Sunday, May 02, 2004

Cesar Franck and the matzo pudding

Is giving a concert simply all in a day's work to most pros? For those of us who do a handful of concerts a year and really ought to be doing something else, it sure isn't. Our Clapham gig is next Saturday and I do find myself wishing that I could fast-forward through to Sunday morning (well, maybe Monday, to avoid hangover) - to have the satisfaction of having done the concert without having to experience the excruciating mental pain of sitting at a piano in front of an audience, being obliged to play the Cesar Franck Violin Sonata straight through, up to tempo, without too many wrong notes...

Last week, the pianist Paul Hamburger died; he was one of the great accompanists. His obituary in The Guardian quoted him as having said that the hardest thing he ever had to play was the opening of the Franck's second movement. So there we are, it's not just me creating what my father would have called (bless him) 'a matzo pudding'.

Yesterday, however, produced something intriguing. We watched a programme on TV about the BBC Young Musician of the Year - a sort of condensed version of the semi-finals, showing the winners of each section and filming them at home, etc etc. There was little Benjamin, practising his Ravel G major concerto with a metronome and looking completely calm. Next, just as the percussion was coming on, the phone rang: it was Daniel Hope, who I'd been trying to get hold of for an interview earlier on. I talked to him for a while and got some amazing stories of the things he has to deal with on a day-to-day basis - among them, replacing the Berg Violin Concerto with a Brahms sonata at the last moment because an orchestra in South America had copied out its own parts for the concerto and the publisher was threatening to sue for music piracy...Blimey, as if playing the violin isn't tough enough in the first place! Evidently he has never a dull moment - indeed, perhaps he thrives on the adrenalin. It's all about attitude in the end, isn't it?

When I'd finished talking to Daniel, Tom was practising. He declared he'd been inspired by the kids on TV and wanted to play the beginning of the Franck again. We started with the intention of playing 2 pages, but before we knew it we'd gone through the entire thing and played it better than ever before. At the end, Tom said: 'It's amazing how much you can learn from watching an 11-year-old!'

SAD NEWS - an e-mail yesterday from pianist Lars Vogt telling me of the death of Boris Pergamenschikow, the Russian cellist. Quite a shock - Boris was 55 and had been very much in the thick of musical events, tremendously sought after as soloist, chamber music player and teacher. He had had cancer for two years. Another lesson in attitude. Don't go around making 'matzo puddings', because you are wasting energy you could be putting into achieving all the things you want to achieve in what is necessarily limited time.