Image: Piers Lane with Heather Betts (l) and Sibylle Jackson (r) following his concert at Wigmore Hall, London. 15 March 2020.
Greetings from sunny London on the 20th of April, where I’ve been isolating at home in Balham since my recital of Mozart, Brahms, Brett Dean and Schubert at the Wigmore Hall on 15th of March. The Hall was closed indefinitely the next afternoon, so I felt very privileged to have been able to go ahead with that concert, albeit to the smallest audience I’d ever had there. It was moving to perform searching music by my friend Brett, and to have his inspiring wife Heather at the concert, while he was struggling to overcome his coronavirus pneumonia in hospital in Adelaide. Thank goodness he’s on the mend after that gruelling ordeal!
The week after my recital, all musicians’ performances everywhere were cancelled until who knows when. I still have an August New York festival in the diary, and various scheduled and rescheduled engagements from September onwards – but it remains to be seen what actually transpires as the months pass. A week after Wigmore Hall, another shock situation: my management, the hugely respected Hazard Chase, announced it was going into liquidation. I suspect it won’t be the only agency facing a somewhat grim future in the current circumstances.
“I took the rare opportunity to have a month off from piano playing and have found it truly refreshing for my ‘inner’ ear and sense of touch.”
Meantime, unlike many performers preparing videos for the internet, sometimes with chamber music partners thousands of miles away (the wonders of technology!), I took the rare opportunity to have a month off from piano playing and have found it truly refreshing for my ‘inner’ ear and sense of touch. I have now started some occasional practice of pieces I have to learn for concerts next year – and others I just feel like playing through: Mozart’s Sonata in A minor and Chopin’s Cello Sonata, for instance.
But what I’ve especially been appreciating is time to read on my garden bench as we enter spring! I’m usually travelling right through this part of the year and find the daily burgeoning of flowers and shrubs and trees quite miraculous. I’ve been reading all sorts, but have particularly enjoyed David Malouf’s essays, A First Place (fun and thought-provoking to have his insights about our mutual home town ‘Brisvegas’). And some unexpected French novels: I’ve always adored Théophile Gautier’s poems in settings by Berlioz, Fauré, Duparc and others, but hadn’t even realised he’d written novels like Mademoiselle de Maupin, with its surprising exploration, during Chopin’s time, of gender fluidity and love. Of course, I’ve been doing Netflix proud with series like Unorthodox (how fabulous is Shira Haas? – that mind-blowing acting and singing) and am loving streamed operas and ballets from The Met, the Royal Opera, a magical Nutcracker from the Bolshoi on Good Friday, and Thursday productions from the National Theatre. Those are interrupted by the weekly 8pm clap that salutes the NHS from doorways throughout London, along with furious waves to neighbours up and down the street, a truly heart-warming and connecting experience!
“I trust that whenever we can finally hold the next competition, the vast majority of the selected competitors, jury and other performers will still be available to take part. They’re a stunning bunch who will light up our lives and make the wait so worthwhile…”
I find I’m cooking a very varied menu and discovering fab combinations like scallops with homegrown lovage. I’m loving daily walks around the local neighbourhood (checking out other people’s gardens too) and have even started jogging a little on the nearby Common, to my own amazement and disbelief! There are stacks of people still to reply to and contact, but it’s great gradually catching up with friends and family around the world through long video chats.
Tonight there’s a Zoom meeting with the board of The Sydney, when we’ll look at the options available for the rescheduled competition. Time doesn’t mean much at the moment, which may be just as well – the meeting commences at 10am Sydney time, 1am mine. I’m sure the others will forgive me if I’m the only one in the room with a glass of red to hand!
I trust that whenever we can finally hold the next competition, the vast majority of the selected competitors, jury and other performers will still be available to take part. They’re a stunning bunch who will light up our lives and make the wait so worthwhile…
Sending you warmest of wishes until then,