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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 19, No. 5

Angela Hewitt: Delivering, Reaching Out, Sharing

by Lucie Renaud / February 1, 2014

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Angela Hewitt

At the age when some start looking at early retirement or a lighter schedule, Angela Hewitt is definitely not planning to slow down during the coming year. Her concert schedule will take her to Korea, Hong Kong, Taipei (her debut there), San Francisco, New York, Florence, Copenhagen, Glyndebourne, Amsterdam, Berlin and maybe even Tokyo. Many cities, London among them, will hear her perform Bach’s monumental The Art of Fugue. To celebrate her Aeroplan account’s 25th birthday, she recalls with a laugh, Air Canada sent her a map and a bag of thumbtacks, white for the places she’s visited, red for the ones she’d like to visit. She exclaimed, “I don't think they sent me enough pins!”

In January, for example, she played and recorded Messiaen’s Turangilîla-Symphonie with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Hannu Lintu. Just a week later, she met with the Hyperion sound engineers in Berlin to record the fifth volume of her complete series of Beethoven sonatas (the fourth was released just before Christmas). Throughout the coming months, she will also play a French and Romantic repertoire, as well as continue her journey through Mozart’s concertos, of which the next volume, a collaboration with the Ottawa National Arts Centre Orchestra that was recorded last summer, will be distributed in July. She will also record Scarlatti sonatas for the first time – “Wish me luck in choosing which of the 555 I’ll put on the album!”

Juxtaposing Beethoven and Bach

Although we most often associate her with Bach, we forget that she remains one of the most versatile pianists in the field. “The way I play each composer is so ingrained in me, is such a big part of me, that I can go from one to another in a second,” she explained. The Montreal public will get to hear the connections between Bach and Beethoven in a program consisting of the Cantor of Leipzig’s English Suite No.3 and Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, as well as the Master of Bonn’s second (Opus 2, No.2) and penultimate (Opus 110) sonatas. “When you hear Beethoven in combination with Bach, you realise what he got of Bach,” she said. “If you play it as coming out of the baroque, with the clarity of the voices, the contrasts in dynamics, it can be very revealing.”

She acknowledges liking Beethoven more and more, especially after rediscovering his work through the unique eyes of ancient music specialists in London in the 1990s. “It really opened my eyes to how this music could be played,” she said. “you need an amazing technique for Beethoven – the better your technique is, the best it will be – but you have also to think about tone colour, variety of tone, phrasing, articulation, and of course, musical depth. The more you open yourself to a composer, the more he gives back to you. It’s great to spend so much time with a composer.”

Trained in the art of dance for some twenty years, Angela Hewitt cannot imagine music without movement. “You have to make people want to get up and dance. Rhythm is important, music has to be alive. And Bach, of course, ninety-five percent of it is based on dance and it is what gives it this great joy and vitality. When you think of the instruments, first we had our human voices and then we moved our bodies,” she explained. 

Classical Music 2.0

Has the concert experience become too old-fashioned to lend itself to such developments? The artist can make a difference, according to her: “On stage, some artists seem bored out of their mind. We need to transmit some of that energy and that movement otherwise yes, it can be stuffy and boring. But there are wonderful artists who will transmit that, conductors, singers and instrumentalists and I think that’s what grabs people. Pianos are disappearing from homes, kids are not getting music education in school anymore, governments are supporting the arts less; it’s not such an important of society as it is used to be. When I play Bach in Seoul, I know there are two thousand kids there under the age of 25. The whole audience is made of kids under 25 because parents consider it an important part of their education. If you’re very passionate about the music, about what you do, if you connect with the audience, they will follow you.”

She rejoices at the fact that the Asian market has welcomed her with open arms over the last few years, although she realizes that certain concert habits have yet to become fully integrated into the culture. “They need to learn that music needs silence, that silence is just an extension of the notes.  If an artist shows incredible concentration, I think people will really want to listen and then they will concentrate,” she said. A perfectly attentive audience remains, in her eyes, the greatest compliment an artist can receive.

Many concert companies are starting to suggest that artists intervene on stage, but Angela Hewitt reminds us that she made this decision in the early 1990s, and that she has written her own program notes since 1994. “I’ve always loved [communicating],” she said. “Of course I do it more now, with the Internet, but I always enjoyed the communication part. There are some artists who play extremely well but are uncomfortable speaking about music. If you can, it really helps, people need that. I spend way too much time answering emails from fans, and I really think that makes a difference. When you do a signing and look someone in the eye for 10 seconds, you have a fan for life. I work for my career, I don’t expect it to all come to me!” Every so often she writes articles on her website and makes a point of updating her Facebook and Twitter accounts two or three times a week, posting tour photos, articles, reviews, live or recorded interviews. In January, we were able to follow the journey, by truck and by boat, of her precious Fazioli from Umbria to Helsinki. Technology doesn’t phase her - she uploaded the 120 pages of the Turangalîla-Symphonie on her iPad, with two extra pedals that enable her to turn pages at will: “Technology works, it’s liberating!”


Although Angela Hewitt rarely takes students under her wing – “When I’m older, I can teach later on!” she said skeptically – she is well aware of the importance of giving back to younger generations and often integrates masterclasses into her schedule. In December, she gave a masterclass at the Jerusalem Music Centre at the request of Murray Perahia, president of the institution since 2008. “It’s just about giving them another outlook, something to think about, that they can apply not just to the one piece they’re playing but to everything they subsequently learn. Expanding their knowledge of the repertoire and just giving them new ideas. I hope that what I tell them can inspire them and motivate them to pursue music. I always try to find something positive or help them in a positive fashion, I’m not of those teachers who stop them after three bars. The least you can do is to foster an enjoyment of music,” she said.

She will meet with students after the Trasimeno Festival celebrating its tenth anniversary in July. “I don’t normally have time in the summer because otherwise I miss out on a lot of summer music festival opportunities,” she clarified. All the concerts given in Magione were sold out over six months before the festival, which will likely be the case for the concerts in Assisi (an all-Mozart program featuring the Coronation Mass and the Concerto K.537, as well as the complete Bach concertos for harpsichord with the Salzburg Camerata), Perugia (two concerts on the same day) and Foligno (the Goldberg Variations).

Magical locations and a loyal audience: has Angela Hewitt found the recipe for a perfect concert? They rarely happen, she reminded us. Five conditions come into play here: an exceptional piano (she frequently travels with her Fazioli), a hall with excellent acoustics, a quiet audience, popular music and a player in good shape. “There’s generally one of those that don’t quite work. You may have an incredibly quiet audience and you play really well, you have a great piano and the hall sounds very dry … To get all those five things together is not very easy but, of course, when it does, it’s wonderful!” she exclaimed.

Translation: Catherine Hine

Angela Hewitt in Canada (www.angelahewitt.com):

  • Music in the Morning Vancouver: Conversation with Eric Friesen, Vancouver Academy of Music, March 5, 10 am
  • Recital at LMMC Concerts, works by Beethoven and Bach, Pollack Hall, March 16, 3:30 pm. www.lmmc.ca
  • Concert with the Toronto Symphony and Hannu Lintu, guest conductor, Roy Thompson Hall, March 20 and 22, 8 pm. www.tso.ca

Angela Hewitt's Latest Recordings:

  • Beethoven Piano Sonatas, vol. 4.  Released on Hyperion, Dec 12, 2013
  • Beethoven Piano Sonatas, vol. 5. Recorded in January, available soon
  • Messiaen's Turangalîla- Symphony, recorded on January 15 with Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, to be available on Ondine June 24

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