As backdrops go, the view from Hazelwood School’s Bawtree Concert Hall on a sunny May evening is hard to beat. The floor to ceiling glass windows provide a perfect vista of lush greenery, topped by bright blue sky, with the added bonus of lilting bird calls as they flit in and out of the surrounding trees.
Tonight’s concert is being hosted by the Oxted & Limpsfield Music Society (OLMS), with support from The Countess of Munster Musical Trust, and is obviously a much-anticipated event, given the amount of people filling the tiered seating. The low hum of chatter from the audience quietens when OLMS chair Katharine O’Carroll steps up to the microphone. She introduces Ignas Maknickas, who walks into the hall and stands next to the piano.
Performs across the world
Born in California in 1998, and raised in Lithuania, Maknickas has performed across the world as both a soloist and with international orchestras, including the Lithuanian National Symphony, London Mozart Players and the Royal Academy of Music Chamber Orchestra. He is also, along with his sister and three brothers, part of the Maknickas Family Ensemble, which has represented Lithuania on national television and at state occasions.
In July 2021, Ignas received The Queen’s Commendation for Excellence as the highest scoring graduate of the Royal Academy of Music. His talent has been rewarded with numerous other prizes, awards and scholarships, and he has appeared at many prestigious venues.
After a short explanation of the music to come, Ignas seats himself at the piano. He closes his eyes for a brief moment, composing himself, and then begins playing the first two of Schubert’s Four Impromptus, D899, followed by Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C major, Op. 17.
As each piece progresses, Ignas conveys the emotions of the music to his audience, not simply through the sound he is producing but also through his facial expressions and body language: hunching in close to the piano during moments of intensity, while leaning back, allowing small smiles to flit across his face, as the tone returns to something more playful. On more than one occasion his fingers race across the keys so quickly they become a blur, contrasting with the calm gaps between the pieces, where he sits quietly, eyes closed once more, and hands flexing at his sides.
By the time Maknickas returns following the interval, the sky has darkened to an indigo blue, and the lights edging the path around the hall are starting to flicker on. The birds have disappeared, taking roost in the trees for the night, replaced by the occasional bat skittering past instead.
The final piece of the evening is Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major, D960, which the composer wrote in 1828, just months before his death. Ignas launches magnificently into the four movements, and before I am ready for it all to end, the final notes sound and fade away. Ignas stands to receive his applause and leaves the hall. He returns for two further bows, and a short, gentle encore, before he exits for the final time.
Later, I ask Ignas for his thoughts on the concert:
“It was an absolutely amazing experience playing at this beautiful venue. I am really grateful to the Oxted & Limpsfield Music Society and Countess of Munster Music Trust for this opportunity. The piano was wonderful, the audience – even more so! It was a fantastic evening.”
On 2 June, Ignas will be playing the first movement of Chopin’s Concerto No.2 at Wigmore Hall, as one of the six finalists of the Young Classical Artists Trust competition, after being chosen from a pool of over 120 musicians. His future performances can be found at ignasmaknickas.com.
This concert forms part of Oxted & Limpsfield Music Society’s 75th Anniversary Season. The next event, on 17 June, features Guy Johnston playing Mendelssohn, Fauré and Bach on the cello. You can find out more at olms.org.uk.