Friday, September 28, 2018

And here it is...


We were 4 judges, from different corners of the music world: Jasmine Dotiwala, Catherine Mark, Kate Nash and me. We had 40 places across the board, to encompass all genres. Under the circumstances, it felt good to get so many representatives from the classical world in, often at a high placement. We can't please everyone, of course, and some people are now busy being indignant - though this is possibly because they think we should have been doing something we hadn't set out to do in the first place.

This list wasn't about fresh-faced charm, talented young performers and composers, or even the latest entrepreneurship. This was a POWER LIST. It's something BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour does every year, exploring a different industry each time. The fact that this year they elected to turn the spotlight on the music world is telling: these are indeed crucial, seismic times for women in music.

So the criteria were power and influence: celebrating the women who in the past year have been driving necessary change in the music business - whether that means Beyoncé (no.1) as feminist and activist as well as top-selling artist, Vanessa Reed of the PRS (no.3) persuading 120+ festivals worldwide to sign up to 50-50 gender parity in performing line-ups and new commissions, from 2022, Chi-chi Nwanoku (no.9) single-handedly creating and propelling to fame the UK's first majority-BAME orchestra, Chineke! with its transformative effects, or, further down the list, the tireless efforts of Deborah Annetts campaigning for the rights of musicians via the ISM, or the way Edwina Wolstonecraft has programmed International Women's Day celebrations on Radio 3 - a station on which one used to go for weeks or months without hearing a note written by a woman - raising many consciousnesses by so doing.

Gillian Moore, director of music at the Southbank Centre (no.6), leads from the front, championing women in music in every way and blazing a trail in new music programming; Kathryn McDowell at the LSO is a long-term thinker and has effected Simon Rattle's appointment, which in turn may - if all goes according to plan - help to spur the creation of a new hall with top-notch education facilities. Anna Meredith is an astonishing, genre-bending composer, with an approach that sets an example to a whole new generation. Violinist Nicky Benedetti is a tremendous campaigner for music education at a time when it's never been more necessary - she could, after all, have concentrated solely on her own stellar career, but she doesn't. Marin Alsop is a household name, more so than any other conductor who is female: you need to see it to be it, and there she is on the podium, for all to see. Alice Farnham has created a course to encourage more and more women to take up conducting, something that will soon bear transformative fruit.

So basically I think we got it right, even if we'd all have liked the list to be three times as long. A lot of wonderful names ended up on the cutting-room floor, because there wasn't the space. I won't tell you who they all were, but I will just say that the one I was most sorry to lose is arguably the world's greatest living pianist and has been a role-model for younger musicians for at least 40 years. And, um, we left out Madonna.

You can please some of the people, some of the time. Over and out.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


It's tomorrow, Friday 28 September live on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour. We're live at Maida Vale Studios at 10am. Please join us! Jenni Murray presents, Jasmine Dotiwala and I will be representing our panel of judges, and a lot of our Top 40 will be with us to celebrate. The Powerlist covers women who are changemakers, leaders and role models in all manner of musical fields, so no doubt there'll be plenty of controversy about who's on it, and who isn't.

Was it difficult? Was. It. Difficult.

Do tune in if you can.

You're gonna rise up singing

One of the events I'm most looking forward to in London this autumn is ENO's first-ever staging of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. John Wilson is conducting it and the starry cast includes Nicole Cabell as Bess, Nadine Benjamin as Clara, Eric Greene as Porgy, Gweneth-Ann Rand as Serena, and more (see the line-up here.)

I was going to write something about what a masterpiece of an opera it is, how Gershwin perfectly blended those different musical idioms into a work with total integrity and deep empathy, and how it is often done as a musical, but not the full-whack operatic creation it really is, so grab a ticket while you can - but actually all you need in order to be persuaded is a taste of the heavenly voice of Nadine Benjamin singing 'Summertime', above.

On 11 October they're going to rise up singing. Book here.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Ten things to learn from Das Rheingold in Brexit Island

The Ring cycle is about to begin at Covent Garden, and yesterday a friend kindly invited me to the dress rehearsal of Das Rheingold. Operas that feel pertinent to the world at large are rare animals in this stressed-out era, but the timeless issues that percolate through Wagner's two-hours-40-mins-no-break prelude couldn't be more relevant if they tried, despite concerning gods, giants, Nibelungs, Rhinemaidens, shape-shifting and a cursed ring, and Keith Warner's production makes much of this. So here are ten things our Brexity politicians (some of whom are known to adore Wagner) can learn from it.

Bloodied, worried and clinging to power: Bryn Terfel as Wotan in 2012
Photo: Clive Barda/ROH
1. Do not piss off giants. They are bigger than you and they can take hostages. You are overestimating your own power.

2. Do not break your promises. It's called cheating. Giants don't appreciate it, especially when they've given you a massive contribution to your world in good faith, building you a nice new palace and all.

3. So (see 2), don't go into an agreement with the express intention of reneging on the deal afterwards.

4. We are who we are through treaties and agreements. (This line is in the libretto and appears in large letters on the subtitle screen.) Don't ever forget it. Everything in our lives is underpinned by legal documents, treaties and agreements - from certificates for birth, marriage and even death to, er, who runs the railways. Lose the treaties and agreements and nothing works any more.

5. When diplomacy isn't working, because you're not a very good diplomat (see 1-4), you need to think creatively. Say a Nibelung has the ring of power and is causing havoc and sadism in the underworld: how are you going to outwit him? You might need help. Be careful who you choose for this exercise: make sure it is the cleverest person in your gang (not the bloody joker) and one whom everyone knows not to mess with, because it would be playing with fire.

6. Never under-write the roles of your under-goddesses. You may find that your very best contributor to your project only has a bit-part. If all you do with her is put her up for kidnap by the giants, you are guilty of sexist negligence. Think of everything she could do if given the chance.

7. What the heck are you doing putting your wife's sister up for ransom anyway? Especially when none of you can survive without the food she grows. Think things through properly before making rash moves.

8. Beware of the dragon. It's a humdinger. You need a real Heldentenor to deal with it, and you don't currently have one. So don't provoke it.

9. Love is more important than power. If you stop caring about people for the sake of building up your own wealth, it's going to end badly. Never forget: today's dragon is tomorrow's kidnapped toad.

10. A giant will not balk at killing his brother for the ring of power. And the one doing the murdering will probably be the one in the top hat.

Beg, borrow or steal a ticket. 

The first cycle opens on Monday 24 September and for Das Rheingold the cast includes John Lundgren as Wotan, Johannes Martin Kränzle as Alberich, Sarah Connolly as Fricka, Alan Oke as Loge, Lise Davidsen as Freya, Günther Groissböck as Fasolt and Brindley Sherrratt as Fafner. Tony Pappano conducts.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Two hats, one post

Rattle, milking it. (Photo: LSO)
Critic's hat for the day here: I reviewed Simon Rattle, Janine Jansen & the LSO for The Arts Desk last night, but perhaps the most moving thing of all was Rattle's farewell speech for Lennox Mackenzie, who's retiring after an LSO career spanning nearly four decades. Read the whole thing here.

Other hat: on Tuesday 25 September Tom and I are giving a concert together in North Yorkshire - at All Saints' Church, Kirby Hill. Tom plays solo Bach, Beethoven and other things. I'm reading some of my prose-poems. The concert is named after one of them, VOLCANIC ASH, and is built around what happened to us when we were trapped by closed air space somewhere you mightn't want to be trapped - with themes including identity, history, trauma and brainwash. Yorkshire friends, if you like the sound of this, do join us. To book, please call 01423 326284 or 01423 323774.