24 May 2012
<p> Born in Canada, pianist Angela Hewitt has lived and worked in Britain for almost 30 years. She tells Jessica Duchen why she loves London, British music (old and new) and Bach, of course. Read the start of her interview...</p> ...
Angela Hewitt’s name is synonymous with both Canada and Bach to a degree second only to Glenn Gould. Yet she is not quite as Canadian as you might expect – nor as obsessive about her Bach. She has lived in London for 27 years and her roots are British. Her mother’s family was originally from Scotland and Ireland and her father, an organist, moved from his native Yorkshire to Ottawa to take up a job at the city’s cathedral. So, although she was born and brought up in Ottawa, moving to Britain was coming home – or, at least, full circle.
Likewise, though Bach first made Hewitt’s enviable reputation, her latest recording, featuring the Schumann Piano Concerto, brings her ‘full circle’ in other ways. She has a huge repertoire ranging from Couperin and Rameau all the way through to the present day, and her relationship with the Schumann concerto has been long and passionate. It was the concerto she played at one of the first competitions she won, when she was all of 17 years old.
To say that Hewitt is busy today is quite an understatement. Arriving at her north London home in time for a good elevenses of peppermint tea, I find her more hectic than ever, yet clearly thriving on the energy and adrenaline that’s so necessary to life as an international concert pianist. Around her lingers an aura that mixes poise and tension, charisma and intensity. Yet there’s a ready humour in the mix, too, and a healthy sense of perspective.
Her beloved Fazioli grand is waiting for her to return to it as soon as we’ve finished talking – she was due to play the gargantuan piano solo in Messiaen’s Turangalîla the following week, which is no small task. And she now has her own festival, based close to her Italian retreat in Umbria; seven concerts in seven days take more organisation than anyone who hasn’t tried to do this could imagine.
Being strongly associated with any one composer can sometimes become a stricture – but for Hewitt, the music of Bach is anything but a straightjacket: ‘I find it gives me freedom,’ she says. Increasing freedom is what she’s all about right now – and there were already signs of this in her second recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier, which she herself feels is much freer in style than the first: ‘I think the older I get, the more free I become as a player,’ she reflects. ‘Maybe that’s because I have more confidence in what I’m doing, so I feel able to take more risks. I sometimes see young artists preparing for competitions and they hardly dare do anything because they’re too afraid of upsetting someone.’ [Cont...]