YOU could say that it was fate that brought classical pianist Anita d’Attellis to live in Henley. About four years ago she was driving back from a concert in the Midlands when she decided to make an unscheduled pit stop.
“I was coming down the M40 when I saw the sign for Henley, and I thought I’d just turn off and have a look. I’d never been before,” she said. “I was one of those really sunny days when Henley looks just lovely. I parked in the Waitrose car park and looked around, and thought, ‘this is just so nice.’”
At the time she was living in the West Country, and had a job as head of keyboards at Sherborne School for girls, but her partner — now her husband — John Downing, a former Fleet Street photographer, was living in London. Within a year they had moved lock, stock and barrel to Henley.
Since then Anita has established herself firmly as one of the most talented and sought-after pianists on the local scene. As well as taking up a position of piano teacher at Eton College she has played with a number of local choirs — both as soloist and accompanist — and at the end of March she will play Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2 with the Elgar Orchestra at Dorchester Abbey, in a concert which also features Belshazzar’s Feast sung by Benson Choral Society.
Anita began playing piano at the age of eight when her grandmother, eager to encourage her desire to learn, bought the family a piano. But it was only when she attended Chelmsford Grammar School that her musicianship really took off.
She said: “It happened to be a really musical school and I had lots of opportunities to play and perform so I was lucky in that respect.”
She played in a school piano trio with violin and cello, an ensemble which made it to the schools prom at the Royal Albert Hall, and she went on to read music at Birmingham University and study for a postgraduate in accompaniment at the Royal Academy of Music.
For most of her working life the 40-year-old has accompanied classical singers, but it was in her thirties that she decided to change tack and concetrate on her solo career.
She said: “I got to the stage where I was enjoying the music so much and I wanted to focus on my solo playing again. I felt compelled to do it. In recent years I have come to know that’s what I want to do.”
She recognises that most concert pianists on the circuit have started at a very young age, and that she has missed out on the international circuit as she is competing with 20-year-olds, but she says her age is also an advantage.
“I think I have an edge there because of being older,” she says. “I have grown to love music more as I’ve got older and got to know it better.”
Besides, having played twice at the Royal Albert Hall — the second time was in 2003 accompanying the London Welsh Male Voice Choir — she says she prefers playing in smaller, more intimate venues.
“In a big venue you don’t see the audience individually,” she says. “In a more intimate venue you feel the reaction of the audience and that’s more exciting. It can be more special, somehow.”
And she is looking forward to accompanying the 120 voices of Benson Choral Society at Dorchester Abbey on Saturday, March 29, saying: “It’s really dramatic music, and the abbey is so atmospheric. It should be a great event.”
For tickets call 01865 407395 or email firstname.lastname@example.org