Jacob Heringman, lutenist - Diary
Back from Japan, and straight into work here--no time for languishing jetlag.
I very much enjoyed my first trip to Japan. Because of the typhoon in Asia, which was just heading for Japan when we were touring there, we ended up having do some of the internal travel on a bus instead flying. Actually, I was very happy about that. Itís much less stressful to do a concert after six hours on a bus than it is to do one after a trip to an airport followed by a wait followed by a short flight followed by a wait followed by another short flight followed by a trip into the centre of whatever city you were trying to get to. Flights are particularly exhausting. Besides, bus travel means you get to see some countryside which, in Japan, I found fascinating. The population centres seem to be concentrated along the coasts, and the internal parts of the country that we saw consisted of wooded mountains and beautifully cultivated agriculture. The drive from Yamagata to Toyama was particularly beautiful.
I was there long enough to get a tiny bit of a sense of just how very different that culture is to our own. The following experience sums it up neatly: we flew to Tokyo and back on All Nippon Airways, which has a policy of affixing a video camera to the front of the plane, and another somewhere on the underside, and showing the passengers live footage of takeoff and landing more or less from a pilotís-eye view. So the video screen becomes a window; itís a strange sensation. Anyway, the cockpit camera was left running as we rolled slowly from the runway to the final parking position at Tokyo on our arrival there. So we got to watch the guy on the ground who guides the pilot onto the stand. He was dressed in orange, and had two brightly-glowing signalling lights, one in each hand. He was mesmerizing to watch. His body movements as he guided us in were a ballet with clarity at its centre. The dance was designed to get the plane safely to the stand, so it had to be clear and unambiguous. Yet it was beautiful and elegant, somehow perfect. When the plane had stopped, and the dance was finished, he bowed and retreated. The whole action seemed to sum up a key difference between the two cultures. Itís something about beauty and elegance in the everyday, and about reverence and humility deep in the psyche. The custom of bowing which is completely ubiquitous in Japan is remarkable to observe. This is not insincere courtesy; itís deeply-ingrained civility.
I know Japan has its dark side. There is terrible sexism, there is terrible pressure at the workplace and in the schools, there is capital punishment. But thereís a strong sense of a very old and very civilized culture when you walk through the cities and drive through the countryside in Japan.
Yesterday was my first London concert since the Japan trip, which was a programme of English and Italian lute songs with the singer Angus Smith.
Now, the usual catching up, as well as preparations for the trip to Munich on Wednesday next week, and the Virelai rehearsals for Slovenia which begin this Monday.
Large pile of email awaits, and, when Zan returns from rehearsing this evening, a rare dinner for two before she disappears again tomorrow.
A quiet day alone at home. Zan had a concert near Newcastle last night, and then went straight to another in Wales today, on the 6 AM train. Long day for her. Sheíll get home at about 3 AM tonight.
Not quite over the jetlag--Iím tending to wake very early. Itís turning out to be a productive day, though; Iím valiantly swimming against the tide of incoming emails, preparing for Mondayís Virelai rehearsal and for Wednesdayís trip to Munich, and, as usual, not taking enough time for myself, to relax and just to be. Iím afraid this comes too near the bottom of the priority list with me. Itís a very demanding line of work I find myself in--the combination of concerts, research, preparation, administration, etc. makes up a massive load, particularly for someone who is driven and somewhat perfectionist, like myself. Life teaches us that if we stop and take time for ourselves, itís good for us in every way--weíre happier and more efficient in our work. And yet itís so hard to stop. Iím convinced that itís harder to stop than to go.
Lots of emails between myself and Andrew Keeling regarding the new piece "My lute awake" which weíll be taking to Slovenia next month.
Itís good news that the CD of Andrewís compositions is going to be released. I can assure readers, having been involved in the making of it, and having listened to it many times, that itís something very special.
Finally, beautiful weather again! Itís been more like February than like July of late. Quite a shock after Japan, where it was very hot.
Practising away for various things, mainly Munich tomorrow, and emailing back and forth with Andrew Keeling about "Sad Steps".
Munich is an interesting project. Itís related to a recent ECM release by John Potter plus instrumentalists entitled "In darkness let me dwell", which is a modern response do John Dowlandís music. Chiefly it consists of Dowland lute songs with the addition of double bass, sax and violin. Mainly, John Potter (voice) and Stephen Stubbs (lute) perform the lute songs straight, while the other three instrumentalists do a combination of playing lines from the original and improvising their own. Some of it works, and some of it sounds, to me, banal. Itís a courageous thing to do anyway, to take music which is much loved and rather sacrosanct because it is so good, and to "mess around" with it--or, to put it more positively, to "respond creatively" to it. For my money, thereís a bit of both on this CD. Anyway, theyíve been touring this programme, and itís going to Munich this week. Steve Stubbs isnít able to do it, so Iím taking his place. Iím sure itíll be a fascinating experience, and I look forward to it very much.
Any minute now, Faye Newton, a wonderful young singer, will arrive, and she and I will rehearse for a concert in Siena which happens at the end of this month.
Yesterday, Virelai had a very concentrated rehearsal, in which we worked on the two new Keeling pieces, both of which we love, especially "Sad Steps". Unfortunately, we donít rehearse again until the day before the concert. But it should be ok. Thereís never enough rehearsal time!
Zan is in the other room making beautiful sounds on her viol. Sheís got an extremely busy summer this year, with lots of teaching at early music summer schools, and lots of concerts all over the place. Time together is rare but precious.
Zanís away in France, and Iím glued to the computer screen in a mad dash to get caught up on administrative things. Lots of emails between Gail and myself regarding the next two North American tours--October/November this year, and February/March next year.
In the background, medieval French music. Andrew Keeling is looking into Troubadours as part of his research for the Keeling/Sinfield piece for voice and lute. His email prompted me to put on the Dufay Collectiveís CD of TrouvŹre music (the northern French counterparts to the southern Troubadours), which features Zan and also yours truly on medieval lute and backing vocals. Havenít heard it in ages.
Once I feel that all this admin is under control, I can delve more whole-heartedly into preparations for upcoming gigs, of which there are numerous interesting ones.
Speaking of interesting ones, the gig in Munich (which I think I wrote a little about in the last Diary entry) was fascinating. I still think that itís not always entirely successful, what this group is doing (if youíre going to take music as perfect as Dowlandís, and improvise jazz over the top of it, it had better be good or it ends up sounding banal), but some of it certainly is; some of it is magical, in fact; and itís great fun to improvise--I donít do it often enough. It was a great bunch of people, and we all got on well. Nice to play in the Munich Opera House--huge place for early music (seats 2000, we got 900+, Iím told). Manfred Eicher of ECM was there, and supervised the very discreet amplification that was used. I think we got a good sound.
Still sometimes rather overcome by the pressure of stuff to do, and not enough hours to do it, I had an encouraging pep talk from Gail, who gets me concerts in the USA. The parable she told was very appropriate and very right, I think. She writes:
There's a parable about two guys cutting wood out in the forest. One keeps at it steadily except for a short break at lunch, the other takes a ten-minute break every hour. At the end of the day, the one who didn't take breaks is astonished to see that the other guy's wood pile was larger than his. He says, "How did you cut so much wood when you didn't work as much as I did?" The other replies, "Everytime I stopped, I sharpened my axe."
Gail also gave me I think the most meaningful musical compliment I could ever hope for. She wrote (I hope she wonít mind):
Among the best lutenists, which you definitely are, you are one of the very best musicians. You have a tremendous instinct for architecture in your programming. Your love for and understanding of Renaissance music are apparent in all of your recordings and performances. Your playing doesn't say "See what I can do!" but rather, "Listen to this wonderful music."
A quick Diary moment before hastening away to the airport for another brief trip, this one to Siena. I seem to be going abroad once a week at the moment!
At home, Iíve been catching up with the many small things that need doing, including accounts and countless emails. But Iíve also finally made a small start on assembling the music for my next solo programme, which I intend to record at the end of this year or the beginning of the next, but which Iíll be doing in concert as early as October this year; hence the need to get it together.
Zan is around, and rehearsing for an extraordinary concert to take place in Wigmore Hall on Friday, Friday being the 250th anniversary of Bachís death. They are performing the Trauerode and the Actus Tragicus with a marvellous line-up of singers, and performing several of the contrapuncti from the Kunst der Fuge in between, on viols. It may be a magical event. Itís been sold out for months, but luckily, being married to one of the musicians gets me a comp ticket for the event on this occasion.
That same evening, Andrew Keelingís new work, Reclaiming Eros, receives its first performance at the Deal Festival. Iím sorry I canít be there as well!
Endings and beginnings
Heaven! A quiet day at home. The only missing element is Zan, who is away teaching and performing for a week.
Iíve had a crazy time since Japan, with a concert in London immediately upon my return, followed by an interesting trip to Munich (described in this Diary), followed by an interesting trip to Siena (what a stunningly beautiful place), followed by a dayís rehearsal yesterday with an ensemble Iíve not worked with before. Itís all exhausting because itís more or less continuous without a break, but itís also exhilarating and rewarding. I cannot complain. Well, actually, I can and do, but Iím very lucky really! All things considered, life is a tremendous joy. Making music continues to be rewarding in itself (making music is its own reward), even when itís not financially rewarding. And human relationships are becoming increasingly important and rewarding. I think in former times I tended to shy away from meaningful contact with people, while concentrating single-mindedly on my musical development and training. Now Iím discovering, within the context of (and thanks to) a happy partnership with Zan and a musical career which shows signs of flourishing, that Iím in a position to bond more closely with people and to form deeper and more meaningful friendships. I am more free to give, and to derive benefit from contact, and Iím discovering the close connection between music and friendship. Music-making at its best is an act of friendship, in the sense that it is the act of extending beyond oneself. Some prefer to call "worship", "communion", or "connection".
Speaking of friendship, I was pleased to learn that Andrew Keelingís premiere was a success the evening before last. It was kind of him to acknowledge that Iíve played in a role in the development of his musical language. I too want to acknowledge the role he has played in my musical development, and in my thinking about music. Knowing Andrew, as I have now since Robert Fripp introduced us to one another a couple of years ago, proves once again the theory that people are brought together in strange ways, but for a purpose (or, what feels to us like a purpose). It is as if we each had something to offer one another. This is where music and friendship intersect.
Yesterdayís rehearsal was enjoyable because we were four people who respect each other, and, in an easy atmosphere, each person was allowed to contribute freely to the whole. This might sound as if it goes without saying, but it doesnít. A lot of complicated stuff gets in the way in many cases, usually in the form of directorsí egos. Iím seeking to remove from my life the work that takes place in a bad atmosphere.
Now, to mow the lawn.