As happens more and more in today's fast and furious society an ever increasing number of personal deadlines gets pushed farther down the "to do" list. I'm happy if I tick off even one or two per day from my list. But that doesn't seem to make it smaller.
Excuses aside I find myself sitting at Frankfurt check-in for a flight to Japan at the start of what should be a fantastic project with MCO, Mozart, and the pianist Mitsuko Uchida. The only thing is, this tour diary should be about the MCO Malmö project that finished about one month ago.
How unprofessional of me. My deadline was ages ago and if I'm being brutally honest there has been at least a couple of occasions where I could have made a start. But, slumped in the sofa at 11 pm after a full day of studying music, dealing with the routine of raising children, running the home restaurant, clearing emails and trying to maybe fit in some much needed life extending exercise, well...my wife Anna was happy I made the occasion to prioritize her over the tour diary.
So...blame it on her.
No no not really.
Let's be honest, pushing back deadlines is just a symptom of the overcrowded, oversubscribed, over committed lives a lot of people lead today. I myself have never been a fan of multitasking.
When I was a boy I was a slow worker, late starter in life, then I played catch up. This created the need to multitask, it was painful but I adapted, even became good at it (I thought). But then came the "quality plateau" that is inevitable with splitting your focus. The plateau brings on dissatisfaction, even boredom, that can create all sorts of problems, a mid-life crisis, hobby addiction, buying the cabriolet you always thought you needed. I'm not saying I had all of these issues, but more a feeling of having reached a perceived limitation in my music making.
Next stage is soul searching, often a lot of reading, and the realization that humans can't multitask (It has actually been proven), they just change their focus continuously between jobs, like a switching machine. Old-fashioned models probably overheat and more up-to-date models have a cutout mold that leaves projects half-baked.
Some years ago I finally began to accept it's ok to be a slow worker, to be thorough with each task, to learn at the speed I had always found natural, enjoying the lifelong journey that practicing and studying music is. To work with tasks one at a time and forget what the world says.
So what’s the connection with MCOs Malmö project? Get to the point! Is there even that need when you are sitting on an airplane with 12 hours to spare, more time than I've had to write anything since... since the last time I flew to Japan!
Well, the MCO’s concert at Malmö Chamber Music was, I think, a classic exercise in multitasking, spreading yourself thin, and juggling projects.
The small chamber group of about a dozen musicians from MCO flew in to a warm sunny Malmö in the middle of September. We had about two full days to rehearse a very eclectic program of music, half of which was unconducted. The fantastic repertoire included Britten’s Sinfonietta op. 1 for a mixed ensemble of ten players. Britten was still an undergraduate student at the time I believe, but it’s already undeniably his style, punchy, spare, hauntingly thoughtful and forever searching. Musical traits that would be in his music through his entire life. Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, also unconducted in its original 13-player version as first performed by Wagner and friends for his wife at their home outside Lucerne in Switzerland.
Then came two riotous pieces by the zainy HK Gruber. He and festival director trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger shared conducting and soloist duties.
It was an intensive and very productive few days, especially as the music was mostly not in our core repertoire and we were also not familiar with both conductors/soloists. Still, it was a very enjoyable time and well-prepared by all.
But here's the thing. The trick we had to perform, the dare, the bag we would have to pull the performance out of:
On Friday everyone flew home to their respective countries and didn't come back to Malmö, Sweden till 10 days later, the day of the concert. All of us had other musical activities to perform in the meantime (remember multitasking) and we should all magically fly in to Copenhagen airport from our respective concerts the night before in Stockholm, Bonn, Paris, Cologne and I think at least one other city, on the morning of the concert, not having met for 10 days and—with a tinkling of fairy dust—perform like stars.
And you know what, we did it and it sounded good. One Swedish colleague of mine sitting in the audience said to me of the Britten and Wagner afterwards: how does the ensemble manage to interpret the different styles of music so well without conductor, to be so together, thought-out, yet so fluid and natural also?
The MCO is a fantastic ensemble, I realize that especially when we deliver great concerts under such conditions as in Malmö. But we also deliver unbelievable concerts under the right conditions, the slow thoughtful conditions, and I really hope, and actually know, that this week’s Japan tour will feel more like that.
If this picture confuses you somewhat I forgot to mention I actually live in Malmö (have done so for about 16 years) and invited the ensemble to my house one evening during the rehearsal period. Everyone had a much-needed relaxed evening with plenty of drink and traditional Swedish food all prepared by Anna. No multitasking on that occasion, just good old-fashioned sensible spousal delegating.
It's now 05:20 in the morning and we are somewhere over China, I'm done, time for the office to delegate someone else to do the Uchida in Japan tour blog.
Photos: Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Christopher Dicken/Yannick Dondelinger