CLASSICAL MUSIC / On Classical Music

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Daniel Barenboim did it. Vladimir Ashkenazy did it. Around Manchester you can catch Peter Donohoe at it, and in Croydon and the London Mozart Players' other ports of call, they have grown used to Howard Shelley doing it. Conducting, that is. It is quite a familiar path now from the piano to the podium. Other musicians try it - Barry Tuckwell from the horn with distinction, likewise the clarinettist Antony Pay, but there's an open book on Placido Domingo and a definite veil over the short-lived metamorphosis of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Sir Colin Davis, another alumnus of the clarinet, and sometime violinist Yan Pascal Tortelier are people to prove the rule, but the keyboard certainly has the edge when it comes to supplying baton-handlers of high repute.

No doubt it's all to do with having control over most of the elements from the start. When most of the repertoire is as self-contained as the piano's, the capacity to grasp a score in its entirety has to develop from the start, and keyboard skills are generally expected to be part of a conductor's armoury in learning new works - a prejudice which Davis found he had to fight in his early days. Is it also significant that these are all men's names? Whatever the depths of psychology that are tapped in making the move, one particular pleasure lies at the end of it. It is to encounter a piano concerto conducted by somebody who has played the soloist's role. Sometimes there can be a further subtle frisson as they reveal which of the two knows it better. But at its best, there can be a rare meeting of minds that draws the audience into an intimacy close to that of chamber music. With the coming two dates at the Barbican featuring all five of Beethoven's concertos, the omens for a fine balance are promising: Michael Roll (above, seated), first-ever winner of the Leeds competition, is the pianist, and Howard Shelley (above) conducts the London Mozart Players. Shelley also has the Eighth Symphony to himself. But who will be preparing the encores?

7.30pm 14 Jun, 1 Jul, Barbican Hall (071-638 8891)

(Photograph omitted)

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