Critical superlatives and audience ovations have continuously followed superstar Yuja Wang’s dazzling career. The Beijing-born classical pianist, celebrated for her charismatic artistry and captivating stage presence, and her “combination of technical ease, colouristic range and sheer power has always been remarkable… but these days there is an ever-greater depth to her musicianship, drawing you into the world of each composer with compelling immediacy”, raved the Financial Times.
Born into a family of artists, Yuja began playing the piano at the age of six and was quickly recognised as an exceptional talent, attending the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at 15.
Her international breakthrough came in 2007 when she replaced Martha Argerich as soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Two years later, she signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon and has since established her place among the world’s leading artists with a succession of critically acclaimed performances and recordings with an inquisitive approach to the repertoire which ranges from Mozart to Gershwin. In 2017 she was named Musical America’s Artist of the Year.
Last April, Yuja returned to London’s Royal Festival Hall, dedicating her recital to the memory of the great Romanian pianist Radu Lupu, who died three years earlier. In his Guardian review, Andrew Clements wrote that it was a “flamboyant, brilliantly virtuosic performance, where everything was technically dazzling, every detail crisp and perfectly articulated, with chords exactly weighted and precisely placed… Wang’s play is irresistible.”
Yuja signed and dedicated my sketch after her Festival Hall concert.
Australian-born guitar wizard, Tommy Emmanuel has never had any formal music training, but his natural ability, intrinsic sense of rhythm and charisma has led him to be regarded as the one of the greatest acoustic guitar players of all time. Eric Clapton said he is “the greatest guitar player I ever saw”. The 67 year-old received his first guitar at the age of four. He learned to play the instrument by accompanying his mother and by six he was working professionally with the touring family band. He remembers at that age hearing ‘Mr Guitar’ Chet Atkins play on the radio, which inspired him to become a musician. He wrote fan letters to the American legend and Chet wrote back, encouraging him to visit him in Nashville. He did just that one day in 1980. In 1997 they recorded a Grammy-nominated album, ‘The Dy Finger Pickers Took Over The World, when Chet was 73 years old. “That was a huge highlight of my career,” Tommy recalls. Chet called him one of just a handful of ‘Certified Guitar Players’. Tommy now has the initials CGP embossed on the neck of his guitars.
Fascinated by Chet Atkins musical style, Tommy is known for playing bass lines, chords, melodies and harmonies simultaneously using the thumb and fingers of the right hand. complex fingering technique, energetic performances and the use of percussive effects of the instrument, tapping the guitar’s sound box with his right hand. Electric guitar virtuoso Steve Vai described Tommy as, “Imagine Chet Atkins with the testosterone of Eddie Van Halen.” His acoustic sound is alternately melodic and fiery, bringing energy and drive of rock to a good part of his playing with complex finger arrangements, most often using a thumb pick to accentuate the bass notes or to add heavy strummed chords at select points in his songs. One of my favourites is his rendition of Mason Williams ‘Classical Gas’ – check it out on YouTube. As a solo performer he never plays to a set list and uses a minimum of effects on stage. He usually completes studio recordings in one take. While he primarily plays instrumentals, Tommy does sing the occasional song, joking that it’s “a good way for me to clear the room.”
He has played Aussie-made Maton guitars for most of his career.
After the Covid-19 pandemic hiatus, Tommy eventually made it back to London, playing the Royal Festival Hall in February 2022, where he kindly signed my sketch for me.
The late Marvin ‘Mr Showbiz’ Hamlisch remains one of the most decorated composers in entertainment. One of sixteen people to have won the E.G.O.T.; an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award, only he and Richard Rodgers have added the Pulitzer Prize to this distinguished set of American awards. His 50 plus movie scores range from spoofs such as NAKED GUN to tearjerkers like SOPHIE’S CHOICE and include a memorable Bond tune, ‘Nobody Dies It Better’ from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). With a dozen nominations, Marvin’s three Academy Awards were all won in 1973, two for THE WAY WE WERE and one for THE STING. His 1975 musical, A CHORUS LINE won two Tony Awards, including Best Musical, a Pulitzer for Drama and a Best Musical Olivier for the London production a year later. His four Grammy Awards were also won in 1975, collecting Best New Artist, two for THE WAY WE WERE soundtrack and title song and one for his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’, which featured in THE STING.
After a short illness Marvin passed away in 2012, aged 68. He was in London three years earlier for a two-date gig (“too brief to be called a ‘whirlwind’, he quipped) at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho in August 2009, where he signed for me.
The 89 year-old maestro, John Williams, considered one of the greatest and most influential film composers of all time, producing the most popular, recognisable and acclaimed movie scores over the past seven decades (including JAWS, the STAR WARS sagas, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, ET, THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL,the INDIANA JONES and JURASSIC film franchises and SCHINDLER’S LIST to name only a handful). He has won 25 Grammys, five Oscars, seven BAFTAs, four Golden Globes, three Emmys and a myriad of other accolades, which sums up his spectacular contribution to film music. His 52 Academy Award nominations are the second most by an individual, behind Walt Disney. He has had a long association with Steven Spielberg since 1974 scoring all but five of his feature films.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting the maestro once, when he and George Lucas were at ShoWest in Las Vegas in the 1990s. He was conducting the local symphony orchestra performing a number of STAR WARS medleys. From 1983 to 1993 John was principal conductor of the Boston Pops succeeding Arthur Fiedler. While there he signed a card for me adding the opening few bars of the infamous dum dum dum dum Intro to JAWS. A few years ago I sent this sketch to his agent hoping to get it signed, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible.
John was scheduled to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in October 2018 which gave me an opportunity to get the drawing signed in person, but due to a last minute illness he was unable to attend.
Lithuanian operatic mezzo-soprano and the 2015 International Opera Awards Young Singer of the Year, Justina Gringyte returned to the London Coliseum earlier this year to reprise the titular role in the English National Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN. The exotic and wilful Spanish gypsy girl is Justina’s signature role and considered one of the summits for a mezzo.
After initial studies at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, she continued her learning at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Italy’s Accademia Musicale Chigiana and at the National Opera Studio in London. Between 2011-2013, Justina was a member of the prestigious Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House. During the 2014/15 Opera season she played Maddalena in RIGOLETTO at the Royal Opera House and the Bolshoi Theatre and Hansel in HANSEL UND GRETEL for the Vilnius City Opera, but it was the role of Carmen that dominated that and the following season. She performed it for the ENO, staged at the London Coliseum, the Scottish Opera, the Lithuanian National Opera and the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre known as the ‘Siberian Coliseum.’ She also appeared in semi-staged performances in Moscow and St Petersburg.
The London and Scottish productions were radically different. The ENO’s was very contemporary, set in the 1970’s near the end of Franco’s regime, using the English translation with some edgy character breakdowns… and a few cars. The Scottish production was performed in its original French, set in 1825…. with a few tables. The one similarity: no big flamenco dancing scenes. Richard Bartley in his Spectator review described Justina’s “smokey voiced” Carmen as “terrific.” She also returned to the role for the Lithuanian National Opera from October 2017- May 2018 and again the following year.
Justina signed my sketch at the Coliseum during the final week, which completed its limited run on 27 February, before the coronavirus pandemic closed the West End.
Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall has a simply simple signature. The band’s lead singer and songwriter was described by Q magazine as the “the most prodigious voice this side of Motown”.
Formed in Manchester in 1985, the soul-influenced group has sold over 50 million albums, reaching their peak from 1989 to 1995. They have had ten songs in the Top 10 UK Singles Chart and five No 1 albums. ‘Stars’ (1991) is one of the best-selling albums in UK chart history. ‘Holding Back the Years’ and ‘If You Don’t Know Me by Now’ reached number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Simply Red have won three Brit Awards with Mick winning Best British Male in 1993 and two Ivor Novello Awards, including Songwriter of the Year in 1992 and three Grammy nominations. After a five year hiatus, Simply Red reformed in 2015. Mick also produces wines from his base in Sicily under the label II Cantante’ (The Singer).
He signed his simply black sig on my drawing as he left Wogan House after the band played a cover of Otis Redding’s ‘The Dock of the Bay’ on Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 show on 8 November last year, the same day they released their latest studio album ‘Blue Eyed Soul’.
It took a few attempts to override spellcheck’s efforts to correct my typing of ‘Shakespears Sister’, but I prevailed, enhanching my skills as a serial misspeller. The group’s name was taken from The Smith’s song ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, which was based on a 1928 Virginia Woolf essay and lecture. Delving further, it was apparently misspelt – dropping the final ‘e’ – in a woodcut artwork for the group’s first single sleeve. The apostrophe ‘subsequently surrendered to pop music.’
Anyway, after that rambling intro and a 26 year gap, Shakespears Sister reunited and played at the London Palladium last November as part of the ‘Ride Again Tour’ tour to support their compilation album ‘Singles Party’ and EP ‘Ride Again’. Formed in 1988, initially as a solo act by Irish singer-songwriter and former member of Bananarama, Siobhan Fahey, Shakespears Sister became a duet a year later when Siobhan was joined by American musician Marcella Detroit. Success and accolades followed with two Top 10 albums and a string of hits, including ‘Stay’ which, true to its meaning, stayed at No 1 on the singles chart for eight weeks, winning a 1992 Brit Award for Video of the Year. It also reached the Top 5 in the US. Their second studio album ‘Hormonally Yours’ achieved double platinum in the UK, spending 55 weeks on the charts with three Top 20 singles. It received the 1993 Ivor Novello Award. In May 2019 the duo performed ‘Stay’ on the Graham Norton Show, their first TV performance since 1993.
Siobhan and Marcella both kindly signed my sketch at the London Palladium after their 5 November performance.
One of Britain’s greatest living classical composer-conductors, Sir George Benjamin celebrated his 60th birthday leading the Philharmonia Orchestra in A DUET AND A DREAM at London’s Royal Festival Hall in early March this year. From composing at the age of seven Sir George has become one of today’s most prominent composers, conductors, pianists and music teachers, regularly appearing with some of the world’s leading orchestras and ensembles. Sir George taught composition at The Royal College of Music for sixteen years becoming the first Prince Consort Professor of Composition before succeeding Sir Harrison Birtwistle as the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at Kings College London in 2001. The recipient of numerous international accolades, Sir George’s honours include the Commandeer de l’Ordre des Arts des Lettres and a Knighthood.
He kindly signed my sketch at the RFH after one of the Southbank venue’s last performances before it closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. All concerts have been cancelled until December this year.
Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known simply as Hozier made his international breakthrough with the single ‘Take Me to Church’ and the subsequent music video which highlights the injustices and violence perpetrated against members of LGBT community. It went viral and multi-platinum in several countries, including the UK, US and Canada and was Grammy nominated in 2015 for Song of the Year. It is a mild tempo soul song, with lyrics using religious terminolgy to describe a romantic relationship. “Growing up, I always saw the hypocrisy of the Catholic church”, Hozier said in an interview with Rolling Stone.
Hozier established the organisation ‘Home Sweet Home’ led by celebrities Saoirse Roman and Glen Hansard. In 2016 it illegally took over an office building in Dublin to house 31 homeless families. Last month he realised ‘Jackboot Jump’, with royalties going to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.
In early October last year he had a five-night residency at the London Palladium. “Stunning atmospheric performance leaves the audience mesmerised”, headlined Rachael O’Connor’s review in The Irish Post. Hozier kindly signed my drawing that I left at the stage door.
German operatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann has established himself among the greats. The New York Times described him “as the important tenor of his generation.” The Discover Music website wrote, “Combining the holy trinity of brooding good looks, charismatic stage presence and a powerful and versatile voice.” Jonas began his professional career at Staatstheatre Saarbrucken in 1994. Since then has played all the major operatic roles at all the major venues including his debut at the Royal Opera House in London in 2006-2007 as Don Jose in Bizet’s CARMEN to critical acclaim.
Jonas returned to Covent Garden earlier this year in the Royal Opera’s new production of Beethoven’s only opera FIDELIO as the political prisoner Florestan. In his five star review for The Stage, George Hall wrote, “An announcement excuses Kaufmann for being under the weather, but for his thrilling crescendo on his very first note onwards he is outstanding.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic the run closed in mid March, but Jonas kindly signed my drawing before he left.