Jonathan Powell is an English composer and pianist of highly individual character: as a composer he has written mostly small-scale compositions for solo piano and chamber and vocal forces; as a pianist he has specialized in an odd mixture of repertory, from Russian Romantic-era fare taking in Goldenweiser, Scriabin, Krein, and others, as well as contemporary works by Ferneyhough, Feldman, Salonen, Ambrosini, Dillon, and Staud. Powell has also given special attention to the compositions of Sorabji (including the massive, rarely performed Clavicembalisticum) and Busoni. Yet his repertory is inclusive of J.S. Bach and a fair amount of the standard repertory. Powell's style as a composer has divulged the influence of the avant-garde in his early works, particularly of Xenakis, Nono, and Ferneyhough. But since the mid-'90s Powell has taken on a less dogmatic approach, forging an eclecticism of styles that allows somewhat greater accessibility. Powell has recorded for a variety of labels, including ASV, Altarus, Danacord, Sargasso Records, Largo, and Toccata Classics.
Born in England in 1969, Powell studied piano with Denis Matthews and Sulamita Aronovsky at King's College, Cambridge. During his years at Cambridge he launched his career as a pianist with a successful debut at London's Purcell Room (1989). Powell produced his first works in the late '80s, and included among them are the First String Quartet.
Following graduation Powell remained active as a composer and pianist, but soon returned to Cambridge and earned a doctorate degree. Despite his impressive educational background, Powell has been largely self-taught as a composer.
With a thriving career as a pianist in the mid-'90s, both in concert and on recordings, Powell cast off the more restrictive and vexing compositional techniques of his early years and has since produced less challenging, though still uncompromising works like Sirenland, for violin and piano, and Saturnine, for chamber ensemble, both written in 2000.
In the new century he has been less productive as a composer, but remains active on the keyboard: in 2000 he toured Russia to great acclaim and also gave many successful concerts throughout Europe. In September 2003 he performed Sorabji's four-hour Clavicembalisticum in London to rave reviews and reprised the performance in New York the following June, with similar results.
Among his later efforts is the Second String Quartet (2001-2003) and the 2007 Altarus CD of Sorabji's challenging Concerto per suonare da me solo. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi