Musically, a punishing schedule last week, with rehearsals of the Dunblane Chamber Orchestra on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for a concert on Remembrance Sunday. We played Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, Mozart’s Haffner Symphony, and, a first for me, a concerto for accordion and orchestra, “In Liquid”, by the contemporary Danish composer Martin Lohse. It became apparent on Wednesday evening that the soloist, BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist Ryan Corbett, is an extraordinary talent. In the atmospheric last movement of the Lohse, music perhaps reminiscent of Arvo Pärt, the soloist appeared to enter a kind of trance. You could have heard a pin drop.
Then on Thursday after my German conversation class in the Goethe Institut in Glasgow I popped into the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in time for the organ recital. Lots of lollipops – the adagio from Bruch’s G minor violin concerto, Dvořák’s Humoresque, the Grand March from Verdi’s Aida, and the Toccata from Leon Boëllmann’s Gothic Suite. You can play anything on the organ and, in the right hands, it will sound great. It occurred to me that the same could be said of the accordion, a kind of portable organ.
At some stage on Thursday, I think I must have eaten a piece of dodgy crumpet.
To the baths in Stirling for a sauna and a swim. I glanced at myself in the changing room mirror. “You’re a wee bit peely-wally!” The symptoms of staphylococcal food poisoning can come on very quickly. I became unwell on the drive home. I focussed on the job in hand and got to within three miles of my destination.
Road closed. Sod’s Law. I pulled over. Now what? I had no alternative but to take the long route home. I took a deep breath and got going. Concentrate! In the commercial aviation world, there is a rule that pilot and co-pilot must never eat the same item on the lunch menu. Nausea is debilitating for a whole variety of reasons, not least that it interferes with perception. I had the odd feeling that in the gathering darkness the milestones of my alternative route came around much quicker than usual; even so I didn’t make it. A further stop was required. Eventually I limped home, went to bed, and slept for twelve hours.
On Friday I was washed out, but I really wanted to hear the accordion again. I struggled along to rehearsal. “Wie geht’s?” asked a viola colleague. “Nicht gut.” I explained the situation. “Schwach, wie ein Kätzchen.” Weak as a kitten. She said, “Always avoid dodgy crumpet!” Incidentally, I’ve just finished reading Ian McEwan’s latest, Lessons, a biography of someone who happens to be contemporary with McEwan, and who leads a rather chaotic and perhaps even aimless life against the backdrop of cataclysmal world events – the Cuban missile crisis, Chernobyl, the fall of the Berlin wall, Covid, climate change… The protagonist’s first wife is German, a writer, so there is a smattering of German throughout the book. Each utterance is followed by an English translation. I would hazard a guess that that was an editorial decision. We whose mother tongue happens to be English are not encouraged to gain fluency in foreign languages. At school, we were taught foreign grammar fastidiously, but never learned how to order a cup of coffee in Paris or Berlin. At the Institut, nobody seems to mind that my genders and cases are all wrong, so long as I get the meaning across, and get the gist of what is coming back, by recognising a few phrases and filling in the gaps in my imagination.
In my spaced-out, convalescent world, I decided it was better to keep going than to sit and moulder at home. On Saturday, to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, and the Sir Alexander and Lady Gibson Memorial Concert, a performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. I’ve known the War Requiem for a long time, because at school I wrote my Sixth Year Studies English dissertation on it. The connection with Eng Lit was of course the settings of Wilfred Owen poetry. The culmination of the War Requiem is the setting of Strange Meeting. Owen’s poem has a couplet:
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
For reasons best known to the composer, he changed this latter line to:
Even the sweetest wells that ever were.
I remember pointing this discrepancy out to my English teacher, who read the line aloud and said, “Yuck.”
I was always a bit ambivalent about the music, like the curate’s egg, I thought, good in parts. I’m more inclined now to admire it as it is. And conductor Thomas Søndergȧrd was ever musical. His interpretation had a chamber music feel throughout. And the RSNO Youth Choruses were magnificent.
Remembrance Sunday. To Dunblane Cathedral. I managed the two minute silence without keeling over. On to the concert. I shared a desk with a professional violist. It doesn’t half lift your game. She used to play violin but at some stage crossed the floor. As she put it, “A mid-clef crisis.” The concert went well. The soloist played two encores – Mendelssohn and Bach. Quite magnificent. I have a bad habit of saying after each DCO concert, “I really must keep practising!” Then the viola, well, she lies dormant in her case (nota bene she – die Bratsche – feminine) until the next time. But this time I’m inspired by an accordionist who makes his own arrangements of great classical music. Time to get out the Bach cello suites and fiddle partitas, transposed to the alto clef.