In my work as a classical performer, nothing beats the feeling of playing to a sold-out Wigmore Hall, with people standing at the back. That was my trio’s fortunate experience in London last night. I had invited a friend who doesn’t often go to concerts of this type. She was very struck by the audience’s intense concentration. Indeed, during quiet passages the hall was so silent that from the piano (I don’t face the audience when I play) it was possible to imagine nobody was there at all. It almost gives one a start when 550 people suddenly cough and rustle things at the end of a movement.
Closing our programme was the famous piano trio by Shostakovich, rightly described in the notes as ‘chilling and harrowing’. There’s a lot of very anguished, almost brutal music in this work and it demands some powerful physical involvement from the players. Last night, when I finished playing the fast and violent second movement, I paused for a few seconds and then, as always happens at this moment in performances of this work, my heart started to thump madly. I’m not aware of it while I play – it seems to happen when there is a moment of rest. When your heart thumps like that, your vision is slightly disturbed and your hands shake slightly too. And the next thing I had to do was to begin the very slow lament which follows. I had only a few moments to compose myself, and I sat there trying to breathe deeply in the hope of quietening my thumping heart enough that I could set the right kind of mood in the slow movement. I often wonder if composers ever know about or consider the physical effects of their music on the people playing it!