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“One of today’s most impeccably musical pianists.” International Piano, January/February 2021

Praised for his unfailingly communicative playing, British pianist Leon McCawley has been delighting audiences worldwide since winning, in 1993, First Prize in the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and Second Prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition. His many concert performances and extensive discography have established him as a pianist of great integrity and variety, bringing freshness and vitality to Classical, Romantic and 20th century repertoire. McCawley’s latest CD of Haydn Sonatas Volume IV for SOMM Recordings is no exception: “There is real freshness to McCawley’s playing throughout, concomitant with a sense of Haydn’s delight in playing with form. Captured in superb sound, this is one of McCawley’s finest discs to date”. (International Piano, December 2021).

An acclaimed exponent of Mozart, he has performed and recorded (Avie Records) the complete cycle of Mozart piano sonatas in winning interpretations: “There’s absolutely no vanity in his playing. In his hands the Mozartian oeuvre emerged with striking vividness” (International Piano). Notable recitals in past seasons include: London Piano Series at Wigmore Hall (where he is a regular performer and in the 21/22 season was Artist-in-Residence), four invitations to International Piano Series at London’s Southbank Centre, Hong Kong Arts Festival, New York’s Lincoln Center, Singapore International Piano Festival and Piano Visions series at Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. He can be frequently heard on BBC Radio 3 both in performance and interview with recent broadcasts including In Tune, Wigmore Hall Lunchtime Series and Performance on 3.

As a concerto soloist, Leon has performed with many leading British orchestras including the BBC Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National and Ulster Orchestras, Bournemouth and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras and Royal Northern Sinfonia. He made his sixth appearance at the BBC Proms in August 2019 performing John Ireland’s Piano Concerto with BBC Concert Orchestra/Bramwell Tovey which was televised on BBC4. Further afield, McCawley has made concerto appearances with, amongst others, Cincinnati, Dallas, Fort Worth, RTÉ National and St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestras, Malaysian and Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestras, Philadelphia Orchestra and Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias and has worked with conductors such as Hans Graf, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Domingo Hindoyan, Kurt Masur, Rossen Milanov, Robin Ticciati and John Wilson.

Highlights of the 2023/24 season include a return solo recital at Wigmore Hall, a debut recital at the En Blanco y Negro Piano Festival in Mexico City with further Mexico performances in Monterrey (Sala Beethoven Festival) and Torreón’s Teatro Isauro Martinez.

Leon studied at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester with Heather Slade-Lipkin before continuing his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia with Eleanor Sokoloff. He also received invaluable guidance from Nina Milkina in London.

As a collaborative musician, he has performed at many prestigious concert venues including BBC Proms Chamber Series, BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Series at Wigmore Hall and Aldeburgh, Brighton, Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Galway and Westport festivals. He recently performed at the Lofoten International Chamber Music Festival in Norway in July 2023 and will return to Westport Festival in September 2024. 

Leon has appeared as juror and adjudicator of many competitions including at The International Edvard Grieg Piano Competition, BBC Young Musician, Royal Over-Seas League Competition and at the Feis Ceoil in Dublin. In November 2023 he will be on the jury of Les Étoiles du Piano International Competition in Roubaix, France.

McCawley’s discography includes, on Avie Records, a double disc of Schumann Piano Music (Editor’s Choice in Gramophone); The Complete Piano Works of Hans Gál (also a Gramophone Editor’s Choice); and The Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas (awarded a Diapason d’Or); Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and City of London Choir/Hilary Davan Wetton (Naxos Records); Vaughan Williams Double Piano Concerto with John Lenehan and Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates (awarded 5 stars by BBC Music Magazine) and Stanford’s Piano Concerto in B flat with Royal Northern Sinfonia/Martin Yates (Dutton Epoch); and ten albums on SOMM Recordings that include Chopin Piano Music; Barber Piano Music (Critic’s Choice in Gramophone); Brahms Piano Music  (Classic FM CD of the Week); Schumann Piano Music; Rachmaninov Complete Preludes; Haydn: Sonatas and Variations (awarded a Diapason d’Or): Schubert Piano Music; and three further volumes of Haydn Sonatas. His next disc for SOMM is a compilation album of nature-inspired piano works entitled ‘Natural Connection’ and will be released in January 2024.

Leon McCawley has been professor of piano at London’s Royal College of Music since 2008. He is married to the painter Anna Hyunsook Paik.

(Biography last updated 11th September 2023)