After two weeks crammed full of recitals, masterclasses, education and outreach events, the Leeds Piano Festival has come to a close. 3000 people joined us in our celebrations over the last two weeks and made this inaugural Festival a resounding success!
One of the most exciting aspects of the Festival was the opportunity to welcome back previous winners and alumni of the Competition to The Leeds, with Alessio Bax (winner of the 2000 Competition), Sunwook Kim (winner of the 2006 Competition) and Lars Vogt (2nd prize in the 1990 Competition) giving recitals in both Leeds’ Howard Assembly Room and London’s Wigmore Hall. All three pianists have enjoyed incredible careers after their success at the Competition, so the chance to witness them in action once again was thrilling!
Kicking off the proceedings in Leeds was Alessio Bax, performing a beguiling mix of Marcello, Rachmaninov, Dallapiccola and Liszt to a full house – audiences were so enraptured that he performed two encores! Sunwook Kim’s recital focused on Bach-Busoni, Beethoven and Brahms, before Lars Vogt ended our Leeds recitals with Janáček and Beethoven. Taking The Leeds to London was also particularly exciting for us, with three days of back-to-back lunchtime recitals from our three Leeds alumni taking place at Wigmore Hall.
The Festival was also important for another reason: it launched the first stage of our partnership with the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. We welcomed three exceptional Young Scholars from the Foundation – Eden Chen, Chelsea Guo and Amir Siraj, all of whom were personally selected and mentored by our Global Ambassador, Lang Lang – to join us for a series of recitals, masterclasses and outreach activities. From their arrival on the very first day of the Festival to meet the Leeds team all the way through to their final recital at London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall, the Young Scholars were with us throughout the whole journey of the Festival and we were delighted that they could share their talent and passion with us.
A large part of their activities in Leeds and London centre around sharing their passion for educating and inspiring the next generation of pianists. The three Young Scholars undertook an extensive range of education and outreach projects during their time with us. As part of a packed schedule, they participated in a live Q&A at the Leeds College of Music, made visits to the Rodillian Academy and St Nicholas Academy in Leeds and a piano club in a primary school in Haringey, as well as a visit to a dementia care setting, and teaching a masterclass to young pupils in collaboration with Wigmore Hall’s Learning Programme. This was an opportunity not only to give the Young Scholars an understanding of the breadth of music education in the UK, but also gave us the chance to take the piano out into the community and share their incredible talent with a wide range of people outside the concert hall.
The Young Scholars’ visit was also dedicated to enriching and widening their understanding of music. Alessio Bax joined the Young Scholars on stage for a masterclass at the Howard Assembly Room, working with them on the pieces they’d be performing in Leeds and London; the result was a fascinating study of the subtleties of the instrument and how small changes can truly elevate a piece. Following in the footsteps of our Leeds alumni, the Young Scholars also gave recitals at the Howard Assembly Room and Wigmore Hall to raptured audiences.
This vision of sharing our passion for the piano with as many people as possible and to make this incredible instrument accessible to all formed a crucial part of our inaugural Piano Festival. As well as the activities with the Young Scholars, we arranged something unprecedented in The Leeds’ 55-year history – a huge primary school event with over 1200 Year 4 children joining us at Leeds Town Hall for our ‘Piano Fantasia’, an interactive performance about the wonders of the piano. Will Pickvance delighted this very special audience with an energetic and participatory show about the joys of playing the piano, collaborating with The Leeds team and the Young Scholars on a performance piece that was both entertaining and engaging. Audiences left Leeds Town Hall on Monday with a new-found interest in music and the piano – and who knows, maybe in a few years’ time we’ll be seeing some of them at the Competition!
The Piano Festival was an important statement for us as part of the rejuvenation of the Competition, celebrating the incredible legacy that The Leeds has built over the last 55 years as well as looking to the future. As the final rounds of the Competition approach in September, we’ve got much more planned over the summer to continue our work in bringing our passion for the piano to as many people as possible – we hope to see you all there!