Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Around St Martin's Lane...

Before I hand you over to today's Independent for my piece about Fiona Shaw and The Marriage of Figaro, I have to tell you a little about last night.

I went along to Myra Hess Day at the National Gallery, where the Menuhin School Orchestra, Piers Lane, Andrew Tortise, The Fibonacci Sequence and Tasmin Little gave a strong, varied programme in tribute to Dame Myra Hess, in front of the Gainsboroughs and Goyas. A huge plaudit to Piers and Tasmin for playing Howard Ferguson's superb, gutsy and inspired Violin Sonata, which was written just after the war - before that, apparently, he'd been too busy organising the gallery concerts to compose anything much, and this was a sure statement of intent.

But first, Tasmin played the Bach Double with a student from the Menuhin School as her partner soloist. Louisa-Rose Staples is 11, but looks 9, and is blessed with real composure and aplomb. From the first note it was clear that she was utterly secure with the task in hand - you knew at once that she couldn't put a finger wrong. She played like a complete pro: musical, responsive, accurate... And of course, this is where Tasmin herself started. Louisa-Rose, like Tasmin, became a pupil at the Menuhin School when she was 8. An auspicious evening, perhaps.

Round the corner from the National Gallery sits ENO, and tonight its new Figaro opens, directed by the one and only Fiona Shaw. I interviewed her, Paul Daniel, Iain Paterson (Figaro) and the youthful American soprano Devon Guthrie (Susanna) about what they're doing with it. Read it all here:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

It's Myra Hess Day

It's wonderful when they name a day after your musical heroine and make it an annual event. Today at the National Gallery it is Myra Hess Day, in tribute to the great pianist who, with the composer Howard Ferguson, started the now legendary series of lunchtime concerts there during the Blitz.

Three concerts are held during the course of the day in the same space that the musicians used in the 1940s - though now the paintings, which were removed somewhere safe at the time, are there too. The concerts are devised by Piers Lane, who's a sort of grand-pupil of Dame Myra via one of his mentors, the late Yonty Solomon. More about the history of the wartime series and its guiding lights on the National Gallery site, here.

Today kicks off at lunchtime with the Ionian Singers conducted by Timothy Salter in a programme of English music for choir. Afternoon brings a performance of Admission: One Shilling, by Nigel Hess (great-nephew) in which actress Patricia Routledge and pianist Piers Lane tell the story of the gallery concerts in Dame Myra's words and lots of music; and finally this evening Piers is joined by Tasmin Little (violin), Andrew Tortise (tenor), Fibonacci Sequence and the Menuhin School Orchestra to perform some Ferguson alongside Bach, Schubert and Mahler, plus a world premiere from composer Benjamin Wallfisch.

Afternoon and evening are sold out, but I think you can still get in at lunchtime.

Listen to Dame Myra playing her famous transcription of Bach's 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring', plus a spot of Scarlatti...

Sunday, October 02, 2011

A writer's life...

It's an extraordinary, hot, sunny Sunday and it seems everyone wants to go and play outside - but for the few doughty souls (seen the ticket availability?) who are attending the Boulez marathon, plus those of us who have deadlines to meet, aided and abetted by our furry friends. For the latter, both writers and felines, here's some light but very true entertainment from Simon's Cat, which oddly captures my morning so far.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

123sing!: A Big Bravo

This weekend, all over the UK, there's a chance to take part in a charity project called 123sing! to raise money for music therapy for vulnerable children. They're touting it as 'the biggest celebration of singing ever'. Whether or not it really is that, it's still a terrific idea that deserves every encouragement under the sun. It's being spearheaded by Classic FM in collaboration with Making Music, the UK's organisation that does what it says on the tin, which includes encouraging voluntary groups to get together and make as much noise as they can. Proceeds go to the Classic FM Foundation and thence to music therapy projects.

If you know anyone who has an autistic child, or someone who went to Bosnia and observed the work that used to be done at the Pavarotti Centre in Mostar to help youngsters traumatised by the war, or if you saw Tony Palmer's documentary about Carl Orff - the seemingly unlikely founder of a system of music as therapy for young children who have disabilities which prevent them communicating as others might - then you'll know already that music reaches parts of the spirit inaccessible to plain language.

Music therapy can change lives. Help support it: go somewhere today or tomorrow and SING. Visit the website, here, to find an event near you.

Bravo, Classic FM!

Saturday Bach: Richter plays Fantasia in C minor BWV906

This Saturday Bach thing is becoming a habit, but I could think of worse ones, so let's stick with it. Here is Richter. How do you like his performance?