Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Not everyone likes cats

The LPO, fresh from last week's Southbank triumph, headed for Baden-Baden for the opening leg of a short run of Glyndebourne's Tristan und Isolde. Dress rehearsal & three performances, several days apart: the band is supposed to fly there and back for each occasion (on performance day, via Frankfurt and a 2 1/2 hr coach journey). The other day the first show started late because the plane was held up. We hear that this was because of problems with a cat in the hold.

Sir Georg 'Ginger Stripes' Solti asks me to point out here that he was safely at home tearing up manuscripts in the study.

Blogging may be thin on the ground due to performances 3 & 4 to which I'm heading tomorrow. Taking camera along to find B-B 19th-century haunts of Clara Schumann, Brahms, Viardot, Turgenev et al.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Queuing for returns at the Barbican

It's an unusual sight: a line of people snaking through that sunless foyer behind a sign marked 'Queue here for returns'. The Barbican was full to busting last night for the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra new season, Gergiev conducting Mahler 3.

A startling performance, containing moments of phenomenal magic. The opening of musical windows as Pan brushes through in a gust of air from another world at the end of the second movement, shaking away the offstage enchantment of the Venetian song; the hushed tremolandi in which the whole audience held its breath; Anna Larsson's persuasive mezzo uttering the words 'O Mensch'; the choirs singing from memory; the ultimate tenderness as the final movement began.

Gergiev has the most extraordinary hands: big, loose paws with talons that quiver and shiver and flap, expressive to the last fingertip. I don't know how anybody follows his beat, but the chemistry is powerful: not so much a beat as a thread, created by charisma and, one supposes, respect, a tightrope of communication on which the orchestra balanced with poise and assurance.

It was also extremely loud. The first movement left me reaching for a non-existent volume knob. Was it the hall or the orchestra? Should one have this sensation in Mahler? Are we so desensitised by pop music and aeroplanes and iPods etc that we need excessive loudness in Mahler too? Still, it was worth it. Lingering images include Larsson, resplendent in a wonderful dress of dusky pink and plum-coloured silk, apparently transfixed by Gergiev's feet as they left the podium for the air in the last movement; the lengthy ovation, which didn't want to end; and my companion for the evening remarking, on the way out, 'we have a DVD of Lenny doing this which is really incredible...'

So, they're queuing for returns at the LSO; the refurbished RFH has more life in it than ever before; you can't get into anything good at the Wigmore for love or money; and the Proms has recently announced that this season produced its best-ever ticket sales. The Ring opens next week and they've scheduled an extra 'preview' cycle, which began yesterday. Forgive me for saying so, but from here it doesn't look as if classical music is dead.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Adieu, Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau, master of mime. 1923-2007.

The rest is news

Alex Ross's book The Rest is Noise has reached print at last. Congratulations, Alex - and I'm looking forward to the UK edition from Fourth Estate which is due out here in spring. Stylists as fine as Alex are a rarity in classical music writing and this volume looks certain to become a classic. If anyone out there still hasn't sampled Alex, here's a link to his Sibelius chapter - some of the most beautiful writing about music I've ever seen.

Chris Foley of Collaborative Piano alerts today to an interesting innovation: he's created a Classical Music Pagecast on Pageflakes. Technotwit here hadn't come across this idea until now, but it's good: the ultimate blogroll.

Opera Chic has found a real Italian tenor and links to a Youtube video of him singing Nessun Dorma. Voice to die for. Name: Fabio Armiliato. Thanks, OC!

And over at Think Denk, Jeremy has created a side-splitting scenic spoof: Shakespeare's little-known tragicomedy about life, love and death al dente among passionate youngsters in New York, Romeo and Juilliard. Get along there quick and meet Romeo, Mercutio, Candy and the Ghost of Dorothy DeLay.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Some of my favourite men wear tights

The Guardian today runs an extract from the autobiography of Carlos Acosta (picture above shows him without said credit by Tristam Kenton, from The Guardian).

When the news reached my father's ears that I was running around the streets with gangs, he said to my mother, "We have to do something, Maria, otherwise we're going to lose the boy." Our neighbour Candida, whose nephew was one of the principal dancers with the Cuban National Ballet, had a suggestion: "You say he likes dancing? Why don't you send him to ballet school?"

My father's eyes lit up. Ballet! Suddenly there was hope. I was only nine, but I still remember that day when my parents told me their plans.

"What's everyone in the neighbourhood going to think? They'll say I'm gay!"

"Listen, you're my son and the son of the tiger shares his father's stripes. If anyone calls you gay, just smash his face in, then pull down your trousers and show him what you've got between your legs."

"But Papito, I want to be a footballer."

"Your mother and I have made up our minds, and that's that. It's your future, my boy!"

Meanwhile I have a hot date with my tv tonight: special documentary Nureyev: From Russia with love on BBC2 at 9.30. Watch clips here. And BBC4, the digital channel, is showing the Fonteyn & Nureyev film of Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet immediately afterwards. Is Acosta the closest thing we have now to Nureyev? I reckon so...

Nureyev, for a while, had a house about ten minutes walk from where we live. Sometimes I stare over the wooden gate towards the door that was once his, trying to imagine a creature as self-willed and wild as that living somewhere as ridiculously bourgeois and uneventful as this suburb. Not that he stayed long. One biography tells the story that he decided to move after an occasion when he left late for a performance at Covent Garden and jumped on the District Line at East Putney in the wrong direction.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Krystian speaks...

My German isn't brilliant, but I think that this open letter from Krystian Zimerman explains why he and Gidon Kremer did not appear together as originally planned at this year's Salzburg Festival.

For those of us who rely on the universal language that is music, here is KZ playing two of Gershwin's Preludes in Japan. I'm told that he also made a substantial speech to the audience - in Japanese - about American politics and the war in Iraq, but that has not as yet made it on to Youtube.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

They're back!


The smiles shone right across London last night as the London Philharmonic returned proudly to the spanking, newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall with a spanking [not literally], new principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, for the opening night of the new season, which celebrates the band's 75th birthday. And it's full steam ahead.

After 21 years on board the LPO, Tom declares that this is the best time he can remember. Managers, musicians and family members in the audience talk about a sense of renaissance. Glamour and excitement - at the Southbank Centre? Yes, at last it's all there. I'm still adjusting to the remarkable fact that near the back of the rear stalls, I could hear every detail of the music as clearly as if through iPod headphones. More good news: last night's concert was filmed for release on DVD and it will appear in due course on the recently founded Medici label. [update: watch it online free now, until 30 October.]

In yesterday's Indy, Ed Seckerson had this interesting interview with Vlad. Extract:

"For the LPO, the Jurowski era begins with a programme that starts as he means to go on: Wagner's Parsifal Prelude; Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces; and the original version of Mahler's astonishing Das klagende Lied. That's not a programme, that's a manifesto. Indeed, such is the inventiveness and originality of Jurowski's programming in his first season that, for the first time in perhaps a decade, we can predict the unpredictable on the South Bank."

Yes indeed. It was clear from this selection that easy listening ain't the order of the day (and admittedly the hall wasn't as packed as it might have been without that killer word "Berg"), but the electricity and commitment flowing from the platform suggest that an ideal is gathering pace here. With musicianship like Vladimir's at stake, and the inspiration he's bringing to the orchestra, they should soon have the audience eating out of their hands. People will come to hear them no matter what they do, because there'll be trust; everything will be worth experiencing. This was only the beginning.

And as the work of an 18-year-old, the Mahler wasn't bad...

Monday will be the opening night at the LSO over at the Barbican, with Gergiev conducting Mahler 3, and meanwhile I'm on tenterhooks as to whether I may squeeze into a Wagner dress rehearsal at Covent Garden next week. On balance, France with its sunshine, sea and Provencal markets looks more attractive than grey old Blighty, but musical life like this only exists in London. So there is nowhere else to be.

UPDATE: Medici-Arts TV also has webstreamed concerts from this year's Verbier Festival, available to view online until 30 September. I intended to flag this up earlier, but when I tried to log on, the streaming quality was turning Thomas Quasthoff singing Schubert into something of which Stockhausen could scarcely have retrospect, this was probably my computer's fault rather than theirs. Give it a whirl while you can. And the LPO thing seems to be working perfectly.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Et a propos de St Nazaire... are some famous goings-on from up the road in St Marc, courtesy of Jaques Tati a.k.a. Monsieur Hulot, on his holidays. This episode includes the conversational reference to St Nazaire plus...well, you have to see it.

A walk through the end of time...

Back from I'd suspected, my technotwit tendencies (or inadequate laptop) prevented any blogging en route.

My play 'A Walk through the End of Time' was premiered on Saturday as part of the opening night of the Consonances Festival - a privilege indeed, and an astonishing experience.

The Alveole 14 of St Nazaire's former Nazi submarine base eyesore has been renamed LIFE and transformed into a venue for experimental performing arts which turned out to have a startlingly good acoustic; ours was the first show to take place inside it. Actors Marie-Christine Barrault and Charles Gonzales gave their all, director Ilonka van den Bercken from Amsterdam devised some beautiful coups-de-theatre, a young Dutch artist created projected drawings to illustrate the action in real time and the closing performance of the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time by Charles Neidich, Philippe Graffin, Raphael Wallfisch and Claire Desert was unforgettable. And afterwards the mayor of St Nazaire awarded me a medal. :-)

More pics on my permasite. For the moment, above: the American War Memorial on the beach at St Nazaire; the set inside LIFE; and a would-be playwright with Raphael Wallfisch (left) and Philippe Graffin (right).

Saturday, September 01, 2007


It's September - so here is the late Lucia Popp singing 'September' from Strauss's Four Last Songs in 1977, conducted with tremendous panache by Solti. The sound is slightly crackly, but the voice's purity and directness goes straight to the heart. She died much too young in 1993 and is still sorely missed.

Not much blogging last week, due to final work on the manuscript of Hungarian Dances, which went back to Hodder & Stoughton yesterday for typesetting.

Blogging will be scant for the next couple of weeks too, as I'm off to France. Remembering foiled intentions of blogging the Viardot concert at St Nazaire a year ago, let's just say that I'll blog the progress of the Messiaen play if I can, but as it'll involve the same laptop, same hotel and same brain, it mightn't happen.

A bientot...