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It has been a tiring few days, not in the utterly exhausted sense of people who have physically demanding jobs day in and day out, but certainly in terms of concentration and stamina. It has also been very musically satisfying, the highlight being the recital on Friday night given by Colin Campbell and Rachel Chapman at Lauderdale House. This was a hefty programme to play, including substantial chunks by Strauss and Mahler, and involved some concentrated and intensive rehearsal with the two singers. The whole dynamic of alertness, tiredness and the gradual onset of aches and pains was educational, and something I shall take with me into battle next time.

Lauderdale House

In a previous life I harboured dreams of being a great accompanist, but eventually drifted away from it, put off by quite a few performers with too many ideas but not enough knowledge, tired of acquiescing to people whose views were firm but performances inconsistent. I now tend to play for choirs and conductors rather than individuals, but Colin and Rachel are a class apart, and Friday served as a reminder of what these things can be like with the right people.

Quite apart from their voices, which are superb, both these musicians have a keen intelligence allied to a perceptive view of what a song is about. They are also fantastically consistent and able to indulge in that ego-free exchange of ideas which leads to true collaboration, something I have experienced especially with the tenor Philip Salmon, with whom I once performed the first half of Die Schöne Müllerin and for whom I wrote Since I Am.

I also felt that I was playing well on Friday, and, despite the occasional moment which gets filed away under “must do better”, managed to stay pretty much on message throughout. One audience member described my playing as “an awesome tour de force”, but I know that the key to it all is simply to play the wrong notes very, very quietly indeed and not say “oops”.

Colin and I will be reprising part of the recital at St. Bride’s at lunchtime on Tuesday 9th October, and you would be most welcome. It will provide us both an opportunity to revisit some of the repertoire we performed on Friday.

The songs which have remained with me most from the recital, however, are the Mahler settings. So often Mahler can be almost obsessively economical with his writing, despite having a reputation for the grandiose, and there are moments (sometimes entire songs, in fact) where every single note has to count and be absolutely precisely weighted. The music may be slow and easy to fit under the fingers, but it is mentally crushing to stay so alert, especially in the slower valedictory passages. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen is a devastating example of that kind of writing, the kind of music which brings to mind his 9th Symphony, music which drifts away into silence, almost daring you to take in more air at the end. It is an extraordinary thing to play, especially with a great singer, and one must always be careful not to let go to the song, just as an actor must always have the safety catch on and remember that they are, after all, not the character they are portraying. Very strange.

Gustav Mahler

On Saturday I tutored one of my students who needs now to hone his academic writing into shape in order to get himself into Oxbridge and then played for a wedding in Chelsea, under the direction of Gareth Wilson, a decent composer whose music I have blogged about before. He is also an extremely effective choir director, but the most amusing aspect of the service was to find that one of my former organ students now sings tenor in his church choir. In a further twist this student now studies with Gareth and is in the same class as another former organ student of mine, but from a different school. They say that the music world is small, but sometimes it is even smaller than we think.

As for my music, I sent Madrigal off to its competition and found, to my delight, that my sketches for Why Should We Not Sing? are more extensive than I had remembered. The Lord Is My Light also currently sits on the back burner, ready to be hammered further into shape sometime this week. The only fly in the ointment is that the piece I had intended to dig out and enter for the next competition is too long, so I might have to do some tidying and editing on this. I am not keen on changing a piece once it is written, but I shall have to see how I feel. It may in the end come down to the simple quick fix of changing the metronome mark at the head of the work, which feels a little cheeky, but when speeds can vary so widely from performance to performance anyway, is that really so bad?

I have two performances to look forward to this weekend as well. Missa Seria will be given an outing at St. George’s Cathedral, but I will be at St. Bride’s for the first performance of Everyone Sang, commissioned for Claire Seaton, who celebrates a significant anniversary at Bride’s this year, and is also a superb singer. The very small soprano solos in Everyone Sang are for her, in fact. I also need to get some lecture notes written this week, something I always find hard work, the fear of gaps in my knowledge being almost crushing, but so far I have not done too badly, even through I feel that it is a part of my life which will be left behind as I hopefully do more writing.

So there we have it. A less strenuous week ahead simply means more opportunities to get things done, so it is time to settle down and fill the hours with writing.

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