I arrive at the foyer of the Rathborne auditorium, where the annual Youth Music Festival and Competition is held, and find myself surrounded by anxious parents and children, some waiting to register their names at the desk outside the hall and some tuning their instruments and trying to warm up quietly in the hallway. All I can hear is a cacophony of noises.
I am greeted by staff from the organisation, and then led into the hall so that I can settle down into my seat before everyone rushes in. I walk past a mother, who was the same lady who rushed past me to get into the lift of the building and closed the lift doors before I could get in, but who is currently beaming at me and clearly trying to make amends.
Competitors and parents scurry into the hall, and all try to catch my eye and nod at me, as if I am some caged animal.
A small boy who cannot be more than 10 years old comes onto the stage, dressed in a tuxedo, and begins his rendition of Beethoven Romance in G. The opening double-stops are somewhat shaky, but then the music begins to flow. Not bad, but nothing special…
I am now listening to the 7th performance of the same bloody piece. There has been one exceptional competitor so far. As for the others… well, they were pretty mediocre. Uh oh, this one just missed one of his entries…
DOUBLE-STOPS, please stop torturing me. I am not sure what bothers me more – the sloppy practising, or the fact that perhaps the kids are tone-deaf.
I have finally been released from duty, but not before having to endure the ordeal of giving comments to the competitors and parents. I sounded like a true hypocrite when I congratulated everyone on their achievements and was a complete liar when I said that it was hard to choose the prize-winners because of the high standards. Though I did explicitly explain why that little girl, with perfect intonation and musical shaping and phrasing, deserved to win with such flying colours. I truly hope that the other competitors learnt from her, although I suspect that they are all busy reassuring themselves that the only reason they did not get a prize is because the adjudicator was too old / deaf / young / inexperienced / tired / incompetent…
I check my emails whilst on the bus back to my studio. I find an email from a friend of a friend, who I met briefly at a birthday party a few years ago. I particularly remember her from that party as our conversation went like this:
Her: Oh my gosh, I’m exhaaaaaaausted. I’ve been flying everywhere for work this week… But now I have Diamond status on my Skytraveller membership! Clients took me out to this amaaaaaazing restaurant in New York – you know, like you have to know someone to be able to book – and then the next day I had to present at a conference in front of all these CEOs who travelled there especially… Oh sorry, nice to meet you, my name is X.
Me: Hi, I’m Sasha.
Her: Sorry I was going on about my week – all this travelling for conferences, client meetings… it’s just so tiring you know? So what do you do?
Me: I’m a musician.
Her: Oh. [Awkward silence whilst she tries to think of something to say.] So, what do you actually do?
Me: I teach and play as a freelance pianist. I also adjudicate for competitions every now and then.
Her: Oh that’s it? You don’t belong to an orchestra?
Me: No, piano isn’t really an orchestral instrument…
Her: So how many concerts do you give a year? You must have an agent?
Me: No I don’t have an agent…
By the time I got to the end of that sentence, she had already fled to greet a handsome young man dressed impeccably in an Armani suit. Enough said! That’s why I remember her. Anyway in this email, she wanted to know if I was free to play for her wedding, and that because they blew the budget on everything, she wondered if I would do this as a favour for her, but of course I would be invited to the wedding banquet…
To find out what happens to Sasha in the afternoon, watch this space for the second part of this story!
Beethoven Violin Romance, Op. 40
Itzhak Perlman, Barenboim, Berliner Philharmoniker