Saturday, February 12, 2011

Schubert in memoriam

February 12th - the anniversary of my mother's death in 1994. It doesn't feel like 17 years ago; it doesn't fade. Here is her favourite piano piece, Schubert's Impromptu in G flat, Op.90 No.3, played by her favourite pianist, Krystian Zimerman. This doesn't fade either.

Friday, February 11, 2011

This is by Bartok - yes, really

Almost a Friday historical - the Andante, or Albumblatt, by Bartok, written for the then 15-year-old Adila d'Aranyi (elder sister of Jelly) in 1902. Bartok fell for the d'Aranyis in turn (oh, and Stefi Geyer), but it seems that neither of those feisty sisters returned his feelings. Which, to judge from this performance (1978) by Gyorgy Pauk and Peter Frankl, must have been pretty powerful. Enjoy.

How friendly are Friends?

No, not Facebook... This is about our leading cultural institutions and their membership systems. Friends schemes are a wonderful thing if you're in them; and as public subsidy shrinks we'll be seeing more and more developing. But with demand for membership starting to outstrip the supply of seats, the most sought-after events can sell out before booking has opened to the general public.

Now, in an ideal world, I personally would like the government to support the performing arts wholeheartedly, delivering high-quality performances and making low-cost seating available to all at the same modest price. Museums are free; why not music? But this is looking increasingly like a pipe-dream, at least in Britain. Instead, here is what's happening, as written by muggins in today's Indy:

The other day, public booking opened for this year's Aldeburgh Festival. Helen Hayes, who runs a recording studio at the nearby Potton Hall with her husband, dashed to her phone, hoping to book seats to take their small son to hear the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. It wasn't to be. "I've just tried to book for the CBSO Rattle concert and it is sold out – before public booking opens!" she declared on Facebook, adding: "Talk about access to music... and they get most of the public funding for music in this area. Elitist? Classical Music?"
So what happened? Well, Aldeburgh's Snape Maltings concert hall seats a modest 800. The 16,000-odd Friends of Aldeburgh Music receive priority booking. And everyone wants to hear Sir Simon Rattle in action.
Non-members can keep phoning the box office and hope for returns. The alternative is to become a Friend...
Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I know I've been neglecting you all this week. I've been away - more of that in a moment - but while I was gone the Henley Report on music education in England was published, as was the government's response. It seems very positive. Darren Henley's recommendations are spot-on, and the government, Michael Gove in particular, appears to be taking on board the majority of the points made. The term 'ring-fenced' even appears in relation to funding for music education, which is fabulous. But - and there are some big buts - the excellent In Harmony, in effect the British version of El Sistema, is only awarded funding for one more year... It's easy to talk... As Tom Service says, it's what happens next that will really count. And the National Union of Teachers is extremely sceptical about the likely results, not least because many local councils haven't waited for the report and the response and have already started handing out redundancy notices to music staff. Here are:

The Henley Report;
The government's response;
The ISM's response;
Tom Service's response in The Guardian;
The NUT comment. 
UPDATE: Follow the link from here to the 9 February 2011 release to see the response from the CBSO - again, welcoming the report, but nudging the government for firm commitment to ongoing support.

Meanwhile I was having the week that was...

Last Wednesday I gave a talk on Mahler and Musical Endgames at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. The next morning Tomcat and I travelled to Mainz to see Schott's fascinating historical headquarters. There you're greeted by a bust of Big Richard himself; there's a beautiful room, now replete with treasures of memorabilia, in which he presented the text of Meistersinger to the company for the first time; and the corridors are adorned with costume designs for Strauss's operas. Thence we went to Freiburg, just to see Freiburg; and Stuttgart, where we sat down to bask in pre-spring sun on the opera house steps, got talking to someone who turned out to be the former prima ballerina Julia Kramer - and ended up spotting numerous ballet stars wandering by, including the legendary Marcia Haydee herself. They were all there for the company's 50th anniversary festival. As an underage balletomane a few decades back, I always longed to go to Stuttgart to see the renowned Stuttgart this afternoon was an extraordinarily fine surprise. Here is Julia:

Back home I took part in the launch on Tuesday of The Road to Jericho with the devoted and idealistic team of Simon Hewitt Jones, Drew Balch, Candace Allen, Antony Pitts and friends, which involved test-driving something I'm trying to write about my visit to the West Bank last year. On 10 June at the Spitalfields Festival the London performance will take place and I'll be doing an open pre-concert interview with Simon, Drew and the inspirational Ramzi Aburedwan, head of Al Kamandjati in Ramallah, who will be here with his ensemble Dal'Ouna. Here is the video for The Road to Jericho:

Yesterday I went to Amsterdam and back to interview a Very Important Maestro. (And also passed a beautiful Amsterdam afternoon walking in the park with Norman Perryman, creator of magnificent kinetic paintings to music (you may have caught our double-act interview on Dilettante Music a few months back).

Here is the maestro.

Blimey, guv, it was quite a week. Back now, with a cold.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Down with "moronic melodies"!

Sometimes I'm afraid I may be the only one who loathes music as noise. And it is transformed into noise by its extreme prevalence in all forms, all over the place, all the time. But according to Terence Blacker in today's Independent, now the composer Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen's Music, has described taped music in public places as "some kind of commercial and cultural terrorism".

Too right. It stops us thinking. It stops us feeling. It stops us questioning. It stops us speaking (you can't talk to someone who's hooked up to his headphones having the head within banged to breaking point by some synthetic beat). Why do we put up with it? And when will shops learn that it's sometimes not productive at the counters? Now and then it persuades us to buy things we absolutely shouldn't - try resisting a boutique full of women all humming along to 'Dancing Queen' - but often it has quite the opposite effect. I beat a hasty retreat from shops, even nice ones having good value sales, if I don't like the aural assault they subject me to. They lose my custom. Simples.

From Terence Blacker's article:
The composer revealed that he had recently been driven out of a branch of Waterstone's by the rubbish being played on the book shop's sound system. The "moronic melodies" of mobile phone ringtones were every bit as bad. The Performing Rights Society (PRS), collecting cash on behalf of musicians, was, said Sir Peter, contributing to a general process of dumbing down...

The reason piped music is used by business is to reduce customers to a state of blissed-out receptiveness. "Audio architecture is emotion by design," the Muzak website creepily explains, "Its power lies in its subtlety." But there is something alarming about a society so afraid of silence or the sound of human communication that it is prepared to have its privacy invaded in this way.
What went wrong? When did music turn into mass-produced mind control? I would dearly love to persuade Adam Curtis (The Power of Nightmares, The Trap, etc) to make some documentaries on the subject. Meanwhile, here's a simple message to the shops, lifts, hotel lobbies and self-deafening, noise-polluting headbangers out there: turn it off!

UPDATE: Demetrius, in the comments box, has suggested we ask you to post your worst experiences of piped music. Good idea, so please -- go for it! And, if you have any good ones that make you love it, please post those too...