RIOPY, birth name Jean-Phillippe Rio-Py, like a lot of the performers I have seen at Howard Assembly Room, was someone I had not heard of before my visit. He is a French pianist and composer who has the most amazing back story.

He was raised in a secular cult in France and taught himself to play the piano as a child when he discovered an abandoned instrument. He didn’t have any scores so he composed his own music in his head. When he was 17 years-old Steinway chose him to be a featured artist and a year later he left home and began busking. He came to England and got a job with a piano removal firm in Reading where he met Michael Freeman who got him a scholarship to Oxford University where he studied by day and played in hotels to raise money by night. In 2011 he was asked to pay at the opening of The Arts Club in Mayfair, where Gwyneth Paltrow and her then husband Chris Martin of Coldplay were guests. Three weeks later Chris Martin offered him his first personal piano, a Steinway! In 2018 he recorded his first album, Riopy, on it.

He is just about to release his fourth album, Thrive, which comes out on 14th April, his previous one, Tree of Light spent 120 weeks on the Billboard Classical Chart being at No.1 for five of them.

Despite all of his success, he has suffered from bouts of deep depression and said that he uses his music to help him through. As I was listening, it was fairly obvious that this was the case from the style he has developed, which was constant throughout. During the pieces, one hand, usually the right, at the top of the keyboard, was engaged in frantic glissando which suggested pent up anxiety and frustration. His execution was beyond amazing and the audience was in raptures, especially one uber fan in the front row!

Audience banter. The lighting was subdued throughout the performance.

Not all of the pieces were individually introduced, instead there were attempts to engage the audience in conversation but, sadly, these fell a bit flat when he failed to hear and understand some of what was being said to him.

One of the works, Drive, he said was played on a loop by one of his fans who was suffering from depression and it helped them through a particularly dark time. The power of music never ceases to amaze me.

I was very impressed by the skill and the musical content but the style tended to become a bit repetitive as the evening wore on. I have just had a look at a video for a track from his new album, which features strings for the first time, and I found it far more rounded than the piano solos and is well worth a listen.

The same applied to the support act, Adam Naas, who had been requested specifically by RIOPY to accompany him. Mr Naas was at the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum sitting on a piano stool with his guitar singing very quietly into the microphone. His voice was melodious, but because it was so softly delivered there was no nuance. Again I have just been watching videos of some of the tracks on his new album, Goldie and the Kiss of Andromeda, where he is accompanied by other musicians, his increase in volume improves the songs no end. The result is reminiscent of singer songwriters from the early 1970s, much more to my taste, although the video for A Story We Don’t Tell is far different. Why not give them a try

All in all this was a very pleasant evening and I will be sure to follow the careers of these two artists with interest.

To see what else is coming up at Howard Assembly Room go to

Feature photograph provided by Howard Assembly Room, all others by Stan Graham

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