Extensive learning and engagement activities take piano out of the concert hall and into communities 

Outstanding young scholars from Lang Lang International Music Foundation also perform

“Artistry of that kind is rare in pianists of any age; to find it in a 20-year-old is simply astounding.”
The Daily Telegraph

Following his win at the Leeds International Piano Competition in September 2018, 21-year-old pianist Eric Lu returns to ‘The Leeds’ for Leeds Piano Festival, with recitals in Leeds and London. World-renowned pianists Steven Osborne and Barry Douglas also perform recitals, with Osborne leading a masterclass with Young Scholars from the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, building on the ongoing relationship between the Foundation and The Leeds.

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The Festival continues the much-enriched programme of events that surrounded the 2018 Competition, allowing audiences to engage with the piano and The Leeds beyond the triennial Competition. As part of The Leeds’ commitment to developing new and exciting ways of bringing the piano to as wide an audience as possible, the Festival – successfully inaugurated in 2018 – will again comprise many learning and engagement activities, including the return of the ‘Discover the Piano: Piano Fantasia’ on 28 March – The Leeds’ biggest primary school event to date, reaching more than 1,000 schoolchildren. The Young Scholars also participate in learning activities in primary schools and adult care settings in both Leeds and London – the latter once again in partnership with Wigmore Hall’s learning and participation programme – inspiring music lovers young and old with their prodigious talents.

Leeds Piano Festival recitals 

Eric Lu’s return to The Leeds is part of the revolutionary prize package at The Leeds last year, designed with career development in mind. The prize also included world-wide management with Askonas Holt, a release of his Leeds-winning performance on major label Warner Classics (released to much acclaim in November 2018), opening the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2018/19 season, mentoring with jury members and more. Lu performs Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 – a piece he performed in the Competition semi-finals and released as a single on Warner Classics following his win – as well as works by Mozart, Brahms and Handel.

Former Royal Philharmonic Society ‘Instrumentalist of the Year’ Steven Osborne explores Beethoven’s final three piano sonatas. Osborne is a renowned interpreter of Beethoven’s music, not least from his critically-acclaimed recordings of the composer’s piano sonatas on the Hyperion label, and these recitals offer a rare opportunity to see him perform in an intimate setting.

Internationally-renowned pianist Barry Douglas pairs miniatures with more expansive works in both halves of his programme for the Festival, contrasting Tchaikovsky’s vignettes The Seasons with his Grande Sonata in G major, before pairing Rachmaninov’s Six Moments Musicaux with Schubert’s intense Sonata in A minor.

The Festival also showcases three Young Scholars from the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, developing the continuing relationship between the Foundation and the Leeds. Three exceptional young pianists, Aliya Alsafa, Jaspar Heymann and Shuheng Zhang – handpicked and mentored by Lang Lang, the Competition’s Global Ambassador –perform recitals at both Festival venues, as well as participate in a masterclass led by Steven Osborne at Leeds College of Music.

Speaking at the Finals of the 2018 Competition – where he also presented prizes and was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Leeds – Lang Lang stated: I’m extremely proud of my association with the city of Leeds, and with the Piano Competition – which is doing so much to unite excellence and accessibility”.

Closing the Festival, celebrity pianist Alistair McGowan returns to The Leeds with Introduction to Classical Piano at Besbrode Pianos. An alumnus of the University of Leeds, McGowan previously performed at The Leeds during Piano + events at the 2018 Competition, and his 2017 recording The Piano Album reached Number One in the UK Classical Album Charts.

Learning and Engagement 

In addition to their recitals and masterclass, the Young Scholars participate in many external learning and engagement activities, following the success of similar events at last year’s Festival. As well as performing in the Piano Fantasia to over 1,000 primary schoolchildren, they also visit local primary schools in both Leeds and London, as well as adult care settings.

The University of Leeds, a principal partner of the Competition, hosts a ‘Steinway Experience’ on 30 March as part of Be Curious, the University’s research open day, where families can enjoy these wonderful instruments. Steinway & Sons, also a partner of The Leeds, has provided the pianos for the Competition since its beginnings in 1963.

Coinciding with Piano Day on 29 March, pop-up performances take place on the Leeds Piano Trail, in partnership with Leeds Business Improvement District (BID). These Besbrode pianos, decorated by local artists, were a popular feature of last year’s Competition and encouraged the public to play and experience the pianos at high-profile locations around Leeds city centre; most of the trail pianos stayed in place after the Competition due to the huge popularity of the initiative.

Adam Gatehouse, Artistic Director of the Leeds International Piano Competition, said: “After winning over both the jury and audiences at the 2018 Competition, we’re delighted to welcome Eric Lu back to The Leeds for the second annual Leeds Piano Festival. We’re thrilled too that Steven Osborne, Barry Douglas and the extraordinary Lang Lang Scholars will join him in both Leeds and London, allowing audiences to experience their remarkable talent and help us share in wonderful performances of great piano music. Deepening our roots in our communities by developing fun, diverse and inclusive events to enable more people to discover and fall in love with the piano is also crucial to our mission, and the Festival continues its inspiring work to attract ever-wider audiences.” 

Tickets for the Leeds recitals and the masterclass can be booked here, and the London recitals here.

 

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This musical and theatrical collaboration between multi-award-winning actress Dame Patricia Routledge and international concert pianist Piers Lane tells the extraordinary, inspiring story of Myra Hess and her famous wartime National Gallery concerts.

Compiled from her press and radio interviews during World War II by Myra’s great-nephew, composer Nigel Hess, ‘Admission: One Shilling’ is Myra in her own words: redoubtable, courageous and inspiring. This acclaimed show has toured for almost a decade yet these 17 November performances at Bishopsgate Institute will mark the first occasion that the pieces are played on Dame Myra Hess’s very own Steinway & Sons piano.

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Through spoken word performance taken from letters, books and interviews given by Myra, interspersed with short piano pieces by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven and JS Bach, hear, how the ‘great adventure’ of these lunchtime concerts began, and how they continued while bombs rained down on London.

It will be a powerful and poignant experience, for both Piers and myself, to be telling the story, through words and music, of Dame Myra Hess’s unique and inspired contribution to the nation, during the anxious years of the Second World War. That our performance is to take place at the Bishopsgate Institute in the company of one of the instruments Dame Myra Hess actually played will, I am sure, make for a significant experience for all of us.

– Dame Patricia Routledge

I am delighted that ‘Admission: One Shilling’, a piece about my great-aunt Dame Myra Hess is being performed at Bishopsgate Institute. These performances will be particularly special as Piers Lane will be playing on the piano given to Myra by Steinway which has been at the Institute for several years and has recently been extensively refurbished in Steinway’s Hamburg workshop. To hear Myra’s own piano telling her own story in this way will be an unique experience, both for her family and, I am sure, for the audience as well

– Nigel Hess

 

Admission: One Shilling
Sat 17 November | 14.00 & 19.00
Price: £21, no concessions
Address: Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London. EC2M 4QH

Further information / book tickets


Photo: ©Gussie Welch

‘Petits Concerts’ is a series of recitals at the 1901 Arts Club, a salon style venue just a stone’s throw from Waterloo Station. Inspired by concerts given by Charles-Valentin Alkan at the Erard showroom in Paris in the 1870s, and hosted by concert pianist James Lisney, Petits Concerts brings musicians together in the spirit of “music with friends and amongst friends” in an intimate setting which harks back to the 19th-century European cultural salon. Proceeds from each concert will be donated to musical/education charities.

Use code PIANO when booking and enjoy a 50% discount on full-price tickets

Petits Concerts III – Joy, Emma & James Lisney

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In addition, James Lisney will be giving piano lessons at the 1901 Arts Club from 2pm on the afternoon of each concert. Lessons cost £100 for 90 mins with proceeds going to charity. For further information or to book a lesson, contact James Lisney

I was delighted to have the opportunity to attend some of the events and concerts at the inaugural London Piano Festival, conceived and directed by pianists Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen. For the opening edition of the festival, the directors invited artists who they admired and worked with personally. As Charles and Katya stated in the Festival programme:

“Pianists meet each other far too rarely in the real world, mostly at auditions and competitions when we take our first steps in the music profession, and then at each other’s concerts. The professional soloist’s life is, by its very nature, a demanding and often solitary one. [The festival] is especially designed to bring these soloists together…..”

And it was perhaps a mark of the organisers’ success in achieving this aim that so many eminent pianists and music lovers were in the audience for the concerts, including Stephen Hough and Alexandra Dariescu, amongst others.

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Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen

The festival was held in the stylish, contemporary concert spaces at London’s Kings Place, fast becoming a popular hub for culture and arts in the newly-redeveloped area around King’s Cross station. The sense of “music by friends and for friends” was very clear from the warm atmosphere in and out of the concert halls, and the two-piano gala concert on Saturday evening, which was at the heart of the festival, was a wonderful celebration of musical friendship and collaboration. I attended two concerts with pianist friends, always enjoyable as we discussed what we had heard during the intervals and after the events. As one of my pianist friends remarked when I met her for the two-piano gala concert, “I feel completely intoxicated by music!”. I can think of no better endorsement for this wonderful weekend of piano music.

My reviews are on the Bachtrack.com site – follow the links below to read them:

‘Liszt’s b minor Sonata – from exuberance to asceticism’: lecture by Alfred Brendel and performance by Denes Varjon

A feast of phenomenal pianism: two-piano gala concert

 

 

‘Tis the season for “top 10” and “best of” the year lists (indeed, such is the popularity of these lists that it would appear that every music critic at The Guardian has issued their own Top 10 Concert/Operas of 2015).

Once again, I have enjoyed a busy year of concerts, reviewing 21 concerts in London for Bachtrack.com, plus various concerts at St John’s Smith Square, the 1901 Arts Club, St Mary’s Perivale and my local music society in Teddington.

“Hits” of 2015 include all five Prokofiev Piano Concertos in a single concert at the Proms, a musical marathon for the orchestra (LSO) and audience alike, with particularly fine performances by Daniil Trifonov and Arcadi Volodos. Other stand out Proms were Sibelius first and second symphonies, Thierry Escaich playing the Albert Hall organ, and Bernard Haitink conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Mozart’s Piano Concert K488, with Maria Joao Pires as soloist (an exquisitely measured and elegant performance), and Schubert’s ‘Great’ C Major Symphony, D944. My enjoyment of many of the Proms I attended this year was undoubtedly enhanced by my concert companions.

At the Wigmore, Garrick Ohlsson’s Skryabin Focus residency proved enlightening and insightful, with Ohlsson revealing himself as a sensitive and colouful interpreter of this curious, sensuous and often totally over the top music. This was definitely an opportunity to surrender oneself to the composer’s unique soundworld in the hands of a most capable and modest pianist.

Another revealing concert was given by Antonii Baryshevskyi, winner of the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. He presented an engaging programme which made interesting links between Scarlatti and Ligeti, together with music by Chopin, Messiaen and Schumann which revealed Baryshevskyi to be a pianist at home with a wide variety of repertoire and styles.

Maria Joao Pires gave a delightfully intimate and atmospheric joint concert with one of her protegés, Pavel Kolesnikov, in music by Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann (both solo works and music for piano 4 hands).

One of the most eagerly anticipated concerts of 2015 – and not necessarily for all the right reasons – was Ivo Pogorelich’s “this is not a comeback” concert at the Festival Hall in February. It was a curious curate’s egg of an evening, with some very uneven, eccentric and clumsy playing combined with a blistering and masterful rendition of the Brahms Paganini Variations. The critics were universally damning, yet I felt rather sad that Pogorelich had been submitted to such vitriol. Whatever one may think about the quality of his playing, together with some very strange interaction with the page turner, it was undoubtedly an “interesting” concert, and somewhat refreshing to hear such personal piano playing as opposed to the “louder faster” school of pianism one encounters rather too often these days…..

Talking of which, against my better judgement I decided to hear Lang Lang at the Royal Albert Hall, and for me the first time I’d heard the Chinese poster boy pianist since 2002. There were flashes of insight and sensitivity, particularly in the slow movement of the Bach Italian Concerto, but the Chopin Scherzi were a vehicle for his trademark flashy, overblown virtuosity, the subtlety of Chopin’s writing lost in a whirlwind of noise and velocity. ‘The Seasons’ by Tchaikovsky was simply the wrong repertoire for the size of venue, but here there were also moments of beauty and hints of a more mature approach.

Which leads me to my “miss” of 2015, the much-lauded young Polish Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki who played much by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt and Chopin’s Opus 25 Etudes at the Wigmore Hall in October. I had read much about Lisiecki, very fulsome and often gushing praise and I was curious to hear him live. Sadly, most of his concert was a display of youthful arrogance and immaturity which manifested itself in some very ugly and unsubtle playing. Jan is only 20 and he has plenty of time to develop as an artist – and I sincerely hope he does.

In addition, I’ve also enjoyed fine performances this year by Jeremy Denk, Murray Perahia, Stephen Hough (including the premiere of his new Piano Sonata), Marc-André Hamelin, Yevgeny Sudbin, François-Frédéric Guy, Peter Donohoe, Steven Osborne and Warren Mailley-Smith. 2016 seems set to begin on a high with concerts at the Wigmore by Pavel Kolesnikov, Steven Osborne, Piotr Anderszewski, Denis Kozukhin, and the continuation of Warren Mailley-Smith’s survey of Chopin’s complete piano music at St John’s Smith Square, a lovely venue for piano music. Further ahead in 2016, I am very much looking forward to Andras Schiff’s ‘Last Sonatas’ programmes at the Wigmore, exploring the final three sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, and Daniil Trifonov in June. There is much to enjoy in 2016 and I think my concert diary is likely to be as busy as it has been this year.

Link to all my Bachtrack reviews and articles

Wigmore Hall

International Piano Series

St John’s Smith Square

(photo: Fran Kaufman)

My final visit to Wigmore Hall this season (the hall is closed during August) was to hear one of my piano heroes, Canadian pianist and composer Marc-Andre Hamelin. Each of his London concerts I’ve attended has offered coruscating technical facility combined with musical insight and the impression of a thoughtful musician who is very connected to the music he plays. This is in part created through his economy of physical movement when he plays. There are no unnecessary gestures in Hamelin’s playing, no pianistic histrionics or flashy pyrotechnics (except in the music itself), and because he never gets in the way of the music, his performances are concentrated and intense.

This concert was no exception, its intensity made even greater by the inclusion of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, the “Funeral March”, with its third movement theme made so infamous by its associations with the deaths of Russian Communist leaders, and its extraordinary and ghostly finale.

Read my full review here