It's always a musical treat when Howard Shelley comes to town
World-renowned pianist performs with and conducts the Philharmonic Orchestra
|Howard Shelley COURTESY PHOTO
When Howard Shelley was a precocious 4-year-old, he begged his mother to teach him to play the British national anthem on the pianola that sat, unused, in their modest home. A few months later, his parents nearly fainted when they were presented a bill from his school for private piano lessons.
"I lied," Shelley recalled last week with a laugh, confessing he had informed the teacher his parents had given permission for the private lessons.
The teacher, absolutely convinced of young Shelley's rare talent, agreed to teach the boy for next to nothing.
Six years later, when he was 10, Shelley performed an all Bach and Chopin piano recital to raves on British television; a year later, he gave what was acclaimed as a memorable performance of a Haydn concerto at the Royal Festival.
By the end of his first year at the Royal College of Music, he had won the premier prize, soloing with the London Symphony under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. His career was off and running.
At about the same time in Ireland, a similar star was also rising.
|COURTESY PHOTO Howard and Hillary Shelley.
Hilary McNamara didn't begin piano lessons until she was 10, but she made up for lost time and was playing to acclaim on Irish television within a year. She won the same prize as had Mr. Shelley at the Royal College of Music, and began her own career as a concert pianist, performing to raves.
Then, as sometimes happens when the gods smile upon you, the couple met, fell in love and married. Like father and mother, like son
As if two gifted pianists (each was performing solo, and they combined their talents to play duo piano to acclaim as well) were not enough of a musical blessing upon this world, along came their son. Alexander Shelley, now 28, has been proclaimed one of the most creative musical talents of his generation.
The unanimous prize-winner of the 2005 Leeds Conductors Competition, Alexander was described as "the most exciting and gifted young conductor to have taken this highly prestigious award. His conducting technique is immaculate, everything crystal clear and a tool to his inborn musicality."
At some point along the way, with non-stop performance schedules in opposite parts of the planet and a gifted child to raise, Hilary McNamara had to forego her touring schedule. With Alexander now grown, however, she's constantly at Howard's side. Together they enjoy endless travel throughout the world and the search for yet "new"
n addition, old/lost musical scores. In she critiques every micro Howard's myriad performances. millileter of ces.
ile he was We chatted last week while in Mexico doing two of the loves most: performing and conducting. e things he d conducty,
Nov. 21, He'll do so again Friday, at the Naples Philharmonic the Arts. "I get to be my own he said as we discussed his ability to perform and conduct simultaneously. That being the case, concertgoers are in for a double treat Friday evening.
The program includes Saint-Saëns" "Piano Concerto No.2," Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony" and perhaps Dvo¡rák's greatest work, his "Symphony No. 7."
One of the delights in talking music with Shelley is his willingness to share every scintilla of his extraordinary knowledge about every composer and minute nuances of each of their compositions.
"What appeals to you about Saint-Saëns?" I asked.
"It starts like Bach and ends Offenbach," he replied. "All those crashing hose crashmovement, cadenzas in the opening movement, a scherzo the second movement with reminiscent of Mendelssohn, final movement a tarantella traditional Italian dance form)."
Then he brought me up to date on his burgeoning discography. Creating two to three CDs in an average year, in addition to maintaining a blistering pace as a pianist and conductor, is difficult to conceive — except for Howard Shelley. He actually increased his recording schedule this year and just finished his 14th new CD for the year. It's an astonishing feat, especially considering his capacity as a musical sleuth to resurrect long since disappeared transcriptions.
In large part because he has created quite a niche in the CD market by performing works NOT performed by other musicians, Shelley has discovered the existence of an audience hungry for these gems. And whereas most musicians are wed to a single recording company, Shelley has managed to satisfy two: Hyperion and Chandos.
As to the quality of these recordings: "Shelley couldn't play a dull or ugly note if his life depended on it." (International Record Review, 2008).
Referring to his performance of the Moscheles concerto, Gramaphone (April 2005) characterized Shelley as possessing "the grace of a gazelle."
In my earlier discussions with him, Shelley has often spoken about his passion for the romantic-era composers whose work has lapsed into obscurityor who have simply become minor figures in music history.
Among his current favorite "alsorans" are Hiller (1811-1885), Clementi (1752-1832), Hummel (1790-1850), Ignaz Moscheles (1794- 1870), Henri Herz (1803-1888) and Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1755-1806).
Want to hear them? Check out Shelley's CDs on line or, if time and money are no problem, consider his performance schedule in Tasmania.
Seriously. That's where these rare gems are frequently performed or recorded.
"If I be begged," I asked finally (and only half-jokingly), "would you and your wife conside consider an evening of Rachmaninov's duo-piano compositions for the Naples audience?" (If you want to hear something incredible, Barnes and Noble locally should have that CD).
"Or even a couple of weeks here, so you could perform all of Rachmaninov's piano concertos plus his duo-piano masterpieces?" I didn't get a "no" for an answer, so perhaps we'll get lucky.
How go good is Howard Shelley? He is the finest pianist I have ever heard perform. As the BBC raves: "Simply electrifying."