Monday, December 22, 2008

MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR!

This is my last post of 2008 - I'm taking a break for a couple of weeks. So here's a little Christmas present for everyone: how better to finish this year than by hearing the 95%-cocoa-solids violinist Toscha Seidel play 'Hejre Kati'?

Enjoy.

A bientot!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

JDCMB GINGER STRIPE AWARDS 2008


Once again, the Winter Solstice signals that it is time to welcome you to the JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards!

2008 has been a peculiar year, full of the crunching of credits, the blurring of boundaries and the bouncing of an occasional Czech not to mention a lot of Hungarians. I regret to say that Sir Georg has put his paw down and banned me from presenting musical awards, however much deserved, to Philippe Graffin (who as you know made the CD-of-the-Book), Tasmin Little (who played at my book launch), Andras Schiff (even though today is his birthday! but he kindly endorsed the novel), Vladimir Jurowski (who just kept on and on winning the conductor slot), and several others. When I pointed out that the ban must extend to Feline of the Year, he gave a cat-shrug and said that as he alone can present ginger stripes for stroking, that was "bearly" relevant.

Our Cyberposhplace, being virtual, is still in business. The Canard-Duchen bubbly, being imaginary, flows unabated and our Virtualcelebritychef has made some Hungarian canapes, which are very filling, hence economical. Please help yourselves, but go easy on the garlic sausage... And now let's have a round of applause for every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience during the past 12 months.

Thank you...quiet, please. Now, would the following winners please approach the podium where Solti, ensconced upon his silken cushion, will allow you to stroke the ginger stripes and will give you your very own prize purr.

Icon of the year: Vernon Handley, who along with Richard Hickox is among 2008's tragic losses. Our Nods for Tod went sadly unheeded; now it is too late. He and Richard live on, however, in the hearts of their admirers. Please pause for a two-minute silence.

Pianist of the year: Daniel Barenboim for his Beethoven cycle, which mobilised musical London like nothing else in years. I am startled to find that even now, after 10 months, I can remember the way he played almost everything in Op.111 - and suspect I will remember it forever.

Violinist of the year: since Solti has banned me from giving this one to Philippe and/or Tasmin, the prize is divided between Christian Tetzlaff for his Brahms concerto in London and Vienna with the LPO...and that dazzling virtuoso, the utterly gorgeous junior violinist of Taraf de Haidouks.

Singer of the year: the divine Jonas Kaufmann, whose performance at the ROH nearly renamed Puccini's most dramatic opera Cavaradossi.

Youthful artist of the year: Chloe Hanslip, who has grown up from prodigydom to become a really lovely musician. Her CD of Bazzini overflows with joie de vivre. I hope she'll go on to great things.

Conductor of the year: Claudio Abbado, who scooped the JDCMB conductors' poll hands down, so to speak.

Interviewee of the year: the maverick French violinist Devy Erlih, whom I interviewed in July for The Strad (they won't let me put it online until January, so watch this space). His mind-boggling story is the closest I have found in real life to that of Mimi Racz... You can, however, read a special web extra here in which he talks to me about Bach.

CD of the year: Stephen Kovacevich's new recording of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations and Bach 4th Partita. His old disc of the Diabellis on EMI was great, but this one is absolutely breathtaking: musicianship so fiery and profound that it exists on the very edge of bursting its banks. And the Bach - especially the Allemande - found me sinking to the floor and nearly chewing the carpet because I have always dreamed it could sound like this yet had never heard it do so... Enough already - just go and hear it.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Alfred Brendel, who is retiring. Read this beautiful tribute to him from Imogen Cooper in The Guardian; treasure the memories of that deadpan humour in Haydn and Beethoven; and read his book, an Aladdin's cave of musical insight.

Take a bow, everybody...Thank you. Thank you for your moving, uplifting, inspiring, life-enhancing music-making. You're wonderful. We love you.


And a few personal highlights:

Proudest moment: Launch of Hungarian Dances, 4 March. What an evening!

Most affecting moment: Philippe's Hungarian Dances CD becoming real - probably the most touching thing anyone has ever done in association with anything I have tried to do. Saying 'thank you' isn't enough...

Most startling moment: finding myself the foil to Krystian Zimerman's astounding comedy classic at the RFH.

Biggest sigh of relief: successful conclusion of the Hungarian Dances fundraising concert.

Guest star of the year: Sir Alan Sugar.

Felines of the year: I am hoping to meet some large stripy creatures (at a safe distance) on a mountainside in India next week. If we give them a prize now, perhaps they will deign to appear.

Personality of the year: my nephew Luca (age 4), who has developed an obsession with different types of weird and wonderful musical instruments and recently announced that he wants to play the 'doodah'. "How cute, a doodah-whatsit" was the general mystified response - before he told us yesterday that actually the duda is a type of bagpipe and he thinks it comes from Hungary... !?!

Wonderful Webmaster of the Year: this essential prize once again goes to Herr Horst Kolo, without whom nothing would be possible.

Thank you, everyone. Now please relax, socialise and enjoy the music...

Korngold podcast

With the UK stage premiere of Die tote Stadt at the Royal Opera House only about 5 weeks away, things are hotting up - if mildly - for the occasion. The ROH has loaded up a podcast in which a couple of us discuss Korngold's life and work and influence on film music. I haven't managed to download this one to add to our own podcaster, so do have a listen to it here.

Booking is open now for the opera, Willy Decker's much-acclaimed production already seen in Vienna and Salzburg, which stars Nadja Michael, Stephen Gould and Gerald Finlay. The first night is 27 January - the other Wolfgang's birthday. I'll be there on 2 February and will report back after that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

JDCMB The Apprentice, #2: The Tomcat's first CD

Those winter nights were long and quiet while the orchestra toured, and I've been having a recurring nightmare about the events of the past summer...Team JDCMB is back in The Apprentice!

(Flashback: July. Summer skies, sunshine and tweetybirds. Music: Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet gives way to woogly Apprentice sounds. Scene: The House. Phone rings. Jess answers)

Secretary: Sir Alan is assigning your next task, team JDCMB. He'd like you to meet him at the EMI studios on Abbey Road. The car will be here in half an hour.

(Cut to: limo stops by the Beatles' zebra crossing. Sir Alan stands outside the studio, where Elgar stood with Menuhin...)
Tom, Jess: Morning, Sir Alan.
Philippe, Claire: Bonjour, Sir Alain.
Sir Alan: Morning all. We're outside the most famous recording studio in the world. This is where dreams are made, and now, even decades later, you can still hear the results. A recording can be an icon: it can capture the whole mood of its times. Now, team JDCMB's next task is to make the Hungarian Dances CD. Please pack your suitcases - you're going to Holland to record the disc. Tom, you need to be there on 19 July to play the Bartok Duos with Philippe.
Tom: You having a laugh, mate?
Sir Alan: Not at all. Philippe has booked the studio specifically for a day when you're free from the orchestra, and he'd like you to be there at 5pm. Right, Phil?
Philippe: Oui, d'accord.
Tom: But I've never recorded anything before except in the orchestra...
Sir Alan: Now you're going to. Get used to it. Jess, you can go along to make the sandwiches and provide moral support.
Jess: Sir Alan, I have a problem. On 19 July I'm doing a pre-concert talk at the Cheltenham Festival. Ben and I are discussing Hungarian Dances and Hungarian Gypsy music before Taraf de Haidouks plays.
Sir Alan: You can't go?
Jess: Sir Alan, it's great book promotion, and we can mention the CD is being made...
Sir Alan: Don't be cheeky. It's cheeky enough to talk about Hungarian stuff just before a Romanian band plays. Haven't you ever heard of the Treaty of Trianon?... Still, if you've got a prior engagement, I suppose you'll have to honour it. There wasn't much you could have done anyway, other than the sarnies. I seem to remember your violin playing wasn't up to much 25 years ago.

(Cut to: Tom frantically practising Bartok. Cut to: Philippe and Claire on plane heading for Holland. Cut to: very early on a sunny July morning in The House.)

Jess: Good luck, dear, see you tomorrow.
Tom (late and packing): frwzhgrhwrs...

(Cut to: half an hour later. Jess's mobile rings.)

Tom: I missed the train! It was pulling out of the station when I arrived. I'll have to drive to Gatwick.
Jess: Oh no. Don't go too fast.

(Cut to: Tom bowling down the M23 at 99.7mph. Cut to: Jess exploring 18th-century terraces of Cheltenham. Phone rings.)

Tom: I'm in Amsterdam. Hours early! Just having a nap...

(Cut to: Tom slumbering peacefully in hotel room; then waking and looking at schedule.)

Tom: S***!

(Close-up of schedule: the recording address is not in Amsterdam.)
Tom: Where the f*** is Deventer?

(Tom at station, talking to friendly Dutch stationmaster who directs him to train to Deventer. About to board, Tom slaps hand to head. Cut to: taxi pulls up outside hotel. Tom jumps out of car and runs inside. Emerges holding music of Bartok Duos. Clockface: an hour has passed. At station, Tom boards next train. Cut to: train stalled in field. Heavy rain. Clockface: 4.30pm.)

Announcement in Dutch: Due to an accident on the line, this train will now be returning to Amsterdam.
Tom: Please could someone translate?

(Clockface: 5.30pm. Train pulls in to Amsterdam. Tom's shoes have turned orange.)

Stationmaster: The Amsterdam-Deventer line will be down for the rest of the day.

(Cut to: Jess in Cheltenham, having tea and cream scones with Ben, Katie and Desmond. Mobile rings)

Tom: Jess, I'm stuck! How do I get there without the train?
Jess (mouth full of scone): What did you say it's called?
Ben: Is there a bus?
Desmond: Can you hire a car?
Katie: Have you got a map?
Tom: Help! I'm late! Jess, what shall I do?
Jess: I don't know, dear. Ask a stationmaster?

(Cut to: Philippe in studio under flashing red light, holding violin in one hand and mobile phone in the other)

Philippe (into phone): Don't worry, Tom, just get here when you can.
Sir Alan (off set): Oh lordy...

(Cut to: stationmaster talking to Tom, writing down long list of instructions. Clockface: hands whirring round and round. Pan to: three trains in succession as Tom gets on and off them at small stations beside windmills. Clockface: 7.30pm - a bedraggled Tom walks through rain past board marked DEVENTER. Cut to: red light in studio. Tom and Philippe play very fast.)

Tom: Ouch...
Philippe: Tom, you sound great.
Tom (fumbling for headache pills): I've been practising it at half that speed!

(Cut to: Cheltenham Town Hall, big audience assembling: Jess shaking hands with Taraf de Haidouks's extremely handsome youngest violinist and talking happily with him in French. Mobile rings.)

Jess: Tomcat, how's it going?
Tom (freaked out): I can't do this, it's impossible.
Jess: Stop worrying, dear. You've had a terrible journey, of course you feel bad.
Tom: But now I have to LISTEN to myself on the tape!
Philippe (distant): Tom! One more take!
Tom: How am I going to get back to Amsterdam if the trains are down?

(Clockface: 10.30pm. Red light switches off. Tom throws violin into case and pulls on raincoat.)

Philippe: Aren't you staying for a beer?

(Cut to: Tom legging it to station through the rain. Cut to: Jess and Ben in Cheltenham Town Hall, dancing and cheering Taraf de Haidouks, which is onstage playing everyone's socks off. Cut to: morning after. Jess, hung over, on train from Cheltenham to London. Mobile rings.)

Tom (forlorn): I'm at Gatwick and now I can't find the car! It's the last staw!! HELP!!!!
Jess: Oh blimey, guv...

(Cut to: The House. All candidates asleep. Phone rings. Everyone is too knackered to take the call.)

Secretary (on answering machine): Sir Alan would like you to meet him in the boardroom in an hour.

(Woogly Apprentice music. Jess, Tom, Philippe and Claire troop into boardroom.)

Sir Alan: Well, well, well. You look as if you've been dragged through a hedge backwards. Tom, what have you got to say for yourself?
Tom: Sir Alan, that was one of the most crap days I've ever had in my whole life (sob).
Sir Alan: Philippe, how did Tom do in this task?
Philippe: He was great. It wasn't his fault the trains broke down.
Tom: Sir Alan, it was one of those days where everything went wrong and (sob sob) none of it was my fault!
Sir Alan: Jessica, where were you through all this?
Jess: Er, as I said, I had to do my talk with Ben in Cheltenham, so I couldn't...
Sir Alan: Yes, yes, you were running away with the real Gypsies, weren't you? "She's gone with the Raggle-Taggle Taraf-oh..."
Jess: It was a contracted engagement, Sir Alan, I couldn't let them down.
Sir Alan: You were having a high old time, bopping away in Cheltenham Town Hall, chatting up that dishy violinist, helping the cimbalom player find cotton to coat his beaters! While your husband was fighting his way against all the elements and all the odds to record seven minutes of music for a CD to go with your book?! And all you could say was: "I don't know, dear, ask a stationmaster?"
Jess: But Sir Alan...
Sir Alan: Claire, you've been a tower of strength. Philippe, you've bust all your guts over this project. Well done, you're both stupendous. You can go back to the House.
Philippe and Claire: Merci, Sir Alain. (exeunt)
Tom: Sir Alan, I know I played absolutely dreadfully and I couldn't bear to listen to myself on the tape, and it really wasn't my fault that it went so horribly wrong and I wish I could feel that I deserve to win this task, but I don't. And it was all Jess's fault because she didn't help me at all!
Sir Alan: Tom, listen. All musicians feel that way when they hear themselves on tape for the first time. You're not the first and you won't be the last. Philippe was pleased with your playing, wasn't he?
Tom: Yes, but...
Sir Alan: You want proof? I got proof. I've got a surprise for you. Look at this.
(Close up of The Independent on Sunday's review of the CD, in bold letters: "Pick of the Album: Bartok's spare, angry 'Sorrow' for two violins").
Sir Alan: See? They picked out one of your duos as the best bit! What do you say to that?
Tom (pink-eared): rflghrrfhgwl...
Sir Alan: Jessica, having a conflicting engagement isn't an excuse. You were no use to your team whatsoever. Indeed you've induced your husband and your friends to go through hell and high water. If it wasn't for that bloody book, none of this would have happened.
Jess: But Sir Alan, the CD is wonderful and Tom's first non-orchestral recording has been picked out by the Indy on Sunday...
Sir Alan: The fact remains, someone has to go, and there is one person in this room who is - completely - bloody - useless. (sarcastic) I wonder who it could possibly be? (points finger): Jessica, you're...

(Cut to: Jess wakes up in a cold sweat. Front door closes.)
Tom: Jess, I'm home from tour!
Jess (recovering): About time too.
Solti: purrr.

Cyberlin Phil

The Grauniad has news today that the Berlin Philharmonic is planning to stream most of its concerts live on the Internet. It'll cost you E89 to watch a season of 30-odd concerts plus the archive (probably £88 in pounds....), and is being sponsored by a bank. Thinking about being constantly on camera, Sir Simon says: ""We'll have to make sure we shave properly and powder our red noses."

I have yet to enjoy watching *anything* on my computer. It constantly stops film broadcasts to 'buffer' them, offers a lousy picture and dubious sound and requires me to sit on my office chair surrounded by my usual chaos, while Solti meows constantly for attention. So I can't say I fancy this much. I'm convinced that the only way to appreciate a thing like the Berlin Philharmonic is to hear it live, preferably in the Philharmonie, in a case of total commitment and absorption. I would rather appreciate them once in a while, but do it properly. Still, good luck to 'em. Perhaps British orchestras will go down this route too, if there are any banks left to sponsor them.

(Update: please note altered cost above - a note from a reader in Germany who has already signed up for the season webcasts tells me that the Grauniad got it wrong when they said E149. She adds that you need to run a test from the site to make sure the concerts play to your liking on your computer before you pay.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The one who got away: Leroy Anderson

What with the fuss about Messiaen and Carter's centenaries, one wonderful man has been slightly overlooked in this sceptered isle, probably because he was just too successful. This is Leroy Anderson, American composer of light music, best known for his Sleigh-Ride (the one we can't get away from at Christmas, anywhere, ever). Born in 1908 to Swedish parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he studied at Harvard with, among others, Walter Piston and George Enescu and spoke six languages besides English and Swedish. Read his full biography here, part of an excellent website devoted to him and his work, with a superb selection of sound clips.

Meanwhile, you have to hear this...

Business as usual

To reassure you, dear readers, it is business as usual at JDCMB - the Felixcitations blog is As Well As, not Instead Of. There will be a 2-week hiatus over Christmas & New Year, but this is coincidental.

And to reassure one or two from Sniffsville, East Anglia, I have no intention of compromising my independence. Just because R3 has invited me to write extensively about a composer I love, that does not mean I will be reverently tugging the forelock here to the channel's ecstatic reviews of new early-music CDs, unless I can stand the way said discs sound.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Proudly partnering...Mendelssohn 2009!

I'm delighted to announce that I've been appointed BBC Radio 3's official Mendelssohn blogger for his bicentenary year in 2009 - part of their special Composers of the Year website feature devoted to the 2009 Big Four: Mendelssohn, Purcell, Handel and Haydn.

I'll be writing a post or more every month and moderating comments and discussions along the way. We'll be exploring Mendelssohn from as many angles as possible: while R3 is claiming him as an honorary Brit, Queen Victoria's favourite, etc, I'll also be looking at his ancestry in the Jewish Enlightenment, his role as the Leonard Bernstein of his day - educator and conductor as well as composer - his friendships with Schumann and Clara, his place in the roster of Romantics and, not least, what we might call his Shiksa Syndrome.

I can't resist entitling this blog FELIXCITATIONS.

HERE IT IS. Enjoy.

Please pop along to the Mendelssohn Page, where besides following Felixcitations you can watch an introduction to Mendelssohn in Britain by (you guessed it) Charles Hazlewood, sign up to Felix's Fanclub, explore a picture gallery and follow the broadcast events for the anniversary season.

Do visit my colleagues blogging the other big three of 2009:

Suzanne Aspden on Handel;
Rick Jones on Purcell;
Denis McCaldin on Haydn.

UPDATE, 5.35pm: Pliable at the Overgrown Path is disgusted. Bless.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fiddles in the Library!

THURSDAY 22 January 2009, 7.30pm

HUNGARIAN DANCES: AN EVENING WITH JESSICA DUCHEN AND PHILIPPE GRAFFIN
We'll be talking about our collaborations and especially the book & CD of Hungarian Dances. I'll read from the book and Tom will join Philippe to play Bartok Duos. Come and meet us!

East Sheen Library, Sheen Lane, London SW14 (2 mins from Mortlake station, South-West Trains). Booking in advance is advised via the library: 020 8876 8801.


The day before, Wednesday 21 Jan, you can hear Philippe playing the Chausson Poeme, among other things, at the Wigmore Hall with members of the London Sinfonietta, in a special concert devoted to the memory of Charles Darwin.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Podcast!

Hooray! I've found a podcast player on Blogger. So, if you missed the podcast the other day of Philippe and me talking to Bob Jones of Classic FM Arts Daily, you can listen to it right here on JDCMB by selecting the one and only podcast in the box at the top of the sidebar.

Hickox's last interview

Broadcaster, film-maker and writer Tommy Pearson (check out his excellent blog, One More Take) discovered that his interview with Richard Hickox was the conductor's last. Three days after their meeting, Hickox suffered his fatal heart attack. The interview is strong on Vaughan Williams and English music in general. It's illuminating, fascinating and good humoured - and leaves one with a distinct lump in the throat, given the hindsight. It's now available to hear on Tommy's latest podcast for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's website; you can hear it here. The programme also includes a substantial discussion of the glorious Carl Nielsen with Stephen Johnson.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Poetry by Erich Fried

It's the day when I start to feel longer in the tooth than before, and I'd like to mark it not with music but with poetry. The other evening we went to a beautiful soiree at the Austrian Embassy dedicated to the Viennese-born poet, political commentator and author Erich Fried. His widow Katherine presented extracts from her memoirs and several close friends of his spoke about him and read some of his poems. They are concentrated and focused. They go straight to the heart. Here is my favourite.

What It Is

It is madness
says reason

It is what it is
says love

It is unhappiness
says caution

It is nothing but pain
says fear

It has no future
says insight

It is what it is
says love

It is ridiculous
says pride

It is foolish
says caution

It is impossible
says experience

It is what it is
says love.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

MESSIAEN 100 UP!

Today is Messiaen's centenary!

I just couldn't choose a piece of his on Youtube to celebrate here - there's a shortage of first-class footage and questionable online sound quality does Messiaen few favours. Instead here is the man himself talking to his analysis class at the Paris Conservatoire about the work he described as his greatest influence: Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande.

Tom Stoppard, Andre Previn and...

The latest newsletter from the National Theatre here in London tells us that rehearsals are underway for Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn, opening on 12 January. It describes the work as "a chilling play for actors and orchestra" about "a patient in an asylum who believes himself to be surrounded by an orchestra".

I wonder if it's based on me?! ;-)

More workshops!

Following a terrific inaugural day on 1 November, I've now scheduled four more KICK-START YOUR WRITING workshops in the new year:

Saturday 24 January
Sunday 1 February
Saturday 28 February
Saturday 21 March

All workshops are held here in sunny East Sheen and run from 10.30am to 5pm. If you've always wanted to write but find it difficult to get started, these are for you!

Please email me for further details.

I'd also like to know if anyone would be interested in a workshop devoted to writing about music?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hirschhorn, 1967


Following a special mention from Sebastian in the comments the other day, here is a clip of the great Philippe Hirschhorn playing in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 1967. Hirschhorn, who died of a brain tumour aged only 50, was a huge loss to the music world - one of the artists I most wish I could have heard. Just take in that tone. Very occasionally, you find a musician whose sound and ethos feel too good to be true - too good, perhaps, for this world... On one of the other Youtube videos of him there's a comment from listener who says simply: "I believe he returned to where he had come from."

There's a touching tribute to him from our Philippe, Monsieur Graffin, in my profile of him for The Strad a few years back, including a lovely photo of the two of them together. As a teenager, Philippe G used to travel from Paris to Brussels for lessons with Philippe H every couple of weeks. (Due to technotwit difficulties I can't copy the pic from the PDF, so please go to the page to see it...)

Thank heavens for recordings. Before the classical recording industry succeeds in committing suicide, someone should please reflect on the number of extraordinary musicians whose artistry we now know only because someone switched on a microphone.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Podcast!

At the Lake District Summer Music Festival, Bob Jones of Classic FM recorded an interview with Philippe Graffin and me about our collaborations, especially A Walk Through the End of Time, which had its British premiere that day, and of course Hungarian Dances. The podcast is now on the Classic FM website - listen or download!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Happy Birthday, Krystian!

It's Krystian Zimerman's birthday. To celebrate, here's something astounding I found on YouTube: footage from the 1975 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, which he won aged only 18. Enjoy this wonderful mazurka.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Bravo, Alex!!

Three cheers for Alex Ross, whose masterpiece about 20th-century music, The Rest is Noise, has scooped The Guardian's First Book Award. Great stuff and so much the right winner.

Heil Carmina...


I have never been able to stand Carmina Burana. I loathe every bloody note. Call it schadenfreude if you like, but when Tony Palmer invited me to a sneak preview of his amazing new documentary, O Fortuna, I couldn't help feeling pleased to learn that Carl Orff was indeed a nasty piece of work.

Palmer's film, which premieres on Sunday at the Barbican Cinema, is nevertheless expertly non-judgmental: he allows the story to tell itself. And the great paradox is that though Orff sucked up to the Nazis and so on, he also invented a system of music education that is working wonders all over the world and is now helping children with such ailments as cerebral palsy - unfortunate innocents who would have been condemned to death under the Third Reich. A redemption if ever there was one.

The DVD will be out in January. Meanwhile, here is my article about the whole caboodle from today's Independent. And much as I hate the piece, I am intrigued by the giant O2 performances coming up in January...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The curious case of Andre Tchaikowsky's skull


The past week or so, various newspapers have carried one of the most startling you-couldn't-make-this-up stories of the season: that the Royal Shakespeare Company has decided not to use the skull of the pianist Andre Tchaikowsky in its forthcoming run of Hamlet, starring David 'Dr Who' Tennant, in London next week.

So why would they have used it? Because the great Polish pianist, who died of cancer aged 46 in 1982, bequeathed his body to science and his skull to the RSC for theatrical use. The skull has already been used in performances in Stratford-on-Avon.

Alas, poor Andre - I knew him, dear readers, at least on the concert platform. I heard him play a recital at the QEH only two years or so before his untimely death and even now I remember the tenderness of his tone, the absolute love with which he infused every note he played, but especially Chopin. As it was his last wish that his skull should be put to theatrical use in Hamlet, it seems a little churlish of the RSC not to carry on, but they seem to think that using a real skull would be too 'distracting' for their poor attention-challenged audiences (so having arguably the best-ever Dr Who play Hamlet isn't 'distracting'?? OK, he's a great actor, but still...).

There is, however, an excellent Andre Tchaikowsky website, on which you can read in PDF format an entire book about him by David A. Ferre. His life was as extraordinary as it was short and this is well worth a read. (The creators apparently thought it would 'find its own way' to a publisher or, OMG, the movies...to which we can only add the words 'blimey' and 'oy vay').

"A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." And according to Stephen Kovacevich, "the best musician of them all."

Monday, December 01, 2008

CLAUDIO ABBADO IS GREATEST CONDUCTOR

The JDCMB Poll of the World's Greatest Conductors has ended with a clear vote giving CLAUDIO ABBADO the laurel wreath, streets ahead of everyone else.

Readers wrote in with their nominations and the final ten on whom we voted were those who received the most nominations - four or more. 303 votes were placed and the interesting results make me wonder whether I may have a strong clique of readers up in Manchester.

Abbado, whose performances with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra last year drew reviews of the kind you do not read more than once a decade, finished in first place with 27 per cent of the vote. Bernard Haitink was second, lagging considerably, at 15 per cent. A surprise third place went to the young Gianandrea Noseda, principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, with 9 per cent; Charles Mackerras was snapping at his heels fourth with just two fewer votes. Gergiev and Levine tied fifth, Rattle was just behind at sixth, and then (!) Pierre Boulez. My condolences to Muti, who pulled in eighth with 4 per cent, and valiantly bringing up the rear was John Eliot Gardiner, who won just 3 per cent with ten votes.

Noseda was the wild card and the reason that polls like this can be so interesting. Neither of the Southbank supremos, Jurowski and Salonen, receiving two nominations apiece, made the final ten. Such eminences as Eschenbach and Temirkanov were not even mentioned at stage 1; Masur, Sawallisch and Maazel each had only one nomination. Barenboim, with three, fell just short of the final list.

The idea of this contest was that it should be an utterly transparent People's Poll, in which I serve only as initiator and moderator, nominating just four names to start things off and voting once like everyone else (Haitink, since you ask). Thanks to everyone who joined in.

So, bravo Abbado! And we're left wondering whether Noseda is the face of the future...