Monday, March 06, 2017

9 of the best musical ways to mark International Women's Day

International Women's Day, 8 March, has risen to become a big deal in music programming these past few years - championing, not before time, the creativity and achievements of women musicians over the years, decades, centuries, often, and still often, against the odds. Here are a few highlights of the celebrations taking place around Britain this week.

• The UK premiere of Fanny Mendelssohn's 'Easter Sonata' when Sofya Gulyak plays it on Wednesday. BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting the performance live from the Royal College of Music at 1pm. The formidably gifted Sofya Gulyak is the only woman ever to have won first prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition. More about the sonata - which was mistaken for a work by Felix for years - and Fanny's 4xgreat-granddaughter Sheila Hayman's efforts on its behalf here.

• Plenty more on BBC Radio 3 this week for International Women's Day: they are playing only music by women on Wednesday 8 March. Catch up on new recordings of music by women with Alexandra Coghlan on Record Review, and an exploration of the works of Dame Ethel Smyth from Kate Kennedy. Now available on the iPlayer. And Composer of the Week is Barbara Strozzi. This is all part of some very welcome, intensive programming focusing on female composers. Full listing for Wednesday here.

• The Southbank Centre's week-long Women of the World Festival launches on Tuesday 7 March, celebrates women's achievements everywhere and surveys the obstacles that still keep them from fulfilling their potential. Musical highlights include the Women of the World Orchestra conducted by Jessica Cottis at the annual Mirth Control evening hosted by Sandi Toksvig. More here.

• Diana Ambache, head of the Ambache Charitable Trust which offers grants to aid the promotion of female composers, has started a record label and the third release is being launched on Wednesday. It's chamber music by the fabulous Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz, including the Quartet for Four Violins, Trio for Oboe, Violin and Cello, Theme and Variations for Violin and Piano and more. Details here. More to read from Diana on the topic of women composers here.

Dobrinka Tabakova. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg/ECM Records

• St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol, presents a programme featuring the music of the dynamic young composer Dobrinka Tabakova, performed by the very starry Tabakova Players (Alexander Sitkovetsky and Roman Mints, violins; Maxim Rysanov and Philip Dukes, violas; Kristine Blaumane and Dora Kokas, cellos; Stacey Watton, bass; Ashley Wass, piano/harpsichord). Programme includes excerpts from her Grammy-nominated ECM album 'String Paths'. Dobrinka gives a pre-concert talk at 6.15pm. It's the culmination of a whole day of IWD events at St George's. More details here.

• Holywell Music Room, Oxford: soprano Claire Booth, cellist Natalie Clein and pianist Anna Tilbrook present a programme including music by Rebecca Clarke, Lili and Nadia Boulanger both, Elizabeth Lutyens, Clara Schumann, Roxanna Panufnik, Charlotte Bray and a new commission from Deborah Pritchard with text by Jeanette Winterson. Booking and details here.

Ruby Hughes
• Kings Place, London: soprano Ruby Hughes and Friends offer a magnificent baroque programme entitled Heroines of Love and Loss, launching their album of the same name. Music includes works ny Francesca Caccini, Lucrezia Vizzana, Barbara Strozzi, Claudia Sessa, Antonia Bembo, Henry Purcell and John Bennet, as well as a song, 'O Death Rock Me Asleep', attributed to Anne Boleyn. Grab a ticket here.

• Hull University has a full day of events for IWD and as part of this a tribute to Pauline Oliveros is being given in a 4pm concert of her works. More details here.

• Cardiff, Hoddinott Hall: The BBC National Orchestra and Choir of Wales under its principal guest conductor Xian Zhang presents the world premiere of a new choral work, Speak Out, by Kate Whitely, which sets to music the 2013 speech by Malala Yousafzai about the right of every girl to an education. It's a commission from BBC Radio 3. In the same concert the remarkable Latvian Skride sisters, Baibe and Lauma, play Mendelssohn's Double Concerto for violin and piano and the programme ends with Zemlinsky's fairy-tale tone-poem The Little Mermaid. More here.

This are just a few selections, with a classical focus - there is much, much, much, much more out there for IWD in many different genres and countless spheres. And you can even go and hear music by men if you prefer. While the day-long celebration is snowballing into a week, sometimes longer, the challenge now is for women's music and musicianship to be celebrated not only in one patch per year, but across the board, all the time, to the point that special celebrations are no longer needed because equal representation will be a no-brainer, something that would simply be taken for granted. The more women are writing music and giving performances, the better for everyone, because there will be more music of still greater range, offering us all even more choice and even higher standards. Meanwhile, it's worth remembering that forecasts now say the gender pay gap won't close until the year 2186. That's how far we still have to go.

Friday, March 03, 2017

PRS Women Make Music: Stunning impact revealed

Composer Hannah Kendall, one of the 157 musical creators
supported by the fund so far
Five years ago the PRS for Music Foundation created a fund called Women Make Music, designed to encourage more female creators to step up for funding, make their mark on the airwaves and become role models for the future. The grants support tours, recording, commissions and other projects that develop female musicians' careers. The results of the first five-year evaluation have just been revealed during a parliamentary round-table session and the numbers make for stunning reading.

79% said the grant helped their confidence by helping to grow their professional profile.
82% described the creative impact as significant or very significant.
82% secured more bookings after receiving the grant.
64% secured new commissions after receiving the grant.
85% said their project could not have happened without this funding.
78% said they had experienced sexism in the music industry. Classical composers pointed to a lack of female role models; those of other genres described the industry as male dominated, lacking recognition of what women contribute and achieve. Many reflected that there is pressure on women to conform to a sexy, beautiful image. Some performers said they had been made to feel like sex objects instead of artists.

The fund so far has had:
1,300 applications
£522,790 given in grants
157 individuals funded
£3,513 average increase in grantees' income
£3,600 was the average grant, therefore...
• ...100% approx, return on investment.

Vanessa Reed, chief executive of PRS for Music Foundation, said:
‘The impact of the Women Make Music fund over the past five years demonstrates how powerful and inspiring targeted funding initiatives can be. Not only is it a hugely popular programme, but a transformational one which has introduced us to new talent and positively impacted the careers of over 150 female songwriters, composers and music creators.
‘We’re pleased that the findings of our evaluation are being discussed in Parliament today and that Matt Hancock (minister for culture and digital) and Caroline Dinenage (minister for women, equalities and early years) have shown their interest and support of this work. We look forward to working with government, other funders and industry partners to grow this fund so that we can reach more of the women who deserve our support and accelerate change in an industry which would benefit from increased representation of talented women.’
Now the PRS for Music Foundation as a whole aims to achieve a 50:50 balance of male:female creator applicants by 2022.

You can read the whole report here.

The next wave of applications is now open and you can apply by 8 March. Details here.

As an addendum, here is the final section of the report:

This evaluation concludes that ideally, Women Make Music would not be necessary and that the music industry would be gender neutral in talent progression. But the music industry does not operate in isolation. Many of the challenges for women in the music industry are part of much wider societal challenges of gender discrimination and sexism.
The place to start overcoming these is in schools, giving girls the confidence to overcome the barriers and crucially letting them know that careers in all parts of the music industry are possible for women. However, for women who’ve embarked on a career, support like Women Make Music is equally crucial and still required. This fund has had a significant impact. It has responded to a specific imbalance in the professional
landscape of the music industry; and it has done something about it. The challenge going forward is:
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To continue to highlight gender issues in the music industry and to influence others to work collaboratively for change
To nurture female talent through targeted interventions if the sector as a whole is not sufficiently inclusive
To work toward a situation where the success of such approaches renders them obsolete because the industry is investing in talent of all backgrounds and women and men are putting themselves forward in at least comparable numbers.
There is a long way to go and for the foreseeable future, Women Make Music and other initiatives which support female talent, will be vital for a healthy, inclusive and innovative music industry. 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Anniversary day: Lucky 13

JDCMB is 13 years old today! To celebrate, I thought we could show that 13 is sometimes very lucky indeed, so I've assembled 13 of the best 13-related pieces I know, aided and abetted by some friends.

The restrictions are: first, I'm leaving out the more depressing 13s - with apologies to their fans, but this is a birthday celebration! - such as Rachmaninoff's Symphony No.1, which is great but got off to a terrible start in life, Brahms's 'Funeral Ode' Op.13, No.13 from Schubert's Schwanengesang which is 'Der Doppelganger', and Shostakovich's Symphony No.13, 'Babi Yar', a towering work which deals with a horrendous massacre in Ukraine during WWII. And secondly, no composer can have two entries except Beethoven.

To offer a nod to a few other omissions, it was tempting to include the whole of Wagner's 13th opera, Parsifal, but we'd be here all day; George Crumb's 'Black Angels', which involves numerology around 13 and 7, but would need explaining; and I was intrigued by being offered bar 13 of the Andante in Haydn's last string quartet, which includes some particularly exquisite writing. Many thanks to everyone who wrote in with suggestions!

13. Beethoven: Piano Sonata Op.13, 'Pathétique' (Daniel Barenboim)

12. Korngold: Sursum corda, Op.13 (BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Mathias Bamert)

11. Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring, composed in 1913 (Pina Bausch Dance Company)

10. Mendelssohn: String Quartet in A minor, Op.13 (Calidore Quartet)

9. Chopin: Nocturne No.13 in C minor (Martha Argerich)

8. Britten: Piano Concerto Op.13 (Benjamin Grosvenor/Vladimir Jurowski)

7. Messiaen: Noel - Vingt Regards sur l'enfant Jesus No. 13 (Yvonne Loriod)

6. Bach: Goldberg Variation No.13 (Grigory Sokolov)

5. Schumann: Etudes Symphoniques, Op.13 (Alfred Cortot)

4. Ligeti: Etude No.13, 'L'escalier du diable' (Pierre-Laurent Aimard)

3. Fauré: Violin Sonata No.1 in A major, Op.13 (Jacques Thibaud & Alfred Cortot)

2. Mozart: Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments - III (Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner)

1. Beethoven: String Quartet No.13, Op.130 (Artemis Quartet)

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Roxanna's Spring

1 March is one of my favourite days of the year, because its arrival means that January and February are gone and won't be back for a bit. Seasonal music is always a big JDCMB favourite, so here is a piece for the incipient spring.

This was the world premiere in 2010 of one piece in the cycle of Roxanna Panufnik's Four World Seasons: it's called 'Spring in Japan' and it is played here by Tasmin Little, for whom it was written, and the Orchestra of the Swan conducted by David Curtis and led by David Le Page.

There's now a CD of the complete work - with 'Autumn in Albania', 'Tibetan Winter' and 'Indian Summer' - get it here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

None shall sleep!

An all-night Pianothon at Birmingham Town Hall is set to keep every true pianophile awake into the wee hours and beyond on Friday 3 March. Crazy idea? Perhaps - but my goodness, the Birmingham Conservatoire's piano movers and shakes have lined up some wonderful stuff to enjoy. And isn't there's something extraordinarily romantic about being out with your pals at 3am, listening to Messiaen and late Beethoven together?

I asked Birmingham Conservatoire's head of keyboard, John Thwaites, how it came about, and our old friend Anthony Hewitt, aka "The Olympianist" (he once cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats, giving a recital every night), who is on the faculty, what made him decide to cycle from London overnight, performing Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit on arrival around dawn...

JD: Why a Pianothon at all?

John Thwaites
John Thwaites: For the first time - and because we are currently under demolition! - the Keyboard Department was gifted a Town Hall Showcase by Birmingham Conservatoire. I gave serious consideration to an All Day event, but finally concluded that this was fairly standard fare. Wouldn't it be much more sexy to pull off an All-Nighter?  I thought a little: kids like "sleepovers" and staying up as late as possible -- so this is a Sleepover with Music, where no-one insists it's time for bed, and we head off for a Champagne Breakfast next morning. 

Anthony Hewitt: It’s inspired by the all-night Jazz concerts at Town Hall in the 50s and 60s. John Thwaites is a great enthusiast and has put on many festivals at the Conservatoire focusing around composers or themes. This is in the same vein, but certainly unique and daring. We hope some the celebrity names appearing before mid-night will be a draw for audiences who like their beauty sleep, and that the hard-core pianophiles will stay the distance. There may be some ‘early birds’ too in the wee hours. As for the students, they are being tempted with a dazzling array of repertoire and unmissable performers, plus of course an all-night bar (musical bars as well as refreshment!). I’m going to make it compulsory attendance for my class!

Peter Donohoe plays Messiaen in the middle of the night
JT: And we now have another mystery guest: a jazz piano phenomenon who is inspired by the gig, and has offered his services for the Champagne Breafast... and people are buying in!

JD: Who's going to turn up for it?

JT: We are inviting students of EPTA members, of specialist and other schools -- there will be a youthful element to all this, including hundreds of the Conservatoire's own students.  
Also important: people can come to the first two hours! They will already have a great concert -- and we'll see when they can tear themselves away... Balcony Tickets are £1 for everyone and anyone -- no-one is prohibited by cost -- it's all part of a gift to Birmingham and the wider world, a Piano Gift.

JD: What's in it?

JT: Ingredients? Nocturnes!! The complete ones by Chopin -- I've heard Gergely Bogányi play Nocturnes in the middle of the night on my summer course, Cadenza International Summer Music Course. I remember sitting there and thinking "It doesn't get any better than this. This is completely satisfying, and one wants for nothing" this is then more of the same... Also nocturnes by Fauré and Debussy.

Simon Callow recites Enoch Arden
It's sort of a Piano Education in a single night! There's the last three Beethoven sonatas, to be played by a mystery guest -- and great also to have the last great Schubert B flat, played by a student (Domonkos Csabay). And if it's very difficult to accommodate as many students as I would like to, then, counter-intuitively, it's wonderful to give one this enormous Sonata...another Schumann F Sharp Minor Sonata (on a Wilhelm Wieck Piano from the 1850's), another of the "De Profundis"...

We'll have Melodramas, two of them at the mid-way point of 12 hours of piano. It'll be nice to hear a human voice..especially as one is Simon Callow, in Strauss's Enoch Arden -- I'm playing Piano for this and the rehearsal was great! But then into Speaker Pianist, and the Birmingham premiere of the Rzewski De Profundis...

Stars in their chosen firmament? Peter Donohoe is playing Messiaen and Mark Bebbington is playing Ireland - one of the greatest British solo piano works, Sarnia.

Anthony Hewitt: piano cycles
JD: Tony, you're cycling up from London and playing Gaspard on arrival. Why on earth...?

AH: It really came about because of a casual conversation with John Thwaites in the pub. Worryingly, no alcohol had been consumed...

For an all-night concert and night-ride, Gaspard has obvious connotations with images of the night, which are so masterfully conjured up by both Ravel and Bertrand’s evocative poems. It’s particularly relevant in 'Scarbo', (I hope on Friday the moon will be ‘glittering like a silver shield…'), and where the goblin vanishes and reappears, once seen no longer seen. I love the word ‘pirouetting’, although hope we cyclists will be doing none of that! The use of imagery is such an important part of playing (and teaching), and particularly in a lot of music of this era. If we can get out of our comfort zones and look at, or visualise, things which we’ve never seen, then the effect on our imaginations can only stimulate the musical experience. 

As part of my training I’ve been out cycling at night alone through narrow lanes lined with lonely trees (very spooky) and wondered what lurked beyond. I am fairly certain I’ve seen a Scarbo or two in the Surrey Hills! 

JD: Is this a pilot for more events in the future?

JT: For me, everything goes into Friday March 3rd, and that's it for this lifetime!

But I do want to launch some ongoing campaigns and opportunities... a Petition "Every School deserves a Real Piano"  and a community piano school at the Conservatoire, "Birmingham Piano Academy".

More about the programme from John Thwaites:

The Greatest Show on Earth: something shocking in its audacity, youthful in its exuberance. In its totality I believe it offers the best night of piano playing anywhere on the planet this year.
Anna Scott plays Brahms
as he might have heard it
Piano-playing means Chopin, All-Nighters need Nocturnes. The Complete Chopin Nocturnes are played in three groups, B flat minor opening proceedings, by Gergely Bogányi, one of the most exceptional pianists of our times. Gergely won the 1996 Franz Liszt Competition in Budapest. In 2002 he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the White Rose of Finland by the President of the Finnish Republic, and in 2004 he received the highest artistic award of Hungary, the Kossuth Prize. Rubinstein used to say that when he played Chopin he felt as though he spoke directly to people’s hearts—no-one today does that better than Gergely Bogányi.
On 1st March 1977 Peter Donohoe gave the British Premiere of Messiaen’s “La Fauvette des Jardins”, having studied it first with the composer and his wife in their apartment in Montmartre. The panoramic  “day in the life” of a garden warbler seemed fitting for this event, and Peter is joined by his wife Elaine, who he met for the first time at that first performance.
Margaret Fingerhut joins the starry line-up
I confidently expect that we’ll all be knocked sideways as our Mystery Guest walks on stage to play Beethoven’s last three Sonatas. My inspiration was the moment that Ali lit the Olympic Flame in Atlanta.
The inspiration for an All-Nighter comes from the Swinging Sixties, when Birmingham Town Hall regularly hosted All-Night Jazz Festival gigs, pictures of which still adorn the lower bar. Richard Hawley of THSH has been keeping that flame alive ever since, and we include Kapustin by way of tribute.
Our Prize-winning students are showcased throughout, presenting some of the greatest masterpieces for the instrument.  Domonkos Csabay, who won the 2016 Amy Brant International Piano Competition, plays Schubert’s last great Sonata in B flat D960. Lauren Zhang, a Birmingham Juniors student who won the 2016 Ettlingen International Competition for Young Pianists, plays a Transcendental Study by Lyapunov, and Róza Bene, who was joint winner of the 2016 Anthony Lewis Memorial Competition plays Couperin.
In the early hours we add poetry to the mix. We are delighted to welcome Simon Callow in a recitation of the Victorian Melodrama “Enoch Arden”by Tennyson/Strauss. This is followed by the Birmingham Premiere of Rzewski’s “De Profundis” (after Oscar Wilde) for speaking pianist.
Alistair McGowan performs Satie & Grieg
Birmingham is increasingly a centre for Historically Informed Performance Practice. In this context Dr. Anna Scott will be performing late Brahms as Brahms himself might have heard Adelina de Lara or Ilona Eibenschütz playing to him. It's more than a little thought-provoking, so prepare to be scandalised, and to further enjoy the playing of Gyorgy Hodozso, a Weingarten Scholar in Birmingham and Dr. Scott's latest prodigy.
An evening of international ambition, but hosted in Central England. A privilege, then, to hear Mark Bebbington play "Sarnia" by John Ireland, the British composer who has left the single greatest body of solo piano music (not to mention the Concerto and Chamber Music piano parts).
Finally we welcome Alistair McGowan, to play Satie and Grieg, and to introduce his good friend, “Olympianist” Anthony Hewitt, who will cycle through the night from his London home to play Ravel’s masterpiece of nocturnal  virtuoso pianism “Gaspard de la Nuit”. After that, only the magnificent organ of the Town Hall can provide a fitting close: Messiaen’s “Dieu Parmi Nous”...

John Thwaites
Head of the Department of Keyboard Studies
Birmingham Conservatoire