Monday, February 28, 2005

One year on...

Tomorrow will mark the first anniversary of my blog! I still can't get over the fact that I can type this in the comfort of my south-west London study at 8.38am and by 8.48 am some total stranger may be reading it on the other side of the world.

I don't know exactly how many visitors I've had during this time because I've had some ructions with webcounters along the way (there's now an invisible one!), but currently I'm averaging about 100 visitors per day. There's usually a dip at weekends, which suggests most of you log on at work! :-). I had my highest number of hits when I posted a picture of my cat, Solti!

There have been hits from 59 different countries from Los Angeles to Taipei to Chile to Kyrgystan.

I've discovered that bloggers are marvellous, strong-minded, helpful and idealistic people! You're marvellous, the lot of you! Some will go to extraordinary lengths to help out other people whom they've never met and wouldn't recognise if they bumped into them. Everyone experiences - I think - a sense almost of relief that blogs exist. This is a medium in which you really can speak your mind and nobody can tell you what your opinions ought to be.

Having so said, I'm still astonished at the way anonymous viewers hiding behind self-appointed watchdog-type nicknames are simply waiting to leap out of the woodwork to tear you to shreds the second you dare to admit that you don't like Christmas...

My most unlikely referrer was probably: And some of the strangest Google queries that have led people to the site have been, in no particular order: 'Where can I find magic mushrooms in Scunthorpe'; 'latkes en francais' (please note, they taste the same in both languages!); 'Serkin rowing' (did he?); 'Ukranian poppyseed cake'; 'Real tomcat meow recordings sound effect download' (is that what my husband is doing in his spare time?!?); and last but by no means least, 'violin fetish' (erm, not unreasonable, this...)

Of course, the danger is that one uses a blog as a way of keeping friends and family scattered all over the place up to date with one's news - so apologies to anyone who's found they get fewer e-mails from me these days - don't worry, I still love you all!

Finally, I wish I could say that my book deal is the result of blogging, but it isn't. I started that book over a year before starting the blog and the fact that it's going to be published is the result of little more than a fantastic agent and some extremely good luck!

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Any suggestions?

I need to buy a laptop computer. A lot of running around this spring/summer, one novel to edit, another to write, plus articles, not to mention blogging = portable electronic pal required. I get completely boggled by the choice, though. Does anyone have any recommendations for a good one?

I need:

to be able to type on it easily (often typing on a laptop keyboard feels like playing the harpsichord when you're used to a Steinway);

plenty of battery time

something as light and carryable as possible

broadband internet connection anywhere/everywhere (I know there's a term for this, but can't remember it)

to get at e-mail no matter what & send large files via e-mail

readable screen

it would be nice to play CDs & DVDs on it

Would be nice if it was Mac compatible in some way. I adore my iMac, which is safely rooted to my study desk, but am not sure that I want to fork out the necessary ££££s for the laptop equivalent!

Any advice would be greatly appreciated...

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Catching up

Rather a fallow blog-week for me, I fear. Here are a few things that have been happening...

Tom has been on tour - Ljubljana, three places in Germany beginning with F and, to end, Basel. The major excitement seems to have been some official list that was circulated to the orchestra inadvertently revealing everybody's normally well-concealed middle names and dates of birth. Plus lots of snow, beautiful European shoebox concert halls and excellent audiences, Tom says, and stunning performances by their soloist, Christian Tetzlaff, who makes a more beautiful sound on his inexpensive modern fiddle than most others do on Strads. It ain't what you've got, it's what you do with it.

I went to hear Piotr Anderszewski at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday. Completely sold out, and not an easy programme at all - the first half was the Bach French Overture and the Szymanowski Metopes (Chopin took up the second half). Glorious playing, especially the Poles; most of all, the Chopin B minor Sonata. Once again, anyone who insists that audiences are declining should really have been there; they should also note that Grigory Sokolov's next recital, which is not until 15 APRIL, is ALREADY sold out. Which is no less than this absolutely unbelievable artist deserves. I'm glad he's gaining the prestige that is his due.

Meanwhile I am staring at my computer screen with increasing terror at the idea of what I soon have to do with it...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


I can't sleep. I've had quite a large dose of whisky and still can't sleep, mainly because my brain is overloaded. Also, it's snowing here - most uncharacteristic for London in these days of global warming - and I'm wondering how I'll get to the library tomorrow to look for the books I need for my next Indy feature. For those of you beyond these sunny shores, all we need here is an inch of snow and the entire infrastructure of the country grinds to a halt. "The wrong kind of snow" has gone down in history as ye late lamented British Rail's excuse for everything packing up at the slightest excuse...

A few scattered snow showers earlier this evening didn't stop me getting to the Wigmore Hall to hear Gidon Kremer, who was playing there for the first time in 21 years. Not only a fantastic chance to catch him in an acoustic that flatters his sound - I've only experienced him before in the RFH and the Verbier tent - but also a marvellous, apparently eclectic but well-planned programme that would actually have worked nearly as well in Ronnie Scott's. Lots of exciting contemporary & near-contemporary stuff based around the influence, in one way or another, of Bach. With Kremer was the Russian percussionist Andrei Pushkarev, who blended wonderfully with Kremer's intelligence and driven conviction, but nearly stole the show with his own fabulous, jazzy transcriptions for vibraphone of some of Bach's 2-part inventions. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through. And I think Piazzolla is TOP.

Kremer seems to perform as he does not because he's a violinist, but because he's a thirsty, questing, creative musician in every sense. So many violinists seem to be hung up on purely violinistic questions: wonderful sound, great technique, etc, which on this instrument are so complex that they risk becoming an end in themselves. Kremer goes way beyond that. Some of us loved his Bach Chaconne - completely unbaroquey, completely Kremer, completely convincing (apart from some odd upbow retakes that puzzled me a bit). Others didn't. Why is it that some concert-goers hear a so-called baroque fiddler play this thing with a curved bow and no vibrato and instantly think that anything different from that has nothing to do with Bach?!? (I was, as you can see, eavesdropping on the row behind...) That's the amazing thing about Bach, as Pushkarev proved on his vibraphone: this music can take any number of arrangements, updating, adaptation etc etc and still emerge as strong and vital and marvellous as it was the day it was written.

No wonder I can't sleep.

Images are haunting me too of snowflakes on Oxford Street - the only thing that can turn that place into something magical - and poems on the underground and half-glimpsed parallel universes and eleventh dimensions that, I understand, may exist, but then again may not.

Friday, February 18, 2005


We DID have a nice evening yesterday... Started off at the cashmere sweater shop, where I plumped for the purple in the end. Then on to the Savoy for a glass of champagne followed by dinner at the Savoy Grill. Beautiful food; the most elegant surroundings with plenty of space; and superlative service, all just perfect for the occasion. I regret to say I became quite emotional from time to time, since I've been dreaming of this evening - buying my cashmere sweater and celebrating the imminent publication of my first novel - for 20 years or more. Tom handled it all very well, bless him.

I do have to stop daydreaming and do some serious writing goes on and so do the music magazines!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Underdog schmunderdog

Big thanks to Tim for a link to the Atlanta remarks/quotes about yrs truly's blog. I guess I was a technotwit after all...

I do have to take exception, though, to the journalist's description of Tom's orchestra, the London Philharmonic, as the 'underdog' among the top 5 London orchestras. Everyone gets the names confused now and then, but the LPO is really in pretty good shape (one sole section currently lets it down with depressing regularity, but I'm not really allowed to write about that...suffice it to say that it ain't the violins!). No, the real underdog is actually the Royal Philharmonic - which is absolutely tragic.

This once great orchestra, founded by Sir Thomas Beecham, gave the first Royal Festival Hall concerts I ever went to. I'll never forget, aged 12, sitting in the RFH listening to them playing Strauss's Don Juan and feeling the socks flying from my feet as the trombones glistened and the bows scrubbed...I remember thinking, 'I want to be part of this...' - little suspecting that, instead, I'd someday marry someone who was! But today the RPO has been left out in the cold in terms of government funding. The LSO gets the lion's share, and its home in the Barbican in the City of London enables it to have around double the cash of any of the others. No wonder it sounds good. The LPO and Philharmonia share a residency at the RFH and get decentish government money at the next level down. They both sound jolly good too. The BBCSO is a law unto itself, as ever: sometimes it sounds great, sometimes it doesn't, but it's not often to blame for the latter as its raison d'etre is its often weird and taxing programming. But the RPO, not having a high-profile residency (though it does have a new Chelsea base at Cadogan Hall now), gets such paltry funding that it has to resort to many of the most miserable kinds of orchestral gigs to make ends meet. It sounds and feels seriously demoralised. A pal of mine played a concerto with them out of town a year or so ago - I went along, and sitting in a draughty, miserable hall in which I was the youngest person by 40 years, listening to a draughty, miserable orchestra, was really sad, especially when I remembered how they had sounded all those years ago. It's not that they don't try - they certainly do - and I have the greatest respect for the way they soldier on. But I think they are trapped in a vicious circle and I don't know how they can get out of it.

The LPO is off on tour to Germany, Switzerland and Ljubljana next week, with Paavo Berglund conducting and soloists including cellist Pieter Wispelwey and violinist Christian Tetzlaff. They'll have to wrap up warm because it's -11 degrees in some of these places. Tom & I tried to check the forecasts for Ljubljana on the internet last night. After trying to spell it three times, we had to give up and try 'Slovenia' instead.

British technotwit

Thanks to Scott and Nancy, both of whom mentioned in Comments that I got written up (or my Blog did) in the Atlanta Constitution Journal. Scott was surprised that I hadn't remarked on it. Well, guess why...can I log on to the Atlanta Constitution Journal? No, I cannot! OK, I'm the British technotwit of the year, if not the millennium. But for once, it may not be my fault.

The website demands that you register, and when you're doing so it wants to know your phone number and your home state & zip code. British phone numbers have the wrong number of numbers, it seems, and the 'home state' is required but only gives you a list of American ones to choose from! Therefore nobody outside the happy USA can ever read this newspaper! Since many of you guys are American, and I've adored the place every time I've been there (with the possible exception of Fort Worth), I'll keep my blogmouth shut about Bush, protectionism, isolationism et al. Suffice it to say that if anyone could possibly E-mail me the article, copied & pasted in to a message, I'd be most grateful!

Smugness still reigns supreme over we are having our celebration dinner and I am also going to do something that I have been promising myself for a couple of decades. I decided, when I was about 18, that when my first novel got accepted, I would buy myself a cashmere sweater - and would not have one until then. And I never have. So we are going to a cashmere sweater shop before dinner. The big decision: black or violet?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine news!

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody! Here's my news. My first novel is going to be published next year and I now have one year in which to write the second. RIGHT NOW I LOVE THE WHOLE WORLD!!! :)

Details will follow in due course. Tom and I are treating ourselves to a very posh dinner to celebrate, but not until Thursday.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Ist possible?

Just saw something in the Radio Times that produced a sensation of sinking horror, the emotion hitting home before I could work out why. Artsworld is showing Kenneth MacMillan's ballet Romeo and Juliet this week and it's nice to see it picked out as a top choice. But the blurb begins: 'It helps to know the Shakespeare play on which Kenneth MacMillan's ballet is closely based...'

My heart missed a beat and a few seconds later I understood: the implication of this sentence is that there are people out there, people who might enjoy ballet on TV, who DON'T know Romeo and Juliet, not even the story.

What is the world coming to? I had thought that Romeo & Juliet, like The Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, was an Essential: one of those stories that you can assume most people (most people who'd want to see ballet, that is) know - as part of themselves, almost as part of modern western folklore. Has all this changed? HOW? WHAT HAPPENED?

COMFORTING, PERHAPS, in the light of this, to have found the RFH packed for Bernstein's Candide last night. Fab show, funny, moving, sharp-edged, amazing music. I couldn't stop foot-tapping and must have annoyed my neighbours. Wonderfully sung, too, with a sensational Canadian soprano, Carla Huhtanen, as Cunegonde, the indefatigable Kim Criswell as The Old Lady and the latest hot property - fresh-faced, bright-voiced young US tenor Michael Slattery - in the title role.

Friday, February 11, 2005

New York Phil

My friend Philippe Graffin is playing at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, tonight at 8pm and on Sunday at 5pm. If you're in New York, do go and hear him. This man can play the fiddle! He is with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center playing the Ravel Violin Sonata and the Faure C minor Piano Quartet. His colleagues are cellist Gary Hoffman (Saint-Saens Cello Sonata No.1), violist Paul Neubauer and pianist Andre-Michel Schub.

The programme is called 'Favourites from France' and, bless them, they've got a wine-tasting at 7pm too. I hope this entire occasion indicates a gentle thawing of the icy waters between France and the US?

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Nice feedback today from my friend Beate in Vilnius. She's been showing off the piece I wrote for The Strad (February issue) about musical life in Lithuania, one of the articles I was able to do as a result of my visit to the Vilnius Festival last June, and it seems to be going over well with many of the individuals and institutions involved.

This is a great relief, because trying to encapsulate an entire culture, a whole history and its associated personalities and triumphs and tragedies after only 5 days in the place is no easy task - and squeezing even 5 days' worth of experiences into three pages is just as problematic (especially experiences like that!). I can't help remembering that the whole of James Joyce's Ulysses takes place in one day.

It's weird, but after 15 years in music journalism, I still find it terrifying to think that anyone actually READS what I've written. Writing these days is a remarkably odd process (perhaps it always was...). You sit in your study, type away at the computer, brush and hone and chop and change and try reading things aloud and eventually you get the word length about right; then you press a button and off it goes...and you forget about it until, a few weeks or months later, there it is in the programme/newspaper/magazine and you can't even remember what you wrote or how you wrote it. I did some programme notes for an LPO concert last week and it was pretty alarming to see people in the audience sitting expectantly with the relevant page open on their knees. The most frightened I've ever been on such an occasion was once when I'd written the notes for a song recital at the Wigmore Hall and on the night I spotted Vikram Seth, one of my favourite writers, sitting across the aisle, leafing through...

Blogging, by contrast, is in real time. Plus, you can go back and change things if you need to. And you don't have to watch while people go 'tut tut tut' and shake their heads sadly over your remarks. Much more friendly.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Midlife crisis?

Hooray, hurrah, yipee, the pop-ups have gone! We can get back to normal now...

A friend wants to borrow some rare Korngold chamber music from me, so I dug out a few CDs I haven't played for a while and have been listening to them. I'm wondering whether this is symptomatic of an imminent midlife crisis, but I'm not responding to them in the way I used to. There are things in old EWK that I love as much as ever: Die tote Stadt, some of the songs, The Sea Hawk, the Sinfonietta... But it has finally struck me that after 20 years, if I still can't quite get to grips with the Violin Sonata, the Op.23 Suite et al, then I probably never will. Finally I began to think the unthinkable: Am I Growing Out Of Korngold?!?

This is TERRIBLE. I feel as if I am being disloyal to my oldest and once-dearest friend, someone whose warmth and generosity used to light up my life, but whose shortcomings such as overambition, overcomplication and, sometimes, lack of focus have started to get me down. Perspective is provided by my other old and dearer-than-ever friend, Faure, whose music strikes me as more magical every time I hear it, with never a note out of place (even when there are lots!) and imaginative depths that reveal more and more wonders the further you explore them.

I used to think (if Tom will forgive me for doing so!) of Korngold as the husband to whom I've been long married and whose faults help him to be endearing, with Faure as a kind of elusive dream lover who can never quite be grasped and remains a shining, out-of-reach ideal. Trouble is, now I want to marry my dream lover - and just at the time when Korngold's big anniversary year, 2007, needs some serious attention and I ought to help plan some celebrations. Ouch.

Maybe I'm just getting older. Maybe I really am having a midlife crisis...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Let's see if this works

Thanks, Jaquandor, I'll remove the Free Webcounter and we'll see if that sorts out the problem.

Back to normal posting asap....have a nice Sunday, everyone.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Thanks, but also:

Dear unknown pop-up poster,
Thanks very much for getting rid of the pop-up as requested. But also, please could you remove the little box that comes up when one leaves the site saying 'Browse the net with Screen Shots'? You should be told that I have NEVER ONCE clicked on OK. If my readers have ever clicked on it, it will have been by accident. Much appreciated, thank you again. jd

Friday, February 04, 2005


Dear all,


I have absolutely no idea a) how it got here, or b) how to get rid of it, short of moving blog hosts (which would mean redirecting everyone to a new website and learning how to use a totally different template just as I've got used to this one...). My profoundest apologies for the irritation.


If the pop-up has not gone away by the end of this month, I will indeed move my blog elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

January sun

Sorry for long silence, folks. Have been in Madeira for a week, doing as little as possible with sea views all around. Back at home now, trying to remember how to type.