Friday, April 11, 2008

Sokolov makes a stand

Here in Britain we can scarcely help but recognise that we live in a society increasingly driven by surveillance, paranoia and infantilisation, but even so I was shocked to read in today's Indy this leading article about one of the world's most miraculous pianists, Grigory Sokolov, who is refusing to come and play here because he hasn't the time to deal with the latest spate of UK visa idiocy.

The issue is explained at greater length here.

In the article, a spokesperson says:
"Some artists just can't quite handle that sort of intrusion into their music. For someone like Sokolov, who languished behind the Iron Curtain for years and his career in the West started very late, having suffered at the hands of that regime, to find all this obstruction to playing in a country he's played in for 18 years is very distressing."

More uncomfortable news, too:
The visa regulations are soon due to change again to a points-based system, raising more concerns over the cost of entry to the UK for classical musicians, who are often poorly paid. Atholl Swainston-Harrison of the International Artist Managers' Association, said: "Our concern is that, in the classical music world, many acts are not well-paid. With the cost of a visa, it's not going to be worth coming to the UK." Iama is campaigning for visas to be extended from one year to two to cut costs.

It can take a great artist, rather than a politician, to speak up about unpalatable home truths. I will shortly post a link to my recent interview with Krystian Zimerman, just out in Pianist magazine, who utters some very strong words about why he doesn't intend to go to America for a while.

(Update: here is my article from International Piano about Sokolov, from Sept 06)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A big day at the Beeb

Such is the excellence of our national broadcaster's communicative power that it managed to schedule two of its biggest music-biz bashes for the very same day (yesterday). First, the waterborne BBC Music Magazine Awards went off with the usual splash on the Thames. There's a full list of winners here, and I can promise that there are some absolutely fantastic recordings to sample on it.

Among them: Mitsuko Uchida's Beethoven 'Hammerklavier' (which scooped Record of the Year too), Natalie Dessay and Emmanuelle Haim getting a Handel on Il trionfo del Tempo e Disinganno, tenor genius Mark Padmore in more Handel, the Jerusalem Quartet in Shostakovich, Martha Argerich in more Shostakovich, Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites on DVD, and much more.

And don't forget to check out the runners-up. Voting between the final three can be a close thing, involving flying fur and chocolate biscuits in meltdown in the bowels of the Beeb's conference rooms (I remember well from last year), and very often the other two are just as deserving of a prize. For instance, this year's instrumental category shortlist also featured Steven Isserlis's stupendous Bach Cello Suites and JDCMB favourite Rachmaninov-player Rustem Hayroudinoff making total magic out of the Etudes-Tableaux.

Don't get me started on the issue of more deserving discs that, generally speaking, don't make shortlists, or longlists, because some critic somewhere might have preferred to give five stars to something second-rate yet English (I am not alleging that this took place this year, since I wasn't there, but it's something that does occur in the British music press from time to time). This line-up is a worthy list and I look forward to feasting on the ones I haven't yet heard.

Meanwhile, over at the Proms Launch in South Kensington, apparently there were scenes outside the Royal Albert Hall when Nigel Kennedy turned up to play his violin (watch him here, courtesy of, er, Hello Magazine). Yes, he will be back at the Proms at last (after 21 years), to perform the Elgar Concerto, conducted by Tod Handley. And after the rave reviews he got for his recent rendition of it in the RFH, I wanna be there.

We hear that Murray Perahia is also to perform in the series for the first time in something like 20 years (you wonder where he's been all this time...and then start thinking about all the other great musicians who have also not been there for 20 years...or ever...) and that Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra will give two concerts. Vaughan Williams features in a big way to mark the 50th anniversary of his death, as does Messiaen for his centenary (on the organ), and Helene Grimaud, piano virtuoso and a stunning-looking lady well suited to the cameras, has made it to the last night. There's also to be a Dr Who Prom. Is this a step up from Michael Ball? I'll reserve judgment until the night. Oh, and there's a folky Prom involving a spot of Maypole dancing.

I didn't make the Proms launch party, because the absolute priority last night was listening to Tasmin Little and Piers Lane giving a terrific recital together at Cadogan Hall, that undersung star of London concert halls. Bravo, chaps - your Elgar Sonata had me succumbing to serious snuffles, and we won't forget the 'Banjo and Fiddle' encore in a hurry!

Mad props meanwhile to Blogged, which has rated this blog 8.6 on the Sviatoslav Richter scale; Classical Music Magazine, which sent its estimable Hornblower along to the Hungarian Dances launch and kindly put in a picture and report on the Diary page (featuring Solti the cat, naturally); Pliable on the Overgrown Path, who featured Korngold and some wonderful pictures of Bruges the other day; and some marvellous Hungarians doing interesting things in Budapest, of which more, I hope, soon.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I'm off for a while, so recommend that you have some extra fun with the blogroll for a few days. And here is a truly astonishing voice to enjoy - from a slightly alternative sphere that isn't as different as you might think. Please welcome: Tanita Tikaram.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Meet Christine Rice

The rise and rise of Christine Rice is proving that she's one of the best mezzos about, and not just in Britain. Thoroughly enjoyed interviewing her for the Indy last week about her role as Ariadne in Birtwistle's brand-new opera The Minotaur, coming up at Covent Garden from 15 April. Article is out today. Hear her singing some Brahms via the link on this page.

Meanwhile I'm still reeling from the surprise of a lift to Lewes station from Glyndebourne yesterday courtesy of my next victim, whom you wouldn't expect to be the kind of lady who'd drive herself around Sussex, let alone to Waitrose, let alone let a journalist into her car. Watch this space.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Please come to our HUNGARIAN DANCES concert

Tuesday 17 June 2008, 7 for 7.30pm


Philippe Graffin (violin)
Claire Désert (piano), Jessica Duchen (author)

Queen’s Gate Terrace Concerts, 49 Queen’s Gate Terrace
South Kensington, London SW7 5PN

We're delighted to announce that Philippe Graffin is planning to record a fascinating programme of Hungarian and Hungarian-influenced music to complement my novel Hungarian Dances. This very special fundraising concert to back the project will be held in the beautiful music salon of 49 Queen's Gate Terrace. It's a one-off opportunity to hear him and Claire Désert perform music that will feature in the recording, and I will be reading extracts from the book.

The programme includes works by Bartók, Brahms, Dohnányi and Ravel.

Tickets are £40, to include wine and Hungarian canapés, payable in advance by cheque or PayPal. Early booking recommended, as places are strictly limited.

To book, please email me.

Download a PDF flyer here.

(Philippe Graffin photo: Benjamin Ealovega)