By John Sidgwick
LONDON, 1 FEBRUARY 2006—The BBC Young Musician of the Year competition is eagerly
followed by enthusiasts throughout the United Kingdom and many of the
winners, generally aged between 16 and 21, have gone on to make successful
careers. The year 2002 nevertheless provided an astonishing surprise, for it was
deservedly won by a twelve-year old girl, Jennifer Pike, playing
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. Not only was her technical skill beyond reproach, her
sheer musicality shone through the performance from beginning to end.
Since then, Jennifer Pike has played in concerts and recitals in major
venues in Europe and the United States. On 15th November 2005, just turned
16, she gave her first recital at London's Wigmore Hall, partnered by the
eminent accompanist, Gordon Back. The programme was a challenging one:
Beethoven's Violin Sonata No 8 in G, Op. 30 No 3, Ravel's Violin Sonata,
Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No 1 in F minor, Op. 80 and Kreisler's,
Liebesleid and Tambourin Chinois.
I was glad to attend this recital together with my wife, who is a
violinist and has played with many of London's free-lance orchestras, in
particular in the various orchestras founded by Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
From the opening bars of the Beethoven Sonata, we were hooked. This was
music-making the like of which one rarely comes across. There is an almost
medium-like quality to Jennifer Pike's playing. There are no flamboyant
gestures, just sheer concentration. Above all, time after time, she
displays turns of phrase and expression that simply cannot be taught. They
are all there within her. At the end of the recital, my wife and I made
our way home to North London hardly saying a word to each other but in the
complete knowledge that we had been privileged witnesses to a remarkable
performance. And I am sure that Gordon Back will not take it amiss when I
say that he himself raised his game to the heights required in order to
play alongside his young partner.
Jennifer Pike is studying at Chetham's School near Manchester, the
renowned establishment for young artists, where she has been a pupil since
the age of eight. More recently, she has been taking lessons in London
with David Takeno and I met her a few days ago in the company of her
father, the pianist and composer, Jeremy Pike, on her way back from one of
these lessons. She has a most agreeable personality and is endowed with a
keen sense of fun. When it comes to anything to do with music, she
displays the same qualities as those that are apparent on the concert
platform. There is directness, concentration, practicality and above all
the beauty of simplicity. We talked about the sort of thing that nearly
all string players do when they get together, including choice of strings
for the instrument (we spend our lives in the search for the perfect
combination that brings out the best in the violin), how to warm up before
a concert and the characteristics of concert halls, which can vary greatly
and often cause difficulties for violinists. In all these matters, she
revealed the healthy awareness of a true professional.
It is always interesting to examine the family
backgrounds of talented young musicians. It sometimes occurs, although
rarely, that a pair of non-musical parents produces a prodigy.
In Jennifer's case, there can be no doubt about the musical
inheritance from her father, who is as English as they make them. I say
this, because Jennifer's mother, Teresa, is Polish—Jeremy met her when he
was in Poland studying with the famous composer, Henryk
Gorecki. It is clear that Jennifer's parents have
been quite unusually careful with their daughter in that they have never
pushed her into the career of a performing prodigy. She gives the concerts
she feels that she wants to give and she performs the repertoire to which
she is attracted and for which she feels ready.
It is a strange fact that a great many of today's young string players
sound very much alike and that they demonstrate little interest in earlier
violinists. True, there is immense accomplishment, but it has a steely
edge to it. This did not apply in the first half of the twentieth century.
Nearly all the great violinists, young or old, had an individual sound
that was clearly recognizable by anybody with ears to hear. I was pleased
to observe Jennifer's reaction when I mentioned Fritz Kreisler. A
delighted smile came across her face and I subsequently gathered that she
has listened to many of the great Viennese violinist's records and that
she loves the music that he wrote.
All in all, it has to be said that Jennifer Pike
is an almost unique talent. Details of her career, together with
information about her and about forthcoming concerts can be found on her
So far as public appearances in 2006 are concerned, her participation
in the Eurovision Young Musicians Competition in Vienna in May as
the United Kingdom's representative is bound to be a particularly
significant event. As the winner of the BBC competition in 2002, she
should have gone to Vienna a few months later, but the rules did not allow
for the participation of one so young.
Jennifer will be leaving Chetham's in July in order take up the
scholarship that has been offered to her by the Guildhall School of Music
and Drama in London to pursue post-graduate studies. This is yet another
"first" in her career, since never before has the Guildhall offered an
opportunity like this to someone still only their mid-teens.
John Sidgwick writes about classical music
in Britain and France for Culturekiosque.com.