Showing posts with label Wagner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wagner. Show all posts

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, 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:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

DH Lawrence for spring. Plus a bit of Wagner...

The Enkindled Spring

By D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence
This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that's gone astray, and is lost.
To match this, here's Jonas singing 'Wintersturme...' from Wagner's Die Walkure, because - why not?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Boston tackles Wagner's Flying, er, Scotsman?

Tonight Boston Lyric Opera opens a new production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. Except that it isn't the opera as we know it: instead, it's an early version - the critical edition of 1841 - set in Scotland. The production is directed by Michael Cavenagh and stars Allison Oakes as Senta, Alfred Walker as the Dutchman, Gregory Frank as Donald [?? - sic] and Chad Shelton as Georg [EH? Ed. - yes, he is Georg, not Erik...] It is the US premiere of this version.

The British conductor David Angus, music director of BLO, is at the helm and I asked him a few questions about this distinctly unusual project for the Wagner bicentenary...
JD: David, please tell us something about the differences between this version of The Flying Dutchman and the one we usually hear? Are they obvious or subtle? Does it present any challenges that are significantly different?

DA: The most obvious difference to the audience is the location - Scotland - and the names of the characters.  While this may seem superficial, the music actually contains many references to Scotland, with the typical bagpipe sounds of drones and little grace notes that underpin most of the chorus music, and even form the melody lines. Apparently there are even direct references to real Scottish folk songs, although I have not yet managed to trace these.  The ultimate authority on Scottish Folksong, Marjory Kennedy-Fraser makes this claim.  

The point of all this is to understand that he really did write it with Scotland in mind, and so the shift to Norway is not casual and irrelevant.

The musical changes are slight in the modifications for the first performance.  He transposed down the main aria for Senta which is central to the whole piece, at the request of the soprano.  It is not easy to sing, even at the usual pitch, and up a tone, in A minor, is really tough.  However, it then makes a better contrast with the chorus that precedes it, in A major, so we are sticking to his original higher pitch.  The orchestration is hardly altered for the 1843 version, but he later made much bigger changes, in particular adding a sentimental "redemption" ending to both the overture and the final scene.  This introduced the harp, at these two points only.  The harpist sits there the rest of the evening doing nothing!  This Tristan style interruption blocks the energy of the ending in both cases and holds things up for no reason.  It has no place in the piece as he first conceived it, and we are not performing it.

For me the biggest differences are that the standard version, as produced in 1895 by Felix Weingartner, contains every added direction and modification that anybody (not just Wagner) had thought to apply to every performance in the first 50 years, and, on top of that, there has grown a tradition of further modifications, to tempo in particular.  When you see the clean original score, it contains so little in the way of directions that one hardly recognises it.  To take just one example; at the height of the development section in the overture, Senta's theme appears no fewer than four times, with just a few bars between each.  There is not a single marking to identify this.  In the later version somebody, possibly Wagner, wrote Un poco ritenuto.  What does that mean to you?  The tradition, which seems to have become so ingrained that I could not find a single recording that didn't do it (not even Roger Norrington or Bruno Weill on their "authentic" performances), is to slam on the brakes and reduce the speed as little as 1/3 of the main tempo!  Hardly un poco ritenuto!  You build up the momentum, stop in your tracks for a few bars, and then set off again at tempo for a few bars, only to screech to a stop again a few bars later - and they do this 4 times in a row.  Everybody does it!  Why?  I just don't understand.  One might argue that Wagner is quoted as saying that each musical idea has its own natural tempo, but the very same theme occurs immediately afterwards in the coda at an even higher speed, without anybody every questioning it.  We perform it without losing momentum at all, and it works much better, maintaining the forward thrust to the coda.

JD: In what ways does Wagner reflect the intended Scottish setting in the music? Did he keep any of those elements in the final, Norway-set version? 

DA: He kept them all, and didn't make any reference to Norway except in the names - Donald became Daland, Georg became Erik, and Holystrand (where they shelter) became Sandvike.  There were other minor changes to the vocal lines, but nothing of any significance.

JD: How did the Scottish version come to light? What kind of editorial work had to be done to it to make it performable? What attracted you to the idea of staging it on in Boston?

My New York manager mentioned that he had a client who had performed this version in Australia many years ago, and it had been very successful.  At that time it had been uncovered by the conductor during his research, and he had produced orchestral materials himself.  I contacted him and was persuaded to follow it up, only to find that Schott had just produced a critical edition of this very version which had yet to be performed in the US.  You can imagine that, as I was already interested in it, the idea that we could actually have a US premiere of a major work by Wagner was an extremely attractive bonus.  This year there are so many Wagner performances that anything to help us stand out is very valuable.

JD: The story goes that he changed the setting to Norway after a fearsome experience at sea when his ship was forced to shelter in the fjords from a North Sea storm, but do you think there is any other reason for his decision to change the setting?

DA: There are various theories, but he had already had that experience on his journey to London and then Paris, before he wrote this piece, so it was already in his mind when he composed it; he still set it in Scotland.  I believe the reason he later changed it was that he had begun to construct the "lone creative giant" myth about himself - one of the original "spin-doctors" - and decided to make the piece more autobiographical.  Maybe he also wanted to distance himself from his sources - both the Heine original Scottish story and even his musical influences such as Marschner's Der Vampyr (set in Scotland, in which a pale man is redeemed by the death of an innocent girl!).  Wagner's original outline for the opera, set in Scotland, which he had sold to the Paris Opera when they didn't want him to compose the whole opera, had just been set by another composer, and I am sure he didn't want to be associated with that.

To sum up, Wagner wrote a strong early Romantic opera, following directly in the line of Weber (with whose music he had a great deal of direct contact when growing up in Leipzig) but which he and his followers then diluted by tinkering with it.  It has ended up as neither the Musikdrama (i.e. grand symphonic work, through-composed, and woven together with leitmotivs) that it later aspired to be, nor the much more athletic and punchy work that is was originally.  I believe strongly that the original version, shorn of all the "traditions" and modifications, is much stronger.

I have been in contact with David Breckbill, the US authority on performance tradition in Wagner, and he wrote the following which makes a very clear case:

“To perform the Holländer as though it were a later work is to expose the younger Wagner’s inexperience.  Paradoxically, in order to deserve equivalent status with its partners in the Wagner canon, Der fliegende Holländer requires performers whose temperament, spontaneity, and technique can bring out the fresh, vigorous qualities that set this opera apart from the later “music dramas”, instead of assuming that a uniform performance style based on the later works will bring the Holländer closer to them.”
(David Breckbill, Cambridge Opera Handbook)

JD: Not about Wagner, but we've all been following the Boston Marathon bomb developments and have been thinking of you over there. How is morale in the company and how is everyone feeling? 

DA: Morale is now good, because the show is going very well and we are all excited to be doing our first big Wagner here.  There was a general feeling that nobody was going to let lunatics like that ruin our lives.  The bombs were awful, and caused chaos in Boston, as you will have heard.  We lost many important rehearsals, but everyone has done everything they could to catch up and we are now back on track.  We were all very shocked at the time, but I also regret that this admittedly horrifying event resulted in a worldwide media frenzy that will encourage every terrorist organisation - showing how simple it is to shut down a major US city twice in a week.  If it had happened in Syria or Iraq, it would hardly have been mentioned!

Photos by Eric Antoniou

Monday, April 22, 2013

Jonas Kaufmann, swamped with red roses

Now, look. We have the Internet. We have Social Media. We have Instant Messaging. We have Facebook Chat. We have, for goodness' sake, the telephone. We have any number of means of communicating with our fellow human beings, in the same business or otherwise. 

So how can it happen that people go and schedule a Jonas Kaufmann concert at the Royal Festival Hall and a two-hander with Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato at the Barbican on the same flippin' night?

The fact that the inaugural Opera Awards are taking place tonight at the Park Lane Hilton, presenting prizes in 23 categories in front of 700 people, is probably a complete coincidence...

As it was, we had to choose, and I chose Kaufmann. There was Verdi and there was Wagner, and OK, it was one of those dates that pad out the sung programme with under-rehearsed orchestral extracts - but it was still Kaufmann. 

He started off by charming everyone with a little speech about why he was using the music. He doesn't usually, he insisted, but he's had so much to deal with these past few weeks...and he didn't want us all to sit there watching him sweating and shaking and suffering, so...well, fair enough. 

Wagner or Verdi, then, Jonas? Both, he says; and proceeded to prove that singing the one to near-perfection in no way precludes doing likewise for the other.

His Verdi selection was well planned, traversing the composer's development from the cod-Rossini idiom of the overture to Luisa Miller and the aria "Oh! Fede negar potessi...Quando le sere al placido"; through Simon Boccanegra - "O inferno!...Cielo pietoso, rendita" emerged as an absolute masterpiece in his interpretation - towards the ever-growing sophistication of Don Carlo ("Io l'ho perduta....Io la vidi") to La forza del destino ("La vita è inferno all'infelice...O, tu che in seno agli angeli").
This Verdi singing had everything: unleashed power matched by ever-alert nuance, tender covered tone balancing taut rhythms, expressive enunciation colouring mellifluous phrasing. Above all, Kaufmann's identification with the drama came across as utterly genuine. Many of these arias were pieces most of us have not heard him sing before. Therefore much anticipation had focused upon what he'd do with them; and he did not disappoint.

The Wagner extracts, though, are all on his recently-released album (of course) - and in some cases his performance even exceeded the achievements of the CD. The extremely extended Siegmund cries of "Wälse" suffer on the disc from a little drifting intonation, but not for a moment yesterday. Precision, power, character, colour, intelligence and that unmatchable, unmistakeable Kaufmann tone: it was all there and who could ask for anything more? 

The special truc about Kaufmann is that he is a musician first and foremost: one who expresses his innate, sterling-quality musicianship through a voice that happens to be a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. This is rare. And he can act; and he looks great. All of that is a bonus.

He brought us a powerful, bitter Siegmund, a disingenuous Walther "Am stillen Herd" (we longed for the Prize Song but didn't get it) and his magnificently tormented "Amfortas! Die Wunde" from Parsifal - the opera that works least well as bleeding chunks at any time. (Pictured: Kaufmann as Parsifal at the Met.) Yet of the whole programme, the Wagner encores stand out as the most cherishable moments: two of the Wesendonck Lieder, "Schmerzen" and "Träume", sung entirely as the Lieder they are rather than as opera manqué, the emphasis falling upon the poetry, the intimacy, the sensibility. And "Winterstürme" from Die Walküre brought us an assurance that after this awfully long winter, spring really had come at last.

So had the flowers. Rarely do we see a man showered with bouquets of red roses to this extent -  brought to him on stage, but also handed to him from the audience. One lady trotted to the front with a red shiny bag to give him, content invisible. Let's hope it was chocolate. He deserved some.

The Florez/DiDonato concert sounds like a classier event, as far as peripheries are concerned - the RFH audience had to deal with a programme sprinkled with ridiculous misprints (Wagner was in the Dresden Uprising in 1949?), equally ridiculous summaries of entire opera plots yet no song texts, and huge pin-up style photos of our tenor (well, that's OK to some...). But all credit to the Philharmonia and conductor Jochen Rieder for delivering much better than the other orchestra did last time Kaufmann sang a Gubbay gig, even if - thanks, I fear, to the RFH acoustics, which have been  infuriatingly biased against the treble ever since the refurbishment - the brass drowned the upper strings at every turn. A guest clarinet in the form of Andrew Marriner proved worth his weight in gold

UPDATE, 3.40pm: There was a fourth encore. It was Verdi's 'Ah, la paterna mano'. I missed it. I thought it was all over...Fortunately, though, someone filmed it and has put it on Youtube. Here it is.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Proms 2013: Hear 7 Wagner Operas for £5 Each

You'll need sandiwches, water, strong shoes and even stronger legs - those operas are loooong - but where else in the world can you go to the complete Ring cycle conducted by Daniel Barenboim and starring Nina Stemme, plus Tristan und Isolde, Tannhauser and Parsifal, each with major Wagnerian superstars at the helm, and stand just a few metres from the performers, and pay only £5 a time? Yes, the Proms are back and this is one great whopper of a Wagner anniversary season.

There's some Verdi - though no complete operas (apparently this is down to it's-just-how-things-turned-out, rather than any Wagner-is-best conspiracy, before you ask). And a more than fair pop at Britten, including Billy Budd from Glyndebourne. Fans of Granville Bantock, Walton, Rubbra, George Lloyd and Tippett could also be quite happy with this year's line-up.

The glass ceiling is shattering nicely as Marin Alsop takes the helm for the Last Night, becoming the first woman ever to conduct it. Better late than never, and she is a brilliant choice for the task.

Guest artists on the Last Night include Joyce DiDonato and Nigel Kennedy. Nige will be appearing earlier in the season too, playing the good old Four Seasons with his own Orchestra of Life plus the Palestine Strings, which consists of young players from the Edward Said National Conservatories of Music. Lots of piano treats as well - soloists to hear include Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the terrific duo of Noriko Ogawa and Kathryn Stott, Daniil Trifonov in the rarely-heard Glazunov Piano Concerto No.2 and Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis playing Schubert's Grand Duo for piano duet in a late-night Prom.

There's one thing, though, that sent me into meltdown. Leafing through the listings, one turns to 6 August and out leap the words KORNGOLD: SYMPHONY IN F SHARP. I've waited 30 years for this. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's one and only full-blown symphony is coming to the Proms at long, long last. It is being performed by the BBC Philharmonic under John Stogårds. And guess what? I'm supposed to be away on holiday on 6 August. If that isn't the Law of Sod, then what is?

Meanwhile we're promised more TV coverage of the Proms than ever before, and plenty of stuff online, and the invaluable iPlayer to help with catching up. But really, there's no substitute for being there. If you've never been, get a taste of it in the launch film above. Book your tickets now.

Full listings here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kaufmann on Wagner and anti-Semitism

[First of all, wanted to let you know that I'm on BBC Radio 3's IN TUNE today between 5 and 5.30pm, talking about the Royal Philharmonic Awards shortlist, which is being announced this afternoon.]

In an interview with Mannheim Morgenweb the one and only Jonas Kaufmann talks about - among other things - Wagner, anti-Semitism and how to separate them. Below are a few  highlights (any mistakes are either mine or Google Translate's) and the whole thing in German is here. In case you didn't know, he is giving a recital with orchestra in London at the Royal Festival Hall on 21 April including arias by the anniversary boys Verdi and Wagner.

... it appears that you currently working a lot on your piano. Optical illusion?

Kaufmann: No, do not be fooled. I lay on the soft and subtle sounds at least as much value as the large and dramatic. An old rule for singers is: only those who have a sonorous piano can develop a healthy forte. But this concerns not only technical matters, but above all the artistic.

What position do you refer in the matter of Wagner? Can you separate the wonderful work of vile anti-Semites?

Kaufmann: Wagner's anti-Semitic writings and his self-esteem will always be a stumbling block. Even militant Wagnerians wish sometimes that he had only composed, and not written so much. But as for your question, I think you should separate work and man, just as one should distinguish the anti-Semitism of nationalists like Wagner from the antisemitism of the Nazis.

Does that work?

Kaufmann: The fact that Wagner's works have been abused by the Nazis does not alter their artistic importance. They belong to the greatest. Many Jewish artists who were expelled by the Nazis from Germany and Austria have also recognised this: singers like Friedrich Schorr had no problem with Wagner being performed at the Met. And someone like Daniel Barenboim has long worked for the performance of Wagner in Israel to be allowed. (Pictured above: Kaufmann with Barenboim.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Jonas Kaufmann and the Holy Grail

(I didn't quite mean to write all this when I sat down this morning. It was going to be a straight review of a cinecast. But no. Please get a cuppa, then fasten your seatbelts.)

Every now and then, a writer regrets something. Today: two things. First of all, I think I once said something sniffy about opera cinecasts. I take it all back.

Just imagine a world where we can all go to the cinema and see a simultaneous relay of something happening 3000 miles away that is perhaps the finest performance possible today of one of the greatest operas ever written. To experience it would otherwise cost us a transatlantic air fare, a New York hotel and several hundred $$$s in tickets booked about a year in advance. Yet there it is, splayed across a big screen a mile up the road, in high definition picture and rather good sound, and we are sharing it not only with our full-house cinema and the theatre where it's happening, but also with packed cinemas all over the country, all over the continent, all over the globe. And the radio audience as well. Folks, we are in that world. We should be so lucky.

As I said before, it's not the same as a live performance. But my goodness, we still get the experience, and it is full on, and it is everywhere. It's an extraordinary feat of technological expertise and I can only take off my leopard-print hat to those who developed it. Yesterday's Parsifal offered Jonas Kaufmann wrapped, this time, in a solar storm: a flicker of sound loss here and there, for a fraction of a second, was apparently due to flare-ups on the sun. The system must, on the whole, be pretty robust.

The second thing I regret is my early years as a Wagnerphobe. As a kid in north London I swallowed all the usual rubbish and never dared touch it. That's another topic... but the essential point is that my mind remained closed to this music for a long time. And I was missing out. And if you are in the state I was in, then the chances are that you, too, are missing out on what could potentially be a life-changing experience. Better late than never.

The Met's Parsifal is directed by Francois Girard - whom you may know for his films such as The Red Violin and 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. Interviewed by the HD screening's presenter for the occasion, the bass-baritone Eric Owens (a brilliant Alberich), Girard commented that the way to tackle Parsifal is to go back to the music. To paraphrase: everything you need is already in there. 

Like many of the most satisfying Wagner directors, he has focused on strong imagery that is sophisticated yet never cluttered: huge scale, powerful effects of light and colour. The concept, if concept it is, is "post apocalyptic" - whether induced by war, meteor or global warming is immaterial, but occasionally there's the sense that we are in another galaxy, as vast planets rise in the background. Act I's processional music finds the knights assembling to observe an other-worldly light show - an aurora borealis of sorts.

One danger of Parsifal is that, given the music's timeless spans of quietness and anguish, the action can become static, yet Girard never allows this to happen. The knights in Act I - white shirt, black trousers - form a circle that seems to breathe with the music, opening and closing like a flower as they bend together; their movements amplify the emotions and the narrative in a stylised yet subtle way. Klingsor's realm is framed by vast walls that spill light and blood from their edges, while the floor is filled with blood-like liquid. Here the flower maidens are amplified by dancers: again, blocks of motion, spears catching the light, strong, simple, focused, both striking and sinister in effect.

But above all, Girard has got to the heart of the work by drawing out its compassion. That is the opera's theme: Parsifal is "the fool made wise by compassion". So we need to see on stage exactly what this compassion is. It is everywhere it needs to be, but especially in the characters' tenderness towards one another in the context of a devastated world. The swan episode is heartbreaking (OK, the swan looks a little woolly, but Rene Pape as Gurnemanz manages to convince us it is real), for you can well imagine that in a world where water is reduced to one blood-stained trickle of stream, a swan is a precious rarity indeed. The geometry of the swan's wound and Amfortas's is clear as daylight - red stain on white - but the symbolism is never hammered at us.

Kundry's tenderness for Amfortas; Gurnemanz's tenderness for Kundry, who ultimately dies cradled in his arms; the rebuttal of those who reject such empathy; and Parsifal's final reappearance, harrowed and aged over we don't know how long, presenting himself for Gurnemanz's annointing not with arrogance but remarkable humility as he declares that he will be king. This overwhelming sense of connection and compassion seems in no way contrived: it is there, in the music and the text, and all Girard has done is to take it on its own terms and bring out the best in it. An opera director gets a standing, yelling ovation? Unusual - but this one does. He deserves every second of it.

Perhaps there have been times in the last 130-odd years when the piece has been better sung, but it is difficult to imagine how. Kaufmann as Parsifal offers tenderness aplenty and that special velvety, covered tone of his when it's needed. But inside that chest (which his female fans will be happy to know is, for much of the time, bared) there is a type of Heldentenor waiting to be unleashed, and in Act II it is given its head. "Amfortas!" He opens up and the voltage can flatten us - not with volume necessarily, but with focus of tone, emotional intensity and sheer musicianship. Kaufmann may be the thinking woman's pin-up, but if he were five foot high and six foot wide yet sang with the same sound, brain and heart, I really think we would still flock to him in the same numbers. [UPDATE: a few males have tweeted a gentle protest that I have only mentioned JK's female fans in this context. Fair enough, chaps - please join us!]

And the rest of the cast matched him. There is a touch of genius in Rene Pape's Gurnemanz (right): his rich, flowing tone feels effortless, his attention to nuancing of the words made Act I (nearly 2 hours, much of which he carries) fly by, and the empathy of his character shines without being forced. Peter Mattei as the suffering Amfortas reached the same level of wondrous tone and dramatic impact; and in Act III he plunges into Titurel's grave in a gesture that seems to sum up the human tragedy of the whole work. Katarina Dalayman simply is Kundry - a timeless, earth-mother figure, all-giving, loving, exhausted emotionally but never vocally. Around her neck, she wears a variety of symbols: a cross rubs together with a new-age crystal. More of that in a moment.

Biggest credit, perhaps, of all: Daniele Gatti in the pit. It's been much remarked on, in astonishment, that he conducts this five-hour masterpiece from memory, but even more remarkable is what he does with it. In short, he keeps the sound of the orchestra quiet enough for the singers not to have to yell. It's a big orchestra. It takes a lot of doing. But the sounds shift across these vast tracts of music with the transparency and wonder of those aurora borealis images; the atmosphere is hushed, rapt, meditative and filled with a surreal glow; and the textures are clear and flowing enough to allow us to hear the counterpoint and detail that point the way forward to half the masterpieces of the next 50 years.

Act I shows us where Pelleas et Melisande originated. Act II's flower maidens are a signpost to Richard Strauss. Act III is chock-full of late Faure. The Prelude lights the way towards Mahler 9. Origins of late Bruckner and Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius? Look no further. You realise that this is what those composers were all trying to do, and you can't blame them for trying, and you can't help but marvel at the way the fact that they didn't manage to do it nevertheless let them create new paths of their own, with great works the result.

On their knees, palms open to the light, head back, the chorus receives the moment in what can only be described as a state of grace. How Wagner achieves this must be one of music's eternal mysteries. Anyone who has been through a spiritual awakening of any kind, in any religion, or cult, or meditation process, will recognise it. Yet Wagner himself doesn't appear to have been an especially spiritual or religious person beyond his intellectual interest - and in terms of spiritual system, Parsifal is in a world of its own. The focus is obviously Christian, yet Jesus Christ is never mentioned by name. And the blend of eastern myticism and the references to reincarnation (Kundry was once Herodias?) would probably be rejected with a good deal of scepticism by most traditional Christians - wouldn't it?

As for the Grail: it is found. It exists. And it sits in its box. They're not on a quest for it any longer - the thing has turned up, but Amfortas, driven mad by pain, won't allow it out to heal his community. What is Wagner's Holy Grail?

Could it be music? Art itself? 

The channelling through a golden cup/opera/book/painting/other marvel of a holy spirit that can heal us when we let it out and allow its light to shine? 

And perhaps this is why many of us who are neither religious, nor believers, nor fanatics, nor indeed anything but ordinary 21st-century people in a local cinema on a Saturday evening, wept over Parsifal yesterday.

Maybe that is its message for us in 2013. The Grail is found: we know the power of music to change lives and heal souls. It has been proven, time and again. But we still won't let it out of its box - not necessarily out of spite or ignorance or foolishness, but out of pain. Let in the compassion, let in the empathy, and take it up, and let it do its work.

I refer you to the Music Inspirations section of my sidebar for further reading.

(NB: There are various 'encore' screenings, but dates and times vary from cinema to cinema. Our nearest, Richmond Curzon, is on 17 March at 2pm, according to a notice in the foyer yesterday - nothing about it on the website, though.)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

No contest, really

Verdi or Wagner? We shouldn't have to choose between them and, thank goodness, we usually don't. But if we do, because people keep on asking, which will you keep in the balloon?

Sorry, folks, but for me it's no contest. Yes, Verdi's great. But Wagner changed his own world, he changed the world of music and he can change ours too. No contest, really.

Oh, and look who's got a new Wagner album out.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year Fireworks!


As a disembodied voice said over the firework display by the Thames, "London 2012: we did it right". Wonder if we can keep that up in 2013? 

Here are a few handy points for starting the year with best foot forward.

1. Feel free to enjoy the New Year's Day Concert from Vienna. Whatever those self-righteous moaners say about the Vienna Philharmonic, I love it and New Year's Day would feel all wrong without it...
UPDATE, 11.55am: woops. This year's, conducted by Franz Welser-Most, really is "frankly worse than most" and I have SWITCHED IT OFF for the first time in living memory. There's no point grumbling about the number of women in the orchestra if there is an elephant on the podium.

Solution? Make Your Own New Year's Day Concert. Here's Willi Boskowsky, leading a Csardas with violin, smile and real pizzazz in 1967. This, dear friends, is more like it...

2. Make some fun resolutions. Yesterday the Royal Opera House asked us on Twitter for our best operatic ones. Mine include recognising that gold rings are overrated, especially when sourced in the Rhine - stick to platinum in future. And do not write unsolicited love-letters to handsome visitors, even if they can sing in Russian.

3. Then there are non-operatic resolutions, such as practising the piano, going back to ballet class, finishing the new novel, and other things that are probably doomed if you have to make a resolution about doing them.

4. Invest in some good carpet shampoo. Handy for cleaning up others' mess. (I think Solti must have overindulged at the cat party last night.)

5. Ring out the old, ring in the new. What's past is past.

6. Speaking of the Ring, this year there will be so much Verdi, Wagner and Britten around that it's tempting to board up the windows and say GONE SOMEWHERE SUNNY, SEE YOU IN 2014. Which of the three birthday boys will you still want to hear in 366 days' time?

7. While V, W and B are carpet-bombing us (or should that be BWV? is it all a plot by Bach?), please don't forget Lutoslawski. Luckily the Philharmonia is celebrating his centenary. Krystian Zimerman is performing the Piano Concerto that Lutoslawski wrote for him - RFH, 30 January.

8. I have a new concert-of-the-novel in the works, this time based on Alicia's Gift, with the lovely pianist Viv McLean. The story of a child prodigy trying to grow up, it includes piano music by Chopin, Ravel, Granados and others. I read, Viv plays and we'll launch it in the autumn. Ideal as a coffee-concert with a difference. Book us!

9. The Hungarian Dances concert and A Walk through the End of Time are expecting more airings - watch this space. I'm also looking forward to some seriously exciting interviews and various things that are currently queuing up in the ether, waiting to be written and performed.

10. It's tough out there. We'll all have to be positive and ingenious to navigate through '13. But if we have music, love and laughter in our hearts, we can do that. We need to invent, communicate, inspire and do good things. And you know something? We intend to. Please join us.