Gramophone guest blog

East Neuk - a heavenly place to focus simply on music

Benjamin BakerFri 3rd July 2015

The East Neuk Festival's retreat programme gives musicians an opportunity to immerse themselves in chamber music

Writing doesn’t usually come easily for me, but here we are half way into the Inaugural East Neuk Festial Retreat and I feel so inspired by the atmosphere, and in the most idyllic and serene surroundings, that, a little unusually for me, I jumped at the opportunity to write a blog about my experience so far.  

When studying in music conservatoire I found that, as young musicians, we were encouraged to become ‘professionals’, aiming to be able to make a living in the music industry. However wise and necessary this practical approach is for our survival, it is not something I think about daily and certainly isn't something I easily connect with from my experiences in making music. Music for me has never been a job; it is my lifestyle and a vocation; music is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing in my head before I go to sleep; it even infiltrates my dreams sometimes too! Making music is a very personal thing and so doing justice to the music I strive to communicate matters deeply to me. No form of music making can be as pure a musical experience as chamber music, which makes the opportunity of being here on the ENF retreat that much more special! 

Based in the idyllically serene and beautiful surroundings of Elie, the retreat is an incredible opportunity to escape from the busy world and to lose ourselves in the delights, glory and challenge of great chamber music. The retreat is built around 10 young musicians and four ‘slightly older musicans’ (as Retreat Director Alexander Janiczek phrased it on the opening day) working together in a variety of groups from trios to octets. It is wonderfully inspiring and fascinating to see unique artists like Alexander Janiczek, Krzysztof Chorzelski, David Watkin and Alexander Lonquich in action and to also work with them in the exposing medium of chamber music. The most affecting part of the week so far though is to feel the uncompromising passion that all of us share for music.   Rehearsals can start at 10am and often finish after 10pm, and with a challenging array of contrasting repertoire, but no matter how long we have been playing, or how each of us are feeling individually, the music always comes first.

Everything on the retreat is impeccably organized which means that nothing gets in the way of making music together. Meeting other like-minded, passionate young musicians is always a pleasure, but combined with playing with, and being coached by, experienced artists, it is a overwhelmingly powerful experience. The 14 of us play in many different combinations; repertoire is eclectic and includes Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Brahms, and Korngold.   

I always ask myself questions about the style and how to approach the compositions of each composer that I play. Having the opportunity work through such a big range of repertoire with artists of such high musical integrity makes the retreat constantly stimulating and edifying.

With this heady mix to inspire us all, we seem to have galloped to the midpoint of our astounding week and the way it is shaping up so far, I really can’t wait to see what the second half brings, not to mention the two concerts! 

For more information about the East Neuk Festival, please visit: eastneukfestival.com

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