Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Music, scheduling and international travel...

It's been a busy couple of days and looks like being a busy few weeks.

I am flying to Berlin next Wednesday to interview Daniel Barenboim, who can see me at 1pm on Thursday. That morning, I'm seizing the chance to interview Pascal Devoyon (see Ravel day report, 2 March) who lives there but is flying home just the day before. I fly home straight after seeing Barenboim.

This Thursday I need to see Steven Isserlis to talk about his forthcoming Saint-Saens Festival. He has just half an hour to spare between rehearsals and other interviews before setting off on weeks of international touring. The festival isn't until mid-April, but he's only home this week.

Today I've been writing up an interview with the Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa. She tells me she has just reached the highest notch of Air Miles customership because she spends so much time flying between London and Japan.

How does anyone cope with the possibilities of modern travel? In the music business, most of us have careers that are to some extent international. But this dilemma faces Tom every time the LPO goes on tour. You travel; you perform. Both are deeply exhausting, require total commitment and are somewhat unnatural. Oftener than not, you have to do both on the same day (extra day = extra pay, not what the promoter wants). How can you perform well if the same morning you have to get up at 5am to catch a plane from Stansted and then sit in underventilated aircraft cabins for x hours? How can a normal human body stand it? Soloists mostly have more leisure than orchestras...well, sometimes...but where is the musical inspiration in travelling from city to city playing the same concerto or recital programme over and over again?

Not that I'd fancy being cooped up on a ship on the North Atlantic for days on end, but I can see the attraction of the era when Rubinstein would go on tour to America for several months - it wouldn't have been worth going for less - and could relax on the boat, practise the piano, talk to Stravinsky or Picasso for light relief on board; and at the end of the tour, enjoy a chance to chill out on the ocean wave with a glass of something cold and bubbly.

Because today's crazy travel schedules are possible, they've become necessary. Of course they enable musicians to earn a better living than they otherwise might (today Croydon, tomorrow The World), but if this is a way to ensure engaged, sensitive, insightful musical performance on every occasion then my name is Myra Hess. The musicians suffer; the music suffers; the audience suffers and, dare I say it, may not come back if they don't find what they hear exciting enough.

I hate to post a message that doesn't bear some constructive suggestion, but this one is quite a conundrum. Does anyone have anything sensible to say on the subject? For the moment, perhaps it's enough just to remark that it's incredible that we can hear musicians such as my marvellous interviewees playing as wonderfully as they do anywhere in the world - and exhort them to take good care of themselves!