Described by The Telegraph as an ‘ice-man of the ivories’, world-class classical pianist Maurizio Pollini has had a career spanning six decades. As part of our International Piano Series, Pollini performs some of Chopin’s best-loved works and Debussy’s evocative first set of Preludes.
Ahead of his return to Southbank Centre, we find out more about the life and career of this legendary maestro.
Musicality runs through the Pollini blood; Maurizio’s father was a keen violinist, his mother was a trained pianist and singer, and his uncle an amateur pianist. And his son Daniele Pollini is no exception, having made his debut as a pianist at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy. He has performed in numerous international competitions and festivals over the last twenty years. More recently, he has focused on conducting and in this video, Daniele directs his father in a performance with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia.
Pollini’s love for the music of Chopin has been with him since he was a boy. He was only 18 years old when he obtained international recognition, winning first prize at the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1960. He was the youngest of the 89 entrants. It wasn’t until his critically-acclaimed release of Chopin’s complete etudes in 1973 that Pollini’s Chopin reputation was sealed.
At 77 years old, age has not kept Pollini away from the recording studio. He continues to produce on average one album each year. He has won numerous awards for his recordings including a Grammy Award for his recording of Chopin’s Nocturnes. His latest album, Chopin: Nocturnes, Mazurkas, Berceuse, Sonata, Opp. 55-58, continues his study of Chopin’s work. The album comprises some of Chopin’s greatest work and Classic FM described Pollini’s recording of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 as ‘effortless’.
Pollini, a left-wing activist, encountered the Marxist avant-garde composer Luigi Nono in the mid-60s which formed an important part of his career. Nono, who had previously written a piece condemning American involvement in Vietnam, composed two pieces for Pollini to commemorate the murder of a Chilean revolutionary leader. At least one of Pollini's recitals was halted by the police after he spoke out about Vietnam.
Inspired by left-wing politics and a personal belief that the arts is an engine for social change, Pollini, Nono and conductor Claudio Abbado performed radical work all over Italy, encouraging new audiences to attend traditional concert halls. With his new friends, Pollini went onto perform a cycle of concerts in factories and prisons. Pollini said in an interview with The Guardian, ‘The starting point was that art should be for everybody’. His strong belief in the benefits of art hasn’t wavered: ‘Art itself, if it is really great, has a progressive aspect that is needed by a society, even if it seems absolutely useless in strictly practical terms’.
In 1963, Pollini made his London debut, performing in the Royal Festival Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra. Over the years, he has performed with one of Southbank Centre’s resident orchestras, London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. His upcoming performance will be his 135th appearance at the Southbank Centre – an astounding achievement for any musician – and we look forward to welcoming him back.