Perhaps, though, the two most impressive things about this renaissance man, to judge by Rough Ideas, are his modesty – the elegant jacket features not the standard “celeb” portrait, but him with his back to us, disguised in anonymous black coat and bowler hat – and a down-to-earth tone that enables him to tackle complex questions about art, faith, morals and life in an unpretentious, everyday way. So, when describing the life of a concert pianist in the series of short, thought-provoking and often amusing “jottings” that make up the book, he doesn’t bother with glamour, big names or his own “gift”, but instead answers the questions that those who have never been to the Proms might ask him.
Rough Ideas comes at an important time for classical music. In some quarters, the barricades that separate it from society at large are coming down – a result of the London Symphony Orchestra’s outreach programmes, of a mini revolution in Los Angeles led by the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, of refutations of ‘genre’ and of the breaking down of barriers between classical music, jazz and rock. But elsewhere, ticket prices still keep opera houses and concert halls out of reach for most, while audiences remain very white.