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.

Kyung Wha Chung: The Legend Returns

This December, celebrated Korean violinist Kyung Wha Chung returns to Royal Festival Hall for her first UK appearance in over a decade.
Watch this video to see Korean violinist Kyung Wha Chung talk honestly about her career, injury, and comeback.
Kyung Wha Chung performs a recital of Mozart, Prokofiev, Bach and Franck.
Tuesday 2 December
Kyung Wha Chung
Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times with the Philharmonia Orchestra

Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film, ‘Modern Times’, is a biting but darkly funny critique of the dehumanising effects of industrialisation and the human cost of The Great Depression. The score, also written by Chaplin, is performed in live accompaniment to the film by the Philharmonia Orchestra at Southbank Centre on Friday 22nd March.

What do you fear the most and why?
The film breaking in the middle of a packed out performance.

What – or where – is perfection?
It can happen by accident – the moments that are magical – a perfect piece of synchronisation, a singer hitting a perfectly placed high note, a dancer in an endless balance.
It should leave you gasping.

Who is your favourite hero from fiction (book/comic/film/opera) – and why?
Papa Geno from The Magic Flute; the perfect pragmatist.

What’s your favourite ritual?
20 minutes before curtain up a feeling of reluctance followed, while dressing, into wanting desperately to do the performance.

Which living person do you most admire (and why)?
I admire “enablers” and would choose The World at War producer, Sir Jeremy Isaacs.

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
A thrilling singing voice, a dancer’s body, and the acting skill of Olivier.

Tell us about a special memory you have of Southbank Centre?
Sir John Barbirolli conducting Mahler’s Sixth symphony in the early 1960s.

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
The pianist, Andreas Schiff, and the baritone Christian Geheher.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
From a very impatient person – hold back.

What was your favourite Chaplin film and why?
A little short called One AM – Chaplin alone, very drunk, coping in a difficult house against insuperable obstacles.

What’s next for you?
An opera – still a secret…

Catch Carl Davis conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra at Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall on Friday 22 March. Get tickets here.

Sing Inspiration! Gospel Showcase Returns to Southbank Centre


Next week we welcome the return of Sing Inspiration! to Southbank Centre. This series of 3 concerts in the Royal Festival Hall features the vocal talent of gospel choirs drawn from across the UK, Europe and the USA, backed by the sensational IGmusic band.

Special guests include Jaz Ellington, from BBC’s The Voice 2012, and the MOBO award winning gospel star Rachel Kerr. Watch the below video for a sneak preview of what you can expect to see at the shows:

For more information and to book your tickets, click on the links below:
Sing inspiration! 2013: Wandsworth: 11 March
Sing inspiration! 2013: Massed Schools’ Chorus: 12 March
Sing inspiration! 2013: Gospel & Soul – 12 MarchRachel Kerr

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform Verdi’s epic Requiem


Ivo Varbanov

On Friday 18 January, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra accompany conductor Enrico Marconi, singers Maria Radoeva, Andreana Asenova Nikolova, Michail Nikolaev Mihaylov and Ivaylo Dzhurov, and pianist Ivo Varbanov. The concert is in aid of Bulgaria’s Cedar Foundation, a charity set up to help provide better quality of life for disabled and disadvantaged children and young adults.

The night promises to be an emotional journey through the Romantic period, with performances of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 alongside the epic Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi.

The pianist Ivo Varbanov has been on quite a journey himself. Having been diagnosed with cancer in 2009, here he describes his love for music, family and his intense treatment.

Miracles do happen

Being agnostic, I have always struggled to believe in miracles. In 2009, my life was brutally placed on hold when I heard these words: “I am really sorry, but you have Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, and you have to start Chemotherapy on Monday.” It was Thursday 26 November 2009. I was in my mid-thirties and I certainly didn’t think about mortality, especially as we just had a baby. Up to that moment I was interested in my family, building a musical career in a world that is no longer interested in classical music, and of course cultivating some hobbies. I was trying to keep my sanity and integrity in an insane world.

That Thursday changed everything. The way I saw the world, the way I related to people and also my focus in life. I was just hoping. When I returned home after 12 months spent in Hammersmith Hospital, several cycles of Chemo and Radio and a bone-marrow transplant, I had to pick up the pieces and start many things from scratch. Because of the Radiotherapy, my hands were numb and less sensitive. The doctors told me I needed to be patient and that things will improve slowly. I decided to play again in spring 2012 and little by little I felt more comfortable and less tired when play. Something else happened, my playing acquired a different dimension: I understood better the shadows and nuances of life and therefore of music. I was free to do what I wanted, I felt stronger and my life seemed meaningful again.

Most importantly I will not stop believing in a better world where children have their chance to live with dignity. This is one of the reasons why I am very happy to support with my work the Cedar Foundation. My choice of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 is related to the fact that it is a work of art full of beauty and spiritual content that goes beyond the flamboyant and exciting image the piece has acquired over time, therefore it is very appropriate to a very special evening.

Listen to the International Piano Series podcast with Mitsuko Uchida

Mitsuko Uchida talks about the strangeness of Schumann, her piano collection and her interval snack of choice.

You can hear Mitsuko Uchida perform a recital of Schumann, Schoenberg and Bach on Tuesday 15 January 2013, 7.30pm at Royal Festival Hall.

Find out more / book tickets


Listen to the International Piano Series podcast with Alice Sara Ott

The young German pianist Alice Sara Ott talks from Japan (via Skype) about Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, her sense of home, and the Rubix cube.

You can hear Alice Sara Ott in her Royal Festival Hall debut performance on Tuesday 12 February 2013, as part of the International Piano Series.

Find out more/book tickets