Spare a thought for those musicians that hardly get a rest over the festive period as they are
playing seasonal fare to entertain all of us that have holidays. I was talking to a pianist the
other day who will be spending 25 December in St. Petersburg (where, of course, it won’t be
Christmas Day, as Russian Orthodox Christmas is not until 6 January – so, I quipped, he
could catch up with some late Christmas shopping…), and, in Amsterdam, where the Royal
Concertgebouw will play their annual Christmas matinée concert on 25 December – this year
the very appropriate Christmas Oratorio
under Jan-Willem de Vriend. Those are just two
examples that spring readily to mind.
But the life of a musician (or, indeed any performer) lies outside what most would regard as a
normal working life – the traditional ‘9 to 5.’ Musicians almost invariably perform at times
when the rest of us are at leisure, but it doesn’t negate them working (for which read
rehearsing) while we’re all at work during the day. Almost invariably concerts also happen at
the weekend as well, again when most of us regard our time as our own.
On the other hand, the general working populace doesn’t get applause for their work (until,
that is, retirement, where there’s usually a pat on the back as you leave your place of work for
the very last time), but I’m not sure that’s enough of a quid pro quo for the hard-working
musician. So it’s not just marvellous technique and secure interpretive skills you need to be a
professional musician, you also need the ability to cope with atypical working schedules and
– for a soloist and small ensemble – an itinerary of constant travelling (and the potential
nightmare of time zones and jet lag to boot). I’m not sure Conservatoires really teach that.
Hats off to you musicians for all your hard work and your ability to recharge your batteries
when you can and also learn new repertoire.
Of course, as a concertgoer, I shouldn’t really know about all the hard work. I should simply
settle down for a great performance – after all that’s the bargain I’ve made with the concert
promoter, the venue and the musicians. But once you do start thinking about it (and my
background has included artist management and touring orchestras, so I do know something
of the backstage story), it can quickly become mind-boggling even thinking about the
logistics of getting a concert on stage before the public. Each one seems to be a minor
miracle, and the audience just takes it all for granted. Perhaps applause isn’t really enough!
And behind every musician, ensemble and orchestra, there can be a legion of people – family,
friends, management, administrators, and venue staff – who are all working towards that
single goal: the live performance or the successful recording. So at any single concert it’s not
just the people on stage that are making it happen, think of the serried ranks hidden behind
the stage and in unseen offices and homes.
So ‘Happy Holidays’ to those that get them, but also my very best wishes and thanks to all
you hard working musicians out there that give me – and many others – so much pleasure,
not only over the festive season, but the whole year through.
Nick Breckenfield, 2015
Nick Breckenfield has worked in and around the classical music industry over the last 25 years - at venues, agencies and as
a programme note writer and marketeer. He was Classical Music
editor for Whatsonwhen for 13 years,
and current clients include the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.