JANUARY

Knowing how busy the next six months would be, it was only natural that after Christmas I’d want to enjoy my haven in the south of France a little longer, quietly preparing new repertoire (Debussy and Schumann) for recitals in February. At peace with the world, I could also contemplate the “adventure” ahead of me: six days of some serious horse-back riding in the mountainous region of Salta, in Argentina. Having seen some stunning pictures of the scenery in a previous trip (Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego) which my husband did with a group of friends three years ago, and in order not to miss out on the new proposed journey I duly cancelled the few concert dates which clashed with the trip to join in the fun.

We stopped over to see our eldest daughter who now lives in São Paulo: pity she wasn’t going, being a great rider… The most I had ridden (she was then with us) was on the sands of Cairo’s desert when a sleepy Egyptian guide took us on a rather flat but nonetheless exciting three-hour trek between the pyramids of Gizza and Sakhara…

Everyone in Brazil thought me quite mad to attempt such a stunt… “Are you insured? Are you really going to ride? What if you fall and hurt an arm, a hand?” As a result, once the departure approached, a bit of apprehension slightly crept in ... but typically when confronted with the unknown, I feel there is no point in worrying about it. Moreover many people who aren’t brilliant riders, manage it… hey, so would I!

And so I was transported to a series of visual ‘uncertainties’: slopes so steep and muddy that we had to dismount and send the horses ahead; deep precipices beside the rocky paths – they scared a couple of experienced riders who fell from their horses – but I preferred slightly glimpsing at them with the corner of my eyes. As we got to scarily ‘moving’ waters of a river, I asked our guide: “Hernán, you are joking, you don’t mean to say that we are crossing here, you’re just trying to scare me, right?!” Then… nothing to it: just follow the leader, leave the horse to do it! As the day advanced I could hardly wait for another go.

Feeling like a fish out-of-water upon arrival, it was sad to feel the end approaching: here was one unknown passion I could have developed! Who knows, I may have been born a real Amazon, coming from Brazil but instead, I became a concert pianist!

1.On the first night we (all nine of us) we were given one room, where there were the most basic bunk or camp beds plus one ‘semi-double’ available – you know what I mean: not a single, but too narrow to be called a double, my Mum used to call those “widow’s bed”. Since there was no door to it, chickens, dogs and piglets went into it freely unless we took turns in chasing them. Never in my wildest moment would I have imagined that one day I’d have to sleep with four men under the same room: of course, they were all > loud snorers! Help!

2. On the following nights, we learned to make a bed from the saddle plus a foam mat and own sleeping bags which we found to be quite comfortable, really! Or cope with bats, running mice or… things that went BUMP behind my head, which …I prefer not knowing what they were, thank you very much!

3. Believe it or not, we had no electricity, basic comfort or even running water…for all of four days! Adventure, I called it? Sure: but a brilliant one and I had the time of my life!

“Thanks, Angie and George for arranging it all!”

One unexpected encounter.

Forced to respond to a call of nature, down the slope I went, in a deeply dark night in my pyjamas, carefully choosing a quietly removed spot. As I… er ... got ready, two things happened simultaneously: my sandaled feet sank deep into wet and muddy water, and I heard moving noises near-by, plus some grunting. Lighting up my torch I saw a HUGE pig approaching my way, obviously curious to see who was visiting at that hour! I did not know whether to make a fuss and ‘shoo’ him away, or stay in the dark! But then, I wouldn’t see when the pig would get dangerously close to me, because of its sheer weight … don’t you come and ‘snort’ up at me… Ughh, horrible thought!

Next morning, I went back down the slope, out of curiosity as to how come… and realize there was a bit of river-bed… located next … to the resident pig’s mud-patch!

I admit on hindsight: it was hilarious!

 

 

FEBRUARY

Back in Europe, my first scheduled concert was a repeat performance of Brahms’ Clarinet Trio, with Ashkenazy and Meneses, in St Émilion, last May. This time we went to Ancona, Italy. In the1 st half we had Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata (with Dimka) plus Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras # 2 (with Antonio). During a discussion/ talk on the eve of the concert, baffled by our relaxed attitude, some members of the public and the promoting Association, wanted to know why the Trio had no name… Of course, how were they to know that… we’re nota trio? The joy of playing together will remain a wonderful experience.

With a recital in St Paul’s, Covent Garden, started my Debussy project. Having finished memorizing the Suite Bergamasque and Estampes in the previous week, note per note, it felt great when it all went so well! The sheer beauty of sounds and colours I managed to get out of that Steinway, little but of lovely quality – made me a happy customer; and a 2 nd half of 3 Chopin Nocturnes + 4 of my favourite of Études op 25 made for a most pictorial programme, perfect for the acoustics and surroundings of the nice church.

Pollock House, in Glasgow, gave me a bit of a shock with the most ancient of pianos I have ever performed on, professionally there is: a Steinway of 1845! The condition wasn’t bad but the preparation left a lot to be desired >> the tuner apparently had allowed himself too little time, and left before the intervals were checked … Apart from having broken a string in the process, there’s no chance a technician (very few do) who looks after an old instrument in a State House would have known to keep stretched strings in his case, so you imagine the result…

Funnily enough, sometimes the piano will seemingly be “in tune” for any Beethoven, Chopin or Schumann, but for Ravel or…Debussy and it’ll be a disaster! The incoming promoter managed to get another guy who, arriving in the 11 th hour, and touching the instrument said “It’s in tune!”… I went back to my room…

Beautiful Istanbul was to be my last engagement of the month. There I met charming Kamil (promoter of a new piano series): a breath of fresh air: he’s an enthusiast but also very new to the game!

Cyber-related problems

Perhaps, having had some fabulous opportunities in my long career and the best of the best, possibly because now I don’t quite move at the highest of levels, once something doesn’t go as well as I am used to … I find it hard to swallow. Having recently gone through various incidents in my honest attempt to deliver my message to the best of my capabilities, I realize unfortunately how the ease of access to anyone , at any time or anywhere in the world -- by email or via the Internet -- has added life-changing control over the unsuspecting musician: it is now quite common, that in order to defend themselves from any threat of justified attack or simply to protect “their own bacon”, to put it crudely, promoters can write directly to the management in question, reporting on, or complaining about an artist’s behaviour -- I mean while one is onstage, playing -- therefore pre-emptying any explanation by the exhausted but unknowing artist who, if on the other side of the world therefore travelling overnight, has already been vilified before reaching home! That can now be accomplished, on-the-spot, via that horror of horrors: a blackberry! How simple it is to blame the “spoilt” or “temperamental” artist!

In my experience, because future engagements are the most important aspect of the music business, why should a management protect the reputation of that one artist unstintingly or even attempt to get first to the truth – and perhaps jeopardize chances for others on their list? After a repeating-pattern - never mind bothering to judge) that artist is written-off … from both sides: “the king is dead, live the king”!

I’d prefer to say: win some, lose some… the need for “survival” is very strong and only too human!

 

 

MARCH

Lunchtime recital in Harrogate. I am always more than happy to try-out repertoire in the gorgeous acoustics of Wesley Chapel. The organizer of concerts Andrew H. is one of the nicest people in music, a most well-informed man about concerts, recordings or anything happening in the business. For years now every summer I’d been playing Schumann’s Davidsbündler but, due to the fierce upload of work on my plate in the preceding weeks, I hadn’t quite got around that 100%! So not to ruin the day by attempting to perform it from memory and feeling very comfortable about it, I used the score. Never mind, we owe this silly tradition to the intentionally acrobatic-playing by Liszt plus the existence the undeniable rivalry with Clara Schumann, unique lady pianist, who had to prove that she was equal to any man, especially Liszt, therefore they were always trying to surpass each other. Otherwise our playing from scores might be accepted, just as when playing Chamber-Music. The easy-going audience is only too happy to listen to good music.

“Thanks for the continuing support, Andrew!”

After having recorded with the Fine Arts Quartet last December, I knew that our functions could only get better. Although America is not my favourite destination, those concerts were something I quite looked forward to; and ‘Barge Music’, in New York City, certainly turned out to be as ‘romantic’ as Ralph the leader had stated: from my seat at the piano, I had a lovely view of Manhattan all-lit up -- quite magical, really. If the wind hadn’t rustled up the waters and affected … my tummy: I find it rather difficult to read from my reduced scores, especially in a barge floating on turbulent waters.

Next morning, the Quartet and I went by train to Washington, for a concert in Dumbarton Oaks’s beautiful Music Room where we gave a great performance of Fauré’s Quintet n°1 and Franck’s F minor.

Two weeks later, we were to record the Franck, in Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland. Considering that I started what turned out to be the worst flu of my life and felt like death in the morning of the last session … it went rather well! Consequently, not only did I spend Easter ill in bed, but went on coughing my guts out, for more than 3 weeks!

Shock ahead. Home at last, on a quiet and lovely Sunday morning, I decided to open the pile of mail on the kitchen table … he-l-lo… what ….?! My Barclay Card had been cloned, in the States while there I was, playing concerts: and somebody had had a ‘field two-days’ using it to an amount of …over £ 4,500! Phew… for insurance!

A chapter apart .A perfectly run festival in the dainty Latvian town of Ljepaya, made me appreciate its people and feel so heartwarmingly welcome and especial. With many pianists together, things can get very tricky... Not in Ljepaya: Brigitte Engerer backstage… Bashkirov at breakfast… and what about J-B Pommier’s beautiful playing in Beethoven n° 3? “On va se revoir, n’est-ce pas, Jean-Bernard?”

The interior of their cute theater reminded me a bit of the little Opera House in the jungle (v. Feb 2007)... People running that “Festival of Piano Stars” do everything to perfection: treated like royalty, that’s how I felt.

“Thanks ever so much, sweet Ilona, you are very special! And Gunnars: don’t forget that you promised to learn more Portuguese than just ‘Picapau ... I’ll check the next time we meet, ok?”

 

 

APRIL

The Baltic countries.

From Latvia, I left to play my 2 nd Davidsbündler in a recital in Tallinn, Estonia. Being back there was fantastic. A few years back I participated in a festival of Tubin’s music (Estonian composer) having learned 5 of his lovely Preludes. I then met prof. Rumessen (director of the festival but who also recorded all of Tubin’s piano music); but was pleasantly surprised to see that Vello Pahn – a conductor I had met in Paris -- came to the recital: we went for some lovely ice-cream plus loads of laughs!

This time, it was Rumessen who came again, the true Ambassador of Estonian Music he is. One young pianist asked me backstage if I thought nordic people would ever be capable of playing the complex rhythms of some of the Brazilian pieces. Why not? It might take a special effort on their part, hearing enough of our ‘musical language’ to absorb the idiom or better still, visiting Brazil to listen to all the different sorts of music we have. That’s the beauty of Brazilian music: some of those pieces are an amalgam of samba, carnival tunes, bossa-nova , tunes from the trem elétrico, baião, chachado etc ... Well, good luck! If you enjoy it, you should try !

When off on a concert trip which includes more than one location, I tend never to concentrate on the following destination until I’m through the first one. Following the concert + a reception or whatever, only when back in the hotel room, I’ll decide if I feel like packing then or whether I get up early and do it the next morning; I’ll fix the alarm/radio/clock according to the departure time seen on the itinerary, have my bubbly-hot bath. That night in Tallinn, at that late hour I received a call from London, alerting me to a problem: the old Estonian man who had been invited to conduct for the 1 st time the Lithuania Orchestra for the concert, in Vilnius a few days later, hadn’t learned the proposed Bachianas Brasileiras # 3, so the Orchestra wondered what I could offer as a replacement…

First I want to know the “whys” of any given situation -- curiosity in order to understand if I can agree to anything. To cut the long story short, the fool hadn’t bothered to get the score in time, leaving to the Orchestra to worry about it. Then I’m told by the librarian, he didn’t even bother to open the score when it was put into his hand! Following this farce, he never even had the humility to apologize to me (not for my sake -- forget I am the invited soloist just like him -- but because of respect to Music and/or the composer: or for the sake of the orchestra who had to pay for expensive rental fees, from Paris!

Sad also that it didn’t happen to an orchestra with a self-governing committee (a Viennese or London or an American Orchestra would have made sure, either he conducted or stepped down for someone else, the assistant would take over). Since all the Bachianas –judge by the title -- are totally based on Bach form-wise, that is nothing very complicated: any child conductor could have read/learned it in one day! I really wanted to play Villa-Lobos for theirs and the public’s sake!

Absolutely no musical curiosity, total lack of courtesy to all concerned and worst of all: the fact he was teaching a Master Course to some 15-16 young conductors that week in town, therefore supposed to set an example of professionalism… Besides, it meant that because the Concerto had been taken out of the orchestra’s schedule, those too were cancelled out of the agenda of the young budding-conductors who were supposed to have had the two rehearsals with soloist represent as part of their course. Moreover they were paying out of their pockets, to follow those courses and the proposed agenda, as lessons for life. How can someone get away with such a scandal?! Un-for-gi-vea-ble!

Now do you want to hear the worst twist of all? One of those young conductors-in-wait had lived in Brazil for 3 years and had done the work before: he could easily have taken over, unfortunately I only found out too late… Young conductors are forever praying for a break of this sort, imagine the scenario! I was angry and got even more furious once I heard of the missed possibility! A ridiculous situation! In the end I chose to play 45 minutes solo, instead. Apparently that Orchestra wrote to my then agency, reporting how badly … I behaved! Ri-di-cu-lous.

Never mind fairness or justice: take the world of … tennis. Those guys have a whole team supporting them while playing any match, egging them on, there for their smallest need: one look can be enough … Oh, I often wondered if I should have gone for a career in tennis, instead of in Music had I started much earlier. It certainly is less lonely as an existence, but who’s to tell if I’d ever have made it?

Back in time: Bergen, Norway.

I will tell you a true story: Radu Lupu had to cancel a performance of Schumann Concerto, in Bergen -- hometown of Grieg -- in 1972. Having arrived in Europe just a few days before, I was given the chance to take over that concert. A wonderful review followed that unexpected but successful concert. I could say that’s how I started my career in Europe. A chance, which the young conductor in Vilnius , never had.

Back to the future: Bergen, Norway.

Here too I was due to play Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras # 3 but, what a difference when at the helm was one of the most professional of conductors I ever worked with, Lopez-Cobós, from Spain. I remember a wonderful Bartok 3 we did in the Alhambra, when I was 5 months pregnant of my 2 nd daughter! I had to wait all of those years – that expected baby is now 27years old!

What a pleasure to watch a master at work: timing his steady work to the minute, never letting pressure prevail or distract him from his goal: getting everything sorted out in the time allocated. A hard programme for an Orchestra not used to that Latin repertoire; in the programme Turina, Villa-Lobos, Debussy and Ravel All were done in exquisite fashion to a most inspired level, thanks to a great job, by Jesús.

Time came for me to travel to Palma and work with an old friend, Philippe Bender. One more Bachianas n° 3, plus Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue but this time on … my birthday! It’s always tricky when this happens: at my age, one doesn’t really need people reminding one that time is passing; on the other hand, it feels wrong if no-one is aware of the fact! When my contribution to the general rehearsal was over, I sat in the audience to listen to the other soloist of the evening, when the orchestra struck: Happy Birthday to him … He-l-lo?! … What about poor little-me?

Following Villa-Lobos and just as I walked back onstage to sit at the piano for the Gerswhin, all was explained: the orchestra ,again struck “Happy Birthday”, this time for me, but in front of the 1000 + packed audience! A young lady came on stage to present me with a huge bouquet of the most gorgeous flowers! It’s never too late: from then on it was party all the way! “Merci bien, Philippe”.

Soon after this engagement, I left Europe for a 3 week tour of Brazil, which would encompass Brasilia, São Paulo, Rio and Bahia, my hometown. Somewhere in there, one very special occasion awaited me: the inauguration of the 1 st Concert-Grand Fazioli in Brazil, bought because I suggested!

 

 

MAY

At the end of April I had to make my way from London to Brasília, a trip which turned out one of the longest ever: first a long flight to São Paulo, with a lay-over of some 4 hours, before continuing on the domestic route… It was the first time I had disembarked with luggage, but not at the location of my concert. Finally arriving exhausted at that final destination and not finding a soul waiting for me, something went wrong with the pick-up. On long-haul trips, the artist should not have to worry about local transportation and is usually escorted to/from hotels and halls. As a matter of interest: by refusing to be available “on demand”, any such indispensable gadgets as mobile phones that I own are as a rule turned off until an emergency occurs: so it was I had to use my British mobile to ring my agent in São Paulo (through Europe) to report on what was going on. As I waited, and waited … the skies opened quite dramatically for a very heavy downpour which reminded me of the “white rains” of the Amazon, where one sees nothing but a white sheet of water almost like a cascade! When at last someone materialized to take me to the hotel the sun had come back: no need to worry about not having the right clothes…

You’d expect that my two pre-requests for accommodation: a smoke-free room plus a bath-tub -- would have been taken care of? No. The thought of looking for another hotel at the end of such a marathon of a journey was unbearable. Although to start with, it seemed the hotel could not find me an ideal solution, I managed to convince the young assistant-manageress on duty after a long desperate while, who sent me to view the only two or three available alternatives; by then nothing but a bubbly hot bath would soothe my ‘dented’ being, that indispensable item won over… room space and street noise!

A hidden world, to most . The choice of performing a concerto like Prokofiev # 3 – or Brahms # 2-- with an orchestra not familiar with it is not a good recipe for ease during rehearsals. Many conductors think that because they know a piece, that is enough to go by: wrong. Lack of preparation can only cause unnecessary tension … Of course it depends totally on how each person works! If the ensuing result, thanks to experience and mostly good nerves, does not suggest anything has happened, who cares? In that case only any future rapport between that artist and another conductor will suffer. Unfortunately it happens only too often! And in my case it simply ends up in … “again?!”

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Brasilia ’s audience is extremely young; therefore, following that most exciting of Concertos, enthusiastically they just about growled for more! So much so, that we repeated half the 3 rd movement. Then as a second encore, I opted for a gentle Chopin Nocturne.

On the last evening in the capital, some orchestra musicians invited me for a relaxed evening –whoever could play anything did: we had all sort of musical samples: forrós, tangos, sambas. I mainly leave it to others to do this sort of thing, so when my friend flautist Ariadne, suggested that we do the Franck Sonata on-the-spot, I obliged. Later on Antoine her handsome ‘ex’ accompanied with Bass a young man who proceeded to play a ‘mean’ jazz… I admit that being quite a party girl by nature, I don’t need much to have a good time. So with a few shots of what has become the Brazilian national drink: caipirinha* (see footnote) -- lethal but delicious -- let’s say that I had a …great evening!

Fairy story.

Firstly let me mention that I never believed that “fairy god-parents” existed in real life! Well I was wrong. A very special and classy soirée was in store for me in São Paulo. As part of a birthday party forhis lively and bubbly wife, Eliane, Paulo (amateur pianist of incredible prowess ) and I, had planned a recital to inaugurate the new acquisition to their gorgeous apartment: a Fazioli Concert-Grand, the very 1 st in Brazil!

No doubt in my mind that the Fazioli is a wonderful instrument, but this particular one, arrived perfectly ready for performances, all round and warmly-toned, possessing the clearest of basses plus a top register of diamond-like brilliance. Apart from the fact that it was hand-picked by Paulo, with the expert help of Paolo Fazioli himself, a personal friend of many years, it felt like the “cherry on the icing”.

Other pianists who were present, could only mouth-wateringly ‘beg for more’, after trying themselves the beauty! By all counts, an unforgettable evening was had by all the 90 + present: the house sparkled with ambiance; catering was immaculately provided; there were Princesses, Counts, plus the nicest of music-lovers one can expect to meet. I must mention here that the cake that had been commissioned for the joint occasion of birthday + inauguration was … hilarious -- v. Picture Gallery, soon.

I presume anyone would understand the pleasure for someone like me, living this most solitary of lives, that being a guest of such people, filled with never-ending enthusiasm, joie-de-vivre, generosity and personal warmth. Eliane’s charm and imagination plus Paulo’s extreme wit make them great fun to be with: knowing them is a chapter indelibly remaining engraved on my mind and heart.

I had happily accepted to play another concert with the Banda Sinfônica. This time on the stands was Ravel’s Concerto in G, transcribed especially for the occasion (unlike last year’s transcription of the Rachmaninov # 2, which had been written in the 50 or 60s by an American. Rocha, the very capable conductor in charge had indeed provided a harp (my first concern) and after some wonderfully comprehensive work, so that it was another unbelievable experience, the way those unassuming musicians become real partners in my quest for excellence! “Genial, Abel!”

The cor anglais player, really understood how to deal with the phrasing – my compulsive way of working personally with the player of important solos (even calling her for a last-reminder, 10 minutes prior to the performance) paid-off, making the performance a perfectly cohesive interpretation of it! Awesome: even the audience captured the sheer beauty of the exercise, vocally asking for a repeat of that unequalled slow movement. “Parabéns e obrigada, Rosana.”

Next I was off to the adopted hometown of my childhood, beautiful Rio de Janeiro, which I really miss most of all, having lived abroad all my life! As well as that, I so looked forward to working with Minczuk, the new all powerful big-shot of Rio’s musical world and what a pleasure to discover, not only a charming man but also real and hard-working musician striving to get the best results from the orchestra-in-hand properly preparing the accompaniment to a Concerto as if it was his show-off Symphony! “Fabulous job: obrigada, Roberto!”

The possibility of a week-off (in another idyllic property belonging to my fairy-god-parents, whose generosity knows no limit) with my husband, who came all the way from Europe, plus the gentle company of “brother n° 4”, Joel and his delightful Marília, was a rare treat in this crazy life of mine! “Obrigada mil vezes, Eliane e Paulo!”

From there I went to Salvador - my actual hometown - where I was to perform the last concert of this trip: Brahms’ “little” … 2 nd Piano Concerto.

It was good to perform again in the Teatro Castro Alves, and spend some time with old faithful friends but most of all to find that the Steinway -- chosen by me some 11 years ago in Hamburg-- was in very good conditions: and that made my day! Sadly it’s quite common mainly due to ignorance from lack of information/knowledge of Hall managers that these rather expensive instruments (around £90,000+) are left to deteriorate in less than ideal conditions: extreme changes of temperature, worst yet without any constant or competent maintenance by highly trained technicians: people assume that all that is needed by the instrument is the occasional tuning (so-so) for a performance…

As far as reporting on that evening is concerned, let’s just say that the 1 st half recital – a fashion in Brazil these days -- played on ‘my’ gorgeous Steinway, remains the highlight of that concert. For a Concerto like Brahms 2 in my opinion can only ‘happen’ if there is total commitment from people completely on top form at the best of their abilities, whatever that is!

Next day I flew back to Europe for all of six days before unexpectedly having to go back ... to São Paulo! I’ll explain next month.

* My favourite drink: lemon juice, brown sugar, plenty of crushed ice + cachaça.

 

 

JUNE

The phone rang in my hotel room while in Rio: it was someone from TUCCA, an association in aid of cancerous children which campaigns most effectively through events, asking me to do a very especial concert date for them. Actually they once promoted another concert of mine: in that occasion I was partnered by Antonio Meneses and his gorgeous cello. Imagine that then we were booked to play in the lovely Teatro S‹o Pedro Ð only at the very last minute an influential friend of mine mentioned that as far as she knew, the chosen venue had not got a resident piano! So upon arrival, exhausted from the very long flight from London and on a hot and sticky day and I spent hours been driven to 2 or 3 places which had the odd instrumentÉ for possible locationÉ from side to side in the horribly polluted streets of S‹o Paulo! Of course I should have refused to play any of the proposed ÔwrecksÕ but having flown from Europe especially for the concert how could I let down, Antonio? If you could only imagine how bad the piano wasÉ I often wonder how string players would feel if their instruments were taken away and theyÕd been handed some Ôjoke of a fakeÕ! 

Enough of that nightmare and back to this new event: TUCCA tantalizingly offered me a first-half recital plus a concerto of my choice to be played in the best hall in South America, Sala S‹o Paulo. Plus the catch or should I say, the bliss of not having a conductor: I was to direct myself from the keyboard, an orchestra formed mostly by players from the best orchestra in Brazil, the OSESP. I had never dreamt IÕd have the chance of appearing in that role in my home countryÉ no-one else has. It is in my opinion the most complete way to perform: only thus can one get everyone on stage to phrase and breathe together! 

I chose to do BeethovenÕs 3rd Piano Concerto knowing that IÕd be perfectly at ease: I had had the time of my life when directing the Swedish Chamber Orchestra in Orebro (v. My Journal > Mar/05): a very important issue, considering the pressure... The fact that the ends of the many runs ending cadenzas in the 3rd movement were caught to perfection by all, without a hint of hesitation -- all it takes is a simple nod -- was greatly enjoyed by the musicians many of whom exclaimed during rehearsals, things like: Òobviously all conductors should playÓÉ ÒitÕs usually such a messÓ (Éand not on such mild termsÉ) or Òwho needs conductorsÉ ?Ó

Once the particularly successful performance was over, many orchestra members came to tell me that if ever I decided to form an orchestra they would happily join immediately; others most grateful for the intense music-making and lastly but not least, a few of them as they were been paid for the concert date, exclaimed that they were the ones to who should pay, for that much pleasure!! IsnÕt that great? 

One last touching comment came from Ovanir, the wonderful first clarinet who claimed he had simply ÒtravelledÓ during my 1st movement cadenza! Most orchestra players donÕt even know what or whom they are accompanying, let alone listen to a cadenza that wellÉ?! ÒAny day, guys! My pleasure was even greater than yours!Ó

A week later I went to play a recital in Mexico City, a welcome occasion to visit some dear friends. The promoter who, in the past, had been a very loyal supporter of mine, possibly because a new job may have incurred too much responsibility for him -- very much under pressure for whatever reason, apparently sent an email to my agency in London literally while I was playingÉ relating a series of misunderstood behaviours, from me to him Éand his staff Éblab-blah; all sorts of exaggerated ÔnothingsÕ. 

When I heard that complaint it came as such a shock to me that I never even thought of explaining myself and in a way, this one acted as the Ôlast dropÕ in a series of related incidents which over quite a period of time had been trickling into my management of over 30 years. As I got home I had to face the total loss of support from them. This should have happened long in the past although I had always refused to consider it. Obviously it hurt tremendously, IÕll remain weakened and ÔlostÕ for quite some time. In order to keep my sanity, I literally decided to adopt that expression Òchin upÓ and must keep going no matter what, as if all is well, very well. The last engagement of the month was a recital celebrating the 20th anniversary of ThŸrmer Hall, in Bochum. Arriving to perform a surprise lay in wait for me: the piano on stage was ... a ThŸrmer Grand, not the venueÕs usual Bšsendorfer. It took me half of a Schubert Impromptu to adjust to the instrument Ð sorry, Franz! From then on it was quite plain sailing. 

Whenever I enjoy the acoustics and have the chance of going back to the piano I will play a few pieces solo then IÕll go through a concerto or two. As usual I try to sing the orchestra part Ð itÕs the only way I know! Attracted by sounds coming from the stage, the audience came back to listen to more music; then I started to involve them in the ÔsungÕ accompaniment of BeethovenÕs 3rd Concerto -- this being a very popular Concerto; after a few glasses of wine and/or beer everyone was quite relaxed therefore quite up to the role asked of them. It was a most amusing finish to the happy evening. 

Already the previous week at MemoÕs house in Mexico City, the 80 + people invited to hear an informal recital of mine, kept asking for more.:. Having exhausted my solo repertoire I chose to involve them in the same stunt, and because itÕs common belief that Latins are rather romantic, I played RachmaninovÕs Concerto no 2. 

Fun-4-all! 

 

 

JULY

“A esperança é a última que morre” = Hope, is last to die 

This common Brazilian saying comes to mind. One would think that concerts shouldn’t be hard to come my way, given that the 50th anniversary of death of Villa-Lobos happens in 2009. Consider my agents hadn’t succeeded and I certainly have no idea of how to reach people who might want to engage me…So I can only hope that good things might happen unexpectedly. 

“If any of you have any suggestions to make, don’t hesitate to write in: every bit helps!! 

More than ever my haven was a welcome retreat. Keep busy, is a good motto I think, when things aren’t going too well. This summer I was due to travel extensively anyway, to Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico and Bulgaria. As usual: come summer and I base myself in the south of France. My beautiful house is ideally placed in peaceful surroundings and of a good size for accommodating large numbers of people… Unless one decides to do something active, very little goes on in the village where I ‘hide’ from the world. 
Five years ago I had a workshop of piano-concertos – there are two pianos in the music-room-5 young pianists came. A year later, I planned a week-long workshop of chamber music: three of us professionals (cello, viola and piano) would work alongside some young players: a violinist, a violist, a cellist and a pianist; at the end of which we’d perform sonatas and duos plus a trio and/or a quartet, sharing our music with local friends and music lovers. Unfortunately that time, things didn’t work too well: we ‘lost’ the two violists mid-course (v.Aug 2003) therefore we could only get up to a trio formation. The expression ‘live and learn” comes to mind so next time I try I will succeed! 

The first “C* O* et ses amis” (v. Sep 2006) came next: a series of chamber-music concerts; the idea came from a visit by Werner Herbers, talented Dutch oboe player and friend who also plays Jazz: that our chamber music concerts should end with a Jazz session lightening up the seriousness of classical concerts for the benefit of the locals. All performances took place in properties belonging to generous friends of mine: it was a success by all accounts! 

Then this year it surfaced that some of my more assiduous students needed lessons during summer plus the fact that quite a few pianists write in for advice and ask whether I can listen to them… Discussing the possibility with a dear student of mine, sweet Manon immediately accepted to help with the logistics of it all, so I fixed a 3rd workshop in August and 6 pianists from different countries enrolled. I also had confirmation of 4 concerts in mid-September: so a 2nd edition of “Les amis” was in the cards as well! Keep busy, I certainly would! 

A first visit to Uruguay. Back to the present: in late July I went to Montevideo to perform Prokofiev # 3 twice, under the baton of a Brazilian friend and conductor, Tibiriçá. Playing with Roberto is always musically most enjoyable; in this occasion I had the added pleasure of meeting in person Maria Julia, the orchestra manager – whose contact was made totally through the Internet. Then her dear assistant Augusto plus Hugo, an actor friend of Roberto’s who was also most talented for languages… he-he (private joke). Together we had some famous meals, great times and laughed a lot! I hope all problems within that orchestra have been resolved by now. 
“Remember: ' nêga do cabe-lo du-ro, qual é o pen-te que te pente-ia ...' beijos.”

 

 

AUGUST

Ambassador Paulo Américo W. had chosen to have the 1st Festival of Brazilian Culture in the summer resort of Varna, a charming little town in Bulgaria. When we first met in Sofia, at one of the receptions he’d generously thrown in my honour at the occasion of my playing Prokofiev 3 with Rossen M. and his young orchestra (v.Nov 2007), the Ambassador decided there and then, that I had to be included in the festival he was planning. His delightful wife Lygia, being a native of Bahia, like me, meant we all hit it off pretty well. At his suggestion, an extra date was secured with the Varna Symphony (again to play Prokofiev # 3 : the reason why I seem to be favouring this Concerto lately is because I’m to record it on DVD, in Lugano, later this year. So the more the merrier. 

Back to Varna, a pretty busy visit in 4 days, you might say, but I prefer working hard on any trip. The festivities as well as a series of films and other events which preceded my arrival, included chef Beto Pimentel preparing several meals of typical cuisine from the different regions of Brazil; great outdoors events with percussionist Claudio Kron leading masses of willing native Bulgarians either hitting Brazilian drums or shaking ‘chocallhos’ or bells, through the streets of Varna – needless to say that it was quite easy to recognize the non- Brazilians by the way their bodies moved; and visual artist Rogério Dias exhibited a lovely selection of his happy canvas. 

I was to close the festival by playing a recital in the terrace of old Royal Palace with a program of Debussy + Fructuoso Vianna + Villa-Lobos. Rain came down as we were waiting for the performance (I needed a layer of cashmere around my upper body to fight the cold, at least to start with); luckily after a bit of a delay, the skies cleared so I could start. I had thought of being surrounded even more by nature so the place was beautifully ornamented by a few of Rogério’s canvas along the terrace… Birds singing in the night and/or hanging on the wall plus the sounds of Debussy’s 2nd Arabesque – which I renamed ‘’oiseaux” for the occasion -- plus the sound of drying drops of real rain in the quiet of the night, mixed with Debussy’s imagination in musically portraying the sounds of water in his “Jardins sous la pluie”, made reality become surreal or perhaps… was it a case of magic seeming real?! 

The following day I traveled back to home in the south of France: the 6 young pianists due to arrive in the morning. Unfortunately I must have eaten something bad on board the Bulgarian Airlines flight and I tell you: through the whole journey I had the worst case of food poisoning you can imagine: upon arrival at Bordeaux I could hardly keep my head up, let alone drive home from the airport… 

But luckily to me, the youngsters were a bit delayed so I had some a few extra hours in which to compose myself; by the time the first five arrived by train to the little town closest to my house, I seemed almost human! Then a rush to Bergerac airport to pick up the last one to arrive and back… to ‘’face the music’’. 

I must say, the week went very quickly with that most international of groups: Alex (Russian), Paul (Spaniard), Bonnie (Australian), Anna Lisa (Italian), Kausikan (Sri-Lankian-UK) and Manon (French-UK-German): if anything the week was hilariously entertaining. Each of them had something particular: one who could hardly eat anything normal (a vegetalian, yes, that’s right: no mistake there!); one could not stop talking; another could not stop playing piano, even while others played table-tennis); another could not do two things at a time – so much so that when she was making salad, and somebody asked her a question, that salad, oh boy… did it take looong to be ready; a last one incessantly took pictures of everything and everyone, including her own toe-nails… We played lots of late-night round-the-table ping-pong (accompanied by piano! Help, stop!) in order to spend left-over energy, after large meals which unfailingly finished with a massive apple-crumble for dessert, plus cream, ice-cream or both… nearly every night; the gorgeous apples coming from my garden. These workshops – the one 5 years ago also – will forever be remembered as the apple-crumble-workshop and I… the queen of crumble. 

As far as lessons, there were some 7 to 8 hours per day: I adore teaching; be it Saturday, or Sunday… come rain or sunshine…I thrive with activity. I must say though, with so much repertoire been covered during the week. the pianists continuously sharing the instruments before-or-after-hours, that when they finally left the place, I was so exhausted mentally that although I had to prepare Dohnányi’s Nursery Rhyme Variations for São Paulo a few days later, I spent two days without being able to look at pianos … 

Of course, looking back it was a most enjoyable time; they were a variety of such strong characters… I’ll never forget the time spent together. Upon leaving some already begged for another workshop… It might just possibly be that failed formula mentioned earlier… 

“What do you think guys, should we go for chamber-music next?” 

Before the month was over, I flew once more to São Paulo: I’d be staying at my friends’ flat where I have the luxury of that brand-new Fazioli at my disposal, any time of day or night. The two concerts at the Teatro Municipal went less well than expected -- the youngish conductor --supposedly had lived in Hungary for many years so I presumed had come across or know the Dohnányi -- had never done that difficult piece and without flair …or any flexibility at accompanying such witty music it was touch-and-go. Win some, lose others I’d say and leave it at that! 

Never mind, still I love being in Brazil. This time I met a girl who offered to take care of my website, from now on. Apart from playing the piano – we had a lovely lesson – she’s studying composition and is an IT expert! Hurray: maybe I’ll be able to keep “My Journal” a bit more up-to-date?! 

Music is my life … his home. 

Only recently I read that Arthur Rubinstein said that “he lived in many places, but music was his … real home”. I feel exactly the same.

 

 

SEPTEMBER


Alone with music, again. 

Getting back home from São Paulo to my haven in the south of France, I knew I had no time to think of jetlag: there was one day before I was to play my 2nd recital in the village’s church towards funds for the restoration of its ceiling. The organizers who had never had a classic concert before last year’s recital are slowly coming to terms to what’s needed when a pianist is appearing, therefore the instrument offered is gradually growing – whereas last year I had a lovely baby-grand Yamaha, this time the Steinway was a beautiful “B”, The venue of St Pierre’s acoustically speaking, is really something else, a fact that makes me wonder if one day I might record there… 

You may not be aware that being the artist in the house is quite unpractical: were I simply the spouse at home, I could easily have contributed with the reception. Before the last recital I was a lot more present so could arrange that catering be provided for 35 friends. This once, having just got back from Brazil, therefore with very little in the fridge plus being on my own, there was not a chance of any dinner to follow… please, please, someone take me out? Of course, dear Nelle, my lovely South African friend, saved my day… 

While suffering from jetlag -- I find that side of life also gets worse with age – I kept having nightmares of the horribly-pressed drive* I went through: to get the young pianists to leave the house at all, let alone in good time, was as bad as if they were children, honestly -- v. August/08. Instead, I had to go for 45 or 55 depending on traffic or unexpected road- works which slow down the journey when you least need! Having never been to the little town I knew not the quickest way to the station for them to catch the only train which would connect to their various flights at Bordeaux airport! 

Gosh, I must have broken more laws than I can remember: overtaking in forbidden places, cutting on the inside (or outer) lane to jump the light in front of slow cars – the kind of things usually only reckless ‘idiots’ do: dangerous driving for fun, which can so easily cause accidents to innocent passers-by or pedestrians. I was lucky that a policeman didn’t materialize: not only I would possibly have lost my license, but given that three of four flights would be missed by my irresponsible young passengers, I would surely have had to spend quite large sums of money in order to provide them all with alternative means of transport back home… phew!

Once the recital was out of the way, I had to dive immediately into learning the thousands of notes to for the concerts scheduled the following week… No rest for the wicked… 

C* O* et ses amis – 2e edition. 

The musicians for the forthcoming informal chamber-music + jazz festival started to trickle-in, only two days after the recital. 

Months ahead, I had booked the indispensable help of Fernanda, my special Portuguese lady (v. September 2006) to do the cooking and look after us and the house – a most basic need for any busy hostess to function properly… When, on the evening before the musicians were to arrive, a phone call brought me the disastrous news that, due to her father-in-law having fallen down and slipped into a coma, she and her husband were not able to leave Lisbon … That evening I cried quite a lot. Fretting inconsolably, I needed to phone someone to utter my desperation … Luck has it that I had managed to convince Leonie, wife of my friend Werner very early on, to come over for the whole week: such generosity, and wonderful company I know no better -- “to relax, paint, lie in the hammocks, sketch, read”… 

Already they had kindly offered to pick-up Steve (violist who was arriving from Canada), on their way to the house the next day. 

“Don’t worry, we will manage”, she said. 

Poor thing > as it was “she made beds, drove back-and-forth to airports, went shopping to the markets, made coffee, tea, toast, cooked, looked after each of us …” The perfect housewife even found time to listen to one or two rehearsals! A better friend I couldn’t wish for. “Leonie, I couldn’t have done without you: thanks forever”. 

All the music had to be prepared and rehearsed at double/triple-speed in the few days available. But all concerts were most enjoyable. In the programmes: piano quintets by Mozart and Fauré; Beethoven’s Spring Sonata for violin and piano; Schumann’s Introduction and Allegro for viola and piano; Franck’s A major Sonata for cello and piano; plus Poulenc’s Sonata for oboe and piano. 

Werner had also done some transcriptions: of accompaniment to a Bach’s oboe concerto for string quartet; and to 7 songs by Schumann (mostly from Dichterliebe) for oboe d’amore and piano; plus numbers in the Jazz-4-Fun section to end the concerts – the guy does everything! 

While I was on tour in Brazil, Werner was having trouble finding Thierry, the bass player from 3 years ago, who had …vanished. Upon my arrival back in Europe and after frantic phone calls … and with the help of local friends we found him in-the-nick-of-time, but only on the very last weekend: booked for a couple of jazz-gigs, he gladly got out of those for the pleasure of joining us! Nice! 

Whereas three years ago, to participate in the Jazz-4-Fun section, I ended up singing the one song I knew “The girl from Ipanema”. This time I chose ‘Corcovado’-- both by Jobim. Werner duly announced to the bemused audience, since I was Brazilian, the festival had to close with a Brazilian song! I tried to have the courage to ‘sing out’-- if only I really had a voice like that of Elis Regina, my idol instead of wishing it … right … dream on! 

The hosts of our début concert, André and Viviane, of Château Francs, were priceless. The comprehensive restoration works to the gorgeous concert hall ended just in time for them to reinstate it into existence: it had been built as a venue for public events, all of 400 years ago, almost to the day. Adorning the back of the ‘stage’ is a magnificent chimney – the sound in there just turned out fabulous! 

NB: André remembered my initial suggestion to buying a piano, as resident for the venue. So when the lovely baby-grand Yamaha rental came in, it wasn’t going anywhere: as simple as that! 

Following the occasion, dinner was to be served in the same room by then transformed into the largest dining room ever seen. Once, most of the audience had left some 30 Belgians were invited to join the hungry performers and a few friends. 

The second concert took place in the largest venue of the lot, the fabulous Abbaye de St Ferme, where we played last year too. 

The 3rd coincided with the re-opening of the newly restored roman Église de Gardegan and was organized by my friend Nicolas (Château de Pitray). 

(Highlights for me: Schumann’s stunningly beautiful music and Fauré’s luscious C minor Quartet) 

Lastly but not least, we had agreed to an informal dinner-soirée at the Jardins de Sardy belonging to another friend, Frédéric -- where ‘lives’ that unique double-Pleyel he inherited from his grand-mother (v. Picture Gallery). 

I was off to the New Ross Piano Festival, in Ireland. Four lovely days near very warmly-hearted people; Connie, the administrator is brilliant and Sean – although a slow-driver, and only a ‘chairing’ director … tsk,tsk -- was great fun to be with. 

Small festivals have freshness and easily become the pride of a whole community making their project work as well as possible, as if they were one person. 

Lack of rehearsing time though, is not something I enjoy when playing chamber music or indeed with an orchestra and was one reason why the Brahms’ Clarinet Trio didn’t get its best performance ever. But two short recitals presented me with the opportunity to immerse myself totally, plus an enjoyable Master Class. 

Two charming brothers, who drove all the way from Switzerland to attend the festival, were willing to play some tennis at my request and the piano technician, who looked so much like Björn Borg it was uncanny, offered to complete the doubles-team but … there were hardly enough hours in the day to rehearse, let alone for all I wanted to do! 

On the other hand, Finghin, the artistic director, besides playing everything day and night, still found time to cook and bake for the concluding dinner… these talented Irish! 

That evening we played a bit of everything: 4-hands (err.. 3, really) , a bit of jazz, some bossa-nova and then “Björn” also accompanied Irish songs from piano. 

Time to go back home: I had some packing to do for the 3-wks trip to Hong Kong, as a juror in Hong Kong’s 2nd International Piano Competition. 

© G.Staffetti (2017 - 2019)

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