A chance encounter after a recent concert gave me the chance to visit the beautifully refurbished Savoy Hotel at the invitation of Jon Nickoll, the pianist in the famous American Bar. I’ve long wanted to visit the Savoy, where Billy Mayerl made his name as the young pianist of the Savoy Havana Band during the 1920s.
Mayerl’s own piano music has been such a long-running strand of my repertoire that I’ve come to feel quite close to him, and have often tried to imagine what it was like to play for the glamorous patrons of the Savoy almost a century ago.
Thanks to Jon Nickoll I was shown round the rooms where the Havana Band and the Savoy Orpheans played: the Lancaster Ballroom, a gorgeous vision in pale blue and white (see photo), and the Beaufort Room, now remodelled but still recognisable from historical photos. We peeped behind curtains to see the backstage areas where the musicians would have assembled, and we patrolled the corridors Mayerl would have used to reach the rooms where he played. Jon also very kindly arranged for Bob and me to have a cocktail in the American Bar while we listened to his elegant playing and singing (all done from memory). We loved the atmosphere of the American Bar and felt we could easily get used to such luxury.
It seems that the memory of Billy Mayerl is somewhat faded in the place where he caused such a stir in the 1920s. Even in the ‘Savoy Museum’ there is no reference to him, or none that I saw. There are photos of the famous bands, but not with Mayerl at the piano. There were old 78rpm records in a glass case, but his name wasn’t mentioned there either. When I think how much people still love his sparkling music, I wish his name could be celebrated at the Savoy.
I’ve been leaping boldly into the world of new media by uploading an audio file to one of the new online music distributors which helps artists to get their music directly to new audiences. (Details to follow when I’ve got to the end of the process).
It’s instrumental music by Mozart and I was very amused to be asked to declare whether the lyrics were ‘explicit’ or ‘clean’. Everything now is classified as a ‘song’. There was no option for ‘no lyrics’, and it was impossible to advance to the next step in the process without divulging what sort of lyrics Mozart had written for each track. So I had to go through, identifying each track as ‘clean’.
Mozart didn’t write any lyrics for his instrumental music, of course, but as I laboriously ticked boxes I amused myself by wondering what lyrics he might have added had the thought occurred to him. He was famous for his naughty sense of humour and for his occasional references to bodily functions. I must admit that in lessons and coaching sessions, students and I sometimes try to fit words to his music, or to particular phrases in the music. It’s often very illuminating to try to be a little more specific about the mood or ‘story’ that music is telling us; it gives new ideas about timing and tone colour. And of course the words that people instinctively put to music are often concerned with love, longing, regret and all the rest of it. So if we’re talking about imaginary lyrics for Mozart’s music, it’s not all that obvious which box we’d have to tick.
A nice surprise this morning – my Cobbett Medal (to be presented next week at a dinner of the Worshipful Company of Musicians) is mentioned in the Herald newspaper.
I was re-reading a chapter from my first book the other day, in preparation for yesterday’s event at the Anglo-Japanese Foundation. Writing about a tour of Japan in 2000, I’d mentioned that a review of one of our concerts had been published in Japanese on the internet, seen by a Japanese friend in Amsterdam, translated by her and emailed to us while we were still in Osaka. At the time this seemed a miraculous turn of speed. I commented in the book that ‘soon it won’t matter if newspapers come to review our concerts or not – the Internet will reach more people’. That remark was made only a decade ago, yet already it seems like an observation from another era. And I note the rather poignant capital ‘I’ that my editor asked me to use on the word Internet, as though we felt slightly uncomfortable with the term. Only ten years later we take it for granted that news and information can reach us instantly, wherever we are.
You can listen to a podcast of yesterday’s discussion between Noriko Ogawa, Robert Philip and me at the Anglo-Japanese foundation on their website
I’m thrilled to hear that the Japanese version of my book ‘Out of Silence’, translated by Noriko Ogawa, is to be reprinted only nine months after its first publication.
My editor in Tokyo, whose messages are always to be treasured, writes that ‘Your book had put up a very good fight in this serious economic situation of Japanese publishing world.’ Which makes the news of the reprint even more enjoyable.
Noriko Ogawa and I will be discussing life as a classical musician in Japan and the UK on Thursday 4 April from 6-8pm at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation in London. The Daiwa Foundation is dedicated to nurturing links between England and Japan. Our event is free to attend – though because space is limited, you have to register your name beforehand. Noriko and I will be interviewed by Robert Philip; there will be an opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions, and finally to meet us over a glass of wine. Click here for more info and a booking form.
We have been in snowy Vienna, where we were invited to hear a performance of Beethoven’s opera ‘Fidelio’ in the very theatre where it was premiered (see photo). We were sitting right behind Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the conductor. It was thrilling to be in the Theater an der Wien which, despite renovation of the foyers, must still look very much as it did in Beethoven’s time in the auditorium itself. It was very satisfying too to be so close to a really fine period instrument orchestra, the Concentus Musicus Wien.
The producer had made a curious decision in the final act, where Florestan and Leonora along with the other prisoners are saved by the arrival of a government minister bringing news of reprieve. In this production, the whole scene was re-imagined as a modern oratorio performance. Instead of the government minister, there was ‘Beethoven’, a singer dressed as we recognise the composer from some famous portraits. He sang the minister’s words, but ‘as Beethoven’, appearing as a figure from history, presiding over the cast in their modern dress, the chorus now standing in rows and the main characters in smart black cocktail dresses and suits in a row at the front. Clearly the idea was to break off from the ‘story’ and present the final scene as a kind of moralising on tyranny and freedom. But although we could see the intellectual point, it had the curious effect of lopping off the end of Leonora and Florestan’s story, making us feel we hadn’t actually seen their deliverance.
Our visit coincided with the coldest Easter in Vienna for 130 years. On one day the temperature dropped to minus 4 degrees during the morning. It was painfully cold, so cold that we couldn’t bear to stand still in the street and look at the map.