Showing posts with label Korngold. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Korngold. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Jonas Kaufmann talks about...



...his lovely new disc.

I just want to add a few things. I love this stuff. It is very close to our hearts here at JDCMB, not least because some of these songs were associated with the Comedian Harmonists, that remarkable singing ensemble - pop group, indeed - who rose to fame in risqué 1920s Berlin, but were destroyed by the Third Reich since half the members were Jewish.

They all escaped the Nazi era, fortunately, but were scattered to the corners of the globe and never sang together again. One baritone with a gorgeously warm voice became a synagogue cantor. We stumbled across some reissued recordings ten or fifteen years ago and when we took them to my father-in-law - who was born in Berlin in 1921 and left forever in 1936, settling in Buxton - he still knew all the songs from memory and sang along, a faraway look in his eye...

There is also, as previously noted, some Korngold on this CD: the Lute Song from Die tote Stadt - but it's not on the trailer, so we'll just have to wait.

I'll leave you with this nice dose of Kaufmania as I am now off to meet some cats. This is not a euphemism.

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.




Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Anniversary



Today is the 20th anniversary of my mum's death. It still feels like yesterday. We miss her every day of our lives.

This is the Marietta Lute Song duet from Die tote Stadt by Korngold, sung in 1924 in Berlin by Lotte Lehmann and Richard Tauber, here rendered with superbly remastered sound. If you don't know the opera, it is all about coming to terms with loss. As Korngold's Paul discovers, you don't get over things. You can only learn to live with them, because there is no alternative.

If you want to see a video of the full opera, I can recommend a recently released DVD from Finnish National Opera - a production by Kasper Holten with stunning designs by Es Devlin, starring Klaus Florian Vogt as Paul and Camilla Nylund as Marietta.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

On your feet! It's Proms time


The sun is shining, Andy Murray's in the final and next week it's time for the Proms to begin. This season is stuffed full of Wagner operas and I have just one word to start you off: footwear. My guide to how to make the most of the Proms is in today's Independent, along with my personal pick of ten unmissable events. And yes, there will be Korngold.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/on-your-feet-for-the-2013-proms-8687389.html

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Rite shares its birthday with....



Above, part of the first reconstruction, by the Joffrey Ballet, of the original Rite, choreographed by Nijinsky, designed by Roerich. And here, my article from The Independent (published 12 Feb) telling the story of that first night.

And... today is also Korngold's birthday. He turned 16 on the day the Stravinsky first hit the stage. He was quite a fan of Stravinsky, as it happens - there's a lovely story about when he went to hear Petrouchka and applauded and his father, the music critic Julius Korngold, tried to stop him. The young composer's response to the Rite furore either isn't recorded or hasn't reached my eyes/ears yet. One imagines the ballet might have caused Julius's blood pressure some problems.

It would be so interesting, on the one hand, to rewind the clock, air-lift Julius Korngold out of Erich Wolfgang's personal equation, let the lad study with Schoenberg and hang out with the avant-garde crowd and see how he ended up writing... But on the other hand, if he had done that, would he have come into contact at the crucial moment with Max Reinhardt? It was thanks to Reinhardt that he first went to Hollywood in 1934. He might not have escaped otherwise.

Anyhow, an actual staging of Das Wunder der Heliane has turned up on the Internet, so here is Act I. It's from Brno, with a setting that makes vivid reference to the fact that the opera shared its own year of birth with Fritz Lang's Metropolis. It is conducted by Peter Feranec and directed by Johannes Reitmeier. The second part is available to view on Youtube as well.



Saturday, April 27, 2013

'Forbidden Music' - a vital read

Michael Haas's Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis is being published on 7 May and is an absolute must-read for anyone with an interest in setting the record straight about the nature of music in the 20th century. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the first major scholarly book to address its specific question. I have a short feature about it in The Independent today.

Here to go with it is a spot of appropriate opera: Korngold, in longing-for-the-past mode. This is "Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen, es träumt sich zurück" from Die tote Stadt - the Pierrot Tanzlied, sung in this (unfortunately uncredited) production by [shock] a Pierrot. 

I'll never forget hearing Olaf Bär in Zurich having to sing this dressed in drag with basque, tights, six-inch black heels and butterfly wings, but that's another story.








Tuesday, April 23, 2013

May the Bard be with you!

It's Shakespeare's birthday today. It would also have been my mum's birthday. For them both, here are Korngold's Shakespeare Songs, sung by the incomparable Anne Sofie von Otter, with Bengt Forsberg at the piano. (If you've seen A Late Quartet, you may have spotted von Otter in a cameo role as the cellist's deceased wife, singing - appropriately enough - an extract of the Marietta Lute Song from Die tote Stadt.)


Friday, April 19, 2013

Proms 2013: Hear 7 Wagner Operas for £5 Each

You'll need sandiwches, water, strong shoes and even stronger legs - those operas are loooong - but where else in the world can you go to the complete Ring cycle conducted by Daniel Barenboim and starring Nina Stemme, plus Tristan und Isolde, Tannhauser and Parsifal, each with major Wagnerian superstars at the helm, and stand just a few metres from the performers, and pay only £5 a time? Yes, the Proms are back and this is one great whopper of a Wagner anniversary season.

There's some Verdi - though no complete operas (apparently this is down to it's-just-how-things-turned-out, rather than any Wagner-is-best conspiracy, before you ask). And a more than fair pop at Britten, including Billy Budd from Glyndebourne. Fans of Granville Bantock, Walton, Rubbra, George Lloyd and Tippett could also be quite happy with this year's line-up.

The glass ceiling is shattering nicely as Marin Alsop takes the helm for the Last Night, becoming the first woman ever to conduct it. Better late than never, and she is a brilliant choice for the task.

Guest artists on the Last Night include Joyce DiDonato and Nigel Kennedy. Nige will be appearing earlier in the season too, playing the good old Four Seasons with his own Orchestra of Life plus the Palestine Strings, which consists of young players from the Edward Said National Conservatories of Music. Lots of piano treats as well - soloists to hear include Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the terrific duo of Noriko Ogawa and Kathryn Stott, Daniil Trifonov in the rarely-heard Glazunov Piano Concerto No.2 and Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis playing Schubert's Grand Duo for piano duet in a late-night Prom.

There's one thing, though, that sent me into meltdown. Leafing through the listings, one turns to 6 August and out leap the words KORNGOLD: SYMPHONY IN F SHARP. I've waited 30 years for this. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's one and only full-blown symphony is coming to the Proms at long, long last. It is being performed by the BBC Philharmonic under John Stogårds. And guess what? I'm supposed to be away on holiday on 6 August. If that isn't the Law of Sod, then what is?

Meanwhile we're promised more TV coverage of the Proms than ever before, and plenty of stuff online, and the invaluable iPlayer to help with catching up. But really, there's no substitute for being there. If you've never been, get a taste of it in the launch film above. Book your tickets now.

Full listings here.








Monday, March 25, 2013

Korngold for beginners

Yesterday at The Rest is Noise we had fun introducing newcomers to the wonderful world of Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Ben Winters of the Open University gave a fascinating talk about the composer's years in America; the two of us then had quite a wide-ranging discussion, and some interesting questions came from the audience. Later on, I took part in a "bites" session with a political economist, a film historian and an art historian; each of us picked a topic that involved America finding its voice in the first half of the 20th century. Mine was Korngold and opera; I played, among other things, an extract of Marietta's Lute Song from Die tote Stadt.

It's easy to think Korngold has been rehabilitated, especially now that I've been on his case for more than two decades, but after the talk several people wanted to know, wide-eyed and open-eared, what this opera was and where they could hear more of it. It's so beautiful, they said. Why do we never hear it? The extract was too short, they said. They wanted to hear the rest.

This is an aria, indeed an opera, for anyone who has ever loved and lost.

Here is an interpretation of Marietta's Lied from the opera film Aria (1987), with some exquisite shots of Bruges, where the opera is set. (Warning: involves a bit of arty nudity.)






Sunday, March 24, 2013

Korngold and The Rest is Noise

Anyone coming to the Southbank today for The Rest is Noise? This weekend the festival has reached America and I've been roped in to help show how Korngold did too.

At 12.30pm in the Purcell Room, I'm introducing Ben Winters from the Open University, who'll talk about Korngold in the US, which we'll then discuss further, and there'll be time for audience questions. At 5pm I'm also joining in an hour of short talks around American topics to bring in the matter of Korngold and opera - that will be in the Blue Bar, Level 4, Royal Festival Hall. (Yes, I know - it wasn't an American issue, but a Viennese one. But that is sort of the point...)

Please join us!

If you haven't been able to get to this extraordinary festival, you can listen to some of the talks on the website: here is the link to the Berlin in the 20s-30s section, beginning with Alex Ross on 'How music became so politicised': http://therestisnoise.southbankcentre.co.uk/explore/berlin-in-the-20s-and-30s/#1

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reading and talking

I've been talking to some interesting people recently...

The unbelievable Edward Watson, who is dancing the lead role in Mayerling at Covent Garden next month. The crazed Crown Prince Rudolf is, weirdly enough, the only ballet prince he's played, other than Albrecht in Giselle, who's not really that princely. A dancer with his levels of drama, flexibility and power would probably be wasted chasing after a swan. Catch him first in the equally incredible The Metamorphosis.



A composer called Nimrod - who, as it turned out, lived next door to me in West Hampstead 20 years ago, except that we never met. The Philharmonia played a work of Nimrod Borenstein's the other week with Ashkenazy conducting, and has commissioned a new piece from him for June at the RFH. He's also writing a violin concerto for Dimitry Sitkovetsky. He's a live wire who thinks big, and talked to me (for the JC) about finding his voice and what he's doing with it now that he has.

It's All About Piano! Francoise Clerc, the one-woman dynamo at the heart of the Institut Francais's classical music programming, has put together an absolute bonanza of a piano festival, which will take place over three days next weekend, 22-24 March. Star performers include Imogen Cooper, Nick van Bloss, Charles Owen, Katya Apekisheva, Cyprien Katsaris and Anne Queffelec; there's a chance to hear some rising stars including a raft of the most gifted budding virtuosi from the Paris Conservatoire, a modern American programme from Ivan Ilic, jazz from Laurent de Wilde, talks by Steinway technicians, children's events and plenty more. When did London last have a piano festival like this? Um. Pass. This is for Classical Music Magazine and you'll need to be logged in to read the whole article.

Meanwhile, if you're in Birmingham on Wednesday evening or Thursday lunchtime, I'm doing pre-concert talks for the CBSO to introduce Beethoven's Symphonies Nos.6 and 7. Andris Nelsons conducts them both. Very privileged to be allowed to hold forth about my two favourite Beethovens, let alone to complement such an event: there's a major buzz about Nelsons' Beethoven cycle and Symphony Hall is apparently packed solid.

And next Sunday at 12.30pm I'm at The Rest is Noise to introduce a talk about Korngold in America and discuss the issues around him with the Open University's Ben Winters. In the Purcell Room, and part of the ongoing festival's American Weekend. (We're not in the current listings PDF as far as I can tell, so this may be a late addition!)