Something fun and fabulous happened this summer – I went to Chetham’s International Summer Piano school in Manchester for the first time. The school is based at the Chetham’s Music School in Manchester and has been running every August for the last 21 years. Many of my friends and my students have participated in this piano ‘feast’ before and told me how wonderful it was. I must say I am a huge fan of piano summer courses anyway, both as a participant and as a member of faculty, but before the pandemic, sadly, there simply wasn’t time to go – my summers were fully booked with masterclasses and recitals in Europe and Asia. Unfortunately (or fortunately) this wasn’t the case this summer and suddenly I found I had time to visit this ‘Mecca for pianists’ for one week in August, following up on a very kind invitation from the Artistic directors of the school – the absolute ‘Power Couple’ Murray McLachlan and his wife, Kathryn Page whom I met in June during my masterclasses at Chetham’s School of Music.
Chetham’s School of Music is one of the most famous UK music schools. Their piano alumni include such world-famous pianists as Paul Lewis, Peter Donohoe, Stephen Hough, Leon McCawley, Murray McLachlan and many others. It was absolutely fascinating to teach there – suddenly history comes to life, and you cannot not feel the pressure that you might be giving some advice to the next ‘Stephen Hough’. It is a huge privilege to teach these very talented children, but it is a lot of responsibility too.
The International Piano Summer School at Chet’s is different, being fun and somewhat casual, in the best meaning of this word. It offers something that for so long everyone has been longing for – sociable music-making for all levels with an A-class celebrity teaching crew (Martin Roscoe, Peter Donohoe, Charles Owen, Noriko Ogawa, Paul Lewis, Leon McCawley, Joanna MacGregor, Steven Osborne to name a few). Run over 3 weeks, it has its junior academy for one week and adult academy (both for professionals and amateurs) for the other two weeks. Apart from the individual lessons and numerous extremely impressive concerts by the faculty and students during the course, all of the three weeks are packed with lots of different group workshops on sight-reading, improvisation, advancing technique and many other useful tools for any piano player of any level (it’s proudly positioned as ‘the friendliest UK summer piano school’, as it requires no audition to participate in the course).
There is an impressive addition to it all – I was also quite stunned when I discovered that there was an online piano summer school running on top of it all, with teachers like Boris Berman and participants from all over the world. I have no idea of all the logistic complications of such a programme, but I can only guess that neither nor Murray nor Kathryn had much sleep during those 3 weeks.
I can genuinely say that this week has been one the best weeks of music-making I have had in years, and certainly it is one of the top highlights of 2021 so far. The most exciting thing for me was the abundance of emotions: feelings of unity, hope, happiness, passion for music; and the realisation that, despite the coronavirus, the love for piano playing still has a unique power to unite people of all ages and abilities. The friendliness, the openness and the inspiration from being there is priceless, and I have only admiration for Murray and Kathryn. It is a must for anyone who is passionate about playing the piano!