Profile: Andrew McVittie, pianist and promoter

Andrew began his musical career learning piano first with Marjorie Smale in Portsmouth and later with Joan Last from the Royal Academy of Music. He has worked with a wide range of musicians and ensembles across the south and is also an experienced presenter and promoter. His most recent project was to facilitate the re-opening of Portsmouth Library’s Menuhin Room along with its Steinway Piano for live classical music performances.

Away from the musical arena, Andrew studied English at Exeter University and also has a Master’s Degree in Corporate Governance, and has held senior positions both in the Post Office and in the further education sector. 

Andrew says, “I would really like to encourage everyone to attend and support as many live music events across the city as they can – it is so important to re-generate now that we are emerging from the shadow of the pandemic. In particular, let’s join together to promote classical music in Portsmouth and the surrounds. There is a wonderful and committed core audience out there (they know who they are!) – but let’s make that group ten times bigger! Why not?”  

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

My parents and teachers were very supportive and patient! Without them, I would probably have given up the piano…at Grade 4, Grade 6, and even at Grade 8. Somehow, they kept me at it and managed to instil in me the discipline to work hard towards a long-term goal.

In the end, I decided to study English Literature at university rather than music. Looking back, I now see that as having been a very positive choice. Although it has meant that music isn’t 100% of my life, I think I enjoy it all the more because of that.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Finding time and space to develop my skills. My busy diary means that there are always compromises to make, which can be very frustrating, particularly when striving to improve. There have been times when I have felt that I am doing nothing well. As a result, these days I perform far less often and try to be selective about the repertoire that I approach.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

As a pianist, I am quite used to working alone or with maybe one or two other instrumentalists. I enjoy that level of musical intimacy and am not always so comfortable in larger groups. I also find satisfaction in working behind the scenes as a promoter and organiser. That said, I really enjoy connecting with an audience and feel quite comfortable performing in front of a crowd – so maybe I am not entirely an introvert!

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity? 

I have always enjoyed Beethoven and his Piano Sonatas. He’s got such a unique and human touch, and such an emotional range. I am working again on his Pathetique Sonata at the moment and re-discovering what a masterpiece it is.

Of course, like many pianists, Chopin is always thereabouts at the top of my list. He’s got such a great understanding of what the piano can do. I would also want to add the later piano works of Brahms. On a busy or stressful day however, I find the music of Bach and other Baroque composers very grounding – it’s therapy!

Which works do you think you are able to perform best, and why? 

Although I love playing core classical repertoire, I also have an affinity with contemporary meditative music, or music that encourages introspection and a connection with nature. I appreciate that for some traditionalists, this type of material can sometimes seem too simple or underdeveloped – but sometimes simplicity is all that is needed.  

Which performances are you most proud of?

Works that I have played from memory. It is something I find difficult to do, often because I don’t have enough time to learn a score in sufficient depth, but when it does happen – and goes well – it can be a wonderful experience. There is something very liberating about not being reliant on a lurking page-turner or iPad. Of course, things don’t always go well and I still have nightmares about a performance of Debussy’s First Arabesque which lasted for 15 minutes rather than 5 as I got stuck in a revolving memory loop!

What are your most memorable experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

Hearing Edvard Grieg’s Morning from Peer Gynt when travelling around Cornwall at an early age It was my first experience of making that link between music and nature. Another strong memory is seeing John Lill play Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata in Portsmouth many years ago – the stature of both the man and the music left a lasting impression.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

I think those musicians aspiring to perform professionally need to think carefully about their choices and expectations. Being a performer can be a wonderful thing but is certainly not an easy career choice. If expectations are too high then that can lead to disappointment and it is also very easy to “burn out” given the discipline and rigour required. Thankfully, there are many other choices for those wanting to pursue a musical career. Be prepared to do more than one thing and find the right place in your life for music.

How would you define success as a musician?

Success should, of course, include some technical proficiency. And scales practice! However, for me, the greatest musicians are those who can find and express the widest range of “colours” in their performances. Great musicians also know how to connect with their audience – I’m not sure if that can really be entirely taught.

Read more about the Menuhin Room concert series.

The Menuhin Room piano
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