In her recent interview in ‘The Observer’, Dame Fanny Waterman expressed fears for the future of British pianism, blaming the popularity of “electric keyboards”, children starting to learn the piano later than in other countries (in particular the Far East) and lack of discipline for declining standards of playing and competition success. The article also infers that success in international competitions (such as the Leeds International Piano Competition, which Dame Fanny co-founded in 1961) is the benchmark by which “great” pianists should be measured. I have already written two responses to Dame Fanny’s comments (here and here), and acclaimed pianist and writer Susan Tomes has also written on this subject, in particular on the thorny issue of competitions. The interview created a lively debate across my networks on Facebook and other social media, with many people taking issue with Dame Fanny’s inference that there are no “great” British pianists active today.
I don’t agree with her: in my concert-going and reviewing activities, I have been fortunate to hear some fantastically talented British pianists, and some young, emerging artists who are definitely “ones to watch” for the future.
But what defines “greatness?”, and what criteria should we use to determine the most desirable qualities in a “great” performance? Are these criteria also influenced by fashion and changing taste, recordings and performance practice?
I feel it is time to celebrate British pianists, and I’d like readers to submit their own “greats”, which can then be compiled into a comprehensive list of great British pianists active today.
A handful of my personal choices to get the ball rolling:
Steven Osborne – his affinity with and understanding of late-nineteenth century and twentieth-century French music, in particular Ravel and Messiaen, is, for me, hard to match.
Peter Donohoe – for the sheer range of his repertoire and for bringing lesser-known composers, such as Henry Litolff, to the fore
Benjamin Grosvenor – a young British artist who is already showing huge promise, not least for his exquisite control of sound and touch, and his understated, thoughtful approach.
Please submit your nominations via the comments box below or contact me.