Monday, May 30, 2016

Our heroine's birthday



Today is the birthday of the great violinist Jelly d'Arányi, who was born in Budapest on 30 May 1893. She is of course the heroine of Ghost Variations.

Here are just a few pieces of the pieces of music that were composed for her and/or inspired by her, in no particular order:

Ravel: Tzigane
Bartók: Violin Sonata No.1
Ethel Smyth: Double Concerto for Violin and French Horn
Vaughan Williams: Concerto Accademico
FS Kelly: Violin Sonata in G major (now nicknamed the 'Gallipoli Sonata')
Gustav Holst: Double Concerto for two violins (for Jelly and her sister Adila Fachiri)

Unfortunately the majority of Jelly's recordings are of short salon works rather than the meaty concertos and chamber works that formed the bulk of her repertoire. The exceptions are some concertos by Bach and Mozart, and a remarkable set of two piano trios - Schubert's B flat and Brahms's C major Op.87 with Myra Hess, with whom she enjoyed a rewarding duo for some 20 years. The two trios have different cellists - Felix Salmond joins them for the Schubert, Gaspar Cassado for the Brahms. It's the only surviving recording testimony to her partnership with Hess.

Above, hear the slow movement of the Brahms (which features some of Brahms' Hungarian Joachim-tribute rhythms). To judge from their playing here, Myra and Jelly were musical soulmates.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I'm IN, and here's why you should be too

Today 300 historians have added their voices to the Remain campaign, pointing out that were we to leave the EU, the UK would simply become an irrelevance. They declare:

"As historians of Britain and of Europe, we believe that Britain has had in the past, and will have in the future, an irreplaceable role to play in Europe. On 23 June, we face a choice: to cast ourselves adrift, condemning ourselves to irrelevance and Europe to division and weakness; or to reaffirm our commitment to the EU and stiffen the cohesion of our continent in a dangerous world."

Now, maybe you like the idea of the UK drifting away alone into mid-Atlantic, leaving us isolated and Europe weakened while Putin runs Russia and Trump may soon run America? I sure as hell don't. Neither do I much like the idea of our resulting isolation being run by the particular bunch of deluded ideological fantasist politicians, of many political hues, who are supporting "Brexit". To say nothing of the leader of the French National Front being in favour of it. 

It seems a no-brainer that for the music industry in particular "Brexit" would be a complete disaster. Here are some vital reasons to vote to stay in if you are part of this exceptionally international sphere.

• At the moment, UK musicians have the right to work anywhere in Europe and can therefore with ease take up posts at orchestras ranging from Berlin to Gothenburg to La Scala Milan with freedom should they be fortunate enough to be appointed. Likewise, European musicians can come to Britain and many do indeed bring their expertise to our finest orchestras. Standards have gone up enormously as a result and the performers' own horizons have a chance to expand unimpeded. If we lose this, quality levels will most likely drop and career prospects for UK musicians will be unnecessarily hobbled.

• UK orchestras and chamber groups travelling around Europe don't need working visas at the moment. If suddenly a working visa is required for the Schengen area, logistics will be vastly more complicated and the cost of it all will rise considerably.

• Workers' rights. Matters like maternity leave, holiday pay and more are protected by EU directives. Take those away and the pro-Brexiters left in charge will get rid of your rights faster than you can say Emmeline Pankhurst. If you want to be in the hands of those who will skew the already dangerous imbalance ever more towards the employers, cutting the pay, the rights and the dignity of everyone else, then vote Brexit...

• Music students, want to avoid crippling debt from college fees? Go and study in Germany. It's FREE. If we leave the EU, this will no longer be possible. (And remember, just because our schools don't bother to encourage it, that doesn't mean you can't learn another language. You can. Anyone can. Speaking different languages is a major advantage and you won't regret the time and effort you put into it.)

• Calling all Kaufmaniacs - and any music enthusiast who loves to travel to hear favourite musicians, rare operas et al: your air fares will rise, you may need a visa and if the pound falls as much as the Chancellor says (18 per cent) it will cost you a very great deal more.


In the interests of "balance" I've been trying to think of one advantage for the music industry of leaving.

I've come up with....

um...??

Nothing. Null. Nix. Nada. Nul points. (Oh, right - perhaps if we exit Europe we would have to leave the Eurovision Song Contest. That would be an advantage because the British entries are usually so embarrassing.)

So instead, here are more reasons to stay. The ticket agency Ticketbis (an organisation which helps fans resell and buy tickets for events all over the world) has been in touch with some further points. Most of them are couched in terms which apply to pop music, but the principles are exactly the same:

Tax: The cost of buying records and merchandise online could also increase for both people in the UK buying from Europe, and people in Europe buying from the UK. At the moment, you don't have to pay VAT or customs duty on imports and exports within the EU, but Brexit may change this.

Digital downloads could be affected too. Artists currently selling downloads don't have to register for VAT in every EU country, which could change should Britain leave the EU.

Smaller acts: The people who would be affected the most by Brexit are smaller acts who rely on touring Europe or heading to European festivals to gain exposure.

Bands will only be able to tour if a promoter makes them an offer to perform, and with the additional paperwork, European promoters may be less inclined to bother with smaller acts.

For artists who are not in the EU, a Schengen visa costs €60 per person (£45 to £50 depending on the current exchange rate). Four band members, a driver and tour manager puts an extra £300 on the cost of a tour.

Travel costs: The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) has already warned that Brexit could be a disaster for the travel industry, both for tourists and business travel. The knock-on effects for the music industry – where fans travel as tourists and bands travel as businesses – could be significant.

Thanks to Britain’s current membership in the EU, it enjoys the EU-US open skies regulations, which mean flights between EU countries and the US are cheaper, more regular, and can be done to and from far more destinations. However, this could change if Britain leaves the EU.

Fans travelling abroad for concerts: In 2015, 75% of ticket sales through Ticketbis were for events outside of the UK and in 2014 80% of sales were for events outside of the UK. These sales figures show how popular travelling abroad to see your favourite artists is with music fans in the UK.

The rising travel costs will no doubt  affect the fans, whether they're following their favourite musicians on tour or heading out to European festivals. But it’s not just the extra cost which could affect fans’ ability to travel - free healthcare access, financial protection, freer movement of goods, caps on mobile phone charges and compensation for delayed flights are all benefits that come with EU membership, and could ultimately be lost should brexit take place.

Jaime de Miguel from Ticketbis said: “Over half (54%) of ticket sales through Ticketbis for events in the UK in 2016 have been from international fans that travel to the UK to attend music events. If the UK was to leave the EU these figures could be seriously affected and opportunities for fans to see their favourite artists live could be slashed.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Oedipe lives

Here's a gallery from last night's extraordinary opening of George Enescu's Oedipe at the Royal Opera House. It's not often that a "forgotten masterpiece" delivers its promise, but this one is a work apart.


Opening tableau. Photo: (c) Royal Opera House, by Clive Barda


Is there anything else like it? It's difficult to select anything other than partial comparisons. Its sound worlds travel from Debussian sinuousness to something between Grecian declamation and Schoenbergian sprechstimme at the climax; its intensity recalls that of Szymanowski's Krol Roger, which Covent Garden brought us last year, but there's little of that sensuality about Oedipe, which conquers us with powerful oration rather than seducing. Its harmonies and melodic blends are rooted in the scarlet earth of Romanian folk music; and its orchestration includes such a variety of creations that ring, glimmer, glow, hiss, slide and roar, used with a ceaseless wealth of invention by Enescu, that I don't know how they got them all in the pit - still, special plaudits must go to the virtuoso wind players who within this vast canvas function almost as a chamber group. The conductor Leo Hussain, when I interviewed him about this piece the other week, remarked that the final ten minutes are not only his favourite in this opera, but in any opera ever written. I can see and hear why.

Oedipus (Johan Reuter) meets the Sphinx (Marie-Nicole Lemieux). Photo: (c) Royal Opera House, by Clive Barda

To say that these roles stretch their singers would be almost laughable, since I can't recall hearing any baritone role that can even begin to match that of Oedipe. The opera has over two and a half hours of music and it is only in the first scene (when Oedipe is a baby) that Johan Reuter is not on stage at the centre of the action. And in the second half not only must he carry off the climactic scene after Oedipus blinds himself, but also the final redemption through Antigone's filial love, his self-acceptance and the recognition of innocence through lack of intent. It's a magnificent performance and Reuter is supported by a luxury cast: Sarah Connolly a regal and humane Jocaste, crumbling in agony as her infant is torn from her arms; Marie-Nicole Lemieux as the Sphinx - homed in a crashed WWII plane - has to make vocal sounds that even Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire never thought of. Sophie Bevan is a pure and devoted Antigone, Oedipe's favourite daughter, whose love saves him as much as anything else; and Sir John Tomlinson has the greatest power, the most terrifying presence and the most audible French diction of them all, as the prophet Tirésias. Splendid roles, too, for Alan Oke as the Shepherd and Claudia Huckle as Mérope, to name but a few.


Oedipus (Johan Reuter). Photo: (c) Royal Opera House, by Clive Barda
The production, originally from La Monnaie in Brussels, is by Àlex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco, artistic directors of the Catalan theatre group La Fura dels Baus - they will be back in the autumn to create a new production of Norma for the ROH. The red sludge element is apparently inspired by the devastating spillage in Hungary in 2010 - representing fate, for who can assert the existence of free will against chemical contamination? Yet it's not overstated; there are spectacular visual results, but one never feels bashed over the head with a "concept". It's an organic part of the opera's philosophical thrust, one that in the end belongs as much Enescu and his librettist Edmond Fleg as to Sophocles. The Sphinx asks not her original riddle that traces a human's life from four legs to two to three; instead, Fleg has her demand, "Who or what is greater than destiny?" The answer remains the same: mankind. We must transcend our fate and - red sludge apart - we can.

So the billion-pound question is: why is this opera not performed more often? Well, it's huge; people don't know it, so it's a risk; you need a world-class cast like this one; and perhaps it's simply that with a world premiere in 1936, when the world was on its way to hell, it was doomed to have to wait twenty years for resuscitation. And then there was the Iron Curtain to contend with. Enescu's musical language is organic to its own land much in the way that Bartók's is organic to Hungary, but it's one that was not enhanced by wide familiarity beyond; besides, come the 1950s, the dominance of serialism was squeezing out many alternative compositional approaches, which then remained underappreciated for several decades. In Romania Enescu is more than a national hero (I can scarcely believe the stats here for yesterday's preview piece), but blowing his trumpet abroad has never been easy. Perhaps that was the red sludge of fate. Or perhaps he was ahead of his time. Perhaps his time is now. 

Go and see this right away if you possibly can. Five more performances, ticket availability still quite good and prices not astronomical (you can get a very good seat for around £65 and top price is £85). All details and booking here.


Oedipus (Johan Reuter) walks away into the light. Photo: (c) Royal Opera House, by Clive Barda

Monday, May 23, 2016

Vivat Enescu

George Enescu's only opera, his magnum opus Oedipe, opens at the ROH tonight for the first time ever. I adore Enescu and have a massive poster of him from the Enescu Festival in Bucharest above my piano. Wrote the following for the Indy...



Some figures in the artistic world seem to have enough talent to fuel four ordinary beings. One such is the utterly remarkable George Enescu: composer, pianist, violinist, conductor and teacher, assuredly the most celebrated musician ever to have come out of Romania. His life is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, riven with personal tragedy, closing in exile. And his opera Oedipe, which he considered his masterpiece, is only now to be staged for the first time at the Royal Opera House, 80 years after its world premiere.

Enescu was born in 1881 in a Romanian village named Liveni, which has since been renamed after him. Aged three he was captivated by the sound of the violin and the folk music of his native land. He soon emerged as a child prodigy and at the tender age of seven was sent to study music in Vienna. Later he headed for the Paris Conservatoire, where he became a composition pupil of Jules Massenet and subsequently Gabriel Fauré; his Romanian Poem was performed at Paris’s Concerts Colonne when he was 17.

At first he divided his time between Paris and Bucharest. In the latter, the young musician became a favourite of Queen Elisabeth of Romania in her guise as the poet and patron Carmen Sylva, and he set some of her poems to music. In the former, his violin students numbered such then-budding stars as Yehudi Menuhin, Ida Haendel, Ivry Gitlis and Arthur Grumiaux. Menuhin declared: “To me, Enescu is the most extraordinary human being, the greatest musician, and the most powerful influence someone has ever had over me.”

Enescu. Photo: http://festivalenescu.ro/en/george-enescu/
As for influences on Enescu, these were exceptionally varied. He was fortunate enough to be born into a turbulent time in musical creativity; composers everywhere were seeking a new individuality, often to free themselves from the overwhelming impact of Wagner. This was especially true in Paris, where Fauré encouraged his pupils to find musical voices that were uniquely their own.

Enescu was no exception. His music bears hints of Wagner, but also of Debussy and of the distinctive harmonic and rhythmic language of Romanian folk music; and his technical mastery of his instruments led him to challenge his performers mightily in that department. His compositions, including the Romanian Rhapsodies, giant symphonies and some intense, startlingly original chamber music and piano works, pack a punch with their ceaseless flow of ideas.

His magnum opus, though, was Oedipe, his sole opera: an ambitious, larger-than-life musical canvas that follows the life of Oedipus from birth through the Theban tragedy to a transcendent final death scene. It incorporates myriad styles: melodrama-like declamation rubs shoulders with almost filmic scene painting and shimmering impressionistic effects akin to Debussy. There’s even one note on the musical saw, representing the death of the Sphinx.

So where has Oedipe been all our lives? And where was it all of Enescu’s? It was as early as 1910 that the composer, mesmerised by a performance of Sophocles’s Oedipus Tyrannus in Paris, conceived the idea of basing an opera on it. The first performance, though, did not take place until 1936.

Leo Hussain, the British conductor who makes his Royal Opera House debut with the work, suggests that this long creation period was a complex affair. “Partly it was a difficult piece for him to write because he knew he wanted it to be his masterpiece,” he says. The orchestration took nine years to perfect. “I get the impression it was written very fast, but finished very slowly, with Enescu refining, adding, taking away, and obsessing about it. And he was also a very busy man!”

This multifaceted and sometimes turbulent opera is dedicated to the equally multifaceted and turbulent love of Enescu’s life: Maria, Princess Cantacuzino via her first marriage. Her tale is laden with suggestions of mental instability, infidelity and, following an affair with the philosopher Nae Ionescu, a suicide attempt in which she poured acid on her own face. She and Enescu married, after a lengthy on-off relationship, the year after Oedipe’s premiere.

Ultimately Enescu was caught up in the violent tides of the 20th century’s progress; this may account for Oedipe’s wider neglect, since a premiere in 1936 was hardly ideal timing with World War II imminent. He spent the war years in Romania, but in 1946 left for Paris to escape the new communist regime. After suffering a stroke while conducting in London in 1950, he lived thereafter in the French capital, where he died in 1955. The story goes that Maria had to prevent Romanian secret agents from kidnapping his body to take to Bucharest as part of the country’s heritage.

Now it is time to see whether this astonishing work can establish itself here. And with a tried and tested production by Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco of the Catalan company La Fura dels Baus, and an all-star cast including Johan Reuter, Sir John Tomlinson and Sarah Connolly, to name but a few, it should have its best possible chance. “It’s a hard-hitting story, a huge challenge and a great night in the theatre,” Hussian declares. “I can’t wait for everyone to see it.”


Oedipe, Royal Opera House, from 23 May. Box office: 020 7304 4000

UPDATE: I went to the opening night and here's what it was like.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Several Marias, reimagined...

Last Sunday I got up at 4am to travel to Stansted Airport on the far north-east opposite end of not-really-London, thence to fly on our beloved institution of Ryanair to a wet, chilly, Sunday-sleepy Austrian town full of images of its most famous son, one WA Mozart, to meet one of the world's most famous mezzo-sopranos and hear her sing the role of Maria in West Side Story (different from that august town's more usual Maria, on the Sound of Music hillsides), accompanied by the Simon Bolivár Orchestra and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel: a dazzling show, full of verve and passion, all about "juvenile delinquency" in 1950s New York, attended chiefly by those who could afford tickets that make Glyndebourne look a snip at £300 (top price for Meistersinger).

Cecilia Bartoli as Maria 1 © Salzburger Festspiele / Silvia Lelli

A long sentence, that. Nevertheless, there's something magic about Cecilia Bartoli. Every time she began to sing I found myself in tears, and not only because I was knackered. It's possible to pick holes, if you want to: her vibrato is large and fast, she was performing the role from the sidelines as Maria's older self (Bartoli is 50 this year, Maria is 16) looking back at her memories while a younger actress played 'Maria 2' and a certain amount of disbelief had to be suspended, not least because Tony - the otherwise excellent tenor Norman Reinhardt - was not similarly doubled and looked more like Maria 2's dad. Bartoli was therefore obliged to sing duets and ensemble numbers from far-distant parts of George Tsypin's vast, multilevel set and it is much to her credit and Dudamel's that this was pulled off with seamless ensemble. In the end, she has a knack for letting her sound strike us straight in the gut, as if her entire heart is given in the voice, and it grabs and twists you and wrings you out, no matter what your mind says. If you go to this show, do not wear mascara.

Predictably the whole thing has been panned elsewhere, but musically that judgment would seem unfair. Yes, it's miked. It's a musical; it's supposed to be miked. Someone complained that the words were unintelligible, but I could hear everything clear as day; the New York 1950s street-speak, though, is more than a little dated and may seem as Martian to today's youth as the 2016 equivalent does to those who share a ball-park vintage with Maria 1. Meanwhile, all plaudits to the magnificent Karen Olivo as a smoky-voiced Anita, electric physicality from the boys in striking new choreography by Liam Steel, and the Sharks girls who nearly stole the whole show with their sizzling "America".

The company on stage. © Salzburger Festspiele / Silvia Lelli

Above all, the white-hot orchestra was the star of the day - they can probably play that "Mambo" standing on their heads by now, as it's become almost a signature piece for them, but Bernstein's score deserves luxury treatment (one can't help cringing when hearing it delivered by a tiny pit band in West End standard mode): drafting them in was one of Bartoli's most inspired ideas. She is the artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival - a short, Maytime relation of the giant summer shebang - and for Shakespeare anniversary year she filled it with works inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Incidentally, Norman Reinhardt is not related to Max Reinhardt, the summer festival's founder.

Verdict: moved to tears despite a flawed concept. But what's the real problem with that concept?

The director Philip Wm. McKinley came up with the notion of two Marias after wondering what becomes of Maria after the show ends. Unlike Shakespeare's Juliet, she does not die, but delivers a blistering speech over Tony's body that proves the futility of this cycle of violence that has taught her how to hate. Unfortunately, according to this reimagining, what happened next is that she went on working in the wedding dress shop, became its manager, never married, never stopped missing Tony - and now throws herself under a train, after which her soul and his are reunited in the Felsenreitschüle stratospheres.

Oh, come on! Maria is way too clever and spirited for that. Has she learned nothing from losing Tony? Of course she has. She has learned that hatred is terrible and life is short. Instead of mouldering away, would she not be spurred to devote herself to stopping the violence she could not prevent as a young girl?

She mourns Tony, of course. But let's remember, she's only known him for two days. She saves hard, works nights and sets up a youth support centre on the Upper West Side. She goes into gangland and recruits those affected by violence and trains them to work with their own communities to stop the killing. She cares for the frightened, lost youngsters as she would for her own children. She has quite a voice, and she learns how to inspire people with the power of her orations. She galvanises New York with her charisma and determination. She is elected mayor of New York City. And then she becomes the first woman president of the USA, long before Hillary Clinton. "Somewhere" can become her great, idealistic, political anthem. "We'll find a new way of living" is her campaign slogan.

That would be our Maria. That could be our Cecilia, if she were given a chance.

Bartoli interview to follow in due course.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Play Beethoven today to #SaveEUYO



Today at 12 noon musicians from the European Union Youth Orchestra and colleagues from all over the place are getting together on the Festival Terrace outside the Royal Festival Hall to play Beethoven's Ode to Joy as a symbol of their support for a sustainable future for the EUYO and indeed the future of European culture and cooperation. All musicians are invited to come along and join in.

And around Europe musicians will be doing this same thing at the same time. You can find SaveEUYO gatherings at:

• Central Station, Brussels
• Plaza di Atocha, Madrid
• Erlebnis Europa, Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
• Museumsplatz, Vienna
• Frederiksborggade 11, Copenhagen
• Paris - flashmob, location tbc

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A personal discount for you

The online music portal primephonic, for which I've been writing several reviews a month since January, asked me to write a piece about my life in music journalism et al, and are offering readers a special 20 per cent discount on the recordings I've reviewed and on all other recordings of these particular composers and artists. Their speciality is high-quality sound.

The 12 recordings concerned are all interesting and/or rewarding in their own ways, and for me the pick of the bunch is probably Gil Shaham playing the Bartók Second and Prokofiev First Violin Concertos. Plus I got a tremendous Austro-Hungarian high from Johann Strauss's Die Zigeunerbaron. Anyway, here you go: you'll find the discount code on the page. Valid from tomorrow until 5.30pm on 24 Mayhttp://www.primephonic.com/news-jessica-duchen-life-in-music-journalism-plus

Meanwhile in the Shed...

The Shed, if you haven't met it yet, is my book blog at Unbound attached to the rapidly approaching Ghost Variations. It's the place to go for extras: insights into my processes and the characters, Youtube of their real selves playing, appetite-whetting (I hope) and so on.

Publication is scheduled for 1 September, but there's still a great deal to do... All posts at the Shed are emailed automatically to all the book's supporters and currently you can dip in and take a look even if you're not a patron. Later, though, there will be bonus material accessible only to those who are buying the book.

Currently we're doing an A-Z of the book in clumps of several at a time. You can find them here:

A is for Adila, B is for Bartók, C is for Caesar. Includes recording of Adila Fachiri and Ethel Hobday playing some Hubay.

D is for the Depression, E is for Erik Palmstierna, F is for (Alexander) Fachiri. With recording of Jelly d'Arányi and Adila Fachiri playing the slow movement of a Spohr violin duo which is completely stunning.

I'm continually amazed and deeply moved by their recordings - Adila, though less celebrated generally, plays just as wonderfully as Jelly, though very different in personality. The qualities they share - their perfection of intonation, their intensity of concentration, their purity of tone - really must be heard to be believed. If Ghost Variations has a greater purpose than telling a remarkable musical tale, it is to help keep alive the memory of these exceptional musicians, inspiration to so many composers.

The novel-concerts in association with the book are going to be a treat, certainly for me, Dave and Viv and hopefully for you as well. The programme is stuffed full of music associated with Jelly, her family and her musical circles: Ravel, Bartók, Brahms arr. Joachim, Mendelssohn, Schumann of course, and possibly a piece by FS Kelly. We have:

St Mary's Perivale - 7 September
Music at 22 Mansfield Street (chez Boas) - 4 October
Kensington & Chelsea Music Society at Leighton House, London W11 - 18 October
Barnes Music Society - date tbc, but most likely November

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Jonas follows his Meistersinger stage debut with...

Quite a party. Photo: http://horizonteentdecken.de
OK, so you make your stage debut in Wagner's longest opera, then you go along to the first night party and start doing a spot of jazz? Only if you're Jonas, and you are. Here's the report: http://horizonteentdecken.de/der-meistersinger-jonas-kaufmann-als-crooner/

Reviews from Munich, and tweets by critics who were there, suggest that we who are due to see this later in the year (I'm heading for the last night of the BSO Festival on 31 July) are in for a musical treat, and that the modern-dress production works really well, give or take a predictable boo or two.

There's a video showing extracts at the Bayerische Staatsoper's magazine site:
https://www.staatsoper.de/medienseite.html?type=0&tx_sfstaatsoper_pi6%5Bimage%5D=17569&tx_sfstaatsoper_pi6%5Bproductions%5D=1144&tx_sfstaatsoper_pi6%5BmediaSettings%5D=mediathekPage&cHash=5c918baa3f7b8a8662501bef73388119

And let's have a quick fix of the preview:



Closer to home, Glyndebourne's revival of the David McVicar production is about to open, on Saturday, starring Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs. Details and booking here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Time for artists to be "organised and vociferous"

At the WIPO conference in Geneva I took the opportunity to interview the organisation's director general, Australian lawyer Francis Gurry, about the challenges creative artists of all types face in today's global digital content market. Galloping technological change, collapsing incomes and a hideous climate of violence facilitated by anonymity are just a few of them. I asked him what we could do - if anything - to help redress the balance. And I have to say that if the head of the World Intellectual Property Organisation says that artists need to be more vociferous about their rights, it's probably time indeed that they were.

The full interview is now online at The Arts Desk. http://www.theartsdesk.com/interviews/digital-demands-time-artists-speak


(Meanwhile I've been away in Salzburg and missed what sounded like a simply glorious evening at the final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year, won by the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Do have a read of this piece by Chi-Chi Nwanoku about him.

I'll catch up when I can, but am currently off sick.)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Igor blimey: going digital with the Philharmonia and Stravinsky

The Philharmonia goes virtual...
Self-confessed technology junkie Esa-Pekka Salonen has brought the benefits of his digital enthusiasms to his orchestra, the Philharmonia. Ahead of their new series devoted lock, stock and much flaming percussion to Stravinsky, I had a wonderful chat with him and with the Philharmonia's head of digital, Luke Ritchie, about the composer and how the orchestra has been using adventurous technological projects to attract new audiences, from virtual reality to a very lively website with a specially filmed documentary. Out now at the Independent. 

Stravinsky: Myths and Rituals is at the RFH from tomorrow.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Birthday treat: Fauré plays Fauré

It's Fauré's birthday. A good few years after I wrote his biography for the Phaidon 20th-Century Composers series, I love him more than ever and would dearly love to start that book all over again. Not the most practical idea at the moment, so instead, here is his own piano roll recording of his Nocturne No.7 in C sharp minor.

While piano rolls do have their limitations, in this case it's the closest we can get to the real thing. He made this in 1910.

How you can help to save the EUYO

The music world has been shocked today by news that the European Union Youth Orchestra is facing closure, since the EU has not found a suitable new way to fund it. The orchestra should have been celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Instead, it's fighting for its life.

The short-sightedness of this decision seems remarkable even by today's crazy standards. The EUYO has been a magnificent institution, its artistic levels astronomical, its value as a training ground for fine young musicians immeasurable. I well remember that in my student days my peers on orchestral instruments regarded membership of it as the biggest peach on the tree. Above all, and just days after the excellence of youth orchestras was recognised by the RPS Awards, which presented its Large Ensemble prize to the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, to let the EUYO collapse would be much worse than cutting off nose to spite face. It would be to throw out a treasure whose effects are only positive, life-enhancing and unifying.

Here, from the EUYO website, is the background to this state of affairs, which is mired in the obtuse layers of systems we know and don't much love (and I write as a decided Remainer, incidentally). Following this, also from the website, is how you can help.


http://www.euyo.eu/discover/news/breaking-news-euyo-announces-closure/

The European Union Youth Orchestra, a world renowned institution celebrating its fortieth year as a cultural ambassador for the EU, is to cease operations from September 2016 due to a lack of funding from the European Union.

  • The EUYO was founded in1976 following a resolution of the European Parliament.
  • For 38 years, between 1976 and 2013, the EUYO was supported by the EU as a Cultural Ambassador for the EU. It includes players from all 28 EU member states.
  • Since 2014 a change in the EU's cultural funding policy meant that the Orchestra was no longer funded by the EU. Funding was only available for projects under the EU's new Creative Europe programme. Representation was made at the time that this method of funding could not sustain the Orchestra, and that the proposed funding method was inappropriate. With no other option, the Orchestra applied to Creative Europe, and from 2014-15 the Orchestra received some funding under the new Programme.
  • The EUYO was informed on 15 April 2016 that its Creative Europe partnership is no longer in receipt of any funding from the EU. Since that time the Orchestra has been in regular contact with the EU to attempt to find alternative funding from the EU. However the funding routes so far suggested by the EU do not allow the Orchestra to plan any form of secure future.
  • Especially considering the high visibility of many agreed performances this summer - such as the Grafenegg European Music Campus, the Slovak EU Presidency concert, the Wrocław European City of Culture concert and the Alpbach European Forum - the Trustees of the Orchestra have come to the conclusion that it would be harmful to the long term interests of the Orchestra, and of the EU, for the summer 2016 tour to be cancelled. They have therefore decided to take responsibility for the forthcoming tour, and together with the EUYO's Residency Partners, to find the monies required to permit this year’s tour to proceed. The Summer 2016 tour is thus assured.
  • However, without EU support the Orchestra has no viable future. In the absence of EU funding it will therefore cease operations from 1 September.
  • The EUYO has supported more than 3,000 of Europe’s young and emerging classical musicians since its foundation by philanthropists Lionel and Joy Bryer and conductor Claudio Abbado in 1976. The EUYO’s alumni have all come through the Orchestra's rigorous, annual audition process conducted in all (currently 28) EU Member States, and many are now notable conductors, soloists, teachers, and instrumentalists working with major orchestras in the world. The EUYO’s Honorary Patrons include the Heads of Government of all of the EU’s Member States, and the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Parliament. Parliament President Martin Schulz is the EUYO’s Honorary President. The Orchestra acknowledges support from all 28 EU member states.
Sir John Tusa, Trustee, Co-Chair said:
For 40 years the EUYO has been the musical expression of European unity, artistic collaboration and partnership. It is a tragedy that the European Community seems no longer to value such work as a key part of the European project.”
Ian Stoutzker, CBE - Trustee, Co-Chair and Orchestra Board Chair, said:
“I and others became Trustees in 2014 with the sole aim of helping the EUYO to fulfil its mission at the highest level. Recent critical acclaim suggests that we are on our way. Should the Orchestra be abandoned at this point by the EU, the European Union will have scored a spectacular own-goal.”
Marshall Marcus, CEO of the European Union Youth Orchestra said:
"If the EU is not able to help fund its own youth orchestra, an orchestra which is the only organisation in the world that recruits and brings together young people every year from all 28 EU member states in support of the ideals of the Union, then the Orchestra will cease to exist. A sad day for the EU".



http://www.euyo.eu/about/saveeuyo/
How can you help? 
We are beginning a campaign to try to help safeguard a sustainable future of the European Union Youth Orchestra. If you would like to contribute to this campaign there are several ways to do so.
Firstly, you can write to the European Union to express your support for the EUYO and to request that Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and Honorary President of the EUYO, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport ensure adequate funding for the continuation of the Orchestra.
If you wish to include information about the EUYO and its achievements then information on the following internet pages may be of use to you:
http://www.euyo.eu/about/euyos-story/biography/
http://www.euyo.eu/about/euyos-story/mission/ 
http://www.euyo.eu/about/euyos-story/history/
The letter should be addressed to Mr Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. This can be an email or sent as an attachment to: 
Or by post to:
Mr Tibor Navracsics
European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport
European Commission
Cabinet of Commissioner Tibor Navracsics
Education, Culture, Youth and Sport
Rue de la Loi 200, 1049 Brussels
BELGIUM
If you write by post we would be most appreciative if you could let us know by e mailing our Development and Communications Manager, Charlotte Hamilton at  charlotte@euyo.eu
Secondly, if you wish to make a donation towards the European Union Youth Orchestra appeal fund, please also email our Development & Communications Manager at charlotte@euyo.eu to receive details on how to go about this. 
Alternatively, cheques can be posted to: Charlotte Hamilton, EUYO, 6A Pont Street, London SW1X 9EL. Please make cheques payable to: The European Union Youth Orchestra.
We are in the process of creating a dedicated website to receive online donations and will share this with you in the coming days as soon as it is activated.
Thirdly, please post the following messages on your social media sites: 
FACEBOOK: We ask Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and Honorary President of the EUYO, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport to make available funding from the EU to ensure the continuation of one of Europe’s greatest cultural endeavours – the European Union Youth Orchestra. Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the EUYO will cease operations on 1 September following a decision by the EU not to fund the Orchestra. For detailed information and ways to show your support, please visit www.euyo.eu
TWITTER: We ask @TNavracsicsEU @EU_Commission, @Europarl_EN, @EUCouncil to support #EU’s #orchestra @euyotweets. #EUYO to close in Sept. #SaveEUYO

A Magic Flute that lived up to its title

Here's my review of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer's "staged concert" of The Magic Flute the other night. They gave it back its innocence, and with it, magic aplenty. I've sometimes despaired of ever hearing this most beloved of operas performed in bearable style, but Fischer's tempi, his spirit, his humanity and his attention to detail were as close to ideal as one could dream of. http://www.criticscircle.org.uk/?ID=518&PID=5

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Save the Budapest Festival Orchestra!


The Budapest Festival Orchestra - which was in London yesterday to give a stunning performance of The Magic Flute (more of that shortly) - is being threatened with gigantic cuts to its funding from Budapest's Municipal Assembly, amounting to 200m forints - about €940,000 - reducing to 60m forints. That's reducing the funding by around three quarters. On Saturday afternoon the orchestra and its conductor, Iván Fischer, held a musical demonstration in downtown Budapest.

The BFO and Fischer on Saturday. Photo: Balázs Mohai /MTI via hungarytoday.hu

To a packed Vörösmarty Square, Fischer declared (according to Hungary Today): "First and foremost we are here to demonstrate that we really love Budapest and we know, too, that Budapest really loves the Budapest Festival Orchestra... We want a Budapest that has more music, more happiness, more love and less hate." He reportedly spoke out for minority groups, saying that the orchestra wants them to feel as welcome in Budapest as anyone else, in an environment filled with music. In the video above, Hanno Müller-Brachmann sings Sarastro's aria from The Magic Flute, in which the sage tells his assembly that there is no place for revenge and hatred in his realm.

Hungary Today further reports that Budapest's mayor, István Tarlos, has said that the city council will continue to support the orchestra to the extent that its budget permits. Richard Morrison in The Times, though, has quoted a "more sinister reason than austerity" behind the cuts. Fischer's openly humanitarian stances have not always been welcomed under Viktor Orbán's government. 

The orchestra has had to cancel some of its schools and community projects as well as some concerts in Budapest. 

The Budapest Festival Orchestra remains the only orchestra for which I drop everything and run, not only superb but also vivid, flexible, positive and endlessly creative. I'm about to write up a review of last night's Magic Flute, which was a musical dream come true. To slash support for a national treasure of this calibre would be to do something considerably worse to one's own face from spite than cutting off the nose. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Just listen to the BBC Young Musician of the Year's strings winner



Sheku Kanneh-Mason, 16, has won the strings final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. Just listen to him play this Rachmaninoff Elégie, with his sister Isata Kanneh-Mason at the piano. I hope you're as bowled over as I was during my rushed attempt at a catch-up on the competition's progress.

Sheku will be taking his place in the grand final at the Barbican on Sunday alongside saxophonist Jess Gillham and horn player Ben Goldscheider. Three wonderful performers - I just wish all of them could win outright.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Beloved Brahms

Radio silence here attributable to book. It's going back to the editor on Tuesday, but I am going to Vienna tomorrow and the two things don't really match, so the past week has been intensive. Vienna is to be a wonderfully pianoy trip.

Today, meanwhile, is the birthday of a composer who came from Hamburg, but settled in Vienna because that was where composers settled. He is, of course...

Johannes Brahms, 1853
That is roughly how he'd have looked when he first met Robert and Clara Schumann.

As it's the wunderschönen Monat Mai, the sun's shining and the lilacs are coming out, and things are looking up a bit (London has roundly rejected the Tory party's racist mayoral campaign and elected Sadiq Khan, the first ethnic minority person to hold such high office in this country, with the biggest personal mandate in UK political history), here's Brahms's song 'Meine liebe ist grün' - My love is as green as the lilac tree.

The words are by Felix Schumann - Robert and Clara's youngest son, born in 1854 when Schumann had already been hospitalised in Endenich. Felix died tragically young in 1879. Brahms must have been virtually in loco parentis to him when he was born, and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that there's a torrent of generous love in this music.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Long Read - Forensic Eye, my interview with Katie Mitchell

Katie Mitchell. Photo: David Levene 

For this weekend's Long Read I invite you to come over to Opera News, the American magazine from New York, for the May issue of which I've interviewed the director Katie Mitchell. The interview took place in the winter, well before the current controversial production of Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden; nevertheless, she talks about her use of split-stage action, her determination to reimagine familiar works from new angles and why feminism can be a creative force in the opera world. We talked a lot about Pélléas et Mélisande, which she is directing at this year's Aix-en-Provence Festival, and her Alcina there in 2015.