Five years since leaving Trinity Hall Cambridge,  Keval Shah has established himself as a professional pianist performing at high profile venues throughout Europe. His ability to captivate audiences with his innate musicianship and spirited presence, coupled with his advocation for classical music, makes him an excellent performer - not to mention his natural gift for teaching.

In August 2020, Keval Shah was appointed Lecturer of Lieder at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and now spends his time teaching in Finland. As both performer and educator, Keval has had to balance these two very demanding lifestyles and admits that Covid-19 restrictions have been both a blessing and a curse. So how did Keval pave his way so successfully? "The journey began with a lady called Audrey Highland, now deputy head of vocal studies at the Royal College of Music, but when I met her she was head of the song programme at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM). By complete chance, I was introduced to her at the Wigmore Hall where we were both in the audience. Audrey Highland led a song and opera course in Denmark during the summer and piano / singing was my area of interest."


Keval relates how this relationship with Audrey opened up performance opportunities and gave him a new boldness in his musical outlook. "From a point of genuine curiosity, in the summer of 2014 I went for a week as a pianist on the course. It changed my life. She saw something in me. There was an amazing chemistry between us as teacher and student. She was able to tap into a whole way of thinking that I didn’t know existed or that I had. It felt so natural and was so exciting. Meeting her and then understanding new repertoire and discovering my own potential in that world made me really keen to keep going. I loved the music and loved singers and that was the thing that kept me going. As musicians, being able to discover music in new ways and bond over the music in a unique way – you can’t plan for that – it’s really magical. You can’t force that teacher-student relationship to work, one day you just meet someone who thinks exactly the same way that you do and that spark is ignited and doesn’t die away. We still stay in touch over the phone. She brings me down to earth – if I ever lose sight of what’s important in my music-making, she reminds me of what’s important and what to discard."

"Perhaps this journey started even earlier. In the summer of 2013, I was on a train from Watford to Euston and I bumped into a childhood friend, her dad is the head of accompanying at the RAM and she suggested that I get lessons with him. Bumping into a friend who I hadn’t seen for years opened up an opportunity to have a lesson with him a few months later. This was another moment of excitement. In the spring of 2019 I was having a slight crisis of confidence in my artistic life – I wasn’t making the progress that I thought I was capable of. The ideas I thought I had about music weren’t translating into my playing and this was frustrating and I felt a bit directionless.

"I think the best thing I could’ve done was to jump into a new environment."

Around the same time, a lecturing job in Helsinki was advertised and one of my teachers sent it my way and recommended it. There were too many things going on and I wasn’t really sure whether I wanted to follow through with this." However, following a successful interview, Keval finally accepted the job offer. He remarks, "to solve the crisis of confidence, I think the best thing I could’ve done was to jump into a new environment. At the time I was teaching at the RAM one day a week. The necessary shift in perspective, lent by the new environment, was important to my musical self."

The bulk of Keval’s work involves working with pianists and singers with Lied repertoire. He mentions that there is a strong tradition of song in Finnish culture, and describes how he has easily acclimatised to life in Finland: "it has been so lovely and the quality of life here is so high." Keval is certainly one of the youngest musicians in Europe to be doing this kind of role, and is possibly the youngest lecturer in the Sibelius Academy’s history. 


Mountain View

Sufjan Stevens reinvents himself again

Keval mentions that his greatest piece of advice for musicians facing the difficult complications of Covid-19 is to "be kind to yourself." It is important to take the time to realise that the reduction in live opportunities is an issue distinct from our artistic capabilities. Moreover, whilst we must not understate the harsh realities that Covid-19 has brought to artists and musicians, the lack of performance opportunities has resulted in a much-needed sense of peace and space for personal development and critique. There’s more than one way of dealing with the situation; many artists seek to retreat into their art as a coping mechanism. There is a lot of pressure for artists to remain positive about every aspect of this situation, however, Keval insists that we must remain kind to ourselves during these times. This means acknowledging the reality of what’s going on and how difficult it is. The ability to perform regularly is something that Keval misses greatly, however, since teaching at a high level more frequently he says that his general musicianship has certainly improved. There is now a strong feeling of loss when a concert does come around and suddenly goes again, because there is simply no assurance of when the next recital or performance will turn up. An enormous amount of physical and emotional effort goes into preparing for a concert, and we are just not in a situation where we can have regular music making at the moment. To conclude, Keval calls us to be kind, to be patient and to fight to use music as a gift - its true purpose!