Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cassandra takes wing

In today's Independent, my interview with the young choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela and Royal Ballet rising star Olivia Cowley about the new ballet Cassandra, opening tomorrow at the Linbury. I watched a rehearsal and it was shaping up to be fascinating stuff, and pretty harrowing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Who is your favourite British contemporary composer II?

I've been awake half the night remembering all the composers I didn't include in the poll of 12 British contemporary composers, so this morning I've added a second group featuring another 12. You can vote once IN EACH GROUP and you have until 3 Nov to vote in Group 1 and until 4 Nov to vote in Group II. It could be that a third group will materialise too at this rate. Then we could have a run-off at the end.


Monday, October 27, 2014


I love my colleagues at BBC Music Magazine very, very much. In their latest poll, together with the TV programme Countryfile, they've had a little poll to find the nation's favourite British composer. Result: [surpriiiiiiise!] Edward Elgar.

There was one teensyweeensy problem with this poll, which was that there was nobody on the list who was not dead, white, English and male. Well, except Delius, who was German by family heritage. So here in the sidebar, just as a fun little exercise to help Ricki & Cosi get a pawndle on their rapidly forming musical tastes, is a JDCMB Alternative Poll.

You will see on the right a poll asking who your favourite British composer of today is. I have chosen six men and six women from the highest-profile composers in the UK working now and listed them in alphabetical order according to surname. You have until 7.30pm on 3 November to vote. If you can't decide because you don't know their music, just look 'em up and have a listen.  You can only vote once!

UPDATE: There are, of course, glaring omissions on this list - amongst them James MacMillan, the Matthews brothers and Mira Calix. I now find I can't alter the contents because people have started voting, so please work with what there is on this occasion and we'll maybe do it again sometime.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Meet the Kelemen Quartet - tomorrow!

This is the multiple-award-winning Kelemen Quartet - led by the Hungarian violinist Barnabas Kelemen, with Katalin Kokas (aka Mrs Kelemen) second violin - who are in London this weekend and will be doing a Wigmore Hall coffee concert tomorrow morning at 11.30am. In the afternoon, at 4pm, I'll be at the Amati Exhibition at the Lansdowne Club to interview them all for the audience about life - and love - in a string quartet. Above, they play Tchaikovsky at the Kelemen's festival in Hungary, Kaposfest in Kaposvár.

Do come and join us chez Amati for a stimulating afternoon surrounded by wonderful instruments and lively discussion! More info here.


I caught Pinchas Zukerman for a chat when he was in town giving masterclasses at Cadogan Hall not long ago. He is a mesmerising person on stage, holding forth to the audience and students alike with his memories and anecdotes about the great musicians with whom he studied, and the youngsters who were playing to him seemed to be lapping up his every word. The violin's history is aural, in more ways than one: this is how its traditions, secrets and marvels are passed down most effectively. “My teacher, Ivan Galamian, used to say that if it sounds good, you feel good,” Zukerman told us all. “I’d put it the other way too: if it feels good, it’ll sound good.”

He's back in the UK with his NAC Orchestra this week and I have a short piece in today's Indy about what they're doing, where and why...

After the outbreak of World War I, some 30,000 Canadian troops came to the UK and underwent military training on Salisbury Plain. Now a Canadian orchestra is following in their footsteps – at least as far as the town’s cathedral. Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra plays there on 29 October, part of a tour in which they celebrate the links between the two countries. At the helm is their music director Pinchas Zukerman, one of today’s most celebrated violinists and a dab hand, too, with the conductor’s baton.

Zukerman, 66, started out as a child prodigy in his native Israel, where the influential violinist Isaac Stern spotted him and encouraged him to study in New York; he rose to stardom during the 1960s-70s. Today, though, there is still a pugnacious energy about him, an unshakeable determination to forge ahead with big ideas. I catch him after a masterclass at London’s Cadogan Hall and find him still afizz despite a long day’s work.

“Canada feels very passionately about this anniversary,” Zukerman declares. “One of the high points for the orchestra is of course performing at Salisbury Cathedral, and with my connection with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra [he is its principal guest conductor] it also seemed the perfect idea to do a concert with both orchestras together at the Royal Festival Hall.” In that concert on 27 October, the ensembles combine for Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, which concludes with the ‘Ode to Joy’. 

During his 15 years at the NAC – this is his final season – Zukerman has shaken up the orchestra, expanding it to more than 60 players and implementing a pioneering programme of education and outreach work, including experiments in video-conferencing and distance learning. 

“When you are lucky enough to have the kind of education I had and the kind of exposure to the great figures of music, then if you’re capable of it, you have to give back what you received,” he says. “I was fortunate to encounter the greatest musicians, not only as mentors and teachers, but also as players: Isaac Stern, some of the Budapest String Quartet’s members, the list is huge. You absorb information that you can’t really write down. You have to show, you have to play, you have to exhibit yourself, so to speak, to the youngsters – and they eat it up.” 

Nor are his efforts restricted to advanced students. He recalls an occasion when he played the Brahms lullaby to a children’s music class taken by a former pupil of his wife (the NACO’s lead cellist Amanda Forsyth, his third marriage). “Afterwards one little boy said: ‘I’m on fire!’. God, that was fantastic.” 

And he has encouraging words for those struggling to keep music education alive. Teaching effectively and transforming a pupil “takes time, proper teaching and follow-up,” he says. “We need to create coalitions, work together and share information. But we’re not only teaching them to be good players. We’re teaching them to be good people.”

Pinchas Zukerman and the NAC Orchestra perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on 27 October at the Royal Festival Hall (0844 875 0073), and at Salisbury Cathedral (01722 320 333) on 29 October

Here they are in a spot of Mozart...

Friday, October 24, 2014

A tribute to Christopher Falzone

The young American pianist Christopher Falzone has died at the age of 29, taking his own life. To say that the long story behind this is tragic is not saying enough - but for the moment, please simply listen to him for a few minutes in tribute. Above, he plays his own transcription of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.3.

I would like to quote a poem by him that appears on another Youtube video in which he improvises a polonaise (the sound quality is not great).

He writes:

"The words that flow are countless,
We are eternally bonded with nature's gifts,
Our own talents give rise
to unexpected conversation,

Forever blending with our blood,
even most softly
The sorrow, the shame
disappear with trust

With laughter we become creators of love
With naivety we live for each other
With admiration we develop patience

And never do we forget who 
we were before, now and tomorrow"


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spiralling around that issue about women conductors again...

At last Ricki and Cosi decided to sit for their official portrait by Lord Thingy.

Cosi on the left, Ricki on the right. As you can imagine, it's not easy to get much work done with these little characters around. They're busy exploring...

Luckily it was last week, not this week, that I went off to Formigine in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy to visit the extraordinary chamber orchestra Spira Mirabilis on its home turf. I listened to them rehearsing for four hours (most UK orchestras wouldn't fancy one minute over three - and this was four hours in the afternoon, following a similar quantity that morning). With that span of intense hard work punctuated only by a brief break for Italian coffee, they covered all of about nine minutes - if that - of Colin Matthews.

Here's my piece about them from yesterday's Independent.

And here is a bonus bit. This is what Lorenza Borrani, leader of both Spira and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, said when I asked her if she'd ever thought about becoming a conductor - because I reckon she has the drive, the personality and the expertise to carry it off, should she so wish.

"It sounds a bit superficial, but the figure of a woman conducting doesn’t drive me. Maybe because I haven’t been amazed by one: I have pictures of great conductors, men, I have never seen one inspirational woman. I'm trying to speak very honestly: you have concerts by Claudio [Abbado], Harnoncourt...but nothing so strong happened to me in my life to make me say 'wow, that’s really so'. When you are young you have inspiration and you think 'Wow, I would like to be like that', and this it didn’t happen. Not that you have to have examples from the same sex as you, but to have the wish, if I want to have inspiration... I felt sometimes, since I direct COE, that they need to know the job because it would make my life easier; I wouldn’t like to stand in front of the orchestra, not being part of the group. And actually conducting studies in school is something every musician should do, and I'm happy that here [at Spira] we do it."

So you see the importance of role models. This is why we need to encourage more women to become conductors, and give opportunities to the ones there are to shine, because otherwise the lack of role models becomes a self-perpetuating situation. As for dumping the maestro altogether, Spira can pull it off - but it takes a great deal of doing.

If you know a young conservatoire musician aged 16-19 who feels she would like the chance simply to give it a go, I can heartily recommend the course at Morley College started last year by Andrea Brown and Alice Farnham. More about it here. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014




Ricki and Cosi are Somali cats. A bit like longhaired Abyssinians. I met some Somali cats about 16 years ago and thought they were the most wonderful animals in all the world. Have harboured a secret longing for a Somali of my own ever since.

They are pedigrees, and consequently highish maintenance. (They even have official Pedigree names: they are "Somantikks Siegfried and Isolde"...don't ask...) When Solti "crossed the rainbow bridge" a few months ago, life without him was so dismal that we knew we'd need someone very, very special in his place...and here they are. They are now three months and one week old. The biggest challenge is getting them to keep still for long enough to have their pictures taken.

Cosi is a "usual silver" girl. Ricki is a "chocolate silver" boy. (I had to have a chocolate cat, didn't I?). Top photo: settling in with the help of a stalwart favourite kitty-toy - scrunched-up foil. Bottom: at mummy-cat's home, me with Ricki.

Nobody guessed their names. They could have been Harnoncat and Dudamiaow, or Darius Mihau and Germaine Tailfur, or many other musical permutations. But the best thing we've done all year is go to Bayreuth, so go figure.

Ricki is a small cat with a loud miaow and a very big personality. Cosi is the larger of the two, shyer but very soft and adorable. Their favourite game so far is chasing each other and they are settling in very quickly. 

I'm not sure how I will ever be able to get any work done again. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


...we are fetching the new kittens. There just had to be a hurricane, didn't there. Please send us some good vibes and with any luck I'll be back later (most likely tomorrow) with the first pictures.

Meanwhile, huge sober thank-yous to my Go Sober for October donators in the past week:
Judith Mellor, my lovely neighbour
Barbara Maria Rathbone, dynamic head of Musica Universalis Collaborative Artists' Management
A kind anonymous donor.

Current amount raised for Macmillan Cancer Support by Team JDCMB: £272. Keep it coming, folks - just 10 days to go. You can donate here for this marvellous charity.

In other news, I very much regret to say that the planned Hungarian Dances concert at the Bishopsgate Institute on Thursday evening is now not happening, due to circumstances beyond our control.

And due to other circumstances beyond our control, the 23 November Alicia's Gift concert for the International Wimbledon Music Festival, originally planned for the Orange Tree Theatre, has been moved to the Rutherford Theatre of Wimbledon High School, Mansel Road, London SW19 4AB. There will now be just one performance, at 2.30pm. Please contact the festival box office for further details, and there are some special offers available.

Apparently Mercury is in retrograde and there's also an eclipse due on Thursday. I couldn't possibly comment.

Meanwhile, The Death of Klinghoffer got a standing ovation at the Met last night, & nobody more so than its composer. "Uncle Norman" has the full story from someone who was there.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A debate about Klinghoffer - the British way

This is the civilised debate that ENO held about The Death of Klinghoffer and the nature of art before Tom Morris's staging opened here two years ago. The run itself was generally well received and passed without incident.

Parterre has provided an audio streaming of the opera from its world premiere in 1991 and a link to the libretto, so it is perfectly possible to make yourself well informed about the reality of its content if you so wish.

Update, 9.40pm: here is my article on Klinghoffer from The Independent in 2012

Ten things we should change at gigs

[Warning: you need your Sarcasm radar in working order for this one.]

We've been hearing an awful lot from people desperate to change classical concerts into...well, rock gigs. Places where there are big screens, drinks on tap, you stand all the way through and so forth. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead is prime, and even the conductor Baldur Brönnimann suggests that tweeting and texting should be OK (believe me, it is bloody distracting if someone next to you is busy tapping on a bright screen while you're trying to listen to The Art of Fugue).

So why don't we hear anything about what's wrong with pop, rock and crossover gigs? In my experience they are intimidating, confusing, cliquey, frustrating things. How could these be changed into pleasanter experiences, more accessible to the over-16s, a demographic that is seriously underrepresented at such events? We have to widen the scope of this audience to make it more inclusive, especially for the fastest-growing part of the population: older people.

1. Have more seating, raked, available for those of us who are vertically challenged and who therefore, in a mosh pit surrounded by tall people, can't see a damn thing. It's nice to get the weight off your toes from time to time, too and it's also nice not to have to worry, in a crowd, about being squished.

2. Hold performances in smaller venues, rather than a stadium or arena, so that we don't have to see the performers only on the big screen or at the size of a pin in the far distance. If you're only experiencing visual and aural amplification, you're not really experiencing the music, are you? It's always a distortion.

3. Why so loud? Why, why, why, why, why? I'd like nothing better than to go and hear some of the more interesting singers live, like Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen or Madonna. But I value my hearing and I just don't see why you have to risk damaging yourself.

4. Address the offputting atmospheres of the venues. Stadiums and arenas are soulless places. The O2, for instance, is like visiting a run-down 1960s swimming pool within an airport, even though it was only built for the millennium. Brighten them up. Give them a little bit of character. Still, the smaller and better ones can also be very intimidating to those of us who are not already intimately connected to this area of culture. All that cool steel, all those trendy young people - how are we supposed to know when to go in, when to applaud, what to wear?

5. Have better food available and don't let people bring it in. Preponderance of burgers, chips, burritos and pizza does little for the odours around you, let alone the slurping noises. And if you have to let people take drinks in, make sure they don't get actually drunk and try to encourage ways that they can be prevented from spilling the lager all over other audience members. Speaking of which, please improve ventilation of indoor venues. Crowds can really smell.

6. At outdoor venues like festivals, some shelter could be a nice idea, and mud should be kept at bay with boardwalks or paving.

7. Tickets for the big names are MUCH too expensive. It's elitist!

8. Don't even get me started on ladies' loos, which seem totally inaccessible with queues of 2km, or might be dominated by dodgy plumbing, and you'll probably find notices telling you not to even think about taking drugs in there - and therefore you suspect you might be observed by CCTV while you're on the bog. (My favourite events, loo-wise, are Wagner operas: the lines are always longer at the men's room.)

9. Let the performers be good. Singers need to be able to hold forth unaided by that pitch-autocorrect trick. Ideally, they should be able to sing without a microphone, should they wish to, and a range of expression in the voice is always a good thing, rather than simply yelling or, in the case of certain "crossover" easy-listening jobs, bleating out a croon, and if they're doing songs everyone knows, with a backing band, they should know when to come in. Needless to say, miming to a recording makes a mockery of the entire exercise.

10. Make sure the transport is working. I was once trying to get back from Richmond on the night of a Beyoncé concert at Twickenham. It was a Sunday. South West Trains was down. The District Line was down. The Overground wasn't working for some reason. It was chaos. Luckily I could walk home, but thousands couldn't, and you didn't want to see the bus queues, let alone wait in one.

In all, why not... just make pop events more like classical concerts? Then we can appreciate the music itself a bit more - rather than only the commercial claptrap around it. Anyway, mwahahaha, that is the music I like so I want everything, but everything, to function exactly the way it does, and I can't possibly accept the idea that anyone else might prefer something else...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

To cheer us all up, here is the Muppets' take on The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Warning: you'll need a sense of humour for what follows, so if you don't have one, please surf away now.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Meet Jonathan Kent

I interviewed the director Jonathan Kent for The Independent, trailing the opening tonight of his celebrated production of The Turn of the Screw at Glyndebourne Touring Opera. Do catch it if you can. Interview is in today's Radar section, but somewhat chopped, so here's the director's cut.

Search online for “Jonathan Kent” and you might discover he is the adoptive father of Superman. As it happens, the real Jonathan Kent, 68, the versatile theatre director, has nurtured many super stagings across an eclectic variety of styles and genres. I catch him during a break from rehearsals for his new Gypsy at Chichester Festival Theatre, starring Imelda Staunton; simultaneously, Glyndebourne is reviving for its autumn tour his production of Benjamin Britten’s opera The Turn of the Screw. 

A former actor himself, born in South Africa and resident in Britain since the late 1960s, Kent was joint director of the Almeida Theatre with Ian McDiarmid between 1990 and 2002; but since testing his operatic wings at Santa Fe in 2003, he has soared in this field. 

Kent describes himself as “a theatre director who does opera”, rather than a specialist. “I was occasionally asked to direct an opera while I was running the Almeida,” he says, “but opera books you three or four years ahead and it was always impossible because theatre operates on a much shorter timescale. One of the glories of being freelance is that I can now take on more opera and I’ve had a very happy and fulfilling time.”

He insists that working with singers is not so different from working with actors: “It’s rather a canard to think that singers don’t want to act,” he says. “They absolutely do – they are interested in the psychology of their roles – and they want to be recognised for it, especially now that so much is being filmed.” 

Psychology is more than central to The Turn of the Screw. Britten’s opera is based on Henry James’s novella in which a governess tries to save two children from what she suspects are malevolent spirits bent on their destruction. “It’s about the nature of being haunted” says Kent, “and the exploration of what evil is – whether there is such a thing, and how we generate our own evil.” 

This production, first created for Glyndebourne On Tour in 2006, has travelled well – it been taken up by Los Angeles Opera, among others – and Kent says he is “thrilled” by its longevity. It makes use of contemporary devices such as filmed projections, while nevertheless placing the action firmly in the 1950s, in which era Britten composed it; the mix gives it a timeless feel. “That was a decade when social hierarchies were in place, however shakily – governesses and housekeepers ‘knew their place’ and also had credibility,” says Kent, “but it also marked the end of a sort of age of innocence.” The two ghosts sing a terrifying line from WB Yeats: “The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” 

“The opera is different from the novella because the ghosts inevitably are corporeal: they sing, they exist and there’s no question about it,” Kent continues. “The ‘thin skin’ of a window separates reality from imagination and keeps feared things at bay, but of course it’s completely translucent and permeable.” 

The projections, which Kent says he wanted to resemble the wobbly old home movies he remembers from his childhood, were mostly filmed at Glyndebourne itself, apparently more out of necessity than design. “Still,” he adds, “one could almost do a production of this opera that travels around Glyndebourne as an installation. It has a lake, an old house – everything is there.” 

Unlike certain other directors, Kent’s stagings do not have recurrent hallmarks; he brings each an individual approach on its own terms. For Glyndebourne he has created visions as distinctive as what he terms “a firework” of celebration in Purcell’s The Fairie Queen for the composer’s 350th anniversary in 2009, last year’s venture into Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, and a powerful Don Giovanni in the style of Fellini’s La dolce vita.

At the Royal Opera he has tackled Puccini: his Tosca is a detailed period-piece that has been filmed with the all-star cast of Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel. But earlier this year, his Manon Lescaut – again with Kaufmann, singing opposite the Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais – transferred the action squarely to the present, drawing out the squalid nature of its tragedy. Perhaps inevitably, some critics took against it. 

Tosca demanded to be done in period,” Kent says. “There’s so much historical reference; it’s absolutely specific. But Manon Lescaut explores many of our current preoccupations – the exploitation of women, the cult of celebrity and the collateral damage of all that – so I am unrepentant about not having done that opera in powdered wigs.” 

Does he ever feel that critics just don’t get it? “If one’s waiting for critics to ‘get it’, one could be waiting a long time,” he laughs. “You can only do what you do and hope people will like it.”

The Turn of the Screw launches at Glyndebourne on Saturday 18 October before touring to five venues across the country. To book tickets go to:  

Ulster Orchestra under threat - the latest

UPDATE, SUNDAY 19 October: A petition has been organised online and you can sign it here. 

The Belfast-based Ulster Orchestra has become the latest UK ensemble to face closure due to financial dire straits. Its public funding cuts amount to a reduction of 28 per cent (about £1m), which threaten to bleed it to death by the middle of next month.

This orchestra has a long and distinguished history; since its founding in 1966 it has released around 100 recordings and a new principal conductor, the dynamic Rafael Payare (aka Mr Alisa Weilerstein) has just started with them. There's a Facebook group, Save the Ulster Orchestra - please join it here.

The UK has already lost the Guildford Philharmonic and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta; last year the Brighton Philharmonic was saved at the last moment with the help of its fans. As you'll note, these organisations serve(d) good-sized towns rather than the country's biggest cities and brought live orchestral music to places where it was otherwise in short supply. The London Mozart Players, based in Croydon, has managed to restructure itself rather than close down, and carries on with a new modus operandi. Not all have been able to follow suit.

But the end of the Ulster - which receives a chunk of BBC money every year, btw - would be catastrophic since it would mean essentially the end of live orchestral music in Northern Ireland. It is the city's biggest arts institution and only full-time professional orchestra. As Tom Service says here, its demise would mean the "instant and irreversible" annihilation of orchestral culture in the country.

Musicians on the Facebook page point out, furthermore, that if it goes it will take with it large quantities of Belfast's instrumental tuition for children, concerts in schools and other school music programmes.

The pianist Peter Donohoe writes:
"The...increasing financial pressure on the arts is in danger of ridding many communities of institutions like this without any possibility of them being started up again, whatever state the economy ends up in. Look at what happened to the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, and observe how many small communities that were served by that excellent chamber orchestra - including the mounting of education projects - and that are now not served at all.It is short-termist thinking on a vast scale, stupid to the point of lunacy, and not only will it put so many great musicians out of a job, but will be a tragedy for Northern Ireland."

Another musician on the Facebook page declares:
"There are so many of us from Belfast and Northern Ireland who through the darkest days of the troubles were inspired by the Ulster Orchestra.We were taught and encouraged by its members and my career is a result of that. This orchestra is a beacon in the cultural life of Northern Ireland and needs to be cherished by all the community."
And brass player Andrew Tovey adds that the closure of the UO would make Northern Ireland "the only developed nation without an orchestra".

In this piece from the US's WQXR, Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music Magazine, reminisces about the way the Ulster Orchestra played on through the Troubles even though its offices were threatened daily with terrorist bombs.

More info from BBC News here.

You can make a donation to the orchestra here, via Paypal. Please do.

A statement from the orchestra is expected towards the end of the week ahead.

Friday, October 17, 2014


It's official: Grigory Sokolov has signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. For those of us who've known for donkey's years that this man is basically piano god and heir to Richter and Gilels, saying that this is seriously good news is kind of an understatement.

The first disc (and we hope not the last) is due out in January and will be a live recital from the 2008 Salzburg Festival. Sokolov doesn't do studios. Or concertos. Or the UK.

Here's a teeny taster so you can see what we all mean. This is the Bach-Siloti Prelude in B minor. The first time I heard Sokolov, in London at the Wigmore Hall many years ago (those were the days!), he performed this as an encore. It was heaven.

More than the usual suspects

Rounding up more than the usual suspects, here's a selection of news.

I've just been in Italy visiting Spira Mirabilis, the remarkable chamber orchestra with no conductor. They're based in a small Emilia Romagna town that loves them so much it has built them their own beautiful new concert hall. Watch this space for the feature.

Today I am speaking at this. - open event, please come along!

Next Thursday, 23 October, David Le Page, Viv McLean and I have our last London Hungarian Dances concert-of-the-novel of 2014 at the City Music Society, Bishopsgate Institute. If you've not yet experienced the glorious duo of Dastardly Dave and Vivacious Viv or this roller-coaster of mingled high drama and golden-age violin music, this concert - which takes place on the anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 - is your chance. Book here, now!

On Sunday afternoon 26 October, the Amati Exhibition is hosting a series of special discussions and events at the Lansdowne Club. I'm on board as resident friendly interviewer to talk to the prizewinning Kelemen Quartet - led by that stupendous Hungarian violinist Barnabas Kelemen - about life in a more than musical family. More info here. 

On 2 November, 3pm, Viv McLean and I are taking Alicia's Gift, the concert of the novel, to our friends in Presteigne, Wales. If you're in the area, please come along to the Presteigne Assembly Rooms and join us for this tale of a child prodigy pianist growing up with the help of Chopin, Ravel, Debussy and Viv's tremendous interpretation of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

On 6 November the Chopin Society is hosting a special evening with Professor Andrzej Jasinski, the eminent Polish pianist and teacher (whose star pupil, Krystian Zimerman, needs no introduction). I will be interviewing him on stage at the start (6pm), and later there'll be music... This is a MEMBERS' EVENT, but London piano fans could do far worse than join the Soc, which offers a Sunday afternoon series fabulous top-notch piano recitals followed by copious quantities of cake. Special rates now available for those joining during October.

On 9 November I'll be speaking to the AGM of the London Chamber Music Society on the topic of...well, chamber music, and what it means to me, and what it means to us all. Again, this is a members' event, but the concert that follows, by Raphael Wallfisch and John York, should be simply wonderful.

On 11 November I am chairing this extraordinary event on the topic of Women in Classical Music for the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Arrangers at the Jermyn Street Theatre. We will have no fewer than SEVEN composers on the panel, each representing a different generation. I think it's going to be fascinating and fully expect some sparks to fly, in the best possible way. More info here.

On 17 November I am interviewing the author Charles Beauclerk about Piano Man, his wonderful biography of John Ogdon at the Richmond Literature Festival. 7pm at York House. We did an event like this a few weeks ago at the Hampstead & Highgate Literary Festival and it was fascinating and wonderful, so I'm looking forward to this enormously.

On 23 November Alicia's Gift, the concert of the novel, goes to the Wimbledon International Music Festival, but please note that the venue may be changed, due to circumstances beyond our control! More info as soon as I have some.

On 1 December I'll be visiting the London branch of the Elgar Society to talk about...Elgar. The prospect of this feels a bit similar to strolling down a street in Bruges wondering which chocolate shop to try next. Contact the London branch with info from this page (the event is not yet up there).

Meanwhile, on Tuesday WE ARE GOING TO FETCH THE NEW KITTENS. Their names are strictly under embargo until they are home safe and sound, but JDCMB will of course be marking their arrival with a certain amount of ceremony. Musical organisations and individuals will, naturally, be able to sponsor their kittyfood in return for a sidebar plug.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The secrets of the great Domingo

In case you missed this wonderful web stream from the Royal Opera House yesterday, watch it here now. Tony Pappano interviews Plácido Domingo about his extraordinary career, singing baritone instead of tenor, and much, much more.

Sober thank-yous...

Huge thanks to the friends and colleagues who have given generously to Macmillan Cancer Support via Go Sober for October, whether via my personal page or Team JDCMB! So far we have clocked up £211.

Clare Stevens
Stephen Llewellyn
Brendan Carroll

Please keep on donating to this wonderful and very necessary charity - and if you have a website you'd like me to put in next week's acknowledgements, please send it to me when you make your donation and 'twill be done.

Or if you fancy joining the team, please do so whenever you like. You have to sign up first as an individual and then you can add yourself to our collective link.

Donate via my page
Donate to Team JDCMB

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Seen at Macbeth...

The Met, bless its cotton socks, has a new project to display as an adjunct to its HD worldwide cinecasts. It says the intention is to expand its visual arts initiatives "with a new series of short films created by visual artists and set to music from operas in the Met’s current season." Macbeth (above) is a Toiletpaper project by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari. Enjoy. 

Onwards. Yesterday's performance of Verdi's Macbeth itself was a treat of the first order thanks to the (mostly) superb singing, but above all for the mind-blowing performance of Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth. 

I wouldn't have recognised that glittery girl I interviewed the morning after her Barbican concert with Rolando Villazon all those years ago. Then, the diamond necklace she'd worn for the show was still around her throat. Now...they're inside her larynx. She's grown into a different kind of singer and a mature, glowing, towering artist; the colour, magnitude, range, depth and charisma of the voice have moved up to another level altogether, and her prowess as actress looks second to none. Joseph Calleja remarked, during my recent interview with him, that he "would sweep the streets to work with Anna" - and now we can see why. 

If you missed it, but there's an "encore" showing round your way, don't think - just go. Calleja, Pape and above all Lucic as Macbeth gave their everything too, and their everything is quite something.

A few little iffy things. Adrian Noble's often fine staging nevertheless turned the witches into the kind of gathering that gets handbags a bad name, and there were one or two unaccompanied moments in which certain people's intonation went seriously awry. The rest was so fine, though, that one managed not to mind too much, surprising though it was. 

Hooray for worldwide cinecasting - and there's plenty more lined up for the rest of the season. I can thoroughly recommend the Richmond Curzon for its comfy seats, friendly ambience and top-notch ice-cream. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A chatette with Darcey

My piece for today's Independent. This was part of the chat I had with the glorious Darcey Bussell at the launch of the new Genée Competition bursary scheme a few weeks back.

(Hat tip: never, ever have your photo taken with this woman unless you actually don't mind looking like a hobbit by comparison.)

The great ballerina Darcey Bussell has some tough words for the British dance establishment. “I don’t think the British are very good at celebrating our own home-grown talent,” she says. “I think we need to realise how much goes into a passion for dance – and people should be encouraged to be seen if they have that talent. 

“We don’t want talented young dancers to be lost in a crowd,” she adds. “There are lots of beautiful dancers – but unless they get on that stage and perform, we’re never going to know.” Bussell was the leading British ballet star of her day; since her retirement from the Royal Ballet in 2007, potential successors have remained few and far between.

But now the new BBC Young Dancer competition, taking place in spring 2015, could help redress the balance, and more, its remit also extending to contemporary, Hip-Hop and South Asian dance. Other initiatives, too, are emerging to assist hopeful youngsters and fuel public interest. The Royal Academy of Dance, of which Bussell is president, has launched a bursary scheme to help impecunious young dancers participate in its prestigious Genée International Ballet Competition; and the success of World Ballet Day on 1 October, which live-streamed five international companies for 24 hours, suggests a burgeoning appetite in the audience. 
And though the BBC contest is for the young, dance is for everyone. Bussell, who is encouraging dance for the over-50s, says it is more than exercise. “Dance gives you a lift,” she declares. “It makes me feel happy. It’s as simple as that.” 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Dates for the diary

A few things I'm doing that you might like to do too, should you be in this neck of the woods:

17 October, King's College, London: What Lies Beneath. Classical Music, Critical Challenges. A conference in which we'll discuss the state of the art. 6.30pm. Further details & booking here.

26 October: The Kelemen Quartet at the Amati Exhibition. Lansdowne Club, 4pm. Hungarian violinist Barnabas Kelemen brings his award-winning string quartet to the Wigmore Hall later this month, and at the Amati Exhibition I'll be talking to them about life in chamber music, music and Hungary. More details here.

2 November: Alicia's Gift: The Concert of the Novel goes to the Presteigne Assembly Rooms, 3pm. Viv McLean and me in the story of a child prodigy pianist. Friends in the vicinity might consider that while in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen, Viv's playing of Rhapsody in Blue might give the Hereford section something to think about... Info on how to book here.

11 November: Women in Classical Music: A discussion for BASCA, Jermyn Street Theatre, 1pm. I'm chairing a discussion for the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors with seven composers of different generations who happen to be women: Betty Roe, Nicola LeFanu, Judith Bingham, Shirley J Thompson, Cheryl Frances Hoad, Mira Calix and Dani Howard. Should be fascinating. Book here.

17 November: John Ogdon - discussion with Charles Beauclerk, Richmond Literature Festival, York House. 7pm. Charles's biography of the legendary pianist is among the most fascinating and harrowing books I've read this year and it's a great pleasure to be interviewing him about it again. Info & booking here.

23 November: Alicia's Gift: The Concert of the Novel is at the Wimbledon International Music Festival - at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Viv and me, as above (see 2 Nov). TWO performance on this date, at 11.30am and 2.30pm. The theatre is in the round, so it's going to be a little different from usual.

1 December: Living with Elgar, a talk for the Elgar Society in London, W1. I'll update this when there's a link available. The Society's contact page is here.

That should keep us all busy for a bit. Hope to see some of you at some of them! 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The unbearable lightness of...oh dear

Having greeted the idea of this CD with huge enthusiasm and given it some warm announcements right here, I'm sorry to say that a certain tenor's new recording, 'Du bist die Welt für mich' (English title is on the cover, right), has in its entirety proved a tad underwhelming. So I've written a piece for Amati's magazine about why a little lightness can't hurt. Read it here:

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

10 pieces I'd like to hear more often

Everyone seems to be doing "10 pieces of music you'd rather not hear again", which is funny but quite a negative kind of thing. Instead, here are 10 pieces I think we don't hear enough and that I would like to see popping up more often on concert and opera schedules.

Fauré. Whatever happened to Pénélope?
1. Fauré opera Pénélope.
2. Brahms Nänie, choral piece, utterly gorgeous.
3. Korngold Sinfonietta. Only ever heard it once live (beyond the ballet La ronde), and on that occasion it was played appallingly badly.
4. Bach Cantatas other than the Xmas one. Treasure-trove of genius.
5. Saint-Saëns Symphony No.1. It's a really good piece! And throw in his Violin Concerto No.1 too, please.
6. Schubert operas Alfonso und Estrella and Fierrabras.
7. Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera The Silver Tassie. Great piece. Needs to be done again. Ideal for WWI commemorations.
8. Rameau when it is not his anniversary.
9. Bartók's Divertimento for string orchestra.
10. Many, many, many good pieces by composers who happen to be women. They still are not getting enough of a look-in.
Speaking of which, please come to this fascinating afternoon that BASCA is putting on on 11 November at the Jermyn Street Theatre. I am chairing it and we'll have a panel of seven composers who happen to be women, each of whom represents a different generation. Starts 1pm & finishes at 2.45pm. More details and booking here.