On Monday, 14 September at 7.30pm, cellist Philip Higham and I will be stepping in at short notice to play a duo recital at Wigmore Hall in London. We’re replacing two artists caught up in quarantine rules. With countries hopping on and off the quarantine list, the jigsaw of concerts planned for the autumn has become insanely complicated. One day, artists are scheduled to perform; the next they have to cancel, and it’s someone else’s turn.
It could happen to any of us at any time – as I realised yesterday when Scotland tightened its coronavirus restrictions. In Scotland, concert halls and theatres have not re-opened. Yesterday they were told that they cannot re-open for another three weeks at least. The announcement of new rules was followed by a flurry of emails from concert organisers telling people that the upcoming Scottish concerts, for which they had laid such careful plans, will now not take place.
Anyway, back to Wigmore Hall, which is in England. Their autumn season, which starts on Sunday, is a cautious and measured attempt to get live audiences back into the hall. In the initial phase, just 56 people will be allowed in, their tickets allocated by ballot. The concerts will be livestreamed, and the video will stay on the hall’s website for 30 days afterwards.
There have been many occasions in the past when I would have been desperately disappointed to walk out on stage there and see 56 people in the audience, but today that number seems like a luxury. I have not played to any live audiences since February!
The conditions made necessary by the pandemic will make it an unusual experience. For a start (and this is weighing on my mind) I will have to turn my own pages. Normally a page-turner sits beside me, but this is not permitted. All pianists know that in a recital programme there are dozens and dozens of page-turns for the pianist. At the bottom of each right-hand page, you usually have to miss a few notes while you turn the page with one hand (though good editions try to arrange the pages to help with that situation). I’m used to that in rehearsals, of course. But I don’t think I have ever had to turn my own pages in a concert, let alone one which is being recorded. Will people understand why I’m leaving out a few notes every couple of pages?
‘This would be the moment to switch to using an iPad’, I hear you say. It would! But I have never tried it, I don’t own an iPad, and time is too short to grapple with the technology. In any case, I’d be far too nervous about making a wrong move and finding that the pages don’t ‘turn’.
And: no interval, no guests, no backstage gatherings. No chance to rehearse or try the piano on stage until quite close to the concert, because of cleaning procedures. It will be so strange to end the concert and find no well-wishers streaming through that door into the Green Room (see photo). That’s always been a highlight of playing at Wigmore Hall – the loyalty and enthusiasm of the audiences.
Despite the unusual conditions, it’s exciting to be playing there. Travelling to London will be my first time on a train since March!