Thoughts

Scottish Chamber Orchestra Tour Diary

Tuesday 29 July 2014

A first rehearsal is always something to test your nerves. Even if you know the individual players and conductor personally, playing the first note will alter all previous conceptions – a new dimension of their personality starts to unfold.

This rehearsal turns out not to be long, but through the New Generation Artists scheme I have become better at coping with the severity of time constraints: I used to ask ‘how can one, with only 3 hours, craft a relationship with the group that they are to dance, fence and battle with?’

Perhaps the best and only place to find solace is in the nature of performance itself – every concert is a unique and fresh event. No matter what happens in rehearsal, or the previous 1000 performances, when the artist is in and weaves the moment there is a chance for it to reach far beyond what it had ever been in the past.

The rehearsal goes well and, as always, it is an honour to play with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. I return home feeling exhausted.

 

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Stirling Castle. The sky is slightly cloudy and the evening is beautifully comfortable. I have friends in the audience, the acoustic is favourable despite the deepness of the Great Hall and the concert has sold out. From my dressing room I can see the audience arriving and tourists leaving across the cobbled courtyard. With the crossover of these two groups, the sun lowering and the orchestra milling around, now changed into concertwear, it is a portrait of transition.

Naturally nervous – this is my first public performance of the concerto – I change slowly. Somehow this helps. In relative silence the shedding of civvies is mirrored in a change of mindset and this is comforting: it takes time to put on my concert wear and with every layer added I feel more ready. It’s something like battle dress, or would it be more appropriate to call it armour? I have time to read, check my nails and relax. I will be collected in 15 minutes.

 

Thursday 31 July 2014

Packing for the journey North: white tie (perhaps as apt as it has ever been para un Gentilhombre), jagged nail buffers, used for 2 months (in Inverness I will pick up a couple more) and black electrical tape, which has a couple of uses. One is for sticking over my nails, which are currently extremely short from overpractise and therefore require protection during the preparation of more technical aspects of the piece, and the other is to stick over my nose, which forces me to breathe with awareness through my mouth – during NGA studio recordings I have often spoiled extremely good takes by breathing too heavily through my nose. To correct this unpleasant habit I now practise regularly with masking tape over my nose. This solution, which has the added benefit of stopping me taking myself too seriously, cannot be recommended highly enough!

Eden Court Theatre has a dryer sound than Stirling Castle, which solves some of the balance issues presented the previous night, but introduces others. Regardless, the wonderfully enthusiastic audience more than make up for any acoustical discrepancy – highland warmth is still what it was.

 

Friday 1 August 2014

A short drive from Inverness lies the infamous Findhorn community. Being placed a mile or so from the North-East coast and with the mountains rising up in the South it has a sort of finality of destination and feels appropriate as the final stop of our tour.

The audience here is as delightful as the foundation is idyllic – the Moray Firth has more hours of sunlight than any other part of Scotland. A walk past a nudist hot-tub, clusters of solar-panelled houses, scrubland and sand dunes brings you dramatically to the sea.

Somehow, I feel closer to my fellow musicians than ever before. Some of them I have known for a while and I’ve worked with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra before. Hailing from the same city as they; travelling the same often exquisitely desolate roads; taking time, also, to play the tourist with them – these are all things that have narrowed the distance so commonly felt by soloists and the orchestras that they work with.

 

First published 15/08/14 on http://www.classical-music.com

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A Note on Wigmore Hall lunchtime programme for 03/02/14

John Dowland – Forlorn Hope Fancy, Fantasia

Johann Sebastian Bach – Prelude, Fuga and Allegro BWV 998

Hans Werner Henze – Drei Tentos (Du schoenes Baechlein, Es findet das Aug’ oft, Sohn Laios)

Benjamin Britten – Nocturnal after John Dowland

 

When exploring the relationships between the musics of England and Germany I discovered fertile ground, and when it became clear that an attempt to explore these relationships in even a series of recitals would be over-ambitious, constraints of time quickly appeared limiting. However, as the concept became refined, I came to realise that this very constraint worked in my favour – here, juxtapositions pointedly drawn are best observed in miniature form. An inversion of Schoenberg’s words on Webern sprang to mind: while brevity requires an advocate, perhaps one of the most eloquent and persuasive forms of advocacy comes in the shape of brevity.

I open with two fantasies of John Dowland, one of the greatest English renaissance composers. Those I have selected provide examples from either end of the extreme range of his harmonic language: Forlorn Hope Fancy holds some of the richest harmonic language that the guitar can muster and is almost post-romantic in its pure chromaticism; the Fantasia that follows is gentler and sweetly lyrical. This move from technicolour to more clean-cut modulation holds our hand in the change to the mood we find in Bach’s Prelude, Fuga and Allegro BWV 998.

This late work is possibly the last composed with the tone of the lute in mind, and was written for the exotic lute-harpsichord hybrid, the lautenklavier. Though I find the idea of the crucifix form the most convincing (the two outside movements half the length of the sandwiched and da capo fuga), symbolism of the Holy Trinity is also an attractive possibility. In either or both cases, the tripartite nature of the work results in ideal positioning alongside Henze’s Drei Tentos.

These excerpts from Kammermusic 1958 each represent a different passage from Hoelderlin’s In Lieblicher Blau. Where Bach draws inspiration and form from the Christian God, Henze’s arises more so from the ancient Greek – indeed, it was in Nafplio that he worked on the initial sketches for this work:

They sound much as I imagine Greek music must have sounded… I think it is true to say that they contain something of what I think of as Hellenism… It is as though this music – music which, whenever it deals with themes from classical antiquity, invariably recalls the Baroque or the Renaissance – were a gateway through which one must pass in order to establish or maintain a living relationship with classical Greece, a link with our roots, with all that is most essential in our lives, with the art of metaphor and with tragedy.

And recall the Baroque these Tentos do – the influence of Bach on the early Henze remains so strongly here, counterpoint and chorale continuously present despite occasionally severe stretches of tonal language.

The dedicatee of Kammermusik 1958, Benjamin Britten, finished his sole and seminal contribution to the repertoire of the classical guitar some 15 years after the premiere of Kammermusik, in the form of Nocturnal, after John Dowland. Just as godfather of 20th Century English guitar music, Julian Bream, first performed the Drei Tentos, it was he also that premiered the Nocturnal. However, where Henze harks to the Baroque and ancient Greek, Britten looks to his direct musical ancestor and the first master of English Song: his inspiration is Come, Heavy Sleep, number 20 from the first book of songs by John Dowland. The variations written upon this theme range from the terrifying to the sublime, and the song is often so elaborately obscured as to appear incomprehensible (craftily, this obscuration is rarely achieved through rich textural extreme). Inevitably, his realisation of the ancient song renders the fragmentary visions lucid, and with direct quotation the Elizabethan allegory of sleep as death becomes impossible to ignore. Dowland opened only forlorn, but here concludes with perfect melancholy. Sleep has come for him.

 

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Appearing on BBC Radio 3 In Tune

Watching Mad Men, drinking wine, changing strings. Could I possible encapsulate the various problems of my age (binge drinking, multitasking so to ruin the few good TV series we have) in one photo?

 

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Tragedy I know. But I change my strings for a reason!

I will be bringing some Catalan warmth to the Broadcasting House studio on Monday during the programme at its normal time of 1630-1830.

 

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Catalan Warmth

 

I’ll post an iplayer link after the show.

 

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BBC Radio 3 Iplayer link for Britten performance

Here‘s a link to the BBC Iplayer page for the BBC radio 3 New Generation Artist’s lunchtime concert featuring Robin Tritschler and I performing Benjamin Britten’s Songs from the Chinese at 00:15 minutes in. It’s available for the next 7 days.

And the original chamber duo below :)

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Although obviously I didn’t use a lute.

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Recital news

BBC Radio 3 Broadcast Britten – Songs from the Chinese with Robin Tritschler

Hey hey :D

I’m just back from Ullapool where the guitar festival up there came to an end this Sunday. The drive up was beautiful as always.

sorry about the sun flare

sorry about the sun flare

Allan Neave, Sasha Savaloni and Ross Wilson played a few quartets (like the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, thanks to the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet for that) and West Brewery’s acclaimed St. Mungo lager was shared by all. Allan was superhappy to meet some of his teenage heroes – Jan Akkerman (of Focus fame), Carl Verheyen (from Supertramp) and Elliot Randall (that solo from Reelin’ in the Years, Steely Dan)!

Last month’s recording with Robin Tritschler of Benjamin Britten’s Songs from the Chinese went well and were polished off with a few cookies. They are going to be broadcast next week on Friday the 18th October at 1pm in BBC radio 3. Listen in if you can :) I’ll put this up on the upcoming stuff page too.

NGA underground reward scheme

NGA underground reward scheme

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