‘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
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.