“ALL roads lead to Leeds and all roads lead from Leeds:” The legendary Leeds piano teacher who died last month, delivered her strapline to a glittering audience at the Finals of the 14th Leeds International Piano Competition.

One summer night in 1961, Fanny Waterman discussed with husband Dr Geoffrey de Keyser her audacious proposal for a world class piano competition in the city. The popular Morley family doctor with an encyclopedic knowledge of piano music, was at first dismissive: “This must be held in London”. Geoffrey’s response merely stiffened Fanny’s resolve.

A steering committee soon swung into action. Those on the “key board” were Fanny, Geoffrey, Roslyn Lyons - wife of the Leeds financier and arts philanthropist Jack Lyons, and concert pianist Marion Lascelles (nee Stein) Countess of Harewood from 1949-67. Fanny had taught the Lascelles boys to play the piano. She later confided in David, now Lord Harewood, that he had been one of her worst pupils.

A volunteer army of hospitable Leeds music lovers would be key to the enduring success of Fanny’s grand project. These devotees were tasked with chauffeuring a hundred of the world’s finest young pianists between competition venues and spacious north Leeds homes with room for a giant Steinway concert grand for contestants to practice.

The soubriquet “Field Marshal Fanny” said as much about Fanny’s management of the huge event as the rigorously high standards she set herself and expected from others. Celebrated singer Dame Janet Baker imparted her wisdom and humanity as Patron of “The Leeds” from 2000 - 2015. Said Dame Janet: “If I was to associate just one word with Dame Fanny, that word would be excellence”.

Lang Lang, Global Ambassador for the Leeds Competition affectionately calls her “the pianists’ mother.” Addressing audience and competitors at the 2012 Finals, Dame Fanny declared: “I give love and I receive love”. Young pianists across three generations of entrants to “The Leeds”, and the grandees on competition juries chaired by Fanny from 1981-2015, would doubtless concur.

Although physically frail, Fanny delivered a typically robust speech at a reception on 1st February last year, ahead of her 100th Birthday. This would sadly be her last public appearance in Leeds Town Hall, the scene of so many triumphs.

Fanny often claimed to have “put Leeds on the map”. She achieved more than that: her iron-willed determination and “can do” philosophy effectively sowed the seeds of the city’s onward and upward cultural renaissance.

Leeds International Piano Competition 2021 will feel very different; but the indomitable spirit of its founder lives on as an inspiration, to those whose mission is to help the development of a beautiful talent.

by Geoffrey Mogridge