Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Clare Hammond, the young 'Miss Shepherd' of Alan Bennett's film

There are probably more people who have seen the exciting young piano soloist Clare Hammond play, without knowing it, than those who’ve been at her concerts.

The reason being that she is the pianist who played the young Miss Shepherd in the film scripted by Alan Bennett, The Lady In The Van.

Maggie Smith, of course, was the elderly Miss Shepherd, but as the film progresses you realise she was once a brilliant concert pianist. Clare was the one who played Miss Shepherd in the flashback concert sequences and the poignant scene when, as a nun, she plays a piano again.

Clare herself is appearing in a solo recital at the Bridgewater Hall on April 21 in the ‘Waters of Life’ weekend (also part of Manchester Mid-day Concerts Society’s series); on May 13 she’s back in the north west in recital for Rochdale Music Society at Heywood Civic Centre, and that will include several elements from today’s programme.

She’s a champion of women composers: on both occasions she’ll begin with a suite by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, who was employed at the court of Louis XIV in the late 17th century. “Her compositions are on a par with those of Lully and Couperin,” she says. “People are surprised when they hear them, and this is a fantastic work.”

The water theme comes into focus when she performs Five Aquarelles, by five British composers, written in 2012 to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Debussy (Clare premiered this music at the Two Rivers Festival in Birkenhead).

She also plays two Nocturnes by Fauré, and Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse, said to have been inspired by Watteau’s painting Embarquement pour Cythére (a boat trip).

At Heywood the full programme will include the Jacquet, Fauré and Debussy, plus music by James Francis Brown, Beethoven, Dutilleux and Stravinsky (Petroushka Suite).

Clare started the piano, unusually, because she was told to. “I was given some piano lessons for my sixth birthday,” she says. “It was suggested I might like to learn, anyway, and it took a little while, but I did come round to it.

“When I was eight I heard a concert at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham and was blown away: I decided then that I wanted to be a professional concert pianist.

“The thing you don’t realise when you’re young is just how much determination and stamina you need to make it.”

Clare Hammond: left, as herself; right, as the young Miss Shepherd in 'The Lady in the Van'

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