Hopes and fears for 2019
Will the next 12 months bring feast or famine to the classical music world? We survey ten musicians
Stephen Hough pianist
HOPE My hope is for us all to listen better. There’s so much wasted background noise in taxis, lifts and restaurants. It’s a constant undercurrent of life, and
I’d love to reduce it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with silence, particularly as a musician. Silence is very important. It’s the soil from which everything we grow comes from. Unless we have that silence in good shape, then what comes out of that won’t be healthy. It’s always a musical consideration, but it’s also important in life in general. It’s something we find very difficult to do.
FEAR I fear how volatile the world is – everything has become so explosive, particularly thanks to the dramatisation of politics. Again, a little bit of silence would be incredibly useful!
Nadine Benjamin soprano
HOPE My hope is to solidify my skills and raise them up to the next level. I won’t be on the main stages doing opera, but I will be involved in concerts and applying my time differently in order to get where I want to be. It’s really important to me that I’m always analysing what could make my characters clearer, cleaner, more enjoyable and readable. I need to keep learning more about this craft. Because I came to the profession quite late and I didn’t go to conservatoire, my journey has been quite different to a lot of other singers.
FEAR My challenge will be supporting myself throughout 2019. When I have that amount of learning to do, it means that I’m not able to be working as much in the way I’d like to, so I’ll have to look for sponsorship. From 2020 I’m fully employed, but 2019 is all about learning, and unfortunately you only get to see the fruits of those labours a year down the line.
Vasily Petrenko conductor
HOPE 2019 will be a very special year for me with the orchestras I conduct. It’s the centenary year of the Oslo Philharmonic, and there are tours with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and European Union Youth Orchestras, and I’m looking forward to further development of all the youth education programmes. And at the end of the year I’m making my debut at the Met Opera in New York conducting Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame. It’s an opera I love, and I have done several productions of it in Russia and ★amburg. It means a lot to be on such a legendary stage, with some of the best singers and crew in the world, ready to make opera at its best.
FEAR My human wish is that people will not escalate any more tensions between countries. For me, being Russian, and English by citizenship, I wish that both countries will become more friendly again, and that all the tensions of recent years will be overcome. There’s no reason to hate each other. It’s more productive to work together in peace.
Mahan Esfahani harpsichordist
HOPE My hope is for less tribalism. By tribalism, I mean the assumption that one will like or not like something, or an assumed tendency to have an interest in something. It’s all based on preconceived allegiances and ignorance. It could be something as simple as people saying they’re disinclined to like the harpsichord or not wanting to hear a
certain composer based on hearing their previous work. We need to take each composer, each piece of music and each instrument on their own terms otherwise we’re going to lose out, and art will suffer.
FEAR I had a harpsichord built with a carbon-fibre soundboard in the hope that it would be an instrument of the future and have tuning stability. And I’ve started worrying that the soundboard’s going to crack and that my whole experiment will turn out to be a complete mess.
Sarah Willis horn player, presenter
HOPE As a horn player, my hope is quite simple. I still have to hit the right notes every day. There are no short cuts. I have to practise and prepare. Stay healthy and inspired. That’s a never-ending journey as a musician. Presenting is a personal passion. I’ve been lucky to present over 90 programmes of Sarah’s Music from all over the world for the broadcaster Deutsche Welle, and I really hope to do more of this in 2019. I have an inner need to communicate my love of our music world. I think it’s something musicians need to do: we have to get out there and do something proactive. For me, it’s not enough just to play my instrument these days.
FEAR I worry about not hitting the right notes! Conductor Simon Rattle called us stuntmen because we have to do things that could mean falling to our possible death. Splitting a note in a horn solo is very similar. My other fear is that classical music is being pushed a little bit to the side by news. Sarah’s Music has just been replaced after four years. The channel wants more current affairs and news, so we’re looking to rehome it somewhere.
Héloïse Werner composer, soprano
HOPE This year, I’d like to write more of my own music – for myself, but also for others to perform. I studied composition at university, but my singing and performing career has rather taken over since. I’d also like somehow to see my work being made available on a digital platform so that it can reach people who don’t necessarily go to operas and concerts. It’s so important to make contemporary music more accessible online in general, in fact.
FEAR Though I’m not British, I studied in the UK and then, because I liked it so
much, I moved to London and started my career there – that’s where all my musical collaborators are. I have no idea how exactly Brexit will affect the future, but I suspect it will have a massive impact on the music world. I do hope that there may be a way that I can remain in the UK and continue working here, but while there’s no guarantee, it’s quite unsettling.
Chi-chi Nwanoku double bass player
HOPE I would like music to be able to work harder for society and the community. Specifically, I want the government to look properly at the benefits of music education and learning an instrument and have them reinstated into the general curriculum of our state schools. Of course, not every child that learns an instrument is going to become a professional musician, but learning an instrument and being allowed to have creative freedom in general can make you better at whatever you choose to go into.
FEAR Over eight years on the board of the National Youth Orchestra, I started to see a positive adjustment in its ratio of state-educated versus privately educated players – 93 per cent came from private schools when I started. My worry is that that improvement will stop or, worse still, reverse, and the divide between the two will widen again. The way to avoid that is, among other things, to get instrumental teaching brought back into all schools.
Jeremy Filsell organist, conductor
HOPE One of my great hopes would be that we could find a way of taking the formula that makes the BBC Proms so successful and somehow spreading it elsewhere. By formula, I mean the way that the highways and byways of the repertoire are explored and then performed to such a high standard. In the United States, for instance, there are a lot of orchestras that are really well supported, but then I take a look at the programming, and a lot of it is so conservative.
FEAR I worry about the way the arts are increasingly seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. We really need to find more political leaders who have a strong cultural base. It’s wonderful to have the likes of France’s Emmanuel Macron, who had artistic aspirations as a child and understands them in others. But how long has it been since we had the likes of Sir Edward ★eath in UK politics or, in the US, a president like ★arry Truman, who was an accomplished pianist?
Nicholas Daniel oboist
HOPE The most important aspect of my work is playing contemporary music and helping to create new pieces. So I hope to continue to play new music as well as I can to convince people that it’s worth hearing and worth playing.
FEAR The most important thing is that we find a way to make the politicians understand that the ‘Every Child a Musician’ scheme (ECAM, happening in the London Borough of Newham) is possible to work across the whole country. The scheme gives every single child in the primary sector four years of musical instrument lessons; they’re given the lessons for free, they get exams for the London College of Music for free and they get to keep the instrument. I think that the vast majority of the public are behind us on this, it’s just the politicians who need to understand that it is a vote winner and not a vote loser. It’s a fear and a hope…
‘We really need to find more political leaders who have a strong cultural base’
Cheryl Frances-hoad composer
HOPE The ABRSM selected a little piano piece of mine, Commuterland, to go in the syllabus and I have a real hope that lots of people doing piano exams come across it, like it and start thinking about contemporary music.
FEAR We’re already quite isolated as composers and I can count the performances I’ve had in Europe on two hands; I don’t know whether Brexit will make any difference. In the last 18 months I’ve been to Germany and Italy to have pieces done and it just seems that Europe is becoming aware of my work, so I am worried about that opportunity being shut off. I’m not saying that it will, but it’s obviously a concern. It’s nowhere near as bad a problem as it is for my performing friends who are going to have real practical difficulties because of this.
Global players: could the BBC Proms formula be exported?