Saturday, July 30, 2005

Dreams come true... stages. The proofs and cover design of my book have turned up. The book will be 375 pages. The cover is perfect. I'm bowled over, because I have very little design imagination - when asked whether I had any ideas about how I wanted the jacket to look, all I could come up with was 'for goodness' sake, no lemon yellow, shocking pink, lime green or champagne glasses'! Now someone in that company, somehow, has come up with an image that is strong and simple and that says what needs to be said. The photo, font and entire style is very classy but entirely immediate. I can't quite believe how thrilled I am with it - yet have a seriously odd sensation that I always knew in some strange corner of the brain that my first novel was going to look like this. How? no idea.

Please excuse me for a couple of days while I go off to France.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Mountain excitement

Verbier tent
Originally uploaded by Duchenj.

Back from Verbier. Here's a picture of the scene outside the concert tent the other night. The tent in the picture is the Cafe Schubert, where lectures and pre-concert talks are held. It's quite some setting for music...

The quality of the performances was, as usual absolutely incredible (with one scarey exception). The highlights of our all-too-brief stay were Leonidas Kavakos, Mischa Maisky and Elena Bashkirova playing the Schubert B flat Trio; and Thomas Quasthoff, accompanied by Evgeny Kissin, singing a selection of dark-hued Schubert with a power and empathy that were positively spine-chilling.

During less than 48 hours we experienced all of this and much more. Cello masterclass with Ralph Kirshbaum, lunch & interview with the fabulous Kavakos (stopping on way into street cafe to say hi to Vengerov a few tables away), mountain cable car & glorious walk, amazing concert with Mozart played by Michala Petri, Janine Jansen, Julian Rachlin & various others, a scrumptious fondue, the Quastoff/Kissin gig and the most extraordinary party I've ever been to...

The only upset was a cellist called Alexander Knaizev, who - despite having Kissin as his pianist - gave the most horrible performance of sonatas by Franck and Shostakovich. I disgraced myself by getting the giggles, but I don't think I was the only one. Half the audience loved it; many others fled the moment the Franck was finished. I hung on for the Shostakovich in case it improved, but it didn't.

Some claim to like his 'intensity' - but if someone TALKED to you like that, constantly fortissimo, milking E-V-E-R-Y W-O-O-O-R-D F-O-R M-A-A-A-A-A-A-X-I-M-U-U-U-M E-M-O-T-I-O-O-O-O-N A-A-A-A-L-L T-H-E T-I-I-I-I-M-E W-I-T-H-O-U-U-T A-N-Y V-A-R-I-E-T-Y-Y-Y-Y, you would either think they were crazy or you'd go crazy yourself. Sorry, but that's not intensity. It's emotional claptrap and it has nothing, but NOTHING, to do with Franck, let alone Shostakovich (and this guy, being Russian, should at least have known better there). Plus it takes some doing to make an audience come out of a cello recital in a tent feeling as if their ears have been assaulted by an electric guitar. I was particularly disappointed because I've heard some of his recordings and liked them very much, including his solo Bach.

Anyway, win some, lose some... Verbier is beautiful, thrilling and -given the amount of serious dosh there - remarkably human. This was my fourth visit (and Tom's first) and I hope I'll be able to go back next year.

I'm now about to do extra time on the exercise bike to burn off some of that fondue...

Sunday, July 24, 2005


OK. I think that's quite enough about Wagner for a bit. My brain's getting twisted.

I'm off to Switzerland for a flying visit to the Verbier Festival tomorrow - back rather too soon. A couple of thoughts to leave you with in the meantime, including the promised Desert Island Discs in case anyone's interested!

First, though, for the literary-minded: in the wake of the bombings in London and Egypt and the continual suicide bombing insurgency in Iraq, how are we creatives to respond? I've often been annoyed by the way that much contemporary fiction seems to be an extended version of what's happened to be in the news - the result is a lot of books that date very quickly - and even my favourite books, which on the whole don't do that, can contain elements that become dated through their 'relevance to contemporary issues'. On the other hand, there's a lot of escapism too: historical novels that bury their concerns in the distant past (though I hasten to add that I love many of those!!). Is it possible for writers and, indeed, composers to handle the impact of our changing world in a creative way that doesn't become obsessed with relevance to these issues? I'm wondering how to make my new novel feel contemporary without getting too involved in such things. It's difficult.

Enough of that - here are 8 Desert Island Discs to enjoy. I've a nasty feeling I've done this before, but can't remember when - and the list has probably changed...

1. Krystian Zimerman plays the Ravel piano concertos - with LSO/Boulez (DG). Perfection.

2. Marc-Andre Hamelin's album 'Kaleidoscope'. All his recordings are brilliant, but this is the one I play most.

3. Mozart: The Magic Flute, conducted by Klemperer with fab cast including Nikolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz and Lucia Popp. I grew up with this & may be where I am today partly because of it.

4. Tchaikovsky. Mravinsky conducts his own selection from The Nutcracker's most meaningful moments. Another world.

5. Peter Schreier and Andras Schiff in the Schubert song cycles. I was going to choose just 'Die schone Mullerin' but have now discovered that all three are available together!

6. The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto, played by Philippe Graffin in South Africa. This is meaningful to me for long, complex reasons that I've written about before.

7. Andras Schiff plays the Goldberg Variations. Definitely can't do without this.

8. Faure. It has to be Faure. I'd like to take my own compilation of Favourite Faure, but in the absence of that, This will do nicely: historical Faure, including Thibaut & Cortot in the Violin Sonata No.1 and the Calvet Quartet with Robert Casadesus in the Piano Quartet No.1. Having said that, my ultimate Faure choice has yet to appear on CD. I'm hoping that it will do so within the next couple of years.

Friday, July 22, 2005


The result of my Wednesday Wagner crisis is in The Independent today. Read it online here. The commission began rumbling on Tuesday, was confirmed Wednesday morning & I had to get it finished that day by 5.30. Voila...

Yesterday more nutcases tried to set off bombs on the London underground - thank heavens they didn't kill anyone this time. This morning the pictures are on the front page of the Indy. In the top right-hand corner, however, is a little picture of Wagner. This feels extremely weird.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Beethoven has out-downloaded Bono, according to The Guardian today. This really is interesting. One correspondent quoted from the BBC's message board talks about 'the democratisation of high culture' and I think that's an excellent description.

It seems clear from the BBC's Beethoven symphonies download experiment, and also from a number of conversations I had with some very interesting people yesterday about Wagner (of which more shortly), that people DO want great classical music. They just need to be able to GET AT IT easily. That doesn't mean dumbing-down or doing crossover. It just means changing the means by which the best stuff is made available.

Meanwhile here's a review of that Walkure Prom from today's Indy.

I spent yesterday in the throes of a major, unexpected Wagner crisis which may have been prompted by that Prom (no pun intended!). More of this tomorrow...