Monday 24 March 2014

Our Tobias Hume album is now scheduled for release by Delphian in May. Here's a preview.

And while you're on YouTube, check out our channel, and the videos that Amy Hawes has been putting together from our shaky Aldeburgh video footage ...

Sunday 16 March 2014

Someone asked me after yesterday’s gig if I get nervous beforehand. Yes, I suppose so, but not immediately before the concert: it’s more spread out over the period of preparation. So yesterday I had 1) fortepiano stress – I always get worried about playing the fortepiano in public, because there are so many variables and so few places to hide that I don’t feel in control of it at all, and I’m just hoping that some music will happen; 2) some very accomplished professional pianists and their students were in the audience – no pressure then; 3) we were playing a load of untested new repertoire; 4) I was using the iPad and AirTurn pedals for the first time; and 5) a really crucial string on the virginals broke with a couple of hours to go. With the help of Allan Wright on the phone and this really helpful webpage I eventually managed to get the string to grip its historically-correct holeless pin, and the pin to grip its hole in the wrestplank. Whew. As for the professional pianists, one of them asked me for lessons afterwards, so that must have gone OK, and I only made one page-turning error.  Perhaps the thing about not playing lots of gigs any more is that I just cram more and more potential stress into the few that I do. It certainly keeps it interesting.

But having a gloriously stress-free venue makes all of the above possible: this was the view from my balcony at Ardkinglas when I got up in the morning.

looking out over the Caspian

Tuesday 11 March 2014

OK, I’m finally going to join the 21st century, and at this Saturday afternoon’s gig at Ardkinglas I’m going to go paperless, and just have an iPad mini on the music desk. As most of my music library is on PDFs already, it seems like a lot of pointless work to print it out and stick it in a folder, so I’ve ordered some pageturning footpedals and installed ForScore instead. If you come along you can have a laugh at me pressing the wrong buttons and getting lost (or not) in some early 19th-century Scottish piano music on an early 19th-century Scottish piano. It’s advance bookings only via the Estate Office at or 01499 600261.

Aaron and I are heading up the A83 (landslip permitting) to rehearse tomorrow, and our repertoire includes such Nathaniel Gow delights as the original version of Largo’s Fairy Dance (which starts with a march as the fairies advance), and a delightful piece of Haydnesque piano writing called Hot Pyes. We should have real hot pies on hand really … and if you’re wondering, the following piece is called Kail and Leeks rather than Polystyrene Cup of Bovril.

Sunday 23 February 2014

A very strange thing happened last night: I went to an orchestral gig and really enjoyed it. Admittedly the presence of Fred Frith on the bill meant that my enjoying it was pretty much a foregone conclusion, but having him, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell on the same bill in front of a nearly full and noisily appreciative City Hall was great. Lewis’s piece of ‘post-genre cheerfulness’ was 25 minutes of rivetingly precise orchestration devices played with great panache by the SSO folks; the trio improvisation was as witty and serious as you could wish for; and Fred managed to drop one of his chopsticks off the stage in his piece, a gesture I’d assumed was a piece of Jimmy Page-like ‘tossing the violin bow away’ showmanship. But when he started looking for it and a helpful member of the front row retrieved it and passed it back up to him, I realised it had of course been an ingenious ploy to break down the fourth wall and engage the audience in the performance. Mibbe. Anyway, you can hear the whole thing on Radio 3’s Hear and Now on 19 April.

There was a cheerfully post-genre bunch of musical folks in the audience to bump into, including improvisers, folkies, rock critics, students and academics. I had the chance to tell Catriona McKay how much I love her Harponium album, and a colleague from another academic institution asked me ‘Are you still at the university?’ ‘Just about.’ (pause) ‘Well, I’m pleased and astonished.’ ‘Yeah … I think I am too actually.’

Simon Frith also alerted me to this event (PDF) coming up soon, where the Frith brothers will discuss what listening is: I’ll definitely be there listening to that. And Kate Molleson returned my precious Tracy Thomson hat which I’d left behind at another concert earlier in the week, after being in quite a hurry to leave within 10 minutes of it starting.

On Thursday afternoon I was very proud indeed of my Performance students who were presenting their Group Exercise, where nine brand-new groups performed for 10 minutes each. It was definitely post-genre, and often extremely cheerful: evidence too that musicians can learn much more from each other than they can from their ‘teachers’.