Showing posts with label OAE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label OAE. Show all posts

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, January 18, 2016


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: 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:

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

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. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas cracker? OAE strikes Offenbach

Here's a little piece I wrote for the Indy about Offenbach and his long-lost operatic extravaganza Fantasio, which the OAE is performing (its British premiere, btw) on Sunday at the Royal Festival Hall. I can't go because it is Alicia's Gift in Hampstead that night, but I'm pleased to say that the show is being recorded for Opera Rara. The one and only Sarah Connolly sings the title role. Looking forward to hearing it...

The fate of Jacques Offenbach’s Fantasio seems bizarre – if not quite as bizarre as the opera itself. Recently unearthed and published, having not been seen since 1927, it is about to enjoy its British premiere in a concert performance and recording for Opera Rara by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and an all-star cast. The hope is that it may emerge as a neglected masterpiece that can shed new light on its composer. 

Admittedly this Offenbach is off-the-wall. Fantasio, an idealistic young student, loves a princess who is meant to marry a prince. To disrupt her wedding plans he disguises himself as the court jester, who has just died. It’s a peculiar premise, signalling a comic opera with a melancholy slant under the surface; but Offenbach could never escape his own bent for the quirky, the naughty and the magical.
Best known for having written the world’s most famous cancan, the composer is popular for his effervescent operettas – especially La belle Hélène and Orphée aux enfers – yet he dreamed of a career in serious music drama. Only one such work by him is in the repertoire today: Les contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann). For all its darkness it, too, remains as fantastical a piece as has ever graced a stage. 

The British mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, who takes the title role, describes Fantasio as “a convoluted, barmy farce. It’s a bit like The Wizard of Oz,” she adds. “It has that fantasy element to it, with cardboard cut-out characters – almost a Disneyesque feel. It is an ironic piece, though; it’s not to be taken at face value.” She affirms, too, that its nuttiness is worth it for the music: “It’s absolutely beautiful and the orchestration is very delicate. It feels like the sun coming out.” 

The story is based on an 1866 play by Alfred de Musset that had not been much of a success; and the odds were stacked even further against Offenbach’s adaptation when it was first aired at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1872. Offenbach – a German-born composer living and working in France – had been much attacked in the press during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and national sensitivities continued to run high after France’s defeat. If he hoped Fantasio would be a way to fight back, he was disappointed; the theatre curtailed the opening run after only ten performances. Saddened, Offenbach recycled some of its themes in Les contes d’Hoffmann

But if anyone wonders why Offenbach was so devoted to this opera, they would not have to look far. Fantasio is a “bitter clown”, the archetypal comedian weeping behind his pranks. It seems that Offenbach had found therein a character after his own heart.  

Fantasio, Royal Festival Hall, 15 December. Box office: 0844 875 0073

Friday, March 08, 2013

Seven - no, EIGHT - things to do on International Women's Day

1. Go to the eclectic Women of the World Festival at the Southbank. Among musically-oriented treats today are Jessye Norman (yes), speaking at 4.30pm this afternoon; and tonight, the OAE with Marin Alsop and soprano Emma Bell in a delicious programme of Mozart, Beethoven, Weber and Schumann, part of the Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers series.

2. Go to the UK premiere of Written on Skin by composer George Benjamin and librettist Martin Crimp, at the Royal Opera House. It is a contemporary masterpiece and, although it's by two men, the story is very much about the sexual emancipation of a woman in the 13th century. I talked to its director, Katie Mitchell, about that, and the article should hopefully be out tomorrow. (Not going to see it until 18th, but I've heard the recording from Aix and found it absolutely amazing. My chat with George about the music for the ROH website is here.)

3. Spend a little time celebrating the music of women composers over the centuries whose work was discouraged, disguised or suppressed, unless it happened to be cute salon music for the home. And remember the ones who went right on ahead and did their own thing. 

4. Spend a little time remembering the great female performers of the past who knuckled down to work instead of knuckling under.

5. Listen to some music by the increasing raft of gifted, dedicated and proud women composers of today, whether on stage, screen, concert hall or multimedia. A reasonably random example, but one I've much enjoyed, is this mingling of space mission, dance, special effects and music by Errollyn Wallen in Falling.

6. Remember that today's greatest women performers simply cannot be bettered.

7. Reflect that it should not be necessary, in an ideal world, to add extra celebration to the achievements of women - in the classical music world as much as anywhere, and more than some - but with sexism so desperately ingrained in our culture, it is.

8. Remember that International Women's Day is all very well, but next we have to sort out the other 364 days of the year.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

An orchestra - plus dancers - for all four seasons

Hang on, the OAE was meant to do "authenticity", wasn't it? Powdered wigs, prithees and gut strings? So what's all this about choreography for The Four Seasons?...ah. Well, it is authentic. Apparently Vivaldi put stage directions in his manuscript. But however many "normal" performances of the piece we hear, however many historians check the tuning (Venice, btw, went for A=440 from the start), however minute the attention to articulation detail, nobody ever does that.

So the OAE has asked choreographer Henri Oguike and his dance company to provide an interpretation for the said Vivaldi - and the players are involved. Perhaps this is how to be historical and cutting-edge contemporary at the same time. All will be revealed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the OAE's Night Shift series on 7 February and "normal" concert on 8 February. I asked Henri Oguike and the OAE's lead violinist, Kati Debretzeni, how it's going so far...

JD: First, Henri Oguike, what is it like to make an orchestra part of your choreography? What are the special challenges it presents? 

HO: I have always tried to have musicians share the performance space, when funds allow, as this adds an additional texture to the whole theatre experience. Musicians and dancers produce sound and both move, so I believe a more nuanced dialogue exists when all are present to be seen and heard.

Some challenges include staging; not all musicians are happy to be arranged in unconventional ways relative to their fellow players. I completely understand this. But opportunities can be missed in terms of alternative aesthetic not to mention the fact that some musicians can suddenly look and behave differently in these conditions - others even move with the dancers!

Working with OAE, lead by Kati Debretzeni, has thus far been a breath of fresh air. Kati invited me to take journey through the Four Seasons with her in early 2012 and told me stories, played whilst simultaneously explaining structure... it was fascinating to watch her physically express her intentions and this planted some very charged images at the back of my mind, which was a great starting point.

Most recently, musicians and dancers have shared in the creative process (in the studio), and I can't say enough about how amazing that was to observe.

JD: How are you interpreting the Vivaldi, which is such a familiar piece? Do you think you can make us hear it afresh?

HO: I have aimed for a fresh modern emphasis in this interpretation which also includes references to baroque-like postures, poses and decorative details.

As the music is so well known and loved, I hope to enable people to access the music by using the dance as a visualizer for the mode/moods that reside within the architecture of the music - see the music; hear the dance ;-)

JD: Do you think this is a one-off project or might it inspire a new wave of performances along similar lines?

HO: I would love to believe that this opportunity (personally) is a next step towards going deeper and discovering where else the partnership/relationship between music and dance can go.
There is so much more emotionally and intellectually to unravel, but the challenges lie in how to prepare and embroider qualities we all crave subconsciously - don't we?

I pray this is not a one-off, but can't really guess what may follow.
JD: Kati Debretzeni, it's normally difficult enough to play the violin without having to be part of a choreography! How does it feel? 

KD: It feels brilliant - playing the instrument is not an end in itself. How liberating! It does require a different type of concentration, whilst there is the little detail of getting the notes right and trying not to loose contact between string and bow when walking/striding/running around - but multitasking is what women are supposed to be good at (famous last words...).  

JD: What do you feel the dance project adds to our enjoyment of the Vivaldi? Does it change the way you yourself see the music?

KD: My initial idea was to see another dimension, that of movement, added to a programmatic piece I know so well. I was very surprised by how much difference seeing the dancers makes to how I feel about it. Their movements respond very immediately to the sheer emotional ebb and flow of the music, and I did adjust the way I've always played it. Seeing the second movement of 'Spring' not as a shepherd asleep with his faithful dog by his side (as in Vivaldi's own stage directions that are printed in the music) but as an unrequited love-duet between two dancers makes quite a change. 

JD: Do you think there should be more of this kind of thing? Er, next stop, Swan Lake, perhaps?

KD: Some pieces, not all, invite or rather tolerate innovation by being part of a widely known canon of our cultural heritage. I hope the layers of the public's previous experiences with them benefit from a completely different aspect - in this case, movement added to sound. Should Vasko Vasilev be on stage with dancers around him while playing the big Swan Lake solo? Hopefully the next choreographer who thinks he should will not get acid thrown into his face...