Showing posts with label orchestras. Show all posts
Showing posts with label orchestras. Show all posts

Monday, April 02, 2007

The orchestra wife's guide to surviving Aldeburgh

1. Watch Tony Palmer's film about Benjamin Britten to check the place's raison d'etre.

2. Pack heated pad for cold tootsies. The Suffolk coast is that land that climate change forgot to warm up, even if it may one day swallow the whole place.

3. Book lovely b&b in exquisite village of Orford and spend happy evening at the Butley Orford Oysterage. They catch their own fish and have their own oyster beds.

4. Discover that am wearing same daily uniform as Vladi - blue jeans, brown leather jacket and floppy hair. I should have been a conductor. Next life, perhaps.

5. Find tranquil corner of office buildings to tap on word processor while hubby and co slog out guts in the hall. After much trial and error, discover that the ladies' bandroom is the warmest spot in Snape, having no windows and therefore no draughts.

6. Eat too much breakfast and drink way too much coffee.

7. Concert part 1: wallow in Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings, favourite piece that Tom hasn't played for donkey's years.

8. Concert part 2: enjoy world premiere of lovely new piece by Mark-Anthony Turnage, then hair-raise through stunning Britten Frank Bridge Variations, a piece that Tom has never played before at all.

9. Hit the A12.

10. Realise that forgot to say to Tom, "WHERE'S YOUR VIOLIN?" before setting out for home.......

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ah, Vienna...

Just about recovered from a thrilling New Year in the city of waltzes... Appropriately enough, since 2007 is the 50th anniversary of Korngold's death and the 110th of his birth, we spent New Year's Eve dancing the night away outside the Rathaus, where Korngold and Luzi von Sonnenthal got married.

Oh boy, do the Viennese know how to party. The city centre turns into one big celebration, with different music going on in various squares and pedestrian areas until 2am, and all the sausages, langos, gluhwein and schnapps you could wish for, not to mention strudel, with fireworks zooming about overhead constantly - none of that wait-for-midnight nonsense here, thanks... Apparently Vienna entertained about 700,000 people that night, double the number who risked chaos in central London (where organising so much as a p***-up in a brewery seems to defeat even the most well-intentioned). A few firecrackers to dodge along the way, and it's best to avoid the most crowded areas like the Karntnerstrasse, but otherwise the atmosphere was simply wonderful.

One learns some startling things about one's partner in these circumstances. Good old Tomcat turns out to be an unreconstructed old rocker! After the operetta crew finished The Blue Danube after midnight (yes, we waltzed, or tried to), on came a band called Remembering Elvis. Tom doesn't have much hair, but a few bars of Blue Suede Shoes and what's left came down in spectacular fashion. After that, along came a band called Montevideo and Tom discovered that I'm a frustrated South American at heart, itching to learn salsa and samba (our tango classes tragically having ended in abandonment of all hope). 2007 resolution: learn to waltz and go back next time - maybe even to a ball...???

The next morning, we watched the New Year's Day concert on a big screen in the Rathausplatz. The Vienna Philharmonic sound as glorious as ever. BUT it's still very odd only to see one woman in their ranks. Read some interesting info about this here (thanks to Ionarts for the link). How do they get away with it? I interviewed two of them for Classical Music Magazine about 15 years ago when the orchestra played in London, and asked them why they don't employ more women. They told me it was because of maternity leave laws: apparently they'd have to keep the job open for three years (or was it five?). I can't say I was convinced. It's tempting to wonder why other Austrian orchestras seem to manage fine, or why some fabulous female musician who doesn't intend to have children should be excluded. In Britain, there'd be no rest from the negative media over something like this. At least on this occasion they had an Indian conductor...

Vienna's an odd place. What was once the capital city of the biggest empire in Europe now feels like a small, isolated town with a lot of beautiful cafes and some very good music. It always takes me a day or two to stop thinking about the Korngold family and those like them fleeing the Anschluss, Hitler waving to the cheering crowds from the hotel balcony, and all that followed. But once I've got past that and started drinking in the Klimts in the Belvedere, the shades of Mozart at Schonbrunn, and on this occasion one of the best Chagall exhibitions I've seen, not to mention coffee with liqueur and schlagobers, it's impossible not to enjoy it.

Stars in the pavement of the Kartnerstrasse and Graben pay tribute to the likes of Weber, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Kreisler, Rubinstein, Chopin, Schumann and Clara Schumann and more (though I couldn't find Korngold or Schoenberg). Two youngsters from Ankara asked us the way to the Figarohaus, where Mozart lived; for my part, I was sorry to leave without paying tribute to Schubert's spectacles in the house where he was born. And during our last coffee-stop we chatted to a Viennese couple at the next table who knew all the gossip about the New Year's Day concert reviews (catty indeed!). But the strangest thing is that you can spend a happy holiday in Vienna without setting eyes on that famous river even once. If you want to see the Beautiful Blue Danube at its finest, go to Budapest.

Most important, this is Korngold year. There'll be plenty going on all over the world and I'll try to keep posting about the most interesting events to come my way. For starters, watch out for a major exhibition about the composer opening in late October in Vienna, and a very special concert series right here in London in the autumn.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Huge, huge thanks to everyone who wrote in with advice about the laptop computer. My first choice is indeed 12" Mac Powerbook. I spent a happy afternoon the other day tapping away on keyboards in Tottenham Court Road and it was by far the best in terms of keyboard comfort, carry-around weight and ease of use. BUT...the other day I went back to try to buy one for real and found that there was not a 12" Powerbook in stock anywhere in central London! I'm obviously not the only person who wants one...Since then I've reassessed the situation and worked out that as I'm not likely to be going away for any length of time until September (ouch!), there's really no urgency about it after all. Hmmm...

I should really have been in the Royal Festival Hall listening to Mahler 6 right now, but the Tomcat has injured his back pulling the bag out of the kitchen bin (I kid you not) and has had to take some time off work. Bad backs are a nightmare, as I know only too well from my experience last May, and there's no way on earth I'm going to let him sit in one spot with fiddle at the ready for 6 hours' rehearsal a day in his current state.

More alarming is that I'm not so sorry not to be at this concert. Mahler 6 is Tom's favourite of Big Gustav's output, but it's one of those symphonies that leaves me thinking, 'Come on, Gus, go see Freud and stop inflicting all this angst on your poor old listeners...' And friends in the band tell us that the Maestro (or is it Madame Piano Soloist?) insists they play the Mozart piano concerto with no vibrato. Not even on the long notes, as is recommended by Leopold, if someone had but bothered looking.

How come Leopold provides exercises for practising what we today call vibrato, several years before Wolfgang was born, and gives ample indication that the fiddlers around him were using FAR TOO MUCH WOBBLE HABITUALLY, and conductors still come along bright eyed and bushy tailed telling orchestras to use NONE? Nine times out of ten, it sounds frightful. What I want to know is, how many of them have so much as glanced at this text, let alone dared to form their own interpretations of it based on facts rather than hearsay?!?!? To judge from the squeaks and moans being emitted by some of today's highest profile musicians, not a great many.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Catching up

Rather a fallow blog-week for me, I fear. Here are a few things that have been happening...

Tom has been on tour - Ljubljana, three places in Germany beginning with F and, to end, Basel. The major excitement seems to have been some official list that was circulated to the orchestra inadvertently revealing everybody's normally well-concealed middle names and dates of birth. Plus lots of snow, beautiful European shoebox concert halls and excellent audiences, Tom says, and stunning performances by their soloist, Christian Tetzlaff, who makes a more beautiful sound on his inexpensive modern fiddle than most others do on Strads. It ain't what you've got, it's what you do with it.

I went to hear Piotr Anderszewski at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday. Completely sold out, and not an easy programme at all - the first half was the Bach French Overture and the Szymanowski Metopes (Chopin took up the second half). Glorious playing, especially the Poles; most of all, the Chopin B minor Sonata. Once again, anyone who insists that audiences are declining should really have been there; they should also note that Grigory Sokolov's next recital, which is not until 15 APRIL, is ALREADY sold out. Which is no less than this absolutely unbelievable artist deserves. I'm glad he's gaining the prestige that is his due.

Meanwhile I am staring at my computer screen with increasing terror at the idea of what I soon have to do with it...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Underdog schmunderdog

Big thanks to Tim for a link to the Atlanta remarks/quotes about yrs truly's blog. I guess I was a technotwit after all...

I do have to take exception, though, to the journalist's description of Tom's orchestra, the London Philharmonic, as the 'underdog' among the top 5 London orchestras. Everyone gets the names confused now and then, but the LPO is really in pretty good shape (one sole section currently lets it down with depressing regularity, but I'm not really allowed to write about that...suffice it to say that it ain't the violins!). No, the real underdog is actually the Royal Philharmonic - which is absolutely tragic.

This once great orchestra, founded by Sir Thomas Beecham, gave the first Royal Festival Hall concerts I ever went to. I'll never forget, aged 12, sitting in the RFH listening to them playing Strauss's Don Juan and feeling the socks flying from my feet as the trombones glistened and the bows scrubbed...I remember thinking, 'I want to be part of this...' - little suspecting that, instead, I'd someday marry someone who was! But today the RPO has been left out in the cold in terms of government funding. The LSO gets the lion's share, and its home in the Barbican in the City of London enables it to have around double the cash of any of the others. No wonder it sounds good. The LPO and Philharmonia share a residency at the RFH and get decentish government money at the next level down. They both sound jolly good too. The BBCSO is a law unto itself, as ever: sometimes it sounds great, sometimes it doesn't, but it's not often to blame for the latter as its raison d'etre is its often weird and taxing programming. But the RPO, not having a high-profile residency (though it does have a new Chelsea base at Cadogan Hall now), gets such paltry funding that it has to resort to many of the most miserable kinds of orchestral gigs to make ends meet. It sounds and feels seriously demoralised. A pal of mine played a concerto with them out of town a year or so ago - I went along, and sitting in a draughty, miserable hall in which I was the youngest person by 40 years, listening to a draughty, miserable orchestra, was really sad, especially when I remembered how they had sounded all those years ago. It's not that they don't try - they certainly do - and I have the greatest respect for the way they soldier on. But I think they are trapped in a vicious circle and I don't know how they can get out of it.

The LPO is off on tour to Germany, Switzerland and Ljubljana next week, with Paavo Berglund conducting and soloists including cellist Pieter Wispelwey and violinist Christian Tetzlaff. They'll have to wrap up warm because it's -11 degrees in some of these places. Tom & I tried to check the forecasts for Ljubljana on the internet last night. After trying to spell it three times, we had to give up and try 'Slovenia' instead.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Yay for the global village

Just back from a long weekend in Denmark, celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary with friends in Aarhus. Tom's first job was in the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, back in the early 1980s. He still speaks the language fluently (incredible) and loves going back. It's a delightful place, pretty and friendly, gentle and fun to be in - and the northern light is sharp and silvery and marvellous, especially at this time of year. We spent yesterday celebrating with friends who are respectively a nurse (Danish), a microbiologist (Danish) and a radiologist (originally Canadian) - walking by the sea and enjoying a bottle or two of champagne in the afternoon on a deserted beach.

In this laid-back, international context, it was depressing to hear about the strides made by the UK Independence Party in the elections the other day. The world has become such a small place that you really can't turn the clock back and pretend that it's unnecessary to team up with anybody but your own little island and its island mentality. I feel very sorry for people who can't see past the end of their own noses. They don't know what they're missing.

In the musical sphere, we're better placed than most to appreciate the benefits of the increasingly international society. Tom's orchestra has recently appointed a Hungarian, a Chinese girl, a Spaniard, someone from Holland, a French violinist, a South African and several Russians. There are several Germans already, an Italian or two and a particularly charming and infamous Brazilian cellist who seems to get tickets for the finals of every World Cup. For Glyndebourne, take all of this, add singers and stir well. Everyone is pulling together towards the same end. Everyone has concerns in common and friends are made across every boundary. Hence boundaries cease to exist.

I'm losing track of the number of international couples that we know. My brother is about to marry an Italian. Our friend Paul Lewis, hotshot British pianist, has just married the Norwegian cellist of the Vertavo Quartet, Bjorg Vaernes - many congratulations to them!! We know couples who are French and American, Russian and Canadian, Tartar and Welsh. And countless others. That's one of the best things about the modern western world: this cultural exchange is endlessly stimulating.

As it happens, I love England. I am proud of our heritage in cathedrals, great houses, beautiful gardens, pretty villages, literature, certain kinds of music, cricket on the green etc etc. But, being privileged enough to live among music and musicians, I don't see any sign of the threat that so many people in this country think that Europe poses.

When Tom moved to Aarhus, he'd spent the past few years at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, living in a cramped bedsit where he had to put coins into a meter to get any heating. He practised all the time and lived on peanut butter sandwiches and orange juice. Manchester in those days was a pretty vile place, grimy and depressed and gloomy. Then he got his job in Aarhus and suddenly found himself in a clear-aired, friendly, clean environment with a thriving cafe society, an easy-going population, lots of bicycles and thousands of Danish blondes. He thought he'd died and gone to heaven.

ALSO - ARTICLE IN TODAY'S 'INDEPENDENT' by yrs truly, about Beloved Clara and the increasing spate of music & words projects going on. Link on the sidebar.