Rhinegold Photo credit: OVIDIU MICSIK

Jeremy Nicholas

An Englishman abroad

11:34, 16th August 2017

Jeremy Nicholas catches up with September’s Rhinegold LIVE artist Sam Haywood, whose international career has recently been punctuated by recordings of some rare and quintessentially English piano repertoire

SAM HAYWOOD HAS BEEN attracting a lot of publicity recently for his new album of Preludes by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, recorded on the Hyperion label. That the great composer, famous for his choral and organ music, wrote such pieces must have come as a surprise for even dedicated piano buffs. They turn out to be – in Haywood’s hands – an enchanting discovery. The British pianist first programmed six of them for a recital at the Wigmore Hall some years ago – ‘I paired them with some Chopin Preludes, and enjoyed them enormously’ – then investigated the collection further. There are 48 of them, based on Bach’s model, from which he eventually cherrypicked 38. ‘It’s quite a treasure trove, and rather a rare experience to come across something unusual like this and then feel passionate about it.’ How did he unearth them? ‘It must have been in about 2000, rummaging about in a pile of old music someone had given me. That’s how I got to make my first recording for Hyperion.’ Haywood was a mere 17 years old when he was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Julius Isserlis Scholarship in 1989. Having become friends (and frequent collaborator) with Julius’s famous grandson Steven, he was given permission by the cellist’s late father to rummage through his own father’s pile of music. ‘We dug up this piece that had never been published, which was rather exciting.’ So taken was he by the music that Haywood made his own edition. His subsequent disc of the piano music of Julius Isserlis (1888-1968) appeared in 2014.

Haywood was born in Brisbane, Australia, but his parents moved back to their home country when he was not quite two years old to live in St Bees, Cumbria. ‘My father is a computer consultant and Mum’s latest venture is a jewellery business using locally mined hematite for her necklaces etcetera. So they’re not musicians, though Dad plays the guitar very beautifully in private. They have always been immensely supportive and bought me my own piano when I was four.’

While still at Chetham’s School of Music, Haywood won second prize in the piano final of the 1986 BBC Young Musician of the Year. With the help of the Isserlis Scholarship, he studied in Vienna with Paul Badura-Skoda and then returned to London for lessons with Maria Curcio before moving to Berlin. For the past 10 years his home has been a basement apartment behind the Wigmore Hall, but he and his talented web designer wife Sophia Pagoni have recently moved to relatively rural Tonbridge. ‘There’s a lot to be said for living above ground!’ he jokes, ‘and it’s so much more neighbourly. It’s something I missed in London, having grown up in the Lake District.’ He met Sophia on an aeroplane: ‘It was one of those free-seating flights and I found myself next to this guy who had a little problem with body odour. I wondered if I could stick this to Berlin and I decided not, so I went further down the plane and sat next to her. I am heavily in his debt.’ In 2013 he co-founded the Solent Music Festival in Lymington (Hampshire). ‘It has developed beyond all our expectations, the town has taken ownership of it in a way and everyone wants to be involved. Hopefully that will continue to flourish. We don’t want it to become huge – I’m not sure we could cope! – but want it to retain its family feel.’

Haywood has just returned from South America where he gave recitals in Lima and Arequipa. ‘I first performed in Lima with Joshua Bell about six years ago and keep going back every couple of years.’ (Haywood is Bell’s regular duo partner, touring extensively with him in the USA and Europe.) ‘But this was the first time I had played in Arequipa. It’s incredible. Up in the Andes. Three volcanoes. A most beautiful place. I played in this amazing monastery covering 20,000 square metres – like a city within a city. It was lovely to be greeted by a young audience, too, with an average age of about 30.’

Coming up are more tours with Bell in Europe and the US, a solo recital tour of Florida and another trip to Indonesia. ‘I go there quite a lot and have made some good friends. I also do a lot of teaching there. The kids are amazing.’ But the enterprising Sam Haywood has left one unexpected card up his sleeve. ‘I have this invention for memorising music. It’s called Memory Stars, a device which has now got a patent. It’s going quiet well via the website. Difficult to explain but basically it’s a masking device. It makes memorising a fun game rather than something to be afraid of. It’s really helped me!’ You won’t need any help remembering the name Sam Haywood, though: we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future.


Sam Haywood will give a Rhinegold LIVE recital of works by Stanford, Schumann, Chopin and Mendelssohn at London’s Conway Hall on Tuesday 5 September 2017. Register online for free tickets and a complimentary drink

Haywood’s album of Stanford Preludes is now available from Hyperion Records (CDA68183). www.samhaywood.com

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