Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pieces of news

Sad news from Edinburgh. Our deepest condolences to Sir Charles Mackerras, whose daughter died of cancer a few hours before he had to conduct Beethoven's 9th.

Steven Isserlis had the last word - or note - on the 11 September Newsnight yesterday playing 'Song of the Birds' following a few words from Jeremy Paxman about how musicians are in trouble because instruments are being banned from airline cabins. Thanks to Mark Elder, everyone knows about this now. I just wish news reporters didn't seem to think it was funny. I'd like to see their faces if the equivalent happened to them when they had mortgages to pay, families to feed and contracts to honour.

Lyudmila has the latest from Leeds on who's got through to the 2nd round - yes, Tom Poster made it, as did Italian Roberto Plano (already a familiar name) and Russian-Israeli Boris Giltberg, who's recently made a very impressive debut disc for EMI.

Over in The Guardian, Marshall Marcus, the new head of music at the South Bank Centre, tells us what happened when Haydn came to London. If anyone deserves a year to himself, it's Haydn - roll on 09. Also there, Charlotte Higgins speaks out about the new 'opera' at ENO about...well, you have to see this to believe it. I haven't been to it myself, having deep-seated allergies to rap, trendiness for its oww sake and the transformation of creative culture into an extension of the news. Probably ought to, of course, so that I could speak from a perspective of educated experience, but I've got a novel to proof-read.

Last, here's my own latest operatic effort, from yesterday's Independent, for some light relief. Apparently Gounod sold the rights to Faust for 6,666 francs...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Full Marks!

Look what Mark Elder did with his speech at the Last Night of the Proms! Good man.

Unfortunately this report also shows the total intransigence and stupidity of the Department of Transport. Looks like the UK will soon be 'Das Land ohne Musik' once more.

UPDATE: Monday morning: Mark's high-profile broadcast has certainly attracted the attention it needed. For the first time there are serious rumblings that something may, at some point, be done, when anybody can be bothered to come back to Westminster and run the country. Here' The Guardian's report on the subject.

The Independent's report is particularly good.

And The Daily Telegraph has made it the subject of a leader today too.

Next, here's what The Times says.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Leeds is back

The Leeds International Piano Competition is underway again, and the full list of competitors can be found on its website here. With Leeds - actually, with most international piano competitions - I'm always struck by the dominance of pianists from Russia, China and, this year, Korea. But Italians have quite a history of doing well in this contest (especially ones with high cheekbones, for some reason) and there are even two British candidates for patriotic pianophiles to cheer on if so inclined. I will be interested to see how the hugely talented Tom Poster gets on.

Lack of numerous Brits in British competitions is a perennial grouch in this country, when anybody can be bothered writing about music competitions at all. But the explanation is really very simple. Pianists in Russia, China and Korea are valued highly, supported in their training by the state and taught thoroughly in a fine tradition and in a system of specialist music schools from the very beginning. Pianists in the UK, on the whole, are not. That's life.

My next novel, ALICIA'S GIFT, explores the life of a gifted young pianist growing up in Derbyshire. It's about what her talent does to her family, and what her family does to her talent. I am proof-reading it now. Writing this post is a displacement activity.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Gypsy fiddler and the Norwegian footy fans...

One of the many remarkable things we saw in Budapest, where Norway was playing Hungary in a football championship qualifier...

UPDATE: More pics from my Budapest trip appear on my perma-site: go to my news page and look for the link to Budapest photos near the top.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Been here, seen this...at last. I've been wanting to go to Budapest for decades. Friends who studied there would return with tales of stylistic expertise, pedagogical inspiration, extraordinary traditions, cheap music, cheaper opera tickets and excessively good cakes. Violinist friends flocked to Hungarian-born teachers living abroad (here or Canada); the great 19th-century violinists and the traditions they left behind sprang almost wholly from Hungary, including Josef Joachim and Leopold Auer and later Jelly d'Aranyi, who was Joachim's great-niece. As for Gypsy fiddling traditions, have you ever seen anything quite as astonishing as Roby Lakatos?

Now the place is an extraordinary melting pot of old and new, 19th-century Art Nouveau grandeur alongside communist-era concrete heaps, bullet-scarred, soot-covered buildings in downtown Pest contrasting with sleek, renovated, olde-worlde central Europe for tourists - but exquisite nonetheless - in Buda. Cranes everywhere. This is a city on the up, enchanting, atmospheric, disturbing, magical and irresistable. Grand yet gentle, forbidding yet vulnerable, the poetic soul of Budapest has got under my skin, and its continuity lies not least in its music.

More soon...