Piano Virtuoso Heads for Festival in St Asaph

A world renowned classical pianist who made his Royal Festival Hall debut aged just eight is set to perform at this year’s North Wales International Music Festival.

Freddy Kempf will perform music by Chopin, Ravel and Rachmaninov with the programme reflecting on the centenary of the end of the Great War.

Kempf will also treat piano students to a master class on the morning of his concert on Friday, September 21.

Born in London in 1977 to a German father and a Japanese mother Kempf began piano lessons aged just four and won the UK’s National Mozart Competition aged 10 before becoming the youngest winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1992.

Kempf, who has performed around the globe, says he is looking forward to coming to North Wales.

He said: “I was asked to perform a programme that works with the festival’s theme which this year is Reflections.

“I’m playing Chopin’s Piano Sonata no 2 in B flat minor which many in the audience won’t recognise as the Funeral March until we arrive at the movement in the middle of the sonata. It’s a surprising and somewhat unexpected context.

“I’m also performing Ravel’s Le Tombeau du Couperin which was written in 1917 and was dedicated to the composers many friends who went off to war and didn’t return as they perished at the front.”

“As a child Freddy Kempf tried many other instruments but found he was best at the piano.

He said: “I wanted to be a motor racer or tennis player. I wanted to be good at something and as I liked the sound of the piano, I was drawn to it.

“My music teacher encouraged me to try the violin and other instruments but I always came back to the piano, it’s what I was clearly best at.”

Many instrumentalists are very attached to their instrument, such as violinists or guitarists, but as a pianist you are always performing on different pianos.

Kempf said: “A piano is like a car, it needs regular servicing, it’s a machine and to keep it sounding right it needs constant attention.

“A violin might get better with age but unless a piano is serviced regularly it just won’t be right. For me a piano is very much part of the venue, I have to work with the set up.

“Clearly I can’t take a piano with me on an aircraft when I travel, like a violinist can take his or her instrument with them. You get used to working with different instruments and the different way they sound.”

Kempf, who now lives in Germany close to the Alps speaks fluent English, German, Russian, French and Japanese and can get by in a host of other languages including Italian, Serbian and Korean.

He has three children with his Russian-born wife all of whom are learning to play musical instruments.

He has played all around the globe in the biggest concert halls from Carnegie Hall to the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire and has recorded numerous albums of classical and chamber music.

He added: “I do enjoy performing in Wales. Welsh audiences are knowledgeable when it comes to music, particularly song. It’s always an enjoyable experience and I’m really looking forward to the festival.

“I’m also looking forward to conducting a master class on the Friday morning before the evening concert. Master classes are challenging in one way as you don’t know the students, but also highly rewarding.

“I like to try and encourage students to appreciate their audience and to play for them by engaging with them.”

North Wales International Music Festival artistic director Ann Atkinson was delighted to have been able to attract a world class pianist such as Freddy Kempf to the festival.

She said: “Freddy Kempf is a wonderful pianist who progressed from being a child prodigy to one of the world’s very best pianists.

“He is without doubt one of the most successful pianists and plays to sell-out audiences around the world. He has a unique and very physical style and an amazing repertoire.

“We are so lucky to have him play at this year’s festival and it’s a concert I am really looking forward to. I’m also thrilled he has agreed to run a master class on the Friday morning. He will without doubt inspire young pianists and pass on some great advice.”

“I’m delighted with the line-up for this year’s festival. We have a concert called Hymn to the Fallen, a programme of remembrance to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice featuring the popular Voces8.

“The opening concert on Saturday, September 15, will feature Côr Glanaethwy, NEW Sinfonia players and Telynau Clwyd and we will enjoy pieces by composers such as Olivier Messiaen, Gustav Mahler, Karl Jenkins, Brian Hughes, Caryl Parry Jones and Leonard Cohen. It will be an amazing opening concert and one not to be missed.”

“Our Festival community chorus will perform with Welsh National Opera and we have the world premiere of Materna Requiem by composer Rebecca Dale.

“Reflections is a concert featuring soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, pianist Jocelyn Freeman and Family Affair and on the final Saturday evening, September 29, we will have an orchestral concert with NEW Sinfonia and the workshop students from the ‘Smile, Smile, Smile’ project as well as a performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto by celebrated cellist Raphael Wallfisch.

“Smile, Smile, Smile is based on the wartime song Pack up your Troubles which was written by two St Asaph-born young men, George and Felix Powell. George sang in the choir at St Asaph Cathedral while Felix played the organ.

“Reflections of Love is a concert that will see two artists, jazz singer Jacqui Dankworh and classical guitarist Craig Ogden, perform magical and intimate songs by Paul Simon, James Taylor, Henry Mancini and many more.

“The festival will close on Sunday, September 30, with a concert reflecting on the centenary of the end of the Great War and will include readings by celebrated Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce as well as performances by Trelawnyd and Bro Glyndŵr Male Voice Choirs, Côr Cytgan Clwyd and A5 Brass Quintet from NEW Sinfonia.

“The programme will include a selection of wartime songs and works by Barber, Kamen and Karl Jenkins.”

Ann added: “It’s going to be a very special festival this year. I’d encourage anyone who likes classical and contemporary music to get their tickets as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.”

Tickets are available online, from Theatr Clwyd, Mold – 01352 701521 or Cathedral Frames, 28 High Street, St Asaph – 01745 582929. To find out more about the North Wales International Music Festival please visit www.nwimf.com.

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