Alasdair Graham,

concert pianist and professor of music

Born: April 19, 1934

Died: July 25, 2016

ALASDAIR Graham, who has died aged 82, was a working class lad from Kirkintilloch with a remarkable gift for music who grew up to become a distinguished concert pianist.

During the 1950s and 1960s he performed in many of the great international concert halls, playing with some of the leading orchestras and conductors of the day including Sir Malcolm Sargent and Sir Charles Groves. He was also in great demand as an accompanist for debutante singers.

Then, quite suddenly, his performing career came to an end when he suffered a nervous breakdown. Years of international touring, often alone and with gruelling schedules and tight deadlines to meet, had taken their toll. Mentally exhausted, he retired from public performance and would never play in front of an audience again.

However, it was far from the end of his musical career. He eventually recovered his health and became a much-admired and highly successful Professor at the Royal College of Music in London.

Alexander Graham was born in Glasgow, the elder of two brothers to James and Jean Graham. For some reason he disliked the Christian name Alexander and made sure he was always known as Alasdair.

Barely a month after his birth, Mr Graham, a joiner to trade, moved his family to Kirkintilloch. Though the family was not particularly musical, Mr Graham’s sister was an accomplished pianist who played the organ at the local church. It was she who first noticed young Alasdair’s prodigious talent and took him under her wing. By the time he was four he could play every tune in the hymn book.

He started taking formal piano lessons at the age of seven. The same year his parents bought him a season ticket for the Scottish Orchestra’s weekly recitals at the St Andrews Halls in Glasgow. Every Saturday night the youngster would travel alone into the city to attend the concerts.

Educated at Lenzie Academy, both he and his brother Donald sang in the nationally-renowned Kirkintilloch Junior Choir. In the late 1940s, Alasdair took part in the National Eisteddfod, not only winning the choral section but also scoring the highest marks of the whole event.

Throughout the 1940s, he progressed steadily through his grades in the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music Examinations, achieving his final Grade VIII in 1949 with the highest marks for Glasgow and District. Each year from 1946 to 1951, he took part in the Glasgow Musical Festival, winning first place in his category on no fewer than six occasions.

In 1951, too, he beat strong opposition to represent his country at the Festival of Britain. Lenzie Academy dispatched a busload of fellow pupils to London to support him. He came fourth in the prestigious competition.

Later that year, having gained his LRAM (music teaching qualification) a scholarship took him to Edinburgh University from where he graduated with a Bachelor in Music degree in 1954. Having earned himself a travelling scholarship, he went on to study at the Vienna State Academy for two years and then to Siena, Italy, for further studies.

Returning to the UK, he embarked upon a professional career as a solo pianist. He often played with the Scottish National Orchestra (first performing with them in 1960 in Glasgow) and with many other orchestras around the world. He had particularly strong ties with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He also played at the Proms.

In solo recitals he would tackle often difficult works by composers such as Beethoven, Schubert and Prokofiev. He also played duets (including Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos with Malcolm Binns) and chamber music with the London Wind Ensemble and the Gabrieli String Quartet

Though his health was often fragile - he did not look after himself terribly well - his work schedule was constantly gruelling. Over the years, his playing engagements covered the world; Australia, India, the USA, New Zealand and Europe. And most of the time he travelled alone with neither friend nor colleague to accompany the accompanist.

In just one week he played one-nighters in Liege, Brussels, Luxembourg and then came back to play with the Scottish National Orchestra at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on a Sunday night.

He was in his late thirties when the workload burned him out and he suffered a debilitating nervous breakdown. Though destined never to perform in public again, he eventually recovered and turned to teaching. He was appointed a Professor at the Royal College of Music and such was the institute’s admiration for him that, after his retirement in 2003, it set up an annual award for accompanists in his name to mark “his significant contribution to music”.

He had few interests beyond his beloved music and in his retirement, he continued to attend concerts and adjudicated at festivals and competitions. Mr Graham, who never married and lived in London, had been in ill health for some time before his death.