Joanna’s playing is proof that mother knows best

Joanna MacGregor performs at Kelso Music Society on March 2
Joanna MacGregor performs at Kelso Music Society on March 2

WITH Mother’s Day coming up later this month, Joanna MacGregor’s career is testament to the influence a female parent can have on their children.

It is surely no coincidence that Joanna’s mum was a piano teacher who studied at the Royal Academy of Music and schooled her daughter at their north London home.

Around 40 years later, Joanna has become one of Britain’s most celebrated pianists, according to Kelso Music Society president Peter Podmore, who welcomes the 52-year-old for a performance tomorrow night, before she visits Peebles’ Eastgate Theatre on Saturday, March 10.

After her home education, Joanna studied music at Cambridge University and went on to write material for TV programmes.

She then signed a recording deal which led her to make 15 recordings, mostly of 20th century composers but, significantly, also Bach.

Joanna has gone on to have successful musical life, performing in over 60 countries and having worked with conductors such as Pierre Boulez, Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Colin Davis and Michael Tilson Thomas.

Among her other achievements, she has had a play broadcast by the BBC, organised numerous music festivals, launched her own record label and has been given an honorary doctorate from the Open University.

She returned to TV in the mid-1990s, but this time in front of the camera to present a BBC series on young musicians, before she was featured on ITV’s The South Bank Show.

Joanna’s latest project is her appointment as head of keyboard at the Royal Academy of Music last autumn.

She will return behind the piano for tomorrow’s concert, when she performs Bach’s great work, the Goldberg Variations.

Peter said: “The story goes that Count Keyserlinck, who was often sickly and had difficulty sleeping, asked Bach to write some variations of a soft and lively character that his personal musician, one Goldberg, could play for him during his long restless nights to cheer him up.

“The outcome was one of the finest musical masterpieces of all time.

“The 30 variations evolve like a journey, passing through a whole series of events and adventures until they come back to their original theme, quietly and thoughtfully, as if the traveller had opened his front door, sat down in front of his homely fire and was gently contemplating his days away,” explained Peter. As Joanna herself puts it: “Each variation somehow contains the seeds of the next one, until you’re drawn into the deepest part of a labyrinth.

“The music grows complex, and turns dark, weary, tragic.

“But holding tightly onto the thread, we’re out again, back with domestic life, singing the Aria once more. The music is the same, but we have changed.”

Describing his society’s guest, Peter told us: “Joanna MacGregor is a remarkable ambassador for music of many kinds.

“Versatile and innovative, she plays music from Bach and Beethoven to new and experimental music, rock and jazz.

“Bach is one of her special loves and the Goldberg Variations command from her a particular respect.

“It was 20 years before she was able to bring herself to tackle this remarkable work.”

The concert in Kelso High School begins at 7.30pm. Phone 01668 216550 for more details.

The Eastgate Theatre performance starts at 7.30pm. For tickets call 01721 725777.