As Louis Schwizgebel heads to Harrogate Festival, the Swiss talks ‘Six-Bachs’ and Schubert…

Most people who lie flat on their back on a piano stool, while playing the piano simultaneously lifting their legs up and down (work those abs!) would have problems just trying to play any note in any order. But Louis Schwizgebel does it while playing Bach. Dubbed the “Six-Bach” workout video, it’s been viewed over 1.6 million times on Facebook.

“It was just a joke,” Louis said. “I had no idea it would have this many views, I was just doing something funny and a friend of mine filmed it, it’s the kind of thing you post on social media, I didn’t realise it would have so many viewers!”

So does he have a ‘six-Bach’? “Not really,” he laughed. “I used to work out more, but now I’m too lazy.”

His version of lazy, like working out, is a bit different to most. In the super league of piano, the New York Times dubbed him ‘insightful’. In 2012, he came second in the internationally renowned Leeds Piano Competition, and made his BBC Proms debut in 2014 with an electrifying televised performance.

He may now perform all over the world, but he has great respect for Leeds. “Leeds is an important competition, it’s very special and so respected. So many great pianists have been prize winners and it has a great reputation.”

The Swiss-Chinese pianist, born in 1987, puts his discipline down to his Chinese mother, who pushed him into playing seriously, but feels ‘more Swiss’, growing up and studying in Geneva.

Back in Yorkshire, launching Harrogate International Festivals’ renowned Sunday Series in January, Louis will play a crowd-pleasing programme of Schubert and Chopin, featuring the favoured 24 Préludes and Schubert’s 4 Impromptus.

“I did this when I first wanted to play a piece that I really, really love and feel a great connection with; Schubert is one of my favourite composers. It’s poetic and it’s the kind of music that would be played in an intimate setting, it’s not a programme for a big concert hall, but has an intimate atmosphere. I hope audiences will be touched by the programme because it’s the type of piece that touches me the most, so I hope I can translate that.”

Louis also hopes younger people will snap up Harrogate Festivals Library of Live scheme, which offers a number of free tickets to experience a live concert to 7-25 year-olds.

“Very often I hear young people say they don’t go to classical music because they find it boring or it’s what their grandparents hear. But it’s not; its music you can enjoy. We have sometimes a prejudice over a certain type of music, ‘it’s for older people’ so we don’t try it, it’s very sad because they’ll never get to even go once because of that prejudice. It can be the opposite too – those who only like classical won’t try anything else and never try something different. It’s just being open minded. I listen to everything, I have a very easy taste in music, anything that has melody and rhythm. I obviously listen to a lot of classical, but also jazz, rock, pop – pretty much everything.”

For Louis, piano was always a no-brainer.

“It was always a huge passion, from the time I started playing I knew immediately I was going to do it professionally. It was always very natural for me, music in general, playing the piano. I was always good at it and I found it the perfect instrument because you can play pretty much anything, you can play alone, you learn very fast. After one year I could play a lot of different pieces and I always loved it for that reason. Being able to do recitals and bring an audience to all different types of worlds just through this one instrument is fascinating.”

Despite the critics’ acclaim, it is emotion he hopes audiences come for.

“When I know someone has been moved it’s always the best thing, rather than being impressed by the technical ability – when I know I’ve really touched someone is really the best.”

Quick-fire Q&A

If there was only one composer you could play from now on, who would it be?

Schubert, my favourite.

If there was only one piece you could play from now on, what would it be?

Schubert’s last sonata, I’ve actually never played it but it’s probably one of my favourite pieces.

If there was one pianist you’d travel long and far to hear (dead or alive), who would it be?

The (Franco-Swiss) pianist, Alfred Cortot.

One person you’d love to play for?

I’d love to play for Beethoven. Does it have to be someone alive? I would love to play for Murray Perahia (the American pianist and conductor).

If you could give some short advice to an amateur pianist wishing to improve, what would it be?

Being consistent in practising, you don’t have to practise for a long time but a tiny bit every day is better than five hours than not touching the piano for ages.

What’s next on your agenda? 

I’m playing with the Hungarian National Philharmonic next week in Zurich, Switzerland.

Harrogate International Festivals present Louis Schwizgebel on Sunday 13 January, 11am at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. Book online here. Box Office: 01423 562 303.