A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.

Life on the edge: page turning


I went to a fantastic concert on Saturday. Musica Viva have brought out Alicia Ibragimova (violin) and Cedric Tiberghien (piano) to tour two programs. I heard the first, which included Schubert, Brahms, Strauss (R) and Szymanowski’s wondrous Mythes which, on the strength of their performance, has been promoted to my new favourite piece.

I was reviewing, so I was listening actively. But in one of those lapses of concentration we all get, my mind wandered off to have a little silent chat with Cedric Tiberghien’s page turner.

My mind: “Don’t you think you should be getting ready? It’s a fast tempo and he’s already at the top of the page.
[Page turner does not move]
MM: “I really think you should be getting ready now…”
[Page turner does not move. Tiberghien blazing through some thickly scored passagework]
MM: “I can’t watch” [hides eyes]
[Page turner rocks lightly off chair, reaches across top of score, flicks page across and lightly runs down the side of the new left hand page before sinking back into chair in one fluid movement. It goes without saying that Tiberghien continues playing.]

The thing is, I cannot turn pages, and believe me, I’ve tried. In a lifetime in arts administration I have discovered many talents, including procuring a harpsichord in London at 11pm at night, repairing a conductor’s glasses, and enlarging 42 8-page orchestral parts with only the aid of a basic photocopier and some sticky tape. But page-turning? That totally stumps me.

“But you read music”, I hear you say. “How hard can it be?”

Believe me. It’s hard. My last experience of page-turning was at a vocal recital, where I was drafted in at the last minute. It was a Mozart aria. I was early for the first turn, but luckily the pianist was a good improviser. I left it a bit later for the next, until his eyes started popping out of his head, cartoon style. By the third turn I was in such a state of terror that when I grabbed the corner of the page and whipped it across I was gripping it so tightly  I ripped the page out of the score, and the score off the stand. Sweat broke out visibly on the pianist’s brow as he busked for  four bars while I got things back on track. Thankfully, the end of the piece was nigh.

He never asked me to page turn again.

How can something so simple be so hard? What qualities do you need to be a good page-turner? Whatever they are, I clearly don’t have them. But the graceful but nameless figure tucked away behind the pianist last Saturday certainly did. Brava.

Author: harryfiddler

Harriet Cunningham – aka @harryfiddler — is a freelance writer based in Sydney. Harriet wrote her first novel, about a runaway cat, at the age of 7. In the forty year gap between novel 1 and novel 2 she moved from London to Edinburgh to Sydney, ran an opera company, played violin on the opera house stage and sailed from Gove to Darwin. She is now a music critic and writer, best known as the critic who got banned by Opera Australia. She still hangs out at the Sydney Opera House, is still trying to get that novel published, and still plays the violin.

2 thoughts on “Life on the edge: page turning

  1. I love to turn pages. As a woeful musician myself its nice to get so close to the music and the performance. The key is the relationship with the pianist – some give a great nod, some do it psychically (!) – you have to really concentrate. The longest piece I ever had to turn for was Gorecki’s Lerchenmusik – about 65 minutes of trio for a concert in Tokyo. On hearing it, Toru Takamitsu said “Like a Polish Western – very thin horses”

  2. I always try to nod when I’d like the page turned, and a page turner that isn’t watching in favor of reading the music becomes very stressful. Some people have commented that when I get near the bottom of the page my eyebrow goes up slightly, and that’s when they turn. Those that’ve noticed that definitely seem to be among the page turners I work best with, so I would have to say careful observation of the pianist is key. Just like poker players, I’m sure we all have a “tell!”

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