Pianist Clare Hammond is fast becoming one of Britain’s brightest piano stars, indeed she has received much acclaim for her recordings (most recently the album, Etude) and is shortly to release a third album with BIS Records. A regular visitor to the ‘In Tune’ studio at BBC Radio 3, Clare’s debut appearances at festivals across Europe in recent years have only served to cement her burgeoning reputation as a supremely talented musician with a dazzlingly virtuosic streak. If that weren’t enough, Clare was seen on the big screen at the end of 2015 in Nicholas Hytner’s film of Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van, in which she appeared as a young ‘Miss Shepherd’. She recently toured Poland, premiering a previously undiscovered work by Josef Myslivecek, one of Mozart’s mentors…
We are delighted to be welcoming Clare back to St George’s in April for a lunchtime recital, which sees her present a typically imaginative programme of Beethoven, Adès and Medtner, and we managed to catch up with her between concerts to have a quick chat about the programme and her big screen debut!
Clare, we’re so looking forward to having you back at St George’s. Do you enjoy playing here?
St George’s is one of my favourite venues and I’m always delighted to perform here!
How important is the quality of an acoustic in a room to your performance and does it change the way you play?
The acoustic is as important as the quality of the instrument itself and makes a phenomenal difference to a performance. The resonance of the sound is absolutely crucial in determining the pacing and rhetoric of a piece whereas the ‘glow’ (or otherwise!) of a room sets the parameters for the colours that I can create in a piece.
You’re performing Beethoven’s ‘Sonata No 8’ when you come to us; what is it about his piano writing that excites pianists, and audiences?
The ‘Pathétique’ Sonata is one of the best loved of Beethoven’s Sonatas and lies on the cusp between conventionally ‘classical’ and ‘romantic’ styles of composition. The textures and figurations that he uses are largely classical, yet the sensibility of the piece looks forward to more tempestuous climes. It’s incredibly passionate music.
The audience might not be so familiar with the works by Adès and Medtner, what can you tell us about them?
The Adès is an intriguing take on the Polish folk dance, the ‘Mazurka’, of which I shall play two. The first is recognisably a Mazurka (though very much in Adès’ personal style) as he retains clear triple metre, characteristic ornamentation, and distinctive rhythmic figures. The second is a much more unsettling and ethereal piece: slower, more meditative, and ultimately tragic in tone.
Medtner’s Sonata Romantica is a phenomenally intense and ardent work which makes full use of the power and textural complexity that the piano can provide. Rachmaninov described Medtner as ‘the greatest living composer’ in his diaries yet, despite such an impressive endorsement, his music is still relatively little known. I was completely blown away by this sonata when I first heard it and think that it stands as a powerful testimony to Medtner’s genius as a composer.
You became a film star last year, playing a young Miss Shepherd in the concert flashback scenes in The Lady in the Van. How did that role come about?
It was completely fortuitous and just landed in my inbox, which was a lovely surprise! Composer George Fenton and director Nick Hytner were looking for a pianist, rather than an actress, to take on the role. I believe that I was a friend of a friend of a friend of George’s. He contacted me and we all arranged to meet a few months before filming began. It was very clear early on that this was something I’d love to be involved in, and fortunately the feeling was mutual!
Where were the scenes filmed?
The concert scene was filmed at Shoreditch Town Hall, which was a very atmospheric venue, and we filmed the ‘nun scene’ in a basement near Regent’s Park.
You recently did a tour in Poland which featured a recently discovered work by one of Mozart’s mentors! That must have been a thrill?
Yes, it was an exciting project! A few years ago I worked with a flautist, Ana de la Vega, who was performing Myslivecek’s flute concerto. She mentioned that he had written a keyboard concerto which was unpublished and languishing in the archives. I managed to obtain a copy of the manuscript, typeset it, and have now been able to perform it with orchestras across Poland. It’s unusual to have an opportunity like that and it was very exciting to give the first performance of a work in more than 200 years!
What’s your earliest music memory?
Listening to my grandfather sing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ when I was a toddler. He had a beautiful, mellow voice which will always stay with me!
And the best advice you’ve ever been given as a musician?
This isn’t concrete advice as such, only an observation. All the musicians that I respect most have a deep humility which always impresses me. It is expressed as a fundamental dedication to the music, combined with intense empathy and humanity. I can only aspire to emulate them, but it seems to me to be the right path to pursue.
Clare Hammond is live at St George’s Bristol on Thursday 14 April.
Clare Hammond (piano)
Thursday 14 April, 1pm
Tickets £8 (plus fees)