Jonathan Powell has established himself as one of the most accomplished, daring and sensitive pianists of his generation. As comfortable performing Romantic sonatas as the most radical contemporary works, Powell has been credited with a virtuosic technique as well as profound insights into composers' thoughts.
He studied the piano with Denis Matthews and Sulamita Aronovsky, and made his début at the age of 20 at the Purcell Room, under the auspices of the Park Lane Group's Young Artist Series. He then graduated from Cambridge University with a double first; he later continued his studies there with a Ph.D. on Scriabin and Russian music. As part of his doctoral research, he travelled to Russia and, having amassed a large collection of music suppressed during the soviet era, he gave some of the first performances of this music in several decades. Over the 1990s, he attracted attention as performer of Romantic and contemporary repertoire, at the same time as establishing a reputation as a composer and writer on music.
In 1999, Powell directed and performed in a series of concerts at the Barbican's St Petersburg festival; the next year he performed in Russia where he was acclaimed as a 'great virtuoso' by the Moscow press. He has appeared as a pianist across the UK: in the Aldeburgh, Brighton and Huddersfield festivals, as well as in the Cutting Edge series and the South Bank Centre in London. He has also performed in mainland Europe, including in Utrecht (by invitation of Radio Netherlands), in Helsinki (with an appearance on YLE, Finnish national radio), in Marseille, France, and at the Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella (northern Italy).
Powell has been noted for his insights into the broadest range of repertoire, his virtuosic technique, and his production of a particularly wide range of colours from the piano. His repertoire ranges from Bach to the present day. Additionally, several notable British composers have written works especially for him and he has given UK premières of pieces by Bussotti, Cage, Feldman and Sciarrino.
Powell has recently focussed on works of late Romantic composer-pianists such as Scriabin and Busoni. He has also made a particular specialism of the Parsi composer Sorabji - he has performed more of this composer's works than any other pianist. His recordings for Altarus, ASV and Largo have been critically acclaimed; his relationship with the Altarus label is producing an ongoing series of groundbreaking recordings. Forthcoming concerts include appearances in the UK, Finland, Germany, Italy and the US.
He has an active profile as a composer - he has recorded several of his
own works for BBC broadcasts and has had works performed by the London Sinfonietta,
the Arditti Quartet, Valdine Anderson, Jane Manning, Sarah Leonard, Nicolas
Hodges, Thomas Adès and others. He was awarded a doctorate from the
University of Cambridge for a dissertation concerning Scriabin and his influence
on Russian music; he has published major articles on Russian composer-pianists,
Scriabin, Feinberg, Stanchinsky, Ciurlionis, Futurism and Soviet music.
[Sorabji: Opus Clavicembalisticum - performance on 16th September 2003, London (Photograph from this concert)] Powell's achievement was not just that he played the work with flawless virtuosity throughout - though a stupendous accomplishment in itself. More importantly, he made the work's improbable external dimensions fall away, so that the entire thing could resound as music. Part II, say, begins with a theme and 49 variations which are at times extraordinarily beautiful, at others massively overwhelming, and yet Powell projected this epic range of expression as if it were as natural as a nursery rhyme. Likewise the Adagio of the Interludium alterum, where he underlined the exquisite delicacy of Sorabji's meltingly lovely writing; and he brought to the vast closing chords of the Coda Stretta a colossal, granitic strength. His audience, shattered and elated, shot to its feet and roared.
Martin Anderson, International Piano (November 2003 issue)
[Altarus AIR-CD-9067 - Sorabji: Villa Tasca, Passeggiata Veneziana] Mediocre pianists do not touch Sorabji; the music is infinitely too demanding in terms of technique, intelligence, culture and understanding. That doesn't automatically make it great music, but certainly it's a repertoire of its own to which only great pianists have the key. Powell is outstanding in his ability to project this immensely noteful style vividly and decisively. His touch and pedalling and dynamic levels seem exemplary (I haven't seen scores). Most of all he excels at something which the enormous rhapsody of Villa Tasca, with all its fioriture and filigree, makes very difficult - the projection of a controlling structure, in which every note has its place and where progress from start to finish, however decorative and deliquescent, proceeds with a palpable sense of inevitability. Sorabji fans should flock to buy this excellently-recorded disc, while we wait for its promised successors.
Calum MacDonald, International Piano (September 2003)
[Sorabji: Opus Clavicembalisticum - performance on 20th June 2004, Merkin Concert Hall, New York (Photograph from this concert)]
Mr. Powell played the work with one short intermission, and his performance was powerful and robust, equal to the work in every way. Perhaps most striking was the clarity with which he presented Sorabji's fugues, even as the strands of the music coalesced into a huge welter of sound. The performance was viscerally and intellectually pleasing in roughly equal measure, a combination of qualities Sorabji would probably have admired.
Allan Kozinn, The New York Times (June 2004)
Please also visit the British Music Information Centre's page on Jonathan Powell.
AIR-CD-9067 Kaikhosru Sorabji Passeggiata veneziana Villa Tasca Jonathan Powell, piano AIR-CD-9068 Kaikhosru Sorabji Toccata No. 1 Jonathan Powell, piano AIR-CD-9069(3) Kaikhosru Sorabji Piano Sonata No. 4 (3CDs for the price of 2) Jonathan Powell, piano