14 of the very best women pianists

10 July 2018, 14:52

Yuja Wang at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, 2014
Yuja Wang at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, 2014. Picture: Getty

From Martha Argerich to Clara Schumann, some of the greatest pianists who’ve ever lived were – and are – women. Here, listed alphabetically, are some of our favourite classical female pianists of all time.

  1. Martha Argerich

    An astonishing virtuoso who is still moving audiences at the age of 77, Martha Argerich is arguably the greatest living pianist, and can take on just about any repertoire, from Beethoven, Liszt and Ravel, to Bartók. She rose to prominence when she won the International Chopin Piano Competition at the age of 24, and now sells out concerts in minutes.

  2. Khatia Buniatishvili

    Georgian-French pianist Khatia Buniatishvili is one of today’s most prominent classical artists, a two-time Echo Klassik Award winner and an incredibly charismatic performer.

    She also likes bringing classical music to new audiences: in 2015, she collaborated with Coldplay on A Head Full of Dreams, and toured with Olympian ice skaters on their ‘Art on Ice’ project.

  3. Imogen Cooper

    A world-class British pianist with some impressive letters after her name – she was made CBE in 2007 – Imogen Cooper is one of today’s finest interpreters of Classical and Romantic repertoire. Her interpretation of Schubert’s Hungarian Melody is second to none.

  4. Anna Fedorova

    The extraordinary Ukranian pianist has been praised by musicians and music critics alike for her ‘sweet modesty and wild expression’.

    In September 2013, Anna performed Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 at The Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, aged just 16. She wowed the critics but also became an internet sensation, Anna now has 17 million views on YouTube for that video alone.

  5. Hélène Grimaud

    The French pianist, has been widely praised for her willingness to reinvent the music she plays. She also has an extraordinary condition called synaesthesia, which adds one physical sense to another. In her case she sees music as colour, which helps her memorise music scores.

    Her 2005 rendition of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra is breathtaking – and is considered to be one of the greatest interpretations of the concerto.

  6. Myra Hess

    Dame Myra Hess, as she eventually became, is famous not so much for winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music at the age of 12, nor for performing with the legendary conductor Sir Thomas Beecham when she was 17, but for the series of concerts she gave at the National Gallery during WWII.

    During the war, London’s music venues were closed to avoid mass casualties if any were hit by bombs. Hess had the idea of using the Gallery to host lunchtime concerts. The series ran for six and a half years and Hess herself performed in 150 of them.

  7. Angela Hewitt

    A world-renowned master of Bach, Hewitt began recording some of his works in 1994 and didn’t stop until 2005, covering all the composer’s major keyboard works.

    A long-time fan of the Canadian pianist, Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall says: “Angela is an extraordinary pianist. Her performances and recordings are second to none, and her interpretation of music by some of our favourite composers is a sight and a sound to behold.”

  8. Olga Kern

    A Steinway Artist and first prize-winner in the Rachmaninov International Piano Competition by the age of 17, Kern has more recently received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, joining the likes of Rosa Parks and Buzz Aldrin for “embodying the spirit of America in [her] salute to tolerance, brotherhood, diversity and patriotism.”

    In 2016, she launched the Olga Kern International Piano Competition for pianists between the ages of 18 and 32, a competition now recognised globally for its excellence.

  9. Joanna MacGregor

    An innovative concert pianist, MacGregor’s repertoire ranges from highly respected recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations to new works by John Adams.

    She’s performed in over 80 countries and appeared in concert with conductors including Pierre Boulez, Valery Gergiev and Sir Simon Rattle. And as if that weren't enough, she’s also Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music and a Professor of the University of London.

  10. Maria João Pires

    A Portuguese pianist with an aversion to formal concerts, Pires is admired for her unbeatable interpretations of Chopin, Schubert and Mozart. A critic in The Times said “she makes you listen to Schubert’s genius with fresh ears.”

    She also has an amazing memory – remember the time she’d prepared the wrong concerto for a concert and just played the right one anyway?

  11. Beatrice Rana

    Beatrice Rana is one of today’s most exciting up-and-coming pianists. When she released a recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on Warner Classics, it debuted at No.1 on the UK Classical Charts and was described as “a supremely intelligent recording” by The Sunday Times. It also helped her win the Gramophone Award for Young Artist of the Year, at the age of 24.

  12. Clara Schumann

    One of the few female pianists to compete in the largely male world of 19th-century music, Clara was a superstar of her day. A composer as well as an extraordinary pianist, her performing talents far outshone those of her composer husband Robert.

    One critic of the time said: “The appearance of this artist can be regarded as epoch-making… In her creative hands, the most ordinary passage, the most routine motive acquires a significant meaning, a colour, which only those with the most consummate artistry can give.”

  13. Mitsuko Uchida

    Nearly ten years ago, the Japanese-British pianist Mitsuko Uchida was made a Dame – demonstrating her vital importance to the music world. She studied in Vienna and gave her first recital in the town when she was just 14. Best known for her performances of Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin she’s also made world-class recordings of works by Schubert and, more recently, Schumann.

  14. Yuja Wang

    In March 2007, Wang replaced Martha Argerich at short notice in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra – proving her mettle as an international concert pianist.

    Born into a music family in Beijing, Yuja was encouraged at a young age to make music by her dancer mother and percussionist father. She is now one of the greatest living virtuosos, and has performed with the likes of the Berlin Philharmonic, London Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.