image001 (Photo credit: Paul Cliff)


Music-lovers in Goa will still fondly remember the phenomenal concert given by young Julian Clef at the Kala Academy in 2010.

Born in Kerala, the 23-year old pianist didn’t begin formal piano lessons until he was sixteen. He had begun playing at home aged five; his father is an amateur musician.

A chance encounter at a concert in Kerala in 2004 was life-changing. A UK-based couple Dr. and Mrs. John heard him and were sufficiently impressed to offer that he stay with them in England for some months. It was only then that Clef gave serious thought to becoming a musician.

While in England, Clef auditioned and won a place at the renowned Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, and subsequently at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in the same city, studying under Murray McLachlan.

He has a clutch of competition titles to his name: the Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Competition (2008), William Mathias Festival Piano Competition (2009), and he was one of three musicians to be awarded an RNCM Gold Medal in 2011.

His stunning performance at the RCNM Gold Medal recital got Clef snapped up by the leading international music management company Hazard Chase, which represents the world’s renowned artists and has on its list Piers Lane, Benjamin Grosvenor, and Martin Roscoe (piano); Pinchas Zukerman (violinist and violist); Viviane Hagner, Jennifer Pike, and Anthony Marwood (violin); Julian Bream (guitar); and the Brodsky and Endellion string quartets.  

James Brown, Julian’s manager at Hazard Chase reminisces on their website: “Within moments of Julian starting his recital, I had no doubt that he was a very special artist. It was an easy decision to offer him representation. I hope we will be able to play a significant role now in delivering the major career he so richly deserves”.

The influential classical music magazine BBC Music in its June 2012 issue hailed him as a ‘Rising Star’ and ‘Great Artist of Tomorrow’, quite an accolade.

His concert tour of Canada in 2011 was a grand success.

In July 2012, Clef was invited to András Schiff’s masterclass at Beethoven-Haus, Bonn. He was allowed the rare opportunity to play on Beethoven’s own Broadwood 1817 instrument while there.

He performed at the prestigious Dvořák Festival Prague in September 2012. It was a huge honour to jostle shoulders with the top guns of the classical music world, from our very own Zubin Mehta (who conducted the Staatskapelle Dresden the day before Clef’s concert), to the Capuçon brothers, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a tacit acknowledgement of the regard that Clef has garnered for himself in the highly competitive world of classical music.

Renowned pianist Benjamin Frith said of Clef: “Julian has a musical and pianistic maturity well beyond his years. He gives performances of great beauty, without mannerism or distortion. Already very experienced, he is totally composed on stage and he possesses a remarkably relaxed technique with which he brings the music so vividly to life”

Julian Clef’s story ought to be lapped up by our mainstream national press and media, and held up as an inspiration to other youth. Yet the silence so far has been deafening.

In contrast, in neighboring China, young pianists in the same age range as Clef (Lang Lang, Yundi Li, Yuja Wang) are accorded the welcome of superstars, with sold-out concerts in every concert tour pit-stop.

Even worse, Clef’s home state of Kerala has thus far not been able to offer its rising star the bare minimum of a grand piano to perform upon when he makes return visits home. He was forced to make do with an upright piano in Thiruvananthapuram at his last visit! At a time when India is acknowledged as a major economic superpower, is it so difficult to acquire one decent concert-grand piano in such a large state, almost the size of Switzerland? This would fulfill a need not just for Clef, but would encourage other world-class pianists to perform there too, thereby enriching its cultural life. And creating a platform for future home-grown rising stars!

We as a nation should be doing so much more to laud this young wunderkind of his instrument.

Goa is fortunate to have another chance to hear Julian Clef again on 20 July 2013 at 6.30 pm at the Kala Academy. The concert is hosted by ProMusica and Kala Academy. Entry is free.

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 18 July 2013)