W.My book chicken Rough ideas Posted last year, I, like everyone else on the planet, had no idea how much and how quickly life would change in 2020 with Covid-19. His chapters on music, composers, and practice (and even recording) remain closely related, but the section entitled “The Stage,” about life on the road, behind the scenes, at airports, in hotels – in short, life as a pianist – looks like scenes from someone else’s world.
There would be additional chapters if they were to be written today: to play for a dispersed and divergent audience whose response to music is hidden behind masks; Regulations for conduct on and off stage (“Do not touch the piano except for the keys”; “Do not meet with members of the orchestra”). I am convinced that in time we will return to the full concert and stage schedule, but for the time being there are adjustments to be made. Some of these changes may end up as permanent.
One of the issues I wrote about it that seems to have struck a chord with readers was the idea of removing the interval and holding shorter concerts, lasting about 60-80 minutes, and possibly at different start times, and even repeating them the same night. Since the pandemic hit, this shrinking shape has quickly become the norm, a neat solution to compliance with new health and safety requirements … and I loved it.
Since August, it has played hour-long uninterrupted concerts with the Philharmonia, Liverpool Philharmonic, Bournemouth Symphony and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at Graduation Concerts, and the Birmingham Symphony Hall, not to mention the often-recurring parties to enable more socially distant audiences of Attendees. I felt serious, focused and intense, with plenty of time for a variety of references.
The repetition of concerts, as we did in Liverpool, is not just an opportunity for the public to choose when to attend, it is an opportunity for the performers to explore the works in greater depth. Often times, relieved after a performance in the past, I wish I could turn it on again – either because it just didn’t go well and I wanted to fix things, or because it went well and wanted to get things back. In Liverpool, the Beethoven concerto at “The Emperor” at 4 pm felt differently from the 7.30 pm show; The latest developments in the afternoon seem to have expanded to greater perception by evening. The emperor was wearing new clothes.
At some point in the early twentieth century, we settled into a pattern: the concerts should start early in the evening and last for about two hours including a period of 15-20 minutes during which they either drink a glass of wine or visit the bathroom. (The zigzag outside the ladies’ area is a victim of all the theaters I have attended.) Anything shorter than that and we are calling for complaints from the public; Anything longer and we risk complaints, as well as overtime costs, from the staff behind the scenes.
This tradition has served us well in many ways, especially when most people’s work hours were the same and music was less accessible in recorded formats. At a live orchestral concert, we could hear a great symphony, concerto (and visiting soloist) and appetizers, often freshly written by a live composer who was short enough not to scare people away, but long enough to let the latecomers. But that can’t be the only way to hear live music. And now it is not.
There has always been a huge variety in terms of start times for concerts, from the 6pm rush hour to 10:30 pm after a meal, but one thing in common is the interval. This is understandable in opera or ballet performances: groups must be changed, singers and dancers need rest, and actions performed are long and have written breaks in them. But who decreed that the orchestral concert should last about two hours with a gap in the middle so we feel like we’re getting our money?
He might object that the interval was a time of socializing. But is this really true? Wasn’t this the right time to sneak into the bar and at best start a conversation that needs to be cut short as you scramble back to your seat before the second half? When you play for an esteemed audience, there can be a cumulative emotional impact in the hall as you all enter the powerful realm of the composer’s mind and heart.
Descending the interval into a Chit chat can get everyone down to earth with a bump, requiring the motors to start all over again. A dressing room is a place to dress and undress, not to sit and look vacant at the mirror studded with lamps, drum fingers on the table, try to stay warm and in the mood, waiting for the audience to find their way to their seats, and to settle down again.
There will always be a venue for the traditional concert, but it is time to embrace different options as well, especially when the only options we currently have, and when we cannot cuddle each other. Although the reasons for the epidemiological era to avoid line up for drinks or to walk out of the hall after just one hour of music are new reasons, the principle behind the idea remains the same. We can leave behind the Victorian design for concerts where we can leave behind horse-drawn carriages of the same era.
• Stephen HoggRaw thoughts (Faber) has won Royal Philharmonic Society Award For storytelling. His performance Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto with CBSO is available upon request From December 10th.