Showing posts with label Jonas Kaufmann. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jonas Kaufmann. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Top ten happy things about the BBC Music Magazine Awards

1. It was a great honour that this year I was asked to be on the jury. I was only able to emerge around Christmas from underneath the biggest heap of CDs that has ever colonised my study (dividing brooms syndrome) - but there could be many worse things in life than listening to c250 five-star discs in quick succession and exploring them over copious quantities of tea with respected colleagues. We had a ball, really. Best, in most categories we pick three and it is you, the readers, who vote for the one you want to win.

2. Alisa Weilerstein's Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos - with the Berlin Staatskapelle conducted by Daniel Barenboim - won Recording of the Year. Very wonderful it is. Here's an introduction to it. (And here's an introduction to Alisa herself over at Sinfini.)



3. At lunch I "was sat" next to Igor Levit, who was voted Newcomer of the Year. Perhaps paradoxically, he is already jolly well known: his debut CD of late Beethoven sonatas for Sony Classical sparked the sort of superlatives you don't see too often. Last year I interviewed him for the cover feature of International Piano. He is one of a remarkable bunch of pianists currently zooming to fame in their twenties: youngsters who already know their own minds and musicianship so well that they play with the assurance of seasoned masters. It's arguably the most interesting crop of young pianists we've seen in a long time, also including Grosvenor and Trifonov - all very heartening. Presenting yourself on the recording scene for the first time with with Beethoven's last five sonatas indicates no small ambition, and in Igor's case gambling on this repertoire was clearly the right choice. He will soon be recording some Bach. And incidentally he has a very natty way with ties.

4. Plenty of accolades for Jonas Kaufmann, whose Wagner album won the vocal category, despite powerful competition from an amazing CD of Hanns Eisler by Matthias Goerne. JK wasn't there in person, but recorded a touching video message for us from somewhere on his Winterreise tour, in which he added that the fact that the choice comes from listeners rather than critics makes this the biggest prize of all. I was on Easyjet from Moscow while he was singing Winterreise here the other night, and am I sick as a parrot about missing it or what. (Below: spotted outside the Moscow Conservatoire the other day. Missed him there too.)

5. Additionally, that Tosca from the ROH starring Angela Gheorghiu, JK and Bryn Terfel, with Tony Pappano conducting, grabbed the Performance DVD category. Bryn, who's currently starring in Faust at Covent Garden, was there to collect the award and told us fulsomely about their week of rehearsals for the performances at the ROH at which it was filmed. Angela, he said, moved everyone to tears in the studio when she sang 'Vissi d'art'. Jonas had flown in from New York and promptly got sick, so Bryn didn't hear him sing out until they were on stage. We were treated to an extract of film from Act II, when Cavaradossi sings 'Vittoria!' and Jonas emitted the kind of long, high, off-the-leash note that can flatten the entire music business at a stroke. At that point, said Bryn, even his threatening Scarpia-stare turned into "a small, wry smile," which he was glad the cameras didn't pick up.

6. Chamber category winner: the Ebene Quartet's gorgeous, impassioned, searingly intense recording of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. You couldn't hope for a more convincing advocacy of the neglected sister in this family duo than this from the lovely chamber-music boy-band of Paris; besides, the F minor Quartet comes leaping off the page as Felix's musical mid-life crisis that should not have been his swan-song, but was. With my Mendelssohnian hat on, this was my Record of the Year.



7. Rachel Podger's fascinating and velvety solo album of baroque violin rarities, Guardian Angel, scooped the Instrumental category. The first time I encountered Rachel was nearly 20 years ago in a festival in Australia, when she and her ensemble played their way valiantly through more than three hours of Telemann in high heat... Since then we've been watching her growth as an artist and now she is in her prime and flowering. This is the album of hers I have enjoyed the most, ever; sophisticated performing filled with sensitivity, intuition, character and insight. Brava! I'd also like to put in a good plug for another shortlisted disc, Richard Egarr's Bach English Suites, which I adored (yes, you read aright: I loved a harpsichord album.)

8. Orchestral went to Riccardo Chailly's Brahms Symphonies with the Leipzig Gewandhaus. They don't come much better than that. Yet for some of us, the surprise wild card of the year was a blistering account of the Strauss Alpine Symphony from...the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra under Frank Shipway. Fair blew my socks off, that one.

9. Other highlights included a gargantuan quantity of Britten wins, a Premiere award for George Benjamin's opera Written on Skin, a vast film about Cavaillé-Coll and his organs, and the first-ever App Award, which went to the Touchpress/DG exploration of the Beethoven Symphony No.9. You can see the full list of winners on the magazine's website, here.

10. Last but not least, two dear friends and colleagues whom I've known separately for years told me that they're an item. This was the news of the whole day that made me happiest. Cheers, chaps!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE GREAT TENOR DOUBLE

Why are great tenors like the London buses? You guessed it. I have for you today interviews with not one, but two of today's very best.

Here is Juan-and-only-Diego Flórez for your delectation, in today's Independent, talking to me about his first album for four years, the not-too-inner game of tennis (including the inspiration of Roger Federer), and why he is soon going to sing Werther.









And here, dear friends, is the new April issue of BBC Music Magazine, out today, with Jonas Kaufmann as the cover star. My encounter with him has the dubious distinction of being the only interview I have ever conducted while wearing snow boots. He talks to me about versatility, Winterreise and, er, Werther.

You have to buy the magazine as it's not online. Apparently the cover is Blippable, which means you can download an app, point it at the picture of Jonas and something ought to happen, though one isn't sure precisely what.

By way of a Kaufmannesque bonus, I couldn't resist asking him whether he might ever sing Paul in Die tote Stadt - a role that seems to be crying out for his voice and his dramatic abilities. He remarked that you need a sweet tooth for Korngold, but that he has recently sung the final duet and found it incredibly beautiful - so why not? We are glad that at least he hasn't ruled it out. And a message for the Kaufmaniacs? Well, he has found that you often ask him after performances to please go and sing wherever it may be that you live - but there is only one of him, so you'll have to keep on travelling...


Just for the heck of it, here are both of them singing "Pourquoi me reveiller?" from that Massenet. Flórez's is from his new, all-French album, L'amour. Kaufmann's is from the Paris performance a few years back as broadcast by Arte/Medici TV.  See what you think...



Sunday, March 16, 2014

Werther: the final scene, with Jonas and Sophie



I missed the Met's cinema relay of Werther yesterday, travelling home from Paris... Thank you to their website for making the final scene available as an "encore" to watch online, starring Jonas Kaufmann, Sophie Koch and a lot of blood. (Update: we hear that this scene is online now because there were technical problems in the cinecast across the US that meant most people didn't actually see it...)

My interview with Sophie from this month's Opera News is here. Keep watching this space for news of t'other one.

Left: the house where Jules Massenet died, close to the Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris's 6ème arrondissement, which I spotted the other day.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

JDCMB IS 10 TODAY!



It was 10 years ago today that I thought I'd investigate these strange new things called blogs. All of a sudden, you could write something and press a button and a minute later a total stranger could be reading it on the other side of the world. For a writer this was a) mind-blowing, b) irresistible. I started mucking about with a site or two and next thing I knew, I had my own blog. I didn't know you could give blogs fancy titles so I just called it Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. And here we are.

Celebration? Well, there's a Hungarian Dances novel-concert this afternoon at 3pm at the gorgeous St Mary's Perivale, with me, David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano). Admission is free, though you can make a donation afterwards. There will be cake, and there's a pub over the road.

So, how have things changed in these first 10 years?

First of all, and most obviously, we are still here. Many are not. I've recently overhauled the blogroll and am surprised by the number of writers who've stopped blogging in the past couple of years. Perhaps novelty wears off; perhaps pressures of time encroach too much. I've often considered closing down this one, but have never quite been able to bring myself to do it. It's often a sort of mental limbering up at the start of the day, a way of getting brain into gear - even though you should never blog before your second cup of coffee - and it's cheaper than therapy. More importantly, there are few ways to keep certain values going in this scary world, but JDCMB is one. If you are a regular visitor, chances are that you know them. That's why I keep on keeping on.

When the Internet was becoming ubiquitous, its gatekeepers - and its users - made two enormous mistakes. One was to allow anonymity. The other was to make everything free.

Ten years on, many gifted individuals are struggling to make ends meet because of the second; as for the first, this is why many of us have closed our comments facilities and never read "below the line". I closed the JDCMB comments facility not because there were regular trolls, but because it was always a worry that there might be. One needs to eliminate sources of avoidable stress whenever possible.

When Amazon started to allow anonymous book reviews, one of the first things that happened to my stuff was that someone wrote a vicious anonymous review of my Korngold (pictured right) biography. I was convinced I knew who'd written that review and sent a letter to the Society of Authors journal saying, essentially, that anonymity makes nonsense of the whole idea of reviewing. Apparently this was news and I got interviewed by The Guardian. That was 15 years ago, never mind ten; it's still true; and it's still not sorted. (I still think I know who wrote that review, btw, only now I think it wasn't the person I thought it was then. It's worse. Never mind.)

As for free...well, this blog is, obviously, free. Mainly because I haven't worked out a way to put up a paywall. If it becomes possible, I may do so. I've tried other ways to allow it to bring in an income, including, briefly around 2009, virtually selling my soul (it's back - thanks). Occasionally some of you kindly decide to sponsor Solti's cat food and receive a sidebar advert in return. You can still do this if you so wish. Thank you to everyone who's taken up the possibility, especially Amati.com, our latest long-term sponsor, for whom I now write a reasonably regular Soapbox column. Here's the latest, featuring one of Mr Buchanan's priceless cartoons: when should we applaud prodigies?

A lot has happened to me in ten years. I've written four novels, two plays and several words&music projects, joined the Independent as a freelance music and ballet correspondent, met and interviewed many of my heroes and heroines, become a bit of a campaigner for women's equality in the musical field and survived a Dalek invasion (my digestion remains a long-term casualty). I've travelled a lot and fallen in love with Budapest (right); I've trailed Martha Argerich to Rome; I've even found my way back from Munchkinland. And if you've enjoyed the novels to date, there IS another one, it is finished and it is musical (we just have to find it a publisher who doesn't think classical music is elitist...). But do read this article from The Observer today.

During the past decade we've watched the emergence of many glorious new artists: Benjamin Grosvenor, Daniil Trifonov, Juan Diego Florez, Jonas Kaufmann (left, in the Met's new Werther), Julia Fischer, Alisa Weilerstein, Joseph Calleja, Yuja Wang and more have risen to prominence. It's been a privilege to chart this. Here is my latest big interview for Opera News, with the glorious mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch (March issue cover feature).

But the most worrying thing at present is the reduction in freedom of expression that results from this bizarre climate of mass hysteria and free-for-all, line-toeing mudslinging, encouraged by the tabloids and a few bloggers who like high ratings. Such a climate has never happened before in my lifetime. "What do they want? Blood?" asked someone recently. I fear so. It resembles a primitive call for blood-letting - like The Rite of Spring, a ritual in hard times to bring back the sun. It is always the innocent who are sacrificed - whether it's an abstract force for good, like art music itself, or learning, or intellectual capability; or the Chosen Maiden of Stravinsky's ballet, who if you remember is a young, innocent and terrified teenage girl. Guess what? It doesn't help.

I believe we need nothing less than the Enlightenment. An embracing of reason, clarity, proportion, sense and sensibility; love to combat hatred; the power of laughter, which is also an endangered art; a note of sanity to restore rational thought against ideologies that have tipped askew under their own over-inflated obesity. This doesn't mean "a return to..." anything - because you can never go backwards. Nothing does. Time doesn't work like that. You can only go forward. Let's go forward to a fresh Enlightenment. Let there be light.

So, to celebrate JDCMB's tenth birthday, above is the ultimate Enlightenment masterpiece: Haydn's The Creation, a work that features all the qualities and values I love the most, in a performance from 1951 conducted by Eugen Jochum. Enjoy.




Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jonas's Winter Journey

The CD you've been waiting for is out at last - the official release date in the UK was yesterday - and sure enough, it's a humdinger.

Winterreise is a piece that has scared us, devastated us and left us musing on Schubert's state of mind: why was he drawn to create art that evokes emotions so far beyond despair? I was in a seminar group for it during my student days and we analysed it every which way, but there is always a kernel within it that eludes such treatment. You can see how Schubert manipulates the key structure to carry you downwards with the protagonist; you can  understand that the dancing lilt of 'Täuschung' is a recycling - it pops up in his opera Alfonso und Estrella in a totally different incarnation (thank you, Christian Gerhaher, for recording this) - but do we really understand what drove Schubert, how his genius was fired by such snowy bleakness? Of course not. We know how he burrows into the dark recesses of the heart - but we can never truly know why.

There are of course many fine interpretations on record, some of which you need to feel very strong to hear - my previous "benchmark" is the one by Matthias Goerne with Alfred Brendel at the piano. But this new disc by Jonas Kaufmann and his pianist and mentor Helmut Deutsch can leave you wondering if perhaps it is worth winter existing, even with the snow in the US and the storms here and the wind and the rain and the darkness, just so that Schubert could write this work and they could perform it. It is not just the depth of Kaufmann's conviction that makes it special, but the skill with which he projects the meaning: his diction is of course magnificent, but he is able to fill each word and every phrase with colour that holds the entirety of its emotional import. This is truly extraordinary. I reckon you don't need to understand one word of German to follow this story. It's the clearest possible demonstration of just how music becomes a universal language in every sense.

Here are the artists to introduce it on film, on JK's website. http://www.jonaskaufmann.com/en/1/start.html

Intriguingly, the makers of this film are of the Wunderlich family. Yes, that Wunderlich. JK has plenty to say about the great Fritz in our interview, so watch that space...


Monday, February 10, 2014

Um, in case you were wondering where I was...


...I've been in New York and - in between shopping, museum-hopping and seeing all my oldest and dearest friends - spent a rather pleasant hour in a press room at the Met with the gentleman above, who recovered from his bout of flu in time for a good chinwag. I've been trying to make this happen for years rather than months...and it was worth the wait.

JFK - Jonas Fluey Kaufmann, natch - is in NY preparing for a new production of Werther, which opens on 18 Feb, directed by Richard Eyre and also starring the glorious Sophie Koch as Charlotte (see the new issue of Opera News, just out, for my cover feature about her). HD cinecast is on 15 March. Be there. You'll like it.

It was also wonderful to see Glyndebourne's production of Billy Budd - imported wholesale, orchestra, chorus, Marks Elder and Padmore and all - receive a massive ovation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music the other night. New Yorkers, you have two more chances to see it this week. Here's a rave review from the New York Times.

Just flew home from...JFK. Incredibly, only 5 hrs 40 mins.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A soapbox and an orange tree

A weekend full of anniversaries kicks off with a new weekly "soapbox" slot, which the stringed instrument dealers Amati.com have asked me to write. They've even drawn me standing on one!


You can read my first Soapbox tract here. It's about Great Britten, of course.

And so tomorrow it is the world premiere, as rehearsed reading, of my new play Sins of the Fathers, about Wagner, Liszt and Cosima, at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Info here. Call the box office for returns.

What does a playwright do all day once the thing is written and delivered? Well, I've been hunting for candle glue, preparing some labels for the bottle of magic wine and sourcing Wagner's dressing gown. Social media proved worth its weight in gold where the latter was concerned: an appeal on Facebook ("Urgent: need a silk dressing gown for Wagner, must fit John Sessions") has produced a friend - the real sort, not only the Facebooky sort - who inherited an antique silk red paisley number from her great-uncle that fits the bill to perfection. Now we just have to find the right something for Liszt to wear. A cravat should do the trick.

From this anniversary line-up, Verdi is missing. Only one thing for it: over to Jonas...






Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Verdi bicentenary: Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann in Don Carlo



It's Verdi's bicentenary today and as everyone is choosing their favourite bits, here is one of mine. I've been lucky enough to hear these two in this opera twice this year - once at Covent Garden, once in Munich. Life in music just doesn't get any better than that.



Monday, August 19, 2013

At the risk of being a bit predictable...

...here's JK making his new album of GV. You'll want to hear this, believe me, and you'll particularly want to hear the bit from Otello.



There's a moment near the start of the film where he clutches his phone rather pointedly. I reckon that's when a text arrived from his press agent saying "oh no, another message from that blasted English journalist begging us for an interview in Munich/Salzburg..." (Nah, just kidding... in fact they've all been really helpful, for which I'm grateful. But 0 interview for JD yet.)

I tried. I really did. But time was there none, it seems. More about Munich and the opera festival as soon as there's a little, er, time - of which I am very short at the moment too.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A very spoilt opera lover's home thoughts from abroad

So last night, here in Munich, I heard Don Carlo with Jonas Kaufmann sounding perhaps the best I've ever heard him (and you know how good that is), Anja Harteros sounding like a platinum-plated Maria Callas only possibly better, Rene Pape sounding like King Marke as King Philip II and a baritone new to my radar, Ludovic Tezier, as Rodrigo sounding like a presence who will dominate his repertoire to very fabulous effect for years to come. How many great voices can you have on a stage at any one time? It occurs to one that - perhaps unusually for a Verdi performance - one could reassemble the same team for a certain thing by Wagner to fine effect, one named Tristan und Isolde...

But oh dearie dearie dear... I went and missed Barenboim's Gotterdammerung at the Proms, and today have been inundated with messages full of overjoy, overwhelmedness or plain old Schadenfreude from those who were there, or heard it on the radio, or who are calling for a Ring cycle to become a regular feature of the Proms, please, something I will second with all my heart (provided it's done by the right performers). After a 20-minute ovation, Barenboim made a speech declaring that what the audience had been through with him and his musicians was something he had never even dreamed of. Can't manage to embed the code for some reason, so please follow this link to hear it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ddfdr

Extra plaudits for the Proms this year for having made me seriously question the wisdom of taking a summer holiday abroad while they're on.



Monday, July 15, 2013

Favourite things: Kaufmann sings 'Die schöne Müllerin'



The other day I was out for a walk in Richmond Park and I spotted a pair of shoes abandoned next to a Bächlein. While I doubt that Schubert or the young miller protagonist in this heart-rending song-cycle would actually have worn blue suede loafers (they're more Elvis, perhaps), I've had this music on the brain ever since. Who better to listen to than Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Jonas to the rescue!

The Munich Opera Festival, which is in full swing for July, is doing wall-to-wall Verdi and Wagner this year. Last night it was Lohengrin. The tenor went ill. Who can you get to replace that at short notice? Hmm, how about this local bloke who knows the role?


Text from my spy says simply: "Jonas sensation, audience went nuts."

Kaufmaniacs should log on tomorrow when the Staatsoper is webcasting Il trovatore, with JK as Manrico, a role he's just been singing for the first time, with Anja Harteros - another local - as Leonora. My spy says that's sounding a bit good too. Webcast is free and starts at 7pm over there (so 1 hr earlier in UK and 6 hrs earlier in NY).

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kaufmann is going to Sony

The other week an editor friend mentioned, en passant, that he'd phoned Decca asking for some pics of Jonas - only to be told to call Sony Classical instead. Ooh la la, we thought. It's all official now, and the great tenor has indeed jumped ship. We can expect a Verdi album imminently.

Meanwhile he is at the Bayerische Staatsoper rehearsing Il Trovatore with Anja Harteros for the Munich Opera Festival. I'm reliably informed that they are both sounding absolutely fantastic. We can all watch their live webcast from the theatre on 5 July.

They're also doing Don Carlo - and I may even get to see this at the end of the festival. Here's last year's backstage glimpse (in German).

So for Decca today, it's one in and one out, and probably time for the weekend.




Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kaufmann. Winterreise.

Look what's popped up on Youtube: complete audio of Jonas Kaufmann's Winterreise recital at the Konzerthaus, Vienna, 6 April 2013. Helmut Deutsch is at the piano. Apparently JK was not feeling on best form just then - he was recovering from the lurgy that knocked him out of two Vienna Parsifals. It's remarkable nonetheless.

Prepare to listen by getting yourself a cuppa, a box of hankies and a DO NOT DISTURB sign.

(UPDATE, 5.40pm: An appreciative reader has just tweeted to remark that this is good alternative listening for anyone trying to avoid the Eurovision Song Contest tonight...)


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday roundup from a very busy week

I've been burning the candle at both ends, to coin a phrase. It beats the hell out of sitting alone at home watching repeats of Midsomer Murders - something I have resolved never to do again.

Last Saturday, Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House. You wake up, the sun is shining, you're free, it's opening night at Covent Garden, Jonas is singing and you're not there? Unthinkable! I scooped a return and drank long and deep of the genius of Verdi. It was almost impossible to imagine a finer cast. Sometimes when Kaufmann is on stage, the rest can fade to insignificance, but here his peers matched him moment for moment.

This appears to be the one performance that the scheduled soprano, Anja Harteros, was able in the end to do, and the first time I've managed to hear her live. Her voice has an almost uncanny beauty along with extraordinary range of expression: the deepest levels enhanced by taut, dramatic diction, the uppermost soaring with rare 100-carat sheen. She's the perfect stage partner for Kaufmann, matching his sensitivity to nuance and blending with his multifaceted colourations, the final duet daringly hushed. Mariusz Kwiecien's double-edged charm and rich-flowing baritone, as Rodrigo, might otherwise have stolen the show, while Ferruccio Furlanetto's magnificently tortured and heartbreaking Philip II threatened to do likewise, with the type of voice and interpretation that brings every twist of phrase and fortune into close-up. Eric Halfvorsen's Grand Inquisitor rose to the challenge of one of Verdi's nastiest and truest personalities. In the pit, Tony Pappano and the orchestra plunged through the four-and-a-half hour span with passion undimmed; and the chorus was absolutely on fire for the auto da fe, a scene in which the confluence of symbol and drama could scarcely be finer.

Carlos is, after all, a German romantic hero - by Schiller - in all but moniker, a soul whose obsession with Elisabeth after one scant encounter in the forest can match that of Goethe's Werther for Charlotte. Flanders is Elisabeth; the burning heretics are the heart of Carlos, who burns inwardly for breaking the taboo of aching for his stepmother. Freud might have enjoyed that final moment of farewell when he addresses Elisabeth as 'mother'. What happened to Carlos's real mother anyway? We are not told.

Lianna Haroutounian has since stepped into Harteros's shoes, making her ROH debut; and the churlish anonymi grumbling on the ROH comments boxes that the house should have had a "name" as second cast may want to think again. Fiona Maddocks's review today declares: "Haroutounian seemed to pull forth ever-increasing vocal powers until you thought her heart, or yours, would burst."

On Tuesday we had the first run-through at home of the Hungarian Dances concert with the new team for the Ulverston and the St James Theatre June performances. David Le Page (violin) and Anthony Hewitt (piano) used to be duo partners in their teens, but hadn't met in 23 years...yet it was as if they'd last seen each other yesterday. And the intensity of their musical response to the story took me completely by surprise. It felt as these concerts probably should: we may be a reader and two musicians, but their engagement with the drama and the emotions in the narrative bounced different angles into the music, while their impassioned interpretations made me see new and darker corners in my own text. It was as if we all made music together, essentially. I'm hugely grateful to them and excited about sharing a stage with them. Ulverston is on 8 June, the St James Theatre Studio in central London is on 11 June, and booking is open.

On Wednesday, to St John's Smith Square to hear Angelo Villani in recital. Angelo, you remember, is the Italian-Australian pianist we talked to a little while back when he started to make his comeback after 20 years away from the concert platform due to a trapped nerve in his shoulder. He performs in white gloves. And there's something of the white gloves about his musicianship too, in the best sense: while some complained that the programme he chose consisted more of the slow and soft than the barnstorming so many people seem to expect of concert pianists these days, that was actually the point.

Whether in the freely-calibrated rubato of the Chopin Nocturnes Op.9, two of the Liszt Petrarch Sonnets and the Ballade No.2, or the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, adapted from Wagner by various hands including Von Bulow, Liszt and Villani himself, his exceptional and microscopic sensitivity, the way he immerses us in sonority, allows us to soak up the edges of vibration as if letting subtle-coloured dye infiltrate and diffuse through our inner worlds. It's unusual and it may not be for everyone, but this is fine-art pianism and it is good to know that it hasn't been entirely lost in the outside welter of the (largely positive but often noisy) Lang Lang Effect.

There's a wonderful story about Daniel Guilet, the founding violinist of the Beaux Arts Trio, as a young lad meeting Fauré in the foyer of the Paris Conservatoire. Monsieur le Directeur, as Fauré was then (pictured right), said to Daniel: where are you going in such a hurry? "My violin lesson, sir." Ahh, said Fauré. You'll go to your lesson and you'll learn to play fast and loud. But to play slow and soft: that is really difficult.

On Thursday, my mates from the Culturekicks blog took me to the trendiest gig in town: The Knife, at the Roundhouse. I'll be writing about it more fully for them, but in brief, the experience was a polar opposite from Angelo's concert (=ear protectors) and in other ways just like the Proms, because if you're my height you can't see much. Music: Nordic Noir without the murders. More about it soon.

The great thing is that in this extraordinary world, and especially in this matchless city of ours, there's room for everything: music of different eras, angles, twists, turns, scale, substance and aspect. Try to do it all, if and when you have the chance. Because each experience feeds the next.

Last but not least, yesterday I went to a school reunion and saw friends I haven't seen since our A levels, more years ago than I'd like to admit, and they hadn't changed a bit. Time's a funny old thing. Just as an opera that is well over 100 years old can feel as fresh and relevant in terms of drama and emotional impact as an electro-post-pop band, the passing decades simply disappear when people's energies connect, reconnect and blossom. Yes, this was quite a week...


Sunday, April 28, 2013

DH Lawrence for spring. Plus a bit of Wagner...

The Enkindled Spring

By D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence
 
This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that's gone astray, and is lost.
 
 
To match this, here's Jonas singing 'Wintersturme...' from Wagner's Die Walkure, because - why not?
 
 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Jonas Kaufmann is an honorary Londoner"


Der Jonas's love-in with London continued as he scooped two prizes at the inaugural International Opera Awards last night. Commenting in The Evening Standard, which supported the event in association with Opera Magazine, the editor Sarah Sands praised London as a magnet for international levels of excellence and - while reminding us that we need to raise our own game to be able to compete in our own capital city - pointed to Kaufmann as a prime example of the world-class talent that comes here to shine.  
"Pity the English tenors up against the winning German Jonas Kaufmann," she writes. "I watched him performing Verdi and Wagner at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday and he was perfectly at ease with both composers and all nationalities. It is voice without borders...Jonas Kaufmann is an honorary Londoner now, as far as I'm concerned."
Jonas himself, interviewed in the paper, makes straightforward and utterly pertinent remarks about why opera is for everyone. On the website, the Standard has a video of him receiving his prize.

Jonas won the Male Singer award and the Audience Prize. Other key awards included Nina Stemme for the Female Singer award, Sophie Bevan for Young Singer, Tony Pappano for Conductor, Dmitri Tcherniakov for Director, George Benjamin's Written on Skin for Premiere, Christian Gerhaher for CD, Oper Frankfurt for Opera Company and Sir George Christie of Glyndebourne for the Lifetime Achievement Award. The full list is here.

It's a warm, warm welcome from us and, one suspects, most of the music business to the UK's first full-scale prize glitter devoted entirely to opera. The more it can be celebrated, the more people hear about Jonas, Nina, Sophie and then hear their voices, the better. And if Jonas should ever decide he does want to become a Londoner, we'd be queuing up to show him the town.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Jonas Kaufmann, swamped with red roses

Now, look. We have the Internet. We have Social Media. We have Instant Messaging. We have Facebook Chat. We have, for goodness' sake, the telephone. We have any number of means of communicating with our fellow human beings, in the same business or otherwise. 

So how can it happen that people go and schedule a Jonas Kaufmann concert at the Royal Festival Hall and a two-hander with Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato at the Barbican on the same flippin' night?

The fact that the inaugural Opera Awards are taking place tonight at the Park Lane Hilton, presenting prizes in 23 categories in front of 700 people, is probably a complete coincidence...

As it was, we had to choose, and I chose Kaufmann. There was Verdi and there was Wagner, and OK, it was one of those dates that pad out the sung programme with under-rehearsed orchestral extracts - but it was still Kaufmann. 

He started off by charming everyone with a little speech about why he was using the music. He doesn't usually, he insisted, but he's had so much to deal with these past few weeks...and he didn't want us all to sit there watching him sweating and shaking and suffering, so...well, fair enough. 

Wagner or Verdi, then, Jonas? Both, he says; and proceeded to prove that singing the one to near-perfection in no way precludes doing likewise for the other.

His Verdi selection was well planned, traversing the composer's development from the cod-Rossini idiom of the overture to Luisa Miller and the aria "Oh! Fede negar potessi...Quando le sere al placido"; through Simon Boccanegra - "O inferno!...Cielo pietoso, rendita" emerged as an absolute masterpiece in his interpretation - towards the ever-growing sophistication of Don Carlo ("Io l'ho perduta....Io la vidi") to La forza del destino ("La vita è inferno all'infelice...O, tu che in seno agli angeli").
 
This Verdi singing had everything: unleashed power matched by ever-alert nuance, tender covered tone balancing taut rhythms, expressive enunciation colouring mellifluous phrasing. Above all, Kaufmann's identification with the drama came across as utterly genuine. Many of these arias were pieces most of us have not heard him sing before. Therefore much anticipation had focused upon what he'd do with them; and he did not disappoint.

The Wagner extracts, though, are all on his recently-released album (of course) - and in some cases his performance even exceeded the achievements of the CD. The extremely extended Siegmund cries of "Wälse" suffer on the disc from a little drifting intonation, but not for a moment yesterday. Precision, power, character, colour, intelligence and that unmatchable, unmistakeable Kaufmann tone: it was all there and who could ask for anything more? 

The special truc about Kaufmann is that he is a musician first and foremost: one who expresses his innate, sterling-quality musicianship through a voice that happens to be a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. This is rare. And he can act; and he looks great. All of that is a bonus.

He brought us a powerful, bitter Siegmund, a disingenuous Walther "Am stillen Herd" (we longed for the Prize Song but didn't get it) and his magnificently tormented "Amfortas! Die Wunde" from Parsifal - the opera that works least well as bleeding chunks at any time. (Pictured: Kaufmann as Parsifal at the Met.) Yet of the whole programme, the Wagner encores stand out as the most cherishable moments: two of the Wesendonck Lieder, "Schmerzen" and "Träume", sung entirely as the Lieder they are rather than as opera manqué, the emphasis falling upon the poetry, the intimacy, the sensibility. And "Winterstürme" from Die Walküre brought us an assurance that after this awfully long winter, spring really had come at last.

So had the flowers. Rarely do we see a man showered with bouquets of red roses to this extent -  brought to him on stage, but also handed to him from the audience. One lady trotted to the front with a red shiny bag to give him, content invisible. Let's hope it was chocolate. He deserved some.

The Florez/DiDonato concert sounds like a classier event, as far as peripheries are concerned - the RFH audience had to deal with a programme sprinkled with ridiculous misprints (Wagner was in the Dresden Uprising in 1949?), equally ridiculous summaries of entire opera plots yet no song texts, and huge pin-up style photos of our tenor (well, that's OK to some...). But all credit to the Philharmonia and conductor Jochen Rieder for delivering much better than the other orchestra did last time Kaufmann sang a Gubbay gig, even if - thanks, I fear, to the RFH acoustics, which have been  infuriatingly biased against the treble ever since the refurbishment - the brass drowned the upper strings at every turn. A guest clarinet in the form of Andrew Marriner proved worth his weight in gold

UPDATE, 3.40pm: There was a fourth encore. It was Verdi's 'Ah, la paterna mano'. I missed it. I thought it was all over...Fortunately, though, someone filmed it and has put it on Youtube. Here it is.



 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kaufmann on Wagner and anti-Semitism

[First of all, wanted to let you know that I'm on BBC Radio 3's IN TUNE today between 5 and 5.30pm, talking about the Royal Philharmonic Awards shortlist, which is being announced this afternoon.]

In an interview with Mannheim Morgenweb the one and only Jonas Kaufmann talks about - among other things - Wagner, anti-Semitism and how to separate them. Below are a few  highlights (any mistakes are either mine or Google Translate's) and the whole thing in German is here. In case you didn't know, he is giving a recital with orchestra in London at the Royal Festival Hall on 21 April including arias by the anniversary boys Verdi and Wagner.


... it appears that you currently working a lot on your piano. Optical illusion?

Kaufmann: No, do not be fooled. I lay on the soft and subtle sounds at least as much value as the large and dramatic. An old rule for singers is: only those who have a sonorous piano can develop a healthy forte. But this concerns not only technical matters, but above all the artistic.

What position do you refer in the matter of Wagner? Can you separate the wonderful work of vile anti-Semites?

Kaufmann: Wagner's anti-Semitic writings and his self-esteem will always be a stumbling block. Even militant Wagnerians wish sometimes that he had only composed, and not written so much. But as for your question, I think you should separate work and man, just as one should distinguish the anti-Semitism of nationalists like Wagner from the antisemitism of the Nazis.

Does that work?

Kaufmann: The fact that Wagner's works have been abused by the Nazis does not alter their artistic importance. They belong to the greatest. Many Jewish artists who were expelled by the Nazis from Germany and Austria have also recognised this: singers like Friedrich Schorr had no problem with Wagner being performed at the Met. And someone like Daniel Barenboim has long worked for the performance of Wagner in Israel to be allowed. (Pictured above: Kaufmann with Barenboim.)