Saturday, March 29, 2014

Who'll replace Roger Wright?

Bombshell from the Beeb this week as we heard that Roger Wright is leaving the controllership of Radio 3 and the directorship of the Proms to be chief executive at Aldeburgh.

Filling both these rather distinct roles at once is a tall order - especially at the moment. One job looks like the biggest toy box in the western world (OK, in reality it probably isn't - but who wouldn't love to dream up their perfect Proms season?). The other...doesn't; on the one hand, whoever runs Radio 3 will probably have to wield a sharp-edged axe, but on the other, the recently appointed director general, Tony Hall, is the most sympathetic to the arts in many a long year. Who could be in the frame to take over?

In the spirit of fantasy football - for none of us have much idea which way things might go - here is my personal shortlist for the headhunters' reference.

The director of the Proms needs the experience, the knowledge, the contacts, the drive, the ambition, the personality and the thickness of skin to reach for the stars. It is high time, of course, that the Proms was run by a woman. It's been run by a man for over 100 years. Radio 3, of course, has never been run by a woman either. Chances are probably limited, given the male weighting within the station and its listeners, but you never know; stuff could yet be swayed. Here is a 50-50 selection in no particular order, plus a little thinking outside the box. Some of these names have been bandied about a lot; others haven't, but perhaps should be.

GILLIAN MOORE. The Southbank's head of music has a simply staggering breadth of knowledge about the classical repertoire, not least contemporary music - and commissioning the latter is a vital part of the Proms role. She's also stupendously creative in programme planning. Witness last year's The Rest is Noise.

ALAN RUSBRIDGER. The editor of The Guardian is a passionate music lover and clearly has the cool head, steady hand and strength of personality to carry off the joint post and all it entails. After dealing concurrently with Snowden and learning the Chopin G minor Ballade, he might find it a tempting piece of cake.

JOHN GILHOOLY. Running the Wigmore Hall is something that nobody would want to stop doing - unless they wished to be let off the leash with a bigger place and programmes to match. He has an impeccable track record as chief exec and artistic director of the Wiggy and head of the Royal Philharmonic Society. (PS - John, when you get this appointment, please can I have the Wigmore job? Thanxbijx.)

KATHRYN MCDOWELL. As CEO of the LSO she is accustomed to dealing with Gergiev, so probably most other jobs will seem a picnic. She's maintained the orchestra's position at the top of the UK's orchestral tree while keeping discretion, valour and a level head.

TOM SERVICE. The critic and broadcaster is virtually a walking musical encyclopaedia - and is a brilliant communicator, too. His soundness, enthusiasm and conviction would be invaluable assets in the role. Nicholas Kenyon went to this job from being a critic and broadcaster, so precedent exists.

FIONA MADDOCKS. The Observer's music critic, she is a former editor of BBC Music Magazine and along with the necessary breadth of knowledge she has managerial experience, a razor-sharp brain and a scrupulous attitude towards fairness and balance.

...Anyway, I know who I think should get the job, but we are not yet off to the bookies to place bets.

Bit of fun for Saturday

These questionnaire pieces can be fun if you're up too early on a Saturday morning... 
When were you happiest? Probably when I heard I'd passed maths O level and realised I'd never have to do it again.  
What is your greatest fear? Losing my loved ones.
What is your earliest memory? Climbing on the back of an armchair to reach the LP turntable.  
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Forgetfulness. 
What was your most embarrassing moment? 
Playing part of the Mozart G minor Piano Quartet in the final concert of a music course and falling over my fingers. This wouldn't have mattered as much if two of my group hadn't been the kids of a VIP conductor who'd turned up to listen. Owch.
Property aside, what's the most expensive thing you've bought? My Bechstein.
Where would you like to live? New York.
What would your super power be? Dematerialising then rematerialising in the place I want to be without having to travel. Beam me up, Scottie.
What do you most dislike about your appearance? I'm too short.
What do you owe your parents? Everything.
If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose? Vibrato. 
Who would play you in the film of your life? Lauren Bacall, please.
Is it better to give or to receive? To give. You know there's no hidden agenda.
What is your guiltiest pleasure? C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E...
To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why? To a couple of friends whom I introduced to other friends thinking there could be a good alliance, only to find that they weren't really friends at all and the results turned embarrassing. 
What has been your biggest disappointment? Discovering that musicality is no guarantee someone is also a decent human being. 
If you could edit your past, what would you change? I'd cut the bit where my parents and sister all died of cancer, and would keep them alive and healthy and happy today.
When did you last cry, and why? At last year's Proms launch, when I heard they'd programmed the Korngold Symphony.
How do you relax? Jogging. 
What is the closest you've come to death? Plane struck by lightning between Rio and Buenos Aires. Apparently it's not really so dangerous, but it didn't feel great.
Where would you most like to be right now? Somewhere hot, soaking up the sun with a long coffee and a good book.
Tell us a joke. The world's most expensive musical instrument - £45m - has been plastered all over the papers these past few days. It's a viola. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

No organisation for Stravinsky?

It's the strange case of the missing Rite of Spring.

The launch of the Royal Festival Hall's newly refurbished organ has been dominating the Southbank Centre all this week, with a no-holds-barred festival called Pull Out All The Stops. My old friend and colleague Clare Stevens was at the recital by the distinguished French organist Olivier Latry last night and she reports on an incident that has implications far beyond the sound of the mighty "king of the instruments". 

Latry had planned to play a transcription of The Rite of Spring, apparently originating in the composer's own version for two pianos, four hands, but the programme was changed to Widor's Fifth Symphony. What happened?

Clare says: "In addition to referring to his disappointment in very strong terms in his pre-concert talk, Latry read a prepared and clearly very impassioned statement at the start of the second half apologising to the audience especially those who had booked tickets in order to hear the Rite, and explaining that Stravinsky's publishers had withheld permission, on the grounds that it would be an infringement of Stravinsky's intellectual property to play it. Apparently it is OK to play it in the US where the publishers' writ doesn't run. Latry added that he still hoped to be able to come back and play it at the RFH one day, if the rules change."

As a TV presenter once said to a tattoo artist, where do you draw the line? On the one hand, it is vitally important to uphold those laws; otherwise it is artists/creatives who lose out. On the other hand, it would also be nice to think there could be some two-way traffic and that an arrangement could be reached whereby an artist as stupendous as Latry could indeed be heard performing a work like Rite, especially for such a special occasion (apart from anything else, imagine all the work he must have put into learning the thing). Where dedication and tribute is surely a motivation, in the context of the very top level of the world's organs and organists, shouldn't the situation be rather different from the more widespread acts of piracy, cheating and unauthorised exploitation? But meanwhile this Rite - with a certain irony - had to be sacrificed.

The organ festival - which runs til June - continues this weekend with Cameron Carpenter (yes, that guy) improvising a live sound-track to the 1920s German Expressionist film classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari tomorrow night, plus fun and games all around the centre including free taster organ lessons. Check it out here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Odessa: Beethoven flash in the fish market!

Here's what happened on Saturday in the fish market of Odessa, the city at the tip of the Crimea that was the birthplace of Sviatoslav Richter and the training ground for the class of Leopold Auer - Heifetz, Milstein and Toscha Seidel included.

Credits: Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra & Opera Chorus, Hobart Earle (conductor).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Urgent: Turkish state-funded arts institutions could face total shut-down

Our friend Serhan Bali, editor in chief of Turkey's classical music magazine Andante, has sent me this very troubling letter from Istanbul and asks us to help spread the word about these developments. Please read. jd

Turkish performing arts institutions are being abolished by the government 

Serhan Bali
The AKP government in Turkey is preparing to bring a new law to the parliament in a short time that will abolish all of the state-funded performing arts institutions in the country. 

Why are they doing this? We are told that the main goal of this draft bill is to establish an ‘arts council’ in Turkey. This body - for which the government officials seem to get inspiration from the UK's Arts Council England - will execute the policy of delivering the cultural funds to the people and organisations who will offer to produce any kind of artistic event in the country, be it opera-ballet-dance-theatre production, symphony concert, art exhibition, children’s play etc. 

However, the arts community of Turkey is strictly opposed to this draft bill, for a couple of reasons. First of all, this new law also includes a clause that will shut down all of the state funded performing arts institutions in the country! So all of the state symphony orchestras, state opera-ballet-dance companies, state theatre companies, state choirs which the majority of them have been operating in the country over 50 years will be closed from the time this law will be accepted in the parliament by the AKP MPs who comprise the majority. 

From the time this draft bill will be accepted, millions of Turkish people throughout the country will absolutely have no access in their region to any kind of artistic activity. 

For years, people in Turkey have had the benefit of attending low priced, qualified arts programs in the season. These long-established state funded organisations, besides operating in their home cities, also have been making regular tours to their surrounding areas, and these can also be the remotest parts of the country, where people with very low income struggle to live. 

This arts policy, stemming from the cultural revolutions of the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, has been accepted as the primary social responsibility of all of the Turkish governments so far. It seems that this government doesn’t want to feel this responsibility after staying in power for the last 12 years. 

By the way, some people in the arts field, myself included, don’t have any negative opinion towards the concept of an arts council. We believe that this kind of cultural body could well be used in order to deliver the public funds with fair methods and in a more democratic way among the Turkish people. But the problem is that the governments in Turkey, including the current one, unfortunately don’t have enough vision to handle the arts scene in all its entirety with an updated and modern view. 

But what the current AKP government has in mind by bringing their arts council model (which is called TUSAK-Arts Organisation of Turkey) to the public attention has nothing to do with the present day acceptances. First of all, this TUSAK definitely will not act as an autonomous entity, but will work as none other than a government agency because of the fact that all of the 11 members of the board of TUSAK will be elected by the cabinet of ministers. In AKP’s Turkey, this means that these members will only prefer to fund the pro-government cultural demands and projects. We believe that TUSAK will have the sole mission of delivering the public cultural funds only to the people who have been ideologically close to this government. 

On the other hand, some well known AKP ideologues have been known setting the standards of a so-called ‘conservative art’ concept for the last two years. I and many other people in Turkey believe that TUSAK is the brain child of this new concept. With this tool, they feel that they have the mission to abolish the whole arts establishment in the country and reorganise the arts scene according to their concept of ‘conservative art’. This concept refuses the notion of independence of the arts and the artists and also the autonomy of the state funded arts institutions in the country. 

The government officials headed by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been expressing their disgust and dissatisfaction towards the artists who are working in state funded arts organisations for quite a long time. These artists are accused of taking active part in the opposition camp and raising their voices to the acts of the government especially in the arts field. 

‘We will privatise all of the state funded performing arts institutions in the country so that from now on artists will play or sing or dance as they wish with the help of private donors. Our government won’t operate any theatres, operas, symphony orchestras from this time on.’ This was the crucial statement of Mr Erdogan in April 2012 after he boiled over the theatre actors’ raising their voices against the government’s acts of slashing the independence of the management of public theatres at that time. 

Now we can understand that this speech became the signal rocket of this draft bill. What he meant that time by ‘privatisation’ is being served now in our plates in the guise of TUSAK. By this manoeuvre the AKP government is planning to throw all of the arts institutions overboard and wants to establish a new arts hierarchy in the country which will be fully controlled by the government and by PM himself. This has nothing to do neither with democracy, nor with freedom. 

One other aim with the TUSAK law seems to establish a commercialized system in all of the artistic fields of Turkey. People who are ideologically close to the government but with no scope and vision of arts are expected from now on to benefit from the funds that will be delivered by TUSAK. On the other hand, the artists are still trying to explain the government officials that symphony orchestras, theatre-opera-ballet-dance-choral companies cannot survive in a developing country like Turkey without the full support of the government - but so far we haven’t been successful in persuading the officials. This is not surprising, because we are aware of the real intention in Ankara.

The arts community in Turkey nowadays makes a word play and justifiably calls ‘TUSAK’ as ‘TUZAK’ which means ‘trap’ in Turkish - because arts people in Turkey believe that this draft bill is nothing but a trap of the government in order to get rid of the artists and their institutions. But we know that this act will certainly bring no good to the people in Turkey, will commercialise and cheapen the arts and will pave the way to the desertification of the country in terms of qualified artistic events.

Serhan Bali
Editor in chief, ‘Andante’ classical music magazine