Saturday, May 27, 2006

Aw shucks...

Helen Radice has written the latest review of RITES OF SPRING and I am simply overwhelmed by her perception, sensitivity and insight. She's managed to articulate aspects of what lies behind my book better than I ever could myself. Words about harps and angels may yet come to mind, but meanwhile I just want to say THANK YOU, HELEN!!!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Competitions? Music?

I've been trying to write this all week, but have felt too depressed.

By some malign chance, the finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition and the Eurovision Song Contest fell on the same day: last Saturday. I'd been so busy with work that I didn't know the BBCYM was on and missed half the concertos. I was unlucky enough to hear the entire Eurovision.

Come on, folks, let's have some views. This is MUSIC. Is it also legitimate SPORT? Is art about competition? SHOULD art be about competition? Let me put my head on the block and say NO. Somebody in TV obviously thinks so. I disagree. Yes, it's good TV - at least Eurovision is when Terry Wogan's priceless commentary is involved. But have any of the contestants in the BBC competition noticed where their predecessors are today?

I can think of barely a handful of still-performing finalists from 20 years ago or so, who have actually managed to live down the label of being 'a winner' (ie, national concerto finalist) at BBC Young Musician of the Year. Ronan O'Hora is now head of piano at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and, to judge from the wonderful Faure performance I heard him give last year with the Razumovsky Ensemble at Wigmore Hall, he's going from strength to strength. Nick Daniel, oboist, is still top of his profession; Emma Johnson, ace clarinettist, is still top of hers, but still carries the YM proviso. Tasmin Little escaped the inescapable by reaching the strings final, but not the overall one, and has probably done better than anybody. How many others have simply vanished? Some alumni are stuck doing downmarket gigs where their fading label still carries a bit of weight. They just can't get past it. It's very difficult and a bit awful. Being Young Musician of the Year is a marvellous thing when you're 17. It's not so funny in your forties.

This year's competition was won by clarinettist Mark Sampson. I didn't switch on in time to hear what he had to offer, so can present no opinion. The very best of British luck to him.

As for Eurovision, I usually get it wrong, but was pleased to find that my favourite actually pulled in second this time - the Russian hunk, Dima Something, surrounded by slightly dead-looking ballet dancers. But I turned off the sound several times during the course of the evening because the performers simply couldn't sing in tune. France, nul points from East Sheen!! How could you?!? For the same reason, I also turned off Spain, Israel and something else that was so forgettable that I've forgotten it. The one act that made me flee not just the sound but the vision too was Finland. So who won?!

Did they win because everyone thought 'this is so appalling that they don't stand a chance, therefore we'll tactically vote for them to stop our own arch-rivals getting anywhere' and hence they garnered votes to sweep the board? Was it because they weren't trying to sound like Abba? I think Sweden were; I liked them; but that's because I like Abba, how could I not, formative years etc. Or was it the anti-White-Suit vote? (WHY were so many wearing white suits?! Try those for 10 minutes on the London Underground...) Or did I hate Finland because my hard rock antennae are simply as out of tune as France's moody blonde? Hmm.

Thank God both contests are over for the time being & we can now get back to enjoying music, of all possible genres, for its own sake. Which is how things ought to be.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mostly birds of prey

A priceless note arrived this morning from that concrete jungle in the City of London, also known as the Barbican, where the Mostly Mozart Festival, appropriately expanded for the Mozart anniversary, is to kick off on 6 June:

Please note: The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has asked the Barbican to cancel Mostly Mozart's opening night fireworks, due to a rare pair of Peregrine Falcons nesting in the vicinity of the Barbican, as the noise from the fireworks may cause distress to the birds and their chicks. In lieu of the fireworks, the Barbican will offer every member of the audience a complimentary glass of champagne after the concert.

I can't help wondering why on earth Peregrine Falcons should pick the Barbican, of all places, to nest. How did they get in? Did they follow the yellow line?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Oh dear...

Our hearts go out this morning to our friend Arsenal Muse. Come on, mate. It was only a game. (wasn't it???)

An unrelated apology to our friends at All About Opera, to which I set up a link some months ago. This morning I realised it had never actually appeared on screen, despite existing in my template. Some basic remedial html (a missing ") seems to have worked.

Next, a tip for the person who found this blog by doing a search on "how to train a duchen": it helps if you feed us chocolate.

Last but not least, to anyone heading for Glyndebourne today for the dress rehearsal of Die Fledermaus: WRAP UP WARM AND BRING A BROLLY.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Muggins explained

An innocent remark from Ariadne made me realise that certain expressions I take for granted have simply never made it across the Pond.

Here in Olde Englande, we are a nation sometimes a little backwarde in coming forwarde. This has given rise to a specially Britishe sense of self-deprecatory humour: after all, it just isn't terribly nice to talk about oneselfe too much, let alone blogge to the entire worlde about one's activityes. Hence the expression 'muggins'. It's a useful, self-deprecatory replacement for the word 'me' when one is feeling awfully Englishe and though one is unarguably showing off terrifically about one's achievement, such as it may be, one is trying ever so hard to pretend one isn't. My husband and I are very prone to the use of such olde-fashionede expressions, dating as they may do from the time of Biggles; there is a certaine charme about such things, even in our brash, globalised 21st century.

Love to all
from muggins

Monday, May 15, 2006


...I sent the second draft of the next novel off to Hodder & Stoughton today. There comes a point when you just can't switch round one more sentence without going totally gaga. The second draft is 40 pages shorter, has three changes of character names, a couple of extra scenes, one moderately enhanced plotline and several location references double-checked in the nick of time, as were a few details about how motorbikes work (don't ask!). The writing - I hope - is somewhat improved.

Yesterday, book picnic on Richmond Green was a big success as well as lots of fun. 5 local authors including muggins, interviewed by the chairman of Richmond upon Thames Arts Council in the May Fair marquee on Richmond Green (amazingly it didn't rain - apparently it usually does) while an audience of devoted locals dined royally on picnics. Fascinating to meet the others: a marvellous novelist, Lee Langley, whose latest book 'A Conversation on the Quai Voltaire' I can't wait to read; Anne Sebba, a celebrated biographer who is currently chronicling the colourful life of Winston Churchill's mother; Sandra Hempel, a medical journalist whose first book charts the eradication of cholera in Britain; and Ellie Updale, creator of the Montmorency series enjoyed by adults and kids alike ("how do you and JK Rowling manage that?" asked our chairman, Clive Bradley. "I don't know how JK Rowling does it - wish I did!" quipped Ellie.).

I felt very much the new kid on the block, but think I managed not to put my foot in my mouth excessively.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Jurowski to be principal conductor of LPO

The London Philharmonic Orchestra announced today that 34-year-old Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski is to take over as its principal conductor as from the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall in 2007. Much jubilation ensued.

Seriously good news, I reckon, as Jurowski is the most exciting young conductor I've come across. There are some excellent chaps out there, but his performances have been head & shoulders above the rest. Vladi is currently the LPO's principal guest conductor and his presence on the podium transforms the atmosphere into something collaborative, young, upbeat and not only a little thrilling. More details shortly.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hildegard? Moi?

Tickled pink this morning to discover a new fan, and a nice new blog too, at least new to me, in Australia: A Beautiful Theme, here. Nice to be compared, in a roundabout kind of way, to the Labeque sisters and Hildegard of Bingen, but there the resemblance ends (to Hildegard, anyway!).

On a different and less beautiful theme, does anybody out there understand the workings of Le Loi de Sod? Why is it that whenever I have to give a talk, the day before it I come down with a throaty/chesty thing that goes directly to the voicebox?! I LIKE giving talks. I never get nervous for them - nothing scares me except playing the piano, in fact - and positively look forward to every instance. But here we go, tomorrow is my first Kingston Readers' Festival event this year. And guess what. Along comes the bug. All you singers out there, depending on your voices for your livelihoods, do you have this problem too?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A busy month ahead

I'm about to clock into a few weeks of fairly busy book promotion. Here are a few of the events:

4 May (this Thursday), Kingston Readers' Festival: What makes new music new? I'll be chairing a discussion on this dynamic topic with two marvellous profs from Kingston University, pianist Robert Taub and composer David Osbon. Coombehurst Music Studio, 7.30pm.

14 May, Sunday lunchtime: Book picnic in the marquee on Richmond Green. I will be one of five local authors appearing to chat about their new books. Bring a picnic & arrive early (12.30 for 1pm) to be assured of a place. £10 entry fee including a glass of bucks fizz.

22 May: Kingston Readers' Festival: will be appearing with literary agent Sara Menguc and Hodder & Stoughton publishing director Carolyn Mays to talk about the thorny process by which a first novel finds its way into print. Borders, central Kingston-upon-Thames, 7.30pm.

Further details of all these are available on my permasite news page.

Monday, May 01, 2006

If you hated that, just try this

Lots of comments came in expressing varying degrees of frustration with the controversial views Norman Lebrecht expressed on British music the other day. But if you think that didn't quite cut the mustard, just try this stuff from the Daily Telegraph about composers' lives & works...

Is the author the same Graeme Garden who used to be a Goodie? (remember? "GOO-DIEEEESS...a-goody-goody Yum Yum" went the jingle... for those not in the know, THE GOODIES was a popular TV comedy in the 1970s, totally off-the-wall, starring G Garden, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor. I liked the one where they got swallowed by a tyrannosaurus rex.) The terrible trio's motto was something like 'We do anything, anywhere, anytime'. Apparently, that now includes writing daft articles about classical music. For all I know, his show may be absolutely brilliant and I may be doing the poor man a great injustice, but I can't say this piece makes me want to rush off to see it.