Saturday, November 06, 2004

Avie is online

Newest addition to sidebar is Avie Records, which now has its website ready to roll. Avie, run by long-time record industry pros Simon Foster and Melanne Mueller, it's a record company on a different model from the usual: as the website explains, it is 'turning the traditional musician / record company relationship on its head.  Avie operates the label for and on behalf of the musicians who retain ownership of their recordings, acting as an umbrella for a number of musical organisations and individual artists.' But that doesn't mean they produce all and sundry - anything but. There is more discernment and clever thinking here than in many labels that have been established for much longer.

Avie is enabling the recording and release of some very special CDs which traditional major labels might hesitate to produce. Proof of its success is its first Gramophone award, for Phantasm's CD of Orlando Gibbons on viol consort. Among other favourites of mine are Andreas Haefliger's beautiful, reflective and powerful piano recital entitled 'Perspectives 1', Enescu's Piano Suites played by the exceptional young Romanian pianist Luiza Borac on two discs, and of course Philippe Graffin's Coleridge-Taylor and Dvorak Violin Concertos with the Johannesburg Philharmonic (OK, so I did the booklet notes, yeah, yeah, yeah... but it's a great record and I'm proud to be associated with it, so I make no apology for pushing it here). Keep up the good work, guys.

UPDATE, SUNDAY MORNING: Also new to cyberspace is Lisa Hirsch's classical music blog, Iron Tongue of Midnight. Ms Hirsch - she of the Bay Area bagel offer! - launches online with a plea for orchestral musicians to smile while they work. We've already had a very bloggish argy-bargy in her comments box as I've put her straight on exactly why they can't do so while trying to keep their places in John Adams... Looking forward to lots more provocative points of view, Lisa!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Fiddle glut

If you pronounce this title with a Danish accent, it sounds like an interesting pre-Christmas drink... But in the past 10 days or so I've been able to hear Leonidas Kavakos, Julian Rachlin and Nikolaj Znaider and, as a self-confessed violin fetishist, I'm feeling most pleasantly punch-drunk already. I got to sleep last night by counting fiddlers and got to 16 (or was it 17), any of whom I'd be more than willing to travel to the Barbican to hear and many of whom, to my astonishment, are under 40.

Here are a few of them, in no order whatsover: Kavakos, Rachlin and Znaider, as above; Hilary Hahn, Josh Bell, Lisa Batiashvili, Maxim Vengerov, Vadim Repin, Sarah Chang, Renaud Capucon, Thomas Zehetmair, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Viktoria Mullova, Andrew Manze, Gil Shaham, Tasmin Little, Philippe Graffin, Janine Jansen, Daniel Hope, Leila Josefowicz, Alina Ibragimova. And possibly Nigel Kennedy. That's 22, without even trying, and I'm sure I've missed a few. It's a sobering thought to realise that Mutter, Mullova and Kennedy are in the upper age-range in such company.

What happened? How come there's such a fabulous forest springing up now? Is it the influence of powerful teachers like Zakhar Bron, the Menuhin School and the late Dorothy Delay? Did the bright young things find inspiration in figures such as Zukerman and Perlman, or seeing the success of youthful stars like Nige or Mutter with whom they could identify? I'd like to look into this. About 20 years ago there was a similar glut among brilliant cellists, who in many cases had been inspired by seeing Jacqueline du Pre when they were very small; and also flautists, who adored James Galway.

To the fifty-somethings Zukerman and Perlman, we can now add Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Pierre Amoyal, Augustin Dumay and, omygod, Gidon Kremer...

Counting fiddlers is a good way to induce sleep at times of world stress and fierce argument here in Sheen. There is depression over America; and I went to the London Symphony Orchestra last night only to spot none other than the leader of the London Philharmonic sitting in the driving seat beaming up at Rostropovich and Znaider, while the LPO had had to get a guest leader in. None of this makes for a quiet life.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Maybe Britain is European after all

Hi folks, thanks very much for all your interesting responses to the posts below and your associated nice words about this blog. As you know, I don't usually 'do' politics, so I promise I will shut up shortly and get back to music. But first, a few observations...

First, I wasn't actually surprised that Bush won. Kerry seemed like a bit of a nerd and I suspected that he was attracting many 'anti Republican' votes rather than 'pro Democrat'. Secondly, I for one - and possibly many of my compatriots too - will find it easier to accept Bush in the White House this time because he does have a clear majority. Which wasn't the case 4 years ago, when many of us suspected serious monkey business. Thirdly, someone like Bush would never, ever be elected in Britain because our countries, traditions and outlooks are so very different. Bush is far, far right of the British Tory party. Here, people with such extreme views, especially if religiously motivated, are viewed frankly as a little bit odd: endearingly eccentric, perhaps, and admirable for their personal sense of conviction, but certainly not suitable candidates for running a country.

When people complain here about globalisation, they usually mean Americanisation - the predominance in the 'culture' (if you can define it as such) of MacDonalds, Starbucks, American films and American TV. I think that this election proves that such anger is directed at something essentially superficial. We like a lot of these things, with the exception of MacDonalds, because they're rather good. But they're not indicative of the Americanisation of the British people. Some think that we are in America's pocket - a useful little bit of land in a handy spot east of the Atlantic. The widespread sense of depression here yesterday proves that we're not.

A look at your election map is very telling. Huge swathes of red right across the place. And a few little strips of blue in the big cities on the coasts. Well, Britain is a small country, geographically. The vast majority of Brits live in overcrowded cities - there isn't that much countryside left and there'll soon be even less. Also, we lack your religious right-wingers - they exist, but the numbers aren't huge and, as I mentioned, the rest of us regard them as oddballs. Unlike America-between-the-coasts, Britain is mainly a secular country; the bit that isn't is multifaith in the extreme. Here in London we have everything under the sun, from Chassids to Muslim extremists like Abu Hamza (who finally got arrested) and every variety of eastern Orthodox church you can think of. There are occasional spats, as there would be in any such situation, but on the whole we coexist quite happily, share the same basic everyday concerns and balance each other out. The majority of Brits would be very worried indeed if we felt that our prime minister's priority was to make laws centring on religious issues like gay rights and abortion. We'd rather they did something to fix up the public transport system. (Not that they do that either).

In British cities, especially London, we're a very mixed society. On any average trip on the London underground, you can hear about six different languages. The place is full of Eastern Europeans now. The Poles keep the building and cleaning industries alive and standards have soared since they started coming here. The orchestras are full of amazing Russians. My brother's new baby is officially Italian like his mum. Our friends include Germans, Chinese, French, Danish, Swedish, Armenians, Israelis, Australians and, of course, Americans. And plenty others. That's one of the things that makes London so exciting.

Next, it's easy to get around from here. Travelling anywhere from the States, you generally have to cross an ocean. From London it's a short hop to anywhere in Europe. Vilnius, which felt for so long like another planet, is just 3 hours away. Israel is only about 5 hours (not counting return check-in at the airport in Tel Aviv). South Africa and Singapore are about 12 hours each, Japan 10, India 8. So we tend to travel. Tom and I can nip over to Paris by train for an overnight shopping trip, or get a cheap ticket on a budget airline to visit friends in Denmark for a long weekend. if you live in Fort Worth or Kalamazoo, the idea of flying all the way to Aarhus for three days would seem completely crazy. So if Americans from inland areas sometimes strike us Brits as insular, under-travelled and ill-informed about the rest of the world, we can hardly be surprised. There simply isn't anywhere here that resembles Texas, Michigan or Nebraska. No wonder we can't understand you. No wonder you can't understand us.

I've been to Kalamazoo, by the way, and I had a great time there. That's another story.

This could go on forever, so I'll stop now. But in short I feel that what Britain can learn from this election is that we are actually much closer to Europe than to America and growing more so all the time, even if parts of our country would prefer it to be otherwise. And do we have a common language, not counting what passes for 'English' (currently in as dire a state over here as it is over there)? We do. Need I say it? MUSIC.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Gergiev and Beslan

This latest from Norman Lebrecht is extremely moving - an interview with Ossetian-born maestro Valery Gergiev about his reaction to the Beslan massacre. Recommended reading, especially for anyone who still thinks that violence doesn't beget more violence ( - oh - OK, Dubya - just settle back into your big white house first - then read it when you're sitting comfortably...)

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Polling day...

Hi to everyone in the USA today, November 2nd. A little message from our household: please go to your polling stations and do your very best to get rid of the goon who has been running your country for the past 4 years. New York is my favourite city. I once wanted to live there (and would have if I hadn't met my husband at the very moment I was offered a job) and I want to be able to visit it, and my many beloved friends and family members who live there, without feeling sick. We are with you in spirit.

A controversial piece in The Guardian recently printed letters from angry Americans telling us Brits, in no uncertain terms, to get our noses out of their election business. (I wanted to link to it, but there has been so much coverage in the last little while that I can't find it right now.) Well, since our own prime minister has seen fit to back Bush's war on Iraq, our servicemen have risked their lives there and we do think we have a right to express our opinions.

Music carries such strong and directly emotional messages that it could be used as a powerful tool by those who know how to apply it (as did, regrettably, Hitler). Therefore it's logical to suspect that musicians could use their talent to make their points far more strongly if they wanted to. However, many musicians I know are either hopelessly naive ("Concorde crashed? That's OK, it only killed rich people...") or disinterested ("Why should we bother voting? Nobody raises our pay no matter what happens...") or a little unrealistic about the demands of the market place ("We should privatise British orchestras..."). Tom and I do occasional fundraising concerts for things we believe in - they might make more difference, I guess, if we played them anywhere other than to 20 people and a cat in suburban front rooms. But we can dream, and we do... Still, it's a bit late to mobilise American orchestras, or what's left of them,in favour of any presidential candidate at this stage. All we can say is this:

Dear friends in America, we love you and we want to keep our Special Relationship special. So please vote yourselves a proper President today.