Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lang Lang to play Latitude

Lang Lang is to be the first classical pianist to take a headline slot at the super-cool Latitude Festival in Suffolk this July. Latitude, which runs 12-15 July, extends from pop and comedy to drama, literature, science and film, all of them going full-out on the different stages at Henham Park, near Southwold, for the duration of the four days. Apparently this is Lang Lang's first appearance at an outdoor festival. More info here.

How to be part of Rox's Love album

We had a high old time on Saturday at the London premiere of Roxanna Panufnik's Four World Seasons. It's a far-flung take on the Four Seasons concept, integrating folk styles from around the world with Rox's distinctive, often bitonal harmonic voice. It manages to be original, imaginative and listenable without sacrificing one jot of character; and while demanding for the performers, it also looks and sounds enjoyable for them to play. Written for Tasmin Little and the London Mozart Players, it suited them down to the ground, and the Fairfield Halls audience gave it a warm welcome.

"Autumn in Albania" is full of Balkan rhythmic quirks and delicious folksy-Gypsyish slides; "Tibetan Winter" is an icy landscape haunted by a Tibetan "singing bowl"; "Spring in Japan" wakes up the earth from deep-rooted double basses through to the Japanese bush warbler on the fiddle; and "Indian Summer" is colourful, catchy and clever, transforming pizzicati on low strings into the flowing rhythms of the tabla, and turning Tasmin's violin into a singer. A terrific concert piece to put alongside those other Seasons from Vivaldi and Piazzolla - it's for the same forces, give or take the Tibetan singing bowl - and if recorded pronto, it ought to do well on Classic FM. Three days left to hear its world premiere from Basingstoke last Friday on BBC Radio 3's Listen Again, here.

Rox's fans might like to be part of her next album, Love Abide, which is devoted to 12 choral works on the theme of spiritual love as expressed through an eclectic variety of faiths and traditions. Here's what she has to say about it.
'Each work has a particular mood or sentiment around the theme of love, expressed in a musical language that echoes the origin of the words. I’ve drawn on writings from different faiths, from the 15th century Zen Master Ikkyu¯ So¯yun to the well-loved 1 Corinthians 13; from the Christian mass setting to the 14th Century Sufi poet Rumi to the ancient Psalm 102. The CD encapsulates the very contemporary ethos of multicultural spiritual devotion, in a world which is populated by different faiths – all feeling, as deeply and as aesthetically, the compelling potency of music with love'. 
Every piece on the disc will be dedicated as a personal gift for - or perhaps in memory of - a loved one. Sponsors/dedicatees could have the opportunity to be present at the recording session, where said loved one's photo and name can be circulated among the musicians so that they can perform with that person in mind. A dedication will be printed in the CD booklet and sponsors receive a signed, framed first page of the score as well as a signed recording.

The recording will be made by a top team including the LMP (of which Roxanna is composer-in-association), the London Oratory School Choir, Heather Shipp (mezzo), Roderick Williams (baritone), the Colla Voce Singers, conductor Lee Ward and Kiku Day (Jinashi Shakuhachi).

It's worth noting that, as the designated website explains, these days many classical record companies will only agree to put out a CD if they are provided with the finished master first - ie, they won't pay for the actual recording to be made. In a way, this matches the concept of "artist-led" labels, for which musicians have to fund their own recordings; the results are then marketed and distributed under the reputable umbrella tag of a team that exercises expert quality control over who/what it accepts. Now, the artist-led labels let everyone know from the start that that's what they're doing. But in hard times, this model has quietly become more widespread. Rox has invented a way to raise the necessary funds while also giving the sponsors a real stake in the result. Something that Count Razumovsky would have approved of, I think. Or you could see it as crowd funding with a difference.

If you want to sponsor the recording, or just learn more about how it works, all the details are here:

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Budapest Festival Orchestra, appealing on every level

Woke up to news today that someone in Japan has invented a way to make violin strings out of spider webs. These are said to give "a soft and profound timbre" compared to traditional metal or gut strings. They're also supposed to be super-strong. More here from the BBC - including a sample of the sound.

The violin sounds I was listening to last night, though, would take a lot of beating. The Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer were joined (at the Royal Festival Hall's Shell Classic International Series) by Renaud Capucon (right) in an ear-whirling, ceiling-raising account of a work that is rarely performed live because it's too damned difficult: Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole. This piece is to Paganini what a triple chocolate muffin is to a plain choc-chip job. You can't live with a violinist and not know it, but otherwise it's played so infrequently that even some eager concert-goers I met in the hall had never heard of it and wanted to know if Lalo is still alive and which part of Spain he came from. (Background here.)

Capucon is a diminutive figure armed with the solidity and presence of a premier-league footballer, a focused and dispassionate performance style a la Heifetz, a gigantic, scarlet tone and a Guarneri del Gesu that used to belong to his mentor, Isaac Stern. The opening notes were a bit wild, but in a way that was a relief: it means he's human. Thereafter nothing could have shaken his security. Fischer's sophisticated accompanying let the soloist shine out in this Olympian marathon of a concerto, while Lalo's rhythms bounced beneath, passed from group to group like soft rubber balls.

Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, under Fischer's super-charged baton, rose up as far more than a piece of 19th-century exoticism: this was musical storytelling at its most compelling, the second movement almost visible as a filmic battle scene for which no image could match the atmosphere of sound; and you could almost feel the spray of the storm in the finale as Sinbad's wrecked ship shudders towards the ocean bed. Fischer placed the harp at the front, opposite the leader (the eloquent Violetta Eckhardt), so that the solo moments, together with the BFO's unquakable clarinet and oboe, became almost a concertante group within the great romantic orchestra.

Details and articulation were wrought with narrative significance, the tonal palette a panorama of aural richness. The BFO's string tone does, when required, produce that heady, extraordinary, deep-dug, sock-it-to-em, Hungarian smoked paprika tone - but the key point is that it's reserved for the moments that need it, controlled by a Fischer who looked for all the world like Fokine's Kastschei from The Firebird (right - the Royal Ballet, photo by Patrick Baldwin), all magic fingers and broad, low, sweeping stance. Everything is thought through, then - yet the spontaneity of this orchestra's performance never suffers. The BFO breathes as one; they enter the flow (a phenomenon described by their fellow Hungarian, the philosopher Mihaly Czikszentmihaly) and fly together. If every orchestral concert were to be as vivid, alive and truly artistic as this, I'd be at one, voluntarily, every single night.

The BFO is not, however, an entirely happy place at present, and the presence of Brahms's Tragic Overture at the start of the programme felt like ominous commentary, even if it was not intended that way. The orchestra played it as if it were a matter of life and death. And it may be so. Funding cutbacks in Hungary are hitting the orchestra hard; at present, or so I'm told, they don't even know what their budget will be next season. I hope to bring you more details of their situation soon, but if you loved the concert as much as I did and you want to contribute to their continuation, you can help them by joining the Friends of the Budapest Festival Orchestra - there is a British Friends group and also an American one. In the UK contact: The Hungarian government would have to be stark raving mad to let this orchestra go to the wall, but as things stand, anything could happen, so the BFO's international activities are becoming more vital than ever. If you love them, help them!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Girl Power

Hooray for music's powerful women! 


Judith Weir's latest full-length opera is heading for Covent Garden, opening on 12 March, and it's the first opera ever to finish (as far as I'm aware) with the heroine winning the lottery. Emma Bell is in the leading role of Tina, conquering a number of different stratospheres (left, Emma atop "the shape"). I talked to them both about creating what Bregenz Festival director David Pountney called "an opera for an entirely normal audience". See my feature in today's Independent, here.


The Lyric Opera of Chicago has commissioned the young Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez to write the work, which is scheduled for the 2015-16 season. Ann Patchett's novel describes a terrorist attack in a South American jungle in which a group of opera lovers, politicians and a singer, Roxanne Coss, are taken hostage: over the months, attackers and hostages form unexpected alliances. RENEE FLEMING, Lyric's creative consultant, chose the book as the perfect topic for the opera. The libretto is by playwright Nilo Cruz, the director is Stephen Wadworth and Sir Andrew Davis conducts. And Danni, who's much more than Glyndebourne's fabled Cleopatra, takes the lead as Roxanne. More here.

“It’s about terrorism on one level, but it’s also about what happens when people are forced to live together for a long time, and how art can raise their level of humanity as a group,” Fleming said. “Most of us crave a cathartic emotional experience when we’re at the theater, and I believe Bel Canto has the components to do that... I was struck by Jimmy Lopez's intelligence and the way he understands both the problems in bringing this piece to the stage, but also the possibilities that opera as a medium offers for illuminating a story. For example, the orchestra can accentuate the dramatic situation onstage, but it can also convey the underlying turmoil that one might not see. This is something that many composers miss and that Jimmy understands completely.” 


The new classical music trade fair Classical:Next, taking place in Munich from 30 May to 1 June, has announced its initial line-up of events and speakers, and I am happy to report that JD is to be on a panel discussing the future of music journalism, along with BBC Music Magazine editor Oliver Condy and the editor of the German magazine PIANONews, Carsten Durer. Classical:Next is a sister production to WOMEX, and if that event is anything to go by, we want to be there.


Tonight at the Anvil, Basingstoke, and tomorrow night at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, the London Mozart Players and TASMIN LITTLE (left) give the world premiere of the complete Four World Seasons by ROXANNA PANUFNIK. Having had a sneak peek for Classical Music magazine, I reckon Vivaldi wouldn't know what's hit him. Rox writes:
"In early 2008, the violinist Tasmin Little rang me to ask whether I’d write a series of short pieces for her, accompanied by chamber orchestra. Considering a world where global concern for climate change and seismic shifts in international political landscapes affect us all, we decided to take Antonio Vivaldi’s much-loved 1725 Four Seasons and give the concept a 21st-century twist, creating an entirely new work with each season (lasting approximately 5 minutes) influenced by a country that has become culturally associated with it."  Spring in Japan, an Indian Summer, Autumn in Albania and a Tibetan Winter form the music in this celebration of music across the world, reflecting the many cultures that descend on London for the 2012 Olympic Games." 


Ahead of her time, Frederick Ashton's Sylvia was created for Margot Fonteyn in the 1950s. Diana's top nymph is not exactly your typical 1950s ideal housewife. I love the power, joy and freedom in Darcey Bussell's interpretation, filmed at the ROH in 2005. Girl Power if ever we saw it! Roberto Bolle is her lovestruck swain. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 01, 2012


CLASSICAL MUSIC, the magazine of the music business, is offering JDCMB readers free access to its online digital edition until 31 August 2012.

The magazine, produced by Rhinegold Publishing, reports fortnightly on the latest news, views and events from around the musical world and is a must-read for everyone in the industry and beyond - packed with insights, interviews, notices, job ads, etc.

To take advantage of this offer, simply go to and sign up at "Register below to access the digital editions". Use the access code CMJD12 and add your email address and a password of your choice. The code works until 31 August, so if you sign up now you get six months of free reading - 14 issues of the magazine.

In the earlier February edition you can find, among other things, a biggish piece by JD about Roxanna Panufnik's new suite of pieces for violin and orchestra, Four World Seasons, which Tasmin Little and the London Mozart Players are performing complete for the first time tomorrow in Basingstoke and on Saturday at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon.