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Exit Maestro

Pauline McLean | 17:46 UK time, Friday, 22 August 2008

If you, like me, despair of the desperate need to brand all classical music as "music from the feature film" or "as heard on the advert for..." (see BBC's Maestro for the best way to ruin an otherwise interesting idea), then you'd have loved last night's concert by Alfred Brendel in the Usher Hall.

That's if you were lucky enough to have a ticket - since it was last appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival. Ever.

Brendel is a piano-playing legend. And at 76, long enough in the tooth to say exactly what he thinks, and he frequently does.

No dumbing down of titles for him - this is Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert - just as their composers intended.

Brendel famously berated a member of the audience at a previous festival for leaving their mobile phone on.

Today, he's got it in for the coughers in the audience - and the Usher Hall has its share of them - pausing mid-movement to wag his finger at the culprit, like some disaproving schoolmaster.

We all sit nervously after that, clutching our water bottles and cough sweets, in the hope that we can keep that tickle rising in our throats.

Then there's inappropriate clapping.

The Mozart is not finished when the audience erupts into applause - Brendel sighs and tells the people in the choir loft that the piece has three movements. Sigh.

Not that there's anything schoolteacherish about his playing - an amazing performance which builds up a great swell of applause which results in a standing ovation and three encores.

It's almost as if Brendel doesn't want to leave.

But this is his final concert tour - his last performance will be in Vienna in December, after which he officially retires.

But he's already finding it tough and I'm told he's agreed to do an engagement next year as part of a classical/comedy fundraiser.

Only this time, he won't be playing the piano but reciting poetry.


  • Comment number 1.

    Did he really pause mid-movement? If what you say is true that is appauling. Hardly 'just what the composers intended'. I would have asked for my money back.

    If that had happened in Germany/Austria there would have been a riot.

  • Comment number 2.

    I empathise with both sides. As a gigging jazz musician, I frequently despair at nattering audiences. It's hard enough being heard over the drummer let alone the punters too.

    I think there's a balance to be struck, however. Not wanting to generalise, but the classical concerts I've seen have tended to be thoroughly tense and joyless affairs during where you're afraid of moving lest you make the slightest noise. All respect to Mr Brendel's achievements, but perhaps he ought to lighten up in his old age.

  • Comment number 3.

    I can see both sides too. It must be awful to have to play to a crowd of Brits (and I'm British).

    You can either renounce playing in front of these audiences, keep your musical output to private soirees and wash pots for a living or you can suffer the coughs and clapping and become a world famous, and well paid, pianist.

    You can't do both. Even if it narks him he shouldn't have shown it and certainly should not have paused mid-movement. These people have paid to hear him. I'm sure he won't complain when the cheque arrives.



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