British pianist Paul Lewis, a frequent visitor to Symphony Center, returns June 8-10 and 13 to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Manfred Honeck, in works by Mozart. In April, Lewis performed pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Weber in an SCP Piano recital. For his CSO concerts this month, Lewis takes on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27, the composer’s last in this keyboard form. Known for his studio recordings of Beethoven and Schubert, Lewis has performed Mozart this season with the Liverpool Philharmonic, Mahler Chamber and the Philharmonia Orchestra.
As he settles in at Orchestra Hall this week, here are some fast facts about Paul Lewis:
He was a late bloomer: Though he didn’t formally begin lessons until he was 12 years old, Lewis admits to “messing around on the piano” from an early age. “I was breaking into the school assembly hall at lunchtime, picking out tunes and improvising,” he said in a recent interview with the Oxford Times. “I was self-taught before I had formal lessons.”
He hails from a “virtually music-free household”: “There’s no music in the family,” said the pianist, who discovered musical inspiration at a local library. “There was a library round the corner that was well-stocked with records,” and that’s how he began to explore classical music.
He became co-artistic director of the Leeds Piano Competition in 2015: But he almost turned down the position because he dislikes competitions. Lewis reversed course when he decided “it might be possible to reinvent the Leeds competition in terms of what benefits the participants,” he said in an October interview with the Guardian. “I want to create an environment where participants feel they can be heard as a musician, in an atmosphere that’s like a festival, that includes associated events such as master classes and talks. You can take technical brilliance for granted; we want a better way to find and nurture the really interesting musical thinkers and communicators.”
His mentor is the keyboard titan Alfred Brendel: “I was enormously lucky to have been mentored by Alfred Brendel,” Lewis said in the October interview. “I know how vital it is for a musician starting out to have an established, experienced performer taking an interest and being there to advise. Life as a soloist can be lonely; it can feel like an uphill struggle and there are so many potential pitfalls that the sense of support a mentor can offer is incredibly valuable.”
His favorite music of the last 50 years: “In terms of piano music, Ligeti’s Études would have to be somewhere near the top of the list.”
TOP: A portrait of Paul Lewis, performing this week with the CSO under Manfred Honeck. | Photo: Josep Molina/Harmonia Mundi