World renowned pianist Angela Hewitt plays the Hampstead Arts Festival

Pianist Angela Hewitt plays the Hampstead Arts Festival in November

Pianist Angela Hewitt plays the Hampstead Arts Festival in November - Credit: Archant

Ahead of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth the Belsize Park performer plays his Eroica variations at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue next month

Next year is Beethoven year - the 250th anniversary of his birth - and every concert hall in the world will be celebrating it.

So will the small but beautiful Hampstead Arts Festival, thanks to the programme which Angela Hewitt will play.

In the New Year the Belsize Park resident is to release a Beethoven disc which will include three of Beethoven's sets of variations.

And at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue on November 13 she will do a dry run with those works, interspersed with pieces by Bach.

Her remarkable Bach Odyssey - of which more later - may reflect her greatest musical love, but Beethoven too has been a constant in her life. The first of her Beethoven variation-sets is not often performed, and she carries a torch for it: "I was given it to play when I was fifteen, and I loved - and still love - the way each variation is in a different key."

With the 'Eroica' Variations, whose theme is also a theme in the symphony of the same name, Beethoven took the variation form to new heights of ingenuity.

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And also to an extreme of playfulness, as Hewitt points out; "You have to play it with a lot of humour, otherwise you miss the point. I was playing it once in Brescia, and when I got to the variation with a lot of big jumps - and managed not to land in the wrong places - someone shouted "Brava!" So now, when I don't get a shout like that, I think I haven't done it well enough."(Memo to the St John's Wood audience: shout "Brava" after the jumps.)

And this particular piece embodies something else she wants to stress: Beethoven's sweetness. "He wants parts of it played dolce, and that's a side of him which is often ignored. As in the 'Emperor' concerto: in that work he writes dolce all over the place, and people just ignore it."

The third variation-set is the extraordinary C minor one (WoO80), a feast of fire and thunder with the whiff of cordite pervading every bar; it lasts just twelve minutes, with each of the 32 variations taking on average 40 seconds to establish its unique colour and mood.

"What I love is how, just before the end," she says, "with one variation being simply chords, and the next being a rumble in the bass, he gathers a tremendous amount of power from those twelve minutes."

Meanwhile we will be able to catch the latest lap of Hewitt's gruelling Bach Odyssey at the Wigmore Hall on October 25: three of the English Suites plus a sonata. Over the past four years she has traversed the globe, playing every note of Bach's vast keyboard oeuvre.

She's just finished a stint in Tokyo, a city where, she says, she is always guaranteed a great hall and a great piano, if no longer also the pullulating throng which classical concerts used to attract in that city. For that, she says, she has to go to China: "China is now where Japan was 20 years ago."

Next year she's going to allow herself a three-month rest: sensible, given that she also gives master-classes, has a festival in Perugia, and takes her Shostakovich words-and-music double-act with Julian Barnes round Europe and America.

For all of this she has to keep fit, with massage, osteopathy, and acupuncture: "I've seen too many pianists go under with muscle problems."

And with a sensible diet: "I travel to a concert with food in my suitcase: sardines, avocado, bananas, rye crackers, rice pasta."

Which clearly works.

Michael Church

The Hampstead Arts Festival runs November 2 to 21 and features a dozen lit talks and world class concerts in various venues including Burgh House, Rosslyn Hill chapel and Hampstead Parish Church. There are also concerts by Steven Isserlis and Marcin Masecki and book talks by Lionel Shriver, Deborah Levy and Kate Mosse. Tickets can be booked at