Ian Hobson was born into a family of keen amateur musicians and began piano lessons at the age of five. At eleven he began studying the violin and at thirteen began taking organ lessons as well, something he found to be a ‘very useful discipline’ in learning the piano. At sixteen Hobson won a scholarship to Magdalene College, Cambridge where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in two years, a course normally taking three years. At the same time he studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Sidney Harrison, gaining his recital diploma at the age of seventeen. Hobson then went to study at Yale University with Ward Davenny and Claude Frank. Alongside his piano studies, Hobson took tuition in harpsichord and also concentrated on conducting, becoming a finalist in the Baltimore conducting competition. After completing Master’s and Doctoral programmes he accepted an Associate Professorship of piano at the University of Illinois, worked with Menahem Pressler, pianist of the Beaux Arts trio, and later became a full Professor at the University of Illinois. Further conducting experience was gained at Aspen, Tanglewood and Cleveland, being invited there by conductor Lorin Maazel. In 1984 Hobson formed his own orchestra, the Sinfonia da Camera.
During the 1970s Hobson took part in many piano competitions including those held in Warsaw, Vienna, the Van Cliburn in Fort Worth, the Arthur Rubinstein in Tel Aviv, and Leeds. At this last competition he won fourth prize, but on entering the competition for a second time in 1981 he won first prize. Hobson has performed with many orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, Hallé, Philharmonia, Philadelphia, Chicago Symphony, Pittsburgh and Houston. He has also performed some of Mozart’s piano concertos, conducting the English Chamber Orchestra from the piano on a tour of the Far East.
Hobson’s style is precise, yet scrupulous rather than fastidious, with a varying range of touches that he employs to good effect in song transcriptions. He enjoys playing complete cycles of works and has performed the complete piano sonatas of Beethoven, the complete variations for piano by Brahms, Rachmaninov’s complete Études-Tableaux and préludes, some of Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Études, and Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ Variations. Hobson has had contemporary works written for him by Alan Ridout and Benjamin Lees, and has performed the Piano Concerto by Henry Holden Huss at Carnegie Hall and the Piano Concerto by Clara Schumann at Lincoln Center. As well as performing complete cycles, Hobson takes great care in planning his programmes; a typical example juxtaposed Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, Schubert’s great G major Sonata D. 894 and the complete Schubert transcriptions by Leopold Godowsky.
Hobson’s first recordings were made for Classics for Pleasure, a branch of EMI, in 1982: some Mozart concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra and Sir Alexander Gibson, a disc of Rachmaninov transcriptions, and Chopin’s Études Opp.10 and 25. The Rachmaninov and Chopin have been reissued on two compact discs. From around 1985 he began to record for Arabesque in America, and has made discs of works by Godowsky, including arrangements of the Chopin études, Hummel’s complete piano sonatas, the complete variations for piano by Brahms, the complete piano sonatas by Schumann, Mendelssohn’s complete works for piano and orchestra, chamber music by Milhaud, some concertante works by Françaix with his Sinfonia da Camera, other works by Saint-Saëns and Rachmaninov, and a programme of music by the early nineteenth-century keyboard composers known as ’The London Piano School’ on three compact discs.
In 1997 Hobson was recorded as conductor of John Philip Sousa’s comic opera El Capitan with his Sinfonia da Camera. It was released on Hobson’s own record label, Zephyr. On this new label Hobson has also released recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, two piano concertos by Ignaz Moscheles in which Hobson is soloist and conductor, some Godowsky arrangements of Schubert, and David Johnson’s Twelve Preludes and Fugues for Piano. In the discs of the Moscheles and Godowsky the piano sound is unflattering and out of tune.
For Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto Series Hobson has recorded works by Huss and Schelling. The Gramophone magazine commented, ‘What makes the release unexpectedly compelling listening is the real dedication brought to these performances by Hobson and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Brabbins.’ The BMG Catalyst label issued Hobson’s recording of Kevin Oldham’s Piano Concerto Op. 14 with the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra in 1994.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).