Alison Balsam, Andy Murray, Anghiari Festival, Chapel Royal, Claudio Monteverdi, Dame Jenni Murray, Evening Standard, Evgeny Kissin, Exeter College Oxford, Johannes Brahms, Johnny Wilkinson, London Lite, Mo Farah, Nicola Benedetti, Shew Me Thy Ways, St Mary Abbots, Suite for two clarinets, The London Paper
I was at my desk early again today, translating some introductions for the Anghiari Festival and attempting to put other bits of work into some kind of priority. The Festival itself is not too far away, and there are various elements of it which still need to be done, but I think that there might just be enough time to be ahead of the curve for when it all starts. I also have two performances of the Suite For Two Clarinets to look forward to, so, for the first time, I shall be one of the featured composers of the Festival, and in august company.
There was further talk of a commission yesterday, one which I thought had got away but which is, it seems, still on the cards, if slightly further away than I had originally thought. There is no great urgency to get this up and running quite yet, but it was a boost to know that something I had considered dead in the water was anything but, that the messages conveyed to me had become a little tangled.
On Sunday morning the choir at Mary Abbots will be performing Shew Me Thy Ways, a work commissioned by the Chapel Royal in memory of one of their former parishioners. I take every commission extremely seriously, but it is especially important to get things right when the work represents something of somebody. In this piece, apart from the text, I added a dash of Brahms and Monteverdi for a personal touch, and leaned heavily on the bright Lydian mode, one whose raised fourth aspires upwards. This will be the first time it will have been performed by forces other than those for whom it was originally written, and I shall be playing the organ for it.
Another recent performance was of a memorial piece, if that is what we can call them, and the commissioner told me that they were delighted that it was taking on a life of its own and beginning to be spread by new forces. It was becoming, so they said, a living memory, and, while I had not quite seen the piece in that light, I must admit that the remark made me see the work in quite a different and new way.
If I have further time today I shall do some work on the Exeter piece, for the string work is now fairly well advanced, and I think that it would do me good to alternate between these two commissions for a while. They are in different styles and for different forces, so there is no real fear of ideas from one crossing over to the other, but I know that too much focus on a single piece can lead to a blockage of ideas, so I hope very much that, while I concentrate on one, the other will continue to develop in some dark corner of my mind.
I barely touch the free papers in London, and indeed rejoiced when both The London Paper and London Lite bit the dust (two down, two to go), but I did flick through the Standard yesterday evening on my way back from rehearsal. On Page 3, appropriately, was a soft-focus picture of the violinist Nicola Benedetti, who had taken Dame Jenni Murray to task for remarks about beauty being all you need to be successful. Benedetti is, of course, as close to a Classical pin-up as you are likely to find, and for the Standard I am sure that is all that matters, but she is also ferociously talented and an absurdly hard worker, a brilliant player too. Reading her comments made me think of Evgeny Kissin’s reply to an interviewer who said to him that he made unutterably difficult pieces sound absurdly easy – Kissin replied to the effect that, well, if you were to practise for eight hours a day every day for twenty years you could probably do the same.
Whether with a performer, sportsman or even a composer, we often see only the result and neglect the amount of effort it takes to get there. I think of Johnny Wilkinson, kicking balls at, not between, the posts in order to pinpoint his accuracy, of Mo Farah staying in empty venues long after everybody else had gone, of Benedetti, probably, dedicated to her violin while others are out having fun. She’s absolutely right, of course, in that we do live in a society where even the mildly talented think they have a right to success without what Verdi would have described as the “galley years”, and that criticism is often angrily dismissed rather than taken on board and worked through, but that makes for better TV, of course.
The wise, of course, Benedetti, Kissin, Wilkinson, Farah and, yes, Murray, know, however, that it is those countless and thankless hours put in away from the spotlight which really count. What is truly astonishing about Benedetti, the thing that shocked me most, is that she is still only 25, so accomplished and mature is she as a musician. She is not famous because of her looks, but the papers are going to focus on that, more’s the pity, just as they refer sneeringly to Alison Balsam as “the trumpet crumpet”, as if her playing were entirely irrelevant. If Benedetti can harness the hacks to get the message across that hard work pays off, then good luck to her. Meanwhile I am reminded of the Standard hander-outer’s reply one day when I told him I did not want a copy – “Don’t blame you, mate, there’s nothing in it”.