On Saturday I’m giving this year’s Malcolm Bowie Memorial Lecture for the British Comparative Literature Association. My subject is ‘Music and memory – a musician’s perspective’.
The lecture is free and open to the public. It takes place at 3pm in Deptford Town Hall in London on 25 January and will last for around an hour, with questions afterwards, and then drinks. Further information about how to reserve a place is on this Facebook page.
Malcolm Bowie was an acclaimed scholar of French literature, the author of several books on Marcel Proust, and the Master of Christ’s College in Cambridge. After his death in 2007 this lecture series was named in tribute to him.
Obviously I am no literature expert, so why me? Well, it turned out that Malcolm was a huge music fan. Some years ago, a mutual friend asked me if I knew that Malcolm Bowie came to some of my concerts and had some of my records. He came to the launch of my first book, Beyond the Notes. I played at Christ’s while he was Master of the College, but sadly he was already very ill by that time. The next time I played at Christ’s was at his memorial service, a very moving event at which I realised that I had known very little of his achievements, and the enormous range of his interests. Music was only a part of it.
Anyway, when I was asked to give this lecture I looked at some of Malcolm’s writings about music as inspiration. It has been very interesting to try to write about music for a literary audience.
I’m getting ready for a trip to the Hochschule fuer Musik in Basel, where I’m giving three days of chamber music masterclasses on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. If you should be reading this in Basel, the classes are open to the public and take place from 10am-6pm each day.
After all the rain here recently, I admit I was rather looking forward to the prospect of some snow in Switzerland – my lazy mental picture of Switzerland always includes snow, but this year it seems the Swiss are having a mild, wet winter like we are. The unseasonal mildness feels strange and oddly disappointing. In my garden, snowdrops are already opening, and it’s only halfway through January.
I looked through a list of the students who’ll be playing to me in Basel. As always these days when I look through lists of music students, I’m struck by the sheer internationality of the names, from every corner of the globe. It is a curious thing. On the one hand, there’s much talk of the challenges facing classical music. People say the audiences are shrinking. On the other hand, it seems that never before have classical music colleges had such a cosmopolitan – and talented – bunch of students. It’s no longer a surprise that there are applicants from China, Korea, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and so on. Sometimes it even seems as if names from the locality are missing. I certainly feel so in London, where it often seems that foreign students are the norm rather than the exception.
I’m touched that these enterprising young people are coming halfway across the world to study music written a couple of hundred years ago in western Europe. What all this means, though, is anyone’s guess. I suppose it proves the anthropologists’ theory that culture is always migratory.
Friends in America have alerted me to an interesting article in the New York Times of 31 December 2013: ‘Maestro at Work: Hold That Cough’. Written by NY Times music critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, it’s about the tickly – sorry, tricky – issue of coughing in concerts. In the fourth paragraph she quotes from one of my blog posts. (Click on the link to read the NY Times article).
Regular readers of this blog will know that I sometimes get despondent about the difficulty of reaching an audience through writing about classical performance. It often feels like an uphill struggle, and occasionally like a fool’s errand, but a mention in the New York Times has acted as an invigorating tonic. Hooray! What a nice thing to happen on the first day of 2014.
Happy New Year’s Day to you!
Happy New Year to readers of this blog – and thank you for sticking with me. It is lovely to know that somewhere out there is a circle of readers. Quite a wide circle, geographically. Visualising that circle definitely helps to combat the feeling of isolation to which pianists are often prone.
Those of you who are e-book readers probably know already that my book ‘Out of Silence’ is available as an e-book.In January, my first book ‘Beyond the Notes’ (Boydell Press) will also be published in electronic form. It’s available on several platforms: Kindle, Apple i-Store, Barnes & Noble’s e-platform, eBooks.com – an Australian supplier, Gardners (who sell on behalf of independent bookshops), Kobo, Sony, Waterstones,and Overdrive.
I don’t like to admit that I don’t possess an e-book reader, but perhaps you do. Happy New Year! I have a feeling that 2014 is going to be a better year.
Yesterday I listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme about Henry Cole, the founder of the splendid V&A Museum in South Kensington. They were talking to a curator of the David Bowie exhibition, one of the most successful of the V&A’s recent exhibitions. The curator was asked why they had chosen to focus on David Bowie. Explaining that he was ‘one of a very short short-list’, the curator added something to the effect that they had chosen Bowie ‘because music is perhaps the one art-form that the man in the street knows about and can relate to’.
I felt a bit sad when I heard that, because it seemed to me there was a word missing from the sentence: ‘pop’. Perhaps pop music is the one art-form that the man in the street can be relied upon to relate to. But it is not true that you can depend on him to know about other kinds of music, and probably not about classical music, more’s the pity.
We heard this week that TimeOutLondon is to drop its coverage of classical music entirely. There have been similar threats elsewhere. The harder it is to come across news and reports of classical music, the less will people be aware of it. There are lots and lots of classical concerts going on, a great many dedicated musicians, and as John Gilhooly pointed out in his Royal Philharmonic Society speech, many determined people working like mad to make sure that classical music continues to flourish.
But everything is relative, and it sometimes feels as though those numbers, real as they are, are swamped by the sheer tide of people who’ve never come across classical music and take no interest in it. We have a generation of young people who were never introduced to it at school, and nor were their parents. They regard classical music as nothing to do with them. Researchers keep trying to tell us that music is good for the brain, that long-form music (such as classical) is a wonderful training in concentration, and that playing and singing are peerless ways to nurture co-operation. But is anyone listening?
We face a big challenge. It is all very well to talk about ‘cultivating the audiences of tomorrow’, but you can’t cultivate things where no seeds were ever planted. Yet things could change tomorrow if classical music were given a real presence in the school curriculum.