My professional career as a musician began at the age of sixteen, embracing not only solo piano work but also work as a collaborative artist, choral and operatic répétiteur (for which I trained at English National Opera), organist and continuo harpsichordist. I performed at venues in the United Kingdom and continental Europe, and for several years was very busy with freelance work, particularly enjoying opportunities to make music in my local community.
Ultimately, however, I decided that I wanted to pursue a broader career including my interests beyond music, and to specialize in those musical areas that interested me most without regard for commercial considerations. I therefore put my energies into 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 concerts.
My work as a recording artist has centred on world premiere 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. Writing of my 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.” 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).
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.
Teaching, criticism, composition, work as an organist
I have taught music at all levels from beginners to postgraduates. Formerly an examiner for A level composition for two national examination boards, several of my 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. I 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.
As well as performing and teaching, I 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 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.
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. My work as a choral and orchestral accompanist has taken me to the organs of the Royal Albert Hall and Southwark Cathedral, amongst others, and I have also given a number of recitals specializing in the English repertoire of the baroque and classical eras.
As a pianist, I am 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 I heard in recital on a number of occasions. A formative experience for me as a young man was meeting the late John Ogdon, for whom I turned pages in his last recital. 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. 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.
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 an Honorary Associate 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, 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.
I was educated at the Royal College of Music – firstly as a Local Authority Junior Exhibitioner from the age of fourteen, and subsequently as an undergraduate and postgraduate, 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 study at Christ’s College, Cambridge, before returning to the RCM to take up a Junior Fellowship.
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. My 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.
Beyond the classical tradition
In the days when the serious study of the popular tradition in music was not as accepted as it is now, I was the first student at the Royal College of Music to present an academic project on the music of Frank Zappa, which was received with some bemusement. During the past decade in particular, the popular tradition has become increasingly important to me as a listener and collector of recorded music. My principal interests are in progressive rock, and particularly the so-called “Canterbury scene”, but also extend to spiritual jazz and aspects of British folk music.