Bringing tomorrow’s classical superstars to Harrogate
Iwan Owen is an award-winning pianist who studied at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, winning the Piano Recital Prize in 2018 – the college’s highest award for piano playing. Iwan kicks off this summer’s Young Musicians Series programme which features some of the top up-and-coming talents in the classical music world. Here he talks about his music journey and his excitement at making his debut (in the flesh at least) at the festival…
What music will you be playing?
I’ll be playing a classical repertoire starting with Mozart, Schubert and Debussy and then Chopin. There’s classical, romantic and French 20th century music – so a bit of everything.
What are you looking forward to most about playing in Harrogate this summer?
I played for the festival during lockdown with a violinist. We recorded our performances on our phones and it was broadcast over the internet. So I’m looking forward to performing in front of a live audience this time. I’m really excited about being part of such a well-known festival.
How important are festivals in terms of giving a platform to young classical musicians?
It’s so important because these days there are fewer and fewer opportunities for musicians compared to say a generation or two ago. You had the top level of performers at places like the Bridgewater Hall, or the big concert halls in London. But you also had lots of music clubs and there are fewer of them now, so anything that gives a platform to young musicians, like the Harrogate Music Festival, is invaluable.
You grew up on Anglesey and started playing the piano aged seven. What got you started?
I had a very good primary school teacher who played the piano at assembly every morning and I think it was hearing him play that inspired me. He then became my first teacher, so he was the one who started me off.
What drew you towards classical music rather than jazz, or rock and pop music?
In the beginning it was what you did when you started on the piano and the more I got to know the music the more I liked it. I find classical music comes more naturally to me than say jazz. A lot of kids are introduced to classical music when they start an instrument and do their grades. But if it wasn’t for this a lot of people wouldn’t engage with classical music which is a shame.
What is it about the piano that makes it such a special instrument?
You can play any piece on the piano really. It’s just so versatile. Also the piano is the instrument that has the most music written for it.
Who are your favourite classical composers and why?
Schubert and Chopin are two of my favourite composers. Chopin, in particular, really understands how to compose for the piano. Most composers do operas, string quartets and symphonies, but Chopin didn’t compose anything that didn’t have the piano in it.
Which modern musicians have influenced you?
I’ve always enjoyed listening to Vladimir Horowitz and Marta Argerich and I’ve taken inspiration from my teachers as well.
You teach music as well as perform. Is that something a lot of classical musicians do?
I graduated just before lockdown and I mostly teach in schools around Manchester. Either you make it to the top and you make a lot of money, or you play here and there and do some teaching on the side. I think it’s nearly I possible to make a living out of it unless you’re doing other things and being versatile.
How does performing live help you improve?
When you’re playing in front of audiences you feed off the energy in the room which gives you the confidence to try something different, rather than just following the notes on the page.