The People United: Countdown!

There are just a few days to go until the first of my three ‘People Uniteds’. The Chilean wine is on ice, the programme is ready and my pre-concert talk has been composed. The cadenza, by contrast, has not been composed because I am thoroughly enjoying the release of improvising it differently each time. I have a few strategies, but spontaneity is going to be the essence of my performances at this point. If you don’t believe me then check with my friend the wonderful composer Patrick Harrex who tells me that he is coming to two of the three concerts. It is sure to be different each night!

I have my colleague from Chichester University, Dr Rod Paton, to thank for opening my eyes to the world of improvisation. His ‘LifeMusic’ method is fantastic, and well worth checking out.

Glue on my fingers is the last thing I need, but I’ve been fairly covered in the stuff after the painstaking task of sticking each stave onto A3 sheets of card so that I can turn the pages myself at appropriate moments (of which there are very few). This is an unusual experience for me because I like playing from memory, even though it has its obvious risks. And, as this video that Barry Mills produced shows, I look at my hands too much when I play, which makes following the score even more tricky.

But in this piece there is just too much to remember, and I was glad to hear this from the mouth of Ursula Oppens herself when she was in the UK a few weeks ago. During my studies with her she encouraged me play the Lutoslawski Piano Concerto from memory, which I eventually managed. In my view she is the greatest die-hard risk taker of all pianists, which is probably what motivated Rzewski to write the piece for her in the first place. And she uses the music when she plays it (which she does magnificently) so I know I am on safe ground.

I’ve been immensely grateful and inspired by all the support I’ve been getting during these hot and sweaty past few months of toil. My students have been amazing, and friends and colleagues have been both patient and endlessly encouraging. Now I’m just looking forward to getting down to it and delivering something worthy of the piece’s political motivation, which is my primary reason for playing it.

It’s been something of a Rzewski saturation recently as I played the ‘North American Ballads’ at Sussex University last week, and I’ve been working with CoMA and my Chichester students on ‘Coming Together’, which is based on letters from Sam Melville, an inmate of Attica Prison. I can hardly claim to truly relate to these words, but nonetheless they’ve been keeping me going recently, so this is how I’ll sign off. I hope to see you at one of the concerts!

I think the combination of age and the greater coming together is responsible for the speed of the passing time. It’s six months now and I can tell you truthfully few periods in my life have passed so quickly. I am in excellent physical and emotional health. There are doubtless subtle surprises ahead but I feel secure and ready.

As lovers will contrast their emotions in times of crisis, so am I dealing with my environment. In the indifferent brutality, the incessant noise, the experimental chemistry of food, the ravings of lost hysterical men, I can act with clarity and meaning. I am deliberate – sometimes even calculating – seldom employing histrionics except as a test of the reactions of others. I read much, exercise, talk to guards and inmates, feeling for the inevitable direction of my life.