Many thanks to everyone who took part in my London masterclasses for playing such a wonderful concert last night!
Left to right: me; Perceval Gilles, Pierre-Kaloyann Atanassov, Sarah Sultan (Trio Atanassov); Giuseppina Coni, Giulia Cerra, Valeria Sirangelo (Trio Eclettica); Vashti Hunter, Veronika Kopjova (cello and piano duo)
at a masterclass (photo: Janis Olsson)
We’re getting closer now to my London masterclasses in ‘the art of piano chamber music’, this year on 6 and 7 March at the beautiful home of Bob and Elisabeth Boas. Details of the classes are on the ‘Concerts and Events’ tab of my homepage. It’s free to come and listen to the main classes, though because they’re being held in a private house, we ask listeners to register their names beforehand via my masterclass administrator Keturah Haisman. Her email is email@example.com
This year I’m fortunate once again to have some terrific young musicians taking part. There are two piano trios: the Trio Atanassov from Paris, and the Trio Eccletica from Parma in Italy. And there’s a cello-piano duo of Vashti Hunter and Veronika Kopjova, who are based in Germany. There will be music by Mozart, Schubert, Debussy, and Britten.
At the end of the classes there’s an informal concert by participants at 6.15 on Friday March 7. For this, there’s a ticket charge with the proceeds going to a charitable trust. You can choose whether to attend the concert only, or the concert plus drinks with the musicians afterwards. Details are on the ‘Concerts and Events’ tab at the top of my home page, or you can email my masterclass administrator Keturah Haisman at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s always a pleasure to support young musicians at the start of their professional careers and it’s inspiring for them to have a roomful of nice listeners too, so please come along to the classes if you can.
I’ve been taking sneaky breaks from other tasks to watch the Winter Olympics from Sochi. This is partly in homage to my Dad, a keen skater, who imparted to the wider family a love of figure skating and ice dancing which still gets us gathering round televisions whenever there’s some good skating to watch.
And what good skating there has been! I keep meaning to switch off and go and do other things, but I have been mesmerised by the skaters, both pairs and solo. It’s a tribute to their grace and skill that I have enjoyed watching despite the irritations of the recorded music, which doesn’t seem to have moved on much since the days when music of entirely different types, moods and keys was patched together to make a ‘short programme’ with several clumsy musical gear changes. These days there’s a new problem: sophisticated editing has made it possible to take musical classics and fillet them so that individual phrases are unnaturally sewn together, missing out transitions in order to create a precisely-timed medley of ‘the best bits’, or at least, bits of appropriate length. I constantly find myself wondering whether the skaters know the original music and if so, how they can bear to practise day after day to mutilated versions. For me it’s like listening to a beautifully written speech with half the verbs and conjunctions missing.
Despite the musical annoyances, I feel I benefit from watching top athletes on the ice rink, the ski slopes and the half-pipes. There’s always something to be learned from watching people do complicated things ‘effortlessly’. With some notion of the difficulties provided by those who stumble or take alarming falls, one can begin to get an idea of what’s involved in rising above the physical challenges. In some mysterious way, what one learns from watching, even on television, feels as if it’s transferable to other spheres.
Went to see the new Coen Brothers’ film, Inside Llewyn Davis, the tale of a moderately successful American folk singer in 1961, on the cusp of the Bob Dylan era. After the death of his duo partner, Llewyn is trying to make it in Greenwich Village as a solo artist. The title of his new album, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, poignantly assumes that the public is interested in knowing what goes on in his mind. In fact, we don’t really get to know the answer.
For musicians, there are many poignant moments in the film, but one which struck a chord with me was the scene in which Llewyn visits his agent to check on ‘progress’ and is handed a box of his own unsold LP records. Llewyn has no car, so he carries the box around with him until he can dump it at a friend’s house, where he’s staying the night on the couch. His friend is a moderately successful folk singer too. Looking for a place to put the LPs where they won’t be a nuisance, Llewyn lifts up the tablecloth on a corner table and shoves the box underneath, only to find that there is something in the way. He looks to see what. It’s a box of his friend’s unsold records.
Later, Llewyn tries to do something to improve his own situation. Knowing that his agent had sent one of his solo records to a powerful club promoter in Chicago, he drives all the way to Chicago to seek a personal meeting with this promoter. But when he manages to get an interview, he discovers that the promoter has never heard of his record. It was never sent. Or at any rate never listened to.
So poor Llewyn offers to perform something to the promoter there and then. They go out into the cold, dark, deserted performance area. Llewyn sits down with his guitar, and the promoter sits opposite him, his face an unreadable mask. Llewyn performs one of his lyrical folk songs (nicely). There’s a silence, and then the promoter says in a solemn, judicious tone, ‘I don’t see a lot of money here.’
Here I am, lecturing to the British Comparative Literature Association yesterday. At Deptford Town Hall! Who would have expected such a grand Victorian building, with a beautifully ornate staircase, and an excellent Steinway concert grand piano in the Council Chamber? London is full of surprises.
I found it daunting – but also very stimulating – to prepare a talk for a literary and academic audience. The discussion afterwards, about how classical music is perceived, has given me lots of food for thought. Perhaps it’s good to be forced to work outside one’s comfort zone (occasionally).