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French with Friends

Feature

Now in its third year, the London Piano Festival is bigger than ever. Artistic directors Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen give an insight into the music and their guest artists.

‘Our five-day celebration starts with an opening recital when we have a chance to introduce ourselves to the audience as soloists, and as a duo,’ says Katya Apekisheva. ‘This formula has been so successful in the last two festivals – the audience enjoy getting to know us individually in the first half and then they see us both together.’ The enthusiasm of these two talented pianists is infectious, and their first recital sets the tone for the whole festival. Its French and Spanish-inflected works include the three Nocturnes by Debussy, whose centenary (he died in 1918) is being marked this year.


© Andy Tyler

‘Debussy’s music runs through the festival like a thread, though without overwhelming the programme,’ adds Owen. ‘Konstantin Lifschitz will perform his Preludes Bk 1, Stephen Kovacevich and I will play En blanc et noir, and our key Debussy event is a lecture-recital by Paul Roberts, whose writings on the composer are unparalleled.’

Most of the artists invited to perform have personal connections to the artistic directors: Owen came across Paul Roberts when he (Owen) was a young student; Lifschitz studied with Apekisheva at the Gnessin School in Moscow and Kovacevich has been a friend and mentor to them both.

‘Our aim is to make artists feel welcome, to feel this is a special event, not just another recital,’ notes Owen. ‘They are very much part of a team.’ The artists, including Margaret Fingerhut, come together on Saturday night (6 Oct) for the popular Two-Piano Marathon. ‘That’s when sparks really fly,’ says Apekisheva. ‘We mix and match pianists, bringing together some who have played as a duo and others who will be meeting for the first time. The programme this year is really exciting – fewer large-scale works but the variety is enormous.’ The festival aims to expand the two-piano repertoire with new commissions, but instead this year they are proud to present a rarely performed piece by Thomas Adès – a virtuoso reworking of music from his opera Powder Her Face.

‘Debussy’s music runs through the festival like a thread’

The brilliant Polish jazz pianist Leszek Możdżer brings his amplified piano to the party on Friday night (5 Oct), and the weekend closes with a unique multimedia show created by pianist Alexandra Dariescu, The Nutcracker and I. Owen highly recommends it. ‘It’s a wonderful show, visually and musically, with amazing digital graphics. It’s a relaxed, magical way to end our 2018 festival.’

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