Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A day in a music warehouse

A day in a music warehouse

You have three minutes, starting......now! The Ebonit Saxophone Quartet (counting me, now a Quintet) launches into the rich colours and sounds of Haydn’s masterpiece The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross. One of the most profound dramas of history that makes time stand still. We haven’t even reached the bottom of the first page of the Introduction, when our time is up. With a last deep breath, I blow onto the red paint on my glass plate, spreading it with our final long A, and hold the kinetic image for a moment to steal a couple of extra seconds of silence, then snap off the projector. Applause.
     Photo: Ronald Knapp

What is wrong with this picture? We have just made an absurdly brief pitch – one of many during the two days of the Buma Classical Music Convention, in Utrecht’s shiny new Tivoli-Vredenburg: a stack of five multi-purpose concert halls and many foyers that can accommodate classical, pop, jazz, rock, dance, world music, standup comedy, education projects, dinners, fashion shows, live radio, TV and every sort of Convention you can think of, on seven floors. Wow! 

It’s a mass-production factory and today it’s thronged with promoters, all networking neurotically, to sell or trade Classical Music. This is where deals are made and promising young talent is shared around. Honoured with the exposure to the great and powerful in the classical music-business and music-media, musicians scramble from one miniature gig to another, to pitch a new programme, to spread fliers or to dance to the wishes of their agents. "Keep smiling! We all need each other". Fragments are broadcast live, non-stop on the radio. The information overload is at its peak for 48 hours. But by tea-time on the first day, you can already see even the hardiest agents drooping, possibly nauseous at the sight of trays of sandwiches illuminated green or purple from the omnipresent "cheerful" coloured lighting.

So was it naive of us to imagine that we could inject a few minutes of quiet beauty into this maelstrom? A tiny glimpse of our first programme together: Nightfall - with works by Shostakovich, Reger, Webern and Sibelius grouped around three of the Sonatas of Haydn's quartet. Originally written for strings, you won't believe the beautiful sound, as it's been transcribed by this excellent saxophone quartet  But this was a gathering for music managers to discuss strategy, rather than for artists to discuss creative ideas. So naturally, I felt rather out of place. Furthermore, I had the audacity to take the stage with the "young and promising"! Well, there's much to be said for all generations to share experience and youthful brilliance. 

The location of our pitch couldn't have been worse - daylight in a tiny foyer instead of blackout, a refusal to turn off the decorative coloured lights, and no proper screen. Yet with just a few words, followed by two and a half minutes of audio-visual Haydn as I crouched over just one roll-on overhead-projector, we communicated! 

We can't wait for the tryout of our new programme Nightfall. It's just been fixed for February 4th, 2015, 20.00 in the Bernard Haitink Hall of the Amsterdam Conservatorium. More details to follow.


  1. Thanks for sharing this interesting experience and for moderating, as always, the potentially depressing realities of the art industry with your overall positive attitude! (I imagine that this is one of the many aspects where you can bring a lot to an intergenerational collaboration)

  2. Thanks Anna. Yes, I believe strongly in intergenerational collaboration. We can all learn from and inspire each other. And it works!