John Kersey has recorded over 100 CDs as a pianist for his own label, Romantic Discoveries Recordings. Since his professional debut at London’s Purcell Room aged seventeen, he has given recitals in Britain and Europe as soloist and ensemble pianist, sometimes performing his own compositions, and has also performed professionally as an organist and harpsichordist. In addition he spent a dozen 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 his extended pieces for International Piano are features on Mark and Michal Hambourg, the transcriptions of Georges Cziffra, recordings of the Alkan Concerto and the Rachmaninoff Preludes. He is an inveterate collector of rare piano scores and recordings.
He has 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.” He remains fascinated by piano works that explore the extremes of physical and intellectual capacity, and by unjustly neglected piano music of the nineteenth-century. His friend and supporter, the late Dr Klaus Tischendorf, described him as “a true and nowadays unique artist.” 2017 saw him perform Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata in concerts in London.
At the Royal College of Music, John Kersey studied with Yu Chun-Yee, who described him as “immensely gifted”, also benefiting from the advice of John Blakely and the late Yonty Solomon. His Master’s degree research focused on aspects of rhythm in Alkan’s piano music and on the recorded interpretation of Liszt’s music by his pupils. As a pianist, he is particularly interested in the quasi-priestly tradition of the pianist-philosopher, including such figures as Liszt, Busoni, Edwin Fischer, Egon Petri and Gunnar Johansen, and more recently Sviatoslav Richter, who he heard in recital on a number of occasions. A formative experience for him as a young man was meeting the late John Ogdon, for whom he turned pages in his last recital.
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 – he not only seeks to endorse its pianistic values, but as a radical traditionalist, also embraces much of what is now seen as an openly reactionary world-view. As such, he has found himself increasingly distanced from a postmodern musical establishment that, notwithstanding many outstanding artists, has increasingly prioritized uniformity and demotic commercialism. In a talk for the Traditional Britain Group in 2014, he discussed a number of issues relating to music and culture, and the influence of Cultural Marxism on twentieth-century music and musicology.
He has taught music at all levels from beginners to postgraduates. Formerly an examiner for A level composition for two national examination boards, several of his A level Music students went on to win national awards, including one for an overall result in the top five in the country, and to read music at conservatoires and universities. He was for several years an examiner for grade and diploma examinations for the Central Academy of Music at their centres in the Midlands and Suffolk.
Alongside his other work, he has continued to perform professionally as an organist. Appointed to his first church post in north London aged sixteen, he then spent eight years as organist of a busy parish church before freelancing throughout London. His work as a choral and orchestral accompanist has taken him to the organs of the Royal Albert Hall and Southwark Cathedral, amongst others, and he has also given a number of recitals specializing in the English repertoire of the baroque and classical eras.
His 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. He is an Honorary Associate of the Faculty of Church Music of the Central School of Religion, Indiana, USA. He is also a Fellow of the Curwen College of Music, 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.
In 2016 he was elected an Honorary Academician of the Pontificia Accademia Tiberina, Rome, which numbers Liszt, Rossini, Bellini and Respighi among its past academicians.
John Kersey’s work as a recording artist has centred on world premiere recordings of piano music of the Romantic era. In “First Recordings of Beethoven” he 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”.
John Kersey has produced several recordings of composers of the circles of Brahms and Mendelssohn, and has recorded eight volumes of the piano music of exquisite miniaturist Theodor Kirchner. He was the first to record several of Alkan’s early works. Writing of his work as a recording artist, Mark Thomas of the Joachim Raff Society said, “His catalogue represents a huge contribution to the recorded repertoire of piano music by romantic unsungs…he has a fine technique but isn’t showy and he lets the music speak for itself.” His 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).