Monday, December 30, 2019
Farewell to a dear friend and wonderful cellist, Susanne Beer, who died yesterday at the age of 52. She was co-principal cellist of the London Philharmonic for 18 years.
She had a long battle with cancer - melanoma - and was phenomenally brave and positive throughout. While she was ill, friends and her many pupils from her school, The Cello Corner, came to her house to perform chamber music for her. As recently as 11 December she travelled to attend an LPO concert at the Royal Festival Hall in her wheelchair, and they gave her a party backstage afterwards. Her husband is now setting up a foundation in her memory to help young cellists.
Tom, who worked with her for most of those 18 years, writes:
Susi was born in Passau, Bavaria into a family of musicians. After studies at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, and William Pleeth in London, she joined the London Philharmonic as co-principal cello.
Her first performance was playing continuo cello on the legendary Georg Solti recording of Don Giovanni; and it was indeed her continuo playing which made her such a recognisable feature of Glyndebourne.
After leaving the LPO Susi went on to become a devoted cello teacher, founding the London cello corner, where her enthusiasm inspired many students.
She coped valiantly with her tragic illness, surprising her many friends with her innate positivity and realism; I recall asking her how this was possible, she replied that she was incredibly lucky to have found total fulfiillment in her professional and personal life.
On December 11 she came to a London Philharmonic concert, where she effectively said goodbye to her friends.
You can read more about her at her websites: http://www.thecellocorner.co.uk and http://www.susannebeer.co.uk
Above, Gabriel's Oboe...
Saturday, December 21, 2019
Come on in, quick.
It's raining. Again. Still. Just dump your stuff in the cloakroom and hurry along that corridor to the...yes, it's our CyberPoshPlace! It's decked out with seasonal sumptuousness and ready to host our magical mystery Silver Chocolate Awards all over again, as we do every winter solstice.
The glitter-balls are atwirl, the walls are draped with purple silk and on their thrones, side by side, Ricki and Cosi, joint feline monarchs of our particular glen, are preparing to give this year's winners a prize purr and let them stroke their fine silvery and milk-chocolate-coloured fur.
Meanwhile, our cyber bubbly will make you only as tipsy as you wish to be, our virtual canapés magically transform to be gluten free, dairy free or vegan as you desire, upon contact, and every composer and musician you have ever wished to meet is here, transformed into founts of sociability.
Luigi, you have a big year ahead. Exploring your life in greater depth and attempting to pay tribute to you has been one of the most thrilling experiences I've ever had. It has turned into a journey from Jane Austen to (sort of) Tristan und Isolde and I hope it will bring your story to life in a whole new way. There are some wonderful books about you out there. There's also a lot of pretty awful stuff. I hope to contribute to the former, rather than the latter, but I guess time will tell. It's full steam ahead now. Please come up to Ricki and Cosi and enjoy a really good purr.
Paul Fincham, The Happy Princess was a treat of a whole different kind: it was a story I've wanted to adapt for opera for years, your music is chock-full of earworms, and the staging, again by Karen, was utterly perfect. The thing was a smash-hit even if it only had one performance. Let's hope there will be more opportunities for it beyond this, because it deserves to be heard! Thank you for your work, your confidence and your friendship. And thank you, Garsington Opera, for the faith that you put in all of us! And, dear mystery colleague - can't wait to see what you're coming up with....
I'd like to give a gigantic thank-you to Marios Papadopoulos, whose support for Ghost Variations in the form of the Schumann Violin Concerto last June and for Immortal in his Oxford Philharmonic's wide-ranging Beethoven celebrations next year really means the world. I'm looking forward to being part of the Oxford Phil's Beethoven festival in November and working at the Holywell Music Rooms with baritone Benjamin Appl, pianist Manon Fischer-Dieskau and a string quartet drawn from the orchestra's superb musicians. (And Happy Birthday, maestro!)
Speaking of the Bavarian State Opera, this is Opera Company of the Year for Die tote Stadt, which was unforgettably splendid - I doubt I will ever hear this, "my" special opera, better performed. The cast headed by Jonas Kaufmann and Marlis Petersen was perfect and Kirill Petrenko's conducting brought out all the marvels of the Korngold score with its chilli-pepper intensity and bristling detail. A little too much use of the "revolve", perhaps, but never mind. A massive thank you to the fabulous British mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston, who sang Brigitta, for hoiking me over to Munich at short notice and making sure I got to hear it! They are all my singers of the year, too.
Pianist of the Year was tricky, because there are so many wonderful performers whom I love to pieces. However, the prize goes to Norma Fisher, the piano pedagogue who had to retire from the stage decades ago, but whose live performances from way back have been resuscitated by the record producer Tomoyuki Sawado and released on Sonnetto Classics to stunning effect. I recently went to visit her for one of the Masterclass series of articles for International Piano magazine - out sometime in the new year. How I wish I could have my time as a piano student again and beat a path to her door (this in no way diminishes my affection and gratitude to the marvellous teachers I DID go to, of course!).
Honourable mention, too, to some remarkable young pianists: Isata Kanneh-Mason, Mishka Rushie Momen and Iyad Sughayer, who all have had mightily impressive debut CDs released this year - Isata's devoted to Clara Schumann, Iyad's to the eye-wateringly challenging piano works of Khatchaturian and Mishka's an intriguing programme based around variations, including a special commission from Nico Muhly. And last, but very crucially, a ginormous thank you to my beloved concert partner Viv McLean - we have a super new Beethoven show coming up next year, so please watch this space.
Speaking of performance partners, a massive, massive cheer to my fabulous team of harpsichordist Steven Devine, cellist Jonathan Manson and baritone Ben Bevan for their glorious collaboration on Being Mrs Bach's UK premiere at Kings Place back in April. Please come up and have your purrs right away. And here's to more outings soon.
Photo by Paul Mitchell
|Dan Tepfer and his trio at Incontri|
|Record of the Year!|
We usually have one stuffed turkey, too, and there've been a few, as I seem to have gone to several of the Wrong Things this year. I'm sorry to say it has to be ENO's Orpheus in the Underworld, which was...unfortunate. Then again, I haven't yet seen Cats... [ouch! Ricki, get your claws out of my leg!]
And now let's have a big round of applause, please, for every musician who has touched the hearts of his/her audience during the roller-coaster year that has just been and gone. Thank you for the music. We love you all!
While the winners approach the silken cushions for their prize purrs, let's have some more cyberbubbly and hope that the year ahead will bring, with its new decade, new hope, new ideas, new approaches, new positivity and new focus on everything we can do to bring openness, internationalism, humanity, great-heartedness and great art of every kind into our everyday world. Bring it on. Time to dance.
MERRY EVERYTHING, EVERYBODY!
Monday, December 16, 2019
I reviewed the Aurora Orchestra's splendiferous performance of Louise Farrenc's Symphony No. 3 the other day at Kings Place. WTH is this piece not performed 30 times a year? It's simply wonderful - and the orchestra under Duncan Ward gave it a beautifully characterised performance. Plus a gorgeous new piece for cello and strings by Charlotte Bray and Angela Hewitt in a fine, glittering Mozart concerto, on a piano that took up most of the platform... Here's my review for The Arts Desk.
Why does music suddenly disappear? It is all the more heartening when a work as excellent and enjoyable as Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3 takes wing once more, but you do have to wonder what they were thinking in mid 19th-century Paris to allow such a terrific orchestral piece to sink and vanish. The symphony formed the second half of the Aurora Orchestra’s latest concert in its Pioneers series for Kings Place's "Venus Unwrapped" series, and very welcome it was.
Farrenc (1804-1875) was a highly successful and well-regarded musician in her day, known as a brilliant pianist and the only female professor at the Paris Conservatoire. Her third symphony, premiered in 1849, bristles with post-Beethovenian energy; the idiom is a little like Weber, but with a voice all its own, deftly written with never a note too many, plus a satisfying feel for structure and strong conclusions. The slow movement contains some enchanting ambiguity between major and minor, the scherzo fizzes and pounds and the finale is bright with contrapuntal virtuosity.
Friday, December 13, 2019
Thursday, December 12, 2019
|Shostakovich in 1950|
Photo: Deutsche Fotothek
It is supposedly the Russian revolution of 1905. It was actually written shortly after Russia crushed Hungary in 1956. Shostakovich is living on the edge here - how could anyone have believed his excuse for the piece? - but his warning comes to us loud and clear: it could happen then, it can happen now, it can happen again, anywhere. The impact, as brought to us yesterday by Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO, is more than shattering. Hear it on Radio 3 iPlayer.
Totalitarianism doesn't begin as totalitarianism. It starts with crackpot ideology that speaks to a sect of zealots. It may be idealistically founded, but it bears no relation to helping ordinary people live in peace. Its perpetrators are sometimes elected when ill-informed electorates decide they want a 'strong man' to lead them. Gradually the promulgators face challenges to their power, from the judiciary, the media and more. They start taking control of such organisations to ensure they get rid of those that disagree with them and would stop them. The process continues, small step by small step, and it ends with people on the streets and those to whom ideology is more important than human life (as it will be by then) crushing them. And killing them.
Take a look at the state of Britain today and then consider what will happen if we allow a gigantic drop in GDP, starting from what's already a pretty grim position - a wealthy country that's home to some of the poorest places in Europe.
Yesterday's concert set Shostakovich beside one of the weirder British piano concertos of the last hundred years: John Foulds' Dynamic Triptych, which was brilliantly performed by Peter Donohoe, whose heroic effort for it should really be called upon for more than one outing. It's another piece of the jagged puzzle that is the music of the late twenties and early thirties (written 1929, performed 1931); a craggy, individual voice rooted in the concertos of the past but transformed with a wholly personal take. Each movement is based on a different motivating idea, respectively mode, timbre and rhythm. The result is bizarre, puzzling but also haunting, leaving one wanting to hear it all again to grasp a little more of what is going on within it.
I am mesmerised by Foulds' life story, but suspect that his music will not travel especially well, so far does it sit up in the tree of individual ideology. One would love to think it could have a wider currency, but in terms of realpolitik, sadly I doubt it. (Read more about him here, in an article I wrote for the Independent 12 years ago, in the days when a national newspaper would still take an article this size about a maverick classical composer.) Ahead of his time he may have been; out on a limb, assuredly; but with hindsight he represents another kind of Englishness that is not often acknowledged these days: the eccentric individual, an independent thinker, a person with a different creative outlook that does not tally with any party line in their art. It will never be easy to be a Foulds, or to get to grips with his creations, but we need these people more than ever, and not only in music.
If Shostakovich brings us a warning, Foulds brings us an alternative - but one that may not catch on strongly enough for long enough to prevent the juggernaut heralded by the side-drum and crowned by the demoniac roar of the tam-tam.
Today, Thursday 12 December, please get out there and vote against the mendacious monomaniacs who have taken a wrecking ball of greed, cruelty and lies to Britain and will take a worse one if we give them the chance. If you have a vision of a country that is open-hearted, international, sensible, long-termist and responsible to its people, its partners and its world, today is the day to get the new-look fanatic-Brexit Tories gone forever. It may be our last chance.