Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My journey with music all started when I went to secondary school. I loved my BTEC music lessons (my school didn’t offer GCSE music) and decided that I wanted to get more involved with extracurricular musical activities. I started to sing in the school choir and enjoyed this very much. While I enjoyed my time in the choir, I was growing more and more envious of my friends who could play an instrument – I hadn’t played a note in my life up until this point! Our head of music, Mrs. Waters – an incredibly passionate and gifted teacher – was a pianist, and so I spoke to her about having some lessons. I was around thirteen when I first touched a keyboard, and it was love at first sight (and sound!).
I began to take weekly lessons, practising feverishly at every spare minute I could get: before school, break times, after school and so on. It wasn’t long before I decided that I had to make this my life; this came as a shock to my family as I had always maintained that I wanted to be a dentist up until this point! They were nothing but supportive of my decision, and continue to be to this day.
As I progressed and became more serious (a dreadful word) about this vocation, I decided of my own accord that I wanted to apply to Chethams School of Music in Manchester. It was rather ambitious for someone who had only been playing for just over two years, but I worked incredibly hard with Mrs. Waters and was accepted to study for my A Levels. I spent three happy years at Chets, and it was there that I made some of my most valuable musical and personal connections. After Chets I went to Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance where I studied with the British pianist, Philip Fowke. Philip was and continues to be a huge influence on me. He not only taught me how to play the piano, but how to be a better human being as well. Philip also introduced me to a former student of his, Alisdair Hogarth. I started to take lessons with Alisdair during my time at Trinity, and he also continues to be an incredibly important figure in my musical life. It’s a privilege to call both Philip and Alisdair not only my teachers, but wonderful friends as well.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Learning to manage oneself and balance the responsibilities of performing life with teaching and the mundanities of day-to-day tasks (admin, travel etc.). As a musician, one has to have many plates spinning at once, and so it’s important to be organised and have discipline of routine.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
It’s incredibly rare that one comes off stage feeling that a performance couldn’t have gone much better, but I am rather proud of my debut at St. John’s, Smith Square back in 2018 – I played music by the American composer Stephen Montague, in celebration of his 75th birthday. It was quite an event, with a full twenty-four hours of music dedicated to this amazing musician. It was a big occasion for me, and I’m thrilled to have been a part of it.
Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?
As a professional musician I feel that it’s important to explore a wide range of repertoire and to be able to turn one’s hand to anything. The repertoire that feels the most comfortable or natural does not necessarily sound the best to an audience … therefore, I don’t feel qualified to say what I feel I play best!
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I think it’s incredibly important to take time away from one’s instrument, and away from music! I find great inspiration when I’m walking, whether in the city or the countryside. I make a point of not listening to any music on these walks, but just taking in the sounds around me. Allowing my mind this precious time to wander and unravel itself often leaves me feeling energised and ready to work again.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I always like to have a theme and build from there. I also enjoy presenting repertoire that is neglected and placing it with more well-known pieces – it can often make an interesting juxtaposition and show qualities in the works that perhaps otherwise go unnoticed. I also very much enjoy talking to my audiences, and I would consider this to be an important part of my stage craft: I love to programme music that lends itself to interesting tales and anecdotes to share.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I feel that every venue I play is important to me for different reasons, and so it’s impossible to choose a favourite!
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
Concerts often take place at incredibly awkward times, sometimes starting as late as 8pm and lasting well over two hours. I wonder how families, for example, can ever hope to attend a concert in town at 8pm when they have to get home from work, collect children from school, eat dinner and be in bed at a decent time to do it all again the next morning! I’d like to see earlier concerts with shorter programmes that mean people can enjoy an evening without the mad rush before and after.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I’d like to answer this in two parts: my most memorable experience from a concert I have played, and most most memorable experience from a concert I attended.
My most memorable experience of a concert I played is probably when I had the opportunity to perform the Schumann Piano Quintet with some friends at a chamber music event organised by Trinity Laban at London’s Wigmore Hall. I’ll never forget the experience of stepping onto that famous stage, and feeling the energy of this incredibly historic venue. It was both thrilling and daunting to see the portraits of all my musical idols hanging in the green room – their eyes seemed to follow me right to the platform!
My most memorable experience of a concert I attended was one by my teacher, Philip Fowke, when he played the Grieg piano concerto at the Chethams Summer School. It was a performance of such incredible generosity, and I still feel as though I can hear every note of it now. I shall never forget it.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
When an audience member takes the time to talk to me after a recital and explains that my music has moved them in some way or connected them to a distant memory of a loved one or special event in their life, then I know that my work is done.
What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?
I could write a lot on this, but I’ll try to be as concise as possible:
– Be a perfectionist in practice, and a realist in performance
– Mistakes are inevitable – fail fast and move on
– Look after your mental and physical health: good diet, regular exercise and plenty of sleep!
– Dig your own furrow
– Don’t let the good be the enemy of the better
– Knock on every door
– Performance is a serious business: treat it as such
– Good luck!
What is your most treasured possession?
Based in both London and Manchester, two of the UK’s most exciting and vibrant cities, Lewis enjoys a busy life as a working musician. Organising projects as both soloist and collaborator, he programmes a wide variety of music from the traditional classical canon, right through to jazz and the avant-garde. With a strong background in theatre, his appearances are never without verve.
Lewis is also a passionate educator. With an enthusiasm for the craft of practice, a topic that he can often be heard discussing with great fervour, he enjoys working with a variety of students, encouraging them to develop into efficient and independent musicians. He provides people with the essential tools to live their musical lives freely and individually, whether they wish to pursue a career in music, or relish in the joys of personal music-making.
Lewis is a Chethams School of Music alumnus and recent graduate of London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire where he studied with Philip Fowke and Alisdair Hogarth.