As promised, New Thing no. 28: a late night concert in the Lichfield Festival. Last Wednesday at 9.30 I joined the audience in the Lady Chapel to hear the pianist James Rhodes perform. It was just beginning to get dark. At present there's a good view of the sky through the plain glass and I was able to watch the sky darken--an interesting reverse experience of the Easter morning 5am service, where the light dawns a pale grey through the windows.
One of the great joys of being a bit of a Philistine is the fact that so much of the classical music repertoire remains unknown to me. This means that I can come to a performance with a mind unsullied by memories of previous brilliant interpretations. I was very keen to hear James Rhodes, having read interviews he's given. He was also billed as 'The Jamie Oliver of the piano', which momentarily raised a hope that he'd be performing naked. This proved not to be the case.
One of the disadvantages of being a bit of a Philistine is the shameful desire for a tune to hold my hand on the journey through a piece of music. Or failing a tune, a verbal guide, someone to tell me what the hell is going on, what I'm supposed to make of it all. The poet Michael Symmons Roberts (aka Uncle Mike in this house, him being married to one of my sisters) tells of a reading he did once, and when it came the time for questions, a woman asked despairingly, 'But what do you mean?'
Explaining what he means is the great gift James Rhodes bestows on his audience. As well as his playing, of course. He brings us living programme notes. The Chopin piece, for example, was written for a singer he was languishing for. 'If he'd written it for me,' remarked Rhodes, 'I'd've totally gone out with him.' This type of commentary bridges the gap between concert platform and the street. Good work, that pianist. I had a wonderful evening.
Sadly, my companions were hamstrung by their musical erudition. Here's a sample of a post concert conversation--Me: 'Did you enjoy the Beethoven?' Friend: 'Actually, I thought it was rather messy.' Me: 'Did you? Well, it's not a piece I'm very familiar with, so...' (i.e. never heard it before in my life) Friend: 'Oh, I ADORE the Waldstein!'
I was fortunate enough to hear another pianist last night--Boris Giltburg, playing with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. This time it was the theme tune of Brief Encounters, or Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2, for the more highbrow among us. I tried to listen intelligently and discern if this was messy or second rate; or in fact, as brilliant as it struck me as being. I checked in the interval. Yes, it was 'all right'. But the conductor, Kirill Karabits, 'was better than the pianist'.
I'm inclined to cling to the bliss of my musical ignorance. If I relinquish it, I'll have to start despising Handel and adoring Parry. I believe a memo went round cathedral circles on this subject, but happily I never got it.