The English-born Australian pianist and composer, Penelope Mary Thwaites, was born in Chester, UK, of Australian parents. She returned with her family to Melbourne in 1947. A citizen of both countries, she grew up in Melbourne, Australia, attending Tintern Church of England Girls Grammar School and taking a degree in Music from Melbourne University (Bachlor of Music with Honors, 1966), where she won the Ormond Exhibition and was placed first in her final year. Following a period of working internationally as musical director and composer of music for the theatre, she continued orchestration studies in London with William L Reed and piano studies with the Swiss pianist Albert Ferber, a pupil of Walter Gieseking and who often played for Sergei Rachmaninov.
Penelope Thwaites’ debut at London’s Wigmore Hall in 1974, sponsored by the Stanley Lewis Concerts Society, was followed by concerts and broadcasts in the UK and tours world-wide, both as solo recitalist and concerto soloist. She has appeared as recitalist in London’s major concert hall, building a reputation as an intensely communicative artist in a wide repertoire. She has performed and broadcast in over twenty-five countries on five continents. In 1993, she appeared in the Australia Day Gala at the Royal Opera House in the presence of the Prince of Wales. As concerto soloist she has appeared with orchestras including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia and BBC Concert Orchestra, as wll as with leading orchestras in Australia, Europe and America.
Collaboration in chamber music is a keen interest. Her longstanding duo-piano partnership with John Lavender has included many tours and a recording series of all Percy Grainger’s four-hand repertoire soon to be re-issued on Heritage Records. Her piano trio has performed on BBC Radio 3 and at Wigmore Hall and St John’s, Smith Square. Other partnerships include recitals with singers, Stephen Varcoe and James Gilchrist and with the distinguished cellist Rohan de Saram.
Penelope Thwaites’ concert repertoire encompasses a wide range of classical composers, some represented on her CD 'Travelling Between Worlds' (LIR). Since 1975 she has made a point of including music by Australian composers such as Malcolm Williamson, Margaret Sutherland, Arthur Benjamin, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Jennifer Fowler, Alison Bauld, David Worrall and many more, whether in solo recitals, concertos and chamber works. Her pioneering LP 'Australian Piano Music' (Discourses, 1980) was broadcast worldwide as something of a novelty at the time. Thwaites found a special affinity with the music of Melbourne-born pianist and composer Percy Grainger. She has now recorded more than 250 tracks of his music for - first - Pearl records (the four-hand repertoire with John Lavender), solo discs for Unicorn Kanchana and Regis, and most notably as a featured solo, chamber and orchestral artist on eight of Chandos Records’ 20-CD Grainger Edition, recently praised in The Penguin Guide’s 1000 finest classical recordings. Her lectures and broadcasts on the composer and detailed research into his life and work led to her editing The New Percy Grainger Companion (Boydell & Brewer 2010), widely recognised for its new research and insights by established performers into performing Grainger’s music. She was Artistic Director for two major Grainger Festivals in London (St John’s Smith Square in 1998 and a four-day celebration at King’s Place in 2011 - 50 years since Percy Grainger’s death. Her interest in promoting Australian composition led to her founding and chairing the international Performing Australian Music Competition which took place in London in 2001 and 2008, attracting young musicians from 20 countries who chose and performed music of 80 Australian composers. The competition still awaits a long-term sponsor.
Her newly-formed piano trio with Dima Tkachenko, violin and Marie Macleod, cello, was most warmly received at its Wigmore Hall debut and appears in the 2008 St John's, Smith Square lunchtime series on January 31. Her well-known duo with Australian John Lavender recently premiered a new version of Mussorgsky's, Pictures at an Exhibition together with premieres of Australian works. Recent concerto appearances include the Mozart E flat K482 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London and P. Grainger's, The Warriors, with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
Penelope Thwaites is also a composer. Her works include many songs, instrumental works and theatre music. In the same year that she gave her second Wigmore Hall recital (1976), her musical (with Alan Thornhill) Ride! Ride! (based on an incident in the life of John Wesley) premiered at the Westminster Theatre in London's West End, following a nation-wide tour. The musical has had more than 40 productions around the world (it will have its premiere in Germany in June 2013) since then - both amateur and professional - and a concert version was recorded in 1999 on the Somm label. Thwaites's compositions include songs, organ and piano works and ballet music. She is published by Bardic Edition, whose catalogue is now distributed under the Schott Music imprint.
Penelope Thwaites’ recordings appear on Unicorn Kanchana, Regis, Pearl, Nimbus, Somm, & Chandos. LIR Classics released her CD of much-loved piano favourites Travelling Between Worlds and will release her new recording of works by J.S. Bach later this year (2013).
2011 included appearances at the City of London Festival and the 10th Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference in July as well as recitals in Melbourne and Perth. 2011-2012 also included tours in Japan and Denmark and the UK and she has just concluded a 7-concert tour in Australia which included performances at the Melbourne Recital Centre and for the Canberra Centenary celebrations as well as a recording for the ABC. Penelope returns to the UK for a further Grainger recording, as well as recital and concerto engagements.
Penelope Thwaites e received the International Grainger Society’s Medallion in 1991. She was appointed to the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2001 "for service to music through the performance and promotion of Australian compositions in the United Kingdom and internationally". She is a Steinway Artist and a represented composer with the Australian Music Centre.
In 1981 Penelope Thwaites marries Edward (Ted) Jackson CBE (1922-2009), a barrister, cricketer and coach, with whom she had a son and a daughter. Jackson was the grand-nephew of Sir Thomas Elder, South Australian philanthropist.