Nicola Lisle on the launch of an Oxford piano series by SJE Arts

When SJE Arts acquired a Steinway D piano last year, it was a proud moment. Now organisers are hoping to showcase the instrument in a new series of nine concerts that will bring some of the brightest stars of the piano world to Oxford.

“The pianists who have played it have said what a fabulous instrument it is,” explains Michele Smith, who runs SJE Arts alongside her full-time job as bursar of St Stephen’s House. “So I thought: let’s have a series of top pianists to come and play and show it off for what it can do.”

Some might question the need for another piano series — after all, we already have Oxford Philomusica’s International Piano Festival in the summer. But Oxford audiences, it seems, can’t get enough piano music and Michele insists there is room for more. “This is a very different animal from the Oxford Philomusica festival,” she says. “I think what they’re doing is a fantastic thing, and Oxford is very privileged to have that going on, but this is something in addition to that.

“It’s at a different time of the year and has a different focus. And the space is perfect — the acoustic is good, and it’s sufficiently intimate for people to sit and enjoy a single piano recital.”

Michele hopes that this will be the start of an annual series, and in fact has already started looking ahead to 2015. “We already have John Lill booked,” she says. “Now we’re looking to see who else could do it. It would be lovely to have this as an annual event.”

The series runs from next Wednesday until May 20 and includes a mix of established names and rising young stars, among them Stephen Hough, Angela Hewitt, David Owen Norris, Mark Viner and Sholto Kynoch. The opening concert features classical/jazz crossover pianist Gwilym Simcock and double bass player Yuri Goloubev, who will perform tracks from their new CD Reverie at Schloss Elmau.

‘We’ve been working together for the last seven years and done a few albums, but this is the first time we’ve done a dedicated duo album together, so this is an opportunity to represent that in live concert,” Gwilym says. “The nice thing about having a duo concert is that it’s like having a conversation, and we can explore the music while we’re playing together. All the pieces we write tell a story, and we like to talk to the audience about the music, so they feel connected in as strong a way as possible.”

Gwilym is no stranger to Oxford — he has played in many concerts in and around the city, most recently appearing with the King’s Singers at SJE last summer. “It’s nice to be asked back,” he says. “It’s great that series like this are happening and I’m honoured to be part of that.”

He is also looking forward to meeting the audience next week when he and Yuri will be signing copies of their new CD. “I’ve never understood musicians who never meet the people who listen to them,” he says. “For me it’s absolutely crucial to meet people before and after the concert. Whenever you make an album it’s something you’re very proud of, and it’s nice to share that with the people that buy them.”