John Paul Ekins plays January’s Brilliant Young Pianists recital in St Peter’s Church

Written by Tony Millett.

The pianist for the third recital in the ground-breaking Brilliant Young Pianists series at St Peter’s Church is a young man whose career as a virtuoso performer is really taking off – and in several directions. John Paul Ekins will be playing Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Ravel and Schumann in Marlborough on Sunday, 27 January.

However his career nearly didn’t begin at all.  Having had his first piano lesson aged five, by his mid-teens he was fast running out of steam.  

Then his piano teacher took him to hear the London Symphony Orchestra with a fired-up Mstislav Rostropovich conducting his old friend Shostakovich’s powerful if enigmatic fifth symphony. It was a turning point. And with a bear-hug from the great Slava he was back on his musical tracks – fast ones at that.

He graduated from the Royal College of Music with first class honours and completed his post-graduate studies at the Guildhall in 2011.  He has played recitals, chamber and concerto concerts far and wide across Britain and continental Europe – and has won many prizes and competitions.

His diary is very full – the day after his Marlborough concert he’s giving a lunchtime recital at St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London. He looks after his own complex logistics. But, he told Marlborough News Online, the support “from my family and fiancée is really what helps keep me sane, grounded, and still utterly in love with music and the profession, despite its countless difficulties.”

Apart from his recitals, John Paul has been playing as the Atma Duo with violinist Michal Cwizewicz.  More recently they’ve recruited the young Russian cellist Liubov Ulybysheva to form the Cremona Piano Trio – and with this chamber group they are winning a following of their own.  Last year, after just a few months playing together, they won the Audience Prize at the St Martin’s-in-the-Fields Chamber Music Competition.

John Paul tries to keep as much variety as possible in his schedule of concerts – mixing solo recitals, chamber and concerto performances. But chamber music appears to be taking pride of place: “I find the combination of strings and piano the most satisfying of all chamber music, blessed as the pianist invariably is by rich, rewarding writing, while also being complemented by, aided by (or even battling with!) mighty and versatile instruments such as the violin or 'cello.”

“In chamber music, the performers are constantly spurring each other on, inspiring each other, and creating a combined energy and atmosphere in performance (on a good day!) When playing solo, the onus in obviously entirely on the individual to create all of the above, and this comes with its joys and troubles.”

On a more mundane level, how does he cope with the great variety of pianos he’s faced with as he travels from hall to hall?  He has no fears about the grand in St Peter’s Church – he’s played on it before and describes it as a ‘gorgeous’ instrument. What’s more, Charles Owen, a recent performer at St Peter’s, has told him new work on the piano has produced an even better sound.

One assumes he’s not always so fortunate: “Yes, the sad truth is that owning and maintaining a piano at the highest of levels is a very expensive task, and we are at the mercy of the instruments we find. Therefore it can be very difficult to accept the limitations of the instrument on offer, particularly when one has played on 'dream' pianos.”

“The hardest part for me is the tone itself - if this is not pleasing to my ear then I find it very hard to get inspired and excited by the sounds which I am producing, which obviously means that sustaining a ninety minute recital becomes quite an ordeal.”

John Paul’s Marlborough recital includes five of the classical greats: “I feel a great affinity with Schubert and Liszt in particular, although this programme comprises some of my very favourite music that I've worked on in the last few years.”

“With both Schubert and Liszt, I find that the types of men they were comes over very strongly in their music, crammed as it is with their personalities, and delving into composers' lives and creating parallels with their works has long been a passion of mine.”

The audience at St Peter’s will hear more about John Paul’s feelings for this music as he likes to take an audience into his confidence about the pieces he’s playing for them.  

How fortunate Marlborough is to have this brilliant music series which also gives the audience the opportunity to support St Peter’s Trust and the Marlborough Brandt Group.

For details about tickets see the entry in our What’s On calendar for 27 January.

Find out more at John Paul’s website.   

Photographs copyright Paul Henry.