Sunday, July 04, 2021

Cheers

If you've been following JDCMB in the past, you'll know I've been blogging for a long time. 17 years. The climate back in 2004 was very different. All this online stuff was new, thrilling and full of hope. I was still in my thirties and didn't seem to have anything to lose, so I just bounced into the Wild West that was the Internet and found it was fun.

This past pandemic time hasn't been easy for anybody, of course, but it does focus the mind a little. I am doing many more different things now than was the case in 2004. I am also a bit older, and if not wiser, then less energetic. I have to prioritise paid work and when I found I was so busy writing back to people saying 'sorry, I haven't got time to cover your project in my spare time for free', and the reason I didn't have time was because I was writing so many 'sorry I haven't got time' messages, something had to give.

In the end the only reason to do unorganised, unmonetised blogging is if it's fun. And I'm sorry, but it isn't fun any more. Frankly, it's a millstone. It's a monster and it rejects low-calorie food. So I'm stopping. I might pop back from time to time, to fulfil a commitment or whatever, but it's not going to be remotely regular and might indeed migrate elsewhere.

What am I doing? Writing about music. If you've enjoyed reading JDCMB, you might enjoy some of my books, articles and reviews. I currently contribute to the i, the Sunday Times, BBC Music Magazine, the JC and various online outlets like Udiscovermusic and The Arts Desk. Links to the books are in the sidebar. I have two very nice music book projects in the works at the moment: a centenary book for the London Chamber Orchestra, and a biography I've always wanted to write, that of Dame Myra Hess. Opera librettos: watch out for the next operas at Garsington with John Barber this month and with Roxanna Panufnik next summer. And the narrated concerts, or concert dramas, or words&music, whatever you want to call them, are very much up and running: Bach at Deal Festival next weekend, Beethoven at the British Library's theatre in the winter, and more. 

So it's not goodbye, but it is definitely 'over and out'.

Thank you for reading JDCMB.

JDx




Thursday, April 15, 2021

Down under, but not out: the Australian Festival of Chamber Music is coming soon to a computer near you




The Australian Festival of Chamber Music gets into gear...
Photo: Andrew Rankin


The pandemic is reaching the point at which we almost don’t dare to plan ahead at all, for fear of hopes being dashed yet again. If you are the director of an international festival, though, you can’t really afford to think like that. You have to hope and plan for the best, while also being prepared for the worst, doing all you can to anticipate likely troubles and short-circuit them before they happen. The Australian Festival of Chamber Music is a case in point.

I’d hoped to go last year, but of course that proved impossible, and the initial rescheduling for this year bit the dust when the organisation reluctantly but necessarily took the step of revising the schedule to use only those artists already in Australia, rather than importing the large contingent of “internationals” as originally planned. This weekend – starting tomorrow, Friday - they’re holding a three-day online festival to showcase a few of those internationals and bring their devoted audience some delicious musical offerings, even if not quite on Orpheus Island yet.


Kathy Stott at Orpheus Island in 2018
Photo: JD


The festival’s artistic director for the past few years has been the British pianist Kathryn Stott, and the Covid-19 reshuffles have chiefly landed in her inbox. She was to be handing over to the incoming new director, violinist Jack Liebeck this year, but when her last festival had to be postponed, Jack gallantly offered to defer taking up his appointment too, allowing her to go out in style.

“It was really generous-spirited of him,” Kathy says, “and I’m very grateful.” Whether she can be there herself, though, is still in question: the borders of Australian states have been closed very quickly at various times during the pandemic and with international travel all but impossible, Kathy has had essentially to write herself out of the programming to be on the safe side.

Cheryl Barker
Photo: Keith Saunders

Keeping the musical schedule as planned as far as humanly possible, she has reassigned the pieces she would have played to other pianists, drafted in the presenter Russell Torrance from ABC to conduct the morning musical chats with festival artists that are a regular and extremely popular part of the proceedings, and as hosts for the evening concerts, Australia’s operatic “golden couple”, Cheryl Barker and Peter Coleman-Wright, will be on location (I’m delighted that Cheryl will also take over my script for the Immortal Beloved concert, though am of course sick as the proverbial parrot about not being there in person). An unexpected bonus that’s arisen from the state of international travel is that Piers Lane, who was artistic director for 16 years before Kathy, is spending most of this year in Australia and will be returning to AFCM for the first time since standing down from the post.

“As far as I’m concerned,” Kathy declares, “it is still Beethoven’s anniversary year, it is still the Goldner String Quartet’s 25th anniversary and although I’ve had to pull out the odd piece here and there, the festival is still its whopping, ginormous self!”

It was certainly whopping and ginormous when I went in 2018. Glittering seas, palm trees, Australian wine under the stars, the best seafood ever and a wonderfully convivial atmosphere among the large team of performers, to say nothing of the audience and the devoted festival Friends who come to absolutely everything – it was the festival of a lifetime. “That was a wonderful year for building new friendships and musical relationships,” Kathy says, pointing to several new associations among her colleagues with invitations to Norway, new commissions for some of the composers from various performers and plenty more to look forward to when “all this” is finally over.

The online Festival Overture from 16 to 18 April brings music from morning til night, as is always the case at the main AFCM, and features three special recitals from musicians based in London, where they are being streamed from the Voces8 Centre: Jack Liebeck and Katya Apekisheva, Carolyn Sampson & Joseph Middleton, and husband and wife duo Alexander Sitkovetsky and Wu Qian. These events can be accessed via the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall’s site, which is partnering with AFCM for the occasion (you’ll need to buy tickets). Morning and lunchtime concerts feature artists who will be appearing at the festival in August, plus a special performance by Kathy herself. Meanwhile you can feast on South Pacific travels from the comfort of your own home through the Destination Dreams videos of the landscapes around Townsville, Far North Queensland and the surrounding islands. Find the full schedule here.

I’ll be writing more about AFCM in the run-up to the 2021 festival, so do stay tuned, and keep your fingers firmly crossed that everything can go ahead as intended when we finally reach August.

Booking for AFCM2021 is now OPEN and you can find this, along with full details of the programme, here: https://www.afcm.com.au

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Playlist for IMMORTAL

When Immortal was published last October, I made a playlist to go with it on Apple Music. This was originally intended for the subscribers to the novel. As they've now had exclusive access to it for quite a few months, I'm happy to open it up to interested readers. It's a substantial quantity of music, lined up in the order you'll need it. Below is a list of which pieces go with which chapter. Hope you enjoy it.

The pieces are by Beethoven, unless otherwise indicated: I have included pertinent works by Mozart, Marianna Martines, Schubert and Schumann. Wherever possible they illustrate events in the book. In the instances where they are not directly connected to the narrative’s timescale, they should illuminate particular points, such as the “Josephine” motif, a similarity between two different works, or a dedication e.g. to Count Razumovsky. 


Mostly I’ve chosen one movement of a work - in the hope that you’ll want to source and listen to the rest as well. For some of the crucial piano sonatas, however, I’ve included the whole piece. It was, after all, by playing the piano sonatas that our narrator, Therese, would have best known Beethoven’s music. I’m sending herewith a list of which works go with which chapters.

 

There’s a lot of piano music here, so I’ve selected several different recordings. For the early sonatas, we have András Schiff’s live recording - not least because he is one of few to play the entire first movement of the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata as indicated, in one long pedal. For the ‘heroic’ period and the final trilogy, we have Daniel Barenboim and for the ‘Hammerklavier’ the magnificent recording by Murray Perahia. In the Andante Favori I picked Mari Kodama for her clear, Josephine-like phrasing.

 

The utterly splendid Takács String Quartet perform all the quartet extracts - and as I’ve named the Brunsvik family coachman after them, it seems only fair. The Cello Sonata in A major is played by Miklós Perényi (cello) and András Schiff (piano). The symphonies are variously represented in a classic recordings by conductors including Carlos Kleiber, Iván Fischer and Claudio Abbado; the latter also conducts the Piano Concerto No. 3 with the one and only Martha Argerich. The Beethoven songs are from a recording by baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Jan Lisiecki in a recording released for the Beethoven 250th anniversary in 2020. As for Fidelio, from which extracts appear at various points, this is conducted by Abbado with Nina Stemme as Leonore and Jonas Kaufmann as Florestan, a performance filled with ‘namenlose Freude’. 

 

I hope you enjoy the mix of reading and music. 

 


https://music.apple.com/gb/playlist/immortal/pl.u-yZyVE31CYVPPga

IMMORTAL: Playlist

 

CHAPTER 1

24 Variations on ‘Venni amore’ by Righini

 

CHAPTER 2

Marianna Martines: Cantata ‘Il nido degli amore’ - aria ‘Sarà più dolce assai’

 

CHAPTER 3

Piano Trio Op. 1 No. 1

Eleven Dances WoO 17 No.1 - Walzer

 

CHAPTER 4

Piano Sonata in D, Op. 10 No. 3, 2nd movt

Mozart Fantasia in F minor for mechanical organ, 3rd movt

 

CHAPTER 5

Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 7, 1st movt
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 13,  ‘Pathétique’, 2nd movement

Variations for piano duet on ‘Ich denke dein’

 

CHAPTER 6

Septet in E flat, Op. 20, 1st movt

String Quartet in F, Op. 18 No. 1, 2nd movt

Piano Sonata in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2, Moonlight, 1st movt

 

CHAPTER 7

Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, 1st movt

Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 31 No. 3, minuet

 

CHAPTER 8

Symphony No. 3 in E flat, ‘Eroica’, 1st movt

Andante Favori

Sonata in C, Op. 53, Waldstein, complete

 

CHAPTER 9

‘An die Hoffnung’, Op. 32

 

CHAPTER 11

Fidelio - ‘Abscheulicher’ 

String Quartet in F, Op. 59 No. 1, 1st movt

 

CHAPTER 12

Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 57, ‘Appassionata’, complete

 

CHAPTER 13

Cello Sonata in A, Op. 69, 1st movt

 

CHAPTER 15

Piano Sonata in F sharp, Op. 78 ‘A Therese’, complete

 

CHAPTER 16

Für Elise

Fidelio - ‘O namenlose Freude’

Piano Sonata Op. 81A ‘Das Lebewohl’, 3rd movt

 

CHAPTER 17

String Quartet Op. 95, 3rd movt

 

CHAPTER 20

Symphony No. 7, 2nd movt

 

CHAPTER 21

Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’, 2nd movt

Fidelio - ‘O welche Lust…’

Fidelio - ‘Gott, welch’ Dunkel hier’

 

CHAPTER 23
Piano Sonata Op. 90
String Quartet Op. 59 No. 2 

 

CHAPTER 24

Schubert: ‘Erlkönig’

Piano Trio in B flat, Op. 97, ‘Archduke’, 1st movt

 

CHAPTER 25

‘An die ferne Geliebte’ - No. 6, ‘Nimm sie hinn denn, diese Lieder’

 

CHAPTER 26

Piano Sonata in B flat, Op. 106, ‘Hammerklavier’, 1st movt

 

CHAPTER 27

Schubert: ‘Death and the Maiden’

Piano Sonata Op. 109 3rd movt

Piano Sonata Op. 110 (complete)

Piano Sonata Op. 111 (complete)

 

CHAPTER 28

Symphony No. 9 4th movt

Grosse Fuge

 

CHAPTER 29

Schumann: Fantasie in C, Op. 17, 1st movt

 

 

 


Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Putney Music Interview...

We are extremely grateful to the brilliant team of Putney Music, the long-running and much-loved local organisation that presents interviews with the great and good of the music world and who this week decided Tom and I might be a fun double-act addition to the roster. 

As the events can't be held in the usual way with stage and live audience, it's all gone online. Andrew Neill (not to be confused with Andrew Neil) asked the questions over Zoom and we responded, aided and abetted by Ricki the cat, from the study. Tom talks 35 years with the LPO, plus Bavarian State Opera, Denmark and Buxton, and I was permitted to indulge my nerdiest passions, including Korngold and golden-age piano playing. There are musical extracts from Korngold himself, Dame Myra Hess, Solti, Tennstedt, Glyndebourne and Carlos Kleiber, and more. 

You can watch it here:


Putney Music: Thomas Eisner & Jessica Duchen talk to Andrew Neill from Win Carnall on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Muesli for breakfast

Yesterday I had my first Covid-19 vaccination. Everyone said I’d feel odd afterwards, perhaps with a headache and exhaustion, but I was absolutely fine. 


Early this morning, my husband and I were at the breakfast table having coffee and I went to pour myself a bowl of fruity muesli. Our preferred fruity muesli is sold in plastic bags, so to stop spillages we decant it into a Tupperware box, which was on the other side of the kitchen. As this box was nearly empty, from a cupboard containing several bags of cereal I retrieved a fresh pack, opened it and poured one helping into my bowl and the rest into the Tupperware box. 

 

Then, however, I realised there were no raisins in it, and no almonds either. I had inadvertently poured porridge oats into the fruity muesli’s Tupperware box. I’d wanted to eat fruity muesli, but since I’d opened porridge instead, I thought ‘oh well,’ tipped my bowl of oats into a saucepan to make porridge, then took a large blue freezer bag from a drawer and prepared to pour the rest of porridge oats into it, so that I could instead fill the Tupperware box with fruity muesli.

 

‘Hang on,’ said my husband, ‘we can use the Tupperware box for porridge oats instead of muesli.’ That seemed sensible. I put the large blue freezer bag back in the drawer and fetched milk to pour into the porridge saucepan. ‘But if you want muesli, you can just put those in with the other porridge oats,’ my husband said. I put the milk away and poured the porridge oats from the saucepan back into the Tupperware box. 

 

Now we remembered that there had been a little bit of muesli that was not so fruity any more at the bottom of the Tupperware box before I filled it up with what I thought was fruity muesli but was actually porridge oats. ‘It’s OK to use muesli as porridge, or to eat porridge oats as muesli – isn’t it?’ said my husband. We thought about it for a minute, because there may be some kinds of oats that you are supposed to cook first and we were not certain. 

 

‘Here, I’ll do it,’ said my husband. I went back to the table and my coffee. My husband took the large blue freezer bag from the drawer and began to pour the porridge oats from the Tupperware box into it, which was what I’d been going to do in the first place.  

 

Suddenly, a noise and an exclamation. The porridge oats were now on the kitchen floor. I heard the cupboard opening and the vacuum cleaner clonking, then roaring as my husband took it out, assembled it and switched it on. ‘Stay at the table!’ he said, ‘I’m hoovering.’ I had a few sips of coffee. 

 

The porridge oats were now inside the vacuum cleaner. The large blue freezer bag was back in the drawer. The saucepan was in the sink. The Tupperware box was empty. Finally I could have breakfast. I retrieved a bag of fruity muesli from the cereal cupboard and filled my bowl and the Tupperware box.

 

I now have a headache and exhaustion.

Friday, February 05, 2021

"DALIA" - our new People's Opera for Garsington


We weren't planning to spill the beans about this project so soon, but it has just been shortlisted for an exciting development prize, the Fedora Award in Education, so it's time to say something.

You might remember Silver Birch, the so-called People's Opera that Roxanna Panufnik and I wrote for Garsington Opera a few years back. A People's Opera is a community project plus much more, designed to appeal to all ages, include professionals and amateurs alike and offer an artistically memorable experience to the audience as well as to the performers. Silver Birch was the one with the Iraq War, Siegfried Sassoon, the trees, the Foley Artists, 180 performers aged one to 82, the kitchen sink and the dog, and the International Opera Award education shortlist in 2018. It did well. They wanted another. This is it.

Dalia is on a similar model. It involves children, teens, adults, professionals, amateurs, the Philharmonia and quite possibly a cricket team. It is the story of a young girl from Syria who is fostered into a UK family having lost her father and brother during a terrible journey into exile. She doesn't know if her mother is alive or dead. She is determined to survive, to seize her day and to follow her dreams - of playing cricket. But there are inner and outer demons to face: trauma, flashbacks, racists, jealousies, misunderstandings and, ultimately, an impossible decision she must make. Along the way, as her life changes, so she transforms the inner worlds of those around her.

My libretto is done and Roxanna is hard at work on the score now, fired up and (to judge from my sneak peeks) writing music that, as always, goes light years beyond anything I could have imagined. The Fedora shortlist is not the first time this project has jumped ahead of our plans for it: the Amwaj Choir of Bethlehem, which has collaborated with Roxanna on elements of the music, has already recorded 'Dalia's Song' for the Bethlehem Cultural Festival. 

If you've been to Garsington Opera's home at Wormsley, you may have seen the fabulous cricket pitch on location. This is not a coincidence. How can one better unite a community of diverse peoples than through sport and music together? To say I've been on a steep learning curve is probably not saying enough; I still don't entirely understand the rules, and the fond hopes that Roxanna and I had of spending last summer at a test match evidently had to bite the pandemic-induced dust. Still, I've learned enough to know that cricket doesn't have much to do with ball games. 

We owe a vast debt of gratitude to all our many advisers, who include the aforementioned Amwaj Choir, our community liaison head Manas Ghanem (who is originally from Syria), the charity Refugees at Home, the BBC commentator Eleanor Oldroyd, the South African former professional cricketer Mo Sattar, and the former refugee, now bestselling author and motivational speaker, Gulwali Passerlay, whose book The Lightless Sky has been a major inspiration. The production reunites us with our fabulous director Karen Gillingham, conductor Dougie Boyd, 'magic singing woman' Suzi Zumpe, our dear friends at Garsington and hopefully even some of the same young people as Silver Birch, plus several years' worth of new Youth Company recruits. 

One more credit: my late mother-in-law, Gisela Eisner. Her history inspired Dalia's. She was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany at the same age as our Dalia. She was put onto the Kindertransport to London aged 12, said goodbye to her parents and brother at the station in Berlin and never saw them again: all three were murdered in concentration camps. She was fostered by a Quaker family in Wolverhampton, where she found her feet and her means of integration by learning to play netball. Originally I longed to tell her story, but in collaboration with the whole team we decided we needed a present-day setting. The equivalent was all too easy to find. The difference is that shamefully the UK does not have anything remotely resembling the Kindertransport to rescue children from Syria. 

On the Fedora shortlist, Dalia is the UK project among ten from countries all over Europe. One of the prizes is given through public vote, so if anyone felt like logging in and lending us your click, we would be very happy indeed. Thank you for your support! https://www.fedora-platform.com/discover/shortlist/dalia-a-community-opera/356

Dalia is planned for premiere in summer 2022. We profoundly hope that the pandemic will be firmly in the past by then.  




Thursday, January 21, 2021

Commonplace books

Moved beyond measure by President Biden's inaugural ceremony yesterday, I've entered the last lines of Amanda Gorman's poem The Hill That We Climb into my "commonplace book".

"When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we're brave enough to see it. If only we're brave enough to be it."

I've kept a so-called commonplace book since 1986, when my sister gave me a sleek blank notebook with thin ivory-light pages and a black leather cover that looked ever so sophisticated. A "commonplace book" is somewhere to copy out pieces of text that you don't want to lose: perhaps they appeal to you by ringing emotional bells, putting words together like music, or reflecting what you feel, think or hope. Amanda Gorman's poem uses the 110th page and after 35 years the notebook is still is excellent shape and has enough room in it to last me another 70 if used at the same rate, which will hardly be necessary.

If you've never kept a book like this, I recommend it, because you can measure out the progress of your inner self by what you read back, what you've chosen, why you chose it and where the holes are. I didn't enter anything into it between the month of my father's death in August 1996 and that of my sister's death in March 2000. The latter was poetry by Irina Ratushinskaya and Arthur Rimbaud. The former was an advert for running shoes on TV that stated simply: "Some people quit when they reach their threshold of pain. Some don't."

Back in the 80s, when I was a student, I used to write with an italic pen, trying to preserve these slivers of guiding wisdom in beautiful calligraphy, but it never quite looked as good as I wanted it to (and crossings-out suggest I'd never heard of Tippex then), so in due course I gave up and used a biro, while still attempting neatness. That went out of the window too, so there are a few entries that I can hardly read at all. Now I'm trying again to make things legible so that some day, if we survive this year and manage to grow older and need stronger reading glasses, I'll be able to look back on the latest passages and say "Hm, OK, so that's how we got through that little nightmare..."


In May 1986, I see, I copied out a passage of an interview in The Strad with Raphael Wallfisch, having no clue that I would someday meet and interview him myself. It is about the pace of artistic growth. "It's interesting that everyone develops at different speeds through different circumstances. In the end it does not matter how you are formed. If you've been lucky, as I have, to be surrounded with music and to have had fantastic teaching, then you can go at your own rate without fear of going off on a wrong track." 

This was from a time when I was profoundly unhappy at university, furious about the institutional arrogance, small-mindedness and snobbery I was encountering there, especially when I'd just spent the Easter holidays in New York sitting metaphorically at the feet of some really incredible musicians. That was the year I had a consultation lesson with Richard Goode, went to a lecture by Carl Schachter about Schenkerian analysis at the Mannes College, and met Oscar Shumsky, who put on an LP of Rachmaninov playing his own music, which blew my mind as I had never heard him before. Historical recordings were in their infancy of CD transfer back then, these gems were rare and precious and the idea that one day the whole lot would be available on computer at the touch of a button would never have been even a glimmer in the eye, let alone the ear. With a quick splash of memory, I can see how comforting Raphael's words would have seemed at that moment.

All this can be brought back at the sight of those words, inscribed in slightly smudged black ink.

Over the years the focus of the entries change - from musings on love and friendship from Emily Brontë and Joni Mitchell, to seeking ways forward in writing (Angela Carter, Hermann Hesse, DH Lawrence) and some awfully naive and now slightly embarrassing spiritual texts that were nevertheless helpful around the time my mother died in 1994. There's material from poets and authors from France, Germany, Austria, Bosnia, Russia, America, Ireland, Hungary. Bits of wisdom from Lutosławski and Cage. There's some Ovid, some Keats, some Byron, Betjemen, Dylan Thomas. There's a wonderfully useful poem about how to stop worrying - Mary Oliver's "I worried" - copied out in January 2019, and thank God almighty I didn't know that what I was worrying about just then (Brexit and the likely collapse of our musical world) was in fact entirely justified. 

In the past year I've only made three entries, but that's quite a lot, since there was nothing at all in 2014 and only one apiece in 15 and 16. Since the pandemic struck, I've lighted upon a little phrase of Yeats, a fierce piece by Robert Frost called "Fire and Ice", and an extract from an interview with Hilary Mantel about what historical fiction can do that academic writing on history does not. 

And now from the past to the future: Amanda Gorman, the US's youth poet laureate, 22 and blazing a trail into the future. I hope her words at the inauguration will stand as inspiration and sustenance to us for many years, should we be fortunate enough to be granted them. Now I will have them in my notebook, accessible at the slide of a drawer, for as long as I live.