Countertenor delivers ‘spellbinding’ Baroque vocal, securing his place in The Piano final

20 May 2024, 15:05

Michael explains his unique music on The Piano

By Siena Linton

Michael’s stirring performance caused star pianist Lang Lang to describe him as “a new Bach” on the hit Channel 4 series, ‘The Piano’.

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As the fourth episode of The Piano Series 2 aired on Channel 4, a new young star pianist was discovered. Taking place in London’s Victoria station, host Claudia Winkleman welcomed budding pianists to the piano stool to perform, in the hopes of impressing hidden judges Lang Lang and Mika enough to make the series’ final.

One of those hopefuls was 23-year-old Michael Howell, a recent music graduate from West London. Having first heard classical music from a British Airways ad, Howell began learning the piano at 11, discovering new music and tuition from online videos, and practising his craft on a mobile phone keyboard app.

Before long, he was coming up with pieces of his own: Baroque-inspired piano music together with a libretto sung in a language of his own creation.

“What makes this piece unique is that the words, the language, is completely made up. So there is no meaning there. The meaning instead is in the music and the voice,” Howell told Claudia Winkleman ahead of his performance in Victoria station.

Star judge Mika, watching on from a room looking over the concourse, exclaimed: “I get this guy! I’m really curious.”

Read more: Pianist’s thrilling ‘Libertango’ takes her to The Piano final, after fleeing Ukraine with toddler

23-year-old countertenor Michael blew judges away on ‘The Piano’ with stunning Baroque performance.
23-year-old countertenor Michael blew judges away on ‘The Piano’ with stunning Baroque performance. Picture: Channel 4

Howell’s performance consisted of a Baroque-style piano accompaniment as he sang his Latin-esque language in a pure countertenor tone.

“What I do, there isn’t really a box,” Howell said. “There isn’t really out there in the classical music industry. There isn’t really anywhere that I can fit in. I’m going to have to establish myself. I’m going to have to build my vision from scratch.”

Crowds gathered on the train station concourse to watch transfixed, while judges Mika and Lang Lang watched on in awe. “It’s gorgeous. That’s gorgeous!” Mika exclaimed, as Claudia Winkleman told the young pianist: “Your voice is unreal!”

Lang Lang concurred: “Are you telling me he’s an amateur musician? This is incredible, this is not amateur, I mean come on!”

The star Chinese pianist had high praise for Howell’s performance, telling Mika after the fact: “Oh my, this guy is unbelievable. This is a pure talent. This is really something that’s very rare.

“It sounds like a new Bach is born from the middle of a train station in London.”

Read more: Lang Lang surprises 10-year-old superfan on The Piano after sparkling Haydn solo

Countertenor Michael’s sublime performance on The Piano

Howell also told The Piano, which continues on Sunday at 9pm on Channel 4, how he had often struggled to fit in with his peers whilst growing up. “People used to tease me for how I used to speak,” he said. “I’ve always struggled to fit in and there’s a reason for that. I have autism, and I have ADHD as well.”

Growing up, music became something of an outlet for Howell: “The piano has always been my rock, my way of expressing myself... I started playing the piano by the age of 11 and in my break time I would go to the music room and I would just play the piano, and that calmed my anxiety.

“When it comes to fitting in with my peers, I’ve always found that challenging. But music has always given me the way to navigate that challenge.

“I think I’ve made a lot of friends through the piano as well, and a lot of people have respected me from being on the piano,” Howell said, as a group of his peers applauded the young pianist as he left the station after his performance.