2018 / 2019

Three cheers this year. Brace for the year to come.


As 2018 comes to a close its time to do the thing that seemingly everyone does now, and reflect on the year. Or at least my year.

It’s a tradition. Convention. A habit. Something I’ve been doing for a few years now. It’s usually interesting (for me), though as in previous years I can’t guarantee that’s necessarily the case for readers.

This year I’ve separated things out into events, artists, and discoveries.

At the end there’s the customary checking this year’s objectives against achievements, and documenting some plans for 2019.

Events

There’s a strange contradiction for arts bloggers, I’d suggest. If you’re a punter then attending events is central to your core offer. That means being in attendance at an event more than being present at home.

That hasn’t been the case for me this year. In some senses I feel a little guilty about that. At the same time it prompts me to reflect on the reasons why. They’re largely financial. I don’t want to plead poverty here, arts events cost money to attend – even in terms of travel. Even if you benefit from ‘invites’, the outlay on getting to events makes a dent, especially if you’re on a reduced income. That outlay is only going to be more for those who live further from cultural hubs. Next year, I’d like to be a little more strategic about events, maximising travel. At the very least, I’d like to see whether it’s possible and to see how that develops my appreciation for the artform.

This aside, a list of memorable performance-related moments from 2018:

Travels

Monte Carlo

The Monte Carlo International Festival was the first of many surprise trips in 2018. The experimental approach to programming (in one case bringing multiple instrumentalists to a recital to provide contributions to a running order) was interesting but perhaps not as successful as it could have been. Monaco is a strange place. Discovered the music of Charles Ives here.

Armenia

The highlight of the year – attending the Aram Kchataturian Music Competition. A trip that challenged many of my assumptions, exposed me to a good deal more cello music than I’ve ever heard before. This is probably where I felt most alive.

It also reminded me that there is a natural disconnection between practitioner and audience which marketing people seek to bridge. Musicians bond over repertoire and technique; audience members seek to fill the gaps in their music-making knowledge and experience. That’s a bittersweet thing: it draws both audience and musician together and maintains a distance between them.

Armenia will always be remembered for the difficulty I experienced leaving the country. “You are fatter in real life than in your passport picture,” said the security guard at the airport. “That picture was taken nearly ten years ago,” I replied. “Yes, but you are still fatter now.”

Karlsruhe

A fascinating trip to an area of Germany I’d never heard of before, to learn about the work of the now defunct Experimental Studio at Polish National Radio.

A trip tinged with a little sadness: I lost my lucky travelling companion of old – Travel Cat.

Katowice

The trip to Armenia was a highpoint because it felt like venturing to a far-away land to make new discoveries. My three days in Katowice, Poland was invigorating: NOSPR concert hall is a joy to behold both aurally and visually. It was a great opportunity to move swiftly into content production mode. The video montage (below) was something I was particularly pleased with.

Trondheim

This really was a last minute trip to Norway. Unexpected. Very interesting. It introduced me to a composer I’d never heard of before – Andre Gretry. I bought my most expensive glass of wine here – £13 – and discovered first hand what it’s like to be somewhere in the world where the light is subdued most of the day. I returned from Trondheim with flu.

Leeds Piano Competition

A magical magical experience.

A week attending the Leeds Piano Competition seeing remarkable musicians, being introduced to unfamiliar repertoire, and revelling in the joyous atmosphere the Leeds audience brings to proceedings. I adore this trip, not least because for a few days I lived like a student again.

Also, winner Eric Lu is a remarkable pianist whose Chopin Ballade was the most amazing live performance I’ve ever heard.

Artists

During a recent conversation with a colleague at the BASCA Composer Awards during which I discussed podcasting rates and the best way to minimise production costs, and so maximise ‘profits’, I was reminded about how recording a podcast this year has brought me into contact with all manner of artists.

During our conversations, they’ve shared their experiences of doing the thing they love and how they’ve maintained that over time. I’ve found these insights invaluable.

Below is a list of artists who have had an impact on me throughout the year; the things they’ve brought to my listening experience and my understanding.

Jonathan Swensen (Cello)

A remarkable musician with incredible focus and energy. His second round performances at the Aram Khachaturian Music Competition were electrifying. I was fascinated by how he managed to maintain such a compelling spirit on stage, and discovered during interview that what we saw in performance was pretty much him in real life.

Eric Lu (Piano)

See above. Lu is an amazing performer. From another world.

Calidore String Quartet

The podcast I recorded with the Calidore Quartet before I headed out to Karlsruhe was enlightening. I had no idea that being a member of a quartet brought with it so much commitment, nor that it was such a fragile experience. The lasting memory from the podcast: “Play every concert as though its going to be your last.”

Lewis Wright (Percussion)

Fascinating man who grew up just a few miles from where I did in West Norfolk. The first of many insights this year about how creating stuff takes time. Sati from his release of duets with Kit Downes is something I’m still playing a lot.

Australian Chamber Orchestra

The podacst with Richard Tognetti from the Australian Chamber Orchestra was a bit of a shot in the arm. Feisty. Spirited. Opinionated. Massively refreshing compared to the often hand-wringing air the classical music world falls back on. It prompted a musical discovery too – the ACO’s recording of Mozart’s last symphonies. Jaw-dropping.

Sophie Webber (cello)

Sophie features in a podcast to be released early in the new year. We met following her contacting me about her recording of Bach cello suites earlier in the year. What I really admired about Sophie (in addition to her playing) is her awareness, ability and track record in managing her own career, generating interest in her work. No easy feat. A demonstration of what musicians have to do to generate income from their talent.

Discoveries

It’s been a pleasure to revisit some of these discoveries for this post. If I had to pick one in particular, it would be Philip Sheppard’s Fall from Earth, very closely followed by Vaughan Williams’s London Symphony.

Worth mentioning Ethel Smyth and Elizabeth Maconchy. I can’t pick out single works that I’ve really connected with necessarily. Rather, that one conversation with a podcast contributor – Dr Sophie Fuller at Trinity Laban – opened the door on a whole collection of women composers who I’ve yet to listen to in-depth. What I’ve heard so far excites me. And that’s all down to Dr Fuller.

2018 Objectives

What was on the list for 2018? Here’s a reminder.

  1. Be bold; be distinctive; be focused; don’t compare
  2. Think of digital content as strands as opposed to standalone posts
  3. Get to Aldeburgh Festival, Dartington, and the Edinburgh International Festival this year.
  4. Get more video commission and motion-graphic work
  5. Drive the funding strategy so it at least covers the annual costs of running the blog
  6. Build your immunity
  7. Don’t panic – opportunities come from all sorts of places
  8. Launch the podcast
  9. Crack the fear of money
  10. Acknowledge the terror and pitch some book ideas

Pretty much succeeded on nearly all of these objectives including the launch of the podcast, cracking the fear of money and not panicking about work. There have been one or two video commissions too, and the blog has secured some funding for its ongoing development (many thanks to supporters, especially the ‘in-kind’ ones) and, I now realise, its been legitimised in my mind.

My relationship with the blog and the content on it and my Twitter account has changed quite a lot over the past year. It’s easy to look at other writers on the subject and worry about the differences between this blog and theirs. Yet, there’s something to celebrate there I think. Maintaining a distinctive voice and style is vital. I’ve become more settled in my preference for journalling, reflection, and reasonably strong(ish) views. It’s been fulfilling to focus on listening discoveries. The travelling has fuelled my writing and I hope that’s something I’ll expand on in the new year.

2019 Objectives

Here are some of the things I’ve planned out for 2019.

  1. Be more strategic on selecting arts events to reflect on; outline what links content discoveries; resist getting irritated by the wheat and the chaff.
  2. Focus more on building content around coaching on the Thoroughly Good Coaching website; ring-fence time spent on Thoroughly Good (Classical Music) content and maximise that time.
  3. Tackle the garden; grow plants from seed; build replacement decking (this is a massive undertaking – so let’s not hold our breath here).
  4. Increase revenue by 35%.
  5. Use buses whenever is possible; reduce London travel costs by 25%.
  6. Keep the impact of Richard Wilson’s 20:50 at the Hayward Gallery’s Shape Shifters exhibition in mind with everything you say and do in 2019.
  7. Continue producing the Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast, but experiment with different hosts: truly ‘produce’.
  8. Meet more people. Visit new places; travelling is where I discover the most.
  9. Write more articles; you’re as good as anyone else who does so.
  10. Drink less wine.

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