Internationally regarded as one of the leading musicians of his generation, classical pianist Paul Lewis received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from Edge Hill University at a ceremony held on the campus.
Recently appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Paul has consolidated his reputation as one of the world’s foremost interpreters of the central European classical repertoire.
The son of a Liverpool docks worker and a local council officer, Paul has not forgotten his roots, regularly performing in the North West. It was here as a young man, Paul supplemented his self-taught hours at the keyboard by eagerly borrowing vinyl recordings of pianists such as Kempf and Brendel from his local library. In recent years he has been outspoken about reforms to education and the consequences of library closures in the area.
Upon receiving his Honorary Doctorate, Paul said: “To receive an award like this is a huge honour. As a pianist, you practice perfecting your craft and never expect to be rewarded for what you do. Growing up just up the road, this Honorary Doctorate means a great deal and really resonates with me.
“It was fantastic to feel the enthusiasm and excitement in the graduation ceremony. The morale of the students and the sense of celebration was great to be part of.”
Instead of giving the standard Honorary speech, Paul gave the audience an intimate performance of one of his favourite Schubert pieces.
“I was asked to prepare a response which is normally a five-minute speech. As I’m not much of a public speaker, it was much easier for me to play for five minutes. Schubert’s thoughtful pieces are something everyone can relate to, and have a unique way of drawing people in,” he said.
Paul studied with Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London before going on to study privately with Alfred Brendel. His numerous awards have included the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist of the Year, two Edison awards, three Gramophone awards, the Diapason D’or de l’Annee, the Preis Der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, the Premio Internazionale Accademia Musicale Chigiana, and the South Bank Show Classical Music award. Paul’s recital career has seen him perform at venues such as London’s Royal Festival Hall, Carnegie Hall in New York, and the Sydney Opera House.
Along with his wife, the Norwegian cellist Bjørg Lewis, he is Artistic Director of Midsummer Music, an annual chamber music festival held in Buckinghamshire, UK. In October 2015, he was appointed joint Artistic Director of the Leeds International Piano Competition.
Reflecting on his incredibly successful career, Paul had the following advice for the Performing Arts graduands:
“Play the long game rather than looking for short term success. Be honest about what you want to do and enjoy it. Never compromise or lose sight of why you set out to do what you are doing,” he finished.
Edge Hill University will award ten Honorary Degrees during its 2016 summer graduation ceremonies. Each of the recipients – leaders in a range of areas spanning film, law, politics, music, education, and philanthropy – will be recognised by Edge Hill for their contributions to society that resonate with the University’s values, teaching and research.