Hugh Mather, the indefatigable director of concerts at St Mary’s Perivale in West London, introduces a major weekend festival of Chopin’s immortal piano music, and examines some of the rationale behind the festival.

We are holding the St Mary’s Perivale Chopin Festival from Friday 15th June to Sunday 17th. In summary, this comprises most of Chopin’s solo piano works played by 21 excellent pianists giving recitals of 24 to 44 minutes, providing about 12 hours piano music over a glorious weekend of piano-playing.

Firstly, it gives a chance to ‘show-case’ the amazing pianistic and musical skills of so many of our younger pianists. I currently have a shortlist of about 80 pianists who are certainly good enough to give a decent solo recital in my concerts, and the 21 playing in the festival include some of the best. In alphabetical order, they are Ashley Fripp, Artur Haftman, Tyler Hay, Dinara Klinton, Ilya Kondratiev, Renata Konyicska, Ke Ma, Viv McLean, Mikhail Shilyaev, Asagi Nakata, Luka Okros, Mengyang Pan, Mihai Ritivoiu, Tamila Salimdjanova, Colin Stone, Iyad Sughayer, Michal Szymanowski, Julian Trevelyan, Amit Yahav, Yuanfan Yang and Hao Zi Yoh. Most are young (aged below 30) and have won multiple awards in international competitions. Many pianists – possibly most – are at their peak when aged 25-30, after 15-20 years of excellent teaching, long hours of practice, sheer hard work, intense competition and financial support, with little need to divert their energies into piano teaching and other activities to provide an income. Our pianists come from all over the world, with different musical and pianistic backgrounds, and it will be endlessly fascinating to hear their varied approaches to Chopin. This is much preferable to hearing any single pianist – be it Perahia, Zimerman, Pollini or a re-incarnated Rubinstein or Cortot – playing through all this repertoire. I am always amazed to hear how the same piano can sound so different with successive pianists. It will be a heavenly weekend for all pianophiles.

Secondly, it provides an opportunity to hear much neglected Chopin piano music. In the concert hall, Chopin performances tend to be dominated by the same few ‘warhorses’ which most pianists feel obliged to learn and perform. I have undertaken an analysis of works played in over 700 concerts at St Mary’s Perivale in the past decade. Way out top is the ubiquitous G minor Ballade, which has been played 16 times, followed by the Barcarolle and 3rd Scherzo (11), the 3rd and 4th Ballades and Polonaise-Fantaisie (9), the F minor Fantasy, 2nd Scherzo and 3rd Sonata (7) and the 2nd Ballade, Polonaise Op 53 and 2nd sonata (6 times). By contrast, many of the smaller pieces are hardly ever programmed. When I assembled the programme, I asked all the pianists to list all the works they could offer, and it was instructive to see so many offering – yes, the G minor ballade – the A minor Mazurka Op 17 no 4 and the D flat Nocturne Op 27 no 2 , but surprisingly few other mazurkas or nocturnes. On CD, the situation is complicated by the almost universal practice of complete sets of nocturnes, polonaises, mazurkas and waltzes. Hearing all the mazurkas or waltzes in succession isn’t a satisfactory musical diet. Our festival provides a satisfying mix of all the different genres throughout the festival, and a chance to hear many under-performed works in concert. It comprises 12 hours of music, out of the approximately 16 hours in total of Chopin’s solo piano music, without any repetition of a single work. Some early works are omitted, such as the first sonata, and some early variations, but much gorgeous music which is rarely heard in concert will be included. This required a complicated jigsaw puzzle, and was achieved by asking all pianists to list works they could offer, and giving them a limit of one major work (sonata, scherzo or ballade etc), to ‘spread the jam’ evenly among all the musicians!

Thirdly, it is particularly appropriate to hold the festival this year, and in Ealing, which has the highest proportion of native Polish speakers in the UK. Many Polish soldiers who fought alongside British troops in the second world war settled in the borough after the conflict ended. Their numbers were boosted in subsequent waves – first, around the time martial law was imposed in Poland in the early 1980s, then at Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004. Chopin has, of course, always occupied a special place in Polish culture. And in this year, we mark the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence in 1918. Our festival can be regarded as part of this celebration. It also marks the 170th anniversary of Chopin’s visit to London and Scotland in 1848, the year before his death. Our festival will commence with a short introductory lecture from Amit Yahav, entitled, ‘Chopin: A Polish Poet at the Piano in Paris’ to set the scene and to consider the main features of his life and the influences on his piano composition.

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Inside St Mary’s Perivale
Fourthly, it utilizes the special atmosphere of St Mary’s Perivale. This is a charming, small and intimate venue which has much more in common with the Paris salons of Chopin’s day than those other larger venues in Central London. It is a Grade 1-listed architectural jewel which is blessed with excellent acoustics and a glorious ambience. Its small size creates problems of its own, in that our church can only seat a maximum of 100 people, but we are confident that this will accommodate our audience. No tickets will be sold beforehand. All our pianists will be paid £200 for their performance, and we are charging £15 for admission to each long session. Since they contain between 3 and 6 piano recitals, we think that this is a reasonable charge, and compares well with those for piano recitals elsewhere. Please bring cash rather than cards or cheques.

In summary, this promises to be a very special weekend of exceptional piano-playing which should appeal to lovers of Chopin and the piano, in London and further afield. Come along to enjoy Chopin in Perivale!

St Mary’s Perivale Chopin Festival runs from 15 to 17 June 2018. Full details of all performers and programmes here

For more details about the church and other concerts at St Mary’s please visit www.st-marys-perivale.org.uk

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Hugh Mather is a pianist, organist and retired physician, who organizes classical concerts at St Mary’s Perivale and St Barnabas Ealing.