23 June 2023

Acclaimed pianist Piers Lane to perform at the new Snow Concert Hall, conduct master class

| Ian Bushnell
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Pianist Piers Lane

Pianist Piers Lane: “Canberra really could do with another hall, couldn’t it?” Photos: Benjamin Ealovega.

How do you get a world-class musician to perform at your new concert hall? Just ask.

UK-based Australian pianist Piers Lane, who has performed previously in the national capital with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and for Musica Viva at Llewelyn Hall, will feature in just the second concert at the new $20 million Snow Concert Hall at Canberra Grammar School’s Red Hill campus on 29 June.

The concert is as part of the Snow Concert Hall’s International Series, following the inaugural performance by flautist Ana de la Vega and the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.

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De la Vega is also the new venue’s artistic director and issued the invitation to Lane, who was embarking on a packed tour of his home country and New Zealand, not to mention chairing the jury at the upcoming Sydney International Piano Competition.

“I had met her in London some years ago, and was delighted when she called me to see if I might be available on this tour to play,” Lane said.

He had heard great things about the new venue and its wonderful acoustics, and was looking forward to experiencing it.

“I’ve played often of course in the Llewellyn Hall with the orchestra and Musica Viva and so on and it’s lovely there, but Canberra really could do with another hall, couldn’t it? And I think it’s fantastic that this has happened.”

Brisbane-born Lane has built a formidable career, with over 100 concerto works in his repertoire. He has collaborated with some of the world’s most esteemed orchestras and conductors, and performed at renowned festivals and sold-out venues such as the BBC Proms. He has also just released a new recording, Piers Lane Goes to Town Again.

Canberra pianists will be able to soak up some of that experience and knowledge when he conducts a master class the Friday morning (30 June) after the concert, something he is often asked to do when he tours.

“I did one for the Queensland Symphony when I was up there just three or four weeks ago with students from the Conservatorium and university,” he said.

“I don’t know who I’ll be hearing in Canberra yet but I think it’s a wonderful thing for local people to be exposed to performers from outside and hopefully you can give some insights and help them in some way.”

It’s a duty Lane embraces as part of passing on the musical baton to the next generation.

“There’s that feeling of a continuing cycle, always,” he said. “I mean, I grew up in Brisbane but I’ve played all over the world and so hopefully I have some experience to pass on to others and to give them confidence and some pointers.”

Piers Lane calls the piano the king of instruments.

Lane has put together a program featuring two giants of the instrument – Rachmaninoff, to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and Chopin.

The first half will include some well-known preludes, but also the lesser-played Variations on a Theme of Chopin.

The second is all Chopin, with pieces selected from the ballets Chopiniana and Les Sylphides.

Lane said the program would showcase the beauty and emotional depth of the piano repertoire.

He calls the piano the king of instruments, “a whole orchestra in one”.

“It’s extraordinary the counterpoint that you can hear from 10 fingers on a piano and the range of colour that can be got,” Lane said.

“You can evoke all sorts of solo instruments or groups of instruments on the piano. It’s got that fantastic range.”

Lane sees the future of Western music in Asia, particularly China, where there are millions of young pianists like Liang Liang and Yuja Wang, as well as Korea and Japan.

“There are wonderful players from Europe of course as well, but there seems to be such a drive there,” he said.

But there was new talent and repertoire coming through in Australia, and the Sydney competition was a good vehicle for this.

“I started a composition competition two years ago called Composing the Future,” Lane said. “We had 94 new Australian piano works submitted, many of which will be premiered during the piano competition in two weeks’ time, which is terribly exciting.

“And I made one of the elements of the competition that people had to play a 21st-century Australian piece. And yeah, there’s quite a lot happening here.”

But sports-mad Australia needed to be careful that it didn’t fall behind the Asian juggernaut.

“There’s such an emphasis on sport in Australia,” Lane said. “We have fantastic classical music institutions like the orchestras and the opera companies and the ACO [Australian Chamber Orchestra] and so on, but we must be careful to balance the other side [sport] with classical music.”

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As a judge, Lane says technique, while important, is not enough on its own.

“We would expect all of them to have mastery techniques, comprehensive techniques that can cope with whatever they have they chosen to play but you want that really probing mind as well,” he said.

“And an originality, you want them to do everything that the composer asks on the page, but there’s got to be something beyond that, a new and original take on things, something that really communicates with the public, that can move and excite people.”

Canberra businessman Terry Snow gifted $20 million to his old school in 2019 to build the concert hall, with the aim of it serving the wider community.

It has 936 seats and balcony bench seating for an additional audience of up to 400 people.

Piers Lane in Recital is on at the Snow Concert Hall on Thursday 29 June at 7 pm. Tickets are $110. For more information and to buy tickets visit the website.

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