Clare Hammond on becoming a pianist and her stand-out performances

Tuesday, July 7, 2020 - 14:53

Described as a pianist of 'amazing power and panache' by The Telegraph, Clare Hammond won the Royal Philharmonic Society's 2016 Young Artist Award in recognition of outstanding achievement, marking her out as one to watch.

She’s also developed a ‘reputation for brilliantly imaginative concert programmes’, in the words of BBC Music Magazine, and appeared as a young Maggie Smith in the 2015 Alan Bennett film The Lady in the Van, playing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1.

Hammond had been due to give her debut recital for our International Piano Series in June this year. While that concert unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis, we did catch up with the rising star pianist pre-lockdown to find out what appearing on stage feels like, and the stand-out performance of her career so far.

What prompted you to take up the piano?

My mum always wanted to learn the piano but never had the chance, so she arranged piano lessons for me as a sixth birthday present. I was desperate for a Polly Pocket and so was initially unimpressed by the substitution, though that changed rapidly!


Did you hope or expect to be a professional piano player when you grew up?

I decided to be a concert pianist after attending an inspirational orchestral performance at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham when I was eight. I was very committed from that point onwards, though of course I had no concept of what it would actually entail. I am very grateful that it all worked out!


Stravinsky - Petroushka Suite

Clare Hammond plays Starvinsky’s Petroushka Suite at London's Milton Court


Do you have a preference when it comes to playing solo, or with an orchestra or ensemble?

No. They are all completely contrasting disciplines and involve very different approaches to interpretation and performance. I feel most fulfilled when I have a balance of all three.


A lot of people may be familiar with you from your appearance in The Lady in the Van. How did that come about, and what was the experience like?

I received an email out of the blue from George Fenton, who composed the music for the film, asking me to meet him and the director, Nick Hytner, to discuss the role. It was completely serendipitous and the experience of being on set was fantastic. Everyone involved was supportive, passionate and creative, and it was such a joy to do something so unlike my day-to-day work.


The Lady In The Van Trailer #2 - Starring Maggie Smith - At Cinemas November 13

A brief glimpse of Clare Hammond (1 minute and 20 seconds into the above trailer) playing piano in The Lady in the Van.


How does it feel to perform in a concert? And what role does the audience play in the experience?

It is always nerve-wracking, in unpredictable ways, but that adrenaline is an essential part of creating a performance so I wouldn’t wish it away. The audience are crucial. The experience communicating music to a listener is what takes a performance to the next level, well beyond anything I can create alone.


Is there one concert performance of your career so far that stands out above others? And if so, what made it so special to you?

The first concert I gave in a prison was a turning point for me. I was nervous beforehand that people would not be interested and that I would seem faintly ridiculous, but the majority of the audience were engaged throughout. You could have heard a pin drop in Schubert’s G flat major Impromptu and many of the men said how moved they were. I realised how powerful music could be, both to create bonds between people and to give hope. 


The experience communicating music to a listener is what takes a performance to the next level, well beyond anything I can create alone.
Clare Hammond

Is there anything you would change about classical concerts?

We still have a massive amount of work to do to improve inclusivity on all fronts. This is not just a question of fairness (although that is incredibly important) but because art is more engaging, vital and transformative when diverse voices contribute and converse. Art should cast a new perspective on our experience, and that isn’t possible if we are constantly faced with the same tropes and clichés.


In the future, is there a particular venue, or concert series that you’d love to perform in that you are yet to do so?

Not particularly. It is always exciting to perform in a new venue, particularly if it’s a prestigious one, but the most fulfilling concerts are when there is a real connection between audience and performer. That can happen anywhere, regardless of how excellent or atrocious the piano is, and is completely unpredictable!



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