Dame Fanny Waterman Delights RCM Staff and Students

Dame Fanny Waterman Delights RCM Staff and Students

Dame Fanny Waterman, co-founder and Chair of the Leeds International Piano Competition, has just completed a two-day residency at the Royal College of Music, during which she was reunited with some old friends. Colin Lawson, Director of the RCM, is a former student of Dame Fanny’s, and Head of Keyboard, Vanessa Latarche, and Tutors Dmitri Alexeev and Leon McCawley, competed in ‘The Leeds’ early in their careers. Alexeev won the competition in 1975 and has returned twice as a juror, and McCawley took second prize in 1993.

Dame Fanny herself was a student at the Royal College of Music, having won a scholarship in 1941. Dame Fanny held an informal class for students in the teaching room of Vanessa Latarche on Monday 26th February, and then delivered a lecture entitled ‘My Life of Teaching: From the Very Young to Prizewinners of Major International Piano Competitions’ and masterclass the following day.

Dame Fanny’s talented seven year old pupil Han Zhao played Bach's 'Two Part Invention in F major' during the lecture and demonstrated many aspects of Dame Fanny's teaching.

Alongside RCM students, Dame Fanny’s co-founder of the competition, Marion Thorpe and Dame Janet Baker (LIPC Patron) were also present for the masterclass, as was Lady Solti - wife of conductor George Solti - who donates the fifth prize to ‘The Leeds’. Other VIPs included RCM Chairman Professor Lord Winston and Lady Lipworth.

Dame Fanny Waterman said:

“The Royal College of Music is very dear to me. In 1941 I won the Mathilde Verne scholarship, worth £50 a year for three years, to study at the Royal College of Music with one of the greatest pianists of the day, Cyril Smith. The teachers here were then, and still are, remarkable people.

In my opinion teaching is the greatest profession in the world – one cannot become a doctor, a lawyer or indeed a musician without teachers to guide and inspire us. I love the one to one relationship and involvement which exists between my pupil and myself. We are in partnership together and we become great friends.

Indeed, it was the RCM that made me a teacher. The then Director, Sir George Dyson, Colin Lawson’s predecessor, summoned a few of us to his room to tell us we were to be enlisted because of our age group into the Woman’s Land Army but he advised us to apply for a teaching post which was a reserved occupation –  so here I am!”

 Professor Colin Lawson, Director, Royal College of Music, said:

 “The RCM was thrilled to welcome celebrated alumna Dame Fanny Waterman FRCM for an inspirational visit of classes and cultural insight. I offered some reminiscences of my first meeting with Dame Fanny some 45 years ago, commenting on the relationship of rhythmic and musical sensibilities that Dame Fanny had prioritised at that time in her coaching."

He added:

“At the end of the visit – which happened to take place on Mozart’s birthday – we were delighted to present her with a facsimile of the autograph score of Mozart's Piano Concerto K491, one of the treasures of the RCM library.”

Vanessa Latarche, Head of Keyboard, Royal College of Music, said:

“Staff, students and visitors marvelled at the remarkable energy of the legendary Dame Fanny Waterman FRCM. She gave us a wonderful insight into her life of teaching with demonstrations in her masterclass involving many people from the distinguished audience present, including Dmitri Alexeev, Peter Frankl and Dame Janet Baker. It was a memorable day for us all.”

The Leeds International Pianoforte Competition – or ‘The Leeds’ as it is affectionately known – was founded in 1961 by Dame Fanny Waterman and Marion Thorpe CBE. It has gone on to become one of the most respected piano competitions in the world, and has launched the careers of numerous pianists including Michael Roll, Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Dmitri Alexeev, András Schiff and Sunwook Kim.

Photo: Chris Christodoulou