for Annette Morreau, by Jordan Aramitz
During Covid-19, Annette kept sane through music. For millions across the world its power as a source of pure, unfiltered joy, might be regarded as a dependency. But so what? In this rapidly changing era of the 2020s, it is vital to have a dependable old friend.
Annette comes from a musical family; her mother was an alumna of the Royal College of Music, becoming the original viola player of the Macnaghten String Quartet, an all-women quartet specialising in contemporary music and playing by heart.
Annette herself studied cello at the progressive boarding school Dartington Hall and its College of Arts before going on to study Music at Durham University. She eschewed Oxbridge because at the time Durham was renowned for having the best music department, under the guidance of its eccentric Professor Arthur Hutchings. She recalled the magnificent sight of Durham Cathedral and the castle rising above the tree line as the train wound into the station, welcoming her to the northern city where she was to attend the applicants’ interview. It was an aesthetic wonder and the memory continues to make an impression on her all these decades later. That moment solidified her determination to study there – or, at the very least, see the cathedral and castle up close.
Professor Hutchings met her at the station and she quickly made clear that if she was not successful in her application, at the very least she wanted to visit the castle and the cathedral. Charmed by her tenacity, Hutchings showed her round through the narrow streets. A couple of hours later, he offered her a place.
His faith in Annette soon proved well-placed when a year later, in 1966, she was the first woman to win the Durham/Indiana University Scholarship to study music. She doesn’t think her gender hindered or helped her application; the fact was that in 10 years, Indiana never knew that women were applying! Annette did so because she was disappointed that at Durham there was so little opportunity to continue her cello studies, but she knew full well that the music school at Bloomington, Indiana, was one of the greatest conservatories in the world, on par with the Julliard School in New York.
If experiencing life in a sorority was a bit of a challenge after the ‘progressive nature’ of Dartington Hall, paying $99 to travel 99 days on the Greyhound Bus throughout North America was an absolute life/changer, as were her lessons with the great cellist Janos Starker.
However, it didn’t take long for her to realise that she was not going to be a great soloist. Her colleagues were learning a concerto by heart in a week… Knowing the ins and outs of the classical music world, changing direction but always keeping music central to her life, would be the focus.
On returning to the UK and finishing her degree, her first new focus was a traineeship at BBC Radio, mainly in the Music Department. However, months later, she took the opportunity to apply for both a place on the Arts Council’s Arts Administration course and a job in the Music Department of the Arts Council of Great Britain, which led to her getting both. And it was as an employee of the Arts Council’s Music Department that Annette founded one of the most valuable systems for contemporary music worldwide.
Over her years of practicing and studying, Annette had realised that there was little appetite in the so-called classical music world for contemporary music. With responsibility at the Arts Council for contemporary music, jazz and the smaller opera companies, Annette’s thoughts soon came round to the fact that the performance of new music, nay, any written music, was very wasteful in terms of effort, finance, and results. The norm for most written music is for there to be a single concert; bad enough for any music. She concluded that generally, in terms of well-known classical music, the audience was not even listening at all, but comparing. Hence the lack of appetite for new music: audiences could not compare it to what they already knew. The performers, after hours of work, were not that familiar with it either, being constrained to the ‘normal’ single performance. What to do? The obvious solution was to repeat the concerts, allowing the performers to ‘saturate’ in the works and confidently relay the product to the audience.
But how could a concert be repeated in the same venue when clearly there was not sufficient audience for a single concert? It couldn’t. Repeating meant touring to different parts of the country, perfecting the performance and the understanding of the new work. Home in one! Top class performing groups from all over the world could be heard throughout the UK (as opposed largely to London), amortizing costs (in effort and finance) and spreading cultural knowledge.
Who was the audience? Probably not the ‘normal’ classical audience, but those more interested in the less predictable contemporary arts: the visual arts, fringe theatre, dance, held in less predictable venues than formal concert halls.
And what about marketing and promotion for a less predictable audience? Less predictable, younger audiences in less predictable venues spelt less predictable publicity material: idiosyncratic, brightly coloured, cartoon-like, amusing. Annette came across the work of the highly inventive Bob Linney, an illustrator already much in demand for his work publicising underground theatre and his lucid posters for health information in developing countries. Repetition was again the key: one image only, always repeated on posters, leaflets, and programme covers. They became collectors’ items, helping to connect the music to the right people.
Annette spent 17 years at the Arts Council of Great Britain ’bedding in’ the Contemporary Music Network. It was time to leave. She moved to Channel 4 TV, where she had responsibility for commissioning music programmes. But as the Mozart bicentenary rolled up in 1991, it was to the BBC that Annette turned pitching her idea: ’NOT MOZART’. In the shape of 6 hour- long dramas, she invited 6 composers to choose their own film directors and come up with their homage to Mozart, whatever that might mean. Michael Nyman chose not to work with Peter Greenaway, but Dutch composer Louis Andriessen did, Andriessen and Greenaway winning a MIDEM prize for ‘M is for Man, Music and Mozart’.
Now following a free-lance path, Annette became a music critic at The Guardian, The Independent and BBC Music magazine. She also made radio programmes for the BBC, including four two-hour programmes for Radio 3 about the great cellist Emanuel Feuerman (‘FEUERMANN REMEMBERED’) with interviews and performances broadcast in the prime ‘Archive’ slot on Saturday afternoons. That led to numerous comments, one listener even inviting her out to lunch. Turned out he was the Commissioning editor for Yale University Press based in London. He asked her if she’d like to write a biography of Feuermann. When Yale invites you to write a book, you don’t say no – even if you’ve never done it before!
But how was she to finance it? As it happened, Harvard University, in the shape of The Bunting Institute, gave her a Fellowship. Published in 2002, The New Yorker described it as an ‘exemplary’ biography.
Annette is now a few years into retirement, but her routine during the COVID-19 pandemic has not become any less intriguing. She lives with her pet cat, Lupo, and he is the dearest companion she could have asked for. In a way, it was the six-year-old feline who adopted her: he was the pet of a neighbouring couple before they moved away. She offered to look after him while they found a new home; he refused to go back to them. Lupo has become her rock while shielding from the ongoing crisis. Instead of his original name, Annette prefers to jokingly call the cat ‘Freud’ or ‘Sanity’ in reference to the calming impact a pet has had on her mental health. During quiet lulls in the late afternoon, he likes to cuddle up to her on the sofa while the radio plays.
Before COVID-19 struck the world, Annette loved hosting parties and invited friends and colleagues from the classical music industry, so the sudden separation from her friends has taken a toll on her. She enjoys the daily walks through her local park, the Old Paddington Cemetery, but the hectic joy of entertaining crowds used to be her passion in-between quiet days to herself. One of her fondest memories is her 60th birthday. A few weeks before the event, she asked a few friends who composed music if they could write pieces (for four violas in memory of her mother) for the occasion. Gladly, they obliged and the night was something truly quite magical. Their eccentricity fuelled her then and still does now.
In recent months, she has joined forces with her equally concerned neighbours to stop the deportation of an Eastern European handyman, named Peter, who is beloved in the community. As he was homeless, he lived in the shed of a property down the road from Annette’s quarters. It was a simple structure that did nothing more than provide some shelter from the ever-changing British weather. Annette could cook meals for him and his pet dog, Dice. It gave her a sense of satisfaction to provide delicious, home-cooked food for the pair; it was something she enthusiastically did for all her social circle before Covid-19 required her age bracket to avoid in-person interaction. He became a dear friend to her and to the whole neighbourhood, and someone she could rely on to help her navigate the rapidly changing technologies of the modern world. Annette and her neighbours would support Peter at times, and all pitched in the money necessary to fund dentures for him after his old pair fell apart.
In an unfortunate turn of events, Peter was found and arrested for having no papers. To further add salt to the wound, the police went so far as to euthanize Dice. With her connection to Lupo being so essential to her, Annette could empathise all too well, and sadness quickly turned to fury over the unnecessary tragedy. Even after all the neighbourhood’s efforts, Peter has been imprisoned for nearly a year now, awaiting near-certain deportation back to his country of origin. Still, Annette refuses to give up and is continuing to work with lawyers to attempt to appeal his case. It has been a long, arduous process, but she is determined to fight to the bitter end.
And yet, amongst the turmoil, Annette has found that music never fails to calm her down so that she can get a brief moment of respite. That, then, is why she thinks of it as a dependency. Music soothes her, gives her reassurance. With soft tones filtering out of her speakers and her cat, Lupo, curled up on her lap, she can put every trouble to rest. For a little while, she can feel the same rush of wonder and comfort she did when she was a girl and saw Durham Cathedral rising above the treetops from her train window.