Excerpts from an article by Emma Crichton-Miller in the
Financial Times magazine ‘How to spend it’ on April 11, 2008
About five or six years ago, a change came over a friend of ours. Christopher Edwards, a shipping consultant working in London during the week, with weekends in the country, used to complain bitterly of his enslavement to the City. He was away from his family four nights a week and, with a stressful workload, couldn’t even enjoy the theatre or the concerts that had once been the consolation of his London life. Now, however, there was new excitement in his voice. Some weeks he even seemed eager to get back to town. Was he having an affair, we wondered? It all became clear over supper in London. He was indeed in the throes of a new romance – but the object of his affections was not some glamorous City banker, but a Bluthner grand piano and the cupid responsible for igniting his amour was the teacher Richard Meyrick.
Edwards has always loved music. His mother had been very musical and he had sat under the piano while she played. He had had piano lessons from the age of five or six until he smashed his hand playing rugby as a teenager. He had then given up: tempted whenever he saw a piano to play again, but too daunted by the fear of playing badly to risk it. At one point, he had even hired a piano but had been too distressed – realising how much he had forgotten and how little he really knew – to persevere. He would play Christmas carols for friends and help his children practise, but had put anything more ambitious to one side. Then, “I saw this feature in a regional newspaper. Richard Meyrick sounded a wacky guy, with his motorbike covered inmusical notes parked outside the Lloyd’s building handing out leaflets.”
Meyrick had set up The Piano Studio in the heart of the City, two minutes from Barbican tube station, in 1998. A much-acclaimed concert pianist with a full recording and recital career, he had contracted throat cancer in 1990. As he was recovering, it occurred to him that therewas probably a business to be made from offering lessons to stressed City workers, whether beginners, lapsed child players or even advanced amateurs. It turned out that there was. Within a short space of time he had 50 or 60 clients – two high-court judges, lots of solicitors, QCs, merchant bankers, insurance company directors, derivatives traders, even financial journalists. Now he has a purpose-built studio containing the aforementioned, much-to-be-lusted-after brand-new Bluthner grand. The Bluthner Piano Centre, which sponsors The Piano Studio, also offers its own Berkeley Square showroom for regular concerts – Edwards is currently wrestling with a Scarlatti sonata for the 10th anniversary concert on June 5.
Edwards says that what Meyrick gives him is “the most incredible intellectual and musical stimulation, which I thought I had left behind at university. I have rediscovered the willingness and capacity to learn.” He had taken along a Chopin nocturne for his first lesson, in great trepidation: “We spent the most stimulating 60 minutes taking apart everything. Richard doesn’t give any quarter, but he is not destructive. After that my head was reeling with ideas and exhaustion.”
Just as exhilarating as his musical advice is Meyrick’s historical and interpretative wisdom: “He explains why things should be played this or that way.” Edwards practises every day: “Even if I am travelling, I practise the fingering on the table.” Meyrick is deliberately flexible with lessons: “I suggest people book five lessons at a time, each about two or three weeks apart. We don’t want lessons to become another cause of stress.” What he is hoping to achieve for his pupils is their independence from him – he gives them practice techniques that mean they can maximise even the most limited time available. That doesn’t mean, however, that theprocess of relearning is entirely stress-free.
As Edmund Noon, a derivatives trader with ABN Amro, put it to me: “I certainly don’t worry about positions and markets when I’m practising, but it is sometimes quite frustrating.” He has been so motivated, however, by Meyrick’s teaching that he sometimes finds himself practising for up to 15 hours a week: “I can tell I’m getting better.”
Unusually for a concert pianist of his distinction, Meyrick teaches absolute beginners. For Richard Hardie, vice-chair of UBS, “My first lesson was literally, ‘This is Middle C.”‘ He was 55, had found himself with a bit of time and decided to realise a lifelong ambition. His mother had been a student at the Royal College of Music and his youngest daughter is verymusical. “The first time I heard a piece of Brahms coming from under my fingers, I was bitten.” Playing the piano even a little bit (“I still find it difficult co-ordinating left and right hands…”) has given him an appreciation he did not have before into what it takes to be a concert pianist: “It’s not just the technical skill, it’s the intense emotional effort…” Although often pressed for time, “even after a hard day’s work, to sit at the piano for 20 minutes and make some progress is the most wonderful thing. You just cannot think about anything else for that time.”
Hardie has been an enthusiastic supporter of UBS’s partnership with the London Symphony Orchestra (both won the BP Arts & Business Sustainability Award 2007 for this 10-year relationship) which, besides the flagship UBS and LSO Music Education Centre, has engendered a whole range of activities and events. He has also engineered the arrival of a new Bluthner grand piano into the UBS foyer, as well as helping to organise a music club for UBS employees, which fields both an 80-strong choir and an orchestra.