I was up late last night, listening to BBC Radio 3 (I thank God every night for internet radio).
The BBC Proms are on, and thanks to their Listen Again feature, I have been able to get a slice of the glorious action, all these thousands of miles away, and at a time of my choosing. So I tend to listen in at night, when the household and ambient traffic noises have diminished.
I was about to switch off after listening to a smashing concert featuring the John Wilson Orchestra in a high-octane performance of a selection of hits from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. But then I learnt that Norman Lebrecht would be interviewing Riccardo Muti,
of whom I am a great fan. (I respect Norman Lebrecht very much too). So I stayed up a little longer.
It was a really fascinating interview, with so many insights into the great Maestro. For instance, the circumstances under which he first interacted with Herbert von Karajan, and with Sviatoslav Richter; how Plácido Domingo spent three weeks revising the operatic role of Verdi’s Otello with Muti despite having sung it literally hundreds of times; the importance of studying music rather than “conducting”; how conducting essentially conveys what’s in your head and is far more than “stick technique”; the importance of studying and really understanding an operatic score.
You can listen to the podcast too, here.
What also impressed me was his recollection of a watershed moment in his childhood (0:10:20 of the podcast).
When he was a little child, (perhaps going on 8 years), he got a violin as a Christmas present. He initially showed little interest in it, viewing the gift as a “punishment”, to the frustration of his father, who even thought he might be “nonmusical”. But Muti still remembers what his mother (who incidentally wasn’t as interested in music as her husband) said in response:
Let’s try one more month.
Those words somehow awakened something within the young boy.
As Muti recalls,
That phrase, and that month, changed everything.
Inexplicably, it all suddenly clicked in his head: the reading of the notes, the mechanics of violin-playing. In a year’s time he was able to play in public, a Vivaldi violin concerto!
I paused the podcast at this point, and reflected on this.
It is all-too-easy to get frustrated when a child doesn’t respond to a stimulus in the expected time-frame. It is sobering to think how different Muti’s life might have been had his mother not given him that month’s reprieve. What a musical talent the world would have lost!
So the next time you & I think that our child, our pupil is not quite “up to the mark”, let’s remember the words of Riccardo Muti’s mother:
Let’s try one more month.