Opera + Classical Music Features

Spotlight: Freddy Kempf in Canterbury

In these straitened economic times its both heartening and remarkable to be able to write about the imminent opening of a new Arts venue: the New Marlowe Theatre, right in the centre of the wonderful historic city of Canterbury, is set to open on October 21st, and is now into its final fundraising push, having had a 25.6 million refurbishment. It’s named for one of the city’s most famous sons, Christopher Marlowe, born the son of a shoemaker there in 1564.

This small city has produced many others who have gone on to fame and fortune, one of the most recent being the pianist Freddy Kempf, who went to school there and whilst living in Canterbury won the BBC Young Musician of the Year. Freddy has said that the Marlowe has been a part of his life ever since he can remember, so its especially appropriate that he is taking part in a major fund-raising concert for the theatre, on Saturday May 28th, when he will play Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata as well as music by Liszt and Rachmaninov. I spoke to him as he prepared for a concert in Dublin, taking place the day before the Canterbury event.

I asked him firstly how he got involved with the appeal for the Marlowe theatre. “For me it was a logical step, since I pretty much grew up here and played to my first real audiences in Canterbury as a local boy I think they assumed then that I couldn’t be all that good, though! Some of my first concerts were actually in the old Marlowe theatre, and I’ve known Peter Williams (Chairman of the New Marlowe Theatre Development Trust) for some time.” His programme, I suggested, must have been a tough one to plan. “Yes, it’s a matter of balancing pieces I haven’t played in a while, with works which are central to my repertoire and of course, because it’s a fund-raising concert and we hope to attract some people who might not usually attend this sort of recital, something not too heavy going for the audience.”

Freddy credits his early teacher, Ronald Smith, with the individuality of his playing: Smith, based in Hyde and teaching at the Kent Music School, impressed upon him the importance of forming your own ideas. “If you learned a new piece you didn’t listen to anyone playing it, you figured it out on your own first of all, and then you could compare so from an early age I got used to thinking independently.” This approach is evident in his playing of the composer with whom he is most associated, Rachmaninov: in reviewing his recording of the Piano Sonata No. 2 and the Études Tableaux, Marc Bridle described his playing as mixing dazzling virtuosity with tempered poetry with pianism like a tsunami.

After the Canterbury concert, he travels to Voronezh in Russia for the Platonov Festival where he will perform the Rachmaninov 2, and his future engagements include tours to New Zealand and the US with all this and his regular concerts at such venues as the Barbican, he’s especially welcome home to Canterbury for this special event. The evening’s proceeds will go towards the final £750,000 needed before the opening of the new theatre, an exciting opportunity to be part of something which will surely give the South East’s cultural programme a new lease of life.

Further details of the concert can be found at marlowetheatre.com

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Spotlight: Freddy Kempf in Canterbury