CHARLES OWEN: One man's journey all the way to the top

By David Sonin The transformation from talented youngster to established star of the concert stage is no easy rite of passage – no matter what the degree of talent. But one young local artist who has made that metamorphosis – and spectacularly so – is the

By David Sonin

The transformation from talented youngster to established star of the concert stage is no easy rite of passage - no matter what the degree of talent.

But one young local artist who has made that metamorphosis - and spectacularly so - is the pianist Charles Owen.

I first met Charles some seven years ago when he had already begun to climb the career ladder with solo and chamber recitals at Hampstead's Netherhall House, Wigmore Hall and other venues.


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At the time, he was busy forging partnerships with other young guns of his generation and was looking for his own space in what has always been an unforgiving profession.

Now, the seasoned performer - back from another tour of Russia - is readying himself for a return to the Wigmore Hall next week.

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And he is appearing in a solo programme that sums up his artistic character - music by Brahms, Britten, Schumann, Fauré and Debussy.

Charles's musical tastes are refined and defined.

His admiration of Brahms is based on the practitioner's unique understanding of his compositional technique, while he links his liking of Britten - whose Night Piece he considers the most mature of the British composer's solo piano pieces - to the latter's admiration of Schumann, another favourite.

But perhaps on a slightly different plane is Charles's affection for the piano music of Fauré and Debussy - both of whom have figured largely in his solo career. In the case of Fauré, the importance will grow this summer when Charles records his Preludes.

Diversification has been a hallmark of his career, where being solo has been important.

"Alone on the stage, one does carry the responsibility of the performance," he says.

"That, however, is no less in chamber performance, where one has responsibility to one's partners, as well as in both cases to the audience.

"In the chamber field, for instance, I have been fortunate enough to work with the foremost young musical talent of the day. Among them have been the cellists Natalie Clein and Adrian Brendel and the violinist Chloë Hanslip.

"I have made recordings with Natalie that have been very well received, particularly our recording of music by Rachmaninoff and Chopin, which was released on EMI in October 2006."

"We were also fortunate with our earlier recording of cello and piano sonatas by Brahms and Schubert on EMI Classics for Pleasure, which won a Classical Brit Award in 2005."

On the solo disc front, Charles's recording of music by Janácek was selected as Gramophone Magazine's Editor's Choice and went on to be nominated for a Classical Brit Award in 2005. His disc of music by Poulenc was received with equal acclaim.

He has also performed in many of Britain's leading concert halls, including the Barbican, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Symphony Hall, Birmingham, as well as internationally at the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York, Vienna's Musikverein, the Paris Louvre, the St Petersburg Philharmonic and the Moscow Conservatoire.

He is equally in demand for international festivals such as Bath and Cheltenham at home and West Cork in Ireland and Perth, Western Australia.

As a performer with a high international profile, Charles is aware that audience profiles at home and abroad differ. Whereas in Britain grey audiences are more the rule, in countries such as Russia the spread across the age spectrum is much more even.

"One of the reasons that I love playing in the winter festival at the Moscow Conservatoire is that there are so many mature young people in the audience - young people who genuinely love classical music from a culture that cherishes both music and dance.

"Music here has to compete against all the different media, computers and other music-providing devices that are accessible to young people, although I am not entirely certain how we approach young people to come to classical performances."

His own music beginnings were sound and founded in his days as a pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School, after which

he went on to the Royal College of Music.

And like many musicians who have made their name on the concert platform and have repaid their art through teaching, Charles is delighted with his post of Professor of Music at the Guildhall School of Music, where he teaches one day a week.

"My students are in their early 20s and giving them lessons is a constant reminder of my own days as a student. I just relish how invigorating and enjoyable it all is."

Charles will not be long in his north-west London home before he packs his traps once more.

In February, he is off to India with local singer Patricia Rozario, after which he is off to Istanbul for a solo recital in March.

But, with musical logic to foremost, it is first things first and back to familiar ground of the platform at the Wigmore Hall where part of the Charles Owen story began.

Charles Owen in recital at the Wigmore Hall on February 3 at 7.30pm in a programme of Brahms, Britten, Schumann, Fauré and Debussy. Tickets are £10-£18 from the Wigmore Hall on 020-7935 2141 or online at www.wigmore-hall.org.uk.

davidsonin@tiscali.co.uk

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