Cambridge-based pianist Brenda Ogdon’s latest CD to raise money for Shelter
World renowned Cambridge-based pianist Brenda Ogdon, wife of the late virtuoso pianist John Ogdon, has released new renditions of Ravel’s works, with the royalties from the album going to homeless charity Shelter.
Titled Ravel que J’Aime, the record came out on October 1 and Brenda’s charitable gesture ties in with World Homeless Day, which is this Sunday (October 10). Two preceding singles – Miroirs: II. Oiseaux Tristes and À la manière de Borodine – were released from the album, which marks the most recent chapter of Brenda’s rich musical career.
Brenda also works as a piano teacher, although not as much as she used to, and at present mainly gives classes to adults via Zoom. “The history of this recording is quite chequered actually because of the pandemic,” she explains.
“We were originally scheduled to do this in April 2020, and then the lockdown happened so we cancelled the sessions. We were going to do it all here in Cambridge, at the West Road Concert Hall on a lovely Steinway, and that had to all be postponed.
“We tried desperately to get another date but the university closed down the music school over the summer and the next few months, so it was very difficult. We had to look elsewhere for a studio and we found one in Suffolk, in Alpheton. That was very nice so we used that and I recorded the Ravel finally in November 2020.”
Has the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) always been one of Brenda’s favourites? “No, not always,” she replies, “but he is at the moment. I discovered him fairly recently and I do adore his music actually, it is wonderful.”
The act of generosity in donating all of the album’s royalties to Shelter follows in the spirit of the artist’s previous charity work. In 1993, Brenda established the John Ogdon Foundation – a foundation which completely funded three scholarships for gifted young musicians, allowing them to pursue romantic and contemporary piano to a post graduate standing.
“I feel quite passionately about it [homelessness],” says Brenda, who has performed with, among others, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. “I’ve only lived in Cambridge now for about four years; I don’t know Cambridge very well and then when the lockdown happened it was impossible to get to know it really.
“I used to live in London, near the King’s Road in Chelsea, and I’d walk down the King’s Road and every shop had a homeless person wrapped up in a blanket in their doorway. It was quite distressing. I haven’t seen so much of it in Cambridge but apparently it’s not so good here either. Sky News says that, as a whole, homelessness is going to increase this winter because of the pandemic.”
Despite it sometimes seeming like classical music is ‘under threat’, Brenda, who graduated with honours from the Royal Northern College of Music, where she met her future husband, believes the media “play down” the genre, viewing it, incorrectly in her opinion, as “elite”.
“There are a lot of young people who love classical music,” she says, “and there are some wonderful performers. We’ve just had the Leeds International Piano Competition and the standard of playing was astronomical – it was outstanding, and the winner was outstanding. That has inspired a lot of people.”
Brenda continues: “I think it’s rather sad that in state schools there’s no funding for private one-to-one teaching on an instrument. But I saw Sir Keir Starmer say in a speech that he would reinstate that in state schools, which is wonderful. I think that will make all the difference.”
During her many years in the spotlight, Brenda has performed with André Previn and the Houston Symphony, Neville Mariner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, appeared twice at the Proms, and was honoured to be invited to play in Hong Kong and broadcast on RTHK (the public broadcasting service in the former colony) in 1996 at the time of its handover to China.
She has also played in a number of other countries, including the US, Australia, and the Soviet Union. What was the latter like? “That was something else indeed... The travel was very rough and we always had a KGB person with us translating into English. They were with us night and day,” Brenda recalls.
Brenda has recorded CDs in the past and on the subject of future projects says she would like to pay tribute to her late husband. John Ogdon was also a talented composer. “They need an airing so I’ll probably go for a recording of his compositions,” she says.