Friday, 8 August 2008

How long does ephemera last?

Paul Daniel (late of ENO, that is; a magician in his way, of quite a different kind) wrote to a Proms blogger colleague recently. The substance is not relevant here, but he made one remark that has been niggling at me ever since:

“As performers we create the immediate, the temporary, and leave others the pleasure of picking over the results.”

Do you know, for all that’s been said to me before, I’m not sure it is entirely true? Admittedly, once upon a time I was rather shocked to find members of the orchestra, after what I thought was a stunning performance, heading for their hotel discussing anything but what they’d just amazed 6,000 people doing. It seemed more like factory workers going home from the car production line at Dagenham. A disappointingly industrial kind of outlook. But then, they do this every day. I would hear that concert just the once.

But that doesn’t mean that the performance, for all it might be a singularity, is going to be ephemeral in the way Paul Daniel’s remark seems to imply. Some concerts, some productions, are, of course.

I doubt very much whether many of the audience now remembers anything (or did even then for very long) about the stage productions I was once a humble ASM for. Goodness knows, I only have a hazy recollection of two of them, and that is probably only because I was a teenager with a crush on one of the actresses who was in one, and because the other was the first time I’d ever seen Godot live. I was given an afternoon off to see it from the front for a change . . .I was innocent then; it wasn't entirely generosity, or concern for my dramatic education. I was a bit more 'papering' for an undersold matinee, of course. And we didn't talk about it then in the pub either where we had our (after-hours, usually) break before striking the sets.

But some, for all that, do last in the memory; I’ve spoken to people who have been able to tell me in detail about Callas's performances at Covent Garden. I still have a vivid recollection of Tennstedt’s Prom Ninth: I wept over that, was convinced it was his swansong, the culmination of a life of unkind fragility, and sure enough, not long after, he did die. Whether there will be any of that calibre this season, it’s too early to say, but I am sure there will be one or two. And of course, there are some I've already almost forgotten.

While I agree that the performance on the night is temporary, is immediate, in that it will never be repeated—or at least we expect and hope not, though there are always ‘industrial production-line’ ones that are, played with all the individuality of interpretation of a West End musical score that has to sound the same every night, regardless of who’s playing the instruments—I can’t agree with the implication that it’s necessarily ephemeral. At least not in its effect.

(And of course, I wince rather at the implication I too am a vulture, even if a small one, though I’d agree that many music critics inhabit the same sort of locus. Can I be a carrion crow? At least they are handsomer.)

Photo by Kathy Chin

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