This month we hear from ABC Classic FM presenter Emma Ayres about some music that she simply can’t live without!
I have a confession to make. It’s something I’m not proud of,and please don’t tell anyone, but I used to strongly, I mean really STRONGLY dislike the piano. Until the age of about 16, I thought it was jangly and unmusical and out of tune. Well, this was based on some ancient records and Miss Shelley, our music teacher, banging out hymns on Monday mornings on a piano that had been made in the early 1800’s, so that’s kind of not surprising. Still, string stuff played by our dodgy school orchestra I loved, so somehow it wasn’t the quality of the instrument, perhaps more the musical intent…
It all changed one night at the Shrewsbury Town Hall, around 1983. Peter Donohoe had just won second prize in the Tchaikovsky competition, and this concert was part of his national tour in celebration. I had never seen such an excellent pianist live before, and I don’t think I have since (sorry, Miss Shelley). I don’t remember what he played, probably Rachmaninov, but I do remember the loud crash as I fell in love with his playing, and therefore the piano in general.
Donohoe is a big man, with a back nearly as wide as the keyboard. Side on, he seemed a match for this hulking instrument. As soon as he laid his enormous hands on the instrument and started playing, out rang a sublime, complex, subtle yet massive sound and I was totally hooked. I remember this concert as absolutely the division between me being a piano – meh and a piano – yeh!
I finally got to play with Donohoe when he came to Hong Kong to play Rachmaninov with the Hong Kong Philharmonic. His performance was clear, un-egotistic and magnificent. And then, for an encore he played Brahms Intermezzo in A major op.118. From the very beginning, those two quaver steps into the world of A major and a simple happiness, again Donohoe changed my mind. Before this I had only ever heard Brahms as robust, bold and brash. This was a different composer, a different man. Here he was vulnerable, poignant, yet happy in a deep love. I have searched for the same feeling in endless recordings of the Brahms ever since, but have never found it. Peter Donohoe found those feelings in that music and Peter Donohoe is the pianist for me.