Hello friends! It's wonderful to be here with you. I believe that, if you're going to do something, do it 100%. When it comes to arts, to culture, and in particular, to classical music, I believe in total immersion. It is through music and art that we understand the world around us, our society, each other and ourselves. I want to show you as much of it as I can. This blog is for anyone who wants to peer into my insatiable hunger to create, to make music, to build and produce programmes, to dive into collaborations, and to find the meaning and poetry in between the notes.
For decades now, I have heard it said that interest in classical music is on the decline, to have lost its importance and popularity, to no longer be “useful”. In 2012, the National Endowment for the Arts (USA) reported that in that year, only 8.8% of the population had attended a classical music concert. My interest was piqued by these statistics, so I did a bit of my own digging. When I asked friends what they thought about classical music, apart from positive things, they felt that classical music was elitist, academic, dull, uninspired, a status symbol as opposed to an art form. Or, I found this one amusing — “too long.” Too long for what? “Just — too long!"
Recently, while running errands with my son, we passed a shoe store and my son unexpectedly stopped to look into the window. This is unusual for him because he has just begun to walk and explore the concept of forward motion. And so, he is usually running on his tiptoes, shrieking in delight at his own locomotion. My son is of a very sunny nature. He is cheerful, curious, fun, and very present. This latter trait forces me to drop everything and be just as present as he is. What he is not, is someone who stops in his tracks to look at something, whilst processing an impression that he can’t apprehend yet.
As I was leaving the house, I grabbed my coat. The weather seemed undecided. It reminded me of Ireland, of home, four seasons in the space of an hour. I stepped onto the pavement and the door swung closed behind me. I sunk my hand into one of my coat pockets to deposit my house keys then rooted around and felt something way down in there. It was a pair of earplugs.
Recently, I did something I rarely do. I decided, rather than just circling in the air above the jungle that is Twitter, I would fly straight into a polemic. I commented on a post regarding racism in Ireland, a country close to my heart, where I spent formative years as a child and teenager. The problem with a mud fight is that, even if you win, you still get muddy. This instance proved no different.
When an aspiring singer and the 19-year-old daughter of a musician friend of mine mentioned that she had never spent a penny on music in her entire life, I stopped what I was doing to listen. She quickly followed with the remark that she rarely listens to any song for more than 9 seconds unless its “really really good”. Her remark released a murmuration. I considered 9 seconds. Is it really possible to recognise a song and pass judgement on it in just 9 seconds?
You’ve decided to become a professional musician — and you’re not just rolling into it impulsively. This choice follows childhood years of extravagant travel and competitions where your parents wrote sick notes to get you out of school and your nearest and dearest friends and family oohed and aahed when you eagerly whipped out your violin to serenade them. You’ve thought about this and decided to jump in, eyes wide open, high hopes held tight. You want exposure and access to wider audiences. So, you begin your ascent to the top of the proverbial mountain, to a place where the air is thin and record labels offer weighty contracts. Only few succeed in this endeavor, but you make it to the top, and then you find out this is not enough. You have to earn the trust of your audience, maintain a high professional standard and assure reliability to those who work with you. The pressure is intense and relentless. You stand, essentially, at the service and pleasure of your audience. You work exceedingly hard for your vocation, and although you have an audience, constructed by your record label and promoters, you don’t necessarily know your audience. After all, concert halls are often plunged into darkness once the performance begins. Then, the Internet comes along, and with it, user-friendly platforms that enable musicians like you a means to self-publish. From MySpace to Facebook, the information superhighway opens. It’s the new millennium! You’re the master of your own destiny, but also directly exposed to all the criticism that’s out there. It now lands directly on your lap in the form of a like, a comment, or a click.
13 March 2020: I remember standing on a street corner in a neighbourhood of Zurich with Lukas Bärfuss. The day had started off bright and sunny, and we had spent it working out details of a new collaboration. When it was time for me to return home, he accompanied me to the tram stop to make sure I caught the correct connection. We then noticed a never-ending stream of people walking, all in the same down-hill direction, all heading home to begin lockdown.
The first sounds after the most recent lockdown. An atelier on the other side of town. In it, an untuned piano, audience chairs stacked and dusty after a year of hibernation. An unedited rendition, not perfect in its delivery, but full of love and gratitude to make music with another musician after such a long time of separation. My playing is raw, in service to Beethoven and Vera, the pianist performing here. Full of love, and commitment, in resonance with one another, holding on to belief in music and people - that is what I feel we can and should offer music, our audiences, and ourselves. Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata, second movement, played with Vera Kooper in a music space in Biel, Switzerland on 13 March, exactly one year after my family and I went into lockdown.