Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reviews coming in...

It's a mixed bag for Saturday, with most reviewers and bloggers (Intermezzo and Mostly Opera) focusing on the facts that a) there weren't enough programmes, and b) Pekka Kuusisto's clothing was somewhat unconventional. It was, of course - red & black trainers plus a shirt with sparkly sleeves - though not half as unconventional as his playing, the peculiarities of which went largely uncommented-upon, except for Robert Matthew Walker's entertaining write-up at Classical Source. Meanwhile the Daily Telegraph felt there was too much Korngold in the Korngold day, quite apart from reviewing the 'Nach Ensemble', and the Times thinks EWK should have copied Zemlinsky more (if the reviewer had come to our film and talk, he might have understood why Korngold didn't, 'nuff said). They can't agree on Anne Sofie's singing/sense of involvement, to which I can only add that she sang beautifully except for a couple of top notes, that as a very tall, blonde Swede she often comes across as aloof even if she doesn't mean to, and if you were disappointed at not seeing her shoes, assume that she was probably not in high heels.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Glaub, es gibt ein auferstehen


I'm happy to report that Erich Wolfgang Korngold is well and truly resurrected. Heliane herself, whose trial is to raise her beloved from the dead, would have been proud yesterday.

Korngold Focus Day was an even bigger success than I'd hoped. Attendance was excellent, a forest of hands went up to ask questions at the round-table talk, the Nash Ensemble played the socks off the Piano Quintet, Pekka Kuusisto and Bengt Forsberg made the Violin Sonata shine out as one of EWK's most extraordinary and original works, and after Anne Sofie von Otter sang the Lute Song, there wasn't a dry eye in the hall.

Presenting the discussion was extremely enjoyable. Huge thanks to everyone for their marvellous, insightful contributions.

Next Friday, 2 November, the LPO gives a Royal Festival Hall concert of film music conducted by John Wilson, including the UK premieres of 'Tomorrow' from The Constant Nymph and a suite from Escape Me Never as well as perennial favourites The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood, plus works by Korngold's Hollywood contemporaries and successors.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Queen Elizabeth Hall TODAY

Please come and celebrate Korngold at the Queen Elizabeth Hall today!

1.30pm - Barrie Gavin's documentary Adventures of a Wunderkind (free admission)

3.30pm - Round-table discussion with Brendan Carroll, Erik Levi and Ben Wallfisch. Yrs truly asks the questions. (Free admission)

6pm - The Nash Ensemble plays chamber music featuring Zemlinsky, Brahms and Korngold's Piano Quintet

7.45pm - Anne Sofie von Otter sings, Pekka Kuusisto plays the violin, Bengt Forsberg plays the piano. Programme includes Four Shakespeare Songs, the Violin Sonata, the Much Ado About Nothing suite and extracts from Die tote Stadt.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Newsround

Ursula Vaughan Williams died on Tuesday. Here's her obituary from The Guardian.

Norman Lebrecht has written a big piece about Korngold. Taster:

Korngold, 110 next month and 50 years dead, richly deserves to be welcomed back to the concert hall. But he deserves even more to be recognised as a pioneer of an allied art, an art that now cries out for a new Korngold to rejuvenate its methodology. The time has come to erase the line between movie and concert music, to encourage the likes of John Adams, Thomas Ades and Mark Anton Turnage to try their hand at lifting film tracks out of the Korngold groove and into 21st century modalities.

Read the whole thing here.

And in The New Republic, Richard Taruskin has published a philosophical tract in the guise of a book review, declaring that classical music's problem is its defenders... and in the 24 online pages, I reckon he makes some very pertinent points. Rather than summarising it here, I suggest you read it and make up your own mind...

Taster:
...The discourse supporting classical music so reeks of historical blindness and sanctimonious self-regard as to render the object of its ministrations practically indefensible. Belief in its indispensability, or in its cultural superiority, is by now unrecoverable, and those who mount such arguments on its behalf morally indict themselves. Which is not to say that classical music, or any music, is morally reprehensible. Only people, not music, can be that. What is reprehensible is to see its cause as right against some wrong. What is destroying the credibility of classical music is an unacknowledged or misperceived collision of rights. The only defense classical music needs, and the only one that has any hope of succeeding, is the defense of classical music (in the words ofT.W. Adorno, a premier offender) against its devotees.


PS - apologies for lumping all these different meaty topics together. I am up to my eyeballs at present with 400 pages of novel proofs plus preparations for Korngold event on Saturday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Anne Sofie's Terezin CD

Anne Sofie von Otter's new disc of music from the Terezin concentration camp is one of the greatest CDs I've ever heard. Read more about it here. Then buy it here.

UPDATE: Sample it at her website here.
MORE UPDATE: More about the incredible and very personal background history to the disc here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bravo Solti

Wonderful Webmaster alerts me to the fact that Sir Georg Solti would have been 95 today. So by way of tribute, here's how he turned things round at Covent Garden.

For opera fans: indigestion

oh dear...English National Opera has set The Coronation of Poppea on a cruise ship. (Am also a tad intrigued to see this critic describe Monteverdi's tale of lust, murder and unscrupulousness as a 'comedy'.)

Sounds like ENO is giving its audience indigestion yet again, after what seems to have been a seriously gorge-sticking Carmen directed by Sally Potter, with Don Jose as a security guard. With the singers ENO has at its disposal - Kate Royal as Poppea, Alice Coote as Carmen etc - and a terrific orchestra, not to mention London's plethora of great talent right on the doorstep, the place really should be able to do better.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Korngold features today on Music Matters, BBC Radio 3

Presenter Tom Service features Korngold in BBC Radio 3's flagship magazine programme today at 12.15. Includes interviews with biographer and apostle Brendan Carroll, Academic Erik Levi (who is joining Brendan, me and Ben Wallfisch for the South Bank round-table discussion next Saturday), Andre Previn, Korngold's daughter-in-law Helen and archive material from the composer's sons Ernst and George. You can hear it online for 7 days after the broadcast. More info here.

UPDATE, 12.55pm: It was a great feature - with one bad mistake. The date given at the end for the UK premiere of Das Wunder der Heliane is wrong. Tom says '14 November' and it is actually 21 November. But if you turn up on 14th, you can hear Nikolaj Znaider play the Violin Concerto.

Also, I'm not sure that they made it clear that Korngold's sons George and Ernst are not actually alive - their interview extracts were from archive material which I believe was provided by Brendan. AND nobody mentioned the kick-off events in the QEH Korngoldfest on 27 October: 1.30pm, Barrie Gavin's documentary; 3.30pm, the discussion. Nash Ensemble is after that.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Maaaghler

GM: "I really must get some bathing shorts..."


Thought it might be fun to go with some friends to listen to the LPO playing Mahler 2 last night at the RFH, with Simone Young conducting. It was fun. We egged on Tom and his colleagues as they rode the surf waves through the Totenfeier, tapped our feet as the second and third movements jaunted along like Offenbach and the nice loud, slow passages towards the end made us think of relaxing in Doyles Fish Restaurant on the beach at Watson's Bay watching the sunset over Sydney Harbour, enjoying fresh barramundi with a glass of...

Hang on. This is Mahler 2, the 'Resurrection' symphony: a crisis of faith and lack of it. "This is an angry protest against death's dominion," says the programme note of the first movement. Mahler described the scherzo: "the world and life become a witch's brew [resulting in] disgust of existence in every form". That familiar tune that keeps returning in the last movement's perambulations is the bloody Dies Irae. This symphony is a matter of life and death.

"What is life and what is death?" wrote Mahler, explaining the first movement. "Have we any continuing existence? Is it all an empty dream, or has this life of ours, and our death, a meaning?" He said: "My need to express myself musically begins at the point where the dark feelings hold sway, at the door which leads into the 'other world' - the world in which things are no longer separated by space and time."

I found myself longing for Solti - the real, Hungarian, pile-driving, Screaming Skull Sir Georg - who would have electrified the entire South Bank. He would have had us on the edge of our seats, trembling on the brink of the chasm between heaven and hell. He would have terrified us with demoniac plainchant, made those clarinets snarl with cruelty and the violins and percussion hiss like asps, and at the last he'd have lifted us up to the blinding brilliance of that eternal, primordial light. And there would have been glory, tears, catharsis.

There were some justified complaints recently in the blogosphere (and elsewhere) about Gergiev's No.3 being under-rehearsed the other day. But Gergiev does have fire, imagination and a seriously galvanising presence. Last night's one-pot dinner was equally under-cooked, despite having had considerably more real-time rehearsal; soprano Melanie Diener, who can be wonderful, was having an off-night; and actually an evening at Doyle's would have been far preferable to a performance of such meaningful music played with utter meaninglessness. Young left us in no doubt that it was all an empty dream. Or just empty.

Word on the ground has it, meanwhile, that La Nina has pulled out of singing the Four Last Songs in the LPO/Young all-Strauss programme on Friday, though I don't know why. And if Also Sprach Zarathustra is going to get the Watson's Bay treatment too, then I'm staying home with Solti.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Korngold rarity - countdown # 2

I found this on Youtube and could hardly believe my eyes/ears. This is from Korngold's mid-1930s Hollywood musical Give Us This Night starring Gladys Swarthout and Jan Kiepura, the great Polish tenor for whom Korngold created the role of The Stranger in Das Wunder der Heliane. Kiepura plays an Italian fisherman who is 'discovered' and transformed into an opera star, singing Romeo to Swarthout's Juliet. Here is the love duet that closes the opera-within-a-film and the film itself. And if you think this is OTT, just wait until you hear Heliane.

I have only ever seen this film once before, on a tiny reel-to-reel machine in the basement of UCLA in 1993. Some of the melodies are so delicious that if Pavarotti had got hold of them they'd have been world famous 20 years ago.

Enjoy.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Korngold countdown begins

The amount of excitement surrounding the forthcoming Korngold celebration at the Southbank is absolutely fantastic. Latest news is that BBC Radio 3 is to feature Korngold in 'Music Matters' on 20 October and will be talking to people who were close to the composer in person; and on 26 October 'In Tune' will be interviewing musicians involved in Korngold Day on 27th, including Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg.

Here's a link to the details of 27th. (Not sure how/why he has been transformed into 'Eric' on this page, since his name is, was and always will be Erich Wolfgang...)

And here are links to the LPO's Korngold Focus concerts:

2 November: Film music, alongside works by Waxman, Newman, Rozsa, Williams etc. Includes the UK premiere of Korngold's 'Tomorrow' from The Constant Nymph. John Wilson conducts.

14 November: Orchestral programme conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, with Nikolai Znaider as soloist in the Violin Concerto. Programme also includes Zemlinsky's Sinfonietta and Shostakovich's Symphony no.6.

21 November: UK premiere of Das Wunder der Heliane, concert performance conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.

And finally, here is Renee Fleming singing 'Ich ging zu ihm' from the Prom on 6 August, on Youtube. Listen, watch and marvel. Heliane lives! (The embedding function is not available for this video.)

NB

In case anyone was hoping to come to my Alicia's Gift reading at The Red Hedgehog in Highgate tomorrow (it was flagged on my permasite), please note that it's been cancelled due to circumstances beyond my control. Hopefully the one on 8 December, linked to the recital by Peter Donohoe, will go ahead.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Meanwhile in Vienna...

...Opera Chic is having a lorralorra fun. Following on from the more daring inspirations named after Mozart and Tchaikovsky, I hope that the shop she's been frequenting might consider creating a special gadget for the Korngold anniversary? It wouldn't be inappropriate to certain bits of Das Wunder der Heliane...

On a slightly different note, Solti the cat, while somewhat 'indisposed', has discovered some Youtube video footage of Richard Tauber, whose voice conveys the essential spirit of Vienna. And the home movie passage shows him cuddling some lion cubs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Myra Hess Day at the National Gallery

...It's today, and I'm not there. I should currently be listening to Piers Lane and the Doric Quartet playing the Elgar Piano Quintet on the spot where Dame Myra and her musicians sat during the years of the Second World War, when the gallery was cleared of most of its paintings and Hess moved music in instead to raise Londoners' spirits. Last year's day devoted to her memory - the first ever, unbelievably - proved so popular that someone listened to our calls for it to become an annual event, and Piers intended today's concerts to be a tribute in a wider sense, to music as a consolation in times of war.

They opened at lunchtime with a concert of Bach transcriptions for one and two pianos; at teatime, Anita Lasker Wallfisch gave an interview about her wartime experiences; and this evening the concert featuring the Elgar Quintet was to end with the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time.

Annoyingly, I pulled a tendon in my leg at the gym earlier today and am hobbling about. So instead of being there, I am watching Dame Myra on Youtube. You can too. Here she is playing the Appassionata at the National Gallery in 1945.

Cheers

As from yesterday, our friends in the Netherlands can read Alicia's Gift in Dutch under the title Wonderkind.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

LPO cup runneth over

I'd hoped to give a full report on the glittering party that followed the LPO's anniversary concert the other night: the fantastic big-band playing of its Renga Ensemble with Scott Stroman, the speech by arts minister Margaret Hodge, the dusky and charismatic figure of Vladimir Jurowski encircled by adoring fans, the champagne [sorry, Pliable! I've no intention of being at loggerheads with anyone; it takes all sorts, etc, and there's enough room on earth for Adorno, Cage, Rachmaninov and Moet & Chandon]...But we only caught about 10 minutes of it because we were backstage trying to force Tom's locker open. The key was bust and his wallet and sandwiches were on the wrong side of the door.

We also survived our first ride in a brand new RFH lift which took us to the top floor around 7pm and then didn't want to let us out. Again, all was well when it changed its electronic mind, but there was a worrying minute in which we thought there'd be an empty seat in the first violins.

Vladimir's account of the Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances, however, was an event that would surely have made Sir Thomas Beecham proud of the orchestra he founded 75 years ago. Vladimir is a spiritual type, interested in zen, meditation etc, and perhaps this comes across in his conducting in the moments of stillness, the intense focus, the darkness gathering invisible momentum in the background, ready to erupt. The final 'dance' seemed an apocalyptic evocation of a collapsing world.

I'm not going to write about the Mozart and Beethoven because I can never get past the mental image of a Cornflakes packet being thumped when I hear those 'authentic' 'period' drums. But here's a full review from The Telegraph's Matthew Rye.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Happy Birthday, London Philharmonic!

Seventy-five years ago today, the London Philharmonic Orchestra gave its first concert. On the podium was its founder, Sir Thomas Beecham. Tonight at the Royal Festival Hall the LPO is performing a celebration concert for its big birthday, with its new principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowski (left), and it's a programme to adore:

Richard Bissell: Fanfare for a 75th anniversary
Mozart: 'Prague' Symphony
Beethoven: Piano Concerto no.4 with Maurizio Pollini
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances

Richard Bissell, by the way, is the band's very fine First Horn. There's no need to introduce Pollini, but I'd like to say that he's one of the pianists I have most admired and respected all my life. An interview I did with him a few years ago left me with the impression that he's a mensch: a person of absolute integrity who lives and works according to strong ideals. No pretence, no fuss, no nonsense: simply the real thing.

Should be an evening to remember.

Here's a more recent interview with Pollini by Richard Morrison (The Times, 28th September). And to inspire, here's the maestro playing the second movement of the concerto, with Abbado conducting.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

mad props

First to a blog called International Listings which has to do with luxury real estate. Its proprietor has kindly seen fit to include JDCMB among the top 100 blogs suitable for the super-rich, classifying it under 'Odds and Ends'. It's a culturally interesting phenomenon, this, but the promotion is appreciated.

Also to The Official Blog of the Grateful Web, which liked the Brahms picture, points to a number of interesting blogs of all types and recommends a search engine which I keep meaning to try out.

Next, the estimable Stephen Pollard at The Spectator, who has kindly included JDCMB on a very elite blogroll. Different politics, but shared interests!

And last, but by no means least, to the Sunday Times, which last week named Beloved Clara as its audio book of the week. I was basking in Baden-Baden and missed it on the day. Tres drole.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Raising a glass at the Gramophones

Spent Wednesday at the Gramophone Awards. Suffice it to say that the Dorchester is a splendid venue, the food was superb and the champagne flowed. More importantly, so did some very astute prizes.

I was particularly pleased to see the veteran record producer Christopher Raeburn being presented with a Special Achievement accolade. We miss people in the industry with his level of artistic judgment, musical idealism and integrity. Bravo.

Also thrilled that Jonas Kaufmann's CD of Strauss Lieder won its category, with some strong words from the relevant commentator about how fabulous this glorious tenor is.

Speaking of tenors, who should turn up but Juan Diego Phwoarez! Montserrat Caballe was to be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award, but apparently her taxi was involved in an accident on the way to the airport. She's unhurt, but missed the plane. JDF, as her colleague and friend, accepted it very graciously on her behalf. He also accepted a prize for one of his own recordings, too: the rarely heard Rossini opera Matilde di Shabran. (Last night he gave a concert in the Rosenblatt Recital series. I couldn't get in. Nobody could.)

Brahms did well. There was a prize for the German Requiem from the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Simon Rattle, with soloists Dorothea Roschmann and Thomas Quasthoff, and for Nelson Freire's recording of the two piano concertos, which happily scooped Record of the Year. A true artist, Freire: a musician of honesty, finesse and intelligence through and through.

Julia Fischer, the wonderful young German violinist, was Artist of the Year, voted for by millions of listeners to some 15 radio stations around the world. Young Artist of the Year was Vassily Petrenko, the youthful Russian who's currently making the kind of waves at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic that would please a surfing champion.

But the show was rather stolen by the Instrumental Award: Steven Isserlis's Bach Cello Suites. Steven was on tour, so he sent a friend to pick up the prize. The friend was none other than ace comedian Barry Humphries. And it didn't take him long to have the entire ballroom in stitches with jokes such as one about how a friend mixed up the words 'falsetto' and 'fellatio'. That word must have been a first for the Gramophone Awards...

There are many more prizes and you can read the full list here.

UPDATE, 6.07pm: The Overgrown Path appears to think we should all have stayed home to improve our souls by reading Adorno instead. He is right to imply that contemporary music did not have a major presence in the selection. One award was presented for a CD of music written in the past decade - it went to Julian Anderson - but only one. I would love to see the huge variety of contemporary music being encouraged and celebrated with more prominence at such events. We should perhaps note that the full title of these awards is The Classic FM Gramophone Awards.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Been here...






Baden-Baden, where I plucked up the courage to join Tom & the orchestra for a Tristan-dash (check in Heathrow 7.30am, plane delayed 1.5 hours - though not, this time, due to a cat in the hold, just the usual London airspace nonsense; arrive Frankfurt 12.45pm, leave Frankfurt by coach 1.20pm, hold-up on the autobahn, arrive B-B 3.30pm, scheduled start of opera 4pm, actual start of opera necessarily 4.15pm, finish playing 10.15pm, much beer 10.30pm).

Mad, perhaps, but wonderful as well: it was worth every minute of the extra stress. Glorious performances of Lehnhoff's breathtaking blue-light-of-nirvana production from Glyndebourne; Nina Stemme and Katerina Karneus resplendent as Isolde and Brangaene, Robert Gambrill as Tristan, Bo Skovhus as Kurwenal. The excuse for exporting Glyndebourne wholesale (I think this was the first time they've done so) was the Herbstfestival in B-B's marvellous Festspielhaus - once the station at which Brahms, Turgenev et al would have arrived in the town. The all-star line-up meant that on the first morning we met the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at breakfast in the hotel, and on the second the Vienna Philharmonic, which caused much interest in the LPO because they turned up to the dining room mostly in jackets.

We stayed on between nos.3 and 4 (Thursday to Sunday) and went sightseeing. There's something magic about Baden-Baden, which is utterly unspoiled, surrounded by hills that are lathered in rich, varied woodland; the air is pure, the Friedrichsbad allures with promises of steam rooms and massages, and you can walk half an hour to Lichtental to see Brahms's flat, along the Lichtentalerallee which is dotted with 200-year-old weeping elm trees that would have been sizeable 50-year-olds when Brahms, Clara Schumann, Turgenev and Viardot walked here in the 1860s. Just a pity about the food...too many sausages...

Above, top to bottom: the Turgenev bust in the park; Brahms himself (frei aber froh? Really, Johannes? Look at those eyes...); Brahms's house; and the house that Turgenev built (which bears a cruel plaque saying 'Villa Turgenev, kein zutritt') next to Pauline Viardot's, which has been knocked down and replaced with apartments.

Why no statue of Pauline?

But the day after coming back, I went to Paris to investigate what Cecilia Bartoli is doing with Pauline's legendary big sister, Maria Malibran.