Sunday 7 June

Hi everyone. Today I was due to be conducting the Community Choir in a joint concert with the Paddock Singers (with Ruth Kerr), at St John sub castro, celebrating the centenary of the Pells area being donated to Lewes council by Baxters – the old printing company based down one of the twittens off the High Street. Our choir were going to sing a short programme which we would then have taken to Lisieux in Normandy later in the month.

And yesterday, I should have been directing New Sussex Opera’s production of Handel: Acis and Galatea at the All Saint’s Centre in Lewes. Instead, NSO had a quiz on Zoom last Tuesday, in which my team came last!

Today, Sunday 7 June, I sat down to make a list of things to do and I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up listening to Rachmaninov 1st Piano Concerto on Youtube and I felt I had to share this with you.

Firstly, I don’t ever remember listening to this piece before. We all know the 2nd Piano Concerto, but this is was not familiar to me – it’s really great. Very different from No.2, much more dramatic and, dare I say it, modern. Rachmaninov was born in 1873 and died in 1943. It’s well worth taking half an hour out to watch this video (the link is below).

Lots of things struck me while I watched it. It’s a fabulous hall, very elegant, very European. Notice the composers’ names on the panels of the balcony. It’s all so luxurious, even the ornate bollards and red ropes on the front of the platform – elegance in favour of Health & Safety.

The piano playing is fantastic – really remarkable – just consider what goes into that. The visuals are great – you really get to appreciate what the hands are doing, the physical effort she puts in – those flamboyant gestures she makes are like the preparation and follow through you see great tennis players make when Serving. Then there’s the conductor – I love watching conductors. He has no baton – quite unusual when conducting a Romantic orchestra, although this isn’t especially large – I notice there are only 6 cellos and 5 double basses. Didn’t count the violins I’m afraid. Even accounting for the delay between sound and video (which isn’t bad here), I notice how far behind the conductor’s beat the orchestra often play, which suggests to me that this is conductor AND orchestra working in partnership. He guides, they play.

And then consider all those players. On this video you get to see most of the solo instruments, flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, violin and cello. You can see the concentration, preparation and hear the individual skill. But you also sense that everything they do is as part of a team effort.

Then I’m also thinking about the cost of promoting this concert. 50+ in the orchestra, international soloist and conductor, the hall, hire of a Steinway piano, and a seating capacity (I’ve just looked it up) of under 2000. Quite apart from the physical costs, you’re also watching the equivalent of Manchester United and Chelsea FC alongside Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – an interesting concept!

This was recorded on 2nd February this year, just a few weeks before Lockdown. And I think – “this can’t be lost for ever. We can’t lose all this – we can’t. There’s got to be hope for our cultural life.”

Here’s a link to the recording. Rachmaninov 1st Piano Concerto

I’ve also finished painting the hall, whilst listening to Sibelius 5th Symphony (don’t get me started on that one). The dahlias are doing very nicely thank you. And on Wednesday we visited Sissinghurst Castle Gardens – the very day that the first National Trust gardens re-opened. It was lovely having a limited number of people there.

Now it’s a lovely day here, so I have to get out to the garden………and also look at that list I started!

Have a good week.





  1. Dear Nick, thank you so much for this – I watched it straight away and loved it! Where is it? Germany or Austria I guess. I’m puzzled by your ‘no baton’ comment as the conductor seemed to have one all the time except for the first part of the slow movement. Must get to an NT garden as they are opening up, am waiting until we can share cars. Will that ever happen? Yes, it will, and we shall have a live cultural life again even if not as soon as we might have hoped. keep safe, Grace

  2. Author

    Hi Grace. It’s the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. And you’re absolutely right, he’s using a baton, but I clearly was absorbed by his conducting without one at the beginning of the slow movement! Well spotted. How did Messiah go? I’m sorry, but I was involved in a zoom meeting at the time, so I missed it. Nick

  3. Hi Nick,thank you for this. Well worth half an hour of my locked down time and the piano playing is fantastic as you said. But it’s just not my sort of thing really. The piano playing I have enjoyed most during lockdown back in April was the Kanneh-Mason family with Irata playing Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto in lockdown (would have been in the Dome during Brighton Festival, but with proper orchestra). Not as elegant as the Concertgebouw, nor such good camera work(!) but I loved the intimacy.
    My daughter has been living in Amsterdam for the past 3 years and every time I have visited her I have looked to see what was on at the Concertgebouw, but never anything to tempt me enough even for their cheapest ticket at least 60 euros… 😮
    Cheers Lisette

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