Julius Drake is one of the foremost pianists of today, much sort after for song partnerships and in chamber music ensembles. He has partnered some of the most outstanding song recitalists of the past 25 years, from Peter Pears, Gerard Souzay and Thomas Allen to Ian Bostridge, Alice Coote, Gerald Finley and Simon Keenlyside.
Although Julius was born in London in 1959, the eldest of four children to Jean Meikle and Michael Drake, his family home was in rural Hertfordshire for most of his childhood. Julius started playing piano at the age of seven with Anthea Rael, who later also taught his own children. He has wanted nothing other than to be a pianist, although at that early age he did consider a mixed career as a garbage collector by day and a pianist by night (Neue Voralberger Zeitung, 2009).
In 1972, aged 12, Julius became a Music Scholar at the Purcell School for Young Musicians. [Click here to read 'Note Perfect' an insightful article on the Purcell School.] He flirted briefly with the double bass before returning to his first love, the piano, and it was as a teenager that he first discovered Schumann, whose music was to become a passion.
Julius aged 13 taking his grade 5 theory (used as the invitation for Julius’s 50th birthday party in 2009)
When he was 17 he became a pupil of Angus Morrison, the same year gaining his ‘Associate of the Royal College of Music’ Performer’s Diploma. He continued his education at the Royal College of Music where his principal teachers were Angus Morrison, Bernard Roberts and Roger Vignoles. Click the photo below to read a short article about Julius’s early career…
It was as a student at the Royal College of Music that he first started playing chamber music, and realised that sharing the music making with other musicians was what he wanted to do. It was only in his final year at RCM that he started to work with singers. He is the first to admit that has no singing talent himself.
A generous grant from the Cadbury Trust enabled him further study with both Geoffrey Parsons and Graham Johnson.
In November 1981 he made his very successful London debut in the Purcell Room at the South Bank Centre with the clarinettist, Victoria Soames [below], later broadcast on BBC Radio 3. In the early 1980s he visited Kuwait directing and playing for Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. In 1982 he gave a recital with Penelope Walker at the Edinburgh Fringe, and in October that year was the official accompanist for the Britten Symposium with Sir Peter Pears and Nancy Evans at Snape Maltings. He soon established himself as one of the most promising accompanists of his generation, initially playing at music clubs and major music festivals all over the country.
Julius with Victoria Soames
During these early years he was member of several chamber music ensembles including being a founder member of Aquarius formed in 1983 by the conductor Nicholas Cleobury and Josephine Richardson, with commissioned works by Michael Tippett and Paul Patterson (Click here for more details about Aquarius); the Mühlfield Trio, who commissioned new works from Elizabeth Lutyens and Graham Williams; The Schumann Piano Quartet and The Westminster Trio (see photos below).
Above: The Robert Schumann Quartet – Clare MacFarlane, Leland Chen, Caroline Dearney & Julius
Below: The Westminster Trio – Julius with Justine and Juliet Tomlinson
At the RCM Julius started a musical partnership and friendship with the oboeist Nicholas Daniel (winner of the 1980 BBC Television Young Musician of the Year), although they had first met at the Purcell School. In 1981 they formed the hugely popular “Menagerie”, an entertainment with an animal theme incorporating music and words, which they presented with a guest artist. Over the next decade or so their guest artists included narrators Richard Baker, Johnny Morris, Timothy West, John Julius Norwich, and Arthur Lowe, and singers Elizabeth Harwood, Simon Keenlyside. Click the photo of Nicholas Daniel and Julius for more about The Menagerie.
Julius and Nicholas made their Festival Hall debut in January 1984 under the auspices of the Kirckman Concert Society, and won unqualified praise from the press. They were swiftly invited to give a second recital in April 1985.
Julius first recording was with Nicholas Daniel, released in 1985 on the Pearl label and sponsored by the Finzi Trust.
By 1985 BBC Radio 3 listeners would have been familiar with the playing of Nicholas and Julius through their many broadcasts, and they were equally well-known in concert halls throughout Great Britain; two of their most notable performances were Sir Peter Pears’ 75th Birthday Concert at Snape Maltings and their 90th Birthday tribute to Leon Goossens in 1987.
Two musicians were a particular inspiration for Julius: hearing Menahem Pressler of the Beaux Arts Trio sowed the seeds that chamber music and playing the piano with others would be a good thing to do; the pianist Geoffrey Parsons, demonstrated clearly what high standards are required to produce quality recitals with singers, and that the pianist has to be an equal partner.
Director of the Perth International Chamber Music Festival in Australia from 2000 – 2003, Julius Drake was also musical director of Deborah Warner’s staging of Janáček’s Diary of One Who Vanished, touring to Munich, London, Dublin, Amsterdam and New York.
Julius Drake’s passionate interest in song has led to invitations to devise song series for among others the Wigmore Hall in London, the BBC and the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. A series of song recitals – Julius Drake and Friends – in the historic Middle Temple Hall in London , has featured recitals with many outstanding vocal artists including Thomas Allen, Olaf Bär, Ian Bostridge, Angelika Kirchschlager, Sergei Leiferkus, Felicity Lott, Katarina Karneus, Christopher Maltman, Mark Padmore, Christoph Pregardien, Amanda Roocroft, and Willard White.
Julius appears at all the major music centres: in recent seasons concerts have taken him to the Aldeburgh, Edinburgh, Munich, Schubertiade, Salzburg and Tanglewood Music Festivals; to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Centre, New York; Concertgebouw, Amsterdam and Philarmonie, Cologne; Châtelet and Musée de Louvre, Paris; La Scala, Milan and Liceu, Barcelona; Musikverein and Konzerthaus, Vienna; and Wigmore Hall and BBC Proms, London.
Julius is frequently invited to perform at international chamber music festivals – recently Kuhmo in Finland, Delft in the Netherlands, Oxford in England and West Cork in Ireland – while his instrumental duo with Nicholas Daniel has been described in The Independent newspaper as “one of the most satisfying in British chamber music: vital, thoughtful and confirmed in musical integrity of the highest order.”
Professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London and visiting Professor at the Royal Northern College of Music he regularly gives master classes, recently in Amsterdam, Brussels, Oxford, Paris, Vienna and at the Schubert Institut, Baden bei Wien.
Julius Drake’s many recordings include Sibelius Songs and Grieg Songs with Katarina Karneus (both Hyperion), French Sonatas with Nicholas Daniel (Virgin), Spanish Song with Joyce Didonato (Eloquentia), Mahler Songs and Tchaikovsky Songs with Christianne Stotijn (both Onyx), Schumann Lieder with Alice Coote (EMI). Live recordings from recitals at Wigmore Hall London for the ‘Wigmore Live’ label have included concerts with Lorraine Hunt Liebersen, Joyce Didonato, Christopher Maltman and Gerald Finley.
He has made an award winning series of recordings with Ian Bostridge for EMI, including discs of Schumann, Schubert, Henze, Britten, The English Songbook and La Bonne Chanson.
Julius has also collaborated on a widely acclaimed series of recordings with Gerald Finley for Hyperion – Ives, Barber, Schumann and Ravel – their CD of Barber Songs and their Schumann Heine Lieder CD have both won Gramophone Awards. Their latest venture is a CD of Britten songs “Tit for Tat”, due for release…
Will shortly begin the first recording in a series of seven for Hyperion of the Complete Songs of Liszt, with the American tenor Matthew Polenzani.
The Jean Meikle Music Trust
Julius is very much involved in the Jean Meikle Music Trust, which was established in 2005 in memory of his mother Jean Meikle, a passionate lover of song and chamber music in all its forms, and a devotee of Wigmore Hall. The Trust seeks to encourage outstanding young voice and piano partnerships and funds the Song Duo Prize in the Wigmore International Song Competition. Artists taking part in the scheme include Thomas Allen, Ian Bostridge, Helmut Deutsch, Julius Drake, Gerald Finley, Simon Keenlyside, Phillip Langridge, Felicity Lott, Ann Murray, Mark Padmore and Roger Vignoles.
Click the photo below of Jean Meikle to read more about the JMMT
A personal note
Julius Drake lives in London with his wife and two daughters. He has two Steinway pianos at home, both left to him by musicians who were interested in and supportive of his career: a model O left to him by Ivor Newton and a model B left by Joseph Cooper [Face the Music].
He likes to play tennis, read novels, go to the theatre and cinema and go walking.