Friday, January 06, 2012

Accolade for Alan

Dr Alan Walker, whose three-volume biography of Franz Liszt is now the definitive text on last year's bicentenary supremo, has been awarded a top honour by the Government of the Republic of Hungary: the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit. It was announced, we hear, before the end of Liszt year (and before the new constitution in Hungary, which came into force the other day, dropped the word 'Republic'). Walker, professor emeritus of music at McMaster University, is also the biographer of Hans von Bulow, the conductor and Liszt's pre-Wagner son-in-law, and The Death of Liszt, based on the diary of Liszt's pupil Lina Schmalhausen. He will be bestowed with his award on 17 January at the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa.

Accolades for books of this excellence are few and far between and goodness knows it is well deserved. But I imagine it won't be long before someone says he ought to consider refusing the award in protest at the current turn of political events in Hungary. This brings home the point that we ought to have more recognition for excellence in musical scholarship from cultural and governmental bodies a bit closer to home.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Ivan Fischer on the future of the symphony orchestra

I just found Ivan Fischer's video blog on the Budapest Festival Orchestra's website. Here he talks about the future of the symphony orchestra - and reveals in a few succinct sentences exactly what he thinks of 'crossover' and why.



While Hungary's political and economic situation goes through what looks increasingly like hell and high water don't forget why it matters everywhere else. Let's hope that this towering musical tradition, with its purity, clear-sightedness and intensity of purpose, won't be subsumed by yet another destructive ideological steamroller. The riches of that tradition are exemplified today by Fischer and his brother Adam, Andras Schiff, Gabor Takacs-Nagy and many, many more.

A year ago Andras Schiff alerted everyone to the Hungarian political situation with a letter to the Washington Post. But of course a lot of people said what they usually say when musicians talk about politics, to the effect of "shut up and play the piano", and now he doubts he will ever return to his native land. This is extremely unfortunate, because he was right and he should have been listened to - but the opportunity to make a bigger stand early enough was effectively lost. The truth in the overview of such situations can often be astutely commented upon by those who are outside it - people who care, but whose interests are not vested - and as great musicians tend to be intelligent, passionate people whose gifts have earned them a world stage, sometimes we really ought to take some notice of what they say.

In Senegal, another world-renowned musician, Youssou N'Dour, is running for president.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Inspiration? Try the shower

The Guardian has a fantastic spread at the moment in which some leading creative artists - writers, artists, musicians, choreographers, etc - talk about how and where they find the inspiration that drives them. I particularly like the very concise concluding section by Wayne McGregor. Read the whole thing here.

A couple of late additions from JDCMB:

* Hot water. I get my best ideas in the shower. No explanation.

* Read lots of history and biography. The past is full of stories so outlandish that you couldn't make them up. So is the present, of course...

Any more tips, anyone?

Monday, January 02, 2012

Cracking the O2 Nut

Rewind to Millennium year. Tony Blair's government has decided to leave us as its legacy the most magnificent flexible performance space in Europe. Audiences of many thousands can flock to the east London riverside to see rock concerts, ballets, operas, superstar lectures and big-screen spectaculars, to name but a few possibilities. The Proms consider relocating in order to treble the audience size and improve the sound quality. The seats are comfortable, the acoustics state-of-the-art and adaptable to any occasion, the sightlines carefully considered at all levels. The foyers are warm, pleasantly designed, friendly and welcoming, the food outlets offer - besides pizza, or fish and chips - falafel and organic salads, home-made chocolate cake and fresh juices. Soon no visit to London would be complete without a trip to the People's Palace of the Arts.

Instead...they built the Millennium Dome. A great spawling shell containing...emptiness. Think of the length of time it took to decide what to do with the damn thing. Think of the cost, dear readers. Think of the waste. Then think how different it could have been if only they'd decided to build it as a proper venue in the first place.

I trotted off to the Dome last week. It's now comfortable enough in its adopted skin as the O2, but still - what a missed opportunity it is. It doesn't feel only 12 years old: it has all the atmosphere of a miserable 1960s relic, with stairs that look as if they've been exported from the old Swiss Cottage swimming baths, and an all-pervasive smell of beer and burgers.

But the Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of The Nutcracker was of course the purpose of the visit. And whoosh - two bars of Tchaikovsky and the entire O2 was transported to dreamland in one swoop. It was absolute magic from start to finish. If this Nutcracker can transcend that venue, then it can do anything.

Here's my review, for The Independent. (Not sure if it has already appeared in the paper - it isn't online yet.)




Balletic bravura, dazzling transformation scenes, a giant flying goose – Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker has become a national favourite. Still, with so many different Nutcracker stagings grinding away this Christmas, especially in London, bringing it to the gaping spaces of the O2 had to be something of a gamble, and not only because of the challenge of selling enough seats. Can its dream magic survive the transition from traditional theatre to an outsize arena with popcorn and eat-in-your-seat pizza?

It also had to survive an unfortunate late addition to the line-up: Joe McElderry crooning three Christmas carols in hideous, sickly arrangements. Goodness knows why he was there. But as soon as the show got underway, the spell created by Tchaikovsky and BRB’s expertise spun its joys unhindered on the sizeable stage.

Moving this complex showpiece to a space that neither it nor the company had inhabited before must have been a gargantuan task, yet glitches were few and far between – just a little over-enthusiasm with the dry ice for the battle of the rats, perhaps. A large screen brought us the welcome option of close-ups, the amplification of the orchestra was unintrusive, and best of all, the superb cast seemed to rise to the evening’s demands by bringing out any extra percentage of energy they might conceivably keep in reserve.

In Peter Wright’s Nutcracker – his own choreography rubbing shoulders with Lev Ivanov’s and some by Vincent Redmon – the momentum of demanding dance scarcely lets up. The party scene brings us three generations of a family happily taking turns on the ballroom floor, from the excellent children to some lovely vignettes for David Morse and the great Marion Tait as the grandparents. Our heroine, Clara, is barely off stage in either act, although when she is finally transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy for the great pas de deux, it’s another dancer who takes over. Rather like bringing out Wayne Rooney for the penalty shootouts.

Still, Clara has plenty to do already, and Laëtitia Lo Sardo joyously captured the adolescent girl’s voyage of discovery as she balances on the cusp of womanhood. Her Nutcracker Prince was the dashing César Morales, Robert Parker conjured a flamboyant magician-uncle Drosselmeyer, and the unshakeable Nao Sakuma as the Sugar Plum Fairy offered a tranche of ideal classical control.

Did it work? The ultimate verdict must come from the many children in the audience – for in the interval, through those soulless, stadium-style foyers, virtually every little girl was dancing. That’ll be a ‘yes’.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

WELCOME TO 2012, FROM LONDON

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Greetings from here:


Let's hope that 2012 will be a sane, peaceful, successful, smooth, kind and reasonable year - rather than anything resembling the past one. Don't forget to listen to the New Year's Day Concert from Vienna. This year it is conducted by the mighty Mariss Jansons. For UK listeners, it's on BBC Radio 3 at 10.15am and BBC2 at 11.15, with another showing on BBC4 this evening.


Saturday, December 31, 2011

Song of the Year

So it's goodbye to 2011, with the good news that Tony Pappano has been knighted in the New Year Honours, the prospect of hearing a heap of Debussy and Delius in the next 12 months, a "so long and thanks for all the fish" to Mahler and Liszt, and a gentle reminder that in April it'll be 100 years since the Titanic sank.

The Song of the Year? It is 'Ombra di Nube' by Refice - we heard it a couple of weeks ago on JDCMB sung by the diva for whom it was created, the great Claudia Muzio. If you were lucky enough to catch Anna Caterina Antonacci's lunchtime recital from the Wigmore Hall earlier in December, you will have experienced her magnificent performance of it there. Lincinio Refice (1885-1954) was a priest and taught at the Scuola Pontifica for sacred music in Rome across some 40 years. Apparently he died on the rostrum while conducting his own opera, Cecilia, inspired by the life of music's patron saint. He sought a singer "with God in their throat" and found one in Muzio. The words of 'Ombra di Nube' are a prayer, a plea and a reminder of the eternal beauty that remains when the pain goes.

Here is is again from a man whose voice is gradually becoming, for many of us, a soundtrack to the highest and lowest moments of our days: the times to celebrate, times to remember, times to look forward to and times when we need the comfort, spirituality and inspiration that great art brings. He has helped to bring this exquisite sliver of beauty to a wider audience this year, including it on his Verismo Arias CD and in many recitals around the world; in London it was his final encore. He's becoming both the thinking woman's Bocelli and the living person's Caruso: he is, of course, Jonas Kaufmann.

Happy New Year to all our readers. May 2012 bring to everyone peace, happiness, hope and justice.




And as a post-Christmas bonus, a little something I just stumbled across - an entire concert from Moscow in 2008 by Kaufmann and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Glyndebourne powerhouse passes on

Brian Dickie of the Chicago Opera Theater has reported on his blog the death of the pianist Martin Isepp, who for some 40 years was an absolute stalwart of the Glyndebourne music staff. He was head of music at the National Opera Studio from 1978 to 1995. And much, much more besides. I well remember meeting him at Glyndebourne some 10-12 years ago. His jolly, unaffected, unassuming character with an unmistakeable twinkle and a ready smile was a front for a powerhouse of operatic understanding and pianistic knowhow. He died on Christmas Day.


Here is his biography from the National Opera Studio's website:


Martin Isepp ARCM, was born in Vienna and came to England in 1938. He studied piano mainly with Professor Leonie Gombrich, pupil and assistant of Leschetitsky, before reading Music at Oxford University and studying further at the Royal College of Music, London. He began his career in the vocal studio of his mother Helene Isepp, and went on to partner such singers as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth Söderström, Dame Janet Baker, Jessye Norman, Hughes Cuenod and John Shirley-Quirk in recitals throughout Europe and the USA. In 1965 he was awarded the Carroll Donner Stuchell Medal for Accompanying by the Harriet Cohen International Musical Foundation.
At the same time he has pursued a parallel career in the operatic field, first with Benjamin Britten’s English Opera Group (where he created the piano part in The Turn of the Screw), and then at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, which he joined as a member of the Music Staff in 1957, where he was Head of Music Staff from 1978-93, and for which he is a visiting Guest Chief Coach. From 1973-77 he was Head of Opera Training at the Juilliard School, New York before returning to London to become Head of Music at the newly-formed National Opera Studio from 1978-1995.
He travels widely to give Master Classes in Lieder and Opera and to conduct young singers in performance. He has been invited to the Central Opera and Conservatory in Beijing to work on Mozart roles and to the Pacific Music Festival in Japan. He has been Head of the Academy of Singing at the School of the Arts at the Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada for many years and has given many master classes at the Britten-Pears School, Aldeburgh. He visits the Metropolitan Opera annually, often as Assistant Conductor. Five years ago, he took over two performances of Così from the indisposed James Levine to critical acclaim. He has conducted productions for the Canadian Opera Company, Washington Opera, and Glyndebourne Touring Opera, and has featured as Continuo Harpsichordist on a number of recordings. He has also adjudicated for such competitions as the Met Final Auditions, the Naumburg Awards and the Kathleen Ferrier Competition in London.
Martin Isepp recently conducted the Orchestre de Picardie, France in Performances ofAriadne auf Naxos and the students of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Baltimore in a production of Così fan tutte, as well as giving Master Classes at l’Atelier Lyrique de l’Opera de Montreal, the Ensemble of the Canadian Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Northwestern University School of Music, RAM, The Paris Conservatoire, and the Merola Program of San Francisco Opera. He is the first recipient of the Stratton Distinguished Visitor Medal given by the University of Toronto Music Department. He was recently awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Music by Wake Forest University, North Carolina.







Sunday, December 25, 2011

Top tweets for Tosca

In case you missed the fun, Tosca trended on Twitter yesterday when the Royal Opera House's production by Jonathan Kent hit BBC2, starring Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel, with Tony Pappano conducting. Experience the power and the glory of this singular Christmas treat by reading a selection of the verdicts, commentaries, quips, observations and much more that spurred the stars on their way, from living rooms up and down the country... (BTW, this timeline goes backwards, so we start at the end.)

MERRY CHRISTMAS A TUTTI!


@richardwjones As good as Angela Gheorgiu was as Tosca, nobody will ever be quite as good as Maria Callas.   

@talopine Being made VERY jealous by all the people in my timeline who are raving over  on the BBC with Kaufman and Terfel.  

@Random_Opera After brilliance of  earlier, why are we being given repeats of f***ing Morecambe & Wise on BBC2 (and equal shit on other channels...)

@jonathanclinch Sooo true.... RT   is trending, c'mon  don't just put decent opera on the tele at Xmas, people WANT to watch it!!!!!

@sanathaash1993 was awesome!

@Operazzi : Is this really suitable viewing for a Saturday afternoon - torture, attempted rape, murder, execution, suicide? ” ALWAYS!

@itsmao  and now .T when am I going to stop crying?

  is trending, OPERA ISN'T DEAD!!

@DrPiffle It was amazing, wasn't it? Sublime leads, spec JK. Orchestra in fine form too.  

@BlueBaby  was frightening enough from the amphitheatre.On TV he was terrifying  'thavenightmares

@stu_melling Tosca over: tears dried and the excitement of my first visit to on Feb 11th kicks in now.  

@amzenon It was amazing.. stunning.. captivating.. even on television.. I hope you can hear and see it sometime... 

@kittywhately Overwhelmed by  at . Terrifyingly good and incredibly moving. And Kaufmann and  made it a total hunk fest!

  an excellent production thank you More please

@marcodemag Mario Cavaradossi's quite hot shirtless 

@Gert Shabby little shocker 

@theviciouspixie Dear Santa, in my stocking I would like Jonas Kaufmann please. 

@redragwork Wow - that  was heart-stopping

: Ah Jonas, that was quite some Christmas treat.  

@Popher Thank you BBC.  was brilliant, a delightful change from the normal Xmas tv

@leboyfriend For me that was entirely satisfying and fulfilling. Bravi tutti!! 

@Mark_Pullinger Ah, a Spoletta who milks the final moments! Excellent performance of  - so sorry I didn't get a ticket, but thanks Beeb for the relay.

@glittrgirl Gosh I feel knackered after watching that 

@Irma0316 Magnificent! Fantastic! Stunning! Amazing! *stands up and applauds*  

@David_CAA That  bloke can sing a bit, but I couldn't understand a word he said

@amzenon .. Grandiose !!! above all Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel.. Pappano & Orch. fantastic.. tremendous broadcast.. 

@hannahmmay pahaha, just watched Puccini's  from the Royal Opera House on BBC2! 

@ivisbohlen Horrible, but great acting! RT : It's horrible that we know that he knows......

@glittrgirl I had goosepimples through nearly all of that  *blows noes* *dabs eyes*

@tonyhatfield tears- end of  

@John_Denny Anyone else think Scarpia looks like Ed Balls? 

@clavdivs1 That was SUPERB! We need more opera on the telly! 

@_Joliffe FINALLY. Needn't of jumped, I'd happily of pushed. 

@danny_blue2004 I've always had this image of her popping back up again 

@MahlerMad I HAVE NO MORE TEARS 

@goldenavenger1 Only slight downside of watching opera on the telly is I can see Cavaradossi breathing when he's meant to be dead. 

@MahlerMad SCARPIA! AVANTI A DIO! 

@railtonrailton Don't worry, he's still breathing 

@RuthElleson Yikes, I never like watching this bit... ...

@MahlerMad Presto, su. Mario! Mario! MARIO!!!! AAAAAAAH! 

@glittrgirl The good thing about watching opera at home is being able to bawl audibly. 

@flumpmistress If he'd done that lip curl, I'd have probably fainted! 

@MahlerMad WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH 

@greeboblackcat Humans yowling on tellybox. Staff bawling her eyes out. *nuzzles staff*  

@MahlerMad *hugs cushion* 

@TimSim85 I'll call you by a thousand loving names. 

@Irma0316 I'm in absolute BITS. God, how I love Puccini :) 

@MelJD46 'Together in harmony our souls fly to the ecstasy of love' 

@lynnmb25  ..everything that's beautiful will find its voice in you...breaking my heart!

@findo I am in awe of JK right now 

@millymelon Angela Gheorgiu's nipples: I can't understand why I can't see them in that dress 

@chiller Guys, just get in the carriage and go. If you hang about like this it's not going to end well. 

@Clavdivs1 No good plan starts with the line "You will be shot" 

@brendadada Jonas Kauffman's e lucevan is the most emotional I've ever heard. Domingo would be proud. 

@AngharadLee 'I die in despair and I have never loved life so much' - Jonas Kauffman u have brought me 2 tears. Stunning performance 

@Cairnspolitics if you only watch 1 opera in your life then it should be Tosca. Terrific performances on BBC Two now 

@EmilyOnsloe  just... WOW 

@leboyfriend e lucevan was exquisite 

@amzenon Oh...Jonas... 'E lucevan le stelle' ..sigh... sigh... sigh... 

@Erastes  - typical man, going to be shot and all he can talk about is shagging. # lucevanlestelle :D

@manx_maid Beautiful diminuendi - Jonas' trademark 

@dmartw Gibbering wreck after that  

@HorizonVA Jonas Kaufmann *sigh* 

@AngharadLee My 4yr old is loving  on  Not sure I can cope with anymore 'why' or 'what's he doing' questions mind. She's transfixed 

@Gert You go girl! Kill the nasty bastard Scarpia  

@brenbaritone   being taped fr me at home.I saw the cast after queuing 16 hours over night.looking forward to reliving it:-)

@Becky_Todd We approve of . Blooming brilliant on the beeb in as he is in everything. Loved my auditorium shifts when he was on.

@RachelWolseley Oh I do love you Ange, despite everything... 

@flumpmistress I'm not getting anything done, too enthralled! 

@brianbg OMG That  really can play a bad bastard. 

@Clavdivs1 Don't trust the man you daft girl, he's spent the last act lip curling maliciously and squeezing your boyfriend's head in a vice! 

@DiveSciDiva Even though I'm female even I'm finding Angela Gheorghiu's low cut dress distracting 

@rob_f_1  never ever seen an opera before but current showing of  is absolutely fantastic. Amazed. Thank you!

@raethepain Visi D'arte time! Unfortunate boob slippage there though. 

@AngharadLeeThank God 4  .Relief fromXmas 4 a wee while.Terfel just head butted him  Not classified as a fair fight in th valleys

@_widdershins Headbutt in an opera! Nicely done Bryn.  

@sensisuperstar It's all kicking off on BBC2, Bryn Terfel has just butted some bloke... 

@malatrope Doesn't Bryn Terfel look like Meatloaf  

@Paul_Anater There's hope! RT : RT :  is trending :D This restores my faith in humanity

@cazponty For all the ladies drooling at Jonas...good....all the more Bryn for me!

@CharlSkidmore Watching the same production of  I camped outside the for. SO EXCITED. BBC 2 you've made my day.

@patrickxwest Can't help wondering if Meatloaf wouldn't make a good Scarpia 

@Gert Take your dirty hands off Jonas, you brutes! 

@JackSullivan2 Right that's it I'm going to write an opera so I can marry Jonas Kaufmann 

@leboyfriend I'm a wreck already - and I have seen this more than any other opera so it's not like it's full of surprises. 

@yourPollyanna Mother's just come into the room and asked if she's "chucked herself off the turrets yet?" 

@billybothwell68  is even trending lol wow is this what happens when the x-factor finishes ? BBC HD folks its even better :)

@SophieBellaWiz Current trending topics are ridiculous. What is this fuckery? The only decent one is , which I hope is in referrence to Meerkat Manor.

@lucy_arch LOVELOVELOVE 

@sbuttsoprano no queueing for interval g&t! Shuddering at  's evil Scarpia.

@quentinrayner Opera singers must go deaf, bellowing at such close range into each others faces   

@ivisbohlen I'll keep an ear out for this. RT : Here comes one of his best bits: diminuendo through the key change in same breath 

@bubblesmoloney I wonder if 33 is too old to become an Opera singer? I have the 'lungs'. 

@manx_maid Lady tweeps who don't think they're into opera may like to look at Mr Jonas Kaufmann on BBC2 NOW. That is all. 

@thestorti I wish my life was narrated by the lead singer in  would mean making toast would be so epic.

@RuthElleson Only  could wear THAT waistcoat and look hot. 

@JackyTarlton Watching Antonio Pappano's  on  now. Thrilling start to Christmas. Great to have opera on tv:)