Last summer, 19-year-old British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor earned rave reviews when he became the youngest soloist in the history of the BBC Proms. Performing at the world's largest classical music festival is one reason Grosvenor was also added to the Evening Standard newspaper's list of "1000 Most Influential Londoners of 2011," right alongside Sir Paul McCartney and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. "Well, it was a great honor," Grosvenor muses, "but it was quite frightening, really. I don't quite know in what way I influence people. And of course there's a lot of responsibility, to know that one influences people. It was certainly a great surprise."
What's influenced Benjamin Grosvenor for the past several years is the language of Chopin, one of three composers featured on his latest solo recording. "It's captivated me from a very young age," says Grosvenor. "Some of the first significant pieces of music I played were by Chopin and since then I think he's remained my favorite composer."
On his new solo recording Grosvenor artfully links the four scherzos of his favorite composer with works by Maurice Ravel and Franz Liszt. Grosvenor says he has a methodical reason for not playing the scherzos in numerical order. "I've always felt that One, of course, is the opening piece but Two seems to me the finishing piece. It's got this kind of virtuosic brilliance at the end, and the lighter nature of Four works better in the middle as a kind of reprieve."
According to Grosvenor Chopin's Scherzo No. 4 is kind of the oddball of the set. It's more light-hearted than the other scherzos, and it's the only one in a major key, "It's more playful and there's lighter figuration there and so that really appeals to me," he clarifies. "But then it's got this wonderful, dark middle section which is in a minor key."
The poetic, dramatic nature of Chopin's Scherzo No. 3 also appeals to Grosvenor. "It's got this intense rhetoric in the beginning section," he explains, "but then it's so contrasting with the sort of chorale-like nature of the second section which has these wonderful cascades coming down the piano. It's got such a wide range of emotion in it!"
The recording closes out with Ravel's "Gaspard de la nuit," a work that Grosvenor's been playing a lot lately, "It's a wonderful piece to perform because each piece is so atmospheric and conjuring up that atmosphere is so much fun to do. There's so much you can draw from the pieces in terms of color and expression." The second movement, "Le Gibet," is very static, according to Grosvenor. As he plays this piece, he often imagines a sun setting behind a rustic gallows on the edge of town.
To offer his best and most intimate performance Grosvenor says he must be in the right state of mind. To get there he follows the advice of his favorite composer, "I think it was Chopin who said this," he recalls, "that you need to be playing as if you're playing to yourself at home. And that's the ideal state to be in."
Since his impressive debut at the world's largest classical music festival last summer, Benjamin Grosvenor continues to gain universal admiration for his poise and maturity as a performer, and this new recording will enhance his reputation.