50 years of the Leeds International Piano Competition

We celebrate 50 years of Leeds International Piano Competition with a selection of photographs from its archive. Jo Haywood reports

The print version of this article appeared in the August 2012  issue of Yorkshire Life 

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Golden anniversaries are always special, but few celebrants attract congratulatory messages from David Cameron and the gift of patronage from Aung San Suu Kyi.

The revered Burmese politician has agreed to be honorary ambassador for Leeds International Piano Competition as it celebrates its milestone anniversary – much to the delight of our own prime minister as well as organisers.

‘It is one of the great classical music competitions in the world,’ he said. ‘It’s a tremendous advert for Leeds and for Britain as a whole.‘Aung San Suu Kyi’s appreciation of piano playing is well known. So it is fantastic that the competition has made this tribute to her.’

Dame Fanny Waterman, who co-founded the world-renowned competition with Marion Thorpe, then Countess of Harewood, has confirmed that the top prize at this year’s event (August 29th to September 16th) will be named the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Gold Medal, adding: ‘In this special golden anniversary year, this is the greatest honour our piano competitionhas ever received.’

More than 270 entries were submitted for the 17th competition (it’s held every three years), from which 80 pianists from 20 countries have been selected to compete. Six finalists will perform with the Halle, conducted by Sir Mark Elder, at Leeds Town Hall on September 14th and 15th, with the winner receiving �18,000 and a range of prestigious engagements.

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New for this year is the Terence Judd-Halle Award – �5,000 plus at least three paid engagements – awarded in memory of a brilliant past pupil of Dame Fanny and chosen independently by members of the orchestra and Sir Mark.

‘I like to refresh the competition every time, and this year is no exception,’ said Dame Fanny, now 92 but showing no signs of slowing down.

‘I still have a number of ambitions left to fulfil. One is to encourage more young people to go to concerts. I want to prove to them that it’s not just for the older generation. I want children to know the joy of music and to be inspired to be creative in their own lives.’

To that end, she recently visited Wykebeck Primary School to talk to the children: ‘They asked me all sorts of interesting questions and were wonderfully inquisitive. They even asked how old I am. I said ‘how old do you think I am?’, and they said ‘40’.

‘I’ve invited some of those children to the competition and for refreshments afterwards at the university. I hope they will enjoy it and find it inspiring.

‘I came from a humble Leeds home myself and have been able to achieve a great deal. I feel I owe it to others, especially children, to try to ensure they have the same opportunities. I have been inspired by so many great people; if I can inspire others through my work, that will be a truly great achievement.’

For more information about Leeds International Piano Competition, visit leedspiano.com. Tickets are available via leedsconcertseason.com, on 0113 224 3801 or from City Centre Box Office, The Carriageworks, 3 Millennium Square, Leeds, LS2 3AD.