Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ivan Kiwuwa (b. 1983), Ugandan Pianist & Violinist

We learned of Ivan Kiwuwa from Dr. William H. Chapman Nyaho, pianist, professor and music editor. Born in the U.S. and raised in Ghana, he is profiled at We soon found Dr. Chapman Nyaho's high opinion of Ivan's musical talents is widely shared by audiences and critics.

Nicola Lisle interviewed Ivan Kiwuwa for the article “A Passion for the Piano” in The Oxford Times, May 31, 2007:

Meeting Ivan Kiwuwa is an extraordinary experience. At just 23 years of age, he oozes maturity and self-assurance, and talks about his music with passion and authority. His enthusiasm is infectious, and it is impossible not to be charmed by this young man, who is clearly hovering on the cusp of international stardom.


For Ivan, this talent took root and blossomed in a most unlikely setting. He was born in Uganda in 1983, into a country steeped in traditional African music with little western influence. But he was lucky enough to live close to Kampala Cathedral, one of the few places in Uganda that has a tradition of serious classical music, and he joined the choir at the age of eight, later rising to head chorister.

"I joined the choir mainly because my friend was already a choirboy there," he recalled. "It's one of the very few places where this kind of music happens due to the legacy left by the missionaries. So that's where the classical tradition is, and people go there to practise serious music."

When Ivan's voice broke at the age of 13, he turned to the piano; initially out of curiosity, rather than a conviction that this was the instrument for him.

"I guess every child would be curious at seeing other people playing something," he said. "But, for me, it was made more intense by needing something else to do. I had to grab hold of something and the piano was an instrument I knew about, so I thought I'd try it."

Ivan began studying with Fiona Carr, and a year later took up the violin as well, studying with Isabel Turner. But, despite the fact that he clearly had a natural talent, he received surprisingly little encouragement from family and friends.

"At the beginning, as a choirboy, I had a bit of encouragement from my family, but later on, when I decided to learn and take the piano seriously, it was the opposite, I have to say. It was discouraged because it's not recognised; it's not in the culture.

"My family thought this was taking time out of my normal school and hence was destroying my future, a view which was strongly shared by my school teachers. So I had an uphill struggle. My family even now don't understand what I do."

Ivan was soon to prove them all wrong. Before he reached his 16th birthday, his talent had been spotted at a masterclass with Maxim Vengerov, and he made his concert debut in Germany shortly afterwards, performing Bach's Double Violin Concerto with Vengerov and the Essen Philharmonic Orchestra. The offer of a full scholarship to Wells Cathedral School swiftly followed and he remembers his time there with great fondness.

"Wells is one of the four major music specialist schools in Britain but it has a strong academic side as well. It was a good atmosphere for me and it was interesting because obviously it was such a different culture. It was also my first ever boarding school.

"I remember for the first few days, every time I woke up I thought, this is a dream - it's a long dream. Every day there was something new, and it was very intense, taking it all in."

In 2003, Ivan was awarded a full scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he is now in his final year as an undergraduate and he has already accepted a place on a post-graduate masters course.

He has won numerous prizes and given solo recitals at the Purcell Room and at the National Theatre in Nairobi. Now Oxford beckons. So what does he have in store for local audiences?

"I will be playing Impromptus Op.90 by Schubert, piano sonata in E major by Mendelssohn and piano sonata in A flat major by Beethoven. I always love playing Schubert because of his beautiful, tender melodies and the simplicity of his music. Mendelssohn captures both Schubert qualities, but it has a lot more excitement and furore. Beethoven's depth is something which always speaks directly to the deepest corners of the heart.

"I love composers which my personality and my temperament most naturally associate with, and I think those composers tend to be mainly German and Viennese - Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn. Beethoven, I think, is the hardest composer to play on the piano, but I love the challenge."

On June 13, 2007, The Oxford Times printed a glowing review, “Ivan Kiwuwa, Jacqueline du Pre Music Building”:

'We weren't expecting it to be this full," one of the ushers was saying as we walked into the JDP last week. That's understandable. It is notoriously difficult to get audiences in to hear unknown musicians, especially those who have yet to break through on to the world stage. But for Ivan Kiwuwa's recital on Friday evening, the place was packed.

There is always a danger with publicity that promises great things that the reality will fail to live up to the hype. Fortunately, with Kiwuwa, this was emphatically not the case. From the moment he stepped on to the platform, and noticeably prepared himself mentally before sinking his fingers on to the keys, it was clear we were about to witness something very special; the public unveiling of a new, phenomenal talent.

Schubert's Impromptus Nos. 1 and 2 from Opus 90 were a perfect taster, the first dramatic and exciting, the second restless and full of rhythmic gymnastics. In the programme, Kiwuwa notes that the accessibility of these sonatas has made them a favourite with amateur pianists, but few amateurs, I am sure, would dispense them with such technical dexterity and mastery, best displayed in the shifting textures and harmonies.

Then came a radiant account of Mendelssohn's Sonata in E major, its lyrical quality explored with eloquence and assurance. Two more Schubert Impromptus opened the second half, and the evening was brought to a close with Beethoven's Sonata opus 110 in A flat major, its contrasting moods allowing Kiwuwa to give full rein to his musical energy and virtuosity.

This was an exhilarating and enthralling programme, given by a brilliant but seemingly unassuming young man, who is clearly destined for international stardom. From the moment he starts to play, Kiwuwa becomes completely engrossed in the music, which he imbues with passion, sensitivity and sincerity, giving a deeply committed and informed interpretation and displaying an extraordinary empathy with the composer. Absolutely wonderful.

Pianos For Uganda is a nonprofit organization which collects used pianos in Britain and lends them to schools in Uganda. The Newsletter of the Kampala Music School proudly noted in July 2002 that Ivan became one of the program's first two successes when he began his studies on a full scholarship at Wells Cathedral School in January 2000. Though still in school, Ivan has already performed widely in Europe and Africa.

Ivan+Kiwuwa" rel="tag">Ivan Kiwuwa
Ugandan+Pianist" rel="tag">Ugandan Pianist
Chapman+Nyaho" rel="tag">Chapman Nyaho
African+Pianist" rel="tag">African Pianist
classical+music" rel="tag">classical music
Black+Pianist" rel="tag">Black Pianist

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