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A look ahead to the Leeds International Piano Competition

PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 August 2018

Pianos are specially decorated

Pianos are specially decorated

Simon Wilkinson -

Join in with the celebrations as one of the most iconic musical competitions attracts some of the finest gifted pianists.

Leeds International Piano Competition Final, Leeds Town Hall in 2015 won by  Anna TcybulevaLeeds International Piano Competition Final, Leeds Town Hall in 2015 won by Anna Tcybuleva

Many things spring to mind when thinking about the city of Leeds: Tetley’s, perhaps; maybe Leeds United or Leeds Rhinos for the sports fans among you; for music lovers, it might be the eponymous Leeds Festival or the Kaiser Chiefs. If someone told you, however, that Leeds was in fact the ‘City of the Piano’, you might be forgiven for being slightly bemused. But this is all about to change thanks to exciting new innovations from the Leeds International Piano Competition.

Of course, ‘The Leeds’, as the world-famous triennial competition is affectionately known, has been a central part of the city’s cultural life since it began back in 1963, when Fanny Waterman (now Dame Fanny, as she became in 2005), local piano teacher and concert pianist, founded it.

Over the last five decades, some of the world’s greatest pianists have descended upon Leeds to compete and the list of winners contains some of the most distinguished names in classical music. Murray Perahia, the winner of the 1972 competition, for example, is still making award-winning recordings (he’s won two Grammys and also won the Gramophone ‘Instrumental’ Award last year), is one of the most highly sought after concert pianists in the world and is now patron of the competition. A win at The Leeds, then, makes a glittering addition to any aspiring pianist’s CV and this September, another young pianist will join the ranks.

Under new co-artistic directors Paul Lewis (himself a world-renowned pianist) and Adam Gatehouse (the man behind the New Generation Artists scheme at BBC Radio 3), the competition has been rejuvenated to include a new prize package, learning and engagement programmes, new partnerships, and events that extend beyond the triennial competition.

Get ready to play on the Piano TrailGet ready to play on the Piano Trail

This year saw the first ever annual Leeds Piano Festival, with previous alumni of the competition Alessio Bax, Lars Vogt and Sunwook Kim return to Leeds to perform recitals, as well as taking The Leeds to London for performances at Wigmore Hall. The first rounds of the competition this year were also held internationally for the first time; Berlin, Singapore and New York saw 68 young pianists compete for a place in the finals, giving audiences around the globe the opportunity to witness incredible young talents. Living up to the ‘international’ part of its name, the competition is extending Leeds’ reputation all over the world as the city of the piano.

The competition this summer also introduces a Piano Trail with 12 beautifully decorated and great sounding pianos dotted about in iconic locations throughout the Leeds city centre. Everyone, whether a budding concert pianist or someone who can only just about remember how to play ‘Chopsticks’ from school (go ahead, we won’t judge), is invited to play and share their Piano Trail moments on social media with #leedspianotrail. Find all the pianos using the official web app, or if you prefer to do it the old-fashioned way, tick each one off as you go using the Piano Trail map (available from the Leeds Welcome Ambassadors and the Leeds Visitor Centre). Be sure to look out for the Classic FM piano at Leeds Station, where you can serenade commuters before Classic FM themselves pay a visit to Leeds in September for a special broadcast before the competition finals.

While the final rounds of the competition are the main event in September, there is much more happening throughout the city including The Leeds’ new events programme, Piano+. Visit the world’s smallest concert hall (a shipping container) in Victoria Gardens, where if you’re lucky, you might just catch pop-up performances from some of the competitors and jury members, all made up of some of the world’s leading musicians.

Celebrity pianists Alistair McGowan and Ed Balls will also be in conversation with broadcaster Petroc Trelawney for ‘The Piano and Me’, highlighting how playing the piano helps them in their busy ‘other’ lives, in just one of many talks happening at the University of Leeds’s Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall. There are also masterclasses with the jury members, the chance to see the historic pianos in the Cobbe Collection, including pianos played by Haydn and Chopin, and much more.

Taking time out to tinkle the ivories during Me and My PianoTaking time out to tinkle the ivories during Me and My Piano

With partnerships with the University of Leeds, Leeds City Council and Leeds Business Improvement District, the connection between the competition and the city of Leeds has never been stronger. With such a range of events happening in the city around the finals, there’s something for everyone, so whether you’ve followed the competition for years or you’re just curious about learning the piano, get involved and celebrate Leeds as the city of the piano. Not only experience the moments in which these young pianists lives and careers will change forever, but you never know, you might just start a lifelong obsession with the piano yourself.

The Leeds International Piano Competition finals run from September 6th-15th with the final rounds with the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner at Leeds Town Hall on September 14th and 15th.

The Leeds Piano Trail runs from August 17th-September 16th. Download the official ‘Leeds Piano Trail’ app or get the official map from Leeds Welcome Ambassadors and the Leeds Visitor Centre.

Everyone and all ages are invited to follow the Piano TrailEveryone and all ages are invited to follow the Piano Trail

For more information and the full list of Piano+ events, visit

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