Showing posts with label Proms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Proms. Show all posts

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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Alma

Alma Schindler/Mahler/Gropius/Werfel was born on this day in 1879. As her first husband did not exactly encourage her compositional activities, her beautiful songs have never been as well known as they deserve to be. Here is Thomas Hampson singing the top-notch Die stille Stadt, on a poem by Richard Dehmel.

Meanwhile, don't miss Gustav's Symphony No.6 at the Proms on Sunday: the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is here, with Riccardo Chailly at their helm. Book here.

For those requiring a little bit of do-lighten-up-there-Gus, here is another tribute to Alma - from Tom Lehrer.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Barenboim - from podium to stadium

Here's my review for The Independent of the last night of Barenboim & the WEDO's Beethoven cycle, head to head with the Olympic opening ceremony. And eagle-eyed viewers still awake at about 12.45am may have noticed the maestro carrying the Olympic flag into the stadium in a posse of eight great humanitarian figures.

It was a difficult night to award a star rating - but eventually I felt that the sense of occasion and the power of the music-making deserved this 5-er. It was only a couple of the solo singers who didn't, and that may not be their fault: one was a late replacement and, besides, they may all have been fazed by their placement alongside the choir, having to sing clean across the orchestra.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Once more unto the Boulez, dear friends...

Here's my review for The Independent of last night's Prom: Barenboim & the WEDO again, and they're just getting better and better. As is the Boulez.

And a little more of my interview with the violinist Michael Barenboim is up now at Sinifini Music. He must have nerves of steel to hold that stage alone - it was quite a tour de force.

This Prom is being televised on Friday at 7.30pm on BBC4 - at which point Barenboim & co will probably still be in full swing with the Ninth inside the hall, a short concert with an early start so that we can all get home to watch the Olympic opening ceremony. Some of us might find the WEDO a bit more interesting than 70 sheep in a stadium, but... hey ho.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Guess who I fell in love with yesterday?

Yes, it's Pierre Boulez. Hearing his Derive 2 at the Barenboim/WEDO Prom somehow resembled discovering a new deep-sea creature that cast radical new light on all our assumptions of what marine life really is. I was riveted from start to finish. Its weaving of countless ideas, its progression of entirely aural and nonspecific narrative, its amazing colours (what a collection of instruments!), all conspire to challenge one's ideas of what music is, what it means and how we listen to it.

I'm holding the fort, more or less, with the Indy's classical reviews this week - Michael and Ed are both on their travels. Here's my write-up of last night.

Obviously not everyone is going to agree about the Boulez, which is as long as, or longer than, a big romantic symphony and requires a heap of concentration. So, for a way in, try reading Tom Service's brilliant introduction to the man and his music; and then catch the concert on the BBC iPlayer (UK only) here.

[photo by Clive Barda]

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An interview with Barenboim & Son

I've been talking to Daniel Barenboim and his violinist son, Michael, about their burgeoning dynasty. They're respectively conductor and concertmaster of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which will be all but taking over the Proms from this Friday to next.

Read it all in today's Independent, here.

Here they are in the Schubert 'Trout' Quintet first movement, with an ensemble from the WED - Daniel Barenboim (piano), Michael Barenboim (violin), Orhan Celebi (viola), Kyril Zlotnikov (cello), Nabil Shehata (double bass). Enjoy.

Saturday, July 07, 2012


They open on Friday 13th and they have to hold their own against nothing less than the Olympics. Can they do it?

You bet they can. Here's my Proms preview, cover feature for the 'Radar' section of today's Independent:

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Henry Goodman reads from 'Hungarian Dances' at the Proms!

Tasmin Little's Proms Plus literary talk with Anne McElvoy was broadcast in the concert interval on BBC Radio 3 yesterday, with extracts from her four chosen books read by no less an actor than the utterly lovely and amazing Henry Goodman. Catch it on the BBC iPlayer until 10 September, here:

Tasmin talked about her passion for Hamlet, Hesse's Siddartha and the verses of Hillaire Belloc, as well as terming Hungarian Dances "gripping" and "very exciting", and telling a wonderful story about how she inadvertently made her debut in Budapest in a restaurant, playing Monti's Csardas with the resident folk band's cimbalom player after half a bottle of Bull's Blood... And she said some rather nice things about my writing about music that I am waaay too modest to repeat on my own blog, though you can hear them in the broadcast. What you won't hear, though, is Anne's priceless Freudian slip when, signing off at the end of the session, the wrong word emerged instead of "Belloc"! A fine time was had by one and all.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Happy Monday

"When 5000 people pay to listen to Bach on a solo violin, there's hope for Western civilisation," says The Times. My colleague Ed Seckerson at the Indy says it was 6000 people, so the news is perhaps even better. Either way, bravo Nigel Kennedy. The markets are in turmoil, people have been looting in Tottenham, Enfield and Brixton, but over at the RAH, or in front of our own radios, we're listening to the Proms and feeling lucky to be alive.

Honest to goodness, guv, I really believe the world would be a better place if we could all spend more time making or listening to great music and less time on greed, envy, accumulation, materialism and...oh well. It's worth saying now and then, even if only one person takes it on board.

How anybody could have failed to take the lessons of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra on board with that Mahler 2 on Friday is beyond me (pictured left: the queue at 1pm). Music for all. Music as the resurrection of hope (to quote Gustavo's words to me). I went to the rehearsal and sat mesmerised by them - these guys give everything. So, too, did the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, so you don't have to be Venezuelan... The churlish have been out in force, predictably, carping on about tempi being too slow, edges being too rough, and so on. There's still an element in British life that loathes anything too successful. Most of us saw past that to the essence of the event, and took it all to our hearts, where it belongs. The point of this Prom was not to offer benchmark Mahler to compete against the recordings of Tennstedt, Bernstein et al. What had to be definitive was the honesty and passionate nature of the music-making, the symbol, the life-affirming pulling-together of it all. Yes, it was the event that came first, and there is nothing wrong with that - not when it's an event you'll remember until your last breath. If every concert could be an event on such a scale, nobody would ever have talked of classical music 'dying', because it couldn't be clearer that that is not true, never was and certainly won't be as long as these guys are around.

Hope resurrected? You bet. Besides, give Gustavo another ten or 15 years and he could potentially grow to be a figure comparable to Bernstein. I can't think of another conductor working today who has quite that type of energy. It's easy to forget that he's only 30 as he is so much a part of the musical landscape at present. Watch that space. (Right: The Dude in rehearsal, flanked by Miah Persson and Anna Larsson, and in discussion with assistant.)

It's been one thing after another at the Proms, and yesterday I caught up not only with the Mahler but also with the National Youth Orchestra with Benjamin Grosvenor and Vlad, plus Nigel's very late-night Bach. Benjamin played the Britten Concerto - a terrific piece and much underrated. It's very much of its 1930s day, a British cousin to Bartok and Prokofiev, and Benjamin's coolly ironic eye and deft, light-sprung touch suited it to a T. Vlad wrought dynamic stuff from the orchestra, too - they're not the Bolivars, but they're the creme-de-la-creme of what young British musicians can be. And full marks to everyone for bringing Gabriel Prokofiev mainstream, putting his Concerto for Orchestra and Turntables centre stage in the Royal Albert Hall. Sergey's grandson may have 'Nonclassical' as his brand-name, but the piece, even with all its 21st-century irony, humour and imagination, still reminded us at times of The Rite of Spring. Character, precision and charm were everywhere; and the Radio 3 announcer's apparent bemusement about the whole spectacle had a type of charm all its own. He even considered DJ Switch's light-blue tee-shirt worth remarking upon.

I missed Saturday evening in London because I went to work with Tomcat. Which means I cried my eyes out over Rusalka. Watch out for the marvellous Dina Kuznetsova (left), a big Russian voice with a great heart to match, her every phrase serving Rusalka's searing emotional journey. Melly Still's production is magical - a timeless fairy-tale taken on its own terms, mildly modernised and exquisitely imagined. We know the Freudian ins and outs of the story's psychological implications well enough these days to add our own interpretation, if desired - it's refreshing that directors need no longer bash us over the head with it, and we can enjoy Dvorak's folksy joys and quasi-Wagnerian ventures with a view to match.

And Nigel? He's still working his own brand of magic; and it's as irresistible as ever because beneath the famous image is a passionate and phenomenally accomplished musician. He has not only magic, but the staying power that comes from true underlying solidity. Others may try, but there's still only one Nigel.

Friday, August 05, 2011


Here is my exclusive interview with Gustavo Dudamel for today's Independent - the interview that most of the music business said I'd never get in a blue moon.

"I think we have to make everyone understand that it's important to have a future for the people. It's important to give the best level of art, the best level of culture and the best level of music to ALL the people, not only to one part of the community. This is the message of El Sistema..." 

He and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra are at the Proms tonight doing Mahler's Second Symphony. "Resurrection is happening every day," he says. "It's the resurrection of hope."

Remember my Fred & Ginger clip the other day? This is what it was all about... "They laughed at me, wanting The Dude, said I was reaching for the moon...But ah, he came through - now they'll have to change their tune..." 

Here's what happened last time they came to the Proms. You've seen it before. See it again. If you can't get to the show tonight, it's live on BBC Radio 3 as usual and on TV tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And the winner is...

Congratulations to STEPHEN LLEWELLYN, winner of the JDCMB 'Chacun a son gout' competition. Yes, bizarrely enough, that is indeed the same Stephen Llewellyn who was the proud champion of Miss Mussel's first #operaplot competition. Stephen, you will be the lucky recipient of the new CD by Joseph Calleja, 'The Maltese Tenor', which will be sent to you straight from the offices of Universal Classics.

The correct answers: 'Chacun a son gout' is featured prominently in Johann Strauss II's opera Die Fledermaus. And it is sung by Prince Orlofsky. I am impressed that everybody who entered the competition - and there were lots of you - got it right.

The prize draw took place last night in the concertmaster's dressing room at the Royal Albert Hall, just after the London Philharmonic had completed its 'Vladothon' all-Hungarian Prom, which involved Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, Bartok's Piano Concerto No.1 with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as soloist, and to end, Liszt's Faust Symphony.

We asked the orchestra's one actual Hungarian violinist, Katalin Varnagy, to select the winner's name from the many entries that mingled in the violin case... You can see the very glam Kati talking about her Hungarian musical heritage in the Prom interval when the concert's televised on Thursday evening.

Then, since the occasion was also Tomcat's birthday and, besides, marked the 25th anniversary of him joining the LPO (odd, as he's only 21...) everyone came along for a drink, including the adorable and stupendous Mr Bavouzet...


...and also Vladimir Jurowski and concertmaster Pieter Schoemann (pictured below - l to r, Vladimir, Tomcat, Kati and Pieter). The flag is Hungarian - there's a green stripe at the bottom.

I'd just like to reassure any Hungarian Dances fans that the characters of Karina (semi-Hungarian) and Rohan (South African) were not actually based on Kati and Pieter. It's all pure coincidence, honest to goodness, guv. These things happen with books sometimes. Life imitates art. It does.

Quite a late night. Please excuse the JDCMB team while it adjourns to the kitchen for extra coffee....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

About time too...

Small-scale live music in Britain has been hobbled in the Helf'n'Safeteh Years by regulatory tourniquets that have seemed determined to prevent any blood flowing into what should be a vibrant scene and a valuable testing ground. Good news arrives from the Incorporated Society of Musicians this morning: parliament is progressing well towards passing laws that seek to stop the hamstringing. (Assuming, that is, that there'll be any parliament left after Rupertgate.)

Here's the ISM's statement - but first, a nice little example of what's possible with just two instruments, courtesy of Jascha Heifetz and William Primrose. I have this piece on the brain after the delectable Capucon brothers gave it some serious welly in their Proms encore yesterday. Yes, I know, I know - that's not at all what the bill means by 'small-scale', but I'm happily clutching at musical straws in the hope of bringing you something beautiful to brighten your day.

ISM welcomes continued progress of Live Music Bill
Government confirms entertainment de-regulation plans

Proposals to de-regulate small scale live music events could become law in 2012 after the Live Music Bill made it through its committee stage in the House of Lords.

Speaking in support of his own Bill, Lord Clement-Jones highlighted the ‘great encouragement’ it would give to young musicians ‘performing in all kinds of venues, who will be able to take advantage of these provisions.’

The Bill has just two readings left (usually carried out together) before it reaches the House of Commons.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) said:

‘With Lord Clement-Jones winning further support for his Bill the continued progress is fantastic news, and the Government’s continued support – given the concession made – is also welcome.

‘This Bill will provide real help to musicians and make it far easier to put on live performances. We now hope to see the Bill make rapid progress through parliament and if successful it will reverse much of the devastating impact of the 2003 Licensing Act.

Baroness Garden of Frognal re-iterated the Government’s support of the Bill in the Lords in light of a concession to change the time limit from midnight to 11pm and announced that the Government was ‘planning to consult shortly on wider reforms to live entertainment’.

Deborah Annetts added:

‘We welcome this news, and urge the Government to bring forward its planned consultation on the de-regulation of entertainment as swiftly as possible.’

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara backed the Bill on behalf of the Labour Party.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bravissimo to Benjamin at the Prummm....

I don't think I'll ever forget hearing Benjamin Grosvenor's Proms debut last night. Especially his encore - of all things, a transcription by Cziffra of the Brahms Hungarian Dance No.5.

What is it with that lad? How does he do it? How does he know? Where does it all come from? I'm not usually a great subscriber to the notion of reincarnation, but if the soul of either Benno Moiseiwitsch or Ignaz Friedman decided to do a re-run in Britain about 19 years ago, it's very obvious where he landed. Just listen to this.

Alas, the rest of the concert didn't live up to its soloist, and I've said as much in today's Independent. The best - Benjamin - proved the enemy of the workaday. Honest to goodness, with the other major UK orchestras in their best-ever form from the Barbican and Festival Hall to Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle, with hungry, ambitious conductors turning up the electric heat, workaday is just not good enough. It never occurred to me before that Janacek's Glagolitic Mass could be as boring as that. It shouldn't be. Janacek is portraying a marvellous dream of marrying Kamila Stosslova. We got Czech dumplings. I'm pleased to see that the Last Night of the Proms is being conducted by Ed Gardner. Wish he'd conducted opening night too.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Restive for the festive?

OK, so I didn't make it to Tosca and I'm not getting over to Verbier this time, but so what? I mean, with the Proms about to begin and a dazzling line-up of overseas festival webcasts available to view from the comfort of my own computer, there's plenty to occupy me right here in sunny London. No, I'm not turning green in the face...I'm not, I'm not, I'm not...

First of all, here is my round-up from today's Independent of the best webcasts from the elite (in the best sense) festivals of Europe.

Next, the Proms kick off tonight: a Judith Weir premiere, then Brahms and Liszt, the latter's Second Piano Concerto featuring Benjamin Grosvenor in his Proms debut; finally nothing less than Janacek's Glagolitic Mass. More good news is that it's not raining yet also it is not too hot. I don't fancy a re-run of my Meistersinger debacle last summer. If you can't go along, the First Night is on the TV: details here.

Here's Benjamin playing Liszt's arrangement of Chopin's song 'The Maiden's Wish', filmed out in Kensington Gardens on a very wet, very cold morning in April. We're promised that tonight both piano and pianist will be let into the hall.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Strolling along the proms, proms, proms

Tonight at the Proms you can hear (or see, if within reach) a whole evening devoted to the music of Nitin Sawhney, with dance from Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. There's nobody quite like Nitin - he's a natural multiculti, with early musical training covering everything from classical piano to classical Indian and Flamenco; and he has a strong, focused, poetic inner strength that makes his music his own no matter what the external casing is. Should be amazing.

And on Sunday, Gotterdammerung is up for grabs, the last of the Proms' Ring evenings that have spanned the last 3 seasons. The mention of the Walkure evening still sends people into spasms of ecstasy...

My editor has been keeping me busy over this one, so here's the result from today's Indy, which should cause ACD some amusement if he can lay hands on a print copy - it's the Arts & Books Review cover feature, complete with gory-looking Norns, wielding the title SOUND AND FURY. Not my doing, but I can't imagine anything better.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Wanted: one brave director

So there she was: the radiant Renee Fleming, in a light green gown full of sparkles and trailing a shot-silk scarf, took the stage in the Albert Hall, voice floating through the stratospheres like a golden eagle (UPDATE: Intermezzo has a photo of her, in said dress). Her Berg Seven Early Songs (actually eight - an extra one had been orchestrated for her) were ideally expressive, dark-toned, that voice blending with the sympathetic BBC Phil as a strand of its fabric; and the first Korngold aria, from Die Kathrin, was sweet and touching.

But she was saving the best for last. With the first notes of the great aria 'Ich ging zu ihm' from Das Wunder der Heliane, something remarkable happened. Renee didn't only sing Heliane; she became her. The tragedy, the rapture, the transfiguration - it was all there. I think everyone in my group was moved to tears. The Telegraph today speaks of the aria's 'intense, jaw-dropping beauty'.

Most think Heliane can't be staged (bad libretto, pretentious, weird, etc etc) but I'm getting the feeling that this isn't so. Because the role could have been written for Renee. She has to sing the whole thing, in an opera house. Someone simply has to stage it for her. Isn't there a brave theatre out there that will take it on? And a very brave director? We're already looking forward to the UK concert premiere of the complete opera at the RFH on 21 November (Patricia Racette will sing Heliane there). Now, I think, there's hope.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pillow fight at the Proms

Yesterday's Prom with the English Baroque Soloists & Monteverdi Choir mixing and matching with Buskaid's Soweto Strings Ensemble, and the Compagnie Roussat-Lubek from France with Dance for All from a township near Cape Town, was unlike anything I've seen at a Prom in the (various) decades I've been attending them - or, indeed, anywhere else.

From the most authentic of the schmauthentic in the baroque Franco-Latin pronunciation of Andre Campra's long-forgotten and very beautiful Requiem in the first half, to the reinventing of Rameau as a traditional African miners' gumboot dance at the end of the evening, this concert was a revelation, a marvel and an inspiration - and a statement about how the most apparently disparate of cultures can come together and be united through the shared joy of creating sound and movement...

That's where the pillow fights came into it. It would be so easy for an event like this to become portentous and preachy, but that was never going to happen: the Compagnie Roussat-Lubek, founded by two dancers who trained in mime, circus and acrobatics as well as ballet, offered such quirky imagination, from orange frock coats to pillow fights to a ballerina in a false nose tossing glitter over the tenor, that joyousness remained uppermost for its own sake. Then in came their secret weapon: a cherubic, curly-haired little boy, who we reckoned couldn't be more than 4 years old yet performed with the assurance of all the adult dancers on the stage with him. Imagine the noise in the RAH!

As for the Soweto Strings Ensemble, they sounded every bit as good as the English Baroque Soloists. Their director, Rosemary Nalden, is an EBS alumna and has trained her ensemble with perhaps an even greater unanimity of style; their physical engagement with the music and seriousness of purpose was second to none. Samson Diamond, the leader, currently studying at the Royal Northern College of Music (pictured above right), could just be a young artist to watch out for. And from time to time, a fiddler or two put down his or her instrument and stepped out to join Dance for All.

The energy left me awake most of the night, cherishing the image of some of the finest baroque players and singers in Britain sharing the stage with inspirational youngsters and marvellous dancers, in a musical world where everything, at last, is possible. John Eliot Gardiner picked up the little lad and hugged him as if he were standing to be president. An evening to remember, forever.

A symbol of the future? If so: oh, yes, please.

(Oh - no, JEG, we don't want you to be president, we want you to keep conducting things like this, hope that clarifies it, hugz, jdxxx).

Rameau is/was a complete genius. Never got him before. Get him now.

Read JEG's own account of the story behind the story here.

Hear the concert here.

Friday, July 13, 2007

This thing called The Proms, once again

It's Friday 13th and the Proms open tonight. I've managed to write a substantial piece about the forthcoming programme without grumbling about the Royal Albert Hall's acoustics, sightlines or temperature, and trying very hard to be enthusiastic since there is some great stuff to be heard. The Independent is running daily 'Promcasts', previewing every concert.

A few little updates since blogging has been taking a back seat for the past few weeks. Differences in Demolition sold out and went beautifully; the critics enjoyed it, but mostly missed the point, with the exception of Neil Fisher in The Times. Tristan is in rehearsal for Glyndebourne and Tom is coming home high as a kite after playing Wagner for 6 hours a day, not to mention practising. An interesting experience to undertake remedial, editorial-hawkeye work on book while the Liebestod is going hell for leather in the living room. Alicia's Gift is out and about in paperback and had some nice reviews in various magazines. The Messiaen play is complete and is being translated.

More here as soon as possible.

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


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.