Friday, December 31, 2010

...and a special Strauss Friday Historical

...apropos of Johann Strauss for new year, it's Friday and time for historical treats. Here's Miliza Korjus, accompanied by the matchless solo violin playing (on the sound track) of Toscha Seidel, singing Tales of the Vienna Woods in the 1930 film The Great Waltz. After this, all we need is a bit of cut-price bubbly and we're ready to meet 2011 and whatever it may do. "Something so sweet and so dangerous..."


On your marks, get set...

...And they're off! It's a race to the finish between Dudamel with the Berlin Phil on German TV's ARD and Thielemann with the Dresden Staatskapelle on ZDF for the big New Year's Eve musical celebration! Who will win the race for the hearts and minds of the German TV viewers tonight?... Norman Lebrecht has more on this extraordinary contest here.

Can you imagine such a thing taking place on these mild, grey shores? Just picture the competition: say, Jurowski and the LPO on ITV versus Petrenko and the RLPO on Channel 4, and maybe even one of the BBC's own orchestras kicking in with a fresh Straussy confection under Belohlavek on BBC2, the broadcasters falling over themselves to pay most to snaffle the best Blue Danube in the land. (Oh look -- there goes another of those flying pigs -- they're quite common at this time of year...)

We'll have the Vienna Philharmonic concert live from the Musikverein on New Year's Day, as everyone else does -- it's broadcast all over the world and it's one of the few seasonal traditions I really love. In Vienna, if you can't get into the Musikverein, you can join the happy throng on the Rathausplatz for the big screen showing. Nowhere else in the world does new year like Vienna. The rest of us can access the concert on radio and TV almost everywhere.

My late father, who was positively addicted to the old Vienna New Year performances under Willi Boskovsky (the VP's concertmaster for many years), always used to comment that the Viennese players didn't need a conductor at all - they could probably play this repertoire perfectly in their sleep. But since Boskovsky's demise in 1991, the maestroship has been taken by a wide range of different conductors, and the results have been demonstrably different. I loved last year's, with Georges Pretre, who brought the music a deliciously light touch and a gorgeous old-world sensibility.

This year the concert is to be conducted by Franz Welser-Most, whom I last saw in Lucerne a few months back with the Cleveland Orchestra. In certain repertoire he's Frankly Better Than Some these days, having had ample time to grow since his unfortunate stint in London some 20 years back. He got it in the neck then partly, I reckon, for being too young (it's odd to think that nowadays, the younger a conductor is when awarded a top job, the better). FWM admittedly wasn't entirely the best in the business back then -- I don't remember his concerts being any too inspiring -- but still he had a rougher run from the press than he deserved and his continuing artistic trajectory has served to prove this. Different artists develop at different rates: while Petrenko and Nelsons in their twenties can compete at the very highest level, this isn't always the case with other maestri, who need time to mature. Think of them as different types of fine wine... I have it on good authority that Johann Strauss is one of the composers at which FWM is finest, along with Bruckner, so it'll be intriguing to see him in action.

One little point he needs to address, depending on the nature of the Musikverein podium: over in Lucerne, he had a peculiar way of leaning back against the wooden bar that encircled his post at roughly hip height. His tailcoat bunched up against it and developed a little buttocks-shaped overhang, which wasn't necessarily what one wanted to look at in the middle of Ein Heldenleben. Dear Franz, if Vienna's podium is a similar design, please watch out for this -- you don't want that image to be the abiding one left by the vast international broadcast you will be undertaking tomorrow.

Have fun, folks! Have as much fun as you can. Then fasten your seatbelts. This new decade may bring us a bumpy ride and we're going to need all the quick thinking, good humour and originality we can muster.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Urgently needed, some very big celebrities

Anyone got Sir Paul McCartney's phone number? Please tell him his country needs him.

Music education in the UK's state schools is likely to be decimated by a fourfold attack involving local council cutbacks on peripatetic music teachers, the withdrawal of £83.5m from central government earmarked for providing music teaching, the exclusion of music from the subjects eligible for the planned new Baccalaureate and the withdrawal of all government funding for arts degrees.

These cuts are ideologically revolting (giving out the message that music is only for the rich) and furthermore represent a complete reversal of policy - it's not so long since education secretary Michael Gove declared that every child should have the chance to learn a musical instrument. (Not that this reversal should be a surprise given track record of coalition to date). Oh, and whatever happened to the enquiry into the provision of music education that was being headed by Classic FM supremo Darren Henley? Did they even wait for him to present his findings?

But these changes are not yet statutory and in our celebrity-obsessed culture, celebrity musicians could make an impact. Earlier this week, all it took to force a u-turn on the plan to stop Booktrust funding from being withdrawn was hard-hitting, dignified and well-worded intervention from celebrity authors including Philip Pullman and Carl Ann Duffy. And the forces for this were marshalled very fast and very effectively. So there's hope, if the right voices could please step forward swiftly and strongly.

We need Sir Paul. We also need, for starters, Nigel Kennedy, Nicola Benedetti, Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Mark Elder, Valery Gergiev (come on, mate, you're the LSO's principal conductor and you can move mountains everywhere else), Paul Lewis, Tasmin Little, Alfred Brendel, James MacMillan, John Tavener, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber & brother Julian, James Rhodes and definitely Katherine Jenkins. And more are welcome, as many as possible, as big as possible. I hope, of course, that the ISM is already trying to marshal such forces, but they need to do so with the greatest of alacrity.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oversexed, overplayed and over here...

Yes, it's nearly 2011: the Liszt Bicentenary Year. For my Jan/Feb column in Standpoint I've written about how this astonishing musician is still hideously misrepresented. Here's the link.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


PLEASE DO NOT ADJUST YOUR COMPUTER... It’s the Winter Solstice. It’s the end of 2010. And here at JDCMB, it’s PARTY TIME!

The snowclouds are gathering around the Cyberposhplace. But this being Virtualsville, CyberParkLane is gritted to perfection and we can both enjoy the glittering snow and get from A to B without breaking a leg en route. So no stinting on the glamour, please! I hope you have brought your fake fur and a Trilby. Please step in through the ballroom entrance, leave your snowboots and Yaktrax in the cloackroom and help yourself to some cyberhot-chocolate specially imported from the Café Europejska, Krakow. We’ll be serving borscht, pierogi and poppyseed cake later …

Then please give a special round of applause to our first guests of honour: the first celebrity couple of music, reunited at last in a bicentenary celebration: Robert and Clara Schumann! Clara looks exquisite in pearly silk and Robert is wearing a cravat to match. (We’re hoping Brahms and Joachim may turn up too, but they were last heard of sloping off to hear a Gypsy band in a café, so they may be late.) Happy birthday, Robert, and don’t forget to say hello to... ah, but that’s for later.

First, let’s have a round of applause for every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience during the past 12 months.

Thank you...quiet, please. Now, would the following winners please approach the podium where Solti, ensconced upon his traditional silken cushion, will allow you to stroke the ginger stripes and will give you your very own prize purr.

Icon of the year:
Henryk Gorecki, who has passed away aged 76. I first heard his Third Symphony - which really has become “iconic” - through my neighbour’s wall in my first flat: unearthly, haunting, keening sounds that got straight under my skin. I had no idea what it was, but it made a nice change from the noises that used to come in from the flat on the other side… Later I heard the symphony properly. Its beauty and purity has been pathetically maligned since its composer’s recent death, with most people saying everything else he wrote was better. Tough: many of us love the thing. A toast, please, ladies and gentleman, in the Café Europejska chocolate (almost local to the composer but not quite...): here’s to great music that is pure of heart and resonates from soul to soul.

Pianist of the year:
a tie-break between Simon Trpceski and Gabriela Montero has proved…oh. They’re still at it, zipping away at their respective pianos. Simon is accelerating through some dazzling Prokofiev; Gabriela is pulling stardust out of thin air, translating it into spur-of-moment marvels. Each has much to say and everything to give. Both have the energy of three normal people rolled into one. And there’s warmth and communication and charisma -- and insights in every bar. Bravi both.

Violinist of the year:
this choice should be more difficult than it is, but in the event it wasn’t. Please welcome Tasmin Little, for her absolutely gorgeous and deeply moving recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Andrew Davis (Chandos). Nice one, Tazza!

Singer of the year 
Grüße dich, liebe Herr Jonas Kaufmann. A warm welcome to the Ginger Stripe Awards. Your performance of Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin at the Wigmore Hall made me tweet in German. You are the real deal, and one in many million. Please take very, very good care of yourself, your larynx, your lungs and your heart and soul. I can’t wait to hear what you sing next.

Youthful artist of the year
Let’s hear it for the superduper Nicola Benedetti. At 23 she is more active, expressive, dynamic and devoted to music for the greater good than many musicians twice her age. She may well be the figurehead that the cause of music education is going to need in the nasty years ahead. And there’s no arguing with playing like that, either.

Conductor of the year:
It is a great pleasure to offer this award to Semyon Bychkov, who is by all accounts playing the socks off Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House at present. I’ve long admired his warmth, intelligence and verve; he scooped Record of the Year at BBC Music Magazine Awards back in the spring and his performances leave long-lasting furrows in the mind for their intensity, focus and sheer beauty.

Interviewee of the year: Please welcome Vladimir Jurowski, even though he is, I guess, my maestro-in-law. I’ve had the good fortune to catch him for a number of different projects this year and from Goethe’s Faust to Mahler’s Jewish side, from darkest Russia to family matters (since I also interviewed his little brother, Dmitri), few others would have come up with so many consistently interesting, well-informed, enlightening and eminently chew-overable responses.

Creative Musical Experience of the year:
For the second year running, this award goes to pianist Mikhail Rudy, who’s been having some fun with Kandinsky. To unearth Kandinsky’s drawings and instructions for the Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, find the perfect team to animate them and then perform the lot with perfect co-ordination takes quite a bit of oomph, and I hope the impressive results will be snapped up by festivals around the world very quickly.

CD of the year:
For me, Mitsuko Uchida’s CD of Schumann’s Davidsbundlertänze really has no peers as a listening experience for 2010. I thought I’d died and gone to piano heaven. With piano as paintbox and a brain resembling a repository of understanding of culture in the best sense, she creates a multilayered performance in myriad shades that also serves as an x-ray, probing deep into the composer’s subtleties, allusions and troubled depths. Robert, please come and say hello to Mitsuko…ahhh. I can’t hear exactly what he’s saying to her, but there’s a big hug, a bow and a kiss of the hand.

Lifetime Achievement Award: My dear Frédéric, I can’t tell you what a delight it is to see you here in person, your dark-gold hair carefully brushed, your dove-grey suit and white kid gloves as fine as they were when you had them tailored in, uh, 1840 or so. And you are no longer coughing. Your native Poland pushed out the boat for your bicentenary so heavily that I’m surprised they haven’t yet sent out any vodka-filled chocolate with your picture on the front, but now that it is all drawing to a close there’s a sense of nostalgia. That was the Chopin Year that was.

Now Liszt Year lies ahead, so light the touchpaper and stand well back…

Take a bow, everybody...Thank you. Thank you for your moving, uplifting, inspiring, life-enhancing music-making. You’re wonderful. We love you.

And a few personal highlights:

Proudest moment:
Several of these. Prime among them was turning into a Proms TV commentator for a thrilling if terrifying eight minutes -- another treat of that event was the understanding that all those beautiful people on TV look as good as they do because TV stations employ seriously accomplished make-up artists. Then there was the lovely rain-sluiced trawl around Paris for the Fauré Composer of the Week series courtesy of BBC Radio 3. I was also going to say something about mastering the grand jeté en tournant, but I’ve currently got a suspected stress fracture in my foot.

Weirdest moment:
Stuck at the station in Viareggio, shunting back and forth across the tracks with my suitcase, escorted by a variety of handsome Italians in station uniform, yet missing several trains in the process. I was trying to get from Torre del Lago to Verbier by train in the middle of some exceedingly dramatic storms (the saga is here). The weird thing was that I actually made it. Maybe this wasn’t weird. Maybe it was just…Italy.

Quote of the year
Dame Gwyneth Jones: “NEIN!”

Biggest sigh of relief:
Maybe we should have heeded the notice that said DANGER, MOUNTAIN BIKE TRACK, but back in August I reached the road above Verbier safe and sound in company with Boss and Mrs Boss, only to see a bunch of callow youths on said bikes whooshing at about 200mph down the bumpy mountain path on which we’d just been picking our way forward. Blimey, guv - we were lucky.Very big sigh of relief, and comforting onion soup all round.

Guest stars of the year:
The directors and devoted teachers of Al Kamandjati, Ramallah, and the network of Edward Said National Conservatories of Music that against ferocious odds keep music education alive and free in the Palestinian Territories. Now, they know the true meaning of “music for peace”. Read all about them in my article for Classical Music Magazine, here

Feline of the year:
Simon’s Cat, who has made the big time bigtime and got onto CBBC...owwwch! Solti, kitty, you take yourself too seriously. That’s why we can’t make a cartoon about you. You’re always busy being the maestro (mice-tro?)… Anyway, you’re presenting the prizes, aren’t you? Which means you can’t actually…OK…yes, it’s a deal: you shall have fish when we’re home.

Wonderful Webmaster of the Year:
The award always goes to Horst Kolo, who designs and maintains with a patience that few others could muster, now or ever.

Thank you, everyone. Now please relax, keep warm and enjoy the music...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas from my Orchestra-In-Law

The London Philharmonic Orchestra would like to wish you...this! As you'll see, they are a multinational lot, and this effort does not include possible further contributions in Russian, Latvian and Hungarian. Tomcat is the one speaking Danish. Actually he's from Derbyshire.

Please stand by for the annual JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards, which take place tomorrow...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rubinstein plays Chopin

This will probably be the last Friday Historical of Chopin Year, so it's a very special one: Arthur Rubinstein plays Chopin's Etude Op.25 No.1 in A flat major in recital in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. This was in 1960-something. The picture looks older, the sound seems newer and the playing is a sliver of timeless wonder. I'm not sure that Chopin could be any more perfect.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A sop to our consciences...

Here's my piece from today's Independent on the iniquities of musical organisations that promote themselves with the concept of peace. "If we accept "music for peace" as the panacea of all evils, we are selling short not only everything that music can achieve, which is prodigious, but also the nature of peace itself."

(Update, 23 Dec: the "Quartet for Peace" points out that the four instruments it comprises were actually crafted by the Cape Town-based luthier Brian Lisus. Apologies for misidentification.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Spot of Brahms in the Balkans

Just back from tour with the LPO to Istanbul, Skopje and Sofia. Read all about it...and I hope to upload more pics later on.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Giving .1

Here are my top 5 Xmas pressies. Some are predictable, but others less so. No.1 is especially valuable, but you need to do it *this week*.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Triple Treating

A new show, Rain Dance, from W11 Opera, Cinderella from Matthew Bourne at his best, and a new Nutcracker coming up soon from English National Ballet: who says there's nothing out there but the Messiah?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Great Gate of Kiev, by Kandinsky

This is what I went to see in Paris the other day: astonishing evening of live music and living Kandinsky courtesy of Micha Rudy and the Cite de la Musique...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Scandals, Sense and Statistics

My top four stories for the weekend: 1) hotting up over oboes in Moscow, 2) Pogorelich is back, sort of, 3) a new prize for professional orchestral musicians, and 4) Norman Lebrecht's latest assault on the ACE - I have to put him straight on the subsidy figures for the four London orchestras...

Friday, November 26, 2010

A little humility goes a long way

Several people wrote to me asking for a report on my chat with Helene Grimaud at the Institut Francais last weekend, so here it is. What lingers for me is the remarkable humility and down-to-earth good sense of this extraordinarily popular musician...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Please don't eat the pianist...

Oleg Marshev, Prokofiev and Liszt endeavour to hold their own in the shadow of Vasily Petrenko.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Violin Viking

My interview with that great Dane Nikolaj Znaider is in the JC and you can read it here Lots about his philosophy of music and life, what it's like to play Kreisler's violin and why he is turning into a conductor... Enjoy!

Friday, November 19, 2010

D'Aranyi plays Vitali

A very special Friday Historical: Jelly d'Aranyi plays the Vitali Chaconne, recording from 1928. Really amazing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Five stars for Faure

My review of Steven Isserlis & co at the Wigmore Hall, plus a bit of good clean fun with silly stereotypes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Grimaud in conversation

Next Sunday afternoon I'm doing an open interview with Hélène Grimaud at the Institut Francais, South Kensington. Do come and join us! Kick-off is at 5pm (and we're talking in English). Here's a bit more about it, plus a nice pic of pianist and fuzzy friend:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Elgar for Remembrance

The centenary performance of the Elgar Violin Concerto the other night. Herein is enshrined the soul of...Sir Colin Davis. 

Elgar for Remembrance
"Herein is enshrined the soul of ....."
Those five dots, placed by Elgar at the head of his Violin Concerto, have been causing everyone much fuss, bother and excitement ever since — as the composer no doubt intended. But the centenary of the concerto fell on Wednesday 10th, and the LSO — which Elgar used to conduct himself — celebrated in style with a hotly awaited performance by Nikolaj Znaider, Sir Colin Davis taking the helm. Elgar could have doubled the five dots, for in this performance was enshrined the soul of...C-O-L-I-N D-A-V-I-S.
Sir Colin has had some health problems this year, I understand, as well as suffering the death of his wife. By the end of the Elgar (in the second half) he looked completely shattered. Yet what stood out most of all in the performance, eclipsing even Znaider's playing, was Sir Colin's empathy with the music: for instance the phrasing of the slow movement's second theme, lingering on the topmost notes as if time was holding its breath, involved a rare and precious expertise that comes only with time, experience and the deepest understanding.
Znaider Znaider, when he wasn't playing, seemed transfixed, watching Sir Colin's every move. This brilliant Danish-born violinist — with the looks of a Viking, the fingers of a Heifetz, the brain of a budding Barenboim and a violin (a Guarneri del Gesu) that used to belong to Kreisler — is turning himself into a conductor. We hope he won't stop playing the violin — he insists that he won't — but I hear he has been appointed principal guest conductor at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg, which makes him Gergiev's second-in-command. His chief mentors are Barenboim and Sir Colin, and the warm, deeply connected partnership between soloist and maestro was another rare and precious experience, the antithesis of the fast-food collaborations that occupy 90 per cent of concertos. (I have an interview with Znaider forthcoming — will post it as soon as it's out.)
Kreisler's violin seemed less happy, though, making the occasional grumble and buzz deep down and losing its tuning from time to time — Znaider had to do some hasty knob-twiddling and testing mid-movement. This was the violin that gave the Elgar concerto's premiere 100 years ago exactly; this may be the very sound that was in Elgar's ears as he put the finishing touches to the piece. But of course a violin's sound is only partly down to the instrument; much more of it is about the player. As Pinchas Zukerman once told me, a personal sound is something that a violinist is born with; you can develop it, but the essence of it doesn't change. Znaider has his own violin voice and it is not much like Kreisler's: in place of beloved Fritz's honeyed gentleness and whimsy, Znaider plays Elgar as if he's reciting Shakespeare. He tells the story with tremendous seriousness, drama and finely wrought articulation, yet seems to stand back, looking at the forensics of text and structure and, to my ears anyway, playing from within the score but not always within its soul. (I was surprised, too, to see that he was using the music — he's been playing this concerto all over the world all this year and apparently he frequently conducts from memory. Not that it matters, of course.)
Sir Colin also treated us to a wonderful warm-up act in the Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony, which was such fun that we almost expected them to pipe in the haggis at the end. And to start, Nicholas Collon conducted the world premiere of a new work by the youthful Emily Howard, a UBS Soundscapes Pioneers Commission entitled Solar — a musical portrait of the sun, apparently — which involved compelling sonorities and high-density harmonies, well constructed and strongly imagined.
But what lingered was the sense of impending yet understated tragedy in the Elgar: in the shuddering of the cadenza's accompaniment the icy winds of the 20th century arrived to blow away the composer's world, a premonition, perhaps, of the untold horrors ahead. The eve of 11 November is an appropriate moment for it.
A hundred years on, where are we? Was this a premonition too, a chill wind from a graveyard of dreams? I was too churned up at the end to do anything but head straight home, desperately trying to find a quiet corner of the train in which to keep absorbing Elgar's elegies in search of lost time.
The Barbican was packed out. Apparently even Jeremy Hunt was there — he tweeted about it yesterday... I hope he was listening properly and took note of the fact that our world-class orchestras are at the top of their game, but always need to be sustained by well-trained musicians and educated, enthusiastic audiences. With their odious plans on university tuition fees, the inevitable local authority cuts to arts budgets — Somerset has removed its own completely — and the likelihood that more than a hundred libraries will close in London alone, I have the impression that the coalition is not so much pruning back the branches as doing its darndest to tear our cultural life out by the roots. It is a situation far more insidious and dangerous than the spurious window-dressing of "15% cuts to frontline arts", or whatever they call it in the  knowledge of how easily we are duped. While the LSO played Elgar on Wednesday, some 50,000 of our students were finding their voices. Now the rest of us need to as well.
Please read Charlotte Higgins's passionate defence of the arts, which she gave as a speech at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation awards for artists and composers the other day. If you think the cuts to arts funding will have no effect, she says, you are either deluded, in denial or dishonest.
And finally, here's a little diversion: the musical chain-reaction in the lives and works of Saint-Saens, Faure and Ravel, as described in today's Independent by yours truly, trailing Steven Isserlis's exciting series opening at the Wigmore tonight.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Strange tales from NY

Violinist,60, sues young artists' organisation for alleged age discrimination. How to get ahead in music in the 21st century, lesson 1.

Monday, November 01, 2010

At the feet of Jonas Kaufmann

Kaufmann sang Die schoene Muellerin at the Wigmore Hall last night and I was unexpectedly there, right at the front...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

'Alice Dancing Under the Gallows'

There's a new documentary about Alice Sommer Herz, the musician and now the world's oldest Holocaust survivor. She's about to turn 107. I've blogged the trailer - please watch it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Burnt out? Try Improvisation

This is my music column from Standpoint magazine's November issue: would a bit more "play" in "playing" improve everyone's game?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Please turn on your sound to see a) a protesting Dutch orchestra turning into a flashmob at The Hague Central Station, b) an utterly adorable toddler who knows *exactly* what to do with Beethoven 5, and c) something that should be a joke but, tragically, is not.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A true love of thine?

The latest news on cuts to the arts budget, and why it's all a bit too much like Scarborough Fair...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ongoing discussions

While you worry about the future of your foot, someone might be removing your leg...

Friday, October 22, 2010

"A universal consciousness..."

Meet Gabriela Montero. Plus more rumblings from Warsaw and a bit of fairly useless handwringing about the forthcoming plunge of the UK into an age of misery (quite apart from anything to do with the arts world).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shock Win in Warsaw

Whatever are they playing at at the Chopin Competition? I am fairly appalled listening to Youtube of the winner.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

George...don't do that...

The beginning of the cuts, with chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne's big speech today. Now everyone's trying to work out what's really going on, and it ain't gonna be pretty. Joyce Grenfell provides a little light relief while we wait for the nuclear fallout.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Play your shoe-size, not your age

Stephen Kovacevich, Martha Argerich and friends party like there's no tomorrow last night...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Appropriate Names at the Piano Olympics

The names of the finalists at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw have to be seen to be believed...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Please have a listen...

Reports emanating from members of the audience at Benjamin Grosvenor's lunchtime recital of Chopin at St Luke's the other day are utterly remarkable. My pianophile friends who were there have offered levels of superlatives that you don't hear every day -- at least, not from these guys. Words like "moved to tears", "couldn't believe my ears", "some of the greatest Chopin playing I've ever heard" and comparisons with musicians like de Pachmann, Cherkassky and even Horowitz are being liberally bandied about by those who are seriously in the know. I am kicking myself for being unable to go, but fortunately the concert is due for broadcast on R3 on 3 December. If you didn't see my interview with him from The Independent last week, here it is again.

To tide us over, I've found on Youtube three extracts from Benjamin's debut CD of selected showpieces, This and That. Here they are: Scarlatti, Moszkowski and Gershwin. I can quite understand the comparison with Golden Age playing: Benjamin has a similar mix of natural musicality, virtuoso relish, the feel for "turning" a phrase, and a sense of artistic freedom that fulfils an individual personality while nevertheless serving the composer and the work's inner structure and making them shine... This would be equally astounding playing from someone twice his age. Every time I hear him I feel I'm witnessing some kind of miracle.

There's a lot more audio on his website - extracts of recitals from the past 6 years...
If you enjoy the extracts, do buy the recording. Here's the link. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

RIP Dame Joan Sutherland

Dame Joan Sutherland has passed away at the age of 83. I've posted a set of links to an in-depth, five-part interview with her filmed in 1972 (sadly, I am not the interviewer - I might have asked rather different questions. But I was only 6 at the time...).

Playing with Fire

Sarah Chang is caught in the middle of a very sad industrial dispute at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dear Hyperion!

Great party last night, thrown by the music industry's favourite record label to celebrate its 30th birthday. *hic*.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Rattle: Give Abreu the Nobel Prize

Why Sir Simon Rattle thinks Jose Antonio Abreu deserves a Nobel Prize; why he's right; and why what's going on in the Netherlands proves it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

When markets turn black...

...then music fans turn puce. Have tickets touts made black market colluders of us all?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Gove calls for music education review

Good words from education secretary Michael Gove re music education in the UK - but how's he going to pay for it?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Perryman Videos

Here are the two parts of my split-screen video chat about music&painting and music&words with kinetic artist Norman Perryman.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Flight past the Green Mountain

Meet Mr Monteverdi. And also meet me and kinetic artist Norman Perryman trying to figure out Skype and split screens, and hear a wonderful radio programme about Faure's Requiem.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Toby Takes the Cake

My write-up of Faust at English National Opera. Please will you welcome: a real romantic tenor who happens to be British?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Marking Spence

My interview from today's Independent with Toby Spence, ace British tenor who's singing Faust from next Tuesday. Also a significant out-take in which Toby voices criticism of the current state of singing graduates from British music colleges. Plus an extract of Fausty music from Gil Shaham.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Darting on at Dartington

The future's bright after all at the Dartington International Summer School of Music.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Meet Katya Apekisheva, Jack Liebeck and Tolstoy...

...An interview with Katya, who's playing at the Wigmore on Wednesday, and a fascinating film of The Kreutzer Sonata to watch.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hunting Good Will, Not

In support of Intermezzo over her recent correspondence with the Royal Opera House

Seasonal Stuff, Sort Of

My interview with Renee Fleming re the Last Night of the Proms, and some little-known religious Korngold to listen to - admittedly for the wrong bit of the Jewish calendar but it was all I could find.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Beethoven Moments

Composers and deafness: Beethoven and Faure via Michael Berkeley and an experiment by Krystian Zimerman...

Monday, September 06, 2010

Sunday, September 05, 2010

"Wouldn't you just die without Mahler?"

Reflections after Mahler 1 by the Berlin Phil & Sir Simon Rattle at the Proms the other night...

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Pianist in Earthquake

Piers Lane is in Christchurch, New Zealand...

Friday, September 03, 2010

Time-Travel at the Proms

We're going back to 1910, without a tardis in sight. Indeed, the journey more prominently features Sir Henry Wood's bike...

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Meet Steven Isserlis

A link to my latest interview with the great cellist, plus some Youtube of him playing some unbelievably amazing Schumann.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kaufmann's latest: a sneak preview

Be one of the first to watch Decca's sneak preview of megatenor Jonas Kaufmann's next CD, featuring verismo arias!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mahler,Air Travel and the Age of Anxiety

1) I have a meaty piece on Mahler in today's Independent. 2) And meanwhile, a certain budget airline has been up to its old tricks again; musicians have had enough.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

RIP Andrew Raeburn

Farewell to the warm and inspiring former director of the Esther Honens Piano Competition - and much more besides.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hansel, Gretel, Isolde, Sonya and Kitty

Contemporary production, contemporary opera, contemporary thinking and why I didn't dress up as a mermaid.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Meet Betty Olivero

My interview with the composer Betty Olivero, whose music is being played in tomorrow's lunchtime Prom at Cadogan Hall.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Voice of Puccini

As above. Plus a few little profundities about musical understanding, and recommendations of things to hear live today. Meanwhile I'm off to Glyndebourne in the rain...

Friday, August 06, 2010

Egos and Enigmas

I have pieces out today on Elgar's Violin Concerto and Strauss's Ein Heldenleben (links are in the Standpoint post), and will be a guest commentator tonight on BBC4 about the Strauss at the Prom, so the egos are theirs and mine too. Plus Heifetz playing the Elgar...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Russian around...

The situation re Pletnev and why I wouldn't like to be director of the Proms right now.

Monday, August 02, 2010


Last and final post from the Verbier Festival: how Deborah Voigt and Valery Gergiev took on the mountains and won...

Sunday, August 01, 2010


Mostly about a La Boheme that I shall never forget - meet the future stars of opera! And some characterful snaps of things you see only in Verbier. More soon, too...

Saturday, July 31, 2010


The latest from Verbier. Dogs, Haydn, cancellations, chamber delights and how I nearly, nearly, nearly met Dame Gwyneth Jones. Stay tuned for the next installment, in which we meet a raft of rising opera stars instead.

Friday, July 30, 2010

JDCMB Transalpine Festival Adventure Parts I & II

Hi from Verbier. Am live-blogging my festival trip from Torre del Lago to the mountains.
Part 1
Part 2Tune in again for the next thrilling instalment...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I haven't been to Denmark this week, but on hearing about Johann Kobborg's ballet gala in Skagen, I wish I had.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

RIP Anthony Rolfe Johnson

Much saddened today to hear of the death of one of Britain's greatest tenors. I've included a recording of him singing some utterly glorious Monteverdi.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Prom, Prom, Prom!

The Proms kick off tonight and I've interviewed Paul Lewis about his mammoth task of playing all five Beethoven concertos. The article's in today's Independent, but also I've posted the entire interview transcript to the blog, because it's jolly interesting:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

RIP Sir Charles Mackerras

Sir Charles Mackerras has died in London, aged 84. My own tribute, plus links to a number of others.

Meet Wesley Stace

A substantial e-interview with the brilliant author and songwriter Wesley Stace, whose new novel Charles Jessold, Considered As A Murderer, is a literary thriller set plumb in the middle of the Edwardian musical milieu.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Frogs, princes and Proms commissions...

My piece in today's Independent about Proms commissions is a bit truncated, so here's the Director's Cut:

Monday, July 12, 2010

You look away for two minutes and... miss a lot of action when you go on holiday. Here's a quick catch-up whizzing through Faure, Mahler and the sorry case of Mikhail Pletnev.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sofa symphonies?

Variously of cinemas, concert halls, salons, pianos, Debussy and Rudolf Nureyev...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vive la France!

It's a kind of important anniversary, so here's something to mark the occasion!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Boy Called Alex: Exclusive!

An exclusive e-interview with Alex Stobbs, the young conductor who continues to battle cystic fibrosis, about the concert he'll conduct in Cambridge on Saturday.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tales from Terezin

A preview of next weekend's Terezin Weekend with the Nash Ensemble and friends at the Wigmore Hall. Devastating stuff that demands to be heard. Reading and listening material embedded in the post...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Violin Vixen at Glyndebourne!

Anna Phoebe, rock fiddler aka Vixen of the Violin, came to Glyndebourne last week, and it was kind of different from what she's used to - so I asked her what she thought of the show so far.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Friday, June 04, 2010

Celebrating Fanny Hensel

Mendelssohn scholar R. Larry Todd has kindly given me an in-depth e-interview about his biography of Fanny Hensel - here it is, illustrated by one of her beautiful duets sung by Barbara Bonney and Angelika Kirchschlager.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Classical CD Sales, Not

My twopence ha'penny on evaporating sales of classical CDs, plus film of Mitsuko in Schumann.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Happy birthday, Erich!

It's Korngold's birthday! He'd have been 113. To celebrate, here he is...conducting Johann Strauss. Enjoy!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fun and Games with Opera and Footy

Ooh! Pro-and-contra-opera arguments in full force at The Guardian today. Here's my take on it...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Saving Faust

A link to my column in Standpoint's June edition, which is a cut back version of the talk on musical Fausts I gave last month. Plus a little more about other cutbacks...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Two good reasons to hear 'Visions de l'Amen'

A brief post, as am still mildly anaesthetised. RIP Yvonne Loriod; culture sec Jeremy Hunt says some apparently good things; and we hear Loriod & Messiaen play part of 'Visions de l'Amen' in the hope that he (JH) actually meant them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Foraging around Faure

I've just been in Paris for two days recording some programmes on Faure for R3's Composer of the Week series...more here, with pics, and a song from Veronique Gens.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

How Schumann's madness changed history...

Includes link to my Standpoint May edition printed article on this little topic, plus Youtube of Menuhin playing the Violin Concerto slow movement.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

In case you're wondering

I've turned JDCMB purple because it is traditionally the colour associated with suffrage suffering, so to speak. Following the "election" there's a movement to show the strong groundswell here in favour of electoral reform, notably the end of the first-past-the-post election system in favour of proportional representation, and this afternoon there's a demo to this effect in Trafalgar Square for which people are being encouraged to wear purple. I can't go, but I'm wearing purple anyway and so is this blog! (Unfortunately I can't change anything myself in my Standpoint blog design, but I would if I could...)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Music While U Wait

While we wait for the election result, here are two great musicians to meet and hug: my interviews with Juan Diego Florez for the Indy & Gil Shaham for the JC

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

'Out of a Grave'

How the director of Haiti's music school survived the earthquake, and how you can help:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

After you've Tweeted, Warble

Why do we need yet another naff singing contest, and courtesy of the BBC, when there are so many good ones around?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

JDCMB Pick of the Proms!

This year's Proms programme looks seriously bloody marvellous, and season-tickets cost less than a single night at the opera...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's back: #operaplot 2010!

Get tweeting, folks! Brilliant operatic prizes and a kind word from Jonas Kaufmann - who could ask for anything more?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Words for Music: Going Gold

See what happened to Grauniad columnist Tanya Gold when a Royal Academy of Music student decided to set her to music...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday Listening & my "Celebrity Playlist"!

Dilettante Music kindly asked me to give them my "celebrity playlist"...I'm not sure they knew what they were letting themselves in for! I resisted the temptation to write an alternative biography of Faure and went down memory lane instead. Today's Standpoint post links to the celebrity playlist on the Dilettante Music site and also offers some Youtube of Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic in music from The Nutcracker.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Fantasy Proms!

Before the official Proms is launched for the year, Tom Service at The Guardian has written a wonderful Fantasy Proms post, so I thought I'd join in. Here's mine...

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Worst Job in Music?

Is this the most nerve-wracking job in music? A few dos and don'ts about PAGE-TURNING, with a little help from Victor Borge!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Seiber Space!

A preview of a special celebratory evening at the Hungarian Cultural Centre on Tuesday 6th devoted to the life and music of Matyas Seiber. Have a look, and come and join us! Booking via the HCC: details are included.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Farewell Ole Schmidt

The Danish conductor Ole Schmidt has died, aged 81 - link to a colourful obit to suit that colourful life!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Iraqi Teenager Seeks Musicians"

A very inspiring story in today's Sunday Times about the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq and its teenaged founder, Zuhal Sultan

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Stuff for the weekend

Reading & listening for Saturday - links to my articles - Chopin Overkill in new Standpoint edition, Wagner in yesterday's Indy and interview with Semyon Bychkov in the JC. Plus Simon Trpceski playing Debussy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Meet James Rhodes

The British classical pianist has been signed to Warner Bros Records - the pop label. Here's why.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

RIP Lady Walton

Lady Susanna Walton died on Sunday, aged 83. Some interesting stuff to read, and a wonderful extract of the Walton Violin Concerto with Heifetz conducted by the composer.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Trumps for Tristan

ROH's Tristan und Isolde sweeps to victory at the Olivier Awards - especially Isolde.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Faure on TV

I'm on TV tonight, BBC4's Sacred Music programme at 7.30pm, talking about the Faure Requiem. Piece in The Independent too. More here, along with Samson Francois playing the second Nocturne:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Voice of Schoenberg

A Schoenberg bonanza for Friday Historical: an interview with the man himself, followed by an interview with his wife, son and brother-in-law, the violinist Rudolf Kolisch; followed by part of Pierrot Lunaire...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Meet Alice Sommer Herz, 106

Here's my piece in this week's JC about one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met.

RIP Philip Langridge

Linking to obituary of the wonderful tenor who has died aged 70, plus an extract of him singing Messiah.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Mendelssohn is still there...

and my final blog for Felixcitations - which is, I'm afraid, so last year - has just gone up, having vanished into the ether for a couple of months first. Plus some updates about some amazing people...

Monday, March 01, 2010

Proudly Presenting Pianists Pollini & Pressler

Pollini tonight, Pressler tomorrow, and a link to my JC article about the latter (out in this week's edition).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Quiet, Please!

The topic of intrusive audience noise is everywhere at present, and it's not just the classical die-hards making the fuss: the same applies to rock gigs and, hooray, the cinema! Read on...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Rachmaninov plays Chopin

Friday historical treat: Sergei Rachmaninov plays Frederic Chopin - the Nocturne in E flat major, Op.9 No.2. Pianism of genius. Enjoy.

We Want Music Lessons!

A YouGov poll commissioned by the Incorporated Society of Musicians shows overwhelming support among all social grades and age groups for music lessons in schools:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Close Harmony?

I have a piece in the March print edition of Standpoint about two vital books concerning music cognition and philosophy and asking why it is that such matters are so much in the spotlight right now...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Drinks in Concerts: Poll says NO

The results of our poll, and why I've changed my mind about "relaxed" atmospheres in concerts. We want to listen to the music...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, dear Fred!

It's Chopin's 200th birthday today. Well, probably. Update on the latest concerts: Murray Perahia takes Barbican by storm, Piers Lane is aided and abetted by some cats, and Krystian Zimerman has been stuck in the Chunnel but is now safely in London. And Abbey Road Studios isn't for sale after all.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A propos d'embezzlement

Very pissed off with Private Eye tonight, as they've written BOLLOCKS. I know that's what they're there for, but it is inaccurate, misleading and rather stupid. I mean, why do they think the orchestra would tell me off via my husband?! They can ring me up themselves if they want to. They have my number.

Meeting Asrael...

Preview of Suk's mighty Asrael Symphony, on tomorrow at the RFH, plus some video of Suk's fabulous violinist grandson in great-grandpa Dvorak's concerto.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For Sale: a nation's musical memories

EMI is reported to be putting Abbey Road Studios up for sale. Lateral thinking: if we turn it into a musical museum, it would be the ideal new home for the V&A's musical instrument collection! What are the chances of that, though...?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chopin Bicentenary: Pitch Your Tents Now

A dazzling bonanza of piano-playing is about to get underway to mark the Chopin bicentenary (and some of it already has), so here's my pick of the bunch, plus film of Zimerman in Chopin's Ballade No.1. Prepare to surrender to the flow and pitch camp...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kirkland & Dowell in R&J

A Valentine's Day Friday 'Historical' treat from two legendary ballet dancers and good old Prokofiev. And some funny stuff about my ballet class....

Thursday, February 11, 2010


...sat on the wall of a newly built Millennium arts project venue and wondered where all the people were.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Meet Huseyin Sermet

My latest interviewee for International Piano Magazine makes his South Bank recital debut tonight. He's one of Turkey's top musicians, composer as well as pianist - though, he says, not composer-pianist - and we should have heard much more about him much sooner. Come and hear him at the QEH later! Meanwhile, a taster of the interview and some film of him playing Mussorgsky:

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Enescu & Lipatti... Enescu's Sonata No.3. Amazing recording - enjoy. And a few words in praise of Enescu and the ICR's Enescu Society.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

V&A Musical Instrument Collection to close

Some thoughts on the projected closure of the V&A's world famous collection of musical instruments, and what great violins should really be doing...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Should audiences be allowed to take drinks into classical concerts? Please vote in the poll at the top of the sidebar to the left. You can only vote once and polling closes at 1am on 11 February. Thanks for your feedback, and I look forward to the results with interest!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jascha and Fritz!

Today is Kreisler's birthday & Heifetz's too. Spooky. Don't miss this totally incredible film of Heifetz:

Monday, February 01, 2010

Stolen: another half a million or so...

This time, it's from the Salzburg Easter Festival. And where else, we wonder? I turn revolutionary in Standpoint with a little help from Michael Moore.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dearest Wolfi...

...happy birthday! My personal card to Mozart, plus film of Mitsuko in the D minor piano concerto.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Born to be Earl Wild

A fond farewell to an amazing artist, plus film of him from 1958 playing Chopin.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Around the Roundhouse

Reverb at the Roundhouse - my preview is in the Independent today, and a few additional words on the blog.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Poisonous Claptrap plus an Antidote

If you can bear to revist the nauseating display of utter naffness that was Pop Star to Opera Star last night, here's a quick write-up followed by Franco Corelli singing Nessun Dorma, which should clear the air a little.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Something Wonderful...

To cheer us all up from the January blues, here's Krystian Zimerman in the Chopin Second Ballade:

Monday, January 11, 2010

New year, new start?

My next KICK-START YOUR WRITING workshop is on 31 January and a few places remain. More about it here & link to a PDF with further details.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Chopin Year Ahoy

The Chopin bicentenary kicks off: a few places to start, plus film of Zimerman in Ballade No.3. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

When Schubert meets Beckett

Katie Mitchell and Mark Padmore's One Evening hits New York: read Alex Ross on their reimagining of Winterreise - and hear Matthias Goerne and Alfred Brendel performing some of it very differently.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

...and welcome to Vienna! Plus great Friday Historical of The Blue Danube conducted by Erich Kleiber.