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Friday 7th September 2012, Paris

Life is never dull and sometimes it is just plain bizarre. Dinner on a hot evening at J and D's jewel of an apartment in Cadet. As the spirits began to flow, D leant out of the window so that he could smoke without bothering the rest of us. Suddenly he erupted into a geyser of Torinese imprecations and before long the Israeli passers-by - friends of his - that he had hailed were joining us over the brandy. I don't remember how the conversation turned to Gilbert and Sullivan (until D's outburst we had been talking about Wozzeck), but it did, and for the first time in my life (probably the last) I found myself sitting in a Paris apartment engaged in a patter song race. My competitor may have known the Modern Major General better than I do, but I yield to no man in my speed of delivery of My Eyes Are Fully Open from Ruddigore. A couple of hours later, as I tottered unsteadily across Montmartre on my way back to the hotel, I noticed ladies of the night were shrinking into doorways instead of offering me a grim time down an alleyway. Then I realised I was singing the Mikado's song just a little too loudly for anybody's comfort. Art is frequently a bugger but sometimes it has its social uses.

Friday 31st August 2012 Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Heavens. It is 28 years since I last played the Ring; for some reason the date of the last performance, 13th December 1986, sticks in my head. Some things have got easier in the interim (I breathe better than I did then) but the beastly thing hasn't become any shorter. Actually, that isn't true: last time the conductor was the great Reggie Goodall who, for all his insights into the music, could never have been called a scamperer. The tempi in this production are carefully observant of the composer's marks - but my goodness they feel fast. This is an odd trade, with no career ladder to speak of and very little to offer the ageing player except decline and succumbing to ageism, but sometimes it holds up a mirror to one's younger self and that is instructive. Instructive, but not necessarily comfortable.

Saturday 11th August 2012 Royal Albert Hall, London

I admire the Berlioz Requiem more than somewhat but I am not sure how much I like it. It is fun to play, especially since we're using proper small trombones not the bovine vast ones that are customary on this sort of occasion. Nevertheless, the piece leaves me uncomfortable, however much it may blaze. The ambivalence isn't a judgement of the music, which is extraordinary, but rather a discomfort with the point of view that the composer adopts. In his Tuba Mirum (a letzte Posaune with sixteen of the blighters and all the other brass in proportion) Berlioz doesn't so much describe Armageddon as present it uncompressed before our wondering ears. It is exciting but somehow ridiculous too. That great cynic Stalin once said one man dead in a traffic accident is a tragedy: a million dead in a famine is a statistic. Whatever else he may have been, Berlioz was no cynic but as I make my smalI contribution to the wall of spears that is his Tuba Mirum, I cannot help reflecting that death and resurrection on this scale has something of the statistical about it. Reading Life and Fate earlier in the year was tough but it made me think about my own secular Mass, with which I am still wrestling to significant but slow effect. Grossmann makes atrocity unbearable by making it intimate and I think a non-believer's perspective on the eternal needs a similarly personal quality. I found Tippett's What price Beethoven now? response to the camps emetically self-indulgent but I had a measure of sympathy for the composer in him; it is hard to turn from a consideration of Treblinka to a response the words of the Gloria. If it is to be personal, then it must be intimate too, since I live a small and sequestered life, for the most part in safe places. For me, the key to my own thoughts is humane scale of Stanley Spencer's resurrection in the Sandham chapel at Burghclere. Maybe it's my own Englishness, but for me the particular, and this particular above all others, says more than any vision of Armageddon could hope to. Only an Englishman could have come up with Christ Preaching at the Cookham Regatta, and realised how strongly the cosmic resides in the individual.

Monday 6th August 2012 in the Chapel of Unrest

Do you remember an Inn,
Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
(Under the vine of the dark verandah)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteeers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,

And the hammer at the doors and the Din?

Hilaire Belloc

I am going to read my poems with great emphasis on the rhythm. That may seem strange if you are not used to it. I remember the great English poet William Morris coming in a rage out of some lecture hall where someone had recited a passage out of his Sigurd the Volsung. "It gave me the devil of a lot of trouble" said Morris "to get that thing into verse". It gave me the devil of a lot of trouble to get into verse the poems that I am going to read and that is why I will not read them as if they were prose.

William Butler Yeats, speaking in 1932

Conductors please note: composers think like that too. The next time I see some ninny helping Beethoven along with some damn commentary - driven interference I shall run him through with my ashplant.

Wednesday 1st August 2012 St Albans

Scarcely back from China and my feet are starting to itch.  This may be because a routine operation on my grumbling left leg and the offended neuron is misbehaving spectacularly.  Why is it always the left side?  Most of the ruination in my hands is there too. I rather enjoyed the morphine but now it's been taken away I am constantly badgered by gripping pains that murder sleep.  No matter, it will heal eventually and though it is a bit vexing to be lame, I have decided that walking with a stick suits me.  Maybe I'll get myself an eyepatch as well, just to complete the image.

Like most men I am a self-dramatising physical coward.  The operation wasted a fortnight of my life, doomed by sheer funk and craven anticipation.  I overcompensate for this with cantankerousness and bellicose waving of my ashplant.  I may be fooling some of the people some of the time.

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