Pianist Harvey Davies

An Interview With: Pianist Harvey Davies

As many UK classical music festival fans will know, on October 20th, there’s a very special event taking place at this year’s Two Moors Festival (15th-25th October) – a Mozart Marathon played by Harvey Davies on piano and violinist Sarah Ewins at All Saints’ Church in Dulverton.

A total of 18 of Mozart’s sonatas will be performed throughout the day and evening, which is a massive undertaking and is certainly one of the highlights of this year’s festival. We caught up with Harvey Davies to find out just how he’s been preparing for this marathon to end all marathons.

Harvey Davies interview

Harvey Davies2MF: Which sonatas are you playing? Any favourites?

HD: Sarah and I will play fully 18 piano and violin sonatas by Mozart and a set of variations while I trace their composition and Mozart’s life through contemporary letters, reviews and anecdotes.

We are playing sonatas from the earliest part of his compositional life (aged seven!) through to the final sonata which he wrote in 1788 when he was the grand old age of 32 and had but three more years to live. We both have many favourites! Of course, it is impossible to leave out the mature works from the 1780s from any list of favourites but in truth there isn’t a weak piece even from when the guy was seven. The music is always imaginative, varied, progressive and beautiful.

2MF: Any you’re dreading?

HD: “Dreading” is perhaps not the word I would use, although there are a few which are simply very technically and musically challenging (K. 526 in A, K. 481 in Eb, K. 380 in Eb etc, etc) and so will undoubtedly cause a frisson of anticipation before we play them! No… they’re all too wonderful to dread!

2MF: Have you ever regretted the decision to do it?

HD: No,  although there was a moment when we were both questioning whether we’d have the mental and physical stamina for it. That was resolved by a trial run at the beginning of September, which left us drained but happy!

2MF: Tell us more about your trial run. Were you worried you wouldn’t be able to do it?

HD: We only played the music and didn’t include the talking and it was also shoehorned into a shorter space of time than it will be on the day so was mentally and physically even tougher. After the first couple of concerts I had the gentlest of doubts about whether it was going to be possible but we proved that it was.

2MF: How many hours of piano playing is it?

HD: It will be nearly six hours of actual playing time which perhaps doesn’t sound too bad but then you have to factor in the fact that these are all performances which invariably take a lot more energy and a different sort of concentration that can’t be reproduced in the practice room. Also if it was six hours’ playing the same programme three times that would be one thing but this is five concerts of completely different repertoire and no repetition – it’s just a mammoth quantity of information to hold in our heads and fingers!

2MF: How do you plan to keep your stamina up?

HD: I reckon there will be lots of small meals that day, bananas and high carbohydrate foods with slow, regular release to try and keep blood sugar levels even. It’s not good to have spikes and dips as it can profoundly affect concentration. Not much caffeine as stimulants tend to give you a short term boost but that boost has to be accounted for further down the line! Rest in between concerts will also be critical, not so much for physical reasons but mental ones.

Physically it will also be a challenge, so it’s crucial that heating and lighting are good and that the piano stool is at the correct height and distance from the keyboard – standard technical issues that always come into play for pianists but are likely to be heightened with such a lot of concentration needed.

2MF: Do you think you’ll ever play Mozart again after it?

HD: This has made us want to play even more Mozart – I can never get enough of his music, I’m pretty sure Sarah feels the same. It is a total joy to perform on every level I can think of. He really is the consummate master.

2MF: Any tips for anyone planning to tackle one of his sonatas?

HD: This is a difficult question with no easy answers as inevitably different people will find different things difficult depending on any number of things from their technical ability to their musical intuition.

Slow practice is essential from a technical point of view as perhaps the four absolute necessities when playing Mozart are ensuring that it is always played with the greatest beauty of sound, perfection of phrasing, utter understanding of harmony and texture and complete control of passagework (so not too hard eh?). Therefore continuing to work at comfortable, easy technique is (as with all music to be honest) the most emancipating factor and that which enables the performer to have the most control and should enable a perfect blend of Mozart’s music and the performer’s ideas.

It perhaps should go without saying that there is also no substitute for living with a composer’s music for a long time and knowing it inside out as this also gives many insights which may not be printed on the page and which may separate a very good performance from an inspirational one.

2MF: What other Two Moors events are you looking forward to this year?

HD: Unfortunately neither Sarah or I can be around for any other event as we both have to be back in Manchester – Sarah is on with the Halle the day after our concert and I have to lecture at the RNCM! However it is, as always, an imaginative and lovely programme with great musicians and great music – a tribute as always to both John and Penny Adie without whose extraordinary energies Devon would be a poorer place!

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