Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Licitra is still fighting for his life

A few days ago the news reached us that the Swiss-Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra was in a serious condition after his Vespa hit a wall on Saturday night in Sicily. Now Opera Chic has more news - according to an Italian radio interview with Licitra's doctor, it seems he could well have had a cerebral haemmorhage just before the accident happened.

We're all thinking of this much-loved operatic figure in his hour of need. Here he is singing 'Recondita armonia' from Tosca. Send your preferred form of prayer/good vibes urgently towards him.

How desperate are YOU?

Or... A Little Black Humour for Tuesday Morning. To begin, here's some music.

It's a tough old life, being a musician. Many of us in this field are reared by doting parents who, along with our schools, convince us at the tender age of 0 that we are born to be stars and have a talent second only to that of Johann Sebastian Bach. By the time we're 20, we've usually begun to understand that this isn't the case, and to wonder how we can make ends meet in such a cut-throat field. By 40, some of us are still at it.

How desperate are you? What does your future hold? 
Take the JDCMB quiz to find out...

1. You can't get a recording contract, so you produce your own CD. Do you:

a. Send a well-presented package to an 'artist-led' label and invite the manager to lunch with you, your sponsor and a famous advisor like Ivor Chestikoff to discuss market gaps and interesting repertoire.
b. Do it all yourself, hiring a good PR and making sure your distributors are reputable and respected, but neglect your practising in order to organise everything. Then you give a concert to launch the disc...
c. Decide it's not worth doing at all: it's got to be DG or bust. You devote yourself instead to learning the 48 and writing about how your interpretation is the definitive one and that nobody else knows how to play Bach properly. Only at that point do you make a demo disc and send it out with your tracts to blind everyone with your expertise.
d. Do it all yourself, but decide that PR and advertising is a waste of money: only word of mouth counts. You always carry a supply of your CDs, so that if a music critic happens to turn up at your mum's 80th birthday party, you can talk to him for half an hour about your achievements and give him a copy to take home and write about. You know he wants it.

2. Your sponsor hires the Wigmore Hall for you. Do you:

a. Plan your programme carefully, featuring the works Ivor Chestikoff says you're best in, and tactfully try to avoid the concert being on a Monday evening or a major public holiday. You engage a good PR person at least six months in advance, organise a drinks reception after the gig to which you can invite more potential sponsors, critics and all the people to whom you 'owe one' for their support over the years. You practise like the blazes, give some trial runs at friendly private salons and make sure your concert outfit fits you snugly and elegantly. On stage, you forget about everything but the music.
b. You decide you're going to play Bach's 48: 24 in the first half, 24 in the second, everything by memory, even though so far you've only learned 12 of them. You love a challenge! And what an opportunity: this could make you a real splash. You're so busy memorising the fugues that you forget you need to publicise the gig until a week beforehand. Oh well, perhaps Facebook and Twitter can sort it - "Please RT".
c. You don't need to do PR - everyone will come to hear you anyway, because you're the best, even if nobody knows it yet. It's all down to luck in any case.
d. You splash out on a Vivienne Westwood outfit, have your photo taken in it and put it on your Facebook page and website. Then, to save money, you write your own press releases, though there's no time to have them checked or proofread, and you badger every publication and website with them, plus phone calls, sending emails four times if no reply comes within the first day to the first one. Finally, on the underused blog section of your website, you embed the tags "Vivienne Westwood", "Luciano Pavarotti" and "Katherine Jenkins" to ensure more hits. 

3. You've managed to get backstage to meet a famous conductor. Ivor Chestikoff introduces you and the maestro holds your hand, gazes into your eyes and says it's a great pleasure to meet you. Then he tells you to call his secretary to arrange an audition. You do so; the PA says you can go to play to him in Los Angeles, Berlin or Hong Kong. You can just afford Berlin if you go on a budget airline, but it's in the middle of your holiday. Do you:

a. Cancel the holiday and go to Berlin, taking the pieces that Chestikoff has suggested that you are good at and that he knows the maestro will respond to well. You arrive the night before and make sure you're well rested despite your nerves. You arrange to fly back on the last plane on the day of your audition to save the hotel bill. When the maestro asks you what you're doing later that night, you explain you have to get back home to prepare for your concert in three days' time.
b. You can't bear to miss your holiday. You decide to go to LA and you twist a sponsor/parent's arm into paying your fare and a cheap motel for two nights. You get there ready to audition the next day - but you're jet-lagged. Will you play your best? Will you notice the inference when the maestro asks you what you're doing later that evening?
c. You laugh and say you couldn't possibly afford to go to LA or Hong Kong and you can't miss your holiday, so what about looking further ahead? The PA checks the schedule and suggests October 2012 in Moscow or Sydney. 
d. You choose whichever is soonest - hang the air fare and the holiday. You play the most difficult piece you know. You wear sexy clothes and you smile a lot. When the maestro asks you what you're doing later, you're free. He invites you to dinner and you go; you get a bit starry-eyed that you are quaffing expensive champers with the maestro and he's flirting with you something chronic, even though he is decades older than you and you'd maybe hoped he'd be fatherly and caring. Then he suggests you go up to his room where he can give you some of his latest CDs. You don't have the contract or a promise of a concert yet, but you go. You will do anything for your art. 


Mostly a: Your feet are on the ground and you have a good chance of achieving a certain amount of recognition; with luck and talent you might have a breakthrough. Do you take enough risks to get the extra edge of danger that sets concert halls alight? 
Mostly b: You take risks, but you're erratic. If you hit the jackpot, it'll probably be by sheer fluke. You may have something special to offer; or you may find yourself passed over as a harmless eccentric. 
Mostly c: Take a teaching diploma or business course, or learn to touch-type. You may need a job.
Mostly d: You're desperate. Very desperate. Someone will notice. See 'Mostly c'. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shock news: good-looking violinist can really play

Dodging our diligent builders who work on bank holidays, I turned on BBC Breakfast to see what the hurricane news was from the US, only to find myself witnessing some pretty bloody amazing Paganini instead. The culprit: Charlie Siem, a young British violinist fresh out of Cambridge and, uh, the modelling world. When I read that he was the 'global face' of Dunhill, I thought that meant the cigarettes and I was all ready to write an Outraged Non-Smoker of Sheen piece about the iniquities of young musicians having to get ahead by modelling for a filthy habit that kills people. But it turns out that Dunhill is actually a James Bond-ish designer menswear label...I wouldn't know; my husband is, like, more of a Ralph Lauren man.

When a fresh-faced, square-jawed, youthful supermodel type emerges with violin in hand and one painted fingernail, the knee-jerk music-critic reaction is to yawn and switch off; the knee-jerk Gidon Kremer-style reaction could be to walk out of the festival. But this guy can really play. And not just because he has Menuhin's Guarneri del Gesu, nor just because he's related to Ole Bull (have tweeted him to ask how so, but am not currently convinced he does his own tweets), nor just because Lady Gaga likes him. Seems he can talk the talk, walk the walk and, best of all, play the Paganini.

Have we turned full circle? Now that almost every young musician who pops up does look good, they need more than ever to be differentiated by their playing. Rather than one photogenic fiddler standing out from the crowd of technically adept ones because of his or her appearance, do we have a case in which the really fine musicians will emerge from the crowd of photogenic ones because of their playing after all? Hmm. He's got a new album out (hence BBC Breakfast), so see what you think.

Here's Charlie in something a little different (?! pink shorts) - two years ago, in Cuba with the Royal Ballet...

...and some Wieniawski.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Watch Glyndebourne's The Turn of the Screw right here on JDCMB

Missed the webcast? Missed the show? I can't blog you a slice of Miles's birthday cake, but here is the complete performance of Britten's The Turn of the Screw as performed last Sunday at Glyndebourne. It will be online until 12 September. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. More resources, videoed interviews et al at the Glyndeboune website here.

Friday historical: Authentic Johann Strauss II

Here is Johann Strauss II conducting an extract from his own Voices of Spring. A dream for all Viennese schwung junkies.

I'm up to my eyeballs in noise & dust from domestic building works, internet connectivity problems and other stuff I could really, seriously do without, so it's over & out for the moment. Back when I can think straight, Enjoy the music.