Today was one of the highlights of my life as a pianist and piano teacher: the bi-annual visit by Rolf, my piano tuner from Chappell of Bond Street (where I originally purchased my piano). He has been looking after my piano for nearly three years, and lavishes care and attention on it every six months when he comes here.

As part of the after-sales service when you purchase a piano from Chappell, or indeed, Steinway, you have a complimentary follow-up tuning, 6 weeks after the instrument has “moved in” with you. This is important, not least to check that the instrument has settled into your home. Pianos are fickle creatures (growing more fickle with age, like old ladies), and do not like change. They prefer an even level of humidity and temperature and react badly to being placed near radiators and such like. Sunlight is also an enemy: unfortunately, my piano has to reside in the conservatory, not the ideal home, but the only place for it until I move house or rebuild the conservatory and turn it into a proper studio. It suffered a bit during the hot summer, but my conservatory never gets humid, which is the real enemy of the piano.

When I was growing up, my piano was an old Challen upright (circa 1930s), rescued from a friend’s greenhouse in Shropshire, where it had lived, neglected and unloved, for two years. It was not in great condition when my parents acquired it, but thanks to the perseverance of the tuner, and a considerable amount of money, it was reconditioned, refelted, and gradually tuned up to concert pitch. It was on this piano that I learnt to play, endured the treadmill of exams, and grew to love Bach, Beethoven, Schubert et al, after graduating from Swinstead, Dunhill, Czerny, Clementi and co. My tuner in those days was a rather scary man with several stumps instead of fingers – one did not dare ask how he lost his fingers – yet he was a very skilled tuner, and would play the most amazing cascades of Liszt and Chopin when he had completed his work. Sadly, my father sold my piano when I moved into my first flat in London, because he didn’t want it any more, and I didn’t have room for it.

When I bought my current piano, I went up to the new, bigger, and much grander Chappell showroom on Wardour Street, in the Grade 1 listed ‘Novello’ building. Before the move from the Bond Street premises, the piano department was consigned to a cramped basement and had to share the space with all the sheet music. Now, the piano showroom is a large, elegant, wood-panelled room, stuffed with pianos of all sizes and specifications, including a Liberace-style white grand. I took a friend there last year (she was looking for a digital piano) and she was completely gob-smacked, especially that one could just sit down and tinkle the faux-ivories of a full-size concert grand. Arriving at the showroom in January 2007, I was greeted by the salesman who I’d been dealing with over the ‘phone. He introduced me to my piano (he actually said “this is your piano”) and invited me to play. No sooner had I played the opening measures of the slow movement of Schubert’s Sonata in A Op 120, than, over in the far corner of the room, a young man started on a very heroic and virtuosic Chopin Scherzo. “Oh no!” said the sales assistant. “He’s here again! He comes in every day to practise. He shouldn’t really be here”, and promptly went over to chase the young man off the piano and out of the showroom. Chappells like you to try their pianos, but they don’t want you taking up residence in the showroom on a regular basis. Meanwhile, from another corner of the showroom came a medley of songs from the shows and some very vamped-up Scott Joplin. I gave up trying to hear myself playing, concluded that the piano would suit me very well, and went to organise payment and delivery. Still reeling from the effect of putting such a huge sum through my Visa account, I went downstairs (the sheet music is still in the basement) and purchased some new music: Schubert’s Drei Klavierstücke, pieces which I had been listening to endlessly, and playing from flimsy sheets, downloaded from the internet, and the Grazer Fantasy (which I still haven’t learnt) .

The piano arrived the following week, amid much ceremony and obligatory huffing and puffing by the piano movers. Fortunately, it was easy to deliver, as my house is a normal size and shape (unlike a friend’s, whose grand had to be manouevred, by crane, through an upstairs window of his 18th century vicarage). I was so thrilled with my new instrument, I spent the entire day learning the first movement of Schubert’s last sonata. I would say, on reflection, it took me about six months to properly make friends with my piano and get used to it. Last year, in a bid to tone down its very bright sound, I had it regulated (by Rolf) and ‘voiced’, and he did some work on the hammer felts, which, much to my surprise, altered the sound quite significantly. It is richer now, more mellow, less “shiny”.  I do really like the bright treble, though. The hard surfaces in the conservatory (windows, limestone floor) do not help, but with Rolf’s help, I put a picnic blanket under the piano, and it has various fleecey bedspreads and rugs behind it. I will put some curtains up for the winter, ostensibly to help soften the hard sound further, but also to make the space a little more cosy. And to ensure I do not have to stare at my neighbour’s wall the entire time when I am practising.

A maintenance tuning takes about an hour. After the obligatory “is-it-really-six-months-since-I-was-last-here” chat, I usually leave Rolf to it until he summons me back to play after he has finished. When he was here in March, I played the opening bars of the slow movement from Beethoven’s Archduke Trio. It came from nowhere, and sent Rolf, who is German, off into huge exclamations of dewy-eyed delight about Beethoven. Rolf never seems to be in a hurry to go to his next appointment, so today we enjoyed a chat about obscure religions of India – prompted by the Buddha which I have in my piano room – the pleasure and discipline of writing, and the fate of Kemble pianos. Eventually, Rolf strolled off to his next appointment in Clapham, and I spent a happy hour or three working on Debussy, on an in-tune piano once again.

I think most pianists would agree that one has a special relationship with one’s tuner. Other instrumentalists tend to their instruments themselves (when I played the clarinet, I got very good at taking it apart, mending the pads, and keeping all the chrome and cork in good nick), but a pianist must turn to another specialist to maintain his instrument, and a specialist whom one trusts to do a good job. Tuners spend years learning all the nuances to become skilled at bringing out the full tonal beauty of the instrument, and a piano is a complex piece of machinery, comprising some 5000 parts. Being a piano tuner is a highly skilled occupation, requiring  a good ear, practice and, above all perhaps, patience.

I’ve found a truly charming and very unusual venue for my Christmas concert – and it’s only 10 minutes from where I live.

The Langdon Down Centre, formerly called Normansfield, is a Grade II* listed building, and is tucked away between Teddington and Kingston. It is the former home and medical centre of Dr John Langdon Down, the Victorian physician who first identified Down’s Syndrome. Attached to the modestly-proportioned house is a hidden gem: a purpose-built private entertainment theatre, complete with minstrels’ gallery, vaulted ceiling, pre-Raphaelite panels and painted scenery which is an exact facsimile of the original. The theatre was used by Dr Langdon Down and his family for entertainments, as well as providing a space for his patients to enjoy. Indeed, Dr Langdon Down was an early advocate of drama therapy. Today, the theatre is used for various events and as a location for film companies looking for something a little different. Earlier in the year, Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang used the theatre for a video promotion. The hall is equipped with a medium-sized Yamaha grand piano and a good acoustic. http://www.langdondowncentre.org.uk/

There are many hidden gems in and around London which serve as music venues. Last summer, I discovered Sutton House, a fine Elizabethan building in Hackney, managed by the National Trust. It boasts a charming, intimate and friendly recital space, and in the interval you can enjoy drinks and strawberries and cream in the pretty courtyard. I was impressed not just by the space but by the audience when I visited last summer: a very different crowd from the Wigmore, and one sensed a great deal of support and enthusiasm from the audience throughout the performance.

Across the river, at Walton, is Riverhouse Barn, a converted 18th century barn, which retains many of its original features. It hosts music events, as well as exhibitions and other arts and drama activities for children and adults.

The Red Hedgehog in Highgate looked so unprepossessing the first time I visited it in winter 2006 that I walked straight past it: from the outside, it looked like a kebab shop! (It has since undergone considerable restoration.) Once inside, it is a little like visiting Schubert’s salon (it is in fact named after the coffee house in Vienna which Schumann, Mendelssohn and especially Brahms and friends liked to visit). It offers a variety of music, poetry and drama events throughout the year and has been host to some eminent performers, including pianist Peter Donohoe and actor Simon Callow.

The great thing about attending a musical event in places such as these is that one can get up close and personal with the performers in a way that is impossible in a bigger venue. Watching the Fitzwilliam Quartet playing Haydn, Shostakovich and Mozart last summer was fascinating: how the players interact with each other, and the soloist (my piano teacher), see the sweat on their brows which are furrowed with concentration, and all the other gestures, big and small, which go into producing music. It reminds us that so much of the music that was written before circa 1850 was meant to be enjoyed in this way: it was salon music, to be played for friends and amongst friends.

  • The Langdon Down Centre will be open on 18th and 19th September as part of the London Open House scheme. For further information go to http://www.londonopenhouse.org/
  • The new recital season at the Red Hedgehog opens on 7th October with what promises to be a fine concert celebrating the bicentenaries of two great composers for the piano, Chopin and Schumann. The Red Hedgehog is conveniently located close to Highgate tube station.
  • Sutton House in Hackney is the regular home of Sutton House Music Society, whose concert programme for the 2010/11 opens next month, and concludes, in June next year, with a performance by my teacher, Penelope Roskell, which includes Schumann’s ‘Papillons’ and the Sonata in G minor.

Chopin – Ballade No. 1 in G minor, op 23; Etude in E, Op 10 no. 3

Debussy – Voiles, Pour le Piano: Prelude & Sarabande, Dr Gradus ad Parnassum

Poulenc – Suite in C

Gershwin – Prelude no. 1 from Three Preludes

Liszt – Années de pèlerinage: 2ème année: Italie, S. 161: VI. Sonetto 123 del Petrarca

‘The Tingle Factor’ used to be a programme on Radio 4, a kind of second cousin to ‘Desert Island Discs’, on which reasonably well-known people (I hesitate to use the word “celebrities”), usually musical, artistic or literary personalities, discussed which pieces of music made them “tingle” or made the hair stand up on the back of their neck, and why. I expect most people have their own personal ‘Desert Island Discs’, and lists of significant songs and pieces. Remember the character in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity who made endless musical lists?  As a student, me and my friends were always making “mixes”, cassette tapes of our favourites, for parties, for driving, for working to, for chilling on a Sunday afternoon in bed…. Sometimes when I hear a song from that time (mid-1980s), I am instantly transported back to the attic room in my hall of residence, or to a pub, or a party, or a club somewhere in Exeter. I only have to hear ‘Road to Nowhere’ by Talking Heads or ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ by Simple Minds, and I am back in a crowded student club near the River Exe, on the dance floor, my doorkeys tucked into my shoe….

We gather music along the way and it forms a soundtrack to our lives, evoking memories, good and bad, and a few bars of a significant song or piece of music can create an instant reaction, a ‘tingle’. Music can arouse very powerful emotions. Psychologists suggest that there is something about the way music unfolds over time, as do emotions, and when we hear music we re-live the emotional sequence that happened the first time we heard it. This makes music so much more powerful than a smell or a painting: it draws us into a very special sequence of relived experiences. Music also raises our expectations, simply by granting or delaying a bar or beat in a piece, or by leaving a harmonic progression unresolved, or by using a device such as a Picardy Third. We would not be moved by music that fulfils our expectations; our emotions are at their highest when we are un-expected.

Then there is the music that seems to have seeped into the collective consciousness: Richard Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ is synonymous with space travel, specifically the Apollo moon landings, after it was used in Kubrick’s film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, even for those people who are too young to remember the film or the moon landings. Or the Andante from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, often simply called ‘Elvira Madigan’ after the 1967 Swedish film of the same title in which the music memorably featured. Or the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (‘Death in Venice’). Or Nimrod, from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Hear just a few bars and one instantly thinks of poppies, the First War and the annual, sombre ceremony at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. And – dare I mention it? – ‘Nessun Dorma’, now forever associated with football. We are constantly bombarded with soundtracks and jingles, musical tags and cover versions, which induce an unexpected “tingle” in us.

The other week, I was listening to Radio 3’s Breakfast programme, as I often do when I’m surfacing for the day with my first of many cups of tea, and I heard a piece which immediately took me back to my family home in Rickmansworth, where we lived when I was at secondary school in the early 1980s. The piece, for solo oboe and orchestra, was ‘The Watermill’, by Ronald Binge, composer of “light music”, and was used as the theme tune for the 1970s children’s tv series ‘The Secret Garden’. I loved the series, and the book it was based on: as an only child, I had (and still have) a vivid and romantic imagination, and was used to keeping myself entertained, making up stories and plays on my own in the garden or at the piano. But I wasn’t remembering the tv series when I heard ‘The Watermill’: I was recalling my father playing it on the clarinet, with me accompanying him on the piano.

Another piece which always reminds me of my father and sends a distinct tingle down my spine, is Gerald Finzi’s Five Bagatelles for clarinet and piano. My father was an accomplished amateur clarinettist who, sadly, had to give up the instrument some years ago because it was affecting his teeth. We often used to play the Finzi Bagatelles together, our favourite movements being the Prelude and the Forlana (which formed part of my Grade 6 clarinet exam). Thanks to a neat little gadget on my computer, I have created a personal ringtone for my father, based on Finzi’s Prelude!

There are many other pieces which induce a tingle in me, and some of these are distinct from my Desert Island Discs, which are pieces I simply cannot live without. Many of these pieces can transport me instantly to a point sometime in my recent past, others evoke a vague memory of a person or a place. Some are just heart-achingly beautiful: music that stops one in one’s tracks, or makes one cry. One or two are so painful I can hardly bear to listen them. Here is just a small selection of my ‘tingle’ factor music:

Beethoven – Opp 23 and 96 Sonatas for violin and piano

Beethoven – Op 110, slow movement and fugue

Schubert – D899 no. 4

Schubert – D960 1st movement

Schubert – D940 Fantasie

Schubert – Op Post 148 Notturno

Janacek – On An Overgrown Path (all of it)

Part – Speigel im Speigel

Mozart – Rondo in A Minor K511

Handel – Harp Concerto, first movement

Chopin – Impromptu in G flat, Op 51

Joni Mitchell – ‘Both Sides Now’

Ian Bostridge singing Handel’s ‘Ombra Mai Fu’

Franck – Sonata in A, last movement

It says something about the music of Schubert that I have highlighted four pieces by him. There are, of course, many, many more!

Last year it was Purcell and Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn. This year it’s Chopin, Schumann and Mahler, and next year it will be Liszt (and Mahler – again!). I am talking, of course, of composer anniversaries, celebrations to mark either their birth or death, or, in the case of Mahler, both.

The trend for marking such events with coverage on radio, tv and in concert halls and lecture theatres seems to have increased exponentially in recent years, the most significant, perhaps, being Mozart Year in 2006, marking the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which induced a veritable tsunami of ‘Mozartomania’, on the airwaves and concert platforms around the world. Classic FM went into daily paroxyms of cliché-ridden excitement about Mozart’s “laahvely melodies”, and wheeled out ‘Mozart favourites’ with such alarming regularity that one began to suspect the recordings were on a continuous loop. With increased coverage and focus on a particular composer, one is afforded the opportunity, without having to try very hard, to get to know that composer and his music better. Thus, last year, I properly discovered Handel, a composer whose oeuvre had been nudging at the edges of my musical consciousness for many years.

The same is true of Franz (Ferenc) Liszt, the larger-than-life towering intellectual genius of the 19th century, friend to Chopin, George Sand, and Delacroix, champion and benefactor of composers such as Berlioz, Wagner and Greig, lover of aristocratic women, trainee priest, phenomenally accomplished pianist and conductor, who contributed importantly to the development of the art, and who, almost single-handedly, made the virtuoso piano recital what it is today, an important teacher and a highly influential composer.

I rather facetiously said to a friend recently that I did not “do” Liszt, for which I was immediately ticked off. I am reasonably familiar with quite a lot of his piano music, though I will hold my hands up and admit that I have avoided his orchestral works. I could probably recognise and/or name quite a few of his piano works if a question came up on Brain of Britain. But he does not feature in my repertoire – yet. By the same token, I do not “do” Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, all fine composers for the piano (though I must agree with my piano tuner here, who once said “I cannot see the point of Rachmaninov”!!). In fact, there’s a lot I don’t “do”: as I have mentioned before on this blog, the trouble with, and the joy of being a pianist is the vast repertoire, and the lack of time to acquaint oneself with all of it.

I think my ‘problem’ with Liszt was that I had heard too many bad performances, too many overly romantic interpretations, and read too many urban myths about him. I suspect he was probably riotously good company (he was ridiculously portrayed by Julian Sand in a truly dire film about Chopin, who was, incidentally, played by Hugh Grant, for the Lord’s sake!); he was also very hardworking, if the other urban legends are true. It is said that he practised for 12 hours a day, that he had huge hands (often cited as the reason why so much of his piano music is famously difficult). Apparently, his concerts could go on for hours, full of pyrotechnic displays of virtuosity, improvisation and general showmanship. Today, most of us who enjoy classical concerts, would have no truck with this kind of extreme showboating behaviour (except perhaps fans of Lang Lang). He was also wrote essays on many subjects, was admitted to minor holy orders, though he never became a priest (he undertook no vows of celibacy), and was a highly committed teacher.

Listening to the Années de pèlerinage, one has a sense of a man more closely aligned, spiritually and artistically, to writers such as Byron, Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth, the French artists Jacques-Louis David, Eugene Delacroix (who was a friend of Liszt’s) and Théodore Gericault, and English painters JMW Turner and William Blake. He is defined as a ‘Romantic’ composer, which slots him neatly into the shared chronology of Chopin and Schumann, though he far outlived these contemporaries, and his music looked far beyond the confines of 19th-century Romanticism. The Romantic period in music falls later than the Romantic period in art and literature, yet I feel Liszt is more in tune with the aforementioned poets and artists. Some of the pieces in the Années suite are subtle, imaginative, and deeply poetic musical visualisations of works by Michaelangelo and Raphael, while others are inspired by the Sonnets of Petrarch. Later pieces, from the third year, such as “Les Jeux d’Eaux à la Villa d’Este” (“The Fountains of the Villa d’Este”), seem to prefigure impressionist works on similar subjects by Debussy and Ravel (La cathédrale engloutie, Jeux d’Eau to name but a few).

My Dover edition of the complete Années dropped through the letterbox the other day (actually, the postman had to ring the bell, but I like the idea of Liszt dropping through my letterbox!), and I spent a happy hour browsing and sight-reading my way through it. The ‘Sonnetto 123 del Petrarca’ is on the approved repertoire list for my Diploma, which is as good a reason as any to learn this piece, aside from the sheer, unadulterated beauty of it, but I suspect my teacher will tell me off for selecting yet another slow Romantic piece, so something with a little more pace may be more appropriate. In the end it doesn’t matter: the entire suite of pieces is wonderful, worthy of months – years! – of exploration. Meanwhile, I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon listening to Lazar Berman’s fine recording while watching a slide show of my holiday photographs (courtesy of my swanky Apple TV gadget), appropriately pictures taken in Liguria two years ago, and shots of snowy Alps in France. Indeed, listening to the Années is a little like going on holiday to the most beautiful, cultural parts of Italy and Switzerland, taking in the art and literature on the way – oh, and the music too.

Being a professional musician is regarded by many as a highly self-indulgent activity: doing something you love and enjoy, and being lucky enough to get paid for it. The long training, which often begins early in childhood (I started taking piano lessons aged five or six), and can go on for many years post-college, conservatoire or university, is reduced to the preparation for a hobby, for clearly music is not “real” work.

Talk to any professional musicians, or music teachers, or indeed anyone involved in classical music, and you will find highly professional and committed people who believe making music is an important cultural gift to be shared with others. But many of us also wish our art and craft was properly valued by the community which we aim to serve. Music teachers are famously underpaid (a recent survey revealed that the average rate for an hour-long private music lesson is around £25), and only the very top flight musicians can secure top flight fees for their performances. A handful are lucky enough to gain handsome recording deals.

I am often told I am “very lucky” to have turned my “hobby” into a business. Never mind the hours of work I put in every week, for which I am not paid, to ensure my studio runs efficiently and my lessons are successful, meeting the needs of each individual student (and they are all different!) every week. Apparently, I am also very “lucky” to be so “talented”. Many people forget that talent has to be nurtured: there are only a very few people out there who are so naturally talented that they do not need to put the hours in. The rest of us work hard, for hours and hours, days and months and years to feed the talent. A serious, committed professional pianist practises for five or six, or more, hours a day to ensure, in performance, that one never plays a wrong note, mindful always that one is only as good as one’s last performance or review. Aside from that, there is all the painstaking work to be done away from the keyboard: reading, analysing and annotating scores, marking up fingering schemes which, once learnt, remain embedded in the memory and the fingers forever. Note-bashing is simply no substitute for the hard graft of learning new work in depth: working, with pencil and score, cutting through the music to the heart of what it is about. Living with a piece to find out what makes it special, studying style, the contextual background which provides invaluable insights into the way it should be interpreted. The endless striving to find the emotional or spiritual meaning of a work, its subtleties and balance of structure, and how to communicate all of this to an audience as if telling the story for the very first time. There is new repertoire to be learnt, old repertoire to be revised, overhauled, finessed, or just simply kept going, a vast repertoire “in the fingers” which can be made “concert-ready” for some kind of performance within a matter of days, depending on one’s schedule.

Then there is the travelling: the Sisyphean accumulation of airmiles, nights spent in faceless hotels, sometimes a different hotel every night, fine, historic cities viewed through the fatigue of travel, for a pianist, playing an unfamiliar instrument in a foreign concert hall of uncertain acoustic. Having to produce a faultless performance on the concert platform every time. Never having permission to be less than perfect; always feeding the artistic temperament. To begin every practice session with the question “What can I do that’s different to the others?”, the pressure to achieve matched only by the pressure to sustain.

And one is not paid, retrospectively, for all the practise and preparation time. Concert fees are not huge, and sheet music and clothing and travel have to be paid for. And the instrument upon which one works, day in day out, must be maintained with regular visits by the piano tuner. Superstar soloists, like Chinese poster-boy-pianist Lang Lang, have an entourage of staff to support and cosset, but most international performers take responsibility for themselves, turning up on the appropriate day, with very little time beforehand to get to know the instrument. In the old days, one selected one’s instrument at Steinway Hall or the Yamaha showroom, it was prepared to one’s particular specification (there is a lovely scene in Bruno Monsangeion’s film about Sviatoslav Richter, showing him choosing a Yamaha in the showroom in Japan), and it travelled with one to engagements. These days, the soloist arrives at the venue and hopes for the best, knowing that most concert Steinways or Yamahas are largely the same.

During term time, when I work eight to ten hours a week teaching, I am “on duty” much of the time, my head full of information about my students, where they are in their learning, what needs to be done with them at forthcoming lessons and beyond, assessing which students will be ready for exams and when, and then remembering to do the online entries. At the most basic level, when I’m teaching back-to-back for three afternoons a week, there is rarely even time to dash to the loo or make a drink. I need a butler to answer the door and a maid to keep my teacup replenished! Sometimes, my mother comes up to stay and helps me by greeting students, chatting up parents, and making me tea. But I often don’t even have time to drink it, and at the end of the afternoon, the table in my piano room is littered with half-drunk cups of cold Lapsang Souchong. After three or four hours of explaining and demonstrating, listening and critiquing, I am so tired I literally cannot speak and often want to simply lie on the sofa in complete silence for an hour or more, preferably with a chilled glass of something in my hand. But I also have a family to look after: there’s homework to be supervised, and taxi-ing to Scouts or other after school clubs, and dinner to be cooked.

That is not to say that I don’t enjoy my work as a piano teacher, because I do. I enjoy it immensely: it is rewarding (seeing students improve and achieve), entertaining, challenging, emotional – but don’t let anyone kid you it’s easy!

Aside from the teaching, I also need to do my own practising. I am fortunate, as an amateur, albeit a very serious amateur, that I am not enthralled to the fickleness of audiences and reviewers; instead, I am my own fiercest critic and I set myself extremely high standards. Putting the hours in at the keyboard every day, if possible, is crucial to my continuing improvement and my ongoing ability to tackle the bigger and more complex works of the standard repertoire. Many people seem to think I just sit at the keyboard and the music flows magically out of my fingers. If only! For example, I have worked, virtually every day for several hours a day, for six weeks on Chopin’s First Ballade, and I am now up to page 9 (where the iconic second theme makes its grandiose reappearance), and the real pyrotechnic passages still await me. Alongside the Chopin, I have three other reasonably complex works, which may or may not form part of my diploma programme, to be learnt, finessed and kept going. I enjoy the work hugely: it is stimulating, both mentally and physically, but it is also very tiring.

When I go to a concert, I am more than aware of the hours of work and study the soloist will have put in to produce a performance lasting just under two hours. Learning some of the workhorses of the piano repertoire has given me a much greater appreciation of the amount of work that is required to be concert-ready: I worked for over eight months to learn one – just one! – of Chopin’s Etudes, and even after I’d performed it, at which point one might be able to consider the work “put to bed”, I still found things I wanted to do to it – and will go on doing so. I doubt the Chopin Ballade will be anything near to concert-ready before Christmas. Thus, when I go to a performance and witness a memory lapse or errors, I can only sympathise with the performer. Considering the amount of material one is required to hold in one’s head and fingers at any given time, is it any wonder that sometimes the mechanism stalls?

So the next time you’re at a concert, or listening to a performance on the radio, spare a thought for the hours of effort and commitment the performers have put in, for relatively little recompense, to produce that sublime sound, and be thankful that we are able to share in that effort and that unique cultural gift.