THE PIANO FESTIVAL STORY
The first Festival took place in April 2013 in the newly built and fully accessible Hebden Bridge Town Hall and was headlined by Martin Roscoe and the late Anthony Goldstone. It was so well received by both audiences and participants that that we immediately set about planning the following year’s event.
Each year, over the three days, we presented afternoon and evening concerts, plus lunchtime recitals, given by performers of national and international renown, including Ashley Wass, Anna Tsybuleva, Artur Pizarro, Danny Driver, Alexandra Dariescu and Rolf Hind.
It was also important to us to showcase talented local amateur pianists, both adults and children, and to put on events aimed at people of all ages, including an annual children’s concertwhich was often given by one of our headline pianists.
The Festival had a firm commitment to staging low-cost and free, accessible events and to promoting up-and-coming young pianists including BBC Young Musicians Isata Kanneh Mason and Lauren Zhang.
Although our main focus was on Classical music, we always presented other forms too. In 2015 the first concert to sell out was the fabulous jazz pianist Zoe Rahman’s and in 2014 we were proud to welcome the extraordinary Gwilym Simcock, who added to the magic of his captivating performance by bringing on two of the BBC Young Jazz Musician finalists to join him for his encore.
Early evening, informal performances in the Town Hall’s café included blues, jazz, and boogie-woogie. When the weather was good enough, we had a piano on the riverside terrace outside the café and anyone who wanted to could play. Apparently, delightful piano music was be heard from as far away as the hillsides surrounding our town.
In June 2017 we staged a very special Gala Piano Recital at Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax – Kathryn Stott (our Patron, see below) and Noriko Ogawa performed works for two pianos as well as solo pieces. We were delighted that, in a different venue, we were still able to experience the warm, friendly vibe which our audiences repeatedly commented on.
There was also a distinctly adventurous, sometimes wacky side to the programming, including Pianotronic and The Grand Departs in 2014, The History of Piano Music in 60 minutes (with examples) in 2015 and comedian Will Pickvance’s sell-out Edinburgh Festival shows The Anatomy of the Piano and The Alchemy of the Piano in 2016. In 2017 we presented The Robotic Piano and in 2019 we commissioned composer Kerry Andrew to write Scuttle – the debut of which was performed by Rolf Hind that April.
The Piano Festival was only possible because of the efforts of a wonderful group of volunteers. Some worked before the Festival weekend, organising the stewarding, helping people get hold of and sell-on tickets for sold-out concerts, proof-reading the programme and helping us disseminate the publicity. They and many others also helped over the Festival itself with artist liaison, audience management, providing information and generally supporting the organisers. We all worked together to ensure that everyone, artists, audiences, stewards and the Town Hall staff themselves had a great time.
“The music was wonderful but also the intimate venue in a nice location, and people running the event were really friendly and helpful. A lovely festival that we’ll come to again.”
Kathryn Stott is recognised internationally as one of Britain’s most versatile and imaginative musicians and among today’s most engaging pianists. Kathryn has been supportive of the festival from the outset and we were tickled pink when she agreed to be our patron.
Kathryn was a headline performer in 2014, her sell-out recital was a glorious end to a magical few days. And only a week earlier she’d played David Nelson’s music at The Grand Departs, playing the grand piano as it was hauled up the first stages of the longest continual incline in England by 18 cyclists.
The Festival was the brainchild of its Director, Hebden Bridge pianist and composer David Nelson who was, for fifteen years until 2012, the music co-ordinator for Hebden Bridge Arts Festival. In addition to this, he runs an annual season of music concerts at Wainsgate Chapel, and also ran HX7 Jazz Club for several years.
Working with David as Administrative Director was his partner Jan Scott, an experienced administrator, who has her own website design business.
In 2014 the Piano Festival became a company limited by guarantee. The directors in 2022, when the company closed, were:
- Dr Linda Patterson (Chair)
- Dr Richard Bunzl
- Stella King
- David Nelson
- Jan Scott
- Dan Pope
- Gwyneth Morgan
We had no idea at the time, but because of the Covid pandemic 2019 turned out to be the last Piano Festival. 2020 and 2021 would have seen the likes of Joanna McGregor, Eric Lu, Peter Donohoe, Zlata Chochieva coming to the festival for the first time, plus return visits from Martin Roscoe and Zoe Rahman, but it was not to be,
With the continuing uncertainty and after much careful consideration of all practical and financial factors, Hebden Bridge Piano Festival Board took the difficult decision to close the Festival. We had found it impossible to plan ahead with any degree of confidence and it would not have been prudent to plough ahead regardless. Sadly, this meant that the last ever concert of the Festival was the extraordinary recital given by the Luxembourg pianist Jean Muller in April 2019.
We knew that this was very disappointing news to many. We remain incredibly proud of our seven amazing Festivals when we brought piano stars from around the world to perform in our beautiful little town.