Iceland’s volcano played havoc with musicians’ plans, and turned back the clock
In sport, well anyway in football, at any rate in England, commentators often bemoan the internationalisation of the beautiful game. As much as they acknowledge the way British players have benefitted from the refined example set by the Zolas and the Klinsmanns, although they delight in admiring the subtleties of a Torres or a Christiano Ronaldo, they feel a loss. What, they ask, has happened to the English school? When it’s time to pick the national team, the England manager faces slim pickings. Why? The Premier League’s money has attracted so many foreigners that home-grown players are not getting their chances to develop.
What has all this to do with music? Believe me, I’m not advocating for any reduction in the number of overseas artists who come to play in the UK. Never mind London, even my local concert hall in the cultural wilds of Reading will be enriched in the coming weeks by the presence Alban Gerhardt, the Pavel Haas Quartet and Pinchas Zukerman, no less.
It’s just that the cloud of volcanic ash currently louring over half of Europe has given me, as so many people, pause for thought. With planes not permitted to fly (although at the time of writing, airports are just starting to reopen), the skies are silent even if our stages are not. But the schedules of travelling musicians in this jet-age have been thrown into chaos. According to Bloomberg News, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic had to use a military helicopter to get to the funeral of the Polish president, two sopranos had to share a taxi all the way from Poland to London, and poor sainted Daniel Hope underwent a mammoth trek to go from Istanbul to Stuttgart – his first plane being grounded, he then chartered a private plane which was in turn forced to land in Zagreb, after which he drove a minibus to Vienna for a train, which was full. It was when he attempted to hire a car that he collapsed from exhaustion.
For the most part, soloists, conductors and singers have been as land-locked as the rest of us, which means that the “if it’s Tuesday it must be the Met” mentality is out of the window. One wonders whether some continent-hopping conductors are suffering withdrawal symptoms.
So here’s the thought that struck me. It is, effectively, almost as if some invisible hand has moved the clock back to an age where musicians couldn’t travel to three countries in a week. What if that were permanent? I mean, just imagine for a moment what musical life would be like if artists were essentially restricted to staying near home.
Even if one allows for the fact that major cities tend to attract a healthy proportion of adopted soloists, musical settlers from other shores, it’s an interesting prospect. Would more clearly defined national schools emerge? Has a recognisable English style, American style, French style, somehow been drowned out by our multilingual musical community? Have promising local talents been crowded out by glamorous guests with bulging air miles accounts? Or, on the contrary, have the young bloods simply gone abroad themselves (many is the young British singer, for instance, who has found a career to build in Germany, where one town might almost have more opera companies than the whole of the UK)? In which case, have they ever come back?