Showing posts with label London concerts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London concerts. Show all posts

Thursday, September 20, 2007

They're back!

UPDATE: VIEW THIS CONCERT ON MEDICI ARTS TV RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW! ONLINE UNTIL 30 OCTOBER 2007

The smiles shone right across London last night as the London Philharmonic returned proudly to the spanking, newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall with a spanking [not literally], new principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, for the opening night of the new season, which celebrates the band's 75th birthday. And it's full steam ahead.

After 21 years on board the LPO, Tom declares that this is the best time he can remember. Managers, musicians and family members in the audience talk about a sense of renaissance. Glamour and excitement - at the Southbank Centre? Yes, at last it's all there. I'm still adjusting to the remarkable fact that near the back of the rear stalls, I could hear every detail of the music as clearly as if through iPod headphones. More good news: last night's concert was filmed for release on DVD and it will appear in due course on the recently founded Medici label. [update: watch it online free now, until 30 October.]

In yesterday's Indy, Ed Seckerson had this interesting interview with Vlad. Extract:

"For the LPO, the Jurowski era begins with a programme that starts as he means to go on: Wagner's Parsifal Prelude; Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces; and the original version of Mahler's astonishing Das klagende Lied. That's not a programme, that's a manifesto. Indeed, such is the inventiveness and originality of Jurowski's programming in his first season that, for the first time in perhaps a decade, we can predict the unpredictable on the South Bank."


Yes indeed. It was clear from this selection that easy listening ain't the order of the day (and admittedly the hall wasn't as packed as it might have been without that killer word "Berg"), but the electricity and commitment flowing from the platform suggest that an ideal is gathering pace here. With musicianship like Vladimir's at stake, and the inspiration he's bringing to the orchestra, they should soon have the audience eating out of their hands. People will come to hear them no matter what they do, because there'll be trust; everything will be worth experiencing. This was only the beginning.

And as the work of an 18-year-old, the Mahler wasn't bad...

Monday will be the opening night at the LSO over at the Barbican, with Gergiev conducting Mahler 3, and meanwhile I'm on tenterhooks as to whether I may squeeze into a Wagner dress rehearsal at Covent Garden next week. On balance, France with its sunshine, sea and Provencal markets looks more attractive than grey old Blighty, but musical life like this only exists in London. So there is nowhere else to be.

UPDATE: Medici-Arts TV also has webstreamed concerts from this year's Verbier Festival, available to view online until 30 September. I intended to flag this up earlier, but when I tried to log on, the streaming quality was turning Thomas Quasthoff singing Schubert into something of which Stockhausen could scarcely have dreamed...in retrospect, this was probably my computer's fault rather than theirs. Give it a whirl while you can. And the LPO thing seems to be working perfectly.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Poor old Erich

Oh dear. I hate writing things like this.

I know Korngold is difficult to play, difficult even to decipher, and can be overwritten etc etc, but still I don't think that's any excuse for what I heard last night.

It purported to be the Sinfonietta that EWK penned at the tender age of 15 and which induced Sibelius to describe the youngster as 'a young eagle'. Of course it's great that they programmed it - but I couldn't think when I last heard a professional orchestra and conductor produce such a dreadful performance of anything.

Most of it went around half the necessary tempi. The balance was non-existent. The dynamic contrasts likewise. Light, shade, colour, ebb, flow, the white-hot energy that flows in Korngold's musical veins, all were spectacular by their absence. Some of the players seemed to be struggling and ensemble didn't really come into it. My companion put it well, saying she was astounded that such non-four-square music could be made to sound - utterly four-square. Korngold normally changes his time signatures and expressive instructions every few bars - flexibility is crucial... The best I can say is that they played it at all.

The culprits? The BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth. One didn't expect the Berlin Philharmonic, of course, but it was depressing, particularly as the concert was well sold and most people there would never have heard the piece before and won't know how beautiful it can be. Besides, Wordsworth is probably the only conductor in Britain who knows the work well, having performed it a number of times at the Royal Ballet for La Ronde. Perhaps it would have been better if he'd decided just before the concert that he didn't believe in it...

Before the interval our friends Philippe Graffin and Raphael Wallfisch did a splendid job with the Miklos Rozsa Sinfonia Concertante and afterwards we all went for a pizza, which was nice.

Friday, April 27, 2007

JDCMB Pick of the Proms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Prommms

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ashkenazy stops, but Perahia is back

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

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

William Wilberforce lives on



Oh, sod it, I've got a new mousemat & keyboard ridge thing, both with a gel support for sore wrists, and if I don't write this up now, I never will. So, let's hear it for Errollyn Wallen (above centre), whose new piece 'Mighty River' nearly brought down William Wilberforce's church on Clapham Common on Saturday night.

The work was commissioned for this very special concert (mentioned on JDCMB last week) commemorating the 200th anniversary of the act of parliament that resulted in the abolition of the slave trade. It opens with a horn solo based on 'Amazing Grace'; as the music progresses, it really is as if you're travelling down a wide, glowing river with a pulse of life entirely its own, observing flashes of detail and beauty and drama that pass by on the rich tapestry all around. The orchestration is luminous, the mood at once expansive and intimate, the influences perhaps more John Adamsy than we'd have expected so far from Errollyn; and the impact was huge. The Philharmonia seems thrilled with it and in a speech later on, their inimitable chief exec David Whelton promised that it'll have plenty more airings, which it should.

And so should the Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto, which Philippe played with immense beauty and conviction. The slow movement was applauded in its own right; as it progressed, I could just feel the buzz in the church while everyone asked each other 'Ever heard this thing before? No, nor me, but why not? It's incredible!'

Last but not least, conductor Martyn Brabbins led the whole audience in a new arrangement of 'Amazing Grace' by supertalented Philharmonia fiddler Julian Milone - and as it went down a treat at the end of the first half, we did it again at the end of the second. I was horrified when I saw it on the programme ('what, they want us to sing, are you kidding?!?!?') but soon found myself swept up in the atmosphere of fervour, celebration and sheer humanity. A marvellous, unforgettable evening.

Holy Trinity is a wonderful venue, without a doubt, and the collaboration of church and art is something that even a confirmed atheist/agnostic like me can applaud and encourage. But this programme should take place next somewhere three times the size - ideally the Royal Festival Hall - and as part of the mainstream season. Coleridge-Taylor (above left), having been half African and an idealistic black activist in his day, was a perfect choice for the evening, but the concerto is so wonderful that it should be part of the mainstream repertoire. Go hear it.

It's appalling to reflect that slavery still affects millions of people all over the world. Join the fight for freedom 1807-2007 here.


UPDATE, 1 MARCH, 10.20pm: Bob Morris writes to alert us to this article in the New Yorker about 'Amazing Grace', a new film about William Wilberforce starring Ioan Gruffud. A thought-provoking piece, recommended reading. Thanks, Bob!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The real Uchida

So today I had a call asking me to go on BBC Radio 4 to talk about Hattogate. Dropped everything and ran to Broadcasting House...only to discover, when I got there, that the programme also had to fit in Art Garfunkel and Robert de Niro, who were real, so the finer details of how easy or otherwise it is to tell the difference between...well, you get the drift, my spot was off. So to speak. It was nice to have been asked...

But in the Broadcasting House foyer (where, my dears, you see everyone who is anyone), I bumped into Mitsuko Uchida, who was on her way to Radio 3 to appear on In Tune. Now there's one truly great artist - a pianist you couldn't fake if you tried. Her playing could never have been anybody else's. I've often felt that for her, the piano is like a second voice box. It's part of her, indivisible from her personality, indeed her soul, and that's how it ought to be.

She's playing Mozart piano concertos with the LSO and Colin Davis at the Barbican on Wednesday and Thursday. Further details here and here. UPDATE: BOTH CONCERTS are now sold out. Earlier this evening, there were seats available for Wednesday, but...

UPDATE: To hear Mitsuko's interview on In Tune, go here, browse the Radio Player for In Tune and click on MON. You can listen to it online for the rest of this week.

Here's a treat for those of us who can't get to the concerts:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Return of the pied pianist

Marc-Andre Hamelin will be at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday afternoon, 18 February, 3.30pm, to play Beethoven's two last sonatas and Schubert's B flat sonata D960. Marc has possibly the greatest piano technique on earth, but he's the human face of virtuosity. Those twinkling fingers are there to serve a great heart. Not just speed, but tenderness. While he's always been recognised more widely for performances like the second of the two extracts that follow, I can't wait to hear him in Op.111. Box office: 0871 663 2500.

I have to get rid of a nasty bronchial lurgy before then. Feeling too crap to write much today, so will let Marc speak for himself through his piano in these must-see video clips. [Anyone looking for a response to Pliable will find it in his Comments box on On An Overgrown Path.]

Marc plays Beethoven Op.109, movements 1 & 2




Marc plays Chopinata by Doucet....

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hats off to the Philharmonia

Puzzled as to why the Philharmonia hasn't been shouting about this from the rooftops... here's the link.... Fab reason for concert, a world premiere of a new work by the very cool and humungously talented Errollyn Wallen, a chance to hear Philippe Graffin play the Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto in case you missed it at the 05 Proms, the excellent Martyn Brabbins conducts, and it's FREE. You just have to find your way to Clapham Common. Call the box office to reserve tickets.


COMMEMORATION OF THE 200TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE ACT

Holy Trinity Church, Clapham

Sat 24 Feb 2007, 7:30pm
Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, London

Martyn Brabbins conductor
Philippe Graffin violin

BeethovenOverture, Leonore No. 2
Coleridge-TaylorViolin Concerto
BeethovenSymphony No. 3 Eroica: 3rd Movement Marcia Funebre
WallenMighty River (World Premiere)

On Saturday 24 February, the Philharmonia Orchestra and one of Lambeth’s most historic churches, Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, have teamed up to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in a special commemorative evening.

Tickets are FREE but ticketed. To reserve your seats please call 0800 652 6717.

There will be a retiring collection and proceeds will go to Holy Trinity Church and Anti-Slavery International.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Korngold 07 #2

Here's one of our regular Korngold updates for this year, the 50th anniversary of the composer's death. My prolific thanks to Korngold devotee and biographer Brendan G Carroll for keeping up the flow of info!

In March, the complete film score of THE SEA HAWK will be released on Marco Polo/Naxos.

In April, the complete sound-track of KING'S ROW is due out on CD, conducted by Korngold himself, from archive studio recordings from Turner/Rhino. In case you haven't seen KING'S ROW, it's the one where Ronald Reagan's legs are amputated. He wakes up and calls out to his wife, "Where's the rest of me?!?" Which is what a lot of other people wondered too, some years later... seriously, though, it's a terrific score and the film is not bad either.

On 1 May at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth will play the gorgeous Sinfonietta - a symphony in all but name, written when EWK was only about 15. It's full of sweeping melody, beautiful orchestration, Klimtish-Jugendstil atmosphere and EWK's typical generosity of spirit. Here's a recording by the BBC Philharmonic under Matthias Bamert. In the concert's first half, those two stalwarts Philippe Graffin and Raphael Wallfisch will play Miklos Rozsa's Double Concerto, which is one heck of a fantastic piece too (hear their recording).

As it happens, it's also the centenary of Miklos Rozsa's birth [huge apologies for my previous error over this anniversary, which a kind anonymous commentator has drawn to my attention - many thanks]. Rozsa, a dynamic Hungarian, also ended up in Hollywood writing film scores and deserves way more attention than he usually gets. Being pro-Hungarian at the moment, for bookish reasons, I really should do something about this...

More Korngold soon - introducing a Korngold 2007 label to make it easier for fans to follow the updates en masse.

Monday, January 29, 2007

South Bank rising

In today's Independent, Jude Kelly, the South Bank (or Southbank?) Centre's artistic director, gives the run-down on the gear-up, with reopening of the Royal Festival Hall scheduled for the weekend of 11 June, in grand style. There's a remarkable amount of good news, besides the Korngold stuff I just had to yell about first. The press conference the other day had one of the best atmospheres I've ever encountered at a SBC event; people were positive and excited, as well as broadly supportive of the new team including Jude herself and music supremo Marshall Marcus; the only slightly tetchy note was sounded by one journalist who wanted to know what's happened to the Lieder recitals we used to have in the Good Old Days (I'd like them back too, come to think of it). I'm particularly pleased that they're putting on Carmen Jones this summer, because the LPO will accompany and it means fewer late nights for me while Tom comes back from playing at the South Bank (20 mins) instead of Glyndebourne (1 hr 15 mins).

But the best thing of all was when Jude, wrapping things up, wanted to make sure everything had been included and said "Is there any fairy that's been left out?" The press conference must have consisted of at least 50 per cent gay critics, so everyone cracked up laughing. "I mean in the Sleeping Beauty sense," Jude added gracefully.

Seriously, though, this is laughing with, not at, because Jude is not only a Very Good Thing, but she's also emblematic of long-term, forward thinking. It's hard to believe that in over 50 years, nobody's thought of giving the SBC an overall artistic director before. Jude is the first. Now she's there, the absence of such a post beforehand seems all the more astonishing - and rather typical of 20th-century arts management British bungling. Let's hope that we're in a new era in which people are going to do things properly. The Royal Opera House is a good example of how matters can be turned around; now the South Bank has its chance; and if ENO can follow suit, and someone can transform the Barbican into a place that one actually wants to go (programming is the least of its worries), then London will be the all-round world class player that it ought to be.

Friday, January 26, 2007

LPO TO GIVE UK PREMIERE OF KORNGOLD'S 'DAS WUNDER DER HELIANE'

It's true! Korngold's biggest, greatest opera is finally to receive its UK premiere, nearly 80 years after it was written. The London Philharmonic will play, Vladimir Jurowski will conduct, and an all-star cast is headed by Patricia Racette, Michael Hendrick and Andreas Schmidt; supporting roles will be taken by the likes of Willard White, Robert Tear, Ursula Hesse von den Steinen and Andrew Kennedy. Date for the diary: 21 November 2007. Pre-concert talk by a Korngold devotee closer than you think (*blush*). Full details here.

Yesterday the upbeat team of what's now written as the Southbank Centre launched the classical music programme for the reopening season of the spanking newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall. 11 June is the big day; the first 48 hours are all free; and all four resident orchestras - the LPO, the Philharmonia, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the London Sinfonietta - will play together for the very first time (Ravel's Bolero included). There's a tremendous bonanza of world-class music-making to look forward to. I note with tears in my eyes that the Philharmonia lists piano god Radu Lupu among its soloists. He hasn't played at the South Bank since...well, I can't remember. Pollini will be playing two Beethoven concertos with the LPO. The Piano Series includes recitals by Uchida, Brendel, Andsnes and Krystian Zimerman. Violinists include Mutter, Fischer, Kavakos. There's a run of Carmen Jones in the summer, and later there'll be festivals of Nono and of Messiaen for his centenary.

And they are going to do a Korngold anniversary series. A couple of years ago, I realised that 2007 would be the 50th anniversary of EWK's death and decided that someone had to do something, otherwise nothing would happen. Sketched out my Fantasy Football Korngold Festival, took it to the then head of classical music at the South Bank and left it in her capable hands. Cripes - they went for it. I'm still pinching myself in wonder. Of course, the series has evolved from the basic plan, with everyone deciding which pieces to do; and Vladimir himself plumped for Heliane, not Die tote Stadt.

The LPO is doing three Korngold concerts: a film music programme on 2 November conducted by John Wilson, putting his music alongside Steiner, Newman, Rozsa, Williams et al; the Violin Concerto with the glorious Nikolaj Znaider on 14 November, in a programme with Zemlinsky and Shostakovich conducted by Jurowski; and Heliane to culminate. The Korngold series will also feature a day of events on 27 October, with the showing of Barrie Gavin's splendid documentary, a round-table discussion with a panel of exerts (I'll be asking the questions), a chamber concert by the Nash Ensemble and a song recital by Anne Sofie von Otter with that great Korngold champion Bengt Forsberg at the piano.

I'll introduce a Korngold Watch series on this blog as soon as I can, as there are events taking place all over the world. But to the best of my knowledge, ours here in London is one of the biggest. BOX OFFICE IS NOW OPEN: 020 7840 4242 or online via the concert links above.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Trio brio

First, here's the feature I wrote about classical music on Youtube for The Independent - out today.

Elated yet again after the trio concert last night. I love living in London: a city where you can hear Jonas Kaufmann on Saturday, the Menuhin-Graffin-Wallfisch Trio on Sunday, the Razumovsky Ensemble on Tuesday (Wigmore again - be there, they're fab), Juan Diego Florez and Natalie Dessay on Thursday, and the LPO in a new work by John McCabe somewhere in between (regret to say that Tom has 'flu and won't be playing in it).

Back to the trio at the Wigmore. A wonderful concert, full of glorious tone, finely gelled musicianship and a beautiful combination of sparkiness, sensuality and intelligence. Philippe, Raphael and Jeremy are all powerfully individual players, but since they've formed themselves into a regular trio, they've been growing together an exciting, creative way, as the best chamber groups ideally should. The hall was full, the atmosphere was terrific and although the Ravel Trio brought the house down, the opportunity to hear Schumann's Trio No.2 in F minor made the evening all the more significant.

It's incredible: I've never heard this thing before. It brims with Clara-themes and Clara-sighs; there's a quote (?) from the song 'Dein Bildnis', a slow movement to die for and a revelatory third movement that lopes along softly in subtle, mysterious fashion, and rhythms in the first movement that I'm convinced Korngold grabbed. How can it be that I've reached the age I am, fortunate enough to be surrounded by classical music at its finest, and I've never heard this piece? Why on earth doesn't it get played more often?!? Philippe, Raphael and Jeremy did it proud.

Fascinating to reflect that these musicians share one big area of common ground other than music: prodigious families. Raphael is the son of the pianist Peter Wallfisch and cellist Anita Lasker (her memoir is required reading); Philippe's father Daniel Graffin is a fascinating artist; and Jeremy's...well! I can't deal with the psychology of this before I've had my third cup of coffee. Probably not even then. All that matters, though, is that they're great musicians and great guys in their own right.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rustem Hayroudinoff, Wigmore Hall, Thursday 21 December



Rustem Hayroudinoff is one of those musicians who knock the spots off overhyped oriental kiddies and wolf-keeping Europeans in terms of genuine artistry, but have had to struggle for much too long to achieve the recognition they deserve.

But at last I get the feeling that his boat is in sight of the shore: his latest recording for Chandos, Rachmaninov's Etudes Tableaux, is the instrumental Pick of the Month in the newest BBC Music Magazine and he'll be playing Rachmaninov's Third Concerto with the London Philharmonic on 14 January (Eastbourne, 3pm).

A big Russian-school technique - rich, glowing tone, layered voicing and spacious phrasing - plus an artistic awareness that encompasses painting, literature, cinema, jazz (which he plays jolly well), terrific intelligence and a great sense of humour, all add up to fresh, heady and colourful artistic results. Rustem is a Tatar from Kazan, trained in Moscow and London, where he now lives, and is the most vivid raconteur I know. Tomorrow (Monday) he's on BBC Radio 3's In Tune programme around 6.15pm. (Along with Juan Diego Florez!! no kidding.)

On Thursday next week he's giving a Wigmore Hall recital. Do come and hear him if you're in London.

Bach English Suite No. 3 in G minor

Debussy Suite Bergamasque

Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues op. 87

No. 2 in A minor

No. 4 in E minor

No. 15 in D flat major

Chopin Mazurkas:

Op.56 No. 2 in C

Op.17 No .4 in A minor

Op.63 No. 3 in C# minor

Scherzo No. 3 op. 39

Prokofiev Sonata No.7 op. 83


Tickets: £22 £18 £14 £10
Wigmore Hall box office: 020 7935 2141

Friday, October 20, 2006

Don't miss this

The Guardian's website has an audio report about Piers Lane's day of tributes to Dame Myra Hess and her wartime concert series at the National Gallery, held last month. You can listen online and watch a wonderful slide show, or download a podcast.

It was a fabulous day - memorable and moving, with three fantastic concerts, as well as some astonishing films of Hess herself. It left me wondering why the gallery has never bothered to do it before, since these concerts meant so much to so many people and have achieved a status in the minds of music-loving Londoners that's little short of mythical.

I've written it up in more detail for International Piano and will add the piece to my archive once it's out.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Viardot reborn

Last night I attended an extraordinary concert staged by Opera Rara and Prima Donna Productions at the Wigmore Hall: a programme with narration by Fanny Ardent about the life and music of Pauline Viardot, the great mezzo-soprano who inspired everyone from Chopin to Berlioz to Turgenev, whose lover she may or may not have been (this account, twinkle in eye, suggested the former). It was quite a marathon, starring three stunning singers: fabulous dramatic soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, classic Russian bass Vladimir Chernov and the legendary Frederica von Stade, as radiant as ever and in fine form at 60 - remarkably, it was her very first appearance at the Wigmore.

The narration, written by Georgia Smith, was witty, informative and sensitive, even if Ardent didn't always sound comfortable speaking in English. If you're in Paris, try to catch the same concert at the Chatelet tomorrow, 1 March, presumably in French - it may go with a little more pizzazz. But the real star was Viardot's music. I've heard a number of her songs before, but many of yesterday's were new to me - heavens, they're beautiful! The variety is astonishing - she set poems in four or five languages, including Russian; and the warmth, melodic flow, drama, sensitivity to words and imaginative flair mean that, programmed alongside her admirers Gounod and Berlioz (his gorgeous La Captive, for mezzo-soprano, cello and piano) and her friend Chopin, her music more than holds its own. For me, top spot was the gorgeous Die Sterne, again with cello: breathtaking lyricism and a profound soul shone out of it.

Viardot has been a special interest of mine for a few years, but until now, I must admit, mostly because I adore Turgenev. I wrote a piece trailing this concert for the Indy which was in last week (read it here), but came away from the event itself feeling I'd discovered a new dimension to a story I thought I knew. This concert wasn't merely a rare music faction trying to convince us that second-rate music is worth hearing. Instead, it revealed a composer of real genius.

Opera Rara recorded the concert live and the CD will be released in due course. Grab it when you can and hear these unsuspected wonders for yourself.

UPDATE: 3 March 2006 - read The Independent's review by Robert Maycock here.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Warming the cockles

The Pianist Magazine/Yamaha Amateur Piano Competition held on Saturday night for the first time has awarded its first prize to a 79-year-old piano tuner who once prepared instruments for Liberace but has never played in a concert hall before. Jamie Cullum awarded the prize and magazine editor Erica Worth is justifiably very, VERY proud of the event she's initiated. Doesn't this just warm the cockles of your heart? What a change from all those beastly, corrupt, political piano competitions that young pros have to endure... Read more about it here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Why is Faure like the No.28 bus?

Some good gigs in London this week.

The Wigmore Hall is enjoying a plethora of Faure. Tomorrow (Wendes) and Thursday, the fabulous Leopold String Trio and the delectable pianist Pascal Roge (his website is sensational!) are giving programmes that include the two Piano Quartets, one per night. On Sunday morning at 11.30 the ever-popular Coffee Concerts feature the Panocha Quartet from the Czech Republic with pianist and Faure editor Roy Howat, offering the first London performance of Roy's new edition of the Piano Quintet No.1. We could be in for some surprises there, as Roy has reached the end of a long battle with a French musicologist who was so outraged by his discoveries about the work's tempo indications (and, we expect, much more too) that he attempted to censor the entire effort out of existence...More details of Wigmore gigs here.

Wednesday is clearly the big day. While Pascal and the Leopolds are in full flight at the Wigmore, Tom's band, the LPO, is performing Mozart Symphony No.40 and the Rossini Stabat Mater at the Queen Elizabeth Hall - details and last few available seats here - and on Thursday they're off to Rome to do the same programme in the San Giovanni Cathedral.

Meanwhile, I shall be sloping off to the Barbican to hear the St Petersburg Philharmonic and Yuri Temirkanov who are currently touring the UK - Prokofiev Cinderella Suite, Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody and Brahms Second Symphony. The soloist in the Rachmaninov is a rather interesting youngster, Denis Matsuev, who is 30 and a Tchaikovsky Competition Winner (incidentally, a former pupil of the same legendary professor who taught Nikolai Lugansky pre-Tchaik Comp win). Will be intrigued to see if I enjoy his performance more than Lugansky's a year ago.

On Saturday at Cadogan Hall there's the final of the Pianist Magazine/Yamaha Piano Competition for Amateurs. Inspired by the success of the Van Cliburn similar set-up, an acolyte contest to the main competition, this one seems to have caught everyone's imagination and seven competitiors, including a piano tuner in his seventies and a financial manager from the City are going to battle it out on the Chelsea stage in front of 600 people plus Pianist editor Erica Worth and a jury including Martin Roscoe, Kathryn Stott and Jamie Cullum! Blimey. I don't know why they put themselves through it. I had quite enough trouble in front of Stephen Kovacevich and ten friends in his front room. Go, guys, go!!! Chase that dream! Read more about it here.

Out of town, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and our very dear friend Marc-Andre Hamelin are touring Poole, Exeter and Southampton tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, playing - you guessed it - Faure! The Ballade, namely, which Marc is augmenting with the Falla 'Nights in the Gardens of Spain'. Full details here.What is it about Faure? Nothing for months and then everyone is at it at once.

That, in case you were wondering, is why Faure is like the No.28 bus, on which I used to rely too much when I lived in West Hampstead.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

In tribute...

This article of mine is in the Independent today. I don't usually write about theatre (much as I'd love to), but this involves Arthur Miller's "Playing for Time", originally a television play and now being staged professionally in Britain for the first time. It's about the women's orchestra in Auschwitz and has been deeply controversial in the past. Still, it's vintage Miller, in quality only just behind Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. The trouble with basing a theatrical work (or a novel) on fact is that people connected with the events or characters in one way or another are bound to feel something is wrong, which was very much the case here.

The second leading role is that of Alma Rose, Mahler's niece and the daughter of Arnold Rose, the quartet leader. Richard Newman and Karen Kirtley's biography of her, "Alma Rose: Vienna to Auschwitz", paints her as a far more multi-dimensional person than Miller, perhaps, credits her with being. She was not only a tough, non-compromising musician, but a vulnerable woman whose men (especially her husband Vasa Prihoda, violin virtuoso) treated her less than well, and a woman of tremendous inner resources and immense moral fibre. As both a human being, a musician and someone whose surreal, appalling fate was simply unimaginable, she holds a vast fascination for me. I'm glad to have been able to write about this play, which presents deep emotional truths even if some of its facts are not accurate, and to pay tribute in some small way to this terrible story.

The German song I posted yesterday was one that Alma and her Auschwitz musicians performed frequently. I found it in Newman & Kirtley's book (published by Amadeus Press), which is amazing.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The nice surprise I mentioned

After - how many?! oh no!! - decades of living in London and attending its various flawed concert halls, I had a huge surprise the other day. Tom's orchestra, the London Philharmonic, is (like its sister Philharmonia) currently homeless while the Royal Festival Hall undergoes its long-awaited refurbishment. So they're playing next door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall instead. Normally I loathe the QEH. It's a miserable concrete monstrosity and its gloomy interior induces little other than sleepy ennuie.....well, until now. What happened? They've opened up the platform so that it's far deeper than usual; they've put up some wooden acoustic stuff (looks a little like stacked up coffins) to the back and sides and - bingo! The band and Vassily Sinaisky started up some lovely Glinka and there was the sound we'd always wanted. Resonant. Warm. Clear. Close. Wallow-in-able. Glorious. Right there in our very own QEH. I was speechless.

Great concert too - another first was hearing Tchaikovsky's Third Symphony live in a concert hall. A work I've always loved from recordings but one that never normally gets played, except for the New York City Ballet performing Balanchine's 'Jewels'. Tchaikovsky in a good mood is such a rarity that it's surprising nobody makes the most of it when it happens, as it undoubtedly does here. The nickname 'Polish' makes me laugh, though, because - except for the Polonaise in the last movement - this music is so terrifically, unmistakeably Russian...

The evening was only marred a little by the Dvorak Cello Concerto, played passably - I use this word with reason, as you'll see in a mo - by the LPO's quasi-resident soloist, Pieter Wispelwey. He's a handsome Dutch fellow (peculiarly resembling a leading British politician) who is very good at Bach in period style. No reason, I guess, why he should have a grander concept of the Dvorak, given that his natural bent is clearly not for romanticism. But hear that famous recording of Slava playing his guts out, and one wonders why anything less would ever do. Playing aside, Wispelwey's facial expressions - ranging from apparent surprise to intense frustration to incipient apoplexy - conjured up for me startlingly marvellous images of Tony Blair in need of prunes.

UPDATE: SUNDAY MORNING - Here's Anna Picard's review of the concert from The Independent - she has less time than me for the QEH acoustics, and more for Wispelwey's playing, but her impression of his face is even more extreme than mine...!