Tuesday, September 27, 2005

j'adore la France...

Hi folks, back to business as usual after long-awaited week on summer hols in the south of France. Coming back to London after basking on the Cote d'Azur is a bit like Dorothy going back into Kansas from Munchkinland - in many respects! - but mainly in terms of the weather. There is something very, very GREY about England. All the colours are pastel, muted, mild, and just that little bit nondescript. Mediterranean colours are truly colourful...We saw Nice, St Tropez, the Ile de Porquerolles, Aix-en-Provence, Grasse (where they make all the perfumes) and several adorable little towns with markets to die for. What is better, in life, than feasting on freshly baked olive bread, a selection of French cheese, locally grown tomatoes, marinated olives a la provencal, fresh melon and white nectarines and a delicious bottle of local plonk that would probably sell for 12 quid in Waitrose??!? Even arguments in the car couldn't dampen things (I belong to the "I think it was that one" school of navigation...).

Will pick up the musical pieces very soon. In Provence we listened to Ravel, Canteloube, Poulenc, Faure, Berlioz and, um, Brahms. (Who wasn't French. But imagine if he had been..........)

Meanwhile I have October issue cover features in not only BBC Music Mag and About the House, but also The Strad - interview with the truly gorgeous Nikolaj Znaider.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Listening & reading

My friends are busy and so am I! Some news, some things to listen to, some to watch out for, some to read...

Leon McCawley has a new CD out: actually, three new CDs. It's the complete piano music of Hans Gal, a much-neglected figure who fled the Nazis and settled in the UK. He is also neglected, of course, because he insisted on writing beautiful music during the wrong part of the 20th century. He also wrote some excellent books on Schubert and Brahms, inspired by the fact that so few books on music were being written by authors who were musicians themselves. I sense a kindred spirit. Unfortunately he proved too obscure for most of my editors, but I urge you to hear the music. Avie Records has a special offer on this release at the moment.

If you're in northern France, Philippe Graffin's festival Consonances de St Nazaire is now underway and runs the length of this week. Philippe is an expert at creative programming, but this year he's really pulled out all the stops. I wonder whether any British festival could get away with what he's cooked up? Have a look...

Speaking of festivals, pianist Lucy Parham is putting together a Schumann Festival to celebrate the anniversary year about to hit us. It will be held in the Cadogan Hall in Chelsea in February and as well as an orchestral concert with the Royal Philharmonic, a Lieder recital and a coffee concert on Sunday morning, it will include my 'Beloved Clara', with Lucy joined by actors Joanna David and Timothy West. Lucy's website includes a designated Schumann Festival page, but this is currently still in development.

Also at Cadogan, Tasmin Little will be playing Nicholas Maw's fantastic violin concerto on 10 November, in a concert celebrating the compser's 70th birthday.

And on 25 September Roxanna Panufnik's new work for singers and orchestra, The Hare and the Tortoise - her third setting from Vikram Seth's Beastly Tales - will be premiered at the Windsor Festival by the City of London Sinfonia - more details here.

Stuff of mine coming up soon (no online links yet, sadly): all those singers are beginning to appear in print! The interview with Placido Domingo about Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac, and much more, is out now in ABOUT THE HOUSE, the Royal Opera House's magazine (free to friends but also available in the ROH shop). Interview with Jose Cura should be out in the Indy this week sometime. Interview with Barbara Bonney (remember that Salzburg trip?!) should be out any minute, the cover feature for BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE's October edition.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Pop goes the writer?

The Swedish site Junk Music says that I write in such a way that they hope I'll convert to pop. That really is a compliment. Aw shucks.

Does one have to 'convert', though? I LIKE pop music. I like Abba, please note in Sweden... I love The Beatles AND The Rolling Stones (yes, they're old, but so am I, kind of. If not as old as them...). I impressed one of our nephews recently when he spotted my R.E.M. album on the shelf. I love Paul Simon. I enjoy various amorphous contemporary groups that seem roughly interchangeable the way that Mozart, Brahms and Debussy probably seem roughly interchangeable to people who can tell every pop group apart. I also think there's a lot of crap around, but that's true in every field.

What I can't claim to do is write about it with any sense of authority, having not spent my life steeped in the stuff. Still, what can you do when your formative influences in those crucial early years are a straight choice between, on the one hand, Dana, the Bay City Rollers and Grease, or on the other hand, Schubert, Chopin and Mozart in the hands of the Amadeus Quartet, Daniel Barenboim and the youthful Krystian Zimerman?!? Frankly, my dears, it was no contest.

But I will never convert to pop because I refuse to go to pop concerts, and there's only one reason for that. It's not the music; it's the volume. It's SO LOUD. IT HURTS MY EARS. I do NOT want my ears to be hurt. I tried a as a teenager and don't want to repeat the experience. What turned me on to R.E.M. was a TV series called 'Unplugged' in which various groups performed without amplification. I stumbled on it, listened and thought 'wow, this is great music' (my boyfriend at the time was stunned to find I had reasonably trendy taste in pop after all...). I'm afraid I won't even go and hear my brother-in-law, who plays sometimes with Billy Bragg, whom I admire very much. And I wouldn't go to Beethoven either if I came out with my ears ringing, a violent headache and a sense of nauseous claustrophobia brought on by excessive loudness.

Rome, sweet Rome

There's been a good reason for my blogland silence this week. I've been in Rome. Almost didn't come back.

When Dorothy taps her ruby slippers together and says the magic words, I reckon we all misheard her. What she should be saying is "there's no place like Rome..." That city has an atmosphere like nowhere else on earth. Part of it is the climate, part the history, part sheer beauty. Yes, the traffic is crazy - basically anarchy - and you take your life in your hands whenever you cross a road. But after dark, you're in another world, entirely gold and black and floodlit and shining. Who wants to go to sleep when you can be out in warm, fresh air, gazing at gleaming Roman ruins, enjoying the finest Italian food and sipping Chianti with friends? Not many Romans, it would seem, because the place buzzes until the wee hours.

I somehow associate Rome with freedom, revival, renewal and some kind of inner release that, when I was last there years & years ago, allowed me to get on the back of a Vespa with a strange Italian man and ride through the city's cobbled roads past the floodlit Colosseum at 1am...those were the days...

I went to the Eternal City this time to interview Signora Bartoli about her new album of Italian baroque arias, Opera Probita. The launch event began with a concert in an extraordinary church in the Forum; later, dinner on a roof terrace by candlelight. We did the interview in a building that looks out across the ruins of the Forum, knowing that Handel could have stood on the same spot, drinking in the same sight, nearly 300 years ago.

The album will be out at the end of next month & Cecilia will be giving a concert of this repertoire in London, at the Barbican, in December, for which I recommend begging, borrowing or even buying a ticket at your first possible opportunity. Before then, she'll be in the States, so I urge everyone across the Pond to run to hear her as well. There's a touch of genius about this woman. What a voice. What a personality. What musicianship.

There'd probably be a touch of genius about anyone who could make me rave about an evening of Italian baroque opera accompanied by period instruments. Normally I run a mile from such things, probably because I had it rammed down my throat ad nauseam at university. The other night, however, I was on the edge of my seat all the way through and afterwards was almost ready to go and hug Marc Minkowski and all his Musiciens du Louvre as well. I even elected, later on, to listen to a recording of a counter-tenor (Scholl, naturally), and liked it when I did. This is getting serious!

But would it sound the same away from Rome? South West London is a bit short of ruins and even the antipasti in our local supermarket ain't quite the same......

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Last Night blues

This is really a response to John's comments on the 'Still Here' post. I started writing it as a Comments reply, but it was getting too long!

John, please don't worry AT ALL about thinking of New Orleans, as I've been thinking of it very much myself, as have we all in the UK. Something I find upsetting from this distance, though, is that we don't know what is really going on, or why. We rely entirely on news reports that may give an accurate picture, but equally well may not. Clive Davis (see link in blogroll) has some interesting remarks on this subject. Personally, I find it sobering to think that if the disaster in New Orleans had been the result of a terrorist attack, not a hurricane, the administration's response might have been very different...

Last Night of the Proms 2001 was a total washout. Sadly, it's also the only one I've ever been to!! I don't know what else they could have done at the time; the shock waves hadn't even begun to die down and the conductor was American (Leonard Slatkin). I didn't find the event itself either appropriate or memorable - I can't even remember what they played, except the Barber Adagio, and it was only four years ago. Still, nobody was in the mood for the usual sing-song, that's for sure. Yesterday, though, when Paul Daniel remarked that the season had begun at 'a difficult time for London' - ie, just after the Tube bombing - the Last Night was, ironically enough, what we needed in order to start feeling positive once again about who we, collectively, are.

We're not as good at that here in the UK as you are in America. We mostly accept, and value, all the official stuff about diversity - 'our strength is our diversity', and such like - and there is a great deal in this (it beats the hell out of its opposite!). For the most part, we're a successful multicultural society, at least here in London. But actually our strength is not our diversity. It's the unity formed by our diversity, which is slightly different. There aren't a great many traditions to celebrate this. Normally I run a mile from 'jingoism' - one reason I've never been to a Last Night of the Proms except for 2001. But yesterday, I enjoyed it without cringeing, probably for the first time ever.

A few Last Night confessions:
I don't know the words to Land of Hope and Glory, or the second verse of the National Anthem;
I DO know the words to Jerusalem, but mainly because I love the film 'Chariots of Fire' so much;
These days I get a lump in my throat watching 6000 people loving every moment of a piece by Elgar;
I slightly object to all the local folk-song sing-songs that have sprung up as a recent addition via rainy open-air events - why not 'On Ilkey Moor B'at' 'at', 'London Pride' and 'The Keel Row' while we're about it? Where will it end?!?
I feel sad watching it, but that's mainly because it means it's the end of summer;
I normally loathe counter-tenors, but yesterday I thought that Andreas Scholl was the Best Thing Ever On Earth!
Last but not least, I missed the Korngold and the Lambert because I was finishing the first draft of Novel No.2. Yes!! It's done! Now the REAL work on it will begin...

Quote of the day

"I LOVE THE LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS"
------- Gordon Brown, Chancello of the Exchequer, interviewed on BBCTV's Sunday Morning by Andrew Marr

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Still here....

I'm still here, kind of, but frazzled in the midst of a lot of diffferent trips. Lucerne last week. Rome this week, to interview another wonderful singer. Then home for four days, during which time I have to interview Yet Another Singer - what's going on with all these singers?!? I'll have met something like six of the best, so to speak. And I am trying frantically to finish the first draft of Novel No.2 before going on holiday to France the week after. So please forgive lack of blogging at the moment...

...and don't forget to tune in to the Last Night of the Proms tonight - it will feature KORNGOLD, no less, with the second half beginning with the suite from The Sea Hawk. Oh yes! Yes! Yes! About time too. Also, watch out for wonderful Paul Lewis playing Lambert's The Rio Grande, something one doesn't hear every day (though after reading Meredith Daneman's fantastic biography of Margot Fonteyn and seeing Tony Palmer's South Bank Show two-parter about her a few weeks back, I'll never view Lambert in quite the same way again...).

Saturday, September 03, 2005

That cat...

A nice surprise yesterday, when BBC Radio Ulster invited me to be interviewed by phone on their 'Sounds Classical' programme with John Teale. They wanted to trail next weekend's Proms in the Park - there's a good big event in Belfast - and someone had stumbled across my Indy article on the nightmares musicians experience during outdoor performances.

So at a quarter to eight John phoned, we chatted over some Venezuelan guitar music and then the interview began. It was just long enough to bring out the story about the harpist and the birdshit and to explain what can happen to valuable musical instruments in extreme temperatures; and long enough, too, for Solti the cat to decide that since he's the resident conductor, he ought to be included. Solti has a miaow loud enough to be heard through the piano and violin being played together, so if he's in the room while I'm on the phone, winding round my ankles and protesting at full volume, everybody gets to know about it. I think that yesterday evening, the whole of Belfast met Solti.

So, any musicians who have trouble with birds at open-air concerts should stop and reflect: it could be worse. It could be cats.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ciao tutto...

My blog stat measurer tells me that we've had a mysterious rush of hits in Italy, all looking at the photo of the Vuillaume Octobass.

Che cosa sta accadendo?

I hope that's correct. I got it from altavista's Babelfish translator...just wanted to ask what's going on?

Not that my stat counter is particularly reliable. It's under the opinion that Zakinthos is in the UK, that Hyderabad is in Italy, that anyone using AOL is in America even when they're in Europe and that I live in York (north of Watford? Moi?!). Still, it's enjoyable to do the detective work: pondering why some total stranger would be musing over Faure's quoted thought, who's looking for me in the BBC (a phone call solved that one) and how disappointed certain seekers will be when their search on a famous musician's name and the word 'gay' returns them a "no" somewhere from cyberspace.