whats on

The conveyor belt of great pianists enticed to Codsall

The man behind the biennial Codsall Community Arts Festival talks to Christopher Morley about the event’s history of engaging great pianists to perform

Mark Bebbington

Tucked away in the hinterland between Wolverhampton and Telford, the village of Codsall boasts a biennial festival which attracts many illustrious names to this unassuming neck of the woods.

Philip Moores, whose input into the festival will be revealed further on, tells me about its history.

“Codsall Community Arts Festival started as a weekend in 1978 so 2018 will be our 40th anniversary and we’ll be planning special celebratory events. It now covers two-and-a-half weeks and puts on events covering not only the arts, but also current affairs (we’ve booked General Sir Mike Jackson for 2018) and science. We also put on events in schools that in 2018 will involve CBSO and Birmingham Royal Ballet workshops. We also have a Community Day on the middle Saturday of the festival that puts on events aimed at all the family, especially the kids.

“Each festival includes a classical piano recital and since 2013 we’ve put on an additional recital in non-festival years. These recitals are kindly sponsored by The Harding Trust, from whom we also normally hire the piano.”

Philip has a Midas touch when it comes to bringing worldwide names to perform in the hall of Codsall’s Community High School. How did he get into these high echelons of the musical world?

“I’ve no formal musical training and am just a music lover. My interest started at Grammar School in Northwich in Cheshire in the 1960s and we had school trips to the Hallé (I remember hearing Barbirolli several times) and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (I vividly recall Belshazzar’s Feast conducted by Walton in 1969).

Piecing together of a long-lost Bach score

“At university in London in the early 1970s, studying maths at UCL, I went to as many concerts as I could, sitting in the cheapest seats but then ‘upgrading’ myself in the second half to a vacant stalls seat if I could. There I heard Klemperer, Stokowski, Richter, Michelangeli, Callas. In the 1980s I also heard Horowitz several times plus Kleiber (sadly only once).”

The list of great pianists Philip has enticed to Codsall is amazing: 2010 Benjamin Grosvenor, 2012 Freddy Kempf, 2013 Simon Trpceski, 2014 Cyprien Katsaris, 2015 Daniel-Ben Pienaar, 2016 Angela Hewitt. But how does he do it?

“I have a longstanding friend in London who is also interested in pianists. He got to know and support Benjamin Grosvenor after he won the keyboard section of BBC Young Musician of the Year, aged 11. So I asked Benjamin via him and he said yes.

“I met Ben for the first time when he came to Codsall (with his brother and mother) and he has since become a friend. That same London friend knew Freddy from the early 1990s and I met Freddy through him in the late 1990s. So I simply asked Freddy if he’d come and he said ‘yes’ immediately.

“Simon I had known since 2008 when I went to see him backstage after a CBSO Centre lunchtime performance. I asked him and he simply said ‘yes’! He flew in specially from his home in Macedonia for us.

“Angela - I just contacted her agent and asked and she agreed!

“Basically, I ask and take the view that if they say ‘no’ I’ve lost nothing. I try to get pianists whom I personally rate who I think don’t get the exposure they deserve, such as Cyprien.

“I’ve had a couple of near misses: André Watts - a wonderful pianist whose last UK recital was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1986. I was there. I asked him if he’d be interested (google makes contacting people much easier as I found his personal email easily that way). He very much wanted to come but in the end he reluctantly said no as he was unconvinced that he could get the other orchestral dates that he’d need to justify flying over. Then, as you probably know, he developed prostate cancer but I believe (and hope) he is now cured. Entre nous, I will probably try him one more time.

The towering success of a 19th century double act

“Evgeni Koroliov, unknown in the UK, is a superb pianist especially noted for his Bach. He is a Russian living in Hamburg. He virtually agreed to come, for what would be his UK debut, but then he decided that at nearly 70 he didn’t think it merited the effort. Pity.

“Another one on my hit list is Dezsö Ranki, but I am having great difficulties finding his agent or any contact details. But I will keep trying. Another superb pianist virtually unknown in the UK.”

The Codsall experience involves a pre-recital public interview, and then the performance itself. What has the reaction from public and pianists alike been?

“All positive! The audience like the interviews and we now have a steady core audience of around 150 who will come to all the recitals. They are a receptive and appreciative audience and several of them come up to me after a recital asking that we please keep the annual recitals coming.

“All the pianists have been very happy with the audience and the hall. Simon Trpceski gave four encores! They like the personal touch that they don’t get at larger venues.”

* This year’s recitalist is Mark Bebbington, playing a programme of Beethoven, Franck, Liszt/Wagner, Ireland and Castelnuovo-Tedesco at Codsall Community High School on March 22 (7.30pm). Pre-recital interview at 6.15pm.

Upcoming Concerts

* Friday 17: James Southall conducts the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra in Paul Norman's Four Folk Dances, Poulenc' Organ Concerto (soloist Nicholas Morris), and Schubert's Symphony no.5 (Birmingham Town Hall 1pm).

* Saturday 18: Birmingham University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra are conducted by Daniele Rosina in Sibelius, Ginastera and Haydn (Birmingham Town Hall 7.30pm).

* Sunday 19: Ensemble 360 play Mozart (including the heavenly Quintet for Piano and Winds) and Beethoven at the Royal Spa Centre, Leamington (3pm).

* Sunday 19: The Musical and Amicable Society give a delicious baroque programme at Huntingdon Hall, Worcester (3pm).

View full mobile page