Saturday, December 29, 2007

He's got plenty of strings

Sounds worth a trip to Leeds in the middle of winter to see the delectable Jonathan Dove's new opera The Adventures of Pinocchio. Richard Morrison in The Times says:
"Tidings of great joy: a Christmas miracle in Leeds! A modern composer has produced a new opera that is funny, poignant, tuneful, spectacular – and, best of all, stunningly conceived for all the family. To find an opera house full of eight-year-olds, held spellbound throughout a show lasting nearly three hours, is rare enough. To find that discerning adults – and yes, even grizzled old critics – are also grinning from ear to ear at the final curtain is pretty well unprecedented.

This must be Jonathan Dove’s finest hour. The Hackney-based composer has produced some entertaining community and youth-orientated shows over the past couple of decades. But with the help of a delightfully droll libretto from his long-time collaborator, Alasdair Middleton, he has turned Carlo Collodi’s classic fairytale into a surreal wonderland of music-theatre that leaves an indelible impression..."

I'm a great fan of Dove, having fallen madly in love with his community opera Tobias and the Angel when it was first performed in a converted church in Islington a few years back; much enjoyed Flight at Glyndebourne, too. It must have been a tall order to write a Pinocchio since every 5-year-old in this country still knows all the original songs, more than 60 years after the film's release. Pinocchio even pipped Korngold's score for The Sea Hawk to the Oscar post. Not much chance of my going north to hear the new opera at the moment as have to administer lemsips to ailing hubby, but with a reception like that perhaps the Dove will wing its way south before long.

More from composer and librettist about the opera in The Guardian, here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

8 reasons to spend Xmas in Paris

1. At Christmas, London dies, but Paris stays alive and has fun. The Metro runs on 25 December and you can buy flowers, a sandwich or a steaming glass of vin chaud if and when you need to.

2. Nobody insists that you spend 25 December cooking or eating turkey, Brussels sprouts and boiled plum pudding that takes three days to digest. Instead, try a little foie gras, chevre, la bûche de Noël (Xmas log-shaped cake)...

3. You can experience some of the greatest wonders of the artistic world. For example, the Monet Waterlilies in the expertly refitted Orangerie.

4. Another was Matthias Goerne singing 'O du mein holder Abendstern'. There were a number of world-class voices on the vast Bastille stage - not all of them covered in red paint (more about this later) - but when Goerne opens his mouth, you're in another world. He has a unique gift for 'innigkeit' - the more quietly and inwardly he sings, the more it pulps your heart.

5. That's before we mention the orchestra and Seiji Ozawa, or the fabulous Eva-Marie Westbroek, let alone the production by Robert Carsen - a radical reinterpretation of Tannhauser which naturally some people didn't like but which I thought worked an absolute treat. A clue: the programme cover showed Manet's 'Dejeuner sur l'herbe'.

6. The easygoing atmosphere in Paris makes Xmas here in the UK look like one big ridiculous shoe-horn designed to stress the population to crazy levels, forcing them to overspend and binge-drink until their livers and bank accounts pack up. Across La Manche, it's not quite such a big deal.

7. The Eurostar from St Pancras to the Gare du Nord now takes only two and a quarter hours.

8. Paris is Paris. Given a choice, why be anywhere else?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Joyeux noel!

Merry Xmas & happy everything to everyone,

lots of love from me & Tom & Solti.

Back soon.


Xmas alternatives

Impending Xmas always causes a few ripples in musical spheres, mainly lousy 'Messiah' performances. Some of us batten down the hatches even if we love the thing, or the inescapable Nutcracker, or Cinderella ('Italian style' as the ROH bills its current Rossini). Anyway, I promised some alternatives, so for starters here are a few things to do.

Read, in The Independent, about Barenboim's plea for proper musical education;

Read this fascinating article from The Times by Dan Rosenberg, searching out Christmas music traditions from rural Sweden to Venezuela;

Also in The Times, experience Richard Morrison in a bad mood at Cecilia Bartoli's Barbican gig and Hilary Finch telling it like it is re Emmenuelle Haim's conducting of Bach and Handel (The One Where Dessay Fails To Show Up).

Tune into a roster of broadcasts of ballet and opera from Covent Garden on the BBC. We are promised:

Romeo and Juliet with Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta, BBC2, Xmas Day, 4.25pm (I was there at the show. It's glorious! Set your video if you haven't finished your turkey in time.)

Carmen starring Anna-Caterina Antonacci and Jonas Kaufmann - BBC2, Boxing Day, 1.45pm;

La fille du regiment, Pelly production with Dessay and Florez, BBC4, 30 December, 7.30pm. Still the best thing I saw all year.

And, if it floats your boat, The Tales of Beatrix Potter, with the Royal Ballet in animal masks, BBC1, New Year's Eve, 1.15pm.

Or come to Paris to see Tannhauser tomorrow (the strike is over). But what has Tannhauser to do with Christmas, you may ask? Nothing! Hooray!

Friday, December 21, 2007


Today is the Winter Solstice and shortest day of the year, so traditionally (well, two years ago) it became the occasion for our very own virtual music awards ceremony.

Welcome once again to the Cyberposhplace! Please help yourself to a glass of Virtualvintagechampers and the delectable canapes made by our very own Virtualcelebritychef. And now let's have a big round of applause for each and every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience during the past 12 months....

Thank you! Quiet, please. Now would the following winners please approach the podium where Sir Georg 'Ginger Stripes' Solti will allow you to stroke his fur coat just this once, and will give you a special prize purr.

Icon of the year: Mstislav Rostropovich, who passed away in April. A hero, an inspiration, and a bloody phenomenal cellist. Without him, the music of the past century wouldn't have taken the shape that it did. Adieu, dear maestro.

Pianists of the year: joint mad props to Marc-Andre Hamelin for his simply staggering recording of Alkan, and Piers Lane, who not only plays like the angel of the Antipodes but has also managed to turn the National Gallery's Myra Hess Day into an annual event. Last but by no means least, a special mention for Pascal Devoyon, whose pages I turned during the Messiaen Visions de l'Amen in St Nazaire. That was quite an experience!

Violinists of the year: Tasmin Little, for an unforgettable performance of Bartok's Solo Sonata a couple of months ago, but also for her gameness and good humour in agreeing to go busking for our Indy feature at just a few hours' notice. Watch out for her very exciting new project in January. And Philippe Graffin, as ever, and not only for commissioning stuff like plays and short stories from me: just hear that tone, that bow arm, those slides! Another interesting project is afoot, too, of which much more next year...

Singer of the year: Juan Diego Florez. What a knockout. What a dreamboat. Especially singing high Cs at the distance of 4 metres (or, even better, across the sofa in the ROH press office interview room).

Youthful artist of the year [NB I disqualify teenagers from this; too many artists are pushed too hard for being too young, so instead...]: the accomplished and adorable cellist Natalie Clein, whose new Elgar recording is happily nothing like Jacqueline du Pre's.

Conductor of the year: Vladimir Jurowski. Yes, again - but there can be no other contender, as far as I'm concerned.

Interviewee of the year: Pinchas Zukerman who declared, tapping my right forefinger, "I always say to my students: 'This is your bank account'." Close seconds: Cecilia Bartoli, Natalie Dessay and Sting (watch this space!).

CD of the year: Terezin, recorded by Anne Sofie von Otter with Bengt Forsberg, Daniel Hope and friends. This is one of the most extraordinary discs that's ever come my way, and the most devastating. Ilse Weber, a young nurse, volunteered to go with the sick children of Terezin to death at Auschwitz so that she could take care of them em route; her songs are the heart of this recording. It's said she sang 'Wiegala' with the children in the gas chamber. The CD also features music by Pavel Haas, Hans Krasa and the solo violin sonata by Erwin Schulhoff, plus some amazing, black-humoured cabaret songs.

Lifetime Achievement Award: British violist Rosemary Nalden, for her work in Soweto with Buskaid. Check back here for a reminder of their glorious appearance at the Proms.

Take a bow, everybody...Thank you. Thank you for your moving, uplifting, inspiring, life-enhancing music-making. You're wonderful. We love you.

And now a few personal highlights of 2007:

Proudest moment: Standing on the RFH platform uttering the words "Welcome to the UK premiere of Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane!".

Next-proudest moments: publication of Alicia's Gift; and writing my first play, A Walk Through the End of Time, and seeing it performed in St Nazaire.

Most affecting moment: Attending the world premiere of Nigel Osborne's opera Differences in Demolitions in Mostar, Bosnia.

Most unfortunate moment: there've been a few, but I have managed not to sue anyone.

Biggest sigh of relief: realising that my dubious language skills had only seriously screwed up on one point in my first-ever French interview, with Ouest-France (I got 'journal' et 'magasin' muddled and the result was a lovely romantic article about how I first met Philippe in a violin shop!)

Personality of the year: Joyce Hatto. In one way or another.

Feline of the year: .....[ouch! Solti, get your teeth out of my ankle!].

Man of the year: Erich Wolfgang Korngold. (Sorry, Tom.)