Thursday, January 14, 2021

Rattle leaves sinking ship

Yesterday in the UK 1,564 people lost their lives to Covid-19. Against the horror of mass death and a health service teetering on the brink of collapse, it feels wrong to mourn the passing of a small (if quite large at the time) musical dream. Still, put together with the prospects for British musicians post-Brexit, the news that Sir Simon Rattle is leaving the sinking ship couldn't feel much more emblematic if it tried. That ship is not the LSO, but the UK.

I don't doubt that no conductor in the world could resist the invitation to head the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the German twin peak alongside the Berlin Philharmonic. Besides, Rattle has lived in Berlin for years and his family home is there. On the other hand, this is a musician noted for the all-too-rare practice of staying with one orchestra for a long period - first the CBSO, then Berlin, the latter about 16 years. When he came to the LSO it was his first job in his home country's capital city (prophets, own land, etc) and the partnership looked set to be the jewel in the crown, the cherry on the cake and all the rest of it. 

Moreover, there was the hoped-for Centre for Music, mooted to take over from the Barbican as the LSO's home with state-of-the-art acoustics, plenty of glass for easy observation, top-notch facilities for music education and a heap of money from the City. That was all not quite four years ago. Of course, that project has run into other issues, such as the length of lease on the prospective sites, which turned out not to tally, but I'd put the likelihood of the hall going ahead post pandemic, post impoverishing Brexit and without Rattle to fight its corner at approximately zilch. Rattle, meanwhile, has extended his LSO contract to 2023 and will remain the orchestra's 'conductor emeritus' thereafter. Yet the sense of truncation is palpable. It may not actually be a vote of no confidence in the future of Brexit Island, but it certainly feels like one, and I wouldn't blame him a bit. If someone offered me a job in the EU (or Switzerland) now, I'd go too. 


Fading fast?

Yesterday the PM Boris Johnson was grilled by the Commons Select Committee and was asked a question about the situation facing touring UK musicians. A report in the Independent the other day quoted an anonymous source as alleging that the UK in the Brexit negotiations had actively refused an offer from the EU for reciprocal touring rights. The musical internet nearly exploded. Personally I wouldn't place too much trust in one item quoting only "an anonymous source", and to my mind it is positively immoral to terrify and infuriate a couple of hundred thousand professionals when they are already suffering financial and moral privation from losing all their work and receiving little or no government support in recompense. The report nevertheless enlarged the already gigantic question-mark over whether we can trust our own government to pursue our best interests (the fisheries industry is discovering this today, too). 

In the House of Lords, however, the redoubtable Michael Berkeley is speaking up. The answer that Boris Johnson gave his interviewer yesterday was that musicians have reciprocal free touring rights 90 days out of 180. This is not correct. The PM didn't appear to know the detail. Michael Berkeley pointed out on Twitter last night: "I am afraid the PM is clearly confusing a tourist visa with a work visa. The minute someone is paid they no longer qualify for a tourist visa which is why musicians are up in arms and why the Government needs to sort this out 'Presto'."

Taking a closer look, touring rights actually will vary from country to country within the EU. In some, UK musicians will be able to tour without a visa or permit for 90 days out of 12 months. In others they won't, presently including Spain and, it seems, Hungary. The Incorporated Society of Musicians has assembled a useful fact-sheet bringing all the information together and I would like to refer any worried readers to it for a clearer picture. 

Other worries remain: notably, the prospect of long queues at airport immigration, which could eat up an hour or two of the touring day, rendering unviable the usual red-eye routine of fly-rehearse-concert-eat-sleep of each 24 hour period. With cruel irony, nobody can travel much at the moment anyway, and crowds at airports may be smaller than "usual" for a good while post Covid-19. At a slight tangent: does that touring schedule really make sense artistically, in any case? How can an orchestra possibly give its best when it's been up since 4am? They manage, somehow, and they play well because there is a minimum level below which the best never slip, but I have often been asked by well-meaning friends "why don't you go on tour with Tom more often?" and my usual reply is "you have got to be bloody joking". The problem is that if the process is slowed down and they can't travel and perform on the same day, that means paying for an extra night's accommodation for a full orchestra and the cost is not usually viable. 

Customs requirements pose arguably a greater issue than airport queues. If you are a violinist travelling with an old instrument and bow that might have a tiny bit of a restricted/prohibited substance such as ivory on it, you had better make sure you have the right documentation, otherwise trouble looms. As for bands and orchestras that transport instruments by lorry, this will entail ensuring that a raft of HGV permits (each of which has a cost) are in place. There is also a restriction on the number of times goods can be unloaded and loaded "for hire or reward": 3 times in 7 days within one country (see https://www.hgvalliance.com/Driving-and-carrying-out-international-road-haulage-in-the-EU-from-1-January-2021). You will need to check whether your own use of your own instruments falls into the category of "hire or reward". And there's the small matter of Dover. Don't forget Dover...

The issues of whether something is a Brexit problem or a pandemic problem are no longer as simple as we'd like. These two disasters - and three if you have any involvement with America - are inextricably linked now.

My advice to anxious musicians is this:

• Don't trust hearsay and rumour. Things are often misunderstood, misreported, confused and exaggerated.

• Read the small print for yourself and if it's not clear, then consult a professional organisation such as the ISM, the MU or the Association of British Orchestras, another tireless campaigner.

• Re Covid, wear a mask, wash your hands, maintain social distancing, don't break the rules and get the vaccine as soon as you can. And don't buy into the conspiracy theories: they put us all in mortal danger. 

• Don't despair. I know it's difficult. My heart nearly broke when I saw on Instagram a photo of a singer I was meant to work with last year wielding an electric saw for his new job in forestry. I have the utmost respect for everyone who is taking to other work to make ends meet during this terrible time. There are useful things to learn in every field, no matter what. A case in point is a musician of my acquaintance who got a job in a supermarket and was astounded to discover how much better run it was, and how much better the employees were treated, than was the case in most musical organisations he'd worked for. 

• I don't doubt that the pandemic will end, even if it takes longer than we'd hoped, and we will be able to rebuild. We are not the only ones who realise that the cultural industries are the path back to civilisation (see the info towards the end of this article).

• Remember that we will eventually have a ballot box. If the government we voted in has led us up the garden path, wrecked the economy, lives, careers, families and futures through Brexit and caused thousands of needless deaths through mismanagement of the pandemic, we will someday have the chance to vote them out again. Take that opportunity whenever and as soon as it arises. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 in the JDCMB-Haus



What did we do in 2020? The world did a pandemic. The UK did Brexit. I did Beethoven. 

I finished writing a book about Beethoven. I wrote a bunch of articles about Beethoven and I wrote a bunch of articles about writing a book about Beethoven. I made a video with a musician, the fabulous Mishka Rushdie Momen, at the Wigmore Hall where I read from my book about Beethoven and she played some Beethoven on the piano. I played some Beethoven on the piano - I learned Op. 31 No. 3 and the 'Waldstein' and I wrote an article about learning the 'Waldstein'. My big new piece with Roxanna Panufnik about Beethoven for the Berlin Philharmonie had to be cancelled (hopefully back in 2022). My Beethoven concerts with Viv McLean and others had to be cancelled. My trip to do Beethoven in Australia had to be cancelled. I reviewed some CDs and even a recital or two at the Wigmore Hall where Beethoven was played. Others had to be cancelled. I talked to musicians about Beethoven in person, on the phone, on Zoom. I was in videos talking about Beethoven and talking to musicians about Beethoven. I presented some Beethoven events on Zoom including a video launch for my book. I spent part of December chasing Krystian Zimerman and Simon Rattle around parts of east London trying to make some videos talking to them about Beethoven. I heard them playing some Beethoven concertos at LSO St Luke's and it was heaven. I saw Fidelio twice at Covent Garden and many times online. I talked to musicians about Fidelio. I listened to my husband learning the Beethoven Violin Concerto while I was writing my articles about Beethoven. I heard one of Tasmin Little's farewell recitals, in which she played a Beethoven sonata gorgeously. I read articles about Beethoven and books about Beethoven and listened to radio programmes about Beethoven and watched TV programmes about Beethoven, and then I reviewed a book about Mozart for the Sunday Times. I think I had Covid back in February, but that was before it made the big time, and I had to cancel going to a Beethoven concert because of it. Yes, there was a global pandemic, Brexit "got done", it felt as if everything had to be cancelled and our musicians are in appalling, desperate financial trouble, with no end yet in sight, but Beethoven just went on getting everywhere.

And in the summer we got away to Germany, where we walked up some mountains, rowed across a lake, saw wonderful friends and ate more oysters, and more wonderful oysters, than I have ever seen or eaten in all my life.

Hooray for Beethoven. Hooray for oysters. Boo to Brexit. Our country used to be flawed, but workable; we had the best musical life in the world. That's finished. We'll muddle through, but the golden age is over. Beethoven will survive. 

Next, I think I might learn some Mendelssohn.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Farewell to Fou Ts'ong (1934-2020)

Late last night the tragic news reached me that the great Chinese pianist Fou Ts'ong has died, aged 86, of Covid-19. This phenomenal artist was part of my childhood, as from the age of 10 to 17 I studied piano with his wife, Patsy Toh. He would flit by occasionally, a somewhat shy and shadowy figure in a doorway or in the hall, and my small self was rather terrified of him. I knew little of his story then, nothing about the horrific fate of his family in the Chinese Cultural Revolution or his dramatic escape via Poland after the Chopin Competition - though I did know he was friendly with Richter, because I once turned up for a lesson to find that Richter was there in the house, practising Schubert. Finally, as editor of what was then Classical Piano Magazine in the 1990s, I had the chance to interview him on the occasion of his 60th birthday. I asked him one question and he talked for two hours. Fortunately I still have the text, so I am rerunning it below in tribute to him. 


Fou Ts'ong
(Picture source: Svensk Konsertdirektion AB Website)

"I am always a beginner. I am always learning..." 

Fou Ts'ong tells Jessica Duchen the extraordinary story of his childhood in China and his escape to the West


Fou Ts'ong's life and career have been unconventional in almost every way, sometimes spectacular, sometimes unobtrusive, yet always sincere, taking him from the cosmopolitan Shanghai of the 1930s through Poland in the 1950s to the shores of Lake Como in the 1990s. There, under the auspices of the International Piano Foundation, he works with other eminent teachers and a select group of the best young pianists, creating, as he puts it, "the Davidsbündler of our time".


Fou talks with great enthusiasm (and an astonishing gift for mimicry) about his childhood and the early part of his career. This world could not have been more different. "My childhood would have been peculiar anywhere," he begins, "but was especially so in China, then a country of 450 million people over 90% of whom were peasants and the small core of intellectuals a tiny percentage." Fou belonged to that minimal number, being the son of a leading Chinese scholar, Fu Lei, who, having travelled freely to Europe and studied in Paris for five years, was exceptionally equally well versed in both Classical Chinese and modern philosophy. Among his works he counted the translation into Chinese of Romain Rolland's immense and influential novel Jean Christophe and the complete works of Balzac. [Fu Lei's Family Letters, a best-seller in China, published the correspondence of father and son and the progress of the youthful musician's piano studies.]


"Jean Christophe was an enormous influence in China, much more so than in Europe," explains Fou. "I think that was because it represented the liberation of the individual. To the Chinese this is the crucial issue - to this day it is not solved. My father was an extraordinary person, a renaissance man of great humanism; that is the way I was brought up. I was taught classical Chinese from a very early age by my father himself and this kind of classical education even in my generation is very rare. And my father, when he was teaching me Lao-tse or Confucius, would also quote Aristotle or Plato or Bertrand Russell or Voltaire."


"Those were very frenetic years in China, we were under Japanese occupation from 1941-45 - and for four years my father never went out of the house. There was hardly any food, just very coarse rice. Very hard times, but also it was a very hopeful time because the whole of China was in a ferment; everybody felt that fascism was evil, and evil and good were very clear cut. We were good, so we fought for the cause."


Fou's family also possessed a large number of records of classical music. Fou grew up to the sounds of artists such as Alfred Cortot, Edwin Fischer, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Pablo Casals. From a very early age he was mesmerised by music, yet it was not until he was 17 years old that he began to take the piano seriously as the focus of his life. Early lessons when he was ten were given by a pupil of his father, a young woman who had studied with a Russian pianist in Shanghai. Her loving and encouraging approach provided "the greatest joy in my life" for the otherwise strictly reared child. He progressed by leaps and bounds, but when he was sent instead to the Italian pianist and conductor Paci, one-time assistant to Toscanini at La Scala Milan and the founder of the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra - who had "got stuck" in Shanghai thanks to a passion for gambling - he found himself facing a very different approach which took all the joy away. He was given nothing but exercises to play for a year, plus the indignity of balancing a coin on the back of the hand.


After the family moved to Kuming in Yunan province, Fou became a rebellious teenager, passionately committed to the idea of communist revolution. His father, among the first Chinese to realise the truth about Stalin and the lies of Bolshevik communisim in Russia, acted as "a Cassandra of his time" and foretold disaster. His son disagreed and eventually a family split ensued. His father went back to Shanghai while Fou, alone in Yunan, was thrown out of school after school and finally, running out of schools and excuses, applied to and was accepted at the University of Yunan at the age of 15. He enrolled for English literature but spent his time "making revolution all over the place, falling in and out of love all the time, drinking and playing bridge!" 


But word got out that he could play the piano. When two rival churches in the town both put on Handel's Messiah at Christmas they competed for Fou's services as accompanist. Fortunately the performances were on different days, so he played for both. By exam time he was terrified, having done no work. Instead, he put on, with the help of fellow students, a concert in one church where he played an album called 101 Favourite Piano Pieces from cover to cover on a wartime upright. At the end a collection was made for him and immediately he had enough funds to make his way back to Shanghai by himself to continue his musical development.


The 17-year old thoroughly impressed his father with his difficult two-month solitary journey; his father agreed to help him pursue studies with the aim of becoming a concert pianist. These took on a distinctly surprising slant as Fou had very few lessons; one piano teacher emigrated to Canada after three months; next, what lessons he did have were from not a pianist but a violinist, the aging Alfred Wittenburg, a refugee from Nazi Germany, ex-concert master of the Berlin Opera and chamber music partner of Artur Schnabel. After Wittenburg's death, "I studied by intuition, thinking and reading books. I studied on my own and made my debut one year later. In Shanghai that made such a stir that central government, who wanted to send someone abroad for a competition, came to Shanghai to search out for me as one of the candidates."


That was how Fou went to a competition in Bucharest, where he won third prize, and then, fatefully, to Poland, where the government sent Andrzej Panufnik himself to listen to him to find out if he was worthy to participate in the Chopin Competition  Panufnik raved, "and soon everyone in Poland was raving. 'Have you heard him play mazurkas? Listen to those mazurkas!' I became a sort of performing monkey, everyone was asking me to play mazurkas all the time!" Fou laughs. He duly entered the competition and won the mazurka prize.


https://youtu.be/SqFOylOw2Ls


After the competition Fou studied in Warsaw and Cracow, thriving on the enthusiasm and encouragement he received there and falling in love again, this time with Mozart, an affair which lasts to this day. Professor Drzewicki, who also taught Halina Czerny-Stefanska and Adam Haraciewicz, sat and smiled through Fou's lessons. "After the competition he told me, 'Ts'ong you are different, you are so original and personal, you should only come to my lesson maybe once a month, no more'. Altogether I can count on my fingers the number of times I went. He said, 'I am here only to guide you if you go out of way'. 


"I was a great counterfeiter because I managed to hide all my troubles by my unique way of fingering, by my imagination, somehow by hoping to produce the goods. I always wanted to realise whatever vision I had in my head - in what way I don't know, I found it in my own way. Unless the vision was presented in a way that didn't show its deficiencies I would not allow it to go out. In a way I am my own downfall because I camouflage so well. In some ways it's also good because my way is original. But the struggle I have had with pianistic problems over the years is unbelievable, even to this day. I have to practise awfully hard; I envy pianists who have a great facility because I wish I had more time to play more music. Musically I am very greedy!'


Fou extended his stay in Poland as long as he could, for by then it had become dangerous for him to return to China where the anti-rightist movement - "the dress rehearsal of the Cultural Revolution" - had begun, and condemned him and his father. "It was a matter of life and death." He was desperate to go to Russia where a new friend and supporter was doing his best to offer help: Sviatoslav Richter, who wrote an enthusiastic article about Fou for a communist magazine entitled Friendship, published jointly in Russia and China. Richter had hoped thus to help Fou come officially to Russia, but while the article appeared in the Russian edition, the Chinese never carried it; nothing came of the scheme. Fou did not learn of this episode until many years afterwards.


His dramatic escape to Britain was made possible by the help of some more eminent beings: Wanda Wilkomirska, who helped to persuade the Polish authorities to "look the other way"; a music-loving wealthy Englishman named Auberon Herbert, who helped arrange an invitation for Fou to play in London, for which he could obtain a visa; and the pianist Julius Katchen, who lent him the air fare. To help throw the Chinese authorities off the scent, a "farewell"concert was announced at the last minute; Fou Ts'ong would perform two concertos, Mozart 's C major K503 and Chopin's F minor (both of which he learned in a week - on Saturday evening, 23 December. Another red herring, a farewell recital, was also announced for a later date, though pianist and organisers knew it would never happen. Early the next morning - a Sunday and Christmas Eve in a strongly Catholic country, a day on which "even the most diehard military police will become a little bit lax!" - Fou Ts'ong took a British Airways plane to London. He was free and an immediate celebrity in the West. Caught in the Cultural Revolution in China, Fou's father and mother both committed suicide.


Today, looking back over this extraordinary story and his varied fortunes since that time, Fou has some sensible advice to offer young would-be pianists. "First, you must have good self awareness, to know what you're made of. If you really have got it in you, not only talent but real aspiration, that means you are ready to sacrifice your life for it, totally dedicated to it, that's almost more important than talent. And even with these two, you have to be prepared to get nowhere in terms of worldly 'success'. You must know what you're in for! I wouldn't advise anyone to go on for the wrong reasons. 


"I consider myself terribly lucky, although I wouldn't consider my career that easy, partly because I have my deficiencies, also partly and largely because of my character. My wife Patsy [pianist and teacher Patsy Toh] says to me, 'You shouldn't complain, because you made your own destiny'. And that's true. Today I think to myself, thank God, now I'm really beginning to understand music. But I consider myself a beginner. I am always a beginner. I am always learning. I think I am very lucky that I never had so much success that I could be blinded by vanity. And to be in music, you are very lucky. When I was very young, I wrote to my father from Poland that I was sad and lonely. He wrote back: 'You could never be lonely. Don't you think you are living with the greatest souls of the history of mankind all the time?' Now that's how I feel, always."







Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Happy...

 


A very merry Christmas and happy new year 

to all our friends and readers,

with love from JDCMB

Monday, December 21, 2020

Welcome to (what remains of) the JDCMB Chocolate Silver Awards 2020


It's 21 December! Welcome back to our cyberposhplace, with a difference. Nowadays we are all living permanently in cyberplaces. Paradoxically, I considered holding this year's JDCMB Chocolate Silver Awards ceremony in the flesh for the first time, because now a real cybermeetingplace exists called Zoom and we'd be able to invite readers to join in from all over the world. This time last year nobody would even have thought of such a thing. That's just one way that Covid-19 has changed our world. The others are worse.

One thing I've learned in 2020, though, is that presenting an event online is still real. It takes, in fact, a lot of organisation, forward planning and slick technical support. And you know something? I'm tired. 

Many of us are. Unable to see our friends and family, deprived of the concerts and theatres on which our imaginative and social life centres and watching our towns crumbling as unit after unit gives up and shuts down, is depressing enough. Seeing even household-name musicians and actors struggling to make ends meet while excluded from the government's self-employment support schemes - that's horrifying. And guess what, we've got Brexit in 10 days' time and still nobody knows what's going to happen. Since I first drafted this post yesterday, a new crisis has emerged, which you can read about in all the papers rather than here.

While I could be all positive and "hello sun, hello trees," and "isn't music wonderful," I don't want to pretend. I'm doing my best to keep my nose above water. As regular readers will have noticed, blogging is not uppermost. I hit a largish birthday this month and it seemed time to take stock. It's not only a question of not being as young as one used to be, but also of longing to create something worthwhile, something that has a chance of lasting. Blogging is ephemeral. I wrote a novel about Beethoven called Immortal, it's more than 400 pages long and you can always read that instead. (For a taster, here's the video presentation that the Wigmore Hall filmed in September, in which I introduce the book and read extracts, and the wonderful Mishka Rushdie Momen plays the Piano Sonata in F, Op. 10 No. 2.)

Now, on with our awards ceremony, or what remains of it.

Come on in! Grab a glass of cyberbubbly. Here in our imaginary virtual venue, we can hug our friends without fear. This time we're outdoors, but it's a beautiful warm Mediterranean-style night. Strings of fairy lights glitter in the trees. The moon shines bright over the water, a string quartet is playing Irving Berlin and Cole Porter in the background, there's a buzz of conversation punctuated by the piccolo of joyous laughter (remember that sound?), and Ricki and Cosi are ensconced on their silken cushions in front of a large photo of Solti the Ginger Cat, ready to present the winners with their prize purrs and a cuddle of their lovely chocolate-silver and usual-silver Somali cat fur. 

Our guests of honour have scrambled up through the back of the centuries' wardrobe to join us from far-flung times. Ludwig van Beethoven has made an exception to his hatred of parties and is present to celebrate his 250th birthday. We can't change his otosclerosis, but we can give him a state-of-the-art hearing aid, so he's with us, smiling, laughing and joking, with Josephine by his side and little Minona in her party dress. Times have changed, they remark; if only they could be alive now instead, this is how it could have been. And we'd have had nine more symphonies. Only Therese, in her habitual black, is little changed. Don't say I didn't tell you, she twinkles. 

Alongside them, here are our friends of the present day, gathering from everywhere in the world: New York and Sydney, Paris and Berlin, Tuscany and Switzerland, Leipzig and Warsaw. Barnes, Manchester, Glasgow and Camden. We haven't seen each other the whole damned year. Love you. Miss you. Here's to next time...

Quiet please. Grab a refill and come over to the cushions. Now, would the following winners please approach the podium. And let's have a huge round of applause for every musician who has soldiered on bravely during 2020 and still manages to touch our hearts and souls, despite everything.


ICON OF THE YEAR

Thank you, Luigi. You help us to be resilient. There could have been no better anniversary to mark in this of all years. And I'm glad to see that in Germany they've decided your celebrations are going on next year too. Hopefully we'll do the same here. Thank you for letting me put you in a book. Thank you, too, to those marvellous people who have paid sterling tribute to you in their top-notch series: John Suchet on Classic FM and Donald MacLeod on BBC Radio 3, respectively available now as podcast and audiobook. And a huge thank you to my publishers, Unbound, for your faith in Immortal and for making sure that it could still come out in time for the anniversary even when so much else was being put back to 2021. Roxanna Panufnik's choral piece Ever Us, with my libretto, fell victim to the pandemic back in May - it should have been in the Berlin Philharmonie - but all being well it might instead be heard in 2022.

ARTISTS OF THE YEAR

-- Krystian Zimerman

I've met many musicians, and plenty of the finest, but only two who I believe deserve the title "genius". One was Pierre Boulez. The other is Krystian Zimerman. Thanks to a booklet notes commission, I've spent part of December pursuing Zimerman and Simon Rattle around corners of east London and attending some of the rehearsals for their incredible series of the Beethoven piano concertos at LSO St Luke's. It has provided an insight into what it actually takes to be such an artist: as TS Eliot said, "A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything)." Yes: everything, every hour, every cell, every emotion and every last scrap of spirit. Most of us have simply no idea... The concerts are being streamed on DG's new online concert platform, DG Stage (the last is the 'Emperor' Concerto, being shown tonight - you can still catch part 2, nos. 2 and 4, as well). The audio recording will be out in the spring. Perhaps one of 2020's biggest surprises was finding that he's on Instagram. (Photo above by Kasslara.) 

-- Tasmin Little

It's hard to believe that Tasmin Little is retiring from the stage, but she insists that she is. I attended her last Southbank Centre performance, watching from among a smattering of guests distanced in the back stalls; it included among other things, her astounding performance of Brahms's D minor sonata with the stunningly fine Russian pianist Andrey Gugnin. Tasmin, I said later, did you know that Margot Fonteyn decided against retiring when she met Rudolf Nureyev? Hint hint. Tasmin laughed, but her bright smile hardened a little. She says she regrets having to discontinue such a partnership, but she is stopping, and that is that. So you can't say I didn't try. She'd already had to postpone her farewell concerts from summer to autumn and is busy giving the last ones right now, in those places where concerts haven't been knocked out of the water yet again by Tier 3 or 4. Here's to your pastures new, Tasmin, whatever they may be. Come and have a purr from Ricki and Cosi. (Photo by Paul Mitchell.)

LOCKDOWN HEROES

There are quite a few of you who meet this description. Step forward, Elena Urioste and Tom Poster (pictured right)! Your UriPoste Jukebox, violin and piano music for all seasons daily from your home, has brightened the year. Hello Daniel Hope, whose living room concerts were pounced upon for televising by Arte and spread the music-making of fabulous colleagues in Berlin far and wide. Welcome, dear Kanneh-Mason Family, who have brought us hope and inspiration at every turn - from your home concerts on Facebook to Sheku and Isata's gorgeous Proms recital to Jeneba playing Florence Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement with the ever-more-marvellous Chineke! Orchestra at the Southbank, plus the enchanting Carnival of the Animals album with Michael Morpurgo. I also loved Kadiatu's book House of Music, charting in graphic detail what it takes - oh yes - to raise such a family. Gabriela Montero, Angela Hewitt, Igor Levit and Boris Giltburg are among the many fabulous pianists who have been playing for us online. The Wigmore Hall blazed a trail in getting live concerts going again, while they could, and streaming them into our homes for free. It is up to us to do better at paying for this, and really you should if you can. Kings Place hit on an inventive and empathetic way to tempt nervous audience members out of their houses and into to the concert hall for the first time in the summer, offering one-to-one 10-minute sessions with Elena and Tom among others. That was my own first trip on the tube in four months, and they performed a piece selected especially for me ("We heard you were coming in, so we dug out some Fauré..."). And jolly wonderful it was. (Pictured above, photo by JD.)

This list could continue. What's astonished me is the amount of imagination, resourcefulness, determination, understanding, urgency and passion that so many in the music world have shown in the face of catastrophe. They don't call us "creative industries" for nothing. Perhaps the only good thing to come out of 2020 is the fact that we will never, ever take music for granted again. And if some do, we can say to them "Remember the pandemic, when the music stopped..." Could we live without it? No, we couldn't. Never forget.

Oh, and one Turkey of the Year: the British government marching us smack onto the rocks of Brexit despite the existing devastation. What a phenomenally stupid waste of time and energy it all is. We'll have to spend the years ahead putting ourselves back together. 

We are all connected. We all affect one another. There are positive forces that unite and inspire us: music, art, logic, poetry, science, learning, wisdom, generosity, honesty, kindness, love. There are negative ones, which divide us: greed, wanton destruction, lies, superstition, ignorance, heartlessness, hatred and indifference. 

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that destruction really will bring creative opportunities (as the disaster capitalists would say - admittedly that's not a great advert...) and that we can turn the collapse of old structures to good by creating new ones, re-establishing as our driving values the qualities that represent the best of humankind, rather than the worst. 

Speech over. Grab some more cyberbubbly and let's dance while we still can. Merry Christmas.