Breaking: Competition chair stands down, at 95

Breaking: Competition chair stands down, at 95


norman lebrecht

December 16, 2014

It’s about to be announced that Dame Fanny Waterman will retire as chairman and artistic director of the Leeds Piano Competition after next year’s round in September. Dame Fanny will be 95 in March 2015.

Dame Fanny Waterman c. Andy Manning (2009)

photo: Andy Manning, 2009


A piano teacher, she founded the competition in 1961 at a time when no international music contest took place in the UK. Her partners were her husband, Geoffrey De Keyser, a respected GP, the pianist Marion Harewood (later Thorpe) and the investor Jack Lyons. The first winner was a local sixth-former, Michael Roll. The next three were Rafael Orozco, Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia.

Dame Fanny set the standards, raised the funding, picked the judges and drove the media. The competition is entirely her creation. When I last saw her, she was planning to go on past 100.

Dame Janet Baker, her close friend and the competition’s patron, writes: ‘It has been a privilege to watch this courageous, indomitable lady hold on to the values on which she built this competition. They are the reason it is held in such respect, and why she has been able to count on the financial support of its benefactors for so many years. She has helped young musicians fulfil their promise, something dear to her heart and has guided “The Leeds” to its present international reputation because of her integrity, her passion, her personal charisma and infinite capacity for hard work.’



  • Darren says:

    better late then never, they say.

  • Peter Donohoe says:

    That news has made me very sad.

    Dame Fanny Waterman is, and always has been, one of the most opinionated and intractible people in the music world. However, she has also been one of the most inspiring, determined and creative.

    She created a competition in a city – in fact, in a country – where there had previously been none. She did more for the cultural activity of Leeds over the past fifty years than could possibly have been foreseen. That she has had a reputation for ruthlessness has been a symptom of her determination to put her city and her competition on the world musical map, something she succeeded in far more than even she could have imagined. The Leeds very quickly became one of the three or four most significant competitive events in the piano world. It was also one of the best organised, with an army of extremely generous and genuine friends and helpers who made the competitors feel very welcome. My own experience as a competitor was a very happy one, until the final results at least.

    What will become of the L.I.P.C.? As has been mentioned many times, DFW WAS the Leeds. As with similar situations elsewhere, not just in the competition world, the upside of the vision of one person coming to pass through that person’s total authority and energy has a downside: whoever takes the position over has an enormous job to do. In the UK, musical awareness amongst the general public and the hence the media is – to say the least – in a different place to when Dame Fanny founded the competition; to step into the shoes of someone so indomitable as she will be an enormous task. I wish him/her the best of all possible wishes in that endeavour.

    I also wish Dame Fanny a happy retirement from her extraordonary creation. By my calculation, she was 42 when she started the competition; to then go on at the helm for another 53 years is an incredible achievement.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    I agree totally with Peter, and suppose she is entitled to make that decision-at 95, anyone would be. I remember meeting Fanny and Geoffrey in NYC at the apartment of mutual friends of my teacher, Adele Marcus, whom Fanny knew well. I played for her briefly, it was Mozart’s K. 457. I remember her tremendous energy, stressing balance of voices, tone production and singing lines. She also gave her teaching handbook to me (which many people might remember), and said, ‘you reeellyy SHOULD kom to Leeds, Jeffrayyy!’–so I did. It was a marvelous experience, unnerving of course, as I was still quite young at 23. Unfortunately, I missed the finals by one-half point, with Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto, but created new friendships (Anton Nel and I STILL have to finish the ping pong tournament! Oddly, after falling ill between rounds, I watched repeats of Valerie Harper in ‘Rhoda’ in the infirmary before round 2’s Liszt Sonata and Copland Variations.) The Leeds was and still maintains its rank as one of the most significant breeding grounds of new talent. The standard of playing Fanny has attracted worldwide has always been on the highest level, and her indomitable spirit and energy is, perhaps, the cause and reason the LIPC has stayed so strong. I hope it continues in this fashion.
    Fanny is bigger than life, and always assembled a large illustrious jury, and if you search her name, you will find YouTube videos preserved as a legacy, and her piano music books as well. I hope she stays well and her legacy will keep the LIPC around for many years.

  • john humphreys says:

    A powerful presence on the UK’s musical scene – from what I gather (from former pupils) as divisive as instructive as a teacher. An astonishing achievement though (the competition).

  • Peter Donohoe says:

    P.S. As Tom Deacon pointed out to me on FB, the competition was jointly founded by Dame Fanny and Marion Thorpe. I omitted that in my first reaction to the news.

  • Piotr Paleczny says:

    Incredible personality, always friendly and honest, never tired – Dame Fanny Waterman created the most prestigious pages of the history of the international piano competitions !
    I was extremely honored and happy being twice invited
    as a member of the Leeds Competition Jury.
    My most sincere and warmest wishes – very happy retirement ! However – I’d like and I expect that Dame Fanny Waterman will remain very close to the Leeds Competition – her great creation !