As a pianist, Paul Lewis was a late starter. He first played the cello before he started taking piano lessons regularly at the age of 12. Then, however, things moved rapidly: at the age of 15, he studied at Chetham’s School of Music, a school for talented young musicians in Manchester. He later went on to the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. While there, the musician, who was born in Liverpool in 1972, presented himself as part of a masterclass of Alfred Brendel who became his teacher from 1993 for the next seven years. In 2002, after success in several competitions, Paul Lewis made his debut at the Wigmore Hall in London, which nominated him for the Rising Stars series of leading European concert halls. Today, the British pianist, who along with Till Fellner and Kit Armstrong is among the most well-known students of Brendel and regularly performs at leading concert halls and at all major festivals, has long since stepped out of the shadow of his teacher. He has in any case never seen himself as a kind of Brendel “legacy”: “As a person, I am different. I am also different as a musician.” And more: “There is nothing to compare. My sound is different from his and also the way the message of the music comes across. Even if there are two or three similarities, I don’t shun the comparison.”
For his debut as a soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Paul Lewis will play the rather introverted and melancholy B flat major Concerto K. 595, the last piano concerto Mozart wrote. After the interval, the conductor of the evening, Bernard Haitink, has programmed Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. It finally gave the composer the resounding success that he had longed for throughout his life: at the premiere at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, conducted by Arthur Nikisch on 30 December 1884, support was still restrained, but at the second performance in Munich on 10 March 1885 under Hermann Levi, the listeners were as enthusiastic as most of the critics. However, the performance of Bruckner’s Seventh was acclaimed not only in Munich, but also in Vienna: “After the first movement, 5 – 6 wild bravos and so it continued, after the finale, endless, wild enthusiasm and bravos, laurel wreath from the Wagner society and banquet table” (Bruckner). Within three years, the symphony was on programmes in Chicago, New York, London, Amsterdam and Berlin. This is probably why the composer was spared the usual “suggestions for improvement”: the work, which is still the most performed of Brucknerʼs to this day, exists in only one version.