Saturday, February 09, 2008

Something for the weekend

Serge Gainsbourg and friends playing 'All the things you are' in 1964. Oh yes - Serge Gainbourg was one hell of a fantastic jazz pianist. I love his style, the atmosphere of intimacy and friendship, the caress of the keys as he ends the piece...

If only this was what music-making could be all about, a little more often, a little more now.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Nice news...

...that my novel Hungarian Dances has been accepted for a Dutch edition by De Kern, the publisher in Holland that has already brought out Alicia's Gift (as Wonderkind). Of course there's only one language I find more difficult than Dutch and that is, er, Hungarian...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Meet Alex Prior...

...if you haven't already. The British prodigy of Russian ancestry and inclination is a very busy lad. Here's my piece about him - and prodigydom - from today's Independent. The online version includes a video clip from his new ballet, Mowgli, which he's just been conducting (yes, conducting at the tender age of 15) in Moscow.

I haven't quite worked out how they could call the performance on Sunday the 'official world premiere' when the thing has already been performed, last summer, but that's publicity for you. Or someone. On the strength of the video, the ballet seems unlikely to set up in competition with Disney or The Lion King, but the rate at which young Alex is churning out music is absolutely amazing. The real test will be what he's doing when he's twice, or three times, his current age.

Parenting, plus good teaching, is what helps any child prodigy to sink or swim; it cannot be otherwise. Almost a hundred years ago, a boy from Vilna (now Vilnius, capital of Lithuania) named Jascha Heifetz made his debut at the age of seven; he grew up to be (arguably) the best violinist of the 20th century. He said: "Child prodigism – if I may coin a word – is a disease which is generally fatal. I was among the few to have the good fortune to survive." Many haven't been so lucky...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Events of the last 41 hours

* ... Christian Tetzlaff's E string broke in the first bar of the Brahms Violin Concerto finale chez LPO/Jurowski on Saturday night. He zipped off the stage to change the string rather than grabbing Boris the leader's fiddle. Apart from that, the best Brahms concerto I've heard in 20 years.

* A mobile phone going off in the last bar of the Tchaikovsky Pathetique in same concert. Vladimir held up his baton after the basses reached the end and maintained silence until the ringing expired. It became the spookiest moment of a staggering performance - almost like the death of Tchaikovsky's own phone.

* A study-day on Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time at the QEH yesterday. Included the very first screening of a new film about its origin, entitled 'The Charm of Impossibility'. Fabulous. I urge all Messiaen fans to see it if and when they get the chance.

* A quiz at the Royal Opera House in aid of the National Youth Orchestra, at which the great and good of the musical world, including the national broadsheet newspapers, the National Theatre, the ROH, a bunch of 'Maestri', BBC Radio 3, the Barbican, etc, buy tables, build teams and compete against one another. Now a well-established annual highlight, though this was the first time I'd taken part. The Guardian won again (it usually does), even though its editor is chairman of the NYO and organises the shebang. It was b****y difficult, too, heavily biased in favour of those who know how to handle early music, Britten and crosswords.

* Heard extract of Jonas Kaufmann's long-awaited new operatic aria disc on the radio. Meistersinger Prize Song - taken so slowly and rendered so sentimental that all the stuffing fell out. It was positively painful - and a terrible disappointment to those of us who were trying so effortlessly to love him.

* Hubby's departure on tour to Toulouse and Spain at 5am today.

* The news, fresh from Opera Chic, that Anna Netrebko and Erwin Schrott are pregnant!!

Blimey. Time for a trip to the gym and a stiff g&t.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Classical music goes underground

More and more stations on the London Underground are piping out canned Mahler to calm us all down. Neil Fisher has an article about this in today's Times. Is it about crowd control, banishing yobs or persuading us that our commuting lifestyle is pleasant?

Quietly, steadily and, if not secretly, then certainly stealthily, London Underground is rolling out a compulsory classical diet. And it's joining a growing group of local authorities, transport companies and even supermarkets across the country. The idea? If we are all stressed out, we need calming down. And if we are antisocial yobs looking to cause some bother and steal Travelcards, we need moving on. Somehow classical music seems to fit the bill in both cases.

Perhaps this is why Brixton is already well used to it, as I discover while the blast of Schubert's Unfinished is throbbing through the ticket office on a Tuesday lunchtime. The station first got plugged in more than four and a half years ago, a test site to see whether the embryonic scheme deserved expansion. Clearly it seemed to do the job; as of the beginning of this year 40 stations have now been equipped with the necessary kit, and they range from the positively genteel (West Brompton) to the Wild East of the District Line - Dagenham, Upton Park - alongside more mixed South London spots such as Balham and Morden.

I'm interested in the question of who chooses the music - see later in the piece for info on the 40-hour playlist - not least because I'm convinced he/she has a macabre sense of humour. I was at Vauxhall Station the other week, trekking from South-West Trains to the Victoria line to get into central London, and unfortunately for me it was rush hour. The glum-faced populace plodded en masse at the necessary snail's pace towards the ticket barriers. And what were they playing over the Tanoy? Mahler's Symphony No.1, slow movement.

Yes. Quite.