Showing posts with label Odette: A Celebration of Swan Lake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Odette: A Celebration of Swan Lake. Show all posts

Monday, April 29, 2019

5 lessons from three busy days

Whatever we do, we can learn something. In any situation, principles can be extrapolated that are valuable for the future. I've had three Very Busy Days during which I learned certain things I'd love to share with you. On Friday I was adjudicating a Schumann piano competition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire. On Saturday Viv, Fenella and I performed the Odette concert at St Mary's Perivale, and yesterday I went to Market Harborough to do a pre-concert talk about Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time for the Harborough Concerts series. Here are my life lessons about music that resulted.



1. About music competitions. Whether you are trying to compare five different instruments and five different musicians playing pieces from across several centuries, or three pianists playing one composer on the same instrument, someone is always going to say "apples and oranges" and they are right. You are never comparing like with like - unless, of course, everyone plays exactly the same piece, and even then you're not comparing like with like because different players will have different strengths and weaknesses. One is not always, or only, "better" than another. In many ways, the idea of competition is therefore completely impossible to apply to music. But we have competitions and they are a useful way for young musicians to train up for the pressures that attend a musical career. Therefore, perhaps the best thing we can do is try to see them as handy experience for the competitors and a chance for the audience to hear gifted youngsters on the up - rather than a be-all and end-all Olympian contest.

2. About concert venues. Most concert-halls-in-chief are too big and lack atmosphere. It's possible that the single nicest way to experience music is to be up close and personal (though with just enough distance not to be deafened). There is a great deal to be said for an intimate venue with a special atmosphere of its own, packed with local fans and friends, able to give everyone a sociable cuppa or glass of something after the performance and make a really personal and social occasion out of a performance. You only need a massive hall for big orchestral and choral works. For smaller-scale music, something the size of the Wigmore or Kings Place is perfect; and you may find that your local church or historical property with music festival associations is replete with possibility.

3. About technology. The Odette concert was live streamed and afterwards I saw social media posts from people who'd tuned in from Sweden and Italy. I'm finding it as hard to get my head around this capability as I did the first time I set eyes on a miraculous invention called the Fax Machine in 1988. What? You can send documents around the world on a phone line? This has now become 40 years ago only the BBC could broadcast a filmed concert live. Now a 12th-century church behind the A40 can do it at the touch of a few buttons! 

If anyone in Brexit Britain really believes in turning the clock back to 1973, this is just one example of why that little notion is never going to work in 1m years. Because now we can do livestreaming, and you can't switch this all off again just because you want to live in 1973. The rest of the world won't stop to let us indulge that silly fantasy. Twenty-first-century technology is here to stay. This is not 1973; it's 2019. Get real and get over it before it's too late.

4. Of course you don't need to "know about music" in order to enjoy it, but sometimes it helps if you do know something, depending on what the music is. Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time may be a case in point. Yesterday I gave a 20-minute introduction to it, explaining the extraordinary background and circumstances of its composition, and talking through the meanings and some of the workings of each movement. This series, presented in the Market Harborough Methodist Church, has a devoted audience - violinist and artistic director David Le Page and the Harborough Collective have built up a strong following that seems to trust them implicitly and will come along to hear anything they do, which is an ideal in itself and utterly wonderful - so there was a strong turnout for a complex piece by Messiaen on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Afterwards I lost count of the people who came up to say that the talk had made a big difference to their appreciation of the music because now they could contextualise it and knew something of what was going on and why. (The next concert in the series includes Shostakovich, Mahler and Schnittke.)

5. Apropos of this, it now occurs to me that most of us who regularly declare that you don't need to know anything about music in order to enjoy it - and I often have in the past - actually can't be sure this is true, because we usually do know something about it, however little, and we can't know what it is like really to know nothing, because we cannot unlearn what we've learned. This might make us pause and reflect for a moment. My experiences this weekend [and it applies to the Odette concert too, because it's full of stuff about Tchaikovsky and why he wrote so many violin solos in Swan Lake] suggest that audiences like to feel informed and maybe to learn something along the way. [See also: massive success of The Rest is Noise, Southbank Centre 2013.] I'm still convinced that you don't need to know anything about some kinds of music to enjoy it. But is it perhaps possible that if you do become informed, you might enjoy it even more? Unpopular opinion, I know - but give it a whirl.



Monday, April 15, 2019

More shows on 17 and 27 April!




We had a whale of a time at Kings Place, performing the UK premiere of Being Mrs Bach on Saturday afternoon. Left to right: Ben Bevan (baritone), Steven Devine (harpsichord), me, Jonathan Manson (cello and gamba) - what an absolute privilege to work with them! Totally knocked out by the brilliance of Steven's harpsichord playing, which provided the effect of an entire orchestra or two, the apparently effortless beauty of Jonathan's solos and the way he switched between instruments as if simply taking another breath, and the warm, gorgeously tender tone of Ben's baritone, which we understand will be gracing Opera Holland Park this summer.

Onwards... next up is Odette: A Celebration of Swan Lake, which takes wing on Wednesday. The award-winning Fenella Humphreys (violin), also-award-winning Viv McLean (piano) and I will be at Bob Boas's series, Music at Mansfield Street, London W1, on 17 April, and St Mary's Perivale on 27 April. St Mary's will be LIVE STREAMED! If you would like to come along on Wednesday, there are still places available (it clashes with a) the Easter hols and b) most annoyingly, the Proms launch) and you can email boas22m@btinternet.com for further details. If you want to come to St Mary's, just turn up on the night - more details here. And if you want to watch the live stream, it will be here (but is only available at the actual time, not online thereafter.) The concert is an hour and a half without an interval.

More stuff below!

Fenella Humphreys (violin)
Viv McLean (piano)
Jessica Duchen (narrator)


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet score for Swan Lake casts a powerful spell over generation after generation. It has had innumerable reimaginings and retellings, balletic and otherwise. The latest is author and music critic Jessica Duchen's magical-realist novel ODETTE, in which the enchanted swan princess meets 21st-century Britain.

This remarkable narrated concert mingles selected readings from the book with the story behind Tchaikovsky's creation of Swan Lake and its passionate, tragic inspirations. Award-winning, ballet-loving British violinist Fenella Humphreys embraces the great violin solos with which Tchaikovsky embroidered his score, as well as the closely related Violin Concerto; pianist Viv McLean evokes the influence of Chopin and Liszt on Tchaikovsky; and there's plenty of humour, with works by Saint-Saëns and Gershwin. Share the enchantment with this joyous celebration of a beloved ballet, its composer, its fairy tale and what they can mean to us today.

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake – Introduction 

Saint-Saëns: Danse macabre 

Liszt (arr. Achron): Liebestraum No.3 

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake – Odette's Solo 

Gershwin: The Man I Love 

Chopin: Polonaise-Fantaisie 

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake – White Swan Pas de Deux 

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake – Adagio from the Black Swan Pas de Deux 

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major - finale 


Fenella Humphreys (violin) enjoys a busy career combining chamber music and solo work, performing in prestigious venues around the world. Her first concerto recording, of Christopher Wright's Violin Concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra was released in 2012 to great critical acclaim. Her recent Bach to the Future project, a set of six new unaccompanied violin works by eminent composers was a huge success, garnering performances at acclaimed UK venues, and has now been recorded over two CDs for Champs Hill Records. Both have received huge critical acclaim, and the second received the BBC Music Magazine's 2018 Instrumental Award. Her new disc with Nicola Eimer was released in February 2019. Fenella is a passionate chamber musician and is regularly invited by Steven Isserlis to take part in the prestigious Open Chamber Music at the International Musicians' Seminar, Prussia Cove. Concertmaster of the Deutsche Kammerakademie, Fenella also enjoys guest leading and directing various ensembles in Europe. Her teachers have included Sidney Griller CBE, Itzhak Rashkovsky, Ida Bieler and David Takeno at the Purcell School, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the Robert-Schumann-Hochschule in Düsseldorf. She plays a beautiful violin from the circle of Peter Guarneri of Venice, kindly on loan from Jonathan Sparey.

Viv McLean (piano), the winner of the First Prize at the 2002 Maria Canals International Piano Competition in Barcelona , has performed at all the major venues in the UK as well as throughout Europe, Japan , Australia and the USA . He has played concerti with most major UK orchestras, performed chamber music with leading groups such as the Ysaye String Quartet and the Leopold String Trio. Viv studied at the Royal Academy of Music and was the piano winner at the Royal Overseas-League Music Competition and one of three winners of the National Federation of Music Societies' Young Artists Competition, leading to various recitals and concerto appearances throughout Great Britain . Viv has recorded regularly for BBC Radio 3 and recorded for Sony Classical Japan and Naxos , as well as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's own label. Viv lives in Harrow and has been a huge supporter of concerts at both St Mary's Perivale and St Barnabas in recent years.

Jessica Duchen's books have gathered a loyal fan-base and wide acclaim. Odette, published by Unbound in November 2018, is her sixth novel, but has occupied her for over 26 years. Ghost Variations (Unbound, 2016) was Book of the Month in BBC Music Magazine and was John Suchet's Christmas Choice among the Daily Mail's Best Reads of 2016 ("A thrilling read" - John Suchet).   Jessica grew up in London, read music at Cambridge and has devoted much of her career to music journalism, with 12 years as music critic for The Independent. Her work has also appeared in BBC Music Magazine, The Sunday Times and The Guardian, among others. She was the librettist of Silver Birch by composer Roxanna Panufnik, which was commissioned by Garsington Opera and shortlisted for an International Opera Award in 2018, and she has worked frequently with Panufnik on texts for choral works. Her further output includes biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré, her popular classical music blog JDCMB, and the play A Walk through the End of Time , which won the town medal of St Nazaire in France, where its commissioning festival was based. Jessica lives in London with her violinist husband and two cats.