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

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

book tickets   find out more

 

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

Queen Elizabeth Hall construction

Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in March 1967. Ranked as ‘the ugliest building in Britain’, by a Daily Mail poll shortly after it’s opening it has long shaken off that tag to become a much loved venue, celebrated for its iconic brutalist architecture.

The construction of such a modern building took time, with work on Queen Elizabeth Hall commencing in 1963. These images, selected from our archive, offer a unique look at that long careful construction process.

Simply click on an image below to find out more about it.

In the foundations
Workers creating pile caps for the site in early phase of construction
Here we can see a number of workers in shaft creating pile caps, consisting of concrete pillars with steel reinforcement frames. Work on the Queen Elizabeth Hall commenced in the summer of 1963 and started with the excavation of the site. The construction of such a complex building required a skilled labour force of draughts people, engineers, scaffolders, carpenters and steel-fixers. By 1965 approximately 250 men were working on the site. It was a difficult task to recruit and maintain a labour force with the skills necessary for the construction of this complex building, particularly during what was a period of high activity in the building industry in London and the South East.
On the scaffold
View from upper level construction site towards St Paul’s Cathedral and Oxo Tower.
This image shows the view from the Belvedere Road side of the upper level construction site, looking east towards St Paul’s Cathedral and Oxo Tower. In the foreground the top of a formwork or ‘shutter’ can be seen. Concrete was poured into these wooden moulds to create the support columns. Each shutter was produced to very specific standards and a specific type of wood Rip-sawn Baltic pine was chosen due to it having ‘the most satisfactory grain structure’. This produced the vertical patterning that can be appreciated on many of the concrete surfaces of the buildings.
Site cleared and ready to go
The cleared site, as work begins on the Queen Elizabeth Hall
Taken from the Royal Festival Hall, this photo shows the cleared site, ready for construction, which has begun on the right hand side. Also visible in the image are the River Thames and a few parked cars belonging to workers on the site. After going out to tender, Higgs and Hill Ltd. (whose logo can be seen on a piece of apparatus in shot) became the main contractor for the proposed works and were responsible for excavating down to pile cap level. The company had a wealth of experience digging foundations in a wide range of materials. Their previous work included the Festival of Britain foundations, old wharfs and dry docks, refuse, and timber piling.
Early work is underway
Looking north across the construction site towards River Thames and Waterloo Bridge
In this photo we can see an overview of the early site work, looking towards River Thames and Waterloo Bridge. As well as the sand piles and corrugated iron roofed sheds a sign reading “L.C.C. Architects Department” is just visible in the bottom left corner. Detailed drawings of the size and position of each piece of formwork or ‘shutter’ – the wood mould for the concrete – including the positions of every fixing, were drawn up by the draughtsmen. Each drawing needed approval by the L.C.C. Architects, so workers would journey to the County Hall every day to submit their drawings. Once signed off by the architects, each drawing was handed over to the joiner’s shop to create the shutter, and the position of each shutter was laid out precisely and checked by an engineer.
Commencing with the concrete
Overview of the construction site looking west towards Royal Festival Hall
This image shows an overview of construction site looking west with excavated ground towards the rear of the view. Building close to the edge of the River Thames created problems for all the constituent buildings of the Southbank complex. As these were the days before GPS, it was difficult to accurately centre the augers of the massive drills used and inaccuracies were often discovered in the positions of the piles. The solution was to set out a complex series of beams and connect them to several of the perimeter piles.
Work underway across the whole site
Looking west across the site from the road onto Waterloo Bridge
This image shows an overview of the north edge of the construction site, looking west towards Hungerford Bridge with pedestrians passing by on the river side. In the background, the Royal Festival Hall is visible clad in scaffolding. Royal Festival Hall was remodelled in 1964, alongside the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, to provide a new back-of-house, green room and restaurant space, as well as new walkways to connect the two venues together.
Glazing the building
Installing the large glass windows
Workers installing a large sheet of plate glass into it’s cast anodized frame. The frames were set into pre-cast concrete panels made from Cornish granite, which were used for many of the exterior vertical surfaces.
Setting out the auditorium
The site of the auditorium, looking west towards Royal Festival Hall and Hungerford Bridge
The site of the Queen Elizabeth Hall auditorium, looking west towards Royal Festival Hall and Hungerford Bridge. The whole of the underside of the Queen Elizabeth Hall was built on a cantilever basis, laid down on temporary steel structures whilst workers built the mushroom-type columns to support it. The auditorium floor could not support itself until the walls and roof were eventually added to make it structurally complete. Only after this could the workers dismantle the supports from beneath the auditorium floor.
Beginning to take shape
Site overview from Belvedere Road, facing River Thames and Waterloo Bridge.
This is an overview of the site from Belvedere Road, facing the River Thames and Waterloo Bridge. Mushroom pillars can be seen in the top left of the image, and in the bottom left, draughts people drawing up plans. The mushroom-shaped columns, each standing 17 feet tall, were all cast and completed in one pour including the cap. This process took a great deal of trial and error in order to perfect, as each column had to be levelled to within 5 mm precision. A section of the site was designated for experimentation  and was referred to as the ‘graveyard’. In the graveyard, sample panels were temporarily constructed in order to trial different methods of pouring the concrete and later discarded.

Revisiting Pink Floyd's iconic Games For May

On 12 May 1967 Pink Floyd performed a legendary concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall which saw them cement a place in rock history, and on our blacklist.

Pink Floyd at QEH archive
Courtesy of Southbank Centre Archive

Since the opening of Royal Festival Hall in 1951 Southbank Centre’s stages have played host to a huge number of pioneering musical performances. Among these, just over half a century ago, was a gig which would not only test the boundaries of live music, but also test the patience of our bosses.

In early 1967, whilst in the midst of recording their debut album, Pink Floyd were approached by the promoter Christopher Hunt with an idea to take the band’s approach of incorporating light shows and film projections into their live sets and go one louder.

This psychedelic extravaganza was to be called Games for May, and our newly opened Queen Elizabeth Hall was to be it’s venue. From this original Barry Zaid designed gig poster, taken from our archive, we can see that Hunt didn’t hold back in his patter, billing the show as ‘space age relaxation for the climax of spring’ incorporating ‘electronic compositions, colour and image projections, girls’ and of course Pink Floyd.

Absent from Hunt’s promotional spiel however were the two aspects that would ensure the performance achieved such notoriety. The first was Pink Floyd’s pioneering use of quadrophonic sound. With the help of Abbey Road technician Bruce Speight, the band set up speakers in the four corners of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, for which the sound distribution was controlled by a single joystick. This allowed the operator to effectively move sound around the auditorium, making Pink Floyd’s Southbank Centre appearance the first ever surround sound gig.

The noisiest and prettiest display ever seen on the South Bank
Financial Times, 1967

The critics and the audience may’ve been suitably impressed, but the bosses here at Southbank Centre were somewhat less enamoured, thanks to the second aspect, the show’s elaborate finale. As a climax to their performance Pink Floyd cranked up a bubble machine and threw flowers flowers into the crowd. It was a big finish that left its mark in more ways than one, with the mixture of petals and water permanently marking a great number of the Hall’s plush new leather seats.

Nick Mason Pink Floyd. Image credit - Harry Grindrod

As a result Pink Floyd’s members were duly banned from Queen Elizabeth Hall. And we don’t do bans lightly; this one remained in place for 49 years, until 2016, when we finally relented and allowed Pink Floyd drummerNick Mason (left) to return to the scene of the crime for a photoshoot with Ferrari magazine.

Southbank Centre Archive contains an incredible arrange of images and artifacts spanning over six decades of our venues' history

more about our archive

Every 27 September

Every day at Southbank Centre, since 3 May 1951, we have made plans, booked artists, put on performances and created unforgettable experiences for audiences. And, for each and every one of those days, we have kept a record.

This means that choosing any date at random to explore the last 67 years, you can uncover the workings behind the UK’s largest arts centre. There is nothing particularly out of the ordinary about 27 September, but this look back through our records for that date over the years, give a snapshot of the planning that goes into each and every event that takes place here at Southbank Centre. Events, some of you may have been with us to enjoy.

Simply click on an image below to find out more about it.

Ravi Shankar, programme, 1968
A programme for Ravi Shankar at Royal Festival Hall, 27 September 1968
Ravi Shankar, programme, 1968
This is the cover of the programme for ‘Ravi Shankar’s Festival From India’ in our Royal Festival Hall, 27 September 1968. The event was a showcase of Indian music featuring several brilliant musicians whom Shankar had brought over from India for this tour, including Shivkumar Sharma (santoor), Sabri Khan (sarangi), Sharad Kumar (shehnai), Palghat Raghu (mridangam), Jitendra Abhisheki and Lakshmi Shankar (vocals). This was Ravi Shankar's 11th Royal Festival Hall performance, having made his debut here with us on 4 October 1958. By the mid 1960s, following relentless touring and a series of classic records and film scores, Ravi Shankar had come to embody Indian culture in the West. [Image credit: Shankar Presentations Ltd.]
Nina Simone, flyer, 1988
A flyer for Nina Simone at Royal Festival Hall, 27 September 1988
Nina Simone, flyer, 1988
On 27 September 1988, ‘the High Priestess of Soul’, the legendary singer songwriter and piano player Nina Simone took to our Royal Festival Hall stage. Simone was a frequent visitor to London in the 1980s, performing regularly at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, where she recorded the 1984 album Live at Ronnie Scott’s. Her special guest for this performance was a fellow Ronnie Scott’s regular, the Liverpudlian jazz singer and songwriter Thomas Lang.
Days of Finnish Music Making, programme, 1975
A programme for the Finnish Music Making festival, 21-28 September 1975
Days of Finnish Music Making, programme, 1975
Taking place across our three main concert venues, Days of Finnish Music Making lasted for a full week in late September 1975. For our date of 27 September the programme includes details of a Finnish Jazz Workshop in Queen Elizabeth Hall, led by the pianist and composer Heikki Sarmanto, and a performance from the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir in Purcell Room.
Southbank Centre lettings diary, 1988
A page from our 1988-89 lettings diary, detailing 26 September - 2 October 1988
Southbank Centre lettings diary, 1988
You're probably wondering, 'what’s a lettings diary?' Well, kept in the planning office, lettings diaries recorded details of activities and events booked in each of our venues. Each event would be literally ‘pencilled in’, then overwritten in pen, and ticked after they had been confirmed. Although the 1980s diary information looks complex, there were fewer events at that time (around 1,200 each year, compared with more than 3,500 during 2017/18) and bookings were limited to indoor venues. Now, any location across the site is a potential performance space. Entries for 27 September 1988 include rehearsals for Parker-Smith (8.30-13.00) and London Philharmonic Orchestra (14.00-17.00) in the Royal Festival Hall. There is a Mozart Bicentenary meeting in the Waterloo Bar at 11.00, whilst over in the Queen Elizabeth Hall there is a piano being tuned (9.15-12.15), the pianist Melvyn Tan is bringing in a fortepiano (13.10) and a concert from the Budapest Wind Ensemble (19.45).
Visitor inspecting documents in the archive
T.E. Bean, Royal Festival Hall General Manager, 1951
The Royal Festival Hall General Manager, at work in 1951
Visitor inspecting documents in the archive
T.E. Bean, Royal Festival Hall General Manager, 1951
T.E. Bean, was the first General Manager of the Royal Festival Hall, having previously managed the Halle Orchestra. He is pictured here in 1951 in front of the venue’s wall-mounted event booking system which was in use until the late 1980s. The system involved colour-coded cards for orchestras and promoters being slotted into the boards to allocate concert dates and avoid programme clashes.
London Philharmonic Orchestra, contract, 1953
A contract for 23 concert performances from London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra, contract, 1953
On 27 September 1953, the London Philharmonic Orchestra were in the final rehearsals ahead of a run of 23 Royal Festival Hall concerts, beginning on 30 September and running on to 3 June 1954. The concert dates are listed on this contract to let the hall, which was signed on 4 May 1953.
Southbank Centre attendance book, 1968
The attendance book for our main venues, detailing September 1968
Southbank Centre attendance book, 1968
This attendance book for our three main venue spaces  - Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room - actually spans January 1957 to June 1970, but we’ve picked out this page from September 1968. Each page details the number of tickets sold for each concert, and the number of complimentary tickets. On 27 September Ravi Shankar’s performance packed out Royal Festival Hall with 2,925 tickets sold, including 118 complimentary tickets. On the same night we also hosted the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra in Queen Elizabeth Hall in front of a slightly more modest crowd of 361, 85 of whom received complimentary tickets.
Burl Ives, programme, 1953
Programme for Burl Ives concert at Royal Festival Hall on 27 September, 1953
Burl Ives, programme, 1953
Pictured here are the inside pages of the programme produced for a concert by the American folk singer and actor Burl Ives at Royal Festival Hall on 27 September, 1953. The pages detail Ives setlist, and as you can hopefully make out, have been annotated with handwritten timings for each of the songs in the performance.
Writer and musician George Melly welcomes the millionth visitors to Royal Festival Hall
George Melly, 1982
George Melly welcomes the millionth Royal Festival Hall visitor in 1982
Writer and musician George Melly welcomes the millionth visitors to Royal Festival Hall
George Melly, 1982
The unmistakable figure of writer and musician George Melly stands in front of a Greater London Council display board as he welcomes the 1,000,000th visitor to the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Unfortunately we are none the wiser as to who the two people pictured with Melly are, nor which of them is the 1,000,000th visitor. Perhaps you know them. Perhaps it’s you. If so we would love to hear from you.

Conversations in the Archive: Anish Kapoor (1998)

Conversations in the Archive: Anish Kapoor (1998)

Artist Anish Kapoor and Martin Caiger-Smith, former Head of Exhibitions at Hayward Gallery, discuss Kapoor’s solo exhibition at the gallery in 1998. This exhibition was the artist’s first major solo show in a UK public institution. Taking over the entire gallery, it featured over 20 large-scale sculptural works, among them a number of site-specific sculptures that responded to the architecture of the Hayward Gallery.

  

...all these works were playing with the idea of the status of the object
Anish Kapoor

This video is part of Conversations in the Archive, a series of five films exploring seminal exhibitions from Hayward Gallery’s history. In each film, artists and curators involved in the exhibition are captured in conversation, with archival material acting as a prompt for reflection and recollection.

Commissioned by Hayward Gallery for its 50th anniversary with Art Fund support.

 

Hayward Gallery at 50: Uncovering the Archive

Working in partnership with Google Arts & Culture, Hayward Gallery has digitised archival material from 50 landmark exhibitions that have taken place at the gallery over the past 50 years.

visit Hayward at 50

Conversations in the Archive: Sonic Boom: The Art of Sound (2000)

Conversations in the Archive: Sonic Boom (2000)

Writer, musician and curator David Toop and artist Christian Marclay discuss the groundbreaking exhibition Sonic Boom: The Art of Sound (2000). Taking place at Hayward Gallery at the turn of the millennium, Sonic Boom featured more than 30 international artists working in the field of sound art, among them Brian Eno, Pan Sonic and Lee Ranaldo of the band Sonic Youth.

  

One of the things I’ve always said about sound art, or so-called sound art, is that it’s homeless in a way. It’s a very uneasy fit with the art world.
David Toop, curator, Sonic Boom

This film is part of Conversations in the Archive, a series of five short films exploring seminal exhibitions from Hayward Gallery’s history. In each film, artists and curators involved in the exhibition are captured in conversation, with archival material acting as a prompt for reflection and recollection.

 

Commissioned by Hayward Gallery for its 50th anniversary with Art Fund support.

 

Hayward Gallery at 50: Uncovering the Archive

Working in partnership with Google Arts & Culture, Hayward Gallery has digitised archival material from 50 landmark exhibitions that have taken place at the gallery over the past 50 years.

visit Hayward at 50

Conversations in the Archive: Hayward Annual 78 (1978)

Conversations in the Archive: Hayward Annual 78

Artists Liliane Lijn and Deanna Petherbridge and exhibition organiser Catherine Lampert discuss Hayward Annual 78 (1978), the second in an annual series of contemporary exhibitions selected by a small group of artists or critics. Hayward Annual 78 was known as the ‘women’s annual’ thanks to its all-female selection committee consisting of artists Rita Donagh, Tessa Jaray, Liliane Lijn, Kim Lim and Gillian Wise.

 

This film is part of Conversations in the Archive, a series of five short films exploring seminal exhibitions from Hayward Gallery’s history. In each film, artists and curators involved in the exhibition are captured in conversation, with archival material acting as a prompt for reflection and recollection.

 

...there was a huge audience for the Hayward. And it was an audience that was open to change. It wasn’t being led through the nose by the press.
Deanna Petherbridge, artist

 

Commissioned by Hayward Gallery for its 50th anniversary with Art Fund support.

 

Hayward Gallery at 50: Uncovering the Archive

Working in partnership with Google Arts & Culture, Hayward Gallery has digitised archival material from 50 landmark exhibitions that have taken place at the gallery over the past 50 years.

visit Hayward at 50

Conversations in the Archive: Dada and Surrealism Reviewed (1978)

Conversations in the Archive: Dada and Surrealism Reviewed (1978)

Art historians Dawn Adès and Elizabeth Cowling discuss Dada and Surrealism Reviewed (1978), an ambitious exhibition that took place at the Hayward Gallery in the late 1970s. The exhibition, which featured more than 1,000 objects, was organised by an illustrious committee that included the poet and surrealist Roland Penrose and the critic and curator David Sylvester. 

 

This film is part of Conversations in the Archive, a series of five short films exploring seminal exhibitions from Hayward Gallery’s history. In each film, artists and curators involved in the exhibition are captured in conversation, with archival material acting as a prompt for reflection and recollection. 

 

I think historically it marked a kind of turning point in the ways in which dada and surrealism were viewed
Elizabeth Cowling

Commissioned by Hayward Gallery for its 50th anniversary with Art Fund support.

 

Hayward Gallery at 50: Uncovering the Archive

Working in partnership with Google Arts & Culture, Hayward Gallery has digitised archival material from 50 landmark exhibitions that have taken place at the gallery over the past 50 years.

visit Hayward at 50

Conversations in the Archive: The New Art (1972)

Conversations in the Archive: The New Art (1972)

In this short film Sir Nicholas Serota and Anne d’Offay discuss The New Art, a landmark exhibition of British conceptual art that took place at the Hayward Gallery in 1972. 

 

This video is part of Conversations in the Archive, a series of films exploring seminal exhibitions from Hayward Gallery’s history. In each film, artists and curators involved in the exhibition are captured in conversation, with archival material acting as a prompt for reflection and recollection. 

Holding on to this material is intriguing in its own terms, but it also helps to build a bigger picture of what really motivated people in visiting exhibitions, in making exhibitions and in making art in the early 1970s. Without this documentation it would be a series of myths.
Sir Nicholas Serota

The forthcoming films in the series feature artists Liliane Lijn and Deanna Petherbridge and exhibition organiser Catherine Lampert on the so-called ‘women’s exhibition’, Hayward Annual 78 (1978); art historians Dawn Adès and Elizabeth Cowling on Dada and Surrealism Reviewed (1978);Anish Kapoor and Martin Caiger-Smith (ex-Head of Exhibitions at Hayward Gallery) on the artist’s solo exhibition at the gallery in 1998; and writer, curator and musician David Toop and artist Christian Marclay on Sonic Boom: The Art of Sound (2000), a groundbreaking exhibition of sound art. 

Commissioned by Hayward Gallery for its 50th anniversary, with Art Fund support. 

 

Hayward Gallery at 50: Uncovering the Archive

Working in partnership with Google Arts & Culture, Hayward Gallery has digitised archival material from 50 landmark exhibitions that have taken place at the gallery over the past 50 years.

visit Hayward Gallery at 50