Showing posts with label Wigmore Hall. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wigmore Hall. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Happy big birthday, Steven Isserlis!

Steven Isserlis is 60 today!

I have flipping' well missed his big birthday concert on Monday at the Wigmore Hall - which included appearances by Simon Keenlyside, András Schiff, Radu Lupu, Ferenc Rados, Josh Bell and Connie Shih - because for some reason we'd thought it would be a good idea to go to Iceland in the middle of December to try and see the Northern Lights... As my Dad used to say, one lives and learns.

Steven Isserlis
Photo: PA

Anyway, it was a wonderful excuse to pop up to north London the other week and interview Steven himself. We talked about music, books, cellos, Rabbi Moses Isserles, Schumann, Fauré, Bloch, the perils of curly hair and the Marx Brothers, among much else. You can read the whole thing in the JC, here. 

And here's one select story.
His Twitter account makes lively reading, full of hair-raising stories about his travels with his cello. “I was on a Japanese airline, business class — very nice — and I asked the stewardess if she could help make up the bed,” he recounts. “I thought she said: ‘Are you sexy?’ It took me a minute to work out that ‘Yes, I’m in 6C…’”

Here he is in a spot of Fauré": the Romance in A major, Op.69, with pianist Pascal Devoyon.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Live stream tonight: Armistice recital from the Wigmore Hall



I hope this works. If it doesn't, please go here instead: https://wigmore-hall.org.uk/wigmore-hall-live/live-stream

The French pianist Cédric Tiberghien has assembled an excellent, thoughtful and original programme for his 'Armistice' recital tonight, involving works from each year of World War I and music by composers from England, France, Germany, Poland and Russia. I wrote the programme notes, so I can promise you that the musical connections are fascinating in their own right, alongside the historical ones. The 'Wiggy' is now able to live-stream selected recitals and will make it available to view after the event as well, so I'm experimenting here to see whether we can share this broadcast.

  • Aleksandr Skryabin (1872-1915)
        • Vers la flamme, poème Op. 72
  • Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
        • 3 Improvisations for the Left-Hand
  • Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
      • Etudes Book II
        • Pour les degrés chromatiques
        • Pour les agréments
        • Pour les notes répétées
  • Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)
        • Twelve Etudes Op. 33
  • Claude Debussy
      • Etudes Book II
        • Pour les sonorités opposées
        • Pour les arpèges composés
        • Pour les accords
  • INTERVAL
    • Claude Debussy
          • Etudes Book I
    • Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
          • In einer Nacht... Träume und Erlebnisse Op. 15

    Sunday, May 13, 2018

    Observing Pauline Viardot

    Last week I had a call from The Observer to ask me to stand in for their absent critics Fiona Maddocks and Stephen Pritchard, which was both a surprise and an honour.

    It looked like a quiet patch at first - just too early for the premiere of Lessons in Love and Violence - but closer examination revealed two concerts that couldn't have been more 'up my street' if they'd tried. One was the shooting-star French soprano Sabine Devieilhe at the Wigmore lunchtime concert in a programme based around the salons of Pauline Viardot, who happens to be a long-standing obsession of mine. The other was billed as a TED Talk with music: Cambridge history professor Sir Christopher Clark joined Brett Dean and the City of London Sinfonia for an evening of Beethovenian exploration at the shiny new QEH. Due to circumstances beyond my control, it was my first trip there since the hall reopened - and gosh, it's good! (And it really does smell like a shoe shop.)


    And here's one of my favourite Pauline Viardot songs, Die Sterne, sung in French by Isabel Pfefferkorn with cellist Romana Kaiser and pianist Anna Reichert. I think Viardot's songs are the equal of any in her salon, and a good bit better than some. Devieilhe sang the best-known number, Hai Luli, and one of the Chopin mazurka adaptations, Aime-moi - the latter is a bit of a masterclass in why it's best to write words first and music afterwards - but there's a wealth of fantastic music sitting there, waiting to be explored.




    Saturday, April 21, 2018

    Anita Lasker-Wallfisch to address the Wigmore Hall

    Anita Lasker-Wallfisch
    It's rare for any concert in hall in London, except the eclectic Southbank Centre, to present anything with overtly political overtones. So all credit to John Gilhooly at the Wigmore. Watching the cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, 92 and a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, address the Bundestag in Berlin a few months ago, he decided she must give the address to London as well, in English - from the stage of his hall. She will speak about her own experiences and the importance of learning from one of the darkest moments of human history.

    The event, on 8 July at 3pm, will also feature her son Raphael Wallfisch (cello) and John York (piano) in music Bloch, Ravel and Korngold. It will be live streamed on the Wigmore Hall website.

    Gilhooly says:

    “After I saw Anita Lasker-Wallfisch's address to the Bundestag, I felt it had to be heard in London, so I invited her to give the address in English at Wigmore Hall. As a non-Jewish leader working in the arts, I feel it’s necessary to give a public platform wherever possible to highlight the dangers of anti-Semitism, and I am puzzled as to why other non-Jewish voices have yet to speak out. After all, the Jewish diaspora has done so much for this country, in the arts, sciences, politics, medicine and not least philanthropy. Anita’s words are so important to hear, as history has shown, time and again, that where anti-Semitism, racism and extreme views are on the rise, dark times are usually never far behind. Combined with powerful and appropriate music, this very special event is presented as a timely lesson for all generations and creeds.”

    Having heard her speak several times before, including an interview I did with her on stage at the ROH Linbury Studio, I can promise you that you need to hear this, and be there if you possibly can.

    Booking here.

    Monday, September 25, 2017

    What makes a good duo?

    Violinist Tasmin Little and pianist Piers Lane have been working together not just for years, but for decades. Doesn't time fly when you're having fun? Ahead of their delectable Wigmore Hall concert on Saturday 30 September, I asked Tasmin what the secret of a good duo might be... and a few other things...

    Tasmin Little
    Photo: bbc.co.uk
    JD: Hi Tasmin - we're looking forward to your concert next weekend and that is quite a line-up of pieces: Bridge, Szymanowski, Bliss and Franck! How do you go about planning your programmes?

    TL: When I plan a programme, I try to think about how an audience will feel when they sit down and what the first thing they would like to listen to might be! I always think it’s important to find a good mixture of works that are more immediately accessible and works which require more concentration and even emotional commitment for the audience. I think that audiences go to concerts to be moved, entertained and sometimes challenged - so, depending on where I’m playing and the kind of audience that the venue attracts, I’ll bear that in mind. I think it’s important to start with the opening piece and also think how to finish the evening. If there’s a very substantial work, I often put it just before the interval to allow the audience a breather afterwards (and me…).



    JD: Why do you think British repertoire such as Bridge and Bliss is still relatively neglected? What appeals to you about their music?

    TL: I think it’s simply that these works aren’t generally known to the wider public and so there’s less call for them - the Bridge, for instance, is an early work that has youthful vigour but is not perhaps representative of his mature style. And the Bliss sonata has only recently been reconstructed - so even I didn’t know it a couple of years ago! But this music is so engaging and I love the range of nuances that both composers demand;  it is also satisfying to bring a neglected work to life and then to have a good response from an audience who have enjoyed something new. 

    JD: You and Piers have been playing together pretty much forever…what makes a good duo?


    Piers Lane
    photo: Keith Saunders
    TL: It’s vital to have a good rapport and this is something that cannot be “learned” - it is either there or it isn’t! What develops through a long association is trust and a real understanding of how the other person thinks and feels. In this way, one can be very spontaneous on stage and know that you’re not going to take your partner by surprise! Piers and I have been playing together for 30 years now so we know each other really well - we even breathe together on stage… 

    JD: What’s it like to perform at the Wigmore Hall? 

    TL: The Wigmore Hall is such a glorious acoustic to perform in... the sound is so good that you can play as quietly as you like and know that every member of the audience will be able to hear you. So it’s an intimate hall but with a great deal of presence to it. I love walking on that stage and thinking of all the great musicians that have sung and played there over the years - it’s very inspiring. 

    JD: Have you got any new recordings out?

    TL: The most recent release is of both Szymanowski concerti and the Karłowicz concerto that I recorded with Ed Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. I love the Szymanowskis - they are so different from each other, the first one slightly mystical and other-worldly, and the second one completely sensual and down to earth, even rustic! The Karłowicz provides a beautiful foil for both works as it is a much more traditional concerto which is very easy to listen to and enjoy… 

    JD: Other highlights for you this season?

    TL: I’m excited to be going to play in Dubai with Piers in November and I’ll be playing the Britten concerto in Portugal in December. Next year I have two super trips to Australia, where I’ll be playing in Sydney and Melbourne among other places, and I’m also off to play Mozart in Spain. In between times and nearer to home, I’ll be up and down the UK for concertos and recitals and am particularly looking forward to playing with the CBSO doing Bernstein’s Serenade for violin and orchestra.



    Quick reminder: you can show your enthusiasm for JDCMB by contributing a voluntary subscription at the Year of Development page on GoFundMe...

    Friday, March 31, 2017

    Soulmates?

    Hamelin & Andsnes
    Image: www.goldstar.com
    The morning after, my head is still the worse for wear after encountering the juggernaut that is The Rite of Spring at nearly close enough quarters to cut its toenails. Stripped of its orchestral colour, performed on two pianos by a pair worthy of the label Two of Today's Greatest Living Pianists, Stravinsky's ballet comes over in x-ray clarity: the bones, muscles and sinews are as vivid as a dancer's, the workings of those shattering and shattered rhythms and the cruel, elemental crashes and crunches of multi harmonies steaming around you and boiling your blood, to say nothing of your eardrums. My God, it's a brutal, hideous thing, this vision of a tribe killing its pure and innocent young one. It's almost as if Stravinsky might have gone into a trance and predicted, unconsciously, the decades that were to follow.

    The pianists responsible last night were Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes, who took to the Wigmore Hall platform for a gritty programme - mostly Stravinsky, a bit of Debussy, plus Mozart as an opening amuse-bouche. I hear they first got together when Marc played in Leif Ove's festival, but however well you know their playing - and lots of piano fans know them both extremely well - you might not have guessed that they could turn out to be musical soulmates.

    There are two basic ways to approach playing two-piano music, as with most chamber music. You can remain two individuals, exchanging and sparkling and making individual noises that point up the differences between you: this can work beautifully as a fun exchange, a conversation in which the performers are together yet still themselves. The other approach, which is much more difficult, is to fuse. To become one great machine with two keyboards, twenty fingers and two brains working as one. Hearing either of these two musicians alone, you might appreciate Andsnes's deep-velvet sound and forensic clarity of vision, or Hamelin's lyrical turns of phrase and super-cool supremacy over any technical challenge; yesterday, all were present, yet I doubt anyone would have been able to guess which was which from sound alone. They have much in common: a laid-back presence, a vaguely Nordic cool (Andsnes is from Norway, Hamelin from Canada) and a solid artistry that you can rely on with total confidence. 

    They opened with Mozart's Larghetto and Allegro in E flat, in the version completed by Paul Badura-Skoda - a lively, lyrical, often sublime miniature with challenges aplenty, through which they brought lyricism to the fore: calm rather than excitability prevailed. Stravinsky's Concerto for Two Pianos, written in the 1930s for the composer to perform with his son, Soulima, is more of a rarity and probably with good reason: it's a chunky creation to chew on, sometimes evoking the hewn-out blocks and soaring lines of art deco, or presenting heavy-duty fugal writing derived from late Beethoven (yes, really). Debussy's En blanc et noir is an often enigmatic creation, its abstract explorations of colour and timbre punctuated by a central movement that is a searing portrait of World War I emotional life complete with bugle calls, a heavy-footed Lutheran chorale and hints of distant gunfire - all of it conveyed with detailed brushstrokes and subtle, seamless blending by the two pianists, these veritable painters of sound. 

    And then, after the interval, the Rite. It was first heard on the piano when Stravinsky and Debussy played it through together. The critic Louis Laloy was there:


    “Stravinsky asked if he could take his collar off. His sight was not improved by his glasses, and pointing his nose to the keyboard and sometimes humming a part that had been omitted from the arrangement, he led into a welter of sound the supple, agile hands of his friend. Debussy followed without a hitch and seemed to make light of the difficulty. When they had finished there was no question of embracing, nor even of compliments. We were dumbfounded, overwhelmed by this hurricane which had come from the depths of the ages and which had taken life by the roots.”

    104 years later: yes, exactly.

    Two Stravinsky encores - a tango and the Circus Polka - lightened the mood if not the language. I think that's quite enough Stravinsky for a little while.




    Saturday, September 17, 2016

    They are going to measure artistic quality. Seriously.

    Most perturbed by the revelation that Arts Council England is planning "to impose quantitative measures of artistic quality" upon its National Portfolio Organisations. Here is more information about it on the ACE website.

    Here is a clear and detailed report in Arts Professionalhttp://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/arts-council-impose-quantitative-measures-arts-quality

    The scheme so far has apparently cost more than £700k, and the ACE is said to be pressing ahead with it despite concerns, following the pilot scheme, that it's not guaranteed to deliver in an entirely satisfactory way...

    So how is this going to work? ACE site provides us with this.

    The core quality metrics
    Self, peer and public:
    • Concept: it was an interesting idea
    • Presentation: it was well produced and presented
    • Distinctiveness: it was different from things I’ve experienced before
    • Challenge: it was thought-provoking
    • Captivation: it was absorbing and held my attention
    • Enthusiasm: I would come to something like this again
    • Local impact: it is important that it's happening here
    • Relevance: it has something to say about the world in which we live
    • Rigour: it was well thought through and put together
    Self and peer only:
    • Originality: it was ground-breaking
    • Risk: the artists/curators really challenged themselves
    • Excellence: it is one of the best examples of its type that I have seen

    Some of these points make more sense in some areas of the performing arts than in others; it would, one surmises, be iffy to apply them en masse not only to theatre and cinema but also to opera and ballet both traditional and contemporary, and to concerts of classical music. One size doesn't fit all. It never did and it never will. 

    It's tempting to wonder if this is an unintended consequence of the continuing reduction of space for professional critical assessments of artistic work in the national press - now so marginalised that the majority of cultural work never receives any newspaper assessment at all. The notion of public reviews - the 'everyone is a critic' stance - seems to be progressively devaluing the concept of the alternative: this is because consensus is so rare that once you pass a certain number of reviews everything ends up, on a scale of one to five, averaging around three because some like it, some don't, everyone takes a different view for a different reason and nobody really trusts what other people say in any case. 

    This in itself should demonstrate how problematic it is to assess artistic quality in a generalised way.

    Let's try out the Core Quality Metrics on an actual classical concert...

    Yulianna Avdeeva. Photo: C. Schneider
    It so happens that the most recent event I've been to was the debut recital at the Wigmore Hall the other night of Yulianna Avdeeva, the young Russian pianist who won first prize at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2010 - the year Daniil Trifonov pulled in in third place. Instead of a review, here is an assessment of the evening according to Core Quality Metrics.

    CONCEPT: it was an interesting idea
    Of course it's interesting to have the winner of the Chopin Competition make her Wigmore debut six years after the event. She is an extremely fine artist and should be far better known than she is.

    PRESENTATION: it was well produced and presented
    Find me anything at the Wigmore Hall that isn't well produced and presented? It's the Ritz of concert halls. Such things are never in doubt. As for Yulianna, she is a consummate professional, at ease on the stage and in complete control at every turn. (Presentation? I don't know where she got her pewter-coloured shot-silk jacket, but I'd like one too.) 

    DISTINCTIVENESS: it was different from things I've experienced before
    Yes, because I haven't previously heard Yulianna Avdeeva give a recital at the Wigmore Hall. I'm not sure I've heard those exact pieces played in that exact succession before either. But others might say: well, it's a piano recital, so it's not all that different. To those who love going to piano recitals, it was different for the above reasons. To the non-pianophile bureaucrat, though, would this risk raising puzzlement?

    CHALLENGE: it was thought-provoking
    That depends purely on the individual listener. Some might experience provoked thoughts such as: here is Bach's English Suite No.2 being played on the modern piano with absolute clarity, great conviction, beautiful rhythmic sense, exquisite sound quality and enthralling virtuosity, so what price those who think it's the wrong instrument, and do those people still even exist? And: here is Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No.8, written towards the end of World War II: it is a massive, nearly symphonic work, full of colour, deeply original and fantastically difficult to perform, and Yulianna is so at one with it and its idiom that she's making me imagine that I am in Moscow looking at Russian modernist art by the likes of Malevich and Goncharova. 

    I hope this is what they mean by 'thought-provoking', but it's quite hard to tell. 

    CAPTIVATION: it was absorbing and held my attention
    Yup. See above.

    ENTHUSIASM: I would come to something like this again
    Yup. You bet.

    LOCAL IMPACT: it's important that it's happening here
    We're going round in circles now. Yes, it is important that Yulianna, a top-class musician with a growing international profile, should have a Wigmore Hall debut, here in central London, and that our discerning audience should have a chance to hear her. See above.

    RELEVANCE: it has something to say about the world in which we live
    This can only mean what you want it to mean. The concert says that people still adore listening to Bach, Chopin and Prokofiev, that some young pianists are as good as ever at playing them, and that the Wigmore Hall is one of the best places to go to listen to them. But what of the mindsets with which people approach this topic? What do we want an artistic event to say about the world in which we live? 

    Again, to standardise that expectation would be an unpleasant development. If I come out of the concert without any particular thoughts about the world in which we live, but having had a really great evening nonetheless, isn't that my prerogative as a member of the public? Some people go to arts events precisely to escape having to think about the world in which we live for a couple of blessed hours.

    This recital brings us great music, wonderfully played, and people love that. This really ought to be enough. It doesn't tell us whether or not Southern Trains are still on strike, or whether it's a good thing if the third runway at Heathrow gets built, or what's going on now in Syria, and it shouldn't have to do so to be 'relevant'. Music connects people to one another across time and space - listening to Chopin we're in a way communing with the soul of a human being who died in 1849, and the souls of everyone who has played or listened to his music since then. That tells us something about ourselves as human beings at our best, and perhaps that is one of the many things that music is for. Can we hope that this registers as valuable in this 'core quality metric'?

    RIGOUR: it was well thought through and put together.
    Yup. 

    Self and peer only (including this because it's there):

    ORIGINALITY: it was ground-breaking
    In the sense that it was Yulianna playing in a venue that is new to her, and that venue hosting her for the first time, I guess that's a yes. In terms of musical content, not necessarily; but I don't really care because I enjoyed it so much.

    RISK: the artist really challenged herself
    And how. People forget what an enormous feat of accomplishment it is to play extremely complex music to a world-class level for a discerning public for about two hours. (Besides, she's hardly going to sit up there and play Chopsticks, is she.)

    EXCELLENCE: it was one of the best examples of its type that I have seen
    It was bloody excellent. But if every piano recital I attend has to be "one of the best examples of its type that I have seen", I think that would be a problematic way to assess them. This one was indeed top-quality artistry. But I've previously attended plenty of piano recitals that have been most enjoyable, not necessarily "one of the best" of all, yet still worth giving, worth listening to and worth loving. 

    Core Quality Metrics as a measurement technique, then, seems a mixed bag. The bits that work would work anyway. The bits that don't work probably never will. And everything, but everything, depends on how the criteria are applied, and by whom, to what - and to which ends, with what effect.

    For the moment, one has to try to set aside the unpleasant visions that a quango's "one size fits all" policy conjures up, with all our instinctive shudders about Stalin, Kafka and Orwell, and hope that this latest bizarre algorithmic development may somehow be able to do more good than harm. I can't say I'm holding my breath.

    Sunday, April 10, 2016

    Live-stream for Schiff masterclass today!

    Sir András Schiff is giving a masterclass at the Royal College of Music at 3pm this afternoon and if you can't get along 
    to hear it, you can watch it on a live stream HERE. The students playing to him include are three of the 
    UK's most exciting young talents: Martin James Bartlett, Hin-Yat Tsang and Alexander Ullman.  
    (follow this link to the RCM's own site.)

    This past week Schiff has been at the Wigmore Hall performing a series of three recitals of Last Works: the late sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, each concert involving no break. "András doesn't like intervals..." announced David King, house manager, from the platform yesterday. Last night's closing concert opened with Mozart's final sonata, full of subtle chromaticism; then the unquiet spirit of Schubert, already half removed from life in his B flat major sonata D960; Haydn's great E flat Sonata, still firmly rooted in earthy humanity and irrepressible joie de vivre; and Beethoven's Op.111, unleashing struggle, mystery, transcendence. And it all sounded pretty different, not least thanks to the piano itself.

    The new Bösendorfer 280VC grand
    Schiff was playing a brand-new Bösendorfer, the 280VC Vienna Concert Grand; I'm told this particular instrument is only the ninth that has been produced. Everything is new: "Nothing has been left unchallenged," says the company's website. The result felt yesterday like a movable Musikverein on three legs. The piano carries with it a similar ambience to Vienna's great golden hall in the sense of tonal warmth, dynamic range, an intimate atmosphere capable of the grandest scale sounds, a dark and velvety bass and a sustaining tone that cradles the melodic lines and makes them shine. I hope to have the chance to get up close and personal with one of these magnificent creations before too long. 

    Between pieces our pianist did not leave the stage. Two hours without a break might seem intense, yet the only pauses found Schiff leaning gently on the piano with arms outstretched as if unifying spiritually with it before the first notes. The tone he found for each composer was subtly distinctive: the Schubert rounded and transparent, the Mozart singer-like, the Beethoven travelling to the extremes at the bottom of the keys yet without a hint of harshness. For us in the audience, the total effect rather resembled a guided meditation; you are drawn in to the concentration and the stillness, lifted out of all other concerns and immersed body, mind and soul. Schiff's recitals are the closest we can experience to music as spiritual practice - and they are all the more valuable for that.

    Anyway, don't forget to come back at 3pm. 

    Sunday, February 21, 2016

    So what's it really like to perform at the Wigmore Hall?

    Viv and muggins, delivering
    What's it like to perform at the Wigmore Hall? I doubt I'd ever have found out if I'd kept on with my piano studies...but in one of those weird twists of fate I found myself up there yesterday, with wonderful Viv, presenting Alicia's Gift: the Concert of the Novel to an extremely well-sold auditorium, full of people aged from what looked like 3 to 93, who listened attentively, applauded Viv's playing with great enthusiasm, and laughed at the jokes.

    It's the musical equivalent of...having tea at the Ritz. You're in there with the ghosts of the finest music-making in the history of London. In the Green Room you're surrounded by the dedicated photographs of musicians who have been there over the past 115 years, from Edwin Fischer, Daniel Barenboim, Jessye Norman, Christa Ludwig, to Stephen Hough, Angela Hewitt and - the final photo you see just before you walk on to the platform - András Schiff standing beside a bust of Beethoven.

    Viv McLean in rehearsal yesterday
    The platform itself, under the famous cupola depicting the Soul of Music, feels protected, intimate and reassuring, bathed in golden light. It's neither slippery nor intimidating, and from the front of the stage the hall looks smaller than it really is, rather than bigger, so you feel safe and happy. The Steinway we met there yesterday was new just over a year ago and if you're me - playing it for three minutes at the very end of the concert - it's like taking a ride in the most luxurious car you could imagine, only far better; one of those pianos where you only have to think of what you want it to do and out it comes. If you're Viv, of course, it's even better.

    Nor can you imagine a more helpful team of people. There's even someone whose job it is to look after the performers backstage - not that Viv and I need a great deal of looking after, as we always bring our own gf chocolate muffins etc, but it's nice to be offered tea, and there's a quiet room upstairs where Viv was able to go for a pre-concert snooze.

    It's scary. You bet it's scary. I don't usually suffer nerves for our narrated concerts - only a little bit for the duet at the end - but when you're sitting on a stage and you can almost see Jelly d'Arányi three feet away playing Tzigane, and you can picture your parents up there in the balcony where they always used to sit, waving and being proud, and you're remembering all the hundreds of times you've been in there listening to the great and good, but now you have to deliver, that's another matter. Even so - what an unimaginable treat it was to do so.

    We had a lively panel discussion in the Bechstein Room downstairs after the performance: cellist Guy Johnston, pianist and Chet's head of keyboard Murray McLachlan and RNCM artistic director Michelle Castelletti joined me to talk about what makes a prodigy, what special challenges face them and what the peaks and pitfalls of prodigydom can bring. Excellent questions from a capacity audience, especially three young musicians in their teens whose eager participation made the whole event extra rewarding.

    Things we learned that are to the advantage of this concert project as a whole:
    • Age range of audience is basically unlimited and this is quite valuable;
    • Format with discussion to follow works brilliantly;
    • It may be a newish and unfamiliar way to listen to music, but people do seem to like it, so if you are a promoter who hesitates to give something different a whirl, don't be scared. Apart from anything else, it's stuffed with absolutely wonderful music.

    Dearest Wigmore, THANK YOU.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2016

    Dates for the diary...

    It's a busy little patch, this, so here's what's coming up.

    • On Saturday afternoon, 20 Feb, Viv and I are performing ALICIA'S GIFT at the Wigmore Hall, 2pm. The concert is an hour long and at 3.30pm I'm chairing a panel discussion about child prodigies, with Murray McLachlan (head of keyboard at Chetham's), Michelle Castelletti (artistic director of the RNCM) and Guy Johnston (cellist par excellence). Tickets are going fast - and you need to book separately for the two events - so do grab 'em now. Here's the link.

    • At fairly short notice, thanks to an heroic effort on the part of the Ealing Autummn Festival's devoted artistic director, Gillian Spragg, a performance of my play A Walk through the End of Time is being given in Ealing on 5 March, together with the complete Quartet for the End of Time by Messiaen. It takes place at Christ the Saviour Parish Church, New Broadway, Ealing, London W5 2XA (a few minutes walk from Ealing Broadway tube) and starts at 7pm. The actors Caroline Dooley and David Webb present a rehearsed reading of the play and the Messiaen Quartet features a group of local celebrity musicians from Ealing: Colin Bradbury (clarinet), Richard George (violin), Adrian Bradbury (cello) and Gillian herself on piano. Details here and booking through Eventbrite here.

    Ghost Variations is steaming on apace and I am delighted that we'll give the first public presentation about the book, with words and music, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, Covent Garden, on 21 March. Viv (piano) and David Le Page (violin) join me to play music associated with Jelly d'Arányi, including Ravel's Tzigane and music by Bartók, Brahms and...Schumann. I'll be introducing the topic and reading some extracts from the novel. Admission is FREE, but you need to book a place in advance. The plan at the moment is for the book to be released in July. Meanwhile I am desperately trying to get the manuscript brushed up properly for the editor to tackle with red pen in March. http://www.london.balassiintezet.hu/en/events/current-events/983-0321-ghost-variations-by-jessica-duchen/

    Back to the desk...


    Thursday, November 12, 2015

    Booking is now OPEN for OUR WIGMORE HALL GIG

    A tastefully sepia adaptation of Alicia's Gift's cover
    Thrilling stuff for me and my wonderful pianist colleague Viv McLean: we are performing ALICIA'S GIFT: THE CONCERT OF THE NOVEL at the mighty and marvellous Wigmore Hall, on 20 February at 2pm. You can find all the programme details and online booking here.

    The seriously scary thing about this is that the final number in the concert is actually a duet, so this means I have to play the piano in the bloomin' Wigmore Hall and even if it is three minutes of slow and gorgeous Ravel it's still...a bit terrifying. But hey.

    This version of the concert lasts one hour and it will be followed at 3.30pm by a panel discussion, which I'll chair, on the topic of child prodigies - which is what the novel is all about. On our panel are Murray McLachlan, head of keyboard at Chetham's School of Music; Michelle Castelletti, artistic director of the Royal Northern College of Music; and Guy Johnston, cellist par excellence, who was something of a child prodigy himself. Book for the panel discussion here.

    Alicia's Gift explores what the presence of a child prodigy can do to a family, and what a misguided family can do to a child prodigy's talent. And that is not always a pretty or painless tale. The novel is therefore not suitable for children, but the concert (mostly) is, and has often been enjoyed by those aged 10 upwards.

    Alicia's Gift is published by Hodder and can be found as an e-book or paperback here.

    Here's what's in the concert...



    • Viv McLean  piano
    • Jessica Duchen  narrator
    Author Jessica Duchen and pianist Viv McLean unite to tell the story of a child prodigy pianist trying to grow up, exploring her talent’s effect on her family and her family’s effect on her talent. 
    Jessica’s readings from her novel Alicia’s Gift alternate with Viv’s performances of the relevant music to create a compelling joint narrative in words and music.
      • Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
            • Ballade No. 3 in A flat major Op. 47
      • Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
          • Estampes
            • Jardins sous la pluie
      • Fryderyk Chopin
            • Etude in C minor Op. 25 No. 12
      • Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
          • Goyescas
            • Quejas, o La maja y el ruiseñor
      • George Gershwin (1898-1937)
            • Rhapsody in Blue
      • Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
            • Sonatine
          • Ma mère l'oye
            • Le jardin féerique. Lent et grave


      Wednesday, July 22, 2015

      Wigmore debut for remarkable young composer-pianist

      I was sent a CD by the young Israeli pianist and composer Matan Porat to review a couple of years ago and was mightily impressed (I called his playing "cool-tempered, intelligent and sophisticated"). The other day I heard - just one week before the event, of course - that he is making his Wigmore Hall debut on Sunday (26th). I can't go, annoyingly, but asked him for an e-interview. Here he is. 



      Matan, where did you grow up, what is your background and how did you start to play?

      I grew up in a non-musical family. My mother loves music and as a toddler I learned to listen to LPs on my own, and was fascinated for hours from music by Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. My parents bought me small musical toys and I used to sing and play all day long. One day I came across a piano, and it was clear for me that is the instrument I want to play, as it provided instant gratification and had the possibility of imitating a whole orchestra. 

      I started both piano and composition at the age of six. For a very long time, until I was 18, I was mostly interested in composition and improvisation, and piano studies were secondary. 

      Which musicians and teachers have been most important to your development? 

      All had changed when I entered the Tel-Aviv university. Initially, I wanted to study only composition, but my teacher advised me to apply also for the piano department. I had the immense luck to study with a fantastic teacher, Emanuel Krasovsky, who saw immediately the big potential I had and together we were able to accomplish many things, despite the fact my first public concert was when I was over 18.

      Over the years I was privileged to work with some great artists who greatly inspired me, such as András Schiff, Daniel Barenboim and Richard Goode. 

      Among my "regular" teachers, I have learned most from my first teacher, Emanuel Krasovsky, and my last teacher, Murray Perahia. 

      How do you combine your joint activities as composer and pianist? And does understanding the composition process make a difference to how you approach the music that you perform?

      It is essential for me to do both professions at the highest level possible, and each year it becomes a greater and greater challenge as my concert schedule is always growing and I need to find time to write my commissions. As it is impossible for me to compose in months I have lots of concerts or on tour, I find each year at least two months where I do not perform, and that is when I compose. 

      Although the two professions are very different from each other, as a pianist I feel my approach to music is closer to a composer approach- I am always interested in form and harmony and never found myself interested in other performers, or "superficial" performance aspects (i.e. octaves, scales, etc.).

      As a composer, I am more empathic towards performers, as I know hard it is to play, and I'm always making sure I do not create unnecessary difficulties. 


      What ideas and motivations inspire you as a composer?  
      As a composer, my ideas come from various different sources- together with musical inspirations, I am often inspired by films, paintings, books and poetry. Once an idea is planted, all I need is to concentrate and develop it. But to reach that initial idea can take a long time...

      Please tell us about your programme for the Wigmore concert.
      For my Wigmore recital I wanted to pick three very different, though wonderful works: Ligeti's Musica Ricercata, which is one of the composer's early works from the 50s, and in which he has already found his unique voice, departing from the language of Bartok and of eastern-European music. These 11 bagatelles are each constructed from an added tone: the first uses only 2 notes, the second 3, the third 4, and so on until the last piece which uses the full 12 notes. 

      The second piece which I will present is Rameau's Nouvelle Suite en La. Naturally, Rameau is a harpsichord composer and many of the ornaments are better suited for harpsichord than for the modern piano. However, I find that rather than imitating the harpsichord, it is rather convincing to play it in a modern tradition, and even at times to use (God forbids!) the pedal. These wonderful dances include a harmonically daring Sarabande and the famous and virtuosic closing Gavotte et Doubles. 

      I don't think it is needed to introduce Schubert's A Major sonata D959, the one before last sonata and one of the last pieces which he wrote. I feel very close to Schubert's music, and this sonata is one of my favourites among his pieces. 

      Coming from the Middle East, do you feel music can be a positive force for change and reconciliation there? 
      I do believe music, or any form of art for that matter, has no nationality or boundaries and is stronger than any political thought, regime or power. It has always been that way and will always remain independent. 

      Tuesday, July 14, 2015

      Kaufmann concert fracas goes to the Old Bailey

      A row at the Wigmore Hall, of all places, has ended up going to court at the Old Bailey, the Telegraph reports. A disabled concert-goer, Alison Harvey, was allegedly rammed with her own wheelchair and was "sent sprawling" when she asked a man who was standing in her pre-booked space to move. 
      Harvey is reported as telling the court: "I couldn't believe this from a normal person at Wigmore Hall, a place where it's so old fashioned, I regarded it as like a home. It's somewhere you just feel totally safe and lovely - it's always been a joy to be there."
      The concert in question was the jam-packed song recital by Jonas Kaufmann on 4 January. 

      Full story here.

      Friday, January 23, 2015

      Next few days...

      Tomorrow (24th) I am at the Richmondshire Subscription Concerts in North Yorkshire for a welcome reunion with Bradley Creswick (violin) and Margaret Fingerhut (piano) in Hungarian Dances, the Concert of the Novel. Do come along for Gypsy-style virtuoso thrills, gorgeous repertoire and a roller-coaster narrative from the book. Here's the link: http://rsconcerts.org.

      On Monday evening (26th) I'm doing a pre-concert talk at the Wigmore Hall at 6.15pm about MOZART. The Hagen Quartet are continuing their Mozart Odysseyand Monday's concert features the second three of his "Haydn" Quartets. Talking about Mozart quartets at the Wigmore is a kind of a scary thing to do, so please join us in the Bechstein Room and smile - it will help. http://www.wigmore-hall.org.uk/whats-on/productions/pre-concert-talk-jessica-duchen-37085

      On Wednesday evening (28th) I'm in Birmingham to introduce Korngold's Symphony in F sharp at Symphony Hall. The CBSO will be playing it in the second half of the concert, conducted by that Korngold aficionado par excellence, Michael Seal. http://cbso.co.uk/?page=concerts/viewConcert.html&cid=2971&m=01&y=2015

      Busy. Backson.