We are fortunate that our school is graced with an excellent theatre in which concerts take place. A plethora of international musicians has tripped through the school giving masterclasses during the day and a concert to the wider community in the evening. My offspring have attended masterclasses given by the Endymion Ensemble; Jacqui Dankworth and soloists from top London orchestras.
Tonight’s soloist was the clarinettist, Emma Johnson who, deep in the recesses of time, played briefly with the OH in the Bromley Youth Concert Band before she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1984. When I contacted her on Twitter recently she was happy to spend the word far and wide about the threat to funding for the Bromley Youth Music Trust.
Tonight’s concert programme included pieces in MsDD’s repertoire: the Brahms Clarinet and Piano Sonata; the Weber Grand Duo Concertante, which she is currently preparing as an audition piece; the Poulenc Sonata that she played for her Grade 7 exam a few years ago. My familiarity with these pieces made them all the more enjoyable, especially as the bleak, share second movement of the Poulenc, written in 1962, is probably my favourite of MsDD’s exam pieces.
MsDD sat there, taking mental notes, lips pursed in disapproval as only 15 year old can. Ms Johnson’s interpretation of the pieces was looser, shall we say, than MsDD had hoped. We debated this during the interval: at what point does a musician become sufficiently accomplished to be allowed to disregard the composers’s own marks of speed and dynamic and either take liberties or put one’s own stamp on a piece (depending on your point of view?)
The offspring and I agreed that if we were as free in our interpretations of pieces as these soloists, we’re be rapped across the knuckles by our respective teachers. I am reminded particularly of when the Boywonder was preparing a Scarlatti sonata for his Grade 6 (I think) piano exam. He prepared the Baroque piece in a Romantic style. His teacher remonstrated regularly with him to no avail. The Boywonder played Scarlatti in the style of Grieg and had lots of marks docked for it in his exam. Clearly he was not yet regarded as a sufficiently accomplished musician to get away with this.
This comes up all too often when I am learning a new piece to sing. I have the music in front of me and listen to different people singing the same aria. All the interpretations are different and sometimes they are nowhere near what’s written in the score. I was hugely caught out by Cecilia Bartoli’s rendition of the initial recitative E Susanna non vien, the prologue to Dove sono i bei momenti from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Bartoli has a gorgeous voice but she doesn’t half take some liberties with the Mozart.
Later pieces in tonight’s programme were a sublime Vocalise by Rachmaninov, a lively piece by Bernstein and a tribute to Benny Goodman of songs by Gershwin. Despite my daughter’s disapproval, I really enjoyed the concert. How lucky we are!