Angela Hewitt: Checked Baggage

© James Cheadle
Angela Hewitt is a woman with a lot of baggage. 
Not that kind of baggage! Ms. Hewitt is far from neurotic. Judging from all reports and appearances, and personal conversation, she is thoroughly down-to-earth and professional, gracious,  organized, an anti-diva altogether. 
No, I'm talking about actual baggage. The suitcase that has been unpacked, she says, "maybe once in the last three years", what with her almost non-stop touring schedule and her travels back and forth between homes in Ottawa, London and Umbria (where she runs her annual Trasimeno Music Festival). I am told she always carries her own bags.

And then there is the metaphorical suitcase that holds her outsize repertoire, somewhat notorious among pianists, and always expanding, driven by her unstoppable appetite and energies. 
All the Bach keyboard works. 
The Beethoven Sonatas. 
The Mozart Sonatas. 
All of Schumann, give or take. 
Chopin: check. 
Debussy, Ravel, Liszt, Brahms... 
And her massive concerto repertoire as well. 

Extra handling fees may apply.

When asked how she does it - touring with as many as twenty recital programs per season, putting out four new recordings a year, managing the curatorship and heavy-rotation playing at the Trasimeno festival (she'll be playing seven different programs at the festival alone this summer), she says "I just work very hard", and laughs "I really don't do much else". But even so, the reconciling of the working very hard and the getting there is in itself a challenge. The demands of present-day air travel being what they are, the time and the energy involved in getting from point A to point B are considerable, taxing and unpleasant, and a major component of the artist's life. She says she "doesn't waste time on board the plane", using those transit hours for studying scores, writing liner notes, and planning concert programs, as we all do (although I argue that the time can also be well spent obsessively watching an entire season of Downton Abbey, just for example).

But back to the luggage. 

On Angela's website, an upcoming event caught my eye: a benefit for her Trasimeno festival featuring an exhibit of her concert gowns, including the very first one, custom made for her at age nine. (The photo here shows one worn at age 15). The preservation of four decades worth of concert gowns is further evidence of organizational skills (and good closets), and made me wonder about favorite dresses, packing challenges, and the pleasures and perils of dressing for the concert stage (more on that coming up soon On the Bench...). Angela says that some favorite keepers have come from Alberta Ferretti, Roberto Cavalli, and other European designers, that she has one dress she sewed herself, and that she is grateful for the current unstructured, minimalist styles, a big improvement on the "old days" of the complicated, poufy, and hard-to-pack dress. 
A very hard dress to pack.

Much better.
But aside from the necessities and complications of packing for different audiences, repertoire and climates, one senses that it's the second bag that is more important to Hewitt - the figurative (hopefully rolling, hopefully soft-sided and infinitely expandable) suitcase that carries her tremendous collection of repertoire new and old. That collection  is central to her identity as a musician, and to her musical satisfaction. It represents both the souvenirs amassed during all these years of traveling, and the legacy of a life spent, from the very beginning, devoted to the pursuit of music. 

The ability to navigate comfortably among many different recital programs, chamber music collaborations and concerto performances in short periods of time requires constant exercising of the musical muscles, and Angela's commitment to such flexibility and productivity is evidence of habits developed early on. She recognizes her range of repertoire as "probably much bigger than most pianists - I'm not one to tour with one program at a time", and she cites the voracious consumption of new repertoire during her youngest years as a critical phase of her development. She wishes that every young pianist would recognize the importance of taking advantage of youthful elasticity and capacity to stockpile vast amounts of repertoire. "That's when they should be learning it, all of it." she says. "They'll play it differently later on, hopefully, but now is when they should be acquiring the repertoire". We spoke about the staying power of those pieces learned well and thoroughly, long ago, the interesting sensation of bringing them back and brushing them up  - the  way that we can access those ingrained memories very differently from music learned more recently. "The old file is in there somewhere - it just has to come out, and usually you know when it's ready."

I think that the fascinating thing about that resurfacing of the old information is that it comes with layers of new and different understandings each time around. That’s one of the great pleasures of making and remaking music.

For Angela Hewitt, the opportunities for reconsideration and renewal within her vast musical inventory come frequently, thanks to the scope and range of her concert schedule. And this, maybe, is why it is so worth it to keep packing those bags, getting on another plane, and putting on another dress.

This month, both East and West Coasters can hear Angela Hewitt in U.S. recital dates: at Shriver Hall in Baltimore today, Sunday May 6, in Salem Oregon on Sunday the 13th, and in Seattle at the UW Presidents Piano Series on Tuesday the 15th.


  1. My son gave me the Hyperion collection of Angela Hewitt playing Bach!
    What a wonderful present! And what a wonderful pianist!

  2. Thank You Very Much Lara for posting this interview.
    I am always thrilled to see and hear Angela play. In addition to her marvelous style and tones that she gets out of a piano she has a wonderful way of explaining things to the audience and takes the time to do it from the stage.
    Best Regards,
    George Landau