MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-A prolific performer and inspiring young talent, British pianist Paul Lewis will visit Middlebury College for the first of eight recitals over the next three years in which he will perform all of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. The concert begins at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 18, in the Concert Hall in the Center for the Arts.

This first recital will feature the three sonatas ? Nos. 16, 17 and 18 ? from Opus 31 and Piano Sonata No. 24 in F-Sharp Major, Opus 78.

One of the most sought-after classical artists of his generation, Lewis commands a busy schedule of recitals, chamber music concerts and concerto solos at many of the world’s most prominent venues and festivals. He has toured extensively across Europe, the United States and Australia, and has an especially close relationship with London’s Wigmore Hall, where he has performed nearly 20 times in the past four years.

It was at one of the Wigmore Hall concerts several years ago that Middlebury College Performing Arts Series Director Paul Nelson and his wife Jennifer first heard Lewis play. They were inspired and the plan to host Lewis at Middlebury was born. “The prospect of hearing him play all of Beethoven’s sonatas at Middlebury was irresistible,” Nelson said.

Lewis has been making headlines on the classical music scene for more than a decade. He gained widespread attention in 1994 by winning the World Piano Competition and the Tunbridge Wells International Young Artists competition.

Lewis attended the Chetham School of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, studying with Ryszard Bakst and Joan Havill. He later received regular coaching from Alfred Brendel. By 1999, Lewis was featured in BBC’s inaugural “New Generation Artists” program. From 2000-2002, he was a professor of piano at London’s Royal Academy of Music. In 2001-2002, he and the Leopold String Trio were selected by Wigmore Hall for the prestigious European Concert Halls Organization’s “Rising Stars” program, an honor that led to more debut recitals in New York, Vienna, Amsterdam and Brussels.

Lewis has appeared with a host of classical music artists, including Yo-Yo Ma, Ernst Kovacic, Katherine Gowers and Adrian Brendel. He has performed concertos with many leading orchestras and with conductors such as Gerard Schwarz, Vassily Sinaisky and Mark Elder.

But 2003 was his best year to date. His acclaimed Schubert Piano Sonata series won him both the 2003 South Bank Show Classical Music Award and the 2003 Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist of the Year Award, as well as a nomination for the 2003 Classical Brits Young British Classic Performer of the Year.

A reviewer for The Evening Standard commented on worries in classical circles that too many accolades had arrived too quickly for Lewis that year: “Nonsense. Worthwhile artists never stop growing, and age is irrelevant if the results measure up. They do. And on this evidence there’s no danger that Lewis will permit success to intoxicate him. He remains the most thoughtful pianist, one of that happily flourishing school for whom the understanding of music matters most, ego least.”

Lewis’ recordings of the Schubert Sonatas on Harmonia Mundi received great acclaim. The first release won the prestigious Diapason d’Or Choc de L’Annee 2002 award in France.

“Remember the name: Paul Lewis,” wrote a Los Angeles Times reviewer of Lewis’ second Schubert Sonatas recording. “The 31-year-old British musician could easily be the next Murray Perahia. He has the burning intensity, the flagrant technique, the fervid imagination and the command of detail these ultimate examples of Schubertian inspiration demand.”

Building upon the Schubert series success, Lewis is launching a Beethoven series in which he will perform and record, for Harmonia Mundi, the complete cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas at venues around Europe and the U.S. between 2005 and 2007.

Lewis’ performance at Middlebury is sponsored by the Middlebury College Performing Arts Series.

The Middlebury College Center for the Arts is on South Main Street (Route 30). Reserved seating tickets for the performance are $12 for general admission and $10 for seniors. A pre-performance dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Rehearsals Cafe in the Center for the Arts. Reservations are required. For tickets or dinner reservations, call the Middlebury College Box Office at 802-443-6433. Online tickets and information are available at www.middlebury.edu/arts.

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