Magazine article Gramophone

My Life in Music

Magazine article Gramophone

My Life in Music

Article excerpt

My Life in Music

By Dame Fanny Waterman

Faber Music, 184pp, HB, 20 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-0-57153-918-1

It is difficult for a review of a book by Dame Fanny Waterman to be about anything other than the Leeds International Piano Competition, its foundation, development and reputation particularly given my history with the event. But there is a lot more to her life, as disarmingly documented here.

Waterman's story is, like so many in the Jewish community of the north of England, that of being born to diaspora parents (from Ukraine), living at first in poverty and going on to a great career. The book details these early days and reveals the backdrop for the foundation of the competition. Those on either side of the Waterman divide--there are few who have had any contact with her who remain on the fence--cannot fail to be impressed by her ability to persuade, to make saying 'yes' far easier than saying 'no', or even than saying 'not sure, but we will think about it'. The latter two are not options when talking with Waterman. It is obvious from the start that she is greatly impressed by the social positions of many of the people with whom she has associated. This may be mistaken for self-aggrandisement; she certainly has an ego, but she would not be the only one in the music world with one of those, and without it she would undoubtedly have never achieved what she has. She also has an almost naive way of expressing how good she has always been at playing, teaching, judging and organising; as these things are true, it is not self-centred arrogance.


Like so many in the music world, Waterman loves to be liked, as she admits in the book. And, despite her detractors, she has achieved it. She is adored by thousands, and deservedly so: she has done more to promote the piano and young pianists--particularly in the UK--than any other single person. She has also placed her home town of Leeds back on the musical map. A constant during their heyday, she has appeared on the juries of virtually every major and many minor international competitions, as well as being chairman of every Leeds jury from 1981 to 2015.

It is one of my many personal regrets that I was never sent to Fanny Waterman for lessons--her thoughts on teaching young pianists are as sound as they come. …

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