As characterized in one of England's newspapers, The Guardian, recently, pianist Leslie Howard has been described by some as "a master of tradition of pianism in serious danger of dying out."
Why? Howard himself offered many insights into the answer during a telephone interview from London.
"I would hate to be starting now," Howard admitted. "There are far fewer secure ways of getting into the business.
"We've got a whole generation of people whose parents only know pop music. They don't go to classical concerts, and they don't buy classical records until they're much older, and they suddenly discover that it actually will hold their attention span for longer than three minutes. It's sociologically quite different."
Though he knew he would be a concert pianist, Howard said that to begin, he actually got his degree in literature not music. He also studied mathematics, physics and chemistry in school. "I must say I'm very glad I did it that way. I always get distressed with people who go to music college and who don't do anything else. They come out not knowing how the music they play is supposed to relate to anything, or where it fits in history. I think you should have the broadest possible background that you can."
Although he was born in Melbourne, Australia, Howard's own broad background and love for all things English eventually took him to London, where he has been based for 30 years.
Howard said he entered the profession right at the end of the period when relatively few performing artists were asked to make records. Luckily, he said he was one of them, but there have been dramatic changes since then.
He observed that "in recent years, there has been such a glut on the market because practically everybody has a CD out, and none of them are selling. There's so much needless duplication. I don't think we need 60 different pianists' complete sets of the Beethoven Sonatas. Everybody should play them, but it's not absolutely necessary that everybody record everything."
Perhaps it was this passion that spurred Howard to be the first pianist to record the complete works of Liszt a composer he felt was relatively neglected and somewhat maligned. "I felt that Liszt was getting very bad press, especially from ignorant people who think that he only writes very difficult music for people to show off with, which is, I'm afraid, still is a very prevalent attitude. Five minutes' examination of his catalog would show you that it wasn't true.
"Particularly, I get annoyed with young piano players who play with very bad taste, and everybody then blames Liszt for it. That always drives me mad because it's really not Liszt's fault if people have bad taste. I just thought Liszt needed somebody to do the proper job." The complete set has 94 CDs in it, and Howard says he'll be recording an additional CD of music that has surfaced in the past couple of years. "There's no other composer who wrote that much music for anything. There's no comparable thing. All the Schubert songs take 35 CDs, all the Beethoven piano music takes 18, and so on."
Howard will perform in concert as a guest of the Opus Chamber Orchestra. He'll play a solo piano recital on Tuesday, April 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the All-Saints Episcopal Church, and again with the Opus Chamber Orchestra on Sunday, April 29, at 5 p.m. in the Jewett Center at Westminster College. Tickets may be purchased at the door or by calling ArtTix at 355-ARTS (2787) or 1-888-451-ARTS.
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