Musicians on Call: Matthew Gibson

14 Jun
Matthew Gibson with child

Matthew Gibson

I have worked with LSO Discovery for the last eighteen years and have had countless memorable and wonderful experiences. Musicians on Call has provided me with many of them.

Musicians on Call is a scheme which the LSO undertake on whilst in tour where a couple of players will pay a visit to a persons home, usually someone who is a music enthusiast but for whatever reason is no longer able to attend live concerts.

It is a fantastic opportunity for players to break out of the usual framework of concert giving where the relationship is between 100 players on stage and 2000 listeners in the audience and take music into a much more intimate surroundings.

Of course the concert hall setting is a very special and valuable experience but does not give the players the same opportunity to meet and talk to the audience about the performance and their response to the music.

In the concert hall it is easy for players to become absorbed by concerns of the quality their own performance or how the performance was for the whole orchestra, when actually, the most important result is how the listener felt, responded to and appreciated the performance. To have the chance to play chamber music in the situation for which it was originally intended (i.e. in someone’s front room) and to talk about it’s impact on the listener immediately following the performance is an extremely rewarding way of working.

Over the period of time that I have been involved in MOC I can honestly say that every visit undertaken has in it’s own way been an emotionally satisfying and unique event.

My first visit in New York was to the late Maggie Carson who, as I discovered on entering her apartment, had been Leonard Bernstein’s PR lady from the beginning of his career in the 1940s to his death in 1990. It was Bernstein’s music that first got me interested in playing music and the sound of the orchestra in general and I became a great fan of his conducting style and recordings as a teenager, so to have the opportunity to meet someone who had spent their whole professional life with him was a treat beyond my wildest dreams. Maggie also worked for MTT who was, of course, the LSO’s principal conductor from 88–95, and she insisted on ringing him up there and then to let him know that his friends Belinda MacFarlane and Matthew Gibson were in her apartment. Michael was asleep in Miami, resting before a concert, but was happily surprised to talk to us none the less!

Belinda and I also paid a visit to a family in Ormand Beach, during our Daytona beach residency as part of the Florida International Festival. The gentleman concerned was in his 90s, wheelchair-bound and on oxygen but had been a music lover and connoisseur all his life. He and his wife had been great dancers in their youth as well and once we had played our Duke Ellington arrangements, we discovered that they had danced to the Duke Ellington band, to the very piece of music we played, live in the 1950s!! They were so ecstatic to be given the chance to hear this music live once again (albeit on bass and violin, rather than big band!) it was really quite overwhelming to see the emotion that this stirred up. At the end of the visit, the gentleman, despite being unable to talk, was in tears and the family were so grateful to have been united with music once again.

 What was extraordinary was that as we were leaving the property, the wife and son of the recipient followed us out and were at pains to tell us that this was the first time for a long while that the family had come together as a group, and, unbeknown to the man himself – the family had been told by the doctors that very morning that he was hours from death. This was to be their last experience of sharing live music together.  While it was devastating to hear this – it dawned on me that somehow there couldn’t be a greater privilege for a musician to be able to provide that amount of pleasure, that channel for emotional expression in such a trying situation. It was the perfect proof of music’s ability to unite a family at the point of ultimate devastation. I will never forget the experience. 

On visits with Noel Bradshaw in Chicago we played for an elderly German gentleman who had been Alfred Einstein’s doctor for a long while who revelled in telling us the story of when his daughter jumped up onto the bed of the ailing Einstein, she knocked all his papers onto the floor and in a wild attempt to rescue them, Einstein whipped over to grab them and in the process revealed his naked bottom to the gathered room full of well wishers!

We also met and played for the widow of the man who started up TV channel 32 – now Fox News! who, unbeknown to Noel and I had invited all her media friends  – ie. Fox News tv cameras!!

We played for a lonely elderly lady and her friend in her very modest sitting room in a suburb of Chicago. It was her birthday so she phoned through to her son in Denver and left the phone on so that he could share the experience with her.

While Noel and I performed some very elegant JFC Bach, we were oblivious to the fact that our chauffeur, who had been waiting outside the house in his black, darkened windowed people carrier had been rapidly surrounded by no fewer than six Chicago Police Department vehicles. They were reacting to the concerns of an overly observant neighbour who thought it unusual for our audience to have such suspicious looking visitors!!

We attended the house of a blind Ukrainian lady, again in downtown Chicago. Her late husband had been a musician and the house had been filled with music for the whole of their time together. Friends in attendance included an ex-professional bass player from the Chicago Opera orchestra. On approaching the steps of the building we realised that tv cameras were again in attendance, not one but two different channels, a photographer from the Chicago Herald and Tribune, a reviewer from the local press and a journalist from the Ukrainian community of Chicago! None of this had been arranged by the LSO but by the recipient herself!! It was a wonderful experience, if not the most pressured performance either of us had ever been involved in!!

The most emotionally disturbing visit was to a young Romanian lady in her twenties who was suffering from terminal cancer. She had been a gifted amateur violinist and worked in a music library. A professional violinist friend of hers attended as well as her parents who had flown over from Bucharest. As we entered the apartment we were greeted by the lady’s father who warned us that her health had taken a sharp downturn in the last few days, to the extent that they thought that they may have to cancel the visit. He cautioned us that we should be wary of playing anything too loud for fear of distressing her.

The recipient lay in bed and barely had the strength to lift her hand in greeting. She was painfully thin and pale beyond words. Her mother sat at the end of the bed and stroked her daughter continuously and in silence throughout the whole visit. She propped her daughter’s head up so that she could view the proceedings more comfortably. We began cautiously with some baroque numbers, moving on to more extrovert repertoire as we went on. It was quite plain to see that as the performance progressed she became gradually more and more animated, more responsive and involved in the whole event and in the end many discussions ensued on the subject of performance styles, music editions and the lives of classical musicians in general. The frown of pain on her forehead gave way to occasional brilliant smiles and her eyes began to gleam from their sunken sockets.

It had been the most emotional of experiences…tears had rolled down my cheeks as we had played a version of ‘Sophisticated Lady’

As we drove away from the visit, Noel and I were silent. The obvious did not need to be spoken about…

Matthew Gibson, Double Bass


One Response to “Musicians on Call: Matthew Gibson”

  1. pbmum 22 June 2010 at 11:10 am #

    This is really moving. What a wonderful service to provide.

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