An equal music?

3rd March 2010 | Concerts, Florestan Trio, Musings | 3 comments

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.


  1. Tim Boulton

    You and I both know the enormous value of coming together in ad hoc groups to play chamber music, and have done so for many years at the International Musicians Seminars at Prussia Cove. Groups formed in this way can sometimes reveal exciting new insights, especially when playing repertoire that has been largely forgotten over time. And there is something rather special when a seasoned player of many years experience at the top of their profession is partnered with an extraordinarily talented young player just at the beginning of their professional orbit – the chemistry can be totally compelling. The IMS concerts are popular, drawing along a percentage of the local population which would be unheard of in the larger cities.

    But over the last few years Concerts Penzance has been inviting some of the same musicians back to Cornwall to perform in the chamber groups which they live and work with for much of the year. Without a piano we are a bit restricted, and with little money I wish we could pay the musicians what they really deserve, but recent visitors have included the Naravva, Elias, Dante and Herold Quartets. It’s a bit of an eye opener! These groups consistently find depths of meaning, insight and tonal refinement which offers an intimacy which surely can’t be achieved without the months and years of chamber music ‘marriage’.

    I know from experience that some of the most memorable moments in performances have been when some of the working out of musical and to some degree personal relationships happen on stage – but here is my ego getting a big foot in the door. I’m also aware that the moments when I have felt most at one with the eternal in music, where my colleagues and I have simply become the vehicle through which music can mysteriously form, these moments of heaven on earth, happen at a stage well beyond that of public flirting. These times are my best, but I can’t say I’m proud of these moments of true musical revelation. Rather, I’m forever grateful to have been allowed to experience them in the company of others – together with greatness – audience and musicians together. That’s what makes musical life worth living, and the potential for these moments of true insight makes concerts worth presenting.

  2. Cathy Jones

    Thank you, Susan, for pointing out this disturbing trend. Just as the world is waking up to the huge diversity of performers, and thus creating a more level playing field, the promotional arm decides to bank on an old-fashioned celebrity cult, and in chamber music, where the public is most discriminating! The appendage ‘… and musicians’ made me laugh… as if one simply created a chamber ensemble by addition.

    Greetings from a devoted fan of yours and your trio and earlier quartet.


    • Susan Tomes

      Thank you, Cathy. You make a very good point about chamber music!


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