Stephen Hough is one of my faves: a ‘real person' who can talk about politics and perfume, yet possesses a knock-out technique.
Now those pianists who can squeeze more notes into a nanosecond than Japanese metro guards can squeeze commuters into a train carriage, usually are fairly limited in their social skills. Hours of practising in the dark has deprived them of time for those essential tasks necessary for developing an eclectic mind: flicking through Hello! magazine, watching American Idol and going to Harry Potter movies.
Now while I haven't the slightest idea if Hough does any of those things, I do know that he doesn't just play (gloriously) the piano. His wonderful blog on the Telegraph's site shows how open he is to so many stimuli. Does this inform his playing? I think so. His is a very human touch, as only a ‘real person' can have. And yes, he can squeeze all those notes in too. Here's what the Times said about his latest Prom appearance:
In Egyptian heat, the Egyptian Concerto was a triumph. Though a near-capacity crowd sweltered in the Albert Hall, Stephen Hough's performance of Saint-Saëns's Fifth Piano Concerto, inspired by the composer's holiday by the Nile in 1895, was the most mesmerising thing that I have heard at the Proms this summer…
… The work is rounded off by a scorching Molto Allegro that must be the stuff of nightmares for all but the most virtuosic of ivory-ticklers.
Hough is that, but so much more. I spent ages trying to figure out how he achieved one passage of exotic bell-like sonorities: some secret alchemy of half-pedalling and weighting chords so that the harmonics jangled like one of John Cage's prepared pianos. That was complemented by the tranquil beauty he conjured at that movement's ending, by his stylish, insouciant phrasing (the dapper Saint-Saëns would have loved that), and by the surging vigour of his sprint through the finale…
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.