Sunday, January 11, 2009

A few January highlights

I don't know how any musician gets any listener out of their warm home through freezing temperatures and shaky bank accounts to a concert hall just at the moment. But here, for those inclined to brave the elements, are a few things that my muso-friends and I are doing this month.

Tonight, 11 January, Kings Place, 6.30pm, part of London Chamber Music Series: the Allegri String Quartet gives its first concert in the shiny new venue, starring the Schubert String Quintet with guest cellist Colin Carr and the London premiere of the redoubtable Matthew Taylor's String Quartet No.6.

Friday 16 January, Royal Festival Hall: The LPO is back, welcoming one of my favourite younger pianists as soloist for Mozart's E flat concerto K482: Jonathan Biss, who not only has an astonishing musical pedigree (mother Miriam Fried, grandmother Raya Garbusova, etc) but possesses the heart, mind and hands to match. His playing has regularly set me hunting through thesauri for rare words of praise. His Schumann CD on EMI is absolutely to die for. And guess what? He's got a blog. ...oh yes, the concert... Marin Alsop conducts and is throwing in not only Till Eulenspiegel and the Daphnis and Chloe Suite but the Firebird Suite as well, so if that doesn't brighten our winter, nothing will.

Next Sunday, 18 January, Royal Festival Hall, 3pm: Stephen Hough, multiple award-winner, startlingly original and insightful musician and, now, fellow blogger (yay! another great pianist joins the blogosphere! even if it is for the Telegraph...) gives a wonderful recital programme to banish the Sunday afternoon blues - lots of Chopin, Franck and Faure, among other things, focusing on the theme of Paris and paying tribute to one of Hough's piano gods, Alfred Cortot. I've been drafted in to be his interviewer for a post-concert may have some difficulty shutting us up when we get into our stride.

Tuesday 20 January, Symphony Hall, Birmingham: The CBSO is taking to Korngold! This adorable programme conducted by Michael Seal features not only the happily-ubiquitous Violin Concerto with soloist Anthony Marwood, but also the enchanting Incidental Music to 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Yummy stuff, rounded off with Brahms's First Symphony. And I will have to get my voice back fast after Sunday to do the introductory talk at 6.15pm. (This is, so to speak, my Symphony Hall debut.)

Wednesday 21 January, Wigmore Hall: Philippe Graffin and the London Sinfonietta mark the Darwin Anniversary with a brand-new work, 'Age of Wonders' by Michael Stimpson, plus Mendelssohn and Chausson. They are brave: it is sad but true that getting a Wigmore Hall audience to attend new music is almost as difficult as getting a new music audience to attend the Wigmore Hall, though the super-classy venue is currently making a valiant effort to change that by instigating an ongoing series of new commissions. Come on, chaps, give it a go! Besides, the Chausson in question is the Poeme in the rare chamber-music version that Philippe discovered lurking in the Parisian shadows some years ago; and the Mendelssohn is the Violin Sonata that our Felix wrote when he was all of 11 years old: two pieces that we don't hear every day.

Thursday 22 January, East Sheen Library, Sheen Lane, London SW14, 7.30pm: fresh from the Wigmore, Philippe Graffin heads south-west to East Sheen Library for an evening devoted to our 'Hungarian Dances' projects. Full details are already at the top of the JDCMB sidebar, but just to remind you...admission is a modest £2 including wine, and places can be reserved on 020 8876 8801. Tom joins Philippe to play Bartok Duos live in library, I'll read some extracts of the book and, as novelists and starry fiddlers don't work together every day, we'll be discussing what happens when we do. (Our virtual Sir Alan has already given the prize for this task to the dynamic East Sheen Library adminitrative team...)

Thursday 22 January, Wigmore Hall: the above prior engagement means that I have to miss the latest flying visit from the legendary Ida Haendel to the Razumovsky Ensemble and Academy! At this all-day event, the great lady will be giving masterclasses to the students and young artists of the RA, of which she's now the Patron, and at the 6pm concert she'll present the Ida Haendel Scholarship to one of them. She will also be performing with them, notably the Devil's Trill Sonata by Tartini. The 7.30pm concert finds the Razumovskys performing an all-Schubert programme, with the B flat Piano Trio and the 'Trout' Quintet.

Tuesday 27 January, Royal Opera House: The British stage premiere of Korngold's Die tote Stadt! It's true! The acclaimed Willy Decker production, already seen in Vienna and Salzburg, opens at Covent Garden starring Nadja Michael as Marietta/Marie, Stephen Gould as Paul and Gerald Finlay as Frank/Pierrot, with Ingo Metzmacher on the podium. I'll be at the 2 February performance and will make a full report after that. Performances up to 13 Feb. Meanwhile, catch our ROH podcast on the website...if I can get them to fix the faulty link.

That should keep us all busy, and January will be over for another year before you can say 'Erich Wolfgang Korngold'.

Meanwhile, over in the Mendelssohn camp, prepare to light the red touchpaper...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Felixcitations #2

Latest post on my BBC R3 Mendelssohn blog is on the site now.

Win a trip to NY

I enjoy being, in trend-speak, an ambassador not just for 'kultcha' but for London, having been born within the sound of Bow Bells and lived in the UK capital all my life. Recently I joined a reviewing team at Metrotwin, a new venture powered by British Airways, reviewing and 'twinning' favourite places in those two mega-meccas London and New York. You'll find it under the site partners section in the sidebar, but meanwhile:

If you register at before 15 January you could win a pair of return economy flights to New York and three nights in The Plaza New York. Conditions apply.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009


HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE. We are just back from south India. I hope you've all had an excellent Xmas and wish you health, happiness and peace in 2009.

I've put an album of 60 photos from our trip on Facebook. It has been an extraordinary fortnight, packed with fascinating, wondrous, perspective-grinding impressions. Here are just a few:

We saw:
Tiger paw-prints - fresh - in the Periyar national park
Sunsets the colour of a swami's robes over the Chinese fishing nets at Fort Cochin
Sunrise over the tea plantations at Thekkady
A dazzling display of Kathkali dance
Plantation of cardamon, pineapples, tea, rice and coffee
Amid myriad carvings in the 'city of a thousand temples', Kanchipuram, one showing Parvati embracing Shiva, standing delicately on tiptoe
A kingfisher flashing fluorescent turquoise above carmine lotus flowers on a pond
The Kerala backwaters, from a houseboat
Children as young as 4 begging on the beach
Entire families - mum, dad and three kids - zooming along on a single motorbike
A guest house called Pallava
A bus called Melvin

We heard:
Monkeys 'policing' the jungle by whooping from the treetops (="look out, tigers, here come another bunch of those idiot tourists!")
The sitar, Indian flute, the tabla
The rolling of waves on the Bay of Bengal
The call to prayer in Cochin, where 4 world religions have long flourished peacefully side by side
That there are more than 22 languages spoken in south India
That units of measurement include a 'lac' (100,000) and a 'karu' (10 million) - London is a small city in Indian terms.

We smelled:
Jasmine everywhere in Kerala
Crushed leaves from spice bushes - curry, cloves, allspice...
The bark of cinnamon and sandalwood, the sap of incense and rubber
Ayurvedic hair oil (well, I did - Tom doesn't have hair). It works.
Fish, fish, fish
A great deal else, often in places it shouldn't have been

We tasted:
Fresh coconut water drunk with a straw from the shell
Keralan fish curry galore
White snapper and fresh lobster drenched in garlic butter sauce
Too much channa masala (hot spicy chick-peas)
Fresh green peppercorns plucked from the plant
Home-made chocolate
An intriguing concoction that arrived when I requested peppermint tea: a stew of Tetley's, a handful of mint leaves and about 2 tablespoons of black peppercorns.

We felt:
Thoroughly pummelled by Ayurvedic massage, which seems to have sorted out my bad back
An extraordinary bop on the head from the elephant that blessed us with its trunk in Kanchipuram
The aurora of heat that greets you when you leave the airconditioning behind
Intense sun on our skin
Covered in grime after a day's sightseeing
Terrified on the roads: overtaking is a way of life, whether you're a bus, a truck, an ox-cart, a car, a motorcycle, a rickshaw, a bicycle or an elephant, and traffic lights are in short supply.
That we would have liked to stay for much longer than 2 weeks
Humbled by the wealth of ancient artistry, skills and wisdom
Touched by friendliness, non-aggression, kindness, community and family strength: people supporting extended families on 300 rupees a day (= approx 45p) often appear happier in themselves than most Londoners do
Saddened by the plethora of ingrained attitudes that nevertheless seem to hold everything back. India is a succession of priceless gems strung together on a decaying thread. Marvel after marvel, linked by disastrous infrastructure.
Challenged, moved, churned up