Showing posts with label Sir Simon Rattle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sir Simon Rattle. Show all posts

Sunday, September 07, 2014

St Matthew and St Mark?

It was one of the hottest tickets in town yesterday: the semi-staged performance at the Proms of the Bach St Matthew Passion with the Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle conducting, direction by Peter Sellars. Add to this the Berlin Radio Choir, singing from memory, an all-star cast and a packed Albert Hall that was ready for anything...

Well, almost anything. We were not quite ready for the utterly devastating performance that Mark Padmore gave as the Evangelist. In Sellars' concept - sometimes convincing, sometimes less so - the Evangelist carries everything, experiencing the emotions and traumas of each character, supporting them, leading them, suffering in their place. Christ - the astounding Christian Gerhaher - is a distant figure, seated above the orchestra and outside the action through the first half, then entirely off stage for his scant few phrases in the second. The Evangelist lives the drama and is its focal point. The beauty, nuancing, clarity and stillness of Padmore's voice would have been enough to carry the night on its own, but his every move magnetised us and convinced us that he felt every anguish, every burden and every lash. If the British music business had not already given him a virtual sainthood by repute, they certainly should now. (Gerhaher, of course, is just as magical, but has frustratingly little to sing.)

The staging has its ups and downs, many of them literal. A lot of rushing around is involved and sometimes one wished they'd keep still for a few minutes. Yet some extraordinary images unfolded that also enhanced the music at a profound level, notably through the interaction of the instrumental soloists with the singers, moments that carried a plethora of meanings. Sometimes the players seemed to represent the soul, the conscience or the better self; perhaps even God, or Bach in place of God? Magdalena Kozena sang 'Erbarme dich' kneeling at the feet of her violinist; Camilla Tilling in 'Aus liebe will mein Heiland sterben' stood in close quartet with her oboists and flautist; Emmanuel Pahud, no less, beside her right shoulder. Tenor Topi Lehtipuu stretched up towards an unattainable oboist in the organ inset; bass Eric Owens appeared to pray for mercy before a vengeful virtuoso fiddler. 

Rattle's tempi were largely very brisk, sometimes too much so - occasionally I longed for an old-school influence to bring back a little more time for breath, contemplation and refulgence, since some of the intricate instrumental writing whooshed by to somewhat unsettling effect. But the magic was there all the same and the moments of stillness stood out all the better. The episode that brings the whole work together is (I feel) the final bass aria, 'Mache dich mein Herze rein' - here he understands, accepts and transcends all that has gone before. If that doesn't do its job, nothing does. It worked. 

My personal frustration with the staging is mostly due to the sonic impact, as it entails much clonking about and some directional echoes which are the fault of the RAH's acoustic, not the performers. Still, there's much to chew over: the presence, or lack of it, of Jesus himself (we might ask: is he real?), those intimate dialogues between singers and instrumentalists, that soul-searing performance by Padmore. 

Would less be more? We can feel the suffering in the music; we don't need to see it. The spiritual catharsis of this work, like Parsifal's, is perhaps better internalised if there is not too much to observe and assess: that process puts us outside ourselves, switches on our objective brain and mutes the intuitive, emotional plane that's necessary for the full cumulative effect to reach us. (Btw, I am not religious in any way, shape or form; yet perhaps that makes the spiritual dimensions of Bach and Wagner all the more meaningful.)

What seemed at the time a long, hot evening now haunts for its ineffable beauty, its deeply human quest for meaning and its all-consuming, tour-de-force performances. 

In the foyer I spotted the head of the LSO, who may or may not have been clutching a metaphorical butterfly net. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The soprano who keeps her head when all around are losing theirs...

It's Sally Matthews, who stars as Blanche in the forthcoming run (the Robert Carsen production) at Covent Garden of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle. The opera ends with the onstage beheading of 16 nuns. 

Here's my interview with her from today's Independent.  And a little extract from Gianni Schicchi.




If you met Sally Matthews in the street you might not guess that she is one of Britain's finest sopranos. Quiet, serious and rather reserved, the 38-year-old singer is anything but an obvious star; but on stage her voice speaks for itself. Blessed with great range and a rich tone containing unusual warmth, colour and shadow, her refulgent yet pure sound is ideal for Mozart, Strauss and, not least, French music.

Matthews is about to take the leading role in Francis Poulenc's opera Dialogues des Carmélites at the Royal Opera House, amid an all-star cast conducted by Simon Rattle. Operatic success does not get much bigger than this, but she refuses to play the diva. To her, opera is teamwork; and she prefers to avoid repertoire like the more melodramatic moments of Puccini, which possibly attract a different type of personality. "Sometimes the big egos completely detract from what we're doing," she muses. "I've worked with a few of them and I didn't like it much. It should be all about the music."

The Southampton-born singer's career was launched when she won the Kathleen Ferrier Singing Competition in 1999, but it was a special opportunity at the Royal Opera House in 2001 that subsequently determined her direction...
READ THE REST HERE

'Dialogues des Carmélites', Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000) 29 May to 11 June

Monday, January 13, 2014

My top ten wishes for music in the new year



1. Re performers, I wish we might see the return to these shores of the pianists Grigory Sokolov, Krystian Zimerman, Martha Argerich and Menahem Pressler.

Grigory Sokolov, please come back to us!
2. Re audiences, I wish for the principle to be established that you have a responsibility to consider other people as well as yourself - you may have bought a ticket, but so have they. Therefore during the concert you don't talk, you switch off all functions of your phone and you - er - listen to the music.

3. Re orchestras and other ensembles, I wish that those who depend on their local councils for life-giving tranches of funding could find alternative sources, fast. I fear they will need them. Here is the first of what will be many such problems: the BBC Philharmonic's grant is being slashed by Salford Council, which - shamefully - is also ending its contribution to music and performing arts in schools, according to this report from the Manchester Evening News.

4. Re programming, I wish for scope, breadth and depth. I am sick of pianists in particular programming same old same old. Do you know how much piano repertoire there is? More than any of us could possibly read through in one lifetime. So no more Schumann Etudes Symphoniques; why not Gesange der Fruhe? And enough of the last three Schubert sonatas; why not the G major or the big D major instead, or, if you can face its challenges, the "little" A minor? This could go on, but you get my drift.

5. I also wish for plenty of Andrzej Panufnik, whose centenary falls this year. He is a neglected master and he's due for a big-time return to the concert hall. Watch this space for further details of the centenary plans so far. At least there's a good chance of this wish being fulfilled.

6. I wish that Sir Simon Rattle would confirm or deny, definitively, whether or not he is coming to head the LSO. Preferably the former.

7. An end to witch-hunting and bullying in all its forms. The notion that a composer/performer/any individual who does something artistic/creative/literary/etc should be judged in that activity first by his/her personal beliefs/sayings/doings in matters of religion/sex/politics/etc is insidious and daft.

8. I wish that along with endeavouring to increase levels of sponsorship, membership, Friends schemes etc, there could be an increased sense of responsibility to those who can't afford to be among them. Venues exist that sell out to their members before anyone else gets a look in. Some of those venues keep day seats for which you can queue. Those that don't currently do this should start. The ones that already do should keep more day seats.


9. I wish that some doughty, important and fearless conductor would decide that it is OK to perform Mozart operas with a bit of vibrato and an orchestra that's non-microscopic in size.

10. Last but by no means least, I wish for the realisation of my dream of an awards ceremony to celebrate and raise the profile of the great achievements of women in music. And I'm sure Fanny Mendelssohn (right) would approve.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Some breaking news that's Rattling around...


A report in today's Times [£] suggests that Sir Simon Rattle "is understood to have accepted the job of principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra".

[UPDATE, 11:30: The LSO has responded on Twitter: "Morning all; thanks for all the tweets. We're delighted to have strong artistic projects with Sir Simon Rattle in forthcoming seasons …but as the article says, we have no further comment to make on the speculation that appeared in today's Times!"

So nothing is actually official. But no categoric denials per se... ]

If it is all true, it would be the following:

* Brilliant news for the LSO. Gergiev's name is a draw that would be difficult to follow;

* Brilliant news for London and the UK. Rattle is the most famous British conductor in the world, but has not previously held a London post. For the UK's top orchestra (which the LSO is - sorry, rest of you) to snaffle the UK's top conductor is a major snooker achievement. This sphere is often about timing, contracts, forward planning and, sometimes, a stroke of good fortune.

* Brilliant news for Rattle, we hope. He is much in tune with the British arts scene's pioneering activities in pushing the boundaries of repertoire, outreach, community and education alike, and the LSO, with its beautiful facilities at St Luke's, is perfectly set up for that. One senses that his innovations in Berlin may have been a bit of an uphill struggle at times.

* He has a fine track record of persuading people to do things, including the building of very good concert halls. See Birmingham. Guess what we need in London?

* If it is true, and mentions in The Times and BBC Radio 4 are normally pretty serious, it is much as I predicted in January. Everyone was asking why he was leaving and who the BP might appoint next; I wondered where Rattle could go from there (we didn't yet know that Gergiev was going to step down from the LSO); and by process of elimination.... => http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/sir-simon-rattle-and-the-berlin-philarmonic-is-this-great-relationship-ending-on-a-sour-note-8455762.html?origin=internalSearch


Meanwhile, on a much more modest scale...

If you like JDCMB, come to my concert! TOMORROW afternoon we are at the Musical Museum near Kew Bridge, west London.

You could view the museum's collection of musical curiosities, have lunch overlooking the river, then go on to enjoy the show in the Concert Hall. With your concert ticket you can get discounted entry (£3) to the museum, with a guided tour at 1pm. The  museum and cafe are open from 11 a.m.

SUNDAY 8 SEPTEMBER, 3PM
HUNGARIAN DANCES: the concert of the novel
with DAVID LE PAGE - VIOLIN, VIV McLEAN - PIANO, JESSICA DUCHEN - NARRATOR

The HUNGARIAN DANCES concert is great fun and is stuffed full of wonderful Hungarian and Gypsy-influenced repertoire, including Ravel's Tzigane, Bartok's Romanian Dances, gorgeous pieces by Vecsey, Dohnanyi and Kreisler, and much more. And the storytelling aspect of the performance means it's 500% accessible for first-time concert-goers.

* Tickets : BOX OFFICE:  020 8560 8108/HOUBENS BOOKSHOP: 020 8560 8108
or from Yvonne Evans 07889 399 862.

Next up: PenFro Book Festival, Rhosygilwen, Wales, on Thursday 12 September (with David Le Page, violin, & Anthony Hewitt, piano); and Bournemouth Arts Festival, Shelley Theatre, 26 September (with Jack Maguire, violin, and Barbara Henvest, piano). 

Monday, September 02, 2013

Nice work

Been here, reviewing.


As locations for music festivals go, it really ain't bad. This is Lake Lucerne, snapped from the shore at the bottom of Wagner's lawn at Tribschen. I spent a happy afternoon there, working on the revision of my new play Sins of the Fathers, which is set...um, at Tribschen. Pure coincidence, but nice. (The premiere, 24 November, is selling fast...)

I was really there to attend two concerts in the Lucerne Festival, one conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, the other by Jonathan Nott. Somewhat amused to see the heading "Viva la revolucion!" on the programmes. In Spanish. One concert was of Viennese and Russian music, the other was Wagner's Das Rheingold (part of Lucerne's first-ever Ring cycle). Few festivals have a less revolutionary atmosphere - the glorious lakeside and the wonderful acoustic of the KKL are populated by the sleek and meek of the moneyed festival circuit - but nevertheless, the programming is absolutely sterling and below the gleaming surface the waters are deep and fertile, especially where the Festival Academy is concerned. My review is out now in the Independent, here: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/classical-review-british-conductors-bring-the-sounds-of-revolution-to-the-lucerne-festival-8794619.html

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Feasts, joy and optimism at the BBC Music Magazine Awards

A seriously impressive line-up of award-winners raised eyebrows and spirits alike yesterday at Kings Place when Oliver Condy and James Naughtie presented the BBC Music Magazine Awards 2013.

The Instrumental prize went to the fabulous and brave pianist Janina Fialkowska. (I was thrilled to be "sat" next to her at lunch - she is on the right.) Imogen Cooper was there to present her prize and it was deeply touching to see these two distinguished artists, who have been friends ever since their student days in Paris, take the stage together at such a celebration.

Janina's winning CD is of Chopin and she treated us to two waltzes that were fine testimony to her feel for natural expressiveness, delicate rubato and radiant tone. Knowing the story of her cancer survival adds a twist of poignancy (see my recent article about her in Classical Music Magazine), but her artistry transcends her personal history. Clear of the disease now for six years, she has started to plan long-term at last and the prize is worthy recognition for her, not a moment too soon.

Heart-warming, too, to find the occasion - quite unlike last year's Gramophone Awards - celebrating the achievements of women musicians extremely strongly. Composer Kaija Saariaho won the Premiere prize for a CD of her music and made a gracious acceptance speech. Star mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager was present to collect the Singer award for her CD of Liszt Lieder on Hyperion, and treated us to a gorgeous performance of Schumann's Widmung, accompanied by Roger Vignoles. And the young Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo scooped an audience prize for her album of contemporary piano pieces, Musical Toys: she proved herself a terrific player, assured, intelligent and glitter-fingered. Her career, we heard, has been on the up since she was spotted by the composer Unsuk Chin, who noted that she'd had three awful reviews of the type that meant she was probably a really interesting musician. "I don't only thrive on bad reviews," she added, accepting her prize. "I like good ones too..." I am sure she will win many more.

It was a good day, too, for Sir Simon Rattle - who wasn't there in person, but landed the prizes with his Berlin Phil both for the Orchestral category (the musicologically completed Bruckner 9) and the DVD (the Bach St Matthew Passion in a "ritualisation" by Peter Sellers). The principal cello of the Berliner Philharmoniker collected the award and made one of the day's most valuable points. The BBC has a classical music magazine? And it presents annual awards to celebrate the art form? Wow! In Germany - a country that we usually assume values classical music more highly than our own does - an equivalent situation is something of which he can only dream, he said. Do we know how lucky we are? (We do now.)

Last but by no means least, Sir Mark Elder scooped Record of the Year for his CD with the Halle of Elgar's The Apostles and was there to talk about its creation in inspiring tones, together with the baritone Jacques Imbrailo, who sings the role of Christ.

All in all, it was an enlightened selection, populated by genuine, passionate music-lovers and some of the finest performers on earth. A time for optimism, blessing-counting and great hope.

The full list of award-winners can be found here.





Thursday, August 30, 2012

Salzburg: I am a Festspielhave




I'm just back from the Salzburg Festival, where I heard more amazing singers within 72 hours than you'd believe possible. Three very different operas from three different centuries, each focused on war, actual or between the sexes - usually both. My review-proper will be in Opera Now magazine. In the meantime, here's a little taste of the trip.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Die Soldaten proved perhaps opera's most devastating experience: an all-out tour-de-force, assaulting senses and emotions alike. Good to see TV cameras there last Sunday, as this production is a great achievement that requires preservation on film; nothing, though, can really capture the impact of experiencing it live, from a seat almost beneath the largest of several outsize tam-tams. This opera musters every last shred of force available to an orchestra, a cast, a lead soprano (the magnificent Laura Aikin), a conductor (heroic Ingo Metzmacher) and the human ear itself to get across its message: the horrors that these military men foist upon the hapless Marie, and the failure of a variety of parents to prevent it. The composer took his own life in 1970. Books on Zimmermann are in short supply, and there seems to be nothing in English, but Alex Ross provides some valuable insights here.

Other question-marks hang over Carmen. Updated to Franco's Spain, it starred Magdalena Kozena as a red-haired firebrand partnered first of all by her husband, Sir Simon Rattle, in the pit, and secondly by Jonas Kaufmann, whose Don Jose was a puzzling matter possibly determined by directorial decisions rather than tenorial ones.

Finally, Handel's Giulio Cesare, with Andreas Scholl as Julius, Cecilia Bartoli as Cleopatra, Anne Sofie von Otter Cornelia and Philippe Jaroussky Sesto. These people know how to Handel you. A perturbing moment towards the end when one reckoned that the Salzburg Festival and all those great singers should know better than to put drinks on a piano. But otherwise...these guys and GFH together moved me to tears several times - Cornelia's first aria, the duet for her and Sesto, Cleo's 'Piangerai' - and left me at the end of five hours almost ready to beg for more. Gulp.

Inside the venues: phenomenal music-making, imaginative productions (some more than others) and world-class performances. The setting: mountain scenery, evening dresses, outsize jewellery, facelifts, sponsors' parties, pre-show drinkies choice of Moet on one side of the road or Taittinger on the other.

And the Festspielhave? In case you haven't seen all this before, the Festspielhaus bears Roman-style lettering above the door, declaring it the 'Festspielhavs'. This is where the Festspielhaves go in. The promenade of the audience around the champagne stalls often attracts onlookers. Those are the Festspielhavenots.

Pretentious though it may look, it's not all snob value. On my second and third evenings my neighbours were enthusiasts who were there on their own purely for love of music and interest in theatre. One was a retired lady from west of Paris, the other a mechanic from the Salzkammergut. And there is kindness aboard, too. Exiting Die Soldaten, I was brolliless in a downpour that put Salzburg's famous Schnurlregen to shame. A Californian lady festival-goer spotted me and offered to share her umbrella across the bridge. That's never happened en route to Waterloo Station. (Below: the view of the Castle from the interval crowd outside the Felsenreitschule. The dog is a Festspielhavenot.)

The atmosphere has changed a little since my last visit, some 20 years ago. Back then, almost every shop window bore a poster showing one or more of the musical stars visiting the town. The buses carried advertisements proudly welcoming Maurizio Pollini and Krystian Zimerman to Salzburg. The record shops were full to busting. Today? The sides of the buses plug designer outlets and free parking. I only spotted one record shop in town, and it specialised in world music. Zimerman's recital had been cancelled due to illness (Leif Ove Andsnes replaced him). Sponsor logos are plastered everywhere - gone are the graceful days of discretion in philanthropy (though it's nice of Nestle to provide Kit-Kats for the journalists in the media centre). And a gaping division is all too evident between the down-at-heel atmosphere on the outskirts of town and around the station, and the dripping-with-gold-and-designer-shops historic centre. The one thing that hasn't changed is the number of tourists and the amount of Mozartkugeln on sale.

A more welcome addition is a big screen in the Domplatz that relayed Die Soldaten live on Sunday, and on other evenings showed film of operas from festivals gone by. And I may have missed a trick by not taking the Sound of Music tour bus - apparently you all sing 'Doe, a Deer' and there's a quiz to win a packet of Edelweiss seeds. But the way time panned out, it was a choice of that or a jog along the river, and the latter won. Had to burn off some of that chocolate.

Check the November issue of Opera Now for my detailed review of the three performances.