Imogen Cooper: Beautiful Hands, Built for Bach

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Imogen Cooper plays Bach in the APM studio

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Pianist Imogen Cooper

For the first time in Imogen Cooper's distinguished career, she confronts the keyboard music of J.S. Bach. Benjamin Ealovega hide caption

toggle caption Benjamin Ealovega

After years of award-winning recordings and glowing reviews for her performances of works by Beethoven, Schubert, and Mozart, only now does Imogen Cooper, Britain's 58-year-old queen of the keyboard, feel ready for the simple austerity of Bach. She recently paid a visit to our studio to play Bach's kaleidoscopic Partita No. 2 in C minor.

The first thing you notice about Cooper is her hands. They are unusually lovely hands, which you can't say of every pianist. Near-endless practice can accentuate the bones and knuckles to the point where a pianist's hand looks gaunt, even skeletal.

It's not for lack of practice that Cooper's hands appear so healthy and beautifully shaped. When you're in her audience, she makes the most difficult passages sound as smooth as water being poured from a pitcher.

But up close, talking to her at the piano in our studio, her hands were often folded quietly in her lap. And I had the oddest thought: Those hands looked happy to be there, situated at the end of those arms, which are connected to that intelligence, which makes such beautiful work of the hardest music.

My, how I wish my hands could do that.

More About Imogen Cooper

Imogen Cooper, born in London, has a long and distinguished international career as one of the most eloquent interpreters of the classical repertoire. Appearances last season in the U.S. with the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony — and debut recitals in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York — were uniformly lauded for their musical depth. A pianist of enormous range, Cooper has made numerous recordings, and is especially known for the communicative power she brings to Beethoven and Schubert. Recently, she was awarded the C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2007 Queens New Year's Honors for her services to music.

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