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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On the continued excellence of the cello,
and the continued bad behaviour of conductors,
with classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Further to your column last week where you state (and I suspect you state correctly) that there seem to be many more women than men in semi-professional and amateur orchestras, I can't help wondering why!

Also: why on earth do so many women choose to take up the cello itself? It is after all a bulky and clumsy thing to cart around, not at all obviously suitable for the daintier sex (as I should know, having been carting one around for over fifty years).

Another (male) 'Fellow Cello'

Dear F C,

I think the sound of the cello is the irresistible part. You must know yourself how gloriously the cello tries to sing, compared to the violin, whose singing has to be coaxed out of it. You know how gravity helps with the cello, and hinders with the violin. You know how the (first) violin parts beckon us on to our ruin, and how cosy and buried-in-the-texture cello parts (even of Brahms, Beethoven or Elgar symphonies) appear in comparison ... Yes, the cello is awkwardly-designed, for carrying about at any rate, but its proportions at the same time are divinely designed to sound (even when murdered by a rank beginner) tolerable upon the ear. Yes, the cello is twice as expensive as the violin, at almost every level, but it forgives, its nature is ungrudging, and it seeks to reward even the most deplorable bow-hold, in a fashion the violin, viola or double bass can never comprehend. Can you blame women for falling for such a divinity?

And then, there's the vanity aspect. The cello is not only stunning to look at, but doesn't leave you with unpleasant red-rubbed bits of your chin -- nor does it seek (as the violin does) to make you appear as if a second edition of your chin had already been published (copyright P G Wodehouse)! It doesn't make you look like a stuffed frog, as wind and brass instruments invariably seem to, nor make your hips look twice as big as they in fact are (the double bass). It is in fact impossible not to look more attractive when playing the cello than when not playing the cello, unlike every other instrument going, and that may sway more women than men, being (if the daintier sex or not) certainly rather the vainer sex.

That's all I can think of, anyway!!!!!

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

Hot on the heels of your column last week, yet another conductor is now in disgrace. What about that Gatti, then?

Classic FM-lover, Derby

Dear Classic FM-er,

Yes, well, it was a shocking outburst, but it seems to me that many people's ire has been somewhat wrongly directed.

Daniele Gatti was certainly impolite and quite probably insane to slag off the acoustics of the hall in Florida to the audience following the concert, as well as to fulminate about letting latecomers in between movements, as he apparently did, but all this is forgiveable compared to actually daring to apologise for the tired playing of his orchestra (in this case, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra).

Now I have heard zillions of concerts in my life and so, I'll bet, have you -- ranging from the stunning and professional to the diabolically amateur -- and I have yet to hear anyone apologise for any part of any one of them. It is absolutely the crassest thing to do: letting down the side is the kindest way of putting it, and it also sets a very sorry example. Imagine it: from now on, in addition to all the tedious speeches of fulsome thanks etc, to have to grin and bear it while conductors apologise for the tuning, phrasing, attack (or in Gatti's case, the possible exhaustion), of the orchestra. Frankly, we'll never hit a car park or catch the train we were aiming for on time again, should this set some kind of precedent.

Also, I have played, repeatedly, with the Royal Philharmonic, on one tour in every EU capital, and I am here to tell you that they do not allow the pressures of touring to detract from their giving of their all in the concert; the nerve of questioning their professionalism!!!! Part of me thinks that the only road back to Gatti's rehabilitation would be the redistribution of his every fee on said tour to every player personally.

And yet, and yet ...

Has the reviewer (one Peg Goldberg Londstreth, of the Naples Daily News) actually ever been on a long orchestral tour???????? Has she experienced the American service ethic at its lousiest, week after week, meal after meal???? Has this woman, who described Gatti as 'a pretentious, angry little twit' as well as 'incredibly rude, ill-mannered, churlish and boorish' (does this woman own a thesaurus or what??) -- has this woman realised just how unbelievably soul-destroyingly awful touring can be???? My guess is that the acoustic was OK, and the players were more than OK, and that the concert was OK. My guess is that Gatti was tired and emotional, that he'd been delayed by more than a few hours on one internal flight too many, and his back was hurting him, and that the conductor's room was a hovel. My guess is that he was feeling lonely and fed-up and had one too many (lavish in proportion but intrinsically tasteless) American hotel meals and he was missing his mamma's meat-a-ballas. My guess is that -- surprise!!!! -- he's human, after all. And so are the orchestra. This is worth a Times leader, for God's sake? -- and international condemnation???? Has he endangered anyone's life, governmental security, or the roadmap for peace in the middle-east????

Not in my book. Public apologies all round and drinks on you, Daniele buddy-boy, for the entire orchestra, for the remainder of your tour. Then go home and enjoya those meata-balls.


Copyright © 20 February 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK



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