Friday, October 02, 2015

Maestro Lucidity

I record all my interviews on my iPhone and sometimes, as you know if you have one, these little contraptions decide they know how to spell people's names better than you do. While I was saving my interview with Fabio Luisi in Zurich a couple of weeks ago, some predictive text happened and what I ended up with was Fabio Lucidity.

In fact, it's not inappropriate. I had a wonderful long interview with him that traversed his background, training, attitude to opera directors, what it's like working with Christian Gerhaher and much more. But the paper wanted the bit about the perfumery he runs on the side, so that piece appears below and I will offer more of the interview at a later point.

Luisi is in London today with the Zürich Opera, performing Wozzeck in concert at the Royal Festival Hall. I saw it whole, with Andreas Homoki's production, in Switzerland, right after the interview, and it is absolutely amazing and if you're here, you should go. I found it amazing, incidentally, that any conductor would do an interview all of two hours before curtain up on a new production, first night of the season, an opera he's never done before. But that, dear readers, is Maestro Lucidity for you.

UPDATE, 8.42am: I've just heard that unfortunately Christian Gerhaher is not well and won't be singing tonight. His place will be taken by Leigh Melrose, who sang Wozzeck at ENO and was terrific. So, still go.

You might think that being principal conductor of two world-class opera houses would be enough to keep anyone busy. Fabio Luisi (56) divides his musical time principally between the Zürich Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He is at the helm for the Swiss company’s forthcoming visit to London’s Royal Festival Hall, opening the Southbank Centre’s International Orchestras Series 15/16 with a concert performance of Berg’s opera Wozzeck, starring the German baritone Christian Gerhaher.

But this soft-spoken maestro from Genoa has a startling extra strand to his life: he has his own perfume business, FL Parfums.

“I was always interested in perfumes,” Luisi says, “and one day I thought: why don’t I try it for myself? About four or five years ago I started to read, to get informed, to try by myself to make mixtures. I had a teacher and continue to learn. It’s a continuous learning process; it never ends.”

He likes to use essential oils in his scents – indeed, has recently qualified as an aromatherapist. Some of the perfumes are inspired by music; two are named for elements of Debussy’s La mer – Jeux du Vagues and Jeux du Vent – and for another, Invincible, Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony was his chief “muse”.

Luisi’s personal balance of ingredients – whether in music, life or perfume – include focus, sensitivity and organisation in what one imagines are equal parts. Slight, wiry, not remotely flamboyant, he directs the energy where it needs to go: into the creative task in hand, whatever it may be. Most perfume hobbyists might never consider turning a passion into a business – but for Luisi, perhaps if something is worth doing, it is worth doing thoroughly? “Possibly,” he agrees, laughing. “I can’t stand it when people do not care about quality.

“To be a perfectionist is a challenge,” he admits. “I try to do it well. Why are we doing this?” Music, that is. “It’s not for the money! For the audience? Yes, for the audience – but also for the respect of what we are doing. I think how much energy, thought, passion and time Alban Berg put into Wozzeck; I feel forced to do it well for him, for the work itself, and to show the audience how great this opera is.

“Sometimes I can do it, sometimes not as good as I want,” he adds. “But my father always used to say, ‘You have to try not harder - harder is not enough - but hardest. Then if you don’t achieve that goal, even if you are a little bit behind it, the result will still be good. But if you don’t aim for the best, you will never achieve any goal.’ And this is right.”

His father was a conductor, as it happens – a train conductor. Every small boy’s dream? “Mine too,” Luisi smiles. “Sometimes he would take me on the train in the driver’s cab. I loved him and I loved his job.”

Zürich Opera, Southbank International Orchestras Series, Royal Festival Hall, London, 2 October. Box office: 0844 875 0073

Thursday, October 01, 2015

"I played a radiated piano" - Martha Argerich speaks in Hiroshima

An actual interview with the extremely press-shy Martha Argerich has appeared in a Japanese newspaper after the great pianist visited Hiroshima. 

In it she reveals that she played a piano that had been subject to radiation from the atomic bomb that destroyed the city in 1945, saying: "It was very much taken care of and had a lovely sound. I know the story of Akiko (Kawamoto, who played the piano). She was not obviously injured (by the atomic bomb) but the next day she died (of radiation) at 19."

She also declares that both the Holocaust and Hiroshima must be remembered as human tragedies, and speaks about her recent collaborations with Daniel Barenboim: "I have no musical disagreement with him, until now at least."

Read it all here.

Here are Argerich and Barenboim playing a Schubert duet by way of encore...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sibelius rising

Sibelius with his piano. Photo:

I'm off to Birmingham tomorrow to give a pre-concert talk about Sibelius for the CBSO (though unfortunately am fighting a lurgy and need to get my voice back pronto - please forgive me if I sound a little croaky).

The concert, at Symphony Hall, concludes with the Symphony No.5 and it's good to see that it's being broadcast live on Radio 3 so we will all be able to enjoy Ed Gardner's conducting of this utterly scrumptious, inspired, original, glorious symphony for a little while thereafter. In the first half there's the Mendelssohn 'Hebrides' Overture and Lars Vogt is the soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto in E flat, K271. The first of the two performances is tonight.

As for Sibelius - there is too much to say and squeezing everything into 25-30 minutes is no easy task, so I'm going to focus on the question of why, when we had a composer of such genius who was once voted the most popular classical composer ever, even ahead of Beethoven, and he lived to be 91, there wasn't more of his music. There's much to explore and chew over. Do come along if you're in town. Booking here:

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sokolov refuses Cremona prize

Almost unbelievably, this happened the other day:

Grigory Sokolov writes (translation)
'Dear Mr. Bianchedi, ladies and gentlemen of Comitato Artistico di Cremona Mondomusica e Piano Experience. I refuse to receive the prize, Cremona Music Award 2015. 'According to my ideas about elementary decency, it is shame to be in the same award-winners list with Lebrecht. [Signed] G. Sokolov'
There's something profoundly depressing about this. 
The first startling thing is that to take such exception to a critic or commentator is to give them too much power over you. Look, all of us in the commentariat are minnows, and none of us deserve to be dignified with such importance. As Sibelius said, no statue has ever been put up to a critic (at least, it hadn't then). The second is that there are people in this business who are infinitely more poisonous than Norman Lebrecht. 
If it's any comfort, most of us writers try to serve the art we adore by offering something we hope is worthwhile - ideally, we should be trying to uphold the musical values that we feel, after many years of study and experience, are the most solid and crucial. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we don't. But a tiny minority, for all I know (and I'm not speaking here of Mr Lebrecht), might have different motivations, which from the look of it could include anything on the spectrum from bitterness through jealousy to political ideology and, at worst, megalomania or a chemical imbalance. 
Dear, great and wonderful artists, please listen only to this: the best thing you can do is to ignore us. We're not important. You are.


UPDATE: 30 September
Here is the official position of CremonaFiere itself, from its communications director, Paolo Bodini

Just to clear the official position of CremonaFiere, organizer of Cremona Mondomusica and the Cremona Music Award, I’d like to inform you that CremonaFiere launched the Cremona Music Award, which is given within Cremona Mondomusica and Piano Experience since 2014, in order to reward the international personalities that have arisen in their respective areas of interest in the world of music.

In 2014, we awarded:
• Micheal Nyman (“Composition” category)
• Alfred Brendel (“Interpretation” category)
• Norman Lebrecht (“Communication” category)
• FuturOrchestra (“Project” category)

These people came to Cremona to receive the prize, except from Norman Lebrecht, who was unable to come and sent a video message.

This year, our Artistic Committee considered to award:
• Krzysztof Penderecki (Composition)
• Grigory Sokolov (Interpretation)
• Corinna Da Fonseca Wollheim, music critic of the New York Times (Communication)
• Stefano Belisari aka Elio (Project)

Maestros Penderecki and Belisari, and Corinna Da Fonseca Wollheim have come to Cremona to receive the prize, while Maestro Sokolov sent us a letter to refuse the prize, justifying this choice with the presence of Norman Lebrecht among the people awarded in 2014.

We don't want to discuss the personal relationship between Maestro Sokolov and Norman Lebrecht; we are just very sorry about Sokolov's choice, especially considering that Franco Panozzo, Sokolov's manager, sent us an email on August 4th, 2015, saying that Maestro Sokolov would have been very happy to come to Cremona to receive the prize, if he had been in Italy during Cremona Mondomusica. We also have to say that before that (June 29th, 2015) we informed Franco Panozzo about the people awarded in 2014, Norman Lebrecht included.
So we have been surprised that just a few days before the prize-giving ceremony Maestro Sokolov took this decision.

Best regards
Paolo Bodini

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why pop is played everywhere you go

Here's a fascinating piece that explains how and why ubiquitous, inescapable, commercial pop music is not very good for us.

Here are a few of its salient points.

-- Pop music has been dumbed down over the decades. Compared to the good songs of the sixties, today we're getting watered-down tat with scant musical content, using only a few basic chords.

-- These limitations can make us less creative, leading us to expect less of ourselves and others and our art, and this encourages us not to think outside the box.

-- Poor-quality pop is being used 'to brainwash listeners through predatory marketing strategies across all media channels'.

-- And note, this also shapes the way kids grow up.

-- It says, too, that songs are not played everywhere, constantly, because they are popular. They are played to make them popular. 

Regular readers of JDCMB will already be familiar with my theory that when people have the opportunity to hear classical music, they mostly love it. It's just that it is not played very much, very widely, in places where it can be frequently and regularly stumbled across.

Read the whole thing here: