Retirement from Performance: A Change of Pace

AFCM14.1101_copyright Andrew Rankin

Is there a time when we should admit defeat, acknowledge our age and put our instruments away for good? Or is it possible to keep enjoying, playing and sharing music forever? Pauline Harding talks to musicians young and old about falling standards, failing physiques and a joy of playing music ...

The audience bursts into applause in the Great Hall of Dartington International Summer School in Devon, south-west England. In unsteady baby steps, Ruggiero Ricci shuffles on to the stage, his aged body shaped and bent by decades of violin playing. After what seems like an eternity he takes a seat in the centre and an assistant emerges with his beloved Guarneri ‘del Gesù’, tucking it into what could be a custom-made slot between the violinist’s chin and shoulder. The performance begins.

I was a teenager sitting in the audience on that evening almost 20 years ago, when a Ricci beyond his prime played Paganini’s 24 Caprices and much more besides. And yet that concert, brimming with charisma, beauty and love of music, will stay with me for a lifetime. Violist Nils Mönkemeyer has similar feelings about Yehudi Menuhin in his later years: ‘There was something that conveyed his whole heart and brought people together in a very peaceful way,’ he says. ‘He never lost the joy, and that’s already more than many people do with perfect notes.’

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