The program was performed by two of the utmost competent pianists, Steven Beck and Philip Edward Fisher, who negotiated their respective parts at the commonly shared grand-piano with acrobatic finesse. Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue in B-flat major, turned out to be an especially adventurous endeavor, as the audience witnessed with great excitement what the composer must have had in mind when he gave the job of a full string ensemble to two pianists sharing one instrument. After ending the concert with an encore of the lighter and uplifting Schubert Military Marches Op.51, in D- major, Fisher explained consolingly:”We could not have let you go home on that emotionally draining note.” The July 4th spirit was resurrected and people left into the warmth of the evening’s breeze.
The pianists, who were both former Juilliard graduates, re-connected for this Barge performance. I had the opportunity to converse with Fisher, who divides his time between his native England and New York. We discussed the differences in English music education and business practices as compared to its American counterpart. There are certainly subtle differences, Philip conveyed to me over drinks right after the concert and the next day, before this versatile and personable artist had to make his way back to a concert performance in the United Kingdom.
Fisher told how he had come to the piano at aged 9, a relatively late starter, but then fell for it head over heels, with his first public appearance only a year later and then again at age 12, when he performed the Shostakovich Second Concerto at his native Birmingham’s Symphony Hall.
The young Englishman started his musical education under the pianist and composer Philip Martin and then entered the Purcell School, thanks to being a recipient of the John Ogden Memorial Scholarship (1993) which enabled him to continue his studies at the private studio of the Head of Keyboard at the Royal Academy of Music in London, Professor Christopher Elton. In 2001 he was awarded the prestigious Julius Isserlis Scholarship fund, granted by the Royal Philharmonic Society of London, which established Fisher, who was always interested in a wide approach of musical guidance, as a well deserving young artist who could continue to find inspirational pedagogues throughout his developing years. Fisher, always curious to explore further, aimed his studies beyond the pond, to New York’s Juilliard, where he earned his Master’s degree with Joseph Kalichstein and Jerome Lowenthal.
A certain international flair and appeal immediately comes across upon meeting Fisher, who has been bred well by two different hubs of music pedagogy. To me, the particular different cultural influences absorbed by Fisher’s personality have given him an artistic individuality which I would describe perhaps as representing the best of both worlds. He reveals that, unlike one would assume, it was at Juilliard that he felt much more disciplined ( in an old fashioned style) than during all his studies in the old world. And it was through his new found New York contacts in the music business in New York that he was able to launch his beginning recording career although making use of his old world links and experiences.
What every artist looks to develop in today’s market which is over abundant with talent and well trained musicians, Fisher sort of brought along in his commuter briefcase. And yet, while exuding confidence on stage as well as in conversation, there is nothing arrogant or haughty about him. In London you just would like to bring him home for teatime. Since I am in New York, I brought him home for brunch.
As he sat down in my living room to perform a beautifully rendered Chopin Etude (Op.25, no.1), as well as a dazzling snapshot sampler from his latest released disk The Mighty Handful for Chandos, it became clear to me: This is a really versatile pianistic voice, not only thanks to his ability to express a wide range of repertoire but through a sensitivity to explore and expand his own cultural and emotional horizon.
Part of that process may have developed out of his emotional experiences surrounding decisions about his career and personal relationships.
As we talked about some of his experiences of these last years, he elaborated on his first recording, on the Naxos label, of Handel’s Keyboard Suites, which as a first volume was released in March of 2010 to great critical acclaim and provided an especially exciting experience for Fisher. Naxos offered him the chance to take his master recording, once it was established, into their hands for further marketing, which led Fisher to the famed Abbey Road studios, the exciting venue the Beatles had used for their renowned recordings. Fisher managed to be resourceful in securing funds from the Birmingham City Council and engaged producer, engineer and editor Jonathan Allen from Abbey Road Studios in London, to record at Fisher’s hometown Birmingham Symphony Hall in August of 2008, the venue he already had had his orchestral performance debut. Hitting the US Classical Billboard Chart within its first week of release, the plan is for the second volume of Handel’s keyboard works, which already is recorded, to follow early next year in 2012. For more information about this recording see also an in-depth interview with Sean Hickey on the Naxos website: http://www.naxos.com/news/default.asp?op=790&displayMenu=Naxos_News&type=2#
I have the feeling here is an artist who really enjoys the process of the interview: Says Fisher: “It relieves me to share some of my thoughts about playing the piano, the same way I like to perform. It is a release of the confinement you often find yourself in, as a musician, practicing for hours in preparation of your concert programs.”
Fisher shows an extraordinary personal élan towards all endeavors, and this is also very clear in his latest recording The Mighty Handful. The recording on the Chandos label, released in June of 2011, of piano works by a group of Russian composers, whose interesting body of work and influence on the more renowned “heavyweights” of the Russian School is highlighted in the capable hands of Fisher. He achieves a most inspiring musical account that he befittingly accompanies with his written liner notes, explaining his emotional venture of exploring these works with a fresh and individual approach.
Deserving endorsements as Album of the Week by John Suchet’s Classic FM are coming in, but I suspect that it will be Fisher’s performances at internationally visible presentations, such as his recent presentation for the Chandos label (named Label of the Year) in April of 2011 at the International Classical Music Awards, that will bring him the exposure he deserves.
This outstanding Award Ceremony, held at the Tampere Hall, Finland, attended by 1600 people, including musicians and label representatives from all over the world, brought the young Fisher on stage with Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto, with Hannu Lintu conducting. The illustrious company of prizewinners included Artist of the year Esa Pekka- Salonen, Menahem Pressler, as the lifetime achievement winner and young artist of the year David Kadoush.
As internationally renowned Stephen Hough and mentor of Fisher volunteered to comment: “Philip Edward Fisher is a pianist with all of the qualities of technique and musicianship which others have, but with the addition of an indefinable ingredient which attracts and captivates the listener. He has something unique to say, and the pianistic equipment to say it with intelligence and warmth.”