Play it Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible

Alan Rusbridger

Play it Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible

As editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger's life is dictated by the demands of the 24-hour news cycle. It is not the kind of job that leaves much time for hobbies. But in the summer of 2010, he managed to make his annual escape to a 'piano camp'. Here, inspired by another amateur's rendition, he set himself an almost impossible task: to learn, in the space of a year, Chopin's Ballade No.1, a piece with passages that demand outstanding feats of dexterity, control, memory and power - a piece that inspires dread in many professional pianists. His timing could have been better. The next twelve months were to witness the Arab Spring, the Japanese tsunami and the English riots, and were bookended by the Guardian breaking two remarkable news stories: WikiLeaks and the News of the World hacking scandal. It was a defining year in the life of the Guardian and its editor, and one of the most memorable in the history of British journalism. Such was the background against which he tried to carve out twenty minutes' practice a day, find the right teacher, the right piano, the right fingering - even if that meant practising in a Libyan hotel in the middle of a revolution. Fortunately, he was able to gain insights and advice from an array of legendary pianists, from theorists, historians and neuroscientists, from a network of brilliant amateurs unearthed online, even occasionally from secretaries of state. But was he able to play the piece in time? 3.9 out of 5 based on 4 reviews
Play it Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Music, Stage & Screen
Format
Pages 416
RRP
Date of Publication January 2013
ISBN 978-0224093774
Publisher Jonathan Cape
 

As editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger's life is dictated by the demands of the 24-hour news cycle. It is not the kind of job that leaves much time for hobbies. But in the summer of 2010, he managed to make his annual escape to a 'piano camp'. Here, inspired by another amateur's rendition, he set himself an almost impossible task: to learn, in the space of a year, Chopin's Ballade No.1, a piece with passages that demand outstanding feats of dexterity, control, memory and power - a piece that inspires dread in many professional pianists. His timing could have been better. The next twelve months were to witness the Arab Spring, the Japanese tsunami and the English riots, and were bookended by the Guardian breaking two remarkable news stories: WikiLeaks and the News of the World hacking scandal. It was a defining year in the life of the Guardian and its editor, and one of the most memorable in the history of British journalism. Such was the background against which he tried to carve out twenty minutes' practice a day, find the right teacher, the right piano, the right fingering - even if that meant practising in a Libyan hotel in the middle of a revolution. Fortunately, he was able to gain insights and advice from an array of legendary pianists, from theorists, historians and neuroscientists, from a network of brilliant amateurs unearthed online, even occasionally from secretaries of state. But was he able to play the piece in time?

Reviews

The Observer

Iain Burnside

The book is handsomely produced, rich in both musical and photographic illustrations. At the end, delightfully, sits Rusbridger's own annotated score, complete with thoughts from his galaxy of star pianists. A couple of minor quibbles. Some of the musical spelling-out struck me as inconsistent. If you have enough technical know-how to enjoy the annotated score and make it through several pages of detailed harmonic analysis, you may already know that the classical tradition is represented by Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert. When towards the end Condoleezza Rice appears, I began to suffer from famous friend fatigue.

24/01/2013

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The Daily Telegraph

Jasper Rees

This charming, nimble, flighty book argues that a life cannot be too rounded nor a day too full. It also makes an unarguable case for music-making as a life-giving oasis.

24/01/2013

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The Sunday Telegraph

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Simply looked at as a repository of information on how to perform Chopin, the book is invaluable ... Much the most interesting aspect of the book ... is in the main intellectual investigation and defence of the amateur, from the twittering citizen journalist to the online-score-distributing musical enthusiast.

24/01/2013

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The Times

Richard Morrison

It’s an engrossing, multi-stranded tale, wryly told in diary form and woven through with strands of autobiography ... I have two reservations. One is that the technical passages about the Ballade are very technical indeed ... And my other reservation β€” inevitable, perhaps, coming from a journalist on a rival rag β€” is about the triumphalist tone that creeps in towards the end, as Rusbridger successfully plays the Ballade in public and also manages to steer The Guardian into a new golden age β€” in his eyes, anyway.

19/01/2013

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