Showing posts with label Southbank Centre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Southbank Centre. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Not quite normal

Back in the Royal Festival Hall: Chineke! takes the stage

I'm astonished to realise that my schedule this past week has been a closish mirror to business as usual - without feeling remotely as if it is. It has included, among other things, a couple of interviews, but on Zoom rather than face to physical face; and two concerts to review, both with world-class performances, but in front of scant, distanced, masked-up audiences, and one evening featuring the new-look pandemic-era 21st-century orchestral layout in which every player has their own music stand. There was even a press launch to "attend" - for the exil.arte centre in Vienna's new exhibition about Jan Kiepura and Martha Eggerth, with their son Marjan and his wife Jane Kiepura taking questions, but beamed in from all corners of Europe and America direct to my study in sunny Sheen. 

I was a guest on Radio 3's Music Matters the other night after the Chineke! concert, but broadcast live from a corner of the Royal Festival Hall that used to be where the receptions were held (Radio 3 is in residence at the hall for a fortnight). Instead of standing with glass in hand gazing out at the London Eye and anticipating a packed-out concert with standing ovation, we were tucked into a corner with tables, microphones and wires, trying to figure out how to get the microphone black foam 'socks' out of their packaging. I caught my 11.03pm train home, but instead of the usual scrummage of passengers sporting theatre programmes, John Lewis bags and excess alcohol-breath, there was...nobody. Nobody else at all. 

It's good that we can find ways, now and then, to keep on keeping on, but my goodness, it's weird. "Are you optimistic for the future?" asked Tom Service on Music Matters. I had to struggle for a few seconds, and then explained that I'm not a particularly optimistic person in any case, but that even if I'm not optimistic per se, I look at the quantity of creativity and invention and adaptability around us and that gives me hope. Hope is different from optimism. 

Here are a few links if you want to read some more or listen back to the broadcast:

Review of Stephen Kovacevich's 80th birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall...

Review of Chineke! at the RFH with Jeneba Kanneh-Mason and more...

BBC Radio 3 Music Matters, live from the Royal Festival Hall...

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Southbank: a love letter



A view from the terrace of the biggest arts centre in the biggest city in Europe,
which ought to be our pride and joy

Dear Southbank Centre,

You are my home-from-home. You have been for 40 years, possibly more. With yesterday's news that you may have to stay closed until April 2021 at least (which I must admit isn't wholly unexpected), there comes a sense of dismay and anxiety that's almost vertiginous even without being compounded by the same fears for the future of Shakespeare's Globe, the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the West End, and indeed every other theatre and concert hall in the land. Nobody has yet solved the conundrum of infectious disease versus mass audience versus economics of putting on a show. Trouble is inevitable. That doesn't mean we should just roll over and accept it.

Britain without its arts would be...well, not a lot. We've always been defined by our theatre, our playwrights, our authors, our actors; in recent decades also, at long, long last, by our musicians. Some of the finest in the world are British - not that we always appreciate them enough - and their numbers are swelled by those who have decided to make London their home, in many cases exactly because of its flourishing arts scene. Kill that off and you destroy first of all billions in our economy - guess why tourists come here? It ain't for skiing; secondly, the present and future of dozens of thousands of people whose livelihoods exist in this huge industry (which is worth a lot more in economic terms to the country than fishing); the dreams of generations of young people who find fulfilment, creativity and hope in the arts as nowhere else; and, essentially, anything that still remains of our souls.

Opera North's Ring Cycle, relayed into the foyer from the RFH
Dear Southbank, I remember the first time I was brought to experience you, in particular the Royal Festival Hall. It was a concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Kempe, with Miriam Freed the violin soloist. My father coached me on the music for a week beforehand, playing me recordings and telling me about the composers: Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and the Dvorak New World Symphony. I remember staring at the flautist in fascination and feeling sorry for her, because she was sitting right in front of some awfully loud brass. Not long afterwards I was in again for my first piano recital - Tamás Vásáry playing the Chopin Waltzes - and a taste of chamber music, in the form of the Amadeus Quartet and William Pleeth in the Schubert Quintet.

That was also the first time I went backstage, and I have no idea how or why we did that, but I do remember circling the RFH's Green Room looking for the quartet members to sign my programme, and William Pleeth looking down from what seemed a very great height with the most benevolent smile in the world. Often I'm in that room twice a week now.

When I was a teenager, the penny dropped in earnest. Or rather, Ernest: the Ernest Reid Children's Concerts. I was first to arrive for our music O level class one day and found myself unexpectedly conscripted: "There's one place free in the choir to sing at the Royal Festival Hall and it goes to the first person to arrive today, which is you...". Actually I can't sing to save my life - but gosh, did I sing then, and wow, did I love it. We performed specially arranged versions of the Fauré Requiem (that was where I got my passion for Fauré, too), the Haydn "Creation" with Sir David Willcocks, Handel's "Messiah", Vivaldi's Gloria and some wonderfully offbeat Christmas carols. There were lightbulbs around the mirrors in the dressing rooms, we were seated on benches beside the mighty organ, and we felt so grown-up. We'd take the tube to Embankment and walk over Hungerford Bridge in the rain and there you were, the RFH, on the far side, sitting proud like a green prize cat with curved back, waiting for us to stroke you.

Then Horowitz came to give his last London recital and I queued up for ages and didn't get in. Howls. But in those teen years I went to other piano recitals that shaped my piano passions for decades. Sviatoslav Richter. Krystian Zimerman (aged 23). András Schiff (aged 28). Maurizio Pollini, Alfred Brendel, Annie Fischer, Imogen Cooper, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Shura Cherkassky, Murray Perahia, Alicia de Larrocha, Emil Gilels, André Tchaikovsky, Mitsuko Uchida, Daniel Barenboim and more - none of them ever forgotten, each of them treasured like a priceless family heirloom that lives on in the heart and the inner ear.

Vladimir Jurowski rehearsing with the LPO
I met some of my dearest friends in your foyers. I remember my first glimpse of some of them. My first love, rounding a pillar in the RFH together with the mutual friend who introduced us. My wonderful colleague and opera-writing partner Roxanna Panufnik in the doorway of the Purcell Room with the mutual friend who introduced us (who was Tasmin Little). The party in the Chelsfield Room after a London International Piano Competition final where my former piano teacher taunted me "go and mingle, you've got the best chat-up line in the room!" and I met several people who are still dear friends now. And on the stage, a violinist I watched for years in his orchestra, thinking "he looks nice" before we ever met, let alone got married. The first time I did meet Tom I didn't recognise him at first. It was only after two weeks that he invited me to one of his concerts and I thought "oh, it's him?". Because I'd only ever seen him in profile, playing in the first violin section of the LPO.

I well remember the controversies and infighting of the early nineties, rumbling forth during my days as assistant editor on various music magazines. The time the Tory government decided to try to kill off one of the orchestras and mercifully failed (this incident ended up nicknamed the 'Hoffnung Report' after the musical satirist). The time the poor old RPO was hideously penalised for daring to have made a commercial recording called Hooked On Classics and had its grant sliced to little bits. The time the LPO had to appoint a principal conductor too fast and ended up with someone who seemed frankly worse than most.

Federico Colli and JD with the Critics' Circle Award 2019
I've stood or sat on your stages myself, and not only as a singing kid. I found myself doing things beyond my wildest dreams. The pre-concert talk to introduce the UK premiere of Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane, the opera I never imagined I would be lucky enough to hear live. A pre-concert interview with Krystian Zimerman, who unexpectedly transformed himself into the sharpest comedian in town; I became the fall guy, asking the straight questions to which his answers and the way he timed them had people rolling in the aisles. Then last year I had to make a little speech at a Philharmonia concert, presenting pianist Federico Colli with the Critics' Circle Emerging Artist Award (see pic above). Here is where great musicians begin to reach their audiences and can bring them insight, inspiration and wonderful memories...

It's not all a rose garden out there, of course. For the last several years, it's struck me that visiting you is a little bit like being St George and battling the dragon for entry to the castle, because between platform 19 at Waterloo and your side entrance there are about 10 different ways one can be killed, but it is worth it every time. You can be run down in the station by the crowds going the other way, you can fall down the front stairs in that crowd, you can be run over by lorries or motorbikes zooming round the roundabout, or by taxis and bicycles on Belvedere Road or skateboarders crashing into you pretty much anywhere. Then you have to get past the food market which is so tempting that in five minutes it can empty your wallet and burst your buttons. Once one is lucky enough to reach the foyer, the Long Bar can be a welcome sight. During the daytime, since the austerity governments started cutting stuff, the open-to-all free-wifi foyer life has become a haven not only for the London creatives and freelancers who give the atmosphere such a buzz, but also for the dispossessed, the homeless and young families who have nowhere else to go and play. Some people object to this, but perhaps those individuals should stop voting in the governments that have produced the situation.

None of this is helped by those contrarian pundits who this week said a) theatre's dying, "*whispers* good" (an actual tweet by a right-wing rag's arts editor, who probably adored the massive outrage he caused), and b) kill off the Southbank and put it out to "private tender" (hello? this is the biggest arts centre in the biggest city in Europe, with a mission to serve its public, so what are you even talking about?). Can you imagine a sports editor saying "it's about time we killed off football"? It's a shoddy, miserable, wanton look to kick something or someone when they're down; and at a time when an unelected aid gets to address the nation from the Downing Street rose garden to say why it is apparently OK for him to undermine the health rules, it also shows that arrogant squandering of hard-won advantage has become a way of life here. That's almost as dangerous and destructive as the virus itself. But remember: every dog has its day. There is a thirteenth circle of hell ready and waiting to hand out its keys.

Really we should all be pulling together at the moment. We have to save the arts, because they will be saved: as a dear friend reminded me last night, from the slough of despond, theatre has been with us since ancient Greece and isn't going away any time soon. The same is true of music. We can and will make music at home. Sales of digital pianos are apparently soaring. Instruments are coming out of cases after lying untouched for years while the rat-race claimed us. Tideovers are possible online: tonight I am hosting a discussion about Beethoven for Garsington Opera and the Royal Philharmonic Society which was going to be in a theatre but has now been reconstituted via Zoom and can hence be watched by our friends all over the world. There will be a way - even if everything looks hopeless right now.

But mess with the Southbank and you mess with much more than brutalist architecture. You mess with people's entire lives, their inner landscapes, their souls. Take all those favourite memories, as above, and multiply them by millions. For every music-lover who lives here or visits here will have a store of them just as large, and there are millions, all about listening to the world's greatest musicians in these spaces and keeping their performances alive in their hearts ever afterwards, just as I do.

Take that away and those musicians, those audiences and that inspiration won't return. Squander our advantage, won after many, many decades of hard work and devotion, and it's gone for good. So let us keep our concert halls and theatres. And let us bloody well find ways to make them work again.

Much love,
Jess.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"A gaping hole in the heart of British choral music"

I don't think I'm the only person who's currently so cheesed off with the behaviour of our dear country on the international stage that I've been feeling disinclined to listen to any British music. This is not good. Brexit isn't the fault of our composers - anything but. Therefore I'm making an effort to get back to them and I've asked William Vann to write us a guest post about Hubert Parry's oratorio Judith, which he is conducting at the London English Song Festival at the Royal Festival Hall on 3 April, no matter what happens on 29 March. He tells me this will be the work's first airing in London since the 19th century and that its neglect seems to him to be "a gaping hole in the heart of British choral music". Nevertheless, you might find some of it sounds familiar...

Please read on, have a listen and (unless you're in Great Malvern that night for the Schumann Violin Concerto) do give the concert a whirl. If you can't make it, watch out for the recording in due course. JD



‘It is the offspring not only of a finished musician but of a cultivated thinker. For such a possession art is the better and England the richer.’ Charles Villiers Stanford writing on Judith, 1888.

Hubert Parry,
younger than we usually think of him
2018, the year of the centenary of his death, saw a widespread reawakening of interest in the music of Hubert Parry, including the release of three discs of his complete English Lyrics on SOMM Recordings. Yet, particularly in the world of choral music, many of his large-scale works were overlooked in favour of well-known classics, such as the Songs of FarewellBlest Pair of Sirens, or I Was Glad.

The London English Song Festival’s performance of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s oratorio Judith on 3 April promises to be one of the most important revivals of English music for many years. A work of considerable stature and irresistible quality, Judith has not been performed in the UK since the 1950s; in London its last performance was at St James’s Hall in 1889 - 130 years ago! It has never been recorded. Parry was the master of large choral and orchestral forces, and Judith features spine-tingling choruses and a dramatic story. It was an overwhelming success in Victorian England, performed by some of that era’s greatest musicians all over the UK, and it contains the melody that later, under the name Repton, became the famous hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.

George Grove appointed Parry as the Royal College of Music’s professor of composition and musical history in 1883, and he was finally able to put his unhappy career in insurance (he had been underwriter at Lloyd's of London from 1870 to 1877) behind him. The 1880s was a decade when he emerged as a composer of stature, with a reputation as a symphonist and as writer of choral music. His dramatic cantata, Scenes from Prometheus Unbound, had been performed at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival of 1880 and he was again commissioned to write a short choral work for the Gloucester festival in 1883. Blest Pair of Sirens of 1886, setting Milton’s ‘At a solemn musick’ was commissioned by Stanford and the London Bach Choir to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and was received with adulation by the public and critics alike.


Shortly afterwards, Parry was commissioned by the great triennial festival at Birmingham to write  a large-scale oratorio. Extensive choral participation was part of the brief: the Birmingham committee insisted on, as Parry put it, ‘regular oratorio’, and after much thought he settled on the dramatic story of Judith during the reign of the repentant Jewish king, Manasseh. After some wrangling with the Birmingham committee, Judith was performed on 29 August under the direction of the festival conductor, Hans Richter.

Parry's new oratorio was well received and was soon taken up by choral societies around Britain, notably in Edinburgh, London, Cambridge, Gloucester, Bristol and Oxford. The work contains many impressive choral movements, particularly in such numbers as ‘Our king is come again’ and the final fugue (‘Put off, O Jerusalem’) and the solo work is thrilling. The hymn tune Repton originated in the ballad of Meshullemeth, the queen-mother (‘Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land’), who sings of the early Israelite history to her children.

It seems that Judith fell out of favour and fashion, along with much of Parry’s music, after his death. The next generation of composers took British classical music in a new direction: no bad thing, but with hindsight it was a pity that much of the finest of late 19th century music was discarded. The more I studied the score, playing through sections of choruses and arias with groups of singers, the more I grew to regard the neglect of this work as a gaping hole in the heart of British choral music.

And so, on Wednesday 3 April 2019, at Royal Festival Hall (an organ is crucial to a full performance!), Judith will receive its first London performance since the 19th century and its first UK performance within living memory. The soloists will be Sarah Fox as Judith (she features on discs 2 & 3 of the SOMM English Lyrics, as it happens), Kathryn Rudge as Meshullemeth, Toby Spence as Manasseh and Henry Waddington as High Priest of Moloch & Messenger of Holofernes. We will go on to record it for Chandos Records later in the month. I am thrilled to be conducting the four of them alongside the London Mozart Players, Crouch End Festival Chorus and a superb chorus of children, specially selected for the occasion. Join us!

William Vann

[Heard this tune somewhere before?]



Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Lupu's London farewell?



Radu Lupu in rehearsal.
Photo from New York Review of Books, nybooks.com

The chairs were out for the returns queue at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday night. Word was spreading that this might be the last chance for London to hear Radu Lupu play. He has long preferred to avoid the capital's concert halls - whether because of iffy acoustics, acidic critics or other reasons I could not say - and an appearance with the Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Paavo Järvi for Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto looked almost too good to be true. 

Lupu, 73, is tall and imposing on the platform, yet somewhat frail in gait and balance. His Beethoven came through in parts almost as a memory of the concerto. Yet the unique quality of his playing lies in the touch itself. It's the transparency of tone, the cushioned finesse of it, and the way he turns a phrase that, in a matter of a few notes, suggests a deep, empathetic humanity and a profound love for the music.

He uses a chair rather than a piano stool and sits at the keyboard almost as others might at a desk, as if making notes (in every sense, of course). He's thinking aloud with his hands. His playing is a form of writing, a direct channel from mind and spirit. And it is quiet, fabulously so. Rather than slamming out sounds to reach the back of the auditorium, he pulls the audience in towards him, forcing you to listen.



A few memory lapses were accompanied by a half-humorous dismissive gesture with one hand; and in the final movement's cadenza he wasn't above turning a pause into a joke, catching Järvi's eye as if to say 'OK, wait for it....' Järvi proved the perfect accompanist, deferring to Lupu but keeping everything gently on the rails, perhaps stoking up the orchestral energy if the solo line had wandered into the realms of introspection just before.

One hopes that the suggestion Lupu might be winding up his concert schedule this year is not true, but it wouldn't surprise me if it is. I'm sure I wasn't the only person present who listened to his exquisite encore of Brahms Op.117 No. 1 - the darkest of whispered lullabies - with a fearful lump in the throat.

(Please read this beautiful tribute to him by fellow pianist Kirill Gerstein, which appeared in the New York Review of Books for Lupu's 70th birthday.)

Järvi, having proved himself a master of managing energies, did so again in the second half, with a taut, glistening, impassioned account of the Rachmaninov Symphony No.2. It was the perfect cathartic finale for a rather emotional concert hall, and as an interpretation it had the glorious variety of a great epic narrative: the elemental fire of Tolstoy, the fantastical colours of Bulgakov and the aching passion of Chekhov. The Philharmonia played as if their lives depended on it.







Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Are symphonies from memory bad news for pianists?


Aurora plays from memory. (Photo: auroraorchestra.com)

If you want music to lift you clean out of your chair, go and hear the Aurora Orchestra play a symphony from memory.

The opening concert of their season, on Sunday afternoon, entitled Smoke and Mirrors, found them at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, delivering a theatrically staged event – in the first half of which, through clouds of dry ice, the brilliant singer Marcus Farnsworth travelled from Schubert's Der Wanderer to HK Gruber's Frankenstein!!. A narrated link described an erupting volcano, the skies that it darkened in 1816 and some glimpses of Mary Shelley and friends writing ghost stories by the lake. This storytelling's ability to immerse us in the world and the legacy of early romanticism proved vivid and atmospheric; Aurora has Kate Wakeling as writer in residence, and I assume she penned this dramatic casing. (You can find her work in their season programme - not marketing blurb but actual short stories, literary and most attractive.)

All this was tremendous fun. No musician escaped this little production of Frankenstein!! without having to don a silly hat or find a hobby horse ogling at her, and conductor Nicholas Collon had to turn into Superman, with cloak and red lycra underpants. Frankenstein!!, if you haven't heard it, is a bit like Kurt Weill mixed with Monty Python on speed. It's totally wonderful and completely bonkers.

But after the interval came Aurora's famous speciality, a symphony performed from memory, and it was Beethoven's Fifth. Whatever this concert's conceptual presentation, this was the absolute real deal.

Do you think you know this piece? You might find yourself reassessing that notion at such a performance. Even the arrangement of the orchestral forces is theatrical - the contrabassoon entering after the slow movement to sit with the double basses, and the piccolo standing prominently beside the timpani, her interjections in the finale all the more noticeable as a result. The finale is all Handel and Haydn to begin - this was a composer who surely knew his Zadok the Priest and his Creation's Sunrise episode - with a hefty dose of Mozart's Papageno in the coda, which is one big Haydneque joke (the never-ending movement idea later taken up by Dudley Moore, of course). The slow movement - to which Collon brought a lot of con moto, increasing the challenges for the already virtuosic string players - is a close sibling of the variations in the Appassionata, Op. 109 and Op. 111 piano sonatas, the note-values dividing more and more. 

Should one have noticed all this before? Assuredly yes (if you're a critic, at least). The thing is, when one aspect of what you're hearing makes you hear something in a new way, the brain starts connecting in new ways too, and you start questioning and listening differently and noticing all manner of things that you might simply have taken for granted.

No chance of taking anything for granted with this lot. The whole thing flew. At the end the packed audience - young, on average, and maybe not just because this was 4pm on a Sunday afternoon - got up and yelled. Aurora hasn't only pushed the envelope. It's an orchestral rock star.

My question is: if these were the self-same musicians, knowing the music every bit as well, but sitting down and using the music, would it sound the same? Unless we make them do that, one  can't say, of course. I've long been a little bit skeptical about all this, mainly because I was a pianist myself and pianists have been cursed with the necessity of memorisation since the beginning of piano-time, or at least since Clara Schumann and Liszt. No wonder people tend to think we are nutty and antisocial - we are always busy, stressing out something chronic in the practice rooms, trying to learn things from memory! In recent years, more and more pianists have started to think life is just too short and have been playing from a score, often on an iPad, and I've been fully in favour of this. Because they're right: life IS too short...

And yet...


If you've ever played in an orchestra, can you imagine learning a whole symphony from memory, standing up (unless you're a cello, bass or that contrabassoon), interacting with your fellow musicians, having to concentrate even more than you would be at the best of times, having to know not only what you are playing but what everyone else is playing too and how it all fits together, and being able to see everyone else because you're not having to stare at the music? I can only imagine what a certain orchestra I know well would say if asked to do all this, and I reckon it wouldn't be a pretty form of words. But these results are transformative. There's an equality between sections, a sense of everyone interacting the way they would in chamber music. It's not only a question of breathing as one entity, becoming one big animal with lots of paws, as a great symphony orchestra with top conductor can. It's a level of concentration and communication that pulls in the audience to be part of it too.

Pianist with music and iPad. (photo: cmuse.org)
So what are the implications for pianists? If you're playing solo, then there's only one of you and you don't have to choose between staring at the music or indulging in actual interaction with your colleagues and the conductor. If you're playing Bach fugues or Messiaen or Ligeti and suchlike, I wouldn't blame you one little bit for plumping for the old iPad. It won't serve as a barrier between you and anyone else and it will ease your mind and your nerves, which can only be a good thing. 

But the big irony is that for pianists, the convention is to memorise solo works and play chamber music from the score (indeed, the pianist is usually the only one who has the full score in front of him/her). While the set-up of the chamber music circuit would probably make this idea deeply impractical, I can't help thinking it should be the other way around. It's in chamber music that memorisation would be most useful to all concerned, facilitating that interaction. That's not to say it doesn't work as things are. It's just that in an ideal world.....

Well, we don't have an ideal world, in any way, shape or form. But Aurora shows that with enough vision, ambition and determination, transformative experiences are still possible. Bravi tutti.




Tuesday, August 28, 2018

What are you doing on Sunday?

Composer Lili Boulanger

Asking because those of you who are as exercised as I am about the proper recognition of music that's written by women might like to join this splendid initiative from Heather Roche and the Southbank Centre. They're having a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on Sunday 2 September, with the aim of adding more female composers to the site's database. Annoyingly, I will be away in Denmark then, having an actual holiday (cloning urgently required). 

Here's what they say:
If you're in London, grab your laptop and come and join us at the The Royal Festival Hall, where we'll provide support and socialising for fledgling editors. Or: set your laptop up and participate remotely; we'll be live streaming the event via Facebook and tweeting throughout the day with the hashtag #ComposingWikipedia.  
Currently, only 17% of Wikipedia's entries about people are about women and only 10% of Wikipedia's contributing editors are women. Creating a Wikipedia entry is a simple and effective way to raise the profile of a composer. It's also not difficult to do: Wikipedia has become easy to use with a Visual Editor and lots of clear resources.  
If you'd like to sign up, please visit this link.

Pictured above, Lili Boulanger, one of the composers whose music is currently receiving wide acclaim and recognition in part thanks to this ongoing upswing of consciousness - a full century after her untimely death.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Positively brilliant

Last night the Queen Elizabeth Hall reopened in grand style with a performance by Chineke! which by all accounts raised the new roof high indeed. I couldn't be there because I had to go to something else (of which more shortly), but I'm pleased to offer an insider's view of what it was like to be part of that concert - because my husband was playing in it. He is, as you know, usually in the London Philharmonic. And my gosh, he had a good time. Over to Tom...

Chineke! with conductor Anthony Parnther (Tom is at the back on the left)
Photo: Mark Allen

So, my dear, some people were apparently quite surprised to see you playing in Chineke! But you are of an ethnic minority, technically - please explain?

Tom aged 24
One of the main misconceptions of Chineke! is that only black musicians may play in it; the mission statement clearly says “ The organisation aims to be a catalyst for change, realising existing diversity targets within the industry by increasing the representation of BME musicians in British and European orchestras.” I am sure anyone strongly believing in this, as I do, would be most welcome to participate, as either a performer or indeed as a financial sponsor.

I also feel a link with Africa: in my youth I was blessed with a splendid Afro haircut – my father used to say that I resembled the US activist Angela Davis... Obviously this stems from my Jewish roots. Going back thousands of years the Jews were undoubtedly descended from Africa. Hence my frizzy hair!

Chineke! players come from all over the world and are performers at the top of their game. Tell us about who some of your colleagues were? 

Tom with leader Tai Murray
Tai Murray, the orchestra’s leader is a truly marvellous violinist. At the age of 9 she debuted with the Chicago S.O. She has made a stunning recording of the Ysaÿe solo sonatas.
Mariam Adam, the first clarinet, has worked with Yo-Yo Ma, played as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, and is now based in France.
Samson Diamond, originally from Soweto, is now in demand everywhere as a freelance orchestral player.
Mandhira de Saram is the leader of the Ligeti quartet.
I loved the internationality of the orchestra. At least seven of the members are either born or based in Germany and Austria; from time to time I had to pinch myself – are we in London or Berlin?!

What it was like for you all to integrate into one orchestra? How is it different from playing in your usual orchestra?

I felt welcomed and very much at home from the start – musically it felt very similar to the high standard of the LPO.

What was the atmosphere like in the rehearsals and the concert?

At the start of the week I hardly knew anyone, and vice-versa. I must admit to enjoying that. I suppose after 32 years in the LPO, perhaps we know each other too well…
The big difference is that everyone is in Chineke! because they passionately want to be there – as opposed to simply doing “the day job” to which you are so accustomed, however good that may be.

Chi-chi Nwanoku
What did you enjoy most about it?

Feeling that together we had achieved something really special by playing exceptionally well. As a musician, that is always the most important aspect. I think Chi-chi Nwanoku can be extremely proud of what she has created here!

What’s the refurbished QEH like?

You might not guess it from looking at the place from the other side of the river, but it is really wonderful. I played in it a lot 12 years ago when the RFH was being refurbished, and it is transformed. The stage is now much more comfortable and spacious and as it is wider, going clean from side to side of the hall, the acoustic is even better. The wood looks beautiful and shiny and warms up the hall. The foyer is big and welcoming and much more user-friendly. Well done, Southbank Centre – it’s money well spent!

What do you “take away” from this experience?

I love the sheer positiveness of Chineke!. When I really enjoy a concert, I want to shout from the top of the tallest building and tell the world. It’s depressing if you know full well an orchestra has done a wonderful concert, you say “that was great” and some cynic chooses to reply, “Was it?” Last night after the performance all my colleagues in Chineke! were enthusing about the great concert. Their wonderful inspiration is going to make me even more determined to enjoy the rest of my career!

You can hear the concert, which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, on the iPlayer, here.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Beethovening tonight at the Royal Festival Hall

Quick note: if you're around the Southbank Centre for the Belief & Beyond Belief Festival today,  please pop along to the pre-concert talk. Tonight's performance includes Beethoven's Ninth, with the LPO conducted by Kazushi Ono [replacing an indisposed Christoph Eschenbach], and I've been drafted in to moderate a pre-concert discussion with professors Matthew Bell of Kings College London, an expert on German literature, and Benjamin Walton of Cambridge University's music department. We'll be exploring the history and context of the symphony and Schiller's Ode to Joy. Ballroom floor, Royal Festival Hall, 6.15pm. Please come along and say hello.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Southbank Centre to launch WOW Awards for Women in the Creative Industries

Two or three years ago I wrote my first Cross Article about the sexism inherent in the classical music world and suggested we should have a new award - as there is in literature - for women in this industry. Now the Soutbank Centre is going a step further than that. To coincide with the WOW Women of the World Festival, and International Women's Day yesterday (which annoyingly I had to miss, any likely Budapest version having been in Hungarian), the Southbank is announcing the launch of the first-ever awards for Women in the Creative Industries.

Music forms one little part of this. I hope that the achievements of women in classical music will be recognised in full in future awards, and that as one of the smaller corners of the creative industries this vital and ever more active sphere will not be entirely marginalised. I think there's been a lot of progress since that initial Cross Article. It seems to me that scales - so to speak - have fallen from some eyes (though there's always room and time for more to glitter down). There's been an awakening, and with increased awareness some increased action has come about, from such institutions as BBC Radio 3, the Cheltenham Festival, two important early music festivals last year - Brighton and London - and now the BBC Young Musician of the Year, which has made the inspired choice of the composer Dobrinka Tabakova to be chair of its jury for 2016. Even Pembroke College, Cambridge, is putting up a picture of its alumna Emma Johnson, the clarinettist - the first time it has ever commissioned a portrait of a woman in 650 years. 

Here's to much more celebration. I was looking for a "three cheers" video to post, but the only one that falls roughly within the remit of a classical music blog is an extract of HMS Pinafore that begins with three cheers and proceeds with a pompous man singing about being a captain, with a chorus interjecting "And we are his sisters and his cousins and his aunts..."

So instead, over to the Southbank to explain the awards.



SOUTHBANK CENTRE ANNOUNCES FIRST EVER CREATIVE INDUSTRIES AWARDS FOR WOMEN

@WOWtweetUK #WOWLDN
wow.southbankcentre.co.uk


Today Southbank Centre launches WOW Creative Industries Awards, the first ever awards to honour women who are leading the way across the creative industries.
Julia Peyton-Jones, Director, Serpentine Galleries and Paulette Randall, Theatre and Television Director and Playwright are honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award and Bryony Kimmings, Live Artist, Playwright and Director will receive a Bold Moves Award.
The awards, which will be presented annually at Southbank Centre’s WOW- Women of the World festival, will recognise significant achievements made by women in the arts, tech, music, film, games, media, fashion and advertising.

The three inaugural awards are presented by Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly CBE at today’s Women in Creative Industries Day and will be followed by a call for submissions ahead of the first full awards ceremony at WOW-Women of the World festival 2017.

Founder of the WOW Creative Industries Awards and the WOW Women of the World festival, Southbank Centre Artistic Director,  Jude Kelly CBE said:

“I am launching the WOW Creative Industries Awards to recognise how pivotal women have been in making the sector as strong as it is today. Through our Women in Creative Industries Day we strive to bring recognition to the role women play in the creative industries and address challenges women face in reaching their creative goals. I believe these awards will help us reflect on the risks individual women have taken to push the arts, digital, music, film, fashion, games, media and advertising sectors forwards and encourage women who are passionate about carving their own creative path to pursue their dreams.”

Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey MP said:

“Congratulations to Julia Peyton-Jones and Paulette Randall on their outstanding efforts being recognised with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and also to Bryony Kimmings for her valuable contribution to the arts.
"I hope that the WOW Creative Industries Awards will help inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs, artists, designers, coders and writers to pursue their dreams. The UK is home to so much talent in our thriving creative industries, but we can’t forget how much we still need to do to eradicate the barriers many still face when trying to achieve their goals.”

Julia Peyton-Jones, Director of Serpentine Galleries, said:

“I am very proud to be the recipient of the inaugural Women of the World Lifetime Achievement Award. International Women’s Day and occasions such as WOW serve as both an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements and also as a reminder that there is still much to do. Equality is not yet a given and we need to be on the barricades for as long as it takes.”

Bryony Kimmings, Live Artist, Playwright and Director and winner of the Bold Moves Award said:

“I feel very humbled by this award. I often feel I exist at the peripheries of art forms and that being an activist often annoys people, it's bloody great to be told that being bold is a good thing... It makes you want to go even bolder!”

Paulette Randall, Theatre and Television Director and Playwright, said:

“I'm very honoured to receive this award. Working in the arts is not the easy option, it takes courage and determination to succeed. These awards send a signal to women who have a creative passion that if they work hard it can be possible to realise their ambition and I want them to hold on to that.”

The WOW Women in Creative Industries Day is part of Southbank Centre’s week long 6th WOW- Women of the World festival. The day is an opportunity for men and women working across the creative industries to discuss how to achieve gender equality in the sector and a chance to celebrate some of the important improvements that have taken place over the last year.

WOW Women in Creative Industries Day will include appearances from Alice Bah-Kuhnke, Swedish Minister of Culture and Democracy and Louise Jury, Director of Communications & Strategy at the Creative Industries Federation, Maria Eagle MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Conservative Arts and Creative Industries Network and previously a member of the Select Committee for Culture, Media, Sport and the Olympics. There will be speeches from Kate Mosse OBE, international bestselling author and Co-Founder and Chair of the Board of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Lucy Crompton-Reid, CEO of Wikimedia, Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First: Girls, Caroline Norbury MBE, founding Chief Executive of Creative England, Melanie Eusebe, award winning business expert and founder and chair of the Black British Business Awards, Sue Hoyle OBE, Director of the Clore Leadership Programme, Mira Kaushik OBE, Director of South Asian dance company Akademi and Zoe Whitley, Curator, Contemporary British Art at Tate Britain and Curator International Art at Tate Modern.  
For the complete London WOW 2016 programme, visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk/wow

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Southbank's new season goes beyond reality and belief...

...with the first-ever virtual reality orchestra (an initiative with the Philharmonia) and a year-long festival with the LPO called Belief and Beyond Belief, echoing the concept of the groundbreaking The Rest is Noise cross-genre festival.

A few other points of seriously good news:

• Chineke! is to be an associate orchestra, HOORAY!

• There's a new ticket scheme for the under-30s, plus 1000 free tickets available to young concert-goers across the season

• The start of a three-year collaboration with Mitsuko Uchida

• International Orchestras visiting include the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and Cape Town Opera

• A 2017 New Music Biennal, a new contemporary music festival celebrating young composers

• Pianists giving recitals include Benjamin Grosvenor, Yuja Wang, Richard Goode and Maurizio Pollini among others. And Lucas Debargue, who made waves last year at the Tchaikovsky Competition, will be performing with the LPO.

• The OAE's highlights include Bach with the legendary Masaaki Suzuki.

• A major series of live film scores - an increasingly popular phenomenon - including an improvised organ accompaniment to Hitchcock's The Lodger.

A lot more besides. See everything here.

It's heartening - with the roll-out of fabulous programmes for 16-17 at the Barbican the other day, and now all of this - that despite everything, our cultural institutions can still produce exciting, attractive, fresh and inspiring programming at the highest international level.

Did you know that the UK's creative industries are worth, to the economy, £10m PER HOUR? Apparently our creative sphere is growing at twice the rate of anything else. So keeping it on the rails, dear government, is really quite a good idea, please note.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hall of mirrors?

The results of the feasibility study into the mooted new concert hall in the City of London are due out, I hear, (two months late) on Wednesday.

In case you missed it when the whole thing began back in February, here's a piece I wrote over at The Amati Magazine, wondering whether the project is a) a political football, or b) a vanity project, or c) the results of remotely joined up thinking about the needs of London's cultural life, or music education, or d) an attempt to kill off the Southbank (presumably together with all its ensembles - has the LSO ever quite forgotten that murderous 'superorchestra' plan?), or... what exactly? We need a hall, but we don't need it at any price.
...How ironic that some of the people behind this ambitious, “mostly” privately-funded new project should be the very same that effectively killed plans to transform the Southbank Centre into an more attractive, state-of-the-art location.
Is this hall not a hall? Is it a political football, intended to prove the worth of private finance over public and therefore of right-wing attitudes over left?
Conspiracy theories aside, what’s certain is that, far beyond the Square Mile, budget cuts to local authorities – necessitated by Osborne’s austerity policies – are threatening music tuition for thousands of children around the country who cannot afford to pay for private lessons...
Read the whole thing here. 

But many things have changed since February - above all, this past week. In the light of the terrorist attacks in Paris and the current outcry over the projected gigantic cuts to policing here, the idea that a new concert hall costing in the region of several hundred million pounds could be given a significant injection of government money to get it underway would perhaps not be guaranteed to go down exceedingly well with the general public.

And with costs doubtless spiralling, where is the money really going to come from? What chance that the lifeblood of government funding might be sucked out, vampirically, from other arts organisations in London in order to build a super vanity project?

Let's see what happens on Wednesday. I wouldn't rule anything out. The only thing that can usually be guaranteed where British governments and the arts are concerned is that sometime, somewhere, somehow, there'll probably be an almighty cockup.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Why I applaud the Southbank's open-doors policy, despite having been knocked over by skateboarders nearby

My latest comment piece for our Amati Magazine explains all.
Did you know that London’s Southbank Centre was the third most popular visitor attraction in the UK last year? Neither did I, until quite recently. The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions announced it back in the spring; it made the pages of The Stage; and that was about it. It’s behind only the National Gallery and the British Museum and hosted an incredible 6.3m visitors in its first year as an ALVA member. Six point three million, in one year.
But it does beg a question: hang on, isn’t this an arts centre?...
Read the whole thing here. 

Friday, March 06, 2015

International Women's Day continues apace

Great to see International Women's Day really flying this year. There's such a lot going on that I feel quite boggled. Of course, one looks forward to the day when women's equal representation, recognition, pay and respect are taken for granted as human rights and none of this special stuff will be necessary any more. Sad to reflect that instead we're thanking our lucky stars that we live in a part of the world where we have the freedom to have this festival.

If you're in London, get yourself to the Southbank for the WOW Festival - Women of the World - culminating in the annual Mirth Control concert on Sunday night. It features Alice Farnham and Sian Edwards conducting an all-female orchestra in rare works by female composers including Florence Price, plus appearances by amazing singer Angel Blue, the brilliant West End star Sharon D Clarke, the marvellous young musician Ayanna Witter-Johnson, ace comedian Sarah Millican and more. Sandi Toksvig is compère.

Explore the full WOW programme here.



Over on BBC Radio 3 the celebratory programming started earlier this week and extends into next as well. UPDATE: fabulous article here by the R3 presenter Sara Mohr-Pietsch covering this ground and more.

Here is their line-up for the weekend and next week. On Sunday it's the entire day.

Saturday 7 March
CD Review (0900-1215)
Andrew McGregor will be Building a Library on the Clara Schumann Piano Trio with pianist and broadcaster David Owen Norris
Music Matters (1215-1300)
Sara Mohr Pietsch presents a package examining how the world has changed for women writing music across the centuries
Sunday 8 March – International Women’s Day
Geoffrey Smith's Jazz (0000-0100)
Geoffrey Smith presents a portrait of American jazz singer, composer, pianist and actress Carmen McRae
Through the Night (0100-0700)
Through the Night broadcasts music exclusively written by female composers
Breakfast (0700-0900)
A special edition presented by Clemency Burton-Hill
Sunday Morning (0900-1100)
A special edition presented by Rob Cowan and Sarah Walker
Live Concert from the BBC Radio Theatre (1100-1300)
Suzy Klein presents a concert of music by Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann and English composer and violist Rebecca Clarke live from the BBC Radio Theatre (1100-1300) with performances from Radio 3 New Generation Artists Lise Berthaud (viola) and Kitty Whatley (mezzo soprano)
Private Passions (1300-1400)
Michael Berkeley talks to composer Anna Meredith
The Early Music Show (1400-1500)
Lucie Skeaping explores the life and work of Italian Baroque singer and composer Barbara Strozzi
Choral Evensong (1500-1600)
A service from King’s College Cambridge with music composed by female composers
The Choir (1600-1700)
A live edition of with a performance of a new commission by young composer Rhiannon Randle by St Catherine’s Choir
Sunday Feature: From Convent to Concert Hall (1845-1930)
Dr Kate Kennedy tells the story of four string players who were pioneers in different eras, from the 18th to the 20th century with contributions from violinist Margaret Faultless and cellist Julian Lloyd Webber
Radio 3 Live in Concert (1930-2200)
Augusta Holmes: Andromede
Boulanger: D’un matin de Printemps
Tailleferre: Concerto for Two Pianos, Mixed Chorus, Saxophones and Orchestra
Chaminade: Konzertstucke
Mélanie Bonis: Trois Femmes de Legende
Katie Derham presenter
Noriko Ogawa piano
Pascal & Ami Roge piano duet
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Jessica Cottis conductor
Drama on 3 (2200)
Broadcast premiere of Sophocles’ Electra starring Dame Kristin Scott Thomas
Monday 9 March – Friday 13 March
Composer of the Week (Monday-Friday, 1200-1300)
Donald Macleod interviews five female composers under the age of 35 - Charlotte Bray, Anna Clyne, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Hannah Kendall and Dobrinka Tabakova.



Friday, March 28, 2014

No organisation for Stravinsky?

It's the strange case of the missing Rite of Spring.

The launch of the Royal Festival Hall's newly refurbished organ has been dominating the Southbank Centre all this week, with a no-holds-barred festival called Pull Out All The Stops. My old friend and colleague Clare Stevens was at the recital by the distinguished French organist Olivier Latry last night and she reports on an incident that has implications far beyond the sound of the mighty "king of the instruments". 

Latry had planned to play a transcription of The Rite of Spring, apparently originating in the composer's own version for two pianos, four hands, but the programme was changed to Widor's Fifth Symphony. What happened?


Clare says: "In addition to referring to his disappointment in very strong terms in his pre-concert talk, Latry read a prepared and clearly very impassioned statement at the start of the second half apologising to the audience especially those who had booked tickets in order to hear the Rite, and explaining that Stravinsky's publishers had withheld permission, on the grounds that it would be an infringement of Stravinsky's intellectual property to play it. Apparently it is OK to play it in the US where the publishers' writ doesn't run. Latry added that he still hoped to be able to come back and play it at the RFH one day, if the rules change."

As a TV presenter once said to a tattoo artist, where do you draw the line? On the one hand, it is vitally important to uphold those laws; otherwise it is artists/creatives who lose out. On the other hand, it would also be nice to think there could be some two-way traffic and that an arrangement could be reached whereby an artist as stupendous as Latry could indeed be heard performing a work like Rite, especially for such a special occasion (apart from anything else, imagine all the work he must have put into learning the thing). Where dedication and tribute is surely a motivation, in the context of the very top level of the world's organs and organists, shouldn't the situation be rather different from the more widespread acts of piracy, cheating and unauthorised exploitation? But meanwhile this Rite - with a certain irony - had to be sacrificed.

The organ festival - which runs til June - continues this weekend with Cameron Carpenter (yes, that guy) improvising a live sound-track to the 1920s German Expressionist film classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari tomorrow night, plus fun and games all around the centre including free taster organ lessons. Check it out here.