It is such a cliché for touring musicians to complain about being too busy. We accept far too many engagements and then blame the rest of the world for forcing us to live stressful lives.
It is really pathetic to go around the whole time moaning about being tired – so naturally I do it all the time. It is true that I have been ridiculously busy for the past few months – entirely my fault; but the month of December looks comparatively open, and I shall have time to sit and contemplate my lack of future before my 50th birthday falls (hard) on the 19th.
Well, the month doesn’t exactly start in a relaxed fashion: I have a recital at the Wigmore Hall on the 4th, with Thomas Ades. I am excited about it, of course; it’s always great to play and spend time with Tom, who has enough brain-cells to fill a Mensa Christmas party. Also, I love the Wigmore Hall unreservedly, considering it to be my musical home; but just for that reason, it is terrifying to play there – I don’t want to let anyone down! Actually, I am feeling particularly neurotic about the hall at the moment: last time I rehearsed there, I spilt a cup of cappuccino onto the beautiful couch backstage in the Gerald Moore Room. I haven’t seen the director John Gilhooly since, and I’m worried that he’s going to withhold my fee for this recital.
But then, after a couple of concerts in wonderful Spain, I am free until the end of December. Holiday, of course, means practising repertoire for the next few months – but still, it’s different from rushing around doing concerts. I’ll be writing a bit too, and meeting with the composer Anne Dudley (with whose music to the Stephen Fry/Hugh Laurie Jeeves and Wooster series I fell in love ages ago). She and I have a fun new project together: I write musical stories for children (invariably co-starring a cello, needless to say) and she sets them to music, eventually to be published by Universal Edition in Vienna (Schoenberg’s publisher!). I’ve already performed the first tale, Little Red Violin, a couple of times, and at the beginning of the year, we’re supposed to premiere the second one, ‘Goldiepegs and the Three Cellos’ at my children’s series in New York. Waiting to be composed is a third story, ‘Cindercella’. Groan – well, I like bad jokes.
Since my afore-mentioned semi-centenary is looming, I need leisure to decide whether to be deeply depressed about it, or pleased that I’ve made it thus far. One aspect that is tipping the balance in the latter direction is the birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall (of course) a few days early, on the 16th. This came about after John Gilhooly wrote to me asking whether I’d like to have a concert there for this milestone (and mill-stone). I replied charmingly that I’d rather die than ruin my birthday by feeling nervous all day and having to play in the evening; but I did admit that if I could persuade my friends Andras Schiff and Radu Lupu to play the Schubert Fantasia in F minor – a piece to which I am addicted – I’d love to make it happen. John was keen on the idea, and challenged me to arrange it. It so happened that I was having lunch with Andras a few days later, so I asked hesitantly where he was going to be on December 19th 2008. He saw through me immediately: ‘You want a concert for your 50th birthday?’ I allowed that that was my cunning plan. ‘Let’s do it!’ he said generously. I filled him in on the one detail I had in mind, and he agreed enthusiastically. Next task was to approach Radu. I don’t see him as often as I see Andras, and I was a little more nervous about this conversation. On the other hand, I know how fond they are of each other; in fact, every time I see Radu, he insists that I do my imitation of Andras (which I have to admit, without false modesty, is quite good – even Andras agrees). So I called Radu, and put it to him, fully expecting him to tell me to go away and stop bothering him. But to my surprise and delight, he agreed readily. I felt quite the Jewish matchmaker, since the two of them have never played together before. From there, the programme started to take shape: I raked in the two singers with whom I’ve worked most closely, Felicity Lott and Mark Padmore, and my partner in musical crime for over 20 years, Joshua Bell, together with my new(er) friend Jeremy Denk.. It all involved a fair amount of work; but after some diplomatic shuttling that would have impressed a Middle East peace broker, all was arranged. So I’m looking forward to that event hugely; it’ll take my mind off the grim fact that I entering my sixth decade. Yuk – how did this happen??