Music and Vision homepage


Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

ALICE McVEIGH, the agony aunt of classical music,
basks in the glory of her successful Dvorák performance ...

'Ask Alice' (launched 1 April 2003) is celebrating a whole year of idiotic questions and silly replies ... Thanks are due to my noble, patient and effervescent editor, Keith, to Editor-in-Chief Basil (for not firing me), to DGriffs alias Gloria Stoatgobblers alias Abysmal Slime (for stepping in while I was on holiday) and most of all to my supportive readers, for all those daft queries and comments (except for those weeks when Keith and I had to create them all by ourselves, lazy buggers[[[[[[[[[[[[[)

Ask Alice

I would like to say how much I have enjoyed Ask Alice during Lent. So much so that I am considering modifying my software to remove spurious exclamation marks. I keep dreaming of the Easter greeting and waking up with a start. ( risen!!!!!!!!!! .... indeed !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Alleluia !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Or perhaps Keith could remove them for us?

Or am I just a sad spoilsport with back-ache?

Fellow Cello

[Note from Keith to Edwin: Sorry mate, more than my jobsworth. Just thank your lucky stars you don't have to read Ask Alice all capitalised like I do! M&V's policy on capitalisation is even stricter than on multiple exclamation marks. Believe me, YOU NEVER GET TO SEE THE WORST OF IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Oooops!)]

Dear sad spoilsport with a back-ache, alias Edwin,

All I can say is: Bring on Easter, when I can sock you with those exclamation points again ...

Meanwhile, here I remain, artistically hamstrung, still giddy from having reconquered Everest (the Dvorák, see bit following), still suffering from withdrawal symptoms from the beta-blockers. Never mind, I also just got this, from one of the delightful Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra players:

Hi Alice!

Just dropping you an email to say well done for your performance last night. It was a truly magical performance and you played the Dvorák so beautifully that it took my breath away. Thank you for making your cello sing and making it such a wonderful evening.

Kind Regards,
Hope to hear from you soon,
Melanie Rothman

PS I'm the little oboist that said 'I found your website earlier!!'

How cool is that???????? Here it is, my first (and probably only ever) fan email about my cello-playing, not my books.

And the sad thing is I can't even say 'thanks, Melanie, you made my day' without mourning the sad loss of exclamation points. I wonder if this might just work, at least partially?

Thanks Melanie, you really made my day]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]
(Better than nothing ...)

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,
And so, how did it go?
Yours, Janine

Dear Janine,

Well, it went terrif, since you asked, but then, you knew that anyway. Show me the columnist who would cheerfully excavate the scene of a crime against this most passionel of pieces. But the interesting part was how and why it was OK.

Why, for example, was the worst bit between the rehearsal and the concert? Is this normal, could someone better versed in Dvoráks please tell me? (After all, this was only my second go at the Dvorák and only my twelfth concerto ever.)

I mean, one minute I was rehearsing in the hall, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra behind me, Adrian in front of me, happy as a clam, and the next I was shut up in the grandeur of St Paul's Director of Music's remorselessly tidy study (only sign of habitation, let alone humanity, being Berlioz's wonderful memoirs on the bookshelf) all on my tod, there to contemplate my sins and my score from half-four to nine-fifteen, when the second half (the concerto formed the second half) kicked off.

I found myself wondering what Steven Isserlis would be up to, in similar position. Now there's a cool cat. Would he be doing yoga? Reading Proust? Sorting out his taxes?

He also wouldn't have had to fret about fixing his hair and wondering whether he'd put on a shade too pink a blush for his age. Being a man also seems so delightfully simple, sometimes. And he certainly wouldn't have to be fussing about the shift at the end of the first page, after doing it ninety five million times before and being stunningly gifted.

Meanwhile, in the middle distance, rather eerily, I could hear the Boat Race, or rather, the accompanying Hooray Henries and Henriettas (evidently in noisy dispute as to the relative merits of Oxford and Cambridge). The primal roar of the many-headed both peaked and troughed: at some points merely resembling closing time at a rural pub, and, at others, like an enormous tsunami or tidal wave.

I suppose I could have bugged the conductor (the good friend who had invited me) but he had a meeting with the orchestra board between rehearsal and concert, his Schumann 4th to think about, not to mention his own room to lurk in. After rehearsing twice as long as self, I also assumed he wanted his own company. I suppose I could have gate-crashed the kids at their sandwiches, but I didn't know any of them. Thus, as the school was miles from civilisation and I didn't have a car, I was pretty much stuck. I alternated between skimming the GCSE music requirements (bizarre) on the Head of Music's desk, reading a Richmal Crompton book and worrying about ye double-stops. Yes, I could hit them all now (repeatedly, and with the eyes closed) but would this happy state of affairs continue when the lights dimmed???? I didn't want to wear out the fingers, so I just went over the tougher bits (which seemed to increase geometrically as the concert got closer) in a half-assed fashion. I found myself thinking, wha-hey, that bit's rather tougher than I'd remembered ... And: what fingering is that bit supposed to be, exactly??? And in what fit of madness had I planned a bowing that long, with a full-sized orchestra behind -- or even against -- me????

The pin-pricks of nervousness kept twinging at me until I felt quite unbalanced. I began to be sure that the meeting where the conductor was had been hurriedly summoned in order to, at the last possible moment, Unload the Soloist, and that frantic phone calls were the order of the day in order to fetch someone who (however badly made-up) would be almost contemptuously confident of getting the first big shift flawlessly. I half-expected the knock on the door, the apologetic orchestra chairman. ('Well, really, you know, it's not that you play badly, it's just that we were expecting, well, you know, something a bit stunning ...') The worst thing about being an orchestral cellist is the primeval fear of having over-stepped your mark, or having quitted the sphere where you secretly know you truly belong. Frankly we've probably all sat too many times, playing on one bow-hair, being glared at by conductors who suspected us of using two bow-hairs while your betters (Paul Watkins, Tim Hugh, Colin Carr, Natalie Clein) emoted over the pieces we'd all love to play.

And gradually, as the roars from the great unwashed at the Boat Race died away and the hour drew closer, it got even worse. It's what I call the law of diminishing expectations. Around five I started worrying about the double-stops at the end of the first movement. Around five-thirty I had given up on those and started thinking long and gloomy thoughts about the shift at the bottom of the first page. While about seven-thirty I had despaired of getting that right and starting pinning my hopes on getting through the first phrase, by the time eight-thirty loomed I would have been perfectly satisfied had I been completely assured of playing the initial B (first finger, first position, first string) really decently in tune.

I suppose in one way it was the kids who saved me. It was the bassoonist who told me, with a captivating mixture of pride and ferocity of which Richmal Crompton's William would have been proud that he it was who was going to be handing me my bouquet after I played, 'but no kisses, OK???' It was the beautiful female co-principal doublebass who had 'loved my book.' It was every leggy and loose-limbed girl or youth who said, 'Good luck -- not that you need it!' as they passed by me onto the stage. It was certainly the smile on the face of the brace-teethed lad with the stunning complexion ('Piano, percussion, lots of instruments,' he'd admitted), all of twelve, who was 'mad on Dvorák.'

If this is our future, I remembering figuring, we're in better shape than I thought.

And, of course, it was the beta-blockers, sloshing around in the body cavity. Until, by the time I got the all clear to pop out onto the stage the opposite process had kicked in and, rather than fretting about the first note (idiotic, that then struck me as) or the shift at the end of page one, I was back focussing on the double-stop passage in the middle of the first movement. And then they'd got started and I wasn't worrying about anything at all. Until the penultimate page of the final movement when, so unreal did it seem, that I realised I was on the right note but the wrong finger and had to scrabble to the high B with a fingering I'd never previously attempted, averting disaster by but a hair's-breadth.

And at the end I actually enjoyed it hugely, especially the non-double-stopped bits and Adrian was absolutely with me and behind me all the way and it got a bit blurry and I almost forgot and kissed the handsome young bassoonist, who (I am convinced) would never have forgiven me, and my friend Mary from the Royal Opera House cello section had come and my friend Bill from the RPO cello section had come and I found myself surrounded by pink and purple flowers saying, 'Well, it's not as if I hadn't done it before,' (which is true) and 'It's not as hard as it sounds, really,' (which is a lie) and thinking about how nice it would be to go to sleep without feeling obliged, as one does, to go through every blessed note of the world's best (but longest) cello concerto.

But hey, thanks for asking[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[
Yours in a state of complete exhaustion,

Copyright © 2 April 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

[Note from Keith to Alice: You appear to have five unmatched close square brackets in this article. Please rectify this next week.]




Ask Alice

 << M&V home              Alice's previous columns >>