Showing posts with label Alexandra Dariescu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alexandra Dariescu. Show all posts

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Nutcracking open



Alexandra Dariescu's virtual-reality piano recital ballet marvel The Nutcracker and I is off on a world tour soon, taking in China, Romania, Belgium, Germany, Austria (four performances in Vienna's Konzerthaus), Sweden, Australia and the UK (including, among others, the London Piano Festival and the Ryedale Festival). Above, the Trepak, with Alex at the piano and ballerina Amy Drew meeting some rather special friends. Full tour dates here.

Last year Alex decided to record a CD of the complete music - some of the arrangements have been specially commissioned for the project - with a souvenir booklet, targeted at the young audience she hopes will be attracted to experience a piano recital for the first time. But you can't put virtual reality into audio or print...so she needed a text version of the story. I was more than thrilled when she asked me to oblige. The script, recorded by Blue Peter presenter Lindsey Russell, has been very cleverly woven into the music (it works even better than I'd imagined) and the CD was released yesterday on the Signum label. You can get hold of it here.

(If you enjoy this, you might also enjoy my other, somewhat longer piece of Tchaikovskian magical realism, Meeting Odette...https://unbound.com/books/meeting-odette/).


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Nutcracker, Alexandra, Lindsey and I

Alexandra Dariescu and friend. Photo: Andrew Mason

At last I can spill the beans about something utterly lovely.

Pianist Alexandra Dariescu's cutting-edge digital animation performance, The Nutcracker and I, is premiered tonight at Milton Court

Alex has made a CD version of the project - but since you can't put digital animation on a CD, she wanted a narration, a scripted version to replace the visuals. So she asked me to write it for her. 

The story also appears in the CD booklet, with the digital animations by Yeast Culture translated into illustrations by Adam Smith. The script has been recorded by the TV presenter Lindsey Russell (I haven't heard it yet - hopefully will soon!). Release date is 27 April on Signum Records, and there may be advance copies floating around at Milton Court this evening.

The project reimagines the classic ballet's tale of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince with Alex herself as the main character, a little girl longing to fulfil her dream of becoming a pianist. Alex plays extracts from Tchaikovsky's ballet music in transcriptions by luminaries including Mikhail Pletnev and Percy Grainger, and the ballerina Desirée Ballantyne performs the role of Clara, interacting on stage with digitally animated characters. 

Alex conceived The Nutcracker and I as an alternative performance format in the hope of attracting audiences who mightn't normally think of attending a piano recital. It has sparked a huge amount of interest. Tonight's premiere at 6pm sold out in one day when they announced it, and demand was such that they've added a repeat performance at 8pm. They'll be taking it on tour in 2018.

I'm thrilled to have had a small part in this. It's been a huge amount of fun and we hope everyone is going to love it - and that we can inspire you and, crucially, your children to think big and dare to dream!

And now: off to the premiere!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Valentine for a favourite film


Having not previously experienced one of the talkies-with-live-music events that have become so popular since digital technology enabled them to exist, I went to see Brief Encounter with real-time Rachmaninoff at the Royal Festival Hall the other night. Digital transformation involves the careful stripping out of the music while leaving the voices in place; it's so detailed that 60 seconds takes a day to do. Striking the balance in the hall between the volume of the soundtrack and the live music isn't easy either, but the effect is so absorbing and compelling that we can forgive the occasional "what did she say?" for the gorgeous horn-playing or clarinet solo that might mask a couple of seconds.

Alexandra Dariescu with a creation of her own.
Photo: BBC Music Magazine
And jolly lovely it was, y'know... First we had the complete Piano Concerto No.2 with soloist Alexandra Dariescu making her debut at the hall and with the LPO. She offered a near-ideal balance of heart and head, with plenty of excitement and lyricism matched by beautiful tone, intelligent voicing and excellent musical narrative even without that of Noel Coward. And as Eileen Joyce, the legendary Australian pianist for the original film, used to do, she even changed her dress in the interval. Dirk Brossé conducted with reasonable attentiveness. It's no small feat to play the whole concerto in a "real" interpretation and follow it immediately with bleeding chunks, timing determined by (I guess) a click-track, and everyone rose to the task magnificently.

Celia Johnson's daughter, the actress Lucy Fleming, introduced the evening, telling us about her mother's memories of the filming: the cold early mornings at the station pervaded by the smell of the fish train from Aberdeen; the enormous challenge of playing a role that involves large tracts of silence with a narration over the top; and Noel Coward's absolute insistence, when others tried to demur from using that concerto, that nothing could happen without the Rachmaninoff - that Laura's character is circumscribed by the facts that "she changes her library book at Boots, she eats at the Kardomah and she listens to Rachmaninoff"...

Of course! Where would we be without Rachmaninoff? The music creates perhaps 85 per cent of the film's emotional world. The little town it shows us, otherwise, is cold, small, mean. Everything is based in deadened routine: putting on the wireless, picking up the embroidery or the Times Crossword, the Thursday ritual of going into Milford, chatting to acquaintances you can't stand and who haven't an interesting thought in their heads, going to the cinema no matter what's on, laughing at the Mighty Wurlitzer, and then the cup of tea at the station where the staff never say hello even though they see you every single Thursday and try to make life a little bit harder for you because it's their job (Beryl swings her keys at Laura with such relish). The one sign of passion is Alec's devotion to his work in preventive medicine; as he describes it Laura falls for him, perhaps because she has never seen anyone express such aliveness before.

We never really know Alec, though, or Laura either: only the tip of the iceberg, plus their eyes. Laura is Celia Johnson's eyes and Rachmaninoff. Everything in the movie happens at a tangent - the shadows of Alec and Laura in the station underpass, the chilly stone bridges, the snide and hypocritical "friends", and even Laura's impossibly cute kids are filmed from off-beat angles. ("My birthday's in June and there aren't any pantomimes in June," says little Margaret in expert plummy tones. Apparently the little girl was actually Celia Johnson's niece.)

Only the Rachmaninoff is direct. And we love it and we weep because there is so much love in there, being squashed to extinction by that ghastly, two-faced provincialism and hypocrisy that Coward captures to perfection. Remember, Coward was gay and homosexuality was illegal. The whole thing is an analogy of illicit love, with its truth spark buried deep.

Odd to think that that world-in-black-and-white represents to some the sort of nostalgia that's sparked the ludicrous prospect of Brexit. Love will go away from us forever on the 5.43pm train and we will never get it back because we're worried about what other people will think if we try. What could be more British than that?

Dated? Not necessarily. Quite a few people, not least in the orchestra, were seeing that film for the first time and it won a lot of new friends.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Woman of the Future

Brava bravissima to the young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, who has just won the Woman of the Future Award.


Alexandra says: "This evening we celebrated women, equality between genders and an internationally cherished Romania, a country that makes me proud. I was the only non Brit in the Arts and Culture category and it gives the hugest of honours to announce that I was awarded the Woman of the Future Award, becoming an Ambassador for classical music. It's an exciting time for women all over the world and a huge step for us, strong, united and because we can!"