Coming back from a concert in Holland I thought, not for the first time, how strange it is that there’s only one little spot on the earth that is ‘my house’, and to which I have to make my way back from wherever I’ve been. In this case, first with a taxi ride, then a plane journey, then a train journey, then a tube journey, and finally a walk down a long road which takes me to the one place where, ‘when you have to go there, they have to take you in’.
In the course of these multi-stage journeys, making my way back to one little house in one little street in a big city, I often wish that my house would appear magically in front of me at the moment when I realise I’m tired and need to rest. I could, of course, stay in a hotel, but that’s no substitute for being at home. Nevertheless it sometimes feels strange that ‘going home’ is such an intricate procedure, and that there is no point in knocking on any other pleasant-looking door along the way and calling, ‘I’m back!’
I was recently sent the score of Mendelssohn’s D minor piano trio, in a forthcoming edition of his first draft of the piece. I’d read about this first draft, but had never had the chance to see it until the editor of the new Leipzig edition, Dr Salome Reiser, kindly sent me a copy.
I knew that Mendelssohn revised his original draft after hearing criticisms of the piano writing from his composer friend Ferdinand Hiller. But in fact the original draft was different in a great many respects, not just that of the piano writing. I spent an interesting morning comparing the two versions. In almost every case it seemed to me that Mendelssohn’s later ideas were better and more subtle, though in the first draft there were several passages where he had embarked on an intriguing harmonic drift, later abandoned. In particular, some of his ‘genius ideas’ from the later version, such as the unforgettable way he brings back the opening theme in the recapitulation of the first movement with a soaring violin descant above it – a descant which becomes the second theme of the slow movement – were not there at all in his first draft. Thank heavens he had second thoughts!
As Dr Reiser said, the first draft is notable partly because we tend to think of Mendelssohn as an unusually lucky person who just sat down in his elegant frock coat and let works of divine inspiration roll effortlessly from his pen. This early version of his famous D minor Trio proves that however easy or fluent the final result may look, there was (as usual) honest toil going on behind the scenes.
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 ‘’ 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.