Francis Wilson

We asked writer and pianist Frances Wilson to tell us about a performance that has really stood out for her due to its imaginative programming. Here are her reflections, as told to Sean Dunn.

‘I tend to go to concerts less based on who’s playing and more on what’s in the programme’. 


Who and where?

The pianist Inon Barnatan at the Wigmore Hall, back in June 2017. 


This programme stood out through its original and clever exploration of musical variation.

The programme

George Frideric Handel – Chaconne in G major HWV435

Johann Sebastian Bach – Partita No.4 in D major BWV828, II. Allemande

Jean-Philippe Rameau – Premier livre de pieces de clavecin, IV. Courante in A minor

François Couperin – Second livre de pieces de clavecin, Ordre 12 No. 8 L’Atalante

Maurice Ravel – Le tombeau de Couperin, IV. Rigaudon

Thomas Adès – Blanca Variations (UK première)

György Ligeti – Musica Ricercata Nos. 11 & 10

Samuel Barber – Piano Sonata in E flat minor Op. 26, IV. Fuga: Allegro con spirit    

Brahms – Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel Op. 24

Performing the canon 

It can be difficult for musicians when there’s so much w

ell known and regularly played repertoire to try and present it in a new or different way - and sometimes you’re up against a kind of 'cultural gatekeeping' or reverence for the repertoire/traditions of performance practice that may be resistant to doing things differently.

We need musicians to be experimental, in the sense of creating an interesting programme such as the one we’re talking about and being imaginative, because otherwise we’re all going to sound the same.


I think that there can be a feeling amongst young musicians that they need to achieve validation by playing the big, well-known pieces in the repertoire.

It takes real courage to strike

 out and do something different - at the moment, in particular, it's extremely difficult. You want to make your mark and you want to be identified as somebody to look out for. 

I think you have to be very confident to put together a programme such as the Inon Barnatan one. There’s a danger that something like that can appear pretentious or gimmicky so I think one has to be very, very confident and very convinced about something like that in order for it to come across successfully.


Audiences can tell. Audiences are very smart (and I don’t just mean the ones who go to the Wigmore Hall). In general audiences are very perceptive, and they can tell if a performer is not fully convinced about what they’re doing.

Advice for the future...

Fundamentally one has to cling to one’s love of the music and use that as a way of driving one’s ambition, and one’s ability to play well and produce interesting work.

Young performers might have to accept they may need to seek work elsewhere in the profession or outside the profession, and I think that can be very hard.

These musicians have been through the intensive training of conservatoire where it is really all about training to be a performer more than anything else.

We’re in a very difficult time, and a degree and university or conservatoire training is no guarantee of work. So I think one’s ambitions have to be tempered by realism. And so if you’re coming out of music college and you haven't got a job in the profession, that doesn’t stop you still being a musician. And I think retaining that sense of one’s self as a musician is quite important. Even if you’re not performing regularly, you are still a musician.

Click here to read Frances's review of the concert

Frances Wilson, photo credit: James Eppy 

Inon Barnatan, photo credit: Marco Borggreve

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