A safe pair of hands?
Mark Latimer
28th May 2015
A safe pair of hands?

In retrospect, I’d have made a first rate juggler, but I lacked the balls. A first rate Peruvian percussionist, but I lacked the cajons. And until comparatively recently, an OK piano-player, but my hands had a different idea and developed Dupuytren’s Disease. OK, on a global scale of disasters and misadventures this is SO small, trite and inconsequential as to not register but when, after a number of years of misdiagnoses this syndrome was correctly identified, it did, as I’m sure you can imagine, put something of a crimp in my day. To quote Ray Milland from ‘Dial M for Murder’, “I’d have to find some way of earning a living to begin with. Suddenly I realised how much I’d grown to depend on (my hands).” Exponentially becoming unable to successfully hold either cup or pen – rather more accurately in my own parlance, wine glass or cigarette – was quite literally a pain.

Cometh the hour of the cause of the problem being pin-pointed, cometh the wonderful Help Musicians UK. The costs of ameliorative medical intervention for this are staggeringly prohibitive, but with incredible kindness, generosity, magnanimity, humanity and altruism the wonderful and remarkable body of ladies and gentlemen underwrote these extortionate charges. I will never, ever be able to sufficiently repay the gargantuan debt I owe them. At the time of this seizing control of my hands, I was on the cusp of the most lucrative, prestigious and potentially successful season of my up-and-down-on-again-off-again ‘career’; a live BBC Radio 3 lunchtime recital from the Wigmore Hall, several engagements at the Hong Kong International Festival – including the first Chinese performance of the Alkan Concerto for Solo Piano – every one of which had to be cancelled, to my undying horror. At this juncture, I could barely stretch an octave – a fundamental prerequisite for any piano-player. People said I should have ‘taken the money and run’, but such is the responsibility to the composer, their work, the audience and ultimately one’s self, this I could not do in all conscience. And the fact of the things being broadcast would have resulted in me being even more of the back-end-of-pantomime-horse than I may have already been.

Mark LatimerAfter all these various procedures – horrifically painful surgery and ancillary crippling physio, also called needle aponeurotomy or needle fasciotomy, and lastly and most recently and most scary, radiotherapy (the consultant said to me without a hint of irony, “I should warn you this treatment may give you cancer…”), some improvement had been made but obviously any kind of my hitherto repertoire was no longer remotely possible. In order ‘to keep my hand in’ (sorry, couldn’t resist) I scoured all manner of music that fell both within my grasp – both technically and physiologically – as it goes without saying, by this time I had barely connected with a piano for a long time, and as we know, even a few days off decimates one’s technique. It was during this search that my wife and I discovered the immeasurably great, chokingly tragic and virtually unknown Italian Baroque composer Domenico Zipoli. His music is too marvelous for words and, to a greater or lesser degree, DOES fall within my grasp. Our Arts Council funded project ‘The Imperfect Pearl’ has completed a successful tour eighteen months ago and is now currently on tour throughout the UK (perolabarroca.com). In all honesty, from time to time it does sadden me that I will never play certain works ever again – especially for example Beethoven 4th Concerto – but I’ve always attempted to be pragmatic and tried to avoid self-pity and indulgence as these negativities achieve nothing.

I am actually far happier in some respects than ever, granted all that I was sort of able to do once is a thing of the past, but had none of that happened, I would unequivocally NEVER have discovered Zipoli and our audiences and my life would have been incalculably the poorer for that.

Mille grazie Help Musicians UK and God bless you all for all you have done, not just for me but also on behalf of everyone.

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