I have had the pleasure this year of attending a couple of top notch events in the village. In March I went to the Friends of St Mary’s fund raiser at the church where a Steinway took pride of place at the altar, and enjoyed a recital from two very talented 19 year old students from the Royal College of Music.

Recently I was at the Sunday piano recital put on as part of the Sunbury & Shepperton Arts Festival at the Riverside Arts Centre. 17 year old George Harliono took centre stage, entertaining the crowd with his immensely passionate performance. I had not realised until then that the common link was Professor Vanessa Latarche, Head of Keyboard at the Royal College of Music and Sunbury resident! So I thought we should find out more about piano, youngsters today and Sunbury culture, so went to visit her for a chat.

Piano runs in the family. Vanessa and her brother Simon both learned piano as children. Their mother Pauline taught it and has only just retired at the tender age of 81. (Amongst others, she taught Bonnie Langford and Sophie Ellis-Bextor). Piano goes even further back in the genes as Vanessa’s maternal grandfather was a piano maker.

Vanessa studied piano at the Royal College of Music, and at the time of graduating felt she would be back there one day. She became an accomplished international soloist, travelling the world but had a pull towards teaching and eventually returned to teach firstly at the Royal Academy of Music and then was appointed back at her alma mater, the Royal College of Music 13 years ago, to her current position of Chair of International Keyboard Studies and Head of Keyboard.

Her role includes representing the RCM around the world and attracting the very best students. Part of this role is offering masterclasses as far afield as China, Russia and New Zealand. She has been a juror on many international competitions as well as judge on the keyboard final of BBC Young Musician of the Year and is frequently broadcast on BBC3, BBC4 and the world service.

Previous students include many international piano competition winners including Sofya Gulyak who was the first woman to win the Leeds International piano competition in 2009. She has since appeared all over the world to great acclaim. A current student, Martin James Bartlett, won BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014.

When I asked about the challenges of encouraging youngsters to take up piano it is clear that cut backs in education are to blame. Funding for music has been cut so it is rare to be able to learn piano or indeed any instrument at school. With the only option to therefore have private lessons it can be seen as elitist. “It is such a shame.” says Vanessa “Music sets you up for life. It opens your mind to appreciation of styles, creativity and the joys of listening to melody”.
Personally I wish I had learned an instrument when I was younger. I apparently showed no interest so my parents didn’t insist. I do wish they had!

So what of young George Harliono? At only 17 years old he is just a boy, but one who has an incredible future ahead of him. Vanessa speaks about her student with great pride “This one is special”. A normal youngster who likes riding his bike, he has an incredible talent which has seen him gain a full scholarship to the RCM. He made his first hour -long solo recital at the age of only 9 and his concert debut aged 12. He now regularly performs alongside such eminent artists as Lang Lang.

Remember as I said that this is the sort of talent which you can see in little old Sunbury. The Sunbury & Shepperton Arts Festival has welcomed both Martin James Bartlett and George Harliono in the past two events and of course there was the event at St Mary’s. Look out for future events advertised in Sunbury Matters or around the village and pinch yourself that you can see such incredible performers on your own door step.