Tuesday, October 31, 2006

oh my goodness...

I've discovered youtube.com at long last, and on it I found this. Roby Lakatos, live on Prinsengracht. Fiddle fetishists can find a whole new range of displacement activities to stop themselves getting on with their next book. At least I can now pass this off as research: Gypsy fiddling plays a part all its own in my book no.3. Then again, nobody should need an excuse to swoon over something as utterly, gloriously mind-boggling as this guy's violin playing.

And if Lakatos isn't your cup of string tea, you can also watch Heifetz galore and even some footage of Jacques Thibaud playing Szymanowski......

Heck, and I thought chocolate was addictive.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Eh-oop, I'm about to leave for Sheffield, where tomorrow I'm taking part in the Readers' Day at the Off the Shelf Festival of Writing and Reading. Hodder & Stoughton is sending five of its authors (Sophie Hannah, Martin Davies, Margaret Murphy, Robert Douglas & yours truly) and one of its editors and we're going to spend the day talking about books! The day includes lunch, fun and bookwormish goody-bags for all.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Singing for snorers?!

Apparently learning to sing can help stop you snoring, because it strengthens the throat muscles.

Maybe I'll have to pack hubby off to lessons. But when you weigh up the noise of snoring against the noise of hubby belting out his new exercises on a daily basis, which would cause the greater distress? I can cope with the violin, but...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


... is now available to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk. Treat the blurb there with a little caution - Ali is only three (not four) when the story begins, and the plot traces her development from talented child to young woman and professional musician by way of some distinctly thorny relations with those close to her - most notably, her complex and repressed mother, Kate, who perhaps loves her not wisely but too well...

A lot has gone into this book. I was never a child prodigy, but I've experienced that pressure to some degree, the Russian scales, the need to please, the weight of expectation, the conflicts over schooling, the magic of making music at intense and overwhelming summer courses, the longing for a mentor, the loneliness until you finally meet your soulmates... The book represents, simultaneously, none of my own experiences and all of them.

The hardback will be out from Hodder & Stoughton on 8 March and the paperback sometime in the summer. A Dutch edition is also to be published by De Kern in the Netherlands in due course and we're keeping fingers crossed for sales of rights to publishers in Germany, Denmark and the States, among others.....

Monday, October 23, 2006

Google searches #2056

Some more of those wonderful Google searches that have produced hits on my blog, and what answers I can give:

DO YOU HAVE FULL LIPS - home cooking makes a difference.

GEORGE ENESCU DENTIST - A new career for Romania's finest violinist, composer and pianist, mentor to Menuhin, icon to generations? gosh.

JENUFA OCTOBER 20 WHAT HAPPENED - The Kostelnica murders the illegitimate baby in small-town Czechoslovakia. Jenufa has to marry the boy who loves her instead of the boy she loves, even though he'd slashed her cheek with a knife in Act I, and hope is finally restored. It's not a bundle of laughs, but it's still one of the great operas of the 20th century. If they changed the story, I'd like to know.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Literary prizes?

We can dream. Reality is different. This excellent piece tells it like it is. Also shows how daft publishers can be - how could anyone, let alone 30 of them, have turned down something as utterly brilliant as Lionel Shriver's WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN? Serves them right - she's sold 400,000 copies now.

UPDATE: 12 AUGUST 2008 - If you've landed here from Guardian Unlimited Books, click here to go to my most recent post.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Don't miss this

The Guardian's website has an audio report about Piers Lane's day of tributes to Dame Myra Hess and her wartime concert series at the National Gallery, held last month. You can listen online and watch a wonderful slide show, or download a podcast.

It was a fabulous day - memorable and moving, with three fantastic concerts, as well as some astonishing films of Hess herself. It left me wondering why the gallery has never bothered to do it before, since these concerts meant so much to so many people and have achieved a status in the minds of music-loving Londoners that's little short of mythical.

I've written it up in more detail for International Piano and will add the piece to my archive once it's out.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Here's the thing I wrote for the Independent about McCartney and Sting's latest classical efforts. It's been slightly cut, which means there's less of a sting in its tale (sorry, couldn't resist that!!), but the gist of it still comes across OK.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


After hearing Leonidas Kavakos give the most incredible performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto the other week, I went into Amazon.co.uk to see which recordings of his I don't yet have. I was about to order the Ysaye Sonatas when I noticed that I'm not the only one to think of him as the Chocolate Fiddler: there's a sponsored link to Leonidas Chocolates...click here for a feast for ears and blood-chocolate-levels alike.

ADDENDUM, 7.30pm: I should have said before: he's an appropriately and definitely sweet guy.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


The Guardian today has a LEADER about Janacek's Jenufa! And jolly good it is.

Lest anyone mistake this for a sudden cultural shift in favour of opera in the UK, I should probably add a reminder that that won't be indicated unless the Daily Mail follows suit.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Some very, very brave writers

If the pen is mightier than the sword and those that wield ink more intelligent than those with their fingers on the red button, one has to stand back and take a long, hard look at the world.

From today's press:

Orhan Pamuk wins the Nobel Prize for Literature (The Guardian)

Salman Rushdie speaks frankly to Johann Hari (The Independent)

Anna Politkovskaya's last, unfinished article is available to read here (The Independent), interrupted by her murder for telling the truth.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Funny how things turn out

When I was around 14, a few cultural bits & bobs expanded my mental horizons. Or, more accurately, exploded them.

1. Half way up the music block stairs at school, I heard heaven incarnate. It was the Ernest Reid Choir (our school contributed to the RFH children's concerts) rehearsing the Faure Requiem. Somehow - goodness knows how, because I can't sing to save my life - I got a place in that choir and found myself participating in the performance. I've been hooked on Faure ever since.

2. Being a ballet addict, I happened to see a one-acter by Frederick Ashton called 'A Month in the Country' - music by Chopin, dancers including Anthony Dowell (angelic dance hero) and Lynn Seymour. Story by a Russian chap with a long name. Soon afterwards, my mother gave me a slender book and said "You might like this." It was a black Penguin called 'First Love', by the same Russian writer: Ivan Turgenev. She was right.

I sensed even then that what I loved in Turgenev & what I loved in Faure was essentially the same: a particular sensibility, a slightly despairing yet more than usually acute sensitivity to the condition of the human soul. Of course, I had no idea they'd known each other.

3. Birthday treat: a trip to the cinema to see a French masterpiece from the 1940s entitled 'Les enfants du paradis', starring the genius mime actor Jean-Louis Barrault. It blew my mind. Still does.

4. Same cinema (Hampstead Everyman), which used to have this kind of thing all the time: Jacques Tati. 'Les vacances de M. Hulot'. Have I ever laughed so much, before or since? (hmm, maybe at 'The Producers'......)

Now, 26 years on, I couldn't help noticing that my script for St Nazaire involved the whole lot. 'Le chant de l'amour triomphant', after the story by Turgenev on which the Chausson Poeme is based. Turgenev is ever-present in the script. Faure, who sat at his feet for 4 years while courting Marianne Viardot, daughter of Turgenev's beloved Pauline, formed the climax of the first half. The actress performing it was Marie-Christine Barrault, niece of Jean-Louis. The town turned out to be virtually next door to Saint-Marc, the home ville of 'Les vacances de M. Hulot' (read more about it here).

None of that was intentional: it's been pure coincidence the whole way. To the extent that I could start wondering whether any of it was coincidental. Funny how things turn out....

Monday, October 09, 2006

Everyone's been writing about...

...this.... and this. Surprised to see pop stars gracing the covers of, respectively, BBC Music Magazine and Classic FM Magazine, I thought that as everyone else was getting their teeth into them, I could escape without covering either. My editor, though, has other ideas, so I've agreed to take about 48 hours to get to grips with the merits or otherwise of both, not to mention the principles (the which?) behind them. Watch this space.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


My article for International Piano about Grigory Sokolov is now available to read on my permasite. Click here.

Anyone who remembers me writing a few months back that I had just done an interview with someone who may be the world's greatest pianist will now know what I was talking about. I went over to Barcelona to hear and meet him back in March, in company with a valiant Russian cellist as interpreter; we heard a most stunning recital at the Palau de la Musica, interviewed the great man after his concert - around midnight - and even found ourselves having breakfast with him in the hotel the next morning. Sokolov's performances have been among the greatest revelations of my musical life. And I've had a few. Read on...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Tour blues

Tom's back - briefly - from a European tour with the band. Last week they did Leipzig, Braunschweig and Hamburg. A week from tomorrow they're doing more Germany, plus Amsterdam at the beginning (15th) and Budapest - yes! - at the end (26th). Solti and I get a bit blue when Tom is away.

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


Not Daniele. Mine. And one down the road. Fighting.

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.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The agony and ecstasy...

... No. Just agony. In other words, proof-reading. ALICIA'S GIFT is done, packaged up & ready to go back to Hodder, covered in pen, pencil and, I'm afraid, paw-marks. But to the inevitable question from my pals, "Are you pleased with it now?", all I can say is that the more I go through my own work, the more agonising the whole business becomes. I've tidied up some crucial moments, spiced up others, neatened a sentence or two here and there, but the fact remains that when I finished writing the thing I was pleased with it, whereas now I'm finding holes of many varieties all over the ruddy place. Comforting words from publisher and agent, impatient words from husband ("Just send it off!") and get-this-in-perspective-cos-it's-suppertime miouws from Solti all do their bit to ensure that the pages will wing their way back to the Euston Road rather than hitting the shredder.

If you're giving a concert, you play the music and it's gone for good, unless you're fortunate enough to have a CD company present to record your every move. But if you're writing a book, that book is going to be on the shelves for ever. It'll be there - somewhere - long after you're taking harp lessons in the great conservatoire in the sky (or violin lessons in the other place). If you think about this too much, you can start going bananas. The manuscript stage is fine: it's your new book, it's real, you've done it, hooray! Even copy-editing is fine: you can change anything and everything, phew! But proofs...this is when you see the thing in print, laid out on its pages, and it's your last chance to change anything. And when you are still waking up at 2am thinking "Oh my God, is ABC what really happens when XYZ is starting?" and "How many instances do I have of W saying, 'HCHRTYSVDYE'? and should there be any at all?" and "Oh heck, can a dog can live that long?"....it gradually becomes clear that some of us are simply incapable of ever being happy with our own work, whether for a good reason or not. And then you have to "just send it off".

Waiting for the courier to arrive now.