Another dose of Prussia Cove

6th September 2014 | Concerts, Inspirations | 0 comments

P1100454I’m looking forward to another visit to the International Musicians’ Seminar ‘Open Chamber Music’ at Prussia Cove in Cornwall, where a large group of musicians (mostly string players, but also some pianists) gathers to play chamber music. At this time of year I always find myself imagining the journeys undertaken, at their own expense, by friends from different parts of the world to converge on one small, wild, inspiring spot by the Atlantic.

Imagining their journeys is a bit like looking at one of those ‘fractal’ images so popular a while ago, because the journeys start in, for example, California with enormous planes crossing oceans, continue with trains chugging across England (more and more slowly) to the south-western tip, and then gradually everyone is decanted into little vans which turn off the main Penzance-Helston road and wind expertly down the narrow lanes between stone walls and old trees bent and salted by the Atlantic breezes until we reach the sprinkling of houses and cottages along the cove. At that point everyone breathes out with relief (usually followed by a sharp intake of breath as they remember how cold, damp and windy it can be).  They dump their luggage in their cottages and swap their cool urban outfits for thick jumpers, anoraks and stout shoes. And a moment later the candlelit dining room is full of musicians who have never met before, or haven’t seen one another for a year or longer.

There’s a big age range, from student to senior. The idea is that different ages will bring different qualities to the mix. Everyone works in two different chamber groups for a week, and at the end of each week there are three public concerts in the region. The seminar is three weeks long, but most people attend just one week. Each person is involved in two groups, so everyone has at least five hours of scheduled rehearsal each day, and they often work longer voluntarily. Sometimes players ask to play with one another, and sometimes they’re randomly allocated to work together – often a mixture of both in the same group. They may be playing pieces new to them, or old favourites they fancy playing with different colleagues than usual. It’s nice to have new light shed on old problems, or to find that old problems no longer exist.

Personalities may ‘click’ or not; this is usually apparent very quickly. Some people are brilliant with soothing diplomacy which enables the group to plough on constructively. Some groups love each other from Day One and are sorry to be parted at the end of the week. Other groups are detonated by a culture clash or a temper outburst, occasionally followed by the sight of an enraged figure waiting on the path with suitcase packed for a dramatic early exit. Mostly, though, the mixture of styles, personalities and backgrounds produces something very rich and special. It helps to be working within sight and sound of the sea, which gets into people’s dreams. Walking along the cliff paths in a high wind after a rehearsal can blow away many vexations. So many talented people in such a remote and unusual place – no wonder many feel the experience sets them up for another year in the real world.

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