You’re in it for the music

Where did I hear or read that, that you need at least two out of three in order to make the job. And these three would be: quality, fun, and money. Anyway, even if I know my colleagues must be tired of this already, I keep quoting this a lot, and a second thought immediately comes along: “Most of the times, it’s just one”. Or, lately, something like “two halfs, or one and a half”. Something like that. Now, what is the work of a standard early music performer in Germany? You have your own projects if you got the ideas, the ambition and the energy, and a bit of luck. That’s great, it gives you two out of three, even all three, and it can make you happy or at least high. You got to get high, in order to cope with all the extra load which comes inevitably together with your activity as a performing musician: travelling a lot, sleeping way too little, rehearsing from eight to twelve hours a day, sometimes having to cope with inconvenient lodgings and lack of privacy. You can also cope with real discomfort, provided by inconsiderate concert hosts, conductors, colleagues or fans and poor concert locations. Such things are not often the case, but often enough to be mentioned. If you don’t get high, you can’t cope with any of this in the long run. Then, however, apart from performing as a soloist or with some great projects that are the fruits of your own mind and soul, or of some other colleagues you love to work with, there are the other jobs an early music performer in Germany does, and they are the majority. These are the gigs: one Christmas Oratorio here, one St Matthew Passion there, performed by freelancers just like yourself, some you know, some you don’t, under the direction of a first grade church musician, together with his choir and some hired vocal soloists. These gigs are our daily (or rather weekly, or monthly) bread. This is what feeds us and pays our bills. Providing that these gigs sometimes prove to be fun, challenging and sophisticated, in most cases you find yourself sitting on that chair of yours and trying to get high, on the music you actually love, but which is not happening the way you need it. You ask yourself if you can cope with it. How different is this music allowed to be, in order to still get you high? The porn scene you are forced to watch now, how different is it from the good sex adventures and romance in real life you have experienced and which you want to recall, in order to get high? How well are you able to accomodate with what’s going on? Can you still get high while watching that porn? Is anything going to happen in order to at least “push the button”? Well, you’re trying hard. Maybe it’s up to you to make that porn go away and turn it into real passion. And it’s exhausting, as seconds pass by in slow-motion. Your mind is at the music you play, while trying to get high, but one other thought is there as well: “It will be over soon”. In the concert, all musicians play better. We try to get high, and sometimes we can, but it required some energy. Then we think about getting to the station in time so that we can get the last train home, because no matter what waits for us there, it is better than the porn we left behind in that concert hall.
I wondered for so long if I were the only one who feels it this way – quite pretentious of me, I admit. Now I know better, there are many of us.
Last year one dear colleague announced his early retirement from the concert scene, I know of many who seriously consider quitting as well. Others got seriously ill. I may be a bit too forward to connect all these things, after all, I do not take the liberty to talk for others and some of them might, in good faith, not agree with me. It is for sure, in the world of the musical scene – very undemocratic as I see it – an unwise move to talk freely about such things. And yet I wish we did, to take into consideration that we may disagree, and eventually to find advice and solutions. I know I am not the only one who feels porn when it’s supposed to be passion, I cannot be.

4 comments

  1. Dear Alina,
    Every profession seems to have its latrine pit to clean and endure. (I’m an emeritus professor.) You are too fine of a harpsichordist to give it and the music up. You have recordings to make that will give many lovers of music great joy. Please hang in there. The comparison of a mediocre concert to porn was shocking but deeply meaningful. If it feels like one must prostitute oneself to make a living–that is sad indeed. I wish much more for you, because your music making is a treasure that makes me and many others happy. Peace and joy to you in this New Year.
    Sincerely,
    Ray Van Leeuwen
    Ardmore, PA, USA

  2. Maybe to be expected for such fine musician? Let’s be clear I worship Alina Rotaru; she’d never disappointed me: anything I have listened and heard: All IS HO TO…Honestly, it would be impossible to find a poor performance: they are rather glorious examples. And, yes, I think you can play a Judicial Discipline textbook and we will listen to it. Anything you recorded is a “must buy” recording. Believe me, you play with utmost confidence in the logic. And believe me, it takes confidence to play as you play.
    It’s a famine of beauty, honey. There are always ears and eyes that starving for beauty.
    I do not believe that the public really capable to enjoy the performance. But that’s another aria from another opera. I said it before and will repeat it again: you’re such precious jewel. You make our lives bearable. Is it too arrogant of me to suppose that you are the most deep and promising harpsichordist today? I’ll risk being arrogant and now, it’s time to bow away in oriental manner. Hugs and love and kisses.

  3. It is very sad …and I just dont believe that it must be in this way. …

    I just know as a listener of your magical recordings that without the sound of your playing. ..the world will be poorer. ..

  4. Dear Alina,

    I have thought constantly about your post since I first read it. It is an interesting thing to read for someone who is nowhere near the world of musical performance. Sure, I have attended many a concert and have been alert to the world of great music for several decades, but I really do not know many performers. The pain that I hear in your post has been something that I have often felt to be out there. Idealists and perfectionists and people with taste and a sense of nuance can be doomed to suffer. This is so very sad in the case of those who have the gifts to bring the greatest beauty to the rest of us. People like you.

    The ways of this world seem so misguided when every house is not full of Bach and Sweelinck and Schubert – and Alina Rotaru and Carole Cerasi and Pierre Hantai (the should-be rock stars of this world). If the world was just, you would have the joy that abundant resources and wise, inspired control bring; and, I bet, so many more days would be three out of three.

    When I take the time to engage in ‘magical’ thinking (this occurs too often), I invariably find myself imagining winning some large prize lottery and having a ridiculous amount of money. Aside from indulging in fantasies of rescuing huge numbers of mistreated and unwanted pets and rebuilding the historic homes of long-gone and great authors from my native New England and feeding multitudes of hungry children, I primarily focus my dreams on fantasies of enhancing the lives and facilitating the goals of early music performers. I have never imagined the life of an early music performer to be an easy one.

    My dream of all dreams is to establish a harpsichord institute, perhaps here in Connecticut, if I could find and buy the property where Wanda Landowska lived a couple of hours from where I reside. I would bring in performers like yourself and create a place where you could indulge in your creative fantasy. And, I would establish a Gilmore-like prize for you and those like you.

    Alas, this is a fantasy and likely to remain just that. But it will not leave me as long as I breathe – and hear.

    Alina, your musical gifts are fabulous. The gift of your music to others is nothing short of miraculous. Please try to remember this when things are most difficult.

    I have always longed to bring a creative energy to my life (my harpsichord playing is just plain bad) and I am finally making an effort to draw out less labored attempts at art by writing novels and the scattered poem. This craving for a creative outlet probably stems from the fact that far too many of my days as a physician are not three out of three. The job of an American primary care physician these days is thankless but we make a more than livable salary and I am always grateful for that. (Although the ability to retire in comfort in this country is becoming very difficult…). And worst of all, especially in suburban USA is the lack of suitable partners who live for passacaglias and fugues, Orfeo and Winterreise, Pelleas and Lulu…

    But, I wander. I am sorry if this reply is too much about me. My intent is one attempt to show you that although those who love you for what you do are out there and although it may seem like we so very far away we do care so very much.

    All the best,
    Chris Curdo
    Guilford, CT, USA

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