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.


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. 

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.

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.” 

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:

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Vienna breaks new operatic ground, in your home

Back in April we were quite excited to read about the Vienna State Opera's ambitious plans for digital webcasting on the grand scale. Here it comes. The ad above shows you something of what they're doing and a few questions from me about how/how much have elicited the following information: 

For payment you have several possibilities. You can pay 14 euros per view for a live opera/ballet or 5 euros per view for the performances in the vidéothèque. But you can also subscribe to the “smart live” offer which gives you eight live opera performances at home for just €11 each or the “premium live” offer with 12 months of live opera and ballet at home.
Here's how you can use the services offered by the Wiener Staatsoper at home:
- directly from the website on your computer, optimally on a TV set or beamer connected to it.
- by using the Samsung Smart TV App on a Samsung TV.
- by downloading the Staatsoper Live App on your smartphones and tablets.  The latter device can also be used to see the subtitles and the scores while watching the performances on TV or computer.
The live broadcasts from the Wiener Staatsoper can be watched everywhere and are also transmitted time zone delayed within 72 hours. When you make your purchase, you can choose whether you wish to watch the broadcast live at the Vienna starting time or in your personal prime time in your time zone. You have to specify your desired starting time within 72 hours.
There are two live channels. Many opera lovers want to have a view of the entire stage the whole time, but sometimes it can be interesting to get a closer view of the singers and the events taking place on stage as well. With the live broadcasts from the Wiener Staatsoper, we offer both. Viewers at home can switch between two live channels at any time: an overall view of the stage ("Total"), and a live-edited opera film with close-ups and moving cameras. 
I particularly like the idea of the app that enables you to follow the score while listening...
The series kicks off on 14 October with Mozart's Idomeneo, directed by Kasper Holten and conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Next up, Roberto Devereux, Ariadne auf Naxos, Tannhäuser, La Bohème, Khovantshchina, The Marriage of Figaro, Mayerling, La Cenerentola, Arabella, The Nutcracker on boxing day and Die Fledermaus on new year's eve. The list, and the variety of repertoire, continues. As far as I can see, the only thing missing is a replacement for absconded maestro "Frankly..." on the conductor's podium once or twice. 
UPDATE, 8 October 11.15 am: The Vienna State Opera is very kindly offering JDCMB readers free access to the live stream of Ariadne auf Naxos on 23 October. Use the code JDCMB#aria

Monday, October 06, 2014

And finally on the Rach bag of spellings...

...let's let SERGEI RACHMANINOFF himself have the final say. As you see: Sergei with an i. Rachmaninoff with fortissimo. (I wonder what he did in London in 1929.)

Many thanks to Richard Bratby for sending me the link.

Go Sober so far, thanks and acknowledgements!

Delighted to say that in the first five days of October, Team JDCMB has clocked up £166 for the appeal by Macmillan Cancer Support. The challenge is, as you know, to stay away from alcohol for the whole of October, something that can be more difficult for journalists than we'd like it to be.

I've promised all musicians, organisations and those supporting them an on-blog acknowledgement and link by way of a thank-you, with lists presented weekly. So here is the first group of marvellous people who have given generously to our campaign.

Thank you a thousand times to:

Lady Ellen Dahrendorf
Simon Spence, chairman of the excellent Co-Opera.
David Nice, Classical Music Editor of The Arts Desk. Do take out a subscription - you get quantities of quality arts writing for less than the price of one cappuccino a month.
Gill Newman of The Chopin Society. Great series of world-class piano recitals (and the occasional concert-of-the-novel!) in Westminster Cathedral Hall on Sunday afternoons.
F L Dunkin Wedd, composer - have a listen to him at his website.
Nick Spindler

So, six days in and there's still a long way to go. Keep 'em coming, folks. It's a wonderful charity and terribly necessary.

You can donate via my personal page, or via Team JDCMB's (which is wide open for any other doughty campaigners to join, should you so wish!)

Update on Battle of the Rachs...

Interesting info re the spelling of Serge(i) Rachmaninov/ff has been popping into the in-box since my post the other day, so here's what they're saying.

Alexandra Ivanoff, culture journalist and music editor of Time Out, Istanbul, gives her interpretation:

"As I understand it from my grandparents, -OFF was their generation's anglicization of the Cyrillic letter B (lower case). The 20th century generations chose the -OV, partly because it's one less letter to deal with.
Also, the Cyrillic B can be pronounced like an f or a v, so it's kind of toss-up - that evidently continues."

My doughty editor at The Arts Desk, ace critic and Russophile David Nice, offers further explanation:

"The solution is simple, though the inconsistency is maddening: both Prokofiev and Rachmaninov were known in France as 'Serge' and with two ffs, the French transcription. They were published by Editions France de Musique which was bought up by Boosey and Hawkes, hence the publisher's insistence...The Rachmaninoff Society insists on this, and the foundation is supporting the concerts... I ALWAYS put v (and one s in Musorgsky, no reason for two in transliteration. And always Ye for the Russian E (ie Yevtushenko, Yesenin, Yevgeny, Yelena...)" 

Critic and author Matthew Rye adds: "I had always understood that the 'ff' was R's own self-spelling when he moved to the US (in the same way that Schoenberg chose to lose his umlaut and added the first 'e', and Rubinstein became Arthur rather than Artur)." 

John Riley says: "Academically it should be Rakhmaninov, but that seems the least popular option."

The discussion has put me in mind of my experience aged 18 in what would now be called a gap-year internship, but was then simply a part-time job in a year out between school and university. (It was paid, too, and we even got luncheon vouchers.) I was lucky enough to be taken on as office junior by a famous musical publication with an eminent editor, whose letters I had to type from audio-recorded dictation - and he had spelling issues that I simply could not fathom. They were far indeed from Music A level. Skryabin, for a start; and I think my fuzzy memory must have blanked out his solution to the -off/-ov issue. The most confusing, though, was Chaikovsky, with no T. The terror that this struck into my heart has never quite left me.

Come to think of it, my own name in its eastern-bloc Cyrillic original would have been best transliterated as DUKHEN. I've evidently been missing a trick. By this token you are now reading...


Sunday, October 05, 2014

We know the Mozart Effect - but what about the Korngold Effect?

This fun explanation turned up on Classic FM's Facebook page yesterday. We all know about 'the Mozart Effect', by which listening to Mozart is supposed to make your child awfully clever. But supposing your little ones like other composers too? [warning: irony font applies throughout]

So where do we go from here? Here are a few suggestions for composers who didn't make the shortlist above...

The Korngold Effect:
Child fills room with as many different percussion and keyboard instruments as possible, then eats chocolate while playing them all in F sharp major. Teachers express extreme disapproval, while secretly sympathising.

The Chopin Effect:
Child insists on cladding the living room walls in dove-grey silk to ease piano practice.

The Mendelssohn Effect:
This child seems to speak so easily that he/she is dismissed at school as a brattish know-it-all. Later it turns out that he/she is exhausted because in fact he/she has been putting painstaking hours of revision into every sentence to make it sound effortless.

The Scriabin Effect:
Child starts putting coloured filters over all the lights in the house and reaches a state of desperate over-excitement when they meet and mix. It'll all end in tears.

The Ravel Effect:
This fastidious child is a perfectionist in every way. Writes very little, but comes out top of the class every time. Is nevertheless only acknowledged by classmates for the one occasion when he/she decided to write the same two sentences again and again and again in different-coloured ink, just for a lark.

The Fauré Effect:
Only in evidence after age 16: youngster eyes up opposite sex while supposedly paying attention at respectable school prayers.

The Orff Effect:
Child decides to please teachers in a hardline school by writing exactly what they want. The result is crass and cynical, but everyone loves it.