If anyone would like to hear the Florestan Trio playing live on radio and chatting about its Wigmore Hall concerts this week, we’ll be on BBC Radio 3’s drive-time programme, In Tune, this evening between about 6.15-6.45pm. We’ll be playing Beethoven, Shostakovich and Haydn and talking to presenter Sean Rafferty. You can also listen via the BBC website, or to a podcast, via http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/intune/.
The trio will be playing a concert at London’s Wigmore Hall tomorrow, 6 May, at 7.30pm. The concert is sold out, so only returns may be available.
Up at 6am to fly to Frankfurt and then on by road to the Schwetzingen Festival, where my trio is opening a series of concerts celebrating Haydn’s wonderful piano trios. Arriving suddenly in Schwetzingen on a Sunday lunchtime makes me realise that I carry my London tempo around with me, and that it grates in other places. Bells ring lazily, people stand chatting in knots on the pavement, and locals are gathered for leisurely Sunday lunches in cosy old inns along the cobbled streets. I burst into the dark panelled restaurant of our inn, in search of a quick lunch before our rehearsal. People glance round, their attention caught by my air of hurry. And why am I in a hurry? There’s new asparagus, white and succulent, to savour in a dozen different sauces. Bees drift in on the sunlit air from the terrace. I’m the only person dining alone, but no female reader of MFK Fisher allows herself to be daunted by the social challenge of lone dining.
Our concert is in the stunning palace with its formal gardens laid out rather like a German version of Versailles. Playing Haydn feels perfect in the dove-grey beauty of the Mozartsaal. We’ve been asked to contrast two of Haydn’s piano trios with twentieth-century masterpieces by Ravel and Charles Ives. In this setting, the crazy Ives Trio feels even more iconoclastic than usual, yet an elderly German lady tells us afterwards that she found it the best piece on the programme. The audience is extremely warm towards us.
The director of the festival kindly invites us for a bit of supper afterwards, but somehow the combination of early flight and enormous, demanding concert programme has done for me. I feel so weary I just want to lie down on the floor of the restaurant and go to sleep among the plates of asparagus.
My trio has just spent two days giving masterclasses to three excellent postgraduate piano trios: the Trio Duecento Corde from Hungary, the Pescatori Trio from Germany, and the Van Halsema Trio who are currently based in London. Each year, the standard of playing seems to get higher, to the point when we’ve jokingly told some of our ‘students’ they’re so good that we might have to kill them at the end of the weekend.
Each trio typically contains players from several countries – this year, for example, one of ours had members from South Africa, Holland and Germany. And each year I sit there worrying about whether such diversity will tear them apart in the long run. When they are all studying in the same place, it’s easy for them to work together regularly, but when their courses end, the challenges of keeping in touch become enormous. It’s hard enough to stay together when you’re all from the same country. I hate the thought that all their shared knowledge and expertise may melt away.
What I like best about our masterclasses is that we can talk deeply about rather specialist matters we rarely discuss outside our own group. When we meet up with other trios, it turns out that they are preoccupied with the same questions. How to match instrumental tone to musical content. How to make the structure clear in a long movement by Schubert. Whether to help Schumann seem as sane as possible, and how. Whether it’s important to feel the emotions in a piece of music, or to remain slightly detached. How to know who is important at any given moment. Whether to allow variations of tempo within a movement, and why. How to give one another the freedom to play. Sharing these questions with other musicians is stimulating. Sometimes, when we’re all pondering the same thing, it feels as if we’re being gently heated inside a kind of benign pressure cooker.
Our tortoiseshell cat Tashi, now nearly 14 years old, has taken to dragging her water bowl around on the wooden floor of the kitchen. From a nearby room we’d occasionally hear a strange, effortful scraping sound from the direction of the kitchen, as though a small convict were moving about in chains. We’d investigate and find the water bowl a couple of feet away from where we had put it, pools of water spilled across the floor. To prevent the spilling, I even changed her plastic bowl for a heavier pottery one, but she learned how to drag that one too.
Eventually Bob sat quietly and watched her until he saw what was happening. She was putting her paw inside the bowl and pulling it towards her until she set the surface of the water in motion. At that point she would quickly lean down to drink. It seemed that a motionless bowl of water was no fun, but a moving surface was attractive. I mentioned it to the vet, who said that many cats prefer to drink from running water. We knew that, because Tashi loves to drink from a running water tap in the garden. But she has had a water bowl on the kitchen floor all her life. Why has she only now, in her mature years, hit on the idea of dragging the bowl to make the water move? They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks… but a cat?
We went to the Tara Arts Centre in Wandsworth to see ‘People’s Romeo’, a delightful cross-cultural production re-telling Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a simplified form, as might be used by travelling actors in a Bengali market-place. The performance took place in a tiny dark studio. Three musicians, playing Indian instruments, also danced and played minor parts; Romeo was played by Delwar Hossain speaking Bengali, and Juliet was played by Aimee Parkes speaking English. The production began and ended with cheerful Bengali songs and dances, framing the sad story in a gentle unthreatening way.
It was fascinating to see a multi-lingual production, with Romeo addressing Juliet in one language, and her answering in another. Obviously some of the text was lost to us, but in the opening scenes, where the Montagues and Capulets are embroiled in their feud, the use of two mutually incomprehensible languages actually seemed to give the story an extra dimension. It was easy to grasp the idea that communication had broken down between the two families. The effect had rather worn off, however, by the closing scene, where I could hardly stand to hear the dying lovers’ words of endearment in two different languages. It seemed wrong that all their troubles had not demolished the language barrier. As Juliet knelt over Romeo’s body I felt like saying, ‘Please, please, stop speaking English to him!’
On the way out, we complimented the organisers and asked if they had had funding for this performance. They replied that the recession had come early for them when they lost half of their grant last year. Moreover, their policy of letting Under-26’s in free meant that they had made no money from that sector of the audience, which was the majority. The actors, who had been rehearsing intensively for three weeks, were ‘doing it for their train fares’. It made us feel slightly sick when we thought in comparison of all the money that has been lavished on the ailing financial sector recently.