Showing posts with label Munich. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Munich. Show all posts

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ever seen a violin like this before?

Testing a 'conical' violin made by Wolfgang Stegmüller of Munich

It's unlikely. Its inventor has patented it, so only he and his son can legally produce instruments to this model. It's 'conical' - the back is smaller than the front, so the ribs fan out and the effect on the sound gently but distinctly resembles a megaphone.

I met the inventor of the conical violin, Wolfgang Stegmüller, via a rather extraordinary coincidence in Munich this summer. We were hanging about backstage (my OH often plays in the Bayerische Staatsper Orchestra during the annual July festival) hoping to say hello to a certain very wonderful tenor, who was singing in Manon Lescaut that night, and while waiting we got talking to a fellow waitee who turned out to be a neighbour of his. When she heard what I do, she began to tell me about her friend the luthier who had invented a new design of violin. In a craft that dates back to the baroque era pretty much unchanged, you don't hear the words "new type of violin" very often, so I pursued the matter - and there he was in Schwabing, working with his son, also named Wolfgang, who trained in violin making in Cremona. We went to visit them and spent a fascinating day together, talking, looking, playing, listening and eating. My resulting article is up now at The Amati Magazine, here.

The Stegmüllers have now decided to come to the UK to display their work at the Amati Exhibition, which takes place at the Langham, London, on 1 and 2 November. And there, following his sell-out, knockout performance at the last Amati Exhibition earlier this year, the sensational Roby Lakatos will be back to play to us again, this time joined on the platform by the exciting young British violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, who wowed the Wigmore Hall yesterday morning. Tickets are on sale now, so be there! More info and booking here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Return to the magic mountains 1: Manon Lescaut in Munich

You may think you're on holiday. It depends, though, what you mean by "holiday". I've been away for two and a half weeks, but this time has been brimming over with music, serendipity and a good few marvels of both. Every day has brought something new, a character from past or present, a startling contact or renewal, a joy or amazement, a revelation or insight or several, and I may need to take them one at a time...

I headed first for Munich and the Bavarian State Opera, steamy in the midst of a massive heat wave; here the final night of the annual Opera Festival brought Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais together again for Puccini's Manon Lescaut, relayed to the city on big screens and webcast to the world. This was the production by Hans Neuenfels that at the start of the season saw Anna Netrebko drop her participation, citing "artistic differences".

The square outside the Bavarian State Opera prepares for the relay

It's a bit of a mixed bag. The relationship of Manon and Des Grieux and its development is by far the most convincing element, and so it should be; the final act, the two of them in extremis, is a searing tragedy, full of struggle - Manon's passion fighting against the invasion of death, thumping the ground to bring back her despairing lover to her side. Opolais blossomed vocally and dramatically in the role to an even greater extent, perhaps, than she did at Covent Garden last year; Kaufmann simply soared along at the summit. Fine singing throughout in the supporting roles and chorus - but I am not sure I will ever get my head around the necessity for this chorus to wiggle about in fat-suits and pink wigs. Alain Altinoglu's conducting too brought patchy results: the opening tempo felt extremely fast, and some of the accompaniment was too loud, but often - not least in the intermezzo - it held a gorgeous eloquence.

Here Neuenfels, Altinoglu, Opolais and Kaufmann explore and explain the concept and the challenges of the opera.

A few days later, discussing the issue of the fat-suits and other potentially dubious details with friends who loved the production, I tried to see it their way: it shows Manon and Des Grieux defying convention, a pair of individualists in a world in which everyone else looks and behaves the same (except, presumably, for the Dancing Master, who turns up bearing some resemblance to an orang-utan, perhaps a refugee from Munich's old Rigoletto production set on the Planet of the Apes). As the introductory film declares, Manon and Des Grieux are seeing the world around them as nothing more than a preposterous installation compared to their love. Yet Jonathan Kent's production at Covent Garden last year spoke far more to me of the darker truths of this story in an incarnation for today's world, where it remains the most "relevant" opera of them all.

So what's the essential problem with Manon Lescaut? It could just be that the original book is a short, terse, taut, action-packed, 18th-century thriller. It shows us Des Grieux torn apart by his passion for a girl who wants to have her cake and eat it and whose charm makes her attractive, but who is more anti-heroine than sympathetic lead. Romanticising her never quite works, and that is not the fault of Puccini, nor of any director: it's simply that Abbé Prévost's novel is too finely wrought to allow such a metamorphosis. Maybe that is why this opera, which blossoms with phenomenal music from start to finish, still does not have quite the same currency on the stage as Madame Butterfly or La Bohème. If any director has found a way to make the drama work 200 per cent, I haven't yet seen it.

More on the joys (?) of Regietheater shortly - from Bayreuth.

But even with all these reservations, it was a tremendous performance and an unforgettable evening. Oh, and if you'd managed to get backstage at the Staatsoper that night and you had this photo, you'd put it on your blog too.

Friday, July 10, 2015

A treat from Munich

Grab a coffee, let in the sunshine and enjoy this Jonas Plus fix from Munich's Königsplatz, which took place a couple of weeks ago on 27 June. With Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko, Ildar Abdrazakov, Thomas Hampson and the Janacek Philharmonic of Ostrava conducted by Claudio Vandelli.

Not so long now until I'm off to Munich myself for the annual end of the opera festival rapidly followed by a little excursion to another part of Bavaria where there's a Wagner it's good to get in the mood for the summer from underneath a heap of work, nice though the work is.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Classical:NEXT takes wing with a whoosh

(Above, a news report from BRTV about Classical:NEXT - in German, and starring a Danish wind quintet, Carion.)

Several people have said to me: "What do you do at Classical:NEXT?" Back from Munich, I could make a few suggestions.

First of all, you talk. You talk and talk. And talk some more. Seven hundred delegates assembled at the Gasteig, 60 per cent from outside Germany. You meet them. You make appointments to see people you know by email,  blog or repute from the other side of the world; they make appointments to see you. Or you just bump into them in the foyer; it's relaxed enough for this to be easy (unlike the London Book Fair, which is rather like Euston Station at rush hour). You introduce your friends to each other and in turn they introduce one another to more friends. Or you just read the name labels and bounce up to someone. And you drink a lorralorralorra coffee.

You listen to talks and discussions. The future design of music venues, for instance - can we afford huge multithousand-seater halls today? Do we need them? Is that, in any case, the best way to listen to music? Or the inspiring Alan Bern from Weimar on the correlation of classical and folk music - try his exciting ensemble The Other Europeans.

Oliver Condy of BBC Music Magazine, Carsten Durer of Piano News and yours truly discussed Perspectives on Music Journalism - a panel from which we can conclude that we live in very interesting times. Olly and Carsten passionately defend print. A lady from New York puts up a hand and declares that none of her younger friends and colleagues read anything but online, and won't pay for it either. I attempt a little realpolitik in between. How do we survive in a world that's determined to have something for nothing? How does a profession that depends on good writing and musical expertise survive in a time when both skills are desperately run down in the education system and about to be run down still further?

You bring your spheres together. I saw my lovely editor, Serhan Bali, from Andante magazine in Istanbul. I met Ilona Oltuski from New York, where she's started the Get Classical Lounge at the Rose Bar, a classy yet informal salon setting in which music enthusiasts can listen to gifted young musicians. I met Fritz Wunderlich's daughter, Barbara, who runs Wunderlich Media, and I became no doubt the latest of several million to tell her with tears in eyes how much we love her father's voice (I listen to his recordings at home even more than to Kaufmann or Calleja). Plenty of pals turned up from Denmark, including the irrepressible Jesper Buhl of Danacord and our old friend Lone Ricks of Travel Art, Copenhagen, who is now an orchestral tour manager - if you are indeed an orchestra on tour, you need this woman, because she has been known to rescue, in person, precious cellos from luggage destined for an aircraft hold. I hung out with Ian Roberts of A Star PR: trapped together in delays at Gatwick for three hours, we held our own mini trade fair in the South Terminal's branch of Apostrophe. 

You can be "mentored" if you so wish: many of us could do worse than spend a few hours learning how to use social media more effectively, for instance. Or you can listen to showcases. Musicians with new projects have about half an hour each to present themselves in the concert hall. Everything from the Sjaellend String Quartet (told you there were a lot of Danes) to the Dutch pianist Daria van den Bercken, winner of the Amsterdampreijs 2012, who has been popping up around Holland with a piano on which to play Handel.

And a new online project, Open Goldbergs, launched at Classical:NEXT. It's a crowd-funded recording by Japanese pianist Kimiko Ishizaka of the Bach masterpiece, offered free of charge, along with associated illuminating technology. Kimiko performed the music while the audience followed the score on its laptops and mobile phones using open-source software In its first three days Open Goldbergs had 200,000 listens and 50,000 downloads. More info and downloads here on their site.

Yes, the world wants something for nothing, yet music practitioners still have to eat. Hey - we're the creative industries. It is up to us to be creative. Talking and meeting and mingling traces new pathways in the brain (or something like that). You start cooking up ideas. Couldn't we have a regular music world network in London that meets, for example, once a month? Couldn't we mix more with representatives from other genres of music, share ideas and build bridges? It's all very well building communities online - but it is still in person, over coffee, that the real progress can be made. And after a while, it seems that anything is still possible, if only we can make it happen. It's up to us to create the future ourselves. That's what you do at Classical:NEXT.  


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Newsround: The Long Road to Parsifal

My Internet is back, so very quickly, before it vanishes again, here's a little newsround.


Don't miss this blog by conductor Michael Seal, who tweets as @batonflipper, about how Andris Nelsons dropped out of the CBSO tour and he had to step in at an astounding 20 minutes' notice. There followed a massive programme with Jonas Kaufmann singing the Kindertotenlieder. By all accounts Michael did magnificently. Is this his big break? Let's hope so. Interesting, too, to hear about how Der Jonas responded when a member of the audience shouted at him after his first song to step forward because they couldn't see him...


He's been around, but not playing the violin: an injury has kept him away from the fiddle on a sort of enforced sabbatical. But now he's back at last. Maxim Vengerov is on In Tune on BBC Radio 3 today, playing and talking, sometime after 4.30pm. Tomorrow he'll be giving his first Wigmore Hall recital for around 20 years, with Itamar Golan at the piano. I was at that last one, and I will never, ever forget it. He was 14 and there, on stage, was a spotty schoolboy playing for all the world like Jascha Heifetz. I am sure everything will be different now - have the intervening decades mellowed him, or will he be that same virtuoso daredevil? It's a comparatively restrained programme: Handel, Bach and Beethoven - but of course music doesn't get any greater than the Bach D minor Partita and the Beethoven 'Kreutzer'. Go, Maxim, go!


He's here:

That, in case you wondered, is a view from the pit at the Bavarian State Opera, Munich, where our Tomcat is currently working, having taken extra time away from London. His own enforced sabbatical (rather different from Vengerov's) has done him the power of good - and the particular ironic trajectory by which this Buxton-raised son of German-Jewish refugees from Berlin fetches up in Munich, playing Wagner's Parsifal at Easter, is something that you couldn't make up. The orchestra is fabulous, he says, with no weak links; it functions with plenty of space, great facilities, grown-up attitudes and, not least, crack football teams for both sexes. Right now he's being shown the town by Wilhelm Furtwangler's great-grandson, who happened to be sitting next to him on the plane.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Everyone's going to... Classical:NEXT

It's the big news in the classical music world: a new trade fair for the industry, to be held at the Gasteig in Munich at the end of May, organised by the same team that does WOMEX.

Classical:NEXT is not just about walking from stand to stand: there'll be conferences, discussions, a fantastic schedule of showcases both live and on video - from young artists to operatic productions - and of course there's a valuable chance to catch up with friends and colleagues from all over the world. It doesn't coincide with the Oktoberfest, in case you were wondering, but it so happens that I've been to that (if somewhat by accident...long story...) and all I can say is that if Classical:NEXT is even a fraction as well organised, then it's going to be something very special.

JDCMB won't have a stand as such, but I'll be there: I'm going to speak on a panel about "the future of music journalism" along with Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music Magazine, and Carsten Dürer, editor of the German magazine Piano News.

More info, registration and everything you need to know here.

I've asked Jennifer Dautermann, Classical: NEXT's Project Director, some questions about why and how the event is being brought into being. It's all about synergy...

Munich Pictures
This photo of Munich is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Jess: What are the aims of Classical:NEXT and what do you hope it will achieve for the music industry?

Jennifer: Our aim is to gather all elements of the wide, mulitfarious world of classical together under one roof. All sectors (labels, distributors, publishers, presenters, managers, artists, journalists, etc.) all epochs (from early music to contemporary), all approaches (from traditional to experimental or genre-blending). These combined forces have boundless potential to create powerful synergy. Together, all these perspectives and specialities can become a force for positive energy and positive development for the sector as a whole as well as its individual parts. This first edition is just the start of that gradual process.

Jess: How did the idea come about? WOMEX has of course been a great success, but what has made the same organisation turn towards classical music?

Jennifer: The initiative goes back to CLASS - the association of classical independents in Germany. As a company that has concentrated on rich musical traditions from around the world, we naturally gravitated to their idea. It may sound like a paradox at first, but if you really love a tradition you not only have to preserve and honor it, you must also revitalize and perhaps even revolutionize it. That is our perspective at Piranha WOMEX.

Jess: Why should we all come to Classical:NEXT? What will distinguish it from any similar events that already exist? 

Jennifer: There actually is no similar event. Classical:NEXT is the only event which actively welcomes all sectors, eras and approaches. All players, big and small. And, of course, we try and focus on what will be "next": New formats, new ideas, new methods, new talent, new interactions and inspirations.

Jess: Will any of the events be open to the general public? 

Jennifer: Definitely. The evening showcase concerts on 1 June, the IMZ film programme and our partner programme "C:NEXT Level" in the Munich Clubs Bob Beaman and Harry Klein. And we have a heavy student discount on the whole programme. 2012 is just the first edition, a "beta" edition if you will. We hope to take the Classical:NEXT spirit out to the general public a little bit more every year with more events.

Jess: Why did you choose Munich as the best location?

Jennifer: Munich has a long and rich tradition in classical music which is, of course, very important.
There are many beautiful cities, but Munich's and the Gasteig's surroundings are ideal for a networking event and the city itself has been open and supportive.  

Jess: What do you think will be the highlights of this first Classical:NEXT? 

Jennifer: The scene is diverse and colourful and so are the participants and their individual tastes - thus I hesitate to identify highlights. The real strong point is that this diversity is finally gathering in one place. Delegates will have a unique opportunity to get to know people, scenes, approaches, and ideas which might be completely new for them.