Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My hopes for the music world in 2015

New years bring new fears - this one more than any I can remember.

Interesting to glance back at where we were last time. Here is that list. 

Progress? First of all, our consciousness-raising about gender equality (lack thereof) and sexism in the industry started to do some good, though there's a long way to go. Then, in concert, there was indeed plenty of Panufnik. And a few people have performed other interesting programmes, too. As for absent friends, Sokolov is still not coming to Britain, but Zimerman's name is in the LSO's schedule for July 2015, when he'll play Brahms's Piano Concerto No.1 with Simon Rattle conducting.

But Rattle still has not confirmed or denied that he'll take over the LSO's podium wholesale; we do know, however, that there will be no new London hall for him in the Olympic park redevelopment. Meanwhile Mayor Boris has delivered the coup-de-grace to Southbank Centre's redevelopment plans by taking sides with a small group of intractable skateboarders, rather than supporting the largest possible access to the arts for the largest number of Londoners (yes, really, o surprised overseas friends in sensible places - you couldn't make it up.) Generally, arts organisations are struggling, more so than before, and the senseless bullying and witch-hunting over different varieties of rubbish has got worse.

Top ten hopes for 2015? I almost can't look...

1. That we emerge from the general election in May with a government that will drop crackpot ideology in favour of down-to-earth measures to help to create a fairer and happier society, and that will recognise that nothing can change unless it changes at the level of education. We need good, free education for every child, in which music and the arts can play a central role at a strong level. This means we also need excellently trained music teachers, the encouragement of parental involvement in practising, and instruments made available to borrow, or to rent at a pittance. Education is the single most important issue facing the music world at the moment.

2. That we can change some of the narratives that are currently parroted about in the arts world (and beyond) yet make little practical sense.

3. That we emerge into 2016 with all our orchestras, opera companies, ballet companies, choirs and youth music organisations fully intact.

4. That people decide it's better to have a sense of proportion and stop the knee-jerk petty offence-taking over trivialities. My advice is: don't sweat the small stuff - because if you do, then how are you going to cope with real trouble?

5. That nobody goes to war with anybody else.

6. That the Leeds Piano Competition can find a worthy successor to Dame Fanny Waterman and that the cavalcade of contests for the instrument in 2015 - Dublin, Leeds, Warsaw, Moscow - will find winners equally as interesting as the last lot (Trifonov, Colli, et al).

7. That more would-be music students in Britain realise that as EU citizens they can receive tertiary training free of charge in some places on mainland Europe, and consequently make sure they learn German.

8. That proven facts can be noted more than paranoid fantasies. Truth is not simply what you want to believe. Truth is found in scientific observation. Like it or lump it.

9. That news starts bringing us actual news instead of gossip about a "celebrity's" backside. The other day I picked up a free newspaper on a train and had to turn to page 28 (or was it 36?) to find even one paragraph about Ukraine.

10. That there is still such a thing as professional music journalism in 2016.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

JDCMB Top 12 Posts of 2014

A little recap on some of the JDCMB highlights of 2014

Mourning, anxiety, flashmobs, victimisation of one sort or another and an April Fool's joke proved dominant in this year's reader stats. Glad to say that also scoring highly (so to speak) are a certain wonderful tenor, a great composer to whom I love talking, and a very gifted young conductor.

A guest post from Serhan Bali in Turkey about the dire situation threatening the country's music scene.

20 JAN
Obituary of the conductor whom everyone loved best.

Beethoven proves his credentials once more as a galvanising inspiration.

10 FEB
Look who I met in New York...

The London debut of the incredibly gifted Ilyich Rivas at the Royal Festival Hall.

I had the only interview with Tara that was doing the rounds before the opening of the Glyndebourne Der Rosenkavalier...

Some bonus material from my interview with the composer (the rest is in the Independent)

Farewell to a wonderful pianist in the most tragic of circumstances.

Check the date on this one.

Don't laugh if your neighbour doesn't think the libretto is funny, even if you do.

A critic tells off a small child of colour in a concert.

A trailer for Du bist die Welt für mich...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014



(and huge thanks to the lovely Sally Olson, who had some fun with Photoshop and the kitten pic)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Emergency: My favourite festival is faced with closure


Miserable news from Saint-Nazaire, France: the Festival Consonances, which was founded and run by violinist Philippe Graffin for nearly 25 years, is faced with closure. The town's new mayor has pulled its funding.

Opinion seems divided as to why. Hard times everywhere, say some; a new man wanting to make his mark with a new approach, suggest others; and unfortunately rumblings about classical music being "elitist" have been rumoured as well...

Philippe with ensemble & singer Christianne Stotijn

Saint-Nazaire is (or was) a ship-building town on the Loire estuary with a traumatic war history, good food and a beach. It was in a position of some strategic importance during World War II and is still the site of an indestructible concrete submarine base build by the Nazis, which the allies tried to bomb, though they only succeeded in reducing much of the town to rubble. It's not a wealthy place, nor is it full of glitzy five-star hotels or spectacular scenery to attract well-heeled international festival-goers. Consonances was always very much for a local audience, who are not well-served with world-class classical music the rest of the year. (Above: a line-up typically worthy of the Wigmore and beyond, with Philippe's ensemble accompanying the wonderful Christianne Stotijn.)

Nobuko Imai, Philippe Graffin, Henri Dutilleux, in 2007
Over the quarter-century he's been there, Philippe's programming has been so consistently high and the presence of the musicians so friendly and welcome that the audience grew to trust him and would go and hear pretty much whatever he put on, and he has never been one to stint on intriguing programming. I remember seeing families with young children queuing round the block to get in to a three-hour concert of music by Rodion Shchedrin. The Russian composer was there as artist in residence, together with his wife, the great ballerina Maya Plisteskaya. Further compositional luminaries at the festival have included Henri Dutilleux (above, with Nobuko Imai and Philippe).

Part of the submarine base was turned into an arts centre about seven years ago, and this was the location for the premiere of my play A Walk through the End of Time, with the Messiaen Quartet as companion piece. The project was Philippe's idea and he commissioned the play especially for the occasion. The premiere was given in French by the actors Marie-Christine Barrault and Charles Gonzalès.

Consonances festival in the shipyard
The very first time I attended the festival, the Queen Mary II was under construction in the shipyard and Consonances held its final concert in a hangar on the site; vast pieces of mechanical equipment acquired through context the look of a massive iron art installation [right]. A special bus was put on to take people out there from the town centre and many were in place hours in advance to be assured of the best seats.

Here is one very general point that applies not only perhaps in Saint-Nazaire, but everywhere else too. Before anyone declares classical music "elitist" and therefore not "for" a particular sector of society, please remember this: that is just your opinion. And you are simply scratching around for a feeble excuse to hold back the money an organisation needs. And we can see through that. In effect, you are telling your populace that they are not good enough to appreciate good music. How dare you suggest such a thing? It is the most patronising thing you can possibly do. Of course they are. That was the whole point of arts funding: to make performances affordable enough for everybody to attend.

Everyone is "good enough" for the best sounds in the world. You may like these sounds or you may not, but the unforgivable thing is when the powers that be declare that you will never have the chance to find out for yourself.

Please, dear Saint-Nazaire, restore Consonances's existence right now. It's still in time for Christmas.

Here is Philippe's open letter to the town (en français).

Ce  texte a été écrit mardi 16 décembre par Philippe Graffin cofondateur avec Joël Batteux de Consonances et directeur artistique  :
Philippe Graffin in rehearsal in Saint-Nazaire
“Il y a quelques jours, lors d’un concert que je donnais à Londres, une jeune violoniste américaine en se présentant me dit qu’elle allait souvent sur le site internet du festival Consonances pour s’inspirer des programmes pour le festival qu’elle vient de créer à la Nouvelle Orléans.
Si la musique et les concerts sont par essence éphémères, il n’en reste pas moins que nous ne savons pas jusqu’où ils résonnent.
Pour ma part, le soutien et l’écoute croissante du public de Saint-Nazaire font partie intégrante de la réussite et du succès de cet événement, qui revenait chaque début d’automne.
Ce pari du mariage improbable de la musique dite “élitiste”, dans le contexte du “tintamarre contemporain”, selon l’expression de Joël Batteux, a été la marque de Consonances qui affirmait ainsi ses valeurs.
Mais, finalement, que reste-t-il de tous ces sons, de tous ces concerts, de ces espoirs mis dans la musique, de ces milliers d’heures à préparer l’accueil des musiciens, du public, lorsque le festival prend fin?
Il en reste avant tout une expérience inoubliable d’avoir réussi à marier, chaque année pour quelques jours, ce patrimoine de l’humanité que représente la musique dans cette ville, fleuron de la plus haute industrie.
Consonances s’est associée aux différents événements qui ont marqué cette période, par exemple, lors de la construction du Queen Mary 2, ainsi que du drame qui a précédé son lancement.
Au fil de ces années, j’ai eu l’occasion de découvrir une ville merveilleuse et unique, de lier des amitiés fortes et d’inviter une partie du monde musical à prendre le chemin de Saint Nazaire et à la découvrir.
Des images me viennent à l’esprit, des moments forts comme la présence pleine de charme d’Henri Dutilleux à Saint-Nazaire, celle de Rodion Schedrin et Maya Plissetskaya, artistes russe ô combien légendaires, ou celle d’Ivry Gitlis ou Stephen Kovacevich avec sa chaise plus basse.
Pour moi Consonances, au détour d’un concert particulièrement réussi, fut bien le centre du monde, ne fusse-t-il que musical.
Ces “rencontres” ont porté ainsi, bien au-delà de nos frontières, le drapeau de Saint Nazaire.
Elles ont été d’abord exportées dans des salles prestigieuses, Au Wigmore Hall à Londres, pour toute une semaine autour de la musique française, reprise du festival Consonances précédent, ainsi qu’à La Haye, avec l’Orchestre Philharmonique sur le même thème deux ans plus tard, puis nous fûmes invités au festival Présence de Radio France, à Paris, à de nombreuses reprises.
The war memorial, Saint-Nazaire
Consonances c’est, au cours des 24 éditions, à peu près 450 concerts, donnés non seulement dans les salles que vous connaissez mais aussi dans les chantiers, les hangars d’Airbus Industrie, les hospices, les hôpitaux, dans la rue parfois, sous des préaux improbables, des écoles diverses ou dans des quartiers où la musique dite “classique” aurait pu paraître inadéquate. À chaque fois, ce fut organisé et joué comme si il s’agissait du Théâtre des Champs Elysées ou de la Salle Pleyel, avec la plus grande passion et simplicité.
Consonances a reçu plus de 300 artistes venus du monde entier, souvent fidélisés, et comptant parmi les plus recherchés.
C’est aussi plus d’une vingtaine d’oeuvres commandées et publiées à des compositeurs d’origines diverses et de tendances différentes.
Consonances à fait renaître de nombreuses oeuvres oubliées de compositeurs du passé, romantiques ou classiques. Nous avons repensé à maintes reprises le rapport de la musique à la jeunesse en cherchant de nouvelles formules.
Il reste aussi de nombreux enregistrements, traces de ces recherches et moments inoubliables.
Comme en témoigne cette critique du magazine Diapason, pour notre disque Chausson, qui commençait par ces mots : “Merci à la ville de Saint Nazaire…”
Au nom de mes amis musiciens, je tiens à remercier tous les Nazairiens pour nous avoir accueillis généreusement pendant 25 ans dans leur ville. Ce fut un réel port d’attache pour nous tous.
Je souhaite très sincèrement bonne chance à la nouvelle équipe municipale, à mes collègues du conservatoire, au Théâtre, à la Meet ce projet extraordinaire, au Théâtre Athénor, à Christophe Rouxel du théâtre Icare.
Je voudrais dire un grand merci, du fond du coeur, à tous mes amis de l’association Atempo, à commencer par Patrick Perrin, qui, je le sais, a oeuvré pour Consonances sans relâche, ainsi que Claire Dupont.
Consonances s’efface, certes, mais je reste et resterai toujours un ambassadeur de Saint-Nazaire et un fidèle ami”.
Plus d’informations dans  l’Echo de la Presqu’île du 19 décembre 2014

Saint-Nazaire, 44

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Many people are saying that 2014 was simply awful. In many ways it was. My lowest point was when our best friend, Solti of the Ginger Stripes, went to the green field by the rainbow bridge - this is where the souls of cats go to wait for their humans to join them... Solti lived with us for nearly 15 years and we miss him every day.

That means that the Ginger Stripe Awards of 2013 were the last. But the spiritual presence of Richard and Cosima Wagner as guests of honour has turned out to be prophetic...

Cosima and Richard are back - aka Cosi and Ricki
Solti's successors, even if they are still bit young and flighty, are ready to preside over their first awards ceremony, assuming they'll keep still long enough and don't raid the chocolate cake. Ricki is a "chocolate silver" Somali cat; Cosi, his sister, is a "usual silver". The pet insurance documents, in the names of Richard and Cosima, are causing some amusement.

So please come in, once again, to our cyberposhplace, newly decked out in elegant brown and silver decor. Please leave your outer selves in the cloakroom. 

All your loved ones are here today for the winter solstice; your favourite tipple is on offer, whether it is specialist vodka from Krakow or English sparkly from Hampshire; and you can eat whatever you most enjoy, whether it's roast duck and red cabbage, or nut roast, or gluten-free chocolate cake made with 95 per cent cocoa solids or.....

Our special guest has just arrived: please welcome Sir Andrzej Panufnik. For tonight only, he is back among us to celebrate his centenary. His wife, Camilla, and their children, Jem and Roxanna, are with him and he is embracing the grandchildren he never knew. Please give him a standing ovation: a man whose artistic integrity survived an onslaught of virulent political and cultural fundamentalism and has left a legacy of individual, fascinating and fine-fibred music that shares his own strength of character. Please toast him in Polish vodka: NA ZDROWIE! Annnnd... down in one! >oof<

Next, our habitual round of applause for every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience in this past year. You're wonderful, our marvellous musicians. Your art makes life worth living. And we should never forget it.

Thank you! Quiet, please. Would the following winners please approach the cat-tree where Ricki and Cosi, beautifully brushed for the occasion, will give you a seriously fuzzy cuddle and their trademark pile-driver purrs. And the spirit of Great Uncle Solti is not far away.

Icon of the Year: John Ogdon, one of the most astounding, inspiring, heartbreaking and tragic figures of British music in the 20th century. This year marks 25 years since his untimely death. He is the topic of a very fine biography by Charles Beauclerk, Piano Man, which I recommend highly to anyone who's still looking for a pianoy Xmas present.

Pianist of the Year: Please step forward, young maestro Federico Colli, winner of the 2012 Leeds Piano Competition. Do you realise that your recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall got a heap of five-star reviews from critics who normally never agree with one another? And so it should. Your sensitivity, strength of mind, intense passion for your music and tremendous beauty of tone made your Schumann F sharp minor Sonata one of the pianistic high points of my year. Bravo bravissimo.

String Player of the Year: Julian Lloyd Webber, who has been obliged to call time on his performing career due to a chronic injury. The concert platform's loss is the activists' gain: Julian is a very special spokesperson for music education and for the cause of music for all, and his role as figurehead for Sistema England is absolutely vital, especially at a time when El Sistema is coming under vicious attack. Julian, hang in there. We love you and we need you.

Singer of the Year: Joseph Calleja, you star - what a voice you have, what charisma, and what a terrific talk we had for Opera Now. I adored your Alfredo in Munich, but would gladly listen to you singing the shopping list. You are also the only singer who has volunteered information on the effect of sex life on singing.

Conductor of the Year: Brava,  Joana Carneiro, superb conductor of John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary at ENO. It was a true tour de force - a gigantic span of intricate writing full of amazing effects, bizarre and wonderful instrumentation (cimbalom, tam-tams, you name it), sound design, electronic frogs and fabulous soloists and chorus.

Bayreuth: Seeing is believing
Festival of the Year: Bayreuth. I came away simply furious: it was so wonderful, yet I had been conditioned by years and years of ghastly reports to steer clear! Nobody ever says how wonderful it is. Presumably the idea that the Wagner festival can be top-notch musically, have a glory of a theatre with perfect acoustics, enjoy a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere, be extremely friendly - everyone's there because they are potty about Wagner, basically - and a nice town with interesting things to visit in and outside it...all this is waaay too threatening for the Dad's Army mentality of the British media. Nuff said: Wagner lives. (Even if he is now a small, fluffy, brown cat.)

Youthful Artist of the Year: Ilyich Rivas, the very young Venezuelan conductor who has been in our sights for a while, made a spectacular debut with the LPO back in March. More about the evening here. Hope to hear him again soon - he's going to be mega, IMHO.

Artist of the Year: This time it's a composer. Please step forward, Judith Weir: not merely the first woman to be appointed Master of the Queen's Music in all of its half-millennium-long history, hence a hugely significant figurehead, but more importantly a creative and original musical mind and a person of wisdom, humour and humanity.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Dear Sir András Schiff, vast congratulations on receiving music's best-deserved knighthood. We love you, but more importantly, just about every young pianist I've been talking to recently loves you too. Your influence is profound.

Colleagues of the Year: A huge cheer to all my lovely editors, to my wonderful violinist David Le Page and pianists Viv McLean and Murray McLachlan, and to festival directors Stephen Barlow of Buxton, who let us take Alicia's Gift home to Derbyshire, and Anthony Wilkinson of the Wimbledon International Music Festival - who coolly rescheduled the show for another venue when the Orange Tree went pear-shaped. And, last but by no means least, the inimitable Chopin Society, run by Lady Rose Cholmondeley and Gill Newman - such a fantastical organisation that you just couldn't make it up. Performing Alicia's Gift there in September, interviewing Andrzej Jasinski in November and dancing the night away at their glorious gala the other day means they have a very special place in this year's calendar of colleagues. If this year's awards are looking rather Polish, then so they should.

Interviewee of the Year: Dear Jonas Kaufmann, we met at last [for BBC Music Magazine, right]. Yours remains the only interview to date for which I've worn snow boots. It wasn't quite the glamorous look I'd hoped to adopt for the occasion, but it was awfully cold in New York. I'm so pleased that you're as fascinating in person as you are on stage.

Opera of the Year: Benvenuto Cellini at ENO, directed by Terry Gilliam. The perfect match of off-the-wall piece and director, delivered with flair and rapture and fabulous imagination - but best of all was the ENO chorus belting out "Applaud and laud all art and artisans!" and audibly meaning every syllable of it.

Ballet of the Year: I adored watching Connectome, Alastair Marriott's new ballet for Natalia Osipova, coming into being. What a treat to be in the studio only a few metres away from the Osipova Leap!

Stuffed Turkey: Not a performance, but a reaction to one. That disgraceful incident now known as "Dumpygate".

And a few personal highlights:

Proudest moment: Deciding What To Do About Wagner. You face the facts. You face the nastiness. You look it all squarely, head on, and you think it over: OK, either I can never listen to a note of it again; or I can admit that I know all this, but now I'm going to put that aside and simply get on with loving the music. Decided on latter. End of story.

Weirdest moment: I spent much of the summer and autumn sick as the proverbial dog with what I later learned was whooping cough. I went along to the Rattle/Berliner Philharmoniker/Peter Sellars St Matthew Passion at the Proms before the bug had been diagnosed. And I sat there in reverential silence with streaming eyes and chest in spasm, managing not to cough aloud, waiting desperately for the thing to be over. But the final chord did not bring the expected relief, because the silence after it went on...and on...and on....and on.........and on........ and there could have been no worse moment in the entire evening to make a noise. I managed not to - but honest to goodness, guv, I thought I was going to die.

Biggest sigh of relief: Getting through not just that evening, but a range of concerts, talks and broadcasts without losing my voice or alternatively crashing at high volume due to said illness.

Quote of the Year: "Applaud and laud all art and artisans..." Monsieur Hector tells it like it is!

Wonderful Webmaster of the Year: Thank you, dear and marvellous Horst Kolo, for your ever-devoted updating, archiving and moral support.

Felines of the year: two little cats from school - small, fluffy, silvery and chocolatey and not very far from here.                

Thank you, everyone! We miss our lost loved ones, but we will make the most of whatever life brings us and fight on for the values of humanity, compassion, fulfilment, development, high standards and genuine artistry that bind us together. We are all interdependent in the end, and we should never forget that either. If you don't subscribe to these values, you probably don't read JDCMB, which increasingly I am being told is "the voice of reason" in the musical blogosphere. We won't do near-porn for hits (or for anything else), we won't accept mass madness, witch-hunts, blind prejudice or bullies, we stand up for what's right and we wish to change what isn't. We praise liberty, equality and siblinghood - and we applaud and laud all art and artisans!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Mad Hatters' Dance-Off

Maybe you were lucky enough to get into the ZooNation show The Mad Hatter's Tea Party at the ROH Linbury after I did my article about it the other week, but the thing sold out in a trice. I suspect this one will run and run.

In case you missed it, here's the dance-off between the Royal Ballet's Mad Hatter from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, tap-dancing megastar Steven McRae, and ZooNation's supercool counterpart, Turbo, with some fans to cheer them on. Happy festivities! And don't forget to log in to JDCMB tomorrow, the Winter Solstice, for what used to be the annual Ginger Stripes Awards, but has been given a little bit of a makeover this time...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Who can jump-start Leeds?

It's been a big week for musical chairs. Abigail Pogson of Spitalfields Festival is off to run The Sage, Gateshead. Darren Henley, head honcho of Classic FM, has been appointed CEO of Arts Council England - this man knows music, knows people love it and knows what's needed in music education, and has made his station a massive success, so looks like good news to me, touchwood. But one more change, north of Watford, is in its way just as vital, perhaps more so.

Dame Fanny Waterman is stepping down from running the Leeds International Piano Competition, which she founded back in the 1960s. Can it survive without her?

We need "The Leeds". It is the most important music contest in Britain. It launched Murray Perahia, Radu Lupu and more. Andras Schiff once pulled in third, just behind Mitsuko Uchida, while first went to Dmitri Alexeev (hmm...). Further alumni of the prize ranks include Peter Donohoe, Kathryn Stott, Artur Pizarro, Leon McCawley, Riccardo Castro, Sonya Gulyak and most recently a vintage line-up with Federico Colli placed first and Louis Schwitzgebel second.

The next competition is September 2015 - part of a year ahead of top international contests that also includes Dublin, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. And it's precisely because we talk about Leeds in the same breath as the gigantic circuses in Warsaw and Moscow that it's vital the competition survives the retirement of its founder.

The Leeds puts Britain on the map for young musicians from all over the world. While certain other competitions are up to their armpits in gossip about jury corruption, it has survived with a squeaky-clean reputation (comparatively speaking), and a name for choosing superb musicians as its winners. It may not be as rich as the Cliburn or as glittery as the Tchaikovsky, but it's the one everyone wants to win.

Leeds depends heavily on local support, both financially and in terms of the volunteers who help to run it, putting the contestants up in their own homes, driving them to the venues and so forth. Dame Fanny, a local personage if ever there was one, has kept a tremendous grip on all this, with a sure touch for everything from inspiration to fundraising to musical judgment. People are asking who might step into her shoes. I wonder whether the competition can survive at all without her.

If the London Competition foundered without sufficient funds - in the wealthy heart of the capital, headed by the dynamic Sulamita Aronovsky and with winners including such luminaries as Simon Trpceski, Behzod Abduraimov and Paul Lewis (who got second prize), then what hope for a competition up north? Chancellor George Osborne has rightly identified the need for a powerhouse conurbation and railway system around Manchester, Leeds and the other great northern cities, but we don't have it yet and it'll take time to build, if it's done at all.

Without Leeds, Britain would have no musical contest of such peerless status. The Carl Flesch Violin Competition folded years ago. The piano competitions in Scotland and Dudley are fine and respected events, but their international standing is not yet on a level to compare with Warsaw and Moscow. In other words, without Leeds Britain would be pretty much an irrelevance as a destination for young musicians eager for credentials and wing-testing. And there would be no truly top-level "home game" for any British pianists to enter.

Not that any have been in view recently; this is another matter. Mostly young British pianists don't even bother entering international competitions these days, let alone winning them. Without Leeds, the last incentive for them, one that sets an example and a standard at home, would be gone and we would be well and truly a pianistic island again - merely the place that Chopin couldn't get out of fast enough.

Dear Leeds, we need your piano competition! Please keep supporting it, please find yourself a really powerful successor to Dame Fanny - and please encourage young British pianists to take part and to aim at the necessary technical and musical standards to compete in an international playing field, even if it is in Yorkshire.

Who might take over? Among the figures one could consider are:

Kathryn Stott - former prizewinner, lives up north, much-loved British musician.
Peter Donohoe - all of the above (lives in Midlands) and very experienced juror.
Mike Spring - head of APR records, formerly chief piano man of Hyperion, know pianism inside out and backwards.
Erica Worth and Jesper Buhl - wife and husband team, respectively editor of Pianist magazine and of Danacord Records, dynamic duo with top-notch pianistic knowhow. Pianist's head office is in Leeds, btw.
Murray McLachlan and Kathryn Page - husband and wife team, Manchester based - both pianists, movers and shakers. Murray is head of piano at Chetham's and founders of a marvellous summer school, the Manchester competition for young pianists and much more besides.

Watch this space...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When should a director listen to his/her audience?

A few of my thoughts on the shifting of scenes on stage, from today's Independent. Design a show so the audience can see it, please; improve it if they can't; know when something is daft and needs ditching; but don't pull a show because of pressure groups!

Ten things for your best-ever night out's Chopin Liszt

A high old time was had by one and all last night at the Chopin Society's Christmas fundraiser - a gala recital, dinner and ball at London's historic Guildhall, amply attended by the great and good of the UK, Poland and the piano world.

For such an evening, you will need for your Chopin Liszt:

1. An atmospheric, beautiful and historically significant venue such as this one:

2. A tireless, dedicated organiser such as the Chopin Society's Lady Rose Cholmondeley who can muster a guest list of princesses, dignitaries, the Polish ambassador, great pianists and more.

3. At the back of your cupboard, a ball dress that you bought in Vienna about seven years ago and have never had occasion to don; plus the good fortune to find that it still fits you; and a bunch of Facebookers all saying WEAR IT!

4. A generous-spirited colleague who'll suggest you join her at the office to get changed there and share a taxi to the venue so that you don't have to risk ripping said ball dress on the rush hour trains en route. Thank you, Claire Jackson, editor of International Piano Magazine. (Pic: me in black, Claire in purple.)

5. A gifted young pianist - the multiple-prizewinning Mateusz Borowiak - who steams in, cool as the proverbial cucumber, to play Bach-Busoni, the Liszt Mephisto Waltz and, of course, Chopin. Mateusz is Polish-British; his parents are both music teachers, he has a music degree from Cambridge, and has been studying in Katowice with Andrzej Jasinski. Incidentally, Chopin's last public concert took place at the Guildhall in 1848, less than a year before his untimely death. Stepping into his shoes is no small order.

6. A sumptuous dinner and the excellent company of friends and colleagues old and new; a wonderful chance to catch up with pianistic luminaries, the likes of Angela Hewitt (in a beautiful furry wrap) and Piers Lane, the latter in fine fettle on the dance floor. Plus, of course, the good-humoured spirit that can enjoy hearing the Poles and the British roundly mucking up the pronunciations of one another's surnames, while getting along excellently in this celebration of longstanding Polish-British friendship - and manifold anniversaries, not least 10 years of Poland being an EU member.

7. A terrific band that can deliver everything from the 1870s to Abba and Diana Ross.

8. A mysterious stroke of fate. After all, what are the chances of wearing that Viennese ball dress only to find that at dinner you are sitting next to an actual Viennese man, moreover one who learned to dance in the great ballrooms of his home city, white gloves and all? Please take a bow, Ulrich Gerhartz, the legendary chief technician of Steinways, who I'm glad to say whirled me off my feet all the way from 'The Blue Danube' to 'Dancing Queen'.

9. A good cause. The aim of these high jinks is to raise money towards buying the society a new piano for its excellent series of recitals, most of which take place at Westminster Cathedral Hall. Recent performers have included Abbey Simon, Yevgeny Sudbin, Benjamin Grosvenor and many more (including me and Viv in 'Alicia's Gift' a few months back). Until now they have used a beautiful, warm-toned instrument that once belonged to the Polish virtuoso Witold Malcuzynski, but as you can imagine, it is getting on in years. With an auction of artworks and holidays, led by Philip Moulds, a "silent auction" and a raffle, one suspects that the new piano will no longer be such a distant prospect.

10. Getting home in the wee hours with ears ringing, head spinning and a slightly bloodied toe.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A knight at the piano

Sir András Schiff went to Buckingham Palace today and was officially knighted by the Prince of Wales. Gratulalok! 

In memoriam José Feghali

Absolute shock in the piano world today at the news that José Feghali, a former winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, has died aged 53, apparently by his own hand. More information here.

I met the Brazilian-born Feghali just once, a very long time ago and extremely briefly, but retain an impression of a beautiful person with a special gentleness about him. We had the same teacher in London - I started lessons with her in the year that José won the Cliburn - and I well remember the affectionate and enormously admiring tones in which all the "class" talked about him. He was very much the golden boy - and rightly so. A terrible tragedy. Please take a moment to remember him.

This is the second suicide of a wonderful pianist in the US in less than two months. This was the other.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Marvels of Messiaen

It's Messiaen's birthday today. Above,  the last movement of the Quartet for the End of Time, 'Louange à l'immortalité de Jésus' played by Gil Shaham and Myung Whun Chung. One of the most heavenly pieces I know.

Next year my play A Walk through the End of Time, which centres on the quartet, is due for a couple of performances. It's a one-act two-hander and is usually followed - either after an interval or in some cases in a related event soon after - by a complete performance of the music. Will post performance details in due course.

This extract relates to the final movement:
Christine: But can I tell you what I thought I was looking for? I wanted the depth of tenderness I discovered that night in the Messiaen. I think the tenderness in the violin solo represents the greatest possible strength. It takes unbelievable courage to be still and show love and vulnerability. Expose your heart and you’re laughed at, or trampled on... I had a longing for an emotion that I knew must exist – because it’s in the music. ...Love is an ultimate freedom, isn’t it? And if freedom is within you, then perhaps love is, too. If it isn’t already in your heart, if you don’t know how to give it…It was something in myself, some unfulfilled capacity, but I didn’t understand. I got it the wrong way round.  

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Fanfare for the uncommon woman conducting competition winner

Elim Chan
Photo: Clive Totman/LSO

The Donatella Flick Conducting Competition was won last night by Elim Chan, a 28-year-old conductor from Hong Kong. It's the first time the contest has ever chosen a woman as its winner. Chan will receive £15,000 towards her studies and concert engagements, a one-year post as assistant conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (under whose auspices the contest takes place) and a chance to take part in the orchestra's learning and participation activities. Runners-up were Jirí Rožen (Czech Republic) and Mihhail Gerts (Estonia).

Here is Elim's biography from the University of Michigan, where she's currently studying for a doctorate.

Born in Hong Kong, Elim Chan is the Music Director of the Michigan Pops Orchestra and the University of Michigan Campus Philharmonia Orchestra. Trained early in piano and voice, she gave her first public concert at age nine singing "Tomorrow" from Annie with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Elim was awarded the prestigious Harriet Dey Barnum Memorial Prize and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music with high honors from Smith College. In 2011, she completed her Masters degree in Orchestral Conducting at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance studying with Kenneth Kiesler. Elim has also studied with renowned conducting pedagogues Gustav Meier, Colin Metters and with Marin Alsop at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.

Passionate about advocating new music, Elim has premiered and promoted numerous works composed by her UM colleagues- Michael-Thomas Foumai Roger Zare, David Biedenbender, Donia Jarrar. An active orchestral conductor, she received invitations to conduct the Hong Kong Children's Symphony Orchestra in 2011, and her work led to reengagements in 2012.

Internationally, this June Elim was one of the five fellows invited by Pinchas Zukerman to conduct the renowned National Arts Centre Orchestra in Canada. Recently, Elim also completed her July-August residency in Chile conducting the Bicentennial Youth Orchestra of Curanilahue in Chile, whose founding was to inspire and bring together poor but talented youth of the region through music. She also conducted the University of Talca's Symphony Orchestra with the invitation from Maestro Américo Giusti Muñoz. This fall, Elim is returning to the University of Michigan to pursue her doctoral studies in Orchestral Conducting.

That Kyung Wha Chung concert

You'll have heard all the rumpus about a great violinist allegedly telling off the family of a coughing child during that comeback recital at the Royal Festival Hall last week. The whole thing is so ridiculous on so many levels that it's seemed best to ignore it. But I hope the following may shed a little more light on the matter, since there's been "outrage" (fake outrage = clickbait) about her action and speculation that it might have put a child off music for life, etc etc.

A musician friend of mine tells me that he was sitting a couple of rows behind the family. He is somewhat conversant with South Korea. He thinks the family was probably Korean and remarked that it is a culture in which elders are respected and speak their minds very directly - rather than habitually talking in riddles and mincing their words as we tend to in the middle England that frequents high culture ("I say, er, please, would you mind terribly if..."). We do forget that not everyone in the world follows our own social mores - and London is an extremely international place.

He added that a) the child looked to be only about 4 years old, and b) the family didn't leave, contrary to rumour, but stayed where they were and seemed to enjoy the rest of the concert without any further trouble.

The online and media bullying of great musicians for the slightest extra-musical flip is quite common these days, especially in this country - and it has got to stop, because all it does is put them off coming back here. We're the losers in the end.

Here is a clip (if somewhat cut about) of the wonderful Chung in the Bach Chaconne. This is why we want her here, and playing, and playing like this.

UPDATE, 9/15pm: KYUNG WHA CHUNG RESPONDS AND EXPLAINS - and does so with admirable sense and sensibility. (The Guardian)

Monday, December 08, 2014

Green light for Lucerne opera house

One of the stranger ongoing legal cases of the music world was resolved last Thursday - and seems set to clear the way for a new opera house in the bijou Swiss town of Lucerne, the site of one of Europe's finest concert halls and a renowned festival.

A flexible-space opera house was planned for the city years ago - an idea spearheaded by Pierre Boulez, no less - and one of the festival's major donors, Christof Engelhorn, pledged more than $100m to back its creation, but died before the donation could be made from his family's trust in Bermuda (the fortune was made in the pharmaceutical industry). The festival sued for the money, in Bermuda - and now it has won. Here's a little more background on the case. There's a long way to go still, of course, and the Salle Modulable's next hurdle will be a feasibility study. But it's a valuable green light and the space will be watched with interest.

Not that one needs an excuse to visit Lucerne, of course (pictured); ever since 1938, when the festival launched as an antidote to the hideous developments in Nazi-era Bayreuth and Salzburg, it has been a flourishing hub of first-class musical activity. The first concerts were held on the lawn outside Tribschen, the former home of Richard Wagner.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Birthday wishes for...

Krystian Zimerman, 58 today. Here he is in a beautiful, fresh, witty and pure-toned performance of the Mozart Sonata in C, K330. Gloriously expressive eyebrows, a tone to die for, and much more. Don't miss the ending.

Fans alert: he will be IN LONDON on 2 July to perform Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 with the LSO and Simon Rattle at the Barbican. Don't miss it.

Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji urodzin*

(*"All the best on your birthday" - Polish)

Stop the yells

Do you know what you're doing when you yell BRAVI!! a split second into the final chord? 

Especially if there are microphones above the platform?

The orchestra may be recording the piece. If you yell BRAVI - or indeed anything else - before the sound has quite disappeared, you are disrupting the recording.

The entire orchestra will then be kept another half an hour in the hall for a quick patching session.

These days most members of London orchestras, especially the younger ones with families, can't afford to live in London, so they have very long journeys home to places like Tonbridge, St Albans, Lewes or Bedfordshire - when they'd rather be in the other kind of Bedfordshire a little sooner. And with petrol prices high and the congestion charge/parking fees making a car in the capital basically pointless, people take trains. 

Our railways, however, still function on the presumptions of c1958 that nobody is out after 11pm, that nobody has to go on tour early in the morning, let alone on Sundays, and that there are only a handful of people in London anyway, so trains late in the evening are few and far between. 

When you yell before the music is over, and it is not over until that chord has died away, you ensure that more than half those musicians will miss their trains home. They will in many cases have to wait up to another hour for the next one and will get in at some unearthly wee time of morning, completely knackered.

Their spouses will be knackered too, will be fed up with the schedule and may spark a fight. Their children may wake up at the sound of the front door. Everyone has a bad day in the morning, whether at school or at work or on tour. An exam may be shakier than it should have been due to exhaustion. Someone at work may make a mistake in some words or figures or diagnosis. Someone may be late for a vital meeting. And so forth. Everyone does their best, but would have done better still with an extra hour's sleep.

The recording, meanwhile, may be entirely jeopardised. And it doesn't cost nothing to set it up.

This is all because one person in the concert hall couldn't hang on just one second to yell BRAVI.

So please, please, please: THINK before you YELL. 


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Free ZooNation! Mad Hatter's Tea Party to be LIVE STREAMED

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party: ZooNation in rehearsal
Photo: David Sandison
I spent an utterly enthralling and invigorating few hours at the ROH the other week watching ZooNation rehearse its new family show for the Linbury, The Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and then writing about it. Huge respect for these amazing dancers who work so hard but manage to create so much fun while doing so. Full feature is in the Independent today along with a photo gallery from the rehearsals.

The show - the first-ever commission in hip-hop style from the ROH - runs from Saturday until 3 January, but the theatre has just announced that the performance on 18 December will be live-streamed on a) the Royal Opera House's Youtube channel and b) the BBC Arts website. If what I saw is anything to go by, it's going to be both terrifically danced and terrifically bonkers - and the tickets have been going like the proverbial hot cakes. Indeed, it's pretty much sold out - just a few tickets left now for Saturday 13 Dec 12.30pm - so you may have to log on to share the fun with ZooNation's dazzling stars Tommy Franzen, Lizzie Gough, Teneisha Bonner and, of course, 'Turbo'.

Orchestras win tax breaks, we hope

In yesterday's autumn statement, the chancellor, George Osborne, announced (among other things) that orchestras in the UK may get tax breaks. A system was brought in for theatre and dance productions back in the summer and the idea is to extend this to their colleagues on the concert platform. This would mean 20 per cent tax relief on home performances and 25 per cent on touring.

But while the principle of it is being welcomed, what nobody seems absolutely sure of is how it is going to work; Classical Music Magazine points out that it is a nod, but not a promise; and also, nobody seems quite certain whether it will make any difference to the fortunes of these organisations once the next round of ACE funding cuts is meted upon them. Here is the ISM response ("the fine detail is still to be worked up").

We suspect that this may be a case of the chancellor giving with one hand and taking away with the other and cynics will suggest that such a pledge could therefore turn out, in the broad scheme of things, not to be worth the paper it's written on. Personally I can't help wondering if it would not be simpler for all concerned just to fund the arts properly in the first place... But let's be grateful for small mercies, no?

Here is the ACE document explaining theatre tax relief.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Women triumph at last at the British Composer Awards

A lot of good news from the British Composer Awards, which held a glittering do last night. Nine first-time winners, and five awards to composers who happen to be female, two of them going to Kerry Andrew. And there's a prize for... Sir Harrison Birtwistle - indeed, few BCAs would be complete without that.

Kerry Andrew scoops the double
Photo: Mark Allen

Kerry Andrew's Woodwose: A Community Chamber Opera scooped Community/Education Project. Her Dart's Love won the Stage Works category.

Rebecca Saunders' Solitude for solo cello won Instrumental Solo/Duo

Kaija Saariaho won the International Award for Circle Map.

Cecilia McDowell's Night Flight triumphed in Choral.

First-time winners included Django Bates, Steve Forman, Ed HughesMartin Iddon, Cecilia McDowall, Kaija Saariaho, Rebecca Saunders, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Tom White. 

Birtwistle's sixth BCA prize was in the Vocal category, for Songs from the same Earth

The winner of the student competition was Bertram Wee, currently a student at the Royal College of Music, for his Sonicalia for tenor trombone and tuba. A name to remember.

The full list of winners and further information on the awards is available at the BACSA site, here. Meanwhile, we are glad if last year's message has perhaps been heard. Bravi tutti!

Now, remember, the key to the BCAs is NOMINATIONS. Anybody can nominate a piece, but the jury can only consider works that have been nominated. So if you're a performer who's loved playing a new work, a listener who's loved listening to one, or the proud commissioner who's made it all possible, get the nomination in for next time.