Monday, September 29, 2008

Er, right...

Anna, as in Anna&Robin 'Life of a Musician', has 'tagged' me, so I'd better be good and play the game.

The brief is 'to write six things about me, personally, that my readers might not know', and then, 'tag' six other twitter/blogger friends and make them 'it'.

All right, here goes.

1. I got into Cambridge for composing. I had to write something for a school celebration (it was a setting of Psalm Somethingorother) and the headmistress liked it and she wrote me a glowing reference...oh well...

2. My first cat was called Whiskers.

3. But I really wanted a dog.

4. If I could, I would move to France tomorrow. No, today.

5. I wrote 7 novels before Rites of Spring.

6. I was at university in the mid-80s with a hell of a lot of people who went into the financial world with the starry glow of Thatcherian idealism writ large across their wine-sluiced visages, and having seen which people they were I am not remotely surprised that the entire world financial system is in the throes of collapse since this is the generation that is now in charge of the bloody thing. Could have told you that years ago. I believe that Margaret Thatcher wrecked the moral fibre of the western world, and this is the price. (There. Bet you didn't know that about me. ;-) )

Now for the tagging.

1. Opera Chic! Opera Chic!

2. Erin! Put down that cello a minute and get into your Fugue State.

3. Wonderful, wonderful Jeremy, we can't wait to see what you have to say about this over at Think Denk.

4. Come on, Norman, give it a go!

5. Patty in California, a great oboist who's a secret string quartet fetishist just like me...

6. Ruth, of Meanwhile, here in France...because she lives where I'd like to live. Just look at her photos of late-season veg and the reasons for point no.4 will be apparent.

Have fun, folks. I am off to Newcastle in the morning.

The Sage ExploreMusic Library talk tomorrow

I'm off to Newcastle/Gateshead tomorrow to give a talk at The Sage's ExploreMusic library series, which very wonderfully seeks to bring music and fiction together. I'll be talking a little about the different ways music features in my novels and a lot about Hungarian Dances. Plus readings from book. If you're in the area, do come along, it's free.

By the way, if you're wondering what became of our recent poll about the future of JDCMB, the result was a slight but clear lead for keeping this blog as it is and initiating a separate books blog. Naturally it would be handier for me to lump everything in together - after all, they're equal concerns in my mind, and to run two separate ones will mean less frequent posting on both - but I appreciate that not everyone sees it that way. October will therefore see the launch of my new Books, Writing & Culture in London blog. Watch this space!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Meanwhile in Cleveland...

...there's a case of Critic v Conductor.

The New York Times has carried a story explaining that a music critic in Cleveland has lost his job for being, allegedly, excessively critical of the Cleveland Orchestra's conductor, Frankly Worse Than Most, oops, I mean Franz Welser-Most (FYI, the former is what certain musicians in London used to nickname him).

A lot of grey areas surrounded the appointing of FWM as principal conductor of the LPO, where he started back in 1990. Tennstedt departed in 1987 due to ill health, a replacement had not yet been named and it was then that the Tory government got a Lord to investigate things and recommend which of the London orchestras should be murdered. To qualify for a chance of survival, an appointment was needed and FWM was named PDQ. Not very many conductors would have been available at that kind of notice. Happily, the Hoffmann Report eventually told the government to get off and leave all our orchestras right where they were. Meanwhile FWM was in place, and if I remember rightly some of his performances were good and others weren't. Fairly normal, then.

BUT: the London press loathed him.

It was the critics, not the orchestra, that wrecked his career at the time in the British capital; he kept talking about this nightmare era in interviews for years. It is not entirely clear how it happened, but seems to go back to his first-ever press conference for the LPO, which most of the critics left with the impression that FWM was arrogant, abrupt, inexperienced and so forth. All of which may have mean that he was just bloody nervous. But what's certain is that the resident vipers developed a serious grudge which only got worse. The difference was, they didn't lose their jobs - whereas eventually the unfortunate youth, after enduring five and a half years of printed hell, packed his bags earlier than intended.

Perhaps what's happened to the critic Donald Rosenberg is a hazard of smaller-city-America cultural life; here in London, just one critic could never have been held responsible for the savaging of FWM. They were all at it like a pack of hyenas. It is easier to target one person operating in a cultural desert, like a gazelle that's been separated from its herd...

All of which does not necessarily mean that FWM is the world's greatest conductor.

Friday, September 26, 2008

And another great recording...

...which is just out. Classic FM Magazine sent it to me to review and it knocked my socks off. Virgin Classics has sensibly made a promotional video, so here it is.

Meet the Quatuor Ebene, four adorable young French fellows (what IS it about the French?) giving their fellow countrymen Debussy, Ravel and Faure the full treatment. And, to my particular joy, according the elusive Faure quartet equal status with the other two. Chapeau!

Gramophone Awards 2008, plus some

Here's the complete list of Gramophone Award winners for 2008. There are several I'm pleased to see, but most of all Tasmin, whose Naked Violin project of course involved no record company, therefore has by nature to be independent of any industry pressure. The list I was sent does not include the labels of each disc, but these will no doubt be available on the Gramophone site as soon as they have all recovered from their hangovers.

Baroque Instrumental
Bach Brandenburg Concertos EBS/Trevor Pinnock

Baroque Vocal
Monteverdi l'Orfeo La Venexiana

Brahms. Schumann Piano Quintets Artemis Quartet, Andsnes

Elgar Violin Concertos etc. James Ehnes; Philharmonia/Sir Andrew Davis

Harvey Body Mandala BBC Scottish SO

Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro Pappano/dir. McVicar

Early Music
Nicholas Ludford Missa benedicta et venerabilis New College Choir/Higginbottom

Historic Archive
Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5/Dona Nobis Pacern BBC Symphony Orch & Chorus/Vaughan Williams

Historic Re-issue
Sibelius Songs Kim Borg

Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol 4 Paul Lewis

Janacek The Excursions of Mr Broucek BBC SO/Belohlavek

Miaskovsky Complete Symphonies Evgeny Svetlanov

Maria Music inspired by Maria Malibran Cecilia Bartoli

Solo Vocal
Barber Songs Gerald Finley/Julius Drake

Lifetime Achievement
André Previn

Special Achievement
Peter Moores

Classic FM Innovation
Tasmin Little, The Naked Violin

Young Artist of the Year
Maxim Rysanov

Meanwhile over at The Times, readers were presented with a shortlist - drawn up by Gramophone reviewers - of discs deemed to be 'the greatest recordings of the last 30 years', and were asked to vote on them. The winner has been revealed as pianist Stephen Hough's adorable rendition of the complete concertos of Camille 'Twinkletoes' Saint-Saens, which is jolly nice for both Hough and CTSS, who well deserve some kind of accolade.

Stephen is that rarity among today's highest-profile pianists: an artist with both imagination and integrity, and one that I will actually cross a road to hear. The others, frankly, I can count on the fingers of one hand.

Now, I adore Stephen's playing as much as anyone and I am absolutely thrilled for him that he should be deemed 'the best of the best'. What I object to is the shortlist. The Saint-Saens is actually not the best of the best, but the best of a pretty staid and frankly boring bunch.

Hello, folks: there is, shock horror, favouritism in the music business. There is political correctness in the music business. There is a lot of incomprehensible rubbish - indeed, complete, utter nonsense - in the music business. Of course, I have favourite musicians too, but at least I know they're my favourites; I believe them to be among the greatest artists alive today, but I don't go telling Times readers that they've made the five finest recordings of the last 30 years (well, I can't; I don't review for the necessary mag.)

Personally I would rather swim back to shore from my desert island than include Harnoncourt's Beethoven in my eight discs, let alone have to sit through Karajan's Mahler. And how do you arrive at a shortlist that does not include any of the following: Krystian Zimerman's Debussy Preludes; Anne Sofie von Otter's Terezin CD; Richard Goode's complete Beethoven sonatas; Andras Schiff in the Goldberg Variations; Mitsuko Uchida's Schubert B flat Sonata; Matthias Goerne and Brendel in Winterreise; Marc-Andre Hamelin's mind-boggling Chopin/Godowsky set? And those are just a handful of pianists plus a singer or two. Discs are churned out month after month after month; everybody likes different ones; any list is simply invidious.

Music industry awards help to raise classical music's public profile, because the media likes winners and snazzy ceremonies. That is their use, and their only use.