Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Rattle and the appointment headache

Appointing a music director is probably the hardest job an orchestra ever has to do, and appointing the right music director is the most important one. I have a few thoughts in today's Independent about why it's so tricky and why Sir Simon Rattle would be a Good Thing here...and why it's taking so long.

Cheers to another British conductor, Jonathan Nott, incidentally: he's won a ballot by a rare unanimous vote, we're told, to become music director of the Suisse Romande Orchestra.

Now I'm off to Birmingham to talk about Korngold tonight at Symphony Hall, where the CBSO and conductor Michael Seal are doing the Symphony in F sharp, the composer's most important orchestral work. I've never heard it live before, having missed the Prom last year, and as Seal is fast becoming one of today's prominent Korngoldians I suspect we're in for a treat. Do come if you're in Brum. Talk is 6.15pm, concert at 7.30pm.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WAM. Wunderlich.

It's Mozart's birthday. I'm on a bit of a Mozart high at present - doing a talk about him last night at the Wigmore Hall has left me a bit tearful and giddy and lovestruck, even though this is music I've known for more than four decades. It's so easy to take him for granted. We shouldn't. He's a miracle. And for those of you who were at the Wigmore last night - the more I think about it, the more I really believe that he was indeed the first Romantic.

Here's the great tenor aria from Die Zauberflöte, sung in 1965 with piano accompaniment by Fritz Wunderlich.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tax relief for orchestras: the small print...

Please note: orchestras haven't actually got tax relief yet. But a government consultation is beginning to explore the proposal. Here is the Incorporated Society of Musicians' latest statement on the matter, pointing out some small print that needs a little attention.

Good news for musicians as orchestral tax relief consultation begins
‘Consultation on tax relief is good news’ say professional musicians, ‘but don’t forget to respond to the consultation to make it even better.’
Professional musicians have welcomed the Government’s consultation on a proposed tax relief for orchestras.
The consultation proposes a tax relief for orchestras which will be welcome news in the orchestral and composing communities, matching tax reliefs already in place for theatre productions and benefitting the UK’s orchestras.
The ISM – the professional body for musicians – has been supporting the efforts of the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) in securing this tax relief.
Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the ISM said:
‘This is excellent news for composers, performers and orchestras. A tax relief on orchestras – including commissions for new music – will be a valuable asset to the sector. We welcome the news from the Treasury and will be responding to the consultation by 5 March 2015; we urge all those who care about the future of music in the UK to do the same.’
‘We are, however, disappointed with some of the details of the proposals. In particular, the proposed very narrow definition of orchestras and the size requirements – will exclude a huge number of excellent ensembles which should be supported in this way: chamber ensembles, contemporary classical ensembles which often combine an innovative range of instruments, brass bands, jazz orchestras to name just a few. We will be asking in our consultation responses for these limits to be revised so that some of the UK’s best groups and ensembles can also benefit from this good news.’
The less welcome detail of the consultation:
·         The current proposals rule out many smaller orchestras and chamber groups consisting of fewer than 14 performers.
·         The consultation also proposes excluding instrument specific groups (such as brass bands and wind bands) insisting that only orchestras made up of strings, woodwind, brass and percussion will qualify for the tax relief.
1. The less welcome detail of the consultation
3.3 Proposed definition of an ‘orchestral performance’ for the purposes of tax relief
To qualify, the majority of performances for which relief is being claimed must be played by a musical ensemble consisting of 14 or more performers and must include players drawn from each of the following four sections: string instruments, woodwind instruments, brass instruments and percussion instruments.

2. Other elements excluded from the proposal have been accepted: Ineligible performances include those for ‘entertainment with a competitive element, performances where the sole or main purpose is for advertising, performances intended solely or mainly for recording or broadcast.’
4. The Chancellor George Osborne first announced that tax breaks will be extended across the creative industries to include orchestras in his Autumn Statement in December 2014.
5. Twitter: @aborchestras tweet on 6 January: Productive meeting at HM Treasury on orchestra tax relief along with our friends @ISM_Music

Next few days...

Tomorrow (24th) I am at the Richmondshire Subscription Concerts in North Yorkshire for a welcome reunion with Bradley Creswick (violin) and Margaret Fingerhut (piano) in Hungarian Dances, the Concert of the Novel. Do come along for Gypsy-style virtuoso thrills, gorgeous repertoire and a roller-coaster narrative from the book. Here's the link:

On Monday evening (26th) I'm doing a pre-concert talk at the Wigmore Hall at 6.15pm about MOZART. The Hagen Quartet are continuing their Mozart Odysseyand Monday's concert features the second three of his "Haydn" Quartets. Talking about Mozart quartets at the Wigmore is a kind of a scary thing to do, so please join us in the Bechstein Room and smile - it will help.

On Wednesday evening (28th) I'm in Birmingham to introduce Korngold's Symphony in F sharp at Symphony Hall. The CBSO will be playing it in the second half of the concert, conducted by that Korngold aficionado par excellence, Michael Seal.

Busy. Backson.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Urgent: Birmingham Music Library under imminent threat

It's been drawn to my attention that the scandal of the Library of Birmingham - a fabulous new building which the city has opened, only to find it cannot now afford to keep it open more than 40 hours a week - extends to the likely imminent closure of the Birmingham Music Library, a major, award-winning, invaluable resource for professionals, students and community alike. Please read the communication below, which I reproduce as received, and take whatever action you are able.

Opening day at the Library of Birmingham

You may have seen the recent announcements in the Press concerning severe cuts at the new Library of Birmingham. (See list of links below)

About 100 of the Library’'s 188 staff will go as opening hours are cut from 73 to 40 hours per week and other services for the public are stopped.

The Director of the Library has resigned, and if these proposed changes go ahead, business, learning, music and archive services will cease - there will no longer be a Music Library in Birmingham, run by specialist staff with relevant subject knowledge.

The Music Library was a previous recipient of IAML’s Excellence Award where its citation read:

‘Birmingham Music Library is a regional centre of excellence with MLA designated status for its extensive and rich special collections which include Bantock, the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival and Handel libretti collections. It offers a comprehensive service for the local community and is developing its client base for the future. The Library has an active policy of local engagement, providing advertising for local concerts and a programme encouraging local musicians to donate their CDs. Birmingham has also pioneered developments in support for people with severe learning disabilities. For the range of services and the sheer scale of operation it is among the best public music libraries in the country, giving constant attention both to the traditional services of lending and reference and to the breadth of its other activities.’

Besides the millions of individuals who use the library for their own purposes, there are many hundreds of choirs, orchestras, amateur and professional groups who cannot operate without the services of the Music Library to supply the scores and parts which are essential for their public performances. The impact on performers and the public will be severe. Some groups will not survive.

The news of the cuts was announced on the day Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, the Pakistani teenager who led the Library of Birmingham’s opening ceremony, announcing ‘Pens and books are weapons against terrorism’ and that a ‘city without a library is a graveyard’.

The short-sightedness of these cuts, and the irrevocable damage it will do, needs to be fought urgently. On the national as well as local stage.

Can I urge you if you agree with me, to sign the petition here?

If you would like to do more, can you spread these details as far as you can? We need letters to MPs, and especially to the National press spelling out how these cuts will impact on our quality of life…

The "official" route for comments is to complete the survey at
You can also:
§  Text ‘Budget’ followed by a space and your message to 07786 200 403
§  Write to Budget Views, Room 221, Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham B1 1BB

But I think the more national media cover the better...where is the Secretary of State for Libraries in all of this?

I hope you will feel able to help.