Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Meet Tamsin Waley-Cohen

The super young British violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen has a delectable new disc out with Champs Hill Records: An American in Paris cleverly puts the sonatas by Poulenc and Ravel side by side with music by Charles Ives and George Gershwin (aided and abetted by Jascha Heifetz). Tamsin's joined at the piano by the composer Huw Watkins. In a lovely launch bash yesterday, Tamsin and Huw rocked that Ravel with graceful phrasing, gorgeous tone and genuine lyricism. As for Gershwin: they got rhythm. Sneak previews and album download available from Champs Hill Records, here.

Here is Tamsin herself, with a spot of Mozart and a few words about music, life, the universe and her Strad, which belonged to the late Lorand Fenyves. She's accompanied in the concerto by the Orchestra of the Swan (and Hungarian Dances aficionados may spot our own David Le Page in the leader's chair - often in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen).

Monday, June 24, 2013


The winner of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition is Jamie Barton, an American mezzo-soprano whose artistry, as far as I'm concerned, blew the others clean out of the water.

She sang four different characters in four languages - Cilea, Sibelius, Berlioz and, dear friends, the Witch from Hansel und Gretel - mesmerising from note number one and sparking laughter, tears and everything between. She draws you in to the exclusion of all else; she can lift you sky-high with that tone and its massive range; her diction and characterisation can help to twist your heart even in a language you don't know. No wonder she scooped both the overall prize and the Song Prize, which hadn't happened since 2001.

The Audience Prize went to English tenor Ben Johnson, who is of course a fine artist - I enjoyed his performance as a bookish, introverted Alfredo at ENO a few months ago - but might a strange image somehow go through one's mind of Barton bundling him into her magic oven at breakfast time? Argentinian mezzo Daniela Mack drew much acclaim and some of us were especially happy that she chose to sing some Pauline Viardot songs in the Song Prize - this was a brilliant competition in making us appreciate the richness and variety of the mezzo-soprano repertoire. In the week before the final, I was very taken with the Hungarian soprano Maria Celeng, whose lyricism and heart-shredding conviction reminded me a little of the great Angela...

Well, we'll be hearing much more of them all. This was one of those heart-warming moments when the future of great singing looks deliciously secure. Explore all these wonderful young artists on the website, here.

And how fantastic it was, when the Song Prize final arrived, to have a whole evening of Lieder on the TV. This contest is the only time this ever happens, I fear... Special plaudits to the pianists, because singer after singer plumped for Rachmaninov.

Watch the final on the BBC iPlayer here for a week.

Follow Jamie on Twitter at @jbartonmezzo, look out for her singing Fricka at Houston Grand Opera next year... and sometime, when our all-Mahlered-out orchestras have recovered from 2010-11 and want to do some again, perhaps someone could please grab her for Das Lied von der Erde?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Guildhall comes top in UK music studies ranking

Thinking of studying music at university or music college here in Blighty? The Guardian has compiled rankings of all UK universities in all subject disciplines and the music section makes interesting reading. They've taken into account ratio of staff to student numbers, satisfaction with teaching, satisfaction with feedback, job prospects and further study after graduation, spend of £ by instution per student, effectiveness of teaching and more. The statistics are topped by a special "ranking according to Guardian formula".

Out of 77 institutions offering music courses, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama comes out top, scoring 100 on the Guardian ranking - though as no figures are given in this particular case for satisfaction with course, teaching or feedback, it's not entirely clear why. 92% of Guildhall students went on to jobs or further study after 6 months, compared to 95% from the Royal Academy. At Manchester and Durham, 96% of students were satisfied with their courses. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland ranked 13th, Royal Welsh College 17th and the Royal Northern 25, despite a 90% course satisfaction score. If they are counting Birmingham Conservatoire as part of Birmingham City University, that is no.27. Here's the overall top ten:

1. Guildhall School of Music and Drama
2. Bristol University
3. Royal College of Music
4. Royal Academy of Music
5. Oxford University
6. Birmingham University
7. King's College London
8. Manchester University
9. Durham University
10. Cambridge University

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mendelssohn and Jenny Lind: the truth

In the latest issue of the Journal of the Royal Musical Association (no.138 issue 1, May 2013), a study by Dr George Biddlecombe has been published, entitled: Secret Letters and a Missing Memorandum: New Light on the Personal Relationship between Felix Mendelssohn and Jenny Lind.

Here is the Abstract:
"The Committee of the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation possesses material indicating that Mendelssohn wrote passionate love letters to Jenny Lind entreating her to join him in an adulterous relationship and threatening suicide as a means of exerting pressure upon her, and that these letters were destroyed on being discovered after her death. The notion that Mendelssohn would have written such letters conflicts strikingly with the received view of his character. Nevertheless, the veracity of the material is beyond doubt, and, while it does not include specific evidence that Mendelssohn and Lind began an affair, it points more clearly than has hitherto been possible towards an answer to this question. Thus it necessitates a radical revision of perceptions of these two major musicians. For Otto Goldschmidt, Lind's husband, destroying the letters was crucial in protecting the reputations not only of his wife and Mendelssohn but also of himself and his family."
So the truth - as far as it can ever be established - is out.

If you cast your minds back to 2009, the Mendelssohn bicentenary year, you may remember my frustrated efforts to get at some of this material, which led me to write an article that, I'm glad to say, seems to have had some impact in persuading the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation to commission a thorough study. This is precisely what was needed. I believed that the last part of Mendelssohn's life, and therefore his late works, could never be understood to the full until it came about.

Dr Biddlecombe has gone into minute detail over such matters as the integrity of the solicitors involved in the disappearance of the vital memorandum, as well as putting the traditional saintly views so widely held of both composer and soprano into context with Victorian society. His assessment is, broadly speaking, that while we will never know how far the relationship went, the passionate emotional bond between the pair was real, and the risks of revealing it potentially dangerous to the man whom Lind later married, Otto Goldschmidt, and their family.

Many congratulations and deepest thanks to the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation, its chairman Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, principal of the Royal Academy of Music, and Dr George Biddlecombe for all their efforts.

You can download the complete article, for a fee, here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kaufmann is going to Sony

The other week an editor friend mentioned, en passant, that he'd phoned Decca asking for some pics of Jonas - only to be told to call Sony Classical instead. Ooh la la, we thought. It's all official now, and the great tenor has indeed jumped ship. We can expect a Verdi album imminently.

Meanwhile he is at the Bayerische Staatsoper rehearsing Il Trovatore with Anja Harteros for the Munich Opera Festival. I'm reliably informed that they are both sounding absolutely fantastic. We can all watch their live webcast from the theatre on 5 July.

They're also doing Don Carlo - and I may even get to see this at the end of the festival. Here's last year's backstage glimpse (in German).

So for Decca today, it's one in and one out, and probably time for the weekend.

Pumeza Matshikiza signs with Decca

A couple of years ago I went to talk to a young South African soprano from the townships of the Western Cape. She was singing with the Classical Opera Company at the time, had been on the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at Covent Garden and was about to start a contract with the Stuttgart Opera. Her voice was full of character, warmth and gorgeous, heart-string-twisting magic. Now she has a recording contract with Decca. Hooray for Pumeza Matshikiza!

Here's my interview with her from The Independent in May 2011.

There would be Wilbye

One of my favourite moments in the Cambridge calendar used to be Singing on the River.

In mid-June, after all the exams were over and everyone was letting off steam in "May Week", the audience assembled on the river bank on the Backs behind Trinity College and the University Chamber Choir would take to the waters on a raft lit by Chinese lanterns.

They'd sing a glorious selection of a cappella works. The programme varied, but there were two constants. One was Stanford's The Bluebird; the other, John Wilbye's madrigal Draw On, Sweet Night. This last ended the concert. By then it was around 10pm, or shortly after; overhead the midsummer stars were starting to glow (somehow, it was always clear); and at the conclusion the raft lifted anchor and drifted away downstream, the music fading with the lanterns into the darkness. Wilbye lived from 1574 to 1638 and published his two sets of madrigals in 1598 and 1608 - a total of 64 pieces - yet sometimes, with this one, I find myself thinking of Brahms, wondering if he had heard it too...

The former director of music at Trinity College, the brilliant, kind and exacting Richard Marlow, died last week aged 74. (He was chief examiner for my MusB, as it happens.) As a tribute, here is a film of Singing on the River's Wilbye conclusion from 2005.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Rhythm is everything": how Stravinsky himself choreographed the Rite

Before you ditch the Rite of Spring centenary for overkill, please read this utterly fascinating essay by Robert Craft from the Times Literary Supplement.

"Rhythm is everything," Stravinsky wrote on his score. "Where there is rhythm, there is music..." His descriptions of exactly how he wants the dancers to count would probably cause some crossed pointe shoes, though.

Craft, the composer's amanuensis, records the inception of the ballet and its Lithuanian influences, especially the work of Ciurlionis; the vital input of the artist Nicholas Roerich; and Stravinsky's own plans for its choreography, in minute detail. (It also sheds some intriguing light on the great Russian's sexuality, which in turn casts unexpected illumination on his relationship with Diaghilev, and may possibly disillusion fans of Igor and Coco...)
'Moving to his piano, Stravinsky opened a copy of The Rite and played a few passages. Suddenly, in the “Augurs of Spring”, he stopped playing to criticize the music, remarking that “the really innovative element is the accents”, and “the upper parts are good enough and the bass is acceptable, but I could have found something more interesting in the middle”. His final remark, as he flicked through the rest of the score, is unforgettable: “There are good things in this, but also many pages that do not interest me at all”. This is the man who on the first day I met him said, “Music is the greatest means we have of digesting time”.'
Read the whole thing here.  Craft's new book, Stravinksy: Discoveries and Memories, was published last month.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Die Walkure at Longborough

Feel as if I am being flown like a kite by Wagner today, after a glorious performance of Die Walkure last night at Longborough.

Here is my review for The Independent.

Please take immediate note of this man. He is a Wagner marvel. http://www.anthonynegus.co.uk/

And these two sopranos are absolutely world class:

Rachel Nicholls - Brunnhilde
Lee Bisset - Sieglinde

Nor is it a bad place to hear music, or to enjoy a quiet interval picnic overlooking the Cotswold countryside...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Coronation chicken? Or was it?

Whatever happened to Gloriana in 1953? More turkey than Coronation Chicken, it would seem. But ahead of Richard Jones's staging at Covent Garden - the first time the ROH has done the work since its unfortunate premiere 60 years ago - I've been talking to its conductor, Paul Daniel, its Earl of Essex, Toby Spence, and the playwright Mark Ravenhill, who has written a new radio play about the relationship of Britten and Imogen Holst, looking at what really went wrong. Piece is in The Independent, here. Slightly longer Director's Cut below the video. Book for the opera here.

Meanwhile, it sounds like everyone had the most brilliant time last night at Grimes on the Beach at Aldeburgh. Having been away/concert-giving for most of the last ten days, and heading to the Cotswolds for Longborough's Die Walkure today, I needed yesterday to stay in and work, so regretfully declined an offered place on the press bus. Sounds like this may not have been the best move in the world... The extraordinary event has, fortunately, been filmed and Tim Albery says it should be in the cinemas this autumn - which I guess will be warmer, if nothing else.

Onwards to the next big Britten event...here's an extract from Richard Jones's production of Gloriana, which has already been seen in Hamburg:

It was not Benjamin Britten’s finest hour. The world premiere of his Gloriana, written to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, was a flop. Opening night, 8 June 1953, found dignitaries, ambassadors, court officials and the youthful monarch assembling in the Royal Opera House for the glittering occasion: a new opera about the young queen’s namesake, Queen Elizabeth I. 

Yet such was the apparent disappointment with it that, despite successful airings at Welsh National Opera and Opera North in intervening decades, its original venue has not attempted to stage it again. Now, after 60 years, a new production by the director Richard Jones is to open there at last. 

Jones, in this co-production with the Hamburg Staatsoper, has updated the setting to 1953, so that the opera’s action – which concerns the relationship of Elizabeth and Robert Deveraux, the Earl of Essex – takes place as a play within a play, framed by the exact era of its composition. The designs by Ultz present children in grey uniforms and a dilapidated wooden school hall – within which bright colours, vivid dances and stylised backgrounds evoke what could be the 1950s’ idealised, escapist vision of the 16th century, including lettering formed from stacked vegetables and a golden coach made entirely of roses. A star-studded British cast is headed by the soprano Susan Bullock as Elizabeth and the tenor Toby Spence as Deveraux, and Paul Daniel conducts. 

This is an anniversary year for both the Queen and the composer; the event is a major contribution to the Britten centenary celebrations. But it’s time to take stock. Whatever went wrong with Gloriana back in 1953? 

The short answer is: pretty much everything. 

“This was an opera written with the bunting up,” says Toby Spence. “Britain had just come out of the Second World War and had only just got past rationing. We were still a broken country, so any excuse to get out the banners and flags and give them a wave was gratefully received.” 

The opera received financial support from the still-new Arts Council and Britten worked under extreme pressure to finish the score in about nine months (most operas take several years). He was aided and abetted in its administration by Imogen Holst, daughter of the composer Gustav Holst, who helped to make its completion viable. 

An official, courtly stage work nevertheless seemed a strange direction for a composer not noted for his prime place in the establishment. During the war Britten had been a conscientious objector; and he was homosexual, publicly so in his long relationship with the tenor Peter Pears. The climate of the Cold War and the ripples of McCarthyism were making themselves felt all too strongly at the time; the display of patriotism and pageantry around the Coronation was perhaps partly a veneer over an atmosphere of alarm and repression.

Britten habitually depicted the latter qualities rather better than he did pomp and circumstance. One of his great strengths in opera was his ability to evoke empathy for the vulnerable and the alienated. And so he does for Queen Elizabeth I. Gloriana – with a libretto by William Plomer based on Lytton Strachey’s book Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History – shows her as a complex, ageing woman facing intense personal anguish, her public self essentially forced to destroy the man she privately loves. The premiere’s audience, less than conversant with contemporary music, arrived hoping for royal celebration. They did not get it.

It was said that the newly crowned queen was not too taken with the subject matter; Lord Harewood described the event as “one of the great disasters of operatic history”; and the work was omitted from a supposedly complete recording of Britten conducting his own works. Its failure had long-lasting effects on the composer: “Afterwards, he closed in upon himself,” says the conductor Paul Daniel. “His music became more introverted for the next ten years.” 

According to Mark Ravenhill, who has written a play for BBC Radio 3 entitled Imo and Ben about the creative process behind Gloriana, Britten was somewhat naive. “He didn’t think strategically or politically – he just thought it was a great story,” Ravenhill suggests. “But just at the moment when people were trying to invest the young queen with all the regalia of royalty, to show an old woman being divested of that seems a really bad choice.” 

Spence points out that the work is not without structural problems. “It is a more difficult opera to stage than Britten’s others, because it’s more chopped up,” he says. “There are long gaps in the narrative and as an audience you have to span those gaps in your mind as to what’s happened in between. But the music is as beautiful as anything else he wrote.” 

Daniel indicates Britten’s technical expertise. “The whole point is that Queen Elizabeth I is very public, on view and on trial as a woman and as a queen; but on trial in her own mind, she tortures herself with her private life,” he says. “Britten jumps brilliantly from one side of her existence to the other. He scales up and down, focuses in and focuses out, rather like a brilliant film maker.” He suggests that the disastrous opening night was not solely about the work, but also concerned the performance: “There is a recording of that premiere and musically it was a sorry experience.” 

Ravenhill, though, nails the paradox at the heart of the matter. “I was intrigued by the idea of an artist being commissioned to write an official piece, a sort of national work of art – rather like the opening ceremony for the Olympics - and how much was at stake in that idea,” he says. “The Arts Council and public subsidy was very new and in many ways this was seen as a test case. 

“I think Britten himself felt ambiguous about that. He wanted that national recognition, partly because it said something about the importance of opera, which still was not really valued as an English art-form. Nevertheless, he knew that his art was not best made as national and official and that maybe he worked better when he was writing for a group of friends at home in Aldeburgh. That contradiction within him – about creating great work, but not being quite able to fit within big official structures – says something about the climate at the time.”

To Spence, Britten still did exactly the right thing: writing from the heart and to his own strengths, putting humanity above all else, no matter the establishment reaction. “I don’t think an artist should ever pander to a set of invisible rules by which people are made to conform,” Spence says. “It is artists’ and composers’ jobs to expose those rules as a load of old rubbish.”

Today Gloriana is free to prove its worth. Let’s hope the Queen may like it better this time around.

Gloriana, Royal Opera House, from 20 June. Live cinema relay 24 June. Box office: 020 7304 4000. Mark Ravenhill’s Imo and Ben is on BBC Radio 3 on 30 June, 8.30pm

Monday, June 17, 2013

Following Mendelssohn to Mull: a JDCMB guest post from Levon Chilingirian

Back in the last century - can it really be 20 years ago? - a pianist friend from Edinburgh invited me to go with her to a then-new festival in the Scottish Isles, entitled Mendelssohn on Mull. We went. We had a whale of a time. We stayed in a b&b run by an English couple who'd gone north to escape the rat-race and had filled their house with delicate Dickens vignettes. Concerts took place in delectable places - a school hall, a tiny theatre, bijou churches, the Western Isles Hotel in Tobermory and more. The air was sweet and clear, the soup was hearty and the sheep were everywhere. It's a cherished memory. 

At that time, the violinist Leonard Friedman was artistic director; sadly, he has now passed away, and he is much missed. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email saying how about a guest post from today's artistic director, Levon Chilingirian? So here it is: a return visit to a beautiful island and a unique experience that's become a fine and well-established part of our musical landscape....

Over to you, Levon.

The late autumn of 2002, a flying visit to the remote island of Mull to see if I might be interested to take over as Artistic Director of Mendelssohn on Mull. Stunning scenery and wildly contrasting concert venues...castles, churches (mostly tiny!) and village halls. Could I gather a group of young players to join five mentors and make music?

It took me a few seconds to say yes and the last 11 years have been rewarding - full of fun and sometimes with tears of happiness at the incredible performances I have witnessed.
Always the exhilaration of daily performances is complemented by gatherings at the Mishnish - our second home where a few sociable drinks are often followed by impromptu renderings of Scottish folk tunes late into the night!

The all-time favourite piece, the Mendelssohn Octet has been played in every possible way!! A relay of players for the first 3 movements with everybody joining in for the Finale was our favourite. I can never forget a cat duet sung by the delectable Gaby Lester and Marcia Crayford! We have had visits from Paganini (in a dark alcove in Duart Castle) and a wandering Felix Mendelssohn (in authentic 1829 top hat!) [That'll be Rick Jones in the Mendelssohn anniversary year, 09... jd]

One evening as my group was returning to Tobermory at dusk, we encountered a majestic deer crossing the single-track road ahead of us. I immediately parked the car and watched in amazement as he led his entire family to the top of the hill and disappeared into the wilderness. We have learnt to share this beautiful island with 'heeland coos' and midges. Our music is truly a part of nature and this is why everybody who has experienced it (performers and listeners) has very special memories of Mull.
Levon Chilingirian

Levon Chilingirian is Artistic Director of Mendelssohn on Mull, quite possibly one of the most exceptional music experiences in the world, if not one of the friendliest. The festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this year - a milestone that coincides with the Year of Natural Scotland. For further information about the festival, the venues and the young professionals taking part visit www.mendelssohnonmull.com

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fresh from the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in Bamberg

I've just been in Bamberg for a few days to listen to the finals of the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition. Top prize went to Lahav Shani, a 24-year-old Israeli now living in Berlin - he is a Barenboim protege (and a bit of a lookalike), and clearly a young man on his way somewhere special. Above, he collects flowers and applause at the final concert. (photo: Peter Eberts)

Having heard only the final round, in which each candidate had 40 minutes to rehearse the first movement of Mahler 1, I was nevertheless a little startled, personally, when the prize did not go to David Danzmayr from Austria, who is nine years older than Shani - an experienced conductor with a strong, humorous and appealing personality who evidently knows exactly what he's doing.

It's clear, though, that the jury's decision was based on the total impression that built up across four rounds and that they saw something in Shani that has the potential to grow, grow and keep on growing. Danzmayr won joint second prize with Tung-Chieh Chuang of Taiwan, who also had a strong body of support among the audience.

But when Shani took the podium for the winner's all-Mahler concert on Friday night, it was time to sit back and enjoy the music-making - and we did, for it flowed with warmth, sense and incipient magic. Will be writing it up in official capacity, so watch this space for links in due course.

Bamberg is the sort of place which...well, just look at it. The whole town feels like it's made of gingerbread. Or it would if the local specialities were not in fact white spargel and smoked beer. The population is about 70,000  -- and apparently 10% of the citizens are subscribers to the world-class Bamberg Symphony Orchestra's concert series. (Imagine that statistic in London... but we can still dream.)

We were very happy to meet Mahler's granddaughter, Marina Mahler, who is patron of the competition. Here she is with some of the gifted youngsters who did not make the final, but who have distinguished themselves enormously by being there at all - the contest takes only 12 candidates out of more than 400 applications. (Here is the full list of candidates, with their biographies.)

Marina Mahler (centre), with Zoi Tsokanou of Greece and Joseph Young of the USA... Zoi lives in Zurich and has been doing a good amount of opera. Joseph is based in Phoenix, Arizona, and has recently made debuts with the Colorado and Tucson symphony orchestras.

Fr Mahler again, with Gad Kadosh (France/Israel), who may have a UK debut before too long. He is about to move - next week - to Heidelberg to take up a "2nd kapellmeister" post at the opera house there. He and Zoi were two of the students I watched in the Bernard Haitink masterclasses in Lucerne last year. Was mightily impressed with them both.

I was less impressed on this occasion with the fact that no women were in the Bamberg final and there was only one on the jury - Frau Mahler herself. Complete list of jurors here. Jonathan Nott was unfortunately off sick.

Most amusing incident of the trip: at the final I was in the hall chatting to Gad Kadosh and Manuel Lopez-Gomez (of Venezuela) when someone from the audience came up and asked me for an autograph. This is the first time I've ever been mistaken for a conductor. It will probably be the last as well.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


* Hungarian Dances yesterday at the St James Theatre Studio was a fabulous experience. A treat, a privilege and a joy to perform with amazing musicians in such a great venue. Huge thanks to everyone concerned! More Hungarian Dances later in the year at the Musical Museum, near Kew Bridge, on Sunday afternoon 8 September and Pen Fro Literary Festival, Pembrokeshire, on 12 September. Watch this space for further dates...

* Please read this eloquent piece by Tasmin Little in the Telegraph re sexism in the classical music. She tells it like it is.

* If you're near a big screen tomorrow, go and see the FREE, live, open-air relay of Mayerling from Covent Garden. It is top ballerina Mara Galeazzi's farewell performance with the Royal Ballet and features Edward Watson as Prince Rudolf. I went to see them both in action in the ROH a couple of weeks ago and emerged utterly wrung out by the combination of intense emotion and astonishing dancing. Is Mayerling the greatest ballet drama ever created? Personally, I think it might be. Don't miss it. Take a brolly if you must, but just don't miss it.

* Please support the ISM's campaign to secure funding for music education beyond 2015. There's a petition to sign, here.
Every little helps, or we hope it does.

* Here's a discussion from Voice of Russia radio that I did last week with Alice Lagnado and John Riley about the lasting importance of The Rite of Spring. The writes, the rights, and sometimes the wrongs too. http://ruvr.co.uk/radio_broadcast/77030634/115272201.html

* And here's a Friday Historical in advance, because I will be otherwise occupied this week: Fritz Kreisler and his cellist brother, Hugo, with pianist Charlton Heath, playing one of my favourite pieces from the Hungarian Dances concert: Kreisler's Marche miniature viennoise. (Did you know Kreisler had a cellist brother? Neither did I. They're a gorgeous team.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hungarian Dances in Lakes and London

A final reminder that tonight is your chance to catch HUNGARIAN DANCES: THE CONCERT OF THE NOVEL at the St James Theatre Studio, 12 Palace Street, London SW1, at 8pm.

AND AN UPDATE: the thrill of the adrenaline rush...is this maybe why performers get hooked on performing? My piece for Culturekicks: http://www.culturekicks.co.uk/2013/06/04/in-praise-of-the-adrenaline-rush/

We are just back from the Ulverston International Music Festival in the South Lakeland, where we, um, we got a standing ovation...! Which was rather gratifying to say the least, especially as this was a morning coffee concert and by then it was coming up to lunchtime. Huge thanks to everyone at the festival for a day to remember. Above: Anthony Hewitt (who's artistic director of the festival), David Le Page and me, milking our moment of glory in the Coronation Hall... 

I also did a pre-concert talk with everybody's favourite cellist on Thursday night... He and pianist Ian Brown gave a sensational recital featuring, not least, the cello sonata by Frank Bridge, which is a work everybody ought to hear and marvel at, especially when it's played with such eloquence. An English Rachmaninov? Not far off.

Ulverston was the birthplace of Stan Laurel, so look who's lurking just by the Coronation Hall doorway. Oddly enough, I nearly had the opportunity to say "Here's another fine mess you've got me into..." due to a strange incident at 1am the night before our concert... Suffice it to say that Gretel and I were in a huge flap, Tony's dad heroically ventured forth to save the day, and Dave slept through the whole thing.

See you tonight!

Friday, June 07, 2013

The New Creativity - a guest post from James Inverne

I'm away at the Ulverston International Music Festival in the Lake District, doing some nice concerts. More of this soon. Meanwhile, delighted to offer this guest-post from my colleague James Inverne, formerly editor of GRAMOPHONE, about his new Lorca Songs show, which is at St John's Smith Square next Tuesday (and unfortunately clashes with my Hungarian Dances concert at the St James Theatre Studio!) JD

Editor-turned-manager’s new show? The new creativity

James Inverne on jumping across to the other side of the footlights, and writing a show

What exactly is creativity? I remember a rather wonderful anecdote, somewhere in Stephen Glover’s compendium of essays about journalism, “Secrets of the Press” about a newspaper owner who, wandering through his own newsroom, complained to his editor about so many people “doing nothing but staring out of the window”. That, it seems to me, starts to define creativity pretty well – the art of productive window-staring. If you’re faced with a brief, or a challenge, or a job, and you can find a way to expand its possibilities by engaging imagination, context, presentation than you will be dubbed creative.

A few years ago this did not necessarily feel like a great thing to be. At least, as the recession bit and reality hit, the focus of everything seemed to be on number-crunching and belt-tightening. On the web, for instance, it was all about lists, about things that would come high in SEO (search engine optimisation) and those things remain important. But there’s something else in the air, a renewed sense of the importance of creativity. At times of crisis finding “creative solutions” is a phrase one hears a lot, and it usually means cutting budgets. But after that comes real creativity – a sense that we should see what we can make with what we have, of relying once again on our imaginations to make life interesting (and by extension to make things that other people might want to take notice of).

I noticed this a great deal at the big classical music conference in Vienna last week, Classical NEXT. Suddenly record labels weren’t talking (only) about sales figures, they wanted to find creative and distinctive ways to build their presence on the web, or live events that truly reflected what their artists were about. And that, as a fully paid-up creative person, fills me with joy. Because when I left the editorship of Gramophone I wanted to see how far I could push this idea of creativity. I felt sure that there must be a place for it in the traditionally hectic, overtly administrative world of artist management. I felt there must be a way to work with artists one admired in a way that would get across an idea of their artistic identities, their places in the world.

Sometimes that means working closely with conductors and record labels on repertoire and so forth. But occasionally it has allowed me to create exciting new projects and the first of these to come to fruition – called Lorca’s Songs gets its premiere at St John’s, Smith Square this Tuesday, June 11th (gulp). The original idea was to create a part-concert, part-spoken word evening telling the fused history of Spanish music and Spanish poetry – I created it for the violinist Alexandre Da Costa, who has a deeply authentic and idiomatic view of Spanish music (he looks for its darkness and intensity, which he says is the true heart of Spanish culture, as witness his recent, unusually trenchant recording of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole on Warner Classics).

But then something happened. I started putting it together and the writer in me took over. Suddenly I was creating characters, almost a plot. I became fixated by the Spanish notion of the duende, the sense that art can be so intense that one can sense death. It became a show that lived, it breathes and suddenly what had seemed creative in the idea became an act of creation. For perhaps the first time, I felt something of what (here comes a colossal name-drop, sorry) Johnny Depp once said to me about working with Terry Gilliam – “We turn up in the morning and it’s like you have the skeleton there and you throw bits of meat on it and see what monster comes to life”. Excited, I brought in the great actor Henry Goodman (pictured above) and the leading Spanish guitarist Rafael Aguirre, and we had our show – for violin, guitar and actor.

Writing articles, including reviews, has always felt to me like carving a statue – you have your material, your block of marble, and in fashioning a readable piece from it, well, it feels much like sculpting. Books are a bit different. But a play – to be honest I don’t even know that I would call this a play, and most of the words in it are by Lorca and the rest, but it is drama, I know that much. Maybe it’s even a monster, of a kind. Certainly you can’t fully engage with the dark genius of Lorca or the intensity of De Falla without facing them head-on. As the narrator says in the show, “If we are to experience, let us experience…” I did when I wrote the thing. And maybe to be truly creative you must be unflinching. And guess what – I think it’s a better show this way, and something people will want to see. And that’s not only creativity, not only good business sense, it’s artistically honest. All of which feels rather good.

“Lorca’s Songs” is at St John’s, Smith Square in London on Tuesday 11th June at 7.30pm. For tickets call 020 7222 1061 or visit www.ssjs.org.uk

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Say it with music

A friend from the London Gay Men's Chorus sent me some links and a few words about their protest yesterday in support of gay marriage. They were right outside the House of Lords.

"It was a great day! Apparently our singing could be heard inside the chamber where the Lords were debating the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. We made it on to the BBC News at 10pm. Several speakers commented on ours being the best demonstration they had witnessed outside the Houses of Parliament. In the morning we were outnumbered by a vocal and angry Christian group, but they left in the early afternoon leaving the space for us, supported by Stonewall, Peter Tatchell’s group etc. I hope we made a difference. The speakers thought we did."
More here: http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/gay-chorus-leads-carnival-equal-marriage-outside-lords030613

Solidarity to our friends and colleagues! And these guys put on a show like no other.

Monday, June 03, 2013

JD & Friends on R3

Listen out for our broadcast today on BBC Radio 3's In Tune! David Le Page, Viv McLean and I will be performing some extracts from our 'Hungarian Dances' concert ahead of Ulverston on Saturday, the St James Theatre Studio next Tuesday and the Musical Museum, Kew Bridge, on 8 September (and more later). http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b020vjxx

St James Theatre Studio, 11 June, 8pm
Ulverston, 8 June, 11am (yes, a sort of palindrome on 11 and 8...)

And if you missed the Composer of the Week on Faure last week, it's on iPlayer all of this week to podcast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00sv826

You wouldn't believe how much organising is involved in even a single concert... Normal JDCMB service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Walt Disney and the Wallbangers

Philip Glass's The Perfect American opens tonight at ENO - UK premiere following world premiere in Madrid a few months ago - and I've done a preview for The Independent, which you can read here.

The title role is sung by Christopher Purves, who started off as a choral scholar at King's College, Cambridge - then joined Harvey and the Wallbangers. He's since become one of the best British baritones around, a larger-than-life character with a wonderful warmth to his voice, all of which make him well-suited to roles like Falstaff, Mephistopheles - and Walt Disney. But I well remember the fuss when I started at uni in the mid 80s about the choral scholar who'd run away with a then-very-popular-in-Cambridge band, so I couldn't resist asking him about it.

Listen to a very short clip of them here with Chris singing the lead vocal in Old Man River...

"I knew I wanted to do something in music but I wasn’t sure absolutely what," Chris says. "I’d been in the King's Choir from 80 to 83 so was fairly well steeped in the choral tradition and I knew I didn’t really want to do that after I graduated. So, when Harvey suggested 'Would you like the join the Wallbangers?' I thought 'Why not? It’s different.' 

"If you remember, it was relatively theatrical and therefore slightly akin to what I do now - it’s not so far removed, even if the vocal production is different. I think I always knew deep down that opera was something that suited my character and my musical taste. I’ve always wanted to do something to communicate with music and that’s what I do. Either you do it in a pop way or an operatic way, and I’ve managed to do both, so I think I’m OK!"

Very much OK, Chris. Toitoitoi for this evening.