Celebrity impressionist, comedian, and actor turned pianist Alistair McGowan has launched the inaugural Ludlow Piano Festival, which takes place between 24 and 28 May in the beautiful, historic town of Ludlow, Shropshire, England.
Alistair McGowan: The Piano Show
This new music festival features a fabulous line-up of pianists: Lucy Parham, Charles Owen, Anne Lovett, Viv McLean, Paul Roberts, Anthony Hewitt, Benjamin Frith, Christina McMaster, Joanna MacGregor, and James Lisney, playing a mixture of pieces by Chopin, Gershwin, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Mompou, Liszt, Scriabin, Satie, and Ravel (as well as original works), all with an emphasis on beauty and romance, as befits the lovely setting for this festival. In addition, comedian, musician, and conductor, Rainer Hersch will be performing his hilarious and heart-warming tribute to his idol, Victor Borge. And on Saturday 26 May, remarkable blind pianist Rachel Starrit will give a late-night candlelit concert, performing new works by three young composers and her own improvisations.
Erik Satie: 3 Gymnopédies – No. 1. Lent et douloureux (Joanna MacGregor, piano)
Rainer Hersch on Victor Borge: ‘the funniest man in the world’
As well as the concerts there will be opportunities for invited students and keen amateur pianists to participate in masterclasses with Paul Roberts and James Lisney, plus insights into dealing with live performance in a special event hosted by BBC Radio 3’s Katie Derham.
I caught up with Alistair McGowan to ask him more about this Festival and the chosen setting for it.
What was your motivation for organising the Ludlow Piano Festival?
We have two fabulous concert venues in the town each with a top-quality concert grand piano. Having performed my own show (in which I cheekily play 15 short piano pieces by Debussy, Satie, Glass, Gershwin, Cyril Scott et al and intersperse them with light-hearted biographical information and a smattering of crowbarred impressions) to great acclaim at both venues, I thought it would be wonderful to get all the proper classical pianists I know and admire to play these excellent pianos too and within a few days of each other so that the town rings with the sound of the piano.
Apart from the great pianos and venues, Ludlow is a beautiful town which I’m now very pleased to call home. Set amid the rolling, ‘blue-remembered’ Shropshire Hills, I thought it would be a perfect base for a festival of this sort where people could come from all over the country (indeed, all over the world) and sample the great food on offer, the history of the town with its stunning architecture, and enjoy the freshness of the English/almost Welsh countryside in between the many top-quality events.
What excites you about the performers and programmes at the Festival?
Every one of the soloists has thrilled me with their playing since I came (late in life!) to appreciate the piano repertoire. They are artists whose recordings have inspired me, soothed me, moved me, and amazed me. I have seen nearly all of them live too and am just in awe of what they do. I’m delighted that they have agreed to largely play shorter pieces. I hope that will keep our audience on their toes and introduce them to a lot of new pieces and new composers (some modern, some young, and some local composers too!) rather than just the regular names.
Johannes Brahms: 6 Piano Pieces, Op. 118 – No. 2 Intermezzo in A Major (Charles Owen, piano)
What do you hope audiences will take from the Festival?
I hope they will, like me, be moved and inspired and want to hear more, learn more and play more. Also, knowing that we’d attract some very-skilled piano enthusiasts, I was keen to secure some street pianos and to have the three pub pianos in the town tuned and accessible so that visitors (and the resting soloists!) can play music so that anyone can hear it as they eat, drink and go about their daily business.
This promises to be a glorious celebration of the piano, in a beautiful location – a must-go Festival for all pianophiles and music lovers.
Ludlow Piano Festival runs from 24 to 28 May 2023.
For more of the best in classical music, sign up to our E-Newsletter