Since my last newsletter, ‘The Road to Romanticism’ launched IT&T’s 2017/18 Season on October 6th in the Sheldonian Theatre. As IT&T's first sortie into nineteenth century repertoire, this concert was a bit of a leap in the dark: would we be able to uphold standards with more technically demanding repertoire, given extremely limited rehearsal time? Would our audience even be interested in hearing later repertoire on period instruments and what would they make of a well-known violin concerto played on gut strings? Despite a nail-biting few weeks when it looked as if IT&T was facing financial ruin, all came good at the eleventh hour and from a personal and professional point of view, the concert was a huge success. Which means a loss of only £8,000!
On the day, Gay was elsewhere and both Aliye and I were playing, so there was more than the usual amount of extraneous pressure, including a photo shoot outside the Sheldonian and a period of about half an hour when no one knew where Bojan had got to! But during the Hebrides overture I found myself marvelling at the colours conjured by the period winds and experiencing something of the awe the nineteenth century audience must have felt towards what was new and extraordinary music of its time. I love those moments that validate what we do - Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’, or Joyce’s ‘epiphanies’- a moment of intense focus in which you simultaneously participate but also observe yourself and understand that this is what life is about.
The one aspect of that evening I was most proud of was creating the opportunity for Bojan to play the Mendelssohn. As we all know, our society is intrigued by ‘celebrity’ and orchestras rely heavily on ‘names’ to sell tickets. But what makes a name and how do you get one? The most obvious way would seem to be by exposing the most talented performers to audiences. But this is more easily said than done, as I recently had underlined in an exchange I had with an orchestral manager. Both Bojan and I play in the Academy of Ancient Music. Following ‘The Road to Romanticism’, I suggested they should programme the Mendelssohn, but the reply was that the financial loss would be too great: to get the equation of musicians’ fees and ticket sales to balance, given the overheads of an established orchestra, you need a huge hall and a ‘name’ to fill it. This is the bottom line, literally, and it governs so much of modern life.
But if established groups won’t risk inviting an emerging soloist, then how is a soloist to emerge? At IT&T, our mission is a bit different. Because we manage the group voluntarily in order to create excellent regional work and a genuine community resource, it means we can be a bit more adventurous and actually increase the profile of emerging soloists. Bojan often describes himself as ‘a musician’s musician’, by which he means he thinks his performing lacks showmanship and is esoteric. But I think Bojan underestimates himself. There is something tremendously compelling about his performing, his sense of rhythm is irrepressible and the thoroughgoing nature of his musicianship gives a sense of rightness to his every nuance of phrasing. The Mendelssohn with minimal vibrato obviously sounds very different from the flamboyance and overt passion of some modern interpretations, but reports of the first performance indicate that it was, in fact, given without vibrato. Bojan’s performing is like a Jane Austen novel: the passion is implicit and, to my mind, more intense for being so. Indeed, one member of the audience at the Sheldonian was overheard to say Bojan’s was the most beautiful rendition of the concerto she had ever experienced. So it is not only musicians who think Bojan worthy of being celebrated.
But this catch 22 situation of a soloist having to be known to an audience before he or she can become a soloist interests me, because it means you, the members of our audience, have a great deal of power and influence.
I recently attended a conference on ‘Charity Futures’ in London, at the invitation of Jonathan Smith of Woodford Investment Management, one of IT&T’s corporate sponsors. There were three compelling speakers who presented possible versions of the world in the near future. The first, Mark Stevenson, provided a mind-boggling glimpse at the current technological advances that will become familiar to us all within the next 15 years: driverless cars; 3-d printers;energy extracted from thin air. But whatever the specifics, one thing is certain: artificial intelligence will govern much of everyday life. And that will bring fundamental change, because it will no longer be Logic that is most prized (because it will be everywhere), but Creativity, or, to put it another way, that uniquely human attribute - the Imagination.
And suddenly, our work at IT&T seemed more profound - less of a personal passion and more of a legacy for the future. We have always sought to provide for the future, with our GCSE projects, free tickets for schools, side-by-sides with undergraduates and, more recently with school-aged children, but at that conference in London, the future appeared knowable and very close and I felt optimistic that we, at IT&T, are doing exactly what we should be doing as musicians and ensuring that the future world is based on the very best of human capabilities and not on the worst.
And you, members of IT&T’s audience, have the power to make this happen. As the second speaker at ‘Charity Futures’ argued, Economics is nothing more than human nature: we are social animals and when we see our neighbour buy something, our instinct is to follow. That’s how clothes become fashionable, how kitchens all start to look the same, how recycling has become accepted and how Bojan becomes a name and IT&T endures. All you have to do is be the social animals you are: come to concerts, bring your family and friends and tell your acquaintances. If you prefer the modern version of gossip, then apply that most powerful of tools: social media. Human nature will do the rest, but if you’re lucky enough to be wealthy, then a donation would be great too.
My mother complained that the last IT&T Newsletter wasn’t personal enough, so I’m just doing what I’m told. If you are similarly biddable, there are going to be a lot of exciting concerts in the future. Thank you for your support.
Judith Evans, Concerts Manager