Plaudits as Dame Fanny Waterman reveals she will leave ‘the Leeds’

Dame Fanny Waterman sits at a piano at Leeds Civic Hall.
Dame Fanny Waterman sits at a piano at Leeds Civic Hall.
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Leading lights from the musical world have paid tribute to Dame Fanny Waterman following news she is to step down from the competition she founded more than 50 years ago.

The 94-year-old great-grandmother announced this week that she will retire as chairman and artistic director of the Leeds International Piano Competition after the 2015 event, which ends on September 13.

Along with her late husband Dr Geoffrey de Keyser and Marion Thorpe CBE, then Countess of Harewood, the talented pianist founded “the Leeds” in 1961.

It is now regarded as one of the most coveted prizes in the piano world, with previous winners including Andras Schiff, Radu Lupu and Artur Pizarro.

Dame Fanny said: “I feel ready now, after the 2015 competition, to hand over the reins, confident that it will continue to thrive.”

Dame Janet Baker CH DBE, patron of the competition, said: “It has been a privilege to watch this courageous, indomitable lady hold on to the values on which she built this competition. They are the reason it is held in such respect.”

Until now, the tenacious widow has shown little signs of slowing down – continuing to work up to 10 hours a day as well as teaching young pianists on the gleaming Steinways in her Leeds home.

Sir Mark Elder CBE, music director of the Hallé, said: “Dame Fanny’s achievement in setting up and guiding this competition for 50 years is extraordinary. She has given us all something to cherish.”

The high-profile event has helped to define Leeds as one of the global centres of pianistic excellence. Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of Arts Council England, said: “Fanny Waterman has made an exceptional contribution to the musical life of this country. Her support for British and International talent has been remarkable.”

The exact date of her retirement will depend on the appointment of her successor.