As a promising 16 year-old pianist attending music school on Saturdays at London’s Royal College of Music, Jon Hopkins made a decision that would ultimately change his life. He entered a concerto competition playing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with an orchestra. He loved the piece of music and he actually won the competition, so seemingly this would help propel his interests in classical piano. Instead, he found the experience horrifying and never played another completion.
Leading up to the performance, Hopkins explained, “I started thinking, ‘Do I really have to do this?’ It was a very large concert, so when it came to the actual day, the levels of nerves, I had just never experienced anything like it. It didn’t seem necessary to feel like that ever in your life. The performance went really well, but there was a point in it where I remember an incredibly fast section in the third movement. Mind you, at this point you don’t have music; you’ve learned it all weeks before. My fingers were so used to it playing it, but I remember just looking at them and thinking, ‘How are they doing that?’ The second you do that, they could stop at any second. I managed to stop thinking that just long enough to get through it.”
He continued, “Afterwards, I was just so spaced out. I thought, ‘That’s it; I don’t think I can do that again.’ I don’t think it’s healthy, and I also don’t think it’s natural. Classical music wasn’t written to be played in this austere environment. It was the popular music of its time. It was meant to be enjoyed. This rarefied elitist thing that it is now was never the intention. Also, I’d rather just pay my own music rather than reinterpreting something that was written 100 years ago.”