Monday, April 30, 2007

Slava forever

A friend has asked me to share my few personal memories of Rostropovich...

About three years ago, I interviewed him briefly backstage at the Barbican for The Strad's 'Double Acts' back page about his working relationship with Maxim Vengerov. The maestro turned on his very considerable charm and talked in rapturous terms about his much younger colleague.

Thing is, I'm a closet cellist-manquee. When I heard Han-Na Chang (incidentally, a Rostropovich protegee) play in Verbier 4-5 years back, it hit me between the eyes that the cello is the most beautiful and expressive instrument on the planet. And that if I could have my time over again, I would learn it and play it and never stop. It would have solved everything I disliked about playing the violin (high frequencies buzzing in one's left ear, plus desperately close, fiddly fingering), not to mention the piano (too many notes, my dear Horowitz) and the repertoire is 20-carat gold...

So at the end of the interview, I thank Maestro for the joy and wonder of his playing, which I heard on a few memorable occasions, and mention that I would love to have played the cello. "When you decide to start," said Maestro, "then let me know, and I will be your teacher."

I missed my chance. Well, he'd have been disappointed in me. I'd have got the strings the wrong way round and been severely blocked by the very notion of trying to go above third position.

The last time I saw Rostropovich perform was in Vilnius in 2004, where he conducted the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony. It was glorious: like stepping into a Melodiya recording from the 1950s...The march in particular was far slower than most conductors take it these days. A friend asked Maestro about his choice of tempo later on. His response, apparently, was: "It's a march." You must be able to march to it. It made sense. And the final movement: devastation alive, raw, eternal, unforgettable.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Farewell, Slava

Mstislav Rostropovich has passed away.

The Guardian has a full obituary, tributes from James MacMillan, Steven Isserlis and others, and a selection of recommended recordings.

He was a pervasive musical figurehead, a by-word for inspiration and idealism, a last link with Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and an unforgettable presence with or without his cello.

UPDATE, 8.15 Saturday 28 April:
A press release from 98.7WFMT, Chicago's Classical Experience, informs us that the radio station is paying tribute to Rostropovich today by broadcasting recordings from its archives of his cello performances and conducting. In addition, the station is airing voicemails and reading emails from listeners recounting memories of the world-renowned musician, who visited Chicago many times during his lifetime. Rare interviews have also been posted on

There's a very touching tribute by Richard Morrison in The Times. He says, among other things: "...the music from Rostropovich’s cello wasn’t just beautiful. It was a transcendental message of hope, surging and irresistible, from one soul to another – his to yours. If I live to be 100, I don’t expect to hear another sound that touches me so deeply."

Clive Davis posts a video of Rostropovich playing Bach and some pertinent political moments from the New York Times's obituary.

UPDATE: Sunday morning: Opera Chic has a series of tribute posts and some very interesting links to news sites etc.

JDCMB Pick of the Proms

Rightyho, prospectus duly plundered. What follows is just a taste of the interesting (or just really attractive) dates that didn't make the national press yesterday.

15 July: Buskaid and the Soweto String Ensemble meet John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists. Intriguing.

18 July: Kurt Masur celebrates turning 80 by joining together his two orchestras, the Orchestre National de France and our own London Philharmonic.

21 July: A short but lovely French Prom featuring Steven Isserlis in Saint-Saens's Cello Concerto No.2, and also Faure's Cantique de Jean Racine. Thierry Fischer conducts.

23 July lunchtime: recital by seriously hot fiddler James Ehnes and pianist Eduard Laurel.

29 July: Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Mark Minkowski with Anne Sofie von Otter; programme includes Berlioz Les nuits de'ete.

30 July: Yefim Bronfman plays Esa-Pekka Salonen's Piano Concerto, with composer conducting.

3 August: Semyon Bychkov conducts Rachmaninov Symphony No.2 with BBCSO.

6 August: Renee Fleming evening, with Korngold arias from Die Kathrin and Das Wunder der Heliane among the goodies.

12 August: Gotterdammerung conducted by Donald Runnicles, Christine Brewer as Brunnhilde.

25 August: Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw in Wagner and Debussy.

4 September: Barenboim and the Vienna Phil go Austro-Hungaromanian.

8 September: Last Night stars Anna Netrebko, Andrew Kennedy and Josh Bell. OMG, please tell me Netrebko isn't going to sing 'Rule, Britannia'?!

PS - huge thanks to Alex Ross for picking up on the Tasmin busking story and noticing what the crux of the matter really was...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A very different kind of festival...

I regret not having discovered, until today, violinist-blogger Simon Hewitt Jones's reports from the Mozart in Palestine festival through the first half of April. It's a moving travelogue full of insight and incident, lavishly illustrated with photos and videos - well worth reading in its entirety if you haven't already. Don't miss the 'Queen of the 1001 Nights' aria...


I had a lot of s*)% to deal with yesterday and everything happened at the time I should have been heading for the Proms launch. By the time the sighs of relief had been breathed, 'Old Nick' would have finished his speech. So for the moment here's the report from today's Independent giving some of the highlights...which include an evening with the mind-boggling Nitin Sawhney, a Brass Day (billed as 'loud'), and a new composition by Rachel Portman about Hurricane Katrina (Portman is best known as an excellent film composer, and a refreshing change from the Anglo-German youngsters trying to be Berg a century too late).

There's also an evening with Michael Ball, of which Nick Kenyon apparently said "We are responding to what audiences want to hear". Cue yells about dumbing down. It's Nick's last season. Maybe he just doesn't care any more?

On the other hand, anyone who saw Michael Ball as Purcell in the Tony Palmer/John Osborne film England, My England, may stop and reflect that it's not such a bad idea. Maybe we ought to listen first and judge afterwards.

I'll pick out some suitably idiosyncratic JDCMB Proms (assuming there are some) once I've plundered the prospectus. Meanwhile, you can see the full listings of what's on.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The trouble with an iPod... least, a very small that if you forget to take it out of your pocket, you can later discover that it's been through the laundry.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Crying for Argentina

The other day a strange girl stopped me at my local station and said "I love your shoes." I was on the way to the South Bank in the most live-in-able of my tango-style heels from Buenos Aires. The young woman turned out to be a dance teacher.

Any of you who remember our pathetic attempts at learning the tango a couple of years ago will probably have surmised that after the big trip to South America in January 06, we admitted defeat (de feet were not OK). Wow, do I miss it. The CD Canciones Argentinas had me hankering after the place, the atmosphere, the music, that peculiar brand of bone-twisting nostalgia.

Buenos Aires is not the most beautiful city I've ever visited, the food was not the finest in the world, I can't speak the language and I can't dance the dance. The people were extremely charming (especially a certain leather jacket salesman, who was Cuban), yet there was a slight undercurrent of unspecified threat, and as for the driving, you take your life in your hands when you step into a taxi. But what can I do? It's got under my skin. I miss it. I want to go back.

Problem - my editor tells me that South America is 'the kiss of death' in fiction. I don't know why. Perhaps Isabelle Allende has a monopoly, or perhaps it's just that people can't jump on Easyjet and check out the locations for themselves in a cheap weekend. I doubt that my next book is going to be tango-centric, much as I would love it to be. So there's only one thing for it...

...hunting down Astor Piazzolla on Youtube from the safety of my London study, where coincidentally I've spent the morning chewing over concepts concerning solitude, loneliness and the peculiar sonic qualities of the violin that make it so perfect as a vehicle for such emotions. So here is Piazzolla, with fiddler friend, in 'Soledad'.

Monday, April 23, 2007

First knight of the Proms

Here's my piece about Sir Henry Wood from today's Indy. Sir Henry was the public face of the Proms for their first five decades.

This year's Proms launch takes place on Wednesday, after which we can all plan our summers.

Why people write...

The BBC's website has today posted an interesting little article about why people try to write novels.

I've just sent my No.3, as yet without confirmed title, off to my editor, the scariest moment of the year. Now, after spending yesterday imbibing the new Ian McEwan novel On Chesil Beach, I'm suffering intense attacks of humbleness. It's the most astonishing book, perfectly fashioned, as wonderfully balanced as the Mozart string quintets the heroine plays (ouch - my new MS features the G minor...resemblance, sadly, ends there). It's a piece-of-ivory examination, with McEwan's usual razor-edged detail, of a young couple's disastrous wedding night in 1962: the way that the course of a life can be determined by a gesture left unmade, a loving word left unsaid.

Now, the following is NOT a criticism. I'm just interested to see that the violinist, Florence, is portrayed as potentially frigid. Of course she's actually just very young, over-innocent, English, repressed...but could this be misinterpreted as yet another stereotyping of classical musicians as sad, sexless beings who can't loosen up?

Ironic if so, because a lot of professional classical musicians are rampant. Passionate, wildly sexed-up beings, with filthy senses of humour, who love the electric energy of the adrenalin rush in performance, the thrills of being on stage giving their all, the ecstasy of being adored; wine, women(/men) and song... Some have crazy lives and idiosyncratic ways of letting off steam. But frigid? lol.

That's one reason some of us write.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ashkenazy stops, but Perahia is back

Opera Chic has some distressing news: Vladimir Ashkenazy has apparently decided to stop giving concerts as a pianist because he has a degenerative joint condition in three fingers of his left hand. He'll still be conducting and recording, though. (Report was in the Milan Corriere della Sera). I remember hearing him give an all-Beethoven recital at the RFH about twenty years ago (possibly longer...) and retain an impression of beautiful tone, utter absorption and intense empathy with the late sonatas. Allegro Films is hoping to release Christopher Nupen's documentary about him on DVD in November.

The good news, though, is that Murray Perahia, who had a lot of trouble with a lingering hand injury, is back and giving a London recital at the Barbican Centre on Monday. The programme includes Bach, Beethoven, Schumann & Chopin - info & booking here, PDQ. Here's Perahia playing a very lovely Mendelssohn Song Without Words:

Speaking of busking

Apparently Nigel Kennedy was heard discussing Tasmin's little excursion with Sean Rafferty on Radio 3's 'In Tune' yesterday and quite fancies the idea of having a go himself, though he used to do it for real as a student in New York. Meanwhile rumour has it that at least two other national newspapers are (or were?) planning to carry out similar stunts.

On a slightly more serious note (no pun intended), the violinist David Juritz, leader of the London Mozart Players, is going to busk his way around the world for four-and-a-half months. He's calling his project 'Round the World and Bach'. He starts in June and plans to play solo Bach through Europe, Asia, Australasia and the Americas, with a stint in his native South Africa. The project will raise money for a new charity, Musequality, which aims to finance community music projects in deprived areas and is administered by the Musicians' Benevolent Fund. Follow his progress, and sponsor him, at

Friday, April 20, 2007

When Tasmin went busking...

I spent part of Tuesday afternoon standing under the Waterloo railway bridge watching Tasmin Little playing Vivaldi and shouting "Give us a copper!" to the passing builders - and (above) performing 'Happy Birthday' for a celebrating child. Yes, the boss asked us to do a London edition of the Washington Post/Josh Bell experience - and it was fascinating to see where the results were similar and where they differed. Although the actual statistics were in the same general ball park, we found the experience anything but relentlessly depressing.

Londoners like music, their children really love it and many people knew they were hearing something special. I think they just didn't want to have to pay for it.

Read all about it in today's Independent, here.

BTW, the coverline is FIDDLER ON THE HOOF. But guess which musical, opening in May, is advertised on the back?!? I'm assured that this is complete coincidence.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What a surprise!

An announcement came today that the new director of the Proms will be Roger Wright, controller of Radio 3. Nicholas Kenyon, who's leaving to head the Barbican, was controller of Radio 3 before he took over the Proms. John Drummond, Proms supermo for years before that, was also controller of Radio 3 first. So we're really, really surprised. I wonder if they'd ever considered anybody else?

Still, gut reaction is that Wright's a good bet. His innovations at Radio 3 have been a willingness to embrace technology, the offering of groundbreaking downloads - they proved too popular for their own good - and occasional saturation bombing with whole weeks devoted to one composer. He has a feel for the big gesture, the grand style and the pushing out of technological boats, all of which go down like hot muffins at the Proms if they're carried off well. Perhaps he'll bring a breath of comparatively fresh air in to the arena.

That is, if he has the time - he's staying on at R3 as well.

John Tusa speaks out

John Tusa, the chief of the Barbican Centre and one of the biggest, most intelligent, heavyweight, tell-it-like-it-is visionaries in British arts administration, has an important article in The Times today about how sick he is of mealy-mouthed government arts policy, the 'meddling bureaucrats' who make the rules, and the idiotic justifications that are constantly demanded for continued support - usually at pathetically low levels - of our world-class cultural institutions.

Here's an extract:

"...I’m sick to death, too, with justifying the arts as if there was something specially problematical about doing so, as if funding the arts is irrational or even unnatural. Thinking about the arts, judging their value, explaining particular trends in the arts — this is an essential part of a human activity that takes itself seriously. What is a waste of time is being required to justify the arts as if millennia of arts activity required justifying anew, as if a failure to justify them could — or should — lead to the end of the activity altogether..."

Read the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, The Guardian the other day ran an article about how 35 per cent of opera chorus singers suffer from 'wet burping'.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Commodities market

In other words, the London International Book Fair. I was going to write a long, philosophical post about how one grows up studying literature at school and revering the great authors past and present, then goes into the seething mass of languages and deals that make up the event in (this year) Earl's Court only to find that a book isn't seen as a work of art but as a commodity and how, as a writer, one suddenly understands that one is a commodity too, and how one does technically know this already but actually experiencing it is different..... But it's quite fun being a commodity, and I had some excellent meetings. So, fine.

Meanwhile, a big 'Indy-panic' the last couple of days, which has been even more fun than being a commodity! Watch this #.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Korngold update #3

Korngold enthusiasts should get themselves to West Norfolk in September. Yes, the West Norfolk Music Festival is running one of the most astonishing Korngold bonanzas I've come across. It's to be held in Stoke Ferry, Norfolk, from 8 to 15 September. I haven't yet tracked down any further details on the internet, eg box office phone number, but will update this as soon as I can. Here's a small selection of the festival's content, as sent to me by Brendan Carroll.

Songs & Arias from Die tote Stadt and the other operas to be given by Swedish tenor Jan Stromberg
Violin Sonata in G major, op.6 to be given by Swedish Artist - Fredrik Paulsson;
Cello Concerto - soloist tbc;
String Sextet in D major, op.10;
The 3 String Quartets to be given by the Solaris String Quartet;
The Piano Quintet - the same quartet with pianist Raphael Terroni;
The 3 Piano Sonatas & other substantial solo piano works (including some premieres) to be given variously by artists including Raphael Terroni, Martin Sturfalt, Vadim Peaceman;
Further songs to be given by the contralto Phillida Bannister
The Piano Trio Opus 1.

That should keep them busy! More soon.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Mayerling, yet again


Went to Mayerling at Covent Garden last night, starring the one and only Carlos Acosta as the crazed Crown Prince Rudolf of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (pic above not from this ballet, but hey...). Feel teh power. It's not just the jump, the stage presence, the technique, the body - this guy can convey character through movement with one gesture, the dissolution of a whole psyche in a single step. His Mary Vetsera was Leanne Benjamin, transforming from ditzy 17-year-old to breathtaking sexpot in the flash of a toe, her limbs as free as flames. Supporting roles - surely as demanding as any lead - included more of the Royal Ballet's finest, Mara Galeazzi, Gemma Bond, Zenaida Yanowsky and plenty others. The only weak spot was the orchestra, which had a bit of an off-night, but let's forgive them this once.

I wonder if Mayerling is deliberately a twisted inversion of The Sleeping Beauty? Instead of awakening the heroine, the prince kills her and himself. He's led to her by another woman - this Lilac Fairy is his ex-mistress. The Rose Adagio? No, the Mephisto Waltz: stunning choreography for sought-after woman - a prostitute - and four lovers. The Wedding pas de deux at the end of Act I is effectively a rape, in which the woman is horrifically complicit, and features a fish-dive pose. The young girl grows up - Mary is a child with her hair in ribbons at the beginning - but her fulfillment is a suicide pact. The King and Queen - Emperor and Empress - are at it too, both with lovers attendant. There's a hunting which the prince accidentally kills a member of the court. The opening scene is called 'prologue', and it's not a christening but a funeral.

When Mayerling was first performed, back (if I remember right) in the 1980s, it got a lot of stick from the critics. Too many characters - how do you keep track of all Rudolf's women?! [you read the story]. You can't convey in dance that Countess Larisch is his ex-mistress! [you can, very effectively]. What are those Hungarians doing, whispering in Rudolf's ear? You can't do separatist politics in dance! [never mind the whispering, watch 'em dance!] And all those prostitutes parading their wares, yeuk! [ref Schiele, with Mitzi Caspar looking fresh out of Klimt?]. What a very nasty story! [so's Romeo and Juliet]. Twenty-five years on, or thereabouts, this ballet is clearly one of Kenneth MacMillan's masterpieces.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

BBC Music Mag CD awards well afloat

Spent a happy spring day yesterday at the BBC Music Magazine CD Awards bash on a boat on the Thames.

What with the bubbly, the excellent food, the passing riverside panoramas and the company of congenial colleagues, the event was altogether friendlier and more informal than certain comparable ceremonies. Moreover it recognised, on the whole, recordings that were highly deserving but often less than obvious choices, and largely from the smaller independent labels rather than what's left of the big hitters.

Here goes:

The Vocal category was also Disc of the Year: Soile Isokoski in Sibelius's Luonnotar and other orchestral songs, with the Helsinki PO conducted by Leif Segerstam (Ondine).

Romanian pianist Luiza Borac's second disc of Enescu's phenomenal piano music (Avie) scooped Instrumental.

A Dvorak disc full of dancing delights from the youthful Czech Smetana Trio (Supraphon) walked away with the Chamber award, despite strong competition.

Vivid, vivacious Vivaldi in the red monk's opera 'Griselda' from French conductor Jean-Christophe Spinozi (Naive).

Orchestral went to Mariss Jansons and the Concertgebouw for a towering Shostakovich 7th (RCO Live).

Choral was more Sibelius, this time Kullervo from the LSO & LS Chorus under Colin Davis.

Premiere recording of the year CD was Juliane Banse in orchestral songs by Charles Koechlin, staggeringly gorgeous (Hanssler).

The Paavel Haas Quartet was Newcomer of the Year for their debut disc of Janacek and their namesake. More bouncing Czechs on Supraphon!

Technical excellence award (for tonmeistering) went to Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony (Schafer, Goerne, Orchestre de Paris/Eschenbach) (Capriccio).

DVD of the year was of course David McVicar's all-singing-all-dancing Bollywoodish 'Giulio Cesare' from Glyndebourne, starring Danielle de Niese et al (Opus Arte).

Among the acceptance speeches, an array of delicious accents and personalities that someone would have had to invent if they didn't exist. The artists arrived from far and wide, and Jean-Christophe Spinozi and Mariss Jansons had been filmed giving their thank-yous from overseas, respectively in lavish and characteristic French sparkle and Russian soul. Luiza Borac, who's Romanian, flew in from Hannover; the Smetana Trio and Paavel Haas Quartet landed from Prague; and I doubt that anyone will forget in a hurry Finnish conductor Leif Segerstam's contribution. After regaling us with a larger-than-his beard evocation of Sibelius's vitality, atmospheres and basic utter genius, the vociferous veteran maestro built up to a glorious climax: "I love this music, life and the world!!!" Isokoski herself arrived as a graceful conclusion to the day, meeting the boat at Victoria Embankment on its return and boarding to deliver her acknowledgements fresh from rehearsal at the Wigmore Hall.

I was on the jury this year and ploughed my way through what I'm told amounted to 187 discs (at times, admittedly, they felt like the Sorcerer's Apprentice's dividing brooms!), all of which had been awarded the top-ranking five stars by one or other of the magazine's critics. We whittled the lot down to three discs in each category, which were then placed before BBC Radio 3 listeners for their vote. In rocked 38,000 voters.

Our discussion sessions naturally produced a good few disagreements, but highly stimulating ones. I don't mind confessing to having shot down one or two clay pigeons; and some of my favourites similarly bit the dust in the talons of my sharp-eared colleauges. Most of my favourite discs of last year weren't even there, not having been accorded five stars by their reviewers, while I certainly wouldn't have given five-star ranking to all of those 187 discs. But that's life, and that's music criticism for you. I also encountered some true revelations, astonishing myself by falling head over heels in love with Andreas Staier's harpsichord playing (harpsichord? moi?!). The end results are more than satisfactory: IMHO, all of the ultimate winners are simply marvellous.

There were the usual jibes during the introductory speeches, of course, at rival magazines and radio stations and the harbingers of doom. After reading Peter Maxwell Davies's speech for the Incorporated Society of Musicians conference, one couldn't help but feel depressed - lots of problems, not exactly a plethora of practical solutions - but the best suggestion yet about how to improve matters came yesterday from the awards' presenter, James Naughtie: 'Just get on with it'.

I'm glad to say the reception was sponsored by Taittinger.

I haven't linked to every one of the award-winning discs above, but further information should soon be available and I'll update this as soon as poss.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sibelius and co piece about him was in today's Independent.

The Indy also ran a very good read the other day - stars pick their musical nightmares. Mostly pop, but some intriguing points. For instance, nobody gives as their ultimate hell 'listening to classical music'. Rather they pick on a few appalling pop groups and teen trends, anti-social levels of volume, one or two old-time rockers and the annoyance of mobile phone noises. Only one singled out jazz.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

When Josh went busking...

The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten has a fascinating article about what happened when Joshua Bell was persuaded to go busking to see how rush-hour commuters responded. Here's a taster:

"If we can't take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that -- then what else are we missing?"

Read the whole thing here. Thanks to Alex Ross and Justin Davidson for the link.

Meanwhile, Josh has scooped the Avery Fisher Prize and has a new disc out (follow that link to his website for more details).

New page

I've added (more accurately, Horst has added for me) a new page to my website for my stage works.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Corin Long

I'm so sorry to report that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's principal double bass, Corin Long, has died in a diving accident in Spain. Corin was a sought-after professor at the Royal Academy and Trinity College of Music in London, a beloved colleague to London's orchestral musicians, a busy and popular chamber music player, and much more besides. He will be sorely missed.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A little A.E. Housman

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Ahhh....This was the first poem I ever memorised (probably the last, too) when I was about 10, at which age the 20-year-old poet seems immeasurably and unreachably mature.... Oh, f(&*.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Strad fad?

The Indy this morning has the news that an anonymous bidder has just paid the second-highest price ever for a Stradivarius: £1.38m. And he thinks he got a bargain.

How do you buy one of these beauts if you're a musician? Mostly you don't. Otherwise, you beg, you borrow, you court wealthy people who collect the ruddy things, and if you are lucky enough to have one, you make sure you've got every piece of documentation under the sun to prove that what you have really is what you think you have, in case it isn't. It's a fiddly business, if you'll pardon the awful pun.

How expensive is a good fiddle? How long is a piece of string? How good is the performer? These are all infinitely variable. The violin used to be my 'second instrument' and once I had a friend who worked with a violin dealer in the West End. When I visited, he took down a violin from the wall and said 'have a go'. I played a couple of scales and adored it. It was the right size for me (smallish), had a beautiful sweet tone, had been made in Spain sometime in the late 18th century and cost £30,000. (We're talking 1989 here.) Then he took down another violin and said 'now try this one'. I didn't like it at all. It was loud, harsh, too big, I don't know what it was but it cost £60,000. I couldn't get my head around that.

The online auction house Tarisio held several days of viewing before its latest auction a few weeks back. They were selling a Nicolo Amati, and a fiddle-fanatic friend from the orchestra reported that it was absolutely gorgeous. For elaborate reasons I particularly wanted to see and hear a Nicolo Amati close to, so I grabbed my resident fiddler and took him off to Great Marlborough Street, where he began to play the Korngold concerto on the violin, which had a label inside saying Guarneri. The sound that came out was nothing short of heavenly: even, resonant, responsive, focused... Poor Tom turned green with longing.

This fiddle had an interesting history. It had been considered a Guarneri for most of its lifetime, but had been reassessed by Beare's and reidentified as an Amati; Guarneri having been apprenticed to Amati in Cremona, some confusion seemed not impossible. Moreover, it had belonged to the author of Le petit prince, Antoine de St Exupery. Romantique, n'est-ce pas?

It sold in the end for a figure in the region of £110,000. Compared to £1.38m, it doesn't sound much. But still way out of reach for most normal musicians.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The orchestra wife's guide to surviving Aldeburgh

1. Watch Tony Palmer's film about Benjamin Britten to check the place's raison d'etre.

2. Pack heated pad for cold tootsies. The Suffolk coast is that land that climate change forgot to warm up, even if it may one day swallow the whole place.

3. Book lovely b&b in exquisite village of Orford and spend happy evening at the Butley Orford Oysterage. They catch their own fish and have their own oyster beds.

4. Discover that am wearing same daily uniform as Vladi - blue jeans, brown leather jacket and floppy hair. I should have been a conductor. Next life, perhaps.

5. Find tranquil corner of office buildings to tap on word processor while hubby and co slog out guts in the hall. After much trial and error, discover that the ladies' bandroom is the warmest spot in Snape, having no windows and therefore no draughts.

6. Eat too much breakfast and drink way too much coffee.

7. Concert part 1: wallow in Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, favourite piece that Tom hasn't played for donkey's years.

8. Concert part 2: enjoy world premiere of lovely new piece by Mark-Anthony Turnage, then hair-raise through stunning Britten Frank Bridge Variations, a piece that Tom has never played before at all.

9. Hit the A12.

10. Realise that forgot to say to Tom, "WHERE'S YOUR VIOLIN?" before setting out for home.......