Who is Lawrence Power?

He calls the viola his mother tongue, but he has also been known to recite poetry, to conduct, even to pick up a violin. And last year he co-founded a cross-disciplinary video production company. Here is everything you need to know about this famously adventurous British viola player

Published: June 10, 2022 at 1:30 pm
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Who is Lawrence Power?

Lawrence Power is an internationally-acclaimed British viola player, known for the richness of his tone, the elegance of his interpretations and his adventurous approach to programming – someone who, by his own admission, would always choose to play solo Ligeti or Berio on the viola rather than Bach.

Is he from a musical family?

No. But fortunately his local school did tests to see if the pupils were musical, which is how his musical talent was discovered.

So, like many violists, he probably started on the violin, then switched to viola?

Actually, no. Being tall for his age, he started immediately on the viola at primary school when he was seven years old. Although generally considered to be less glamorous than the violin, the viola held more instant appeal for Power, possibly because - as he once suggested in an interview - beginners' violas can sound a lot better than beginners' violins.

Where did he train?

Following primary school, Power started studying with Mark Knight at the junior department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Later he spent a year at the Juilliard School in New York, where he studied with Karen Tuttle.

What was his breakthrough?

After returning to London from New York, he won first prize in the 1999 Primrose International Viola Competition. The following year he was selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist. Since then he has performed as a soloist with orchestras all over the world.

Is he just a viola soloist?

He also plays a lot of chamber music, regularly performing with the Nash Ensemble, and running the West Wycombe Chamber Music Festival – an annual event that originally grew out of a memorial concert he held for his grandmother, who had lived in that area. In 2003, he was headhunted to lead the Berlin Philharmonic, but despite playing with them in Mahler's Third Symphony under Bernard Haitink, he turned down the role in order to focus on solo and chamber work. He has also been known to conduct, to recite poetry, and, from time to time, even pick up the violin. He once said in an interview with the Dutch Viola Society: 'The viola is my mother tongue. It's what I do. But it’s possible to speak other languages, even if perhaps you have an accent.'

What kind of music does he play?

A champion of 20th century and contemporary music, he has premiered concertos by composers including Krzysztof Penderecki, James MacMillan, and Mark-Anthony Turnage - and has a particular soft spot for the 20th century British composer York Bowen, a leading light of the early 20th century, whose music fell out of fashion after World War II. Even during the lockdown, Power continued to advocate for new music, commissioning ten short viola pieces, which he then performed, on film, in and around vacated London venues as a response to the Coronavirus crisis.

Where can I hear him?

At the Proms, on Monday 18 July, when he performs a new concerto by the Canadian composer Cassandra Miller. He was also recently featured with Thomas Adès, performing the latter's new work 3 Berceuses for Viola and Piano, in a stunning film created by the cross-disciplinary video production company Âme, which Power founded last year with the film maker Jessie Rodger.

Who is Lawrence Power?

Lawrence Power is an internationally-acclaimed British viola player, known for the richness of his tone, the elegance of his interpretations and his adventurous approach to programming – someone who, by his own admission, would always choose to play solo Ligeti or Berio on the viola rather than Bach.

Is he from a musical family?

No. But fortunately his local school did tests to see if the pupils were musical, which is how his musical talent was discovered.

So, like many violists, he probably started on the violin, then switched to viola?

Actually, no. Being tall for his age, he started immediately on the viola at primary school when he was seven years old. Although generally considered to be less glamorous than the violin, the viola held more instant appeal for Power, possibly because - as he once suggested in an interview - beginners' violas can sound a lot better than beginners' violins.

Where did he train?

Following primary school, Power started studying with Mark Knight at the junior department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Later he spent a year at the Juilliard School in New York, where he studied with Karen Tuttle.

What was his breakthrough?

After returning to London from New York, he won first prize in the 1999 Primrose International Viola Competition. The following year he was selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist. Since then he has performed as a soloist with orchestras all over the world.

Is he just a viola soloist?

He also plays a lot of chamber music, regularly performing with the Nash Ensemble, and running the West Wycombe Chamber Music Festival – an annual event that originally grew out of a memorial concert he held for his grandmother, who had lived in that area. In 2003, he was headhunted to lead the Berlin Philharmonic, but despite playing with them in Mahler's Third Symphony under Bernard Haitink, he turned down the role in order to focus on solo and chamber work. He has also been known to conduct, to recite poetry, and, from time to time, even pick up the violin. He once said in an interview with the Dutch Viola Society: 'The viola is my mother tongue. It's what I do. But it’s possible to speak other languages, even if perhaps you have an accent.'

What kind of music does he play?

A champion of 20th century and contemporary music, he has premiered concertos by composers including Krzysztof Penderecki, James MacMillan, and Mark-Anthony Turnage - and has a particular soft spot for the 20th century British composer York Bowen, a leading light of the early 20th century, whose music fell out of fashion after World War II. Even during the lockdown, Power continued to advocate for new music, commissioning ten short viola pieces, which he then performed, on film, in and around vacated London venues as a response to the Coronavirus crisis.

Where can I hear him?

At the Proms, on Monday 18 July, when he performs a new concerto by the Canadian composer Cassandra Miller. He was also recently featured with Thomas Adès, performing the latter's new work 3 Berceuses for Viola and Piano, in a stunning film created by the cross-disciplinary video production company Âme, which Power founded last year with the film maker Jessie Rodger.

Authors

Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.

Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.

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