Saturday, November 17, 2018

Faithful Journey is up and running

Some years back Roxanna Panufnik was asked to write a choral work mixing the Latin Mass with a selection of Estonian poems. The result was Tallinn Mass: Dance of Life, in which the Latin Mass movements were interspersed with Estonian poems. Her big dream thereafter was to create a Polish equivalent. Now it's here, and its title is Faithful Journey. The piece is the latest in a massive year for her - no better way to celebrate her half-century - so I asked her a few questions about it, and you can hear an extract and preview in the CBSO video above. 

The oratorio is a co-commission from the CBSO and the Polish Radio Orchestra and had its world premiere earlier this month in Katowice. It will be heard for the first time in the UK at Symphony Hall Birmingham on 21 November, with soprano Mary Bevan and the CBSO and Chorus conducted by Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla (her first concert back from maternity leave). I'll be off to hear it.

Roxanna writes:

2018 could not pass without my marking it in the most significant way I could. I wanted to celebrate both the centenary of Poland’s becoming an Independent State and my own first half century of life with a meaningful tribute to my Anglo-Polish roots. Hence, this oratorio – settings of some of Poland’s finest poets of the last hundred years, in Polish and English, framing a Latin Mass and incorporating traditional Polish folk music and its sometimes soulful, sometimes quirky, elements. Over the summer of 2017 I listened to five hundred and thirty-eight tracks of Polish folk music and you will hear my very favourite eight in this piece.
I have chosen a Polish poem to represent an historical moment from each decade of the last century, with the final one looking, with hope, to the future with a prayer for peace.
Because I am half English and half Polish (physically and legally, having been given Polish Citizenship in 2017) all the poems are performed in both languages simultaneously – the soprano soloist singing in one language and the choir accompanying her with key words from the other. The Mass text remains in universal Latin.
You can read the rest of her programme note online, here:

JD: What is Faithful Journey? Why this, why now?

RP: It's an oratorio, marking a centenary of Poland’s re-Independence after WWI.  

JD: How did the commission come about? 

RP: The concept was my idea (modelled on something similar I did for Tallinn Philharmonic when Tallinn was European Capital of Culture). I also wanted to do something really profound and significant to mark my half centenary this year and my new Polish citizenship.   

JD: What does the title signify? 

RP: It’s taken from the last poem “Save me, Guide me, faithful Journey” but I think beautifully sums up the journey of faith (religious and secular) driving Poles through tumultuous times.

JD: I know the piece is deeply meaningful to you and you’ve been wanting to write such a work for a long time. Did that emotional weight, the sense of e.g. “here’s my dream piece, finally going onto the page...” affect you at all when you were actually writing the music? 

RP: I spent so long researching the texts and the Polish folk music that once I started writing it felt very organic and every part of my heart and soul has gone into this.

JD: You’ve set the words of the Latin Mass many times before. Do you have somehow to "clear out” the echoes of the others in order to create a new version? If so, how do you do that? 

RP: Because I was starting with Polish folk songs for the Mass part I don’t need to “eject” any previous music I’d written!

JD: How close do you feel to the Poland’s musical culture and how is that reflected in this work? 

RP: Poles express themselves culturally through 110% emotion - that’s me, too!

JD: Your father’s escape from Communist Poland was very dramatic and dangerous, and its echoes must have had a major impact on you as you grew up - could you tell us something about that, please? Is there a sense of coming full circle now, or is it more a matter of fresh perspective from 2018 with the Brexit negotiations in, er, the state they're in. 

RP: I didn’t really understand what he had gone through, when I was a child, and its only in recent years when Ive had my own children that Ive really begun to be able to imagine what it must be like trying to look after vulnerable loved ones in times of great danger. When ever I am scared of something, I think about his courage - and it rubs off on me.

JD: How did you choose the texts for Faithful Journey

RP: I worked with two translators who had worked extensively with Polish poetry - we discussed what I wanted from each poem (which depicts a historical or atmospheric moment in time, each decade since 1918) and they’d source poems for me to choose from.

JD: The Polish language is rather challenging [Faithful Journey is sung in Latin, Polish and English, sometimes the latter two simultaneously]. How have you dealt with it? 

RP: Well, I speak a little and therefore have a headstart with pronunciation and prosody - I had hoped it would help my grasp of its impossible grammar but I’m still waiting…! 

JD: This has been quite a year for you: this piece, the Last Night of the Proms commission, the CD ‘Celestial Bird’ being received with open arms, and of course the after-echoes of Silver Birch (Garsington Opera, 2017). Where to next? 

RP: Bed - I’m exhausted! But it has been brilliant and my next ambition is to write a full-length EPIC opera!

Faithful Journey by Roxanna Panufnik is at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on Wednesday 21 November. Tickets here. 

Songs of Darkness, Dreams of Light - an extract from Roxanna's piece for the Last Night of the Proms

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Why we stand to lose our leading place on the world stage

Today, as Theresa May unveils her Brexit deal at cabinet and rumours of a likely no-confidence vote are running rife, Dame Sarah Connolly, the great British mezzo-soprano - the Fricka to end all Frickas in the Royal Opera's Ring cycle this autumn - has sent me her powerful thoughts about Brexit, the UK's pitiful government and the implications for the music business and, in particular, music education in this country. She puts forward persuasive and, to me, indubitable reasons for a new People's Vote to save us from Brexit. I personally consider Brexit the single biggest act of mendacious folly perpetrated by a state against its own people in a European nation since the building of the Berlin Wall, so I am absolutely delighted to run this important piece.

It's strong stuff. Get yourself a stiff brandy and read every wise, furious word.

Why we stand to lose our leading place on the world stage

Guest post by Dame Sarah Connolly

Dame Sarah Connolly
Photo © Christopher Pledger

“Fuck Business” he said. Presumably Boris Johnson meant all business, including the one I’m in? The one that brings in £4.4 billion in music revenues. The one that is being devalued by the government’s education department by dismissing all arts subjects from EBACC. The one where Russell Group universities claim Arts A levels are not facilitating subjects for general application to university. The one that earns the UK many of the greatest acting, singing, dancing, artistic accolades in the world.  

We desperately need a People’s Vote with remaining in the EU an option on the ballot paper and No Deal not an option, as we stand to lose our leading place on the world stage. The next generation here in the UK is in real danger of being excluded from working, living and studying abroad. While many of us train in the UK at our world class conservatoires, many thousands of American and foreign students are no longer coming to study here which will have a severe impact on the institutions. 

It doesn’t take a genius therefore to see that with our dwindling arts education and lack of uptake of foreign students, the work opportunities for musicians within the UK will be much lower than it is already. So we need work in Europe and have done happily for decades, until now. 

The business of freelancing is complex and is indeed being shafted by those with little interest in, or knowledge of how this process in Europe actually happens. Our world class orchestras also look to European touring for income stream and profile raising, with the added benefit that they are brilliant ambassadors for Britain. Visa restrictions and complex paperwork will endanger this business stream. The idea of a monetised artists’ visa based on income is hugely discriminatory. We are regressing instead of progressing as I believe working visas put up physical, financial and psychological barriers which would skew the great European collaboration in the arts where our contribution is very significant. 

GF Handel: as international as it gets.
Born in Germany, settled in England,
composer of Italian operas and French overtures.
Picture by Benedikt Kobel
We singers are a slightly different breed as our instruments are inside us (!) but we depend upon consistently good vocal, physical and mental health. We spend a lot of time standing on chilly train station platforms at all hours and in air-conditioned airports so we often fall prey to colds and coughs. Eleventh hour stand-ins are very common in many industries including classical music, especially within Europe. The vast majority of musicians are freelancers, used to packing their instruments and heading off, sometimes at very short notice to all corners of the world. 

A few years ago, I stood in at a moment’s notice for Mahler’s Second Symphony in Leipzig for the opening of the famous Gewandhaus orchestra’s Mahler festival. My agent phoned me to say that the great maestro Riccardo Chailly had asked for me to come immediately to Leipzig and replace the ailing singer. It was a really big honour which had me checking flights within a minute, but if paperwork and visa issues had been a problem then like many American singers, I wouldn’t even have been considered, because visas cover specific jobs that need prior notification. At least they do when we work in America. In hindsight, to have missed out on this opportunity would have been a great loss to my career. I have returned many times and it has helped build my reputation in Germany and everywhere else in Europe since this concert was globally live-streamed and recorded for DVD. 

Boris’s irresponsible callous insult made me very afraid as well as mortified. The business of the arts is already under siege here in the UK with arts education being axed and local authorities unable to ring fence money for Music Hubs. In Europe, my musical colleagues cannot understand the monumental self-harm we are inflicting upon ourselves. British homegrown art and artists are hugely appreciated in Europe, and I notice that knowledge and arts education in general is in a healthier state in Europe by comparison.  

You, dear reader may not care for music or any form of the arts in particular and may struggle to find empathy for us given that one in five people live in poverty in the UK, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Indeed the Musician’s Union says only 13% of full-time musicians can expect to earn more than £16k, yet this government expects artists to earn possibly double that before earning the right to acquire an EU visa. 

The vile experience of queueing at 8am on the pavement in all weathers outside the American Embassy for a work permit every time I get a contract in the US (every application costs me and the arts organisation hiring me hundreds of pounds) is not something anyone would choose to do, in order to work in Europe. I also have to hand over my passport for at least two weeks while it is processed. Can you imagine the logistical nightmare of this happening to a busy orchestra, a theatre or dance troupe, a choir, a film crew, etc? I remember the time before we had rights to work in Europe when often the complications resulted in lost opportunities. What about the EHIC? If you haven’t used one, or don’t even know about it like David Davis, and are pro Brexit, why are you slicing away vital privileges? 

So the whole of the pipeline of all our business in Europe is challenged existentially by Brexit, but the people making decisions/deals will not see the consequences immediately. It will take a generation to fix it if they do not ameliorate the situation by placing appropriate priority on Arts Education in early and middle years...seeing and believing in the holistic impacts and benefits it has on our future generations and business prospects. And by the way, not just practising artists, but also the talent coming up for Arts Administration will be compromised. 

Dame Sarah Connolly as Fricka in Die Walküre
© Royal Opera House, photo by Clive Barda
What about related businesses that will suffer? 
-- Computer Gaming (all the music for that and creativity which is huge at present in the UK)
-- Advertising (jingles and creatives)
-- Marketing
-- Film Music (Huge...we will be outpriced)

As I mentioned earlier, our future British talent is massively at risk by this government’s short-sighted lack of investment in arts education and creating barriers. I’m worried that arts organisations in Europe will not bother hiring young inexperienced singers due to the extra paperwork and cost and vice versa. 

My years as a fledgling singer with Philippe Herreweghe, arguably the greatest conductor of Bach’s music, in Belgium and Holland and with William Christie, the much celebrated Baroque Opera harpsichordist and conductor, in Paris has underpinned all that I now bring to Baroque opera performance. Would their managers have taken a chance with an unknown Brit like me if such obstacles stood in their way? Most orchestras are barely making a profit, so can we all afford to pay for visas each time we have contracts abroad? But what about musicians and artists joining UK based international arts festivals like WOMAD or in Edinburgh or Glyndebourne? Those who bring to our shores “unique ways of looking at things” (Daniel Barenboim, music director of the Berlin State Opera and Berlin Staatskapelle).

Our integration with European language and culture is integral to who we are as musicians and singers, and as British Europeans. The same can be said for anyone whose work is closely allied to European countries. The speech given at the 2017 BBC Proms by  Daniel Barenboim was visionary and extremely important. Here are several quotes. “There is not enough education about whom we are, what is a human being, and how is he to relate to others of the same kind. The musical profession is the only one that is not national. No German musician will tell you he will only play Brahms, Schumann and Beethoven. This isolation and nationalism in its narrowest sense is something very dangerous. Europe is a place for diverse culture, for different cultures, different ways of looking at things and can only be done with education.”   

Shared culture through education: Daniel Barenboim
Photo: Paul Schirnhofer / DG
To counter some of the hideous xenophobia currently being given free rein of expression, my own experience of cultural diversity from visiting musicians is this: they enrich our lives, expand our musical horizons, appeal to the heart and inspire the soul to seek more of the same, and by doing so, we accept and know each other more willingly, almost by stealth. This is what Daniel Barenboim is getting at: understanding through education and enriching shared culture. 

Jacob Rees Mogg was rightly lambasted by Sir Nicholas Hytner for misunderstanding how the German composer Georg Friedrich Händel was permitted to work in England claiming he didn’t need a passport to come here, (they didn’t exist) but he omitted to mention that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1727 allowing Händel to earn a salary as a composer for George I. Was this ignorance or malicious omission? Either is depressing but both are practiced by Brexiter politicians with alarming regularity. Händel was one of the first true Europeans: born in Germany, worked in Italy and London, wrote Italian operas and French overtures. (see illustration. The drawing is by Benedikt Kobel.)  

Remaining a member of the EU means that we will continue to grow as a nation, offering the next generation easier and free exchange of ideas for the next generation of performers, scientists, managers, writers, parents, teachers and all those who benefit our economy and respect in the world.  It’s time to think again. We need a People’s Vote with remaining in the EU an option on the ballot paper and No Deal not an option, in order to stop a gross act of self harm on the cultural and economic pulse of this nation.

Dame Sarah Connolly CBE, Doc.h.c Nottingham Trent University, FRSA, FRCM, is a mezzo-soprano was made a Dame in 2017 for services to music.

© Dame Sarah Connolly

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Live stream tonight: Armistice recital from the Wigmore Hall

I hope this works. If it doesn't, please go here instead:

The French pianist Cédric Tiberghien has assembled an excellent, thoughtful and original programme for his 'Armistice' recital tonight, involving works from each year of World War I and music by composers from England, France, Germany, Poland and Russia. I wrote the programme notes, so I can promise you that the musical connections are fascinating in their own right, alongside the historical ones. The 'Wiggy' is now able to live-stream selected recitals and will make it available to view after the event as well, so I'm experimenting here to see whether we can share this broadcast.

  • Aleksandr Skryabin (1872-1915)
        • Vers la flamme, poème Op. 72
  • Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
        • 3 Improvisations for the Left-Hand
  • Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
      • Etudes Book II
        • Pour les degrés chromatiques
        • Pour les agréments
        • Pour les notes répétées
  • Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)
        • Twelve Etudes Op. 33
  • Claude Debussy
      • Etudes Book II
        • Pour les sonorités opposées
        • Pour les arpèges composés
        • Pour les accords
    • Claude Debussy
          • Etudes Book I
    • Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
          • In einer Nacht... Träume und Erlebnisse Op. 15

    Wednesday, November 07, 2018

    This man will take your life

    His name is Richard Wagner, and if you let him, that's what he'll do. Of course, you mightn't show him in through the door in the first place, but otherwise, what's likely to happen is set out below. The things to remember are that a) the work is not the man, and vice-versa, and b) the more effort you put into something, the more rewarding it will be. One suspects he knew that – and knew exactly what he was doing in demanding such commitment from his fans. I just went to the whole Ring, in a manner of speaking, mostly by mistake, and the Ring leaves you wrung. But I'd go all over again tomorrow if I could. How, then, does this happen?

    First of all, you realise that Wagner was probably the most influential composer of any born in the 19th century, with the biggest, most lasting impact on musical history ever since – a quality he shares only with Bach, Beethoven and Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring'. So you start investigating. What on earth is so special about Richard Wagner?

    HELP! It's Die Walküre at Covent Garden...John Lundgren as Wotan
     © 2012 Royal Opera House / Clive Barda
    Then you go and hear some. And you get it. If it's Die Walküre, in particular, you get it completely. Wagner doesn't just write music. He manipulates your entire consciousness of time, of intensity, of more. He leaves you wandering through your world wondering where the heck you are and what just happened to you. Twenty years later, you still have no idea how he does it.

    So you go and hear some more. This stuff costs and it doesn't come around all that often, so when it's there, you raid your savings and go running. But so does everyone else, so you have to be quick and organised and you might spend a long time in an online box-office queue or 'ninja-ing' returns by hitting the 'refresh' button on the right page every hour for a week.

    There might be one opera with which you have a bad experience early on. Perhaps you once went to a third-rate performance with indifferent singers and a oboe with a cold in a very uncomfortable theatre with no surtitles and it left you loath to try it again. Then, finally, you do try again and you realise it's actually the greatest thing in the history of the world [btw, it is called Parsifal] and you have to go and hear it every single time it is on, because everything is good after that first one.

    By now you're getting the hang of who the top Wagner singers are and you want to hear them, or you find there are directors who are doing particularly interesting work whose productions you want to see, or conductors who have a special way with the scores - so you might start travelling. You find out where they are and what they're doing, then fork out for opera tickets overseas (which may be more reasonably priced than your local), but then you also have to fork out for the plane, somewhere to stay and things to eat. It'll be worth it, you tell yourself. It will be an experience I'll never forget. Possibly it is - so you do it all over again.

    And then you start spotting the rising stars: you get to recognise a voice that's going places and you want to hear him/her on the up, having the 'Sternestunde', so you book ahead to catch them in their first really big Wagner role, and then you realise it's going to mean travelling through Heathrow on 30 March 2019, the day after f***ing Brexit. (Seriously. I have just got into this situation.)

    Bayreuth Festival Theatre
    Speaking of travelling, there's one big problem with Wagner and it's called Bayreuth. The man built his own theatre for his own music, and if you have serious intentions of becoming a Wagnerite, you need to go and experience it. Bayreuth is a hike. Either you get Ryanair to Nuremberg (Ryanair is a demand too far for many of us) or you fly to Munich and take a few trains, and this is assuming you are able to get tickets by hook or crook in the first place. Again, air tickets, hotel, all adds up. There you sit in the theatre and soak up the sound and you realise what it's all about, and then you probably have to keep your eyes closed because of the frightful productions, unless you're seeing Barrie Kosky's Meistersinger which is totally brilliant.

    But once you've done that, you have to do it again, because it really is special, and then you realise there's one thing you haven't yet done. You haven't seen The Ring at Bayreuth.

    You might think you don't need the whole Ring. It might come to your own town and you don't even bother booking, because it's a massive commitment of time and energy and is it really worth it? But then it comes around and a friend unexpectedly invites you to the dress rehearsal of Das Rheingold and it is bloody wonderful, so you try to get into Walküre and you can't, so you go to the cinema relay and it is so bloody wonderful that you spend the next two days ninja-ing returns for Siegfried and, because you've got into that one, you have to try to get into Götterdämmerung too, and the only seat that comes up that's affordable is in the lower slips, so you spend its six and a half hours craning forward from the hips with your neck on a 45-degree twist and you spend the rest of the week untwisting again, while glorying in the fact that actually you experienced the best sound in the entire opera house, and the question "who would ever design a theatre where such a large number of seats have a lousy view?" fades into irrelevance while you look up books and websites at which you can swot exactly which leitmotif means what, because you've twigged many of them, but there are plenty more...

    The theatre at Bayreuth is not like that. There isn't a lousy view in the house. It's basically designed by a composer, not a socialite, so he wants you to look at the opera, not the people in the box opposite. So now you have to have the ultimate Wagner experience: you have to see The Ring at Bayreuth.

    That's 4 operas, about €300 per ticket, and there are possibly two of you, and you have to be there for at least a week, and you need somewhere to stay, and they no longer let you take cushions into the auditorium (oy!) and there is no guarantee whatsoever that the production will be bearable, or that the singers you're hoping to hear will show up, but you want to go anyway. You spot a big birthday a few years down the line and you circle it in mental red pen. This shall be the year you do it...

    Except goodness knows what the tickets will cost and what our hopeless pound will be worth by then. We might be trapped on Brexit island unable ever to leave. We might be dead, either because they can't get medicine into the country any more, or because we've been killed in the resulting civil war.

    And you know something? That only makes the acquisition of tickets for Bayreuth even more urgent! We have to do this while we're alive and while we have the opportunity. Whatever it takes.

    And that is how Wagner will take your life. Over and out.

    Monday, November 05, 2018

    At last, the definitive Chopin biography is here

    In yesterday's Sunday Times, I reviewed a book that is not only the best one about Chopin I've ever read, but maybe the finest biography of any composer I've yet been fortunate enough to encounter. My review was quite general, and not particularly short (you can read it here, £), but there is so much more I want to say about this particular tome that I'm writing a whole other piece here, now.

    (photo source: Wikipedia)
    A few weeks ago there was a thud on the doormat: a large brown box from Faber & Faber. When I opened it I nearly fell over with joy. Alan Walker, whose three-volume biography of Liszt has won multiple, highly deserved awards, has turned his attention to Chopin: this book has taken him about ten years, runs to 768 pages and includes insights, revelations and a sense of absolute authority on every page, indeed in every beautifully turned sentence. It's not just a fascinating study, but great literature: it can be enjoyed by everybody from the "casual" music-lover to professional pianists and academics. (It even includes music examples - hooray.)

    Clear, down to earth, humane, it scotches myths and overturns assumptions, but never without good cause: Walker's assertions are supported by proper evidence. He has taken his time, questioning everything, digging under every patio, seeking the truth. Whether he is describing Chopin's unconventional pianistic techniques - which involved, for instance, crossing one finger over another or playing two notes with one at the same time, and so on - or exploring what really happened that broke up the composer's relationship with George Sand, no stone is left unturned.

    There's a wealth of precision and fascination that oozes out of the facts: for instance, the mechanics of how Chopin and Sand managed their bizarre semi-detached relationship, choosing adjacent or neighbouring apartments rather than living in the same house; or what their journeys to Nohant entailed (a 5am start, four changes of coach and the company of assorted creatures en route which could include Sand's dogs, other travellers' chickens and sometimes Delacroix with his cat, Cupid), and similar exactitude is turned to the details of the politics and society of the time, exploring the who, why and how of the 1830 uprising - and its horrific crushing - that exiled Chopin from Poland. The relevation of facts and figures brings this to written life as never before.

    What myths are scotched? They're countless. Konstancja Gładkowska, the singer with whom Chopin was infatuated as a youngster: calf love, says tradition, but no, says Walker, this was quite a serious attachment and not unrequited. Maria Wodzinska, to whom he was briefly engaged? Meet her ghastly mother. What of Julian Fontana, Chopin's amanuensis, maligned by history? Rehabilitate his reputation, says Walker, he was a good man doing his very best to help, both musically and personally, the ailing composer, who treated him badly. Are the Ballades based on Mickiewicz? Nope. Chopin wasn't literary; he was not interested in reading fiction and poetry, and besides, Mickiewicz turned himself into a questionable, 'messianic' spiritual type in Paris which made potential admirers of his writing give him a wide berth. But yes to the Polonaises' furious, impassioned political drive - and yes, too, to that of the 'Revolutionary' Etude. Despite deep familiarity with the music and its workings, Walker always remains alive to the freshness and wonder of it, and is not loath to stand awe-struck in front of works such as the Sonata No.2 in B flat minor or the Polonaise-Fantasie.

    If Walker gives short shrift to certain popular ideas, it is always with a good, sound cause and a wise perspective. He acknowledges the confusion caused by Chopin's letters to his friend Tytus about Konstancja, so erotic in tone that they've sparked suggestions of latent homosexuality; but if we are confused, he points out, that's probably because the young Chopin himself was so profoundly muddled about it. He nods, briefly, towards the fur-ruffling theory that it was Jenny Lind, not Jane Stirling, who donated £1000 to the ailing Chopin in Britain, but finds no evidence to support the notion; indeed, an exploration of Stirling's will revealed that she was easily wealthy enough to have made the gift herself (and he simply refers us to the relevant book should we wish to explore 'this strange business' any further). Jane Stirling emerges as an absolute heroine, if a slightly sad figure in the long-term.

    Chopin's 'late' style, meanwhile, turns out to be occasionally deceptive. He explored increasingly experimental forms, for sure, but it seems that the dates that have previously been ascribed to certain pieces were not quite right; certain ones we thought late were early; and that 'last' mazurka - through which so many pianists over the years have drooped, dreamed and suffered as if on the point of expiring - is nothing of the kind. Yes, his last work was a mazurka, but not that mazurka. Quite an innocuous one, as it happens.

    The characters who populated Chopin's life form a glorious cavalcade. Liszt - to whom Walker has devoted so much of his life - is here reincarnated as a weaselish, gossipy, amoral, immoral presence, the antithesis of everything Chopin stood for. Once he asked to borrow Chopin's apartment - and used it to seduce the wife of Pleyel, Chopin's favourite piano maker. You get the picture. And his mistress Marie d'Agoult is even worse. Every time they appear you know there's going to be trouble. Meanwhile the bumptious pianist Kalkbrenner is gloriously lampooned: apparently he liked to try to improve his friends' table-manners. And - wait for it - the singer and composer Pauline Viardot, with whom readers of JDCMB will be familiar, had a full-blown love affair with Sand's son, Maurice, a couple of years after she married Louis Viardot, oh yes indeed.

    And Chopin himself? We often think of him as a neurotic, narcissistic dandy, hideously anti-semitic, making his friends' lives a misery, and so forth. Well, he was very ill for most of his adult life. He did like beautiful clothes and decor, and he probably was a bit of a narcissist. And he did treat Fontana, who lived with him, rather poorly. But Prince Karol he wasn't, or not only. His anti-semitism, Walker suggests, was no more or less than anyone else's at that point of history - that's simply how it was in those days, sad but true. Yes, there are some anti-semitic side-swipes at his publishers, but this wasn't extraordinary or unexpected in the unfortunate context of the time. Chopin also inspired loyal friendships and was a man of high principle and strong character with a vivid and sometimes vicious sense of humour and a gift for mimicry which, Walker says, would not have disgraced a professional actor.

    The break-up with Sand is strongly drawn and heart-breaking: Chopin was in Paris, had no idea of the physically violent confrontation that had made Sand throw Solange and the vile Clésinger out of Nohant (Clésinger punched her in the chest and Maurice ran off to look for a gun) and when the pregnant Solange appealed to him for help, Chopin didn't hesitate to lend her his carriage and words of sympathy. He didn't know what had happened. And Sand's reaction - slamming the door on the relationship - seems excessively cruel. Though, as her Lucrezia Floriani suggests (and you should definitely read that too - oof!), there must have been trouble brewing there for a very long time.

    I have one question which remains unanswered - yes, really. Chopin was not literary, yet he lived with one of the most celebrated novelists of the day for nearly a decade. How did that work? Did he never read her books? Didn't she mind if he showed no interest in her work? Presumably the likelihood that he never actually read Lucrezia Floriani was a good thing - he was spared the pain, and if she knew he wouldn't read it, she could let rip all the more with the hideous character of 'Prince Karol'. But if that book shows what she really felt about Chopin, why had she not split from him sooner? Walker shows us a vivid portrayal of Sand burning her correspondence with Chopin after his death. There are things we will never know.

    The chapter that follows the fortunes of Chopin's unpublished works, letters and preserved heart after his death is every bit as gripping as those about his life. He died intestate (yes, this man who suffered from tuberculosis all his adult life and must have known his days were numbered never actually made a will!) and his insufferable brother-in-law forced his sister Ludwika to sell off his belongings. Much was lost from his sister's apartment when it was ransacked by the military, who threw his piano out of the window and destroyed manuscripts that probably contained implicitly worthwhile unpublished works. And do you remember that instruction he is supposed to have given that his body should be 'opened' after his death so that he would not be buried alive? That wasn't him. It was his father.

    I don't believe I have ever read a biography of any composer that I have loved as much as this one, nor would I expect to do so again any time soon. It's a marvel and a treasure-trove. If you love Chopin, do yourself a favour and get a copy right away. You can wait for Christmas if you really want to, but personally I wouldn't. Order here.

    Sunday, October 28, 2018

    Turgenev's 200th

    Ivan Turgenev
    I learned, a little late, that today is the bicentenary of one of the writers I love best: Ivan Turgenev. (Some give the date as '9 November new style', though; take your pick.)

    He's perhaps the quieter, undersung hero of Russian literature, sometimes submerged under the tidal waves of Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevsky and the rest. Yet to encounter his novella First Love is to find a work so perfect that it encapsulates an ideal story structure before anyone thought there was any such thing, and - perhaps more importantly - there is not one spare paragraph in it. I once attempted to abridge it for reading with music and it simply couldn't be done. Remove any tiny element and the edifice is wrecked.

    Ballet-lovers are - as so often with rare music and literature - better informed than many of us. A Month in the Country is probably seen more often in Frederick Ashton's beautiful Chopin-filled interpretation than as Turgenev's original play, at least in the UK.

    It's highly autobiographical, of course. Turgenev spent most of his adult life in thrall to the great singer Pauline Viardot, who was married to a distinguished theatre director 20 years her senior, and the play reflects Turgenev's sense of frustration and depression as the more-or-less resident 'admirer', watching helplessly as she is seduced by someone else. [I am sure I read somewhere that the younger man in the story who arrives and causes havoc had some basis in Charles Gounod... but I can't immediately lay my hands on the right book to check this.]

    Viardot was a protegée of George Sand, friend of Chopin, sometime pupil of Liszt, sister of Maria Malibran and inspirer of music ranging from Meyerbeer and Berlioz to Saint-Saëns, Brahms (the Alto Rhapsody) and - at a bit of a tangent - Bizet. She was of course a fabulous composer as well and Turgenev wrote her three operetta libretti. He also wrote a libretto for Brahms, which - dang - was never set. Saint-Saëns brought the young Fauré to her salon where he fell in love with her third daughter, Marianne, and spent four formative years amid this extraordinary milieu.

    Turgenev was fond of Fauré and helped to persuade Marianne to accept his proposal - only to have her dump him three months later, scared away, apparently, by the young composer's passionate intensity. Fauré spoke touchingly of Turgenev later in life, remarking that whenever he read his prose, it was as if he could hear the author's gentle voice again.

    Several years after finishing my Fauré biography, I read, for other reasons, a story I hadn't come across before by Turgenev: The Song of Triumphant Love. This was the fantastical, Renaissance-set tale that inspired Chausson to create his Poème. It was written several years after Fauré and Marianne split up. And there, in the story, were two figures who seemed, in terms of their character, very, very familiar. I spent some time delving into this, convinced I'd stumbled upon something that nobody had spotted since Turgenev himself (though one can never be sure, naturally), and exploring whether it was plausible he had based these characters on Fauré and Marianne. It was eminently plausible, as things turned out...

    The article that resulted was published in The Strad, together with an exploration of the Poème itself by Philippe Graffin. It's on my website, so here it is again in tribute to this glorious writer and his circle. Enjoy.

    (I also borrowed the title for a novel - not about them, but a present-day story inspired to some extent by them.)

    Thursday, October 25, 2018

    Never give up...

    My Top 10 ODETTE FAQs...

    Q: Ooh, Odette? The World War II spy? Or Proust?
    J: Er, no. Swan Lake.

    Q: The Tchaikovsky ballet? So did you go to Russia to research it?
    J: Actually, the book's set in a university town in East Anglia in 2018.

    Q: So it's, like, real fiction?
    J: Well, one of the main characters turns into a swan every day, so, yep.

    Q: How did you get the idea?
    J: I had this recurring dream about looking for my Swan Lake book, and it was never there, so I thought I might write it...

    Q: Maybe I should get it for my 9-yr-old daughter. She's mad about ballet.
    J: Well, it's not really suitable for 9-yr-olds, and there's no actual ballet in it.

    Q: If there's no ballet, what's it about?
    J: Outsiders. How we treat them. How they respond to us. How we change each others' lives. How much responsibility do we have to look after other people?  

    Q: And it's for which age group?
    J: Adults, though could probably be enjoyed by the young adult market.

    Q: But who's it aimed at?
    J: Anyone who fancies crossing Swan Lake with Bridget Jones and A Christmas Carol. Some will 'get' it, some won't, and that's fine. [Evoke Marmite HERE if desired.]

    Q: How come it took you 26 years?
    J: I started it in 1992 and have been rewriting and updating it ever since. Maybe it just needed the right publisher - one who didn't mind dealing with something not quite like anything else out there. For 25 years they all minded a lot. Meanwhile other things came along, first Korngold, then Fauré, then the Independent; and life happened, as it tends to, so I was dealing with three cancer deaths in my immediate family, trying to keep my head above the freelance waters, then getting married, moving house, and writing four other novels on contract, plus Ghost Variations, which itself took 5 years while more life happened... And finally Unbound said, 'Great, bring it on.'

    Q: But why did you keep trying?
    J: I couldn't let go of it. I couldn't just leave it there. There's something in that book that holds all I wanted to be and say before my parents and sister were ill and dying and before the domino effect that had on daily existence. It contains something that's innocent and hopeful and human. And finally I want to get it back in some way, or at least find I didn't entirely lose all of it in the onslaught. It's changed over the years, of course, on every rewrite, but the essence of that search is still there. As Solti would have said: never give up.

    And meanwhile...
    Dear friends, if you would like to support ODETTE, you have just 3 DAYS LEFT. To get your name onto the patrons' list, please sign up before the end of 28 October. Publication date is 29 November, in time for Christmas. At Unbound you can pre-order by pledging for a paperback, a digital copy, or good deals for two copies or five, or other special offers.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2018

    Plastic shmashtic

    I just photographed the packaging of my latest assignment

    While I'm writing this, I ought to be writing a CD review. Yes, my copy for BBC Music Magazine is late. Why? Because yesterday I spent so long picking and scratching and scrubbing at the plastic wrapping on the CD I have to review, trying to get the damn stuff off, that I found myself virtually shaking with rage and had to go and make a nice cup of tea to calm down, and then the phone rang, and then the plastic was still on the bloody disc, and...

    OK, OK, I exaggerate. In fact, my copy is late because I am still agonising over what to say about the recording's content. But I do wonder: what is the earthly use of wrapping CD boxes in clear plastic which then has to be removed and, crucially, "thrown away"?

    Given the state of my study bin, I can't imagine the state of CD-wrapper landfill sites. Add to that the amount of the stuff that results from a single trip to the supermarket - plastic packaging, sometimes several layers of it, around everything from apples to avocados, from gluten-free biscuits to cat food - and the situation becomes ludicrous, because it is so unnecessary, and so desperately damaging.

    This business with the CD wrappers has been going on for as long as CDs have existed - so 35-odd years. I don't think much of the so-called 'jewel cases' either - rarely does one enter the house via the post unbroken, and the little teeth that hold the middle of the disc in place have a way of breaking off and falling under the desk, where your hoover's 'crevice nozzle' might pick them up if you're lucky, and you have to hope they don't jam up the machine's mechanism on their way in. They end up in the same landfill, I expect, but inside a hoover bag.

    We don't need this. What's the answer? Streaming doesn't pay the right people enough yet - though the new copyright directive may help - so is not as sustainable a solution as we'd like. But there are different ways of designing and making CD covers. Some companies have been finding alternatives for quite a while, but not enough of them. Plain, recyclable, non-plastic cardboard and paper would be a good solution - just like the old LP sleeves with the inner, paper jacket around the record. I've been wondering for years why this hasn't made a comeback in smaller form. If you need to ensure the thing is closed, there are means to do that too: a spot of glue; a pretty red ribbon; a length of decorative but tough string. (Any cat will tell you that a cardboard box takes a lot of beating - to say nothing of string, of course).

    Dear record companies, please ensure you make some progress on this sooner rather than later.

    Now I must return to that CD review and try to say something tactful about the tenor. Over and out.

    Update: for more on why we must phase out plastic, read Gaby Hinsliff here.

    Friday, October 19, 2018


    Tomorrow, Saturday, in central London, the biggest anti-Brexit march ever is taking place. Starting at noon in Park Lane and ending with a rally in Parliament Square. People are coming in from all over the country to be part of it.

    Some friends have said to me "I'm not going because it won't make any difference and they won't listen to us...". To which I can only respond: I understand, but that is not a reason not to go. Everyone who can go needs to be there. A million+ people on the streets of central London yelling that we want to save our youngsters' futures, and our own, can't go wholly unremarked by the rest of the world - though the only people who seem not to understand how desperately dangerous the current situation is are our own government.

    Think about it. At present, the Northern Ireland boundary issue looks insurmountable, given the different directions the various pressure groups (DUP, 'ERG' etc) are pulling Theresa May. The chances of a "No Deal" Brexit are growing every day. If that happens and we crash out on 29 March, what happens?

    -- The entire network of EU legislation that underpins how everything in this country connects to everywhere else in Europe ceases functioning.

    -- Therefore: planes grounded, Eurostar grounded, massive lorry tailbacks at the ports, rotting produce, food and medicine shortages to follow.

    -- The cost of matters such as visas, 'carnets' for travelling orchestras/bands, importing, exporting, transporting, everything, will go up.

    -- The pound will crash and we won't be able to afford to go to Europe even if we want to.

    -- Businesses will not be able to bear the extra costs and will start going bust quite soon.

    -- People will lose their jobs.

    -- Unemployment will soar and social security costs with it, while the exchequer takings plummet.

    -- We lose all our financial input from the EU, which helps to support the poorest regions of the UK, which are some of the poorest in the whole of Europe.

    -- The rest of the world, which thinks correctly that we are insane, will carry on without us. We won't be able to compete because a) we will be at a financial disadvantage, to put it mildly, and b) we are just too much trouble. Jobs for musicians in, for instance, European orchestras won't actually be closed to us, but if we need work permits to take them up, it will be very much easier for them to choose someone from one of the 27 members states if possible.

    -- By the same token, we won't be able to attract top talent to the UK - because why would anyone want to come here?

    -- Any business that relies on rapid transport time without travel red tape is going to be up shit creek without a paddle, opera included.

    -- They are stealing our rights. Ending freedom of movement means ending OUR freedom of movement.

    There is NO mandate for this. The vote was gerrymandered so that the people most affected by it were not able to vote (Brits living in Europe). We don't need to remind you of the lies and cheating of the Leave campaign. Many Leave voters of the older generation have died since 2016. Many young people have reached voting age and are aghast at the wholesale excision of their futures. Britain does not favour Brexit.

    Britain would, actually, quite like not to fall apart in six months' time.

    If you don't care about this, what the heck will you care about? Be there! Join us!

    Please march with us!

    Thursday, October 18, 2018

    Finding Stanford: the road to victory

    You know...when you go to the Last Night of the Proms and fall abruptly in love with a composer you know of, but don't know well, wonder where he (in this case) has been all your life, and then someone offers you a guest post by the world expert on that composer about a rare work that's he's just unearthed and edited? It is with great delight that I welcome Professor Jeremy Dibble to JDCMB with his chronicle of preparing Charles Villiers Stanford's Mass Via Victrix 1914-1918, Op.173 - the composer's personal response to the First World War - for its world premiere complete performance on 27 October. The concert will be recorded for broadcast on BBC R3 later, and a commercial recording is in the works for next year. Thank you, Professor Dibble! JD

    Stanford’s Mass ‘Via Victrix 1914-1918’ Op. 173 

    A guest post by Professor Jeremy Dibble

    Born in Dublin in 1852, Charles Villiers Stanford was born into a community of brilliant Anglo-Irishmen in the mid-nineteenth century. A student of classics and an organ scholar at Cambridge, he was mentored by Sterndale Bennett and Joseph Joachim which led to further musical training in Leipzig and Berlin. An apprenticeship in the organ lofts of St Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals in Dublin were also formatively important for his appointment as organist of Trinity College, Cambridge, a position he held from 1873 until 1892.

    Stanford’s great originality as a composer of church music undoubtedly owes much to this time. But by the time he was appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music in 1883, he was already the accomplished author of an opera performed in Hannover, two symphonies, chamber music, choral music and songs, and by 1888, when he became Professor of Music at Cambridge, he had composed two further operas, his ‘Irish’ Symphony Op. 28 (much admired by Hans Richter) and an oratorio for the 1885 Birmingham Festival.

    After resigning from Trinity in 1892 he was able to concentrate on his commitments as a teacher and conductor. In London he directed the Bach Choir, and later, in Leeds, the Philharmonic Society. From 1901 until 1910 he was the artistic director of the Leeds Festival for which he wrote many of his best choral works including the Songs of the Sea Op. 91 (1904), the Stabat Mater Op. 96 (1907) and the Songs of the Fleet Op. 117 (1910).

    Although we tend to associate Stanford with choral music, and particularly with works written for the Anglican liturgy, he was an extraordinarily versatile composer across a wide range of musical genres – indeed, his greatest aspiration was to be a successful composer of opera, though, beset with disappointments, this hope largely eluded him.

    During the First World War Stanford found himself in straitened financial circumstances and this situation did not improve after the war was over. In need of work and royalties, he gained some income from the composition of anthems, and music for the piano and organ. His large-scale works were, however, turned down by publishers who were more receptive to a new generation of British composers. Among these items were two fine string quartets, the tone poem A Song of Agincourt Op. 168 , the Violin Concerto No. 2 Op. 162, the Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 171, the Concert Piece for Organ and Orchestra Op. 181 and the Mass ‘Via Victrix 1914-1918’ Op. 173.

    I have known of the Mass ‘Via Victrix’ for many years and became familiar with its pages while carrying out research for my book on Stanford (published in 2002). Boosey published the vocal score; this was part of the normal process for choral works. The publishers would reap their profits from the sale of multiple vocal scores, but the full score, far too expensive to publish, would be available usually in a copyist’s hand.

    One of the major obstacles which prevented the performance of the Mass in the past is that no orchestral parts existed. Stanford directed a performance of the ‘Gloria’ movement of the Mass at a concert in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge on 15 June 1920 in a concert of music by Cambridge composers (which included music by Cyril Rootham, Vaughan Williams, Charles Wood, Alan Gray, Hubert Parry (on whom was conferred an Hon. Mus.D in 1883), E. W. Naylor, in honour of the newly-installed Chancellor and music-lover, Arthur Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour. The concert was also attended by the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, Austen Chamberlain (Chancellor of the Exchequer) and Lord Robert Cecil, one of the architects of the League of Nations. The performance of the ‘Gloria’ may have had an auspicious audience, but it was only with organ.

    Stanford around 1887
    Stanford died in March 1924 and so never heard the Mass performed complete as the concert work he envisaged with orchestra. When Adrian Partington expressed an interest in BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales performing the work (on 27 October the soloists are soprano Kiandra Howarth, contralto Jess Dandy, tenor Ruairi Bowen and bass Gareth Brynmor John) to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War, I mentioned that it would be necessary to make a performing score of the work from the autograph manuscript now in the British Library.

    When this was agreed with the BBC, I undertook the making up of a modern performing edition, using both the manuscript and the published vocal score, ironing out inconsistencies and variants, mistranspositions, missing accidentals, as well as artistic details which changed between the orchestration of the work and the publication of the vocal score – a change of harmony here, an alteration in underlay there.

    Over the years I have become familiar with many of Stanford’s autographs and, as one becomes accustomed to the style of handwriting and notation, one feels carried along by the hand of genius, a brilliant architect and orchestrator - a master of his craft. Stanford produced a substantial corpus of choral works of varying proportions and across a range of choral genres. We have still to acquaint ourselves with his two major oratorios for Birmingham – The Three Holy Children Op. 22 (1885) and Eden Op. 40 (1891) and there are still works such as the Elegiac Ode Op. 21 (1884), The Voyage of Maeldune Op. 34 (1889) and the Choral Overture Ave Atque Vale Op. 114 (1908) which I am sure will reveal new seams of gold in Stanford’s remarkable imagination when it comes to the setting of voices.

    Among the pillars of his output, however, are undoubtedly the Requiem Op. 63 which he wrote for Birmingham in 1897 (which Stanford played privately for Elgar when the two were friends in Malvern) and the Te Deum Op. 66 of 1898 which he wrote for the Leeds Festival. Both use forces of four soloists and combine Stanford’s flair for symphonic music with his love and instinct for the theatre.

    Deploying these same forces, and with even greater operatic verve, Stanford composed his Stabat Mater for the Leeds Festival in 1907, a work of extraordinary theatrical vividness in which the theology and emotions of the Christian faith are shaped into a compelling opera-manchée. Perhaps aware of the awesome worldly challenge of writing a work to commemorate the end of the First World War, Stanford turned to the immutable text of the five movements of the ordinary of the mass as a means of expressing a range of universal emotions – the thanksgiving for victory, relief for those who had been spared, the sense of sacrifice, and the memory of those who had died (as articulated in the mass’s dedication ‘Transiuerunt per ignem et aquam et eduxisti in refrigerium’ [here Stanford was probably quoting from Psalm 66 v. 12 [KJV] - “We went through fire and water, but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.”)

    Each movement was conceived on a symphonic scale using the same forces as the Requiem, Te Deum and Stabat Mater. The Kyrie is deeply melancholy, in the manner of a funeral cortège. The two most extended movements – the Gloria and the Credo – are highly dramatic in their changes of mood and tempo while the Sanctus (a slow movement) is a tripartite structure with the Benedictus at its centre.

    The Agnus Dei, a solemn tribute to those who sacrificed their lives, builds on the drama of the Requiem in that it is essentially a Funeral March. At the beginning of the movement, the music of the Kyrie is recalled, but the original cortège music is replaced by a moving threnody for solo soprano with viola obbligato. This forms the outer sections of a ternary form whose dramatic funeral march for orchestra alone constitutes the ‘trio’. The closing ‘Dona nobis pacem’ incorporates an allusion to the final bars of the ‘Gloria’, though, before the celestial coda – a translucent suffusion of F major – the soprano soloist’s dramatic reiteration of ‘Agnus Dei’ on the Neapolitan (again in the manner of opera) comes as a fervent supplication to the world in the name of peace.

    The BBCNOW and chorus in Hoddinott Hall
    Photo: Kirsten McTernan

    The Mass ‘Via Victrix 1914-1918’ occupies a unique place in Stanford’s output in that it makes conscious reference to an earlier work. Not one normally given to the quotation of his own music, he evidently felt that the powerful sense of redemption expressed in the mass’s dedication and in his Stabat Mater justified the quotation of the ‘redemption’ theme from the latter (the ‘redemption’ theme is first presented as the second subject of the overture) in both the Credo (at the point of Christ’s burial) and the Benedictus (where it functions as a cantus firmus in a contemporary interpretation of the eighteenth-century chorale prelude). Stanford’s Mass, along with his Requiem, are in fact rare examples of British concert masses (in contradistinction to liturgical settings by Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Darke, Howells and others). 

    Ethel Smyth’s somewhat elongated Mass in D of 1891 lies at the vanguard of the few settings there are in the repertoire, but Stanford’s Mass ‘Via Victrix’ is surely one of the finest indigenous examples couched in the tradition of the nineteenth-century symphonic genre (comparable with those of Beethoven, Hummel, Rossini, Puccini, Bruckner, and Dvořák).

    However, as a ‘war’ mass, it occupies an even rarer position in British music of the twentieth century and predates the hybrid works of John Fould’s A War Requiem (1919-1921) and Benjamin Britten’s A War Requiem (1961-2) which use the text of the Requiem Mass together with poetry from other sources.

    And what of the future for Stanford’s mass? Though it is undoubtedly a personal response to the First World War, there is no reason, given the neutral and more universal nature of the genre, why it could not serve as a piece for other solemn occasions, particularly at the time of the Armistice. Moreover, as a symphonic concert mass, it contains music of a high order which could easily stand alone on its own musical terms.

    My hope is also, that, with the prospect of a commercial recording on the Lyrita label for release in 2019, the mass will take on a new life after a century of neglect and that it will contribute yet further to our fuller comprehension and appreciation of one of this country’s most brilliant and versatile composers.

     © Jeremy Dibble 2018

    BBC National Orchestra of Wales perform the first complete performance of Stanford’s Mass Via Victrix on 27 October at BBC Hoddinott Hall, conducted by Adrian Partington. It will also be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in early November. Booking here.

    Monday, October 15, 2018

    Voyaging around my father

    Today would have been my father's 90th birthday. Instead, he has been dead for over 22 years. This is his obituary, by his colleague in neuropathology, Professor Francesco Scaravilli. 

    My parents, Leo and Myra - very, very young.

    I don't think I'd be doing what I'm doing now if he hadn't personally ensured that I had such a thorough musical education. However fine your teachers at school - assuming you were lucky enough to enjoy any music tuition there at all - nothing could have replaced the steeping in matters musical that I received at home. Here, to commemorate his birthday, are the top 10 things I learned from him.

    1. He and Mum didn't only march me off to piano and violin lessons: they helped me practise, and Dad in particular. I remember the torture of sitting at the back of the first violins on Sunday mornings in the Jewish Youth Orchestra (yes, really) for a term or two, trying desperately to read my way through Dvorák's Symphony No.8. It was hopeless. It's bloody difficult and I was about 13 and doing my Grade VI, and I love the sound of a violin beautifully played, but I never got along too well with doing it myself - I'd turn oddly muddled above 3rd position and couldn't work out which fingering did what on which string, plus the high frequencies used to do my head in.

    Dad shut himself in the study with me, a music stand and the violin part. He didn't play the violin, but he did play the piano well and knew how to practise systematically. And we slogged away, slow bit by slow bit, over and over again, gradually increasing, and it was utter torture and misery, but at the end of the session I could actually play the first page. I can't remember whether I still could by the next Sunday, but I dropped violin lessons for a couple of years not long afterwards.

    2. My school was a tube ride away, so it was a 6.40am alarm clock every day. Radio 3 used to begin broadcasting at about the same time back then - was it 6.30am? 7am? - and the first thing Dad did in the morning was to switch on the radio in the dining room. He'd often drop me at the station on his way to work and the radio would be on in the car too.

    So by the time I was on the platform at Finchley Road I'd likely have heard the equivalent of a whole concert. First thing on a Wednesday, perhaps something like Mozart's Symphony No.29,  Rossini's Petite messe solennelle, a quick slice of Stravinsky, and a Beethoven overture, going by in rapid succession. If you're fortunate enough to have a musically retentive brain, this is how you learn the repertoire. And occasionally there'd be some incredible piano playing. Who's that? Maurizio Pollini? Wow! Martha Argerich? Isn't she amazing? And listen to that, this new young pianist who just won the Chopin Competition, what did you say his name was - Krystian Zimerman? Let's go and hear him when he plays in London next year.

    Yes, the radio was on all the time, playing music round the clock, and I soaked it up like the proverbial sponge. And occasionally I'd find Dad in his favourite chair, wrapped in a rug, listening over and over again to the same piece of music. He'd sit there comparing all his recordings of Brahms's Second Symphony, just for fun. Building a Library missed a fine potential contributor.

    3. If you know your way well around the chamber music scene in London, you'll know that at the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square there are chamber concerts early on Sunday evenings. Dad used to go to the lot. When I was about 8, he started taking me along. Sometimes I was bored, sometimes I loved them. But that's where I must have heard most of the string quartets by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert before the age of 14, and I also remember the Ravel String Quartet, which I adored, and the Introduction and Allegro (I think Marisa Robles was playing the harp). Borodin 2 enchanted me and once I think we heard a four-hands concert by the pianists Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow, who became firm favourites of my mum's. Sometimes it was cold in there and often I was the youngest person by about 40 years, but life wouldn't have been the same without it.

    And opera. It took me longer to get to grips with opera because there were no surtitles in those days, but I will never forget going to Count Ory at ENO and Dad virtually rolling in the aisles, weeping with laughter.

    4. I remember my first orchestral concert, when I must have been about 8: the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Rudolf Kempe, with Miriam Fried the violin soloist. They played the Berlioz 'Roman Carnival' Overture, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (I think) and the Dvorák 'New World' Symphony and I spent a lot of time staring at the flautist (Susan Milan!) and wondering how she could stand the noise sitting in front of the brass like that. For a couple of weeks before the concert Dad taught me the music. We listened to it all on LPs and he showed me how to follow the scores. Myth-scotching moment: reading music is very easy to learn when you're a child. I learned when I started piano lessons, age 4. It is not elitist, it is not particularly complicated and all you need is someone to show you how it works when you're young enough not to have swallowed the rubbish other people spout about it.

    Please note, it was a Sunday afternoon, so there was no school or work, and we could actually go to a proper concert like this. Not 'children's concerts' - the very small me would certainly have turned my nose up at any such notion ("Hello there, children! Are we all having lots of fun today?" ugh.)

    This plan seems such a no-brainer to me when concert organisations wonder how to get in younger punters that I often wonder what planet they're on. You want your concerts attended by families, with working-age parents, children, even grandparents who mightn't like late evenings? Do concerts on Sunday afternoons! Simples.

    5. Exams. Oh my God, exams. Well, I had to do them, and I think that may be what gave me nerve complexes about performing. These days I will happily stand up and speak to a concert hall of 500 people without a quiver, but just don't ever make me play the bloody piano... But Dad was kind. He would ferry me there and back, put up with my nerves – "Don't make such a matzoh-pudding of it!" he'd say – and when it was all over we'd go to a record shop and I'd choose the ones I wanted. Not even that could quite erase the memory of standing in the ladies' room somewhere in the RCM soaking my hands in a basin of hot water, which was the only warm-up available. I still shudder every time I go in there.

    6. Music lessons. For years and years and years, Dad would ferry me to my piano lessons and usually sat outside in the car while I was being put through my paces. He must have had the patience of an angel. Because he also ferried me to violin lessons until I fell out with the instrument.

    Occasionally he was rewarded with a surprise. My piano teacher for about eight years was Patsy Toh, the Chinese pianist who lived with her husband Fou Ts'ong in Hampstead and later Islington. In the first house, Patsy had a teaching studio upstairs while the big Steinways were downstairs. One day, when I was about 10 or 11, I arrived on Saturday afternoon to hear some sublime Schubert emanating from behind that closed door. "That's Richter in there, practising," Patsy whispered to me. I'd sort of heard of Richter and I knew Dad would be impressed. I hurried out to the car, where he was sitting listening to Radio 3, and said "Dad, Richter's in there." I never saw him run as fast as that again. While I was doing Hanon and Grade Whatever upstairs, the great Russian continued his world of Schubert beneath and I think Dad sat in the hall with his ear to the door.

    7. I once tried to refuse to go back to university, because I hated the music course and pretty much everything about the place. (Actually I wanted to go and study piano in New York.) I think I was virtually manhandled into the back of the car with my suitcase and bags of books and files and shoehorned into the bedsit on Jesus Lane. I had tendinitis, glandular fever, fear and loathing. Many years on, I think it's good I stayed, because I got a very decent degree plus a one-year postgrad thing, I know how to write a fugue (for what that's worth), and it is definitely healthy, on principle, to stick with your creative projects and finish them properly. He made me do that and it's something I insist upon to this day - hence Odette, finished at last after 26 years. I do regret not going and studying piano in New York, but that's another issue.

    8. There were certain things Dad used to do that I don't think anybody else would have dared try. He was a quiet, unassuming personality. He was rather shy, and definitely chary of British society traditions. But if someone was in trouble, he would step in and try to find a solution. Once we had a close friend who had lived in Britain for many years, gone back to his native USA, and then returned to the UK a year or two later to take up a new job. Unfortunately, the company he was to work for had screwed up his work permit, so he arrived at Heathrow without it and they promptly wanted to deport him. He owned a small flat in the middle of London and was renting it out - to someone who was a high-level civil servant. Dad took it upon himself to get the phone number of this important gentleman, call him and ask him to intervene. Although this didn't sort the whole situation, which was the result of a singularly incompetent company, it meant our friend was not confined to an airport cell, but was permitted to stay at our house until such time as. (Happy ending: friend got the necessary permit and job, eventually.)

    9. The more I hear about the Vilna Gaon, an ancestor of sorts according to family legend, the more like Dad he sounds. He was a leading figure in the Jewish Enlightenment in Lithuania, not a rabbi but a kind of Talmudic sage, a wise man who led by principle and writing and example. He was, as I understand it, a polymath with a wide knowledge base ranging from science to music, and his thinking was the opposite of the mystical Chassidic approach (which is kind of happy-clappy-feel-it-in-your-bones). Academic exactitude, logical argument and realistic precision were uppermost and if that seems antithetical to the idea of religion, I think he was one of the few people, perhaps along with Moses Mendelssohn, who showed that it didn't need to be. We need more of this characteristically Enlightenment thinking today and less of the believing-in-gut-reaction-alone stuff because, frankly, look where the recent vogue for that has got us.

    10. I miss him. Admittedly, Count Ory aside, he could be strict, rather joyless (as teenagers we weren't allowed short skirts or make-up - my sister defied both, but I didn't - and pop music was banned at home to the point that I even used to watch Crackerjack with the sound turned right down, and when my brother gave me a Glenn Miller LP for my 18th birthday, it was radical.) But where would I have been without him? Anything I have done, anything I am, anything that has worked in my life, I owe to him. And I miss him like the blazes, every day still, after 22 years. He has two grandchildren who remember him, but probably not all that well, and two younger grandsons he never met, but who resemble him, one in capacity for scientific application and the other, littlest one, in an instinctive musical overflow.

    It seems so unfair that he should have been taken from us all so early. He could still have been here now.

    Thank you, Dad. Today we should have been celebrating your big birthday. We will do so and hope you can see us raise a glass to you tonight.