Showing posts with label Leonard Bernstein. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leonard Bernstein. Show all posts

Friday, December 21, 2018

WELCOME TO THE JDCMB CHOCOLATE SILVER AWARDS 2018



Deck the halls with chocolate silver, 
Falalalalaaaah, meow me-ow...

If you've been reading JDCMB for a while, you'll know that TODAY'S THE DAY. It's the Winter Solstice, which means it's time for our very own virtual awards ceremony, in which we take a lighthearted look back at the year's peaks and plunges, while Ricki (chocolate silver) and Cosi (silver) present our winners with a special prize purr and let them stroke their luxuriant fur.

Please come in. Welcome to the CyperPoshPlace! 

No need to stand on ceremony here. All are welcome. No tickets are checked, no charges made for the cloakroom, and the CyberBubbly, being virtual, is limitless free to all and won't make you drunk. Just the right degree of pleasantly tipsy, if you so wish.

It's been a...well, I can't remember a year quite like this one. It's tense. Everyone is anxious and exhausted and we still don't know what the heck is going to happen to us all, let alone the music business, in three months' time. We, dear world, are the proud owners of a government that currently seems determined to throw us all over a cliff, below which there are food shortages, medicine shortages, island gridlock, troops on the streets, mass unemployment and a violent economic crash, just to prove that 'Brexit' can be done - when actually it can't. It's like trying to take the vodka out of the martini after it's been shaken and stirred. Good countries do occasionally go mad and learn horrific lessons in the worst possible way. We can't be certain that that's not happening to us now.

Message in a bottle: Britain calling. HELP! Please send chocolate. 

[PING. yesterday I went to Brussels on Eurostar. Stopped here en route home.]




Right. Now that that's out of the way, let's PARTAAY like it's 2006!

Have a drink, enjoy our cybercanapes, meet and greet the great and famous of many countries and all centuries who have come to celebrate with us. Here's Ludwig, with Josephine on his arm - at last. Here's Anna Magdalena, pulling a grumbling Johann Sebastian away from his work. Over there Robert Schumann is giving Steven Isserlis a hug, and Fryderyk Chopin, holding a flat parcel about the size of a mazurka manuscript, is asking if anyone's seen Alan Walker arriving, please, because he has a gift for him. I personally am going up to embrace Gabriel Fauré before we do anything else... merci, mon cher Monsieur Gabriel, et grand bisous! The rainbow glitter balls are spinning, gold bit-lets are dropping from the ceiling and Ricki and Cosi are ensconced upon their silken cushions, ready to present the prizes.

Quiet, please! Thank you... First, let's have a huge round of applause for each and every musician who has touched the hearts of his/her audience this year. You're wonderful. You help make life worth living. We love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your inspirational artistry.

👏👏👏👏👏👏💜💜💜🎶🎶🎶🎵🎹🎻🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉


The first prize, though, goes to Ricki himself.



BEST CAT: RICKI

Because of everything that happened this year, the very best was that Ricki survived. In April he came down with a terrible infection: pyothorax, which turned into sepsis. We had to rush him to an animal hospital near Luton Airport and nobody really thought he was going to live. He was in there for a week and a half and we had twice-daily reports - some hopeful, others less so, several times asking if we wanted to grant permission for him to be put down if in the night he took a terrible turn for the worse. It was agony. Ricki is the sweetest-natured cat in the whole world, he's my personal most-special-cat-ever, and he wasn't even four years old. Against all the odds, by some miracle, he pulled through. He's now bouncing happily around doing megapurrs and chasing his own tail when he's not chasing his sister or mellowing out on the armchair in my study while I work.

NB: One person wasn't too happy about this: Cosi, whose nose promised to be thoroughly out of joint. She was furious when he came home and she no longer had Sole Cat status. This prize has involved some serious trade-offs including copious quantities of fish.


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ICON OF THE YEAR

It's got to be Leonard Bernstein. The year's been bookended by super-Bernstein: Wonderful Town and 'The Age of Anxiety' with Simon Rattle and the LSO back in January was the most fun I've ever had without joining in a conga. Wonderful Town went wonderfully to town. Bravi. And the other weekend I adored hearing Candide live again - one of my big favourites, for all its flaws. 

And what an injection of energy this centenary has been: bursting out all over with glorious tunes, snarky, sparkly lyrics, dazzling drama and the musical world's most enormous heart. Here's Lenny himself, with the incomparable Christa Ludwig and castanets, a long way from Rovko-Gubernya - the superbly cutting celebration of internationalism, from Candide.




SINGER OF THE YEAR


Sarah Connolly at the centre of the Brexit protest
Photo: EFE (from Las Provincias.es)

Step forward, please, Dame Sarah Connolly! You have been a searing firebrand of inspiration to us all, throwing your weight into anti-Brexit campaigning, and offering a Fricka in the Covent Garden Ring cycle whose power and magnetism makes the whole story turn upon her intervention. Thank you for your glorious singing.

Here's a mesmerising aria from Handel's Ariodante.



ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR



Hello and welcome, dear Kathryn Stott! What a privilege it was to be part of your Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville this summer. (OK, it was winter there, but it sure didn't feel like it.) Being up close in an intensely programmed week of musical festivities that run for round about 12 hours every day, one gets to see how things work, and I soon realised there's nothing you can't do. You put together a programme of glorious variety and dazzling diversity, played a phenomenal range of chamber music under extraordinary pressure, kept cheerful and social and even went paddling at the tropical island concert [above]. Saying Brava Bravissima is not enough. I note that Ricki and Cosi are both letting you do their tummy fur, which is very special and not often permitted.

Come on, play us some Fauré. You know you want to. I have him here in person, ready to cheer you on.



INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR


Boris Giltburg
Photo: Sasha Gusov

This award goes to Boris Giltburg, partly because I'm furious to have missed two of his recitals this year for different reasons. There's a glut of glorious piano playing out there are the moment, but only a handful of musicians to whose recordings I find I have to listen flat out on the floor with the volume right up and sod what the neighbours think. (Actually, that's not fair, because we have wonderful neighbours.)

After I commented on this, thinking that it was more characteristic behaviour for heavy metal fans, Boris sent me a tweet saying he's a bit of a metal-head himself and recommending some tracks for me to try. I tried Metallica. I loved it. (Yes, there's a genre specially for people who seek all-out-intense virtuoso musical experiences and have long curly hair.) Step up to the podium, please, Boris!



YOUTHFUL ARTIST OF THE YEAR


Fatma Said
Photo: from BBC website
Just listen to this Brahms song from the incredible young Egyptian soprano Fatma Said, currently one of the BBC New Generation Artists. What more could I say?! Welcome a thousand times, Fatma!




ARTIST OF THE YEAR


Roxanna Panufnik

Step up, my wonderful composer colleague and collaborator-in-chief, Roxanna Panufnik, who has been flying high this year, which contained her half-century celebrations. What a joy it was to see her bring the houses down at the Proms and Symphony Hall, with music that is growing, deepening, daring more and more. (You can hear our next joint effort in Baltimore in March, by the way, under the batons of Marin Alsop and Valentina Peleggi...)

Here's Roxanna's 'Unending Love', from her latest album Celestial Bird, sung by Ex Cathedra




AND ONE STUFFED TURKEY

An orchestral director who was in favour of Brexit, despite running an orchestra that depends on carnet-free, visa-free touring and includes members from some 22 nationalities, most of them European. He may have changed his mind for all I know, but it's a bit bloody late now. For shame. 


PROUDEST MOMENTS

Sharing a stage with Roderick Williams, Siobhan Stagg and the Goldner String Quartet among other wonderful musicians in Australia, for Being Mrs Bach, is something I'll remember all my life with great joy and slight disbelief that it really happened. But it did, and it was great.

Going to Paris to see the manuscript of the Fauré Requiem was also unforgettable - what a joy to explore its marvels together with Bob Chilcott and the BBC Radio 4 team! I came over quite tearful. The result was on 'Tales from the Stave'.

I've been working on more librettos since Silver Birch and am delighted with the new youth opera that Paul Fincham and I are writing. It is scheduled for Garsington on 2 August 2019 and it's an adaptation and updating of Wilde's The Happy Prince – to The Happy Princess. Paul has been working in the City for a few decades, but after winning an award for his first film score, he's ditched the day job to get back to his first vocation. In his Cambridge days he was music director of the Footlights, working with the likes of Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie, and I can promise a few very persistent ear-worms are finding their way into the new piece.

More pieces with Roxanna are also in the pipeline, and so is one with another well-established composer whom I greatly admire, but we can't announce it just yet.

I can say, though, that writing librettos is my favourite thing in the whole world and if I'd realised this 20 years ago I'd just have done that to the exclusion of as much as possible else. It's a task that is creative and collaborative - there's nothing lonely about it. It blends words and music to the ultimate degree. And it culminates in a live musical experience so you see people actually responding and you feel the vibration in the theatre. I love love love love love it.

Last but by no means least, Odette made target in June and the next few months were devoted to getting it ready for publication. It's out now, and flying. The blog tour this past week has produced some reviews that collectively show that the book does what I wanted it to do, and after 26 years, it's wonderful to see people enjoying it.


WEIRDEST MOMENTS

There are always a few, and 2018 was no exception. 

There was the time my husband challenged Norman Lebrecht to a duel after the celebrated Slipped Disc blogger took issue with some of the decisions made during the Radio 4 Women's Hour Power List. Glad to say the cats prevented piss-takes at dawn.

There was the other night. For some reason we thought it would be clever to go to Iceland in the dead of winter to see the Northern Lights. We reckoned without the fact that other sightseeing has to be done in the few scant existing daylight hours, and that late-night excursions looking for the Aurora involve standing around for hours in sub-zero temperatures, and we both got sick. We did see the Northern Lights, though - sort of. A kind of grey misty effect on the horizon, with some sparky, starry things jumping about within it. Here's my photo of it.



Otherwise...the whole year's been a bit weird, and I fear the next will be more so. 

Good luck, everyone, and solidarity. Let's pull together and try to stop this disaster while we still can. And don't forget the chocolate.







Saturday, August 25, 2018

Lenny's Credo



It is Leonard Bernstein's centenary today. Above, the conclusion of his lecture series in 1973, in which as his 'credo' he predicts a new and wonderful musical era of eclecticism rooted in tonality. 45 years on, it seems he was right (though heaven knows we have other problems to contend with now that he probably couldn't foresee). Many of his lectures can be viewed online and I urge you to look them up: he was a musical communicator without compare.

The unanswered question? "I no longer know what the question was," he says, "but I do know the answer. And the answer is: yes."

And here's some music.



Sunday, May 27, 2018

Liza Ferschtman: Remembering Philippe Hirschhorn


Liza Ferschtman
Photo: Marco Borggreve
I had a lovely interview with the Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman the other week (official version available to read in this week's JC, here) - she will be in London to play Bernstein's Serenade at Cadogan Hall with the Brussels Philharmonic on Thursday 31 May. Her recording of it - and the Korngold Violin Concerto - is highly recommended. During our conversation, I learned that her family was close to the absolute legend of a violinist that was Philippe Hirschhorn. Her father was the cellist of the Glinka Quartet until they left Russia in the late 1970s, her mother was a pianist, and she grew up in the Netherlands with fellow emigré Hirschhorn virtually as honorary uncle. 

Hirschhorn, born in the USSR, won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, and later settled in the Netherlands - but his career ended tragically, with his death from a brain tumour aged only 50. His sound burned one up like no other.

There was more to say than I could put in the article, so here are some more of Liza's memories.






"For a while, Philippe played second violin in my father's quartet because he loved playing second - it involved less pressure and beautiful inner voicing. My parents both went to the same famous school in Moscow as he did - the Central Music School, for elementary and high school together, and Philippe came there when he was 13. They met then, in the same class. But he was expelled for misbehaviour after about a year - he was burning piano keys and being a bit of a rowdy kid. But, as later in life, at the same time everyone was a little bit in love with him: there was a very devilish-and-angelic thing about him. 

He left the USSR already in the mid 1970s and my parents were aware of that, so when they emigrated they picked up contact again and became very close friends. The practical situation was also that he from the early 80s used to teach in Utrecht, round the corner from where we lived, so every weekend when he’d teach he’d stay with us. From as long as I can remember, he’d just be there, practically every weekend, so I always played for him. Sometimes he’d arrive on Friday and I’d be home but my parents weren’t, and he’d say 'OK, play me something...' 

"He was not  a particularly pedagogical teacher then - he was still playing a lot himself and he had no idea how to teach children at all. But I distinctly remember I would play something and he wouldn’t necessarily know how to explain something, but he would play it for me on my tiny violin and it would sound incredible! So I'd have that example - the he would give the violin back to me and say 'OK, I’m going to smoke a cigarette now, you can deal with that...'! 


"A little later, in my my mid teens, I would play more regularly and more seriously for him. In the last two years he was unable to play any more himself. They didn’t know what it was for ages. He had neurological failure in his fingers, so they were trying all kinds of physiotherapy, but it was being caused by a brain tumour. Finally they discovered that and operated and he was fine for a short while. Then it came back. 

"But when he started to teach me more seriously, there were some very crucial moments. I remember playing a little Kreisler piece, Tambourin chinois or something, with my mother and there was a modulation where something turns suddenly from minor to major quite suddenly. I remember distinctly that he complimented me - or dissed my mother a little bit! - by saying 'Look, she [Liza] got that colour change much better!' But pointing out to me, he was so sensitive to shifting colour - he was the one who taught me what happens at the end of a note, how to make a diminuendo, how to really change something: this awareness of sound at the end of a note, how things shouldn’t die. It’s almost a vocal thing, actually. Those seem tiny little things, but they became so important to me, about how to produce sound and how to listen. 

"I won a youth competition when I was 14 and there was a video - and then there was a TV programme in which I had to play the same piece. He would watch both videos and point out to me why something worked or didn’t work in one or the other, not so much things you could put your finger on, but something about tension. And it’s important that someone points it out to you when you’re young, because you become much more sensitive to it and aware of it. 

"Still to this day, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have lost too many people and he is still the biggest loss we have had in our family circle. As I said, everyone was always in love with him a little bit. It’s 22 years ago that he died, but he’s still so much in the forefront in my family. I have so many pictures of him in my violin case. I called him my uncle, but he was much more than that." 

Here is Liza playing the Beethoven 'Kreutzer' Sonata with pianist Julien Quentin. Occasionally - very occasionally - I come across a musician who looks a bit like me and plays exactly as I'd have wanted to had I been any remote use as violinist, and I wonder if Liza might be a long-lost soul-sister. Don't miss her Bernstein if you're in London (book here).




Saturday, December 16, 2017

"Will you play this with me when I'm 100?"



Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No.2, 'The Age of Anxiety', isn't so much a symphony as a piano concerto-stroke-tone-poem. Based on WH Auden's poem of the same title, exploring the overnight musings of a group of strangers in a New York bar, it includes a set of vivid variations, a jazzy movement 'The Masque' in which piano and percussion interact with intricate bedazzlement and a final, glorious sunrise in which you can almost see the dawn light glinting off the Empire State Building.

The real puzzle is why this piece is done so infrequently. Glad to say that that is changing tonight, as Krystian Zimerman and Sir Simon Rattle present it in an all-Bernstein concert with the LSO, alongside Wonderful Town.

In case you missed my interview with Zimerman in the December edition of BBC Music Magazine, here's a taster of what he said about this piece and why he's playing it.

....Touring the Brahms Second Concerto [with Leonard Bernstein], Zimerman recalls: “We were having lunch one day and he asked me about his own music. When I told him I had played his Symphony No.2, he was amazed and said, ‘How come I didn’t know?’. I said, ‘You never asked!’” 
 Naturally, numerous performances followed: “Each time was completely different. That was a special feature of his music making: he was always totally honest, so the smallest thing that changed his emotional construction immediately found its way into his interpretations. So there was not really a Bernstein interpretation – it was done ad hoc in the performance, to the extent that it was impossible to rehearse! He could make dramatic changes on stage. That’s something I have never experienced with any other conductor, this degree of courage and daring.” Scary, perhaps? Zimerman smiles: “Maximum adrenaline!”
 Returning to the symphony this year fulfills a promise he made to Bernstein: “He asked me: ‘Will you play this piece with me when I’m 100?’. And that’s why I’m playing it now, because I realised two years ago that he’d be 100. It’s a great piece. It’s so much fun. And it’s so much like him, with all the freshness and flexibility and craziness of his character.”


Last time Zimerman played this piece in London, with Bernstein himself, it was 1986 (see video above). But now an Age of Anxiety is upon us in earnest - whether it's 52, 2017, or anything else of the totally unreasonable and largely unhinged world of today. I'd love to see what Auden and Bernstein would make of things now. 



Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Meet Cecilia Bartoli, opera's Renaissance woman

My interview with Cecilia Bartoli at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival appeared in the i yesterday. They don't put everything online, so here it is, below the picture.


Cecilia Bartoli as Maria 1. © Salzburger Festspiele / Silvia Lelli


It is almost impossible not to love Cecilia Bartoli: the Italian mezzo-soprano is a singer with a magic edge. The voice, like the woman, has immense personality: a technicolour range, a distinctive timbre simultaneously bright and mellow, and a way of expressing emotion so direct that it can melt any heart in one phrase. 

This summer she sings two very different roles: Maria in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Salzburg Festival, and Bellini’s bel canto classic Norma at the Edinburgh Festival, a production originally from Salzburg. The latter, directed by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, has been a triumph internationally, resetting the action in the Second World War. West Side Story, however, drags Salzburg itself into the present day. Bartoli, as artistic director of the city’s long-weekend Whitsun Festival, has brought Mozart’s home town its first taste of this 20th-century classic live on stage. 

Bartoli arrives in a business suit the morning after the show, long hair scraped back: she is in directorial mode, her conversation as lively and warm as her singing. This is a big year for her. She has just turned 50 and, having held the Whitsun Festival post for five years, she has now signed up for another five. 

It is relatively unusual for an opera star to become artistic director of such a festival; even rarer for a female one. Bartoli agrees that it’s still a man’s world. “When they asked me to become artistic director I was astonished,” she says. “My predecessor was Maestro Riccardo Muti. It was always a man, and a conductor. I said to them, ‘Are you sure you want a woman?’ Also I’m younger, a new generation compared to the others.”

In Salzburg, 50 is the new 25. Bartoli laughs aside her big birthday: “I still feel as I did ten years ago,” she says. Born in Rome into a family of singers, she has already enjoyed 30 years on stage, progressing with remarkable consistency since her debut at 19 through a wholesome diet of baroque, classical and bel canto roles. Her recording career, though, is notable for fascinating projects – concept albums, if you like: strong programmes presented with upmarket artistic integrity and eye-catching glamour, transforming music as unlikely as Russian baroque or the repertoire of the 19th-century mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran into significant successes.

West Side Story is her first foray into any form of “crossover” – though it fulfils what she declares is a long-held dream of singing Maria. The production, directed by Philip Wm. McKinley, is now a centrepiece for this year’s summer festival, where Bartoli hopes it will have a somewhat rejuvenating effect.


“When we announced West Side Story for Whitsun, we sold the tickets in one week,” she beams, undaunted by a few iffy reviews. “For summer it is sold out too. There’s a new audience coming to Salzburg for it, and this is what we want! People from musicals will come, and people from opera, and this fusion is in the piece already. 

“What is West Side Story?” she muses. “It’s a musical, but not a musical; it’s an opera, but not an opera. Leonard Bernstein wanted operatic singers for his recording: Tony was sung by José Carreras and Maria by Kiri te Kanawa. The roles need solid singers with solid technique who can sustain the high registers without screaming.” That is especially needed with the energetic Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, flaming away in the pit.

In the production two Marias take the stage: Bartoli sings from the sidelines as the older Maria looking back on her first love when she was 16. Maria 1 sings; Maria 2 does the action and the dancing. On stage throughout, Bartoli has the presence and the emotional all-givingness to pull off the tricky presentation and ensemble work; the bigger challenge, she says, was singing with a microphone. “I never had this experience before,” she admits. “You have to play much more with colour, with nuances and with the words. It’s not a question of projection – it’s more about how to be delicate.” There was no question of not using a mic, she adds: “West Side Story was conceived like this from the beginning; it was always done with amplification.”

In contrast, Bellini’s Norma, which she is bringing to Edinburgh, is a masterpiece of subtle, bel canto writing. It was one of Maria Callas’s signature roles – her searing soprano a very different timbre from Bartoli’s mezzo. Usually Norma is a soprano and Adalgisa, for whom Norma’s lover leaves her, is the mezzo. Dramatically, Bartoli points out, Adalgisa should probably be the younger woman. “But in many castings Adalgisa sounds older than Norma, and in many cases she’s also older in the passport.” 

“This Norma is special because we have a period-instrument orchestra and try to recreate the cast that Bellini had for his premiere,” she explains. Bellini’s first Norma, in 1831, was Giuditta Pasta: “Many of her roles are today considered repertoire for mezzo-soprano,” Bartoli says. “I thought maybe we have to reconsider the role of Norma and try to present what Bellini composed, without any influence from the later 19th century. Bellini is closer to Mozart than to Puccini and his singers’ background would have involved Rossini, Mozart and Handel." 


“I hope we will now start a new era of performing bel canto opera with period instruments. It’s a real dialogue between the stage and the pit. Today often you have an orchestra of 100 people playing full out and you’re alone on stage trying to fight this...”

Bartoli has never had much trouble doing so. Her style makes up in detail and projection for anything she may lack in heft, and she has paced herself so carefully that she has avoided the physical and vocal problems that sometimes beset others. “This is the boss,” she smiles, tapping her voicebox. And looking further into the future, ten years at the helm of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival would qualify her for bigger artistic directorships, should she so wish. “I know how demanding that would be,” she reflects. “Maybe I’ll open a restaurant!”

Cecilia Bartoli sings Norma at the Edinburgh Festival, 5-9 August: http://www.eif.co.uk . West Side Story is at the Salzburg Festival 20-29 August: http://www.salzburgerfestspiele.at




Thursday, November 22, 2012

Provocation on the podium

John Axelrod doesn't mince his words. In my interview with him for the JC today, he shows us part of why he's becoming so controversial in the orchestral world...

Here's the beginning of the Bernstein Symphony No.3 'Kaddish', with Samuel Pisar, which John discusses in the interview. It's all too relevant at the moment - though let's hope the ceasefire holds. The rest of the performance is on Youtube and you can find it by clicking straight through. You'll need to feel strong for this, by the way.