Welcome to 2020! But that isn’t really what this post is about.
One of the things I do very rarely, by the standards of freelance musicians and especially classical ones, is perform under my own name not as part of a group name or somebody else’s backing ensemble.
In fact, when planning for Thursday’s concert finally started getting to concrete details, I realised this will be my first public recital (it’s a duo with pianist Jo Giovani, but still kind of as a soloist) in London. I have played a couple of lunchtime recitals since moving to London, but for reasons to do with opportunity, timescales and contacts they were actually in Chelmsford.
Which makes this an exciting event for me of itself. All the more so as this is a rather particularly appropriate context for me to be doing a concert; one in which more of the terms are the ones I would like to set, rather than the conventions of ‘classical’ performance I sometimes chafe against (most often by pointing out that they didn’t coalesce until Mahler after 1880, later than most core ‘classical’ music was written … ). So there will be a small enough room to play even viola below maximum volume most of the time, and to talk to the audience without a microphone – and talk to the audience I most definitely will, and if I do so instead of providing written programme notes, it’s partly because I think that’s better, partly so people watch us rather than staring at their laps and rustling bits of paper, and partly because it’s less work (for me) to talk off the cuff than typeset and print programmes … No serried ranks of numbered and lettered seats differentiated by price and sightlines, rather a sort of shabby-chic living-room-cum-Parisian-pavement-café assortment of sofas, coffee tables and chairs, in a basement room (of an actual café) that only 40 tickets are sold for, and that would be quite a squeeze.
A certain well-known London recital venue, which I’ve been to several times because it has a discount scheme for under 35s which is almost the only one I’m eligible for, projects (among other more conventional messages) a request for audiences to avoid coughing during the music. If there are song words and translations sheets, they never run one piece / movement over a page turn, and the bottom of each page has an entreaty not to turn the page until the item and its accompaniment have finished. That may give a very pure experience of the music – acoustically it certainly does. But personally I find it psychologically distracting (vastly so if I have a sore throat!). And it seems to me that all our (‘art’ musicians’) claims about the value of our music are heavily enfeebled if it can’t still be vibrant and compelling in an environment where people might turn pages, clear their throats or even applaud between movements. Or, for that matter, if the music itself can’t reduce an attentive audience to silence (I appreciate it’s almost impossible playing background music, but why would you want or expect people to shut up for background music?).
So I’m glad that Fidelio’s usual practice with concerts is not only for audiences to be free to bring food and drinks from the café upstairs into the performance room, but also to encourage orders to be placed upstairs to be brought to the audience in the basement. I’m positively looking forward to playing some relatively uncompromisingly ‘art’ music for an audience with wine glasses, coffee cups and knives and forks in their hands – hopefully experiencing some kind of culinary-musical Gesamtkunstwerk happening …
But back to firsts. This isn’t just my first London recital outing. It also features a number of new, or in some sense new, pieces of music. I believe it is the first London performance of my friend Heidi Cottrell’s ‘Wilderness’ (though I know it has been used as a church service closing voluntary, probably 20 years ago!), and probably the UK premiere of Paweł Łukaszewski’s ‘Aria’, either in its cello and piano original or the composer’s viola and piano revision – certainly I got it from a Polish source close to the composer. Colin Touchin’s ‘Movement’ is a parallel but even odder case; it was written for cello and piano back in spring of 1970, when he was a late teenager. Colin has dug it out and adapted the cello part for viola in discussion with myself (and I think Jo may have done some streamlining of the confessedly clunky piano part), and at nearly 50 years old this will be the piece’s world premiere in any form (the cello version remains unperformed, if any cellists want to call dibs!).
Finally, this is my début as a London recitalist, but also as a ‘classical’ composer full stop. We will be closing the concert with the broadly neoclassical sonata for viola and piano I wrote (and revised, always a big part of my creative process) in fits and starts from late 2018 to early last year – the first time, as far as I am aware, a public has had the chance to hear (and enjoy, or not), any ‘art’ music written by me (my occasional forays into songwriting hardly seem connected, even when gigged and indeed recorded for paying audiences).
So all in all quite a ‘big deal’, and I’m very happy that a substantial body of friends and music colleagues will be there to share in, or indeed constitute, it. But there is still definitely space for some more before you have to start sitting on the floor or each other’s knees (unless you want to of course!) – so if you’re free Thursday evening, consider spending an hour with good food (optional), company and music. No tickets on the door I’m afraid but any last-minute deciders should be able to buy them online right up to the start time from https://fideliorchestra.art/whats-on/modernism-and-more-recently-music-for-viola-and-piano (and if you’re a student, under 18 or over 65 do take advantage of the concession tickets!).
Hope to see many familiar faces (and perhaps a few personally unknown ones) there!