Iain Burnside is one of the top vocal accompanists in the UK, having worked with many of that country’s most prominent singers. He is also a broadcaster and a playwright.
Burnside was born in Scotland and grew up in Glasgow. His grandfather was an organist, and his family encouraged his interest in music. Not so, however, his school, the Glasgow Academy: “My school was academically strong but ruthlessly anti-musical,” he told The Cross-Eyed Pianist. “I’m the only professional pianist I know who was never asked to play in a school concert.” Burnside attended Merton College, Oxford, commuting by train to London to study piano with Alexander Kelly. He went on to the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw. Working as a freelance musician, Burnside planned a solo career for a time, but in the early ’80s in Scotland, while accompanying an oboist friend in concert, he was heard by tenor Peter Pears, who said that he needed a pianist for a class he was giving on Britten’s songs. Burnside offered his services and was hired. “Nobody denounced me for a fraud — which at the point I was — and my career as an accompanist began there,” he recalled to The Cross-Eyed Pianist. He made his recording debut in 1990, backing singers Stephen Varcoe and Adrian Thompson on an album of songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Ivor Gurney.
Burnside went on to accompany various singers, including Sarah Connolly, Matthew Rose, and Roderick Williams. His closest professional relationship was with soprano Susan Chilcott, whose son, Hugh, he adopted after Chilcott’s death. Burnside has a catalog of more than 50 albums, accompanying various singers and appearing on Delphian, Signum Classics, Naxos, and other labels. He has accompanied Williams, John Mark Ainsley, and other singers in Naxos releases as part of the label’s English Song Series. Many of Burnside’s recordings have featured British repertory, but not all: in 2020, he backed Williams on a recording of Schubert's Schwanengesang and Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte. Burnside is the author of a musical play about the life of composer Ivor Gurney, as well as several other plays. He has worked for BBC Radio 3′s Voices program as a presenter. Burnside returned in 2023 on the album The Jade Mountain: Songs by Edmund Rubbra, also on Chandos. He moved to Delphian that year, backing tenor Elgan Llyr Thomas on the album Unveiled. ~ James Manheim