Paul Lewis: Letting music speak for itself

Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:16am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Paul Lewis isn't a showy pianist, and there's a reason for it.

"I wouldn't try to put anything extra between me and the music and the audience," the 37-year-old Liverpool native told Reuters during a break from his intense rehearsal schedule, preparing to be the first pianist to play all five Beethoven piano concertos over the course of one summer's BBC Proms music extravaganza, at London's Royal Albert Hall.

"I know some people like to go to a concert to see 'so and so', because it's a kind of celebrity-orientated thing, but that doesn't work for me, not when you're dealing with music as great as this, that actually is always going to be more important than the performer who's doing it."

So, without ever mentioning the name, it's clear that Lewis and Lang Lang, the Chinese-born piano superstar of the moment, who is known for his keyboard histrionics, are at opposite poles of the piano universe.

But it's an accommodating universe, which if nothing else is demonstrated by the fact that Lewis, who grew up in a family where "country-lite" singer John Denver was the only music his father knew, became a protege of Alfred Brendel, the revered and highly cerebral retired dean of the piano world.

Nor is Lewis, who strikes a brooding pose on his album covers but is a charming family man at home in suburban London, without a fair measure of celebrity of his own.

His recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas on Harmonia Mundi (HMX 2901902.11) got rave reviews and was the 2008 record of the year for the British music magazine Gramophone.

A more recent recording, with tenor Mark Padmore, of Schubert's bleak "Winterreise" (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907484), a harrowing cycle of songs about death that ends with the singer meeting up with the grim reaper in the person of a hurdy-gurdy man, has gotten excellent press.   Continued...