A musician sets out to play Bach in the highest-altitude performance ever given on land.
Most classical musicians warm up with some scales and perhaps a bit of stretching, but English violinist Hugh Midford decided to scale a 6,189m mountain as a prelude to the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, the pinnacle of the solo violin repertory.
The 27-year-old battled vicious winds, steep cliffs and crevasses and lack of oxygen in an attempt to break the world record for the highest performance given on land. Even more admirable: his grueling 23-day expedition to the top of Island Peak in the Nepalese Himalayas was undertaken for charity.
“I am very much into my outdoor adventures so the idea to climb this mountain came from my desire for a challenge. But there have been many cuts to arts funding in the UK recently and so I wanted to help raise money for a musical charity using my trip,” he explained.
He invited the public to support his endeavour by donating to the Classic FM Foundation, an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of children in the UK living with illness, disability or trauma through music education and music therapy.
Rather than taking his own precious violin, Midford made the journey with an instrument donated from a local music shop. “I transported it in its normal case, which did take a bit of a battering. I was a bit worried how the cold would affect the violin on the mountain, so I put a hand warmer in a sock and put it in with the violin as I set off for the summit.”
By the time the intrepid musician, his party and his guide reached Island Peak Glacier for their final, daunting ascent, they were “reduced to taking only two or three steps at a time after being exhausted from the effort of scaling the ice face and lack of oxygen.”
Disaster struck on this steep ridge when a complication with climbing ropes separated Midford from half of his party. As a result, his mountain-top performance on October 18 was attended by only five members of his original cohort; he required ten people present to claim the official world record.
Despite the crushing disappointment, he says, “it was inspirational playing with such a backdrop. The sun was beating down and I was hot from the climb so my fingers were fine for playing, although I kept a glove liner on my right hand.”
Midford’s performance was short and sweet: he chose the Sarabande Double from Bach’s Partita No 1. “I did not notice any difference in the sound due to altitude, although I was not really in a state to make any critical observations! It’s very quiet up there, when the wind stops.”
Now back home from his trek, Midford has new goals in his sights. Having graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2009, he aims to “become a member of one of the major orchestras in the UK.
“Another reason for playing the violin on the top of Island Peak was as a confidence-building exercise. Performing at my best in front of an audition panel is the next mountain that I need to conquer.”