Showing posts with label George Jackson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George Jackson. Show all posts

Sunday, April 08, 2018

'Hello, George? Orchestre de Paris here....'

The other week, conductor George Jackson's account of his last-minute close encounter with the LSO, some lost Ubers and a banana case became my fourth most popular post ever on JDCMB (behind only the London Hamburger Orchestra, the story of Enescu and an interview with the divine Cecilia). So when he called up and said 'You're not going to believe what happened the other day', I thought he'd better tell us about it.... JD

Remember the Horse...
George Jackson to the rescue, once again

George Jackson
Photo: A.P. Wilding
It’s another Sunday morning, but this time, a more civilised 10:30am. And it’s Easter.  I have had an interesting weekend, beginning with fulfilling my role as ‘best man’ for a good friend (go-karting in Tower Bridge and a barbecue-style feast in East London for the stag) and complemented by listening to my local church choir singing the gorgeous Fauré Requiem for Easter Saturday.

I am sipping coffee and very slowly packing my case for a week in Paris, this time, working with my mentor, Daniel Harding, as second conductor for the gargantuan Ives Fourth Symphony (which requires three conductors).  I decide to check-in with the maestro by text, since he likes us to meet half an hour or so before each rehearsal in the Conductor’s Room.

A reply: ‘George, I have an ear infection.  The doctor just told me not to fly and that my antibiotics might clear my ear in 3-5 days. I’m so sorry.  Not sure what the orchestra will decide to do. I’m going to get back to you ASAP.  You might have to take over the concert’.


But then of course, I had just convinced my sister that her car had been stolen during the night (April Fool’s!)  So this must be another one of those.  It’s a damn good one!

Daniel confirms, via sad face emoticon, that it is not an April Fool’s….

‘Would you be willing to step in?’

I am fondly reminded of that Eddie Redmayne story, á la Joey Tribbiani.  ‘Yes!  I can ride a horse for the part.  Of course’. Always say yes.

So I do.

Seventy-five per cent of me still thinks this is an April Fool’s, and 25% is flooded with adrenaline. ‘Expect a call’...

The remaining 75% becomes adrenaline as the Orchestre de Paris’s management call within minutes, asking me how I feel, and whether, alongside taking over the main conducting of the Ives, I can also conduct the other concert items: Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Wheel of Emptiness’ with the Ensemble Intercontemporain, and Jörg Widmann’s clarinet concerto ‘Echo Fragments’, which features the composer as soloist, and a mixed ensemble of Orchestre de Paris and Les Arts Florissants, pitted at opposite ends of the stage in a kind of orchestral time machine.  It’s a beautifully conceived concert, featuring all three orchestras performing side-by-side.

Remember the horse!

About an hour later, I am in Luton Airport’s branch of Wasabi.  I must be the first customer to inhale their (frankly, delicious) 'Chicken katsu yakisoba bento’ whilst poring over an A1 score of an 
Ives symphony (there is still a small soy sauce stain in the top corner of the second movement, page 46).  I am sure the other customers think I am rather odd.

Given my illustrious history of Uber mishaps, I am amazed that, having collected my luggage, an Uber is outside Charles de Gaulle within minutes, and we are speeding our way to Pantin, the Philharmonie’s neighbourhood in north-east Paris.

At the hotel, the first room I am given features a man in a dressing gown cooking pasta and watching Formula 1.  A quick trip back to reception confirms that they did give me the wrong room.  New key card for the room next door: that doesn’t work.  Three return trips to reception (and four flights of stairs each time), and I finally get a fresh room.  The Orchestra have very kindly left scores at reception for the pieces I have not yet seen, the Harvey and the Widmann.

I am sitting down at the desk by 6pm, opening up the scores, prioritising for the next day’s schedule (Ives in the morning, Harvey in the evening).

I break for a shower, where I count from 1 to 100 and recite the alphabet in French (that GCSE finally came in useful).  In a rehearsal situation comprising of about 150 on stage (the Ives features a large chorus too), it will be really important to make sure everybody understands clearly where we are starting from.

I doze off for about 90 minutes in the small hours, powered through the night by the adrenaline high.  The alarm officially wakes me at 8 to go into the Philhamonie for the first reading at 10.  I walk
through the deserted streets (it’s Easter Monday after all), track down a bakery where I order a double espresso and a very fresh Pain au chocolat.  Like the Pilgrim in Hawthorne’s ‘Celestial Railroad’, which forms the basis of Ives’ Symphony, I trudge towards the horizon, Jean Nouvel’s spiraling aluminium forming a curtain to open the week to come.

It’s going to be a wild ride….


Thursday, March 22, 2018

"Hello? LSO here. Can you conduct us today?"

One conductor's plane delayed in a snowstorm is another's....opportunity. Not that the snow helps. Last Sunday George Jackson was home and looking forward to a well-earned day off when all of a sudden the phone rang. Next thing he knew, he was dealing with a clutch of brand-new scores, cancelled Ubers and a banana case...

George Jackson faces the music
Photo: Brian Hatton

A guest post by George Jackson

Sunday morning.  It’s 6:30, and for some reason, I am wide awake. 

I have just spent a week on tour with the Orchestre de Paris, where I have been Daniel Harding’s assistant: Cologne, Dortmund, Luxembourg, and Brussels.  The week before that, my first Schumann Symphony No.4 with the Transylvanian Philharmonic in Cluj; the week before that, the first leg of the OdP tour, at ‘home’ in Paris, and then in Vienna.

I was grateful for my first full day off in three weeks: Sunday lunch planned with a couple of schoolmates, followed by the new Ricky Gervais show on Netflix.  Bliss!

I manage to doze back off at around 7:30am, but was woken by my phone ringing at 8:21am.  Unusual, I thought, for a Sunday morning…

The previous day, I'd had the pleasure of conducting the premiere of Jasmin Kent Rodgman’s ‘The Letter’ at LSO St Luke’s, as part of the Barbican’s ‘Open Ear’ Festival.  A Jerwood Foundation composer, Jasmin curated an inspiring afternoon featuring performances by the best of London’s spoken word community, culminating in the premiere of her own piece with Salena Godden’s poetry and a quartet of LSO musicians. During the break, I had jokingly quipped to a colleague: ‘Let’s hope Francois-Xavier Roth’s plane takes off tomorrow morning...’.  One of the LSO St. Luke’s plasma screens was advertising Sunday’s Panufnik Composers’ Workshop, where eight brand-new pieces would be publicly workshopped with the orchestra.

As my ringtone echoed into the slumber, I realized how cold it was.  Which means snow.  Which in the UK (and, incidentally, Frankfurt) means travel chaos… 

I answered about three octaves lower than usual.  Natalia, the LSO’s artist development associate projects manager, greeted me with her chirpy and friendly tone (she had managed the Jerwood project too).  ‘Morning George!  It’s Natalia at the LSO.  Francois-Xavier’s plane has been temporarily grounded in Frankfurt.  Do you fancy coming in and starting the session this morning?  How far away are you?  Can you get here?’  

The slow-motion realisation of what this meant dawned upon me: the chance to spend the morning with one of the world’s finest orchestras, conducting music by the most talented young composers in the UK.  ‘Yes. I’m at home in Hanwell. Can you email me pdfs of the scores? What’s the dress code?’

I scramble around: batons are still in my bag from yesterday; I throw on the only non-creased shirt I can find, some jeans, the nearest shoes.  I make an espresso, but then ignore it, since the adrenaline buzz is already doing the coffee’s work.  An Uber is ordered: ‘Driver completing journey nearby’.  It could take up to 18 minutes…..

I risk it, thinking that if the Uber arrives at 9am, with a 40-minute drive to Old Street, I should have a little bit of time to run through the PDFs at the piano at home, before looking at hard copies in the conductor’s room. 


Sunnier times in Bolzano...

At 8:50am, Uber cancels the order – there are no drivers available. 

I call two minicab companies with no luck.  The third one answers and can send a car in 15 minutes.  9:05, so I should get to Old Street at 9:45.  Great.

I attempt to find some last-minute sustenance, and eat all that I can find in the house: a square of Dairy Milk, three Jacobs’ cream crackers and two Trebor mints.  I call Natalia: ‘Please can you leave a banana in the conductor’s room?’  I am incredibly grateful for this later on.

The taxi driver clearly thinks I am mad.  I tell him that it is an emergency, and can he race through London (he agrees, and does a wonderful job).  I spend the next 40 minutes roughly ‘conducting’ my way through the scores, metronome app open in one hand.  Yes, he thinks I am mad.  No time to think about that.

I am now informed that Francois-Xavier’s ETA is 11:15am, which means I will definitely be working on the first two pieces of the day: Grace-Evangeline Mason’s Beneath the Silken Silence and Han Xu’s Buddha Holds the Flower.  I focus on these two, identify a list of questions for each composer, and make sure I can at least work my way through any tempo and metrical changes.  Does ‘the new minim is the previous crotchet’ mean that I should just stay in 2?  Those sorts of questions.  The things that Simon Rattle likes to call ‘dental hygiene’.

We arrive at the Old Street roundabout.  The friendly driver, for some reason, misses the turn off for St. Luke’s, so we have another go round the roundabout.  Just to keep the adrenaline running.

I race out the car, get to the conductor’s room, and thank Natalia for the banana - which comes in a rather dashing banana-shaped plastic case.  The scores are there, and I race through, underlining, highlighting, making notes.

I have a couple of very welcome visitors to the conductor’s room before we start.  The LSO’s managing director, Kathryn McDowell, says a friendly hello and wishes me luck, and Colin Matthews, who is mentoring the composers, pops in for a quick chat: he gives me a few invaluable bits of advice about the two pieces, and describes how the workshop will run, as a form of public conversation between myself on the podium, principal second violin David Alberman, and the composer in the hot seat.

At 9:59am, the orchestral manager knocks on the door.

Time to go and face the music….

Winner of the 2015 Aspen Conducting Prize, London-born conductor George Jackson came to attention after stepping in at short notice with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducting the Austrian premiere of Michael Jarrell’s Ombres. Highlights in 2018 include his company debut in Opera Holland Park’s new production of Così Fan Tutte. Recent and forthcoming highlights include his Hamburg State Opera debut conducting the premiere of Immer weiter by Irene Galindo Quero and Jesse Boekman, and concerts with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Haydn Orchestra di Bolzano e Trento.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

JDCMB Guest Post: George Jackson on the music of Julie von Webenau

Please welcome to JDCMB the young British conductor George Jackson, who has been delving into the music of a fascinating and all-but-forgotten composer, Julie von Webenau (1813-1887). She was, incidentally, the dedicatee of Schumann's Humoresque, Op.20.

'Frag den Mond': Julia von Webenau's 'New' Orchestral Song Cycle

Edward Elgar's instruction to the London Symphony Orchestra during the famous 1931 Abbey Road session is an invaluable aid to a young musician: 'Play this tune as though you've never heard it before'.  Navigating the halls of the 'repertoire' museum is always controversial, particularly as a young conductor working with orchestras who have developed a culture of playing certain music long before you were even born.  Aside from a deep passion for new music, my solution has been to rediscover old 'treasures' and assume the joy and responsibility of sharing them with the world.

The culture of birthday celebration in concert programming is rife, and this year's BWV trilogy (no, not Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, but Britten-Wagner-Verdi, of course) has brought a lot of music to a wider audience. My attention was recently drawn to a lesser-known guest at the birthday party: Julia Baroni-Cavalcabò, better known during her days in mid-19th century Vienna as Julie von Webenau. The rather modest Grove entry places her on the musical map, as a student of Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart and a close friend of Robert Schumann. Webenau's compositional canon extends to a series character pieces for solo piano (à la Schumann) and a noteworthy selection of lieder: the latter - which are musical gems - are of special interest to conductors and singers. 

Continuing my pursuit of this forgotten character, I ended up negotiating a collaboration with Gesine Schröder, music theory professor at Vienna's University for Music and Performing Arts. We commissioned a series of Vienna-based composers to orchestrate several of Webenau's lieder, to be premiered by the Akademisches Symphonie Orchester (ASO) Wien, where I was principal conductor last season.

The four songs that we chose - from a very long shortlist - represent an important step in German text setting in the middle of the 19th century, and are certainly worthy of further study: Ludwig Bechstein (the same poet who inspired Mahler's own text for ' Das klagende Lied'), Johan Nepomuk Vogl (a great Schubert collaborator), Hermann Kletke (a poet often set by Schumann), and Robert Reinick (responsible for the libretto of Schumann's Genoveva).          

Terz Magazine described the song cycle as a work that should 'place a great composer into the limelight in a situation which, as with many of her colleagues, the gender aesthetics of the 19th century forced them to be forgotten'.  Without wishing to go into the obvious issues of gender (not least in Vienna both in the 19th century and beyond, but, as Jessica herself points out here, 'women composers are still climbing the Eiger', not least at this year's British Composer Awards): Julie von Webenau's music is stunning, enhanced by a unifying marriage to the gorgeous texts she chooses, and offering a differently-tinged perspective of the German romantic art song.  I hope that my conducting colleagues, singers, musicologists and cultural commentators alike will take note and explore this rich terra incognita in years to come.

Here is Julie von Webenau's Warum, to a text by Ludwig Bechstein, sung by Wolfgang Stefan Schwaiger with the Akademisches Symphonie Orchester Wien conducted by George.