Listen to the Seagulls

by Keith Clarke

One of the best things about living in London is getting out of it. True, the city’s cultural offerings are pretty spectacular (though Paul Moor, RIP, would always insist that it couldn’t even hope to begin to compete with his beloved Berlin), but it is also noisy, overcrowded, and cursed with an often dysfunctional transport system.

My answer is to beat the retreat every couple of weeks to the south-west coast of Wales, where I swap the roar of London’s traffic for the soothing cry of Pembrokeshire’s seagulls.

So after last week’s diary of Anna Nicole on Monday, Lucrezia Borgia in 3D on Wednesday, a play in a pub theatre on Thursday, Madam Butterfly on Thursday and The Mikado on Saturday (“Why didn’t you do the Berlin Phil on Tuesday?” suggested a friend who thought I wasn’t getting out enough), I am sitting a two-hour drive from the nearest major concert hall – Wales Millennium Center in Cardiff.

Tenby is a small seaside town that punches above its weight in many ways, and has a lively arts festival every September – this year is its 20th – but it does not provide an urgent need to catch the hot ticket every night of the week, which is fine by me. A chance to recharge the batteries does wonders for the cultural appetite, and makes one ever more appreciative of the sheer volume of first-class entertainment that London has to offer.

At a time when all of us around the globe have a constant multi-choice of material making a claim on our time, it is no bad thing just to stop, and listen to the seagulls instead.


The deliberations of the Association of British Orchestras annual conference continue to reverberate. One of many issues creating heat was the large gulf between the earnings of top-name conductors and soloists and the rank-and-file musicians on stage. One player had done her sums and reckoned that when all things were taken into account, she was working for about £30 ($48) an hour.

There were some mutterings about how this compared with the going rate for a plumber in London, but the musician’s beef was how it compared with conductors, who she reckoned were getting five to ten times as much as the players. Must be something wrong with her calculator, for the great divide is far worse than she thinks, given the caliber of conductors who wave a stick at her band.

The major London orchestras have an agreement in place to cap conductor and soloist fees, but the big names still put a big smile on their accountants’ faces. At the other end of the scale, soloists on the way up the career ladder are being offered the kind of fees which hardly cover their expenses, a situation which we shall be investigating in a forthcoming issue of Classical Music magazine.

One singer told me how he had been rung to see whether he was available for a date. He wasn’t, but suggested a number of excellent young post-graduate singers from the music college where he is a tutor. “Oh no,” came the reply, “They cost £190 [$309]. I was thinking more of £130 [$211] maximum.”

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