Vive le piano | The French Institute’s new piano festival

- 26 February 2013

London’s French Institute has long been a lively hub for movies and music. Now it has a three-day piano festival to extend its range. Jessica Duchen opens the lid

Take one buzzy South Kensington venue, add to its programme of films, lectures and language classes a new strand of classical music events, and employ a former pianist and pianists’ manager to run it. Result: It’s All About Piano, one of the most exciting and intensive piano festivals that London has seen in years. Come to think of it, when did London last have such a piano festival at all?

For Françoise Clerc, classical music correspondent for the festival’s main partner, Bureau Export (French-music.org) It’s All About Piano is happening not a moment too soon. During the two years to date in which she has been coordinating concerts at the Institut Français, Clerc has overseen a welcome upsurge of musical interest at this well-known hub of French culture. The Institut has never been aimed solely at the sizable community of French ex-pats in London, but sets out to build bridges through everything from art cinema and wine-tasting to comedy and festivals for children. Amid all this, Clerc’s mission is to put classical music centre stage.

If the programme of pianistic festivities that she has devised is anything to go by, the venue should soon be well and truly on the capital’s musical map. ‘It’s been very hard work,’ she acknowledges, ‘but it’s going to be worth it!’

When Clerc first began work at the Institut, she discovered that it was home to a promising-looking Steinway grand. ‘Unfortunately it was not in a good enough condition to give concerts,’ she says. ‘I raised a substantial amount of money to have it fully restored, thanks to Steinways, who were very supportive. It was done last summer and now it’s a beautiful instrument. So we asked ourselves: what are we going to do with it?’

In keeping with the Institut’s preference for intensive, ‘festival’ events, It’s All About Piano is taking up three jam-packed days and evenings from 22 to 24 March. And while there is of course an important French component, Clerc wanted to think bigger than that...

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