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LARA JONES POISED FOR TAKE-OFF (article first published : 2003-11-4)

Durban born pianist Lara Jones, already one of South Africa's finest musical exports, is clearly poised for a distinguished career on the international concert circuit.

For the past four years Lara has been based in Cologne, one of the cultural nerve centres of Europe. She recently scooped top honours by attaining 98% in her Masters graduation performance, one of the highest exam scores in the history of the famed Cologne Music Conservatory.

A longstanding favourite with local concert audiences in Durban where she made her first appearances at the tender age of 11, Jones' recent achievement is doubly remarkable as her musical contemporaries in Cologne are drawn from top music schools around the world. Watching a video of her in action, tackling the grueling programme for her graduation recital this past July, one experiences her running the gamut of concert pianism across the spectrum of three centuries' repertoire with seeming ease.

She displays all the benefits of a hard-won, superbly honed technique that clearly now can sustain a major career. Married to this is a highly evolved degree of interpretive integrity found only among the most insightful artists, a rare quality that has characterised her playing increasingly in recent years. One marvels at the lustiness and joie de vivre with which she imbues Beethoven's Opus 33 Bagatelles; at the chaste, linear purity of her Bach in a performance of the Prelude and Fugue in G minor that exudes deep communication with one the world's great musical minds. At the close-to-the-surface passion that ignites her playing in the outer movements of Mozart's great A minor Sonata, offsetting with her contained gravity in its central Andante.

Equally fine are her appreciation of the mellow hues and rich textures of Schubert's Sonata Opus 42, and her multifaceted but enchantingly simple rendering of the Chopin F Major Etude Op 10 No 8. Without apology she evokes shades of Lipatti or Perahia. Strong words? Seeing and hearing is believing.

But most astonishing perhaps is the surefire confidence with which La Jones launches herself at the two final, terrifying hurdles of her pianistic steeple chase: Liszt's fearsomely demanding La Leggierenezza from his Trois Etudes de Concert, and Prokofiev's A minor Sonata Op 28, one of the great tests the 20th century repertoire.

Both works take flight in the playing, technical hazards swept aside with a fiery abandon new to the Jones arsenal. The Liszt is imbued with gossamer fine delicacy. The Prokofiev performance has a steely strength and focus that belie the pianist's diminutive physical resources, fully in the manner of the great Alicia De Larrocha. The imprint of the legendary Spanish pianist on Jones' now mature performance capacity is hardly surprising, considering the close rapport that was struck during her coaching sessions with the young South African pianist over the past year.

Jones counts herself fortunate in her teachers, dating back to her infancy and her much publicized early pupil-teacher relationship with the late Ethel Kerkin, for many years one of South Africa's finest keyboard pedagogues. Lara was the last pupil to be taught by Kerkin (her other illustrious protégée was the late Marc Raubenheimer, whose international career ended with his demise in a plane crash in Spain in the mid 1980s).

David Tidboald, entrusted with Lara's musical education following Kerkin's death, oversaw her musical development through her teens, conducting her first solo appearances with the Natal Philharmonic, as well as concert engagements in Cape Town. Under Tidboald's baton, she performed concertos by Mozart, Chopin, Ravel and Schumann, among others, paving the way for an assured take-off into her intensive training and performance experience in Germany

In April 2001 Lara made her European debut playing Chopin´s first Piano Concerto in a series of three concerts in the south of Germany with the Schwäbisches Jugendsinfonie-Orchester under Christian Pyhrr. In July of the same year, she performed Mozart´s A Major Piano Concerto K488 in Bad Wiessee, Germany and repeated this work with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in September the same year. Apart from her many solo performances, she has also worked together with other musicians, and in the year 2000 toured Poland and Norway with the German soprano Josephine Pilars de Pilar, performing Lieder and Opera arias. In South Africa, she has also taken part in chamber music evenings with various other South African musicians.

For the past three years Lara has studied under Polish Professor Roswitha Gediga in Cologne, culminating in the past July's sensational performances. Ahead lie further honours as she has just been invited as one in thousands of contestants to undertake the highly sought-after Konzertexam in Cologne, an honorary two-year post graduate course with the professor of her choice, to prepare for a career as a concert pianist.

"They only accept three in Cologne so I was very fortunate to get in," says Lara with characteristic modesty. "What a wonderful feeling not to be just one in thousands."

Lara flies into Durban next week for a lightening two weeks of performances in her home city. Presented by Music Revival and the University of Natal's Music School, she teams with her locally based colleagues and fellow virtuosi, Christopher Duigan, Andrew Warburton and Benjamin Fourie for an extravagant pianistic bash at Howard College on November 8 to raise funds for a new Piano Student Bursary.

Also scheduled are a recital at Kearsney College on November 6, and her appearance on November 13 as soloist with US conductor Leslie Dunner in Mozart's final and most sublime piano concerto, No 27 in B flat Major (K 595) during the KZNPO's Spring Season at the Durban City Hall. Her final appearance this visit will be at the Durban Jewish Club on November 18 for Friends of Music's Marc Raubenheimer Memorial Recital.

Booking for all the above is through Computicket. Watch press for further details.




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