On Monday, cellist Philip Higham and I played one of the first post-lockdown concerts for a socially distanced live audience at Wigmore Hall (see photo). At first, we had been told that only 56 people would be allowed in the audience, but the rules changed and we were able to have 120.
I knew they were going to spaced widely apart, but I hadn’t known they would all be wearing masks. Walking out on stage and seeing them all like that gave me quite a strange moment.
It’s strange to think that I have been playing in Wigmore Hall for over fifty years. ‘How can that be?’, I hear my gallant readers cry. Well, it’s because I first played there as a child in a national piano-playing competition. At that early age, the Wigmore was imprinted on my mind as the concert hall, the one that still floats up in my mind when an image of a concert hall is called for. It has been a favourite of mine for a long time.
Therefore it was extra-strange to play there under Covid19 restrictions. The audience had been asked to depart at the end without delay, and they did. For the first time ever, nobody came backstage to say ‘well done’ to us in the beautiful Green Room. Nobody at all. It was so different from the merry scene which usually reigns there. After a successful concert, there’s a queue of people stretching from the Green Room door down the stairs and into the auditorium. Gradually they make their way into the Green Room and a cheerful throng builds up. Under the influence of music, people say extraordinary things. This is one of my favourite parts of any concert, particularly at the Wigmore which has such dedicated listeners. I love to hear the things that people say about the music and the performance when everything is still fresh in their minds. Even if they simply stand there beaming, it’s welcome.
So the silence on Monday night was a shock. It made me think that I’m too dependent, perhaps, on getting feedback after a concert. I should know whether it was good, right? But it seems that, for me, feedback is an important counterpart to performance. It helps to offset the hundreds of hours in which I practised alone.
The concert was livestreamed and is still available, free, on the Wigmore website until 15 October. At the time of writing our performance has been viewed over 67,000 times on the hall’s Facebook page!
Although the Green Room was empty, I did get an astonishing number of written messages in the hours and days that followed – from colleagues, from friends but also from complete strangers who made the effort to find out how to contact me from the other side of the world. And one advantage of written messages is that you get to read them as many times as you like!