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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Online Musicians' Diaries Superficial

By Norman Lebrecht / December 27, 2001

If you want to know what artists are up to, the thing to do is read their diaries. Such objects used to be kept under clasp and key but, in the modern world, musicians need exposure and many post their inner lives on the Internet, often with pictures.

The pioneer in this peculiar genre is the American violinist Hilary Hahn who, since her late teens, has been telling virtual visitors to her home page of her every move on tour. Breezily cheerful and every bit the girl-next-door, the banality of her jottings has been equalled only by the lamented Charles Pooter. But where Pooter's was avowedly The Diary of a Nobody, Hilary's is deadly earnest and self-repetitive to the point of screaming tedium.

'Greetings from the land of ladybugs,' she trills, in the latest entry, from Milwaukee. 'The little red critters are everywhere ... As you can tell from the enclosed photos, I have quite a view from my hotel window. Natalie (her piano accompanist, Ms Zhu) and I are staying in a perfect location - right next to a grocery store, and a ten-minute walk from the lake. We have a kitchen, so we can cook our dinners right in the hotel if we want to...'

There is lots more in this vein, but I shall spare you. No matter where she plays, from Toulouse to Tennessee, Hilary notices little beyond a hotel, concert hall and blur of street activity that she snaps on a digi-cam and posts on her site. In the week of September 11, she reports only what the world saw on live television, framed by a subdued hotel lobby in Dallas and delays at the airport.

'This is the largest-scale sense of loss I have ever experienced,' she adds, 'and it's hard to imagine that things will feel routine again for some time to come.' Have no fear. Weeks later, she is routinely relating the amenities of hotel rooms and concert halls.

No-one expects philosophical consolations from a girl of 22, or even emotional awareness. But Hilary's diary is so bereft of human colour and interiority that it reads as if translated by a record-label PR from a Dalek manual.

Joshua Bell has nothing deeper to say about September 11. He's fine, his site proclaims, and his heart 'goes out to those who have not been so lucky.' Bell can't be bothered to keep a diary, but he is up to answering fan questions. 'Which do you prefer to be called - Mr Bell, Joshua or Josh?' quavers an admirer. 'You can never go wrong if you call me Maestro,' replies Bell. 'Just kidding!!! Please call me Josh or Joshua.' Oh, the sublimity of art.

The accomplished Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer has kept a web diary for three years. He discusses orchestras and concerts with some perception, admitting the difficulty of working with strong personalities in the Berlin Philharmonic. The better the orchestra, he notes, the more a conductor must do to impress.

Fischer is bugged by his Budapest rival, Zoltan Kocsis, who seems to have more political clout and gets lots of state subsidy while Fischer's festival orchestra gets peanuts. His diary breaks off abruptly last May. I hope all is well.

Also behind in her journal is the soprano Jane Eaglen, who reports her first Ring at the Met in May 2000. 'My husband's sister came to the performance tonight and enjoyed her first Wagner opera, and Götterdämmerung is not the easiest one to see, though the ending is spectacular enough for anyone!'

Did Sis have a good time? Brünnhilde didn't notice. 'Went straight back to the apartment after the show as it was very late and I was tired. Now have to think about packing for going home, which is a very nice thought.'

Eaglen has since returned to the Met as Norma and was hooted off by a conclave of critics. Her views of that fiasco might have been worth reading, but the space remains stupefyingly blank.

Bryn Terfel's home page treats us to his thoughts on Wales, golf and the rules of Rugby Union. All in German, which is jolly brave of him, especially when he pronounces Wales the most musical of nations. Song, he declares, 'is the window to the Welsh soul'.

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



(c) La Scena Musicale 2001