One of Britain’s foremost pianists, Leon McCawley has forged a highly successful career since winning first prize in the 1993 International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and second prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition the same year. Since then, his concert performances and extensive discography have established him as a pianist of great integrity and variety, bringing freshness and vitality to Classical, Romantic and 20th century repertoire. His recent CD of Schubert Piano Music for SOMM Recordings is no exception: ‘Here is an album communicated with such tenderness, naturalness and sincerity’ (5 star review in Classica Magazine, March 2019) and ‘McCawley knows how to gauge mood and colour. This is strong Schubert playing, the sort we might have had from Backhaus or Serkin.’ (Classical Ear, November 2018).
McCawley has been praised for the purity of his lyrical and heartfelt playing. An acclaimed exponent of Mozart, he has performed and recorded (Avie Records) the complete cycle of Mozart piano sonatas in winning interpretations: ’There’s absolutely no vanity in his playing, which is bright, clean and unfailingly communicative. In his hands the Mozartian oeuvre emerged with striking vividness’ (International Piano). Notable recitals in past seasons include: London Piano Series at Wigmore Hall (where he is a regular performer), four invitations to International Piano Series at London’s Southbank Centre, New York’s Lincoln Center, Hong Kong Arts Festival and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. He can be frequently heard on BBC Radio 3 both in performance and interview with recent broadcasts including In Tune, Wigmore Hall Lunchtime Series and Performance on 3.
As a concerto soloist, Leon performs with many leading British orchestras including the BBC Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National and Ulster Orchestras, Bournemouth and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras and Royal Northern Sinfonia. He makes his sixth appearance at the BBC Proms in August 2019 performing John Ireland’s Piano Concerto with BBC Concert Orchestra/Bramwell Tovey. Further afield, McCawley has made concerto appearances with, amongst others, Cincinnati, Dallas, RTÉ National and St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestras, Malaysian and Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestras and Philadelphia Orchestra and has worked with conductors such as Mark Elder, Andrew Litton, Kurt Masur, Gianandrea Noseda, Sakari Oramo and Simon Rattle.
Highlights of the 18/19 season included return engagements with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Hilary Davan Wetton at London’s Cadogan Hall (Mendelssohn 1) and Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias/Hans Graf (Schumann) in Oviedo and Gijón plus UK recitals of the three late Beethoven sonatas at Wigmore Hall (celebrating the 25th anniversary of his debut there in 1994), Manchester’s Stoller Hall, a BBC Radio 3 live broadcast recital in Belfast and Cambridge’s Camerata Musica Series. He returned to Bergen as jury member of the International Edvard Grieg Piano Competition in September 2018.
He studied at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester with Heather Slade-Lipkin before continuing his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia with Eleanor Sokoloff. He also received invaluable guidance from Nina Milkina in London.
A keen chamber musician, he has enjoyed fruitful collaborations with a range of ensembles and musicians at many prestigious concert venues including BBC Proms Chamber Series, BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Series at Wigmore Hall and Aldeburgh, Brighton, Cheltenham, Edinburgh and Westport festivals. He performed in Music for Galway’s Midwinter Festival in January 2019.
McCawley’s discography includes: Schumann Piano Music (Avie Records), an Editor’s Choice in Gramophone; The Complete Piano Works of Hans Gál (Avie), also a Gramophone Editor’s Choice; The Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas (Avie) awarded a Diapason d’Or; Chopin Piano Music (SOMM Recordings) ; Barber Piano Music (SOMM), a Critic’s Choice in Gramophone in November 2011; Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with Royal Philharmonic and City of London Choir/Hilary Davan Wetton (Naxos); Brahms Piano Music (SOMM), selected as Classic FM CD of the Week in July 2012; Schumann Piano Music (SOMM); Rachmaninov Complete Preludes (SOMM); Vaughan Williams Double Piano Concerto with John Lenehan and Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates (Dutton Epoch), described as ‘not been better served on record before’ and awarded 5 stars by BBC Music Magazine; Haydn Sonatas and Variations (SOMM) awarded a Diapason d’Or; Stanford’s Piano Concerto in B flat with Royal Northern Sinfonia/Martin Yates (Dutton Epoch); and Schubert Piano Music (SOMM). His eighth disc for SOMM of Haydn: Sonatas Volume 2 will be released in September 2019.
Leon McCawley is professor of piano at London’s Royal College of Music. He is married to the painter Anna Hyunsook Paik.