Monday, September 10, 2012
Fortunately, in a few short years, we've had the advent of mass downloads: it's a lot simpler to do this kind of thing now. And it seems we were indeed pioneers. Now they're hitting the shelves thick and fast. I was a tad intrigued when Jodi Picoult (who had the same editor at the same publishing house as I did, btw) put out a CD of country music to accompany her novel Sing You Home. Then there was the business of 50 Shades of Grey and Sperm - oops - Spem in Alium...
But Cecilia Bartoli is going a step further: she has long been the Cleopatra of the concept album and her new disc, Mission, has a new historical mystery novel to be its companion piece, written specially for the purpose, by Donna Leon. Classy. Get a load of this:
Monday, July 23, 2012
Blazing sunshine, teeming crowds in the Pavilion Gardens, a brass band whiling away the afternoon, cupcakes galore and a crowd of delighted festival-goers - Buxton in its festive spirit, a rare and wonderful Buxton, and a very welcoming one. Above, the Hungarian Dances Concert team outside the Pavilion: pianist Margaret Fingerhut, JD and Bradley Creswick, the violin's answer to Bradley Wiggins. Enormous thanks to Stephen Barlow, Glyn Foley, Jeff and all the festival team, the AA for rescuing Bradley from a glitch on the A1, and whoever it was who sorted out the weather - it was truly a day to remember.
If you were there and you need some info or you want a CD or a book (I regret to say I underestimated demand and didn't bring enough), here are the vitalstatistics:
You can order Hungarian Dances on Amazon.co.uk in paperback, hardback, Kindle e-book or large print. You can also get it in Dutch or Hungarian, and I'm promised that the Romanian edition (!) should be out soon.
A CD to accompany the book was specially recorded a few years ago by the brilliant French violin and piano team Philippe Graffin and Claire Desert. It's available on Onyx Classics, on disc or download. Get it here. The music for the book is all credit to Philippe, who not only dreamed up the idea, but found the perfect piece to represent the fictional concerto in the novel (it's the Dohnanyi that opens the programme).
There's much more info on all of this, plus some nice reviews and a few yummy Hungarian recipes at our designated HUNGARIAN DANCES website, here.
And last, but not least, if you want to book us for a Hungarian Dances concert, drop us a line. Yesterday's programme is 75 mins of music and reading with no interval, and there's also a full evening version in two halves. Apart from anything else, it is great fun. Featured works include Dohnanyi's Andante rubato alla zingaresca, Ravel's Tzigane, Vecsey's Valse Triste, Bartok's Romanian Dances, Hubay's Hejre Kati and Monti's Csardas, among others.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Here's a little extract from his Piano Quartet in G minor, apparently filmed in Apeldoorn by someone based in Bulgaria. The performers are Philippe Graffin (violin), Asdis Valdimarsdottir (viola), Colin Carr (cello) and Pascal Devoyon (piano). Because listening to Philippe playing Fauré is one of the great joys of life; because turning the pages for Pascal in Messiaen's incredible Visions de l'Amen in St Nazaire was one of the high points of my musical year; and because Gabriel 'The Archangel' Fauré is simply the best; I hope you like it too.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Back from France...as I'd suspected, my technotwit tendencies (or inadequate laptop) prevented any blogging en route.
My play 'A Walk through the End of Time' was premiered on Saturday as part of the opening night of the Consonances Festival - a privilege indeed, and an astonishing experience.
The Alveole 14 of St Nazaire's former Nazi submarine base eyesore has been renamed LIFE and transformed into a venue for experimental performing arts which turned out to have a startlingly good acoustic; ours was the first show to take place inside it. Actors Marie-Christine Barrault and Charles Gonzales gave their all, director Ilonka van den Bercken from Amsterdam devised some beautiful coups-de-theatre, a young Dutch artist created projected drawings to illustrate the action in real time and the closing performance of the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time by Charles Neidich, Philippe Graffin, Raphael Wallfisch and Claire Desert was unforgettable. And afterwards the mayor of St Nazaire awarded me a medal. :-)
More pics on my permasite. For the moment, above: the American War Memorial on the beach at St Nazaire; the set inside LIFE; and a would-be playwright with Raphael Wallfisch (left) and Philippe Graffin (right).
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Michael Kennedy takes the Englishness line in a different direction in The Telegraph, but I guess he/they would. He begins with 'Windflower', Alice Stuart Wortley, talking about Elgar coming from the heart and soul of England etc etc.
Oh lordy, and The Times says we're wrong to downplay his love of Empire. That's all he needs... but at least they are offering free downloads (only short ones, mind).
Pay your money and take your choice. Or alternatively have a look at my angle on the matter in my archive.
Tasmin Little is going off to the Far East and Australia next week to tour the Elgar Violin Concerto around Kuala Lumpur, Perth, Adelaide and, appropriately enough, Tasmania (which is what will take over Launceston and Hobart when they hear her play!). Meanwhile I missed Philippe Graffin's performance of the piece in its pre-Kreislerised version in Liverpool with the RLPO and Tod Handley on Thursday night. I had to give about a talk about Schumann and Brahms down the road in Manchester at the same time - this went well, by the way. It was in the Bridgewater Hall, one of my favourite venues, combining good modern design, excellent acoustics and a relatively intimate atmosphere. My fellow Indy journalist Lynne Walker and I discussed the cross-currents between the composers and persuaded the resident CD player to cooperate with illustrations now and then.
I'm still overwhelmed with relief when I walk on to a concert platform and find that I do not have to play a piano.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
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!
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
COMMEMORATION OF THE 200TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ABOLITION OF THE SLAVE TRADE ACT
Sat 24 Feb 2007, 7:30pm
Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, London
Martyn Brabbins conductor
Philippe Graffin violin
Beethoven Overture, Leonore No. 2 Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto Beethoven Symphony No. 3 Eroica: 3rd Movement Marcia Funebre Wallen Mighty River (World Premiere)
There will be a retiring collection and proceeds will go to Holy Trinity Church and Anti-Slavery International.
Monday, January 08, 2007
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.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Our orchestra is a vehicle of social upliftment and change. It allows for fundamental communication between individuals. Our teachers have high standards and give of their best and expect the same of the children. We ask children to attend up to five lessons and rehearsals per week. They practice technical exercises and work at their intonation and interpretation, constantly striving to raise their standard of performance. The children experience adults who are willing to invest time and energy in them. Time and time again we see disruptive and angry children become motivated, disciplined, engaged and joyful individuals. These children then become involved in teaching activities at our Project, sharing their knowledge and encouraging others to progress. Some of our children have come from abused backgrounds or have been involved in violence and crime. Music provides drive, focus, passion and moments of beauty in lives where children are often forced to deal with adult issues like despair and abject poverty.This is admirable and inspiring indeed: see also the astonishing ongoing activities of Buskaid, founded by Rosemary Nalden in Soweto.
I've recently viewed a DVD of a stunning South African reinterpretation of Carmen, U-Carmen, sung in Xhosa and set in a huge township - a version that transposes and sometimes even strengthens the drama, is wonderfully sung and acted, and proved totally convincing. Go see it
UPDATE, 27 November 11.30pm: Jan-Stefan has posted a report about the concert with Philippe yesterday. Great pics.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Monday, September 18, 2006
Here we are in St Nazaire, fresh off the train from Paris and preparing for evening no.1. Paris was wet, misty, oppressive - though, of course, beautiful as only Paris can be - but here the sea air manages to be crisp and mellow at the same time. The hotel has been wonderfully refurbished since my last visit 2 years ago and now Tom is practising his Mozart quintet. Avec le mute de practice, just in case some of the other string players are within earshot...and there are a few... We arrived just too late to catch the first concert of the evening - two per day, 6pm and 8.30pm - so acquaintance with the Quince Quartet will have to wait for the moment - but the later concert includes Philippe with his regular trio, Jeremy Menuhin and Raphael Wallfisch, in Beethoven's Op.1 No.1 and to close, the Dohnanyi Piano Quintet, which I haven't heard in decades.
My third visit here - so St Nazaire feels almost a home from home. It doesn't win on the Picturesque French Seaside Town stakes, since the Brits carpet-bombed it in the war trying to get rid of the German submarine base - the great concrete hulking eyesore of which has proved indestructible to this day. But there is atmosphere nevertheless; friendliness, enthusiasm for the festival and a flock of volunteers who support the festival with transport etc.
What I'm not used to, though, is feeling nervous. 'My' concert is on Thursday and with any luck I may meet 'my' actress, Marie-Christine Barrault, in about one hour's time. There's not much I can actually do, since the script is written, has been tweaked to accommodate the songs that Francois wants to sing and has now been translated into fine French too. Will the reality remotely match my mental image of LE CHANT DE L'AMOUR TRIOMPHANT? Or have I perhaps written - er - utter claptrap? Will Philippe actually want to walk from the back of the hall up to the stage, playing the fiddle, or is this unworkable? How are they going to get the string quartet on to the platform without holding up the action too much? Will Ruth like the Viardot song I sent her last week? It's all very scary, but up to a point all I can do is leave it to its own devices now....
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Next week, more good news: the St Nazaire Festival, where my new 'literary concert' script 'The Song of Triumphant Love' is being performed for the first time on 21 September - in French. Philippe Graffin, Francois Le Roux and the actress Marie-Christine Barrault are at the heart of it and it's the 'story behind the story behind the Chausson Poeme'. St Nazaire gets a mention, we've discovered, in the immortal Jacques Tati classic 'Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot', in which a very genteel lady gazes along the French coast and remarks, "Is that St Nazaire over there?"
Yes, it is. If I can get the laptop to do WiFi stuff (technotwit-dom permitting), I'll try to report while there. If not, A BIENTOT...
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
No excuses for recent hiatus in blog postings...it's just that I haven't been doing much, at least not outside my study. In-study activities have included producing an Indy review section cover feature on Placido Domingo, which appeared last Friday, plus writing up my interview with someone who may be the world's greatest pianist (watch this space) and editing Book No.2. Meanwhile Hodder is reprinting the hardback of RITES OF SPRING, which is rather good news!
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
You can listen to the Prom tonight via the internet from anywhere: here's the link.
Meanwhile... Tom and I are still reeling from yesterday: we went to see 'The Producers'. Now I know where opera houses go wrong: they're not doing this show! It's the best thing I've seen in a theatre since 'Meistersinger'. And I don't think I've laughed so much since I saw the Marx Brothers for the first time. If you are in London or New York and you have only one free evening to do something, then do this! (Unless that evening is in London tonight, in which case you have to come to the Prom...)
Sunday, August 07, 2005
Philippe Graffin is doing this on Tuesday. Full details here.
How anyone tackles such a task is simply beyond me. I found it quite scarey enough playing to a nice little roomful of 50 people at the Elgar Birthplace Museum. The Royal Albert Hall can take around 6,000 on a good night. And this should be a good night: the BBC Concert Orchestra in a rather original all-British programme. Philippe plays the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor concerto, which is many decades overdue for a Proms performance. Here's my article from Friday's Indy about "SCT" - there's also a link on the left to my liner notes for his recording on Avie. This is not a dusty rarity. It's a wonderful, wonderful piece. If you're in London, come and cheer him on!
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
As promised, details of Philippe Graffin's new recital disc: release date is now 18 April. Entitled in the shade of forests: the Bohemian world of Debussy, Ravel, Enescu, this is a disc that could only have been devised by a violinist with more than his fair share of intelligence and creativity, and the musical result is just as exciting, with Philippe's improvisatory sense of fantasy and glorious tone expertly partnered by the French pianist Claire Desert. The programme's inspiration is the image of the gypsy wanderer so long associated with the violin in its purest, most instinctive form, and the way that that image has inspired the three composers involved.
Enescu's Impressions d'enfance begins the disc, imbued with the notion of the wandering minstrel fiddler that Enescu carried with him to maturity; then there is, of course, Ravel's Tzigane, but played as you've never heard it before. Philippe and Claire employed not only the 'lutheal' - the mechanism, akin to a prepared piano, that provides the piano with a range of stops to evoke the sound of the cimbalom, the guitar and many stranger beings - but the original lutheal, fitted into a small 1919 Pleyel grand in the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, on which the piece enjoyed its very first recording. Sounds completely different from Dan Hope's also excellent recording ('East Meets West'), which involved fitting the machine into a modern Steinway. The 1919 instrument sounds more like a guitar than a harpsichord and meshes into some extraordinary, mesmerising soundworlds with the violin. Then comes the Ravel 'posthumous' sonata (a beautiful early work written for the composer to play with Enescu while both were students of Faure) and, last but not least, Debussy's complete works for violin and piano: not only the wonderful sonata, but also an early Nocturne & Scherzo that Philippe has reconstructed himself, and a batch of lovely pieces - two preludes and two songs - in arrangements, approved by Debussy, by the American-Hungarian violinist Arthur Hartmann. With superlative presentation, a thorough and fascinating booklet written mostly by Philippe himself and, above all, matchless, poetic, 500%-committed playing from both artists, this is Avie Records' latest must-have.
Marc-Andre Hamelin has an amazing new CD out: Albeniz's Iberia, complete, filled out with more treats from this ever-underrated but truly astonishing Spanish composer-pianist. Albeniz himself realised just how difficult Iberia was - apparently he considered it virtually unplayable and almost destroyed the manuscript for that reason. Thank heavens he didn't. And thank heavens for Marc, someone who can not only play it but can imbue it with the poetry, evocativeness, warmth, passion, earthy rhythm and sheer, lush gorgeousness that it deserves. I couldn't get enough of this, especially since I once entertained fond ideas of learning 'Triana', only to find my eyes crossing in front of my nose at the sight of the termite-heaps of notes that comprise the score. You'd never guess its fiendish complexity from this apparently effortless rendition, filled with wit and colour and dreamlike beauty bringing out every inch of the extensive French influence on the composer. If Debussy liked to sound Spanish, then Albeniz liked to sound like a French symbolist (except that he, of course, had just a little too much of a sense of humour!). Iberia is a one-off - there is nothing else quite like it in the piano repertoire - and I think this new recording is likely to be regarded as definitive for some time ahead. It's Hyperion's Record of the Month, and they're not wrong.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Of course, one is very, very lucky to experience even one of these three bricks, let alone the whole lot, within around 24 hours. It's not that I'm complaining. I've simply been lost for words.
Friday, February 11, 2005
The programme is called 'Favourites from France' and, bless them, they've got a wine-tasting at 7pm too. I hope this entire occasion indicates a gentle thawing of the icy waters between France and the US?
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Originally uploaded by Duchenj.
We are back home after ten fabulous days in France. First, a week in a 'gite' in the Loire Valley countryside near Angers, relaxing (me) and practising (Tom). Lovely food from local market, a little private 'piscine' in our jardin, some trips to see the chateaux at Usse and Azay-le-Rideau and a spot of wine-tasting for good measure... Then off to Philippe's festival, Consonanaces de St Nazaire, where I took this picture during a rehearsal for the Weber Clarinet Quintet.
Left to right: Philippe Graffin, Tom, Nobuko Imai, Gary Hoffman and Charles Neidich. And they were bloody fantastic. I sat by, watching the Tomcat and engaging in that time-honoured pursuit known in Yiddish as 'clibing nachas'.
The intensity of atmosphere in these chamber music festivals really has to be experienced to be believed. I've written about St Nazaire before (a post a few months back entitled 'My favourite festival') - suffice it to say that this small, quiet, pleasant, rather uneventful shipbuilding town on the Loire estuary is home to a festival that, thanks to Philippe, its artistic director, provides chamber music of the calibre more often heard at Carnegie or Wigmore halls. Apart from Tom's spot in the Weber with Charlie Neidich (who is a complete genius of the clarinet), another major highlight was hearing the Faure Second Piano Quartet in a performance by Philippe, Nobuko, Gary and Pascal Devoyon that made me feel I was hearing the piece for the first time - and so beautiful it brought on tears. The flow, the freedom, the richness of expressive range, the cohesion between the players and the sense of utter absorption in Faure's magical language - words, I'm afraid, don't do it justice.
Rodion Shchedrin was present throughout - he was the focus of the festival. Tomorrow Philippe is giving the world premiere of a new Shchedrin work, Concerto Parlando. Rather than sitting here blogging, I ought to get on the next plane back to Nantes... Shchedrin had brought with him one of his finest young interpreters, a hotshot Russian pianist named Ekaterina ('Katia') Mechetina who has just won the World Piano Competition in Cincinnati (more details here). She performed a number of his piano works, which are astounding: Shchedrin, a fantastic pianist himself, knows exactly how to exploit the instrument's potential and creates pieces for it that are immensely energetic and hugely demanding on any virtuoso's abilities, yet also deeply poetic. Cross Shostakovich with Keith Jarrett and double it.
Every festival, however, should have a British brass player. Martin Hurrell of the BBC Symphony Orchestra was there to be trumpet soloist in Concerto Parlando alongside Philippe (the idea was to create something along similar lines to the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto which features a prominent trumpet solo). Martin is a brilliant player but also happens to be the funniest guy on earth. His sense of timing ought to have propelled him onto his own TV show years ago. Around midnight a few days ago over a late-night repas of French wine and cheese, he reduced the entire festival table, including Shchedrin and his wife, the former Bolshoi prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya, to helpless, howling rubble with his impersonation of a certain 20th-century dictator which would make Charlie Chaplin turn in his grave. The experience won't be quickly forgotten...
We didn't really want to come home. But Solti is very pleased to see us.