Showing posts with label Philippe Graffin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philippe Graffin. Show all posts

Monday, July 11, 2016


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.
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!):
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

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

An Anglophile violinist celebrates

Philippe Graffin. Photo: Marco Borrgreve

Hooray for Philippe Graffin, the Anglophile French violinist of London. He has been living here for 20 years and is marking this 0anniversary with three concerts on two days. Tonight at Cadogan Hall he gives the world premiere of Peter Fribbins's new Violin Concerto, written especially for him, with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jean-Jacques Kantorow, and throws in Ravel's Tzigane for good measure.

On Friday he joins forces with musical friends at St John's Smith Square for an evening of two performances: first, at 6.30pm (NB time) - chamber music by Debussy, Elgar and David Matthews with a line-up including Raphael Wallfisch, Roger Chase, David Waterman, Alastair Beatson, Marisa Gupta, Emeline Dessi, Chen Halevi and David Matthews himself (more info here). Then at 9.15pm there's the fabulous Enescu Violin Sonata No.3, two premieres of works written for Philippe, and a collaboration with Tango Factory from Buenos Aires to conclude with some headily gorgeous Piazzolla.

We hope he will stay longer. Here's to the next 20 years.

Here is Philippe with pianist Claire Désert in the Valse Triste by Franz von Vecsey - a 'Hungarian Dances' Concert favourite, from the album he made to go with the novel in 2008...

[UPDATE: post amended 18/2/15 to reflect fact that he's been here 20 years, not 25. Moral: never blog after a good lunch.]

Monday, December 22, 2014

Emergency: My favourite festival is faced with closure


Miserable news from Saint-Nazaire, France: the Festival Consonances, which was founded and run by violinist Philippe Graffin for nearly 25 years, is faced with closure. The town's new mayor has pulled its funding.

Opinion seems divided as to why. Hard times everywhere, say some; a new man wanting to make his mark with a new approach, suggest others; and unfortunately rumblings about classical music being "elitist" have been rumoured as well...

Philippe with ensemble & singer Christianne Stotijn

Saint-Nazaire is (or was) a ship-building town on the Loire estuary with a traumatic war history, good food and a beach. It was in a position of some strategic importance during World War II and is still the site of an indestructible concrete submarine base build by the Nazis, which the allies tried to bomb, though they only succeeded in reducing much of the town to rubble. It's not a wealthy place, nor is it full of glitzy five-star hotels or spectacular scenery to attract well-heeled international festival-goers. Consonances was always very much for a local audience, who are not well-served with world-class classical music the rest of the year. (Above: a line-up typically worthy of the Wigmore and beyond, with Philippe's ensemble accompanying the wonderful Christianne Stotijn.)

Nobuko Imai, Philippe Graffin, Henri Dutilleux, in 2007
Over the quarter-century he's been there, Philippe's programming has been so consistently high and the presence of the musicians so friendly and welcome that the audience grew to trust him and would go and hear pretty much whatever he put on, and he has never been one to stint on intriguing programming. I remember seeing families with young children queuing round the block to get in to a three-hour concert of music by Rodion Shchedrin. The Russian composer was there as artist in residence, together with his wife, the great ballerina Maya Plisteskaya. Further compositional luminaries at the festival have included Henri Dutilleux (above, with Nobuko Imai and Philippe).

Part of the submarine base was turned into an arts centre about seven years ago, and this was the location for the premiere of my play A Walk through the End of Time, with the Messiaen Quartet as companion piece. The project was Philippe's idea and he commissioned the play especially for the occasion. The premiere was given in French by the actors Marie-Christine Barrault and Charles Gonzalès.

Consonances festival in the shipyard
The very first time I attended the festival, the Queen Mary II was under construction in the shipyard and Consonances held its final concert in a hangar on the site; vast pieces of mechanical equipment acquired through context the look of a massive iron art installation [right]. A special bus was put on to take people out there from the town centre and many were in place hours in advance to be assured of the best seats.

Here is one very general point that applies not only perhaps in Saint-Nazaire, but everywhere else too. Before anyone declares classical music "elitist" and therefore not "for" a particular sector of society, please remember this: that is just your opinion. And you are simply scratching around for a feeble excuse to hold back the money an organisation needs. And we can see through that. In effect, you are telling your populace that they are not good enough to appreciate good music. How dare you suggest such a thing? It is the most patronising thing you can possibly do. Of course they are. That was the whole point of arts funding: to make performances affordable enough for everybody to attend.

Everyone is "good enough" for the best sounds in the world. You may like these sounds or you may not, but the unforgivable thing is when the powers that be declare that you will never have the chance to find out for yourself.

Please, dear Saint-Nazaire, restore Consonances's existence right now. It's still in time for Christmas.

Here is Philippe's open letter to the town (en français).

Ce  texte a été écrit mardi 16 décembre par Philippe Graffin cofondateur avec Joël Batteux de Consonances et directeur artistique  :
Philippe Graffin in rehearsal in Saint-Nazaire
“Il y a quelques jours, lors d’un concert que je donnais à Londres, une jeune violoniste américaine en se présentant me dit qu’elle allait souvent sur le site internet du festival Consonances pour s’inspirer des programmes pour le festival qu’elle vient de créer à la Nouvelle Orléans.
Si la musique et les concerts sont par essence éphémères, il n’en reste pas moins que nous ne savons pas jusqu’où ils résonnent.
Pour ma part, le soutien et l’écoute croissante du public de Saint-Nazaire font partie intégrante de la réussite et du succès de cet événement, qui revenait chaque début d’automne.
Ce pari du mariage improbable de la musique dite “élitiste”, dans le contexte du “tintamarre contemporain”, selon l’expression de Joël Batteux, a été la marque de Consonances qui affirmait ainsi ses valeurs.
Mais, finalement, que reste-t-il de tous ces sons, de tous ces concerts, de ces espoirs mis dans la musique, de ces milliers d’heures à préparer l’accueil des musiciens, du public, lorsque le festival prend fin?
Il en reste avant tout une expérience inoubliable d’avoir réussi à marier, chaque année pour quelques jours, ce patrimoine de l’humanité que représente la musique dans cette ville, fleuron de la plus haute industrie.
Consonances s’est associée aux différents événements qui ont marqué cette période, par exemple, lors de la construction du Queen Mary 2, ainsi que du drame qui a précédé son lancement.
Au fil de ces années, j’ai eu l’occasion de découvrir une ville merveilleuse et unique, de lier des amitiés fortes et d’inviter une partie du monde musical à prendre le chemin de Saint Nazaire et à la découvrir.
Des images me viennent à l’esprit, des moments forts comme la présence pleine de charme d’Henri Dutilleux à Saint-Nazaire, celle de Rodion Schedrin et Maya Plissetskaya, artistes russe ô combien légendaires, ou celle d’Ivry Gitlis ou Stephen Kovacevich avec sa chaise plus basse.
Pour moi Consonances, au détour d’un concert particulièrement réussi, fut bien le centre du monde, ne fusse-t-il que musical.
Ces “rencontres” ont porté ainsi, bien au-delà de nos frontières, le drapeau de Saint Nazaire.
Elles ont été d’abord exportées dans des salles prestigieuses, Au Wigmore Hall à Londres, pour toute une semaine autour de la musique française, reprise du festival Consonances précédent, ainsi qu’à La Haye, avec l’Orchestre Philharmonique sur le même thème deux ans plus tard, puis nous fûmes invités au festival Présence de Radio France, à Paris, à de nombreuses reprises.
The war memorial, Saint-Nazaire
Consonances c’est, au cours des 24 éditions, à peu près 450 concerts, donnés non seulement dans les salles que vous connaissez mais aussi dans les chantiers, les hangars d’Airbus Industrie, les hospices, les hôpitaux, dans la rue parfois, sous des préaux improbables, des écoles diverses ou dans des quartiers où la musique dite “classique” aurait pu paraître inadéquate. À chaque fois, ce fut organisé et joué comme si il s’agissait du Théâtre des Champs Elysées ou de la Salle Pleyel, avec la plus grande passion et simplicité.
Consonances a reçu plus de 300 artistes venus du monde entier, souvent fidélisés, et comptant parmi les plus recherchés.
C’est aussi plus d’une vingtaine d’oeuvres commandées et publiées à des compositeurs d’origines diverses et de tendances différentes.
Consonances à fait renaître de nombreuses oeuvres oubliées de compositeurs du passé, romantiques ou classiques. Nous avons repensé à maintes reprises le rapport de la musique à la jeunesse en cherchant de nouvelles formules.
Il reste aussi de nombreux enregistrements, traces de ces recherches et moments inoubliables.
Comme en témoigne cette critique du magazine Diapason, pour notre disque Chausson, qui commençait par ces mots : “Merci à la ville de Saint Nazaire…”
Au nom de mes amis musiciens, je tiens à remercier tous les Nazairiens pour nous avoir accueillis généreusement pendant 25 ans dans leur ville. Ce fut un réel port d’attache pour nous tous.
Je souhaite très sincèrement bonne chance à la nouvelle équipe municipale, à mes collègues du conservatoire, au Théâtre, à la Meet ce projet extraordinaire, au Théâtre Athénor, à Christophe Rouxel du théâtre Icare.
Je voudrais dire un grand merci, du fond du coeur, à tous mes amis de l’association Atempo, à commencer par Patrick Perrin, qui, je le sais, a oeuvré pour Consonances sans relâche, ainsi que Claire Dupont.
Consonances s’efface, certes, mais je reste et resterai toujours un ambassadeur de Saint-Nazaire et un fidèle ami”.
Plus d’informations dans  l’Echo de la Presqu’île du 19 décembre 2014

Saint-Nazaire, 44

Saturday, December 13, 2014

GÉRARD DEPARDIEU shows us how to do a kids' concert

The controversial yet perennially great French actor Gérard Depardieu joined forces with Philippe Graffin for a weekend of words and music in Brussels, at the end of November - during the course of which they showed us just how wonderful kids' concerts can be, given half a chance. Here they reach the finale of the Carnival of the Animals.

"Now you are all animals," Depardieu instructs the young audience, going on to say that now they are all good companions, every kind of creature with every other. "Next Sunday," he then adds darkly, "the carnival of humans..."

In the second clip the musicians sound like they're having the time of their lives as the kids clap along with the encore.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Two happy birthdays!

Two musicians I feel very lucky to know are both celebrating birthdays today. Have a listen to celebrate.

First, here is my very special colleague Philippe Graffin, the poetic and creative French violinist, in a track from the album Hungarian Dances, recorded in 2008 and inspired by my novel of the same title.  Claire Désert is the pianist. This is the enchanting Marche miniature viennoise by Fritz Kreisler - OK, not Hungarian at all, but huge fun and gorgeously played. (Onyx)

The second very happy birthday goes to British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, who's turning all of 22 this sunny Tuesday. He has a new album out soon, a delicious mixed programme celebrating dance all the way from Bach to Boogie-Woogie (that marvellous etude by Morton Gould). Tip: make sure that when you get it you download the "deluxe" version so that you also have the bonus tracks. They include possibly the most stunning performance of Liszt's Gnomenreigen that you or anyone else will ever hear in this day and age. Since it's not out yet, here's his Ravel 'Ondine' from Gaspard de la Nuit. (Decca)

Friday, December 06, 2013

In memoriam Mandela: a recording that couldn't have been made without him

We were fortunate to have such a figure as Nelson Mandela in the world at all. Today everyone on social media seems to have found a pertinent quote from him - each one chosen in a way that is extremely personal to the chooser. Each one is an inspiration in itself. (Tomorrow the Indy will publish a special souvenir edition in his memory, btw.)

Instead of a quote, here's an incident.

Ten years ago the violinist Philippe Graffin went to Johannesburg to record the gorgeous violin concerto by Samuel Coleridge Taylor with the Johannesburg Philharmonic. It was an event that could never have existed without Nelson Mandela: a mixed-race South African organisation, performing a work by a composer half British, half African. This is the end of the first movement and the whole of the second movement. (Get the whole recording.) And here - from the first month of JDCMB - is why this means such a lot to me, then and now.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Favourite things... Philippe plays Chausson

It's hot out there. Trying to cool my study down for a hard day's writing with some lovely limpid Chausson: the Concert in D for violin, piano and string quartet, as recorded by Philippe Graffin, Pascal Devoyon and the Chilingirian Quartet (on Hyperion). It's a favourite thing in itself - I am potty about Chausson, yet we hear him in concert only once in the proverbial odd-hued moon - but another favourite thing therein is Philippe's violin tone and his feel for colour. Listen to the way he varies the nuance of the little rising figure that's repeated three times towards the end (around 3:44). Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous.

Monday, September 10, 2012

When music meets story

Ahh, what it is to be a pioneer. A few years ago, Philippe and I bust all our gut strings on the Hungarian Dances project: a novel (mine) about 80 years of cross-currents between Gypsy and classical violin playing, with a CD (his) created specifically, though separately, to match. It was, to the best of our knowledge, the first time that a classical CD had been recorded to partner a contemporary novel (most others were just compilations of pre-existing tracks).

Fortunately, in a few short years, we've had the advent of mass downloads: it's a lot simpler to do this kind of thing now. And it seems we were indeed pioneers. Now they're hitting the shelves thick and fast. I was a tad intrigued when Jodi Picoult (who had the same editor at the same publishing house as I did, btw) put out a CD of country music to accompany her novel Sing You Home. Then there was the business of 50 Shades of Grey and Sperm - oops - Spem in Alium...

But Cecilia Bartoli is going a step further: she has long been the Cleopatra of the concept album and her new disc, Mission, has a new historical mystery novel to be its companion piece, written specially for the purpose, by Donna Leon. Classy. Get a load of this:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hungarian Dances goes to Buxton

Blazing sunshine, teeming crowds in the Pavilion Gardens, a brass band whiling away the afternoon, cupcakes galore and a crowd of delighted festival-goers - Buxton in its festive spirit, a rare and wonderful Buxton, and a very welcoming one. Above, the Hungarian Dances Concert team outside the Pavilion: pianist Margaret Fingerhut, JD and Bradley Creswick, the violin's answer to Bradley Wiggins. Enormous thanks to Stephen Barlow, Glyn Foley, Jeff and all the festival team, the AA for rescuing Bradley from a glitch on the A1, and whoever it was who sorted out the weather - it was truly a day to remember.

If you were there and you need some info or you want a CD or a book (I regret to say I underestimated demand and didn't bring enough), here are the vitalstatistics:

You can order Hungarian Dances on in paperback, hardback, Kindle e-book or large print. You can also get it in Dutch or Hungarian, and I'm promised that the Romanian edition (!) should be out soon.

A CD to accompany the book was specially recorded a few years ago by the brilliant French violin and piano team Philippe Graffin and Claire Desert. It's available on Onyx Classics, on disc or download. Get it here. The music for the book is all credit to Philippe, who not only dreamed up the idea, but found the perfect piece to represent the fictional concerto in the novel (it's the Dohnanyi that opens the programme).

There's much more info on all of this, plus some nice reviews and a few yummy Hungarian recipes at our designated HUNGARIAN DANCES website, here.

And last, but not least, if you want to book us for a Hungarian Dances concert, drop us a line. Yesterday's programme is 75 mins of music and reading with no interval, and there's also a full evening version in two halves. Apart from anything else, it is great fun. Featured works include Dohnanyi's Andante rubato alla zingaresca, Ravel's Tzigane, Vecsey's Valse Triste, Bartok's Romanian Dances, Hubay's Hejre Kati and Monti's Csardas, among others.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's the anniversary of Fauré's death too

Gabriel Fauré died on 4 November 1924.

Here's a little extract from his Piano Quartet in G minor, apparently filmed in Apeldoorn by someone based in Bulgaria. The performers are Philippe Graffin (violin), Asdis Valdimarsdottir (viola), Colin Carr (cello) and Pascal Devoyon (piano). Because listening to Philippe playing Fauré is one of the great joys of life; because turning the pages for Pascal in Messiaen's incredible Visions de l'Amen in St Nazaire was one of the high points of my musical year; and because Gabriel 'The Archangel' Fauré is simply the best; I hope you like it too.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A walk through the end of time...

Back from I'd suspected, my technotwit tendencies (or inadequate laptop) prevented any blogging en route.

My play 'A Walk through the End of Time' was premiered on Saturday as part of the opening night of the Consonances Festival - a privilege indeed, and an astonishing experience.

The Alveole 14 of St Nazaire's former Nazi submarine base eyesore has been renamed LIFE and transformed into a venue for experimental performing arts which turned out to have a startlingly good acoustic; ours was the first show to take place inside it. Actors Marie-Christine Barrault and Charles Gonzales gave their all, director Ilonka van den Bercken from Amsterdam devised some beautiful coups-de-theatre, a young Dutch artist created projected drawings to illustrate the action in real time and the closing performance of the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time by Charles Neidich, Philippe Graffin, Raphael Wallfisch and Claire Desert was unforgettable. And afterwards the mayor of St Nazaire awarded me a medal. :-)

More pics on my permasite. For the moment, above: the American War Memorial on the beach at St Nazaire; the set inside LIFE; and a would-be playwright with Raphael Wallfisch (left) and Philippe Graffin (right).

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sticking up for Edu

Everyone else is busy writing about Elgar now. His birthday isn't until next weekend, but here's conductor Sakari Oramo in The Guardian with a ream of good sense. What Elgar needs, he insists, is foreign champions. Dead right. With the same peculiar nationalist whateveritis that insists you have to be Russian to play Rachmaninov, English musicians have tended to prevail in Elgar - whose fault? Promoters? Record companies? Elgar's perceived 'Englishness'? Sakari says something I've been saying for a while, which is that Elgar's music is not particularly English: his principal influences are Strauss, Schumann and Wagner.

Michael Kennedy takes the Englishness line in a different direction in The Telegraph, but I guess he/they would. He begins with 'Windflower', Alice Stuart Wortley, talking about Elgar coming from the heart and soul of England etc etc.

Oh lordy, and The Times says we're wrong to downplay his love of Empire. That's all he needs... but at least they are offering free downloads (only short ones, mind).

Pay your money and take your choice. Or alternatively have a look at my angle on the matter in my archive.

Tasmin Little is going off to the Far East and Australia next week to tour the Elgar Violin Concerto around Kuala Lumpur, Perth, Adelaide and, appropriately enough, Tasmania (which is what will take over Launceston and Hobart when they hear her play!). Meanwhile I missed Philippe Graffin's performance of the piece in its pre-Kreislerised version in Liverpool with the RLPO and Tod Handley on Thursday night. I had to give about a talk about Schumann and Brahms down the road in Manchester at the same time - this went well, by the way. It was in the Bridgewater Hall, one of my favourite venues, combining good modern design, excellent acoustics and a relatively intimate atmosphere. My fellow Indy journalist Lynne Walker and I discussed the cross-currents between the composers and persuaded the resident CD player to cooperate with illustrations now and then.

I'm still overwhelmed with relief when I walk on to a concert platform and find that I do not have to play a piano.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

'Too Much Mozart'

Too Much Mozart, a short story I've written to accompany a new CD of the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, is now available to read online at my permawebsite: follow the link from the news page. The recording will be released on the Avie label later in the spring and features Philippe Graffin (violin and director), Nobuko Imai (viola) and Het Brabants Orkest; the story will be published in the CD booklet.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

William Wilberforce lives on

Oh, sod it, I've got a new mousemat & keyboard ridge thing, both with a gel support for sore wrists, and if I don't write this up now, I never will. So, let's hear it for Errollyn Wallen (above centre), whose new piece 'Mighty River' nearly brought down William Wilberforce's church on Clapham Common on Saturday night.

The work was commissioned for this very special concert (mentioned on JDCMB last week) commemorating the 200th anniversary of the act of parliament that resulted in the abolition of the slave trade. It opens with a horn solo based on 'Amazing Grace'; as the music progresses, it really is as if you're travelling down a wide, glowing river with a pulse of life entirely its own, observing flashes of detail and beauty and drama that pass by on the rich tapestry all around. The orchestration is luminous, the mood at once expansive and intimate, the influences perhaps more John Adamsy than we'd have expected so far from Errollyn; and the impact was huge. The Philharmonia seems thrilled with it and in a speech later on, their inimitable chief exec David Whelton promised that it'll have plenty more airings, which it should.

And so should the Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto, which Philippe played with immense beauty and conviction. The slow movement was applauded in its own right; as it progressed, I could just feel the buzz in the church while everyone asked each other 'Ever heard this thing before? No, nor me, but why not? It's incredible!'

Last but not least, conductor Martyn Brabbins led the whole audience in a new arrangement of 'Amazing Grace' by supertalented Philharmonia fiddler Julian Milone - and as it went down a treat at the end of the first half, we did it again at the end of the second. I was horrified when I saw it on the programme ('what, they want us to sing, are you kidding?!?!?') but soon found myself swept up in the atmosphere of fervour, celebration and sheer humanity. A marvellous, unforgettable evening.

Holy Trinity is a wonderful venue, without a doubt, and the collaboration of church and art is something that even a confirmed atheist/agnostic like me can applaud and encourage. But this programme should take place next somewhere three times the size - ideally the Royal Festival Hall - and as part of the mainstream season. Coleridge-Taylor (above left), having been half African and an idealistic black activist in his day, was a perfect choice for the evening, but the concerto is so wonderful that it should be part of the mainstream repertoire. Go hear it.

It's appalling to reflect that slavery still affects millions of people all over the world. Join the fight for freedom 1807-2007 here.

UPDATE, 1 MARCH, 10.20pm: Bob Morris writes to alert us to this article in the New Yorker about 'Amazing Grace', a new film about William Wilberforce starring Ioan Gruffud. A thought-provoking piece, recommended reading. Thanks, Bob!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hats off to the Philharmonia

Puzzled as to why the Philharmonia hasn't been shouting about this from the rooftops... here's the link.... Fab reason for concert, a world premiere of a new work by the very cool and humungously talented Errollyn Wallen, a chance to hear Philippe Graffin play the Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto in case you missed it at the 05 Proms, the excellent Martyn Brabbins conducts, and it's FREE. You just have to find your way to Clapham Common. Call the box office to reserve tickets.


Holy Trinity Church, Clapham

Sat 24 Feb 2007, 7:30pm
Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, London

Martyn Brabbins conductor
Philippe Graffin violin

BeethovenOverture, Leonore No. 2
Coleridge-TaylorViolin Concerto
BeethovenSymphony No. 3 Eroica: 3rd Movement Marcia Funebre
WallenMighty River (World Premiere)

On Saturday 24 February, the Philharmonia Orchestra and one of Lambeth’s most historic churches, Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, have teamed up to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in a special commemorative evening.

Tickets are FREE but ticketed. To reserve your seats please call 0800 652 6717.

There will be a retiring collection and proceeds will go to Holy Trinity Church and Anti-Slavery International.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Trio brio

First, here's the feature I wrote about classical music on Youtube for The Independent - out today.

Elated yet again after the trio concert last night. I love living in London: a city where you can hear Jonas Kaufmann on Saturday, the Menuhin-Graffin-Wallfisch Trio on Sunday, the Razumovsky Ensemble on Tuesday (Wigmore again - be there, they're fab), Juan Diego Florez and Natalie Dessay on Thursday, and the LPO in a new work by John McCabe somewhere in between (regret to say that Tom has 'flu and won't be playing in it).

Back to the trio at the Wigmore. A wonderful concert, full of glorious tone, finely gelled musicianship and a beautiful combination of sparkiness, sensuality and intelligence. Philippe, Raphael and Jeremy are all powerfully individual players, but since they've formed themselves into a regular trio, they've been growing together an exciting, creative way, as the best chamber groups ideally should. The hall was full, the atmosphere was terrific and although the Ravel Trio brought the house down, the opportunity to hear Schumann's Trio No.2 in F minor made the evening all the more significant.

It's incredible: I've never heard this thing before. It brims with Clara-themes and Clara-sighs; there's a quote (?) from the song 'Dein Bildnis', a slow movement to die for and a revelatory third movement that lopes along softly in subtle, mysterious fashion, and rhythms in the first movement that I'm convinced Korngold grabbed. How can it be that I've reached the age I am, fortunate enough to be surrounded by classical music at its finest, and I've never heard this piece? Why on earth doesn't it get played more often?!? Philippe, Raphael and Jeremy did it proud.

Fascinating to reflect that these musicians share one big area of common ground other than music: prodigious families. Raphael is the son of the pianist Peter Wallfisch and cellist Anita Lasker (her memoir is required reading); Philippe's father Daniel Graffin is a fascinating artist; and Jeremy's...well! I can't deal with the psychology of this before I've had my third cup of coffee. Probably not even then. All that matters, though, is that they're great musicians and great guys in their own right.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sounds from South Africa

Philippe Graffin is currently in Cape Town coaching the Hout Bay String Project. A report from Jan-Stefan's Kloof Street Blog has some pictures and a brief but touching account of what it's been like. The project's own website has a fuller account of its aims and achievements. Here's an extract:

Our orchestra is a vehicle of social upliftment and change. It allows for fundamental communication between individuals. Our teachers have high standards and give of their best and expect the same of the children. We ask children to attend up to five lessons and rehearsals per week. They practice technical exercises and work at their intonation and interpretation, constantly striving to raise their standard of performance. The children experience adults who are willing to invest time and energy in them. Time and time again we see disruptive and angry children become motivated, disciplined, engaged and joyful individuals. These children then become involved in teaching activities at our Project, sharing their knowledge and encouraging others to progress. Some of our children have come from abused backgrounds or have been involved in violence and crime. Music provides drive, focus, passion and moments of beauty in lives where children are often forced to deal with adult issues like despair and abject poverty.
This is admirable and inspiring indeed: see also the astonishing ongoing activities of Buskaid, founded by Rosemary Nalden in Soweto.

I've recently viewed a DVD of a stunning South African reinterpretation of Carmen, U-Carmen, sung in Xhosa and set in a huge township - a version that transposes and sometimes even strengthens the drama, is wonderfully sung and acted, and proved totally convincing. Go see it

UPDATE, 27 November 11.30pm: Jan-Stefan has posted a report about the concert with Philippe yesterday. Great pics.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Letter from St Nazaire #1

And here it is: my first post from anywhere other than my study. Magic, this WiFi business, once you work it out.

Here we are in St Nazaire, fresh off the train from Paris and preparing for evening no.1. Paris was wet, misty, oppressive - though, of course, beautiful as only Paris can be - but here the sea air manages to be crisp and mellow at the same time. The hotel has been wonderfully refurbished since my last visit 2 years ago and now Tom is practising his Mozart quintet. Avec le mute de practice, just in case some of the other string players are within earshot...and there are a few... We arrived just too late to catch the first concert of the evening - two per day, 6pm and 8.30pm - so acquaintance with the Quince Quartet will have to wait for the moment - but the later concert includes Philippe with his regular trio, Jeremy Menuhin and Raphael Wallfisch, in Beethoven's Op.1 No.1 and to close, the Dohnanyi Piano Quintet, which I haven't heard in decades.

My third visit here - so St Nazaire feels almost a home from home. It doesn't win on the Picturesque French Seaside Town stakes, since the Brits carpet-bombed it in the war trying to get rid of the German submarine base - the great concrete hulking eyesore of which has proved indestructible to this day. But there is atmosphere nevertheless; friendliness, enthusiasm for the festival and a flock of volunteers who support the festival with transport etc.

What I'm not used to, though, is feeling nervous. 'My' concert is on Thursday and with any luck I may meet 'my' actress, Marie-Christine Barrault, in about one hour's time. There's not much I can actually do, since the script is written, has been tweaked to accommodate the songs that Francois wants to sing and has now been translated into fine French too. Will the reality remotely match my mental image of LE CHANT DE L'AMOUR TRIOMPHANT? Or have I perhaps written - er - utter claptrap? Will Philippe actually want to walk from the back of the hall up to the stage, playing the fiddle, or is this unworkable? How are they going to get the string quartet on to the platform without holding up the action too much? Will Ruth like the Viardot song I sent her last week? It's all very scary, but up to a point all I can do is leave it to its own devices now....

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Good news!

Next week, more good news: the St Nazaire Festival, where my new 'literary concert' script 'The Song of Triumphant Love' is being performed for the first time on 21 September - in French. Philippe Graffin, Francois Le Roux and the actress Marie-Christine Barrault are at the heart of it and it's the 'story behind the story behind the Chausson Poeme'. St Nazaire gets a mention, we've discovered, in the immortal Jacques Tati classic 'Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot', in which a very genteel lady gazes along the French coast and remarks, "Is that St Nazaire over there?"

Yes, it is. If I can get the laptop to do WiFi stuff (technotwit-dom permitting), I'll try to report while there. If not, A BIENTOT...