Long Pregnancy

Posted on 26th June 2015 by Svend McEwan-Brown

What living creature has the longest pregnancy? Any primary school class can probably tell you that it’s the elephant: 23 months. Well, the East Neuk Retreat is an idea that has had a gestation of at least twice that, and today it finally comes to fruition. I may not look like a pregnant pachyderm but I will admit to feeling more than usually expectant and excited. Today, from points across the world, 14 people arrive in the small town of Elie in Fife and I join the rest of the team in welcoming them. Four of them are celebrated musicians familiar to the greatest halls and festivals of the world; ten are notable young artists embarking on their professional careers. They have all made their mark already and – vitally – they share a passion and commitment to chamber music as part of their musical lives. So what will these 14 players do over the coming week, and why are they doing it here?

Place first: spend less than half an hour in Elie and you know that it would be the perfect place to disappear to and concentrate on something important. I recommend it to anyone with a deadline. The important thing our players will do is to turn their backs on the world for a short time and spend 7 days simply playing and focusing on one the greatest of all treasures – chamber music.

Why do it? For ENF it is a no-brainer. (High Horse alert!) The chamber music repertory is a vast, marvellous and rich human treasure. Pretty much any composer you can name wrote far more solo and chamber music than orchestral, choral, operatic or theatre music. It was often the only genre of music that they wrote throughout their lives, and it was often what they themselves would play. You can get no closer to Beethoven than to listen to his sonatas and quartets. Sadly, size seems to matter more than quality and chamber music is too often eclipsed by music that is simply larger. The greatest chamber musicians command resources, audiences, fees, opportunities that pale compared with, say, a second, third or fourth rate orchestra. For a young musician it is a tough and demanding path to take. The Retreat is not going to change that, but it means to join events of similar spirit across the world in championing chamber music and its musicians and encouraging them onwards.

(High Horse over!)

At a simple human level, I am intrigued about how the week might go. How will they get on? After all, these musicians have not met before… All I can say is that every one of those people is remarkable. And when you bring remarkable people together remarkable things are likely to happen. So on Thursday and Friday next week when the Retreaters share their music with us at Crail Church I fully expect to find my socks in a neighbouring field, having had them knocked off. Do join me. Socks optional. On Thursday 2 July they play the great piano quartets of Mozart and Schumann. Then on Friday 3 July there’s an unmissable treat for lovers of Romantic string music: Brahms Sextet No 1 and Mendelssohn Octet. If that isn’t nice what is?

Meet all the Retreaters and see concert details at www.eastneukfestival.com/retreat

Read about Alexander Janiczek at www.heraldscotland.com/arts-ents/music/the-busy-schedule-of-a-man-out-of-time.127051665