Wednesday, October 14, 2020

'Immortal': the difficult stuff

I was saddened to hear the other day that the celebrated musicologist Maynard Solomon has died, aged 90. I have admired his writings for many, many years, I love his book on Mozart and have found his articles about Beethoven absolutely invaluable when working on Immortal, especially his explorations of the composer's conversation books. He sounds a fascinating person and I am only sorry that I never had the chance to meet him. Here is an excellent obituary from the New York Times.

This is a good moment to put some "difficult stuff" about Immortal briefly under the spotlight and get it, hopefully, out of the way.

Maynard Solomon's theory of the Immortal Beloved was that the woman in question was Antonie Brentano, the wife of one of Beethoven's closest friends and supporters. There were two principal reasons: first, that she was definitely in Prague on the right day in 1812; secondly, that Solomon undertook a sort of posthumous psychoanalysis of Beethoven which seemed to support this theory. His suggestion has been much approved and amplified, notably by the writer and scholar Susan Lund, who has worked on Beethoven since the 1970s and has written a novel, a play and a factual book about it. 

Josephine - 'Pepi'

The theory has also been widely contested, even objected to, the alternative being that the Immortal Beloved was Josephine Brunsvik. Chief among the scholars exploring in this direction was the late Rita Steblin, whose articles and books have been a mainstay of my own information (I was devastated to hear that she died a year ago, leaving some important research unfinished). Before that, Marie-Elisabeth Tellenbach had written a fascinating, extremely detailed book on the Josephine theory and the zealous John Klapproth translated into English some crucial early texts on the subject, including La Mara (1920s) who had published some of Therese's memoirs. Some of these writers entered into spirited and occasionally angry exchanges with Solomon on the Josephine v Antonie topic. 

But if you saw the BBC's Being Beethoven series recently, you will have noticed (or you might not - it went by very fast and in almost sheepish tone) that one of the Viennese academics acknowledges, after much "we don't know who she really was", that they do now think there is a 90 per cent likelihood that the Immortal Beloved was Josephine. Ninety per cent is not a small figure. The doubt remains because the traces of this affair were extremely well concealed at the time. It's impossible to prove the final ten per cent without digging up Beethoven and the person - or indeed more than one person - who may have been his illegitimate child and doing a DNA test. I doubt that is going to happen any time soon. 

The fascinating thing about either theory, Antonie or Josephine, is that both present Beethoven with a possible "love child" at the crucial moment. Antonie's youngest son was born about three weeks before Josephine's daughter in spring 1813. So whichever of these infants was the one to whom he could never be a father, the likely outcome - his obsession with adopting his nephew - still applies and makes sense.

It's true, too, that we don't know for certain, and that last 10 per cent of doubt is why I have tackled Immortal in the way I have: a fictional first-person narrative from a not necessarily reliable observer, leaving a little room for a question mark around the potential of Antonie. I'm not a zealot about this (I've died on a few hills before and this isn't going to be another, especially not when we are facing the biggest crisis to hit the world in my whole lifetime...). I do know that the Josephine theory looks, walks and quacks like a duck; the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn favours her as the likely solution; and I can't deny that I am not wholly in favour of psychoanalysing someone who is not present to speak for himself, though I find the nephew explanation perfectly plausible. 

Antonie Brentano

Let's cut to the chase: the problem with the Josephine v Antonie dilemma is that it is not really about Josephine and Antonie, or not any more. It is about today's factions. The fact is that if the Immortal Beloved was Josephine, it means Solomon's solution is not correct, which would be a painful admission for his disciples and admirers. Moreover, on Josephine's side it's unfortunate that Klapproth - who died several years ago - entered into some startlingly belligerent and rather wild-toned arguments about it, even with scholars of the calibre of Jan Swafford (whose book stays sensibly neutral on the issue, though seems unusually in favour of Bettina Brentano). It's not impossible that Klapproth harmed his own cause through sheer obsessiveness; moreover, his translations are not of the quality one could wish for, but their existence may perhaps have prevented others from producing more lucid ones. 

Rita Steblin's clear, rational, scholarly writings have clarified much, however; she confirmed that Josephine expressed a wish to consult someone in Prague at the right time, and furthermore revealed that as late as 1818 Therese was mooting to her sister a possibility that they could consider going to London with Beethoven (see her article in The Musical Times, summer 2019). Steblin's involvement was key to the turnaround. There are probably power struggles rumbling away beneath the entire situation, and it's quite likely that they could involve the reverence sometimes accorded to senior male scholars, the propensity back in the 20th century for squishing away the women who see things differently...and much more besides.

This is a topic that can get under your skin. I'm not surprised it provokes obsession - and some of the texts in existence are almost terrifying in this respect. That was one reason that I hesitated for several years before plunging into writing Immortal. It is dangerous, disturbing and disruptive. 

But it's also a fantastic story, strong and important enough to become known beyond academia, especially as it potentially casts fresh light on some of Beethoven's music. I've found that it's better recognised in Germany and, indeed, Hungary (the Brunsviks were Hungarian) than it is in English-speaking countries. Few writers of my outlook would be able to resist it, so...here we are. 

Immortal is a novel because it couldn't be anything else. It travels from the spheres of Jane Austen at the beginning towards the emotions of Tristan and Isolde at the end. If you like it, great; if not, a pity; either way, it is not intended as a definitive statement on the ultimate truth. I'll leave that to academia and, possibly, the DNA lab. Meanwhile I heartily recommend that readers should also explore the writings of Solomon and Lund, weigh up the theories and decide for themselves. In the end, that's all we can actually do. 


Sunday, October 04, 2020

Letting Music Live

Where? Parliament Square, London; Centenary Square, Birmingham. When? Tuesday 6 October, 12 noon. 

Time to show parliament what's what in the music world, which is in graver peril than ever before. Under the auspices of a new banner, Let Music Live, convened by violinist Jessie Murphy, 400 professionals - chiefly freelancers, as most are - will be setting out to show that music is still alive and ready to work...

The arts culture sector contributes enormous amounts to the UK economy every year, but has yet to receive anything more than a kick in the teeth from the government. Despite that promise of £1.57bn of help, months later not much actual money has yet been distributed to the people who need it - if any. And that's the ones who do "qualify". Even performers who are household names in the musical and theatrical worlds have had no work or income since March and still fall through the "safety net", such as it is, "qualifying" for no support whatever. 

Please note that due to social distancing restrictions numbers are strictly controlled. Anyone who wants to attend Parliament Square must please contact the organisers first at letmusicliveuk@gmail.com.

400 freelance professional musicians from all parts of the industry will be joined in support by leading musical figures including David HillRaphael WallfischEmma Johnson and Tasmin Little, to perform in Parliament Square and Centenary Square, Birmingham, shining a light on the need for targeted support for freelance musicians and all those who work in the arts and entertainment sector. They are also joined in solidarity by the Musicians' UnionThe Musicians' Answering ServiceEmily Eavis and more.
 
Conducted by renowned director David Hill in Parliament Square, the freelance musicians will perform a short section of 'Mars' from Holst's The Planets before standing in silence for two minutes. The 20% of the piece that they will perform represents the maximum 20% support that freelancers receive from the government through the SEISS grant. The two-minute silence represents the 45% of musicians currently not covered by the SEISS grant (MU). The event will be Covid-safe, adhering strictly to social distancing regulations, facilitated by support from #WeMakeEvents.

The arts and culture industry contributes £10.8 billion a year directly to the UK economy (ONS), with growth in creative industries previously running at five times that of the rest of the economy. With effective short-term support, freelance musicians will continue to make a positive impact.
 
For every £1 directly spent on music and events, an extra £2 is generated in the wider economy (ACE), powering a network of businesses across the country. Supporting freelance musicians means supporting the wider economy.

Let Music Live calls on the Government:

  • to recognise that freelance musicians are an economic asset. It is essential they invest in freelancers so that they can continue to support the intricate network of businesses that rely on arts and events for their footfall.
  • for sector-specific support to reopen, including a subsidised concert ticket scheme while social distancing restrictions remain, and Government-backed insurance for live events and theatre performances.
  • for targeted support for those skilled workforces forced to remain closed by Covid restrictions, so that freelance musicians are still there to bring music to everyone when this is over. 


Friday, September 25, 2020

32 not out: a Beethoven piano festival with a few major differences

Moving music online may have reduced audiences in one way, but it's expanded them in others. Next weekend, on 3 and 4 October, you can log on from anywhere on earth to see all the Beethoven piano sonatas being played in a festival in a tiny 12th-century church in west London. Hugh Mather, who runs the series at St Mary's Perivale, has put together what looks like an extraordinary logistical feat: 32 pianists for 32 sonatas. Here he tells me why and how - and what Beethoven has meant to us in these troubled times. You can see the whole festival line-up here:  http://www.st-marys-perivale.org.uk/events-beethovenfestival3.shtml 


Amit Yahav performs at St Mary's Perivale

JD: Why did you decide to have a festival of the Beethoven piano sonatas at St Mary’s Perivale, given that Beethoven was already to be so extensively celebrated this year in the “upper echelons” of the music world?

HM: We obviously had to mark the great 250th anniversary in some way. I had organised three similar cycles of the sonatas with 32 pianists at St Barnabas Ealing in 2009, 2012 and 2014, so I knew the format works. Our strong suit is the large number of superb pianists who live in or around London. A sonata cycle was the obvious way of giving 32 of them a chance to perform, and the opportunity for listeners to re-discover many of the lesser-played works. Unfortunately the virus has led to many other festivals being cancelled, and we are now one of the few big Beethoven events still happening. Our friends in the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe are also putting on a similar cycle, but spread over the whole year, rather than a weekend, and in different venues. I had also planned to present all 10 violin sonatas played by 20 musicians in a single day, but that will have to wait till next year.  


JD: You have a different pianist for each sonata - a major contrast from most Beethoven cycles which are attempted like a solo Everest-climb by individual pianists. Why did you decide on this?   


HM: Simply because the format is infinitely more interesting and enjoyable with 32 different pianists!   I have at least 15 CD or LP sets of the complete sonatas, but I always skip around to hear different pianists and their various sonorities and approaches. Even if Schnabel were reincarnated, I would get slightly bored in hearing the same sort of sound and aesthetics for 14 hours, whereas with different pianists it is endlessly fascinating. And we have a superb team of pianists who will each have something special to offer and will all sound very different from each other. I guarantee a very high standard of performance throughout the cycle, and it will be compelling viewing and listening for anyone interested in Beethoven or fine piano-playing.       


JD: What were the issues involved in putting it together? Organising 32 pianists sounds like a logistical nightmare… 


HM: Actually it was surprisingly easy. I wrote to a carefully selected group of pianists in early January, asking them if they would like to participate, and if so, which sonatas they would like to perform. A handful of pianists were unable to participate because it was expected to clash with the Warsaw Chopin competition (since postponed), but otherwise virtually all instantly agreed to play, and I am very happy with our current team !    


To put this in perspective, I have a database of 160 very good pianists who have asked for a solo recital slot. Our venue is always popular because we pay our musicians, we have a nice piano and we provide a high quality recording. So I could easily construct teams to play 2 or 3 cycles! As regards choice of sonatas, nearly all offered the 'Appassionata' and 'Moonlight', etc, but I asked them to specify less familiar sonatas which they would be prepared to play in 9 months' time. From previous festivals, I know that the difficult sonatas to fix are Op 2 no 2, Op 22, Op 31 no 1, Op 54 and the two Op 49s. The jigsaw fell into place over the spring, before the lockdown in March.  



St Mary's Perivale


JD: It’s wonderful that you can livestream concerts from St Mary’s, even without a physical audience. How has COVID-19 affected your plans in terms of the pianists themselves? Have many had to drop out, and how do you replace them?  


HM: The original team of 32 pianists in January included a very good Polish pianist – Michal Szymanowski – who obviously had to cancel because of travel restrictions, and two other pianists cancelled because of other considerations, but otherwise the team is virtually unchanged. I recently advertised on Facebook for replacements to play Op 13 and Op 79 and within 24 hours received offers from 20 and eight pianists respectively. With such a large team of musicians, I suspect there may be at least one to three cancellations next week, and I will need to find a replacement at short notice! That is the worst aspect of the whole project.


JD: What are the technical challenges of relaying concerts on the internet? How does St Mary’s manage this?  


HM: Our video and streaming facilities were developed over several years by a group of retired BBC personnel, led by Simon Shute and George Auckland, who live in Ealing and are longstanding friends.    The system now comprises 7 high definition cameras and 2 high quality microphones permanently installed in the church. It was developed as an adjunct to our concerts, initially to provide recordings for our musicians, and it only realized its full potential in the lockdown, since when we have become, in effect, a broadcasting studio! Since then we have streamed 28 live concerts and 53 concert recordings.  Our superb technical team provide their services free of charge, in keeping with everyone else at Perivale, so we have been able to install broadcast quality video systems remarkably cheaply.

     

JD: Do you think concerts change substantially without an audience? How do performers cope without that live feedback? 


HM: Broadcast concerts, viewed at home, are inevitably a poor substitute for the ‘real thing’, and I can’t wait to return to having a ‘live’ audience enjoying a communal experience again. Nevertheless, the concerts have filled a void in many peoples’ lives, providing much entertainment and solace, and they have enabled us to support so many musicians over the past few months of financial hardship, from viewers’ donations. Performing in an empty venue is indeed slightly nerve-racking, rather like a professional broadcast, but most of our musicians are experienced performers and soon get used to it.


JD: As a pianist yourself, can you tell us something about what makes the Beethoven sonatas such an extraordinarily special body of works? Do you have any personal favourites among them? If so, which and why?


HM: The Beethoven sonatas have been called the ‘New Testament’ of the piano literature. They cover such a remarkable range, from the early classically-based works to the late transcendental sonatas, and there are few if any weak pieces among them. I love them all, and have listened to them all my life, but I didn’t have time to study many of them, on top of my medical career. My favourite will always be the 'Hammerklavier', for personal reasons. After graduating in medicine in 1971, I took a few months off to study the piano with Jimmy Gibb at the Guildhall, and decided to learn the great work, which I played at an open recital at the Guildhall in 1972. Then I got married to Felicity Light, who was a medical student, so I had to earn a living, and returned to a frantically busy career, which precluded serious practice for years. So I have only learned and played about 5 of the sonatas in public. The 'Hammerklavier' has stayed with me ever since, and I played it in our complete Beethoven cycles at St Barnabas in 2009 and 2014. The slow movement still moves me to tears every time I hear or play it – one of the most profound and transcendental pieces ever written. 


JD: Medicine and music are often deemed to “go together”. While writing ‘Immortal’ I’ve been fascinated to learn that Beethoven occasionally practised almost an early form of music therapy: he would improvise for friends who were suffering grief, bereavement, depression etc, and his musical response to their frame of mind would bring them the relief of tears. During this weird year, I’ve gone back to my piano and playing Beethoven has brought me energy, positivity and renewed enthusiasm for life. Do you find he has a similar effect?


HM: The link between medicine and music is indeed widespread. As for Beethoven, one can spend a lifetime exploring these wonderful masterpieces, and I never tire of them. I particularly enjoy all the early sonatas which people rarely play in recitals, as well as the immortal late sonatas. Part of the joy of our festival will be a re-acquaintance with some of the less-commonly played works. In the lockdown I have been re-listening to the late string quartets and have found them to be life-enhancing and deeply enriching, and appropriate listening material for this strange and depressing time. At the risk of sounding pompous, Beethoven’s compositions really do encapsulate every facet of the human experience, rather like Shakespeare. We hope to show that in our great festival at St Mary’s Perivale on 3 and 4 October.


Beethoven Festival, St Mary's Perivale, 3 and 4 October, is online here: http://www.st-marys-perivale.org.uk/events-beethovenfestival3.shtml 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Can conductors change the world? A guest post by Rebecca Miller



I've been astounded, these past tricky months, at the explosion of creative thinking and doing by musicians around what can feel like a very shattered world. The news in the papers is universally awful: a third of MU members are thinking of leaving the profession, while the ISM has found that 64 per cent of musicians are considering the same, and there are eye-watering redundancies at many of our leading concert halls. And yet things have come about in six short months that we'd never have dreamed of a year ago, from ENO staging a drive-in La Bohème in the car park at Alexandra Palace, to a whole new opera by Alex Woolf and David Pountney at Grange Park Opera, and the ability to tune in online to performances from far and wide, many of which are fortunately starting to charge for viewing, which they should. 

With education and social life suffering abominably, creative initiatives that bring people together online for stimulating discussions and masterclasses are coming into their own. Among the best I've come across is Beyond Borders, devised by the conductor Rebecca Miller, which is launching on 2 October, aiming to gather musicians, educators and music industry leaders from all over the world. I'm delighted that she has written us a guest post. Please follow the links at the end to sign up and take part. JD

  


Can conductors change the world? 

A guest post by conductor Rebecca Miller

 

Who is this crazy woman spouting about conducting masterclasses when the world is falling apart? What relevance do orchestras have to us today? Why should we try to save them? Can orchestras make the world a better place? How? What makes a community? How can we fix the world? 

 

(…just a small insight into the current state of my mind)

 

From darkness to light

 People often ask me if I have a favourite composer. I usually laugh and say, ‘that’s impossible to say - it’s like asking me which of my children I like best’. But if I had to choose one at gunpoint, I would choose Beethoven. Of all the composers who mastered the art of finding light through the darkness… for me, it is Beethoven. Of all the composers who excelled in imagination through extreme limitations… for me, it is Beethoven. 

 

Throughout lockdown, throughout the darkness, the despair, the fear, the longing, I have found a token of strange and sombre comfort somewhere - it wasn’t in Beethoven, but it was in the knowledge that everyone in the world is in the same plight - that everyone is in this isolation - together; that everyone in the world is affected in some way by COVID and that we are all fighting the same fight. When else has it been that the whole world fights the same problem at the same time? That we are completely united as a world, against a single cause? As humans, as societies, we are usually wrapped up in our own problems - we often don’t pay enough attention to the problems of others. But here we are, every single person in the world has heard of COVID, is affected by COVID, wants to rid the world of COVID. 

 

That unified purpose - that’s what an orchestra does on stage. We are all committed to one objective - to play this piece, at this time, on this day, for this audience, to the best of our abilities. Nothing else matters at this moment. It doesn’t matter who the person is next to us - what is the shape their violin, or what is the colour of their skin. All we care about is getting it right - getting it better, and better, as we strive further and further towards an unattainable perfection. 

 

I started Beyond Borders out of isolation, out of a desire to overcome the restrictions on human contact - to bring people together, from across the world, in ways and for discussions and sessions that previously didnt seem possible. I think we have all accepted - like it or not - that digital meetings and conferences are a way of the present and likely a way of the future - and I have decided to embrace it, rather than reject it. So I turn back to Beethoven. To find the light out of the darkness. To create something imaginative out of extreme limitations. 

 

Beyond Borders aims to bring people throughout the world together through online sessions and masterclasses - to discuss and contemplate community, leadership, and orchestras, but through the eyes of a conductor. Individual sessions and masterclass series - details here and more below.

 

So… can conductors change the world? 

 

I’m passionate about changing the world. I have been ever since I was little. I did realise at some point, however, that I cannot change it all myself. And I probably can’t change very much about it. But in my own little way, each day, I try to at least make small changes. 

 

I want a world that is kinder, more respectful, more empathetic, and that listens more to each other. Through Beyond Borders I’m trying to take my small corner of the world - conducting an orchestra - and shed a light on the relevance to society of this rather strange and seemingly mysterious job. 

 

I’m passionate about teaching my conducting students that the ‘stick technique’ (arm waving) is only a very small portion of ‘the job’. The majority of the job is actually the people skills, the collaboration, the leadership, the big ideas, and of course all the intense study of the music and its context that is the basis for all of the former. In order to lead you must be able to offer - at the very least - knowledge, ideas, and context, and then hopefully you’re also able to add a dollop of inspiration, trust, and enabling. 

 

I bang on and on in my conducting lessons about stepping outside of yourself - what’s the view like from the other side? What do your co-collaborators need from you? Do you understand their position? Do you understand what they need in order to do what you are asking of them? That you serve the musicians - your team - not the other way around. 

 

For me these skills - putting yourself in context, viewing yourself from the outside, and having a wide perspective - are life skills. And I hope that my students - conducting and orchestral - take these pieces of advice and apply them to their wider lives as human beings. I am convinced that by widening the perspective of a few young conductors, that I am in my own tiny little way, changing the world - just one conductor at a time. And that’s OK with me. 

 

 

I hope you’ll join me at Beyond Borders - whether as a participant, as a guest at one of our sessions, or as a member of our mailing list to start. We will be rolling out sessions on orchestras, community, conducting, and leadership. 


Our first offering is a master class series that touches on all of these topics - Making Waves - October 2-4th, with some fantastic guests from the industry. Please join with us - to help bring the world together and to work towards a kinder and more collaborative society. 

 

Rebecca Miller 

 

———————

 

 

 

 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Nights in the garden of panic

(A shared post with 'Immortal' at Unbound.)
If you're a subscriber to 'Immortal', which is due out on 29 October, you should by now have received a message from Unbound announcing that the book has gone to press. So there we are: done, dusted and ready to rock. People have been asking how I feel, expecting "great", "thrilled", "proud" and "let's PARTAAY...except we can't..." . 

 The reality is that I'm scared witless. 

 I'm sure I'm not the only person who, throughout this hideous year, hasn't been enjoying the dark. I've woken in the small hours almost every night in a state of anxiety that does violence to my mind, heart and physical state. 

Sometimes it's about the cat throwing up: is it really just hairballs? Next up, so to speak, the collapse of the arts: 64 per cent of the UK's musicians are thinking of leaving the profession, according to the ISM. If you've lived half a century fuelled, inspired and/or paid by music and theatre, the prospects are bleak. Then the knock-on effects: where will we all be in a year's time? Will we even be alive to witness the wreck our country will become if there's a no-deal Brexit? Oftener than not, I'm feeling as if I'm on the Titanic yelling about the iceberg ahead, and everyone's shrugging and saying "but it's not in anyone's interests to hit an iceberg...". 

 But that's not what's waking me in the nocturnal garden of panic. It's something worse: THE BOOK. Have I overwritten? Have I left out something crucial? Have I interpreted x, y or z right? Are people in the right place at the right time doing the right thing? Have I thanked all the right people, and what will they say if I haven't? If not, tough: it's too late. I find comforting words to talk myself down: the book is long because it starts in the 1790s, ends in 1828, and is written from Therese's perspective in 1759, so there is a lot to fit in - and I have actually cut 21,000 words. 

It could easily have been double the length. Gigantic 19th-century novels were fine in the 19th century, but no longer. I excised a whole chapter exploring notions of romanticism and it pretty much broke my heart; but then, I never finished reading Les Misérables because Hugo takes us into a labyrinth of a section set in a nunnery, which goes on and on, and I failed to find my way out. If only someone had said, "Look, Victor, about that nunnery..." 

As for people being in the right place at the right time: sometimes they're not, because if Therese is observing her sister, she has to be there with her. Therefore at some moments I've put her in Vienna although she was, in reality, in Budapest. I am upfront about this in the "author's note". Is there still such a thing as "artistic licence"? 

 I can justify all these questions and alarms all I like, but I still wake up panicking. A Facebook post asking how people deal with anxiety attacks produced such a welter of responses that it's clear innumerable others feel exactly the same way. If you do: my sympathies and solidarity. 

I still don't know which, if any, of our autumn narrated concerts will go ahead - sadly, Oxford at the Holywell Music Room has been cancelled, or at least postponed. I don't know when we can have our launch party or give one special benefactor his private concert. I don't know if the book will be welcomed and praised, or if it and I will be torn limb from spine. You may like it. You may loathe it. It's up to you; either way, there's nothing more I can do about it now. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support, your kindness and your enthusiasm for the idea of IMMORTAL. I hope the reality will live up to it. 

 Please excuse me while I go and pop another Kalms.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Catch up with Ludwig and Levit here

While we in the UK continue to run about like headless chickens (which in many ways we actually are), the Salzburg Festival has managed to be up, running and shouting about it with well-deserved pride. In the fast-growing blackberry bushes of classical music on the internet, there is plenty of ripe fruit waiting to be foraged, stewed and savoured, and the concerts of Salzburg being streamed by Arte.tv are not only some of the best, but also available to watch in the UK (which not all Arte films are).

Having been working flat out to finish the editing and proofreading of IMMORTAL - which is now going into production - I haven't had time, energy or inclination to watch or listen to anything very much for weeks, so it's time to catch up, and I'm very happy to say that they have sent me the first three of Igor Levit's complete Beethoven sonatas cycle for us all to enjoy here on JDCMB. Plenty more available at Arte's own site, of course. Levit has been one of music's outstanding lockdown heroes and I am looking forward to hearing the lot in due course.
Enjoy!


Monday, August 03, 2020

Leon Fleisher (23 July 1928 - 2 August 2020): in memoriam

Sad news today of the death of the great pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher, aged 92. I much regret not having met him in person, especially as my father was among the scientists whose research led to the therapy that ultimately helped Fleisher's focal dystonia. I did, however, talk to him on the phone for the Independent back in 2010 when he came to the UK to participate in the Aldeburgh Festival. Here is some of that interview.

                                                                       Leon Fleisher 
                                                                    Photo: Ned Burgess
 

JD: Please talk us through your experience of focal dystonia, what it did to you and how it came about?

 

LF: I noticed that the fingers of my right hand started to have the tendency to curl under and my initial reaction was that it seemed to me I’d have to increase my practising and it was a sign that I wasn’t working enough – which was the wrong thing to do. Over a period of about 10 months that tendency became so pronounced that two fingers virtually dug into the palm of my hand and it took enormous effort to straighten them out, followed by endless visits to countless doctors and a search that lasted 35 years with no answers. 


To make a long story short, I found two modalities eventually that helped me. One was called Rolfing, named after the German therapist Ida Rolf. Because Rolfing is a modality of tissue manipulation that can restore the normal plasticity of even the fibres of whatever tissue is being manipulated; and eventually I was informed of a programme at the National Institute of Health in Maryland for people with similar dysfunction and they were treating them with something called Botox, of all things. They inject the botox where the nerve informs the muscle to contract, which is not at the site of the muiscle itself but usually somewhere between the site where the muscle is affected and the brain. In my case, it’s in the forearm and they inject a minute amount of botox - which is a virulent poison - into the muscle, just paralysing it a little bit so that the tendency to curl under is weakened just a wee bit and therefore allows the opposing muscles, the flexor muscles, to be more effective. That’s the mechanism for the treatment of focal dystonia. They don’t know what causes it and therefore they don’t have a cure, but they’ve found this way to help deal with the symptoms. 

 

JD: My father was a neuropathologist, involved in the early research into the therapeutic use of botulinum toxin….) 

 

LF: Possibly he knew the neurologist friend of mine here in Baltimore who developed the idea of the botulinum – Dan Drachman. (JD: Yes, they were good colleagues). His father-in-law was Gregor Piatigorsky! Dan was the one that told me about this programme. 

 

JD: You returned to playing with both hands around 1995-96. How do you feel the whole experience changed you as a musician? 

 

LF: All I can say is that after a couple of years in a pretty deep depression I finally woke up one morning realising that my connection to music was not exclusively as a two-hands piano player, it was a little more profound than that. This enabled me to do a number of things. It enabled me to expand my teaching in a way that became more productive: that is to say I was no longer able to push students off the piano bench and demonstrate the way I thought it should go, I had to find words to express that very intangible and ephemeral aspect of music, and I think I became a better teacher. 


The formal admission to myself that I had this thing of being dystonic somehow freed me up to examine the not-inconsiderable literature for the left hand alone in which can be found several great works – the Ravel Left Hand Concerto is one of the great pieces of literature for the piano and it gave me the idea also to start conducting, which was a totally new endeavour for me and from which I learned so enormously and which brought me tremendous satisfaction and gratification – it makes me wonder, were I to live my life over again I’m not sure I would change anything.

 

JD: Do you remember now how it felt the first time you were able to sit down & play with both hands again?

 

LF: Yes, and curiously enough it wasn’t what many people might think – I’d tested it every day of those 35 years so that I was expecting somewhere, somehow, I was always one step away from being able to do it. So when I finally did it, it was enormously satisfying, but not as enormously revelatory as you might think. 

 

JD: Was there any special piece or composer that you were most happy to be able to play again?

 

LF: Well, yes, I played some of my old favourites for myself – the D minor Brahms Concerto, Beethoven 5. Enormously satisfying.

 

JD: What happens now? Do you have to keep having treatment? 

 

LF: Once a dystonic, always a dystonic, so I get my injections now once every four months.

 

JD: There have been a lot of studies recently, looking at music and science and the way the brain and musical instinct hook up – I wonder, why now? Do you have any views on that? 

 

LF: Perhaps it’s just that it’s probably about time and it’s ripe for investigation. I don’t think the question is so much from the artistic side, but science is now ready. The mind is always trying to break things down and look for that moment in time when creativity starts

 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Last day to 'become an IMMORTAL'


A portrait of Countess Therese Brunsvik von Korompa - regrettably misidentified on TV the other day as Antonie Brentano. Therese is the narrator of IMMORTAL (but she is not the Immortal Beloved!)

I've been up to my eyeballs in the last edit of IMMORTAL, plus trying to be two other work-people at the same time, so I've been doing 15-hr days, I am knackered and I could use a holiday, but I have to jump straight in to another massive project, starting tomorrow. 
More of that anon, but meanwhile today is the last day to get your name listed in IMMORTAL as a patron. Tomorrow I shall send back the final edit and after that the book will be turned into proofs. After that, only errors/typos can change: no more additions. So if you have not yet put in a pledge and you want to be there, it is literally your last chance.
In the meantime, I'm thrilled to share with you  three amazing endorsements for the book. Here we are:
“IMMORTAL is a revelation, offering the ideal blend of historic exactitude and a book you simply won’t want to put down." -- Daniel Hope, violinist and president of the Beethoven-Haus, Bonn
“The perfect companion for this landmark Beethoven anniversary year. Jessica’s writing is, as always, deeply knowledgable, emanating from a profound understanding of her material. This new book brings the human, vulnerable side of Beethoven into focus for our 21st Century audience.” -- Marin Alsop, conductor
"From its first, dazzlingly-rendered pages, IMMORTAL pulls you into a vanished world and an utterly compelling love story – at its centre, one of music’s greatest and most enduring mysteries. Few authors understand better than Jessica Duchen the way music can change the course of a life; and few writers make that music leap more vividly off the page. If you’ve ever wondered what Ludwig van Beethoven was like as a man, here he is, painted as if from life: inspiring, infuriating, and intensely, unapologetically real. Because for all her understanding of art and character, and her brilliantly-described evocations of early 19th-century Vienna in all its splendour and squalor, Duchen never forgets that at the core of all great music – and all great stories – beats a human heart." -- Richard Bratby, music critic and author
Thank you to all three of them, many thousands of times!
Progress here is good and I have to say that preparing a book for publication doesn't half keep your mind off pandemics and lockdowns. Take care, everyone, keep well and thank you again for all your support. More soon...

Monday, July 06, 2020

Thank you!

The government has just announced a rescue package for the UK's arts and heritage that is worth £1.57bn. 

A massive "thank you" is in order - to them, to the organisations whose directors lobbied for us all, to the individuals who talked and discussed and presented and persuaded, to the members of the public who shouted and signed petitions, and to everyone who has realised - at long, long last - just how much the arts are worth to us as human beings and as a country. As the first, they support our souls. As the second, they support our entire lives by bringing in billions to the treasury - and they're inextricably enmeshed with innumerable other industries that depend on the people they attract. 

The small print will need reading, of course. For several theatres it may be too late. The status of the arts freelancers whose income is now £0 and who don't qualify for the self-employment support scheme remains to be seen - there's scant indication of help for them. Whether there are strings attached, and what they are, likewise. Still the package is a lot more than most of us had expected and we should give credit where it's due. It makes the difference between hope and no hope - and that is very big indeed.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Finding our roots: a guest post by Rebeca Omordia

In solidarity with BLM, I'm handing the floor to the pianist Rebeca Omordia to tell us the hows and whys of her African concert series, which goes online later this month. Her CD of music by Nigerian composers was proof that we need to hear a great deal more of them! 
You can also watch a preview of the series on the African Concert Series Facebook page, here.
Over to you, Rebeca...
jd




The African Concert Series London was launched in 2019 and its mission was pioneering repertoire by African Art composers. Bringing African classical music to the Western audience was right from the start an endeavour meant to unravel the cultural diversity of the African continent, reflected in its music, and to create a platform for the African classical music to be performed.

Africa is very colourful - each country in Africa has a multitude of ethnic groups and each ethnic group has a music of its own, with characteristic melodies and rhythms -, quality which I have tried to emphasise in the programmes of The African Concert Series, through individually themed concerts: Nigerian Odyssey, The South African Double Bass, String Quartets by African Composers, Arabesque: Piano music from the Arabworld, and many more.

After the success of the 2019 series, I had hoped for other performances in 2020 but the Coronavirus pandemic forced us all into our homes. The 2020 online series is not a resignation, an acceptance of “The New Normal”, we are not bending our heads down and pretend we still have jobs as performers; it is the continuation of our pioneering work, of taking the message forward despite circumstances. During the current social and racial climate, I believe returning to one's roots is the best form of self-care and I truly hope it inspires others to research their origins and explore their heritage. 

The online series features one week of very short performances, especially recorded for this programme, streamed daily on The African Concert Series Facebook page starting on 22 June that will reveal music never heard before by the social media audience, giving us the opportunity to reach a wider audience.

African classical music, known as African Art music, emerged in West Africa in the 20th century and its founding father is Nigerian composer Fela Sowande (l905-1987). Most of the African composers studied in Europe then returned to their African countries where they began broadcasting and lecturing in universities. Eventually, Music Societies were formed (e.g. MUSON – Musical Society of Nigeria founded in 1983) allowing for classical concerts to be performed. All composers wrote music in a Western classical style while using African traditional melodies and rhythms. Composers from Ethiopia, South Africa, the Arab world – Morocco, Algeria, developed their own style of art music.

The African Concert Series 2020 - online edition opens on 22 June with multi-award winner St Louis (USA) based Nigerian-Ghanaian composer and pianist Fred Onovwerosuoke and his wife flautist Wendy Hymes. FredO, as friends call him, became internationally renowned when his chant Bolingo was featured as a soundtrack in Robert de Niro's film The Good Shepherd. FredO wrote music for many instruments including the flute, music featured on The African Art Music for Flutealbum released by Wendy in 2008. 

The second performance in the series is by Nigeria’s leading tenor Jo Oparamanuike, accompanied by Babatunde Sosan, the third in his family to be organist at Christ Church, Lagos, who will stream from Nigeria. South African virtuoso bass player Leon Bosch will play music featured on his new Meridian Records CD The South African Double Bass– music composed especially for him. Nigerian pianist Glen Inanga, founder of the first ever Arts Festival in the Cayman Islands, will perform music from Nigeria. Moroccan-Hungarian pianist Marouan Benabdallah has been touring the world to great acclaim with his programme Arabesque: Piano music from the Arab world, project which lead to the discovery of 90 composers from countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. 

I will close the series on 29 June with a selection from 24 Studies in African Rhythms by Fred Onovwerosuoke. FredO travelled the whole Africa where he gathered material that he used in his 24 Studies in African Rhythms, each study is inspired by a song or a dance from a different country in Africa.
Rebeca Omordia

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Rattle and Elder step up to shout

Many thanks to everyone for your fantastic response to yesterday's post. Keep yelling!

We shouldn't underestimate the quiet and devoted behind-the-scenes beavering that is taking place on behalf of the music world: missions that hopefully will start shouting in due course, but may not have done so yet. I am getting the impression that there are spaces to watch...

Today The Guardian is carrying an open letter from Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Mark Elder regarding the plight of British musicians of all genres. You can read the whole thing on the site, but here's a taste of it:


There are so many pressing problems to solve in the UK that it takes courage even to mention the desperate situation of classical music in the time of Covid-19.
There’s a real possibility of a devastated landscape on the other side of this; orchestras may not survive, and if they do, they may face insuperable obstacles to remain solvent in our new reality. What we write applies, of course, to all types of music, not just classical music which is our area of expertise. Our music is essentially a live experience and requires all the participants, performers and listeners alike, to be in the same room together. What we may do individually over the internet in these months is all well and good, but the living core of our work is a live communion, a sharing of space, art and emotion which is both vital and healing.
This healing will become ever more necessary in the coming time as we attempt to bear witness and understand what we have all gone through. In such an existential crisis, the realisation of our shared vulnerability will surely change and deepen our relationship to all the arts. In our own field we are asking ourselves; how can we get back to live music? How can we give our audiences the courage to gradually return?
More immediately, how can we maintain musical continuity when orchestras are silenced? And how do we nurture a generation of young musicians whose prospects look bleak just as they embark on a career in this ever more uncertain world?...

Meanwhile (not directly related to the above), I promised some music on a regular basis, so here is something I heard the other day - live via my phone while in the middle of Richmond Park, surrounded by greenery. Wood magic from Schumann, and Fauré's Cello Sonata No.1 - Steven Isserlis and Mishka Rushdie Momen at the Wigmore Hall. Please watch it on the Wigmore's own site and do make a donation if you can. I was horrified to see that one of the concerts the other day had raised a grand total that was well under £100, and I'm sure we can do better than that. https://wigmore-hall.org.uk/live-streams/steven-isserlis-cello-mishka-rushdie-momen-piano

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

"The position of the perpetual spectator"


I'm reading Music Comes Out of Silence, by András Schiff and the Swiss journalist Martin Meyer, which has just been published in English translation. Its first part is a discussion between them which veers from the fascinating to the eye-opening to several hilarious anecdotes. The second part consists of essays, letters and reflections by Schiff himself. The passage above is from a piece he wrote in 2000 in response to the far-right politician Jörg Haider's election in Austria. Haider was killed in a road accident in 2008, but otherwise Schiff's words are as true today as they were 20 years ago.

Today, while the few newspapers that accord any space to classical music are pointing out that in the UK the industry faces collapse within months, somehow only a handful of musicians are speaking up about the dangers. Many are talking online about music, streaming performances from home or doing both, finding ways to keep motivated and keep their, and our, brains engaged with our art. It needs, nevertheless, to go further than that.

There's no shortage of anger and anxiety, and at first I was convinced that a large part of the problem is simply that newspapers are just not interested enough in classical music to give it the sort of airing that exists for theatre, in which stars like David Tennant and Sam West are household names. There is an excellent piece in today's Guardian by Charlotte Higgins - which asks why we are not putting up more of a fight.

Part of the issue is the lack of cohesion between various organising bodies. I have been wondering where the Musicians' Union is in all this. All I can find at the moment is a report in which it appears to suggest that two musicians sitting next to each other facing forward shouldn't be a problem because they're not breathing on each other. Um. [UPDATE 5.15pm: Today the MU General Secretary, Horace Trubridge, speaks up eloquently in The Evening Standard - in an article that is headlined by theatre. Music is placed second, under cover - as is so often the case. Another indication that media attitudes must shoulder a lot of this blame.] Organisations such as the ISM and the ABO have been active and energetic, but chiefly behind the scenes, lobbying the necessary forces-that-be; and they are only occasionally picked up and yelled about on Radio 4.

What about actual musicians? Chi-chi Nwanoku, founder of Chineke!, has been a fabulous spokesperson for the art form, especially in the crucial area of race relations, and has been featured on LBC. Nicola Benedetti speaks out eloquently on behalf of music education. But there has to be the airtime. Tasmin Little, liberated months too early from the stage commitments she was preparing to relinquish amid much celebration this summer (she should have been giving her final Southbank Centre recital on 5 June), has been on Radio 4 current affairs programmes several times - but too often her contributions have been curtailed by the programmes. On one occasion a guest performance she had recorded for them was reduced to seven notes of "Somewhere over the rainbow". She has nevertheless revealed that she earned £12.34 for 5 million streams and this figure is now being quoted everywhere to show how appallingly our sector is served by the multi-million-pound giants who provide the streaming. Any classical soloist would be able to say the same, so why do they not? Too shy? Too scared? I honestly have no idea.

Here is Sam West, speaking up about why the UK's arts scene is more affected than those of our neighbours in France and Germany. Basically, it's the funding model: we have been trained to rely on commercialism because government subsidy accounts for a comparatively minuscule share of the funding. When commercial activity ceases, therefore, we are harder hit. Please listen:


Samuel West introduces the latest Arts Index - June 2020 from National Campaign for the Arts on Vimeo.

It begs the question: where is everyone? I'd like to think that the philistine media is chiefly to blame for not allowing the oxygen of publicity into the music sector. But I am also aware that musicians are not accustomed to what we journalists shrug away as "the rough and tumble". In times of trouble, the ostrich instinct in many of them runs deep. It's fair enough to be scared. Also, however, when I remember the music college in which I lasted three weeks before fleeing in despair, feeling that if I stayed I'd be turned into a lemon, I'm actually not surprised. How I wish that education for musicians more often included education beyond music itself.

There would be a benefit in this for all. You'll note that the illustration at the top of this article comes from one of the world's most justly celebrated pianists - and indeed the musicians who reach the very top are often those with the laser-sharp minds. Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Alfred Brendel, Thomas Adès and Schiff have reached the heights in part because of their extreme intelligence. Igor Levit and Mahan Esfahani are among a newer generation who fully grasp the essential nature of the connections between music and the wider world, the community and what it means to be a full human being with responsibility for our fellow human beings.

Musicians who speak up certainly receive abuse for it, but this is par for the course: there'll always be someone to snipe "shut up and play" if they disagree with you. All it means is that you said something true that got under their skin. Take it as a badge of honour.

If your training has provided no scope for writing and speaking, let alone broader education, don't worry. You can do this for yourself at any time. You don't have to be 18 (it's possibly better if you are older anyway). You don't have to sign up to a course. You can download from the internet any book on philosophy, society, economics, history or global warming that you desire. You can learn languages on Duolingo (I'm finding this quite addictive). There are plenty of actors and acting coaches who need work as much as you do and will train you in public speaking techniques. No time to go to museums, and now they're shut? Look at the online exhibitions. Explore ancient Egypt and the splendours of Pompei, from the screen of your phone if nothing else. Listen to the great gurus of Indian classical music; explore cultures you haven't encountered, their ways of thinking, their traditions, problems and means of expression. Look at what is really going on in Syria, Afghanistan, the refugee camps, the Mexican border, the diamond trade, the tobacco industry, the Palestinian territories. Read the first-hand accounts. Talk to people who have been through it. Read the damn news from a reliable source, and distinguish it from conspiracy theories and propaganda. If you feed your creativity, your curiosity, your strength of character and opinion, it will feed your musicianship. Indeed, you will quite possibly become a better musician for it (OK, you need to remember to do enough practising too.)

Dear musicians, in this hour of trouble do not on any account "shut up and play". Get out there and start yelling. 

Tell people what music means to you. Show them what music can and does mean to them. Demonstrate what music does for us all. The financial figures speak for themselves - the UK's music industry is worth billions more to our exchequer than the fisheries the tabloids shout about - but the worth of art music in education and wider western culture has been eroded until swathes of the population are disinclined to give it the time of day. It's up to us to tell them - and you more than me. Though I was also a trained musician, I'm a writer and always have been; I'm used to it and my voice comes through. That's why you're reading this. You need to be able to do it too. Get talking. Get writing. Get shouting. The internet is an open platform and you don't need to wait for someone to do it for you. Get it? Got it? Good. Now, go for it.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Solidarity: Chineke! revisited



The concerts by Chineke!, Europe's first-ever majority BME orchestra, have been among the most uplifting of any I've attended. The phrase "a breath of fresh air" has often come to mind. It is not a question of sitting primly to listen thinking proper thoughts like "Ah, multi-racial, very good...". And it is certainly not about suddenly making classical music "cool" by, ooh, including performers of different races who might wear something relaxed and smile now and then. No. It's a direct and gut-based reaction to the atmosphere in the hall.

There's enthusiasm, delight, revelation - for lots of people come to these events who have rarely or never attended a concert before - and a sense of discovery for us all. For example, music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and his daughter Avril Coleridge-Taylor that we have never heard programmed in "mainstream" concerts, or the music of wonderful contemporary composers such as the Errollyn Wallen, Philip Herbert and Daniel Kidane. The excitement in the audience, though, is a response to that on stage.

This week the term "a breath of fresh air" has acquired a whole new meaning. George Floyd's last words "I can't breathe" have swept the world as the emblem signalling, over entrenched racism, that enough is enough.

As a tribute and in solidarity, here is an extract from Chineke!'s concert four years ago at the Queen Elizabeth Hall: this is their "signature" piece, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Ballade. Wayne Marshall conducts.

Coleridge-Taylor, like Barack Obama, was the son of a white mother and a black father. In 1912, aged 37, he collapsed on West Croydon station and died several days later of pneumonia, brought on through exhaustion and overwork. This was partly because although he had written the most popular oratorio of Edwardian England, Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, he had sold the rights for a one-off pittance and received no financial recompense whatever for its wild success. Among those who had defended him against the racism he encountered for much of his short life was his teacher at the Royal College of Music, Charles Stanford, who on hearing another student making racist remarks, informed him that Coleridge-Taylor had more talent for music in his little finger than the rest of the students put together.

I want you to hear this music and reflect on where we could all be, instead of the fearsome and disgraceful situation that lies before us now. We could be making music together, in joy, freedom and equality, no matter who we are or where we come from.

You cannot stand in front of something you know is wrong and do nothing. To make a change, one has first to recognise the need for it. And maybe that's where Chineke!'s power comes from: a recognition, an idea, a plan - and action. A breath of fresh air.


Thursday, June 04, 2020

Triumph, tragedy and trying very hard

Another week, another litany of bungles, idiocies and the counting of "excess" deaths (where's Beckett when you need him?) and in the arts world a paradoxical mingling of unjustified pessimism, unjustified optimism and unjustified attacks on one for the other are doing little to help. However, some things are moving, and they are not always the things you'd expect.

The Wigmore Hall has started a series of live-streamed lunchtime concerts in front of a physical audience of two (the head of the venue and the Radio 3 announcer). Taken up first by Radio 3 and subsequently by the European Broadcasting Union too, they are already reaching vast international audiences. Today you can hear Nicholas Daniel (oboe) and Julius Drake (piano). The Royal Opera House is planning to start a similar idea later this month. Everywhere there's streaming, creativity, resourcefulness. And everywhere I hear opinions like, "Oh, the big places will be fine because they have money. It's the smaller ones I'm worried about..."

Actually - no. It's the big ones that are at most risk: those that are too large to adapt easily. A smaller organisation that is not fixed to a large, costly venue stands much more chance of surviving through changing its own practices, because it can. For example, Viv McLean and I were booked some while ago for a performance at a local music society in November, at a small neighbourhood venue of which we are very fond. The other week I had a call that I expected to reveal the cancellation of the event. Instead, the director asked if we'd mind playing somewhere larger, where the audience would be able to be seated with social distancing. They moved the concert by one day and about 500 metres to a beautiful, spacious church. We currently expect the performance to go ahead. They can do that.

A venue like the Royal Albert Hall or the ROH has a different problem. Their bricks and mortar, their red plush and their histories are as much their selling point as the artistry they house - and the costs of running huge venues are, in a nutshell, ferocious. The ROH has warned that it risks folding if social distancing has to continue past the autumn, because the economics of running a theatre that way simply cannot work in the long term. A lean, mean entity that can be flexible about its numbers, its venues, its pay and its programming is a tree-climbing mammal alongside the immovable brontosaurs that we love so much.

Overseas, in places where the pandemic has been bettered managed and more swiftly conquered, where transport by road from other parts of Europe is a little easier, and where funding is more readily available, some festivals are starting to reconstitute themselves. In the latest move, an email from Pontresina tells me that the Engadin Festival, based in St Moritz, is going ahead, again using larger venues than planned to enable audience distancing, and due to reconstituting of attendance numbers, involving a surprise recital by Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich and not one but two, for two socially distanced crowds, by Grigory Sokolov.

Here in plague island, where we can also look forward to the double-whammy joys (not) of a fantasist government of zealots foisting hard brexit upon us in the new year, it's not so easy. Streaming and Zooming seem to be if not quite the future then certainly the present. Resourcefulness certainly pays off. The LPO held its annual fundraising gala online the other day, included an individually pre-recorded movement from the 'Eroica' and got its guests to put on DJs for the occasion. Idagio has launched a Global Concert Hall in which specially filmed performances are available live and for 24 hours afterwards and cost £4.99 to watch, with "80% of net proceeds" going direct to the artists, which I hope might mean they receive something worthwhile, rather than the price of a pizza for 6 million streams.

On the one hand, streaming is great, with the potential for truly globalised audiences. But on the other hand, it's tragic. The performances I've enjoyed watching the most during this time are those previously filmed in packed venues with cheering audiences throwing flowers on stage at the end. I am listening to various livestreams, or catching up on them afterwards, but there's a cracking noise that interferes and it's my heart. I shall keep listening, in the hope that somehow or other I will get used to it...

The empty shell of a theatre or hall turns out to be a poor substitute for one that is alive with coughs, sweet paper rustles, chattering, shushing, canoodling and clapping between movements. Who knew: all those things so many people loved to hate and to mouth off about in fury on social media are in fact the very lifeblood of a concert hall.

It is better than nothing, but it has got to be a temporary, not a permanent solution. Whatever you do, don't start thinking of this as that blood-curdling concept "new normal". There is nothing normal about any of it and nor should there be. This is the thin end of a very wobbly wedge. It's as welcome as can be, because it keeps those stages, those artists and that music pulsing along in our lives and hearts. We need music in our lives. But those stages and those artists and that music, with composers hard at work, need us, too. There in person. Showing we love it. Supporting them.

In order to show that love and support, I'll include in postings, wherever possible, a performance from Youtube for you to enjoy. Today's is Imogen Cooper's 70th birthday concert from the Wigmore Hall, given last autumn.