The Leeds – as it’s commonly referred to – has come a long way since 1963 and former concert pianist Fanny Waterman’s vision of a piano competition in the heart of West Yorkshire. The 2018 programme, which has just kicked off and runs to September 15, could be the most exciting and imaginative yet.

This year, in a break from the norm, everything that is unique about the competition was packed up and put on a plane in April – the first round of qualification was held first in Berlin, then Singapore, followed by New York. With the organisers’ commitment to engagement and education, directly reaching out to young piano players around the world and making the opportunity to compete more accessible can only have further confirmed this annual event as the place to see the best international young pianists.

So, think about piano – and you might grimace as you hark back to trying to learn those scales at eight-years-old. Shortly afterwards you may well have taken up football or asked for a pony and, ever since, you’ve secretly carried a sense of regret at not being able to knock out something from Debussy, Gershwin, or Chas & Dave. Adam Gatehouse, co-artistic director of the competition, understands this sentiment, but is not deterred: “We are thrilled to be finding exciting new ways to connect the competition with the city of Leeds”.

Well, not only do we get the chance to observe the artistry of the world’s finest young pianists over the coming weeks, but an exciting programme of activities runs alongside the competition across Leeds.

Hosted by the University of Leeds, Piano+ is a range of events that provides audiences, visitors and locals alike the chance to take part in masterclasses, talks, recitals, pop-up performances, art-and-craft activities and storytelling. Perhaps one of the most exciting elements of this celebration of the piano is the Leeds Piano Trail which sees instruments dotted around the city in public spaces until mid-September. Don’t be surprised if you hear someone ‘tinkling the ivories’ as you wait for your train at City Station over the coming weeks (or while you’re buying your broccoli in Kirkgate Market). And with BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM both broadcasting from the city throughout the competition, even if you can’t get here, there’s no excuse not to tune in.

The serious end of the competition kicks off for the final 24 competitors on September 6 in the Great Hall at the University of Leeds. The Concerto Finals take place on September 14 and 15 in the majestic setting of Leeds Town Hall – and tickets are available for the performances.

Although I’ve been unable to locate any Chas & Dave within the schedule and repertoire, with involvement from the Halle Orchestra, the Elias String Quartet and internationally acclaimed cellist Bjørg Lewis, the programme promises to be stupendous.

By Colin Petch


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