Sunday, February 11, 2007
Solti is in favour...
Saturday, February 10, 2007
We named Solti Solti because in a former life he was Tom's favourite conductor. Most orchestral musicians jump out of their skins when we tell them this - one cellist who used to live nearby famously threatened to run our cat over every time he came round - but Tom, being from one of those indomitable central-European pre-War families, is used to larger-than-life personalities and knows how to stand up to them. In one legendary LPO rehearsal, Solti turned to the first fiddles and said "You must play this better, I pay you money if you play this better!" Tom put up his hand and demanded "How much?" Solti exclaimed: "Ah, we discuss it later..."
Sunday, February 04, 2007
The first copy of ALICIA'S GIFT is due in tomorrow, I've met my deadlines, Tom earned brownie points in a beautiful charity concert last night and I have time, for once, to tidy my study. So here, to celebrate, is a picture of Solti the cat. 'Sir Georg' at his fuzziest. Have a look at his blog too sometime.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Speaking of blues, we finally met Maurice, sunning himself outside his front door. He's what my father would have called a 'real boofka' of a cat. Solti isn't the smallest cat on earth, but he basically doesn't stand a chance here. If Maurice is indeed a Russian Blue, he'd have been employed in the highest echelons of the KGB - indeed he looks not unlike a particular piano professor and frequent competition jury member whom I met in Salzburg years ago and who is rumoured, fairly or not, to have such connections (one way or another, his pupils do keep on winning things).
My thanks to Veronique, a music-loving vet from Paris, who wrote in with some sensible advice about how to deter unwanted feline visitors. Much appreciated! Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the Russian Blue to start putting in the bugs. I'll report back properly about life in music a.s.a.p....
Friday, October 06, 2006
Solti is in a lot of trouble. He's been to the vet 4 times in 10 days and 'scarface' doesn't begin to describe it.
Does anybody know a good way to a) keep other cats out of one's garden without upsetting one's own, b) keep resident feline (neutered) from straying beyond the fence?
Of course, the rogue cat who's beating him up may be a reincarnated orchestral musician with a severe grudge against Sir Georg. A friend suggests I change puss's name to something more innocuous: Hickox?
Or, I guess, Gatti.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Huge explosions early this morning at an oil refinery at Hemel Hempstead, north of London, that supplies Heathrow Airport et al. We live probably 40 miles away, but there's smoke in the sky. They're saying it's "an accident". Not sure anybody believes it.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
So at a quarter to eight John phoned, we chatted over some Venezuelan guitar music and then the interview began. It was just long enough to bring out the story about the harpist and the birdshit and to explain what can happen to valuable musical instruments in extreme temperatures; and long enough, too, for Solti the cat to decide that since he's the resident conductor, he ought to be included. Solti has a miaow loud enough to be heard through the piano and violin being played together, so if he's in the room while I'm on the phone, winding round my ankles and protesting at full volume, everybody gets to know about it. I think that yesterday evening, the whole of Belfast met Solti.
So, any musicians who have trouble with birds at open-air concerts should stop and reflect: it could be worse. It could be cats.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Anyway, I am off to Lithuania tomorrow, where the weather's going to be slightly cooler. I've just been sent an advance copy of the CD of the concert I went there to hear last year, Vytautas Barkauskas's Duo Concertante - it will be released by Avie Records on 27 June. Very excited to be going there again to straighten out and consolidate last year's impressions. At least it will stop me sitting at my desk blogging lousy puns after getting tipsy on ginger beer and too much sun.
Also, NB, final tonight of Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. I've managed to miss the run-up to it - I look at my Freeview box so infrequently that I've actually forgotten how it works - but am looking forward to hearing the English contestant Andrew Kennedy, whom I heard on the radio the other day by accident without knowing who he was and found exceptionally impressive. Lovely, open-toned lyric tenor, selected by some of the UK's best young artists schemes and evidently going places. The Lithuanian candidate, incidentally, looks seriously gorgeous, but I haven't heard him and don't know whether he has reached the final.
Monday, May 30, 2005
Solti on the bench
Originally uploaded by Duchenj.
I am hostage to my piano again - recital with Tom at the Elgar Birthplace Museum on Wednesday 1 June, a.k.a. the day after tomorrow. So, in the absence of anything refreshingly new to blog about, here is a picture of Solti, our conductor cat in residence. Sir Georg does love to sit on the garden bench of a sunny afternoon.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
In fact, Solti is planning to write to Whittington to ask him to intercede with his eminent keeper to the following effect. Since cats are the best de-stressers in Britain, they make an invaluable contribution to their owners' quality of life and therefore to the country's economy. Spend between 15 and 30 minutes a day playing with and cuddling your kittycat and you will feel like a new individual. Your mood and therefore your work can only improve as a result. Therefore, argues Solti, all cat-keeping costs - including vet bills, reduced-calorie-formula cat food, scratching posts, sheepskin kitty beds and catnip mice - should be made available tax-free. And self-employed cat owners should be able to tax-deduct the lot. Please, Whittington, he meows, ask Susan to present this to Tony at the first possible opportunity?
The runthrough, by the way, ran. Another one tomorrow...
Friday, January 14, 2005
"We went to the Adelaide production of The Ring in November and I have been thinking since about The Ring phenomenon.
First of all, I have to admit that Liz and I enjoyed the production mightily. That was a bit surprising, as we are a long way from being Wagnerians. Our tastes start in the baroque (Bach was the greatest ever) then jump pretty much to the 20th Century with light hops through the classical quartet repertoire. (I sometimes think I might spend the rest of my life with LvB's
Quartets). So, for most purposes, Wagner isn't on my list.
"What we enjoyed was the theatre. When I want to annoy Wagnerians I suggest that his music is really like a film score -great at accompanying the action but not of much value on its own. That is an exaggeration of what I think, but it's fun to see the reaction. I think the key to The Ring phenomenon is that it is a fairy story for grown-ups. If you allow yourself to be drawn into the myth you can follow with great enjoyment the broad brush of the story. It is fairly simple, it isn't very subtle though by overlaying Freud and other myth makers some manage to manufacture complexity.
"The amazing thing is to realize you have sat through 16 hours of music theatre without any boredom or loss of attention. I can't think of anyone else who can make me do that. I know people who booked for all 3 cycles. I can't imagine doing that. (Though at the end of each of the 3 Beethoven Quartet cycles I have seen, I would have willingly turned up the following week to do it all again). But, having said that, I don't fully understand why the show works the way it does.
"The other aspect that needs study is why any city with pretensions to artistic taste wants to do a Ring Cycle. A quick look at operabase.com shows that they are breeding at alarming rate. It is alarming because the Ring is so expensive it takes up a huge amount of the financial resources available for music and opera. So that is not available for anything else.
"The Adelaide Ring began about 8 years ago when the city lost the Formula 1 Grand Prix to Melbourne. The City looked for another major event to bring the tourists. Someone thought of Wagner. In 1998 they borrowed a production of the Ring from the Chatelet in Paris which went over so well they immediately announced that in 2004 there would be a new production presented straight through in 3 cycles. And so it was.
"The cost ended up at $A19 million (about 7.6 million pounds). On my arithmetic that is $4000 a seat for each cycle. The highest ticket price was about $1000. The balance came largely from government with smaller contributions from corporate sponsors and individual donations. Is any opera worth $4000 a seat, no matter who is paying? The government justified the expenditure on an increase in economic activity from tourism, which (pardon me) is nonsense. I am sure more tourists could have been attracted at much less cost: imagine offering to give tourists $1000 in cash as they got off the plane. But then similar nonsense is used to justify the Olympics and the Grand Prix.
"Please don't misunderstand, I am not objecting (here and now, anyway) to government funding of the arts. I just think there are better ways of doing it. I would rather subsidise artists with something to say than audience members.
"Some of this explains why we started our own opera company (www.pinchgutopera.com.au ), but that is another story..."
Off we go, then! Here's my contribution: Wagner is so demanding to stage, even at its simplest, that the cost without public subsidy would be prohibitive in any country that does not have the same levels of private money as America. That would mean that most countries would never hear any Wagner live. And I believe Wagner has to continue to be heard live; if such things are rendered eternally impossible, it will mean the end of real, educated, creative culture (as opposed to dumb&dumber TV-centric 'culture') in the western world.
So costs do have to be trimmed. What pushed up the cost in Australia? Generally, do conductors and big-name singers really need to be paid the kind of extortionate fees that they demand (orchestral musicians suffer freezes on their already low pay because of these greedy windbags). Time, I think, to re-read Norman Lebrecht. It may not have 'killed classical music' yet, but there's an evident risk that it could, at least at the pricier end. I do wonder why orchestras/managers/promoters didn't just say NO WAY ON EARTH when agents demanded ever-more astronomical sums?!?
Friday, December 31, 2004
Originally uploaded by Duchenj.
As I had the highest ever number of blog hits when I posted a photo of my cat Solti, I thought I'd wish you all a happy new year by posting another one.
Unfortunately, though, Solti's current state isn't too pretty. He got into a fight the other day and came in with a hole in his head. Today the vet dealt with the resulting abcess and now poor Sir Georg has a very bloody face, a bald patch and an enormous plastic collar to prevent him worrying at the wound. Not so much Long John Ginger this time as Shakespeare on an extremely bad day. Perhaps some disgruntled orchestral musician has been reincarnated as a neighbouring cat and wanted to get his revenge...So I'm posting the same old picture again instead!
Life isn't all bad, though: Solti got tuna for dinner. There's a moral in there somewhere.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! Here's to a wonderful year of music in 2005.
Monday, September 27, 2004
He was also up in arms (or whiskers?) when I had to do a phone interview with another conductor the other day - and this cat has developed a meow loud enough to be heard through piano and violin being played together. I had to ask Martyn Brabbins to hang on while I shut cat in kitchen so we could have some peace, and added that the cat is called Solti. 'No wonder he won't let you talk!' exclaimed my interviewee.
Paws for thought...
Friday, September 03, 2004
Saturday, August 14, 2004
Originally uploaded by Duchenj.
It's the silly season, it's Saturday night and as usual I'm home alone because Tom is working, so here is a picture of our cat, Solti - Sir Georg for short. He lives up to his name. He thinks he's the boss. He thinks he's a tiger. We think he's a mobile teddybear with whiskers and, sometimes, claws.
It's warm and muggy here in London. After a hectic patch I've been doing useful things like washing my autumn skirts, buying jeans and trying, rather half-heartedly, to practise Faure.
A propos of ACD's comment on my misuse of the word 'crossover' the other day, I wonder what people made of the use of Mahler 3 in the Olympic opening ceremony yesterday? Despite the symbolism of the half-nude dancer on the sugarcube suspended above all that water, which according to the BBC commentator was 'man becomes a logical, spiritual being in quest of knowledge', it is still only a major sporting event that can expose Mahler 3 via TV to an audience of 4 billion. With my naive facility for being wonder-struck, I was blown away by the whole thing and am thoroughly in favour of Mahler being aired in this way, which goodness knows he deserves. The rest of the summer is going to be deathly, with nothing on TV except sport, sport and more sport. Honest to goodness, the BBC had nothing better to do today than show the HUNGARIAN Grand Prix. Excuse me while I vote with the red button at the top and take up a good book instead.
Speaking of good books, my Vilnius thoughts were reawakened today by a conversation with the editor of the Jewish Quarterly, for whom I've written a substantial article about the trip (yes, the editor of the JQ is prepared to work on a Saturday and so, mercifully, am I!). I am now reading The Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoirs on which the film was based - immensely harrowing. But not nearly as harrowing as the book that Philippe gave me for my birthday last year, 'The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania' - an 800-page tome of the diary kept by Herman Kruk, a librarian in the Vilna ghetto chronicling, day by day, moment by moment, the descent into destruction, horror and death of 90 per cent of entire community during the Second World War. Kruk, too, was eventually shot. Just before, anticipating his fate, he had buried the manuscript of his diaries in the presence of six witnesses, one of whom later dug them up; they constitute a horrendously vital document.
Oh my, there is a series about Stalin on Channel 4. I shall now go and watch a programme about Soviet genocide...
PS - I've been tinkering with my list of Musician Friends, deciding to limit it to those who have been round to dinner and/or invited us to their place, or with whom we have good intentions about getting together socially if they and we can ever find a moment when we're in the same place at the same time. I've also put the list into alphabetical order, since it was previously random and "there's some as might take their placing amiss". At some point I'll get round to making a list of Musicians I Think Are Interesting, to restore the casualties of these decisions.