Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Not new year resolutions

The Apothecary's Rose, from my garden. It should work magic, if I only knew how.

I decided not to make any new year resolutions because they're expected to be gloriously positive and, as you'll know from yesterday's Mood Ludwig, that's not where I am right now.

So I'm not going to do it. Not going to think about practising the piano and then not do it. Not going to decide not to eat chocolate. Not going to promise myself to go running three times a week. Not going to stop procrastinating - you can't teach a middle-aged catwoman new tricks. And I'm not going to not post as many cat pictures. So I'm not going to pledge to do anything except be myself to the best of my ability. 

Current mood: KAPUSTIN



Here is the annual reminder of what JDCMB is and isn't.

Darlings, a very warm welcome to all readers, whoever and wherever you may be. JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. It's a relatively random and succinctly spontaneous collection of content involving words and music. 

I'm a writer with a musical training (academic/piano). In my twenties and early thirties I held jobs on music magazines, including spearheading the creation of the UK's first independent piano magazine. Later I was with The Independent as a music journalist and critic for 12 years. Now I juggle different kinds of writing: novels, librettos, articles, reviews, programme notes and more. I often give pre-concert talks and also present narrated concerts, often based on my novels (you'll find upcoming the dates in the sidebar). I enjoy the adventure of these different activities, and others besides: it keeps me on my toes, or at least my fingertips. And JDCMB is simply...my blog.

Things you might think you know about JD: I'm pro-feminism and anti-Brexit; I have cats; I'm married to a violinist; I've written biographies of Korngold and Fauré; my latest novels are Ghost Variations (about Jelly d'Arányi and the Schumann Violin Concerto) and Odette (swan-girl).

Things you might not know: I'm an absolute, total, utter piano nerd. I adore historical recordings, especially slidey violins. I love a massive range of music including Boulez, Bartók, Beethoven, Bach, Barbara Strozzi. I have a 'thing' about Hungarian musical traditions. I go to a lot of opera, ballet and orchestras, but my favourite pieces are mostly chamber music. I have some great roses in the garden.


JDCMB has:
• News, reviews, interviews, occasional select guest posts, think-pieces, personal experiences/memories/chronicles.
• Values about music, art, quality, equality, passion. I believe everybody deserves to have great music, art and creativity in their lives.
• A feminist slant, because people are people are people, but the music business and related fields (actually, most fields) still often treat women as second-class citizens. There's been good progress recently, but not enough.
• English English. I'm in London, UK, so please don't expect American spellings.
• An internationalist outlook. Music is an international art and depends on its internationalism for its very existence. 
• Bollocks to Brexit.
• A personal slant.
• Irony and sarcasm, so please be prepared.

JDCMB doesn't have:
• Sexism, racism or other prejudices.
• Porn.
• Comments boxes. For discussions, please come over to Facebook - I put all the links on my author page and we have some lively chats, but you do have to say who you are.
• Pro-Brexit writing.
• Conspiracy theories.
• Personal attacks.
• Pop music. I've nothing against it, but I don't cover it, because I do other stuff.

If you want coverage on JDCMB:
• I receive a lot of requests, but even with the best will in the world, I can't do it all.
• Stats tell me that what you respond to the most, darling readers, is strong, personal think-pieces. So the slant for 2019 will be towards this.
• Advice for PRs:  a) Please don't approach me about "classically trained crossover" artists. Yes, I once interviewed Bocelli. That doesn't mean I like crossover. It just means my editor wanted a piece and I was curious. b) Please try not to start your emails by saying "My name is...". Nine times out of ten I'll already know that's your name because it's in your email address.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

And the winner is...

Many thanks to everyone who entered the Swan Lake Competition! I hope you've all had excellent Christmasses. 

It's time to reveal the winner.

The question was:

Which ballerina danced the role of Odette/Odile in the world premiere of Swan Lake, at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, on 4 March 1877?


The correct answer is:
Pelagaya Karpakova

The first correct entry out of the hat is from Lucy Braga, who will receive a paperback of Odette from JDCMB and a CD of Swan Lake conducted by Vladimir Jurowski from Pentatone. Congratulations!


Sunday, December 23, 2018

A seasonal message from home...


Dear readers, have a wonderful Christmas and new year!

Lots of love from your slightly knackered blogger and her household.

xxxxx

Friday, December 21, 2018

WELCOME TO THE JDCMB CHOCOLATE SILVER AWARDS 2018



Deck the halls with chocolate silver, 
Falalalalaaaah, meow me-ow...

If you've been reading JDCMB for a while, you'll know that TODAY'S THE DAY. It's the Winter Solstice, which means it's time for our very own virtual awards ceremony, in which we take a lighthearted look back at the year's peaks and plunges, while Ricki (chocolate silver) and Cosi (silver) present our winners with a special prize purr and let them stroke their luxuriant fur.

Please come in. Welcome to the CyperPoshPlace! 

No need to stand on ceremony here. All are welcome. No tickets are checked, no charges made for the cloakroom, and the CyberBubbly, being virtual, is limitless, free to all and won't make you drunk. Just the right degree of pleasantly tipsy, if you so wish.

It's been a...well, I can't remember a year quite like this one. It's tense. Everyone is anxious and exhausted and we still don't know what the heck is going to happen to us all, let alone the music business, in three months' time. We, dear world, are the proud owners of a government that currently seems determined to throw us all over a cliff, below which there are food shortages, medicine shortages, island gridlock, troops on the streets, mass unemployment and a violent economic crash, just to prove that 'Brexit' can be done - when actually it can't. It's like trying to take the vodka out of the martini after it's been shaken and stirred. Good countries do occasionally go mad and learn horrific lessons in the worst possible way. We can't be certain that that's not happening to us now.

Message in a bottle: Britain calling. HELP! Please send chocolate. 

[PING. yesterday I went to Brussels on Eurostar. Stopped here en route home.]




Right. Now that that's out of the way, let's PARTAAY like it's 2006!

Have a drink, enjoy our cybercanapes, meet and greet the great and famous of many countries and all centuries who have come to celebrate with us. Here's Ludwig, with Josephine on his arm - at last. Here's Anna Magdalena, pulling a grumbling Johann Sebastian away from his work. Over there Robert Schumann is giving Steven Isserlis a hug, and Fryderyk Chopin, holding a flat parcel about the size of a mazurka manuscript, is asking if anyone's seen Alan Walker arriving, please, because he has a gift for him. I personally am going up to embrace Gabriel Fauré before we do anything else... merci, mon cher Monsieur Gabriel, et grand bisous! The rainbow glitter balls are spinning, gold bit-lets are dropping from the ceiling and Ricki and Cosi are ensconced upon their silken cushions, ready to present the prizes.

Quiet, please! Thank you... First, let's have a huge round of applause for each and every musician who has touched the hearts of his/her audience this year. You're wonderful. You help make life worth living. We love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your inspirational artistry.

👏👏👏👏👏👏💜💜💜🎶🎶🎶🎵🎹🎻🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉


The first prize, though, goes to Ricki himself.



BEST CAT: RICKI

Because of everything that happened this year, the very best was that Ricki survived. In April he came down with a terrible infection: pyothorax, which turned into sepsis. We had to rush him to an animal hospital near Luton Airport and nobody really thought he was going to live. He was in there for a week and a half and we had twice-daily reports - some hopeful, others less so, several times asking if we wanted to grant permission for him to be put down if in the night he took a terrible turn for the worse. It was agony. Ricki is the sweetest-natured cat in the whole world, he's my personal most-special-cat-ever, and he wasn't even four years old. Against all the odds, by some miracle, he pulled through. He's now bouncing happily around doing megapurrs and chasing his own tail when he's not chasing his sister or mellowing out on the armchair in my study while I work.

NB: One person wasn't too happy about this: Cosi, whose nose promised to be thoroughly out of joint. She was furious when he came home and she no longer had Sole Cat status. This prize has involved some serious trade-offs including copious quantities of fish.


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ICON OF THE YEAR

It's got to be Leonard Bernstein. The year's been bookended by super-Bernstein: Wonderful Town and 'The Age of Anxiety' with Simon Rattle and the LSO back in January was the most fun I've ever had without joining in a conga. Wonderful Town went wonderfully to town. Bravi. And the other weekend I adored hearing Candide live again - one of my big favourites, for all its flaws. 

And what an injection of energy this centenary has been: bursting out all over with glorious tunes, snarky, sparkly lyrics, dazzling drama and the musical world's most enormous heart. Here's Lenny himself, with the incomparable Christa Ludwig and castanets, a long way from Rovko-Gubernya - the superbly cutting celebration of internationalism, from Candide.




SINGER OF THE YEAR


Sarah Connolly at the centre of the Brexit protest
Photo: EFE (from Las Provincias.es)

Step forward, please, Dame Sarah Connolly! You have been a searing firebrand of inspiration to us all, throwing your weight into anti-Brexit campaigning, and offering a Fricka in the Covent Garden Ring cycle whose power and magnetism makes the whole story turn upon her intervention. Thank you for your glorious singing.

Here's a mesmerising aria from Handel's Ariodante.



ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR



Hello and welcome, dear Kathryn Stott! What a privilege it was to be part of your Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville this summer. (OK, it was winter there, but it sure didn't feel like it.) Being up close in an intensely programmed week of musical festivities that run for round about 12 hours every day, one gets to see how things work, and I soon realised there's nothing you can't do. You put together a programme of glorious variety and dazzling diversity, played a phenomenal range of chamber music under extraordinary pressure, kept cheerful and social and even went paddling at the tropical island concert [above]. Saying Brava Bravissima is not enough. I note that Ricki and Cosi are both letting you do their tummy fur, which is very special and not often permitted.

Come on, play us some Fauré. You know you want to. I have him here in person, ready to cheer you on.



INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR


Boris Giltburg
Photo: Sasha Gusov

This award goes to Boris Giltburg, partly because I'm furious to have missed two of his recitals this year for different reasons. There's a glut of glorious piano playing out there are the moment, but only a handful of musicians to whose recordings I find I have to listen flat out on the floor with the volume right up and sod what the neighbours think. (Actually, that's not fair, because we have wonderful neighbours.)

After I commented on this, thinking that it was more characteristic behaviour for heavy metal fans, Boris sent me a tweet saying he's a bit of a metal-head himself and recommending some tracks for me to try. I tried Metallica. I loved it. (Yes, there's a genre specially for people who seek all-out-intense virtuoso musical experiences and have long curly hair.) Step up to the podium, please, Boris!



YOUTHFUL ARTIST OF THE YEAR


Fatma Said
Photo: from BBC website
Just listen to this Brahms song from the incredible young Egyptian soprano Fatma Said, currently one of the BBC New Generation Artists. What more could I say?! Welcome a thousand times, Fatma!




ARTIST OF THE YEAR


Roxanna Panufnik

Step up, my wonderful composer colleague and collaborator-in-chief, Roxanna Panufnik, who has been flying high this year, which contained her half-century celebrations. What a joy it was to see her bring the houses down at the Proms and Symphony Hall, with music that is growing, deepening, daring more and more. (You can hear our next joint effort in Baltimore in March, by the way, under the batons of Marin Alsop and Valentina Peleggi...)

Here's Roxanna's 'Unending Love', from her latest album Celestial Bird, sung by Ex Cathedra




AND ONE STUFFED TURKEY

An orchestral director who was in favour of Brexit, despite running an orchestra that depends on carnet-free, visa-free touring and includes members from some 22 nationalities, most of them European. He may have changed his mind for all I know, but it's a bit bloody late now. For shame. 


PROUDEST MOMENTS

Sharing a stage with Roderick Williams, Siobhan Stagg and the Goldner String Quartet among other wonderful musicians in Australia, for Being Mrs Bach, is something I'll remember all my life with great joy and slight disbelief that it really happened. But it did, and it was great.

Going to Paris to see the manuscript of the Fauré Requiem was also unforgettable - what a joy to explore its marvels together with Bob Chilcott and the BBC Radio 4 team! I came over quite tearful. The result was on 'Tales from the Stave'.

I've been working on more librettos since Silver Birch and am delighted with the new youth opera that Paul Fincham and I are writing. It is scheduled for Garsington on 2 August 2019 and it's an adaptation and updating of Wilde's The Happy Prince – to The Happy Princess. Paul has been working in the City for a few decades, but after winning an award for his first film score, he's ditched the day job to get back to his first vocation. In his Cambridge days he was music director of the Footlights, working with the likes of Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie, and I can promise a few very persistent ear-worms are finding their way into the new piece.

More pieces with Roxanna are also in the pipeline, and so is one with another well-established composer whom I greatly admire, but we can't announce it just yet.

I can say, though, that writing librettos is my favourite thing in the whole world and if I'd realised this 20 years ago I'd just have done that to the exclusion of as much as possible else. It's a task that is creative and collaborative - there's nothing lonely about it. It blends words and music to the ultimate degree. And it culminates in a live musical experience so you see people actually responding and you feel the vibration in the theatre. I love love love love love it.

Last but by no means least, Odette made target in June and the next few months were devoted to getting it ready for publication. It's out now, and flying. The blog tour this past week has produced some reviews that collectively show that the book does what I wanted it to do, and after 26 years, it's wonderful to see people enjoying it.


WEIRDEST MOMENTS

There are always a few, and 2018 was no exception. 

There was the time my husband challenged Norman Lebrecht to a duel after the celebrated Slipped Disc blogger took issue with some of the decisions made during the Radio 4 Women's Hour Power List. Glad to say the cats prevented piss-takes at dawn.

There was the other night. For some reason we thought it would be clever to go to Iceland in the dead of winter to see the Northern Lights. We reckoned without the fact that other sightseeing has to be done in the few scant existing daylight hours, and that late-night excursions looking for the Aurora involve standing around for hours in sub-zero temperatures, and we both got sick. We did see the Northern Lights, though - sort of. A kind of grey misty effect on the horizon, with some sparky, starry things jumping about within it. Here's my photo of it.



Otherwise...the whole year's been a bit weird, and I fear the next will be more so. 

Good luck, everyone, and solidarity. Let's pull together and try to stop this disaster while we still can. And don't forget the chocolate.







Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Happy big birthday, Steven Isserlis!

Steven Isserlis is 60 today!

I have flipping' well missed his big birthday concert on Monday at the Wigmore Hall - which included appearances by Simon Keenlyside, András Schiff, Radu Lupu, Ferenc Rados, Josh Bell and Connie Shih - because for some reason we'd thought it would be a good idea to go to Iceland in the middle of December to try and see the Northern Lights... As my Dad used to say, one lives and learns.

Steven Isserlis
Photo: PA

Anyway, it was a wonderful excuse to pop up to north London the other week and interview Steven himself. We talked about music, books, cellos, Rabbi Moses Isserles, Schumann, Fauré, Bloch, the perils of curly hair and the Marx Brothers, among much else. You can read the whole thing in the JC, here. 

And here's one select story.
His Twitter account makes lively reading, full of hair-raising stories about his travels with his cello. “I was on a Japanese airline, business class — very nice — and I asked the stewardess if she could help make up the bed,” he recounts. “I thought she said: ‘Are you sexy?’ It took me a minute to work out that ‘Yes, I’m in 6C…’”

Here he is in a spot of Fauré": the Romance in A major, Op.69, with pianist Pascal Devoyon.