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?

Coming from a moderately musical family as I do, there was no shortage of inspiration at home during my childhood. My father’s solo career was in full flight, and I loved attending his concerts and listening to the work process behind the scenes. It seemed to me that this was an elevated and endlessly interesting way to live one’s life. Later on, my lessons with William Pleeth were invaluable, as were my encounters with the extraordinary composer and pedagogue Gyorgy Kurtag. The cellist I listened to most was Pablo Casals, a great and pioneering artist whose unique way has always fascinated me. 

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

Without a doubt, bearing the surname of my father [Alfred Brendel], with whom I have always got on very well. It brought with it an expectation in others’ eyes that I wasn’t well equipped enough to deal with for quite some time. This has waned over the years, but not without leaving a clear psychological mark. Yet I wouldn’t change the past if I could! The flip side of this very private struggle was a rich immersion in culture in the widest sense. My father and I still meet regularly to discuss and listen to music, watch films and look at art together.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I was possibly a bit too young and green to record the Beethoven sonatas with my father in my late 20s. It was the one opportunity we had to do it, and I’m still pleased with it almost 20 years later. Many performances come to mind – perhaps the 20 years of directing the Plush festival in Dorset give me most satisfaction as a body of programmes that always tried to push boundaries and present music in a spirit of inspiration. 

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

I’m not sure…perhaps the audience should decide that! I feel a particular bond with Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, and with much contemporary repertoire. Combining old and new elements in a programme is so often mutually enhancing. 

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

I listen to quite a lot of improvised music, something I like to do in private (and occasionally in public) as well. I teach a lot too and am becoming more and more aware of its importance in my own development. One can learn so much from one’s students. I play football, tennis and other sports with childish enthusiasm and this keeps me sane at times. Most of all, I spend time with my partner and two boys, who give everything so much more meaning.

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

There’s an element of chance here – you never know what you will encounter along the way. As a collaborative cellist, I have to be ready for anything! When planning my own recital programmes, I try to combine some new or unknown music with works from the canon. There is a huge amount of great repertoire to find that only increases the more you look..

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

As a member of the Nash ensemble, Wigmore Hall always feels like home as we are resident there every year. Other wonderful venues include Vienna Musikverein, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and Berlin Philharmonie, amongst many.

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

I think there is a case for completely rethinking the way we do our events, not to preclude the time-honoured format that we are all used to and enjoy, but to actively encourage new formats and ideas alongside the conventional model. These could include making our events more filmic in presentation or collaborative with other art forms such as dance (particularly with modern music); doing away with 2 x 40 minutes in most events; allowing other elements in such as improvisation and different genres, and using more unusual venues as concert spaces. All these things are starting to happen, but need to become more normal for young people to sit up and take notice. 

The awful situation performing artists find themselves in due to COVID-19 and, mainly, Brexit also provides an opportunity for young musicians to reinvent the wheel in the UK. With so little funding for the arts and such difficulties with touring in EU countries, we are just going to have to find new ways to connect with audiences here.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Too many to mention. Perhaps out of leftfield, being summoned on stage out of the blue while presenting a world music festival in Senegal for BBC Radio 4 to play with Baaba Maal in front of 10,000 people. That was an experience…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To find fulfilment in what you do, and to approach your work with a fresh, unbiased mind. And to be generous to your colleagues.

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

Learning how to listen, and how to take distance to one’s own ideas to allow others in. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I’d like to live in a UK that is less divided, and has more respect for its artists and artistic institutions. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Time spent in nature with my family, decoding a complex new score of exciting contemporary music, watching Fulham at Craven Cottage (although not recently), attending a riveting concert, play or film, seeing progress in my students, curating unusual musical events: to name a few!

What is your present state of mind?

Stupefaction at the direction this country is taking. Excitement at the gradual opening up of things and the creative optimism that follows. And the fervent hope that we might leave the world in some kind of fit state for our children despite our current freefall. 

Adrian Brendel performs with pianist Alisdair Beatson at this year’s Petworth Festival which runs from Wednesday 14 July – Saturday 31 July. Further information here


One of the most versatile and original cellists of his generation, Adrian Brendel has travelled the world as soloist, collaborator and teacher. His early immersion in the core classical repertoire inspired an enduring fascination that has led to encounters with many fine musicians at the world’s most prestigious festivals and concert halls. His discovery of contemporary music through the works of Kurtag, Kagel and Ligeti in his teenage years opened a new and vital avenue that he continues to explore with huge enthusiasm alongside his passion for jazz and world music. In 2014 he became a member of the Nash Ensemble of London.

Projects with contemporary composers and conductors such as Kurtag, Thomas Adès and Peter Eötvös among others inspired him to cultivate new music in his concert programmes wherever possible. A three-year project with Sir Harrison Birtwistle led to premieres of his song cycle Bogenstrich and a piano trio released on the ECM label. He also premiered York Hoeller’s cello concerto Mouvements with NDR Hamburg alongside Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Canto di Speranza.

Mitsuko Uchida, piano

Schubert – C Major Sonata, D. 840

Schubert – G Major Sonata, D. 894


Like almost every other festival this year, Petworth’s annual summer music festival, which normally takes place in July, fell victim to the restrictions imposed in response the coronavirus pandemic, but rather than cancel this year’s festival altogether, its organisers sensibly moved the music festival to the autumn and combined it with the literary festival. The events are all online, though some are live, with audience, to create “a real ‘Petworth’ feel about them” (Stewart Collins, Artistic Director) and, as always, there’s a fantastic line up of performers and guests, including Sheku and Isata Kanneh Mason, The London Mozart Players with Howard Shelley, and Mitsuko Uchida. Petworth Festival always attracts an impressive roster of performers and amply confirms that there is very high quality music-making to be found outside of the capital.

We’re all pretty used to watching concerts via livestream and videocasts now; superior technology allows such broadcasts to be presented with high-quality sound and visuals, which undoubtedly enhances the experience. It’s impossible to entirely recreate being in a concert hall, but one of the advantages of livestream is that you can choose when the view the concert: watch it live or at your own convenience, perhaps in the middle of the afternoon, as I did with this particular concert. With my laptop connected to the tv in the living room and a cup of tea in hand, I settled down to enjoy Mitsuko Uchida playing two sonatas by Franz Schubert.

I’ve only ever seen Uchida performing in the vast space of the Royal Festival Hall, yet every time she has managed to shrink the space, drawing us into her personal, musical world to create the atmosphere of a salon concert. This is particularly true when she plays Schubert, a composer who despite writing large-scale works, is a master of the introspective, and, as I have written on this blog, a composer for these corona times.

Uchida is very alert to Schubert’s idiosyncrasies, his chiaruscuro and elusive, shifting moods, and I always feel that she is very at home with this music. She creates the most remarkably sense of intimacy through hushed pianissimos, tapered sonorities and a sensitivity to Schubert’s “psychological dynamics” – where a fortissimo, for example, is tempered by a certain restraint and emotion is implied rather than made explicit in sound. She highlights details or moments of significance with a touch of rubato here, a little more pressing forward there, and these feel spontaneous, of the moment, never contrived (of course the ability to do this so effortlessly comes from a long association with the music and a deep knowledge of it).

Uchida also seems to subscribe to Andras Schiff’s assertion that one must “follow” Schubert, allowing the expansiveness of this music to unfold gradually. Her melodies have a warm cantabile, her dynamics subtly shaded, often revealing dark, mysterious layers beneath.

In the D894, described by Robert Schumann as “most perfect in form and conception”, she created a timeless serenity in the opening movement, opting for a relaxed moderato (rather than Richter’s famously ‘meditative’ slowness) to allow the narrative to flow naturally into the dramatic grandeur of the development. What followed was a second movement with a contrasting rhythmic vigour in the more passionate passages, a tender, folksy lullaby in the third movement, and an elegant, supple finale replete with pastoral charm.

122117455_4474452515958519_7672388628339138679_oSchubert isn’t a showy composer, and nor is Uchida a showy performer. For this concert, she was dressed soberly in a dark fluid trouser suit, but there was a glint of showiness in her footwear – the most elegant silver shoes which lent a roccoco flair. Of course, the superb camera work allowed one to enjoy such details: to get up close and personal with the performer as the camera lighted on her  hands and face, revealing myriad expressions, often unconscious, and which perhaps offered a glimpse to the personality beyond the notes.


Petworth Festival continues until 1 November – more information

Photo credits

Decca/Justin Pumfrey

Petworth Festival

This site is free to access and ad-free, and takes many hours to research, write, and maintain. If you find joy and value in what I do, please consider making a donation to support the continuance of this site

Make A Donation

One concert leads to another, or so it would appear based on recent events in my musical life….. Less than a month ago, at a super lunchtime concert given by the sparkling young British pianist Christina McMaster, we were chatting after her performance and she asked me if I was free in early December to play in a private house concert down in Sussex at the lovely country home of Neil Franks, Chairman of Petworth Festival. And so a couple of weeks and two rehearsals at Steinway Hall later, I found myself playing the Wilberg Carmen Fantasy with three other pianists, including Christina and Neil. To say it was great fun would be an understatement – it was possibly the most fun I have ever had at a piano: making lots of wonderful noise (music!) with like-minded people with a true passion for the piano to a very appreciative audience. Add in welcoming, generous hosts, plenty of Prosecco and wine, good food and good company, and one has the makings for a perfect evening.

The programme was eclectic (see pictures below) but it worked and I think the audience really appreciated the range and variety of music played, from Rachmaninov’s striking and vibrant Symphonic Dances (brilliantly performed by Neil and Julian) to miniatures by Satie and Etudes by Debussy (beautifully played by Christina), interspersed with works by Peteris Vasks, Chick Corea, Britten, William Grant Stiff and Prokofiev. A programme need not have a theme nor a common thread when performed by a mix of people who simply want to share their favourite music – and their love of playing that music – with others. And that sense of a shared experience, between musicians and audience, was very palpable, judging by the lovely comments from audience members during the interval and after the concert.

We are so used to hearing music in formal or very large concert venues, like the Wigmore or Royal Festival Hall, that it’s easy to forget that until about 1850, the majority of music was written for and performed in private salons and the home (and music for piano four- or six-hands was composed to satisfy a growing market in the 19th century for piano music to be played in the intimacy of one’s home). Neil Franks’ Pianos at Parkhurst (House) recreates the atmosphere of the rather less formal nineteenth-century salon or haus konzert – an atmosphere that allows for greater connection between audience and performers – and is a delightful and very positive reminder that, fundamentally, music is for sharing.

It was a privilege and a pleasure to be part of such a wonderful and hugely enjoyable evening of shared music making – for friends, with friends and amongst friends.


Petworth Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2018. A preview of the 2018 Festival will be on this blog.

For further information about the Festival, please visit www.petworthfestival.org.uk