Even the professionals have to practise…

I was reassured last week when listening to the broadcast of Graham Fitkin’s Cello Concerto, premiered at this year’s Proms, at the words of the radio presenter, Martin Handley. In the hushed moments between the audience applause which greeted the arrival of the orchestra’s leader and the eventual arrival onto the stage of the soloist, Yo-Yo Ma, Handley mentioned that there would be a slight delay as Ma’s music had only just been brought out on to the stage for him to play from in the performance – apparently, Ma had been practicing ”right up until the last minute.”

Yo-Yo Ma

Image: Royal Albert Hall website

There’s often a misconception that musicians, especially internationally-renowned soloists, simply pitch up to the gig on the day, have a quick run-through with their accompanist (or with the orchestra), and then rattle the piece off before collecting their fee and going away again. There’s a lovely and funny moment in one of Anthony Buckeridge’s ‘Jennings’ novels where Jennings goes for a piano lesson, and enthuses about playing a new piece: ” I’ll soon be able to rattle it off, shan’t I, sir ?” says the exuberant pupil, blissfully unaware of the hours of practice that lie ahead if he wants to do just that – ‘rattle it off.’

Handley’s words reminded me that even top-flight players put in the hours of dedicated practice, particularly with the challenge of contemporary music. The thought that even someone of Ma’s colossal abilities and experience needs to work on a piece of music right up until the very moments before the concert reassures me, both that musicians do earn their keep (however lavishly or poorly they might be paid, often the latter), and also that listeners are occasionally reminded of this fact. In the white-heat of giving the world premiere of a brand new piece of music, even the pros are working fiercely to give of their very best. Bravo.

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