Maurizio Pollini: six decades of the Italian classical pianist at Southbank Centre


Friday, January 25, 2019 - 16:07

Maurizio Pollini is considered by many to be one of the world’s most outstanding pianists, with a career spanning nearly 60 years. With his unaffected manner and an elegant clarity to his playing, Pollini has brought his individual voice to compositions from the 1700s to the present day. Ahead of his return to Southbank Centre in March, 2019, we’ve looked into our Southbank Centre archive to explore six decades of Pollini’s performances.

Born in Milan in 1942, the pianist was only 18 years old when he obtained international recognition, winning first prize at the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1960. Just three years later the maestro travelled to the United Kingdom, and made his London debut here in our Royal Festival Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra. Conducted by Pierre Monteux, the repertoire chosen for Pollini’s first solo performance was:

  • Tchaikovsky Fantasy Overture, Romeo and Juliet
  • Beethoven Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
  • Schubert Symphony No.9 in C (Great)
Pollini blog post images
Programmes from our archive featuring Maurizio Pollini

In the 1970s, Pollini was well on his way to establishing an international career of great weight, as reflected at the start of the decade when he signed with Deutsche Grammophon in 1971. The German label duly reached Pollini’s first recordings which included Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka and Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata.

That boy can play better than any of us.
Arthur Rubinstein on Pollini

A left-wing activist Pollini’s strong political convictions formed an important part of his musical life. Across the 1960s and 1970s he honed his performance technique by playing in factories, in support of causes such as peace in Vietnam, with fellow Italians, the conductor Claudio Abbado and composer Luigi Nono. Pollini also performed concerts in the neighbourhoods around Reggio Emilia and recitals for students at La Scala, enthused by their ideals of justice and peace. This collaboration with Abbado continued beyond Italy too, with the pair performing several concerts here at Royal Festival Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Pollini blog post images
A poster for a Pollini performance at Southbank Centre

Pollini began the 1980s back at Southbank Centre, with a televised opening season concert in which he played Mozart’s D Minor Concerto with Sir Georg Solti and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He went onto give several recitals in Royal Festival Hall throughout the decade, as well as a special performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1983 which featured Masse by Giacomo Manzoni – written as a homage to Varese, the first explorer of Manzoni’s favourite musical sounds – as part of the evening’s repertoire.

In 1996, Pollini brought his superb pianism back to Royal Festival Hall with the Beethoven Sonata Cycle. The audience was taken on an intense journey through eight recitals, that followed the chronological order in which Beethoven wrote his works - with the exception of Opus 49. It was a concert that rightly earned the pianist favourable reviews in the UK press.

Pollini demonstrated how great playing can be achieved through quiet, undemonstrative means.
Annette Morreau, The Independent, 1966

Continuing into the current millennium Pollini’s career in London has sparkled with a number of very special highlights. In 2007 he took to our stage to perform Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in honour of their 75th birthday. And in 2011 the spotlight was on the man himself the Pollini Project, which saw him embark on a five-recital pilgrimage, with the concerts spanning 250 years of piano repertoire from Bach to Boulez.

Whilst the performances undoubtedly enchanted the audience, Pollini himself had reason to be thrilled by the series as he took arrival of a brand new piano especially for the project. A Steinway concert grand, refined by the Italian piano technician Angelo Fabbrini; a firm favourite of Pollini.

I have played a recital in London more or less every year throughout my career and have a very strong relationship with the London public… I like their way of listening and their deep interest in music.
Pollini on playing for a London audience

Such is Maurizio Pollini’s remarkable longevity that his upcoming performance at Royal Festival will be his 135th appearance on a Southbank Centre stage; a remarkable journey which began back in 1963 and certainly shows no sign of ending any time soon.


Maurizio Pollini plays Chopin and Debussy at Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday 12 March

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Mr. Pollini is represented by HarrisonParrot and records exclusively for Deutsche Grammophon.