The day after the two-piano marathon, the climax of the 2017 London Piano Festival (LPF), my concert companion for the evening rang me to thank me for inviting him to join me at this feast of perfect pianism. “It was all superb! And I felt so inspired I’ve been playing the piano all day!” (This friend is working on Beethoven’s mighty Waldstein sonata). And the LPF truly was inspiring (I ordered the score of Ravel’s Miroirs after Melvyn Tan’s liquid and mercurial performance at one of the afternoon concerts). Earlier in the week, a well-known celebrity thespian type and amateur pianist released an album of piano miniatures which he claimed would inspire other people to play the piano. This dreary vanity project pales into insignificance in the face of the exceptional quality and variety of LPF – and rightly so. In common with many of my piano friends, I go to concerts in part to be inspired. We also go to hear our favourite artists in our favourite repertoire, and to discover new repertoire or artists. For those who love the piano the LPF fulfills all these desires, and more.
When I arrived at Kings Place, where the LPF makes its home for a long weekend in early October, a group of piano friends were chatting in the foyer, replete with the pleasure of hearing Lisa Smirnova in music by Scarlatti, Mozart and Handel. Melvyn Tan’s Dances and Mirrors, the 2pm concert, was jaw-dropppingly, heart-stoppingly remarkable, not least for the romantic raunchiness of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, the perfumed sensuousness of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, but also the premiere of Kevin Volan’s l’Africaine, a work which combined the vibrant, pulsing rhythms of Africa with the intricacy and delicacy of touch of the French claviciniste tradition. After such an extraordinary, and yes, hugely inspiring, offering, could things get any better than this? Well, yes of course they could!
Last year’s two piano marathon was incredible: two and a half hours of thrilling pianism, played by musicians at the top of their game who were also friends, thus bringing a wonderful sense of common purpose and shared pleasure to the event. This year a different group of friends, brought together by the festival’s indefatigable artistic directors, Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva (who also perform in the festival): two Steinways, as sleeks as super-cars, six pianists, twelve hands, not to mention two dedicated and very discreet page-turners took to the stage for an incredible evening which fully celebrated the piano, its myriad repertoire and those who play it. Piece after piece, composer after composer, we wondered if the quality and excitement could be sustained right to the end, but it was and this extraordinary evening rounded off with a hugely thrilling and very witty performance of Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini, with Danny Driver and Melvyn Tan.
Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva have created something very special in the LPF using a simple formula: bring together a group of superb performers, varied repertoire, new commissions and a friendly atmosphere. Add a fine venue and an enthusiastic audience and the end result is a near-perfect celebration of the piano and pianism.
Uplifting, joyous, communicative and wonderful collaborations
Pianophiles can rest easy: the dates for the 2018 London Piano Festival have already been announced (4-7 October) and the festival line up will be announced early in the new year.