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A whirlwind presents a firmament

The pianist Mitsuko Uchida’s humane alternative to the prodigy circus

Michael Church | May/June 2013

Irrupting flame-like onto the stage in diaphanous flowing silks, and giving an athletically low bow, Mitsuko Uchida (above) starts every performance the same way. If the whirlwind brilliance of her playing is no less consistent, that’s par for the course for this extraordinary Japanese pianist, whose damehood in 2009 was official recognition that, after nearly 50 years of being based in Britain, she is now a national treasure. And this consistency extends far beyond the composers of the First and Second Viennese Schools whose music has been her lifelong preoccupation, and which she plays with such insightMozart-Beethoven-Schubert, and Schoenberg-Berg-Webern. It encompasses everything from the way she takes tea in her exquisite little mews house (her pianos occupy a separate one across the street) to her passionately held convictions and prejudices, of which the strongest is a detestation of what she calls the prodigy circus.

The cruellest thing you can do to a talented child is to parade them as a prodigy. Uchida’s humane alternative, the Borletti-Buitoni Trust, exists to help outstanding young musicians through the always difficult early years of their careers. And it is in that capacity that she will be at the Southbank for three days in May, presenting a small firmament of young stars, all of them Borletti-Buitoni alumni. ~ Michael Church

Borletti-Buitoni series Southbank Centre, London, May 17th-19th

CLASSICAL AT A GLANCE

Wiener Festwochen (venues in Vienna, to 16th June). This year’s festival, the last under Luc Bondy, looks very promising, with a new production of "Il trovatore", the Austrian premiere of George Benjamin’s "Written on Skin" and two new operas from the ground-breaking Wiener Musiktheatergruppen.

La Musique pendant l’occupation (Cité de la musique, Paris, to May 18th). A brilliant idea: a week-long season including everything from Messiaen’s "Quartet for the end of time"—written in a prisoner-of-war camp—to hymns to Marshal Pétain.

La donna del lago (Royal Opera House, London, May 17th). John Fulljames’s new production of Rossini’s masterpiece should be interesting. Joyce DiDonato leads a dream cast. ~ MC

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