Thursday, June 29, 2006

Paperback writer!



The paperback edition of RITES OF SPRING hit the doormat the other day & looks simply wonderful. Release date is 27 July, but it can be pre-ordered from Amazon here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Demise of Warner Classics

A big shock story in the music world recently has been the closure of Warner Classics, once a very big player amid those that remain(ed) of the long-lost glory days of classical recording. Warners were one of the few labels that would still go to great lengths to present their new releases to the press (I remember sloping out of one press conference after an unbroken 2 hours), send journalists on trips to Estonia or Berlin to interview their artists and hear them perform, and also throw their weight not only behind sure-fire sellers such as Barenboim playing Bach, but also surprise discoveries such as the works of John Foulds as championed by Sakari Oramo and the CBSO. Matthew Cosgrove, head of Warners, has apparently been snapped up by DG in Germany, but among the musicians left label-less are Daniel Barenboim, Dan Hope, the Beaux Arts Trio, Susan Graham and, as well as these established names, some like the Estonian conductor Anu Tali who basically depended on the label to help make their international reputation. It's all very sad but, in today's climate, probably inevitable.

Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra were bound to sell well - and are probably the biggest sensation in orchestral performance anywhere at the present time. But besides wonderful things like their live recordings, Warners used to take risks. Don't get me wrong: risks are good. Someone has to take them. But were Warners' risks sensible ones, I wonder? Alessio Bax, a recentish winner of the Leeds Competition - yes, but then again, maybe no? British pianist Mark Latimer playing Reger? Of course it's excellent to support young artists playing unusual pieces, but was this going to work financially? Nikolai Lugansky? Plenty of people would like him to be an international sensation and some have tried to build him up into one, but frankly he don't float this girl's boat, not remotely, and if he hasn't sold, it doesn't surprise me (maybe he has. maybe I'm being unfair. But he bores me to tears.) There were more - I could go on, but I won't; in short, among a few big winners, they had too many virtual non-starters.

The classical record industry has become skewed in such a way that:

The big labels produce 'crossover' pulp that isn't classical, isn't pop and often isn't good.

The small labels do some good stuff, but do so on a shoestring.

Plenty of artists pay to make and release their own CDs on their own labels. Some are superb. Some are dreadful.

There is too much stuff out there and not remotely enough quality control.

With music lessons reduced, music critics reduced and standards generally being shot to pieces, the public could be forgiven for not knowing what's good and what ain't.

But if performances & recordings are not good enough - not inspiring, not illuminatory, etc - then nobody is going to be turned on to music by them.

And if the remaining labels don't get on with dragging their distribution methods into the 21st century, they'll be left on the desert island with their discs.

Too often, the wrong musicians are making the wrong CDs and they are being sold in the wrong way.



No wonder labels are closing and the industry is going to pieces.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Putting the oo back into tattoo

On BBC Breakfast news this morning they interviewed a girl whose employer had caused ructions by asking her to cover up her spectacularly tattooed arms while in the office. "The thing is," she said, "where do you draw the line?"

Happy Midsummer's Eve!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Never do anything before your second cup of coffee

A little alert for everyone. Early today I received a message from a correspondent in the US attaching a petition about the destruction of the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Sign the petition to Mr Villepin to stop it! The pleas seemed convincing, and before having my second cup of coffee I went into the site, signed the petition and forwarded the message to some people I thought would be interested.

A message promptly came back from an agent friend saying that actually the Salle Pleyel has been beautifully refurbished and the programme for next season is excellent. Another well-informed correspondent tells me that the acoustics are being done over by Russell Johnson. It does seem to be true, as the petition protested, that the number of seats has been reduced considerably and that the hall will be housing other kinds of music besides classical concerts. But it also seems to be true that the work is pretty much finished & that this is a strange moment indeed for such a petition to be doing the rounds.

I can't prove that the protest isn't genuine, of course, but I urge caution if you're on the receiving end of this since I've spent the better part of this morning sorting out the mess resulting from forwarding flawed info too fast.

UPDATE, 4pm: It seems sensible to let you all make up your own minds on this, so:

Here's the petition;

Here's the hall's official site containing all the information about the refurbishment.


The season opens in mid-September.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Do you know this man?

My latest package of CDs to review has turned up quite a treasure: a young German tenor named Jonas Kaufmann singing Strauss songs, accompanied by the matchless Helmut Deutsch. I hadn't come across Kaufmann before, but the focus and fibre of his voice knocked me off my chair in the very first phrase of 'Zueignung'. Next, he seems to sing Strauss from the inside, with attention to every word. And thirdly, the voice is very powerful indeed - apparently he has sung Parsifal and one wonders whether he'll be a fabulous Siegmund or Tristan in years to come.

Some internet research revealed that he received a great deal of attention here three years ago at the Edinburgh Festival and he'll be back there on 24 August. And he's just made his debut at the Met in NY. I hope that The Guardian didn't do him too much damage, bless its cotton socks, by entitling its 2003 interview 'I don't mind my sexy image' - most singers don't get far these days without one (and yes, anyone looking for a pin-up won't be disappointed). But Strauss has provided him with his most consistently good reviews so far and if this disc is anything to go by, that's not surprising. It will be out soon on the harmonia mundi label.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Roman in the gloaming

Yesterday I wrote a delicious post about my trip to Rome earlier this week: the glorious remnants of the Forum, the magical Fontana di Trevi, the sunshine, the oleanders, the incredible pizza. Then our host site decided my blog didn't exist. By the time I gave up, the entire post had vanished into the wilds of cyberspace. Today's is by way of an experiment, just to make certain I'm still here. Meanwhile, one lives and learns.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hmm...

The LPO is having a sweepstake for the World Cup. Guess whose resident violinist drew Paraguy?!

Meanwhile we have been sitting on a Danish island in a dear friend's summer house, eating baby lobster tails and taking things far too easy - though thanks to my new laptop I was able to make some progress with Novel No.3.

Home again to find the Wigmore Hall's own-series programme for next season sitting on the doormat. Hmm indeed. Why can't I get more excited about it? It's full of excellent musicians, wonderful singers and lovely music. One event made me jump out of my chair: the inimitable Andras Schiff playing Beethoven's last three piano sonatas not once but twice - on the same evening! Dear maestro, HOW - ?!? The date for the diary is 29 November and anybody who can beg, borrow or steal a ticket for either performance (6pm and 8.30pm) is going to be very lucky.

Apart from that...Yes, I admire singers like Felicity Lott, Dietrich Henschel, Christian Gerheher, Veronique Gens et al. I'm always happy to listen to musicians like Tasmin Little, Michael Collins, Stephen Hough and Melvyn Tan, or exciting youngsters like violinists Alina Ibragimova and Sergey Khachatryan. There's nothing to beat a good string quartet, and ensembles like the Tokyo, Jerusalem and Michelangelo quartets should be jumped at. So should the Leopold String Trio and the Nash Ensemble. Also they're having a Kurtag festival, with the Hungarian guru himself, which should be very special.

But there's something about it that, overall, looks just that little bit The Same As Ever. Apart from Andras Schiff, I can't see anything else that will actually make me drop everything and run, not the way I did for Gidon Kremer and that incredible, unspellable marimba player last year, or Opera Rara's Pauline Viardot concert a few months back, or the Razumovsky Ensemble which I know and love (their next gig, by the way, is 21st June - book now!). Has the Wigmore abandoned its fledgling adventurousness in favour of retrenchment to St John's Wood? Or is it just the end of a long, hot day?