An interesting and diverse piano festival took place over the past weekend in the heart of South Kensington, London. Three days of continuous events highlighted all different aspects of piano playing and study, as well as featuring recitals from both star and ‘up and coming’ pianists. The lectures, performances and films were spread amongst three impressive main venues (The Salons, Ciné Lumière and Library) all set in the splendour of the French Institute.
The Festival opened with a performance of J.S.Bach’s Goldberg Variations played by Nick van Bloss. Other recitalists included Guillaume Vincent, Paul Roberts (who gave a recital and talk), Imogen Cooper, Ivan Ilić, Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen (who gave a duet concert), Anne Queffélec, Ferenc Vizi, and Cyprien Katsaris. Jazz recitals were given by Laurent de Wilde and Baptiste Trotignon, and comedy duo, Worbey and Farrell, provided much amusement and fun in their family concert. Film showings included Pianomania, La Voix Humaine, and Musical Medley for children. There was a Cavatina family concert by the Lawson Piano Trio and free piano tuition with Music’All plus talks on the Piano’s Nuts and Bolts with Alan Chauvel and Piano Yoga with GéNIA.
I was delighted to participate in this wonderful festival. I gave a talk on Sunday afternoon in the Library which focused primarily on my new book, So You Want To Play The Piano? and was essentially my first book launch. Whilst I have spoken many times during my solo recitals, I had never given a 45 minute talk before. So this was an exciting new venture for me and one which I very much want to develop. I really enjoyed it. I focused on all the aspects that really should be considered before piano playing commences as well as a brief history of the piano including many illustrations and some piano demonstrations. The talk was enthusiastically received, with plenty of questions from audience members, and I sold my first few books too.
I also attended the evening recital which was given by French-Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris. Katsaris has a huge reputation as a ‘colossus’ of the piano world. The recital in the Ciné Lumière was virtually sold out and had the added intrigue of a ‘surprise’ programme. Cyprien announced his chosen works from the stage. He seemed to enjoy repartee and at one point asked the audience to ‘guess the composer’ of various works he played, offering CDs as a prize!
He started with a free improvisation on various themes which was very effective and allowed him to ‘test’ the piano as he pointed out. An unfamiliar Haydn Sonata followed (it was in C major but that was all we were told!) then a Schubert Sonata and a Purcell Suite. This was a somewhat unusual mix of works, however, Cyprien’s playing was always clean, clear and superbly controlled. Transcriptions are his forte, so we were treated to a couple of arrangements. The first was the second movement of Chopin’s F minor Piano Concerto (No.2) arranged for solo piano by Chopin. This was beautifully played; Katsaris gave the work a real sense of structure and resisted the urge to over sentimentalise. Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto in A major was the crowd-pleasing finale; it had been arranged for piano solo by Katsaris. I’m not convinced this incredibly virtuoso piece is entirely successful in an arranged version, but it was performed with plenty of élan and joie de vivre, and demonstrated Cyprien’s fabulous technique.
The festival curator, Françoise Clerc, organised an excellent mix of piano events and let’s hope this festival goes from strength to strength becoming a yearly event. You can enjoy my interview with Cyprien Katsaris on Sunday as part of the Classical Conversations Series which is featured on my blog and YouTube channel.