Showing posts with label Vladimir Jurowski. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vladimir Jurowski. Show all posts

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A very big noise: ONE DAY ONE CHOIR


'One Day One Choir' sounds singular. But hang on a mo: no fewer than 55 countries are now taking part in this gigantic day of celebration to bring peace (both inner and interpersonal) to us all through singing together. 

One Day One Choir has snowballed in the past three years: next month it will enjoy its biggest event yet, including the participation of 30 cathedrals. Its website describes it as "an inspiring global peace initiative which uses the harmonious power of singing together to unite people around the world on Peace Day, September 21st". It's still building, though, with a special eye on 2018, the final year of the World War I commemorations, so there could be no better time to step up, get involved and add your voices to the worldwide mix.

I asked its instigator and organiser, Jane Hanson, how and why she started on the project and where it goes from here.


JD: What’s the idea behind One Day One Choir? Why this, why now?

Jane Hanson
JH: ODOC arrived as a vision over a period of weeks in 2013. It was always clear that it would be about inspiring/motivating people to sing together for peace and using the amazing powers and qualities of singing to connect and unite people. 

I had been troubled about the unrest in Syria for some time, riots had been taking place in the UK and I was constantly being asked by children what was going to happen and how could they stop being scared. I kept thinking about what was happening and asking myself what could I do to make a small contribution for the better. 

I’d sung in choirs almost all my life (as had my parents and grandparents) and I’d also done research and radio work for the BBC on the power of music and singing together - so I knew this was something that anyone, anywhere in the world could do. I had seen the special and powerful effect singing together had achieved in many communities around the world.  Singing unites and uplifts people more quickly and effectively than almost any other human activity, and I knew it could make a difference by bringing people together and helping them to focus on thoughts and ideas around peace and unity. I’d also run the London Philharmonic Choir, so had connections and had helped out on global choral concerts for Voices for Hospices. I thought that by getting people singing together around the world, I could create something that offered an opportunity to anyone, anywhere, to have a small voice for peace and to feel connected to others with the same aim.

Vladimir Jurowski adds his support
Vladimir Jurowski was part of the vision. I went to him and asked for support, which he gave by bringing the LPO on board and adding his name as an ambassador for the project. Then I had to try and find funding and support for a launch concert. While all these ideas were running around in my head, the government announced that a chunk of money was becoming available to fund projects linked to the World War I commemoration, 14-18, so I thought perhaps I could run a project during these years and get people to unite in their communities and sing together for peace. Unfortunately, despite best attempts and a personal letter to me from the PM saying that ODOC was a very exciting idea, no money from this vast fund was to be forthcoming as it was only for projects linked to and directly commemoration WW1 events, and definitely not for peace projects... 

I almost gave up many times - but something always happened to keep me going. Everyone I spoke with thought the project was a brilliant idea and insisted I carry on. Three months before Peace Day 2014 I had lots of support, but still no funding, when - out of the blue - Radio 3’s The Choir stepped up and offered us a launch concert in the piazza outside Broadcasting House. This, along with media that had built up around the project, kicked us off on 21 September 2014. A conglomerate of choirs comprising The Mixed Up Chorus, London International Gospel Choir, Gospel Oak Community Parents Choir, Cheam Common Infant School Choir and The London Philharmonic Choir sang separately and together in an event broadcast live on Radio 3 and - with the help of various groups and supporters - 100,000 other people around the world also signed up to sing for peace.


JD: What does it take to organise events as big as this? How do you get people involved and spread the word.

JH: Faith, effort, determination, time and commitment - plus the support of friends and others who feel strongly about doing something for unity, community and peace and who love singing. I still do all this for free in my ‘ spare' time, so we don’t have the outreach and impact we would have if we had funding, wider support and back up and staff. But we’re still not doing too badly: lots of people know about us now. I do what I can do in the time I have and try and reach out to other groups who are interested in the same things and who try to help us by spreading the word and by finding some media support as well. 

First one school in Argentina joined in;
this year, six or seven participate
Most of our outreach goes through the website, Facebook and people who have already sung with us and share our values. One man has driven around the UK visiting cathedrals and peace centres and asking them to come on board, a music student in Kansas brought eight choirs on board last year and there are more stories of people taking up the ‘baton' and helping the project to run.

We are also now getting support from Sing UP, Music Mark and Making Music and an increasing number of people love the project and help out by reaching out and spreading the word to others - though obviously we would love LOTS more.


JD: Do you think music can bring peace? If so, how?

JH: By itself, of course, not directly, although singing can be a very peaceful and positive and uniting activity. We are looking at peace of all kinds in this project. We’re not just about non-violence but - perhaps more importantly - about inner peace, and thinking about ways to build and maintain peaceful existence with each other in families, schools, work place, communities, etc. Certainly when people sing together a very powerful bonding takes place. 


The Sixteen's recent Poulenc CD
with a dove, symbol of peace
Singing has been shown scientifically and psychologically to connect and unite people more than any other activity - some people even go as far as to say that that is its purpose. Vladimir Jurowski, for example, definitely believes that singing together has a special sociological power or purpose and helps people and communities to connect and keep linked in a positive way. Then there is the view of Bernstein: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

It is also a good teaching tool, especially in schools that work with the project to introduce notions and lessons/thoughts on what peace is and how to help achieve it personally and at school, as well as singing which is the fun and widely connecting part for children. For some schools where singing has taken a back seat of late, it provides a great opportunity to get the whole school singing by coming to it from a different direction. And teachers want ways to communicate with children about global issues, dealing with conflict and talking about peace. More and more schools are signing up, all over the world - already including more than 500 in Pakistan.


JD: Where would you like the project to go from here?

JH: I’d love some big organisation or media group to offer help to take this to more and more people and to help us create a big concert next year that can be screened or streamed to a huge audience around the world. I feel more like the guardian of the project than the owner; it needs help and support now from or wider community groups and leaders.

I would like as many people as possible around the world to engage with the project and sing for unity and peace with us - especially children and schools - and I’d like people to do this more spontaneously themselves in the future. To sing in a pro-active way in their communities without having to be on a social media video, for example, and to reach out to others to bring them together. If there were an annual peace singing event, I’m sure people would love it.

I also want people to take the thoughts and ideas we share about unity and peace (and singing) into their everyday lives, using them however they can to help themselves and their communities - and to be empowered and to have fun with it. 

Two singers from the National Opera Studio added their voices to those of students from Burntwood School in this Peace Assembly in London last year

JD: What would you say to encourage people to take part?

JH: Most people love singing and I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t want to live in a more peaceful or united world. So I would simply ask them to think about this and then get together with a few (or lots of) other people and add their voices to the others singing out.  

It’s not necessary to put on a concert, although people do. You can sing one song to be part of it - anything appropriate for peace (we have some free songs on the website) or you can dedicate something you are already doing, e.g. evensong or chants in temples and mosques or even a pre-planned rehearsal or concert. The Sixteen have just dedicated their concert on 21 September and will be mentioning us before they sing, and the monks at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight and at Wat Buddhapadipa Thai Temple will be dedicating their chanting to ODOC and inviting the public to join in. The Wat is organising a special chant event for ODOC this year.

And this is a great and easy project for schools to join, as the whole school can sing in assembly. We provide free songs and support - and children and teachers who’ve already joined us love it.  Increasing numbers of schools now connect with others, or invite parents in to join them

If that’s not inspiring enough, then singing itself is super-good for us in so many ways - it has multiple health benefits including the fact that singing regularly in a choir improves your entire immune system. It literally helps to make us feel uplifted and happy because of the chemicals it stimulates in our brains and it’s a great social activity. Singing connects us to others better than anything else and when we sing together our hearts literally start to beat at the same time. (Our supporter Mark Elder loves that fact)


JD: What do you personally feel about it? What would you say to inspire others?

Karl Jenkins adds his call for participants
JH: At the moment a lot of long days and sleepless nights!  But I know it’s worth it, too, because every time a group signs up or sends a positive message or feedback, there’s a calm inner feeling that you know this is a right thing to be doing and that some people, somewhere, are feeling inspired or supported by it. That’s especially true when it’s children and schools, or people who wouldn’t be singing together with others in any other way. And it feels great every time we get a sign-up from a new country or a well-known group or choir.

What drives me? Well, when you start something, then you have to finish it, as they say, especially when you’ve set very clear and public timelines and intentions! And there's a strong inner knowledge and guiding force that things have to be done to help people find ways to unite with a common voice, as our world seems to have become even more troubled than when the project started. Singing or chanting together is one of the only ways that they can do that - so the aim is to provide a common platform where people can sing their own tunes in their own words and languages, but still create a common harmony and be united with others. 

I don’t even think I have a choice to do this, really. I think it was there in the ether just waiting or wanting to happen and I happened to be the person that had to do it. And anyway, my friends and supporters wouldn’t let me stop now even if I tried - especially as there’s only just over a year to go to our 2018 target!

If you have a vision, a passion, a strong belief or a gut feeling that you can or could do something that matters, to you or other people, then believe in it and keep going, however hard it seems to be! Reach out for all the support you can get. You’ll be amazed how many strangers can step up to help - and keep going.  And don’t attach too much to a specific outcome because, as we have seen with ODOC, it might not go quite the way you pictured, but if the idea is good it will go the way it’s meant to go. Go with the flow. And keep going.



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Meaty Hamlet

When I glanced down at the carrier bags and saw the two gigantic volumes of score, I realised the chap next to me on the Glyndebourne bus was none other than the composer of Hamlet, Brett Dean. "Why Hamlet?" I asked. He grinned: "Why not?"



Hamlet should be a gift for any composer - glorious soliloquies, poetry known to the entire land if not the whole world, a story of bottomless depth and endless possibilities for reinterpretation. It's not as if nobody has set it before: if I remember right, there are around 14 earlier versions, with Ambroise Thomas's effort the best known (though as Saint-Saëns said, "There is good music, bad music and the music of Ambroise Thomas...") Brett Dean's humongous new work for Glyndebourne, though, seems set to shred all competition into musical flotsam and jetsam.

Jacques Imbrailo, John Tomlinson, Allan Clayton
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
One thing you cannot do if you're turning a play like Hamlet into music is treat it with kid gloves. Dean and his librettist, the distinguished Canadian director Matthew Jocelyn, haven't. They have used only about a fifth of the actual play: Jocelyn has taken it to bits, reassembled it, restructured, redepicted, redreamed. After all, it takes, on average, about three times as long to sing a word as to speak it, so if you set every last line of Hamlet you'd end up with about 15 hours of opera. It would be possible to do it in other ways, retaining more of the poetic monologues which here are often boiled down to a mere handful of lines. But then something else would have to give; one might lose the grand sweep of the dramatic total, the ensemble work, the sonic colour with its imaginative flair.

Although you may find your favourite moments are missing ("Alas, poor Yorick" is in, but "To thine own self be true" is not) the work is masterfully structured. The impression, musically, is rather like a giant symphony of Mahlerian proportions plus some; dramatically it is full of different levels, new insights, magnificent company challenges and a vivid variety of pace and richly explored possibilities.


Symphonic Shakespeare

Allan Clayton as Hamlet
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
The opera's scenes seem to correspond roughly to the movements of a symphonic work in which the intensity rarely lets up. First, an opening dramatic exposition with slow introduction - Hamlet mourns his father at the graveside before we plunge into Gertude and Claudius's wedding party, at which the prince is drunk and disruptive; and the arrival of the Ghost, all the more chilling for the tenderness between Hamlet and his dead father.

The second main section opens almost as a scherzo, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern played by two skittish countertenors, and culminates in the play-within-a-play - lavishly decorated with a totally brilliant onstage accordionist plus deconstructed lines from Hamlet's soliloquy that pop in as self-referential touchstones. The 1hr 45min first act closes with the desperate confrontation between Hamlet and Gertrude and the murder of Polonius - a great central climax that leaves Gertrude psychologically eviscerated. We all need the long interval to get our breath back.

Allan Clayton and Barbara Hannigan as Hamlet and Ophelia
Photo: Richard Hubert Smith
Next we turn to Ophelia's madness, death and funeral - an eerie slow movement, full of startling writing that includes a good proportion of the work's best and most interesting music. The dramatic pacing is notable here, building up to an absolute cataclysm as Hamlet cries "I loved Ophelia"; similarly cathartic is the multifaceted finale, with the sword fight and multiple murders that nevertheless retains Horatio's determination, as the match is agreed, to up Hamlet's quota of prize horses to 11. The rest is...silence.

The opera has been planned with Glyndebourne's auditorium in mind. A group of singers take their places in the orchestra pit - and sometimes in the balcony - being used, effectively, as instruments.  Indeed, almost everywhere you look there are people singing, thumping instruments or doing strange things with unusual percussive gadgets... The LPO tweeted this image from the score:



Electronics are subtly woven in, whether using sampled (apparently pre-recorded) extracts of the singers' lines or setting up atmospheric rumbles and roars. Even the more conventional aspects of the instrumentation are clever, clear, often ingenious; for instance, the countertenors of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are aurally shadowed by two clarinets almost trying to edge one another out of the way. As for the designs, Ralph Myers places the action in a Nordic Noir type of design featuring shiftable Scandic white walls with huge windows; Alice Babidge's costumes are contemporary in style, which makes Claudius's crown look faintly ridiculous, but I suspect it's meant to be. Neil Armfield's direction is so organic a part of the work that it is hard to imagine it done in any other way.


To thine own self be true...

To say that it's a superhuman effort, and not only for the composer, is not saying enough. Dean and Jocelyn have risen to the challenge of transforming the play with fearless aplomb, and in so doing have created giant roles for their lead singers.

Allan Clayton's Hamlet may prove the ultimate making of this rising-star British tenor. He is on stage almost all the time; we rarely see anything from anyone else's point of view. A doomed, bearlike desperado, he travels from agonised grief through madness real or imagined and out the other side to the fury of his final (expertly performed) sword fight with David Butt Philip's Laertes. It's a huge sing for this often classically-oriented performer - we have loved his Mozart and Handel although, most recently, he was pushing the boat out further as David in Meistersinger - and he proves himself not only in glorious voice but a master of the stage in every way. For Barbara Hannigan's Ophelia, Dean has created ethereally high, dizzyingly complex arabesquing lines, offset by Sarah Connolly as a persuasive Gertrude, hard-edged in character but mellifluous and radiant of voice. Sir John Tomlinson is the Ghost, as well as the Lead Player and the Gravedigger - an intriguing alignment of the three figures - and owns those scenes with his outsize presence and sepulchral tone.

The chorus frames the action with plenty of impact, plunging into "Laertes shall be king" to launch the second half with maximum oomph. There's also a rewarding plethora of smaller roles, luxuriously cast: Rod Gilfrey as Claudius, Jacques Imbrailo as Horatio, Kim Begley as Polonius and Rupert Enticknap and Christopher Lowrey as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. As for Vladimir Jurowski's conducting, I doubt anyone else could have pulled this off even half so magnificently.

I am reliably informed that some of the stage blood found its way onto a first violin part in the orchestra pit. At least, I think it was stage blood. Pictured left...

You can see Hamlet in a cinema relay on 6 July. Other performances can be found and booked here, and we are promised that the opera will be included in the Glyndebourne tour, with David Butt Philip taking over in the title role.


If you've enjoyed this review...please consider supporting JDCMB's development over the next year by making a donation at this link: https://www.gofundme.com/jdcmb





Saturday, April 23, 2016

Will power!



Happy Shakespeare's Birthday, everyone! 

There are Shakespeare concerts absolutely everywhere tonight and I'm off to do a pre-concert talk for the one at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, where Lahav Shani - the young conductor who won the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition the time I went to watch it in Bamberg - is at the helm for the CBSO's one. The programme involves three very different works based on the same Shakespeare play: Romeo and Juliet. We'll be looking at how Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Bernstein all made this drama their own, each staying true to the spirit of Shakespeare as they viewed him, yet imbuing the story with their own time, place and personality. The talk is at 5.45pm - please note, half an hour earlier than usual! - and the concert starts at 7pm. Info and booking here. Do come along.

I am quite sorry not to be hearing the LPO's Shakespeare extravaganza today, though. They're doing everything from A Midsummer Night's Dream to Henry V and finishing with the end of Falstaff, and they've got Simon Callow and an amazing line-up of singers including Toby Spence and Kate Royal. Vladimir Jurowski conducts. Read Vlad's Shakespearean insights here.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

OK, let's get Britten year off to a flying start

[UPDATE, MONDAY MORNING: COME AND HEAR BENJAMIN GROSVENOR PLAY THIS VERY CONCERTO AT THE BARBICAN WITH THE BBCSO THIS VERY FRIDAY, 11 JANUARY. BROADCAST LIVE ON BBC RADIO 3. INFO & BOOKING HERE.]

Here's a big Britten favourite of mine. It's the Piano Concerto, written when the composer was all of 25 years old. He had just met Peter Pears and not yet sloped off to the States. Britten, who was a very brilliant pianist when he wanted to be, was the soloist in the world premiere at the Proms and apparently finished the piece just in time for the first rehearsal. It's a wonderfully 1930s sound, full of an Art Deco glitz akin to Poulenc, Ravel or Prokofiev, and I've never understood why it isn't played more often. The most recognisably Britteny movement, of course, is the Intermezzo, which was a late replacement by way of slow movement and dates from 1945, hence contemporaneous with Peter Grimes.

Here's a performance of it to brighten a gloomy January Sunday: another Benjamin - Grosvenor, this time - at the Proms 2011, with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Benjamin G was 19. Incidentally, if you're wondering where he is at the moment, he's just been wowing Seattle with a spot of Rachmaninov.








Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The rest is a lot of noise



"Join us to explore how war, race, sex and politics shaped 

the most important music of the 20th century"!


I've just been to the Southbank Centre to see the unveiling of The Rest is Noise festival: a jamboree to last right the way through 2013, inspired, of course, by Alex Ross's book of the same title. It is a complete embracing of the world of 20th-century music and the way it interacted with the politics, wars, science, arts, literature - indeed the total history of its time. And it's a magnificent effort pulling together the Southbank, BBC4, Radio 3, the Open University, various digital platforms and a lot of very incredible music and musicians.

You have to come to London for this. Perhaps such a festival could happen in New York, but in few other cities of the world; what a celebration of creativity, collaboration, artistic quality, storytelling and, hopefully, transformation we can expect. It strikes me - having spent much time this year in Switzerland and Austria - that perhaps one needs an element of financial unease to become truly creative (not too much, mind - just enough...). If the universe has provided excess security, there's no need to do anything half so exciting and you can end up as half asleep as the inhabitants of the hotel in which my jacket caught fire the other day.

If The Rest is Noise can turn around the fortunes of 20th-century music and let people listen to it with fresh ears, with new understanding thanks to the provision of vital context, and cleansed of prejudice, preconception and pernicious agendas, it will have made a major contribution to the transformation of modern-day culture and how it is perceived. As Jude Kelly explained, we need to put classical music at the heart of contemporary thinking about how we reflect our world and our place in it.

At the launch, Vladimir Jurowski spoke of breaking down the "cults" of the past and putting living, breathing music of our time onto the stage. That will be a tall order in Verdi and Wagner year (they can probably get away with it where Britten is concerned), but it's an admirable aim. You have to think big in this business, or you never get off the ground. You'd remain stultified by ancient anniversaries instead. Oh, wait...

Perhaps the most exciting thing of all, though, is that the London Philharmonic Orchestra is devoting its entire RFH concert schedule throughout 2013 to this festival. A little over a year ago, they saw fit to declare, er, that "AT THE LPO, MUSIC AND POLITICS DON'T MIX". I look forward to watching them spend a whole year proving themselves wrong.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A good cause at Glyndebourne

If you fancy going to Glyndebourne, getting a look at their new wind turbine (aim: green electric opera?) and supporting a truly excellent cause while you're about it, now's your chance. The mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby has organised a stellar line-up for a special gala on 29 April in aid of Young Epilepsy, Britain's only national charity devoted to children and young people living with epilepsy and other neurological conditions. The evening is being hosted by the actress Joanna Lumley, the woman we'd probably elect president if given half a chance. Money raised will go towards the support of the charity's information service, special school, college, residential homes, medical centre and a new school mini-bus.

Among those appearing are Ian Bostridge, Jason Carr, Sarah Connolly, Danielle de Niese, Gerald Finley, Dame Felicity Lott, Diana Montague, Paul Nilon, Brindley Sherratt, Timothy West and of course Jean Rigby herself. Glyndebourne's general manager David Pickard and music director Vladimir Jurowski will also be on hand.




Jean Rigby said: “Our son Ollie has severe epilepsy and is a residential student at Young Epilepsy. He is now in his fifth year and is very well looked after, contented and happy: learning to cope with the challenges he faces now and in the future. I feel so indebted for all Young Epilepsy has done for him and this concert is my way of giving something back.”

Concert and booking information:
The Young Epilepsy Gala Concert will run from 3pm to 5.30pm, including an interval. Guests will be able to wander the famous Glyndebourne gardens in the interval and experience the history and majesty of Glyndebourne.  Glyndebourne’s gardens will be open to visitors from 1pm. Ticket prices start at as little as £15, with prices going up to £85. BOOK NOW online at the Glyndebourne box office at www.glyndebourne.com
 There are a limited number of exclusive Premier Seat Packages available at £175, which includes a souvenir programme, interval champagne and a post-performance reception with the cast.  Or Premier Seats with Dinner at £250 include an additional three course dinner with wine, previewing Albert Roux’s new menu for the 2012 Glyndebourne Festival season.  To book Premier tickets or for more details call Young Epilepsy on 01342 831261 or email: fundraising@youngepilepsy.org.uk 

Monday, August 08, 2011

Happy Monday



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And the winner is...

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

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

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

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



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




 













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


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

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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

And in the news today...

* Glyndebourne is filming Die Meistersinger this afternoon and it will be webcast live and free on The Guardian's website. It's also to be shown in the Science Museum in South Kensington. Stephen Moss will be doing a live Meisterblog and tweets are invited, as on the first night, with the hashtag #diemeistertweeter. There's a treasure-trove of supporting articles and webcasts on the site. Details of the streaming, interview with Vlad etc, here.

* In similar vein, Norman Lebrecht makes the point in today's Telegraph that all of a sudden the issue of access, access, access is no longer relevant. We have access, thanks to webcasts, cinecasts and the Big Screens, and apparently this, our very own wet and soggy island, is where the future of opera is being carved. (Discuss...)


He also had a high old time at the ENO's new Nico Muhly opera Two Boys, which I had not initially planned to attend. Had it been sold as a "Susan Bickley is Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect" opera (as every man and his cat has been saying that it is since the premiere on Friday), I'd have booked in at once. But from the marketing it sounded like a niche thing that was fashioned for young gay blokes who live online; therefore it mightn't be interesting for married, female, 40-something technotwits... There shouldn't be a problem getting in, though. When I checked the website on Thursday to see if there were seats left for Monday, the place was less than half full. If all is well up north (we have difficult family issues at present), I may go. Alternatively I might catch up with DVDs of another wonderful woman detective: Brenda Blethyn as Vera in the ITV series based on the absolutely brilliant Geordie detective novels by Ann Cleeves, if said DVDs are yet available.

* This morning @MalteseTenor Joseph Calleja was on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, singing 'E lucevan le stelle'. Michael Gove, our education minister - currently trying to avert a strike by teachers this week - was listening from the sofa, where he'd been trying to say he wasn't really intending to exhort parents to strike-break. He applauded enthusiastically... Feel the power, Micks. Let the people hear the music. Let the people learn music, too, at school. Music for all, please: right here, right now.

Speaking of opera and the internet, Calleja shared my blog on his Facebook fan page the other day. Aw shuks. Can you imagine a world in which Richard Tauber had internet access?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A night to remember

It's Thanksgiving, and there are lots of thanks to give...

Well, they did it! Das Wunder der Heliane was a knockout. The score shone out in all its glory, the drama raised the roof, the orchestra and chorus were utterly stunning. The work, and the performance too, started on a high and only went upwards. The last act, with the gorgeous Zwischenspiel intermezzo to begin, the wild crowd scene, Heliane's procession with offstage bells, and the ensuing transformations and resurrections, was absolutely hair-raising.

I've been so involved in this astonishing project that I don't feel I ought to write a review of it as such. Since there were around 50 press present, I'm sure there'll be plenty of write-ups. Still, by way of preparation for what may be said in the official crits: most of the singers were fabulous, but a couple weren't. Patricia Racette proved the Heliane of our dreams. Michael Hendrick as the Stranger and Andreas Schmidt as the Ruler didn't quite match up, though both improved notably in the third act (please do not trust any critic who doesn't discuss the last act - it was the best both in content and interpretation). To be fair, the role of The Stranger is a real killer and demands nothing less than a Kiepura...I can't help dreaming of Jonas Kaufmann. Willard White as the Porter sang exquisitely, ideally strong and sincere, and Robert Tear as the Blind Judge was the real tenor star of the night. Very fine performances too from Ursula Hesse von den Steinen and Andrew Kennedy (a pity he had only 2 lines to sing).

Some people had doubts about the positioning of the soloists - they were at the front of the choir section, behind and above the orchestra, with an acoustic screen behind them. I don't know where else they could have sat. The platform, which was already extended forward, was jam-packed. This opera was evidently designed for the Vienna Staatsoper and few other venues are the right size for it.

Thank you to everyone who came to my talk - there was a great turnout. It does feel weird to stand on the platform of the Royal Festival Hall, holding forth (thank almighty God I don't have to play the piano). Thanks to those of you who came to say hello afterwards, too - it's nice to know that you are real beyond cyberspace!

Thank you to Vladimir, Tim Walker, the South Bank Centre and every one of the performers for letting this evening take place. People flew thousands of miles to be there - and for all of us in the Korngold fan club, it was a night to remember and cherish forever.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Giuseppe MacVerdi

It's going to be a hot summer. Whenever the first Glyndebourne dress rehearsal is cold & wet, the weather for the rest of the season is glorious. Yesterday, we pinicked in the car with a thermos flask of soup.

Suitably atmospheric, of course, for the Scotland of Verdi's Macbeth. Hmm. Last year I thought that Betrothal in a Monastery was about to become the hottest ticket in town, but it wasn't, so I won't risk my luck this time. Suffice it to say that IMHO Richard Jones's production is startling, fresh, original, clever and a treat for anyone who likes hairy knees. And I'll never be able to look at a cardboard box in the same way again. Vladimir Jurowski's conducting is red-hot, seat-of-the-pants stuff and the singing - Andrzej Dobber as Macbeth and Sylvie Valayre as his blonde-beehived Lady Macbeth - is top-notch.

Debate will probably rage over whether Macbeth is this full of irony and black humour, and no doubt many will think not...but, weirdly enough, the production suits Verdi's remarkably effervescent score and I found the second half both powerful and moving.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Vladi scoops the RPS!



Our own utterly glorious Vladimir Jurowski, principal conductor designate of the LPO and music director at Glyndebourne, has been named the Royal Philharmonic Society's Conductor of the Year! (Just in time to do Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane in November :-))). He's opening the Glyndebourne season with MacVerdi's Macbeth next week. Vazhazdarovye, Vlad!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Grrr...

What a *&%$^&(&* week. Computer virus. Blown fuses in the light circuits on the 1st floor (not that I object to candlelit baths, but you can have too much of a good thing). Proof-reading that proves, as always, endless and frightening. And Solti is having trouble with a new neighbour - a Russian Blue named Maurice (no kidding) who has moved into No.1 and is causing serious diplomatic incidents among the local felines. Imminent change of name from Solti to Scarface...

And so I have missed doing my 'full report' on Le chant at St Nazaire; I've also missed writing up two amazing concerts. First, the Razumovsky Ensemble at the Wigmore, turning their hands to Schubert's 'Death and the Maiden' Quartet and the Mendelssohn D minor Trio, to their usual roof-raising standard. And the other was the LPO's opening concert at the QEH which featured Leonidas 'chocolate fiddler' Kavakos in the most astonishing performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto that I've ever heard. Plenty of violinists play like angels, but Kavakos plays like God.

Worth mentioning, too, some breath-of-fresh-air programming from Vladimir Jurowski - the second half was Schchedrin's Carmen Suite, a Carmen-goes-to-Moscow take on Bizet, clever, funny, powerful, and a fabulous orchestral showpiece, especially for the percussion. Brilliant.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Jurowski to be principal conductor of LPO

The London Philharmonic Orchestra announced today that 34-year-old Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski is to take over as its principal conductor as from the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall in 2007. Much jubilation ensued.

Seriously good news, I reckon, as Jurowski is the most exciting young conductor I've come across. There are some excellent chaps out there, but his performances have been head & shoulders above the rest. Vladi is currently the LPO's principal guest conductor and his presence on the podium transforms the atmosphere into something collaborative, young, upbeat and not only a little thrilling. More details shortly.