I got the Summer School blues on Wednesday, the day when you realise the week is going faster that seems possible. Then I got the Wall on Thursday, when you give in to the temptation to skip the second half and seek enlightenment in a glass of red. Then on Friday, I got my mojo back when I got to play the Bach Double with a bunch of all-comers headed up by the Skampa Quartet. That was it. Fixed grin for the rest of the day.
Now, the other side of a six-hour meditation on the living hell that is the A303 on a Saturday in August, and I’m back in the real world, reflecting on a week well-spent with my father, doing the thing we both love so much.
The concerts at the end of the week passed by in a bit of a blur. The ‘Made for Dartington’ production of The Pirates of Penzance was a triumph – another canny piece of theatre-making by Richard Williams, adapting a work which was, at the time of writing, a cutting rejoinder to the theatre industry, into a fond, gigglesome piss-take of this whole silly business. My father retreated to the bar, fiddling with his hearing aid and muttering, “It’s not that I don’t like Gilbert and Sullivan, it’s that I can’t hear the dialogue…” I laughed and bought him a beer. It’s wonderful to see G & S at Summer School, just as it’s wonderful to see a program that variously offends, irritates, delights and wows people in equal measures.
The final night concert was, as always, for the Big Choir, and a stirring performance of Haydn’s Nelson Mass, with impressive top notes from the sopranos and the tenors hanging on for grim death in those fugues. Before that, Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Joseph Havlat as soloist. Havlat is a rehearsal pianist and repetiteur for the conducting course, one of those unassuming but essential characters who float around at these events, like the mild-mannered janitor with hidden powers. It was great to see him transform into a superhero in this nutty, spiky, soulful work, and great to hear the Dartington Festival Orchestra’s principal trumpet out the front of the stage too.
A final observation. This week I played chamber music most days. It was a mixed bag — I’m not sure the “Adequate Quartet” is a going to work, marketing wise, as a name — but it was always fun and often thrilling. I particularly enjoyed meeting two instrumental music teachers from Bristol, string players on the frontline of music education. Their day job is giving 20 minute lessons to a room full of 10 eight-year-old beginner fiddle players. They came on a teacher bursary, which is a new scheme from the Summer School Foundation, a fully-funded busman’s holiday where they can refresh their skills and remind themselves why they do this bloody thing. It’s an inspired idea. The two teachers were completely blown away by the experience. Hearing new things, seeing great artists and great teachers in action, playing new repertoire, pushing themselves beyond anything they thought possible. They’ll take that energy with them back to the classroom and the kids they teach will be the better for it.
Job well done, Dartington.