David Owen Norris is a pianist, composer & broadcaster.
‘Heavenly sounds – diabolical virtuosity. Don’t miss him.’
(CD Compact, Spain)
‘A famous thinker/philosopher of the keyboard.’
‘One of the most iconic personalities in English music of any period.’
‘Quite possibly the most interesting pianist in the world.’
(Globe & Mail, Toronto)
David Owen Norris, the first winner of the Gilmore Artist Award, has played concertos all over North America and Australia, along with several appearances in the BBC Proms. A television programme entirely devoted to his work on the Elgar Piano Concerto, ending with a spectacular live performance of the whole work, has been shown frequently. In January 2016 he recorded his own Piano Concerto in C with the BBC Concert Orchestra. His other concerto recordings include works by Lambert, Phillips, Horowitz & Arnell. Solo recitals, all over the world, have particularly featured the music of Brahms, Schubert, Poulenc, Bax & Elgar: he has recorded all Elgar’s piano music, including his own reconstruction of the magnificent Concert Allegro of 1904, along with Karg-Elert’s transcriptions of the First Symphony & the Symphonic Study: Falstaff, and his own transcriptions of the Pomp & Circumstance Marches.
Norris began his career by accompanying such artists as Dame Janet Baker, Sir Peter Pears & Jean-Pierre Rampal, and has enjoyed long-standing partnerships with Ernst Kovacic (especially notable is their broadcast of the Schumann violin sonatas on Clara Schumann’s own piano), Sir John Tomlinson, and the late Philip Langridge. This spring his ambitious two-disc Sullivan song project appears on the Chandos label, and later the complete songs of Sir William Sterndale Bennett will appear on Avie.
David Owen Norris also plays early pianos. His discovery that the World’s First Piano Concertos were written around 1770 in London for the tiny square piano led to a complete reconsideration of that instrument, with an epoch-making recording, and concerto tours of Britain, Europe and America.
His other early piano recordings include Schubert’s Winterreise with David Wilson-Johnson, one of the earliest recordings (1984) of the piece on a contemporary piano (1826); Schubert’s first song-cycle, the Kosegarten liederspiel of 1815, of which he gave the modern premiere in 1997; Entertaining Miss Austen, a comprehensive selection from Jane Austen’s own music collection; the audio-guide to the Cobbe Collection, playing pianos formerly belonging to JC Bach, JB Cramer, Thalberg & Bizet; and, on Elgar’s piano, a double disc of songs and piano pieces, including the first conception of what eventually became the Cello Concerto.
2017 sees Norris embark upon the Jupiter Project, comprising concerts, workshops, CD recordings and video, relating to the remarkable body of mid-nineteenth-century chamber-music arrangements of Mozart piano concertos, symphonies and overtures.
Norris has been a familiar face on music television since 1990, when he presented The Real Thing?: Questions of Authenticity on BBC2, described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘the most probing and literate programme on music seen for a long while’: its analysis of the issues, in discussion with Pierre Boulez, John Eliot Gardiner, Reinhard Goebel, Ton Koopman & Raymond Leppard, set an agenda for a generation. Norris’s analysis of Jerusalem in the Prince of Wales’s programme on Sir Hubert Parry in 2011 sent critics into unprecedented raptures (‘we need Norris on our screens every week’), and his Chord of the Week – which enjoyed its fourth series last summer – has helped make BBC2’s PromsExtra one of the most watched classical music programmes in the world. Perfect Pianists, which he presented from Chopin’s Pleyel piano, has been shown on BBC4 three times in the last nine months.
His popular Radio 4 Playlist series is often repeated, and on Radio 3 his contributions to Building a Library are keenly relished. Norris has a long history with Radio 3, which discovered him as a young artist: in his first few years as a solo performer he made over two hundred broadcasts. For several years round 1990 he had his own weekly show, The Works, still fondly remembered, and in the middle years of that decade he presented In Tune.
David Owen Norris’s rise as a composer is more recent. Audiences have been discovering his music through a series of major works: the oratorio Prayerbook, the Piano Concerto in C, both recorded commercially, and the Symphony; as well as smaller works, already much loved, like the song-cycles Think only this and Tomorrow nor Yesterday, the cantata STERNE, was THE MAN and the much-toured and frequently broadcast radio-opera Die! Sober Flirter, the last-named a BBC commission. He wrote two large-scale works in 2015: Turning Points, a celebration of democracy supported financially by the Agincourt600 Committee, which had its fourth performance in February 2017 in a packed Winchester Cathedral; and HengeMusic, a multi-media piece for organ and saxophone quartet with film and poetry, supported by Arts Council England, which has had several performances, with a recording in preparation.
David Owen Norris is Professor of Musical Performance at the University of Southampton, and Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Music and at the Royal Northern College of Music. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists (by examination) at the age of nineteen. He was elected one of the three hundred Fellows of the Royal Academy of Music at the age of twenty-nine, and was recently elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He is an Honorary Fellow of Keble College, Oxford.
His unusually varied career has also seen him as a repetiteur at the Royal Opera House, harpist at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Artistic Director of the Petworth Festival & the Cardiff International Festival, Gresham Professor of Music, and Chairman of the Steans Institute for Singers at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago. The Beethoven 9 app for which Norris wrote the book and the analyses won the Best Music App Award in April 2014. His regular monthly columns in the BBC Music Magazine give rise to a steady flow of thoughtful correspondence.
Pictures by Simon Weir, BBC2, and Sue Carverhill.