Fanny Waterman an appreciation of the ‘piano mummy‘ of our age

Dame Fanny with Menahem Pressler in Oxford

How many years have passed since meeting with this legendary figure in Oxford.Dame Fanny had always been part of my life but to meet her and get to know her,even though all too sporadically ,was a real joy.But it was the joy of music that she so generously shared with so many people.

‘My piano mummy ‘says Lang Lang.She was in reality the mother to so many pianist both big and small throughout the world.In Oxford at Mario Papadopoulos’s Philomusica Summer Festival I approached the great lady for the first time.

Interrogation of Vitaly Pisarenko

‘Dame Fanny,let me introduce you to the winner of your next competition!’Taken a little aback ,but intrigued,she immediately went into action as she took Vitaly Pisarenko to a piano and said:’play me something classical’He did:Beethoven Pathétique and went on to take her next competition by storm until in the final his colleague from Moscow,Anna Tsybuleva played such an extraordinary Brahms 2 that Vitaly’s Rachmaninov 3 was just not enough to satisfy the orchestra and jury.

Dame Fanny listening to Pisarenko’s Beethoven

At the end of the previous rounds I had been advised by a jury member friend to hurry up to Leeds for the final in which this young man was a hot favourite.He did win a top prize but Anna beat him to the ultimate winning post.Vitaly was sustained by the Keyboard Charitable Trust created by Noretta Conci and her husband John Leech,now in their nineties, they have entrusted the reigns to me,Leslie Howard and Elena Vorotko.

Dane Fanny with Pablo Rossi

A few years later I invited Dame Fanny to the first concert of the KCT in collaboration with the Brazilian Embassy at the Cunard Hall in Trafalgar Square.She was already well into her 90’s but in London for a board meeting and staying at one of the exclusive clubs nearby.She said she would try to attend and lo and behold appeared at our concert given by the young Pablo Rossi.We were all surprised and enchanted that she could be with us and I seated her in the best seat next to the piano.Luckily Pablo had never met Dame Fanny so was blissfully unaware of such a renowned presence but he did notice this distinguished lady nodding her head with every sound he made.I introduced her afterwards to Pablo Rossi.Gabrielle Baldocci and many other distinguished pianists present and also the founders of the KCT and she was overwhelmed by the attention :’What a wonderful host you are’ she said to me as I escorted her to the waiting taxi.It sealed a friendship that was indeed a great honour for me.

With the distinguished pianist and Professor at the RCM Norma Fisher in Cunard Hall.John Leech,founder of the KCT in the background.

I remember her being present in Oxford at Pressler’s memorable performance of Mozart’s K.488 concerto that she herself had played at the Proms as a young aspiring pianist long before she became a Dame.

Two of the most remarkable musicians who listen to every single note without a moment’s distraction discussing Mozart together in the green room afterwards.In fact it was Pressler who confided to me that Dame Fanny wanted him always on the jury of her competition.He remembered though the time he had accepted and Dame Fanny had insisted that he sit next to her.Well, whilst many jury members were able to occasionally nod off during many of the less sensational performances ,Dame Fanny was wide awake listening to every single note,good and bad,and poor Pressler sitting with her could not join ranks with his colleagues!

Discussing Mozart in your 90’s

Living in Italy I sent Dame Fanny a birthday Email saying that I had just heard on BBC Radio 3 a remarkable concert by Graham Johnson with his Songmaker’s Almanac.She immediately wrote back to say that she too had listened to the concert and considered Graham to be the Gerald Moore of our time.’How eloquent you are Christopher’, she exclaimed as we exchanged views for some time afterwards.I was at the RAM with Graham and I told him of this long distance correspondence about his Wigmore concert.He got in touch with Dame Fanny and a friendship was sealed on wings of song one might say.

Dame Fanny with her class in Oxford; the seed is sown for yet another generation!

The last time I saw Dame Fanny was at a prize winners recital at Leeds University of Vitaly Pisarenko .Her longtime friend Linda Wellings gave me pride of place next to Dame Fanny but she was already not well and had to leave in the interval and sadly it was the last time I saw her.

She will be much missed and our only regret was that we did not share a punt together in Oxford much to her disappointment as her car had come to take her back to work in Leeds!

a punt made for three with Vitaly Pisarenko and regretfully without Dame Fanny although she very much wanted to come with us

With her companion Linda Wellings in Oxford


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