My Media Day: Rosenna East, musician and critic

ROSENNA East is a musician and critic for The Herald.

She submitted this on Saturday, August 10.

What exactly is it that you do?

I’m a professional musician, but working increasingly as a journalist in the arts as well. I’m a violinist in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, that’s the first thing. Then I am the opera critic for The Herald, and for The Big Issue online, reviewing opera for them in London.

I contribute to Classical Music magazine and to the Gramophone magazine blog.

I write some columns for The Herald too, which I love. I also do some broadcasting for BBC radio, and some pre-concert talks for various classical music concerts. Last but not least, I am chair of a small fringe opera company putting on new opera commissions in Scotland, called NOISE.

I do also play the violin with non-classical music groups, including Mr McFall’s Chamber, and do regular education and community music projects – most recently, a  project with dementia sufferers at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

I’d hazard a guess that about two-thirds of my life is spent playing music, and the rest writing and talking about it!

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

Today, I have picked up my Edinburgh Festival Press tickets, been to two drinks receptions, and reviewed my first Edinburgh International Festival show of this year – Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Festival Theatre.

Tomorrow, I’m reviewing Philip Glass.

Yesterday, I played the final concert of a week-long tour of the Scottish Highlands with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – a programme of Schubert and Mozart, in the Universal Hall at Findhorn. We were in Thurso the night before that. And, believe it or not, the next concert I’m playing will be in Bethlehem, because I’m doing some concerts in Israel, Palestine and Jordan later this month.

How different or similar is your average working day to when you started?

In some ways there’s a lot of variety in what I do – but in other ways I think it’s the way it always has been. I gave my first concert on the violin at the age of four, with my first concert tour at the age of 11. I played my first Prom at the Royal Albert Hall 18 years ago, now. And I’ve been attending other people’s concerts for just as long. I grew up in London and my mother was very assiduous in taking us out to see shows in town.

It’s ten years since I graduated with my Music Masters. Change in the classical music profession happens at a glacial rate, so I’d say that my work as an orchestral musician is very similar to how it has always been. Some things change – conductors, repertoire, colleagues – but the outline of the profession doesn’t.

The writing is relatively new for me – I first started pestering my editors at The Herald to let me write for them in 2009, though I was writing private blogs before then.

Orchestras seem to endure, almost because they are an antiquated and unchanging system of work. No-one challenges the way they operate. I don’t know the journalism profession so well, but I worry for the endurance of the newspapers.

How do you see your job evolving?

Everyone asks me that. And I don’t have an answer. I’ll just keep trying to do what I want to do, and feel compelled to do. As long as I have a voice and a place, somewhere. I’d like to have my own column. I’d like to play more non-classical music, be a great folk fiddler, and improvise freely in any genre. I’d like to have my own radio programme. I’d like to be involved in education. I’d like to spend a lot of time playing Mozart operas. I’d like to start a choir in a prison. I’d like to run an opera house. Really, my To Do list is very long.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

I admit that I get a buzz out of striving and achieving, but what matters to me ultimately is connecting and communicating, whether in music or words.

I was in a hospital dementia ward a few weeks ago with a woman who could hardly speak or move. I was playing a very simple tune, but I looked into her eyes and I played it just for her. She kept repeating the word ‘beautiful’, while the tears rolled down her cheeks and she smiled. That made me cry, of course. Music is very very powerful, and it’s very direct. There’s an awful lot that gets in the way of that direct communication – sometimes words, sometimes culture and habit and tradition. It’s all nonsense – I want to hold on to that direct connection, and I want to share it with people. That’s what music is really about.