Gerard Willems AM (born Gerardus Maria Willems, 19 August 1946) is a Dutch-born Australian classical pianist and teacher. He was the first Dutch and first Australian pianist to record on CD the complete series of 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven. He also recorded Beethoven's five piano concertos and the Diabelli Variations, and is the only pianist to do so using a Stuart & Sons piano. This series of recordings constitutes the largest classical music recording project ever undertaken in Australia, and Willems became the best selling classical artist in Australia's recording history.
Gerard Willems was born and grew up in Tilburg, Netherlands. He was named after his maternal grandfather, a church organist, composer and piano builder. He received a scholarship from the Brabants Conservatorium, but the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 caused his parents, fearful of a domino effect, to migrate to Australia when he was 12, in 1958. Until he was 17, they lived in a migrant camp near Wollongong; his father died in the camp. He entered the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, studying under Gordon Watson. After graduation, he was called up for national service, managing to convince the army he was best suited as a musician, and he played the clarinet in army bands. He played piano for some time with the Australian Ballet. He won the Queen Victoria Piano Competition and later studied under Greville Rothon (assistant to Claudio Arrau) in Munich. He made debuts in London 1974, Munich 1977 and Amsterdam 1978. He returned to Sydney in 1981, but has toured extensively overseas and in his adopted country. He taught as Senior Lecturer and later Chair of the Keyboard Unit, at the Sydney Conservatorium 1981-2008.
He founded the piano trio Mozartrois, and with them recorded the complete Mozart piano trios, as part of the bicentenary of Mozart’s death in 1991. He has appeared in lieder recitals and chamber music concerts with artists such as Lauris Elms and Julian Lloyd Webber.
Gerard Willems is perhaps best known for his recording of the complete Beethoven sonatas, which were released in 1999 and 2000. These won successive ARIA Music Awards, in 1999 and 2000, the first album by a pianist to win the Classical section of the Awards. Although he is not the first pianist to record the complete Beethoven sonatas in Australia, he is the first to do so on CD. Michael Brimer recorded them in a series of live concerts in 1986 for ABC Classic FM, which were intended for commercial release on cassette tape, although due to a technical issue only a part of the series was released.
In 2001, he won the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Australian Musical Scholarship. He toured Israel and held the Hephzibah Menuhin Chair in Piano as Visiting Professor at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem.
His recordings of the five Beethoven piano concertos appeared in 2001. These featured Sinfonia Australis under the conductor Antony Walker. The Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor" was also filmed for DVD release, a first for this concerto.
A recording of Mozart favourites, including the Variations on the Dutch National Anthem, appeared in 2006.
In 2010 he recorded Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, again the first Australian pianist to do so. He has used Stuart & Sons pianos for all his Beethoven recordings. In October 2010, a newly built Stuart & Sons piano containing 102 keys, 14 more than the usual quota, was played for the first time in a public performance (Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1). Gerard Willems was the pianist.
In 2001 Gerard Willems was named the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Music Scholar by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust.
In 2012 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
- Piano Man's Keys to Happiness, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 2007
- The Age, 6 January 2004
- University of Sydney
- Sydney Chamber Music Festival 2010
- "Ludwig van Beethoven Complete Piano Sonatas Gerard Willems, Piano Stuart & Sons Piano". enjoythemusic.com. Retrieved 2009-10-23.
- Matthew Westwood, "Facing the music", ABC Radio 24 Hours, May 2001, p.12
- Limelight website
- The Australian, 22 December 2010
- Notes from heaven: piano on a grand scale, Brisbane Times, 21 October 2010