Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

This was the best kind of week. It started with a three-hour road trip with my manager/surrogate father/ shrink/bodyguard to Monmouth to record album no. 5. Glenn Gould (whom I worship with the fervour of a pre-teen Belieber) talked about the 'womb-like security of the recording studio'. Which was why, in a somewhat pussy move, he retired from performing in public.

And he was spot on. Bless my mum, but my first womb was a Valium- and gininfested warm place of loveliness, and the recording studio is absolutely the next best thing. Me, the safety net of the retake, a (phenomenal) Steinway, heaters, Kit-Kats, tea and Beethoven can give any pharmaceuticals a run for their money. Even if Gould somewhat greedily chose all that and the pills too.

Then back up to London for a weekend of practise before two same-day concerts in Vienna. And by practise I mean four hours a day of piano and 14 hours of whatever I fancy.

Which on Sunday meant lunch with Stephen Fry at the Soho House 'Little House' in Mayfair and The Great Gatsby with a pretty girl. I have a little game whenever I meet Fry. I am so desperate to appear clever and obtain his approval that I try to come up with just one thing he doesn't know. My reasoning being that I can then hold court and impart wisdom wittily and charmingly. And then I'll get on QI. And meet Tim Minchin.

It hasn't, doesn't, will never work.

Even my opening shot of 'I'm learning some Alkan right now. . . [expectant pause]' was met with 'Oh my God, I love his Opus 63 Esquisses!' followed by ten minutes on his life, works and influences.

So I ordered steak and 'forgot my wallet'.

I recently went to visit a middle school in a leafy part of Hertfordshire to see what the state of affairs is concerning music tuition in schools. I was confronted with a class of 30 children who were engaged, eager, passionate and genuinely keen to immerse themselves in music. Their (brilliant) teacher has a total annual budget of £400 for 160 children. What I witnessed was a kind of miniature Stomp - dustbins, margarine tins, chocolate boxes used as instruments, a cello that looked as if it had been used as firewood and a couple of mangled trumpets that were unplayable. There is something hideously wrong with an education system that has all the necessary ingredients for learning - passion, curiosity, incredibly hard-working and inventive teachers - and rewards that with mops and dustbins rather than instruments and subsidies for private tuition. …

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