Pianist Warren Mailley-Smith talks to Terry Grimley about the recital which brings him back to Birmingham tonight.
Ten years after he launched his professional career in Birmingham, pianist Warren Mailley-Smith returns to give a recital at the CBSO Centre tonight.
The 31-year-old from Sussex spent a year as a postgraduate at Birmingham Conservatoire after completing a law degree at Warwick University, carrying off the Conservatoire Competition prize and playing a recital at Symphony Hall in 1998.
His recital at the CBSO Centre this evening is the second in a series of three with a focus on Chopin.
"The theme going through it is young Chopin," he explains. "It's the music Chopin wrote just before he went to Paris, in his Warsaw days. It's not played as much as his later stuff.
"I'm using this particular concert to perform the programme I'll be playing in Carnegie Hall later in the spring. The first half has a Mendelssohn Song Without Words and Chopin's Wallstein Sonata and the York Bowen Sonata. The second half is all Chopin, contrasting the young Chopin with the later music."
That name York Bowen catches the eye. The once-obscure British composer, who died in 1961, is gradually becoming more visible on concert programmes and recordings.
"He wrote the Sonata shortly before he died," says Mailley-Smith. "It's an extraordinary work, combining Rachmaninov-type writing with this really unique English quality and influences of jazz. You wouldn't think it was the work of someone in the last year of his life."
Mailley-Smith is one of a number of young English pianists who have begun exploring British piano music of the early 20th century in the last few years. Since major figures like Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst and Britten wrote very little for solo piano, it means investigating lesser-known composers like Ireland, Bridge, Foulds, Bowen and - another name retrieved from total obscurity - Cyril Scott.
How did the Carnegie Hall date come about? "I have a sponsor who has been trying very hard to get me a date there for a couple of years. It's an exciting opportunity to develop my career on that side of the Atlantic."
Although in some ways it has been hard work sustaining his musical career since leaving Birmingham, in another it hasn't seemed like work at all.
"I'm taking every opportunity to play, wherever that may be. You feel you never do a day's work - you're just throwing yourself into it as though it's just a hobby.
"I have to say the one year I spent living in Birmingham was the best year of my life. It was such an exciting place to be musically, and I was very disappointed it wasn't chosen to be European Capital of Culture. So I'm really excited about playing in Birmingham."
* Warren Mailley-Smith plays music by Mendelssohn, Chopin and York Bowen at the CBSO Centre tonight at 7.30pm (Box office: 0121 780 3333). He completes his Young Chopin series there on June 8.