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World-renowned pianist was an advocate of composer Medtner.

Byline: Sophie Blakemore

World renowned Birmingham pianist Edna Iles, whose expertise saw her rise to fame before the Second World War, has died at the age of 97.

Born in Kings Heath on May 18, 1905, Miss Iles made her debut in January, 1915, aged nine, and became a leading advocate of Russian composer Nicholas Medtner. Her reputation for technical excellence and a remarkable memory for 20th century works earned her the admiration of composers such as Sir Arnold Bax, Ernest Bloch and Sir Malcolm Arnold.

Born Edna Amy Iles, she made her first appearance as pianist and singer at a concert in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund at the beginning of the First World War. Her professional debut came in February, 1921, when at the age of 15 she performed the Liszt E flat Piano Concerto with the recently-established City of Birmingham Orchestra - now the CBSO.

At about the same time she impressed the former music critic George Bernard Shaw, who heard her play at a private party in the Birmingham home of the theatre manager, Sir Barry Jackson.

At the tender age of 17, she became the first British pianist to perform Rachmaninov's infamously difficult Third Piano Concerto, but her most celebrated association was with Medtner, who called her 'the bravest and ablest besieger of my musical fortresses'.

During the 1920s and 30s Miss Iles rose to celebrity status as an international touring artist, playing as a concerto soloist under leading conductors including Willem Mangelberg, Sir Adrian Boult and Sir Thomas Beecham.

She performed all over Britain with the London Symphony Orchestra under Mengelberg in an international celebrity concert series alongside such legendary figures as Paderewski, the soprano Amelita Galli-Curci and the conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler. Her talents also took her on recital tours across Europe.

In 1928 Miss Iles approached the prolific composer Medtner, a Russian exile and friend of Rachmaninov and Scriabin.

After hearing her play he agreed to teach her and, having settled in England in 1935, he and his wife sought refuge from the London Blitz at her Warwickshire home in Wootton Wawen, where they lived for two and a half years.

Medtner dedicated his Russian Round Dance for two pianos to Miss Iles, which they frequently played together at home.

In 1946 Miss Iles, who never married, appeared in three concerts at the Albert Hall, playing all three of Medtner's Piano Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra. Her post-war activities included many broadcasts for the BBC and concerto performances with leading orchestras, especially at the Proms.

She recorded her last recital for BBC Radio 3 in 1979 and in 1980 took part in a concert given to mark the centenary of Medtner's birth.

Private recordings made in the 1980s show that Miss Iles took care to preserve her skills into her 80s.

Dogged by ill health in her later years, she died in a Solihull nursing home on January 29.

Her funeral is at Robin Hood Crematorium, Solihull, on Tuesday at 1pm.


Edna Iles in her heydey
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 6, 2003
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