Monday, 29 June 2015


If asked what they love playing the most, chances are that a significant proportion of classical musicians would answer: chamber music! I have always found chamber music a bit of a funny word - it somehow suggests a very small format and perhaps a slightly limited scale of expression which certainly isn't true at all - but I definitely count myself among those musicians who love and crave it.

What we tend to mean when we talk of chamber music is music written for a small number of players, let's say fewer than ten and typically three or four. This format has implications on how we work with this music, where it gets and can get performed; because of the small amount of musicians required to perform this music, the musical material is usually very equally distributed among the different parts, and in rehearsal everyone can have their say and influence the end result which we then present in a concert. This is an approach which would be completely impractical in an orchestra (which is one of the reasons you need a conductor) and in a solo work... well, there is not really anyone to discuss musical points with, is there? Also, because of the small number of players required, chamber music concerts can be done in smaller places and therefore nearer the audience.

As musicians we tend to love bouncing off our respective musical initiatives; you hear the person next to you play a phrase with a certain inflection and when you have it a few bars later you pick up that inflection, or you do something that is a complete contrast to name two out of a thousand options. In the best chamber music performances these things happen spontaneously, at the spur of the moment, and when it happens that way, trust me you are in heaven. And with an audience close up, you can sense that they like this a lot too. Add to this that most of the greatest composers have poured their soul out and composed some of their best works in the chamber music format. Am I getting my point across...?

As I write this I have just come home from the Saxå Chamber Music Festival in the west of Sweden, where I played my last three concerts for the 2014/2015 season. It has been an extremely rewarding year, where I have been lucky enough to play a large variety of music in some remarkable places around Europe and with some genuinely remarkable colleagues! Four weeks of much needed (and dare I say, well deserved) holiday lies ahead. If I love chamber music, I would say I love chamber music festivals even more, and Saxå certainly was no exception - it was a riot! Set in the spectacular setting of Saxå manor, where most concerts are held and where all musicians stay during the week, this festival has an additional attraction for me: there is a link with gastronomy grâce à the legendary Carl Jan Granqvist, who hosts the entire festival. Below is a picture of me together with Johannes Rostamo and Joakim Svenheden, gagging to go on stage and play Mendelssohn's D minor Trio in the final concert of the festival, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Hooray!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

New Growth

To come home after traveling can sometimes feel a bit frustrating; the chores of daily life - washing up, paying bills, not to mention the not always so glamorous piano practise - stand out in stark contrast to the carefree life "on the road". I am extremely lucky in that coming home means returning to such a beautiful and exciting place however, which only very rarely causes me this kind of frustration, and never is this more true than during spring and early summer, when everything in nature grows at such an astonishing rate that you hardly recognize the place after a few days absence.

In the days immediately prior to my leaving for London last week, I planted a lot of seeds in our brand new raised bed garden. (Most of the seeds went in much later than what is normal, but the whole raised bed arrangement simply wasn't ready before!) Most of these seeds had not even started to sprout when I left, and even those which had sprouted where no more than a centimeter or two above the ground, as in the case of the broad beans in the pictured above. Now, if I had stayed at home I would have been out there checking the progress of all this at least three times a day, which means I would hardly have noticed any change every time I checked, whereas now that I had been away for six days the rate of growth seemed simply alarming! 

The same astonishing rate of growth applies to the five little piglets that our sow Bonnie gave birth to just over three weeks ago. Here they are as I came out to feed their mother this morning. I think they thought 6.30 was a little early for breakfast as they decided to stay in their cozy straw bed, yawning and snoozing as I was taking their picture.

Finally, on the subject of things home-grown, something of a different nature which appeared (hot off the press!) in the mail yesterday:

This brand new anthology of Swedish piano music, from the 18th century up to the present day, was compiled by my esteemed colleague Hans Pålsson. Hans has done a great job in selecting a large variety of shorter piano pieces ranging from the most familiar works by Sjögren, Peterson-Berger and Stenhammar to rare treats along with a generous portion of new music by both women and men. I feel proud to have played a small part in the production of this volume as a proof-reader, and obviously the divulgation of Swedish music is a pursuit which is close to my heart, which makes me doubly pleased to have been involved. Do I need to mention that I wholeheartedly recommend this new anthology?

Off to Stockholm now for some rehearsals for the concerts in Saxå later in the week.

Monday, 22 June 2015

London & Daydreaming

I never felt the urge to express myself by through a blog - until last week! I was quite surprised by this sudden urge, but having spent a few days thinking it through, I decided to give blogging a try, and here we are. So, what has brought on this sudden urge then? 

I arrived in London, the city that used to be my home for nearly 10 years, last Wednesday. This time my reason for visiting was for a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 27 in the Thaxted Festival. As I stepped off the plane at Heathrow - I had started the day by giving breakfast to the pigs and chickens back home - the feeling came to me, like it has often done before, that I live in two parallel worlds. Parallel lives, almost. And I feel tremendously privileged that things have worked out that way for me. Now, I have often regretted not keeping a personal diary, and I know I don't stand the slightest chance to remember half of the wonderful things that I've been lucky enough to experience in my life so far. It then occurred to me a blog could act as a kind of diary, and that maybe someone out there might find it interesting to catch the occasional glimpse of the mad profession of a freelance musician - one of my lives. And maybe someone will find it entertaining, or informative, or amusing to read about the activities in my other life - that which takes place in my spare time back at the farm, feeding animals, gardening, building things, driving farm machinery...

I will be writing about music and various aspects of my profession, of course. There will certainly be quite a lot of cooking, vegetable gardening, building projects, pigs and chickens and the like. I probably won't be able to resist getting political at times. Throw in a bit of popular science, travel observations and a maximum of, say, one cat picture a month for good measure. If this sounds enticing then, well, watch this space!

As I post this, my very first blog post, I am back where the inspiration to write a blog initially came to me - Heathrow Airport in London (admittedly quite an unlikely place, not usually associated with inspiration!). My Mozart performance was last Friday, and the remainder of my stay in London has been spent largely wandering aimlessly around town, daydreaming, and meeting some dear friends for the odd drink and a bite to eat. I shall be returning to the concept of daydreaming in the future, as I find its restorative effect on the brain fascinating. In these last few days my brain has really needed a recharge; this spring has largely been a mad scramble of learning and performing large quantities of repertoire with a liberal sprinkling of extremely physical gardening work on top of that. I now have a few more concerts to look forward to in the coming week, and then I look forward to some four weeks off playing (but certainly not off gardening!). 

Time to board a plane, then!