Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Maurice Jarre dies at 84

The music of Maurice Jarre, who has died aged 84: Lawrence of Arabia, which was among his iconic collaborations with David Lean. It's rather extraordinary, to put it mildly, as the opening titles begin with four and a half minutes of pure music - see above. He composed Dr Zhivago, A Passage to India, Dead Poets Society and many more. It's perhaps a signal of how the status of film music has changed in the past half-century that Jarre's death was reported on BBC TV's Breakfast news yesterday (normally they only talk about such matters as the latest red tape around school dinners).

Full obituaries are appearing around the world. Here is one from the Los Angeles Times, which includes a quote from John Williams: 'According to composer John Williams, Jarre "is to be well remembered for his lasting contribution to film music. His collaboration with director David Lean produced truly enduring music that is beloved by millions, and we all have been enriched by his legacy."'

Over at One More Take, broadcaster/film maker/conductor Tommy Pearson shares his personal memories of Jarre and invites everyone to do likewise.

And here is a full obit from The Guardian. "Music is how I will be remembered," said Jarre. "When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head and that only I can hear."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Meet Kirill Gerstein

That was Kirill Gerstein in Rach 3 with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and the delectable Dudamel.

Gerstein is my next 'victim'...I mean, my next interviewee... for the International Piano Series. Tomorrow night, he makes his debut in this fabulous sequence of recitals at Southbank Centre, and I'll be doing the pre-concert interview with him, starting at 6.15pm. Do come and hear him: his programme is exciting, dramatic and unusual.

Johann Sebastian Bach: English Suite No.2 in A minor, BWV.807
Sergey Rachmaninov: Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op.42
Fryderyk Chopin: Fantasia in F minor, Op.49
Arnold Schoenberg: 3 Pieces for piano, Op.11
Ferruccio Busoni: Sonatina No.2 for piano
Franz Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No.1

He has a fabulous track record that includes having been a Carnegie Hall Rising Star in 2005-6, projects with Andras Schiff and Steven Isserlis and a piano trio with Kolja Blacher and Clemens Hagen. He became the youngest student ever to enrol at Berklee, aged 14, after a faculty member was amazed by his jazz playing (yes) in Poland. But the classical style seems to have won in the end, with a triumph at the Arthur Rubinstein Competition in 2001. So he's come a long way from his native Voronezh, where he was born in 1979, and looks set to go much further.

Online booking here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tweetybirds for Sunday

I haven't quite 'got' it with Twitter as yet (though am pathetically Facebook-addicted). But right now there's a hilarious game going on. Summarise an opera plot in 140 characters and tweet it with the tag #operaplot. I've traced it all back to the brilliant Miss Mussel, who got the ball rolling 2 days ago. Here are a few of the best so far:

Priestess has secret kids. Lover unfaithful. Kill kids? Kill him? Confess to the tribe. Penalty's death. Lover joins her.

Naive geisha carries a tune, carries a torch, carries a child. Can't carry on. Hari-kiris herself.

I'd kill to be Tsar. It's good to be the Tsar. Wait, is D really dead? This is driving me nuts. My son can take over. Dosvedanya.

You ruined my life. Hey, let's drink this. We're in love. Ecstasy! Shit, we're busted. OK, let's just die.

Nothing happens; Mélisande dies.

More where those came from. I'm trying to think of something myself...

OK, how about this?: Here's my castle. Are you afraid? No, I'm going to open all those damn doors. Are you afraid? No, let me in! Who's that? Oh shit.

Update(I know you're waiting for this one...): #operaplot Marie's dead. Marietta's alive. Paul thinks Marietta is Marie. Paul has dream. Paul doesn't murder anyone really. Bye-bye Bruges.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Villazon drops out of Elisir

Villazon apparently has laryngitis. Opera Chic thinks our Angela maybe knew what she was talking about. Actually it was a little longer ago than 2 weeks - the interview took place in the last week of January. OC says RV is out of 31 March and 4 April, planning to return to the production from 8 April.

It is only five years ago that I heard Villazon for the first time - he was an unknown, singing Rodolfo at Glyndebourne. I was admittedly so busy ogling the gergeurs Nathan Gunn that I didn't pay as much attention to the new Mexican tenor as he deserved. Other than thinking he was a heck of a good actor and that...well, that really is quite a voice. Six months or so later, everything caught fire. It is way, way too soon to have to consider saying goodbye to a sound like that.

So what happened? We can only hazard sensible guesses. Vocal problems can hit any singer, any time. But you need to be very, very resilient emotionally to survive certain things that the music business lands you with. How manufactured was that partnership with Netrebko? I had the impression from talking to her in 2006 that it was jolly real (I checked back in the out-takes from that interview in case there was illumination to be found, but there wasn't, beyond the printed version - this particular conversation was less scintillating than the one with Angela, except, of course, for the diamonds.) But voices are voices, human blood and guts, not steel strings. Muck them about at your peril.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The voice of Bartok (b 25 March 1881)

Today is Bartok's birthday!

Here is a radio interview with him from America in 1944, given during a recital of his music by his wife. He sounds quite ill; by this time he was already suffering from advanced leukaemia and he died about a year and two months later.

Now here he is playing his own Suite Op.14, recorded 1929.

"Somehow I felt now, after a long time of no work, like a man who lies in bed over a long, long period, and finally tries to use his arms and legs, gets on his feet and takes one or two steps. A man like this cannot just suddenly walk up a hill. I, too, gradually grew accustomed to movement: and so in this manner I only produced piano pieces. But even this was something. Because, to be frank, recently I have felt so stupid, so dazed, so empty-headed that I have truly doubted whether I am able to write anything new at all anymore. All the tangled chaos that the musical periodicals vomit thick and fast about the music of today has come to weigh heavily on me: the watchwords linear, horizontal, vertical, objective, impersonal, polyphonic, homophonic, tonal, polytonal, atonal, and the rest; even if one does not concern one’s self with all of it, one still becomes quite dazed when they shout it on our ears so much. ... But now things are all right; you can imagine how pleased I am that at last there will be something new, and something I myself can play, on my own, instead of the eternal Allegro barbaro, A Bit Tipsy and Rumanian Dance."

(Bartók to his second wife, Ditta Pásztory, June 21, 1926, quoted in Tibor Tallián, Béla Bartók, The Man and His Work (Budapest, 1988), 141)

I have found a wonderful online 'Bartok Virtual Exhibition' here. Visit and enjoy!