My second frustrating expedition this week. We decided to give ourselves the morning off and see the Van Gogh Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. Even on a weekday morning it was packed. Standing on tiptoe, we had managed to see about a dozen early sketches over the heads of the crowd when all the lights suddenly went out, except for safety lights above the doors. We all froze, glancing around nervously as though wondering whether art thieves were about to slice the paintings expertly from their frames under cloak of darkness.
Then we were told to leave via the fire doors and the fire escapes. It turned out that there was a serious power cut. We congregated in the courtyard (see photo) awaiting further news. Some people had left their coats and bags in the cloakroom, and were shivering in the cold. Eventually we were told that the building would remain closed for the foreseeable future. At this, the poor coatless and bagless fraternity started quivering with anger as well as cold. We’d kept our coats on, and so we were able to leave …. but without having seen the late Van Gogh paintings we were so looking forward to.
A brochure for the South Bank Centre’s ‘International Chamber Music Season 2010/11’ lands on the doormat. My trio has appeared in this series, and the plans are always of interest to me.
But when I look at next season’s programmes, I notice disturbing signs of a policy change. Almost half the concerts follow the format of ‘Celebrity + unnamed others’. The only ‘dedicated’ groups are string quartets. Otherwise:
‘Daniel Hope and musicians’.
‘Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen’ (with a photo of Julia Fischer only).
‘Tetzlaff String Quartet’ (with a photo of Christian Tetzlaff only).
‘Simon Rattle and members of Berliner Philharmoniker’.
‘Mitsuko Uchida and soloists of Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’.
‘Mark Padmore and friends’.
‘Lang Lang, Vadim Repin and Mischa Maisky. Programme to be announced.’
This last – illustrated with a dramatic photo of Lang Lang - is the most disturbing for me as a member of a long-standing piano trio. I have enormous admiration for all that Lang Lang has done to spark worldwide interest in the piano, but how confident can one feel in a trio programme offered by three busy soloists who haven’t even decided what to play? Theirs is the only trio in the series.
Of course spur-of-the-moment collaborations can be exciting, and there’s definitely a place for them in festivals and so on, but do they belong in a major chamber music season? When we started the Florestan Trio – which has always had the same members – we were determined to prove that we were serious about being a trio. Now it seems that an ad hoc collection of soloists, or ‘a celebrity’ plus some anonymous collaborators, qualifies for inclusion in a prestigious series of chamber music. I can’t even imagine a situation in which it would be OK for the Florestan Trio to advertise its concerts with a photo of one person only.
A disappointing evening. We had been invited to a lovely ‘housewarming concert’ on the other side of the city (I took this photo of the full moon as we set off in cheerful mood). After waiting for ages at our local tube station, we were told that because of a signal failure we’d have to go a couple of stations north to pick up the train from there. We trudged down to the bus stop in the rain, and caught a bus in the rush hour traffic. When we got to the aforementioned tube station half an hour later, the trains had stopped running completely. Back we went to a bus stop along with about five hundred other people, with the aim of travelling somewhere we could intersect with an overground train line. But every time a bus came, there was a scrum to get on it, and we failed.
In a hopeful spirit we went back to the tube station where they told us that the trains were ‘running again’. So, back down to the platform, which was crowded with frustrated travellers. People around us were complaining that they’d already missed part of the event they were going to. No trains appeared. We looked at our watches and realised that by now, even if we made it to our destination (another hour’s journey), we would have missed the entire concert. Then an announcer said there were no trains after all, and that we should all continue our journey ‘at street level’. We gave up, went home on the bus in the rain, and felt agitated for the rest of the evening.
As it happened, the concert we missed was for an invited audience. But what if we had bought expensive tickets? We would have missed the event and wasted the money as well – as must have happened to many of our fellow travellers that evening. What chance is there of London Transport curing its problems by the time London hosts the Olympics in 2012?
deer grazing beside the Royal Ballet School
At this time of year in Richmond Park, I shudder when I see official notices warning visitors about the deer cull. The park is closed at certain times while its resident population of deer is ‘reduced’. It’s always a treat to see the park’s different herds of deer, some pale and dappled, others a darker brown, but all so beautifully camouflaged that you sometimes don’t notice them until you’re quite close by. You can almost stumble on them in the bracken.
I worry about what’s going to happen to the deer, and how weird it is that I know about it and they don’t. I’ve read that the deer population rises too quickly in the protected setting of the park, where there are no predators; also, many of the deer are infected with a bacterium that can spread, via ticks, to humans and cause Lyme Disease. But it seems unfair that we should have the power to ‘cull’ these healthy, graceful animals who are such a welcome sight in the city. What if the deer took it into their heads that our numbers were growing too rapidly within the park, and that they must take action to keep things in proportion? ‘Deer are wild animals’, says the notice. ‘Their behaviour is unpredictable and they can move with great strength and speed.’
Someone asked me today whether my new book, Out of Silence, is a collection of my blog posts. It isn’t; the book was written a year before I had the idea of starting a website or a blog. I suppose the experience of writing ‘a pianist’s yearbook’ may have given me an appetite for more of the same, but the book and the blog don’t overlap. In any case the blog is much more about daily life.
The book was motivated by some of the questions which people ask after concerts, questions which imply that they imagine musicians taking brief sabbaticals from the Elysian Fields to come and sprinkle lovely music about like icing sugar, before skipping back to lie on a cloud and snooze. I’m still taken aback when people say things like, ‘Presumably, with your pianist’s hands, you never do the washing-up?’ I wanted the book to show something of how the real world and the artistic world interweave – for me at least.