We Are Family – the 1979 hit song – could have been penned for Freddy Kempf and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The relationship between the concert pianist and the Orchestra goes back to 1985 when, aged just eight years old, Kempf made his concerto debut performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.12 in A major, K.414.
“I’d been spotted playing at various music festivals and it was suggested I give a concert with the RPO,” Kempf – now 37 – tells me, midway through a concert tour he is undertaking in Russia.
It was a life-changing event. The young Kempf had already begun to be noticed, but his RPO concert fanned the flames of his emerging talent. Within two years, he’d won the National Mozart competition, before two years after that, winning BBC Young Musician of the Year.
“Some years later when I was eighteen and in the US, I was chatting with some student friends about the UK music scene,” he says. “They were amazed that by that age I’d played the Tchaikovsky concerto twenty times. I told them it was all down to the UK’s unique professional and semi-professional music scene that gives young musicians an opportunity they won’t get anywhere else in the world.”
Today, Kempf really values his long relationship with the RPO. As a student at the Royal Academy of Music, many of the Orchestra’s current members were his friends and contemporaries. Now, as a soloist travelling the world often on his own, he says it’s wonderful to meet up with them for performances.
“There’s a chemistry between us,” he says. “A concert pianist’s life can be lonely, but it’s been nice growing up with the RPO and working with its players. They’re my friends, and the RPO is like a second family to me.”
And now we can enjoy the fruits of that relationship when Kempf and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform Grieg’s Piano Concerto at Hull City Hall on Thursday 28 May and at Cambridge Corn Exchange on Saturday 30 May. The pianist regards it as a very special concerto. Considering how many he has in his repertoire, he actually came to it later in life. He says, simply, that he loves it.
“It’s so well written and contains some of the most beautiful music you’re ever likely to hear in a concert hall. It’s fantastic and I always enjoy playing it.”
Written by John Evans