During the residency we had the privilege of staying in Methven Castle with its delightful and tireless owners, Alex and David Murdoch. Here we are outside the castle. Left to right: Alex Murdoch, Andrea Bischhof, me, Erich Höbarth, Anita Mitterer, David Murdoch, Christophe Coin.
Last Saturday there was a lovely article by Ken Walton in The Scotsman weekend magazine about my upcoming concerts with the Quatuor Mosaiques in Perth, and with Erich Höbarth (pictured with me) in Edinburgh.
Here it is for anyone who’d like to read it.
For some inexplicable reason the audiences for these concerts haven’t quite reached Superbowl proportions yet, and we’d be delighted to see you at any of them. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear one of the world’s leading classical period string quartets playing Mozart and Haydn in Perth’s excellent concert hall! The series starts on Friday.
An exciting week lies ahead, with a whole cluster of works – nine, in fact – to perform in the space of four days.
I’m doing a residency with the wonderful period-instrument quartet, Quatuor Mosaiques, in Perth Concert Hall (in Scotland, before any Australians start calling the wrong hall for tickets. It has happened!)
The Quatuor Mosaiques are focusing on the string quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn, and together we’re playing a Haydn Trio and a Mozart piano concerto using a quartet instead of an orchestra. In the middle, I’m doing a solo piano recital of works by Haydn and Mozart. Rehearsals begin this week and I’m so looking forward to an intensive period of music-making with a group of musicians I very much admire.
When the final concert is over, the quartet’s first violinist, Erich Höbarth, and I will make a dash for Edinburgh and a totally different programme to be performed on the very next day (see photo of me standing beside a concert poster). This is the all-Schubert programme of duo sonatas which we gave in Wigmore Hall last year. On this occasion we’re playing in the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, familiar to both of us from our visits over the years with different groups during the Edinburgh International Festival. Please come along if you can on 15 February!
When we put together our Schubert programme we decided to include the much-feared ‘Fantasy’, one of Schubert’s sublimely imaginative works which appear oblivious to how difficult it is to get one’s fingers round the notes on actual instruments. In the Fantasy there are, essentially, four movements in a continuous sequence, and every one of them presents high-level challenges of different kinds. Not that the listener is supposed to be aware of that, however; it’s clearly all meant to seem like angels tumbling about in airy realms.
Erich Höbarth has long been one of my favourite musicians and I always learn a lot from his approach to music-making. He has a wonderful, very Viennese sense of how to make things feel natural and idiomatic, taking care to ensure there’s always room for playfulness and flexibility as well as repose.
Today I went to the BP Portrait Exhibition, a favourite annual exhibition. As for some years now, the emphasis was on near-photographic realism, achieved with admirable technical skill but occasionally at the expense of ‘suggestiveness’ if I could put it like that. By which I mean that as I gazed at the portraits, my thoughts seemed to stop at the level of acknowledging the painters’ brilliant technique. For me, there was a coldness to many of the surfaces.
As we had coffee afterwards, Bob wondered aloud if there had been a single happy portrait in the exhibition. Neither of us could think of one. I went back to check. The nearest I could find to ‘happiness’ were a few portraits of people looking thoughtful, serious or peaceful. But actual happiness? No.
On my second time round the exhibition, I was struck by the number of portraits of isolated people. They were in two categories: 1) the isolated elderly and 2) the isolated young. I’m talking about portraits where ‘isolation’ was actually a declared subject of the picture in one way or another. There must have been at least ten paintings of isolated or lonely elderly people, and eleven or twelve portraits of isolated or lonely young people. What does this say about us?
I realise that when you set out to paint a portrait using a sitter, you need a pose which can be maintained over a long period, which presumably rules out smiling, talking or laughing. I couldn’t know, of course, whether the panel who selected the portraits and awarded the prizes had followed a certain agenda, untypical of the work submitted as a whole. But I was certainly struck by the sheer amount of loneliness on show, and couldn’t help reflecting on why this should be, in a world which, as one of the explanatory labels pointed out, ‘expects to be connected 24/7’.
Last week I played a lunchtime recital in Aberdeen, the first time I’d played in the city for ages. I took a train early enough to allow me to see sunrise over the Firth of Forth, followed by a spectacular curve around the coastline of Fife as the first light was touching the landscape (see photo). Made me wonder why I don’t take early trains more often!
Getting out of the train at Aberdeen I was taken aback by how cold it was. I knew I didn’t have long to rehearse, and as I walked up the grey cobbled streets towards the hall in a cutting wind, I started to wonder whether I’d actually have time to warm up, physically as well as in piano-playing terms.
Winter often presents the musician with extra challenges, especially if the performance is in a building with inadequate heating. Despite previous experience of concert situations where the first task is to thaw the fingers enough to be able to play any faster than Andante, it is curiously difficult to factor such knowledge into one’s preparation. You accept another invitation to play in a church in winter, and yet you pack your thin concert outfit and your glamorous shoes, and don’t think of taking a thermos of hot chocolate.
If I feel chilled, I like to warm my hands by putting them in a basin of warm water. This is rarely possible in public buildings where the sinks often have just one tap, sometimes just with cold water. If the water is hot, sometimes boiling hot, it’s un-adjustable with only one tap. And nine times out of ten there is no plug to put in the sink anyway. “Stops people putting the plug in, leaving the tap running, and walking away.” So there’s nothing for it but to do the hokey-cokey with a gush of boiling water. ‘You put your right hand in, you take your right hand out; in, out, in, out, shake it all about…’.
Anyway, after an alarmingly cold morning I got my reward when a huge and welcoming audience turned up to hear the lunchtime concert. And during the concert they were so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. An ideal audience, then, even if they were all sitting there in their coats and scarves.