Tuesday, April 07, 2009


So yesterday we get together for the first rehearsal of the Gateshead team Hungarian Dances concert and I meet the marvellous Bradley Creswick at last. Bradley is the leader of the Northern Sinfonia. Philippe is away in Taiwan from today and therefore couldn't do The Sage concert on Saturday, so their inspired admin decided to undertake a little judicious musical match-making; and sure enough, Bradley has such a way with Gypsy music that my idea of running the programme without applause until the end will happily be a non-starter. Monti's Csardas is the third number...

Then Bradley presents me with a little gift: his well-thumbed copy of my book - which has been signed for me by Roby Lakatos.

It took a few moments for this to sink in. The Northern Sinfonia was on tour in South Korea last week, and who should turn up in the same place at the same time?! Bradley got talking to Roby, and this was the result. It's yet another case of coincidences gone crazy. As is often the way with Hungarian Dances.

If you want to come to the Gateshead gig, please book fast because the only seats still available are on the third level up. Online booking here.

For the 18 April London gig, Kings Place seating is unreserved - online booking here. There's more availability for this one, perhaps because we clash with nothing less than the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and Dudamel over at the RFH. owch.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Brahms schokoladefest

I knew it was going to be a good night when I arrived at the artists' entrance of the RFH only to find my route blocked by a CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL. A row of tentlets had sprouted along Belvedere Road in the blazing spring sun, buzzing with stall-holders making, selling and eating all things chocolaty - and someone was giving a talk about why chocolate is good for you...

This was followed by the most astonishing performance of the Brahms German Requiem that it has been my pleasure to hear. It was preceded, to my surprise, by the reconstructed Mendelssohn Third Piano Concerto - see my Mendelssohn blog in a day or two for more on that. But the Brahms was one of those performances where the hair rises on the back of the neck and you can't explain it.

The LPO were playing their socks off for their principal guest conductor, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, with the London Philharmonic Choir and last-minute replacement soloists, including the marvellous Elizabeth Watts. The tempi were slow. Extremely slow. Yet everything shone. An extreme 'innigkeit', an inner fervour, the power of transformation again and again from darkness to light, despair to hope, with harps and cellos and flashes of upturned horns, and the searing certainty that Brahms is just the best. And at the end - a silence that lasted at least 25 seconds. The whole thing was absolutely astonishing. The microphones were up, so hopefully it will be preserved on the LPO record label.

I'm still on cloud 99, and this is not because of the chocolate.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Mark Elder calls for musicians to stand together

In an acceptance speech to the Incorporated Society of Musicians, which presented him with its Distinguished Musician Award yesterday, the conductor Mark Elder made some pertinent remarks. Musicians, he said, must be ready to stand together and mount a passionate defence of their art as the credit crunch bites, not to mention the blasted Olympics [that's my adjective, not his]. Below is some of his text. The full text can be read here.

(Please bear in mind that I wasn't there, I've met him only a couple of times and I didn't choose his taxi driver!)

‘Our debt to the next generation is supremely important in these coming years. Before the credit squeeze jumped on us, we were all nervous and apprehensive that the wonderful ‘Olympic dream’ would drain the resources that might otherwise have gone to the arts. Now that the credit squeeze has joined that pressure, it is all the more important to stand together and be prepared to speak out. Not as ‘whinging luvvies’ (as the scribbling profession would have us be called), but as people who stand up for something that they passionately believe in.

‘Thank you all very much for your belief in me and what I do. I will end with a memory that I have of how important it is realise how far into the different corners of the world music can go.

‘One November night in the pouring rain in New York, I eventually managed to get a taxi. I threw myself into it – the traffic was crawling down the Avenue – and I found myself in the company of an enormous Afro-American taxi driver. He was listening on the radio to the BBC Philharmonic playing Korngold’s Sinfonietta. I said to him, “do you like this classical stuff? Do you listen to this often?”

‘“Man,” he said, “it’s the only thing that keeps me sane. If I listened to my music, with all the crap driving I have to witness, I’d go out of my mind and there’d be more road rage than ever.”

‘Isn’t that great? Music can reach into people’s lives in ways that we can’t imagine. All of us here believe in music. We believe in the power that music can give people to change lives, to change our hearts, and we must go on saying that and not be ashamed of it.

‘Who says the English are cold? Who says that they don’t understand musical things? Who says this is the “Land without Music”? They used to in the 19th century, but they sure can’t now.’


Dead violinists society: Zimbalist!

I've never seen any film of Efrem Zimbalist before. Here he is playing the variations from Beethoven's Kreutzer sonata, filmed in 1926. Like Heifetz and Seidel, he was a Russian-born student of Leopold Auer; like them, his sound inhabits a world that is entirely its own, and the tone here comes through with astonishing power, beauty and sensuality, despite having been recorded 84 years ago. Glorious. Hope you love it as much as I do!

There's now so much amazing old-school violin stuff on Youtube that it could keep us happy on JDCMB for a year at least!