Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A miserably clean weekend

My birthday is coming up soonish, so Tom and I decided to treat ourselves to a couple of days in Paris. We had some air miles and managed to get a special deal to go first class on Eurostar. They give you a meal on the train and we got the 8.01 from Waterloo so they gave us breakfast, the full works. Tom ate the chicken sausage. I didn't. In Paris we wandered around and Tom started feeling queasy. We had lunch, which he managed to eat, but by dinnertime he was confined to hotel room, turning progressively greener. So instead of lovely romantic French diner a deux with yummy sauces and a bottle of burgandy, I found myself on my own in the cafe across the street having a glorified toasted sandwich and a nice cup of camomile tea. Poor old Tom was extremely sick in the night and then spent most of yesterday asleep.

I spent half the morning trying to get our Eurostar tickets changed to go back earlier, but they wouldn't do it. I did manage to undertake a few nice Parisy activities - notably shoe-shopping and buying some unusual bits of Debussy and Saint-Saens in a music shop on the Left Bank that hasn't changed a jot in 25 years (probably longer). Also visited the Cite de la Musique,the site of the Paris Conservatoire and the Musee de la Musique, which I heartily recommend. They have a permanent collection of musical instruments, including the dinosaur-sized Octobass created by Vuillaume for Berlioz (the particular instrument that I was keen to see, however, turned out not to be on display...long story...watch this space....). Currently there is a fabulous exhibition about music and the Third Reich, with extracts of film of Furtwangler and Richard Strauss conducting and exhibits including a programme from 'Brundibar' in Terezin, as well as Schoenberg's certificate of reconversion to Judaism, signed by Marc Chagall. Very strongly recommended.

Short version of above - I adore Paris, even if I have to go around on my own, but this wasn't really how I'd hoped to spend the past two days! I shall be writing a strongly worded letter to Eurostar about their noxious chicken sausages.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Elgar blimey

We're learning a new piece: the Elgar violin sonata. It's a peculiar experience because I don't know very well how it's supposed to go. Mostly I learn pieces that I know by ear well enough to sing backwards (if I could sing at all). But this is different. The only recording I have is unsatisfactory - it must be because it left me completely cold and reluctant to learn the work, so I've not listened to it again. My friend Margaret Fingerhut persuaded me that I was missing something special, so Tom and I decided to take the plunge. Now, approaching the work purely from the inside, having cast aside preconceptions, I'm finding that it is one of the most emotionally devastating pieces I've ever had to tackle. Inside the apparently staunch frame, this is the sound of a soul falling to pieces.

The sonata inhabits the same world as the Piano Quintet, the Second Symphony, the concertos - works I adore, but, obviously, have never had the chance to be part of. It's always seemed to me that Elgar was the voice of his age, mourning the cataclysm of the First World War and the end of an era. But this music is so inward-looking that I think it has much more to do with Elgar as a personality - and one that is deeply tortured. I'm simply gobsmacked by the way he can take what seems about to be an innocuous, four-square melody and, instead of developing it, unravel it entirely with harmonies in free fall, or rhythms that give way abruptly to episodes that make time stand still. I know of nothing truly comparable, certainly not in the violin sonata repertoire. It's astounding, powerful and both frightening and humbling to play.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Schools and scandals

First, here's my latest from the Indy, about Vivaldi, which was in the paper on Monday. Meant to put it up here earlier, but was up against some deadlines.

Now, to the title. I'm working on a piece for BBC Music Magazine's education issue comparing the merits of different types of schooling for budding musicians in Britain. I've talked to 5 musicians so far and am about to talk to another 2 or 3. So far, the following points have leapt out at me:

1. Nobody under the age of 35 has yet had a good word to say about music provision in UK state schools.

2. Most of the musicians who went to a conservatoire say that they regret not having gone to university.

3. Most of the musicians who went to university said it was very, very hard to combine academic work with enough practising.

4. Private education at a good school today costs an absolute fortune, even if you win a 'music scholarship'.

I'm reaching the conclusion that what counts is really only your personal fibre. If you've got the guts and the determination, it doesn't matter where you study. All these places are getting it wrong in their own sweet ways. Self-reliance is the only possible answer.

I am extremely glad that I don't have to go through any of that again.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The British Amateur 2: The Music Society

It's one of those funny things about Britain: the only thing you can take for granted when you go anywhere smallish to give a concert is that it will be cold. And that nobody will have thought to put heating on earlier in the day to warm the place up in time. Yesterday was one of the coldest days we've had in Britain this year. We turned up for Beloved Clara to find that in the school hall a bottle of champagne could have chilled itself to perfection unaided on the piano keyboard. Lucy and the actors were huddling backstage in the Geography Room, wearing their coats, when Tom and I arrived - and their initial, tentative inquiry 'Any chance of a cup of tea?' had been met with the bizarre response: 'NO.' (One did turn up, mysteriously, later on.)

Tom is his orchestra's health and safety representative: it's his job, when the LPO meets chilly conditions, to do something about it. Old habits die hard, so he turned the full force of which he is capable on the poor, unsuspecting person who was supposed to have dealt with this earlier but hadn't. It's not for nothing that they nickname our Tom "General Eisnerhower"... First they brought down several blowy heaters and put them near the piano, which was fine for 30 seconds until the fuse blew. And only then, somehow, somewhere, somebody was finally raised, I think through sheer terror of Tom, to flick the switch that put the heating on in the hall. By the interval, I was just about ready to remove my gloves - and I was only listening. I don't know how Lucy managed to move her fingers - but somehow she did, and, I'm glad to say, very beautifully indeed.

When Tom and I go anywhere to do a concert, we take the following kit with us:

2 lamps, one to sit on the piano, one for Tom's music stand
An extension lead
At least one adapter
A small blowy or two-bar heater
A thermos flask of coffee
Water
Bananas
Chocolate

I think we may need to add draught excluder and fingerless gloves to the list.

Over in the States, what is the comparable situation - if it is indeed comparable? Over in Germany, Norway, France, Lithuania, Holland, indeed everywhere where you, dear readers, may be, how do things match up? Is the mentality the same - nobody takes responsibility and f-ups occur at every intervening stage before things prove, as they always miraculously seem to, all right on the night? Here there seems to be a predominant sense that if you insist something is done properly, you are somehow not terribly British. I am not trying to malign amateur music-making itself, which is a fine and life-enhancing tradition. Amateurish organisation, however, stops only just short of sabotage - and is really rather silly.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Owch

The most recent batch of CDs to hit my desk has included a few extremes, to put it mildly.

I've been concerned about Anne-Sophie Mutter's state of mind for some time, ever since turning on the TV several years ago and hearing the most self-conscious, mannered and inappropriate performance of Beethoven's Spring Sonata that had yet come my way. Last season she did the Beethoven concerto with Tom's orchestra and I was quite ready to strangle her by the end for the pointless and hideous affectations that permeated the whole thing. She redeemed herself playing the Brahms Double with Lynn Harrell earlier this season, which was beautiful - phew, I thought, all that was an aberration. But, alas, not so. Her new recording of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, conducted by hubby Previn, live at the Musikverein, suggests that she has utterly, totally and horrendously lost the plot. The coupling is the Korngold concerto, which to my great relief is actually OK (recording in a studio may have brought her to her senses?). But how could any self-respecting musician think that what passes for Tchaikovsky here has anything whatsoever to do with the intentions of poor old Pyotr Ilyich? Presumably it's meant to sound different and original, but it is so truly tasteless that it's like dressing the Mona Lisa in a pink velour jumpsuit with a £5000 price tag. It left me feeling physically sick. This is the sort of recording that really does make me wonder what the musical world is coming to. I once read that the role of a critic is to be a watchdog and bark when necessary. Here goes. WOOOF! WOOOF! WOOOOFFFFF!

As an antidote, I've run back to the BAT Boys and their 50th anniversary recording of Mendelssohn and the Dvorak 'Dumky' Trio, the same programme that launched their international recording career. Life-enhancing, genuine music making from three genuine guys who love playing together.

Have also enjoyed Dan Hope's recent solo recording East Meets West, an intriguing programme that combines Indian music with Ravi Shankar with Ravel's Tzigane complete with Lutheal - that bizarre device that Ravel invented to make the piano sound like a cimbalon - and also Bartok and de Falla with accompaniments doctored in similar gypsy fashion, to glittering effect. And nestling in the middle of this appealing programme is an incredibly beautiful violin sonata by Schnittke. Now, this really is different and original - but, best of all, it works.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Hello to Berlin

Back from a delicious few days hearing and interviewing the Beaux Arts Trio in Berlin. Fascinating city, as ever; every time I go there (this was my 3rd trip in 14 months) there are new buildings to see, cranes in new places, a gleaming new century imposing itself on relics of all the others. Berlin must be the city that best encompasses the whole of 20th-century European history.

Not that I saw much of it this time, because my quarry, the trio - known pleasingly as the BAT - were far too interesting. Pianist Menahem Pressler, who is over 80, is one of my great piano heroes and the person I would most have loved to study with 20 years ago. The 'old' trio's recordings, with Isidore Cohen and Bernard Greenhouse, were among my father's favourites and we used to listen to them all the time when I was about 14, especially the Dvorak 'Dumky' Trio. I think that the sound of Pressler's playing somehow got under my skin at that time through sheer familiarity with this record, and I realise now that it's been my pianistic ideal ever since. And the Dumky was the second half of their Berlin concert.

In place of Cohen and Greenhouse the trio now has Daniel Hope and Antonio Meneses. But the piano sound is just the same - silvery, sparkly, silken joie de vivre, full of soul and humanity, from someone who should be recognised as one of the world's great pianists but, because he has played primarily in a trio for 50 years and taught devotedly in Indiana for half that time, is not sufficiently familiar to the wider public. Just a few notes into the Dvorak, I entered a time warp and found myself back in the house where I grew up, going through it room by room, object by object, and watching Dad enjoying the music... Of course, he died years ago, as did my mother, and I spent most of the trio fighting back serious lump in throat.

Almost as moving, and more astonishing, was the impression I had that Pressler and Hope, despite the 50-year difference in their ages, are somehow cut from the same spiritual cloth. Musically they were a perfect match and during the interviews each in turn seemed to be trying to win at praising the other. They are performing the Faure A major Sonata together in Paris in January and I intend to try to go. Pressler calls Dan and Antonio 'my boys', which is very sweet indeed. I sat next to Pressler at dinner and we got on wonderfully. He is just as he sounds.

Apropos de Faure, Tom and I played that same sonata in a private concert last Sunday and I thought it went pretty well. Or, to put it another way, I didn't f*** up. And Tom was excellent, despite the frustration of trying to play in tune while the piano was out of tune. The audience seemed to love it and they gave us two very nice bottles of champagne.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Schumannalia

It's been a good year for me work-wise, though I touch every piece of wood in sight as I write this. First, I'm back in a national paper (Indy) on a regular basis after a break of several years since Guardian days. Now I'm back reviewing CDs for BBC Music Magazine after a break of around 2 years, following the magazine's recent office move and staff changes. As a freelancer, one is extremely dependent on the personal taste of whoever happens to be in charge at the editorial level - it's a rare blessing when this actually works for one, instead of against!

They've sent me a CD of Schumann piano music, the Etudes Symphonique and the Fantasie Op.17, and I have to write a 'benchmark' review - ie, compare this one to 'the best recording currently available'. Apart from the obvious thought - omygod, not another disc of Schumann, can't he do something more original? - this presents the dilemma that there are so many fine recordings of these piece already that picking 'the best' is an uncomfortable task. For Schumann generally, I tend to gravitate to ancient jobs like Cortot - I don't believe anybody has ever played this music with such profound understanding as he did. But given crackles and wrong notes, this may not qualify as 'the best' for such an occasion. For the Fantasie, arch-rival Gramophone gives Richter as their Recommended Recording - but then, they also recommend Bostridge in Dichterliebe, which I find very hard to swallow (come on, guys, haven't you ever heard Fischer-Dieskau accompanied by Eschenbach?), so I'm dubious about trusting this.

It's interesting to see that on the Amazon.co.uk list that responds to my 'Schumann Etudes Symphoniques' search (total: 74 recordings), sorted according to best-sellers, dead pianists feature as much, if not more than, living ones. Incredibly, Gieseking seems to be their No.1 seller. Then Pletnev, Ashkenazy and, good heavens, Moiseiwitsch; followed by Wilhelm Kempff and Cortot before Pogorelich with his pretty-boy photo from decades back. And so it goes on.

So, do I plump for personal favourite Cortot or should I plough through a dozen Good Contemporary Bets (Pletnev is just too idiosyncratic for me, by the way) before finding someone to compare this new, unfortunate, unsuspecting pianist to? Well, I have to give a concert myself tomorrow... so maybe I'll worry about it once that's over... Meanwhile, anybody got any more personal top choices for CDs of these pieces?

Friday, November 12, 2004

Yo Sufi

Went to the South Bank last night with a friend who is investigating Sufi music. We had a Japanese feast at Yo Sushi (we turned it into Yo Sufi for the occasion!), which is near the London Eye and jolly nice, and then settled into the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey.

They didn't so much whirl as twirl, rather gently. Five men in long cream-coloured robes and tall fezes. They went round and round and round and round and round, arms gently raised, heads leaning to one side, eyes closed, while a four-piece group played intricate and meditative music full of quarter-tones on beautiful instruments that bore strong resemblances to Renaissance lute, recorder and viol (mini model). Unfortuantely there were no programmes for the occasion, and I think this was a major ommission. My friend and I remained completely in the dark about a) what the instruments are called, b) what the music signified, c) to what end the dervishes twirl, if any, d) the history of this tradition and e) how on earth they manage not to get dizzy. I tried it when I got home and lasted about 25 seconds before nearly falling over.

The following will not sound tremendously politically correct, but after a while I couldn't help wondering quite what we were doing there (we weren't the only ones in the half-full hall who sloped off home at the interval). Sure, it's impressive and the music is different and fascinating in its own way. But thinking back a number of years to my days sub-editing on Southbank Magazine, which is a marketing tool and diary for the SBC, produced by the BBC, I was reminded of the way in which these types of evening were pushed rather at the expense of classical concerts. Classical wasn't cool and trendy enough - if they could have a picture of someone in a bright ethnic costume on the front cover, even Helene Grimaud wouldn't have stood a chance. A piano? Oh dear me... And these decisions were made by the centre, not by the editors. One reason I gently divorced myself from Southbank was the fact that the line we had to take - not so much politically correct as culturally correct - got up my nose to the point of inducing real depression. Now, I LIKE much of this stuff! I'm all for it! I loved talking to the world-musicy people I had to interview while I was there. I think the rise of world music is one of the most exciting cultural developments of the last decade or two - and it beats the hell out of mass-produced pop. But I don't see why classical music has to be 'positively' marginalised because of it.

Hopefully my friend found the evening useful. This morning I am operating in ever-decreasing circles.

Monday, November 08, 2004

In today's Independent...

...is my latest article, about the pressures facing todays' bevy of young conductors. This was great fun to write, though what appears in the paper is the tip of a major interviewing iceberg - I had wonderful long talks with Ilan Volkov, Semyon Bychkov, Christophe Mangou, Hugh MacDonald and Patrick Harrild but could only use a few choice bits from each.

If I had to pick a favourite from these interviews, it would be Bychkov. He's in his 50s and was able to cast perspective in a way that the twenty-somethings generally can't. He said that one professor in the Leningrad Conservatory told the class that they shouldn't touch Mozart's Symphony No.40 until they were 50. Bychkov put up his hand and said, 'What if I don't live to be 50?'

He also has a WONDERFUL Russian accent.

He will be performing with the WDR Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall on 1 December and as I can't resist Russian accents, I think I shall be there.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Hooray for analysis

Several music bloggers have been posting recently about the relative merits of different approaches to musical analysis: 'impressionistic' writing versus heavily technical. Interesting viewpoints from Helen, Steve Hicken and AC Douglas.

At university in the mid-80s I had my fair share of the second kind and found it really rather thrilling. Especially Schenker. When Schenker is well explained and sensitively applied, he can help to shed tremendous new light on pieces that one thought one knew backwards. My most inspiring encounter with Schenkerian thinking was when I listened to Murray Perahia giving piano masterclasses in which he used a Schenkerian approach to transform his students' performances and also his observers' ears. For instance, he demonstrated how the whole first movement of Schumann's piano concerto springs from the conflict engendered by the semitone that opens the piano's first flourish. I began to think I'd never truly heard this most familiar of works before.

Fast-forward to yesterday. I've been slogging away at the piano on the Faure A major violin sonata (just a week to go before the performance) and yesterday I found something in it that I've never noticed before, despite months of practising and years of passionate listening. But a few little notes buried deep inside the music suddenly reminded me of something else. It set off a new train of thought...I toothcombed my way through the whole sonata...and I think it really does say what I think it says. This tiny motif, and what Faure does with it, carries messages that tally perfectly with his character - he had a very naughty, subversive streak - and with the timing and reasons for this piece's creation. And in the context of other influential music of the day, it simultaneously pays tribute and 'cocks a snook', which is fairly typical of Monsieur Gabriel as I know him. Tom thinks I've gone out of my mind, which is usually a sure sign that I'm onto something, so I intend to investigate further.

One thing that I'm certain of: a purely impressionistic approach won't work if I want to prove this point. These days I don't enjoy wading through pages of academic theory any more than I enjoy eating cardboard, but sometimes one has to resort to it because it's the only way to get at the next level of meaningful information - a level that would otherwise remain hidden forever.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Avie is online

Newest addition to sidebar is Avie Records, which now has its website ready to roll. Avie, run by long-time record industry pros Simon Foster and Melanne Mueller, it's a record company on a different model from the usual: as the website explains, it is 'turning the traditional musician / record company relationship on its head.  Avie operates the label for and on behalf of the musicians who retain ownership of their recordings, acting as an umbrella for a number of musical organisations and individual artists.' But that doesn't mean they produce all and sundry - anything but. There is more discernment and clever thinking here than in many labels that have been established for much longer.

Avie is enabling the recording and release of some very special CDs which traditional major labels might hesitate to produce. Proof of its success is its first Gramophone award, for Phantasm's CD of Orlando Gibbons on viol consort. Among other favourites of mine are Andreas Haefliger's beautiful, reflective and powerful piano recital entitled 'Perspectives 1', Enescu's Piano Suites played by the exceptional young Romanian pianist Luiza Borac on two discs, and of course Philippe Graffin's Coleridge-Taylor and Dvorak Violin Concertos with the Johannesburg Philharmonic (OK, so I did the booklet notes, yeah, yeah, yeah... but it's a great record and I'm proud to be associated with it, so I make no apology for pushing it here). Keep up the good work, guys.

UPDATE, SUNDAY MORNING: Also new to cyberspace is Lisa Hirsch's classical music blog, Iron Tongue of Midnight. Ms Hirsch - she of the Bay Area bagel offer! - launches online with a plea for orchestral musicians to smile while they work. We've already had a very bloggish argy-bargy in her comments box as I've put her straight on exactly why they can't do so while trying to keep their places in John Adams... Looking forward to lots more provocative points of view, Lisa!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Fiddle glut

If you pronounce this title with a Danish accent, it sounds like an interesting pre-Christmas drink... But in the past 10 days or so I've been able to hear Leonidas Kavakos, Julian Rachlin and Nikolaj Znaider and, as a self-confessed violin fetishist, I'm feeling most pleasantly punch-drunk already. I got to sleep last night by counting fiddlers and got to 16 (or was it 17), any of whom I'd be more than willing to travel to the Barbican to hear and many of whom, to my astonishment, are under 40.

Here are a few of them, in no order whatsover: Kavakos, Rachlin and Znaider, as above; Hilary Hahn, Josh Bell, Lisa Batiashvili, Maxim Vengerov, Vadim Repin, Sarah Chang, Renaud Capucon, Thomas Zehetmair, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Viktoria Mullova, Andrew Manze, Gil Shaham, Tasmin Little, Philippe Graffin, Janine Jansen, Daniel Hope, Leila Josefowicz, Alina Ibragimova. And possibly Nigel Kennedy. That's 22, without even trying, and I'm sure I've missed a few. It's a sobering thought to realise that Mutter, Mullova and Kennedy are in the upper age-range in such company.

What happened? How come there's such a fabulous forest springing up now? Is it the influence of powerful teachers like Zakhar Bron, the Menuhin School and the late Dorothy Delay? Did the bright young things find inspiration in figures such as Zukerman and Perlman, or seeing the success of youthful stars like Nige or Mutter with whom they could identify? I'd like to look into this. About 20 years ago there was a similar glut among brilliant cellists, who in many cases had been inspired by seeing Jacqueline du Pre when they were very small; and also flautists, who adored James Galway.

To the fifty-somethings Zukerman and Perlman, we can now add Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Pierre Amoyal, Augustin Dumay and, omygod, Gidon Kremer...

Counting fiddlers is a good way to induce sleep at times of world stress and fierce argument here in Sheen. There is depression over America; my husband thinks Yasser Arafat is a great man; and I went to the London Symphony Orchestra last night only to spot none other than the leader of the London Philharmonic sitting in the driving seat beaming up at Rostropovich and Znaider, while the LPO had had to get a guest leader in. None of this makes for a quiet life.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Maybe Britain is European after all

Hi folks, thanks very much for all your interesting responses to the posts below and your associated nice words about this blog. As you know, I don't usually 'do' politics, so I promise I will shut up shortly and get back to music. But first, a few observations...

First, I wasn't actually surprised that Bush won. Kerry seemed like a bit of a nerd and I suspected that he was attracting many 'anti Republican' votes rather than 'pro Democrat'. Secondly, I for one - and possibly many of my compatriots too - will find it easier to accept Bush in the White House this time because he does have a clear majority. Which wasn't the case 4 years ago, when many of us suspected serious monkey business. Thirdly, someone like Bush would never, ever be elected in Britain because our countries, traditions and outlooks are so very different. Bush is far, far right of the British Tory party. Here, people with such extreme views, especially if religiously motivated, are viewed frankly as a little bit odd: endearingly eccentric, perhaps, and admirable for their personal sense of conviction, but certainly not suitable candidates for running a country.

When people complain here about globalisation, they usually mean Americanisation - the predominance in the 'culture' (if you can define it as such) of MacDonalds, Starbucks, American films and American TV. I think that this election proves that such anger is directed at something essentially superficial. We like a lot of these things, with the exception of MacDonalds, because they're rather good. But they're not indicative of the Americanisation of the British people. Some think that we are in America's pocket - a useful little bit of land in a handy spot east of the Atlantic. The widespread sense of depression here yesterday proves that we're not.

A look at your election map is very telling. Huge swathes of red right across the place. And a few little strips of blue in the big cities on the coasts. Well, Britain is a small country, geographically. The vast majority of Brits live in overcrowded cities - there isn't that much countryside left and there'll soon be even less. Also, we lack your religious right-wingers - they exist, but the numbers aren't huge and, as I mentioned, the rest of us regard them as oddballs. Unlike America-between-the-coasts, Britain is mainly a secular country; the bit that isn't is multifaith in the extreme. Here in London we have everything under the sun, from Chassids to Muslim extremists like Abu Hamza (who finally got arrested) and every variety of eastern Orthodox church you can think of. There are occasional spats, as there would be in any such situation, but on the whole we coexist quite happily, share the same basic everyday concerns and balance each other out. The majority of Brits would be very worried indeed if we felt that our prime minister's priority was to make laws centring on religious issues like gay rights and abortion. We'd rather they did something to fix up the public transport system. (Not that they do that either).

In British cities, especially London, we're a very mixed society. On any average trip on the London underground, you can hear about six different languages. The place is full of Eastern Europeans now. The Poles keep the building and cleaning industries alive and standards have soared since they started coming here. The orchestras are full of amazing Russians. My brother's new baby is officially Italian like his mum. Our friends include Germans, Chinese, French, Danish, Swedish, Armenians, Israelis, Australians and, of course, Americans. And plenty others. That's one of the things that makes London so exciting.

Next, it's easy to get around from here. Travelling anywhere from the States, you generally have to cross an ocean. From London it's a short hop to anywhere in Europe. Vilnius, which felt for so long like another planet, is just 3 hours away. Israel is only about 5 hours (not counting return check-in at the airport in Tel Aviv). South Africa and Singapore are about 12 hours each, Japan 10, India 8. So we tend to travel. Tom and I can nip over to Paris by train for an overnight shopping trip, or get a cheap ticket on a budget airline to visit friends in Denmark for a long weekend. if you live in Fort Worth or Kalamazoo, the idea of flying all the way to Aarhus for three days would seem completely crazy. So if Americans from inland areas sometimes strike us Brits as insular, under-travelled and ill-informed about the rest of the world, we can hardly be surprised. There simply isn't anywhere here that resembles Texas, Michigan or Nebraska. No wonder we can't understand you. No wonder you can't understand us.

I've been to Kalamazoo, by the way, and I had a great time there. That's another story.

This could go on forever, so I'll stop now. But in short I feel that what Britain can learn from this election is that we are actually much closer to Europe than to America and growing more so all the time, even if parts of our country would prefer it to be otherwise. And do we have a common language, not counting what passes for 'English' (currently in as dire a state over here as it is over there)? We do. Need I say it? MUSIC.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Gergiev and Beslan

This latest from Norman Lebrecht is extremely moving - an interview with Ossetian-born maestro Valery Gergiev about his reaction to the Beslan massacre. Recommended reading, especially for anyone who still thinks that violence doesn't beget more violence ( - oh - OK, Dubya - just settle back into your big white house first - then read it when you're sitting comfortably...)

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Polling day...

Hi to everyone in the USA today, November 2nd. A little message from our household: please go to your polling stations and do your very best to get rid of the goon who has been running your country for the past 4 years. New York is my favourite city. I once wanted to live there (and would have if I hadn't met my husband at the very moment I was offered a job) and I want to be able to visit it, and my many beloved friends and family members who live there, without feeling sick. We are with you in spirit.

A controversial piece in The Guardian recently printed letters from angry Americans telling us Brits, in no uncertain terms, to get our noses out of their election business. (I wanted to link to it, but there has been so much coverage in the last little while that I can't find it right now.) Well, since our own prime minister has seen fit to back Bush's war on Iraq, our servicemen have risked their lives there and we do think we have a right to express our opinions.

Music carries such strong and directly emotional messages that it could be used as a powerful tool by those who know how to apply it (as did, regrettably, Hitler). Therefore it's logical to suspect that musicians could use their talent to make their points far more strongly if they wanted to. However, many musicians I know are either hopelessly naive ("Concorde crashed? That's OK, it only killed rich people...") or disinterested ("Why should we bother voting? Nobody raises our pay no matter what happens...") or a little unrealistic about the demands of the market place ("We should privatise British orchestras..."). Tom and I do occasional fundraising concerts for things we believe in - they might make more difference, I guess, if we played them anywhere other than to 20 people and a cat in suburban front rooms. But we can dream, and we do... Still, it's a bit late to mobilise American orchestras, or what's left of them,in favour of any presidential candidate at this stage. All we can say is this:

Dear friends in America, we love you and we want to keep our Special Relationship special. So please vote yourselves a proper President today.