The Show Must Go On
As freelance musicians, we have the ability to shape and mould our career into the avenues that truly interest us. Variety is our spice of life and we're not afraid to tread paths less trodden. Many of us might even argue that our ability to imagine, create and expand beyond traditional thinking is ultimately what pays our bills. Even so, we all have that "one day dream". One day, I'll perform the Elgar Cello Concerto. One day, I'll start my own music school. One day, I'll throw my own chamber music festival?
These "one day" dreams drive us, keep us striving ever upwards for that feeling that makes us giddy with pride in our achievement, that makes tomorrow brim with hope and opportunity. But these "one day" dreams also take an enormous leap of faith into the terrifying unknown to make reality, something my next guest knows only too well.
This August, London based Irish pianist, Peter Regan saw his dream of starting his own chamber festival become a reality when he created and performed in the first Fulham Fest. But unlike most first time artistic directors, he took the leap just as the music world emerged from the worst pandemic this country has ever experienced!
What was the inspiration behind the creation of Fulham Fest?
In the back of my mind it's been a long term ambition to run a chamber music festival but I've been putting it off; it's never been the right time, the right place, I don't have enough money, I don't know enough people, don't know enough music, I can't play the piano! All of these types of feelings you know? Why would I be having a festival? Don't be ridiculous! But the last year has really shown that there is no perfect time or situation, (after the first wave of lockdown, I thought that's the worst of it done, that's never going to happen again - ha! Hilarious!!) you just have to keep pushing. Ideally, I wanted to do it in this gorgeous coastal town in the west coast of Ireland. Everyone could come over and have their musical holiday by the sea and it would be really beautiful but the more I thought about it, the more it got in the way. I don't live in Ireland anymore and it's too far away. Firstly, you have to find the gorgeous little town to have it in, then you have to find a gorgeous little town with enough spaces to house the chamber festival in, THEN you need to get the local people involved to say "yes, we want it in our gorgeous little town" and that's before you've asked anyone to pay or gotten any funding! But I thought, why does everything have to be so perfect? Stop being idealistic, if you want to make it happen, make it happen where you are! I live in Fulham, I love Fulham. It has lots of spaces to play. It didn't have a chamber festival already. There are lots of musical organisation in Fulham so I knew there was a love of music in the area and that's how the idea of Fulham Festival came into being.
What were the biggest challenges faced in the run up?
The biggest one was getting the funding. That was hard. It just takes forever - I mean I should! You don't want to just be able to write to someone and get money for free. I knew about the obvious avenues like arts council, Hammersmith and Fulham council. I had an idea about first port of call but after that it was just a lot of research; visiting websites of other musical organisations, looking at accounts and going through lists of donors. I just had to work through every donor, foundation, trust and contact them. The next step was who do I know who can help personally, which is horribly awkward to ask people you know for money. The applications themselves are really long. They're so incredibly specific and at times its hard to give that level of specificity: a lot of what you say is provisional because everything is based on the level of funding so you can't confirm anything without the funding but you can't have the funding without anything confirmed. So that makes getting the funding quite difficult.
Another one was obviously Covid! I remember there was one day in Fulham where I was going door to door to shops and businesses in Fulham looking for funding - that's how bad it was! It was exhausting, we were in the middle of a heatwave so we went to the pub to console overselves over a pint and then my phone goes off with "NEW COVID PEAK X AMOUNT OF NEW CASES!" I was so worried about what would happen if one of the performers got it and I mean it did happen! We had one occasion where Covid meant we had bassoonist James Fischer manage to learn a concert in a day so huge shout out to him! But it was a challenge!
The frustrating thing about the challenges is that they are so arduous and time consuming that it really takes away from the time you need to learn the music and get people to go. It was all difficult but interesting and fun when you come out the other end and it's happening but in the middle it's not so fun!
Do you feel like the arts have been supported enough in their attempts to recover after the pandemic? What would you like to see changed?
Okay well, I'm probably not the right person to ask because ashamedly, I'm not massively politically engaged... but general answer is no. We all heard music education has been cut in half. CUT IN HALF! I know the argument has already been made but what did everyone do this year? How did we make ourselves feel better at home, not going out? We all sat listening to music! Music is in everything! If you want to look at it from a business point of view it's an incredibly important part of the economy everywhere. I mean what kind of marketing company doesn't use music? What political campaign doesn't use music? Every current affairs show, everything on television, on the radio uses music! Live events - not even musical event - conferences, meetings, family gatherings all use music. People say it's not important or that it's an unnecessary extravagance and something we do because we're lucky enough to indulge in a luxury and some ways that can be true but take culture out of everything and see just how miserable everyone is then!
Do you believe there is a generation gap when it comes to the demographic of classical audiences?
Yes and no... Definitely classical music is seen to appeal to an older generation but in the concerts that I play myself or when I go and see concerts I wouldn't say there's a gap. It's not like classical music is only attended by old people, it's just that there's a really clear divide between what young people go to and what old people do. When I go to see new music or unfamiliar music, or music presented with an artist or political agenda in mind, those type of concerts tend to be attend by younger people. If I look a Fulham Fest, there's was a very even split between older and younger audience members. If anything it was the middle that we were missing! I feel young people are really open to going to new things. I play a lot of the Candlelight Concerts and it's not always classical music but sometimes it is and it's full of young people. It's because their marketing is so good they know how to pull in that demographic. You never want exclusively one group. A study with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra shows that even though 48% of classical music is listened to by the over 50s, 35% is now listened to by 18-25, which supports what we saw at the festival.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to put on a festival?
1. Don't put it on in August!! Timing is important. Think about where you are and how that affects the people who live where you are!
2. You need help! Don't try to do it on your own! I had a great group of friends to help me. Every day I would get up and do two hours of festival prep before I did anything else and then once a week myself and Carolina Blaskovic would work all day and if I didn't have that, it wouldn't have happened.
3. You just need to enjoy it! You shouldn't leave it up to chance you have to make the decision to enjoy it. It's a very long challenging process, especially if you don't know the right people! It can be so demotivating with time vs rejection levels so you have to recognise the bits that are cool, fun and interesting because otherwise it's drudgery!!!
4. When it comes to the music stage, let go! When we got to that stage it was incredible!!
5. Let all your friends know about it early and repeatedly so they come!
So as I leave you with a beautiful recording of Schubert's Trout Quintet performed at Fulham Fest with Peter on piano, members of the Hill Quartet and bassist and previous "From a Cellist's Perspective" interviewee, Evangeline Tang, I hope that this interview has left you with a spurt of inspiration to pursue your "one day" dream. No matter how scary it may seem.