(photo credit: Rory Isserow)
(photo credit: Rory Isserow)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career? 

I don’t remember not playing the piano! But as a career – the London-based Swiss pianist, Albert Ferber, with whom I was studying, encouraged me to make my debut at Wigmore Hall in 1974.

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

All my teachers in different ways; musical members of the family; friends and colleagues who believed in me. The composer William L Reed was a marvellous mentor and facilitator. Perhaps most important of all, a passion for the music I had found and a powerful desire to communicate it.

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

To focus on priorities.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

The ones where there has been that special communication with listeners – whether in the concert hall or in feed-back from far-flung corners of the world. I do not wish to be solely defined by the many Grainger ones, but they have presented much repertoire that is new, fresh, entrancing, life-enhancing – hard work, but what a joy!

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

The particular ones for which I feel a gut instinct, whether by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninov …. the list goes on.

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

That is dictated by the projects I am undertaking.

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

I have enjoyed different venues for different reasons – the Melbourne Recital Centre is lovely, but so too is London’s Kings Place for its vibrant sense of enterprise (and very fine hall), and St John’s, Smith Square for its beauty. I have often relished the pin-point acoustics of Wigmore Hall, and the warm atmosphere of the Purcell Room. It was a thrill to play on the stage at Covent Garden for a gala Australia Day concert and at the Royal Festival Hall in Grainger’s ‘The Warriors’. By contrast, a good piano in a large music room can be perfect for a recital where one introduces the music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Most recently Bach transcriptions and originals for a Bach CD on LIR Classics. And see above……

Who are your favourite musicians? 

To hear: I so loved the Pollini Beethoven cycle, and in different sonatas, Brendel (the last three) and, unexpectedly, Barenboim in some of the early ones. Of course, that force of nature, Argerich!  On disc – Dinu Lipatti, Solomon and Richter.

For many years I played two piano programmes with my friend and colleague, John Lavender. We gradually developed a way of creating one texture from two pianos. We recorded much new Grainger repertoire on three discs and John also made some splendid two piano versions of such works as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ overture as part of an all-Russian programme.

I have been lucky to work with so many fine artists – in earlier days, the mezzo Muriel Smith, more recently, certain outstanding singers – Stephen Varcoe, Martyn Hill, James Gilchrist and Della Jones, in the Chandos Grainger recordings and in concert. Wayne Marshall was a memorable colleague both as pianist and conductor. It has been a great pleasure to work with the cellist, Rohan de Saram, who has recently returned to the standard repertoire along with his extraordinary abilities and achievements in the field of contemporary music. Earlier women pianists who inspired me in concert included

Lili Kraus, Alicia de Larrocha and Rosalind Tureck. Also Hephizibah Menuhin, whom I knew and admired as a friend.

These are but a few names amongst many others…

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Too many memorable experiences to choose one – but playing in 1980 in the Beijing Conservatoire and to a radio audience they told me averaged 50 million – was certainly the largest audience ever!

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

Be yourself. Find your unique path. Work hard. Know that beyond failure there is always the next step. Cherish your friends and the wonderful opportunities we have to share our music.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A concert at King’s Place, London, to mark 40 years since my London debut.

It will be a programme filled with melody and shared with some good friends, the Fitzwilliam String Quartet and a group of gifted young professionals, as we shall be premiering a piano concerto movement written by Grainger when he was just 13 years old.

I’ll start with mighty Bach arr. Liszt and progress through Grieg (lovely Grieg) by way of Grainger to the Dvorak Piano Quintet Op 81 – what an utterly gorgeous work.  

What is your present state of mind? 

Expectant.

 

Penelope Thwaites’ 40th Anniversary Concert takes place at London’s King’s Place Hall One on Wednesday 8th October. She is joined by the Fitzwilliam Quartet and outstanding young professional artists in a programme of music by Bach arr. Liszt, Grieg, Grainger and Dvorak. Further details here

 

London-based pianist and composer Penelope Thwaites has performed and broadcast in over thirty countries on five continents. Since her Wigmore Hall debut in 1974, she has appeared regularly as recitalist in major concert halls, and in a wide repertoire she has built a reputation as an intensely communicative artist. As concerto soloist she has appeared with the Philharmonia, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia and the BBC Concert Orchestra, and with leading orchestras in Australia, Europe and America.

Who or what inspired you to take up your chosen instrument and make music your career?

My mum and dad: Dad was a devoted brass band player, there was always music in the house (he had a gorgeous walnut radiogram, with piles of records – mostly 78s!). They fixed up violin lessons for me, made me practise, came to almost every concert I did, helped get me in the NYO, and thence to Cambridge.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

My colleagues in the Fitzwilliam Quartet! But before that, our mentor, Sidney Griller and his quartet; the Smetana Quartet; the Beethoven and Borodin Quartets (for Shostakovich); violinist Alfredo Campoli (the ideal violin sound); conductors Otto Klemperer and Roger Norrington (two totally opposite approaches to Beethoven); clarinettists Alan Hacker and Lesley Schatzberger (opening my eyes to historical performance practice); Dmitri Shostakovich himself – the greatest man I have ever met, whose very presence and humility imparted a belief in what we were doing, and a confidence to press on into the future; the greatest performer I have ever heard (not in the flesh, sadly): Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau;

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

Starting off and making headway in the real world as a professional string quartet; playing to Shostakovich; our New York debut – then the complete Shostakovich cycle there; re-building the quartet post- Chris Rowland (it took over twelve years!), and maintaining its profile and pre-eminence in these times of age discrimination in the music world; getting John Eliot Gardiner to observe the spirit and letter of Beethoven’s metronome marks (without seeming too cocky for my position!); getting my own playing onto a higher level, in order not to let the other three down (whilst spending a disproportionate amount of time on admin….).

What are the pleasures and pitfalls of ensemble work?

As a “team player” (which is the most satisfying role for a violist) one can achieve collective heights one could never achieve on one’s own – especially since the FSQ plays to a higher standard than I could ever reach myself! Those concerts (which happen rarely) when everyone is pulling together for the common benefit of quartet and composer, when you feel anyone can do anything, and everyone else will respond and be with each other. The pitfalls are when that doesn’t happen…. Or when individuals prioritise themselves before the group.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

The Shostakovich cycle, of course – although many of them we play better now! The Franck quartet. The Brahms clarinet quintet (with Lesley Schatzberger). Wolf’s Italian Serenade – as virtuosic as we could get in the old days! Then, latterly, our first ever public performance of Schubert’s Death & the Maiden (after 42 years! – as good as I’ve ever heard it from anyone…..).

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

The N D Rooke Recital Hall at Bucknell University, USA; Lyons Concert Hall, University of York; Glinka Hall, Leningrad (until the acoustic got ruined, somehow); Holy Trinity Church, Grange-in-Borrowdale (I can look at Skiddaw while playing!); St Mary’s Church, Walthamstow (an audience drawn from all walks of life).

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones I play with: colleagues in the quartet, plus Moray Welsh (cello), Anna Tilbrook (piano), Lesley Schatzberger (clarinet), Carolyn Sparey (viola); also those influential musicians mentioned above.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

16th November 1972, Lyons Concert Hall, York: packed to the rafters to witness us play Shostakovich No.13 with the composer in the audience. I have never in my life experienced such electricity in the air, or intensity of applause.

What is your favourite music to play?

Currently: Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence, Elgar Piano Quintet, Borodin Quartets 1 & 2, Haydn Opp.77/2 and 50/6 (“Frog”) and Seven Last Words, Schubert Death & the Maiden and Quintet in C, Grieg G minor quartet, Mendelssohn Octet, Purcell Dido & Aeneas/fantasias, Beethoven Missa Solemnis, Bach St Matthew Passion.

To listen to?

Anything by Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Berlioz, Bruckner, Schumann, Janáček, Delius, Mahler, Schubert, Nielsen, etc etc! Plus Mussorgsky’s Boris, Gluck’s Orfeo.

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

Don’t get in the way of the music or the composer! Be faithful to both the spirit and the letter of the score – i.e. inform yourself as to the exact meaning of the notation, the performing conventions and sound according to the period of music in question. Aim to perfect every aspect of your “craft”, in the service of both the music and your own self-expression – but never impose the latter: this would imply that your own personality is not strong enough to stand on its own. Ego is no substitute for the humility and character required to communicate with your audience.

What are you working on at the moment?

Tchaikovsky No.3, Borodin No.1, Delius, Grieg, Shostakovich 7

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Same as now, but with rather more free time!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Man U overturning the rich pretenders from Man City next year!

What is your most treasured possession?

My family, my friends, my health, my viola, a lock of my late daughter’s hair

What do you enjoy doing most?

Drinking good beer or wine, eating Italian food (or Indian), playing (now watching…) cricket, walking, cycling.

What is your present state of mind?

Content, partially fulfilled, but frustrated when playing is not all it might be, angry with this Tory-led government and their flagrant promotion of gross inequality in our Society.

The Fitzwilliam Quartet perform at London’s Wigmore Hall on 24th July in a programme featuring music by Delius, Shostakovich and Schubert (with ‘cellist Moray Welsh). Further details here.

www.fitzwilliamquartet.org

Alan George’s biography

The Fitzwilliam Quartet

My piano teacher, Penelope Roskell, is peforming in two concerts at the delightful and intimate small venue Sutton House this month and next.

Sunday 15th May, 7pm

‘An English Summer Evening’ – Fitzwilliam String Quartet with Penelope Roskell

Artists in residence, the Fitzwilliam String Quartet, and Artistic Director of SHMS, Penelope Roskell, present a programme celebrating the work of those two quintessentially English composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar. Both the works being performed were written during war-time and are profound and intense music.

Ralph Vaughan Williams – String Quartet No. 2 (‘for Jean on her birthday’)

Sir Edward Elgar – Piano Quintet in A minor Op. 84

To reflect the English nature of the concert, there will be Pimms and Punch on sale from 6.30pm and during the interval. The bar will also be open after the concert to allow audience members to enjoy a drink with the performers.

Sunday 19th June, 7pm

‘Reason and Romance’

A solo concert by Penelope Roskell, juxtaposing the reason and intellect of J S Bach with the mercurial romance of Robert Schumann.

J S Bach – Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue

Robert Schumann – ‘Papillons’

J S Bach – French Suite No. 2 in C minor

J S Bach – Partita No. 5 in G

Robert Schumann – Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor

Sparkling wine will be on sale with complimentary strawberries and cream in the courtyard during the interval.

Sutton House, a National Trust House in Hackney, is a really lovely venue. I was very impressed the first time I visited, two year’s ago, both by the quality of the performances, and the commitment and support of the audience.

For more information and online booking go to www.shms.org.uk