Hampstead pianist has reached the upper chambers

Hampstead-based Julius Drake has achieved his childhood ambition and become a major player on the international stage, writes David Sonin Childhood ambitions can run the gamut of astronaut to Z-car driver. But how many of us can really admit that t

Hampstead-based Julius Drake has achieved his childhood

ambition and become a major player on the international stage, writes David Sonin

Childhood ambitions can run the gamut of astronaut to Z-car driver.

But how many of us can really admit that the career wished for during our tender years was something achieved in our

adult days?

Not many I would guess. I do know, however, a man who did and whose success has taken him to the upper branches of his chosen professional tree.

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Hampstead pianist Julius Drake can be counted today as one of our leading accompanists.

And from his very early teens as a pupil at the Purcell specialist music school, then in Hampstead, he decided the one thing he did not want in music was to play alone.

He says: "While at the Purcell, my instrument was exclusively the piano. And, while there was achievement in learning and playing the Beethoven sonatas and the other great solo works of the classical and romantic repertoire, it was not until I began studies at the Royal College of Music that I became aware of the joys of making music with others.

"Chamber music became a real passion and when I was about 17 or 18 I made up my mind that I would make chamber performance and accompanying my life's work."

Now 47, Julius is very much in demand on the international stage. I caught up with him last week, by phone, at his hotel in Washington DC where he was resting before an evening performance with the soprano Joyce DiDonato.

His accomplishments stem from his fascination with and resolution of the complexities of musicians performing in ensemble.

"At college I quickly realised just how wonderful playing with others could be - the togetherness and, as you listened to your colleagues, the sounds that signified a unity of purpose."

Now an established chamber musician of the front rank, he has become a frequent visitor to international chamber music festivals.

And his instrumental duo with, for example, oboist Nicholas Daniel, has been described as "one of the most satisfying in British chamber music: vital, thoughtful and confirmed in musical integrity of the highest order" by one national newspaper.

It was also during his college years that Julius became interested in song and, with instrumental chamber music, it has emerged as the other key aspect of his career.

There are, perhaps, few adequate words that can describe Julius's interest in the song repertoire - but passionate would almost certainly be one of them. And his list of successful partnerships with some of the great voices of today in key recital venues around the world make a fascinating reading.

They include Sir Thomas Allen, Olaf Bär, Ian Bostridge, Phillip Langridge, Jonathon Lemalu, Amanda Roocroft and Sir Willard White.

This interest in song has led to invitations for him to devise song series for, among others, the Wigmore Hall in London, where he has presented a recital of song by Benjamin Britten, Schubert's Song Diary and an anthology called Songs Of The Nineties.

For the BBC, he presented the complete songs of Fauré and, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, he devised a cycle of Brahms Songs.

Julius has created an impressive discography and, apart from his instrumental recordings, they include song by Britten, Schumann, Gurney, Sibelius and Mahler.

Among his award-winning recordings with Ian Bostridge on the EMI label (a Gramophone Award and an Edison Award) are CDs of Schumann Lieder, two volumes of Schubert Lieder, Henze's Songs from the Arabian, Britten's Canticles (also with Daniels and Maltman) and The English Songbook.

Recent discs include Mahler, Schumann and Haydn with Alice Coote; Charles Ives with Gerald Finley; French Song with Lynne Dawson; Schoeck Cello Sonatas with Christian Poltera; Fauré's La Bonne Chanson with Ian Bostridge and the Belcea Quartet; Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs with Christianne Stotijn; and both a Wigmore Live and a Spanish Song disc with Joyce DiDonato.

More recently, he has broken fresh ground by presenting a series of recitals in the hallowed Inn of Court off Fleet Street - in the Middle Temple Hall. The red-brick building, which was completed in 1573 and escaped the Great Fire as well as the Blitz, has a history as a performance venue as it was used to stage the first performance of Twelfth Night in 1602.

The venture has been aptly called Julius Drake and Friends and includes recitals with many established artists and emerging talents.

"I never imagined myself as an entrepreneur or impresario and doubling as accompanist," he says, "but the series last year and the second, which started last month, has given an opportunity to open a new - and one must add historic and attractive - venue for song as well as create the opportunity to expand the audience for song."

The second series opened with a concert featuring four outstanding young talents drawn from the BBC's New Generation Artists - Ailish Tynan, Christine Rice, James Gilchrist and Christopher Maltman. The programme coupled Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes with Schumann's Spanisches Liederspiel.

Further performances will take place on April 24, when Mark Padmore will perform Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin, May 10 when Christianne Stotijn and Stefan Loges will perform Mahler's rarely heard Des Knaben Wunderhorn and May 21, when Amanda Roocroft sings songs by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Richard Strauss. The series concludes on June 19 when Jonathan Lemalu gives a performance of Schubert's last great song cycle, the posthumously published Schwanengesang.

Looking at Julius's diary for 2007, let alone his obligations to his Middle Temple series, it is pretty full.

There will be recitals in London, Vienna, Barcelona, Berlin, Hamburg and Madrid,

as well as visits to the Kuhmo International Chamber Music Festival in Finland and the Delft Chamber Music Festival in the Netherlands together with tours of Japan with Ian Bostridge and the USA and Canada with Gerald Finley.

That is not all, of course, but Julius will take the travel and playing in his stride and enjoy every moment as he gets to do what he relishes most.

Tickets for the remaining performances of Julius Drake and Friends in Middle Temple Hall at 7.30pm on April 24, May 10 and 21 and June 19 are £10-£50 (students £5 with ID). For bookings, contact the Barbican box office on 0845 120 7543 (booking fee may apply) or online at www.barbican.org.uk (reduced booking fee).