The Wigmore Hall’s backstage walls are adorned with a photographic roster of who’s who in the classical music world. It’s Easter Sunday 2017 – the day of our debut – and these legendary eyes are glaring down in judgement as I apologetically make my way up to the green room. Barenboim doesn’t look best pleased to see me. “Daniel who?”, his portrait scoffs. György Pauk spots my violin case. Did his eyes just roll?
I’m typically early, and the others are yet to arrive. I step into the deserted hall and look out at the empty seats. The music of history is deafening, and my heartbeat is setting too fast a pulse. We’ve played here before, but this is different. There’s expectation in the air, from our side and yours. It seems an age until Charlotte, Sini and Chris emerge through the inconspicuous Artistes Entrance on Welbeck Way.
We sit down to rehearse, and bathe in the hall’s soothing acoustical miracles.
Have you ever seen Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’? The film is bookended by two lists. First, we’re introduced to Mary (Diane Keaton’s pontificating pseudo-intellectual) as she reels off her Academy of the Overrated – a preposterous collection of certified greats, loud-mouthed for irksome effect. Mahler, Jung, Van Gogh, Ingmar Bergman and F. Scott Fitzgerald are all inducted. Woody’s love-lorn Isaac, on the other hand, records all that makes life worth living for: Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, the Jupiter Symphony, Louis Armstrong singing ‘Potato Head Blues’, Swedish movies….it goes on. If he played string quartets rather than Dixieland, the auteur would surely have included the Wigmore Hall acoustic. Mystical? Yes. Overrated? Not one bit.
On with the show, and into the limelight. Our recital is a sellout, the hall packed with family, friends and strangers. From the stage, it’s a mesmerising sight. There’s my heart again, pounding with seismic activity. Surely everyone can hear that, Richter included? Sini starts the first anxiety-ridden notes of Schubert’s Quartettsatz….there I go next….Charlotte’s in…..Chris enters, kindling the crescendo as if his spike’s alight….and we’re off!
On second thoughts, this isn’t the most relaxing number with which to kick off proceedings. A pianissimo sustained note arrives and the adrenaline is pumping; my bow begins to shake. The thing about this glorious acoustic is that it projects each voice with crystalline realism, and to my epinephrine-infected ears, it sounds like I’m playing the maracas. No time to dwell, listen even harder to your colleagues – they’re performing out of their skins, no need to jump out of yours.
Before I know it, there are the final chords, and just time to catch breath before Adès’s ‘The Four Quarters’, his take on T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Four Quartets’. Both works are profound comments on the human race’s problematic relationship with time’s relentless march; try as we might, any attempt to influence its passing is futile. Yet, here we are, held in this surreal moment, in which the ticking of time fades away, and the music unfolds in its own, unfettered metre. That’s the power of the concert hall: the outside world evaporates and we’re left with a precious window in which to escape, to feel. Adès titles his final movement ‘The Twenty-Fifth Hour’. This is exactly that.
We’ve been through a lot together, in music and friendship, to earn our right to sit here on this stage. Traversing just about every human emotion, Beethoven’s first ‘Razumovsky’ seems a fitting climax as we set out, arm-in-arm, on its Homeric journey. The Thème russe finale brims with positive pride. In the serenity of its brief Adagio ma non troppo, a moment of reflection: so do I.
Back in the green room we’re soon greeted by family, friends and surprises. As if he’s clambered out of his photo frame, I find myself looking into the intensely kind eyes of the real life György Pauk. He meets my look of disbelief with a smile more encouraging than he could ever know.
Before I leave, I glance up at the portraits on the string quartet wall of fame; they know what it feels like, that view from the stage. I’m pretty sure it’d make their lists of things worth living for too.