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Thursday 10 November 2022 at 7:30 pm
at the OSO Barnes

Alicia's Gift

“The book that inspired our family” — The Kanneh-Masons

A narrated concert based on Jessica Duchen’s novel Alicia’s Gift, enhanced with performances of works by Chopin, Debussy, Granados, Ravel and Gershwin played by the award-winning pianist Viv McLean.



When does a dream become an obsession? And whose dream is it anyway?

Alicia Bradley, aged three, sits down at the family piano and plays with both hands, by ear, in the right key, a piece she’s just heard at nursery school. Her family, seeking a quiet life in Derbyshire, doesn’t know what’s hit them. Alicia’s dad, Guy, plays the piano himself, but only for fun. Alicia’s mum, Kate, had wanted to become a musician, but her parents forbade it. As it becomes clear that they’ve got a prodigy on their hands, Kate’s determined to give Alicia every chance to succeed, but Guy laments his daughter’s lost childhood; and Alicia’s brother, Adrian, sidelined amid the fracas, becomes a tearaway who can see matters more clearly than all the others put together. It’s only Alicia, an affectionate, straightforward girl who loves to go running with her dog, who doesn’t seem to get a say in things…

As Alicia grows up, everyone wants a piece of the Peak District Prodigy. Alicia has several lifelines: her dog, Cassie; her friend Anjali, a young Indian pianist; her sympathetic agent; and, possibly, a boy from Bloomington. But amid a warring family, unscrupulous teachers and the constant pressures of practising, concerts and competitions, will she ever be allowed a real life of her own?


Jessica Duchen writes for and about music, dividing her time between fiction, stage works and journalism.

She contributes to the i, the Sunday Times, the Evening Standard, BBC Music Magazine and the JC, among others, and was classical music correspondent for The Independent from 2004 to 2016.

As a librettist she has written numerous texts for choral works and operas for the composer Roxanna Panufnik, including Silver Birch, commissioned by Garsington Opera and shortlisted for an International Opera Award in 2018. Her libretti for two works for Garsington Youth Opera are based on stories by Oscar Wilde: The Happy Princess with composer Paul Fincham (2019) and The Selfish Giantwith John Barber, premiered in summer 2021 and going to its co-commissioner, Opera North, in 2022.

Her novel Immortal (2020) is based on the latest research into the identity of Beethoven’s mysterious ‘immortal beloved’. Ghost Variations tells the astonishing story of the Schumann Violin Concerto’s bizarre discovery in the 1930s. Odette is a magical-realist modern fairy tale. Among her earlier books, Alicia’s Gift is about a child prodigy trying to grow up, and Hungarian Dances the saga of a family of violinists through the 20th century.

She often performs her own narrated concerts and concert dramas. Some are based on my novels, including Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved, Ghost Variations, Alicia’s Gift, Hungarian Dancesand Odette. Musicians she has worked with include violinists David Le Page, Fenella Humphreys and Bradley Creswick, and pianists Viv McLean and Margaret Fingerhut. Being Mrs Bach is a concert drama about the life of Anna Magdalena, with Steven Devine (harpsichord) and a choice line-up of colleagues.

Other work includes biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré and a play, A Walk Through the End of Time, introducing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

Work in progress includes a new book for the London Chamber Orchestra’s centenary-plus, for publication in 2022, and a biography of the great pianist Dame Myra Hess, for Kahn & Averill. A new opera with Roxanna Panufnik, Dalia, is in the pipeline for Garsington 2022 and a new narrated concert, Seeking Utopia, commissioned by the violist Shiry Rashkovsky, will coincide with the Vaughan Williams anniversary in 2022.

Jessica was born within the sound of Bow Bells, studied music at Cambridge and lives in London with her husband and two cats. She loves theatre, playing the piano, cookery, hiking and deliciously obscure books about music.

Described by Le Monde as "possessing the genius one finds in those who know how to forget themselves", since winning First Prize at the Maria Canals Piano Competition in Barcelona, British pianist Viv McLean has performed in all the major venues in the UK as well as throughout Europe, Japan, Australia and the USA. Viv’s concerto work includes appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Halle Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Sinfonia Viva, Orchestra of the Swan, Orchestra of St John’s, Northern Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Concert Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of such conductors as Daniel Harding, Wayne Marshall, John Lubbock, Christopher Warren-Green, Owain Arwell Hughes, Philip Hesketh, David Charles Abell, Stephen Bell, Carl Davis, Rebecca Miller and Marvin Hamlisch.


Recent concerto highlights include Mozart K467 with the ECO at the Royal Festival Hall, Grieg with the LPO at the Barbican, Rachmaninov’s 3rd Concerto with the RPO in Cambridge, Gershwin, Bernstein, de Falla and Ravel with the Hallé at the Bridgewater Hall, The Sage Gateshead and other venues in the North of England, and Beethoven's 5th Concerto with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall. Engagements in the coming months include a tour with the London Concert Orchestra playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in venues including the Royal Festival Hall London, Symphony Hall Birmingham, Bridgewater Hall Manchester, Usher Hall Edinburgh and the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow. Viv will also be doing a series of words & music concerts with the acclaimed writer, Jessica Duchen, featuring works by Beethoven and based on her new novel “Immortal”. 

Viv plays regularly with the Adderbury Ensemble and the Le Page Trio and has also performed with other leading chamber groups such as the Ysaye String Quartet, the Sacconi String Quartet, members of the Elias, Allegri, Tippett String Quartets and Leonore Piano Trio, Ensemble 360, the Galliard Wind Ensemble, the Bristol Ensemble, the Berkeley Ensemble and the Leopold String Trio. He has collaborated with musicians such as Natalie Clein, Marianne Thorsen, Daniel Hope, Lawrence Power, Mary Bevan, David Le Page, Matthew Sharp, Guy Johnston, Ruth Rodgers, Kate Gould, Clare O'Connell, Alice Neary, Adrian Brendel, Fenella Humphreys and many others.

He has performed at numerous festivals including the Cheltenham International Festival, Buxton Festival, Music in the Round Festival and Harrogate International Festival in the UK, the International Beethoven Festival, the Mecklenburg Festival and the Kultur Kreis Festival in Germany, the Festival International de Musique Classique d’Aigues-Mortes, the Melle Festival and Festival de Saintes in France, the Vinterfestspill i Bergstaden in Norway and the Musik vid Kattegatt Festival in Sweden. Since 2014, Viv has been pianist-in-residence at the Glossop Festival.

Viv studied from an early age with Ruth Nye and, after attending Chetham’s School of Music, he went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music with Hamish Milne and Maria Curcio. At the Academy he held the Hodgson Fellowship and was made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 2005. He made his Wigmore Hall recital debut through winning the Friends of the Royal Academy Wigmore Award. Whilst studying at the Academy, he was the winner of the piano competition at the Royal Overseas-League Music Competition and was selected as one of the winners of the National Federation of Music Societies' Young Artists Competition. 

Viv made his BBC Radio 3 recital debut through the BBC Radio 3 Young Artists Forum scheme and has also recorded for Classic FM, WDR Radio in Germany, Radio France, ABC Radio in Australia, NRK Radio in Norway and for the Sky Arts television channel. His commercial releases include recordings for such labels as Sony, Naxos, Nimbus, RPO Records, ICSM Records, Harmony & Imagination Records and his most recent releases are a Chopin recital and a selection of live recordings for Stone Records.

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