THANKS in large part to a huge and highly acclaimed discography (including all the Rachmaninov concerti) pianist and conductor Howard Shelley is a household name around the world. His fans are legion, and many of them have the opportunity now of hearing him (again) in person. He will be here to conduct and play an all-Mozart programme in the Friends of Orchestral Music’s annual fundraiser for the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. This takes place at the Cape Town City Hall on November 3, at 8 pm.
It has been many years since Shelley was in Cape Town. “I have long looked forward to performing again in the city because I remember it so vividly from concert tours I undertook. My teacher, Lamar Crowson, who was one of the strongest musical influences in my life, and a good friend, moved on from London to Cape Town and taught at UCT, as well as giving many concerts around the country. Sadly he is no longer alive, but his spirit lives on in this city which he loved.
“I also have very good friends from my student days at the Royal College of Music, whom we have remained very close to, and who live in Cape Town and have told me about the re-birth and the current fine state of the orchestra,” he says.
Music was always part of his life, he says, and he was broadcast by the BBC when he was 10 when he played Bach and Chopin. The year he graduated from the Royal College of Music in London was also the year he made his Wigmore Hall debut.
“There seems to be a strong musical gene active on both sides of our family. My grandfather was an organist (and, although I never knew him, the organ was an instrument I was dying to play from the moment my feet could reach the pedals), my mother was a fine cellist, and I am a pianist and conductor, My wife, Hilary Macnamara, whom I met at the Royal College of Music, won the top prize for solo pianists there, and comes from a large Irish family which boasts many professional musicians.”
The next generation has inherited the genes! “It is no surprise then that our son, Alexander, is also a musician and at 36, is currently Principal Conductor of both the National Orchestra of Canada in Ottawa, and of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra in Germany and Principal Associate Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. One of our favourite photos of him as a youngster, incidentally, is taken on Table Mountain where he was enthralled by a couple of ‘dassies’.
Shelley began as a pianist, but always had the urge to conduct.
“I did a lot of conducting as a teenager, but at the start of my career I had to concentrate on establishing myself as a concert pianist. However, I was fortunate that, quite early on, I was asked to direct a Mozart piano concerto from the keyboard in a concert with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall.”
He began conducting in 1985, and eventually developed a relationship with the London Mozart players, becoming its associate conductor in 1990, then its principal guest conductor two years later.
“Conducting from the keyboard is now the way of performing that gives me the greatest pleasure, and, although I play and record a very wide repertoire of concertos directing from the keyboard, the Mozart piano concertos are perhaps the most perfect works to perform in this way, an amazing blend of chamber music, solo writing, symphonic and operatic dialogue. In his short life, Mozart wrote more than 20 concertos, of which 12 of the greatest were composed in just three years in Vienna. The two which we feature in this concert come from this period; one was written for the blind pianist, Maria Theresa Paradies, and the other was one of Beethoven’s favourites for which he even wrote cadenzas, the famous D minor.”
The FOM are delighted to have Shelley, who is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Music, as their guest artist. He was awarded an OBE for services to classical music in 2009. Says chairman Derek Auret, “Shelley is a consummate musician and we are thrilled he could accept our invitation. He has also done much to revive many almost forgotten romantic piano concertos of composers such as Moscheles, Herz, Hiller, Kalkbrenner, ensuring that the promotion of near-forgotten works have enriched the classical music repertoire.”
He will conduct Symphony No. 35 in D, K. 385, Haffner, along with Piano Concerti No. 18 in B-flat, K. 456, Paradis, and No. 20 in D minor, K. 466.
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