wee dug by Joe Davie

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Sunday 29 October 2017

I’m just back from a hugely enjoyable visit to Ardkinglas with Mhairi Lawson, where we had the great pleasure of staying in the house as guests, besides giving a concert in the music room.

I had a choice of three pianos, all of which are very inviting, and settled on the Muir Wood square and the wee Steinway A, which had been chosen by one of Clara Schumann’s pupils. The early 20th-century (I think) Broadwood was sounding rather good too, but the Clementi square is being restored so that’s not available quite yet. One reason I enjoyed playing them all is that they’ve been voiced for the room, which seats about 30 people (it’s in the central picture here) and works perfectly for lots of chamber repertoire. One of the challenges of playing historical music is that a great deal of it was composed to be performed to small audiences, often in a domestic setting, and scaling it up for bigger and more financially rewarding venues requires musical compromises of one kind or another, some of which transform the music completely. We rehearsed on Friday in a larger hall which also had a choice of pianos, but I didn’t really want to play on any of them, mostly because they were just too big for the music.

Mhairi is on terrific form as always, Haydn’s and Schumann’s piano parts are a joy, but I didn’t play as well as I would have liked. Plenty of good things happened, but I lost count of the number of places where I wasn’t really in control, and what came out wasn’t what I intended. Usually if this happens a couple of times in a gig I can let it go, but by the end my personal internal report card was reading ‘could do better’ and I was trying to figure out why I wasn’t playing as well as I wanted to.

There are plenty of possible excuses: I’ve spent far too much time recently sitting typing at a desk, I didn’t allocate enough practice time to really be prepared, both my eyes have been playing up, and on Friday I couldn’t actually see to read the scores properly, I was using my left foot for the page-turning pedals for the first time, bla bla bla. So my grateful thanks to the audience member who greeted me enthusiastically afterwards and signed off with ‘I’d come and hear you even if you were playing the spoons’. Giving the audience permission to have a brilliant time, even if our internal critic doesn’t agree with their assessment, is part of the deal. We can still choose to act on the suggestions of the internal critic.

Anyway, I got to see a red squirrel out of my bedroom window, and after our hearty and sociable breakfast, the sunny morning drive back to Glasgow over the Rest and Be Thankful and down Loch Lomond in the autumn colours was really spectacular.