We caught up with past festival debut artist Ashley Fripp (piano) to get the inside track on why he became a musician and how he’s coped with lockdown.
What has music given you?
It is difficult to even summarise what music has given me! It is a way of life, a vocation. Daily, I am afforded the opportunity to converse with some of the most genius artistic giants of the past as I try to unlock the secrets of the music they have written. Music is a culturally enriching activity for the musician and audiences alike – it adds to us, as people, and it makes us more sympathetic, more curious. In practical terms, it has also allowed me to travel the world: I’ve performed in over 30 different countries across five continents and I’ve met and collaborated with so many inspiring friends and colleagues, including at the LDSM Festival.
Why be a musician?
To be a musician is, quite simply, to try to enhance the lives of others.
What is it about music that led you to follow it as a career?
I think following a career as a musician is a case of happiness; music is an essential activity for musicians. Yes, we would all be capable of pursuing other sources of income, but I don’t think we would be happy. Being a musician is who I am, and I think that following music as a career path was a necessity rather than a choice, in that sense.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing instead?
I would quite like to have been a doctor – my brother is a chiropractor, my mother specialises in criminal psychology etc., so I think the workings of the human body and mind must be somewhere buried within me!!
Creatively, how have you coped with the pandemic?
Creativity takes many forms, of course, and sitting at the piano is only one of them. I work best under pressure, I find it hard to motivate myself without goals, so the first few weeks of the initial lockdown were torture for me, artistically. I took the time in Spring to give my garden a total transformation, growing a completely new lawn from seed, digging out borders and flower beds and planting lots of beautiful things, putting up trellises and all sorts. It was amazing how colourful and diverse the garden became in the space of three months, and it was glorious to see so many flowers grow from seed and how the bees and insects all came to visit! I also did some re-decorating in the house, painting the walls and so on. I did some live concerts on Instagram and made some recordings to share with people, but I would be lying if I did not admit be craving the return of live concerts.
Has it given you a chance to step back and look at the bigger picture, or even given you the creative space to consider future ideas and programmes?
I think the bigger picture is so unpredictable at the moment, and whilst one has to try to be pragmatic, it is almost best not to focus too much on the future, but consider what you can do now. There is a lot to be said for just living in the moment in times like these.
How worried were/are you that you might need to pursue another career?
Very! There are also other serious issues facing UK musicians at the present time which certainly do not help our situation. Having said that, the artistic world is, as has been proven time and time again, a hugely resilient one and I am confident it will find a way to flourish in whatever circumstances it finds itself.
What solutions did you turn to/come up with during isolation?
I think that the gardening and decorating were valuable solutions. It was a way to be creative for myself, that did not necessarily depend on being shared.
Is there anything that you used to take for granted?
Seeing people and doing things more spontaneously. In many ways I am an ‘introvert’, which is probably why I can cope quite happily with being a solo pianist, but I also need to see people as a way to escape my own mind, I suppose. Spending so much time alone throughout the year had its advantages and disadvantages, but I’m hugely lucky beyond words to have such amazing neighbours with whom I could form a ‘social bubble’ – we had many little parties over our garden fence!!
How can music help our post-Covid recovery?
I think that music has helped people during the time of Covid-19. We have seen first hand just how much people have turned to the arts to escape the horrors of the pandemic and the monotony of lockdowns, whether it’s reading, watching a TV series, listening to music, painting, or taking virtual tours around the great galleries of the world. I think (hope!) people will come out of this with a newfound appreciation of the arts in general.
Do you think online performances are here to stay?
Yes and no. There is clearly a value in being able to access music from anywhere at any time, but the frisson of live performances is irreplaceable and people know that. I am sure that the thirst for live music will take some time to quench!
What year did you take part in our festival?
2019 – I played two concerts and also the Ruskin evening, narrated by Michael Berkeley, which was repeated in London at the Royal Over-Seas League.
What is your best memory from our festival?
I just remember enjoying playing for the lovely audience and being able to go walking around such beautiful areas. My accommodation in Kendal was with one of the Festival volunteers and she was wonderfully kind, and we kept in touch and she came to another concert I gave in the Lake District area a few months later. I also will never forget the journey it took to get there! The day before my first concert I was in Regensburg, having played there the night before. I had to wake up very early to travel to Munich airport, only to have the flight cancelled at the last minute. When I finally arrived at Manchester airport, I had obviously missed my direct train to Oxenholme, so after another ninety minutes of hanging around for the next one, I took the train and arrived to discover there had been an accident at the main road was closed. I met my duo partner, Jonathan Radford, and we managed to find somewhere to eat, but we had to drive around the whole of Lake Windermere, including down a road called “The Struggle” in pitch black, to get to our accommodation. After 19 hours of being on the road I arrived!
What plans do you have for the future?
I have actually just submitted my doctoral thesis on the music of Thomas Adès, so hopefully, becoming Dr Fripp will be happening sooner or later! I do have a few concerts planned, but many of the 2020 engagements which were cancelled are still waiting to be rescheduled. Hopefully, I will be able to come and perform at the LDSM again.
Instagram – @ashley_fripp
Twitter – @ashleyfripp