Steven Isserlis has turned 50! And happily I flew to London to play on his birthday gala concert, with performers Andras Schiff, Radu Lupu, Dame Felicity Lott, Mark Padmore, Joshua Bell and yours truly.

Now, in the official accounts of this concert, I think it is fair to say, my name does not take a particularly prominent place. Since the newspapers perversely seemed to focus on these totally no-name pianists who I guess were also on the program, I thought I might offer a bit of a foil, or a counterpoint … the concert from my point of view, from out the Denkish eye, if you will: a kind of “live blog” perverted into a “post mortem.” And so, with some regrets, I offer:

12:52. Arrive Paddington Station. Check into hotel.

1:23-1:30. Purchase most absurdly British sandwich I can find at Marks & Spencer: Cornish gammon crunchers with Persnickety Cheddar and Wiltshire Bits and Bramley-Oxford-Hobnob Recycled Apple Chutney, extra Cress. Get text from Josh saying he’ll arrive at 5 pm and to be sure to be early. Set alarm and climb into bed.

3:32. Tormented by dreams of insane sandwiches. No, Jeremy, sleep.

3:34. I dream that I wake up too late, and thus ruin the Wigmore rehearsal schedule. Andras Schiff, Radu Lupu, and Josh are all yelling at me in a circle. I am twelve years old and I smell peanut butter. Meanwhile, Steven Isserlis from some mysterious undisclosed location, like the voice of God, is accusing me of never replying to his emails. I wake up, trembling, and discern my hotel clock blinking blue in the darkness: ah yes, everything’s fine, there is plenty of time, I am not twelve, I do not want to play Dungeons & Dragons. With that jetlaggy, clawing feeling where sleep (that siren) is calling to you, pulling at you, singing to you a song of nothingness, telling you there is nothing better than sleep, nothing in the whole world …

3:43. I dream that I wake up too late … etcetera …

3:48. I stuff all the coffee packets into the hotel coffee maker. I wish to break absolutely every rule regarding jetlag. Nap in afternoon, check; huge amounts of caffeine and mild overeating, also check. I also drink a minimum of water.

5:00. Arrive at Wigmore with steamed, steaming clothes. No one is on stage. I play the piano for a dreamy while, orgiastically absorbing the sound of that most beautiful of concert halls. I imagine I am Edwin Fischer and I play Bach; then I imagine I am Johnny Depp and I am a pirate.

5:31. Josh arrives.

5:32. It becomes clear I shall have to sit on a bench calibrated either for Radu Lupu or Andras Schiff. RL’s is extremely low, which is exciting and exotic, as if the piano were a distant, mountainous island on which you rested your hands. But AS’s height feels safer. I become slightly neurotic about this–there is always something wonderful to become neurotic about just before a concert! The lovely staff of the Wigmore offer me more coffee, which I accept.

6:16. Josh and I purchase chicken & bacon sandwiches from the Wigmore cafe. Exactly how many pork products with mayonnaise can I fit into this one day? Only time will tell. This sandwich is heavily piled with scallion, which Josh and I discover, but alas!, too late … my breath will reek of scallion all night long.

6:42. Scallion-related stomach issues. I decide to go out and seek another sandwich to settle the effects of the last one.

6:50. The sandwiches aren’t wacky enough. I get a coffee instead. I laugh at jetlag.

7:35. Enjoying Italian Concerto, immensely. Sudden desire to go practice Bach for 988 hours. It is not good to listen to AS or RL just before you have to go on stage, not good at all. Inspiration and intimidation are at war within my heaving, caffeinated bosom. Do I even have a bosom?

8:22. RL is able to play–pretty well, actually!–from his super-low bench. I become neurotic again about the height of my own bench, and flee the hall.

9:10. Josh and I are both handed a bottle of champagne; that means we are done playing, I think. I burp scallion at Dame Felicity Lott while telling her how much I love her recording of Suleika I.  My bench was too low, still. When do we get to eat again?

9:49. Getting into the Scherzo of the F minor Fantasy. It’s funny: when you’re playing them, you never realize how long these Schubert scherzi truly are.

10:12. Spectacularly beautiful rendering of Schubert A major Rondo. I go backstage and wander about. It is a zoo, a cocktail of craziness and schmooziness. I tell Andras Schiff how much I enjoyed his Bach, and he says … get this … “I enjoyed your Sarah Palin blog.”

There was a magnificent Hungarian emphasis on the word blog, and his eyes widened a bit, as if he were surprised to find himself saying that word. I consider this to be the existential climax of the whole, strange evening, I’m speechless, I have no idea how to react to the idea that Andras Schiff read the Sarah Palin blog, and my life may never be the same. Is there a world where Andras Schiff says the word “blog”? There is, and we’re living in it.

11:32. Excellent wines and company at star-studded post-concert dinner. A late-night four-course meal with red wine: the perfectly, eloquently, triumphantly worst thing imaginable to do for my jetlag.

And furthermore, I note with satisfaction that the guest I have brought is getting drunk, even verging on belligerent. A scandal of course could be either excellent or terrible publicity, I muse semi-cynically; I am in fate’s hands.

4:02 AM. Is it legal to open champagne on a London city bus? (The answer is no.)

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  1. Posted December 20, 2008 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    An absolutely WONDERFUL blog entry, and the explosion on the word blog with Hungarian accent and self-disbelief is the piece de resistance.
    Why else *does* one play the piano?
    Unbelievably enjoyable.
    Thank you. J

  2. elisabeth
    Posted December 20, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jeremy,
    “lurve” this entry.
    Especially I can feel with you on the parts on wicked M&S sandwich compositions (we used to call them SM sandwiches), the attempts to have a revitalizing nap with weird dreams and any half an hour the peek to the alarm clock and the nagging question: is it today or tomorrow or yesterday?
    Not to speak of the scallion burp…rofl

    “Blog” in Hungarian? My hungarian cello teacher emphasized every word on first syllable (except of Shostákovich)- which is very funny in german. But blog is only one syllable… I try to imagine the sound…

  3. foljs
    Posted December 22, 2008 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    You might appreciate this silly joke I just remembered. (It’s better when you actually hear it):

    — Beethoven, you haven’t paid me for six months. I am quitting as your butler.

    — But, Anselmo, you can’t quit! You are my inspiration!

    — Me? Your inspiration? Don’t make me laugh! (he laughs: G – G – G – Eb)

  4. roducl
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    It’s Christmas Eve Day and I do believe that one of the finest gifts I received this year was when Alex Ross linked to “think denk”. Deeeeelightful. Have a great Holiday season.

  5. les
    Posted December 28, 2008 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    What a trip! jet lag and time shift from previous concert. You’re incredible and an energizer. Hope you stayed few more days in London to recuperate.

  6. Pam
    Posted December 29, 2008 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    LOL on London. Just 3 days earlier we treasured the collaboration you joined to celebrate Bernstein. Mass – divine! But the piano duet?? Stunning, breath-taking. Would welcome any blogging for NYC before memory slips fully under this London entry…you four were amazing on stage in the Carnegie premier to close before the well-chosen encore.

  7. Jonathan
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    why oh why didn’t I go to Wigmore for this concert? Oh, that’s right, it was sold out, dammit.

    I spent the evening sneaking sips from a bottle of whisky in a brown paper bag on the Tube instead… such an Americanized pastime in London, now that it’s no longer legal!

  8. les
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Happy Joy,joy Jeremy!love your music

  9. wr
    Posted January 3, 2009 at 4:01 am | Permalink

    You know, it seems that Dame FL turns up at every single function of this sort in the UK anymore. It’s like whoever the people are who organize these things (and who are they, anyway? People from some Lott subsidiary corporation?) asks “will Lott be available?” before they even put the damn things on the calendar. But oh well, this was nice, and Isserlis deserved something special because he is something special, even though he’s just a kid. Fabulous delectable writing as always, and I think I note a certain new tone that’s maybe a maturation of blogful awareness. Or maybe just age. Whatever, I like it.

  10. Posted January 4, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    I just discovered your blog and I LOVE it. I’m a pianist and also became a blogger…not as good as you at any of them, but I still try. Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. jfmurray3
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    I suspect Andras Schiff is going to cite your “Trill, baby, trill” Sarah Palin blog punchline in his next series of lectures on the Beethoven Piano Sonatas.

    Will you do lectures from the piano of pieces you are going to perform and post those lectures on your blog?

    “Ives wrote a sonata named after a grape. Late last night, I woke up after a dream where my neighbor turned into Felicity Lott and sang Suleika I and II simultaneously. I was dazed and mesmerized, and while reeling from the prospect of hearing Schubert I and Schubert II being and becoming, my neighbor de-morphed from the body of Lott and into my refrigerator and stole my grape jelly and asked Lott to sing New England congregational hymns. Ives’s sonata encompasses all things.”

    Or something like that.

    Grapefully yours,


  12. Sydney
    Posted January 12, 2009 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    Interesting travels/dreams, Jeremy! It’s funny, I’ve always had the least problems with jet lag when I nap. The one time I didn’t nap, my bedtime was 6 pm for a week.

  13. Posted January 13, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Making the New Yorker’s Top Ten list with your awesome programming: WIN.

    Knowing the world’s most eccentric pianists read your blog: WIN x 1 billion.

  14. Posted January 14, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Aiya I meant New York Magazine. I’ve never even heard of this so-called “New” Yorker.

  15. Ex-"Rocker"
    Posted January 16, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    I always suspected that classical musicians(sorry if that description is too pedestrian or inappropiate–but what do you expect from an ex rocker?)were smarter than all other musicians but after discovering Mr. Denk’s blog and wisdom I know it to be true.

    Funny, bright, talented, and handsome—I don’t know if I should hate him or love him!!

  16. Posted January 20, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Methinks Dame Felicity might have joined you in a polite belching contest with just a leetle encouragement.

    Just found your blog and “heart” it very much.

    Best Wishes, OperaGal

  17. David Irwin
    Posted January 20, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    I was so frustrated tonight when I had to conduct a rehearsal and could not attend your recital with Joshua Bell. If the class met more than once a week I would have rescheduled it, but with thirty adults it is hard to do that.

    I’m sure the program was great. I especially would have loved the Janacek.

  18. Posted January 22, 2009 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    I am a fan of the dream bit with the peanut butter.

    Very cool that you played at Steven Isserlis birthday gala.

2 Trackbacks

  • […] the rigors of touring, even playing second banana to bigger-name artists like his most recent post, a live blog about an all-star concert in London which he played with Bell. He talks about how he knows he’ll have to play on a piano bench […]

  • […] November 10, 2009 A world where Andras Schiff says the word “blog” Posted by berenike under mildy amusing or bizarre Leave a Comment  I think I’m rediscovering my inner muso. Here’s a blog by An Concert Pianist, which I found through the blog of A Former Opera Singer. I creased up on reading this: […]

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