Opportunity Knocks – PLG @ 50

Written by: Colin Anderson

The Park Lane Group begins its 50th-anniversary season and Andrew Ball plays 50 piano pieces…

Ask John Woolf, Director of the Park Lane Group, what makes PLG tick, and it comes down to opportunity and people. “I keep going back to opportunity. Out of that comes quite wonderful things.” Park Lane Group is in its 50th year, and has been promoting classical and jazz events for decades as well as bringing forward young musicians. Once again, the celebrated Young Artists New Year Series graces the Purcell Room, from January 9-13, ten concerts over five days (at 6.15 and 7.45); a showcase for musical talent and 20th-century and recent music with, this year, a smattering of Mozart in honour of his 250th year, born 1756.

“It’s a wonderful way to present contemporary music and you get really committed performances.” John’s comments are supported by pianist Andrew Ball, himself a beneficiary of PLG and now a professor at the Royal College of Music. “Young Artists is a prestigious series that always attracts reviews and the kids bring their families and friends, a new audience, and John is very faithful with follow-ups. The phone will ring!” Andrew is helping to celebrate PLG at 50 with a Purcell Room recital on December 3. He will play 50 piano pieces. “The longest is four minutes. The pieces will be grouped, so there should be a sense of progression or of absolute contrasts. There’s a lot of rarities: crazy and experimental Shostakovich, 20 seconds of Stockhausen, and a Beethoven piece that Brendel says is as good as anything in the sets of Bagatelles. It’s a salon evening; the challenge for me will be changing style and sound instantaneously.” The concert is termed The Grand Tour.

With Andrew as a pedagogue I invite his comment on the current great debate over music education. “There has been a shift of the pendulum in schools that has gone too far in the other direction; the phrase ‘music appreciation’ is completely out of the window. It’s now about composing and it’s very easy to put together a few noises with synthesisers. Some people seem to see conservatoires as defenders of privilege. Although the grounding is classical music, we’re actually producing performers who go on to do all sorts of things; we’re training informed and sensitive musicians who are aware that scholarship and knowledge of the repertoire is needed to make careers.” From there to the exposure that PLG brings is then a small step. John Woolf chips in “just to cheer you up, that sales of string instruments are on the up.”

Andrew’s 50-piece recital seems something for everybody? “Yes. It should run the gamut and with some unexpected things.” Whether it’s a beautiful miniature or a premiere, including something by Andrew’s RCM colleague William Mival (“he mentioned that he just happened to have an unplayed piece!”), this should be a real event. “It’s a personal selection of pieces reflecting my particular interests. I can see myself staggering in carrying all this music, if only so I can remember the order!”

  • Park Lane Group
  • Andrew Ball’s recital is on Saturday 3 December in the Purcell Room beginning at 7.45
  • South Bank Centre
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 1 December 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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