Showing posts with label Schumann Violin Concerto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Schumann Violin Concerto. Show all posts

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Russian into London: a fabulous violinist makes her debut

I’ve just had a terrific Skype chat with the young Russian violinist Alena Baeva, ahead of her London debut at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday. She and I have a little Schumann-related project together in June in Oxford and it’s splendid to get to know her. Here she is, talking about her turbulent background in central Asia, her first-rate musical training, her passion for historical recordings and all we can learn from them, and a few particularly wonderful concertos…






JD: Alena, you’ve recently been playing a very special piece in Katowice to mark 100 years of Polish independence… 

AB: It was a major event for me because I’d wanted to play the Karlowicz Concerto for a long time. It’s hardly played anywhere but Poland, which is a pity because it’s a great piece. It’s quite difficult! Someone brought it for me to play in a masterclass in Poland and I was fascinated. I’m happy we did it this summer. 


JD: Where are you from and where did you grow up? 

AB: That’s the most difficult question! I can’t say one place I’m from. I was born in Kyrgistan, by chance because my parents’ parents were sent to work there - they were sent to random places in the Soviet Union. I lived in my grandmother’s small house with a garden the first five years, which was a very happy time. Then civil war broke there and I remember we were hiding underneath the storage in the basement. I don’t remember many things about it, but my dad, when there was the first possibility to take a plane, he sent us to Almaty in Kazakhstan because his mother lived there at the time. We came to her because we had no other place to live and we were there for another five years. I started to learn the violin there. 

Almaty is a very special place for me, because I was at an important age when you start to discover the world around you. People there are so warm, so nice and so kind. I missed this a lot when we moved to Moscow when I was 10. The violin was going so well and I needed some education to go and study somewhere so my parents chose Moscow because of great Soviet school of playing. I entered the Central Music School, which was a big contrast. Moscow is somehow more than a metropolis. 


JD: Who was your main teacher?

AB: I was studying from the age of 10 with Eduard Grach, an accomplished violin player and student of Yampolsky – a great, great school. I continued studying with him at the Moscow Conservatory, so it was for 12 years! When I was 16-17, I started to seek some other ideas and influences too. It was thanks to Mstislav Rostropovich, who supported talented children in Moscow. He had a foundation and he sent me to Paris to study. This was a whole big change because it was too late to enter the Conservatoire, but his French friends organised private lessons. I lived in the house of his good friends who are fantastic people and became my French family. It was so enriching just to be with them and discover this great country and great culture. I was staying several months of the year and it was in Chartres, a fantastic place with a rose garden, just in front of the cathedral - a dream! Now I appreciate it even more than I did before.

I had lessons there with Boris Garlitsky, a Russian violinist who had moved more than 20 years before to Europe and became a very European style of musician - it was so helpful to study Mozart and Brahms with him. It was such a change from old-style Russian School teaching with big sound, big vibrato and big emotion all the time. It was quite opposite, what I learned from Boris, so that was very important for me. And going to concerts and exhibitions, I fell in love with everything French! I connected to the French language and the French style of life - they can enjoy life so well, better than many people… 


JD: And you’ve settled eventually in Luxembourg?

AB: I really wanted to move to a French-speaking place! So I ended up here eight years ago. It’s easy to remember because it was three weeks before giving birth to my daughter. I didn’t really care about what was a good moment to move, I just kept going! She is eight now and my son is ten. It’s a very good base - calm, beautiful, central and efficient. The airport and train station are very close, especially compared to Moscow, where the way to the airport takes longer than the flight! 


JD: Which violinists have you most admired? 

AB: It was changing all the time, I had my favourites every month! Most things I discovered on CDs at the time because there was no Youtube and not many people used to come to play concerts in Moscow. I remember my father presented me with a Michael Rabin box of CDs: that was fantastic - he’s not as known as he deserved to be. I was in love with Menuhin for a long time. And what is most important, I think, is the variety of expression, the different languages performers and composers speak to us: it’s impossible to be stuck with something. Like life itself, it continues and changes. 




JD: You’re quite a recording buff?

AB: I am lucky to know a great collector of old 78s in Paris who happens to be my ex-uncle-in-law. He’s a fantastic person and every time I go to Paris I try to see him and listen because there are such treasures, unknown and unpublished recordings. One of many impressions I had was from the Casals Festival in Prades: a live performance of Christian Ferras playing Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in the church and you can hear a thunderstorm outside. The C major fugue – I never heard anything like that on the violin! 


JD: This Wednesday, 5 December, you have your debut with the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski, playing Tchaikovsky...

AB: I’m so much looking forward to that! I learned the concerto when I was 14 and since then I have played it regularly, as it is one of the best concertos ever written for violinists, one of the most masterful and perfect pieces. With Vladimir Jurowski it’s a very special story because we met first several years ago when we worked on the Strauss concerto, which was v interesting. Then we played Tchaikovsky in Moscow and we had three hours of rehearsal with orchestra which is itself a luxury, but especially for this concerto and the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. It was the way only Vladimir can make it: totally different way than what I was doing before, and it was incredible to feel these new connections which make the phrases and the whole mood sound totally different. I like very much his idea of this concerto, which is that it’s not so heavy, as stuffed and middle of 20thcentury in style. It’s closer to Mendelssohn. That’s exactly what I feel about this piece too - it’s very light. The second movement is very intimate, but not going too deep. It all finds resolution in the tempos we take & the accents we try to make. So I very much look forward to discovering it with LPO. 


JD: What’s your violin?

AB: A Guarneri del Gesù, a wonderful instrument of 1738, and it’s a whole new world to discover. It’s very interesting to see how much you can observe and learn from the instrument - I still don’t understand how that works. I was playing a modern instrument previously, also a wonderful instrument which got lots of compliments and I really enjoyed playing it. But the Guarneri somehow has something bigger. It’s really a mystery how time and the violinists who have played it before do change it. This violin was discovered relatively recently and has not had many owners, but still it’s very rich. It is lent to me by a private sponsor who wished to stay anonymous - he’s a fantastic person and I’m grateful to get to know him. 


JD: You’re working a lot with the pianist Vadym Kholodenko?

AB: His playing is very special for me. We were in the conservatory studying at almost the same time and for our first sonata together he suggested Beethoven No. 10, one of the most complex sonatas ever written! I learned so much from him, first of all because he’s a great musician and for a teenage violinist when we started to play it was very important, because violinists especially in the early years are obsessed with practising and have to invest so much time… so this was a whole new world. We’ve played together for more than 12 years already. 



JD: In June, you and I are working together - hooray! We’re doing a concert with the Oxford Philharmonic called The Ghosts of War, in which I’ll narrate the story of Jelly d’Arányi and you are the soloist in the Schumann Violin Concerto. Tell us about the concerto - what’s it like to perform? How do people respond to it?

AB: Since I first played the Schumann, I’ve tried to schedule it everywhere I can, which was not as simple as with Tchaikovsky! But I’m playing it several times before Oxford and I’m very much looking forward to that. 

The most common answer when I suggest programming the concerto is ‘Oh, the public doesn’t like it so much’… but that’s absolutely not true, because also important is the way it’s played, because it is so personal and so intimate. 

There are some most precious moments in the concerto - the second movement I adore, and going up to the third movement, it’s absolute magic. I think the fact that it’s not being accepted as it deserves to be is just because it’s not being heard much. That’s the only reason. It can be difficult to find the balance with the tempi, but it is possible. I’m convinced that at that time performances involved much more natural changes of rubato and a much more natural flow which makes much more sense in the finale and in Schumann in general. Of course he was improvising a lot, but I don’t think we should consider his pieces improvisations, especially the later ones: it’s very well thought and well shaped music, and he managed to find such a spare means of expression to express so much emotion. It’s a miracle. 


JD: The metronome marks are quite controversial…

AB: The finale makes sense when you swing it a little bit. Obviously it’s a polonaise, but it makes most sense when you don’t play it too strictly, in terms of movement. And of course I think it should be natural: if something is written unplayable, you can take it and bring sense to it, and that’s how I’m trying to manage this concerto. I think the tempi should be taken into consideration, but you can also change the tempo within the movement. If you listen to how Auer played this melody of Tchaikovsky… the old recordings were so much more free - it was like talking, like a conversation. I also heard a CD included in a book called How to Play Brahms, which had recordings of Brahms symphonies, the same excerpts with the same Berlin orchestra every 10 years - from the 1910s, 20s, 30s, 40s, and it’s absolutely shocking how much it changed. The early recordings had a flow like a flock of birds flying - it’s hypnotising, this feeling of time. Gradually over the decades it was more and more squared within time and slowed down. This can give us a thought about how to better play it. And before, the composers were so much more open to the performers… 


JD: Alena, thank you so much for making time to talk. See you on Wednesday, and toitoitoi!

5 DECEMBER, 7:30 PM, ​ ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, LONDON
Weber Overture, Der Freischütz
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto
Bruckner Symphony No. 2 (1877 revised version)

Vladimir Jurowski conductor
Alena Baeva violin
London Philharmonic Orchestra

Saturday, February 17, 2018

And yesterday was...

Jelly d'Arányi: Schumann heroine
...the 80th anniversary of the UK premiere of the Schumann Violin Concerto, given by our own Jelly d'Arányi with Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Queen's Hall, London. If I remember right, the second half contained the UK premiere of Sibelius 5. As this event forms the climax and final chapter of my Ghost Variations I really should have flagged it up on the day, especially as I had been intending to do so for months on end.

Fortunately, the Royal Northern Sinfonia did notice, and planned ahead, and got Alina Ibragimova to come up and play it, and Radio 3 noticed too and broadcast the concert, so it is now, happily, available to listen to on the BBC iPlayer, here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09r7vb0

The full history involved a surprise "spirit message" ostensibly from Schumann; a hunt - by the Swedish Minister in London - through the music libraries of Berlin; a propaganda exercise by the Nazis, who wanted the Schumann concerto to replace the banned Mendelssohn in their people's affections; a reworking of the piece because it didn't, er, quite fit the bill - mostly assigned, unbeknownst to the authorities, to Hindemith; the intervention of Yehudi Menuhin, the young Jewish American violin superstar to whom the publishers from Nazi Germany sent a photostat of the manuscript; and a scandal when the story of the "spirit messages" broke just weeks before Jelly was supposed to give the London premiere, which was then delayed for about four months, though mostly because the Nazis kept changing the date of the German premiere... The saga took some disentangling, but much of it is in Ghost Variations.

...which is not a "romantic story", as one lady I met at a party fondly imagined, but is about the rise of facsism and a warning from history. Eighty years ago does not seem such a long time, being easily within living memory. Several years after the performance, the Queen's Hall was flattened in the Blitz. Tovey died in 1939, as did Jelly's brother-in-law. Myra Hess became a national heroine. Things change. Things can change fast when balance is lost. This was the edge of madness - for Schumann, for Jelly, for the world itself - and we shouldn't forget, because we may be at another edge of madness now.

David Le Page, Viv McLean and I are also doing a Ghost Variations concert this week, the nearest thing we have to an anniversary performance: it will be under the auspices of the Leicester International Music Festival which runs a series of lunchtime concerts year round. It's at the Victorian Art Gallery, New Walk Museum, Leicester, on Thursday 22 February, 1pm. The programme has been adapted for a one-hour format and includes some pieces new to our programme, not least by Gluck and Elgar. We do hope you'll come along if you're in the area. More details here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Schumann podcast

Serendipity! The London Philharmonic is playing the Schumann Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall on 8 November (soloist: Patricia Kopatchinskaya, conductor: Alain Altinoglu) and then touring it to Antwerp, Vienna and around Germany. They asked me to record a podcast about Ghost Variations, the concerto and its astonishing history, and the result is up now at their site, and also below.

Before that, you could come and hear David Le Page, Viv McLean and me bringing the story to life in the more intimate setting of the Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zédel, on Monday evening (23 October, 7pm).

Saturday, October 14, 2017

What do you think of the Schumann Violin Concerto?


Although it's only just over a week to go until the first of our Ghost Variations concerts for the autumn, I have to admit I'm no nearer to the answer to the million-dollar question about the Schumann Violin Concerto that everybody asks me: "so, look, does it really show signs that he was losing his mind, or what...?"

So I thought I'd ask you. There's a poll in the sidebar, just above my welcome notice. Please place your vote and we'll collect the final tally on the morning of 24 October, the day after our Live at Zédel concert.


Ghost Variations concerts in the next five weeks are:

Monday 23 October, 7pm, Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zédel, just off Piccadilly Circus. Book here.

Friday 3 November, 7.30pm, Artrix Arts Centre, Bromsgrove. Book here.

Sunday 19 November, 6.30pm, Burgh House, Hampstead, London NW3. Book here. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

When Steven met Schumann...

Steven Isserlis is one of those infuriating musicians who writes as well as he plays. His latest book is just out and it is a revisiting of Schumann's Advice to Young Musicians, as tweaked for the 21st century (published by Faber & Faber). I went to talk to him about it - and also about his new recording of the Brahms Double and original version of the Op.8 Trio plus the slow movement of the Schumann Violin Concerto arranged by Benjamin Britten (yes, really), with Joshua Bell. Feature is out now in this week's JC and here's a taster.




....The question remains whether today's younger generation can share the attitude that music is something sacred, as he and Schumann both advocate. "It's not a sport," Isserlis declares. "I say it in the book and I've said it many times: music is not a sport and it should be taught as a mixture of religion and science. You find out as much as you possibly can about it and approach it with respect. You don't make it a vehicle for impressing people and showing off. 

"Actually I think the new generation has this outlook still more, at least among violinists and cellists," he adds. "They really respect the music. I think we went through a bad phase about 20-30 years ago. But those in their late teens and early twenties today seem to have a much better attitude and are emerging much more rounded as musicians."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Schumann's anniversary, and a spot of Brahms

Darguerrotype of Schumann c1850. (source: Wikipedia)

Today is the 160th anniversary of Robert Schumann's death.

This is the house - the former mental hospital - in which he died, in Endenich, on the outskirts of Bonn, as it looked a few years ago. Its ground floor now houses a music library; Schumann's rooms, upstairs and at the end of the landing, are a museum, which includes the tiny bedroom in which he died, overlooking a peaceful garden; there's a small piano, a covering for it which belonged to Liszt, and pictures and memorabilia of Clara, Joachim and Brahms. Clara was permitted to see him again only the day before his death.


Looking back through the Schumann, Brahms and Clara books on my shelf always turns up some new gem - and today, dipping into Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters, selected and annotated by Styra Avins (this is my 'Brahms Bible'), I stumbled over the information that at a memorial concert for Schumann soon after his death, Brahms himself was the soloist in Schumann's Piano Concerto. There are a few moments in musical history that make me long to time-travel, and that's one of them.

One thing you will find in Ghost Variations (named after Schumann's Geistervariationen, which shares a germ of a musical theme with the Violin Concerto's slow movement) is a brief exploration of how Brahms reflected the cyclic theme of Schumann's Violin Concerto in his own - despite the latter having been written more than 20 years later. It's quite useful to have a musicologist as a character in this sort of novel: in this case, Donald Francis Tovey. If he were around today, his insights would of course be much more profound than that. But this reference is an under-recognised element of the Brahms work, although Yehudi Menuhin spotted the connection as soon as he first set eyes on the Schumann, and it seems worth pointing up a little.

Here's the first movement of the Schumann, played (quite fast) by Henryk Szeryng. Listen for the second subject: this is the theme that transforms, twisting itself through the textures of the second movement and then shape-shifting into the final Polonaise.



And here's the beginning of the Brahms - Szerying again (filmed in Paris in 1962). Listen for the little linking pattern - and what Brahms does with it - from 2:27 to 2:50. Can that be a coincidence? I doubt it...



Monday, July 11, 2016

GHOST VARIATIONS: WIN A SCHUMANN CD!

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.
HOW TO ENTER
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!): https://www.facebook.com/ghostvariations/
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 https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ghost Variations: The Other Violinist


My newest post at the Unbound Shed for Ghost Variations is about another violinist deeply involved in the story of the Schumann Violin Concerto. It's none other than this month's anniversary giant, Yehudi Menuhin. If you have made a pledge to the book, Unbound automatically emails you every post in my Shed, but you can also dip in of your own accord at this link.

Friday, February 05, 2016

How I didn't quite meet Helen Mirren, and other stories

This is one busy week.

If you missed me and Marin Alsop on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour yesterday, you can listen to it online, here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06z4w7r. We're the very first item on the programme, talking about the bizarre story of the Schumann Violin Concerto, its suppression and its recovery, and Marin's view of the music, and my novel. But with much regret, we didn't meet Helen Mirren in the Green Room!

Meanwhile, we all enjoyed the excellent discussion evening, Music into Words, on Tuesday at Senate House. It proved extremely stimulating and seems to have got everyone's grey matter into a tingle. Simon Brackennorough talked about his site, Corymbus, and why he created it; Mary Nguyen revealed that she attended 64 operas last year, blogging and reviewing for online outlets; I took a fond look back to the days of galley proofs and cowgum, marvelled over the opportunities the internet has brought our way and speculated on the likelihood that writing about music really is like dancing about architecture. Imogen Tilden of The Guardian told us about some of the harsh realities of traditional print journalism.

Audience questions were plentiful and fascinating and prompted revelations from the fact, cited by Simon, that medieval historians are a lot better at social media than the traditional classical world (with the possible exceptions of Stephen Hough, Steven Isserlis and Peter Donohoe); and when asked who we are writing for - who our "internal reader" really is - a temporarily psychoanalytical reaction revealed to me that mine is actually my mum (even though she died 22 years ago next week).

Frances Wilson of The Cross-Eyed Pianist, who chaired the discussion, had everything filmed, so here is my chunk, and you can find Simon's here and more from Mary here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

How Marin is changing the world

A few weeks ago I went to listen to Marin Alsop giving masterclasses for young women conductors and had a terrific interview with her. She is not one to pull her punches on "the women conductors thing". The piece is in the Independent today, ahead of her concerts with the OAE in Basingstoke on Thursday and the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday - the one with the Schumann Violin Concerto.

I'm delighted to say that she and I will be on BBC Radio 4 'Woman's Hour' tomorrow to talk about the story of the Schumann Violin Concerto. Plus I'm now joining the panel for the pre-concert talk at the RFH on Saturday (5.45pm) where we'll be discussing music, mental illness, Schumann, the Concerto and more.

Here's a taster of the article and you can read the rest here.

Marin Alsop's selfie at the Last Night of the Proms
Some conductors who are female are outraged if one raises “the women conductors thing”. Why are we still talking about this? Isn't it time to forget it and just get on with making music? Alsop, though, faces the issue head on – and she is perfectly happy to bring it out into the open. 

“People ask why a course like this is necessary, and I think it's a disingenuous question,” she says. “It's only necessary because of the reality. It's not something I'm making up. I'm just reacting to the landscape.” There is no point, she suggests, trying to deny that there are too few women conductors, or that they face problems different from those experienced by their male colleagues – both in terms of that glass ceiling protecting prestigious posts and in how the details of their artistry are perceived.

“Because I have quite a thick skin, I don't mind being the one out front, trying to elbow my way in,” she adds. “But I think, as that person out front, it's important for me to create a pathway for people coming through. I don't want it to be so hard for the next generations.”

Monday, February 01, 2016

Eight and a half days...

I have a busy week ahead! Please come and join in if you can make it to any of these. One, of course, only involves your kitchen radio.

TUESDAY, 2 FEBRUARY: MUSIC INTO WORDS
Fran Wilson of The Cross-Eyed Pianist has organised a wonderful evening at Senate House, Bloomsbury, in which five speakers - academic Mark Berry (Boulezian), blogger and editor Simon Brackenbury (Corymbus), journalist Mary Nguyen, Imogen Tilden of The Guardian, and I - will be speaking about the agonies and ecstasies and everything in between of writing about music, and doing our best to answer audience questions. Is it really like dancing about architecture? The event is now sold out, but you can still take part by tweeting your questions with the hashtag #musicintowords. More info at the Facebook page here.

THURSDAY 4 FEBRUARY: JD & MARIN ALSOP ON BBC RADIO 4 'WOMAN'S HOUR'
I'm honoured to be joining Marin Alsop in the Woman's Hour studio to talk about Schumann, the Violin Concerto and Jelly d'Arányi. The confluence of GHOST VARIATIONS and the OAE's performance of the concerto on Saturday night seems a perfect excuse and I'm really pleased this is happening. Listen online here.

SATURDAY 6 FEBRUARY: SCHUMANN VIOLIN CONCERTO
It's the Schumann Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall! I'm looking forward to attending this with a group of GHOST VARIATIONS supporters. (You can also hear this programme in Basingstoke on Thursday 4 February.) http://www.oae.co.uk

SUNDAY 7 FEBRUARY: ALICIA'S GIFT AT ST MARY'S, PERIVALE
Viv McLean and I are giving the first of our three February ALICIA'S GIFT performances - 3pm at St Mary's Perivale, my favourite "sacred space" place. The 12th-century church, tucked away behind the A40, is worth a visit in itself, but it's a fabulous venue to enjoy music at intimate quarters, so if you're a west Londoner or you just fancy coming to check it out, please join us. The programme also includes some gorgeous songs from soprano Sarah Gabriel with Viv at the piano. The story of the child prodigy pianist Alicia and her impact upon her family forms the second half of the concert. Admission free, with a collection at the end.

TUESDAY 9 FEBRUARY: ALICIA'S GIFT AT HAMPTON COURT HOUSE
Viv and I are taking ALICIA'S GIFT to Hampton Court House - an extraordinary historical venue across the road from Hampton Court Palace. It's a magnificent mansion that these days is home to an interesting international school whose headmaster, Guy Holloway, has been in the news recently advocating a later start to the school day for teenagers. After the performance we're having a panel discussion about child prodigies, in which Guy will take part along with myself and Hugh Mather, artistic director of St Mary's Perivale, who I'm sure has encountered prodigies aplenty. 7pm arrival for 7.30pm, tickets available on the door.


Speaking of prodigies...I'm mildly disconcerted to discover that the latest on the scene, little Alma Deutscher, has a father who shares a name with that of my Alicia. Besides sharing her own initial. This is pure and mere, if weird, coincidence. She was born in 2005, the year I started writing ALICIA'S GIFT. Alma has been playing her own violin concerto with some big orchestras and has been signed up by Askonas Holt aged 10. Here's what happened when David Lister at the Independent met her last week. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Here it is: GHOST VARIATIONS

You may have wondered why I've been posting clips of late Schumann and asking you to have a special listen. Now I can reveal all...

The campaign to launch my new novel, Ghost Variations, goes live TODAY via the groundbreaking 21st-century-style publisher Unbound.


Our heroine: Jelly d'Arányi
1933. A world spiralling towards war. A composer descending into madness. And a devoted woman struggling to keep her faith in art and love against all the odds.

Ghost Variations, inspired by real events, tells the extraordinary tale of how the great violinist Jelly d’Arányi rediscovered the long-suppressed Schumann Violin Concerto with the aid of supposed messages from the spirit world.
The concerto, Schumann’s last orchestral work, was embargoed by the composer’s family for fear that it betrayed his mental disintegration. As rumours of its existence spread from London to Berlin, Jelly embarks on an increasingly complex quest to find the manuscript, upon which the Nazi administration has designs of its own.

Though aided and abetted by a team of larger-than-life personalities – including her sister Adila Fachiri, the pianist Myra Hess and the musicologist Donald Francis Tovey – Jelly finds herself confronting forces that threaten her own state of mind. Saving the concerto comes to mean saving herself.


Clara and Robert Schumann
We have 90 days from now to crowd-fund the book: https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations. If you enjoy my other books, my articles and JDCMB, or if you just like the sound of this one, please come on over and be part of it! This digital e-book publication is worldwide, so it doesn't matter where you are - Sheen or Sydney, San Francisco or Singapore, you'll be able to get your e-copy. 

For a pledge of just £10 you receive the e-book upon its release, are credited as a patron in its pages and gain access to the “shed” (a new blog at Unbound in which I chronicle the book’s creation).

A range of further rewards attend higher contributions.

For example, a special Early Bird deal includes a ticket to join me and fellow patrons to attend the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s performance of the Schumann Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall on 6 February (violinist is Patricia Kopatchinskaja, with Marin Alsop conducting). We’ll have a drink and discussion after the concert. ONLY 9 PLACES AVAILABLE and you need to book by 31 JANUARY. 

You could sign up for an option which gives you a special print of the cover art, access to a playlist I'm creating to illustrate the book, a credit as a SuperPatron and an invitation to the launch party.

Or you could sponsor a character from the cast of real-life musicians: in addition to all the above, you’ll receive an information pack about her/him, compiled and written by me, including recommended reading and listening lists, plus a special credit in the book. Choose from Jelly d’Arányi, Adila Fachiri, Myra Hess, Donald Francis Tovey and Yehudi Menuhin.

To see the full list of pledge levels and associated rewards, please go to: https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations

To learn more about Ghost Variations, please join us for a special evening at London’s Hungarian Cultural Centre on 21 March. I give a short lecture about Jelly d’Arányi (who was, of course, Hungarian) and David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano) perform some of the music associated with her – including Ravel’s Tzigane, music by Bartók and Brahms, and a spot of Schumann. Admission is free, but booking is required: please phone 020 7240 8448 or email bookings@hungary.org.uk.

I look forward very much to bringing you this extraordinary tale and hope that you will be as swept up in it as I have been for the four-or-so years it's taken to write. 


Friday, December 18, 2015

Dear readers, please familiarise yourselves with THIS



This extraordinary piece of music is going to dominate my next six months or so, so I'd love you to get to know it a little now. I'll be posting a lot about it for reasons that will become apparent. Please note that the second movement's main theme shares its derivation with that of the Geistervariationen, to which we listened here the other week. This wonderful performance is by Christian Tetzlaff, with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi.