Peter is known for his pioneering approach to the music of past and present. He regularly appears as a soloist in over 30 countries and has released over 70 albums, ranging from 17th century solo works to the more than 400 works dedicated to him by composers, including George Rochberg, Judith Weir, Poul Ruders, David Matthews and Michael Finnissy. Peter was nominated for a Grammy for his cycle of Henze concerti. This spring he released five new albums: Schubert Sonatas with square piano, Edward Cowie solos and quartets, Peter Dickinson sonatas, the Gregory Rose Concerto and the first recording of the 100-movement Klagenfurt Manuscript (1685). His work with museums has resulted in long term projects at institutions including the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Metropolitan Museum, New York City, Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, Galeria Rufino Tamayo in Mexico City, and the exhibition ‘Only Connect’, which he curated at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
How has the Coronavirus crisis affected your working life?
When the travel ban hit, I was in the middle of a project filming, performing and recording at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City (there's an outtake at the top of my YouTube channel). I had travelled up to northern Maine, where my son is at college, and realised that I had about 24 hours to get out of the country. My first reaction was to pick up the violin, turn on the camera, and post a film of Richard Strauss's only piece for solo violin. Since then, I have begun each day in front of the microphone recording and have so far recorded over 90 works for violin. Although solo concerts are my primary work, most of the pieces that I have played in the last two months are not from my current repertoire. As this lockdown series evolved, I found myself playing works that I had not played for many years; pieces that I had studied and never performed (like many performers, I tend to have an 'iceberg' relationship with my repertoire – most of it is beneath the surface), despite performing and recording a fairly wide range of works. My collaborating composers caught on to the project, and pieces started to arrive – so there have been many premieres. Last night, for instance, Gloria Coates sent me a new piece from Munich, where she lives, which I have just recorded, and John Belkot, who I met teaching at the Peabody Institute, some years back, sent me a new piece.
Are you managing to remain productive and creative during this time, and if so, what are you working on?
The enforced isolation (my wife and I had a mild bout of COVID, which made for a very uncomfortable week, but did not stop us working) has demanded that I take time with the violin. To a degree, not being chained to the diary but having the chance to run each day in the same shape has permitted me to re-engage with my instrument, my colleagues (many more than the ones mentioned above), my art and my audience.
Of course, I am mortified at being away from the stage, but I feel that I have a duty to use the time to work as hard as possible, and to reach out to the public with the amazing technology that we have at our fingertips in as open a way as I can.
Are there challenges in delivering your teaching online? Have there been any pleasant or unpleasant surprises?
The main challenge of teaching online has been the lack of 'quiddity' ('thingness'), the wonder of an instrument or a voice in the same room, the musicians and listeners breathing and thinking together (and apart). But great opportunities have also come about as a result of teaching and sharing ideas online, and I have been involved in a number of interesting public webinars with colleagues across the world and listeners on nearly every continent. I think we have become more careful about listening to each other, and the balance between playing/speaking and the real-time written commentary in the chat boxes that happens in our classes has been enlightening. I have been working with about 70 postgraduate string players on their portfolios: I decided that I would set up a regular one-to-one correspondence with all of them, and over the two months between the lockdown and the student deadlines, I found myself in the amazing situation of exchanging letters (in most cases at least one exchange per week) with nearly all of them. This was amazing (and exhausting), and I have been inspired and uplifted by the resourcefulness of my young colleagues, their ideas and storytelling. This correspondence is ongoing and I really don't want it to stop!
Enjoy live recordings, writing, drawing and painting on Peter’s website here: www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.co...