Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mind the Bach

It's been a week of things not working terribly well - from my internet connection to the Victoria Line and beyond - and I managed to miss the fact that my article about music in the London Underground ran in yesterday's Independent. Here it is. It is basically a fun way to suggest Schumann's Blumenstuck as suitable listening when, due to signal failure, you are bloomin' stuck.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy birthday, JSB

It's Bach's birthday. Have a listen to how Brahms and Schumann's close friend Jozsef Joachim played his music. This rendering of the G minor's first movement was recorded 104 years ago. (Fascinating line-up of comments on Youtube here.)

A talk in Hampstead

The Hampstead Authors' Society has very kindly invited me to give a talk on the afternoon of 12 April. I've written an article about the creative processes (or whatever they are) behind Hungarian Dances et al which is now up on their website. The afternoon includes tea, cake and a walk on Hampstead Heath - also the possibility of a visit, later, to the Hampstead Observatory if the sky is clear.

Anyone in the Westminster area this month should take a look at photographer and writer Zsuzsanna Ardo's exhibition How long is the journey? Zsuzsanna, the founder of the Hampstead Authors' Society, was born in Hungary and has been back there to capture images of Roma communities with her sympathetic, humane and inspiring eye and camera. The exhibition is at the European Commission, 8 Storey's Gate, Westminster, until 28 March.

More about Hungary & Hungarianness here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Up the Amazon without a paddle

The trouble with the mighty is that you can't phone 'em up and tell them that they've put your book in the wrong category. [update: unless you are clever enough to find the corner of the haystack in which that particular needle, the phone number, is concealed; seems like I'm not.]

If you check the Hungarian Dances page, you see the following:

Popular in this category:
#38 in Books > Music, Stage & Screen > Performing Arts > Dance > Folk

Yes, they have put it not under FICTION but under FOLK DANCE. So if nobody knows it exists then it's no wonder. I've plastered it all over everything I can plaster it all over, it had a lovely plug in the Indy with my piece on I Capture the Castle, it has its own website (under construction but coming soon) and Andras Schiff has given me the loveliest quote to quote (and I have successfully added it to the Amazon page). But if some twerp puts it on the wrong virtual shelf, none of this is going to be the slightest bit of use. And now it's Easter. People who have proper jobs get Easter holidays, which means that however hard I yell, there'll be nobody to yell to until the schools go back.

You, dear readers, would find it easily because you'd know what you were looking for. But we have to reach fiction readers who would enjoy it if they knew about it. They won't know if they're online shoppers because it won't appear in their Amazonian suggestions and promotions because one person, somewhere, assumed that it's about which foot to put where in the Csardas.

I could give them some ideas for that.

Happy Easter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Horny tales from the pit...

If only Gerard Hoffnung had been with us at the ballet the other night. My pal and I were having a girly night out treating ourselves to the Royal Ballet's gorgeous production of The Sleeping Beauty, starring Tamara Rojo. We were in seventh heaven, a.k.a. the amphitheatre at Covent Garden, finishing the interval after the hundred-year sleep and waiting for Prince Florimund - who bore an astonishing resemblance to Mr Darcy - to appear in the middle of the 18th century and wake up the rock-toed daughter of King Florestan The Fourteenth with a good snog. But he has to go hunting first, and the hunting horns are the first thing Tchaikovsky gives us in Act II. The lights are down, the conductor Valeriy Ovsyanikov is ready on the podium, and...

...silence. Followed by a few gentle rustles. Nobody seemed quite sure what was happening.

Then came the tell-tale shuffles at the back of the pit as the missing players slunk on. Dear reader, unless I am very much mistaken, it was the horn section!

We were sitting too high up to see their faces clearly, but I reckon Hoffnung could have done a good job at imagining them... He could also have conjured exquisitely the expressions of the trumpet players who had to echo the fanfares but sounded suspiciously as if they were laughing as hard as I was.

I do love The Sleeping Beauty. The idea that the missing of one name from an invitation list can spark world-changing events. The sheer sadism of the choreography - Marius Petipa must have been an ogre. The way that Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat don't even consider killing Mr & Mrs Bluebird in the final act. The way that all those fairies bestow upon Princess Aurora the gifts of song, wisdom, beauty, gentleness, etc, yet the thing she seems to do best when she grows up is to balance in 'attitude' on one toe for a very, very long time (see pic). At least she meets Mr Darcy in the end. And Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli are a glorious pair, totally in harmony - they look made for each other.

Minor production quibbles from a ballet nut: if they kept Ashton's solo for the prince, choreographed for Anthony Dowell, why did they jettison his Garland Dance? The new one by Christopher Wheeldon sticks out like a sore thumb. Lots of cuts to the music, as if fast-forwarding through the dramatic scenes - and only the briefest gesture at the hunting party, not even a Farandole. One notes that the show finishes bang on 10.30.

Still, it looks great - the designs by Oliver Messel have been reconstructed from the 1940s classic production that shot Fonteyn to stardom - and the dancing is simply astonishing.

The horns, when they were there, played jolly well, as did the rest of the orchestra, and Sergei Levitin worked magic with the violin solos.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Affluent prawns for lunch, anyone?

Spotted by my unofficial LPO correspondent out in HK.

The LPO website has a tour blog, though when I last checked it was stuck at a cultural divide regarding Korean food on 10 March. There are some good footy photos, though. Keep an eye on it here.

Meanwhile, over in the Far East...

...the LPO has reached Hong Kong. The Tomcat reports from the harbour front that Christian 'Wow' Tetzlaff has now gone home and Nikolaj 'Phwoar' Znaider has joined them to play the Brahms concerto. I don't know if it's the piece or the sheer energy that these fiddlers impart, but something always seems to happen in the Brahms. Tetzlaff broke a string when playing it in London and trotted off to fit a fresh one; and apparently Znaider's chin rest took a tumble in Hong Kong and there was a kurze pause while repairs were done backstage. After which, he not only came back to finish the concerto but also elected to join the orchestra for the Tchaikovsky Pathetique, sitting next to lucky first fiddler Yang Zhang for the occasion (see pic).

Meanwhile, the LPO lost the football match against the Hong Kong Philharmonic 5-6. Moving on to Taipei tomorrow.

Solti and I are sitting in London gazing at the rain...

Friday, March 14, 2008

My favourite book

Wrote about Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle for today's Independent.

On a totally different tack, does anyone know anyone in London who can make Hungarian canapes for 80-100 at a reasonably reasonable rate?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Yehudi Menuhin said:

"Each human being has the eternal duty of transforming the hard and brutal into a subtle and tender offering, what is crude into refinement, what is ugly into beauty, ignorance into knowledge, confrontation into collaboration, thereby rediscovering the child's dream of a creative reality incessantly renewed by death, the servant of life, and by life the servant of love."

He died nine years ago today. Here he is (aged 16) playing the first movement of the Bach Double with his mentor George Enescu in 1932 - a recording treasured by violinophiles the world over.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

'ere we go...

The London Philharmonic on tour in South Korea, not to be outdone by the New York Philharmonic in North Korea, took the opportunity to play football against the Seoul Philharmonic yesterday and beat 'em 3-2. Two of the three goals were scored by ace first trumpet Paul Beniston. LPO concerts at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts and the Seoul Arts Center tonight, tomorrow and Thursday. Pictured: before...and after!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

While the tomcat's away...

The LPO set off yesterday for a two-and-a-half week tour to the Far East and, briefly, nearer East. They've just arrived in Seoul and will be playing there in a few days' time. Then off to Hong Kong, Taipei and finally Abu Dhabi. I would like to offer a special Ginger Stripes prize to whoever it was who invented Skype.

While the Tomcat's away, the mice need cheering up, so we are watching Charlie Chaplin on Youtube. Here is that famous scene from The Great Dictator involving Brahms's Hungarian Dance No.5.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Culture minister with foot-in-mouth disease

Howard Jacobson has a brilliant piece in today's Independent about our so-called Culture Minister Margaret Hodge's foot-in-mouth about the Proms. Could someone please a) send her a DVD of the Buskaid/English Baroque Orchestra's Prom last year, b) actually force her to watch it, c) wash her mouth out with soap? The joke is on her in the end, because she evidently is thinking of the Last Night of the Proms (the good ol' jingoism debate), and therefore makes one suspect that she doesn't know what happens there the rest of the summer...

Friday, March 07, 2008

This week in pictures #2

Meanwhile, along the Danube, the LPO took Korngold home to Vienna. A fabulous trip, one of the rare tours when I can't resist going along - two concerts at the Musikverein with principal conductor Vladimir 'Vlad' Jurowski, pianist Jean-Yves 'Silver Shoes' Thibaudet (Ravel G major), violinist Christian 'Wow' Tetzlaff (not pictured, sorry), a stunning Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony that was mercifully free of both mobile phones and clapping after the third movement, a hair-raising Prokofiev 5th, and as encore on the second night, the Zwischenspiel from Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane. It went down a treat in the golden hall's luminous acoustic; a strong round of applause greeted Vlad's announcement of it and far more followed the piece itself. At a post-concert reception, every dignitary in town seemed to be praising it and declaring delight that Korngold was back in the repertoire at last.

We visited the exhibition about Korngold and Papa Julius that's currently running at Vienna's Jewish Museum, put lovingly together by curator and record producer supremo Michael Haas. Highly recommended: you can see Jan Kiepura's costume from Heliane, the cigarette cases showing Jonny versus Heliane, Korngold's Oscar and his dinner suit; and the plentiful music examples, many of them exceedingly rare, could have kept me there all day. Particularly enchanting is a whole bank of historic recordings from Korngold's operetta arrangements - part of his work that today has been nearly forgotten but that kept his family in clover and got him away, to some extent, from the pernicious interference of Papa. It's hard to imagine a more Viennese sound than Korngold's aria arrangement of Tales from the Vienna Woods crackling gently out of a lost world. Closes 18 May, highly recommended to all fans.

The final photo shows Tom with Pieter Schoeman, who after seven years as the LPO's highly praised and inspiring co-leader has now been made official joint leader on an equal footing with Boris Garlitsky. Much goulash to celebrate.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

This week in pictures #1

Hungarian Dances is out today! Above, pictures from the presentation of the book courtesy of the British-Hungarian Fellowship which took place at the Hungarian Cultural Centre on Tuesday night, featuring Eva Norton, chairman of the BHF, who organised the event; Lady Valerie Solti who spoke movingly about the book in relation to her husband's experiences of leaving Hungary and read some extracts; and a slightly overwhelmed author.