This is a review I wrote for the Lichfield Mercury in 2009 – a guitar recital by someone who billed himself as a seasoned pro. Within a few minutes it became clear that he was nothing of the sort. I can only assume he’d hired the venue as a vanity project, perhaps with the encouragement of well-meaning friends. The only thing that made it bearable was the fact that – to all appearances – he seemed entirely unaware of just how badly he was playing.
I’d committed to write the review, and he was enthusiastically expecting it. (I don’t know if he ever read it: soon afterwards he asked me to be his Friend on Facebook, so I can only assume not.) But I didn’t want to be completely frank – he was clearly playing in good faith, and no-one’s in this business to be gratuitously cruel. Plus, at that point in time the Mercury subs simply cut out any negative comments. This is what I wrote in the end – I’ve changed his name.
Andrew Shilling’s solo guitar recital at the Lichfield Garrick Studio was billed as “From Paris to Buenos Aires”. Beginning in Napoleonic Paris, the programme finished in the twentieth century with two preludes and a Choro by Heitor Villa-Lobos, taking in Tarrega’s evergreen Recuerdos de la Alhambra along the way. It looked an attractive evening – on paper, at least.
The reality was toe-curlingly different. From the very first notes of the first work – Antonio Nava’s four winsome “Seasons” sonatas – it was clear that something was badly wrong. Halting, fumbling, head buried in the score, Mr Shilling played as if he was seeing these pieces for the first time. Pushing on at a near-uniform volume and tempo, his performances of Ferdinando Carulli’s Solo Op.20 and Dionisio Aguado’s Fandango Varié were so garbled as to be unrecognisable.
Mr Shilling seemed slightly more at ease after the interval, and there were occasional flashes of confidence – even character – in his performance of Máximo Pujol’s first Suite del Plata. But even this was disfigured by the same faults that marred almost every bar of this concert: mis-struck chords, faulty tuning, trapped strings buzzing harshly, and a sense of rhythm that was vague to the point of non-existence. Quite simply, and with the best will in the world, this was not the performance of a professional artist – or even a competent amateur.
It was hard to know what to think, though the (roughly) one third of the audience who left at the interval had obviously made up its mind. The most charitable interpretation is that Mr Shilling was suffering from nerves. The sensation of fingers suddenly ceasing to obey mid-performance; of what went right in rehearsal inexplicably going wrong, is sickening for an artist, and no-one who’s ever performed in public would treat it lightly.
Nonetheless, a professional musician needs to confront and overcome this problem before they step on stage. Mr Shilling is by all accounts a well-respected guitar teacher, and his love for his instrument seems sincere. But this performance should never have been put in front of a paying audience in a professional venue.