Showing posts with label Proms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Proms. Show all posts

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Proms are upon us

I've written a vaguely grumpy piece for the Independent about why this year's Proms programme feels just that bit meh. I've only done this because I love the Proms and I want them to be purrfect.

Let's just explore the business about the Proms' new music on TV a little more, as a lady from the press office has sent me a lot of information.

The Proms contains no fewer than 30 pieces of music that are receiving world, European, UK or London premieres. This is an admirable count and one would expect them to be proud of it and wish to relay those works to the widest possible audience on TV.

Last year several composers of my acquaintance were utterly shell-shocked to discover that while the Proms in which their music was being done were to be televised, their pieces had been cut from the TV broadcast and moved to a designated area for new music online. At this year's Proms press launch, Edward Blakeman was challenged about this and he offered a robust defence of "curating" Proms for the TV audience (the concept of "curating" is maybe a topic for another time).

Apparently this year 16 pieces of music will be filmed for online only, but just three of those are new works. Apparently I am therefore off the mark to say that "certain pieces of music that are filmed will be viewable online only".

The three new works that will be filmed but not televised are by John Woolrich, Tansy Davies and Luca Francesconi. (So: certain pieces of music that are filmed will be viewable online only.)

The full TV schedule for the Proms is online here.

Here is how new music from the Proms on TV will look:

New music really is an important part of the Proms television offer across BBC Two, BBC Four, CBBC and online this year. New commissions by Gary Carpenter (world premiere of BBC commission Dadaville) and Eleanor Alberga (world premiere of Arise, Athena!) feature in the live First and Last Night TV broadcasts on BBC Two. New music is also broadcast within BBC Four’s weekly curated programmes on Thursday, Friday and Sunday evenings throughout the festival including: a concerto and recital series on Thursday evenings which will devote an episode to the world premiere of HK Gruber’sInto the open… and also feature the world premiere of Hugh Wood’s BBC commission Epithalamium; a series on Friday evenings featuring European premieres of works by Jonathan Newman and Eric Whitacre; and an 8-part symphony series presented by Sir Mark Elder and Katie Derham on Sunday evenings which will devote 5 episodes to 20th century music, 2 episodes to new symphonic works (the first Proms performance of Brett Dean’s Pastoral Symphony and the world premiere of James Macmillan’s BBC commission, Symphony No. 4) and the world premiere of Anna Meredith’s BBC commission Smatter Hauler. The London premiere of Anna Meredith’s Connect It will also be included in the broadcast of the Ten Pieces Prom on CBBC.

So, it looks as if around a third of the new/newish pieces will find their way onto our TV screens in one form or another, which is good news. Thanks, chaps.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

David Pickard to head the Proms

Some very welcome news yesterday from the Proms, which has appointed a new director at long last. And it's not a BBC insider with an axe. It's David Pickard of Glyndebourne - a charismatic, well-liked, forward-thinking, online-aware guy who seems, to many of us, an inspired choice. I've expounded a few thoughts on the task ahead of him in today's Independent.

Here is the Director's Cut, a slightly longer version.

The BBC Proms has named its new director at last: David Pickard, who is currently general director of Glyndebourne. The appointment process has been lengthy – it is 14 months since Roger Wright resigned from the job – but one hopes that the organisation has taken its time in order to find just the right person.

Pickard’s appointment has surprised many in the music world; it was widely expected that a BBC insider would be chosen, possibly one ready to wield an axe. Instead, this decision appears to signal a willingness to be open to the new, the forward-looking and the creative. Pickard has brought all these qualities to Glyndebourne; and that opera house’s continuing success despite the crash years suggests that he is no stranger to helping an institution weather a blast.

Wright’s shoes at the Proms won’t be easy to fill. His determination to think big reaped dividends, bringing to fruition ambitious projects such as a tie-in with the 2012 Olympics and, the following year, a complete Wagner Ring cycle for the composer’s bicentenary year, conducted by Daniel Barenboim and featuring some of the world’s finest Wagnerians singers – each opera accessible to promenaders for a mere £5.

Pickard is bound to face thorny challenges. The BBC licence fee is due for a rethink next year; any changes to the funding model can scarcely help but affect the Proms. At Glyndebourne Pickard has presided over an institution that receives public funding only for education work and touring – the opera festival relies entirely on private money. He will now need to apply the diplomatic skills he has honed during 14 years dealing with sponsors, donors and patrons to fighting the Proms’ corner in the boardrooms of the BBC.

The Proms’ position as “the world’s greatest classical music festival” – as it trumpets itself – will demand maintenance in the programming department and requires a fine balance between the new and risky and the tried and tested. Expectations land on the festival’s shoulders from every direction – some call for more premieres, others for more Mozart; some may demand more BBC tie-ins, while others regard the occasional foray into pop or musicals (each happening about once a season) as the End of the World As We Know It. Pickard must steer a slalom course through all of this.

Then there’s the brave new world online. Almost every year the Proms announces further digital initiatives – this year’s innovation is a Proms App – and Pickard must make sure that they keep pace with the ever-more digitally aware younger audience. Under his direction Glyndebourne was the first UK opera house to stream performances live online for free and to send its productions to cinemas for HD relay. All of this is surely a must for the Proms to consider in the years ahead.

But above all Pickard needs to embrace the scale of vision for the Proms that Wright established. This means not only continuing the mission of bringing world-class classical music to the widest possible audiences. It also means doing so with a flair that can make the finest events an experience to remember for a lifetime.

Meanwhile, there's a very nice job up for grabs in East Sussex. Arts administrators fond of opera, picnics and sheep should form an orderly queue.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Proms Proms Proms

This year's Last Night of the Proms promises to go out on a somewhat surreal note as Danielle de Niese and Jonas Kaufmann lead us all in a SingalongaSoundofMusic. Yes, we get to sing together with Danni and Jonas. And we are instructed to do this wherever we are, whether in the hall or in Birmingham or in the bath.

Moreover, at the press launch t'other day it was confirmed that it is Jonas who gets to sing Rule Britannia and it's all gone wonderfully quiet about him being, like, German. Good to see that he's the World's Greatest Tenor first and only. I hope that this is an indication from the Proms of support for the view that opera is international, music is international, people are international, the Last Night Hall is always full of flags of many, many hues, and fantasy nationalism in the end shall have no dominion.

The programme is up and running now and you can browse it all here. They're having a focus on the piano, big choral works and a heap of Nielsen and Sibelius for the anniversaries, and quite a lot of Mozart. There are 13 BBC commissions among more than 30 new music premieres of one sort or another; Marin Alsop is back to conduct the Last Night; and that evening has another soloist besides the singers, and it is Benjamin Grosvenor, who will play the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto.

One has a slight sensation that everyone is treading water. The Proms as yet have no permanent new director to replace Roger Wright, who is a very, very hard act to follow. Alan Davey has barely got his feet under the desk as controller of Radio 3, Edward Blakeman is doing his best as the 2015 Proms director under difficult circumstances, the entire BBC has become more than a tad risk-averse of late and meanwhile we're awaiting a new government, to say nothing of the likely effects of the licence fee decision, whatever it may be, which is due next year.

So if there's a certain retrenchment into things like Belshazzar's Feast (opening night), The Dream of Gerontius (with Rattle conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, yes, that's Vienna) and yummy Mozart and Beethoven piano concertos, one can't be wholly surprised. As for the complete Prokofiev piano concertos, with the LSO conducted by Gergiev and starring Daniil Trifonov, his teacher Sergei Babayan and the pianist Alexei Volodin, I for one don't particularly want to hear the five Prokofiev concertos on the same night. It's a circus trick and it's music of which a little goes a long way.

Meanwhile, out there it's Groundhog Day as the one pop-focused event grabs all the headlines. This time the presence of an Ibiza club night is giving people high blood pressure and inducing the opinion that the end of the world is upon us. By this time next year, nobody will remember that. Because last year it was the Pet Shop Boys, and it seems nobody remembers that now. Aren't we used to this yet?

I'm more concerned that there are not very many women conductors other than Marin. There are eight female composers among the premieres. You might consider this a relatively good representation. Then again, you might not.

My top Proms? Sir András Schiff playing the Bach Goldberg Variations late at night; John Eliot Gardiner conducting Monteverdi's L'Orfeo; Yuja Wang playing Bartok's Piano Concerto No.2; Nicky Benedetti playing the Korngold Violin Concerto (only I'm away then); Bryn Terfel in Grange Park Opera's Fiddler on the Roof; and a lunchtime Prom in which pianist Christian Blackshaw will perform the Mozart Quintet for piano and wind instruments with a fine ensemble of colleagues. And probably that Last Night...

Note: I've written another, rather stringsy piece on the programme over at Amati. Thing is, it's not a very stringsy season.

[UPDATE: Earlier I said there isn't a free Prom this time. A kind reader points out that in fact there is, so I've corrected the post. It's Carmina Burana. I think I must have blanked that out. It's my least favourite music ever.]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wedges - of several kinds

The thin end of one wedge is webcasting. I was supposed to be in Verbier now. Long boring story about storms, leaks and missed planes. I was planning to hear a tetralogy of my piano gods, and more, but am running after builders instead. Gutted to be missing Ferenc Rados and Grigory Sokolov - the latter still the man I regard as the greatest living pianist, and tragically one we will not hear in the UK any time soon (I understand he refuses to go through the visa rigmaroles that we require). But the good news - if wedgy - is that the concerts these past two nights featuring respectively Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich are available to watch online at Medici TV and tonight's recital by Daniil Trifonov will be webcast live as well. Starts at 6pm. So that's a bit of a comfort. Sokolov, as far as I know, is not due for the webcast line-up.

To cheer myself up for lack of mountains, I took myself off to the Wigmore Hall instead last night to hear the adorable Simon Trpceski in recital. One shouldn't complain about missing a festival elsewhere when there is so much great music to hear right here on the doorstep, and Simon didn't disappoint. His recital of Brahms, Ravel and Poulenc was a marvellous treat and I ended up reviewing it for The Arts Desk, so here is the link.

Last but by no means least, it has come to my attention that some very fine new music at the Proms is being sequestered away on its own website - "an exclusive iPlayer New Music Collection" - rather than enjoying a TV broadcast with proud trumpeting to the nation as a whole, even if the rest of those programmes will indeed be televised. I made an enquiry and received this back:
As you know we're constantly evolving the way we cover the Proms - from the introduction of the newly themed strands on TV through to increased online and Iplayer collections in an ever multi-platform world.  This year we are exploring new ways of curating and presenting the filmed performances across the season with  more Proms than ever before available online, both audio and visual.
 As part of this, and new for 2014,  we are creating an exclusive iPlayer New Music Collection, celebrating all the new music filmed across Proms 2014, bringing it together in one place for our audience with context provided by special filmed introductions by Tom Service. We will be showing the performance of Roxanna Panufnik's Three Paths To Peace in this collection and Jonathan Dove's Gaia piece in this collection. Both pieces will be available on iPlayer as soon as possible after the performance (we hope within a few days) - and will be available to view for longer for the first time, for a special 30 days, giving them access to a wider audience. We will be pointing our audience towards the New Music Collection from all our other platforms, including Proms Extra as soon as they are live...the Proms Extra iPlayer Collection,  and our TV broadcasts.

So apparently it is A GOOD THING that we CAN see good, accessible, listenable, beautiful new music AT ALL, isn't it. Wedge, end, thin.

Shouldn't the BBC be championing British composers to the rooftops? Did someone, somewhere, perhaps consider that the poor old wider public is too stupid to appreciate contemporary music on TV, however enjoyable and downright pertinent it is? Hiding it from wider view sends out an oddly mixed message from an institution that prides itself on supporting today's composers with plentiful commissions. I would put up a link to that "exclusive iPlayer New Music Collection" - only I can't find it.

Roxanna Panufnik's piece about peace opens tonight's Prom. It is the first time her music has been played at the Proms and it's long overdue. Listen live on Radio 3.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Little at Large: why our busking day changed Tasmin's life

Over at Independent Towers there's a certain pride in this piece. A few years back, when Josh Bell did his famous busking-in-the-Washington-CD-subway experiment, the arts ed called me and said how about we ask Tasmin Little to have a try.

We did; she was, by some miracle, in town and free; and I went along with a notebook and a photographer to document the fun. But what came out was a revelation. It resulted in a light-bulb moment for Tasmin that literally changed her life.

As Tasmin approaches her 20th appearance at the Proms - she is playing the Moeran Violin Concerto on 25 July - I asked her to tell all. here's the full story in today's Independent.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

A landmark year for the Proms?

Here is my preview, from the Radar section of today's Independent, about this year's Proms.  Enjoy...

On 18 July the Royal Albert Hall opens its doors for the annual BBC Promenade Concerts, know simply as The Proms: two months of world-class classical music at which standing places cost just £5 a pop. There is nothing else quite like it – either here or abroad. Once you’ve experienced the queues of ‘promenaders’ snaking down Prince Consort Road with sandwich boxes and comfy shoes, sampled the relaxed but excited atmosphere inside the hall and witnessed evenings as thrilling as last year’s Ring cycle – when thousands listened rapt to Wagner’s gigantic tetralogy at the feet of the conductor Daniel Barenboim – chances are you’ll be hooked too.

The 2014 Proms nevertheless marks the end of an era: Roger Wright, director of the Proms for seven years and controller of BBC Radio 3 since 1998, now ends his tenure as both. His successors – the role is to be split – have yet to be appointed.

The news of Wright’s departure broke in a startling way, with an announcement from Aldeburgh Music (the umbrella organisation behind the Aldeburgh Festival and more) that he is to become their new Chief Executive. The very day after this was revealed, there came a BBC announcement that Bob Shennan, controller of Radio 2, is being appointed as overall director of music right across the BBC. The timing struck many as intriguing. Restructuring is inevitable at the BBC in the current climate, but no one with as fine a track record as Wright’s is likely to be too happy if someone else is brought in over his or her head. Meanwhile, whoever takes over Wright’s roles will undoubtedly have to implement funding cuts and deal with whatever may emerge from the new licence fee settlement in 2016.

Wright bids farewell to the Proms after the opening night. “Elgar’s The Kingdom will be the last music I hear as Proms director,” he says. “I’m sad to be leaving the team, of course, but to have had the fun of working with them, and knowing the Proms are in such safe hands, is terrific.”

He does not mince his words, though, over uncertainties in the future: “The Proms has been singled out for reinvestment, so I think there’s a real understanding of their importance, right at the top of the organisation,” he says, “but the biggest question is the future of the BBC funding overall. We don’t know what the licence fee settlement is going to be in 2016-17 onwards. You can’t separate out the future of anything to do with the BBC from those decisions. That’s a question that’s going to arrive very quickly indeed.”

Music lovers not only in Britain but around the world are hoping against hope that that recognition of the Proms’ significance will survive such changes. For generations of music-lovers summer without the Proms has been as unthinkable as Halloween without pumpkins or Christmas without carols. This year marks the series’ 120th anniversary; it has been run by the BBC since 1927 and resident at the Royal Albert Hall since 1941. And it is not as if the BBC has not made a huge effort to extend its reach. Indeed, never before has the Proms been quite as accessible as it is now.

If you can’t get there in person, not only is every concert broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, but also there are plentiful TV broadcasts and a plethora of online facilities to let you enjoy the performances by a dizzying range of musicians: from the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle to the Pet Shop Boys. The latter are creating a new work for orchestra and electronics that pays tribute to Alan Turing, the Bletchley Park computer pioneer who took his own life 60 years ago after a 1952 conviction for homosexual activity destroyed both his personal life and his career. A posthumous royal pardon was granted to him last December. 

There is much to live up at the Proms – especially after the last two years. In 2012 it was absorbed into the Cultural Olympiad and featured some extraordinary moments – whether the arrival of the British athletes at the festivities of the Last Night, or Barenboim walking into the Olympic opening ceremony as one of eight great humanitarian figures carrying the Olympic flag, straight from conducting a Prom.

Last year’s Wagner bicentenary season included concert performances of no fewer than seven of his operas, featuring starry casts that could turn the priciest festivals green with envy. And the Last Night proved a landmark, headed for the first time by a woman conductor, Marin Alsop, her podium festooned with pink balloons. That occasion was double-edged since, as Alsop pointed out in her speech, it was hard to believe such “firsts” were still waiting to happen.

Staging these festivals involved both vision and chutzpah, and paid off handsomely in terms of audience figures: last year’s average attendance was 93% and 57 of 75 main concerts sold out completely. But without quite such special events to raise the roof, can this year’s programme match that success?

The agenda contains just about enough celebration to keep the mood upbeat. The 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth is marked with three of the composer’s finest operas: Salome, featuring the Swedish star soprano Nina Stemme (last year’s Ring cycle Brünnhilde), followed 24 hours later by Elektra, in which Strauss creates the ultimate in hair-raising musical Expressionism. Earlier in the season, Glyndebourne brings in the cast and crew of its controversial production of Der Rosenkavalier for a semi-staged concert performance.

The World Cup has not necessarily sparked this year’s focus on international orchestras from sometimes surprising places (and will probably have been quietly forgotten by opening night). Still, a record number of them are converging on London, many demonstrating the rapidly burgeoning interest in western classical music in developing countries. Therefore alongside heavyweight visitors such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, a number of ensembles are making their first-ever visits to the Proms, among them orchestras from Turkey, Iceland, China, South Korea, Lapland, Australia and Qatar.

The latter is a case in point. The Qatar Philharmonic has existed for only seven years and its music director is Han-Na Chang, the former cello prodigy and protegée of Mstislav Rostropovich, who has reinvented herself as a force to be reckoned with on the podium. The orchestra, Chang says, includes musicians of some 30 different nationalities; and its mission statement includes assisting Qatar “on its journey from carbon economy to knowledge economy by unlocking human potential”. Their Prom will include a work by the Iranian-born composer Behzad Ranjbaran. “The musicians are incredibly excited – it’s such a privilege for us to be making our Proms debut,” Chang says.

Ironically, she remarks that “the women conductors issue” was scarcely mentioned when she took up her post; in a country where the orchestral field is so new, western traditional notions of the dominant male maestro have not had a chance to become ingrained. She is one of four women conductors at this year’s Proms, along with Sian Edwards, Rebecca Miller and a return visit from Alsop – not a lot, but a gentle shift in the right direction.

Women are relatively well represented among this year’s composers, notably with a Proms debut for Roxanna Panufnik, a new BBC commission by Judith Weir, London premieres for Sally Beamish and Helen Grime and works by Unsuk Chin and Dobrinka Tabakova. Not least, a late-night Prom is devoted to an appearance by the singer-songwriter Laura Mvula, who has crossed all boundaries with apparent ease. Parity for women composers and conductors remains a long way off, but these are noteworthy steps nonetheless.

Commemoration rather than celebration is the order of the day where the music of World War I is concerned. The tragedy of war has inspired numerous musical masterpieces and the Proms, besides scheduling some of the most famous, such as Britten’s War Requiem, is also airing rare gems such as the Elegy for Strings In Memoriam Rupert Brooke by the Australian composer FS Kelly, who died at the Battle of the Somme, and songs by the much-loved poet and composer Ivor Gurney. One Prom is themed around War Horse, with a visit from the National Theatre’s Handspring Puppets.

British music has long been an enthusiasm of Wright’s and beyond the works associated with World War I there is plenty of it to enjoy, including the Violin Concerto by E J Moeran, a surprise recent hit in the classical charts. The range of UK composers extends from Elgar and Walton to the gritty modernism of Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, both turning 80 this year.

It has not escaped the notice of the Twitterverse, though, that what the BBC Proms seems to celebrate above all this year is – well, the BBC. Quite a few events draw upon the broadcaster’s wider brand, including a Sports Prom and a CBeebies Prom offering the under-fives early experience in concert-going. Traditionalists have, predictably, been snorting about such things – to say nothing of the bile that still greets the occasional presence of pop musicians in the country’s premier classical festival.

Contrary to those critical of apparent self-aggrandisement in the BBC brand, Wright says that he sees the trend as “hugely positive” in terms of reaching new audiences. “After all,” he points out, “it’s the BBC licence fee payer who pays for the Proms. The range of the audience becomes greater and greater the more we can play in to the Proms reaching different audiences. The Sports Prom is a great example: for a Prom to be live on R5 Live for the first time is a really big deal, as is the late night Battle of the Bands – looking back to the Swing era of the 1930s-40s – which is on Radio 2. It’s always been the agenda to reach new audiences for classical music. That’s absolutely what the Proms do.”

For the moment, it’s time to put any anxiety about the future aside and get ready to enjoy the music. All you need to enjoy the Proms is open ears, an open mind and comfortable shoes.

BBC Promenade Concerts, Royal Albert Hall, opening 18 July. Box office: 0845 401 5040


Prom 1, 18 July, 7.30pm: Elgar, The Kingdom
BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, BBC National Chorus of Wales, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Erin Wall (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Staples (tenor), Christopher Purves (bass-baritone).
Elgar’s biblical oratorio gets the Proms season off to a celestial start in the grand manner.

Prom 4, 20 July, 7.30pm: World Orchestra for Peace, Valery Gergiev (conductor). This designated UNESCO Concert for Peace involves a Proms debut for British composer Roxanna Panufnik, music from Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten and Mahler’s Symphony No.6.

Prom 8, 23 July, 10.15pm: Pet Shop Boys, BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra, Dominic Wheeler (conductor). Featuring world premiere of A Man for the Future, a tribute to Alan Turing by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe.

Prom 10, 25 July, 7.30pm: BBC Philharmonic, Juanjo Mena (conductor), Tasmin Little (violin). A British programme featuring Walton’s Variations on a Theme by Hindemith, Moeran’s Violin Concerto, the London premiere of David Horne’s Daedalus in Flight and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Prom 16, 29 July, 6.30pm: Borustan Istanbul Philharmonic, Sascha Goetzel (conductor), Daniel Hope (violin). Turkey’s leading orchestra in its Proms debut, including the world premiere of the new Violin Concerto by Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of Sergei).

Prom 21, 2 August, 7.30pm: Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, featuring the John Wilson Orchestra conducted by John Wilson. The fizz of this classic musical should build on the success of musicals at the Proms in past years.

Prom 33, 10 August, 7.45pm: National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Edward Gardner (conductor), Louis Schwizgebel (piano). The UK’s finest youth orchestra in a dazzling programme of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Birtwistle and Lutoslawski, with the dynamic Ed Gardner on the podium and rising star pianist Louis Schwizgebel as soloist.

Prom 42, 17 August, 7.30pm: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Manze (conductor), Allan Clayton (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone). A World War I tribute programme featuring music by Rudi Stephan, Butterworth, Vaughan Williams and the searingly beautiful Elegy for strings, in memoriam Rupert Brooke by FS Kelly.

Prom 46, 20 August, 7.30pm: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim (conductor). Barenboim returns to the Proms with his famous orchestra that brings together Arabic and Israeli musicians. Along with music by Mozart and Ravel they perform the UK premieres of works by Kareem Roustom and Ayal Adler.

Proms 52 and 53, 25 (7.30pm) and 26 August (7pm): Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer (conductor). The sleek, sophisticated and fresh-thinking Budapest ensemble return for two Proms: a mixed programme including Schubert, Dvorák and Kodály, and the next night an all-Brahms concert.

Proms 58 and 59, 30 and 31 August (7.30pm): Strauss opera weekend - Salome and Elektra. Nina Stemme stars as Salome, with the Deutsche Oper Berlin and conductor Donald Runnicles. For Elektra the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Semyon Bychkov are joined by a cast including Christine Goerke in the title role, Johan Reuter and Dame Felicity Palmer.

Proms Chamber Music 7, 1 September, 1pm, Cadogan Hall: Benjamin Grosvenor (piano). The gifted young British pianist performs music by Chopin, Mompou, Ravel and Gounod/Liszt, and the world premiere of Judith Weir’s new BBC commission Day Break Shadows Flee.

Prom 66, 6 September, 7pm: Berliner Philharmoniker, Berlin Radio Choir, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor), Mark Padmore (tenor), Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Camilla Tilling (soprano), Magdalena Kozena (mezzo-soprano), Topi Lehtipuu (tenor), Eric Owens (bass). An all-star performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

Prom 67, 7 September, 3.30pm. Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Han-Na Chang (conductor), Denis Matsuev (piano). The phenomenally gifted Han-Na Chang, cellist turned conductor, is at the helm for this young orchestra’s Proms debut, featuring music by Behzad Ranjbaran, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky.

Prom 74, 11 September, 10.15pm. Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright joins forces with the Britten Sinfonia and conductor Johannes Debus for a late-night Prom of his own brand of ‘baroque pop’

Saturday, July 06, 2013

On your feet! It's Proms time

The sun is shining, Andy Murray's in the final and next week it's time for the Proms to begin. This season is stuffed full of Wagner operas and I have just one word to start you off: footwear. My guide to how to make the most of the Proms is in today's Independent, along with my personal pick of ten unmissable events. And yes, there will be Korngold.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Alma

Alma Schindler/Mahler/Gropius/Werfel was born on this day in 1879. As her first husband did not exactly encourage her compositional activities, her beautiful songs have never been as well known as they deserve to be. Here is Thomas Hampson singing the top-notch Die stille Stadt, on a poem by Richard Dehmel.

Meanwhile, don't miss Gustav's Symphony No.6 at the Proms on Sunday: the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is here, with Riccardo Chailly at their helm. Book here.

For those requiring a little bit of do-lighten-up-there-Gus, here is another tribute to Alma - from Tom Lehrer.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Barenboim - from podium to stadium

Here's my review for The Independent of the last night of Barenboim & the WEDO's Beethoven cycle, head to head with the Olympic opening ceremony. And eagle-eyed viewers still awake at about 12.45am may have noticed the maestro carrying the Olympic flag into the stadium in a posse of eight great humanitarian figures.

It was a difficult night to award a star rating - but eventually I felt that the sense of occasion and the power of the music-making deserved this 5-er. It was only a couple of the solo singers who didn't, and that may not be their fault: one was a late replacement and, besides, they may all have been fazed by their placement alongside the choir, having to sing clean across the orchestra.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Once more unto the Boulez, dear friends...

Here's my review for The Independent of last night's Prom: Barenboim & the WEDO again, and they're just getting better and better. As is the Boulez.

And a little more of my interview with the violinist Michael Barenboim is up now at Sinifini Music. He must have nerves of steel to hold that stage alone - it was quite a tour de force.

This Prom is being televised on Friday at 7.30pm on BBC4 - at which point Barenboim & co will probably still be in full swing with the Ninth inside the hall, a short concert with an early start so that we can all get home to watch the Olympic opening ceremony. Some of us might find the WEDO a bit more interesting than 70 sheep in a stadium, but... hey ho.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Guess who I fell in love with yesterday?

Yes, it's Pierre Boulez. Hearing his Derive 2 at the Barenboim/WEDO Prom somehow resembled discovering a new deep-sea creature that cast radical new light on all our assumptions of what marine life really is. I was riveted from start to finish. Its weaving of countless ideas, its progression of entirely aural and nonspecific narrative, its amazing colours (what a collection of instruments!), all conspire to challenge one's ideas of what music is, what it means and how we listen to it.

I'm holding the fort, more or less, with the Indy's classical reviews this week - Michael and Ed are both on their travels. Here's my write-up of last night.

Obviously not everyone is going to agree about the Boulez, which is as long as, or longer than, a big romantic symphony and requires a heap of concentration. So, for a way in, try reading Tom Service's brilliant introduction to the man and his music; and then catch the concert on the BBC iPlayer (UK only) here.

[photo by Clive Barda]

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An interview with Barenboim & Son

I've been talking to Daniel Barenboim and his violinist son, Michael, about their burgeoning dynasty. They're respectively conductor and concertmaster of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which will be all but taking over the Proms from this Friday to next.

Read it all in today's Independent, here.

Here they are in the Schubert 'Trout' Quintet first movement, with an ensemble from the WED - Daniel Barenboim (piano), Michael Barenboim (violin), Orhan Celebi (viola), Kyril Zlotnikov (cello), Nabil Shehata (double bass). Enjoy.

Saturday, July 07, 2012


They open on Friday 13th and they have to hold their own against nothing less than the Olympics. Can they do it?

You bet they can. Here's my Proms preview, cover feature for the 'Radar' section of today's Independent:

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Henry Goodman reads from 'Hungarian Dances' at the Proms!

Tasmin Little's Proms Plus literary talk with Anne McElvoy was broadcast in the concert interval on BBC Radio 3 yesterday, with extracts from her four chosen books read by no less an actor than the utterly lovely and amazing Henry Goodman. Catch it on the BBC iPlayer until 10 September, here:

Tasmin talked about her passion for Hamlet, Hesse's Siddartha and the verses of Hillaire Belloc, as well as terming Hungarian Dances "gripping" and "very exciting", and telling a wonderful story about how she inadvertently made her debut in Budapest in a restaurant, playing Monti's Csardas with the resident folk band's cimbalom player after half a bottle of Bull's Blood... And she said some rather nice things about my writing about music that I am waaay too modest to repeat on my own blog, though you can hear them in the broadcast. What you won't hear, though, is Anne's priceless Freudian slip when, signing off at the end of the session, the wrong word emerged instead of "Belloc"! A fine time was had by one and all.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Happy Monday

"When 5000 people pay to listen to Bach on a solo violin, there's hope for Western civilisation," says The Times. My colleague Ed Seckerson at the Indy says it was 6000 people, so the news is perhaps even better. Either way, bravo Nigel Kennedy. The markets are in turmoil, people have been looting in Tottenham, Enfield and Brixton, but over at the RAH, or in front of our own radios, we're listening to the Proms and feeling lucky to be alive.

Honest to goodness, guv, I really believe the world would be a better place if we could all spend more time making or listening to great music and less time on greed, envy, accumulation, materialism and...oh well. It's worth saying now and then, even if only one person takes it on board.

How anybody could have failed to take the lessons of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra on board with that Mahler 2 on Friday is beyond me (pictured left: the queue at 1pm). Music for all. Music as the resurrection of hope (to quote Gustavo's words to me). I went to the rehearsal and sat mesmerised by them - these guys give everything. So, too, did the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, so you don't have to be Venezuelan... The churlish have been out in force, predictably, carping on about tempi being too slow, edges being too rough, and so on. There's still an element in British life that loathes anything too successful. Most of us saw past that to the essence of the event, and took it all to our hearts, where it belongs. The point of this Prom was not to offer benchmark Mahler to compete against the recordings of Tennstedt, Bernstein et al. What had to be definitive was the honesty and passionate nature of the music-making, the symbol, the life-affirming pulling-together of it all. Yes, it was the event that came first, and there is nothing wrong with that - not when it's an event you'll remember until your last breath. If every concert could be an event on such a scale, nobody would ever have talked of classical music 'dying', because it couldn't be clearer that that is not true, never was and certainly won't be as long as these guys are around.

Hope resurrected? You bet. Besides, give Gustavo another ten or 15 years and he could potentially grow to be a figure comparable to Bernstein. I can't think of another conductor working today who has quite that type of energy. It's easy to forget that he's only 30 as he is so much a part of the musical landscape at present. Watch that space. (Right: The Dude in rehearsal, flanked by Miah Persson and Anna Larsson, and in discussion with assistant.)

It's been one thing after another at the Proms, and yesterday I caught up not only with the Mahler but also with the National Youth Orchestra with Benjamin Grosvenor and Vlad, plus Nigel's very late-night Bach. Benjamin played the Britten Concerto - a terrific piece and much underrated. It's very much of its 1930s day, a British cousin to Bartok and Prokofiev, and Benjamin's coolly ironic eye and deft, light-sprung touch suited it to a T. Vlad wrought dynamic stuff from the orchestra, too - they're not the Bolivars, but they're the creme-de-la-creme of what young British musicians can be. And full marks to everyone for bringing Gabriel Prokofiev mainstream, putting his Concerto for Orchestra and Turntables centre stage in the Royal Albert Hall. Sergey's grandson may have 'Nonclassical' as his brand-name, but the piece, even with all its 21st-century irony, humour and imagination, still reminded us at times of The Rite of Spring. Character, precision and charm were everywhere; and the Radio 3 announcer's apparent bemusement about the whole spectacle had a type of charm all its own. He even considered DJ Switch's light-blue tee-shirt worth remarking upon.

I missed Saturday evening in London because I went to work with Tomcat. Which means I cried my eyes out over Rusalka. Watch out for the marvellous Dina Kuznetsova (left), a big Russian voice with a great heart to match, her every phrase serving Rusalka's searing emotional journey. Melly Still's production is magical - a timeless fairy-tale taken on its own terms, mildly modernised and exquisitely imagined. We know the Freudian ins and outs of the story's psychological implications well enough these days to add our own interpretation, if desired - it's refreshing that directors need no longer bash us over the head with it, and we can enjoy Dvorak's folksy joys and quasi-Wagnerian ventures with a view to match.

And Nigel? He's still working his own brand of magic; and it's as irresistible as ever because beneath the famous image is a passionate and phenomenally accomplished musician. He has not only magic, but the staying power that comes from true underlying solidity. Others may try, but there's still only one Nigel.

Friday, August 05, 2011


Here is my exclusive interview with Gustavo Dudamel for today's Independent - the interview that most of the music business said I'd never get in a blue moon.

"I think we have to make everyone understand that it's important to have a future for the people. It's important to give the best level of art, the best level of culture and the best level of music to ALL the people, not only to one part of the community. This is the message of El Sistema..." 

He and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra are at the Proms tonight doing Mahler's Second Symphony. "Resurrection is happening every day," he says. "It's the resurrection of hope."

Remember my Fred & Ginger clip the other day? This is what it was all about... "They laughed at me, wanting The Dude, said I was reaching for the moon...But ah, he came through - now they'll have to change their tune..." 

Here's what happened last time they came to the Proms. You've seen it before. See it again. If you can't get to the show tonight, it's live on BBC Radio 3 as usual and on TV tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And the winner is...

Congratulations to STEPHEN LLEWELLYN, winner of the JDCMB 'Chacun a son gout' competition. Yes, bizarrely enough, that is indeed the same Stephen Llewellyn who was the proud champion of Miss Mussel's first #operaplot competition. Stephen, you will be the lucky recipient of the new CD by Joseph Calleja, 'The Maltese Tenor', which will be sent to you straight from the offices of Universal Classics.

The correct answers: 'Chacun a son gout' is featured prominently in Johann Strauss II's opera Die Fledermaus. And it is sung by Prince Orlofsky. I am impressed that everybody who entered the competition - and there were lots of you - got it right.

The prize draw took place last night in the concertmaster's dressing room at the Royal Albert Hall, just after the London Philharmonic had completed its 'Vladothon' all-Hungarian Prom, which involved Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, Bartok's Piano Concerto No.1 with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as soloist, and to end, Liszt's Faust Symphony.

We asked the orchestra's one actual Hungarian violinist, Katalin Varnagy, to select the winner's name from the many entries that mingled in the violin case... You can see the very glam Kati talking about her Hungarian musical heritage in the Prom interval when the concert's televised on Thursday evening.

Then, since the occasion was also Tomcat's birthday and, besides, marked the 25th anniversary of him joining the LPO (odd, as he's only 21...) everyone came along for a drink, including the adorable and stupendous Mr Bavouzet...


...and also Vladimir Jurowski and concertmaster Pieter Schoemann (pictured below - l to r, Vladimir, Tomcat, Kati and Pieter). The flag is Hungarian - there's a green stripe at the bottom.

I'd just like to reassure any Hungarian Dances fans that the characters of Karina (semi-Hungarian) and Rohan (South African) were not actually based on Kati and Pieter. It's all pure coincidence, honest to goodness, guv. These things happen with books sometimes. Life imitates art. It does.

Quite a late night. Please excuse the JDCMB team while it adjourns to the kitchen for extra coffee....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

About time too...

Small-scale live music in Britain has been hobbled in the Helf'n'Safeteh Years by regulatory tourniquets that have seemed determined to prevent any blood flowing into what should be a vibrant scene and a valuable testing ground. Good news arrives from the Incorporated Society of Musicians this morning: parliament is progressing well towards passing laws that seek to stop the hamstringing. (Assuming, that is, that there'll be any parliament left after Rupertgate.)

Here's the ISM's statement - but first, a nice little example of what's possible with just two instruments, courtesy of Jascha Heifetz and William Primrose. I have this piece on the brain after the delectable Capucon brothers gave it some serious welly in their Proms encore yesterday. Yes, I know, I know - that's not at all what the bill means by 'small-scale', but I'm happily clutching at musical straws in the hope of bringing you something beautiful to brighten your day.

ISM welcomes continued progress of Live Music Bill
Government confirms entertainment de-regulation plans

Proposals to de-regulate small scale live music events could become law in 2012 after the Live Music Bill made it through its committee stage in the House of Lords.

Speaking in support of his own Bill, Lord Clement-Jones highlighted the ‘great encouragement’ it would give to young musicians ‘performing in all kinds of venues, who will be able to take advantage of these provisions.’

The Bill has just two readings left (usually carried out together) before it reaches the House of Commons.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) said:

‘With Lord Clement-Jones winning further support for his Bill the continued progress is fantastic news, and the Government’s continued support – given the concession made – is also welcome.

‘This Bill will provide real help to musicians and make it far easier to put on live performances. We now hope to see the Bill make rapid progress through parliament and if successful it will reverse much of the devastating impact of the 2003 Licensing Act.

Baroness Garden of Frognal re-iterated the Government’s support of the Bill in the Lords in light of a concession to change the time limit from midnight to 11pm and announced that the Government was ‘planning to consult shortly on wider reforms to live entertainment’.

Deborah Annetts added:

‘We welcome this news, and urge the Government to bring forward its planned consultation on the de-regulation of entertainment as swiftly as possible.’

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara backed the Bill on behalf of the Labour Party.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bravissimo to Benjamin at the Prummm....

I don't think I'll ever forget hearing Benjamin Grosvenor's Proms debut last night. Especially his encore - of all things, a transcription by Cziffra of the Brahms Hungarian Dance No.5.

What is it with that lad? How does he do it? How does he know? Where does it all come from? I'm not usually a great subscriber to the notion of reincarnation, but if the soul of either Benno Moiseiwitsch or Ignaz Friedman decided to do a re-run in Britain about 19 years ago, it's very obvious where he landed. Just listen to this.

Alas, the rest of the concert didn't live up to its soloist, and I've said as much in today's Independent. The best - Benjamin - proved the enemy of the workaday. Honest to goodness, with the other major UK orchestras in their best-ever form from the Barbican and Festival Hall to Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle, with hungry, ambitious conductors turning up the electric heat, workaday is just not good enough. It never occurred to me before that Janacek's Glagolitic Mass could be as boring as that. It shouldn't be. Janacek is portraying a marvellous dream of marrying Kamila Stosslova. We got Czech dumplings. I'm pleased to see that the Last Night of the Proms is being conducted by Ed Gardner. Wish he'd conducted opening night too.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Restive for the festive?

OK, so I didn't make it to Tosca and I'm not getting over to Verbier this time, but so what? I mean, with the Proms about to begin and a dazzling line-up of overseas festival webcasts available to view from the comfort of my own computer, there's plenty to occupy me right here in sunny London. No, I'm not turning green in the face...I'm not, I'm not, I'm not...

First of all, here is my round-up from today's Independent of the best webcasts from the elite (in the best sense) festivals of Europe.

Next, the Proms kick off tonight: a Judith Weir premiere, then Brahms and Liszt, the latter's Second Piano Concerto featuring Benjamin Grosvenor in his Proms debut; finally nothing less than Janacek's Glagolitic Mass. More good news is that it's not raining yet also it is not too hot. I don't fancy a re-run of my Meistersinger debacle last summer. If you can't go along, the First Night is on the TV: details here.

Here's Benjamin playing Liszt's arrangement of Chopin's song 'The Maiden's Wish', filmed out in Kensington Gardens on a very wet, very cold morning in April. We're promised that tonight both piano and pianist will be let into the hall.