A Royal Occasion

St. Cecilia was an early Christian martyr whose relics now reside in a church which bears her name in Rome. Amongst her attributes was apparently the ability to play the organ and she is now regarded as the patroness of Music. Every year in the U.K. there is a Royal Concert to commemorate her festival day. My eldest daughter and I went to such a concert in the Royal Albert Hall in the early 1980’s. We were seated in the choir stalls of that great auditorium, looking down on the orchestra and soloists, and behind us an array of trumpeters who began the concert with a fanfare composed for the occasion. There were a couple of minor royals in the royal box and we stood in reluctant obeisance as they arrived.

The City of Birmingham Orchestra was playing under their newly appointed and still very young conductor, Simon Rattle to whom we have already referred. The main work in the first half of the concert was Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto. It was generally known that Rattle dislikes that composer and only conducts his works under pressure.

The pressure on this occasion presumably came from the soloist, the Russian Emile Gilels, whose sensitive performance of Beethoven’s 4th. Piano Concerto I am now listening to on a CD. Sadly in this concert he was past his prime or perhaps having a bad day. Whilst holding the rhythm of a work that must have been long in his head if no longer in his heart, he played a fuselage of wrong notes. From where we sat we could see that the tip of his fingers were bound and the virtuosity one expected from a pianist, whose recordings of the two Brahms concertos remain a main choice by the critics, was lacking. We were disappointed by such an uncharacteristic performance and sad for him. (I did wonder however if, as the citizen of a still Communist country, he was saying something about the occasion!).

The proceeds from these annual concerts go to the Musicians Benevolent Fund. There has been a lot of publicity recently about the poor wages of orchestral players and indeed on the financial viability of British orchestras, all of whom are in serious debt. Not only British ones. One of the many touring Russian orchestras who were here a few years ago came with no cash flow and the members ended up busking in the streets. It hasn’t got that bad here. Yet. The problem will never be sorted until there is adequate sponsoring by the government (Finland with its population of 5M has 13 full time orchestras and 18 part-professional ones!), as well as larger more enthusiastic audiences.