Advice from a grey-haired cellist…

A couple of days ago in Tokyo, I played in my last concert with the Asian Youth Orchestra, after a long tour. I played Haydn’s D major concerto in the first half, and the programme ended with a performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony (for which my son Gabriel and I rather cheekily snuck into the back of the cello section – a bit nerve-wracking, but very enjoyable!) Just before the concert I did two short interviews, both of which ended with the question: ‘What advice would you give these young musicians if they want to follow a career in music?’ I gave pretty much the same answer to both interviewers; but thought that I might elaborate on it a bit now. What I said, in essence, was that what I found most wonderful and touching about these young people was their shining love of music. Idealism, enthusiasm, and an eagerness to learn radiates through the whole orchestra. That makes it, as I said in an earlier post, a huge pleasure to play with them. And my principal advice to the young musicians – and I HOPE that this, and the following paragraphs, don’t sound too pretentious – would be to hold on to that love of music through everything that may happen to them in life.

If I am realistic, I have to admit that for those of the young players who choose to go into the musical profession, there WILL be frustrations. It goes with the territory. It is partly because when one cares so deeply about something, everything to do with it matters so much; music is like a religion to those who truly love it. But it is not just that: alas, the ‘musical profession’ can be very different from ‘music’. Of course, there are countless wonderful people, both musicians and people involved in the promotion of music, within our world; but one must also acknowledge that many people who pronounce on music with the most confidence (outwardly, at least) don’t understand anything about it – they just don’t speak the language. And unfortunately they influence others, who also don’t speak the language, but are eager to have opinions. Realising this, and dealing with it in one’s everyday life as a musician, can be a trial – and can possibly affect one’s relationship with music itself. For a musician to lose the love of music is like a priest losing his belief in God – a genuine trauma. That is why it is so vitally important constantly to nurture our connection with music in a sincere way; one can feel let down by many aspects of life – but Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven et all will NEVER let us down. If a player’s music-making comes from deep within – and that involves persistently searching for the messages from the composer contained in the score – his or her inner life will be constantly replenished.

There will also be players from the Asian Youth Orchestra, as from every youth orchestra, who will choose to go into other professions; but for them too, my advice is the same. Continue to listen to music on a regular basis (and perhaps to play or sing it for pleasure), and it will provide joy, solace and nourishment for life. Don’t get so caught up with the rush of everyday life that you neglect the arts; your inner life and happiness will suffer, whether or not you realise it at the time. We need the arts! As Gabriel Faure said, his chief aim was to give his listeners through his music a glimpse of a better world than our own. We, both listeners and players, are lucky to be given such glimpses of heaven. We should make the most of them!