Photograph of a snowy Christmas landscape in Romania

A much-needed Christmas

As we are approaching the end of a very difficult year, I find Christmas more necessary than ever. Because above all else, Christmas brings hope, renewal, and the chance to clear everything, and start again from scratch.

2020 has been an emotional rollercoaster. It started with the thrill of wonderful concerts, firstly at the Bozar in Brussells, then I had the exciting tour with the RSNO… It looked like a very promising year. And then the pandemic hit. The first couple of months were the absolute worst. I was trying to support my students at the Royal Academy of Music battling crippling doubts about our profession and depression about the future, while I was also facing my own demons.

As the year progressed, and we all accepted what we were facing, I found new seeds of hope in my own thoughts and ideas. We are all working more than ever, trying to patch up all the holes left by the virus, but amongst the long hours, I found the energy to practice again, to learn repertoire I thought I’d never have time learn, and to remind myself why music is so important for us, as a civilisation.

My start-up festival in Romania, Hoinar, had an online edition, after months when I was convinced we wouldn’t be able to do anything. We’ve had interviews with professors Joanna MacGregor (from the RAM), and William Fong (from the Purcell School for Young Musicians), talks and pre-recorded concerts. Most importantly, I was able to give masterclasses online, broadcast live on Facebook, directly from my home in Hertfordshire, and all the way to different parts of Romania. It was incredibly rewarding to see these young pianists play so well, with such determination, even though some of them have been practising on an electric keyboard, on the balcony of a tower block of flats for the last 9 months! The sheer dedication of these children was a huge lesson for me. Pandemic, financial crisis, economical doom aside… these children found in music a way of coping, a reason to keep going.

As a conclusion to this year, and as a thank you for your support during these exceptionally difficult times, I’d like to share with you a new, ‘home-made’ recording of one of my favourite pieces – the Passacaglia by Sigismund Toduță: Variations on a Romanian Christmas Carol. Romanian carols (particularly those that stem from the national folklore) are quite often dark and sombre. No ‘Joy to the world’, no ‘Tis the season to be jolly’. They often focus on the sheer poverty in which Jesus was born, or on the fact that he was born with the clear purpose to die very soon after…

This is one of my absolute favourite pieces. I included it on my debut CD. It is such a wide-ranging piece, going from the earthy feel of folklore, to the shimmering brightness of chimes and bells. It has a very wintery feel to it, and it reminds me of some very magical winter landscapes I grew up with. It does start in an ominous, eerie way, and it reaches a very dark emotional abyss, but it springs back with enormous power, and the cataclysmic end has an incredible feeling of redemption, of deliverance. It may just be a good illustration of our journey through this pandemic, and of our coming out at the other end.

I hope you enjoy it, and I wish you all a very happy Christmas!

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