3 February 2015
Pianos and Pianists at Kettle’s Yard
Justin Lee, programmer of the Chamber Music Series
My 11-year-old daughter texts me. She does not own a mobile phone, but she borrows her mother’s to say: ‘black fala box we igat black teeth, hemi gat white teeth you faetem hard I singout’. I am busy at work but I take a deep breath and read slowly. She – and now I – had just discovered the word for ‘piano’ in Bislama, an English-based pidgin language of the South Pacific. By coincidence, some days later, I read Andrés Segovia’s description of a piano as ‘a monster that screams when you touch its teeth’. This is not the piano I know. (I think the great guitarist may have been biased.)
Since I was a boy, I have loved the piano. I did not come from a musical family but, by a strange turn of events, I joined the local parish church choir, took to it well and was offered piano lessons by the organist. Soon I was given my first piano LP (Dinu Lipatti, playing Chopin and Ravel as I recall), writing my own simple ragtime, and going to recitals. For me, the piano offers a dizzying array of sounds – capable of the sound of a whole orchestra, as Dave Brubeck put it.
We have just begun this term’s chamber recitals at Kettle’s Yard and my thoughts turn to the many pianists appearing this year. Last week’s concert featured Tom Poster (accompanying cellist Laura van der Heijden, the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year); last term we heard Huw Watkins (as accompanist to Tamsin Waley-Cohen) as well as a recital by Clare Hammond. All three are alumni of Cambridge University – a nursery not only for great conductors and composers, but for intelligent, versatile and engaging pianists too.
And later in the season, we can look forward to two pianists new to Cambridge. In May, the young Alexander Ullman (supported by the Young Concert Artists Trust) performs a varied programme; I am particularly looking forward to Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrouchka. And next week, we welcome Jonathan Plowright. If his name is not familiar to you, he is a seasoned interpreter whose recent CDs and reviews, particularly of Brahms’ music, have drawn favourable comparisons with the likes of Julius Katchen, Claudio Arrau and Radu Lupu.
Even Segovia might concede that in the hands of these great twentieth-century artists, the piano was no monster and could sing as he made the guitar sing.