I’ve had a fabulous weekend. It got off to a great start with the arrival of some advance copies of The Seven Trials of Cameron-Strange. I love the cover, in lurid blue, of the Auckland cityscape from the Waitemata Harbour as it might be perceived by somebody who is stoned or psychotic. And I’m proud of chapter one. Can I sustain it as the book progresses? Well, that is why we writers keep writing.
To the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday night to meet up with a coterie of musicians and to hear the opening concert of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s 2016-17 season. Nicola Benedetti played the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. Consequently the hall was full, including the choir stalls (where I was) and with standing room only (also full) in the upper gallery. I like sitting in the choir stalls. You may have a restricted view, in my case, of the percussion section, and it may not be the ideal location in the hall for balance of sound. But on the other hand you are facing a packed auditorium and there is an extraordinary sense of occasion. It’s an ideal location for witnessing the communication between conductor and orchestra; you get something of the perspective of a performer.
Nicola Benedetti is held in great affection and esteem in Scotland. If she performs at a Scottish venue, a full house is guaranteed. In the course of her career she has had to put up with a certain amount of criticism by people who imagine her success is attributable to her appearance. The virtuoso trumpeter Alison Balsom has had to endure similar criticism. But as Ms Benedetti has rightly said, “I’m not going to apologise for the way I look.”
It’s all beside the point. The point is that Nicola Benedetti is a phenomenal musician. She is able to strip away all the barnacles and other Crustacea that Old Masters accrue, and get to the heart of the musical matter. There is an honesty and a directness, and an intimacy, to her playing that I am convinced is, at the profoundest level, the reason why she has established this deep bond of communication with her audience. The audience also know that she is profoundly committed to the cause of introducing “serious” music, or “classical” music (whether any of it may be composed in the future is matter for another blog) to young people, listeners and performers alike.
The concert opened with Khachaturian’s Waltz from Masquerade, and concluded with Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Following the Tchaikovsky, Ms Benedetti, rather than playing an encore, chose to say a few words and to wish the RSNO a very happy 125th birthday. It was clear that she has a very close tie with members of the orchestra both professionally and personally. She said she had listened to the Rachmaninov the previous evening (in Edinburgh) and she told us that we in the audience were in for a treat. It crossed my mind that she was aware that she herself had been the big draw for the crowd, and she was exhorting all her supporters to stay the course. If so, it worked. For the second half of the concert the audience remained undiminished.
And she was right. It was a treat. I thought it was a clever piece of programme planning. Ms Benedetti is a draw for a younger set (“set”? – I can’t believe I just said that) and surely the deeply romantic Rachmaninov 2 is a young person’s symphony. It was all wonderful, but I particularly remember the second subject of the 2nd movement, a luscious theme in which the violins indulged in a sliding glissando that might have been cheesy, but wasn’t; then there was the clarinet solo in the 3rd movement, exquisitely played by Jernej Albreht. The perfectly paced tempo of the last movement allowed the music to speak for itself. It brought the house down.
Sunday… To Aberdeen to lunch. Perfect autumn weather for the drive up. Party of six. We ate a fabulous curry, and there was much talk and laughter. My late mother was very fond of a quotation, that went something like:
So let us feast, and to the feast be added
Discourse, the sweeter banquet of the mind.
Who said that?
On one of the last occasions I can remember my mum being at a social gathering – she was well into her 90s, she said to me, “People – that’s what it’s all about.”
She might have said it in Gaelic, her native tongue. Alastair Cameron-Strange said it in Maori:
He aha te mea.
Nui o te ao?