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.

Vladimir Jurowski’s 2012/13 season highlights

The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Vladimir Jurowksi, introduces his concert highlights for September – December 2012.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra on 26 September, and 29 September at Royal Festival Hall.

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London Philharmonic Orchestra introduces new works by four young composers

On Tuesday 12 June, 7.30pm at Queen Elizabeth Hall, members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Foyle Future Firsts perform new works by current members of the LPO Leverhulme Young Composers programme – Mark David Boden, Laura Jayne Bowler, David Curington & Hollie Harding.

Here the young composers talk about their works:

The concert also features Tristan Murail’s masterpiece Les Courants de l’espace and Per Nørgård’s cult classic, Voyage into the Golden Screen.

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Listen to our Classical music blog for May Highlights

In this month’s podcast members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment discuss working with Sir Simon Rattle, and Vladimir Ashkenazy gives his personal perspective on Shostakovich’s Babi Yar Symphony. Plus a member of Spira mirabilis talks about the ensemble’s unique approach to Beethoven’s music.

Colin Currie and Kalevi Aho in conversation

Read an interview with Colin Currie (CC) and Kalevi Aho (KA) about the new percussion concerto written for him by Aho in what is one of the most eagerly-anticipated premieres of the season .

CC Kalevi Aho – your new “Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra”, entitled  “Sieidi”, represents a colossal milestone within the Solo Percussion with Large Symphony Orchestra genre. This work is vast in scope and depth, as well as having a highly developed poetic and dramaturgical sense. Did indeed the project of percussion and orchestra present to you a near-optimum canvas to unleash the full power of your music, both its lyricism and explosiveness?

KA I cannot say which is for me the most optimum canvas to unleash my musical visions. If you write a concerto, every instrument has its own unique possibilities, which you only must find out. But the percussion world is exceptionally rich and gives such opportunity towards a very many-sided and rich musical expression, from the most silent and lyrical nuances to wild rhythmical drive and musical explosiveness.

CC The percussionist has a bold and commanding role in this work, playing a variety of instruments. I’m delighted with the inclusion of two ‘ethnic’ hand-drums in the work too, djembe and darabuka. Can you tell of your interest and study of these drums?

KH In the middle of the 90s I began to ponder, which elements of the music I should use in a richer way in the future. One element was the rhythm and the percussion instrumentation of the orchestral works. I was a little bit tired also with the western drum-set instruments, which dominate especially pop and light music. That time I began to study non-western classical music cultures, and heard a lot of Arabian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and African music. I noticed that the rhythm in the western music is quite primitive compared especially with the Arabian and African rhythms. At the same time I found the djembe and darabuka, which I used for the first time in my Symphony No. 11 (1997-98), written for six percussionists and orchestra (the solo group in its premiere was the Swedish Kroumata percussion ensemble). I liked the sound of those instruments a lot; it is not as hard as the sound of the drums, which you play with sticks. You can get from the djembe and darabuka very many nuances. Especially the darabuka is also a quite difficult instrument if you use by playing the finger technics, as the Arabian and Persian percussion virtuosos do. I would like to use in my works sometimes also the Indian tablas, but almost no western percussionist can really play the tablas, and the Indian masters cannot read notes. In my many orchestral pieces and concertos, written after the 11th Symphony, you can hear a lot of influences especially from the complicated Arabian and African rhythms.

CC  Indeed – and I feel that the very keenly developed rhythmic language you use in the work will be thrilling in live performance. Seldom can influences from far-flung continents be integrated safely and effectively into our westernised compositional world, but here we see a highly compelling result.Could you tell us something about the very evocative title of the work, ‘Sieidi’?

KA The Percussion concerto has three commissioners, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Luosto Classic Music Festival and the Gothenburg Symphony orchestra. The concert on 12 August at Luosto, in Finnish Lapland (with the BBC Philharmonic) is a very special happening, because it is an outdoors concert on the slope of the mountain Luosto. Some hundred years ago the sami people lived in that area. They had many cult places, which they called ‘Sieidi’. Sieidi is a Northern Sami word meaning `cult images’, and referred to objects such as strange, big rocks, cliffs or entire mountains situated at strategic locations for the hunter, fisherman or reindeer herder. It is well possible that the mountain Luosto was for them a ‘sieidiŽ, too. The drumming of the djembe and darabuka at the beginning and the end of the concerto is quite shamanistic; you could imagine that it is a drumming of a shaman at a ‘sieidi’.

CC Very magical imagery, and as such then, the work has at least one specific reference to Finnish folk culture. This concerto, and indeed your whole output as a composer is part of the overwhelmingly valuable contribution to classical music in general made by Finland, a staggering and inspiring piece of recent history. Can I ask you more broadly for some comments on the culture for classical music in Finland and the legacy of the music of Jean Sibelius?

KA Sibelius was the leading musical personality in Finland in his time, and his works still dominate the repertoire of the Finnish orchestras. However, his style has had in Finland no imitators because he didn’t teach a lot, and his music is so original. It is difficult to find any influences of Sibelius also in my music; I have worked from other starting points. The situation of the classical music in Finland is probably one of the best ones in the world. The state and the cities financially support the orchestras. The Finnish concert programmes are very many-sided – it is typical that the orchestras like to combine contemporary and classical music in the same concert. The composers have a lot of commissions, and the state and the foundations give grants for the artists. For many composers from abroad Finland seems to be almost like a paradise to live in.

CC All in all, it is a great honour for me to be a part of this scene, and to give the premiere of this landmark in percussion repertoire. I look forward very much to taking ‘Sieidi’ home to the mountains of Lapland this summer, and seeing you in April in London for the premiere!

Colin Currie premieres ‘Sieidi’ with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Wednesday 18 April at Royal Festival Hall.

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Listen to our classical music podcast for April highlights

Colin Currie premieres a powerful and imaginative new Percussion Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, John Wilson conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in a performance Gilbert & Sulivan’s finest operetta The Yeomen of the Guard, and meet a player-piano who is the star of this year’s Nancarrow festival.

Getting to know conductor Thomas Blunt

Conductor Thomas Blunt is one of the current participants in the International Conductors’ Academy of the Allianz Cultural Foundation, which culminates in a concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall on 13 April 2012. Alongside the other two young conductors, Domingo Hindoyan and Ward Stare, Thomas will conduct the Orchestra in Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D.

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What’s your earliest musical memory?
Sitting at the piano at home when I was about four years old.

What was it that first attracted you to the conducting profession?
As a boy I sang in Worcester Cathedral Choir, and was lucky to sing in many concerts with large orchestras as part of the Three Choirs Festival. I found the sheer clamour of the orchestra completely thrilling, and seeing one person in front of it all – I just thought that must be the most exciting thing one can do in music.

For you, who are the most exciting conductors working today? Who has inspired you the most?
There are many conductors whose work I admire today – Vladimir Jurowski, Bernard Haitink, Claudio Abbado, Ivan Fischer, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Sir Simon Rattle being a few. I particularly enjoy listening to and watching recordings of conductors of the past – Carlos Kleiber, Yevgeny Mravinsky, Charles Munch and Günter Wand are amongst my favourites. I was lucky enough to take part in masterclasses with Haitink when I was studying at the Royal College of Music – he is a truly inspirational man, conductor, and musician.

How have you benefited from working with orchestras such as the London Philharmonic?
One of the great things about LPO is that they are wonderfully responsive. This puts the spotlight on everything you say and do, as it can all have an immediate effect. At the same time though it gives you a freedom knowing you have that support and that the musical possibilities in front of you are so huge. It’s an incredibly exciting situation to be in, and can only benefit your own artistic and technical development as a conductor.

Do conductors put in ‘practice time’ like orchestral players? How do you prepare for concerts?
This is the great problem for conductors in that it is impossible to practise. The only real way to improve your conducting is to just do it, so for me ‘practice’ is really studying the score, working out techincal issues as to how I’ll conduct it, and reading around the context of the music’s composition as best as I can. This is important so that when you stand up in front of the orchestra you present a clear vision and journey. Conducting is an aerobic activity in one sense, so before concerts and rehearsals I do stretches and yoga, with some meditation thrown in to help get me in the zone.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Conducting a run of Verdi’s Falstaff for Glyndebourne on Tour in 2009. It’s a very challenging opera to conduct, but I was lucky to have also assisted Vladimir Jurowski on the same production during the preceding Glyndebourne Festival. By the end of the run the opera really felt like a part of me, and I have never had so much fun conducting anything.

Which aspect of conducting do you find the most challenging?
Getting the right balance between leading and allowing.

What advice would you give to aspiring conductors?
There is no set path to making it as a conductor, and I think really one has to find one’s own way. Initially it’s essential to get to a high standard on an instrument or two so one can experience music-making from the inside. Following this some postgraduate conducting study is an option. Opera is often a useful route and has been for me; many conductors also start out as repetiteurs. Assisting conductors is a great way to learn, and can put you in touch with all sorts of people in the business. Winning a competition can accelerate things, but really everything is down to determination, luck, and being ready when your time comes.

Aside from conducting, what do you do in your spare time?
I’m a passionate Aston Villa fan, so have spent quite a lot of time feeling depressed about that of late! Apart from that I like cycling, galleries, yoga, novels, papers, politics, and going to the cinema and theatre. Lately I’ve been reading a few books about espionage during and after the Second World War (I’m distantly related to Anthony Blunt). Outside of classical music I love funk, soul, and electronica.

Do you get a lot of fan mail?
That’s one area of my career I need to improve on!

What’s your favourite film? (and film score?)
So many to choose from but I love the Alfred Hitckcock/Bernard Herrmann combination. North by Northwest is just brilliant.

If you could have a conversation with any composer from history, who would you choose?
Mozart probably. Apart from all the usual reasons I just think he would be great company.