I had my first full “In Tune” experience today. For those who don’t know, it’s a two hour show on Radio 3, the BBC’s classical radio channel, which highlights concerts and musical events which are coming up in the music calendar. Every day they have some guests who perform live in the studio.
I say my full experience because I have been on the show before but then all I had to do was chat about the St Matthew Passion from a studio in Bath. We were promoting a performance with The Bach Choir and luckily they already had a tape of a broadcast performance we had done a couple of years beforehand. I sat alone at the other end of an ISDN line while in Broadcasting House in London Sean Rafferty, the host, fired me questions over the ether and we listened to bits of the tape.
Today I was helping to plug a concert I’m doing in Cambridge on Friday – the rarely-performed “Golgotha” by Frank Martin – so I had to take a train up to London, rehearse with a pianist, hang about, do a sound check, hang around some more and then, well, go for it. It’s an exhausting business this promotion lark.
I wasn’t alone. Our soprano Ailish Tynan, and mezzo Sue Bickley (an avid reader of this blog as it turns out. Hi Sue!) were in on the act too, each of us with bleeding chunks to contribute. The difficulty was that none of us has performed the piece before and though we’re all prepared, we haven’t done any proper rehearsals yet, despite Sean Rafferty saying on air that we had. We do that on Thursday. So our knowledge of the piece as a whole is confined to our stuff and not much more. None of us, apart from the conductor, had got a handle on the entire oeuvre and yet we had to go on the radio and sell it.
The concert will also be broadcast on Radio 3 so this was our chance to tickle the taste buds of the potential listener so that he’d eschew all the other distractions on offer on Good Friday evening and tune their dials to us instead. It’s a tough sell and we did our bit, spouting enthusiasm from every pore. Sue was so enthusiastic that during my stint of being interviewed (about which I can remember practically nothing) she hurled a plastic cup across the live studio. Well that’s how it sounded as I struggled to find a cohesive argument for a piece of which I am familiar only in bits. I think perhaps that in her relief at being done she just dropped the cup, but I like to think of her chucking it in a fabulous display of upstaging.
The studio is a grim environment in which to sing – acoustically dry and unforgiving, though I think (and hope) they add a bit of flattering reverb in the mixing booth. More unnerving perhaps is the immediate presence of your conductor and colleagues who have nothing better to do than listen to you from only a few feet away.
The odd and surprisingly pleasant thing is that it feels as if we’ve got the hard bit out of the way. Friday’s performance may well feel like a walk in the park compared to the scrutiny we’ve faced today. Well, you can but wish.

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