I am not the greatest fan of touring. As a young chap the idea of leaping around the world doing impossibly glamorous musical things was terrifically exciting, and I thoroughly enjoyed my foreign jaunts. As I grow older, though, and more salt gets mixed in with the pepper, I find that I miss home much more, miss being surrounded by my things, my cats and my better half. I’d also far rather tour as a Classical musician than as a rocker, if possible. Unless you are in a position to be able to hire a tour operator as a band it can all be a deeply trying experience, the brief interludes spent onstage just about balancing the negatives of almost every other area.
However, there are upsides. Although I barely slept at all yesterday I am currently holed up in La Mortella on Ischia, the retreat of the composer William Walton and his wife Susana. The place is truly spectacular, for the garden as well as for the musical associations, and, of course, my Italian side feels a strong pull to these climes, flora and fauna. Again, though, as the weeks tick by into months and years I wonder how much of that is really nostalgia for the time I spent in Italy as a younger person. The idea of living and working out here is wonderful, but then come the practicalities, and the vision becomes just that little less attractive.
I am here with Southbank Sinfonia, the young players clearly as thrilled to be here as they are unaware of the work which awaits them next week at the Anghiari Festival. While I attempt to catch up on my much-needed beauty sleep I hear snatches of a Poulenc duet here, a Brahms sonata there, and I can easily picture why Liszt, suddenly in front of an orchestra at Weimar, left the piano behind and was inspired to write such great (and still neglected, I must say) symphonic music. Being permanently allied to a group like this would be extraordinarily inspiring. I have yet to hear O’Neill wafting through the air, but I am sure it will come.
I am telling myself that I will be very, very organised indeed this week, will steer clear of too much food and wine and get up early in order to plough ahead with my writing. For all the wonderful performances and so, so many other thrilling things about the coming week, it is the sheer inspiration of it that I need to harness. Already I have been jotting down ideas as they come to me, and I think that I shall always have a notebook in tow for notes, of course.
Place these ideas next to the invaluable experience of being able to see, hear and feel the music played and discuss its inner workings with these players, and it becomes an opportunity too good to let slip, something well into the realms of privilege. For all that, though, getting home is my anchor, and I have Donne’s wonderful images of the compasses almost constantly in mind. Properly harnessed, though, this is the springboard to my next stage of development as a composer.