Paul Lewis: ‘Schubert writes something that comes from another planet’

Pianist Paul Lewis discusses his love of classical music and his journey with Schubert’s music.

Paul Lewis was 13 years old when his father, Ken, was laid off from his job as a docker for the port of Liverpool. These were the mid-1980s, a hard time on Merseyside, where the deindustrialisation of Britain took an especially ruthless toll in an Atlantic city built proudly upon shipping and shipbuilding. Lewis had been born and raised in the outlying community of Huyton (eight years older than a neighbour – and also master of his craft – called Stevie Gerrard). For a while, Lewis’s mother, Theresa, was the family wage-earner, keeping down a job at the housing benefit offices of Knowsley district council.

The schoolboy Lewis had, though, by this time already chosen his path in life, and there was nothing the ravaging of Liverpool could do to stop him. Since the age of eight, he had been making visits to the local public library to borrow albums of the music he had discovered all of his own accord, and come to love and understand: that of Beethoven, Mozart – and Schubert. Days and evenings poring over spinning vinyl, and tape-recording the classical repertoire, were the beginnings of a career that has made Paul Lewis the most illustrious and talented British-born pianist for generations. This year Lewis crowned nearly a decade of intensive concentration on Beethoven’s music to become the first pianist to perform all the piano concertos at a single season of the Proms, and released an acclaimed box set of them, following a set of the sonatas.

Now, Lewis turns his attention to the work of the quintessential romantic figure, who himself adored Beethoven: Franz Schubert.

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