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British Pianist & Composer Turns Air Gold in Portland


This afternoon, at Gina Bradford's invitation, I went to hear the British pianist Stephen Hough perform. I had no idea who he was.

We sat high up under the ceiling. Below us a slender, monkish figure appeared, sat quietly at the piano bench, and fiddled for a few moments with the back flap of his jacket.

Suddenly his hands were on the keys, and I was hearing the most distinctive sounds, "shaded inner-voices" and transparent notes of pure gold.

The Guardian described Hough's artistry as “The most perfect piano playing conceivable”. The Washington Post declared he was “A virtuoso who begins where others leave off”.

I have no particular expertise, but I thought Hough's performance of Mozart, Schumann, and Liszt-Busoni was extraordinary. During Schumann's Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17, I had the sensation I was hearing something so private and passionate, so intelligent and daring, I would never hear it again, not even on a recording.

Hough's career began when he won the Naumburg International Piano Competition. He has gone on to perform and record with most of the world's major orchestras, and has received a MacArthur genius grant. His reflections on music and life are here.

Along the way he made the true and paradoxical discovery that "I would only really find joy in my music if I was not expecting the music itself to provide me with joy."