To Steinway Hall in London last week to celebrate the release of the third volume of Norma Fisher At The BBC, a recording project initiated by Sonetto Classics to bring Norma Fisher’s remarkable pianism to a wider audience.

Born in London in 1940 to Russian-Polish parents, Norma Fisher’s talent was evident from a young age. Mentored by Ilona Kabos, Gina Bachauer and Annie Fischer, as a young woman, barely out of her teens, she won prizes at major piano competitions, including the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition, and shared the Piano Prize (with Vladimir Ashkenazy) at the 1963 Harriet Cohen International Music Awards; that same year she made her Proms debut. She appeared at major concert venues around the world and with some of the “greats” of the era, amongst them Jacqueline du Pré. Hailed as one of the finest pianists the country had ever produced, she broadcast extensively for the BBC in the 1950s and 60s – at a time when this was the key to succeeding as a classical musician in the UK – yet these performances were never committed to disc. In the 1990s she noticed a tremor in her right hand, which was eventually diagnosed as focal dystonia, one of the cruellest conditions to befall a musician, and withdrew from the concert stage.

“I developed a focal dystonia,” she says, “a highly-debilitating neurological condition that affected my right hand, causing the muscles to seize up without warning. Public performances became unbearably nerve-wracking, knowing that at any moment my hand could just stop working. It never actually happened mid-way through a concert, but I didn’t want to inflict that on myself or an audience and it seemed only a matter of time before it could actually do so.”

She turned to teaching, and has established a reputation as one of the finest piano teachers in the world, nurturing young talents such as Pavel Kolesnikov and Anna Fedorova. She also regularly serves on international competition juries and is artistic director of London Master Classes – which is where I first met her.

Observing Norma teaching talented young students at a London Master Classes event was immensely inspiring and stimulating. Chatting to Norma during a break in the class, her enthusiasm and passion was evident and her eyes literally shone with the excitement of encouraging these talented young musicians. In an interview for this site, she stressed “the importance of sound, understanding the depths and possibilities the keyboard has to offer, and how vital is stylistic awareness“, and one of the chief aims of her teaching is the importance of an “individual sound world”, combined with delicacy and precision (one hears this in former students like Pavel Kolesnikov, where the influence of his teacher is clear in his own personal sound world).

These qualities are more than evident in the three volumes of Norma Fisher’s BBC recordings, now remastered and released on the Sonetto Classics label. An “instinctive pianist”, by her own admission, who eschewed extensive analysis in favour of vibrancy of sound and breadth of expression, these recordings reveal the full range of Norma Fisher’s talents. There is drama and passion, nuance and texture, glittering virtuosity and delicacy of touch, sweet timbres and subtle dynamics, and above all, a profound musical understanding in her interpretations. And due to the constraints of the original recordings and broadcasts (artist and producer were allowed only 90 minutes to make a 60 minute recording and there was almost no opportunity for editing in the way there is today), these recordings have a wonderful spontaneity and freshness – in effect, true “live” performances.

The event at Steinway Hall on 11 May was both a celebration of the launch of the third CD, but also a tribute to Norma Fisher’s remarkable life in music – as both a performer and an inspiring teacher – and many of the guests were personal friends and close colleagues (including Piers Lane, Peter Frankl, Tasmin Little, Dmitri Alexeev, Nelly Miricioiu and John Tomlinson) as well as some of her former students, including two more recent graduates, Siqian Li and Daniel Hyanwoo, who both performed at the event.

Above all, this event seemed to perfectly embody Norma Fisher’s belief that “If we can’t share, there is no point in life, and I think that will remain my philosophy until my dying day“. Norma has shared her music and her musical wisdom throughout her life, and this was an occasion where we all shared in the joy of music and music making.


Norma Fisher At The BBC is released in three volumes from Sonetto Classics

Critically acclaimed British pianist Brenda Lucas Ogdon returns with her new album ‘Ravel que J’Aime’ (released 1 October 2021).

The album marks only the most recent chapter of Brenda’s rich musical history. Having been awarded the Gold Medal from the Associated Board for the highest marks in any Practical Subject throughout the British Isles, Northern Ireland, and Eire, Brenda has since gone on to perform amongst the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and across the US, Australia, the Soviet Union, Hong Kong, and more.

Brenda Ogdon has announced that her royalties from the album will be donated to Shelter – the UK homeless charity. This act follows in the spirit of the artist’s previous charity work. In 1993, Brenda established the John Ogdon Foundation – a foundation which completely funded three scholarships for gifted young musicians allowing them to pursue romantic and contemporary piano to a post graduate standing. The initiative was founded in honour of Brenda’s late husband concert pianist John Ogdon who died in 1989.

[source: press release]

In this Meet the Artist interview, Brenda Lucas Ogdon talks about her influences and inspirations and the experience of travelling and performing with her husband when he was still alive.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I was inspired by the lovely, glamorous pianist Eileen Joyce. Not only by her amazing pianism but by her elegant changes of beautiful dresses during her recitals. I was also inspired by the recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas/Concerti by the great pianist Artur Schnabel.

What has been the greatest challenge of your career?

The sudden, unexpected death of my husband, John Ogdon. I was a widow at the age of 53 and my life was turned around. After performing the duo piano works with John for at least 12 years, I had to revive my solo career. It took some time but eventually it happened.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I am very proud of the send recording we made of the two Rachmaninov Suites for 2 pianos. EMI amalgamated these with other recordings we made for them of Debussy, Bizet, Arensky, Khachaturian, Shostakovich, in a two-CD set, still available on the Warner label. I am also proud of my solo discs of The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 by J. S. Bach, released in 2018 on Sterling Records.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I really do not have a view on that question. At the moment I am releasing a double album of Ravel “Ravel Que J’Aime”, so I am hoping that it is Ravel.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I am always listening to other musicians which gives me a lot of inspiration. My daughter Annabel and I listen frequently to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra via their website.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I do not tour or give live concert performances anymore as I am 85 years old and those glory days are not possible for me physically. I have always loved recording so that is what I am happy to do now. The Ravel is for the charity Shelter – I am donating all my royalties to this charity, which I feel passionate about.

What is you favourite concert venue and why?

The Wigmore Hall in London. It is just such a perfect recital hall.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?

More funding for primary education in instrumental tuition in state schools. The rest will follow.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Difficult to pin down one experience against another: several memorable Promenade [Proms] concerts with John; a travel nightmare to give a concert in Spain when the French air traffic controllers were on strike so we missed the date. We eventually travelled and arrived in Malaga in the middle of the night. We played the concert a day late and when we walked on stage the audience erupted in the loudest applause I have ever heard! It was quite memorable and great fun.

As musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is when everything that you have worked and prepared for clicks into place at the right moment.

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

For performing musicians it is a tough world at the moment. Competition is strong and standards are very high – for example, the recent Leeds International Piano Competition where really amazing pianism was evident. Young musicians should listen to performances by major artists. They should try to accept the fact that there will be disappointments as well as triumphs in the life ahead of them and deal with that in a calm manner.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Yamaha Model C6 Piano

Brenda Lucas Ogdon’s latest album ‘Ravel que J’Aime’ is released on 1 October 2021, preceded by two singles of Miroirs: II. Oiseaux Tristes and À la manière de Borodine. All royalties from the album will donated to the homeless charity Shelter. 


Brenda Lucas Ogdon graduated with honours from the Royal Northern College of Music, where she met her future husband, John Ogdon.  She embarked on a world-wide solo career and a piano duo partnership with John.  This took them to almost anywhere in the world where grand pianos existed.  Brenda has appeared at the Cheltenham, Aldeburgh and Edinburgh Festivals, and also Sintra in Portugal and Maine in the U.S.A.  She has recorded for several major labels including EMI & Decca and her work has frequently been broadcast.  She has appeared with major orchestras throughout the UK, Australia and the U.S.A.

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Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

My parents foremost – there was music around the house at all times, and my mother had a beautiful voice and sang often with my father accompanying. Then my first teacher, from age 5, Barbara Boissard. Then Kathleen Long, a natural pianist and musician with a beautiful sound. I stayed with her until I was 12 when I went to study at the Paris Conservatoire for 6 years. By then my mind was firmly made up – but these people were good early influences who would have helped my resolve to be a musician grow. 

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

In my younger years, there was an injury or two which involved some important last minute cancellations, which I hated being obliged to do. You have to keep faith that you will heal completely, which of course I did. However emerging from the pandemic is really challenging – planning impossible and great flexibility needed, as well as zen-like qualities. 

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud? 

It depends on which period of my life. The Philips recordings of Lieder with Wolfgang Holzmair were very special for me. As were the Schubert Live recordings from South Bank Centre a little over a decade ago. They were tough days, the rehearsal was recorded, as was the concert, with a patch session until late into the night. Each was a real marathon. 

But my set of recordings for Chandos have been, still are, a wonderful journey – all done at the amazing Snape Maltings with an excellent team. I have a particular fondness for the Liszt/Wagner recording, as well as for the Beethoven Diabelli Variations and “Iberia y Francia” , a lovely mix of French and Spanish masterpieces, large and small. 

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best? 

It’s not really for me to say. I don’t take up any work if I am not 150% convinced by it, and feel that I have something really personal to express through a piece. I guess that Schubert and Schumann are particularly close to me. 

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage? 

Get away from music! Read, be in the great outdoors, preferably walking..

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Dominated either by practicalities (recordings, requests from promoters, festival themes) or, simply by a movement of the heart that impels me to such and such a composer..

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

There are so many. The Wigmore Hall is particularly dear to me as to so many of us – but also Spivey Hall near Atlanta GA in the US, Severance Hall in Cleveland, the Recital Hall in Melbourne, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam…I hate to leave any out, but am obliged to!

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I would like to think that the amount of filming of concerts on the web during the pandemic, and their easy availability, might entice new audience members when venues open up more. If only newly interested viewers could realise what an even richer experience it is sitting in a hall sharing an amazing musical experience with others – the synergy between platform and audience…There is honestly nothing like it.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One was certainly the first time I played the last three Schubert Sonatas together in one concert, a marathon if ever there was one. It was in the hall at Westminster School, on a freezing cold night – a packed audience sat huddled up in their coats and listening so attentively. It was a two hours-and-ten concert, and I was like a rag doll at the end, but proud to have stayed the course..

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

When I see that the music for which I have been a vessel has really reached the depths of people’s hearts and souls and that they are the better, or the wiser, for it. It is like speaking a message that has been clearly heard. If music-making is not about that, then for me it is not about anything. This has nothing to do with commercial success which is another story. 

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

Be humble about your ambition, whilst keeping your vision and goals clear. Be patient. And work work work – it is never enough. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years? 

Alive!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Walking in the Italian countryside in spring, with the prospect of a simple meal with friends at the end of the day. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

My house and garden.

What is your present state of mind? 

Sane, mostly. 

Imogen Cooper performs at this year’s Petworth Festival on 24 July, playing music by Schubert, Liszt and Brahms. More information/tickets


Regarded as one of the finest interpreters of Classical and Romantic repertoire, Imogen Cooper is internationally renowned for her virtuosity and lyricism. Recent and future concerto performances include the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle, Sydney Symphony with Simone Young and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Ryan Wigglesworth.

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(Photo credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke/Askonas Holt)

034571282602‘Vida Breve’ (Short Life) – Stephen Hough, piano (Hyperion CDA68260)

It seems fitting that Stephen Hough’s new album ‘Vida Breve’, featuring music on the theme of death, should be released while we are still in the thrall of the coronavirus. But this album is not a response to the pandemic and was in fact conceived and recorded long before any of us had heard of coronavirus or COVID-19.

Yet its theme is highly relevant to our Corona times when death dominates the news, from the daily tally of COVID deaths and grim predictions from scientific and medical experts. Despite this, as Stephen Hough says in the CD’s liner notes, we are still reluctant to talk about death, a reluctance which has increased over the past 50-odd years during which medical science has made it possible for people survive better and for longer and has led to a greater disassociation from and hyper-sensitivity to discussions about death.

For artists, writers and composers death has always been a central preoccupation, resulting in some of the most extraordinary, exultant and emotionally profound expression in painting, literature and music – amply demonstrated in the works on Hough’s new album. In the nineteenth century people were far closer to death than we are today, and for Chopin (whose short life was dogged by ill-health), Liszt and Busoni, composers whose music is included on this CD, death was understood and accepted as part of the natural course of life.

As a Catholic, I suspect Stephen Hough has a fairly robust attitude towards death, perhaps more closely aligned to that of the composers featured on his new disc (and remember Liszt was a devout Catholic). Hough’s faith teaches us not to fear death but to accept it as the only certainty in life, and his own piano sonata ‘Vida Breve’, the work which lends its title to the disc, explores the brevity of life, a reminder that our allocated time is short. An abstract, introspective work constructed of five tiny motivic cells, which interact contrapuntally and include a quotation from the French chanson En Avril à Paris, made famous by Charles Trenet, ‘Vida Breve’ lasts a mere 10 minutes, a comment on the transient, fleeting nature of life, its passions and turmoil.

Bach’s mighty Chaconne from the D minor violin Partita opens this recording, in Busoni’s glorious, romantic transcription for solo piano. This epic cathedral of sound is an awe-inspiring, emphatic opener (Hough played it at his Wigmore Hall livestream concert in June 2020), and here Hough gives it an authoritative, multi-layered, orchestral monumentalism. It’s opening is dark and sombre, yet the processional nature of this piece, with its sense of building, dying back, then increasing again, brings a remarkably uplifting atmosphere to this music, and of course its final cadence, a Picardy Third, ensures that it closes with a clear sense of positivity.

After the towering majesty of the Chaconne, Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 is fleet and turbulent, its anxious intensity tempered when Hough lingers over the more lyrical Nocturne-like passages in the opening movement and the Scherzo, or when he allows the essential nobility of the music to shine through over disruptive bass motifs. Like the Chaconne, the famous Marche funèbre is magisterial rather than simply funereal, while the tender, dreamy middle section lends an other-worldliness to the music’s atmosphere before the tolling bass and mournful theme return.

In addition to the thematic associations between the pieces, there are musical connections too: the dark rumbling bass octaves in the Bach/Busoni Chaconne are reiterated in the Marche funèbre – a plangent left hand accompaniment which, in the reprise of the famous theme dominates, with a dark tolling grandeur. And this figure is later heard again in the opening of Liszt’s Funerailles, to which Hough brings an ominous darkness, its slow-march meter suggesting the dead weight of a bier on the shoulders who carry it, before a more reflective, wistful section. The other piece by Liszt, the Bagatelle Sans Tonalité, is a musical gargoyle with its wayward harmonic language and grimacing, dancing rhythms.

The remaining works on the disc are encores of a sort – a reminder that this final recital is not quite over….. Busoni’s Kammer-Fantasie über Carmen uses familiar melodies and motifs from Bizet’s opera and transforms them into a witty concert piece, to which Hough brings a warm romanticism. His own transcription of Arirang, a traditional Korean folksong, is gentle and contemplative, its lyrical melody singing out over a flowing accompaniment. It leads naturally into Gounod’s recasting of Bach’s Prelude in C into Ave Maria (also transcribed by Hough), a popular work at funerals, perhaps because it is both perfect music for the transit to the afterlife and for reflections on life and the inevitability of its end. Death, now where is thy sting?

This album is masterly is its programming; stimulating and provocative, it’s a superb recital disc and, being Hough, the music is thoughtfully chosen and impeccably played.

Highly recommended

FW


‘Vida Breve’ is released by Hyperion on 29 January 2021. 

This review first appeared on The Cross-Eyed Pianist site

Piano music commissioned and recorded during lockdown to support musicians struggling during the Covid-19 crisis

There have been many initiatives to keep the music playing and support musicians during these difficult times. What all of these initiatives demonstrate is that musicians are, despite straitened circumstances, determined to keep playing and to continue to share their music with audiences. It also sends a powerful message to government that the industry is determined to survive, to let the music play, come what may.

I have a personal interest in this wonderful project by pianist Duncan Honeybourne: Duncan and I are friends, and also colleagues – together we run a lunchtime concert series in Weymouth.

During the UK lockdown, Duncan decided to offer short video recitals from his home every day. He called them ‘Piano Soundbites’. The series proved very popular and within a few weeks, Duncan had the idea to approach composers to ask them to write new piano pieces for him, to be premiered as ‘Contemporary Piano Soundbites’ in his video recitals. Alongside this, Duncan set up a Just Giving page to raise funds for Help Musicians UK (formerly the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund). The response was incredible – the project, which was ranked in the top 10% of Just Giving fundraisers nationally during April 2020, has already raised well over £2000 for Help Musicians UK, supporting musician colleagues struggling in the current situation.

‘Contemporary Piano Soundbites’ celebrates the diversity of styles embraced by a broad cross-section of professional composers working today. Featured composers include Sadie Harrison, Graham Fitkin, John McLeod, David Lancaster, Francis Pott, Luke Whitlock and John Casken, as well as younger and emerging composers, and each piece is no more than 6 minutes long at the most. These piano miniatures represent an important contribution to the ever-expanding repertoire for the instrument, to be enjoyed by amateur, professional and student pianists alike.

pianist Duncan Honeybourne

“….it was an invigorating experience to record an entire disc of pieces which hadn’t existed less than four months earlier! Especially stimulating and exciting is the juxtaposition of several leading senior composers with some of their most gifted younger colleagues. Several young composers make their first appearances on disc.

My objective, as I stated in my invitation to composers, was fourfold: to imaginatively harness the zeitgeist of our present situation: to bring comfort and enjoyment to a large ready-made audience stuck at home, to aid musicians badly affected by the “cultural lockdown” and to add to the contemporary repertoire, creating an artistic keepsake of this extraordinary phase in our history.

My long term plan is that, as well as helping our colleagues at a time of need, the collection will provide a snapshot of reflections and musings by some of the finest and most distinctive composers of our time at a unique and unprecedented moment in our history. I hope the disc will make for a refreshing, enriching, stimulating and quirky listening experience too!”
Duncan Honeybourne, September 2020

The music was recorded in late July 2020 in the new Gransden Hall at Sherborne Girls School, Dorset.

The disc is released on the Prima Facie label and is available to order now

For review copies, sample tracks, interviews with Duncan and other press information please contact Frances Wilson


Meet the Artist interview with Duncan Honeybourne


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Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I grew up in a strict religious household, so when an upright piano – a gift from a church member – arrived at our house it was just a large and welcome new toy to play with. My parents had somewhat draconian views on children’s entertainment; consequently we had no television and only really listened to classical music. There are of course pros as well as cons in this approach but…

Thus, at the age of four years old, I (apparently) began to pick out tunes with one finger and it was quickly decided I should have lessons. These were kindly donated at no charge by the church organist, one Marion Mills. Although I had many kind and patient teachers over the years, Peter Crozier at Pimlico Saturday school, Peter Jacobs at Latymer Upper School and lastly John Irving and Danielle Salomon at Sheffield University, what truly inspired me to take up a career in music was being allowed to arrange for and direct the band in school shows.

Our school Christmas spectaculars, essentially lavish pantomimes, really were worthy of the ‘spectacular’ tag, played out to a paying audience of several hundred in our large school hall, brilliantly converted into a theatre. To allow a 16-year-old to run a 20 piece band for the shows while he sat in the audience was quite a display of faith from our brilliant head of music – Shane Fletcher; so if I had to nominate one person as an inspiration it would be that light touch teaching that secured my fate!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I’ve already mentioned many of the teachers who mostly looked kindly on my endless desire to improvise and managed in spite of that to instil the rudiments of a proper musical education into me! Being raised with the perpetual backdrop of classical music gave me a sound knowledge of most of the repertoire but a seminal moment was when my parents finally yielded to my sister’s and my cajolings and bought a small portable black-and-white TV when I was thirteen. One of the first things I watched entranced, after my parents had gone to bed, was a late night BBC2 show with Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. I was literally open mouthed (and eared). I had never known a piano could make sounds like this, much less that somebody could forge a career playing music other than Chopin! I obsessively hunted down all the jazz I could find and along the way discovered the cabaret genius of musical comedians such as Dudley Moore and Victor Borge (who also showed me that it was possible to make people howl with laughter using classical references). I can’t miss out other names such as Richard Rodgers, Bill Evans, Art Tatum and Fats Waller and the wit of French impressionists such as Satie and Milhaud.

Lastly, although not directly musical influences, I must also mention two performers that I worked with for over a decade. A large part of being a cabaret artist is one’s ability to recount stories and give context to the music on stage, an area in which I was resoundingly absent of talent. A brilliant performer I accompanied for fifteen years was a singer called James Biddlecombe (Biddie). Described as the uncrowned king of the cabaret scene in London, he championed obscure old songs that nobody had heard of and to this day I have never witnessed an audience in such paroxysms of tearful mirth as he managed to regularly engender. Watching him and another act, larger than life magician Fay Presto, beloved of royals and celebrities, whom I also accompanied for many many years, I slowly and painfully learnt how to communicate on stage.

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

Being an improviser with a classical sensibility, I often find myself on the same programme as truly jaw-dropping international concert talent. Keeping one’s self together in such exalted company is a trick in itself. They are without exception always kind and express admiration for what I do but knowing just enough to know quite how brilliant they are really can be enough to freeze the blood in one’s veins. The first time I went on Radio 3 taking live requests to play anything in any composer’s style, I was literally shaking. Recounting this to a friend afterwards he asked innocently “Why were you so worried? There’s only one man and his dog listening to Radio 3 at any given time.” Patiently I had to explain to him “Yes, but even the dog has a doctorate in ethno-musicology”.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I have recorded two albums – ‘In the wrong key’ and ‘All the way through’ – both of which I regard reasonably proudly, but my output will never be judged by recordings. My proudest moments are getting on a really good roll in an improvised Bach invention or during something very silly like Postman Pat in the style of Rachmaninov, hearing the audience reaction change from laughter to engagement as you fuse low and high art and for a few glorious seconds it comes off and becomes an entity of its own. Audiences always know those rare and special moments when you channel something perfectly in a composer’s style for a brief moment. You don’t have to explain it.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

What is your most memorable concert experience?

If I may take the liberty of combining these four questions… To explain: these questions fall into a different category for myself compared to a classical performer. Performances with Alexander Armstrong where I was musical director and arranger linger fondly in the memory, particularly one at the Palladium. Also an end of year review playing solo cabaret to a packed Birmingham Symphony Hall for Raymond Gubbay was a wonderful experience. My favourite performance and venue are probably one and the same – a charity gala at the Royal Albert Hall for SOS villages, an organisation working against the spread of AIDS in Africa. That venue is a seminal one for me – redolent with so many memories from my introductions to the Proms with my parents. The fact that they were sat in the front row whilst I took the host’s Aled Jones request to play Kylie Minogue ‘I should be so lucky’ in the style of Wagner (only request I can remember) and the consequent laughter echoing around the Albert Hall is something I shall never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Ultimately, music is all about communicating emotion. There are many different ways of doing this – interpreting the works of geniuses who have gone before in a respectful yet original way and profoundly moving all those that hear it is of course the most prevalent. However, I feel there is a space to play with all those references that audiences know so well and juxtapose them in a comical fashion. Although this is light entertainment, most of the time people sense when the fun is borne of a true love of the music and in amongst the laughter and silliness there is beauty too. So my definition of success is simply to bring joy to as many people as possible.

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

To show young students that improvisation is not a modern phenomenon or something to be scared of. It should absolutely be taught alongside all other musical knowledge – the principles therein are as old as the hills; Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were all serial improvisers. It is my life’s mission to get some aspect of improvising onto the national curriculum as I passionately believe it improves listening skills, time, arranging and composing and the relation with one’s instrument!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It’s a toss up between one of these three (if you can have a three sided coin…!)

1. Walking around the Borghese gallery in Rome.

2. Watching James Anderson destroy an Australian batting lineup at Lord’s.

3. Tucking into a particularly juicy Times cryptic crossword with Eugenie Onegin on in the background.


Harry’s extraordinary talent and breathtaking creativity have earned him a reputation as one of the most gifted improvising pianists in the world. Celebrities and critics alike have lined up to shower him with praise often smacking of astonishment. No other musician can spontaneously reinvent Michael Jackson in the style of Mozart, recreate a night at the Groucho club through the TV themes of its actor members, and improvise a seamless medley of audience requests ranging from James Bond to Shostakovich via West Side Story.

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