Sunday, January 09, 2005

Symphonic blues?

I am wearing sackcloth and ashes over missing the world premiere of Matthew Taylor's Symphony No.3 on Friday night. Helen played the harp at the concert and has a full report at Twang Twang Twang. I fear I had to stay in and practise/rehearse (we had a gig yesterday) and so it has been and gone and I feel desperately guilty. (Not least because Matthew once dedicated a very touching piano piece to me. Matthew being a great Schumann fan, it's called Blumenstuck. I remember thinking the title beautifully ironic because at the time I did indeed feel bloomin' stuck...but, thank goodness, that's a long time ago...).

Helen asks in her report why symphonies aren't generally being written these days; Lisa has some succinct and pertinent replies. But what's worrying me about Matthew's new piece is when we will ever have the opportunity to hear it again. Writing a symphony takes so much time, effort and spiritual blood & guts that it seems nothing less than tragic if there's to be only one performance. Sobering, of course, to think of symphonies over the centuries whose composers never heard them at all - Schubert's Ninth being the prime example. To Lisa's list of reasons, however, I should add that concert promoters who refuse to take risks must shoulder some of the blame. By being over-conservative, they have steered audiences towards further conservatism - if you feed people nothing but familiar music, they will come to expect and accept nothing but familiar music. As indeed, they now do.

Hats off to Matthew and his few symphony-writing colleagues who dare to stand their ground and speak their musical minds, even if it means swimming against the tide and even if it means busting every gut every day of their lives. Bravo.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Viva Jacqueline

My biggest assignment this Christmas was writing a mega-article about a mega-musician: a very substantial piece for the Indy about Jacqueline du Pre, who would have celebrated her 60th birthday later this month. The article is out today and turns out to be the cover feature for the review section. It's also trailed on the front page of the main paper. I may have been a journalist for 15 years but I still get a real kick out of things like this!....and I'm overjoyed to have been able to make some contribution to celebrating an artist like 'Jackie', who meant so very much to so many people - and still does.

Raphael Wallfisch is at the heart of this because he has organised two impressive days of commemorative concerts - on 25 January he and pianist John York play all the Beethoven cello sonatas at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and on 26th Symphony Hall Birmingham is hosting a whole afternoon & evening of special events with Wallfisch, Christopher Nupen and friends. All proceeds to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Book now!

By Strauss

To the most stunning and luscious chamber music concert last night: the Razumovsky Ensemble at Wigmore Hall. The Razumovskys are a flexible-sized group of London's top orchestra leaders and freelance chamber musicians/soloists, given their much-deserved chance to play at the Wig and elsewhere in groups that show what astonishing players they really are. Last night the ROH leader Vassko Vassilev, LSO principal second David Alberman, LPO principal viola Sasha Zemstov, ROH principal viola Andrey Viytovych and cellists Oleg Kogan (who runs the whole thing to perfection) and Alex Chaushian got together to play an entire programme of string sextets: the one from Capriccio by Strauss, the Brahms G major and the Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence. We sat and wallowed all the way through. The sound quality! The vigour! The textures! The fabulous music that is never performed often enough! Glorious musical chocolate, 100% cocoa solids.

A thought about Capriccio: the crux of the opera is whether Countess Madeleine, pursued by a poet on one hand and a musician on the other, decides that music is more important than words, or vice-versa. We never learn what her decision is. BUT Strauss starts the opera with - a self-contained string sextet. He must have realised that it would be taken out and performed in chamber concerts as a work in its own right. Without words. Could this sextet represent Strauss's reaction to his story? The answer is music, music, music...

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Essential reading

Thanks to Lisa Hirsch & Helen Radice, I've just come across Adaptistration, a blog by musician, teacher and orchestra manager Drew McManus in the US. It's part of Artsjournal and concerns the evolution of orchestral management, but using a sharp mind and fine arguments to do so. Well written, to the point and most insightful. Anyone in the music business, or with a serious interest in orchestras for any reason whatsoever, should read it.

Footnote: Drew, like me, is married to a professional violinist. Is there something about the instrument that induces its player's spouse to blog?!?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New year, new start

Among things that need a serious restart are our front room shelves, groaning with LPs that haven't been played for 20 years. Today Tom decided we should have clear-out. He has a vinyl buff friend who'll be coming round to take away most of our collection. So this seemed an apposite day, hangover notwishstanding, to sift out what we want to keep.

Ouch. Memories flood back. Tom kept anything that said JASCHA HEIFETZ on the front; I kept anything that said KRYSTIAN ZIMERMAN. Some of his early recordings have never been transferred to CD and the pictures of him aged around 21 are seriously cute. And many of them are signed (in 1982/83 I was a goggle-eyed teenaged groupie!).

Anything that has been transferred to CD went into the OUT pile - even things that nearly broke my heart because I remember listening to them again & again & again as a kid, years before my parents died: things like Mendelssohn ' A Midsummer Night's Dream' and Zukerman playing the concerto. There's a boxed set of 'Carmen' starring Teresa Berganza that has never even been opened...I remember buying it with my Dad on the day I took Grade VII piano aged 15 and somehow we never got round to playing it... All the Andras Schiff Bach recordings that helped me survive Cambridge in the mid 1980s (music faculty ethos in those days was Christopher Hogwood=God; Bach on Piano=Evil Subversive Forces) - I have them on CD now, but the big Decca double LPs were so lovely... Various recordings signed by musicians, not just Zimerman; others affectionately signed by ex-boyfriends with cryptic initials, meanings long forgotten. And recordings that have probably been transferred to CD but also possibly Frederica von Stade, accompanied by Jean-Philippe Collard, singing Faure. Wonderful disc, surely, surely we must be able to find it on CD? But still, I haven't listened to it in over 15 years.

I can't quite imagine feeling this sentimental over CDs. Too much plastic, too many broken boxes, too small. But at least they don't warp.

We listened to one very special LP: Hugh Bean and David Parkhouse playing the Elgar Violin Sonata. Wonderful, rich,singing tone, masses of fantasy, perfect atmosphere. Warped, however. Have ordered it on CD now.

One end result, other than the agony of seeing one's childhood memories slung into the OUT pile, is that I want to get hold of the RCA Heifetz edition. Loads of CDs, but Tom deserves them for his next birthday. Unfortunately, though, as is so often the case in these alarming days, it now seems to be unavailable from Amazon and the various second-hand CD sites I've tried online have only bits and pieces from it. Anyone know where I might be able to run the whole lot to earth?