Helga and Paul at his “retirement concert” in May 2016

A special evening for Algarve culture

There have been many memorable musical evenings in the star-studded 28-year history of the Amigos de Música, the Algarve’s leading cultural organisation, but none quite so special as this. On Tuesday evening last week, world renowned British pianist Paul Crossley came out of retirement to celebrate his 75th birthday with the Amigos. He gave his friends a unique recital and, in return, they gave him their admiration and adoration.

Paul Crossley, CBE, was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, and learned from the legendary piano teacher Dame Fanny Waterman. While a student at Mansfield College, Oxford, he was discovered by Olivier Messiaen, who heard him play and immediately invited him to Paris to study with him. Crossley’s career was particularly associated with the music of Messiaen and the French repertoire in general, as well as a number of British composers, such as Michael Tippett who wrote his third and fourth piano sonatas for Paul.
In 1973, at the age of 29, Paul gave the world première of Tippett’s 3rd Sonata at the Bath Festival, and overnight achieved world recognition as a major pianistic talent.

Paul has performed in every European capital (except Athens), as well as most other major music venues in the classical world, and has worked with virtually all of the major orchestras and conductors of the past 50 years.

Paul Crossley’s discography of over 50 recordings have won many major awards and include the complete piano works of Ravel, Debussy, Fauré, Franck, Poulenc, Janáček, Tippett and Takemitsu. In addition to his playing career, Paul scripted and presented a series of TV documentaries for Channel 4 entitled “Sinfonietta” and “Sinfonietta II”, about Liszt, Ravel and a number of leading 20th century composers. From 1988 to 1994, he was Artistic Director of the London Sinfonietta.

In 1991, Paul was made an Honorary Fellow of Mansfield College and in 1993 he received his CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Paul has a long history with the Amigos. His first recital in the Algarve was in 2002 and, since then, he has appeared at least seven more times, most notably in 2004 at two recitals dedicated to the recently deceased Volker Huber, in 2005 when he inaugurated the Amigos’ new Yamaha grand piano (in the acquisition of which he had been instrumental – forgive the pun) and in 2009 when, in addition to two recitals, Paul gave Master Classes to six young aspiring Portuguese pianists invited by the Amigos.

At the end of his May 2016 recital, Paul announced, to the surprise and dismay of his Amigos’ audience, that he had just given them his last public performance and he was retiring forthwith. Most unfortunately, his increasingly arthritic hands would no longer allow him to practice and play for extended periods or to stretch for the octaves so necessary in many pieces.

True to his word, he has not given any more public performances and has spent much of the past three years either travelling the world with his partner, John Brakband, or at their villa in Lanzarote. But old age is a foreign country that Paul has not yet visited.

Recently he phoned his good friend Helga Hampton, long-time President of the Amigos, and offered to come out of retirement to celebrate his 75th birthday in the Algarve by playing for his friends. She accepted this honour with alacrity!

And so he did – playing Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Chopin in a one-off programme of great thoughtfulness, intensity and virtuosity. It was meant to be an hour, but with multiple encores including Poulenc and, finally, “Evening in Transylvania” by Bartok, Paul played on and on. The audience was enraptured, feeling they had witnessed something truly memorable, and gave Paul a long-standing ovation.

After which everyone repaired to the beautiful outdoor terraces of Os Agostos, the Amigos’ treasured home venue, to drink some bubbly, share a wonderful repast, including a birthday cake, and sing Happy Birthday to a truly great musician. The sun slowly set on an extraordinary evening.

The Amigos de Música’s final programmes of the 2018-19 season will be on June 11 and 13 at Os Agostos, featuring Anglo-Russian pianist and composer Alissa Firsova and British violinist Daniel Rowland. As a part of both concerts, Alissa and Daniel will give the world première of a composition entitled “Algarvia”, especially commissioned from Alissa by the Amigos. The two events are open to the public (see next week’s edition for full details). For reservations, email [email protected]


A – Paul Crossley playing Tchaikovsky during his birthday concert this month
Helga Hampton, President of the Amigos de Música, giving Paul Crossley flowers after his recital
Helga and Paul looking at Paul’s 75th birthday cake
Helga Hampton, Paul Crossley and John Brakband in Lanzarote, January, 2016
Paul Crossley with four of his Master Class students in October 2009
Helga and Paul at his “retirement concert” in May 2016