Monday, January 21, 2013
Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger – review
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger's diary of his year learning Chopin is deft and unique, writes pianist Iain Burnside
In middle age some men take up marathon running. Others climb the Matterhorn or buy a red sports car. Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, decides to master Chopin's First Ballade, Op 23. Following an epiphany during a French summer course, Rusbridger gives himself a year to learn this fiercely demanding work, later extending his self-imposed deadline when at various points Julian Assange and the families Gaddafi and Murdoch eat into his practice schedule.
This is a journal of that year: part piano diary, part day-by-day breakdown of what a 21st-century editor actually does. The result is a unique melange of political and musical reportage, meditations on music-making deftly interwoven with reflections on the ever-changing newspaper industry. The frenetic pace of Rusbridger's working life contrasts starkly with the tortoise-like speed of his pianistic progress, documented through detailed, self-flagellating metronome marks. WikiLeaks kicks into touch the problems of fingering and hand position; the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone puts paid to memorising. Rusbridger's account of the volatile, dislikable Assange is particularly compelling, and the ebb and flow of WikiLeaks runs as a strong contrapuntal theme throughout the book. What's more, readers can now identify a story of this magnitude as a marmalade dropper, aka, in tabloid circles, a Fuck Me Doris.