Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How Beecham image-managed Delius

Strange fact about Delius, no.1: he owned this Gauguin. 'Nevermore': it's one of the most famous of the lot. He and the artist were close friends and had more than a little in common - both personally and artistically. The sensual, the exotic, and that death-haunted passion for living.

Don't miss John Bridcut's beautiful new documentary about Frederick (aka Fritz) Delius on Friday evening. Here's my piece from today's Independent about how today's Delius myths were born - essentially, at the hands of Sir Thomas Beecham and Ken Russell.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

He had everything. Absolutely everything.

We're all saddened by the news that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau passed away yesterday, aged 86. His voice is one of the chief ingredients of the musical bread that generations have fed upon: I certainly got to know and love the baritone Lieder repertoire from his recordings. One eternal favourite is the Schumann Dichterliebe, recorded with Christoph Eschenbach at the piano; I had the LP and nearly wore it out.

Tributes around the web are many and varied. Here is the obituary from The Telegraph. And below our chosen songs - including 'Im wunderschoenen Monat Mai', of course, from that Dichterliebe - is a transcript of an interview that Dame Janet Baker gave on BBC R3's In Tune yesterday in which she gives her personal memories of this great man and towering artist.

On Music Matters today (at 12.15) you can hear Tom Service interviewing the mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig and the pianist Murray Perahia about him, and another chance to hear two interviews with "DFD" himself.
Roger Wright, Controller of BBC Radio 3 and Director of the BBC Proms, offers us a tribute of his own:   
“The loss of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau brings to a close a significant era in classical music. His unique artistry was wide-ranging and above all his singing defined the art of lieder performance and set new standards for future generations."

Dame Janet Baker: “Some people say ‘Is there anything in your life you regret?’. There is something that I felt very sad about at the time: he asked me to do the female Schubert songs when he recorded all the Schubert songs. He wanted to bring in a woman’s voice to do certain songs and I was contracted very firmly to my own recording company in this country and they didn’t feel that it was right or possible for me to do that. Artistically speaking, that was a great disappointment for me because I would have loved to have been on that label with him.”

Sean Rafferty: Is it Impossible to analyse his talent? 
Dame Janet Baker: “I think you used the word unique a minute ago and that again is a word that one can apply. We’re all singing the same repertoire - presumably on a certain level we are all singing very well. The thing that sets us apart, like all human beings, is the personality of the human being behind all this and there are never two of us totally alike. And so the great artist brings that sense of uniqueness to everything they do and it’s unmatchable. It’s why I think there should never be any jealousy between singers, because, no matter what we do, we are all quite different from one another.”

Sean Rafferty: What was it like to work together?
Dame Janet Baker: “He was quite a formal man and there was a - not a distance, not at all, he was friendly - but as we got to know each other better he showed his light-hearted, humorous, warm, human side. And to know him at that level was a sort of bonus, quite apart from his great musicality, and he became a friend.  That doesn’t mean to say that one was ever blasé about his status, so to speak, and his great artistry, one never forgets that for a moment, but it was a very special privilege to know him at a different level.”

Sean Rafferty: How would you describe his legacy?
Dame Janet Baker: “I think it is probably a bit like Kathleen Ferrier. An artist of that magnitude doesn’t cast a shadow over the ones coming after, not at all, but it is something to emulate. I always measured his voice category by what he did and that’s quite tough for younger people to cope with, I think, but nevertheless the benchmark is important - and, as you say, he had everything. Absolutely everything.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

JDCMB Exclusive: 15% off Medici TV subscriptions

JDCMB has teamed up with the online performing arts channel Medici TV to bring you an exclusive special offer: a significant reduction on the cost of access to their Aladdin's Cave of live-streamed or on-demand video. 

Medici's catalogue stretches to about 1000 titles, featuring world-class opera, concerts, dance and arts documentaries, adding a couple of new VODs plus two or three live concerts every week. In summer the channel usually live-streams most of the concerts from the Verbier Festival. 

Now readers of JDCMB can save 15% on a subscription to Medici TV. Here's the range of options (prices in Euros - Medici is based in Paris):

-       One-month Classic subscription at 5.9 instead of 6.9 for your first month
-         One-month Classic+ subscription at 9 instead of 10.85 for your first month
-         One-year Classic subscription at 59 instead of 69
-         One-year Classic+ subscription at 90  instead of 109

All you need to do to claim your discount is go to the Medici subscriptions page, choose your option and enter the word JESSICAMUSIC in the promotional code box.

As a taster, here is an extract from Medici's latest addition: from the Royal Ballet here in London, it is Kenneth MacMillan's Manon (known in Europe as L'histoire de Manon) starring no less a team than Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta. It was filmed at the Royal Opera House in 2008.

The tale, based on a terse 18th-century thriller by the Abbé Prévost, depicts the fall of the heroine from innocent convent girl to tragically abused deportee - her fatal flaw is allowing herself to be seduced away from true love by the lure of wealth. By the time she learns that love is the only way, it is too late... The book may be centuries old and the ballet decades, yet the story and their characters can seem all too contemporary right now.

Manon is much enriched by MacMillan's knack for conveying through choreography emotional nuances that you might never expect dance to be able to reflect. And its high points are its several magnificent pas de deux for Manon and Des Grieux, modelled in the original cast of 1974 on the legendary duo of Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. The score is a carefully wrought kaleidoscope drawn from extracts of Massenet by Leighton Lucas. 

As the invaluable Kenneth MacMillan website tells, us, Manon herself is a gift for a ballerina with dramatic bent to put her own slant on the character:
Antoinette Sibley saw her as a girl ‘who allowed it all to happen to her . . .I don’t think she’s a schemer - she only makes decisions when she has to’. Lynn Seymour made her more ruthless: she and her brother are ‘cut from the same cloth, both bandits, using all they have to achieve what they want . . . she broke the rules and the punishment crushed her’. Natalia Makarova understood her as an instinctive creature who lives for the moment, ‘extracting from it all the excitement she can. At the same time she fully knows that the day will come when she must pay the price…. for the pleasure of living fully’. Sylvie Guillem’s guileful Manon used her sexual allure to survive in a male-dominated world. Des Grieux’s misfortune was to have strayed into her path just as she was discovering her power. Where other Manons die as desperate victims, limp as rags, Guillem fought on, defying death itself.
You can see the whole thing on Medici, of course, which released the video last week, on 12 May - Jules Massenet's birthday. This year marks both the 170th anniversary of the composer's birth and the centenary of his death. 

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


In the Young Musician of the Year post I forgot to plug my novel ALICIA'S GIFT, in which the heroine wins this contest, among other things. You have to plug your books if you have a blog, so here it is.

Bourne again: Swan Lake in 3D

Swan Lake is making a splash again - this time in 3D. The other week I trotted off to Islington where Matthew Bourne's dance company New Adventures was in rehearsal. It was April, but felt like December... so Matthew and I huddled beside a gas heater in the back room and had a good talk about that Swan Lake and how he and Ross MacGibbon went about turning it into the 3D movie that hits cinemas worldwide from today. Besides, I always wondered what made him think up the concept. And now we know - and it's good. My feature is in The Independent today.

Happy 25th birthday to the company! Don't miss them at Sadler's Wells in the "Early Adventures" triple bill from 21 May. Full info on Swan Lake in 3D and the cinema screenings here.