Maurizio Pollini’s six decades of exceptional pianism at Southbank Centre

pollini-01‘That boy can play better than any of us’ Arthur Rubinstein

Maurizio Pollini is one of the great piano legends, with a career spanning nearly 60 years. With his unaffected manner and an elegant clarity to his playing, Pollini has brought his individual voice to all musical styles from the 1700s to the present day. Ahead of his two recitals in spring, we’ve looked into our Southbank Centre archive to explore six decades of Pollini’s performances.

Pollini is now considered by many to be one of the world’s most outstanding pianists. Yet he was only 18 when he obtained international recognition, by winning first prize at the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1960.

It was three years later that the maestro made his debut in London in a concert in 1963 at Royal Festival Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra. Conducted by Pierre Monteux, the repertoire chosen for Pollini’s first solo performance was:

TCHAIKOVSKY Fantasy Overture, Romeo and Juliet

BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37

SCHUBERT Symphony No.9 in C (Great)

In the early 70s, Pollini began to establish an international career of the greatest importance. In 1971, he signed with Deutsche Grammophon and released his first recordings on the German label; these included Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka and Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata.

With regular appearances in music centres around the world, Pollini began the career of piano superstar.


Fact: Pollini’s strong political convictions formed an important part of his musical life, improving his technique by playing in factories for causes such as peace in Vietnam with Italian conductor Claudio Abbado and Italian composer Luigi Nono. He also performed concerts in the neighbourhoods around Reggio Emilia and recitals for students at La Scala, animated by their ideals of justice and peace.

The collaboration between Abbado and Pollini continued after those years, with several concerts held at Royal Festival Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Pollini began the 80s at Southbank Centre, with a televised opening season concert playing Mozart’s D Minor Concerto with Sir Georg Solti and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He continued to give several recitals in Royal Festival Hall throughout the decade as well as a  performance in 1983 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Masse by Giacomo Manzoni written as a homage to Varese, the first explorer of Manzoni’s favourite musical sounds was part of that evening’s repertoire.

Fact: New York, 1987: Under the direction of Claudio Abbado, the maestro played the complete piano concertos of Ludwig van Beethoven with the Vienna Philharmonic. On this occasion he received the orchestra’s Honorary Ring.

In 1996, Pollini brought back his superb pianism to Royal Festival Hall with the Beethoven Sonata Cycle

The audience was taken on an intense journey through eight recitals, that followed the chronological order in which Beethoven wrote his works, with the exception of Opus 49.

Pollini demonstrated how great playing can be achieved through quiet, undemonstrative means.’ Annette Morreau, 16 December 1996 – The Independent

Pollini’s career in London in the new millennium was full of highlights. These included a performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in honour of their 75th birthday in 2007; and the Pollini Project in 2011, where he embarked on a five-recital pilgrimage, with the concerts spanning 250 years of piano repertoire from Bach to Boulez.

‘I like their way of listening and their deep interest in music, and so I thought it was possible to do something larger and different. I have played these works many times and they are all extraordinarily important works for the piano. Put together, they form something of a line, something of a story of piano music. But it is not a rigorous or strict line. They are closely connected to me and my overall musical interests, so it is also my personal line and, in a way, my personal story.’ Pollini on London audience

Fact: The opening of the Pollini Project in London was signposted by the arrival of a brand new favourite piano: a Steinway concert grand refined by the Italian piano technician Angelo Fabbrini.

‘I have played a recital in London more or less every year throughout my career and have a very strong relationship with the London public (…)’ Maurizio Pollini

With his two upcoming recitals, Maurizio Pollini’s cumulative appearances at Southbank Centre add up to 133 performances.

His recitals have made a major contribution to the International Piano Series as one of the most prestigious piano recital series in London, where fans  can see him playing alongside the emerging talents aspiring to Pollini’s greatness.

Mr. Pollini is represented by HarrisonParrot and records exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon.

we were at a loose end one evening..

In November 1970 we were at a loose end one evening and decided to go to RFH, as we often did, to see what was on.
Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass, about which we knew little, so in we went to read that the original conductor wasn’t able to be there and a new young conductor had agreed to take over with only a few days’ notice.

Andrew Davies.    He was utterly brilliant and the choir, orchestra and organist gave the most stunning and unforgettable performance with Janacek’s wonderful music and the RFH organ in particular.

What a wonderful and totally unexpected experience!
Sheila Read


From 1971 to 1988 I was living in London as an expat Yank organist and was lucky to be booked by the LPO for some work. One of these gigs was to play the Royal Festival Hall organ in a concert performance of Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle under the conductor Adam Fisher. The work ends quietly and, though I hadn’t done this in the rehearsal, and as the organ is silent for the last bit of the opera, I decided for some hair brained reason to shut it off, as in the rehearsal I’d noticed that I could hear the blowers over the ppp called for by the composer and being achieved so masterfully by the strings.  No sooner had I pushed the button than I remembered the “thud” likely to happen as the chests deflated when the air stopped. I could see all future contracts with this orchestra terminating as people remembered,  “Jenkins, that’s the dodo who turned off the organ before the end.” I fervently hoped for something like an earthquake to hide my embarrassment, and the suspense was terrible, but luckily the chests settled with no more than a pppp bump and my bacon was saved.  I wiped the sweat off my brow and took a bow with my fellow musicians. Larry Jenkins


I was mortified, careless and six miles away.

For a short period I was the proud but rather impecunious owner of a cream MG PB, two years older than myself. It had one persistent shortcoming in that the dynamo, mounted vertically at the front of the engine, spewed oil outward and backward and itself became so gunged up with oil that it ceased to function. There was on sale an oil seal which was not expensive and which, it was declared, was extremely easy to fit. Having acquired this device I started early one Saturday morning to fit it. I donned my filthiest clothes and dived down into the bowels of the bonnet to remove the necessary bits in order to insert the seal. I was filthy; my hands and arms black with oil. I was unshaven and having touched my face on and off looked not unlike a chimney sweep. When I was in the midst of this the telephone rang and it was the vicar enquiring if I had remembered the wedding, due to start in a little under half an hour. I was mortified, careless and six miles away. Our next door neighbour had an even older Austin 10 and was a PSV driver. I ran next door and begged him to drive me to the church. He agreed but drove in a painstakingly slow manner, stopping frequently to give meticulous hand signals. En route I was frantically trying to clean myself up using an old towel I grabbed as I ran out of the house.

We arrived at the church and the wedding was by then in progress and I had to pass through the congregation looking totally disreputable on the way to the organ. I was in position in time for the first hymn and played for the rest of the ceremony without incident. Having played them out I was then very reluctant to make my own exit from the church given my disgusting appearance and so skulked out of sight until they had all gone. It transpired that the curate had managed to switch the organ on and draw a stop, and had played them in to the Bridal March with one finger and quite a few wrong notes.

Some months later after evensong I was invited to join a couple from the choir at a nearby pub for a drink where they had arranged to meet two of their friends. To my horror the two friends turned out to be the couple whose wedding I had only partially played for. I was, of course, full of apologies and it was all laughed off as quite a quaint occurrence.
Ronald Watson

At school I used to play the chapel organ…without permission..

At school I used to play the chapel organ…without permission. I sneaked into the chapel when I thought there was the least chance of getting caught, switched on the mighty instrument, improvised for a minute or two, making a hasty exit when my courage failed me. The improvisations were divided into in to two sections, one for my fingers, and one for my feet. Being a short little chap, I couldn’t reach the pedals whilst sitting, so each improvisation paused as I changed from sitting to standing & back to sitting, if sufficient courage remained. I was never caught; the organ was rejected in favour of a guitar & a career was born.   Nigel Paterson