"A Fantastic Natural Musician"

Eleanor Bailie

Eleanor Bailie – Pianist & Author

“To hear Eleanor Bailie perform and talk about music is to realise how much has so far passed you by. In her hands, scholarship becomes insight.”
The Grieg Society chairman

Eleanor: “But I do have to say – I want to say so much – I have always said that you are such a fantastic natural musician that I have always felt, well… slightly in awe! No, I do, because you have this incredible instinct and natural rhythm and sense of rubato, texture, intense emotion – every single thing you have – and it seems so natural. And that is what is so marvellous. And you encompass so many fields; I mean you play early music, you play Liszt and Chopin and you have a vast span.”

Joanna: “All I can say is that I am very glad if I have the effect of giving anybody any pleasure at all with my playing, because I enjoy playing. It isn’t a question of wanting to play to people; I just enjoy playing the music. If it does work out that people find there is more in it than they might hear – something different – something a bit more special, then that is fantastic; that’s really the whole raison d’etre.”

Eleanor: “It is, this is the whole point: you give this impression that you are doing it because you love it. An awful lot of players don’t.

You know, you feel they are digging away at it, striving and everything, and you just feel as if you are right in it and you are actually enjoying what you are doing and I am sure this is what people pick up from your playing…”

Eleanor Bailie and Joanna: How we met; Peter Katin, friendship, Felix Koch and a shared love of Haydn.


Eleanor Bailie and Joanna: “A fantastic natural musician”, Liszt and the cimbalon, pianists and the importance of feeling ‘the dance’.


Eleanor Bailie and Joanna: Our friendship, Jo’s grandmother pianist, Stephen Isserlis, academic training; diplomas and teaching.

Andreas Boyde

Andreas Boyde – Concert Pianist

“Actually Jo’s modesty was something I found quite startling; because she had a special gift. Most of us musicians struggle to find a unique voice; with Jo it came naturally.”

Andreas (to Joanna): “What I realised when we started our first projects, and I started playing several works which I had either learned or played before, I noticed your musical advice was extraordinary. And I think it’s something that you might call intuition, or a certain form of instinct… inspiration. How would you describe it? How come your musical judgement was so amazing. It still is of course, and you come up with ideas that are extremely striking.

Joanna: “I actually have never been a highly academically trained musician, because I didn’t go to any academies or anything like that. I had one or two extremely marvellous teachers. I had Peter Katin and before him, I had a wonderful teacher called Henry Wynn Wernick in Cornwall. He actually picked up on this intuitive thing. I think its just part of my imaginative character; I always was a very imaginative child. It struck me as being quite normal that one should live in a slight fantasy world most of the time – and music seems to express that to me”.
It isn’t that I’m going through an actual scenario when I’m playing or listening to a piece, but I feel sometimes – and this is very important, but difficult to express – I feel that one has to take the essence of the emotion in the piece. Its almost like a perfume.

“It isn’t the actual situation itself that springs to mind, its the scent of it that brings back the emotion; the scent in the piece that is almost impossible to express in words. I have always felt that intuitively.”

Andreas: “Well sometimes I feel when you look at the score, the music jumps at you and I immediately have a very strong picture of how the music should sound and then sometimes its a long journey to end up where you started.”

Joanna: “Exactly, I feel that too. Its the practising, the hard grind in between. You’re aching to get back to your original moment of inspiration and if you feel that somehow you are connecting, possibly with the inspiration of the composer that made him write the piece in the first place (which is almost impossible to put down in the notes); you’ve got to somehow get through the notes to feel the emotion and the inspiration and it may not be the same inspiration as [the composer’s]…”

In this conversation Joanna and Andreas discuss, intuition, inspiration, interpretation, dance, the deep grief expressed in Haydn’s F minor Variations and Joanna’s recording of the Liszt Dante Sonata

Martino Tirimo

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Martino Tirimo – Concert Pianist

Martino Tirimo: “My first meeting with Joanna Leach was at Morley College, when she decided to join my piano class there. Her exceptional musicality was clear from the first moment, but what pleased me particularly was her strong individual expression. 

“For example, in works like the Janáček Sonata her passionate attunement elicited an emotionally powerful interpretation that few pianists can attain. This was an expression of the highest order. Her playing also had a lyrical and poetic quality, which was most moving.”

Janáček: Sonata 1.X.1905

Jenny Stern

Jenny Stern, Jo's Duet partner

Jenny Stern (Bach) – Joanna’s duet partner

Jenny Stern: “We have shared many special things and I have such admiration for your ability to take everything and make the absolute most of whatever it was you found yourself in and particularly musically.

“You would leave nothing unturned in terms of the understanding, the feeling and the emotion. You know, occasionally you would throw these ‘outrageous’ – not outrageous – ideas into the class at Morley. And people would all go ‘ahhh!…’ in absolute surprise. It was totally heart-felt, absolutely so compelling, and whatever you did was with total conviction. It was just so special, so special…”

Bernard d'Ascoli

Bernard d’Ascoli – Concert Pianist

Bernard: “We managed three CDs altogether. But hearing your latest Chopin I understand why we got on so well with that particular repertoire. In fact you play a nocturne on your CD … “

Joanna: “The D flat Nocturne.”

Bernard: “… and I really found – what’s wonderful is the way it flows so naturally. I had the real feeling that you were – this is something one says, but it was really true – as if you were improvising it; as if you were creating it in front of us.”

Joanna: “Oh Bernard, what a lovely thing to say.”

Bernard: “It’s true; it’s really what I felt. It didn’t feel calculated; it was really spontaneous.
You’re A flat major Study sounds wonderful; so effortless …”

Joanna: “Oh Bernard, thank you.”

Bernard: “… and yet without holes in the texture; it’s pianistically achieved as well. I know you can benefit from editing and so on, we all do; but if you had edited it, every single note, it wouldn’t sound that spontaneous!”

Chopin: D flat Nocturne

played by Joanna “for my friends”

"That Bloody B"

“That Bloody B gets in the way”

Marianna, Jo’s granddaughter told how when although miles away, Jo had nearly spoilt a promising first date. She had been taken to a 200th Anniversary Chopin concert.

Marianna: “The piece started and I suddenly found myself trying to stifle a fit of uncontrollable giggles. My date just looked at me as though I was crazy. I had my hand over my mouth, crunching myself up giggling away. Afterwards I had to explain to him that I had been reminded of hearing you practising the piece, all grand and everything going well, then all of a sudden, “For goodness sake Jo, you know what you are doing! For f***-sake just get it right Jo.” You were not only talking about yourself in the third person, but swearing like a trooper. There in the concert hall, I could hear you as though you were right next to me; your voice in my head just put me into a fit of giggles. 

Joanna: When practising one has this idea of ‘getting it right’ and I get frustrated when certain things that I consider myself well capable of doing and should be able to manage, keep going wrong. I tick myself off. It has amused several people actually. Andreas was staying with us and having a bath when I was playing a rather beautiful piece by Chopin, which he was enjoying… then suddenly, these awful expletives when I made a mistake – just my way of dealing with the stress of practising!

Joanna's Steinway Recordings

Stephan Loges and Joanna

Jenny Stern and Joanna play duets

Joanna plays:

Joanna plays: Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Partita No1 in B flat BWV825 (complete)

Joanna plays: Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonata No. 17 in D minor “Tempest” (complete)

Sonata No. 17 in D minor “Tempest” (i. Largo)

Sonata No. 17 in D minor “Tempest” (ii. Adagio)

Sonata No. 17 in D minor “Tempest” (iii. Allegretto)

Joanna plays: Chopin

Joanna plays: Debussy

Joanna plays: Janáček

Joanna plays: Liszt