The cherry-popping blog: Greetings from England!

February 24th, 2010

Rousing greetings, dear listener, and welcome to the inaugural Syzygy blog!

It seems rather odd to be typing away here, in a cozy flat in Acton, London, where it’s 5 degrees outside. I’m over here on a sabbatical to see loved ones and do some writing – both of which are tasks that were long overdue. Just so I don’t become completely self-indulgent though, I’m grateful for Laila and Julia for gently (and sometimes not so gently) nudging me in the back and reminding me that, actually, we have our first concert in a month!

Not that I need reminding really, but the semantics involved in preparing for something like this when ensemble members find themselves on the other side of the world to each other really are something to behold. There’s a lot of  ”So 8pm my time is actually… 7am the morning before… no, after, no… so I can Skype for, say, 3 hours, before I go to bed, unless you’re in the middle of breakfast in which case…” as well as “Well, if I play this passage like this *insert scrunchy, crackly sound of piano travelling through lap-top speakers* then you should just be able to come in on…. hello? HELLO?” at which point the connection drops out and a terse email is sent. Sheesh.

On top of this, Greta Bradman, our utterly oustanding guest soprano for this concert has just given birth to baby Caspar (congratulations, Gret!) and is combining learning the Crumb with late-night bottle-feeds and nappy-changes, as well as attempting to move cities into the bargain. It’s amazing how her enthusiasm (“Leigh, these melismas in the Crumb are f@#$%g AWESOME!”) never seems to wane.

And then there’s the music itself. George Crumb’s ‘Apparition’ looks like a work of art on the page. The score’s lines bend and twist so that the musical journey the listener is taken on is actually notated graphically to inspire the performers. When I first opened the score it actually made me feel  a little queasy (“Oh Lordy, how am I going to learn this?”) but now that I’ve started, I feel as though I’m conjuring up whole worlds and spectres as I scrape the strings inside the piano and produce sounds on the instrument that I barely knew existed. Its a beautiful work that has to be heard to be believed.

On Skype the other day, Julia remarked that Eliot Carter’s ‘Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux’ was putting her through her paces. We all feel the same. Robert Beaser’s ‘Variations’ for flute and piano is an epic work that pretty much covers the entire stylistic gamut. Thankfully, Laila and I have played it before, but it still feels like limbering up for a marathon every time we polish it up for another concert. Of course, it’s utterly worth it because it’s one of the most powerful works in existence for flute and piano. I remember the first time I heard it I couldn’t stop shaking. I kept asking myself how one tiny, tiny theme of just six notes could grow (one might even say mutate) into whole worlds and galaxies right before my ears. It’s like Beethoven but for the post-Vietnam generation. It really is that powerful.

Luckily of course, music bridges the gap – good music makes the technical difficulties seem conquerable and the long-distance seem non-existent. Of course the biggest problem is that, when we’re so far away from each other, we can’t crack open a bottle of red after rehearsals and head off to Chinatown for some spicy ribs. That’s something that’ll have to be remedied in a fortnight. Until then, it’s ” *crackle* so in bar 53 should we crescendo or… hello?… HELLO?!” and then a matter of inserting some cliche about suffering for one’s art.

London sends her love,

Leigh :)

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