Monday, July 30, 2007

Thomas and Isolde

We had a very wonderful evening celebrating Tom's birthday at a gorgeous venue close to Glyndebourne yesterday, kindly lent by the dear friend who lives there...highlights of a heady occasion included the presence of many friends from far-flung places, champagne with which our cup overflowed, our neighbour the fabulous jazz pianist who used to play on the Queen Mary, a lot of potato salad and a chocolate cake with sparklers on top that set off our generous host's fire alarm & produced a fire engine in the drive within minutes. The hunky Sussex fireman was then accused of being a strippergram, though Tom might have been mystified by that choice.

And Nina Stemme was there too, having wandered in unsuspecting with her family to explore the house as tourists during the afternoon, fresh from the Tristan dress rehearsal the day before; we rushed to add them to our guest list. Beg, borrow or steal a return for this production - it is one of the greats - and Nina towers at the top of it, surely one of most glorious Isoldes around. Above, the birthday boy with his Isoldegram.

Of course, Wagner's first draft was called Thomas and Isolde, but his publisher said that the sales and marketing department advised changing the hero's name to something not associated with tank engines. :-)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Talking about...

...the latest singing sensation to be signed up by Universal - baroque singer Elin Manahan Thomas's first solo CD 'Eternal Light' went straight into the classical charts at no.2. She can really sing, but isn't she in danger of being marketed as the thinking person's Kathryn Jenkins? She says not, but do the pictures say otherwise? Here's my interview with her from today's Independent (under the occasional Talking Classical column). And here's her website, so have a listen to her rather lovely voice.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's Tom's half century today!


We are off for a day of celebration, to include a posh lunch and the purchasing of rather a lot of cheese.

The pic was us in Argentina last year. We haven't changed too much since then, though are currently less tanned.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

And the sequel is...

... this. Go here and click on 'Listen' for Track No.9, entitled ISOLDINA. Marc-Andre Hamelin performs and the music is by Clement Doucet after, er, Big Richard.

Note from Technotwit: ambitious attempts to plant the music directly into this post have failed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Grande Cornish

Certain members of the orchestra not a million miles from here are blaming our freak storms on the fact that they're about to launch into Tristan und Isolde at Glyndebourne, the emotional power of which is inducing the weather to imitate the opera's setting, Cornwall. I couldn't possibly comment... but here's a sneak preview of Nina Stemme singing the Liebestod. Tristan opens next week - with La Nina a climatically appropriate choice for the lead. A further taster to get everyone in the mood will follow tomorrow.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Jerry Hadley, 1952 - 2007

Having learned of the tragic death by suicide of the American tenor Jerry Hadley, the best I can do is refer you to the post by La Cieca and the discussion that follows it. There is also an obituary in The New York Times. Everyone who heard Hadley will treasure the memory of a wonderful voice and superlative performer.

Is it true that artistic, creative souls are especially prone to depression? I reckon depression is common across the board - I've known accountants, management consultants and many others who've suffered it. But the depressed artist remains the most potent symbol, because he or she brings such joy and comfort to others while experiencing a living hell.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Schiff shape!

One of the delectable things about writing booklet notes for CDs is that now and then you're assigned a task you like; and you get the disc at the end of it. This morning a box of dizzying delights hit my desk as a result of one such job: a set of reissues from Warners of Andras Schiff playing concertos and chamber music - no fewer than nine discs.

OmG, which to play first?! The Bartok piano concertos with Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra? Schubert trios with Yuuko Shiokawa and Miklos Perenyi? The Dvorak Piano Quintet with the Panochas? Beethoven, Mozart and the fascinating Sandor Veress... Solution: close eyes, shuffle discs and pick the one at the top. It's the Dvorak. Heaven.

"...Schiff always puts the music first and last. In a world obsessed with superficiality, image, anti-intellectualism and short-term thinking, Schiff continues to stand proudly for the opposite, offering a voice of reason and artistic integrity."

A couple of weeks ago Andras was awarded the Royal Academy of Music Bach Prize. He'll be starting his Beethoven sonatas cycle in the States this October - Ann Arbor, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York - I've recently done an interview with him about this for Carnegie Hall's Playbill, which I'll post as soon as it's available online. And you can still hear his lectures about the sonatas from the Wigmore Hall on The Guardian's webcast.

Please excuse me while I gloat, worship and purr, all at the same time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bartok goes back to Romania

Do have a look at this fascinating article in today's Independent about Taraf de Haidouks, the Romanian Gypsy group I went to hear at the Barbican a few weeks ago. Here's an extract:

"It's all in the body language. They'll pull close together as if drawing around a fire, goading each other towards dizzier tempos and ornamentations. It's a game-playing delivered with fatalistic abandon, shifting its weight and shape from one passage to the next, delivering moments of outrageous serendipity."

Their new album, Maskarada, is just out and features their version of Bartok's Romanian Dances and the waltz from Maskarade by Khatchaturian, among other pieces of magic. Most of the album involves their reinterpretations of classical works that were inspired by, or borrowed from, folk and Gypsy music.

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.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Book signing this week

ALICIA'S GIFT is out in paperback on Thursday 12 July and that day I'll be at Waterstone's in Richmond, Surrey, to sign copies at 12 noon. All welcome!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Noye's flooooood

Apologies to anyone who read my blithely confident post about weather-forecasting via the first Glyndebourne dress rehearsal. The theory was that if said day was cold and wet, the rest of the season would be hot and sunny. I'm forced to revise this: if that day is so cold and wet that you have to picnic with a flask of soup in the car, the rest of the season will be soggy and frightful. Last year we had a hosepipe ban. This year, nobody's needed a hosepipe since April.

I'm reminded of a song about Noah's Ark that we used to sing at school: "It rained and poured for forty daysywaysy, everyone was going crazywaysy" (or similar). Solti is already wondering which local cat to invite to keep him company when we build the boat - suspect he has his eye on Scarlett, the pretty long-haired tabby from No.10.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Misha in Manchester

Talk of the town this weekend is Russian pianist Mikhail Rudy's stage version of The Pianist, which opens for a two-week run at the stunning Manchester International Festival today. Misha has written a piece in The Guardian's arts blog about how/why he's doing this, and there is an excellent feature in The Sunday Times too.

The show has already had tremendous success in France, capturing the public imagination in a very positive, encouraging way (it's not all Kismet out there, thank God). Combining music and words is far more difficult that it looks, and Misha and his team appear to have hit the nail right on the head.