Penelope Mary Thwaites AM. is a concert pianist and composer, recording artist and editor. Born in the United Kingdom of Australian parents, she is a citizen of both countries.
She grew up in Melbourne, Australia, attending Tintern Grammar and taking a degree in Music from Melbourne University (B.Mus Hons 1966), where she won the Ormond Exhibition and was placed first in her final year. Following a period of working internationally as musical director and composer of music for the theatre, she continued orchestration studies in London with William L Reed and piano studies with the Swiss pianist Albert Ferber, a pupil of Walter Gieseking and who often played for Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Her debut at London’s Wigmore Hall in 1974, sponsored by the Stanley Lewis Concerts Society, was followed by concerts and broadcasts in the UK and tours worldwide, both as solo recitalist and concerto soloist. In 1993, she appeared in the Australia Day Gala at the Royal Opera House in the presence of the Prince of Wales.
Repertoire and recordings
Her concert repertoire encompasses a wide range of classical composers, some represented on her CD ‘Travelling Between Worlds’ (LIR). Her Bach recording (2013) for the same label was described in one review as ‘classic Bach keyboard works enlivened by some exquisite playing...Bach's music becomes here in one of Busoni's adaptations, richly expressive and soul searching, raptly played...an impressive survey of some wonderful good-to-be-alive music’ (Sinfoni September 2014).
Beginning in 1975 Penelope has made a point of including music by Australian composers such as Malcolm Williamson, Margaret Sutherland, Arthur Benjamin, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Jennifer Fowler, Alison Bauld, David Worrall and many more, whether in solo recitals, concertos and chamber works. Her pioneering LP ‘Australian Piano Music’ (Discourses 1980) was broadcast worldwide as something of a novelty at the time.
Penelope found a special affinity with the music of Melbourne-born pianist and composer Percy Grainger. She has now recorded more than 260 tracks of his music: first for Pearl records (most of the four-hand repertoire with John Lavender), solo discs for Unicorn Kanchana and Regis, and most notably as a featured solo, chamber and orchestral artist on eight of Chandos Records’ 20-CD Grainger Edition.
In 2016 Heritage Records released a box set of the complete Grainger music for two pianos four hands, featuring the three earlier recordings by Thwaites and Lavender together with a fourth CD recorded in 2016 by Penelope with Timothy Young. BBC Music Magazine (February 2017) commented ‘passion undimmed, along with dexterity, the playing’s flair and precision are unchanged…Listening again only makes the heart grow fonder...I can't think of another composer who so quickly and quirkily enhances life.’
Her lectures and broadcasts on the composer and detailed research into his life and work led to her editing The New Percy Grainger Companion (Boydell & Brewer 2010, paperback edition 2016). She was Artistic Director for two major Grainger Festivals in London (St John’s Smith Square in 1998 and a four-day celebration at King’s Place in 2011 – 50 years since Grainger’s death.
Her interest in promoting Australian composition led to her founding and chairing the international Performing Australian Music Competition which took place in London in 2001 and 2008, attracting young musicians from 20 countries who chose and performed music of 80 Australian composers. The competition still awaits a long-term sponsor.
Since 2013 she has served as Chairman of the Order of Australia Association UK/Europe.
In the same year that she gave her second Wigmore Hall recital (1976), her musical (with Alan Thornhill) Ride! Ride! (based on an incident in the life of John Wesley) premiered at the Westminster Theatre in London's West End, following a nationwide tour. The musical has had more than 40 productions since then – both amateur and professional - and a concert version was recorded in 1999 on the Somm label. Thwaites's compositions include songs, organ and piano works and ballet music. She is published by Bardic Edition, whose catalogue is now distributed under the Schott Music imprint.
Penelope received the International Grainger Society’s Medallion in 1992 and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2001 "for service to music through the performance and promotion of Australian compositions in the United Kingdom and internationally". She is a Steinway Artist and a represented composer with the Australian Music Centre".
- Thwaites, Penelope (2016). The New Percy Grainger Companion. The Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1-78327-185-6.
- Robert Cummings,"Penelope Thwaites - Artist Biography", "All Music"
- The New Percy Grainger Companion,"Boydell & Brewer", First Published: 28 Nov 2010
- Ian Lace, "The Grainger Event", Music Web International, 8 November 1998
- Jonathan Lennie, "Percy Grainger: Much more than folk", "Time Out", 8 February 2011
- John Davis, "Performing Australian Music Competition", "Australian Music Centre", 14 April 2008
- A Tanner's Worth of Tune: Rediscovering the Post-War British Musical By Adrian Wright, p.270
- Bardic Edition,"Ride! Ride! - The Wesley Musical"
- "The International Percy Grainger Society"
- It's an Honour
- Nicolson, Mairi. "Penelope Thwaites: The Grainger Ambassador". ABC Classic FM. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
- "Steinway Artists
- "Penelope Thwaites : Represented Artist"
- The Telegraph, 1 December 2009
- The Independent, 23 November 2009