Benjamin Grosvenor Cover Interview

21 November 2011
imports_PIA_0-ewht5x3e-100000_79727.jpg Benjamin Grosvenor Cover Interview
Is pianist Benjamin Grosvenor the most significant British piano talent for decades? Jessica Duchen meets the 19-year-old pianist to find out ...
When Pianist Editor Erica Worth asked readers via Twitter and Facebook who they would like to see on the magazine’s front cover, a majority answer quickly came through, loud and clear: Benjamin Grosvenor. The 19-year-old British pianist had just become the youngest soloist ever to feature in the first night of the BBC Proms. Playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2 and an encore of a Brahms Hungarian Dance arranged by Cziffra, he captured the nation’s heart and had the critics flailing for superlatives.
Not that that was for the first time. Grosvenor first shot to fame aged only 11 when he won the piano section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, startling viewers with the expertise, beauty and maturity of his performances. That was in 2004; soon afterwards Alan Yentob featured him in an intriguing film, Being a Concert Pianist, in his Imagine series for BBC television.
After that, though, things went a bit quiet. Grosvenor, his family and his manager decided to be sensible about his career. Grosvenor was working hard, giving concerts, but not too many, and pursuing his studies at the Royal Academy of Music. He began to re-emerge when he became a BBC New Generation Artist and he now has a further accolade in the rare form of an exclusive recording contract with Decca. In fact, he’s the first British pianist to be signed to the label in over 40 years. A fitting move, since he’s probably the most significant British pianist to emerge in at least a decade – if not many decades.
Has he changed? Yes and no. He still seems remarkably unspoilt, pragmatic and practical. But last time I interviewed him, about six months before Decca turned up trumps, he was a confirmed tea addict. Now he says he has discovered the value of a really good cup of coffee.
He’s just entered his fourth year at the Royal Academy, where he studies with Christopher Elton and Daniel-Ben Pienaar. But with his image – spruced up with jacket and bow-tie – plastered on posters on the London Underground and outside the Royal Albert Hall, he’s hardly a typical student.
‘I haven’t seen any posters of myself yet – just pictures of them that people have sent me,’ he remarks. ‘I thought it’d be quite funny to find one, lean casually against it and see if anyone notices! Actually I don’t think the picture looks much like me, so I don’t think they would...’
As well as the Liszt concerto concert, Grosvenor played a second time at this year’s Proms: with the National Youth Orchestra he performed the too-rarely heard Britten Piano Concerto. Surely two Proms, including opening night as your debut, must have been a daunting prospect? ‘It was tremendously exciting,’ says Grosvenor. ‘I only realised the significance of what I was doing when I walked onto the stage. You look around and see people all around you, so many of them, and you get a wonderful feeling of warmth from the audience. It really made me feel at home.
‘The Britten Concerto I wasn’t so familiar with before, but I soon realised what a great piece it was to do, and with a youth orchestra as well. The NYO is huge – with all of them, the conductor Vladimir Jurowski and me, there were 101 players on stage! So you have to be aware of how you’re projecting all the time. But the great thing about the NYO is first that they have so much rehearsal, and secondly that they play with such passion because it’s not just a job. They really love what they’re doing, whereas with some orchestras maybe you have a mentality of “here’s another day at the office”. It was wonderful playing with them – and it was a pity I didn’t get more time to mix with them because most of them are about the same age as me, so it would have been nice.’ [Cont....]

This interview appears in the new December-January 2012 issue of Pianist (on the newsstand 25 November). You can purchase your copy today by clicking here
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