Showing posts with label Ghost Variations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ghost Variations. Show all posts

Sunday, October 22, 2017

This week...

This is one busy week.

MONDAY. It's this:


You'll find me and the fabulous musicians David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano) at the Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zédel, Sherwood Street (just off Piccadilly Circus), with the words&music story of Jelly d'Arányi and the Schumann Violin Concerto, starting 7pm. Music includes Bartók, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Kelly, Ravel, Hubay and, uh, Schumann... Book here: https://www.brasseriezedel.com/live-at-zedel/ghost-variations-oct-2017/112243587

TUESDAY and FRIDAY. I'm honoured to be serving on the jury of the London Bach Singing Competition. We have the semi-finals on Tuesday evening and the final on Friday, both at St George's, Hanover Square. After the first round the other day, I can promise you we've found some simply glorious voices and we're looking forward to hearing ten of them again in the semis, singing recitatives and arias from the St Matthew and St John Passions. Four will go through to the final. Both these rounds are open to the public, so do join us for a spot of Bachian glory. Details of the events and names of the semi-finalists are now up, here.

WEDNESDAY So, Wednesday is looking a bit packed... I'm very excited to be going on BBC Radio 3's In Tune, where Katie Derham will be interviewing me about Ghost Variations and the Schumann Concerto, ahead of our Artrix Bromsgrove performance (3 Nov) and Burgh House Hampstead (19 Nov). Straight out of Broadcasting House, I must leg it to Cadogan Hall, where I'll be doing a spot of actor interviewing about Mozart and Salieri for the London Chamber Orchestra's concert, which culminates in the Mozart Requiem. Christopher Warren-Green conducts. Booking here.

SATURDAY Off to Leipzig for the first time ever, to see all sorts of amazing things relating to Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann and maybe even Wagner...

I also have to write a feature and some sleeve notes. So I'm now off to have a quick nap.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

How to create fiction from reality

(...as opposed to creating reality from fiction, which seems to be going on a lot...)

Seriously, though, this is going to be a fun evening. Among Ghost Variations' sibling books at Unbound is Jennie Ensor's brilliant psychological thriller Blind Side, set at the time of the 7/7 London tube bombings. Both books are based around real events, as well as sharing a theme of the "outsider" in London, so we've got together to do some joint talks and discussions.

On 4 May at 6.30pm we'll be at The Sheen Bookshop, 375 Upper Richmond Road, London SW14, to talk about the hows and whys of crafting fiction out of reality. There'll be wine, discussions, readings, questions etc, and your modest £2 entrance fee is redeemable against the price of one of our books (though of course we hope you'll buy both!). Do join us if you can.

You can book in advance at Eventbrite here, or phone/email the shop to reserve a place: 020 8876 1717 or sheen@hewsonbooks.co.uk .

Thursday, February 16, 2017

79 years ago today...

Jelly d'Arányi, portrait by Charles Geoffroy-Dechaume

...On 16 February 1938, Jelly d'Arányi gave the UK premiere of the Schumann Violin Concerto at the Queen's Hall, London. That event is the climax of Ghost Variations - so for the occasion, here for a reblog is my piece for the Women Writers, Women's Books website the other day, not so much about why I started writing that novel, but why I finished it, which was another matter altogether...


Finding the Pearl: Why I wrote Ghost Variations

Why do you start to write a book? Perhaps more than that, why do you finish it? There are enough books in the world already: why do you need to add yours?

The reason I started Ghost Variations is not the same reason I finished it. I can’t count the number of times I nearly gave up, or rewrote bleeding chunks, or chucked them out, or how often issues outside nearly scuppered the whole thing.

Its initial impulse was several-fold. I wanted to try writing a historical novel, as my former ones were mostly contemporary. Besides, it seemed a good idea at the time…

When I first came across the story of Jelly (pronounced “Yély”) d’Arányi and her discovery of the Schumann Violin Concerto in the 1930s, it seemed impossibly far-fetched. A few years ago, researching my third novel, Hungarian Dances, which centred on a musical family from Budapest, I’d got hold of an out-of-print biography of this revered Hungarian violinist and her musician sisters. I found more than I’d expected. Namely, a chapter entitled “The Truth About the Schumann Concerto”. I read it with increasing incredulity.

The Schumann is the least known and most mysterious of German romantic violin concertos. It was the composer’s last orchestral work: soon after its completion he suffered a nervous breakdown, attempted suicide, then spent the last two years of his life in an asylum. After his death, his widow, Clara, decided the concerto betrayed signs of his illness and left it unpublished. Joseph Joachim, the violinist for whom it was written, kept the manuscript; his heirs deposited it in the Prussian State Library, embargoed for 100 years.

Then in 1933 Joachim’s great-niece – Jelly d’Arányi – claimed to have received a message through a Ouija board ostensibly from the spirit of Schumann, asking her to find the concerto and perform it. Her enquiries alerted others to the fact that there was something interesting lurking in that library. Schumann’s daughter was furious and insisted the concerto must never be performed. Nobody could override her directive…except people who cared nothing for niceties. The Nazis’ Department for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, run by Goebbels, found a use for it: having banned music by Jewish composers, including the popular Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, they decided to take the Schumann themselves and launch it as a symbol: a great Aryan concerto by a great German Aryan composer.

Complicating things further, the work’s new publishers sent a photostat to the young American virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin, asking his opinion. He fell in love with it and wanted to give the premiere himself. The unfortunate d’Arányi found herself in a three-way race to perform the work, while Europe was hurtling towards war.

It seemed a good story, but it needed to be more than that to make its telling worthwhile. And I felt that it was indeed more than that. The confluence between the situations of the heroine, her target and her world coalesced into a single key image: a tipping point, poised on the cliff edge, reaching for a last chance of redemption. Jelly d’Arányi, for whom composers including Bartók, Ravel and Vaughan Williams had created masterpieces, could feel her glory days slipping away; the concerto was written when Schumann was descending into madness; and when the work came to light, the world was sliding into fascism and the vortex towards cataclysmic war and the Holocaust.

I started the first draft in 2011. My mother-in-law, who escaped Nazi Germany aged 13 on the Kindertransport and never saw her parents and brother again, asked what I was writing. A historical novel, I told her. She asked when it was set. When I said the 1930s, she laughed. To her, that wasn’t historical at all.

Three years earlier we’d experienced a kind of modern-day 1929: the financial crash of 2008. Structures and certainties were crumbling. Witch-hunts were on the rise. People were frightened and insecure, taking out their alarm on those less powerful than themselves whom they considered had fallen out of line. After half the first draft was done, a period of intense stress rendered me unable to write a word for six months. I’ll spare you the gory details, and of course the outcome could have been worse, but it has caused a long-term health issue.

I kept trying to get back to the book, but it progressed only in fits and starts. I’d set about it without a contract as I didn’t want deadlines or directives, but this meant no advance, nor any certainty of publication. With my immune system apparently AWOL I then lost half of 2014 too, this time to something that turned out to be whooping cough.

Yet to give up, to shove the manuscript into the bottom drawer and forget about it, was unthinkable: you’re not beaten unless you allow yourself to be. I hunkered down and got on with it as best I could.

And one day in summer 2015, tired of the continual hold-ups, I decided to send the draft to Unbound, a new-look publisher that works via crowdfunding. It came highly recommended by several journalist colleagues. Once they agree to take you on, you pitch your project to potential readers. If you reach the crowdfunding target, they publish the book.

A few months later, having all but forgotten about the submission, I received a message saying they would take Ghost Variations. We launched the crowdfunding in January 2016. To my astonishment it made target in 12 days. Maybe the story rang some bells, because it wasn’t only people I knew who were jumping on board.

Soon I was working round the clock to chisel the novel into publishable shape. My editor gently pointed out that I’d paid plenty of attention to the rise of fascism in Germany, but not said much about what was happening in England, where our heroine Jelly d’Arányi lived. Indeed, the sporadic way in which I’d written the book had left a black hole of grand proportions, waiting for Oswald Mosley to fill it.

I looked up 1930s Daily Mail headlines and articles by Lord Rothermere. This was the country in which my parents-in-law had arrived as teenaged Jewish refugees with German names and accents. Because of that press-stirred hysteria about “floods” of such refugees, my mother-in-law’s parents and brother were refused visas, meaning they were trapped in Berlin, and were murdered in a concentration camp.

Meanwhile our television screens were filled with images of boatloads of people from today’s conflict zones sinking and drowning in the Mediterranean while our own western governments slammed the doors shut upon them. In June Britain voted to leave the EU. Nobody absorbed in research on the 1930s could view this as anything but a calamity of historic proportions. Over the Atlantic, the notion of Donald Trump as potential US president was derided, yet I’d been reading that Hitler himself was at first regarded as a joke by many who believed that an unstable, deluded fantasist could never take power.

When I first began Ghost Variations I had no idea it would be as relevant as it has turned out. Its delays were frustrating. But perhaps 2016 was its moment after all, because this year brought us our own tipping point. We’re no longer on the cliff edge: we’ve tipped and we’re falling.

I’ve learned a lot through writing Ghost Variations, so here are my lessons in a nutshell. First, if you want to write about the inconvenient truths of today, sometimes it’s better not to hold up a direct mirror. Instead, refract the light you want to shed. Shine it through a prism of a past parallel, or a sci-fi or fantasy world. Good historical fiction doesn’t only concern the past.

Next, that question publishers and agents always ask – “But what’s it about?” – is slightly misphrased. It means: “What are you really trying to say?” A “good story” isn’t enough. There has to be a pearl in your oyster, something special for the reader to extrapolate. Writing a book takes a lot of work, and the financial rewards are not huge even if you are successful. At some point you might need to reassure yourself you have a good reason for doing it at all. Your clinching point is that reason, so make sure it’s there.

I think – or hope – that Ghost Variations holds a positive message despite the times it portrays. I hope it shows there were, and there will be, people who see through lies, moral corruption and mortal danger and stand by higher principles. We’ve come through times of turmoil before; and despite huge, tragic sacrifices and horrors beyond comprehension, still people keep trying to do the right thing. There will be heroes and heroines, there will be life and there will be love. And maybe there is even a chance that in some unsuspected dimension love can last forever. Maybe that’s why I wrote this book.





Ghost Variations at Unbound: https://unbound.com/books/ghost-variations

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Ghost Variations is out!



The e-book of Ghost Variations has been published.

It's a very weird feeling, since the book has been part of my life for some five years and has seen me through many not-so-liquorice all-sorts of life. If it is about Jelly d'Arányi saving a concerto (sort of), and it saving her (almost), they've also saved my sanity on several occasions. This week may be the start of the book's life as an actual book, but it's also, in some ways, the end of an era.

The crowd-funding was enormous fun - and several subscribers have already told me that they feel part of the process as a result, which is heartening. Unbound have been simply wonderful to work with: the editing excellent, the cover design the best I've ever had and the sense of support and good sense unfailing. My heartfelt thanks to the whole team - and to everyone who signed up to contribute with such enthusiasm. And, of course, to the many individuals who have helped, advised, pointed, talked, been interviewed, read, emailed and corrected my Hungarian along the way.

If you subscribed to it, you should have received an email with the links to your download. Other would-be readers can buy the e-book from Unbound now for £5, or hang on for the paperback which will soon be available for pre-ordering from Amazon (as will the ebook) for general release on 20 Sept.

Meanwhile, do come and celebrate with me, David Le Page and Viv McLean at St Mary's Perivale tonight - no books on sale yet, but a real jamboree of a violin&piano words&music concert. The next ones are on 4 Oct at 22 Mansfield Street, 18 Oct at Leighton House, and 3 November at the Old Sorting Office, Barnes.

Friday, September 02, 2016

A novel approach...

Very grateful to the excellent Andrew Morris at The Devil's Trill blog for doing this e-interview with me about the umms and ahhs of turning history into fiction. It was interesting to try and articulate my thoughts on the process, as I hadn't particularly tried before. The questions we explored include: where do you start? And where do you stop? What's comfortable and what isn't? And how did a Swedish-French supermodel prove that it was time to stop the research?

http://devilstrillblog.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/the-novel-approach-to-history-ghost.html

If you're a subscriber waiting for your copy of Ghost Variations, we're nearly there. Just a teensy bit of last-minute snagging today. It will be with you soon! Everyone else will be able to pre-order the paperback or e-book from online bookstores sometime next week and general release is slated for 20 September.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Please come to St Mary's Perivale on 7 September!

Ghost Variations is nearly here. Just three more days, I believe....and next week my performance partners David Le Page and Viv McLean - an absolute knockout of a violin and piano duo - join me for the first of four concerts we are giving through the autumn based upon 'Ghost Variations'. I narrate, they play the appropriate music and thus we tell the story together. 


The first concert is on Wednesday 7 September at the exquisite 12th-century church of St Mary's, Perivale, tucked away behind the A40. It's an intimate venue with a magical atmosphere and a marvellous concert series. Admission is free and seats unreserved (though you may make a donation at the end). 

The "pilot" for the project took place, to a very warm reception, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre back in March and  we have now extended it a little and added an interval, creating a full-evening recital. Incidentally, there will also be a shorter version, available for coffee concerts in the new year. Every piece has been chosen with forensic care to match the story, its protagonists and the necessary atmosphere.


(Above, Dave plays at the premiere...)

You'll have the chance to hear music written for Jelly d'Arányi - Ravel's Tzigane; Brahms Hungarian Dances arranged by her great-uncle, Joseph Joachim; music she played a great deal, such as the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto; a piece by Frederick Septimus Kelly, whom she had hoped to marry before he was killed at the Somme; 'Hejre Kati' arranged by her teacher, Jeno Hubay; and, of course, plenty of Schumann, including a juxtaposition that makes clear how close the slow movement of the Violin Concerto is to the theme of the Geistervariationen. Songs from the Thirties will welcome the assembling audience, creating the ambience in which the story unfolded (and I'm on the lookout for some vintage clothing...).

More details of the concert and how to get to St Mary's are available at the website: http://www.st-marys-perivale.org.uk/events-2016-09-07.shtml

PLEASE COME ALONG AND JOIN US!

Further performances very soon...watch this space...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sir András Schiff on 'Ghost Variations'

I've received a rather splendid endorsement for Ghost Variations. It's going on the cover.
"Schumann's wonderful violin concerto has a tragic history unlike any other piece of music. In this splendid new novel Jessica Duchen manages to find the fine balance between facts and fiction. Her book reads like a thriller, yet it's also a tribute to great music and musicians." -- Sir András Schiff

(There is still time to pre-order the e-book and get your name listed as a patron, incidentally. Publication due on 1 September.)

Monday, July 11, 2016

GHOST VARIATIONS: WIN A SCHUMANN CD!

My friend and colleague Philippe Graffin, the fabulous French violinist, has just released his new recording of the Schumann Violin Concerto. As you know, this is the work that lies at the heart of my forthcoming novel, Ghost Variations. The CD also features Schumann's Phantasie in D minor for violin and orchestra and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor. Philippe is partnered by the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto, conducted by Tuomas Rousi and the CD is now available from Cobra Records. I've written the programme notes.
Philippe and I have worked together on a number of other projects in the past: among these, he commissioned my first play, A Walk through the End of Time, for his music festival in France, and recorded a CD of Gypsy-inspired works to partner my third novel, Hungarian Dances
Philippe has kindly provided three copies of the CD for me to award as prizes for a very special Ghost Variations competition.
HOW TO ENTER
Within the novel I have embedded a number of references to another work by Schumann: a particular song cycle. To enter the competition, correctly identify the work's title and spot all the references to it and its words in the text, list them, then send them in a PRIVATE MESSAGE to the Ghost Variations Facebook page (not a public post, please, or everyone else will see your answers!): https://www.facebook.com/ghostvariations/
I'll put all the correct entries in a hat and draw out the names of three lucky winners. 
The closing date is 2 January 2017, which gives you four months from the novel's publication date, 1 September 2016, to grab your copy, read it and make notes accordingly.
Happy reading!
And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to pre-order your e-book by pledging for it now at https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations

Friends in America and Europe-proper, Unbound can now take payments in $ and € as well as the plunging £.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Our heroine's birthday



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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Meanwhile in the Shed...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ghost Variations: The Other Violinist


My newest post at the Unbound Shed for Ghost Variations is about another violinist deeply involved in the story of the Schumann Violin Concerto. It's none other than this month's anniversary giant, Yehudi Menuhin. If you have made a pledge to the book, Unbound automatically emails you every post in my Shed, but you can also dip in of your own accord at this link.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ghost Variations: the world premiere

Viv McLean, JD, David Le Page and the HCC's director Eszter Pataki

David Le Page, Viv McLean and I gave the first-ever performance of our new concert, Ghost Variations, based on my forthcoming novel, last night at the Hungarian Cultural Centre in Covent Garden. It's a gorgeous venue - as you'll see from the pics - and we felt very thrilled to be part of their Monday Musical Soirée season. Moreover, a packed house and the huge enthusiasm of the audience proved most encouraging.


The concert traces the story of the great Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Arányi and her rediscovery of the Schumann Violin Concerto, mingling shortened extracts of the novel with some explanatory links and, of course, the music that she used to play. We feel this is a words&music programme with a difference - because without the music, there wouldn't have been any words at all. Dave and Viv played works including the Bartók Romanian Dances, extracts from the Mendelssohn and Schumann violin concertos, Ravel's Tzigane, Hubay's Hejre Kati, Schumann's Violin Sonata in A minor and the theme from the Geistervariationen...

Afterwards: time for some Hungarian wine

Enormous thanks to the HCC for an unforgettable evening! Meanwhile: this concert programme really works, so is now available for booking. Happy to say it is supremely well suited to festivals and music clubs: it's 100 per cent accessible due to its storytelling nature, the words and the music are 100 per cent integrated, and the story has the added benefit of being based on real events.



The novel will be published in the summer. You can still get your name into it as patron if you pre-order it via Unbound.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Keep Calm and...listen to Jelly

I do wonder whence all these amazing recordings on Youtube are popping up. They don't grow on trees and many were never released on LP, let alone CD. This, of Jelly d'Arányi and her sister Adila Fachiri (who have become the main characters of Ghost Variations) with the pianist Ethel Hobday playing the Gigue from Bach's Trio Sonata in C BWV1037, is simply glorious and the most cheering thing I can find on a morning on which everything else seems to be in meltdown, from the BBC's music TV department to ENO to our newspaper to...

oh blast it, here's the Bach.




Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dates for the diary...

It's a busy little patch, this, so here's what's coming up.

• On Saturday afternoon, 20 Feb, Viv and I are performing ALICIA'S GIFT at the Wigmore Hall, 2pm. The concert is an hour long and at 3.30pm I'm chairing a panel discussion about child prodigies, with Murray McLachlan (head of keyboard at Chetham's), Michelle Castelletti (artistic director of the RNCM) and Guy Johnston (cellist par excellence). Tickets are going fast - and you need to book separately for the two events - so do grab 'em now. Here's the link.

• At fairly short notice, thanks to an heroic effort on the part of the Ealing Autummn Festival's devoted artistic director, Gillian Spragg, a performance of my play A Walk through the End of Time is being given in Ealing on 5 March, together with the complete Quartet for the End of Time by Messiaen. It takes place at Christ the Saviour Parish Church, New Broadway, Ealing, London W5 2XA (a few minutes walk from Ealing Broadway tube) and starts at 7pm. The actors Caroline Dooley and David Webb present a rehearsed reading of the play and the Messiaen Quartet features a group of local celebrity musicians from Ealing: Colin Bradbury (clarinet), Richard George (violin), Adrian Bradbury (cello) and Gillian herself on piano. Details here and booking through Eventbrite here.

Ghost Variations is steaming on apace and I am delighted that we'll give the first public presentation about the book, with words and music, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, Covent Garden, on 21 March. Viv (piano) and David Le Page (violin) join me to play music associated with Jelly d'Arányi, including Ravel's Tzigane and music by Bartók, Brahms and...Schumann. I'll be introducing the topic and reading some extracts from the novel. Admission is FREE, but you need to book a place in advance. The plan at the moment is for the book to be released in July. Meanwhile I am desperately trying to get the manuscript brushed up properly for the editor to tackle with red pen in March. http://www.london.balassiintezet.hu/en/events/current-events/983-0321-ghost-variations-by-jessica-duchen/

Back to the desk...


Friday, February 05, 2016

How I didn't quite meet Helen Mirren, and other stories

This is one busy week.

If you missed me and Marin Alsop on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour yesterday, you can listen to it online, here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06z4w7r. We're the very first item on the programme, talking about the bizarre story of the Schumann Violin Concerto, its suppression and its recovery, and Marin's view of the music, and my novel. But with much regret, we didn't meet Helen Mirren in the Green Room!

Meanwhile, we all enjoyed the excellent discussion evening, Music into Words, on Tuesday at Senate House. It proved extremely stimulating and seems to have got everyone's grey matter into a tingle. Simon Brackennorough talked about his site, Corymbus, and why he created it; Mary Nguyen revealed that she attended 64 operas last year, blogging and reviewing for online outlets; I took a fond look back to the days of galley proofs and cowgum, marvelled over the opportunities the internet has brought our way and speculated on the likelihood that writing about music really is like dancing about architecture. Imogen Tilden of The Guardian told us about some of the harsh realities of traditional print journalism.

Audience questions were plentiful and fascinating and prompted revelations from the fact, cited by Simon, that medieval historians are a lot better at social media than the traditional classical world (with the possible exceptions of Stephen Hough, Steven Isserlis and Peter Donohoe); and when asked who we are writing for - who our "internal reader" really is - a temporarily psychoanalytical reaction revealed to me that mine is actually my mum (even though she died 22 years ago next week).

Frances Wilson of The Cross-Eyed Pianist, who chaired the discussion, had everything filmed, so here is my chunk, and you can find Simon's here and more from Mary here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

How Marin is changing the world

A few weeks ago I went to listen to Marin Alsop giving masterclasses for young women conductors and had a terrific interview with her. She is not one to pull her punches on "the women conductors thing". The piece is in the Independent today, ahead of her concerts with the OAE in Basingstoke on Thursday and the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday - the one with the Schumann Violin Concerto.

I'm delighted to say that she and I will be on BBC Radio 4 'Woman's Hour' tomorrow to talk about the story of the Schumann Violin Concerto. Plus I'm now joining the panel for the pre-concert talk at the RFH on Saturday (5.45pm) where we'll be discussing music, mental illness, Schumann, the Concerto and more.

Here's a taster of the article and you can read the rest here.

Marin Alsop's selfie at the Last Night of the Proms
Some conductors who are female are outraged if one raises “the women conductors thing”. Why are we still talking about this? Isn't it time to forget it and just get on with making music? Alsop, though, faces the issue head on – and she is perfectly happy to bring it out into the open. 

“People ask why a course like this is necessary, and I think it's a disingenuous question,” she says. “It's only necessary because of the reality. It's not something I'm making up. I'm just reacting to the landscape.” There is no point, she suggests, trying to deny that there are too few women conductors, or that they face problems different from those experienced by their male colleagues – both in terms of that glass ceiling protecting prestigious posts and in how the details of their artistry are perceived.

“Because I have quite a thick skin, I don't mind being the one out front, trying to elbow my way in,” she adds. “But I think, as that person out front, it's important for me to create a pathway for people coming through. I don't want it to be so hard for the next generations.”

Monday, February 01, 2016

Eight and a half days...

I have a busy week ahead! Please come and join in if you can make it to any of these. One, of course, only involves your kitchen radio.

TUESDAY, 2 FEBRUARY: MUSIC INTO WORDS
Fran Wilson of The Cross-Eyed Pianist has organised a wonderful evening at Senate House, Bloomsbury, in which five speakers - academic Mark Berry (Boulezian), blogger and editor Simon Brackenbury (Corymbus), journalist Mary Nguyen, Imogen Tilden of The Guardian, and I - will be speaking about the agonies and ecstasies and everything in between of writing about music, and doing our best to answer audience questions. Is it really like dancing about architecture? The event is now sold out, but you can still take part by tweeting your questions with the hashtag #musicintowords. More info at the Facebook page here.

THURSDAY 4 FEBRUARY: JD & MARIN ALSOP ON BBC RADIO 4 'WOMAN'S HOUR'
I'm honoured to be joining Marin Alsop in the Woman's Hour studio to talk about Schumann, the Violin Concerto and Jelly d'Arányi. The confluence of GHOST VARIATIONS and the OAE's performance of the concerto on Saturday night seems a perfect excuse and I'm really pleased this is happening. Listen online here.

SATURDAY 6 FEBRUARY: SCHUMANN VIOLIN CONCERTO
It's the Schumann Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall! I'm looking forward to attending this with a group of GHOST VARIATIONS supporters. (You can also hear this programme in Basingstoke on Thursday 4 February.) http://www.oae.co.uk

SUNDAY 7 FEBRUARY: ALICIA'S GIFT AT ST MARY'S, PERIVALE
Viv McLean and I are giving the first of our three February ALICIA'S GIFT performances - 3pm at St Mary's Perivale, my favourite "sacred space" place. The 12th-century church, tucked away behind the A40, is worth a visit in itself, but it's a fabulous venue to enjoy music at intimate quarters, so if you're a west Londoner or you just fancy coming to check it out, please join us. The programme also includes some gorgeous songs from soprano Sarah Gabriel with Viv at the piano. The story of the child prodigy pianist Alicia and her impact upon her family forms the second half of the concert. Admission free, with a collection at the end.

TUESDAY 9 FEBRUARY: ALICIA'S GIFT AT HAMPTON COURT HOUSE
Viv and I are taking ALICIA'S GIFT to Hampton Court House - an extraordinary historical venue across the road from Hampton Court Palace. It's a magnificent mansion that these days is home to an interesting international school whose headmaster, Guy Holloway, has been in the news recently advocating a later start to the school day for teenagers. After the performance we're having a panel discussion about child prodigies, in which Guy will take part along with myself and Hugh Mather, artistic director of St Mary's Perivale, who I'm sure has encountered prodigies aplenty. 7pm arrival for 7.30pm, tickets available on the door.


Speaking of prodigies...I'm mildly disconcerted to discover that the latest on the scene, little Alma Deutscher, has a father who shares a name with that of my Alicia. Besides sharing her own initial. This is pure and mere, if weird, coincidence. She was born in 2005, the year I started writing ALICIA'S GIFT. Alma has been playing her own violin concerto with some big orchestras and has been signed up by Askonas Holt aged 10. Here's what happened when David Lister at the Independent met her last week. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

'Ghost Variations' Schumann tickets up for grabs

Jessica Duchen on crowdfunding Ghost Variations from Jessica Duchen on Vimeo.

If you haven't yet signed up to support Ghost Variations, now's your chance: delighted to say that we're 85% of the way there after only ten days! Just need to swing that last 15% before it can be full steam ahead. There's a nice range of pledge rewards, and a few places remain on the Early Bird Special which involves a trip to hear its central work, the Schumann Violin Concerto, at the OAE's 6 February concert at the Royal Festival Hall with me and fellow supporters. Marin Alsop conducts and the soloist is Patricia Kopatchinskaja. This has to be booked BY THE END OF SUNDAY 31st please.

All links and buttons and info on other goodies are here, on the book's page at Unbound.




Monday, January 18, 2016

Here it is: GHOST VARIATIONS

You may have wondered why I've been posting clips of late Schumann and asking you to have a special listen. Now I can reveal all...

The campaign to launch my new novel, Ghost Variations, goes live TODAY via the groundbreaking 21st-century-style publisher Unbound.


Our heroine: Jelly d'Arányi
1933. A world spiralling towards war. A composer descending into madness. And a devoted woman struggling to keep her faith in art and love against all the odds.

Ghost Variations, inspired by real events, tells the extraordinary tale of how the great violinist Jelly d’Arányi rediscovered the long-suppressed Schumann Violin Concerto with the aid of supposed messages from the spirit world.
The concerto, Schumann’s last orchestral work, was embargoed by the composer’s family for fear that it betrayed his mental disintegration. As rumours of its existence spread from London to Berlin, Jelly embarks on an increasingly complex quest to find the manuscript, upon which the Nazi administration has designs of its own.

Though aided and abetted by a team of larger-than-life personalities – including her sister Adila Fachiri, the pianist Myra Hess and the musicologist Donald Francis Tovey – Jelly finds herself confronting forces that threaten her own state of mind. Saving the concerto comes to mean saving herself.


Clara and Robert Schumann
We have 90 days from now to crowd-fund the book: https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations. If you enjoy my other books, my articles and JDCMB, or if you just like the sound of this one, please come on over and be part of it! This digital e-book publication is worldwide, so it doesn't matter where you are - Sheen or Sydney, San Francisco or Singapore, you'll be able to get your e-copy. 

For a pledge of just £10 you receive the e-book upon its release, are credited as a patron in its pages and gain access to the “shed” (a new blog at Unbound in which I chronicle the book’s creation).

A range of further rewards attend higher contributions.

For example, a special Early Bird deal includes a ticket to join me and fellow patrons to attend the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s performance of the Schumann Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall on 6 February (violinist is Patricia Kopatchinskaja, with Marin Alsop conducting). We’ll have a drink and discussion after the concert. ONLY 9 PLACES AVAILABLE and you need to book by 31 JANUARY. 

You could sign up for an option which gives you a special print of the cover art, access to a playlist I'm creating to illustrate the book, a credit as a SuperPatron and an invitation to the launch party.

Or you could sponsor a character from the cast of real-life musicians: in addition to all the above, you’ll receive an information pack about her/him, compiled and written by me, including recommended reading and listening lists, plus a special credit in the book. Choose from Jelly d’Arányi, Adila Fachiri, Myra Hess, Donald Francis Tovey and Yehudi Menuhin.

To see the full list of pledge levels and associated rewards, please go to: https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations

To learn more about Ghost Variations, please join us for a special evening at London’s Hungarian Cultural Centre on 21 March. I give a short lecture about Jelly d’Arányi (who was, of course, Hungarian) and David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano) perform some of the music associated with her – including Ravel’s Tzigane, music by Bartók and Brahms, and a spot of Schumann. Admission is free, but booking is required: please phone 020 7240 8448 or email bookings@hungary.org.uk.

I look forward very much to bringing you this extraordinary tale and hope that you will be as swept up in it as I have been for the four-or-so years it's taken to write.