Conversations with the Performers – Rebeca Omordia

Our monthly recitals are a relaxed and intimate way of hearing great music, familiar and not so familiar, close to great performers who have performed in some of the most prestigious venues around the world, on a historic, nineteenth century grand piano.

This coming Sunday 9th February, we welcome back Olga Paliy with a programme of CPE Bach, Saint-Saens, Chopin’s Ballades and Ihor Shamo’s Ukrainian Suite, illustrating the programming opportunities for an informed and enquiring audience of combining the pleasingly familiar, with what is certainly new to us.

Over candlelight supper afterwards, around the log fire, there is a buzz of conversation about the music and often with the performer.

In January we took the opportunity to talk with the recitalist, Rebeca Omordia about what inspired her in drawing up her programme.

Rebeca Omordia, regular on ‘In Tune’, international concert pianist of renown, opened our 2020 year of monthly Sunday evening classical recitals here at The Dysart Petersham in January.

We asked Rebeca about the choice of programme, on the face of it an unusual combination of an interesting, yet under-rated British, a very mainstream European and a recherché African composer, with, respectively, a rarely performed piece by Ireland, familiar pieces by Schumann and a largely unknown piece by Nigerian composer, Onovwerosuoke.

The simple, unifying inspiration for the programme, unsurprisingly, was her love of the pieces, but with much more to it than that.
Rebeca sees ‘making music’ as communication, where voice, heart, associations absorbed over life and intellect together make listening interesting and forge a bond between performer and audience. Not her actual words, but certainly implied – anyone with technique can play music, but without the key ingredients it is best for personal pleasure only!

‘Something to say is the essence of magic in music, whether by composer, or by performer’.

No matter, to a thoughtful and enquiring audience with minds open to challenge, whether that ‘something to say’ is what they expect, or how they see the piece. If it has its own integrity and strength of mind they enjoy and leave thinking.

Rebeca says communication and something to say is especially significant and a particularly special opportunity in the intimate, salon context of The Dysart Petersham where members of an informed, thoughtful and enquiring audience sit a few feet away, gathered around performer and grand piano, allowing a special rapport to be created, though creating its own challenges in terms of dynamics. The whole purpose for Rebeca of performing is to do something to which an audience can respond, which will bring them into the music and feel the composer and the pianist.

From love, therefore, to something seen by her in the music worthy of communication, brought out by personality and personal interpretation, based on experiences, influences, empathy and intellect.

The same goes for the piano, in our case, though restored, a piano dating from 1897, with its own voice, its own idiosyncrasies, its own tone, its own ability to ‘sing’ in the right hands. Rebeca says a true performer in warming up beforehand listens to the timbre of an instrument, identifies the quirks, draws out the special ‘voice’, finds the personality and brings it to the music. Our late nineteenth century piano seemed at home with the nineteenth century and early twentieth century pieces, suited naturally to Ireland and Schumann alike. Yet, even when performing Rebeca listened, found and exploited resources of depth, lightness and richness in the piano’s range as she melded both over the performance.

Love is supplemented by a devoted passion by Rebeca for the music of one half of her homelands in Nigeria; she is a champion and ‘lighthouse’ around the world for the extraordinary unification of all the astonishingly wide potential that exists within a framework of classical disciplines with African sonorities, soul and rhythms.

This is not so very different from the potential that the classical training and skills of Kenneth Culhane allows in developing dishes in the kitchen that rest on firm foundations.

In her recent new CD, ‘Ekele’, Rebeca sets this alight in a way so very pleasing to our suddenly seemingly limited ear, at the same time familiar and revelatory.

But love and communication are, of course, insufficient without insight and without something within the music itself and the composer that is worthy of communication.

Rebeca points to the intellectually interesting aspects of her choices of music making, drawing our attention both to common threads and to progression in musical styles and voice, from the pervading structural and sound worlds of Brahms, in the Schumann, to the sound world of Ireland, which draws on quite different influences.

Both offer intensity. Both offer insights into the resonances that animate them in these pieces. Both bring passion and romantic changes in mood. Rebeca focuses for the one, Schumann, on communicating his utterly personal outpourings of the love for Clara, the wildly felt incidents of his personal life that infuse this music and for Ireland on conveying from the music the feelings he felt and drew from a place, an island where he could feel the past strongly, a culture old, mystery with hints of the supernatural. There is darkness in both.

Yet both draw on different methods, different language, different sound worlds, different influences.

Schumann inhabits the world of Brahms, comfortably. He writes fluently in long phrases, pianistically challenging for the pianist in their sudden mood changes, passion, introspection, rapid changes in dynamics from impassioned to pianissimo and shades of pianissimo.

Ireland, along with the other great British composers of the time, consciously tried to move on from the confines of the ‘old’ musical world and opened up to wider influences from mainland Europe and America, to jazz, to the impressionist and expressionist directions that moved composers and history alike in Europe at a time of major restructuring, social and political change.

Ireland’s romantic language is his own – often downgraded by accusations of derivation from Ravel; yes his music is impressionist, but he is his own man. Rebeca also points out that although the principal voice for Schumann was the piano, Ireland’s piano music is pianistically brilliant.

Rebeca was introduced to Ireland by cellist, Julian Lloyd Webber and typically immersed herself in that great emanation of British music over the turn of last century with Ireland, Delius, Vaughan William and Elgar, bringing Ireland with great acclaim to Romania, her other heritage and being lucky enough to be a regular partner with Julian Lloyd Webber.

Rebeca’s love for the piece by Onovwerosuoke is far more than loyalty to an African heritage. This piece shows how wildly different cultural traditions can come together in accomplished hands to create music pleasing both to an audience and to a pianist technically. How clever to book-end the ever familiar Schumann with the rare and novel in Ireland and the new in Onovwerosuoke.

Bowled over by it, audience and we alike, and by her CD, Ekele, we look forward to a recital here devoted to this music, worthy of a recital to itself. The next CD, now recorded, for us to look out for is of piano and bass, with bass player, Leon Bosch – “The South African Double Bass” out on Meridian Records later this year. The two are also performing together at the Wigmore Hall on 21 April, a date for our diaries.


Rebeca Omordia – Recital Programme – 12th January 2020,
BBC In Tune  
Gramophone Review 
Ekele: African Classical Piano Music