Birmingham Conservatoire graduate David Quigley talks to Christopher Morley about organising an international piano summer school in the city.
Shrewdly timed to happen during a quiet period in the Birmingham concert calendar, when it can gain maximum public and media attention, the Birmingham International Piano Academy is about to launch its fourth annual week-long session at Birmingham Conservatoire.
David Quigley, himself a Conservatoire graduate, and now handling a busy international career (he was just back from performances in Spain and London when we met last week), is the director of BIPA, and tells me how it operates.
“It’s grown in terms of numbers. In the first year it was a very small festival, just 15 students. I want to keep it fairly small – I don’t want hundreds, it just wouldn’t work!
“My vision of it was 20, 25 students only, a very select group, and we have over 20 students this year, which is good.
“We have a website, and I send flyers to all the major conservatoires in Europe and beyond. We’ve attracted an international bunch again this year: in addition to the usual UK and Ireland contingent we’ve got students from Austria, Holland, Poland, Ukraine, China – someone flying in from Beijing – a girl from Adelaide in Australia, India... I think that’s about it!”
Selection of the students is made from recordings which they have to submit to BIPA with their applications. “It’s open to any age, any nationality,” says David. “The only stipulation we have is that they are of Grade VIII distinction-level class.”
One of the many attractions of the Academy is a week-long course of tuition from Birmingham Conservatoire keyboard staff, though David Quigley himself, now on the faculty, will be too busy running around sorting out any issues which might arise at the last minute for himself to be teaching.
The major sponsors of BIPA are piano-manufacturers Yamaha, the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund, and Birmingham Conservatoire itself, which, as host of the event, donates the use of the Recital Hall and stewarding services of its staff.
And several course-attendees have taken up places at the Conservatoire since taking part in the Birmingham International Piano Academy, “so that’s beginning to pay off, which is a very good thing.”
Why did David feel the impulse to bring BIPA into existence?
“Well, it was my brainchild. It’s a bit of a long story. I went to visit a summer cello school in Oxford, and thought it would be great to have a piano school run along those lines here in the Midlands.
“So then I looked at the concert diary, and saw that July is pretty quiet and the Conservatoire is empty. And I’d been to many summer festivals as a teenager and in my early 20s, with masterclasses and concerts, and I thought, this is the place really. We’ve got the facilities... It’s a little bit brave, but I went for it!”
David is also aware that he is learning valuable new skills himself, as an administrator, publicist and enabler. He has also been asked to run a similar festival in his native Northern Ireland, “but it’s too much. I wouldn’t want to take on a similar task. This is enough, and Birmingham’s a bit more recognised on the international circuit!
“Also I want to give something back to the Conservatoire, where I had a wonderful time.”
Through the charm of his powers of persuasion, David Quigley has secured the presence of the major pianists Peter Donohoe, Piers Lane and John Lill at this year’s Academy. Each will give a masterclass, as well as performing in recital.
“They just happened to be free, they have recital programmes they want to do here, and John, for example, was so happy when he came before, he just wanted to return. And Peter is a regular, with his link as vice-president of the Conservatoire. And other big names are really keen to come along in the future, which is really gratifying. They want to work with young people, they want to give masterclasses. It’s quite nice to know that!”
Although David has a house in Bearwood, he spends the BIPA week bedding down with the students in The Maltings, just off Broad Street. “I just want to stay around, and make sure everything’s all right. The stars stay in the Copthorne – I don’t get any perks out of this job!”
A new development this year is a concluding recital from the students themselves. “We have some phenomenal players coming, and the age-range this year is amazing. Sixteen is the youngest, and 61 is the oldest, a chap coming from Sheffield, who played some lovely Chopin and Brahms for his audition recording. I’m looking forward to meeting him – he sounds a really interesting character.”
The Birmingham International Piano Academy begins on Monday with a recital from John Lill (7.30pm). Lill gives a public masterclass on Tuesday (2pm), and Piers Lane’s masterclass is on Wednesday (2pm).
Piers Lane gives a recital on Thursday (7.30pm), and Peter Donohoe is in recital on Saturday July 26 (7.30pm). Donohoe also holds masterclasses on Friday July 25 and Saturday July 26 (2pm each day).
The concluding students’ recital is Sunday July 27 (7pm).
* All events are in the Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire (0121 303 2323).