JANUARY

2010 would be a year of celebrations: it hailed in the bi-centenary of two of my most beloved among all composers: Chopin and Schumann.
Like Archimedes’ EUREKA.

Many years ago I often played Chopin’s 4 Ballades or his 4 Scherzos as the 2nd half of  recital programmes But soon found the repetitive format of the Scherzi a bit of a bore, both for  performer and public. So one day I came up with the idea that these two ideal groups would team up perfectly were they to be played alternately: each Ballade’s rhapsodic and contrasting moods would serve as respite from the cyclic virtuosity of the Scherzos. 

Looking for a title I came up with two: but “Scherlades” seemed easier on the ear than “Ballerzi”.  Convinced that Chopin never expected all 8 works to be played in one go, I like to think that he would be delighted to see what perfect cycles they make -- each piece leading smoothly into the surprising new world of the next.

This was the fulfilling programme with which I decided to honour his memory in venues like: Wesley Chapel, Harrogate, UK; The Royal Overseas League at St James’, London, UK; Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland; Brazilian Embassy’s Sala Palestrina, Rome, Italy; Sala Cecilia Meireles, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Mustafa Concert Hall, Istanbul, Turkey; Teatro de Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal;  Festival de Inverno de Campos do Jordão, Brazil; Château Haut-Sarpe, in St Émilion, France. 

I was surprised to see how many of those I had managed to get invited to, once I was left for many months without the managerial support of the last 30-odd years!  How undeniably crucial managements are: support which I had come to take for granted, as one does so-often when something runs in the background, seemingly invisible, “there” forever, without any questioning.

I also went to Oulu, Finland -- a place from the past’ – and performed a very nice Mendelssohn 1 under lady-conductor Sean Edwards. So nice to get back together.. and she still looks 25! 

 

 

FEBRUARY

I had convinced José Viegas, the charming Brazilian Ambassador in Rome to have a soirée on the actual day of Chopin’s birth, Feb 22nd – and duly was totally and utterly spoilt by his generous welcome and that of all of his Ministers. A most exclusive audience of 200 + guests in the perfect proportions of the Sala Palestrina, and a gorgeous rented Fazioli... I had a ball playing “Scherlades”! May Pichon’s music ... live on!

 

 

MARCH

Full to the brim -- many of my guests surrounded the piano on stage -- the Sala Cecilia Meireles and its famous acoustics was the perfect setting for my return to Rio with such popular commemorative program. Rio, has the world’s most appreciative public -- the “CaRIOcas” – natives of Rio,- really know the piano repertoire having grown accustomed to the tradition of great Dames of the keyboard in the past: Novaes, Rudge, Tagliaferro, 
Bernete and now.. me!   Nice one.

Just before that Chopin recital, during lunch with Ripper, the new director of the hall at the mention of the date fast approaching, of my next big birthday -- 60 years of a most fulfilling life nearly all, in Music, he was only too happy to welcome me back a month later –again  in ‘his’ wonderful  hall...

 

 

APRIL

Unexpected:  that somehow surreal menace --something the jet era will want to forget, no doubt: the cloud of volcanic ash created havoc in the organized world of travelling as we knew it, almost preventing me from reaching Rio, at all! 

Having always considered that Poulenc’s music ‘tastes’ of party-time, his complete repertoire for piano and wind instruments seemed the ideal program to share with the wonderful Quinteto de Sôpro Villa-Lobos, also from Rio. 

Living in Europe I had nightmarish moments of unease, uncertain whether I would make it in time. But overcoming all obstacles, the magical occasion went ahead, shared by a very healthy and receptive audience!

At the end of which, we were all on stage taking a last bow, when Toninho struck Happy Birthday on the flute, the other players joined in and the whole audience sung ... although unforgettably touching, I didn’t even cry, I felt so happy! I must get the video of that one!
“Thank you, Ripper, for allowing it to happen: it was the greatest moment in my life of recent years”.  

The party continued at a flat which has simply the best view in Rio: the Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf) from Praia do Flamengo. 
“Thanks, dearest Eliane and Paulo: you are both too good to be true!”

 

 

MAY

Rehearsals with the Osesp immediately followed in São Paulo where I was to 1ère in Brazil Willelm Stenhammar’s beautiful 2nd Concerto. The emotional pressure which preceded that trip, then too many hours playing millions of notes in this heavy repertoire, were to take its toll.

By the time I got through the week, my right hand couldn’t take the effort: forced by a diligent and dedicated doctor, I went to hospital to have it put in plaster, getting complete rest for 3-4 days, to stop damaging it any further. Scary! But it worked: by the moment I was to end this short tour in Brazil, it had ‘returned’ to some shape. 

I prepared and directed the Villa-Lobos Orchestra in Jundiaí, in a very especial performance of Mozart’s K 488 – the 1st concerto I ever played, nearly 50 years ago, with the OSB, in Rio. 

The line “she barks and bites” – apparently the impression many people have of me! --   amused me a lot; especially when Betina (the leader) and Marcelo (her violist husband) said it is so unlike the real me: denoting pure joy making wonderful music with everyone around. They also referred to the fact that they will definitely “Ortizar” in Music = phrase it the Ortiz way... How amusing to imagine my family name entering someone’s vocabulary as a verb...          
“Thanks guys, for the fun”!                                                                      

Pity one multi-facet perfect celebration was not to be – for whatever reasons, the OSB had refused to invite me as soloist in their 70th anniversary season. It hurt. Alongside my 60th and 50 years of career plus possibly Chopin and Schumann’s bicentenaries, were I to perform their Concertos ...  would have meant 580 years of music-making in one go; but the occasion went amiss. 

Next came more recitals of Chopin “Scherlades” in Istanbul and in Chipping Campden, in the wonderful acoustics of a local church. 
A bit too much in too short a time, all of this plus two evenings sandwiched in there of ‘judging’ Euro-Vision in Vienna --  but better busy than not!

 

 

JUNE

I was back in Europe in time to take over a cancellation in St Émilion, playing a Duo with young Russian violinist Dimitri Makhtin: the first concert to be held in the Église Monolithe – always a pleasure to play in that most wonderful of towns – and its greatest of wines!

To round up this easy month, I was to deliver Chopin’s Concerto # 2 with a new Portuguese Chamber Orchestra under their founder, lovely Pedro Carneiro. I must say: how inspiring to work with someone who, like me, is entirely at the service of Music. 

This concert was in Guildhall’s gorgeous Old Library of London. Rehearsing until time came to let the audience in, reminded me of early days in my career: that happened so often when I was young that rehearsals longer than one-hour became a luxury. I must admit that before joining the orchestra, at my request we had met on the previous day for 2 hours of very intensely comprehensive ‘piano rehearsal’ -- when conductor and soloist learn to breathe together.

By the way, how inspiring–but-scary was to perform Chopin’s Concerto in the Guildhall of London, having only discovered from the program, that’s exactly where Pichon himself had played his last public concert in 1848, only a year before his death?!

Something similar had happened once before: years ago, while waiting backstage of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus to play Brahms’ D minor Concerto with the MDR and Neeme Järvi, I saw the poster of the occasion when Brahms himself had performed that most glorious of Concertos, for the second time only in that exact same place in 1859… Gulllp!

 

 

JULY

Summer started with my playing ‘Scherlades’ in Portugal before a performance of Franck’s F minor Quintet with the Fine Arts Quartet. 

One annoying hiccup: arriving at Gatwick the day before to find that my Internet booking (through Opodo) had all but disappeared; the very discourteous staff, handling TAP airlines clients, completely discarded me as if I didn’t exist! In the end, the only way to travel was to buy the last available seat in business-class – a third even more awful lady threatened to stop issuing that extra ticket. On board of course, I could see there were quite a few empty seats in Economy – a total rip-off. 

These days no-one matters, no-one cares, there’s no longer respect for travellers, nothing is taken into account, no use trying to explain your reasons...
I must say, I never liked travelling that much but our post-terrorists era, with unending controls of passengers, the modern ways of uncaring attitude... I know for sure I would hate travelling much more than for the very few concert dates left on my agenda. 
And yet: no travel = no music = no life: paradoxical or what?!

After Portugal, came Campos do Jordão, for the 3rd time in as many years. Its famous Festival de Inverno (Winter Fest) has now a very special place in my agenda:  since teaching is a passion of mine, plus the fact that the new director has but given me ‘carte-blanche’, going there becomes a dream!

Sometimes though, things do not go according to expectations and can stay out of your control – and that’s something I hate! One cannot go back or simply regret any one action: it does not help because what’s been done remains. What I hate most is, not knowing what people think or say about me. Please do come talk to me, if you must: that way I can have my say by explaining an action. Honesty is my game ... or is it my demise? I cannot fake an emotion, or hide a tear, or hold my tongue, most times. If I hear music, don’t ask my opinion: I’ll say what I feel .. or not, I hate lying. 

Hide things from my knowledge which are important.. and I become very vulnerable. People think I am very harsh but aggression is a form of defence… when hurting. 

Coming back from Brazil I felt very vulnerable. Talking about me or my career used to be great fun; now I need to stop, swallow before “facing the music”!
Worst of all is being let down by people you respected before.

It seemed that ‘2009 = annus horribilis couldn’t repeat itself yet 2010.. quickly threatens to be worse.? 

 

 

AUGUST

Then the Philomusica Oxford Festival was upon me and things shaped up: I felt better.
Playing Chopin 2 with Marios P. was wonderful: having a good piano and a sympathetic musician making music with you makes quite a difference from having a horribly prepared instrument... 
Or a dodgy “loser” who is stupid enough to hang on to something for stupidity’s sake; can be an impossible equation to cope with (v. July). No comments.

Then, there was the ‘Festival de Chaise-Dieu’ -- 3rd time round. A certain amount of travelling was most tiring due to French’s train system centralization: to go to the centre of the earth you must go .. via Paris!! Then back … via Paris. It would take only a few hours going cross country. Then somehow for the 1st time I was lodged in a different town in a hotel half-an-hour away from the Abbatiale, not 2 minutes: even to rehearsal and back in time for the concert, made it a real rush. I presume one’s perception and/or the effect situations have upon you, change with ... age?! 

Well that took its toll on me, all that travelling .. and although I’m not one to say ‘I must be tired’, I don’t give in.. As a result I didn’t perform as I could have done. Schumann has always been most special to me – ever since I was awarded the gold medal at the Cliburn for the best performance of Schumann’s Études Symphoniques. Performing one of my most cherished of composers, should have meant happiness. Well, that afternoon, it did not happen. I was miserable. Then I thought and blamed my psychological exhaustion. That’s the Aries in me: forget that... and on we go!

Apart from anything, there were 9 young pianists from Spain, Brazil, Ecuador, France, UK and Taiwan, this time, coming to stay in my house in France, in order to participate in my 5th Workshop..

 



 

SEPTEMBER

These Workshops have become a feature of my summers. Every year a different lot of participants come with their set of good qualities, problems, shortcomings... all of which cause me to look inwards and/or into another’s life. 

This time I was spoiled by great attitude and by total commitment to the task in hand but also hit by silly waste of talent. Shockingly this also made me stop in my tracks – and I felt I was to blame.  Doubt is not something that bothered me a lot --- until that day! Never mind, years from now we’ll see how this individual copes with potential....

I went to Paris for a break and to open my flat to two Brazilian friends who arrived from Rio for two weeks: also in order to be present at the ‘Scherlades’ recital I was to give in St Émilion.

I got quite ill with some kind of flu but also down with a bout of mild depression, lingering on from the July ordeal. Nothing seemed to be going my way. So much so that I couldn’t even respond for long to a phone interview from Brazil, covering the end of a short profile/portrait that the Festival had decided to run on me:  I no longer had words, only tears. I had to get out of that hole, and … Music is the only way I know! 

 



 

OCTOBER

This profile became a project for a book on my career. If and when it finally is out, I’ll publicize it, so that everyone can run and buy it, ok? It should be bilingual, if they manage to find a translator who speaks English for a 1st language. 
Or…we could go for a laughable Google-type of pigeon-eenglish..!

Nightmarish it may have been at times. But somehow it makes me hope that there are people who might enjoy reading about my long trajectory, since the moment when aged 2, I managed to climb onto the piano bench at home: I have never looked back and would be lost if I had!

 



 

NOVEMBER

A party for my daughter who’s engaged to be married. A week later one concert in Caracas: Villa-Lobos’ Momo Precoce with Tibiriçá my good friend and one of the best Brazilian conductors around. I had a scary hour when my blood pressure went ‘’up_and_up_and_awa-ay ...’’ moments before I was due on stage; so much so that the doctor who was called in, talked of calling an Ambulance... The order of the programme was changed giving me a bit more time to ‘settle down’; although it was strange, I never felt faint or bad or anything ... apparenttly that’s the way: it can come sweetly without warning! 

But it wasn’t to be: it’s now in the past. That performance is out on YouTube – during the short tutti that follows the 1st piano entrance, I was frozen with fear when  I saw my tummy pulsating;| and yet when nothing seemed to happen, I relaxed and went on: played quite well gave three encores and .. am still here!

 


 

DECEMBER

Preparing the best of Beethoven’s Concertos, his # 4 -- for the one concert in my agenda, until next April -- was blissful. Re-visiting that ‘chef d’oeuvre’ as if it was new to me, was a most fabulous feeling. Playing it in Toulon with Darrell Ang, was also lovely. 

I am so happy to live and play, nothing much matters: hassles, problems, loneliness, hurt, understanding little of what’s out there... I zoom in ... and float … wallowing in musical sounds...

Life is beautiful. Snow is beautiful. Friends are beautiful. Flowers blossom. Warm home. Scores & pianos. Xmas lights. I have come full circle. Party food. I no longer need to bake...  Holiday -- time to do nothing.

2010, “annus horribilis no 2”, draws to a close.

© G.Staffetti (2017 - 2019)

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