Showing posts with label Valery Gergiev. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Valery Gergiev. Show all posts

Friday, July 03, 2015

Watch the Tchaikovsky Competition Prizewinners' Gala NOW

The Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and St Petersburg has concluded with a storm of controversy in some departments. OK, let's face it, that is perhaps par for the course in contests of this magnitude. Today is your chance to see and hear the winners. It's on NOW at

The Prizewinners' Gala is taking place today at 5pm GMT in the Mariinsky II concert hall, St Petersburg - and you can watch it live. Valery Gergiev will also be announcing the winner of the Grand Prize - the one overall winner from the five categories of piano, violin, cello and voices male and female.

Piano: Dmitry Masleev (Russia)
Cello: Andrei Ionut Ionita (Romania)
Voice (male): Ariunbaatar Ganhbaatar (Mongolia)
Voice (female): Yulia Matochkina (Russia)
Violin: No first prize awarded. Second prize: Yu-Chien Tseng (Taiwan)

The whole competition has been live-streamed on and the contestants' performances are all up there for you to see - and make up your own mind about these young musicians.!/xv-international-tchaikovsky-competition-on-medicitv-second-gala-concert

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Statement from Gergiev

Here is a statement just issued by Valery Gergiev.
I am aware of the gay rights protest that took place at the Barbican last week prior to my concert with the LSO.  I have said before that I do not discriminate against anyone, gay or otherwise, and never have done, and as head of the Mariinsky Theatre this is our policy.  It is wrong to suggest that I have ever supported anti-gay legislation and in all my work I have upheld equal rights for all people.   I am an artist and have for over three decades worked with tens of thousands of people in dozens of countries from all walks of life and many of them are indeed my friends. I collaborate with and support all my colleagues in the endeavour for music and art. This is my focus as a conductor, musician, artist and as Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre and Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra."
Valery Gergiev 

Update, 7 November 8.40am: here is an open letter to Gergiev by David Nice of The Arts Desk. 

And strong stuff from Philip Clark in The Guardian:


Some music critics and bloggers are calling for a boycott of Gergiev over his support of Putin, with regard to the anti-gay laws in Russia. Following a pre-concert solitary protest in the hall the other night, we understand that tomorrow evening (Thursday) activist Peter Tatchell is inviting anybody who's concerned about gay rights in Russia to join him and friends outside the Barbican for a peaceful demo, complete with sparklers. "Putin represses, we sparkle!" his website declares. Details here.

The LSO has handled the furore by distancing itself. It put out a tweet saying simply: "The LSO believes in equal rights for all. Gergiev’s personal views are his own, and not of LSO." Some will consider the response not robust enough - but having seen other organisations behave like ostriches, jam-jar fleas and headless chickens on certain tricky occasions, my view is that this is the most sensible thing it could do under the circumstances.

Music and politics: you can't separate them. Unless you're kidding yourself.

And meanwhile...the saga of leadership at the Vaganova Academy continues. Ismene Brown's blog is the place to find in-depth explorations of Russian sources - highly recommended. [JD note to self: in next life, learn more Russian than the alphabet and how to say "Я люблю тебя".]. In Russia, a leading ballet columnist has allegedly received threats for covering the story.

A few key points: a petition is being gathered to protest about the appointment of the former Bolshoi dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze as rector of the Vaganova Academy. There are also major concerns about Gergiev's grand plan to unite the great St Petersburg arts institutions into one organisation, under his direction, a plan that awaits approval by Putin but is apparently on his desk. Further reports in The Guardian, here.

Moreover, Ismene links to a Russian blogger who suggests that the force behind Tsiskaridze's bid for the appointment is actually the wife of an oligarch (Gergiev is said not to be in favour of the dancer getting the job). Big money calling the shots, for reasons best known to itself. This syndrome is not solely a Russian phenomenon. Watch for it a little closer to home as the years roll by.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Whither Gergiev?

Woke up to reports flying around Twitter that Gergiev's concert with the LSO at the Barbican last night had a surprise speaker in the form of Peter Tatchell, who made his way on to the stage before the performance to protest about Gergiev's support for Putin, with regard to recently introduced anti-gay laws in Russia. (More on the background here.) Tatchell was swiftly removed, but the blog The Last Ditch suggests that a member of the orchestra also gave him a shove (not the world's greatest idea, chaps).

More concerning still is this report from ballet journalist and Arts Desk founder Ismene Brown re the situation in Russia vis-a-vis the Mariinsky and the leadership of the Vaganova Ballet Academy. A number of insiders there are placing blame on Gergiev's leadership for what they see as the financial marginalisation of ballet within the centre's artistic activities. Please read.

I have one concern to add. A recent CD I heard from LSO Live - the first of the Szymanowski series - sounded, essentially, as if Britain's top orchestra was under-rehearsed, a major problem in something as complex and gorgeous as Szymanowski's Symphony No.2. I found the disc disappointing, especially when listened to alongside Ed Gardner's account on Chandos. The next LSO/Gergiev album, of the symphonies nos. 3 and 4, fortunately seemed more successful - but standards, especially at this level, need to be consistent.

Some of us were much in favour of Gergiev's appointment to the LSO when it first happened. He would, we thought, raise the already fine international profile of the orchestra and of London with it; he would fill houses, compel audiences, produce unparalleled excitement in performance. All this has indeed happened. I've met musicians who adore him and who feel he pushes other conductors into the shade; some, indeed, who don't like playing for anyone else. And yet...things can (nearly) fall apart nonetheless. Upon that initial appointment, those who opposed it questioned his likely commitment to our orchestra compared to his Mariinsky.

My personal impression, from interviewing him a number of times over the years, is that for Gergiev - despite his protestations of admiration and affection for the LSO - the Mariinsky is the light of his life and he will do pretty much anything for it; and that it was to this end - ie, the ongoing development of and funding for his vision for the Mariinsky - that he has always found it prudent to talk directly to Putin.

The question is, as the TV presenter said to the tattoo artist: where do you draw the line?

A catch-up on this week's intense patch of other activities may have to wait (and I have to go to the dentist).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dear Valery, please bring us back the spring...

On the day the LSO and Valery Gergiev played in Trafalgar Square last spring, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Mostly it rained for four months solid, so this was quite an achievement. Now we've all had enough of the freezing, grey, endless winter that's been engulfing the UK (fyi, it's thought that as 80% of the Arctic ice has melted, it's shifted the Gulf Stream, which used to stop this from happening, so we're stuck with it. Climate change in question? The climate has already changed...).

So we need Gergiev to do something about this, please. Or maybe we need to make a sacrifice PDQ to propitiate Yarilo the sun god (a member of the cabinet would do nicely). For the time being, here is Gergiev with the Mariinsky Ballet in a complete performance of The Rite of Spring, with the original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky and designs by Nicholas Roerich. It'll warm up your computer, if nothing else.

Meanwhile, I am confined to my Sarah Lund sweater. Hope they don't mind if I wear it to the Coliseum tonight to see Osipova and Vasiliev dance Giselle.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

And he's off...

So Valery Gergiev is going. According to Norman, he'll finish with the LSO in 2016 and is strongly tipped to be heading for the well-moneyed Munich Philharmonic.  [UPDATE, WEDNESDAY 23 JAN, 5PM: it's confirmed. Munich Phil has got VG, with a five-year contract: 2015-20.]

Do you have any idea how much public subsidy that city puts into its arts? It's enough to make Keynes weep. The opera house alone gets well over E100m every year. The orchestra of the Bayerische Rundfunk is one of the finest I have ever heard in all my years of hanging out with orchestras, easily as good as Berlin, possibly better than Vienna. The townsfolk of Munich love their culture and regard classical music and opera as an accepted part of daily life, which is where it should be. The Munich Philharmonic can afford the best - and it makes sure it gets the best. Oh, and Germany just increased its arts budget. If the biggest musical stars in the world head for where the money is, we shouldn't be remotely surprised.

As for the LSO - well, looks like this timing won't work for Rattle, so a range of other brilliant and probably younger maestri will be lining up for the UK's top job. I can think of three or four seriously good candidates without trying too hard, of whom two are Russian, one is English and one is - ah, but that would give it away. (Meanwhile Solti is now waiting for two phone calls. He says there's no reason that he couldn't do both Berlin and London, being that sort of cat.)

The person at the top of my wish-list is a little different. I don't know if he'd be in the running, since I'm not sure he's conducted the LSO before. But we can dream, can't we, and I urge anyone who has the chance to get to the Manchester Camerata, the Verbier Chamber Orchestra or the Budapest Festival Orchestra (where he's Ivan Fischer's second-in-command) to grab a concert with this amazing, inspirational man.

Monday, December 31, 2012

And JDCMB's top ten posts of 2012 are...

Here are the top ten stories on JDCMB this year. Good to see that among the matters that interested you most were some of the world's top conductors, several exciting young artists and quite a few of the quirky JDCMB pieces that you won't find anywhere else - not least, the April Fool's Day spectacular. Below, listed in reverse order.

Thank you, everyone, for joining me through the roller-coaster highs and lows of 2012 and here's hoping that in 2013 the comets shine bright!

10.  Socks for the Lilac Fairy?                                                  
 Why do balletomanes knit socks for their favourite dancers, but Lang Lang doesn't get gloves from the pianophiles?

Life-enhancing ways to behave at a concert.


Introducing Angelo Villani.

In which I sit in on the great maestro's conducting masterclasses.

Italian romantic in cravat triumphs at the UK's premier piano competition.

You're a pragmatic lot, dear readers, and you know when you're on to a good thing.

Or can there? A look at this year's finalists.

1 April, and it looked like we might all have to play to Gergiev. Delightfully, a few of you fell for this, lock, stock and subsequent red ears.

And in first place...

The maestro gets it all off his chest.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Singing for their supper picnic...

May? It'll soon be Glyndebourne.

I had a nose about the new season that left me wondering - given the nature of their poster - who the black sheep of the Glynditz family could possibly be. Well, blow me down - it's Ravel? Seems that people don't want to eat something that they can't pronounce. I asked general manager David Pickard how it's all going in these hard times, and also had a chat with Melly Still about her new production of The Cunning Little Vixen - you remember, she was the director of Glyndebourne's utterly magical Rusalka a couple of years ago. Read all about it in my piece for today's Independent.

Meanwhile, Glyndebourne is currently offering a free streaming on its website of On Such a Night. It's a wonderfully 1950s film directed by Anthony Asquith, designed to introduce audiences, and Americans in particular, to the delights of English country house opera. Catch it here.

And if you're heading to Trafalgar Square this evening to hear the LSO, guess what? The sun is out. Is there nothing that Valery Gergiev can't fix?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday catch-up and Friday historical...

Busy patch. Here are some highlights of days past and the weekend ahead.

>> I was on BBC Radio 4's Front Row the other day, in discussion with Klaus Heymann, founder of Naxos Records, about the way the record industry has changed since the company launched 25 years ago. If you missed it, you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer until Tuesday:

>> Pianist Anthony Hewitt, "The Olympianist", has set off on his big ride from Land's End to John O'Groats and was lucky enough to encounter a strong west tail wind to get things started. He made it from kick-off to Truro in three hours, with his trusty BeethoVan close behind. Follow his progress via his website here. He's already raised more than £4000 for his seven musical and sporting charities.

>> The Royal Philharmonic Society Awards ceremony was held on Tuesday night at the Dorchester. Highlights included a gold medal for Mitsuko Uchida, whose speech was as vivid and genuine as her playing. So was Gareth Malone's - as keynote speaker he was gloriously positive. We are representing the best music in the world, so let's celebrate that! He stopped short of getting us all to sing, though. Maurizio Pollini was Instrumentalist of the Year and Claudio Abbado scooped the Conductor prize. Cellist Olly Coates was selected as Young Artist, heading off extraordinary competition from a shortlist that also included Benjamin Grosvenor and Sophie Bevan. It was an extremely good night for ENO, which won the Opera award for its Eugene Onegin. With them was Toby Spence, who won Singer of the Year, a prize that incidentally was decided upon well before the distressing news reached anybody that he has been having treatment for thyroid cancer. He tells me he is on the mend, supported by a superb team of doctors and vocal coaches. And he was wearing some spectacular leopard-print shoes. A fine time was had by one and all. Full list of winners here. A Radio 3 broadcast is coming up on

>> I've just attended a special screening of John Bridcut's new documentary about Delius. It's fabulous. Exquisitely shot, full of insights and containing one or two considerable surprises - not least, some unfamiliar music that has no business being as neglected as it is. A few familiar faces on board, too (hello, Aarhus!). Don't miss it. It will be on BBC4 on 25 May.

>> My latest piece for The Spectator Arts Blog is about the unstoppable rise of the modern counter-tenor. I asked Iestyn Davies to explain to us how That Voice works. Read the whole thing here.

>> Tomorrow the LSO is giving a free concert in Trafalgar Square, complete with Valery Gergiev on the podium. Expect lots of Stravinsky, big screens and a London backdrop second to none. And the weather forecast says that, for once, it is NOT going to rain. Even Prince Charles will tell you so. Apparently he's always wanted to be a weatherman. Now his guest appearance on BBC Scotland has gone viral...

>> On Sunday Roxanna Panufnik has the world premiere of her new choral piece Love Endureth at Westminster Cathedral, during Vespers, 3.30pm. You don't have to be Catholic to go in. Here's an interview with her about this multi-faith project that I wrote a few weeks back - for the JC.

>> Apparently Roman Polanski is making a film about the Dreyfus Case. In the Guardian he comments: "one can show its absolute relevance to what is happening in today's world – the age-old spectacle of the witch hunt on a minority group, security paranoia, secret military tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, governmental cover-ups and a rabid press." (Quite.)

And so to Friday Historical. Tomorrow is Gabriel Fauré's birthday. Here is Samson François playing the Nocturne No.6 in D flat.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

STOP PRESS! Critics to undergo formal auditions as musicians

After many discussions in the past year about what makes a good music critic, change is afoot. A consortium of directors drawn from the ranks of arts editors, conservatoire heads and senior figures from the highest echelons of the musical profession is preparing a new scheme whereby every music critic is to be vetted for his or her abilities - as a musician. The panel will be headed by the principal conductor of the UK's top orchestra: Valery Gergiev, who has made time in his busy schedule to undertake this vital task. Each critic will be required to perform three constrating pieces of music in front of Maestro Gergiev and his colleagues.

"There's a general feeling amongst musicians that standards of assessment are dropping," said a source close to Gergiev. "We feel it is only fair that the public should be confident that people passing judgment on seasoned artists' professional achievements actually know what they are talking about.

"We cannot have a situation in which, to take a hypothetical example, a pianist might be condemned by a critic who cannot play a note and could consequently be stirred by dubious motivations, such as professional jealousy of another critic who has expressed a contrasting opinion of that artist. We believe that making each critic perform for the panel will not only test their own innate musicianship - and hence the integrity of their judgments - but will also give them a degree of empathy for their targets and the process that each of those musicians undergoes every time he or she is on stage."

In response, a spokesperson for the critics (who prefers not to be named) voices words of protest: "We believe that good critics, first and foremost, must be good writers," she declares. "I have met excellent musicians who can't tell the difference between "their" and "there" and who, frankly, have no clue where to put their apostrophes. Some of them can scarcely spell their own names, let alone the words "persuasive", "occasionally" and "Massachusetts". The musical profession, having concentrated its training on the perfection of performance, sometimes neglects the general education of budding performers to a very unfortunate degree. Consequently, you cannot expect a good musician necessarily to be a good critic. This panel will test only one part of the picture, and not necessarily the best part."

But the die is cast and we're all going to have to audition for Gergiev. So I'd better go and practise. They've promised I will be permitted to play Bach on the piano.

Happy April.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Hooray for Haydn

In case you missed listings site Bachtrack's latest set of annual statistics yesterday, here they are:

So, we learn that Handel's Messiah is still the most often performed work (no, really?), and - golly gosh - Liszt entered the top ten of most performed composers in his bicentenary year, while Chopin and Schumann were virtually semi-retired by comparison, perhaps after everyone overdosed on them in 2010. But the biggest eyebrow-raise goes to the Busiest Conductor list, which puts The Dude in top spot with Ivan Fischer at no.2 - and Valery Gergiev, formerly no.1, not even up there. Intriguing.

But here is something that really caught my eye: Haydn is consistently amongst the top ten most often performed composers, hovering around no.6-8 - for 2011 it's 8. It often seems to me that this great-hearted, pure-spirited and tirelessly original composer tends to get short shrift from the concert-going public, compared to his friend Mozart and his pupil Beethoven. But perhaps that isn't the case after all: quietly and decisively, 'Papa Haydn' is getting his just desserts after all, and they may contain chocolate.

Here is one of his piano masterpieces to enjoy this weekend: the Andante and Variations in F minor, played by none other than Paderewski.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


That's JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards 2011 in Danish, or sort of. This year we have abandoned the usual Cyberposhplace - too many people around there to whom we don't wish to be polite - and booked instead a very special CyberScandinavian venue: a Virtual version of the Sjette Frederiks Kro, tucked away in the beech woods by the sea in Aarhus. Please come in and thaw out by the log fire. And don't miss the hot chocolate. It's the best in the whole world - even better than the Cafe Europejska in Krakow - and they bring you a goloptious full-up pot of it... Prepare to sing, too. The Danes always sing at parties.

This has been the year in which the Sleeping Beauty woke up (see choreographer Matthew Bourne's project for Christmas 2012) - and didn't much like what she saw. This year it was revealed, loud and clear, just how intensely, insidiously and pervasively big money rules the world and the music world with it, trampling on all and sundry that are left behind. This year, too, we've seen - on our own doorsteps - the danger of all ideologies that put the imposition of their dogma and the crushing of dissent before any notion of basic humanity. Heaven alone knows what 2012 will bring, but my words to you today, on the Winter Solstice 2011, are these.

Beware of anything that threatens the democratic nature of the places, societies and organisations in which you function. Never sign away your rights - someone will try to convince you it's in your own best interests, but it never is. Remember that constitutions exist for a reason, and if anyone wants to change yours, take a good, hard look at who, how, why, and who gains (case study: Hungary). To quote this article from Spiegel Online about culture in Hungary - where journalists this week have been on hunger strike against press manipulation - "to gain complete control over a country, one has to control what people think." This doesn't only apply to countries. Now that you're awake, keep your eyes wide open.

In a skewed and shaky world, it's more difficult, yet also more important, to keep up the celebration of the Ginger Stripes. Solti is back on his silken cushion today, and I've promised him a lot of fresh Danish fish.

This year's awards are taking a slightly different format from the usual. Instead of specific categories, we've just chosen specific people. Through 2011, more than ever, my interviewees have been a source of great joy and inspiration. I've been lucky enough to come into contact with an astonishing succession of individuals; with each of them there is much to learn, nuggets to nurture, jewels to treasure. I've also attended some unforgettable performances. And writing a little more about dance - which was my first love, you know - has brought a welcome new dimension and a different type of challenge. You think it's difficult to write about music? That's a piece of cake by comparison...

Now, to business! A round of applause, please, for our special guests: some of this year's top interviewees. As they approach the silken cushion to stroke the ginger stripes and claim their prize purrs from Solti, plus a VirtualSarahLundSweater, meet them, love them and thank them.

Anna Caterina Antonacci - the Italian mezzo/and/or soprano whose artistry stands out in today's operatic scene like a George Eliot novel surrounded by chicklit. Is she the nearest thing we have to Pauline Viardot? I believe so. Article from Opera News. Below: as Cassandre in Les Troyens - which she will be singing in London next summer.

Martha Argerich. Interviewing her was a challenge I never imagined I'd meet, but...somehow...did. In the words of Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who conducted the concert in Rome that I attended: " she still playing as well as ever? Of course she is. Why wouldn’t she? To me she is not 70, or 60, or 20. She is just Martha.”

Gustavo Dudamel. Cometh the hour, cometh the Dude. Again, it was all touch and go, but in the end we touched. What energy. What charisma. Go, Gustavo, go: be the next Bernstein. We need one. Better still, be the first Dude.

Valery Gergiev. Speaking of energy...

Andras Schiff. A great man as well as a great musician: speaking out about the rise of the racist far-right in his native Hungary has landed him with a backlash that's made him wonder if he can ever return - though that does rather prove the veracity of what he said. Meanwhile, Beethoven is eternal...

Benjamin Grosvenor. This has been his year. Let's put aside the many landmark events he's experienced - we've marked them amply on JDCMB - and simply consider this: Benjamin's playing leaves me wondering why not every pianist plays like that, and why anyone would think, for a moment, that anything less will do. Here he is having some fun with an encore at the Prom...

Eva-Maria Westbroek. Interviewed her, loved her, loved her singing. I heard her in three astounding performances. First, Anna Nicole, which threw her into a spotlight the size of the Millennium Dome but with rather more substance within - and not only silicone. Then Sieglinde in the Met's cinecast of Die Walkure, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmind. And finally Il Tabarro at Covent Garden, part of Richard Jones's magnificent production of Il Trittico, which I didn't actually write up, but which was a major highlight of this year's opera-going. Here she is in one of her favourite roles, Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

Sergei Polunin. The 21-year-old Royal Ballet star really does want to open a tattoo parlour. The day after the cinecast of The Sleeping Beauty last week, JDCMB was carpet-bombed by Google searches for this dark-lord-in-waiting of British ballet. In this clip, Lauren Cuthbertson as Aurora is equally poetic.

Zofia Posmysz. The author of The Passenger, a novel based on her own experiences in Auschwitz, could not be more radiant or less embittered if she tried. She came to London for the UK premiere of the opera by Weinberg based on her book. Talking to this remarkable woman was a very humbling experience. Film below in Polish with German subtitles, except the bits in English from David Pountney, and provides a taste of the opera's furious, devastating music. (It got panned in London, but I couldn't care less.)

Rolando Villazon. First I heard his marvellous Werther at Covent Garden; then, at the crucial moment in September, I went to Paris to meet him. He gave me a red foam nose. It is now on my desk lamp, where it has helped to keep me sane these past months. This song from last week's Royal Variety Performance sums it all up. Thank you, Dr Rollo.

And performances? It's a golden age. It really is Joseph Calleja at close quarters at a Decca launch in the ROH Crush Bar; Jonas Kaufmann in recital at the Royal Festival Hall. The Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer at the RFH (the best Beethoven Pastoral Symphony ever) and the Proms (Mahler 1 and the fun, engaging, wonderfully played Audience Choice event). The cinecast from the Met of Die Walkure, where the cast - Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde, Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund, Bryn Terfel as Wotan and Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde - had us all pinching ourselves to make sure it was true. Despite my reservations about the detail of cinecasting, it's a great new medium that's transforming our experience of opera, theatre and ballet; and through this medium the Met also brought us Rossini's fabulous Le Comte Ory, with Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau and Joyce DiDonato. At the ballet, Osipova and Vasiliev rawked Ashton's Romeo and Juliet; and, as I couldn't interview Tchaikovsky about The Nutcracker, Joby Talbot was a fascinating alternative as he told me about his new score for Alice. Another major highlight: revisiting the Dartington Summer School of Music. It's always strange going back to a place that meant so much to you so long ago - but the old magic is still alive and well.

Huge treats, too, in performances of my own stuff, some on the other side of the globe. Roxanna Panufnik's beautiful choral work Let Me In, for which I scribbled the words, was premiered by Chanticleer in San Francisco in the spring and is now out on CD. In July, Piers Lane's Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville gave the first performance of Sins of the Fathers, my words-and-music project about Liszt, Wagner and Cosima (it's not quite Lisztomania, but hey...). Hungarian Dances with Bradley Creswick and Margaret Fingerhut at Potton Hall and Old Swinford Hospital School, was huge fun - and I'm happy to say we're taking it to the Buxton Festival next year.

A reading of A Walk Through the End of Time - my Messiaen play - at East Sheen Library bore fruit: an enthusiastic impresaria was present, liked it and is currently arranging a new lease of life for it, featuring two superb actors - Susan Porrett and Patrick Drury - as well as the considerable massed talents of Viv McLean (piano), Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin), Matthew Hunt (clarinet) and Gemma Rosefield (cello), starting with a showcase concert at Bob Boas's central London salon on 9 January. More news soon, I hope.

And in case you wondered - yes, I am writing another novel. Slowly. It's different. It's historical. It's unbelievable. And it's all true.

Dear readers, we live in interesting times. I hope that we can make them turn out for the best. Please raise a glass as our stars of stage and page step forward and lead us in a rousing, celebratory Danish Xmas song. Now, come on, everyone - we have to dance round the tree. Did I mention that? No? Well, we do...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Queuing for returns at the Barbican

It's an unusual sight: a line of people snaking through that sunless foyer behind a sign marked 'Queue here for returns'. The Barbican was full to busting last night for the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra new season, Gergiev conducting Mahler 3.

A startling performance, containing moments of phenomenal magic. The opening of musical windows as Pan brushes through in a gust of air from another world at the end of the second movement, shaking away the offstage enchantment of the Venetian song; the hushed tremolandi in which the whole audience held its breath; Anna Larsson's persuasive mezzo uttering the words 'O Mensch'; the choirs singing from memory; the ultimate tenderness as the final movement began.

Gergiev has the most extraordinary hands: big, loose paws with talons that quiver and shiver and flap, expressive to the last fingertip. I don't know how anybody follows his beat, but the chemistry is powerful: not so much a beat as a thread, created by charisma and, one supposes, respect, a tightrope of communication on which the orchestra balanced with poise and assurance.

It was also extremely loud. The first movement left me reaching for a non-existent volume knob. Was it the hall or the orchestra? Should one have this sensation in Mahler? Are we so desensitised by pop music and aeroplanes and iPods etc that we need excessive loudness in Mahler too? Still, it was worth it. Lingering images include Larsson, resplendent in a wonderful dress of dusky pink and plum-coloured silk, apparently transfixed by Gergiev's feet as they left the podium for the air in the last movement; the lengthy ovation, which didn't want to end; and my companion for the evening remarking, on the way out, 'we have a DVD of Lenny doing this which is really incredible...'

So, they're queuing for returns at the LSO; the refurbished RFH has more life in it than ever before; you can't get into anything good at the Wigmore for love or money; and the Proms has recently announced that this season produced its best-ever ticket sales. The Ring opens next week and they've scheduled an extra 'preview' cycle, which began yesterday. Forgive me for saying so, but from here it doesn't look as if classical music is dead.