The world’s best young pianists will descend on Leeds, with fabulous finals and a trail of events across the city.
The Leeds International Piano Competition is one of the world’s most renowned musical competitions. It returns this autumn with a thrilling programme of events, shows and art from Saturday 4th to Sunday 19th September 2021. Even better, many of them are free! The competition itself is incredibly prestigious, offering life-changing prizes for the winners and giving you the chance to see future legends in the making.
This is the 20th edition of the competition, and you can book tickets to see the Second Round heats, the Semi-Finals and the Grand Final. But that’s not all. There’s also a piano trail across the city that brings together a huge number of performances, upcycled piano sculptures and playable pianos colourfully decorated by local artists and community groups. Here’s everything you need to know…
Art, music and events you don’t want to miss
In addition to the Competition, the Leeds Piano Trail will run from Saturday 4th to Sunday 19th September 2021. It offers a truly vibrant programme that includes performances, masterclasses, talks, art and more, popping up all over the city. The air will be filled with the sounds of expert piano playing and the streets will come alive with a riot of colourful pianos and specially created, one-off sculptures. Add pop-ups, musical night walks and ‘learn to play in a day’ lessons, and you won’t know where to start.
Most of these events are free, but they recommend booking, others are paid ticketed events. That includes an evening with Observer food critic – and sometime musician – Jay Rayner at Headrow House, and the gala dinner at the University of Leeds Refectory, where you can dine under the same roof as the competitors and jury. It’s also worth grabbing a ticket for the Dame Fanny Waterman Memorial Concert on Thursday 16th September 2021. That provides a brilliant chance to learn more about the event’s history and hear the 2018 winner, Eric Lu, perform live.
As you wander around Leeds city centre, keep your eyes peeled for all kinds of art inspired by music. Edinburgh’s Pianodrome are in town with ten brand new public sculptures, all made from unwanted pianos, upcycled into art. Check out the six-metre-tall giant elephant tusks outside the Henry Moore Institute or head to the train station for ‘Half of a Piano Cube’ with its three playable pianos. That’s not all – there are also ten more pianos decorated by local community groups and artists on the trail.
Everywhere you turn, someone will be on the ‘Old Joanna’. You can book a free lesson at Kirkgate Market and ‘learn to play in a day’ or scoop your little ones up and take them to the lullaby series of baby yoga at the Carriageworks Theatre. Add talks, free performances, the Leeds Pub Piano Competition, Sunday night jazz sessions at Headrow House and even piano-planting get-togethers for the green-fingered, and it promises to be a magical, musical month!
Get ready for a world class competition
This year’s event promises to be one of the best yet, with 24 contestants drawn from 18 different countries, including two from the UK. Held every three years, The Leeds International Piano Competition was launched by a West Yorkshire piano teacher, Dame Fanny Waterman, in 1963, but by 1966 it was on the BBC. She died a dame at the grand old age of 100, leaving her beloved baby in fine fettle.
So why is The Leeds International Piano Competition so special? It pushes the finest young pianists to their limits with a demanding repertoire, judged by an expert jury. But, for those who come through, the rewards are worth it. This year promises a first prize of £25,000 and the Waterman Gold Medal. That’s far from all, however. The triumphant pianist gets to perform at international concerts, release an EP and more. It’s all part of what makes ‘The Leeds’, as it’s known, the most coveted crown on the piano circuit.
There are great prizes for the runners-up and semi-finalists too, with all the competitors benefitting from the international exposure the contest offers. For you, it’s a chance to see stars in the making. These are no amateur ivory tinklers – many previous winners and contestants have gone on to be globally celebrated musicians. With entrants from as far afield as Kazakhstan, Peru, Canada, South Korea and Iran, it’s also the most diverse line-up the Competition has ever had – and contestants will play in front of expert judges for a chance to be crowned the winner.
Fancy hearing these world-leading pianists live? You can book tickets for the Second Round, from Wednesday 8th to Friday 10th September 2021, or the Semi-Finals, which run from Sunday 12th to Tuesday 14th September 2021. The real hot tickets, however, are for the Finals, which take place within the stunning surrounds of Leeds Town Hall and run across two nights on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th September 2021. Grab your tickets early if you want to see history in the making, and if you can’t make it down, you can stream it for free, listen live on BBC Radio 3 or watch it on BBC iPlayer.