The young British pianist, Ashley Wass, is recognised as one of the rising stars of his generation. Only the second British pianist in 20 years to reach the finals of the Leeds Piano Competition (in 2000), he was the first British pianist ever to win the top prize at the World Piano Competition in 1997. He appeared in the ‘Rising Stars' series at the 2001 Ravinia Festival and his promise has been Artist over two seasons.
Ashley Wass studied at Chethams Music School and won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music to study with Christopher Elton and Hamish Milne. In 2002 he was made an Associate of the Royal Academy . He has spent three summers as a participant at the Marlboro Music Festival, playing chamber music with musicians such as Mitsuko Uchida, Richard Goode and members of the Guarneri Quartet and Beaux Arts Trio.
Wass has given recitals at most of the major UK concert halls including the Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Symphony Hall, Purcell Room, Bridgewater Hall and St David's Hall. His concerto performances have included Beethoven and Brahms with the Philharmonia, Mendelssohn with the Orchestre National de Lille and Mozart with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra at the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Brucknerhaus in Linz . Wass has also worked with Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Mozart Players.
In recent seasons Wass appeared with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (with Osmo Vänskä) and the BBC Philharmonic. He has also recorded the Poulenc Piano Concerto with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic and Vassily Sinaisky. In June 2002 he appeared in a gala concert at Buckingham Palace to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, a performance broadcast live to millions of viewers around the world. Other notable engagements have included several return visits to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (working with Alexander Titov, Ilan Volkov and Martyn Brabbins) and the Philharmonia, hugely successful debuts with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales (a performance of Brahms 1st Concerto that was voted "Best of 2004 - BBC Radio 3 Performance") and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and numerous recitals throughout the UK and abroad, including the City of London Festival, Bath Festival, Brighton Festival, Wigmore Hall, Cheltenham Festival, Purcell Room, Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Symphony Hall in Birmingham, the Wallace Collection, LSO St. Luke's, St. George's in Bristol, Chicago's Cultural Centre and Sheffield ‘Music in the Round'. Wass has also recently made acclaimed debuts in Sweden , Portugal , Israel , Germany , Switzerland and Cuba .
Future engagements include concerts with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Portuguese Symphony and the London Mozart Players, recitals in Amsterdam , Cyprus , Lisbon , Istanbul , Chicago , Mexico City, St. John's Smith Square , Wigmore Hall, the Sage, St. David's Hall, Bridgewater Hall and LSO St. Luke's. Ashley is also much in demand as a chamber musician and, in 2007, will tour the USA and Europe with violinist Sarah Chang, appearing at venues such as Philadelphia's Kimmel Center, Washington's Center for the Performing Arts, Dublin's National Concert Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Ashley Wass' recording of Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic has been issued as a BBC Music Magazine cover CD and he has also recorded Chopin for an EMI disc ‘In Tune with the Piano'. He made his debut recording in 1999 with a solo recital disc of works by César Franck for Naxos . Diapason commented: 'No less remarkable is the way that he delivers the Prelude, Aria et Final with great precision and taste and always with a sense of dynamics and articulation that is reminiscent of old masters such as Bolet and Ciccolini. The quality and height of inspiration of his playing makes this disc a revelation.' Ashley's three-part survey of the piano music of Arnold Bax for Naxos has been heralded as 'an unmissable series' and 'the yardstick against which all future recordings will be judged' . Selected as an 'Editor's Choice' CD in Gramophone Magazine and later nominated in the 'Best Instrumental Disc' category of the Gramophone Awards, Volume One was hailed as 'without a shadow of a doubt the best recorded and best played Bax piano CD to come before the public', while Volume Two is described as 'unmissable at any price'. As Naxos's first ever exclusively contracted solo artist, Wass' future recording plans include the complete solo works of Elgar, Britten, Bridge, Leighton and Alwyn, Liszt's 'Album d'un Voyager' , and the arrangement for two pianos of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (with Leon McCawley), the Violin Sonatas of Bax (with Laurence Jackson), and concertos by Bax and Leighton.
Ashley Wass is a founder member of the Denali Trio . Their debut tour of the UK in early 2004 was an outstanding success, garnering enthusiastic reviews and resulting in numerous other invitations on both sides of the Atlantic .
Ashley's views on Repertoire
"The vast majority of the music that I enjoy playing, or feel most comfortable with, can be considered 'orchestral' rather than purely pianistic. One of the reasons I feel so close to the works of Beethoven and Brahms is that one can so easily relate the sound and texture to a multi-instrument ensemble. Finding the colours needed to imitate string or wind instruments is great fun! With this music, one has the sense that every note is vital to the score: no detail, however tiny, can afford to be overlooked. The one major exception to this 'rule' would probably be Liszt, a vastly underrated composer whose works I've started to perform frequently over the last couple of years. As a master pianist, he was able to write astonishingly well for the instrument. One only really appreciates the great economy, subtlety and skill of his work when studying music by other composers whose heavily influenced creations sound rather clumsy by comparison (the early pieces of Franck are a good example).
Away from the 'core repertoire', I have a particular fascination for studying lesser known music such as the British series that I'm currently undertaking for Naxos . There's a special skill and conviction required to make (what is occasionally) second-rate work sound world class! I adore the challenge of coming to a new piece by a composer with whom I'm not familiar and studying it without any preconceptions or outside influences. It's an incredibly creative process. For example, when I learn a new Beethoven Sonata, I do so with a thorough knowledge of the composer and his work -- after all, I've played and heard his music from a very young age. I essentially 'know' the language. The other extreme would be a project like the Bax: when I was asked to record his piano works I was not at all familiar with his style. It was a genuine voyage of discovery for me; a satisfying and rewarding experience that can be compared to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle or learning a new language. And honestly -- some of this music is exceptionally good. The Bax Sonatas are outstanding works of real substance which have now become a major part of my performing repertoire.
The most important thing to remember is that one should devote time to all areas of the repertoire -- even those composers with whom one doesn't feel any affinity. Studying Debussy will help your Bach, just as studying Bach will help your Beethoven."