Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Late Night Rant 'n' Ramble

I was thinking the other day about when I used to go to bed. When I was working in Hamburg in the late '80's to mid-'90's, I'd rarely go to bed before 3am, often even later. You finish conducting a show like Cats or The Phantom of the Opera and the last thing you're ready to do is put on some milk for a Horlicks and curl up under the duvet. You're out on the tiles, eating, drinking, meeting new people, laughing and generally p***ing your hard-earned cash up against a wall. We know it at the time but it never stopped us from doing it. Hell, we're still here, but I digress. Once you get out of the habit of perpetual late nights they become harder to cope with. Getting older doesn't help, either, but I'm sure if I were still single or childless I'd feel differently. Thank God I'm neither of the aforementioned; I love the fact I eat breakfast and dinner with my family nine days out of ten. There's no point in having children if you're not going to be there for them and that's why this business's relationship with families is, at best, ambiguous. Most of the people I work with are only around for a few weeks, Toulouse being just another port of call on their international itinerary. Many would love to have (or have had) children, few have taken the plunge; they feel they have to choose between a career and family. Some just do it and deal with the result; generally I've found that the more children an artist has, the more grounded and successful they tend to be, the upshot being they're also subsequently able to dictate their own terms, incorporating more family time into their schedules. I can think of a few off the top of my head.

The other obstacle to combining career and family is that you just don't get to meet anyone. If you spend your entire life on the circuit, the only people you'll meet are mirror-image ships in the night. The profession is so capricious that it would take a supreme effort of will or disenchantment with one's lot to throw it all in and base oneself somewhere for a relationship which may or may not work out, the fear being that one could fall comprehensively out of the loop whilst discovering that this person was not Mr. or Mrs. Right. It's a tough call and few risk it. It's the paradox that suffuses the entire profession: to really interpret music, works of genius we are privileged to represent, we need to live life to the full. That means learning, love, disappointment, rage, sublime joy, confrontation. In short, every emotion and human element known to mankind. When you have to master the technical difficulties of so many of these works destined to demonstrate the extremes of the human condition, you have to spend a vast amount of your day in isolation, learning, studying, discovering the why, how, wherefore and therefore of the composer's inspiration. Then you find there's no time left to live, to go down the pub, be rejected by the girl you've admired from afar for three years, get punched in the face by the bouncer or experience the random act of kindness from the stranger in the street. If you want to play Brahms properly, you need to have been treated like shit. Don't forget, this was the man who had to supplement his father's double bass-playing income in Hamburg by playing piano in brothels as a teenager. If that doesn't mark you for life, nothing will. Brahms never married, yet his music is bursting with suppressed longing. Go figure. You don't learn how to play that properly by adjusting your spectacles in a practice room and just getting the notes right. Mahler's wife was a talented slut who drove him crazy. Research that. Schubert, he of the thousand irrepressibly joyful melodic and rhythmic songs, chamber music, symphonies, sonatas and operas died of the clap, contracted from prostitutes. Mozart's passions were beer and billiards (good man). The music world is ridden with such personalities whose work requires us to take considerably more than one step in their direction in order to represent them adequately. How can we do that if we spend our lives holed up with nothing but their scores as company?

I'm not advocating that any serious classical 'method-acting' musician should start shooting up and dialling escort agencies, but the fact is that we need to trust our guts, too. We need to forget what we've been taught and just react to the score in front of us on a venal and feral level. Once we've felt a stirring in our loins, we apply the theory we know is necessary for the execution of said oeuvre, but our gut, our biceps, our tongue, our genitalia need to be as actively involved in its performance as our intellect.

Seems like I've got off the point a bit, but, then again, maybe not. It's about living it to the full. Those who shy away from the ultimate commitment end up selling themselves short artistically. Years ago, again in Hamburg (it all happened there, you see), a friend, Jutta, took me to task for not wanting to commit myself to a woman (I was still smarting after a particular episode in Koblenz). I felt the only way to survive was to protect my own feelings, ergo to not commit myself emotionally to anyone. Jutta put it very clearly: "Scheisse, Fingers, nein! Du musst das Leben erleben, selbst wenn es Dir weh tut. Hauptsache, Du empfindest etwas". Basically, she said I had to feel and experience life, even if it hurt. I tried taking her advice, but I still don't know whether I did or not.

The hours I didn't put in in the practice room I put in in the snooker hall, the bar, the pub, in the 'school of life'. Getting the better of the written note may take me a little longer than some other more studious colleagues, but when it comes to what's written 'between the notes', I give anyone a run for their money. Brahms is safe with me...

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