I have always primarily been a solo pianist, and these days concentrate exclusively on solo recitals and recording work. My early career, however, was significantly more diverse, also embracing work as a collaborative artist, choral and operatic répétiteur, organist and continuo harpsichordist.
I was fortunate to attend a school with an outstanding international musical reputation as well as the junior and senior departments of the Royal College of Music. My professional career as a musician began at the age of sixteen. In the following years I was a busy freelance performer alongside my studies, with my concert work including solo and chamber music recitals at music societies in the United Kingdom and in continental Europe. Major appearances included the Purcell Room, St Martin-in-the-Fields and West Road Concert Hall, University of Cambridge. I gave several premières, including the song-cycle “All the Future Days” by Jonathan Dove to poems by Ursula Vaughan Williams, in the presence of the composer and lyricist. I also worked extensively as a collaborative pianist with a wide range of singers and instrumentalists, choral and operatic societies, and musical theatre groups.
Although I was fortunate to win a number of prizes and awards at the Royal College of Music, I have little interest in piano competitions (and no trust in their artistic integrity). This, together with my desire to pursue a broader career that also included my interests beyond music, and to specialize in those musical areas that interested me most without regard for commercial considerations, has meant that most of my work as a pianist has been undertaken away from the mainstream musical establishment.
In the standard piano repertoire I am particularly close to the music of Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. Alongside this, I have rediscovered and brought to public attention through performance and recording much undeservedly neglected piano music of the nineteenth and twentieth-century.
“The musical canon is not determined by majority opinion but by enthusiasm and passion. A work that ten people love passionately is more important than one that ten thousand do not mind hearing.”
Charles Rosen, “The Irrelevance of Serious Music,” Critical Entertainments (Harvard University Press, 2000), p.318.
In 2005, having taught myself audio editing, I began the series of solo recording projects that became Romantic Discoveries Recordings. I had little idea at its inception that this would grow to become a catalogue of over a hundred CD recordings, including many world premières of nineteenth-century composers, and still less that this independent niche label would, without the benefit of any external advertising or distribution, attract a devoted following around the globe and even lead to my receiving several awards from musical institutions.
In addition to my recording work, I have continued to give occasional solo recitals. I act as my own agent, and any enquiries about professional engagements as a pianist should be directed to the email address given on the right of this page.
My work as a recording artist has centred on world première recordings of piano music of the Romantic era. In “First Recordings of Beethoven” I made the first recording of Beethoven’s unfinished piano sonata in D major/minor, written in 1794, and of several other sonata fragments and shorter works. The disc was described as “a great feast for the Beethoven connoisseur” by James Green, author of “The New Hess Catalog of Beethoven’s Works”.
I have made several recordings of composers of the circles of Brahms and Mendelssohn, and have recorded eight volumes of the piano music of exquisite miniaturist Theodor Kirchner. I was the first to record several of Alkan’s early works. My work as a recording artist has been featured on several American radio stations and on Dutch radio. My recordings of the piano music of Eduard Franck are cited in the definitive work on that composer, “Die Komponisten Eduard und Richard Franck” by Paul and Andreas Feuchte (Pfefferkorn Musikverlag, 2010).
During the national lockdowns of 2020-21, I decided to make a number of recordings at home, including the late Beethoven and Schubert sonatas, together with selected other works with which I identified particularly strongly. In April 2021, reflecting the fact that the musical public was now primarily consuming recorded music online, I launched a YouTube channel containing my lockdown recordings and many others taken from my recorded catalogue. Since then, an ongoing series of new recordings of both rare and standard repertoire has now been released via this medium. One particular rediscovery is German composer Walter Niemann (1876-1953), once considered the most important composer for piano of his time; my recordings of his music on YouTube include several world premières.
Over the years I have performed some of the most demanding nineteenth-century piano works in recital, including several performances of Alkan’s Symphonie for piano. Of a 2015 performance in London, Neil Lock wrote, “The result was spectacular…John Kersey conveyed superbly to the audience the manic energy and sheer horror of the ride through hell on which Alkan takes us. I cannot praise John Kersey’s performance highly enough.” I remain fascinated by piano works that explore the extremes of physical and intellectual capacity, and by unjustly neglected piano music of the nineteenth-century. My friend and supporter, the late Dr Klaus Tischendorf, was so kind as to describe me as “a true and nowadays unique artist.” 2017 saw several performances of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata in concerts in London. Here is a review of one of these. I have also given the first public performances of works by Beethoven, Alkan and S.S. Wesley, among others.
Teaching, criticism, composition, work as an organist
I have taught music at all levels from beginners to postgraduates. Several of my school music students have been award-winners at national level (BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist; Guardian/BBC Proms Young Composers Competition runner-up; top five result in the country for A level music (AQA)), and have gone on to read music at conservatoires and universities. Others have made their mark in the world of popular music. I was for several years an examiner for A level composition for two national examination boards, as well as for keyboard grade and diploma examinations for the Central Academy of Music at their centres in the Midlands and Suffolk. Earlier in my career, I taught piano and chamber music to students at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and deputised at the Royal College of Music. In 1999 I helped to start the Bachelor of Arts joint honours programme in Music at Morley College and South Bank University, where I was responsible for teaching, several course specifications, administration and was a member of the Board of Examiners. Subsequently I served as Dean of the Department of Music at the former Knightsbridge University in Denmark, a private university delivering programmes by distance learning.
I spent twelve years as a reviewer of recordings and books on music for magazines including International Piano, Hi-Fi News and Record Review, Tempo, and International Record Review. Among my extended pieces for International Piano were features on Mark and Michal Hambourg, the transcriptions of Georges Cziffra, recordings of the Alkan Concerto and the Rachmaninoff Preludes. In 2006, I was one of the judges for the inaugural International Piano magazine awards.
My compositions include three song-cycles for mezzo-soprano and piano, one of which, Inscape, sets poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I have performed these and some of my works for solo piano in concert.
Alongside my other work, I have performed professionally as an organist. Appointed to my first church post in north London aged sixteen, I then spent eight years as organist of a busy parish church before freelancing throughout London, with my organ work also including engagements as a choral and orchestral accompanist. I have given a number of recitals specializing in the English repertoire of the baroque and classical eras.
Educated at The Latymer School, Edmonton, where I was a Latymer Foundation Music Scholar, I toured with the school throughout Europe as a singer, choral accompanist and continuo player, recorded Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto live as soloist with the Latymer orchestra, and at seventeen appeared at the organ of the Royal Albert Hall with them as part of the Schools’ Prom. I performed works by Godowsky, Alkan, Schulz-Evler and Busoni in school concerts. From the age of fourteen, I was also a Junior Exhibitioner at the Royal College of Music, where I won the major (Teresa Carreño Memorial) piano competition, performed as soloist in internal and external concerts, and undertook much ensemble and accompaniment work.
I went on to undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the RCM, with piano as my first study. While at the RCM, I was the winner of twelve prizes and awards, graduated with First Class Honours as the top pianist of my year, and pursued postgraduate research into nineteenth-century performance history that led directly to my subsequent recording and concert projects. I also undertook postgraduate studies at Christ’s College, Cambridge, before returning to the RCM to take up a Junior Fellowship.
My initial piano studies were with the late Cameron Rosser, Jacqueline Hudson and Paul Coker (Yehudi Menuhin’s pianist). At the Royal College of Music, I studied piano with Yu Chun-Yee, who described me as “immensely gifted”, also benefiting from the advice of John Blakely and the late Yonty Solomon. I concurrently completed the Répétiteur’s Course at English National Opera under Victor Morris. As a chamber musician and collaborative pianist, I worked in masterclasses, coached and accompanied lessons with musicians including Nicolai Gedda, Sarah Walker, William Pleeth, Jane Manning, Alexander Baillie, Rodney Friend, Diego Masson, Krzysztof Smietana, Stephen Roberts, Clifford Benson, and Leonid Gorokhov.
Honours and awards
My work as a musician has been recognized with honorary fellowships from the National College of Music, Victoria College of Music, Australian Society of Musicology and Composition, Independent Music Examinations Board (in conjunction with the Australian International Conservatorium of Music), the St Cecilia School of Music (Australia and New Zealand), the Academy of Saint Cecilia, the North and Midlands School of Music, the Central Academy of Music, ICMA, and the Guild of Musicians and Singers, among others. I am a Fellow of the Faculty of Church Music of the Central School of Religion, Indiana, USA. I am also a Fellow of the Curwen College of Music (by examination in piano), the National Federation of Church Musicians, the Cambridge Society of Musicians, the Norwich School of Church Music, the Society of Crematorium Organists, the Irish Guild of Organists and Choristers, and the Faculty of Liturgical Musicians. I am an Associate Fellow of the National College of Music.
In 2016 I was elected an Honorary Academician of the Pontificia Accademia Tiberina, Rome, which numbers Liszt, Rossini, Bellini and Respighi among its past academicians. In 2019, I was awarded the Fellowship of the College of Violinists, the highest honorary award of the Victoria College of Music, in recognition of services to the international private education sector.
“A musician and academician who holds firm against today’s post-modernist onslaught is Professor John Kersey, a pianist who has studied and recorded Beethoven’s unfinished Sonata of 1794, and has also reinstated obscure but worthy late-romantic composers, such as Adolf Jensen. Professor Kersey’s search for the essence of the music means that we have unfussy, clearly-framed interpretations – and (like Gilbert Rowland) a performer who is more than happy to write about, discuss and present music – and the cause of culture.”
The Quarterly Review
As a pianist, I am particularly interested in the quasi-priestly tradition of the pianist-philosopher, a tradition that begins with Liszt and extends to our own era. Pianists who have particularly influenced me include Sviatoslav Richter, who I heard in recital on several occasions, and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. A formative experience for me as a young man was meeting the late John Ogdon, for whom I turned pages in his last recital. Of the pianists of today, the greatest influences on me have been Grigory Sokolov and Radu Lupu. I am an inveterate collector of rare piano scores and recordings.
As a representative of the living interpretative tradition of the Romantic era – a fourth generation pupil of Busoni and fifth-generation pupil of Alkan inter alia – I not only seek to endorse its pianistic values, but as a radical traditionalist, also embrace much of what is now seen as an openly reactionary world-view. As such, I have found myself increasingly distanced from a postmodern musical establishment that, notwithstanding many outstanding artists, has increasingly prioritized uniformity and demotic commercialism. As a pianist, my Romantic and highly personal approach inevitably divides opinion and provokes controversy, and has little in common with the modernist piano school now in vogue, which I often find both boring and shallow.
In a talk for the Traditional Britain Group in 2014, I discussed a number of issues relating to music and culture, and the influence of Cultural Marxism on twentieth-century music and musicology.