World-class pianist Angela Hewitt performs a Baroque programme including Bach’s virtuosic Partita No.4 and Beethoven’s famous Moonlight Sonata in our International Piano Series. Ahead of her performance here’s why we think you should put this one in your diary.
Although Hewitt is often described as Canadian, she’s actually lived in London for over 30 years. Her British roots go even deeper; her mother’s family were originally from Scotland and Ireland, and her father, a Yorkshireman, emigrated to the country to take a job as the organist at the Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa. Moving to London was like a homecoming for Hewitt.
Music was part of her everyday life whilst growing up, she also played the violin and recorder. Not only was her father musical but her mother was a pianist, music teacher, and Hewitt’s first instructor. In an interview with Ottawa Citizen, her advice for young and aspiring pianists is actually to practice less.
Alongside Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Ravel, Bach is one of her favourite composers and she believes that if you’ve mastered Bach well, you can play almost anything. In an interview with Vancouver Classical Music, she noted: ‘It is a mistake for any pianist to not work on their Bach, since fundamental things like architecture, independence of fingering, and equality of left and right hand strength are all there’.
Hewitt is best known for her Bach interpretations. She recorded all Bach’s major keyboard works over a period of 11 years but put off recording his last, unfinished masterpiece The Art of Fugue. It wasn’t until she was approached by the International Piano Series to perform two solo recitals in Royal Festival Hall in 2012 that she took the opportunity to learn one of his most complicated pieces. Listen to extracts of her 2014 recording of The Art of Fugue below.
For the 2018 Armistice commemoration, Hewitt paid tribute to her Scottish grandfather who fought in the Battle of the Somme. On this day, she gave a recital at the Bath Mozartfest which included Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. Composed between 1914 and 1917 for solo piano, each movement in the piece is dedicated to a friend that the composer lost in World War I.
Although her hectic schedule doesn’t allow her to give private lessons, she does give public and online masterclasses offering insights on how to learn and memorise specific pieces. In an interview with Vancouver Classical Music she discussed the issue of playing with a score in front of you: ‘I would certainly discourage young musicians from doing this. I think that playing from memory allows you to be more interiorised and freer and, besides, keeping a good memory is a critical resource for when you get older. Having said that, on occasion I do use the score when playing works that are immensely complicated.’
In this introduction to Hewitt’s masterclasses, she discusses her training in the Baroque repertoire and plays a short excerpt of Bach’s Invention No.1 in C.
Hewitt counts Man Booker Prize-winning writer Ian McEwan as a friend. He called her the world’s great interpreter of Bach in an interview with CBC Music: ‘Wise and silky in her touch. She can simultaneously separate out the contrapuntal voices and let them sing while braiding them into their transcendent unity.’ McEwan chose to play Hewitt’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in his 2005 novel Saturday. In the soundtrack to the film adaption of his latest novel, The Children Act, Hewitt performs Bach’s graceful and spirited Partita No.2.