Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Stop press: Matthew Bourne is doing THE RED SHOES

Choreographer and director Sir Matthew Bourne has this morning announced a brand-new ballet for his New Adventures company next season, and it's THE RED SHOES. It will have music by, oh joy, Bernard Herrmann, film composer par excellence, Hitchcock's composer of choice and one who absolutely deserves to be brought to a wider audience; the new score will be fashioned from Herrmann's work by Terry Davies.

Matthew's passion for golden-age movies has been beautifully reflected in some of his previous work, notably his Cinderella, which is set in the Blitz and draws on stories such as A Matter of Life and Death, and I can't wait to see what he is going to do with this Powell & Pressburger classic. Ashley Shaw will dance the role of Victoria Page and the designs are by Lez Brotherston. The tour begins in Plymouth on 21 November, hits Sadler's Wells on 6 December and continues around the country until next April or later.

What would you do with it all?

The Panama Papers reports are addictive reading. Following these tales of billions of pounds/dollars/roubles/Icelandic-whatever, squirrelled away by sunny southern seas, I keep coming back to one question: what do they want to do with it all? OK, one needs a certain amount of money to live on in reasonable comfort - you want to be able to pay for decent housing, your kids' needs, healthy food, transport, heating and concert tickets without worrying about it, ideally, and these days this does not come cheap in London. But billions? Who needs billions? What on earth do you gain from having a gold-plated car?

Why do they do it? It's the difference between eat to live and live to eat - or this time, money to live, or live to amass money for the sake of it. Look. This is important. You can't take it with you. At some point your number comes up, the grim reaper appears with his/her scythe and off you go, dancing through the wheat fields of no return. At this point, you do not want to be wondering what it was all for, do you?

There used to be this thing called tax that would help to get money from those who have too much to those who have too little. It doesn't really work any more, because there appear to be ways around it for those who really do have too much. Don't get me started on what that's doing to our society.

So what is it all for? What would you do if you had billions? Supposing you won the billionaires' lottery?

Here's a musing on what I'd do if 'twere me...

First, I'd set myself up in the pleasant yet not utterly-excess-laden style to which I would wish to become accustomed. This would involve a detached house somewhere nice within London, with a big studio that could accommodate an audience, furnished with a Steinway concert grand; we'd have house-concerts in there three times a week. I'd give lots to the family, being a proud aunt and great-aunt. I'd have the best, absolute state-of-the-art, surround-sound hi-fi equipment. I'd eat only organic food. I'd have a designated champagne fridge, well stocked. I'd employ a PA, a cleaner and a driver (for a normal sort of car), and pay them well. We'd go somewhere hot every winter for several months, and we'd be able to take the cats with us wherever it was.

And then, because we are talking insane levels of lucre here, there's still a couple of billion left. So what next? What do you need to do to make you feel that you are actually a halfway decent human being, doing something worthwhile for the world you love with the supreme good fortune that has come your way?

• I'd fund hostels for the homeless and schemes to help them back onto their feet.
• I'd fund systems that help refugees learn English for free, and that encourage them to do so, so that they can function here more easily and not be maltreated and exploited.
• I'd give a lot of money to hospices.

Then we'd get to the arts...
• I'd set up a foundation to give financial support to exceptional young musicians.
• I'd set up a music school, or several.
• I'd bail out ENO, assuming they want to be bailed out.
• I'd campaign for, and pay for, statues of great artists, musicians and writers at key places in the UK, so that our artistic heritage is celebrated and visibly valued.
• I'd give something to a lot of different orchestras. Possibly funding for them to employ a counsellor or physiotherapist.
• I might resuscitate the London International Piano Competition.
• Oh, and there's that new concert hall... I'd still like the lifetime's supply of chocolate that you get in return for a £2m donation to the crowd-funding [actually, folks, that was an April Fool's joke, but some people seem to have swallowed it...], but I'd use my financial clout to pressurise them to move the damn thing to a better location. In fact, I might buy up those concrete buildings opposite Broadcasting House, demolish them and rebuild the Queen's Hall, the musical treasure of London which was flattened in the Blitz.

All this is just the beginning, of course...

• I'd keep dreaming of a better world - but at least I'd have some leverage to try and make some of it happen.

There are some wonderful, generous, enlightened and knowledgeable philanthropists out there, but also, it seems, some other people who have more cash than they know what to do with. Please, o super-rich, if you're reading this, consider picking up some tips from the above.

Monday, April 04, 2016

ENO Orchestra and Chorus win Olivier Award

At yesterday's Olivier Awards, the prize for Outstanding Achievement in Opera went to ENO's orchestra and chorus. I should think so too. Let those who want to slash them squirm, big time.

Some of the other prizes went to the Royal Opera House for Best New Opera Production - Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci directed by Damiano Michieletto (the one with the baking); choreographer Wayne McGregor for Woolf Works; Dame Judi Dench for her supporting role in A Winter's Tale; and four awards to Gypsy starring Imelda Staunton and directed by Jonathan Kent. And many more, of course. It's a fabulous celebration of the quality, variety, vibrancy and sheer resilience of the theatrical arts in the UK. 

Awards season is upon us, incidentally: tomorrow evening it's BBC Music Magazine's.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Voices of Spring, especially this one...

It's a sunny April morning, the cats are happy and I'm off for a run in the park, but first it felt essential to find a fine performance of Johann Strauss II's Frühlingstimmenwalzer - the Voices of Spring waltz. (or maybe I'm just looking for excuses to put off the effort that said run entails...) There's a wide choice, from the Frederick Ashton pas de deux to André Rieu, but I particularly love this one: the phenomenal coloratura soprano Lucia Popp, filmed in 1965, who offers diamond technique, peerless diction and phrasing to die for. Enjoy!

Friday, April 01, 2016

Shock: London's new concert hall to be crowdfunded

In a move that has shocked the UK arts world, the government has let it be known that it will not be providing any cash towards the new Centre for Music in the City of London. Instead, the project's board members will be expected to raise the necessary money by crowdfunding. "It's a scheme that has worked perfectly well for everything from orchestral tours to new product design," a spokesperson for the DCMS pointed out. "Why not a concert hall?"

A group of experts has been assembled to devise the pledge rewards for the scheme, aiming to reach £270m by the end of this year. While details are yet to be confirmed, it is understood that ideas mooted include:

£5: MUSIC. A ticket to a concert in the first season;
£10: CAFFEINE. A ticket plus a coffee or tea in the first season;
£100: GRUB. Two tickets and a light meal in the canteen for you and your companion;
£500: SELFIE. You may go backstage and take a selfie with Sir Simon.
£1000: CHAMPERS. You may bring a bottle of champagne backstage and present it to a musician of your choice.
£10,000: KNICKERS. You may throw knickers to a musical star of your choice in concert at the hall. (NB Jonas Kaufmann incurs a premium of £2,500.)
£50,000: PHILANTHROPIST. All of the above, plus a suitably sycophantic interview in one of those magazines that supports the privatisation of absolutely everything.
£100,000: NAME. All of the above, plus an orchestral player renamed after you.
£250,000: NAME IN LIGHTS. All of the above, plus your name to be flashed in lights every night across the entire City from a big screen atop the hall.
£500,000: TICKETS. All of the above, plus tickets for every performance you wish to attend at the new hall for the rest of your life;
£1m: LUNCH: Lunch with a cabinet minister of your choice and whoever becomes London Mayor in May, at the closest Starbucks to Westminster (net donation to project: £500,000, once expenses are deducted).
£2m: CHOCOLATE! All of the above, plus a lifetime's supply of high-quality chocolate, not lower than 85 per cent cocoa solids.

JD particularly likes the sound of the final option, and once the film of GHOST VARIATIONS has scooped all the Oscars, starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Helena Bonham Carter, Colin Firth and Sebastian Koch, directed by George Clooney, she hopes to participate with enthusiasm.