Looking back on a highly productive 2019, what were the highlights?
What comes to my mind first of all is the tremendous variety of spaces in which we make music, and the effect that has on the way performers handle the quality of sound. In 2019 I have been especially fortunate to play in some varied spaces, among the most memorable being a concert (with my wife, Jane on basset clarinet) in a packed nave at Chichester Cathedral in March, and the historic Manoel Theatre in Malta’s capital, Valletta in November – on a lovely restored 19th-century Broadwood grand, preceded the day before by an education event in which over 300 schoolchildren were packed into the Manoel and introduced to Mozart’s music. From the grand to the intimate: two Haydn recitals in the Hertfordshire Festival of Music, the first in the unique surroundings of Hertford Quaker Meeting House (recently given Grade 1 listed status – it is the oldest Quaker Meeting House still used for that purpose today), and at nearby Roxford House, where Haydn stayed on one of his visits.
Another sense in which ‘space’ is important for performers is the space to think – that inner world of ‘head space’. After 35 years in Higher Education – taking in the RNCM, Birmingham University, New College Oxford, Bristol University, London and the GSMD en route – I ‘retired’ from academic life in the summer, leaving me free for much more playing, and also for some more freelance writing and other projects inside and outside of music. The head space that has brought in its train is beyond price, whether that’s for developing new repertoire (lots of Beethoven to come in 2020!), or revisiting interpretations of familiar pieces. Discovering new territory often opens up creative paths of thought that prompt unexpected (re)discoveries in the old. This, in turn, requires the ability (and confidence) to ‘let go’ of pictures you had formed of a work (especially on record), and enjoy the potential for an interpretation to change direction – sometimes quite radically. And that’s perhaps the most enduring highlight: realising the inexhaustible capacity of music to offer performers new challenges to explore that altogether bigger space of the Future.