Four Fab Summer Festivals

The summer season can throw out some interesting opportunities and combine a diversity of repertoire with some of the more unusual or exciting performance venues. This year I had four exceptional experiences, which I felt combined well to describe the nature of what this time of year can bring... Styriarte Festival Graz, Austria

This trip was to meet up once again with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich to perform Bartok's "Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion". As ever, I brought my partner in crime Sam Walton with me and we relished this concert in particular as PLA had programmed the Bartok alongside ( in some cases re-workings and new versions of) pieces by Ligeti, Steve Reich, Eotvos,  Nancarrow and Kurtag. It is such a great pleasure to be part of this quartet; Pierre-Laurent seems to know not of limits in music - and every moment of both rehearsal and concert show such care and consideration to sound and balance, clarity and projection. To be on-stage next to him as he embarks on a piece like Ligeti's Etude "Fem" is to hear instrumental achievement at its highest; it is astounding to hear such graceful and precise sense of timing, and such absolute control so excited by the spontaneity of the moment.

Sam and I also loved the city; the world cup was on and the place was very lively at night. We ran by the river, hired bikes and ate extremely well at the Santa Clara restaurant. As ever, the lottery attendant on hiring timpani abroad was not absent; my second drum only achieved a top 'e' by having its flimsy front leg generously gaffa-taped to the stage and by my applying an eccentric amount of pedal pressure, causing me to levitate momentarily above my timp-stool!

BBC Proms - Simon Holt concerto

After some careful deliberation as whether the Holt concerto would sink or swim in the vast space of the Albert Hall, all parties agreed that it would fare well and so it was that I got to play this masterpiece at the Proms this year. As it turned out, the music seemed to gain an extra set of legs(and teeth and arms and pincers!) from the greedy acoustic, and to play this work in this space proved to be an absolute career highlight. It was lovely to be paired up with fellow Holt-fanatic Thierry Fischer, and we had such a fascinating time teasing out the splinters of subtlety contained in this witty, boisterous and beautiful score. The solo movement was a splendid thing in the Albert Hall and I enjoyed bringing the whole thing down to a soothing stillness and out to full mania as the composer's scope encourages. This concerto is a major blessing for contemporary music and I am so glad it also received some pretty epic reviews from this performance.

Cabrillo Music Festival- Higdon

I made my debut at the Cabrillo Festival in 1996 aged 19 playing the MacMillan concerto. I returned in 2000 to play the Rouse but this was my first time since that occasion, so it was with many elements of nostalgia that I found myself back in Surf City USA. This is a remarkable festival, made up entirely of contemporary music; this year, every composer who had a work played attended, including Turnage, Glass, Adams and my own and highly beloved Jennifer Higdon. The orchestra is made up of enthusiasts for new music and is a terrific group. Part of this festival experience is contributing in one's own way to getting the word out to the public - and so it was that I found myself busking on a downtown metallic art-installation one night to get some publicity done for us all. You can verify this on Youtube as below![youtube=]

I also had great experiences via my host, who treated me to walks in the redwoods, participation in a wine-making operation, and some great inside info on the hot spots to get good burritos, good coffee and good cocktails! I also had a surf lesson with Anna Clyne, which was terrific! I hope to take this forward somewhat in New Zealand next month - let's see what happens!

Grand Teton Music Festival - Higdon

Okay - who thought of this one!!? Let's place a major US orchestra at the centre of a high-end ski resort for seven weeks every summer in the most stunning and imposing surroundings imaginable!! Good on them, whoever they were for the Grand Teton Music Festival celebrates its 50th season next year - and I was mightily impressed with the entire experience this August. Wyoming is as spectacular a place as I ever saw - the Tetons themselves arranged in vast splendor before you even as you get off the plane(Jackson Hole is the only airport in the US situated in a National Park). This was a wonderful week of music making, and it was yet again such a thrill to play Jennifer's piece, which got a standing ovation at the open dress rehearsal. The hall they have there is also extremely fine, and the opening marimba murmurs sounded better than ever. River trips, hikes and various wildlife encounters delighted our visit(I was joined by my girlfriend Kerenza on this trip!) and the McBean apartment, not long vacated by Stephen Hough, was an extremely comfy crash-pad in which to cook, sleep and sit in the rocking chair on the balcony looking at the stars.

Back in London now, I'm gearing up for my New Zealand trip, which also promises many great things, this time accompanied by my father. Congratulations to Huw Watkins and Alina Ibrgimova also, on the premiere of Huw's Violin Concerto at the Proms which I was at last week. A great piece of music that inherits from Tippett and carries on somewhere else new and challenging.