The Leftitude Festival 2013 – Robert Mitchell (Creator/Co-Artistic Director)

I am really looking forward to the very first Leftitude Festival – a unique festival of left hand only solo piano at The Forge on 20th and 21st March. It has taken a few years to get to this point. Back in 2007, I organised a solo jazz piano festival before (Lifting The Lid) but it wasn’t until I recorded a solo left-hand only piano album that I began to think of the possibility of a left-hand festival. I already knew several fantastic pianists who I knew would perform fantastically. I was also very inspired by the history of left-hand only piano in different musical genres – classical, jazz and improvised. In fact, I couldn’t understand why no-one had thought of this before! I couldn’t find any records of such a festival having taken place. I am also left-handed – and the social history of this is naturally a big fascination for me. So – it was decided!

Why has there not been a festival of this type before? There is no shortage of great music written for the left-hand only (and right-hand only!) and my own personal connection with both the jazz and classical genres made me think about this a great deal. It would be wonderful to hear more of this regularly in concert and on recordings – and I hope the Leftitude Festival can contribute towards this.

My first left-hand only piano composition was the result of a commission from pianist Ivo De Greef (who is also performing as part of Leftitude). It was a creative challenge I set for myself. It took a while to make the adjustment, in order to allow ideas to flow in this new relationship with the piano. But it became (and remains) hugely enjoyable. I do think this music also requires a certain adjustment from listeners. But the reward is more than worth it. Although music in this format has existed for centuries, its history is still relatively underground. It deserves to be far better known.

After the phenomenon of the 2012 London Paralympics, it is clear what happens when there is a collective recalibration of what is regarded as greatness and creativity. This celebration has been universal – and hopefully our perception has been permanently changed. There is an obvious connection with the history of one-handed piano playing and its relationship to the after-effects of war, illness or birth circumstances. Many of the conversations I have had with audience members after performing music for the left-hand alone, have been really profound.

I wanted both classical and jazz to be represented at Leftitude, and I’m thrilled that some of the best pianists of both genres will be performing. I think it will be fascinating for fans of either to hear both genres performed at the same event – perhaps we might even convert a few ears! The combination should provide a really unique atmosphere. The Forge is thus an ideal venue – a fantastic acoustic, wonderful piano, and a large range of music events every week. I grateful to them for such great support and being so open to the idea!

In creating this festival, a lot of questions arise for me – many more than the scope of this blog! Why are the amazing classical and incredible jazz inovators in this area so under-celebrated? Is there a visual issue (in our society, which is based so much on looks)? A belief that this is a limitation too far? Or that this should remain purely a component of piano education? Do the steps towards greater acceptance always have to come from the performer? Why have such innovative albums by the great pianistically ambidextral Borah Bergman been out of print for years? Where else can we learn about the type of courage that forged the career and commissions of Paul Wittgenstein? The vision that led Phineas Newborn Jr to perform left-hand only blues on US national TV in the 60s? How many other pianists perform in this way?

I think it is great that Leftitude is starting out international and features a number of world premieres. Clare Hammond, Pat Thomas, and Ivo De Greef all have extremely distinctive approaches but share a deep commitment to this form of music-making. All are fantastic pianists and relished the challenge of this unique new festival!  I am excited to be launching my first left-hand only solo piano album as part of this festival called The Glimpse (WR4630). I am also hugely honoured that Nicholas McCarthy has agreed to host and interview Clare and myself before the concert on 20th March. He is the only pianist ever to graduate from the Royal College of Music studying left-hand only repertoire. He was born without a right hand and his story and resulting musical brilliance is a huge inspiration.

Clare and I will be on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune at 5:30pm on 18th March to perform and talk about Leftitude so do tune in!

I really hope that Leftitude will be a festival like no other. It explores an alternate sound world that deserves to be celebrated. Hopefully some of the questions above will start to be asked – or even answered.


Leftitude will be coming to The Forge 20th and 21st March, for tickets and information  for the Wednesday 20th click here and for the Thursday 21st click here.