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Thoughts on the Oxford Piano Festival 2023

11 months ago   |   Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra   |   Piano Festival, Concert, Interview

From 29 July – 6 August 2023, we held our annual Oxford Piano Festival. It was another amazingly successful year, with daily masterclasses and recitals from some of the world’s most esteemed pianists.

This years faculty line-up included Christian Blackshaw, Jeremy Denk, Anna Fedorova, William Fong, Kirill Gerstein, Richard Goode, Kanneh-Mason Trio, Stephen Kovacevich, Vanessa Latarche, Nikolai Lugansky, Tessa Nicholson and Marios Papadopoulos. There were concerts in various venues around Oxford every night, as well as daily masterclasses in the JdP Music Building at St Hilda’s College.

One of this year’s Observers, Eric Coutts, wrote about his thoughts on the Festival.

The 25th Oxford Piano Festival, featuring a week of concerts and masterclasses from some of the world’s finest pianists and teachers. 

There is so much I could say about the Festival, which combines first-class musicianship, teaching and discussion, all in a friendly and welcoming environment in the heart of Oxford.

The masterclasses in particular gave unique insight into how leading pianists approach a wide-ranging repertoire from Bach to Medtner, and opened my eyes to some of the issues involved when performing at concert level. Outstanding technical ability is a given, and there were many valuable suggestions on methodology to achieve very precise results.

But that is just the start on a journey that takes you to the heart of what music is all about. It seems trite to say that as a performer you must know what you want to highlight and make choices, but how might you do that? Observations from the professional performers and teachers included: 

• perform as we think the composer intended, whether on the basis of contemporary style or perhaps from written evidence or even recordings 

• listen to what other great performers have done, and try something different 

• bring out the melody – the search to emphasise inner voices is something that younger performers try to do in the interests of originality, but often to the detriment of the impact of their performance 

• freer use of pedalling to release the full palette of sound of which the piano is capable 

• freeing oneself to allowing the music to take the performer on a journey, to avoid playing the same way each time, regardless of how well one knows the piece 

• seeing the piano score as an orchestral reduction, and bringing out different voices as if they were mimicking specific instruments 

• don’t take things for granted , it needs to be a surprise – even if you know there is a sfz in four bars’ time you mustn’t over prepare: assume the audience doesn’t know that it is coming 

Some of my favourite comments from the masterclasses include: sf in Schumann means super friendly’, ‘Don’t take all the advice if you don’t feel it’, and ‘If you can only just reach it, sometimes it is worth the discomfort’

The concerts were exceptional. My favourites were Richard Goode performing Beethoven E major Op. 109 and Jeremy Denk playing four of the JS Bach Partitas. Both played with a fluidity and attention to detail that was nevertheless without showmanship, giving space to the music to come to the fore. You can see some of the performances and masterclasses here

You can find Eric’s blog here.

Thank you so much to all who joined us, in person and online, for the Oxford Piano Festival 2023. You can find out more about the Festival via our website, and watch a selection of livestreamed masterclasses and recitals on our YouTube channel.