Monday, December 20, 2004

Time for that annual round-up

Started blogging! Not that that's work.
Talked about Ravel, Faure and Debussy at the Wigmore Hall - with French musicians present (yikes)!
Interviewed (in no particular order and among many others) Daniel Barenboim, the Beaux Arts Trio, Steven Isserlis, Lang Lang, Helene Grimaud, Tony Palmer and a lot of Lithuanians.
Been to Vilnius, Tallinn, Verbier, Berlin, Paris, Edinburgh, the Loire Valley, St Nazaire, Manchester and, of course, Buxton.
Started writing for The Independent.
4 performances of Beloved Clara.
Performed Franck and Faure violin sonatas with Tom. Still can't believe this.
AND I've made what I think is a small but significant academic discovery. I've written about it for The Strad in the January 2005 edition, just out now. It's about Chausson, Faure and Turgenev...

Write 2 sets of CD liner notes, 1 set of programme notes, 2 articles for Classical Music Magazine, 1 article for The Strad, 3 reviews for BBC Music Magazine and an unusually massive article for the Indy;
*ACHTUNG* - Tax return.
Learn the Elgar violin sonata piano part and keep working on L'Isle Joyeuse.
Put CDs in order on shelves. Actually, putting CDs on shelves at all would be a good start.
Hover anxiously while Tom cooks turkey.
Socialise, but try not to eat too much.
Make sure that Tom watches The Wizard of Oz, which he's managed never to see in over four decades.

I take it all back about Christmas being too short...
WEDNESDAY A.M> - Ooops. I meant 'about Christmas being too LONG'...oh dear, it's all getting to me.....

Saturday, December 18, 2004

More Mendelssohn...

A muso friend writes in sympathy over my Lack of Mendelssohn with the startling idea that I should try some Andrew Lloyd Webber instead - the reason being that there is an uncanny resemblance between the slow movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and 'I don't know how to love him' from Jesus Christ Superstar. Humming through both, I find my pal is right. Hey, why reinvent the wheel?

Next whinge: please can we have Christmas shortened by a week or two? It gets longer every year and these days you can't get anything done for three weeks, which means associated knock-on/backlog effect at either end. What we should have is: Normal Life up to and including 23 December; Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day; Normal Life from 27 to 30 December; New Year's Eve, New Year's Day; Normal Life from 2 January. NOT a situation where from 20 December to 10 January the world is deaf, dumb and drunk and ignoring the contents of its in-tray.

I still get a sneaky satisfaction from walking along the local main shopping street, hearing Hark the Herald Angels Sing blaring out of wherever, and reflecting that this most wonderful of Xmas carols was penned by a nice Jewish boy who also put a lot of effort into reconstructing the St Matthew Passion. Mazel tov, Felix.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I left my recharger... Tallinn. This seemed to be the spur I needed to upgrade my mobile phone, which I've had for the better part of three years. I called the company and two days later a lovely new silvery toy arrived with a flick-up lid, built-in camera and a nice black-on-white display for sending texts. It's also quad-band, so should work if/when I next have to go to the US.

But I have lost the two features for which I hung on to my old one for so long. One was a cute frog screensaver cartoon - a little green frog that jumps from lily-pad to lily-pad the way frogs do...and the other was a Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (last movement) ringtone. Technology today being as sophisticated as it is, I reckoned I could find and download it fairly easily. After three hours I have to admit defeat. The dumbing-down of mobile phone rings is such that all I could find was a ghastly version of the Faure Pie Jesu, the Devil's Trill Sonata by Vanessa Mae [!] and 'Rule Britannia - National Anthem' [?!?!]. The front runner now is Papageno's song, but it's just not the same. I WANT MY VIOLIN CONCERTO!!! Not least because most of my calls are from, er, violinists.

At least I've been able to set a picture of Solti the Cat as my Wallpaper.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Blowing my orchestra-in-law's trumpet...

...without shame! Because yesterday they played a favourite piece of mine that I have never heard in a live concert before. And it's by TCHAIKOVSKY.

I'm always astonished by the amount of music I learned as a kid simply by virtue of being a ballet nut. Tchaikovsky's Suite No.3 - at least, its Theme & Variations - was transformed into a Balanchine hit for New York City Ballet. As a teenager going to see them at the ROH, I had, I guess, a relatively enquiring mind: I heard this substantial final movement and went out to look for a recording of the complete thing. Loved it to bits. Haven't heard it since. Yesterday Vladimir Jurowski finished the Festival Hall concert with it and I sat there in seventh heaven listening to the first movement, which contains the sort of Tchaikovsky melody that could make me turn cartwheels of ecstasy if there were room in row G of the RFH to do so.

What annoys me was that this concert should have been sold out and it wasn't. The name Mark Anthony Turnage beside the opening piece put off probably 20% of possible capacity. The unfamiliarity of the words Suite No.3 beside the familiar word Tchaikovsky put off probably around another 10%. The Rachmaninov Rhapsody in the middle didn't do much to help, despite flavour-of-the-month youngish Russian Nikolai Lugansky as soloist.

What annoys me even more, incidentally, is Lugansky himself. Oh please. What do people see in this ultradigital cold fish? He has a hard-edged sound, a forearm-dominated technique and apparent total lack of capacity to either be moved by his music or move others with it?!? OK, he played all the right notes in the right places. SO WHAT? What is the earthly use of being able to do that if you have nothing to say? But he got a tremendous ovation, so I guess people don't WANT piano playing to say anything except right notes any more. GRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Please, next time, can we have Grigory Sokolov instead...?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Eastward ho!

I've been to Estonia this week to do a travel feature for BBC Music Magazine and something for The Strad. The trip was courtesy of Warner Classics, who took me and several other journalists there to meet a very glamorous female conductor named Anu Tali who has her own project orchestra in Tallinn, and a twin sister, Kadri, who is her manager. Live wires, both of them, and easy to see why Warners are so keen to get her on board.

Tallinn is extremely beautiful. As in Vilnius, the outskirts are grey, Soviet and awful, but then you go through an ancient archway into the old city and suddenly you're in fairyland - medieval Hanseatic houses, cobbled streets, pretty churches, a wonderfully restored Russian cathedral towering at the top of the hill...and the restaurants are marvellous. The City Council treated the entire Warner group to lunch at Old Hansa, entirely in medieval style with candlelight, wooden trestle tables, murals, hefty wooden staircases and 14th-century recipes which were fabulous: salmon with hazelnuts, turnips with ginger, liver pate, wild berry preserves etc etc, not to mention honey beer and spiced wine. Estonian for 'cheers' is Terviseks, a word that, predictably, was much mis-quoted by some members of our party...

The concert hall is small and sweet with a pleasing, clear acoustic. The contemporary music that we heard was laden with Sibelian influences. The composer who most impressed me was Tormis, who was featured several times in Anu's concert; I was less thrilled by a 1984 minimalist symphony by the late Sumera; mixed feelings about a dance suite by Tubin. All of it sounded pretty good until the programme suddenly turned up some Tchaikovsky - the letter scene from Onegin - upon which everything else somewhat paled.

Tallinn was altogether easier to be in than Vilnius. No tears, no pain, less seedy, less historically significant, better kept, further advanced in westernisation terms, less religious, less intense and - because of all this - not quite as interesting either.