Showing posts with label Music news. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Music news. Show all posts

Sunday, August 19, 2007

When is opera not opera?

When it's comparable to cycling and prostitution, as this article in today's Observer claims, through an interview with the tenor Endrik Wottrich.

Endrik Wottrich, a popular fixture at the annual Bayreuth festival in Germany, has revealed opera singers are turning to drugs and other stimulants to cope with the pressure from the increasing commercial demands on them. 'No one talks about it, but doping has long been the norm in the music world,' he said in an interview with music critic Axel Bruggemann in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 'Soloists are taking betablockers in an attempt to control their angst, some tenors take cortisone to ensure their voices reach a high pitch, and alcohol is standard practice.'

There is more, lots more, in the article, which says that Villazon is suffering from depression, that claques are often extortionists and that greedy promoters may be responsible for wrecking their stars' voices with undue pressure...

Saddest of all is that this is news - most people close to the action have taken this beastly stuff for granted for years. And most dare not talk about it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Vladi scoops the RPS!

Our own utterly glorious Vladimir Jurowski, principal conductor designate of the LPO and music director at Glyndebourne, has been named the Royal Philharmonic Society's Conductor of the Year! (Just in time to do Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane in November :-))). He's opening the Glyndebourne season with MacVerdi's Macbeth next week. Vazhazdarovye, Vlad!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Classical Brits...

This peculiar awards ceremony took place yesterday. I don't think it quite matches up to what I was told a few weeks ago. A nice PR person called me and said that the Classical Brits wanted to go upmarket, that a certain Very Wonderful Tenor was going to be singing on the big day and that if the paper would take something then they'd fly me out to Vienna to interview him. Boss wasn't keen - we've probably had too much VWT recently - so (*sigh*) I didn't go. Now the results are out: guess what? Paul McCartney, Katherine Jenkins and so forth. Fine if you like that sort of thing; I didn't think Sir P's album was as utterly dreadful as some would have us believe. But it's not exactly going upmarket.

A couple of noteworthy notes, though: they gave a lifetime achievement award to Vernon ('Tod') Handley, who deserves a knighthood far more than most British conductors who already have one. And the young violinist Ruth Palmer won a prize, having had the gumption not only to raise enough sponsorship dosh to hire the Philharmonia and make her first recording off her own bat, but to play stupendously well on the disc.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


The Royal Festival Hall is reopening in a grand bonanza on 11 June after a major refit that is supposed to fix its acoustics. They're working flat out to finish the thing on time and are now giving some acoustic test concerts to help them perfect the final stages. On Saturday night, the LPO performed a whole evening of Brahms with Vladimir Jurowski, starring the one and only Vadim Repin in the Violin Concerto.

I was BANNED from attending. No journalists were allowed in.

Not like word isn't rife on the ground - everybody I know seems to have been inside and heard something, even if not that concert, in the past few days. Tom, for once in his life, is too scared to say a word, but elsewhere rumour has it that the stage is much larger than before and that in the rear stalls underneath the balcony you can actually hear the orchestra.

London is now chock-full of journalists trying to source leaks - which might not have been the case if we hadn't been shut out.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A very different kind of festival...

I regret not having discovered, until today, violinist-blogger Simon Hewitt Jones's reports from the Mozart in Palestine festival through the first half of April. It's a moving travelogue full of insight and incident, lavishly illustrated with photos and videos - well worth reading in its entirety if you haven't already. Don't miss the 'Queen of the 1001 Nights' aria...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Speaking of busking

Apparently Nigel Kennedy was heard discussing Tasmin's little excursion with Sean Rafferty on Radio 3's 'In Tune' yesterday and quite fancies the idea of having a go himself, though he used to do it for real as a student in New York. Meanwhile rumour has it that at least two other national newspapers are (or were?) planning to carry out similar stunts.

On a slightly more serious note (no pun intended), the violinist David Juritz, leader of the London Mozart Players, is going to busk his way around the world for four-and-a-half months. He's calling his project 'Round the World and Bach'. He starts in June and plans to play solo Bach through Europe, Asia, Australasia and the Americas, with a stint in his native South Africa. The project will raise money for a new charity, Musequality, which aims to finance community music projects in deprived areas and is administered by the Musicians' Benevolent Fund. Follow his progress, and sponsor him, at

Friday, April 20, 2007

When Tasmin went busking...

I spent part of Tuesday afternoon standing under the Waterloo railway bridge watching Tasmin Little playing Vivaldi and shouting "Give us a copper!" to the passing builders - and (above) performing 'Happy Birthday' for a celebrating child. Yes, the boss asked us to do a London edition of the Washington Post/Josh Bell experience - and it was fascinating to see where the results were similar and where they differed. Although the actual statistics were in the same general ball park, we found the experience anything but relentlessly depressing.

Londoners like music, their children really love it and many people knew they were hearing something special. I think they just didn't want to have to pay for it.

Read all about it in today's Independent, here.

BTW, the coverline is FIDDLER ON THE HOOF. But guess which musical, opening in May, is advertised on the back?!? I'm assured that this is complete coincidence.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What a surprise!

An announcement came today that the new director of the Proms will be Roger Wright, controller of Radio 3. Nicholas Kenyon, who's leaving to head the Barbican, was controller of Radio 3 before he took over the Proms. John Drummond, Proms supermo for years before that, was also controller of Radio 3 first. So we're really, really surprised. I wonder if they'd ever considered anybody else?

Still, gut reaction is that Wright's a good bet. His innovations at Radio 3 have been a willingness to embrace technology, the offering of groundbreaking downloads - they proved too popular for their own good - and occasional saturation bombing with whole weeks devoted to one composer. He has a feel for the big gesture, the grand style and the pushing out of technological boats, all of which go down like hot muffins at the Proms if they're carried off well. Perhaps he'll bring a breath of comparatively fresh air in to the arena.

That is, if he has the time - he's staying on at R3 as well.

John Tusa speaks out

John Tusa, the chief of the Barbican Centre and one of the biggest, most intelligent, heavyweight, tell-it-like-it-is visionaries in British arts administration, has an important article in The Times today about how sick he is of mealy-mouthed government arts policy, the 'meddling bureaucrats' who make the rules, and the idiotic justifications that are constantly demanded for continued support - usually at pathetically low levels - of our world-class cultural institutions.

Here's an extract:

"...I’m sick to death, too, with justifying the arts as if there was something specially problematical about doing so, as if funding the arts is irrational or even unnatural. Thinking about the arts, judging their value, explaining particular trends in the arts — this is an essential part of a human activity that takes itself seriously. What is a waste of time is being required to justify the arts as if millennia of arts activity required justifying anew, as if a failure to justify them could — or should — lead to the end of the activity altogether..."

Read the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, The Guardian the other day ran an article about how 35 per cent of opera chorus singers suffer from 'wet burping'.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

BBC Music Mag CD awards well afloat

Spent a happy spring day yesterday at the BBC Music Magazine CD Awards bash on a boat on the Thames.

What with the bubbly, the excellent food, the passing riverside panoramas and the company of congenial colleagues, the event was altogether friendlier and more informal than certain comparable ceremonies. Moreover it recognised, on the whole, recordings that were highly deserving but often less than obvious choices, and largely from the smaller independent labels rather than what's left of the big hitters.

Here goes:

The Vocal category was also Disc of the Year: Soile Isokoski in Sibelius's Luonnotar and other orchestral songs, with the Helsinki PO conducted by Leif Segerstam (Ondine).

Romanian pianist Luiza Borac's second disc of Enescu's phenomenal piano music (Avie) scooped Instrumental.

A Dvorak disc full of dancing delights from the youthful Czech Smetana Trio (Supraphon) walked away with the Chamber award, despite strong competition.

Vivid, vivacious Vivaldi in the red monk's opera 'Griselda' from French conductor Jean-Christophe Spinozi (Naive).

Orchestral went to Mariss Jansons and the Concertgebouw for a towering Shostakovich 7th (RCO Live).

Choral was more Sibelius, this time Kullervo from the LSO & LS Chorus under Colin Davis.

Premiere recording of the year CD was Juliane Banse in orchestral songs by Charles Koechlin, staggeringly gorgeous (Hanssler).

The Paavel Haas Quartet was Newcomer of the Year for their debut disc of Janacek and their namesake. More bouncing Czechs on Supraphon!

Technical excellence award (for tonmeistering) went to Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony (Schafer, Goerne, Orchestre de Paris/Eschenbach) (Capriccio).

DVD of the year was of course David McVicar's all-singing-all-dancing Bollywoodish 'Giulio Cesare' from Glyndebourne, starring Danielle de Niese et al (Opus Arte).

Among the acceptance speeches, an array of delicious accents and personalities that someone would have had to invent if they didn't exist. The artists arrived from far and wide, and Jean-Christophe Spinozi and Mariss Jansons had been filmed giving their thank-yous from overseas, respectively in lavish and characteristic French sparkle and Russian soul. Luiza Borac, who's Romanian, flew in from Hannover; the Smetana Trio and Paavel Haas Quartet landed from Prague; and I doubt that anyone will forget in a hurry Finnish conductor Leif Segerstam's contribution. After regaling us with a larger-than-his beard evocation of Sibelius's vitality, atmospheres and basic utter genius, the vociferous veteran maestro built up to a glorious climax: "I love this music, life and the world!!!" Isokoski herself arrived as a graceful conclusion to the day, meeting the boat at Victoria Embankment on its return and boarding to deliver her acknowledgements fresh from rehearsal at the Wigmore Hall.

I was on the jury this year and ploughed my way through what I'm told amounted to 187 discs (at times, admittedly, they felt like the Sorcerer's Apprentice's dividing brooms!), all of which had been awarded the top-ranking five stars by one or other of the magazine's critics. We whittled the lot down to three discs in each category, which were then placed before BBC Radio 3 listeners for their vote. In rocked 38,000 voters.

Our discussion sessions naturally produced a good few disagreements, but highly stimulating ones. I don't mind confessing to having shot down one or two clay pigeons; and some of my favourites similarly bit the dust in the talons of my sharp-eared colleauges. Most of my favourite discs of last year weren't even there, not having been accorded five stars by their reviewers, while I certainly wouldn't have given five-star ranking to all of those 187 discs. But that's life, and that's music criticism for you. I also encountered some true revelations, astonishing myself by falling head over heels in love with Andreas Staier's harpsichord playing (harpsichord? moi?!). The end results are more than satisfactory: IMHO, all of the ultimate winners are simply marvellous.

There were the usual jibes during the introductory speeches, of course, at rival magazines and radio stations and the harbingers of doom. After reading Peter Maxwell Davies's speech for the Incorporated Society of Musicians conference, one couldn't help but feel depressed - lots of problems, not exactly a plethora of practical solutions - but the best suggestion yet about how to improve matters came yesterday from the awards' presenter, James Naughtie: 'Just get on with it'.

I'm glad to say the reception was sponsored by Taittinger.

I haven't linked to every one of the award-winning discs above, but further information should soon be available and I'll update this as soon as poss.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

When Josh went busking...

The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten has a fascinating article about what happened when Joshua Bell was persuaded to go busking to see how rush-hour commuters responded. Here's a taster:

"If we can't take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that -- then what else are we missing?"

Read the whole thing here. Thanks to Alex Ross and Justin Davidson for the link.

Meanwhile, Josh has scooped the Avery Fisher Prize and has a new disc out (follow that link to his website for more details).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Philling up the Coliseum

If you fancy going to see Philip Glass's opera about Mahatma Ghandi, Satyagraha, free of charge at the London Coliseum on 5 April, Sky-Arts-sponsored bloggers ArtsWOM have some comps to give their readers. Have a look at their post & email them direct for more details & tix.

More info about the opera & the ENO production here. It's the opera's London stage premiere and the composer's supposed to be there in person. ArtsWOM tells me that their only condition is that anyone taking up the tickets should please talk about the show on their own blogs/outlets/forums.

So, will Glass generally induce a glacial glare, or gleaming gladness? Either way, it should be an event...and I may have to give it a go, too, having (blush) never heard any Glass live in concert, at least not since a CD launch in a converted cavern somewhere in Docklands, back in the days when CDs still had launches like that. Maybe it's time to face the music and reflect...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Can't find my Russian dictionary

But need it for an appropriate expletive in response to this alarming story reported by Matthew Guerrieri yesterday, with a link to the Arizona Daily Star which has the details. It seems that Rachmaninov's great-great grandson is planning to have his famous forefather's works rearranged so that they can be re-copyrighted. This is deeply unsettling.

I'm not convinced that Jane Austen's descendents would have been quick to scribble adverbs all over Pride and Prejudice in order to declare it a new work and pull in even more £££s. And can you imagine a member of the Shakespeare clan rewording for similar purposes - "To exist or to exist not, that is the decision..."

Though I'm as prone as any writer to get stewed up about authors' and composers' rights, a sensible line does need to be drawn, doesn't it? Shades of the Hyperion-Lionel Sawkins case...where will the issue go from here?

Thursday, March 22, 2007


David Hurwitz at Classics Today has succeeded in writing the article I've been trying to write for 20 years about the deeply misguided modern practice of forbidding vibrato in violin playing of certain eras and types. You'll need more than two cups of coffee - it's 115 pages long.

To celebrate, here's George Enescu - one of my personal heroes - playing Corelli (audio only, though from Youtube).

Kiri wins her case

The Indy tells us today that Kiri has won the court case of the flying knickers. The promoter sued her for breach of contract, wanting £820,000 in damages. Turns out she hadn't signed a contract, so she couldn't have breached it. Duh.

"Dame Kiri is obviously a dame, and I mean that with great respect," said the head of the promotion company.

If you can't beat 'em...

... join 'em! A warm welcome, please, for NORMAN LEBRECHT'S brand new blog on Artsjournal, linked to his new book, with the priceless title SLIPPED DISC. Welcome to the blogosphere, Uncle Norman, and we hope you enjoy the roller-coaster you're about to discover!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Good morning

Woke up to find my name and Elgar's splashed all over the business section of today's Indy. Stephen King argues that poor old Edu should never have been on the £20 note at all and represents 'a peculiar celebration of mediocrity'. I got very excited for a second, thinking a world-famous thriller writer was reading my work; but no, this Stephen King is head of economics for HSBC. He says that Elgar would never have got onto a banknote at all if Mozart, Beethoven or Bach had been British. He accuses all British composers of being second-rate, with the exception of Lennon & McCartney.

He's right in that we've had a handful of worthwhile composers, but never anybody to touch the top-notch greats (I still think Elgar's concertos are top-notch, but I take his point). The question is: if Elgar's mediocre but the best we have (King doesn't appear to mention Britten, let alone Orlando Gibbons), why should that be? I've been thinking this over for the last three hours and have a number of ideas on the subject, but after drafting a lengthy post at least five times I reckon they require a book, not a blog, and would upset an awful lot of probably blameless people. Come on, folks: your ideas, please!

By the way, I wouldn't dream of trying to write about economics, though I deeply regret having missed director Adam Curtis's new series The Trap so far.

UPDATE, 5pm: Blimey, guv'nor, my Elgar story has made it to Italy - Operachic found it in Milan's Corriere della Sera... Mille grazie, amica! [sorry, my Italian is hopeless...]

Monday, March 12, 2007

Speaking of new music...

In the light of the Gant/Wordsworth debacle, here's another take on attitudes to new work of debated quality.

In today's Independent, I have an interview with Simon Keenlyside, who is singing Prospero in the revival at Covent Garden of Ades's smash-hit opera The Tempest, which opens tonight. I believe he's one of today's most fascinating baritones, a man with a brain as astute and analytical as any scientist, maybe more so than some.

Some of you may remember that Keenlyside took the leading role in Lorin Maazel's 1984 at Covent Garden a couple of years ago. Now, that opera must have been among the most critically reviled creations to hit the London scene this decade, partly because Maazel was known to be funding its staging himself, partly perhaps because some people knew something that others of us didn't until we heard it. I was willing to give it a chance, but Tom and I were both so disappointed with the music that we voted with our feet at the interval. But the production team and the cast nevertheless gave that opera everything they had. The standards were world-class in every respect. One audience member has since assured me that it was the best evening he'd ever spent in the theatre.

I asked Simon Keenlyside about 1984 in the interview, but in the end decided not to include the topic in this article, since space is limited and of course we were focusing on The Tempest which is a very different kettle of Calibans. His answer was still very interesting. I don't generally include what you could call out-takes of interviews here in blogland, but under the circumstances, I will - because he found countless positive things to draw out of the experience. Here is a slightly edited transcript:

JD: I saw you in 1984 and thought you were magnificent, but I must admit I had some problems with the piece.

SK: My job, if I accept the job, is – what’s that expression? Put up or shut up... If you’re booked to do a job, why would you want to pull the carpet out from under your own feet? If you’re on a stage, you’ve got to commit yourself 100%. And I’m not going to comment on the music, you wouldn’t expect me to of course, but I once read an old soldier saying that he always went to a man’s weaknesses through his strengths, so I’ll go as far as the strengths. I thought it was a good evening in the theatre. Whatever you think about the piece, I found a lot of worth in it and found it very enjoyable to do. Also I had Robert Lepage to deal with, which was an absolute privilege. Maazel is a brilliant man – just to be under his baton is a privilege. I’ve never seen anyone with such control, such ability to run a recipe like that and still have room in his head to talk to you. It’s great... Besides, people pay a lot of money for those tickets, and how can I argue my corner about opera, about music, if I think 'These people have paid a lot of money, they‘re in an uncertain state and we’re not committed to it?' I think most people are committed on stage, even if you didn’t like it. All of us have to take part in productions we can’t bear, we have no control but we’ve still got to give it our all...

UPDATE, 5.55pm: Over at On An Overgrown Path, Pliable casts some extremely interesting light on the background to the Gant/Wordsworth story. It seems that the political leanings and writings of the work's commissioner, R Atkinson frere, may be not irrelevant and will be highly uncomfortable, not to say repugnant, to much of the British arts community. Pliable applauds Wordsworth's decision. He may be right.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Yesterday The Times carried a most extraordinary story. It seems that on 25 February the estimable maestro Barry Wordsworth decided at the last moment to drop a world premiere from a concert with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra. The work, entitled A British Symphony, had been commissioned from the composer Andrew Gant by Rowan Atkinson's businessman brother, Rodney.

Gant is organist, choirmaster and composer at the Chapel Royal, inviting comparison with some of the most distinguished British composers in history - Byrd, Gibbons and Purcell were official organists there. One GF Handel wrote Zadok the Priest while he was in post as official composer to George II.

Wordsworth had decided he 'did not believe' in the piece. But was this unprofessionalism, a middish-life crisis, something vaguely political (the title suggests a patriotism deeply unfashionable on these shores) or real artistic integrity? Unfortunately, we haven't heard the piece, so we can't say.

Can you imagine the works that would never have been performed if their conductors had decided not to believe in them? Tannhauser might never have hit 1860s Paris. Otto Klemperer might have ditched some Korngold (I remember reading he refused to take a bow after conducting Die tote Stadt for the first time. That's his problem.) On the other hand, we might never have had to suffer a single note of...well, don't get me started.

If we don't hear new works, though, we can't assess them - finito. Any artistic 'age' is going to produce mountains of dross and a few really great pieces, and while sometimes it's clear which is which, sometimes also it is not. So it's worth sitting through the occasional piece of c*)p - and conducting it, if that's your job. Who knows, someone somewhere might like it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

what the...

On an Overgrown Path has distressing news that there is to be no more live music on BBC Radio 3 after 7pm except the Proms and the occasional one-off.

They're losing a lot more than that: namely, the plot. And so, consequently, are we.

Meanwhile, Norman Lebrecht suggests that Proms supremo Nick Kenyon is tipped to take over from John Tusa as top dog at the Barbican...