since 2002, he’s written books and articles for a variety of periodicals. He’s played the piano again and tried to help with the upbringing of his grandchildren. In March 2006 Jack Thompson won the Scottish Association of Writers Pitlochry Award for Crime-writing with his first thriller ‘A Wicked Device’. That was followed two years later with another thriller ‘Breaking The Cross’.

Visit Jack’s website: politicalthrillers.co.uk

Entries are now open for this year’s Dulwich Piano Festival. See the website for further details, syllabus and entry form dulwichpianofestival.co.uk

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