Classical Music Buzz
Jessica Duchen's Classical Music & Ballet Blog. Novelist/journalist JD writes for The Independent, London
Wozzeck comes home
"Welcome back, boys." Wozzeck and his captain are centre stage in the pub. The first is nervous, surly, moving too fast, the latter a restless, cruel, distracted druggie. To the right, a coffin draped in a Union Jack doubles up as a table on which to rest beer glasses, plus green toy T-rexes that are being stuffed with bags of drugs. To the left, a staircase; and phantoms, silent ghosts in army gear - not too many, just an occasional reminder, occasionally carrying the corpse of a child. Upstairs, Andres, an amputee in a wheelchair; and Marie in her kitchen, seizing what brightness she can find in the earrings the Drum Major brings her in return for sex.
is based on a play from the early 19th century - an incomplete manuscript that was apparently retrieved from Georg Büchner's coat pocket after the young writer's untimely death, the words in faded ink all but illegible. Yet nearly 200 years later it feels as real as ever. Add a 21st-century perspective on PTSD and the poverty plight that so often faces returning servicemen, many of them deeply scarred physically and mentally, and
is a tale of today. ENO's new production by Carrie Cracknell (of the Young Vic) goes for the jugular and twists the knife in it, hard.
So, too, Berg's music. Is this the opera we can't get past? Berg died in 1935, but you can still feel his musical shadow in countless new works; his blend of rigorous structure, contemporary language and heightened emotion has proved - like all the greatest music - both of its time and timeless. Many composers over the decades have wanted to write like Berg. Few have managed to, if any. Ed Gardner and the ENO orchestra, in white-hot form, underscore tragedy with sensitivity, letting the voices shine and the words - a fine, natural-sounding translation by Richard Stokes - come over clear as the daylight that's absent from Wozzeck's world.
Leigh Melrose is a heartbreaking, vulnerable Wozzeck, Sara Jakubiak a strong-voiced, clear-toned Marie. Tom Randle is the Captain, all too believable, and James Morris is inspired casting as the manipulative, sadistic and drug-dealing Doctor. Nobody is sympathetic - yet in this vividly evoked world, everybody is.
Anna Picard, writing in the Indy on Sunday
, I've met returning ex-servicemen in dire straits. Perhaps by now most of us have. I was waiting for a train in a suburban station a year or two ago when one of them sat down on the bench beside me and started to talk about Afghanistan. It was night, but he was wearing dark glasses. His eyes had been full of sand, and were permanently damaged by it. He took the glasses off to show me, but the image that lingers was not the reddened whites; it was the shattered soul behind them. Hardest part was seeing your best mates killed, he said... His tale was a litany of suffering and destruction. But then, as my train arrived, he told me he'd do it all again. Queen and country, or something like that. He believed they were doing the right thing.
It's one small step from there to Carrie Cracknell's
Get to ENO and see it.
1 day ago
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Look what's popped up on Youtube: complete audio of Jonas Kaufmann's
recital at the Konzerthaus, Vienna, 6 April 2013. Helmut Deutsch is at the piano. Apparently JK was not feeling on best form just then - he was recovering from the lurgy that knocked him out of two Vienna Parsifals. It's remarkable nonetheless.
Prepare to listen by getting yourself a cuppa, a box of hankies and a DO NOT DISTURB sign.
(UPDATE, 5.40pm: An appreciative reader has just tweeted to remark that this is good alternative listening for anyone trying to avoid the Eurovision Song Contest tonight...)
3 days ago
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A tale in tartan?
A starry cast is set to make waves in
La Donna del Lago
at Covent Garden
. I had a brief chat with the director, John Fulljames, about why he thinks Rossini's rarity is - well, rare.
He thinks it's all to do with the difficulty of the vocal writing; as for the story, it's at the heart of that weird 19th-century idea that Scotland is the most romantic place on earth - a form of cultural nationalism that was invented, as he explained, by Sir Walter Scott. Might it yet prove to be a favourite opera for the Scottish National Party? We'll see... anyway, one hopes they can't go far wrong with Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez out front.
4 days ago
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Friday Historical: Some amazing tales from...
Here's my piece from yesterday's Independent about what happened to Glyndebourne during World War II.
It was transformed into a centre for children evacuated from London's east end - and that history has now inspired a new staging of Strauss's
Ariadne auf Naxos
, which opens tomorrow. I talked to its young director, Katharina Thoma, whose first UK production this is.
Meanwhile, we hear that the cats are back in
...there are calls for the cat manipulator to take a bow, but naturally the truth is that the ginger one is Solti, who sneaks to Sussex and back by private cat-jet when we aren't looking.
Full info on Glyndebourne here.
And to make this a real Friday Historical, here is footage of Figaro from Glyndebourne 1956, with Sena Jurinac as the Countess and Sesto Bruscantini as the Count.
5 days ago
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PLEASE COME TO OUR 'HUNGARIAN DANCES' CONC...
HUNGARIAN DANCES: THE CONCERT OF THE NOVEL
DAVID LE PAGE (VIOLIN), ANTHONY HEWITT (PIANO),
JESSICA DUCHEN (NARRATOR)
Tuesday 11 June, 8pm
St James Theatre Studio, 12 Palace Street, London SW1
(a short walk from Victoria Station)
Tickets: £15. Book here:
Saturday 8 June, 11am
Ulverston International Music Festival, Cumbria
‘A saga whose passion for music, Hungary and history sings out on every page.’
by Jessica Duchen
Mimi, a Hungarian Gypsy girl, is determined to play the violin, in defiance of family traditions. She becomes a classical virtuoso, but at a terrible personal price...
Alternating narration and music, this emotional roller-coaster traverses 90 years, richly illustrated with music of irresistible beauty that blurs the boundaries between the classical and Gypsy styles.
DOHNANYI: Andante rubato alla zingaresca
DINICU: The Lark
KREISLER: Marche Miniature Viennoise
DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata
VECSEY: Valse Triste
BARTOK: Romanian Dances
BRAHMS: Hungarian Dance No.2 (arr. Joachim)
HUBAY: Hejre Kati
DAVID LE PAGE
, born in Guernsey, is the leader of the Orchestra of the Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon, and of the Adderbury Ensemble. He trained at the Yehudi Menuhin School and in Bern with Igor Ozim and Sidney Griller. He was a prizewinner in BBC Young Musician of the Year and the Yehudi Menuhin Competition. He plays the living daylights out of this repertoire.
won top prize at the William Kapell International Piano Competition in 1992 and studied at the Menuhin School, the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Franz Liszt Academy, Budapest. He is artistic director of the Ulverston International Music Festival, Cumbria.
writes about music for The Independent and is the author of four novels, two biographies and a number of stage works mingling words and music. Plus JDCMB, of course.
is published by Hodder.
PLEASE NOTE: TICKETS FOR 11 JUNE ARE VERY LIMITED IN NUMBER. EARLY BOOKING IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
6 days ago
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Happy 200th to the RPS
It's not often that you find yourself choking up with emotion in the middle of the Dorchester Ballroom. But yesterday, the annual
Royal Philharmonic Society Awards
evening saw many of us doing just that as the organisation - currently celebrating its 200th birthday - awarded five honorary memberships to movers and shakers who have been bringing the power of music to bear in the direction of societal transformation in some of the most deprived and dangerous places in the world.
From Kinshasa to Kabul, Soweto to the Sphinx organisation in the US, and a former Leeds Piano Competition winner who's now devoting himself to a youth music programme in his native Brazil, these inspirational figures set an example to us all.
, a former airline pilot who founded a symphony orchestra in one of the poorest cities on earth, Kinshasa, DR of the Congo (pictured above. The gentleman on his left is Sir Vernon Ellis, chair of the British Council.)
Dr Ahmad Sarmast
, the founder of Afghanistan’s first national music school in Kabul
, British viola player and founder of Buskaid, who persuaded distinguished musicians to busk at British railway stations to raise funds for a string project in South Africa, and now directs the thriving stringed instrument school in Diepkloof, Soweto.
, International pianist (and former winner of the Leeds Piano Competition) who established a flourishing youth music programme in Bahià, Brazil.
Aaron P. Dworkin
, the founder of the Sphinx Organization, which gives opportunities and assistance to aspiring Black and Latino musicians in the USA. Sphinx’s mission is for classical music to embrace the diversity inherent in the society that it strives to serve.
The roster of annual awards turned up some truly wonderful winners as well, not least the utterly fabulous Sarah Connolly, piano star Steven Osborne (I had a lovely chat with his mum), the Britten Sinfonia which scooped the ensemble prize against competitions from such august institutions as the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, the composers Rebecca Saunders and Gerald Barry, Birmingham Opera Company's Stockhausen
Mittwoch aus Licht
world premiere last summer, New Music 20X12, and much more.
The full list is here
and you can catch up with it all on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday afternoon.
Suffice it to say that the evening grew merrier and merrier as it went along. Whoops of joy emanated from the Scunthorpe table when
proved triumphant; the Heath Quartet's thank-you video made in Mexico City inspired some ongoing quips about tequila from our comperes, the indefatigable Sean Rafferty and Sara Mohr-Pietsch - hope you found some, Sean! And it was glorious to see Dame Janet Baker in full radiance presenting the awards (pictured, left).
Special thanks to the Dorchester for catering so attentively for those of us who can't eat gluten.
Thank you, Royal Philharmonic Society, for your tireless support for the transformative and spiritually nourishing powers of classical music both here and around the world. And thanks, not least, for commissioning Beethoven's Ninth. Here's to the next 200 years!
7 days ago
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A classical girl at the Roundhouse...
Here's my little report on my night at The Knife, from Culturekicks. Enjoy!
And here's what was actually going on.
7 days ago
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Sunday roundup from a very busy week
I've been burning the candle at both ends, to coin a phrase. It beats the hell out of sitting alone at home watching repeats of
- something I have resolved never to do again.
at the Royal Opera House.
You wake up, the sun is shining, you're free, it's opening night at Covent Garden, Jonas is singing and you're
? Unthinkable! I scooped a return and drank long and deep of the genius of Verdi. It was almost impossible to imagine a finer cast. Sometimes when Kaufmann is on stage, the rest can fade to insignificance, but here his peers matched him moment for moment.
This appears to be the one performance that the scheduled soprano,
, was able in the end to do, and the first time I've managed to hear her live. Her voice has an almost uncanny beauty along with extraordinary range of expression: the deepest levels enhanced by taut, dramatic diction, the uppermost soaring with rare 100-carat sheen. She's the perfect stage partner for Kaufmann, matching his sensitivity to nuance and blending with his multifaceted colourations, the final duet daringly hushed. Mariusz Kwiecien's double-edged charm and rich-flowing baritone, as Rodrigo, might otherwise have stolen the show, while Ferruccio Furlanetto's magnificently tortured and heartbreaking Philip II threatened to do likewise, with the type of voice and interpretation that brings every twist of phrase and fortune into close-up. Eric Halfvorsen's Grand Inquisitor rose to the challenge of one of Verdi's nastiest and truest personalities. In the pit, Tony Pappano and the orchestra plunged through the four-and-a-half hour span with passion undimmed; and the chorus was absolutely on fire for the auto da fe, a scene in which the confluence of symbol and drama could scarcely be finer.
Carlos is, after all, a German romantic hero - by Schiller - in all but moniker, a soul whose obsession with Elisabeth after one scant encounter in the forest can match that of Goethe's Werther for Charlotte. Flanders is Elisabeth; the burning heretics are the heart of Carlos, who burns inwardly for breaking the taboo of aching for his stepmother. Freud might have enjoyed that final moment of farewell when he addresses Elisabeth as 'mother'. What happened to Carlos's real mother anyway? We are not told.
Lianna Haroutounian has since stepped into Harteros's shoes, making her ROH debut; and the churlish anonymi grumbling on the ROH comments boxes that the house should have had a "name" as second cast may want to think again.
Fiona Maddocks's review today
declares: "Haroutounian seemed to pull forth ever-increasing vocal powers until you thought her heart, or yours, would burst."
On Tuesday we had the first run-through at home of the
with the new team for the Ulverston and the St James Theatre June performances. David Le Page (violin) and Anthony Hewitt (piano) used to be duo partners in their teens, but hadn't met in 23 years...yet it was as if they'd last seen each other yesterday. And the intensity of their musical response to the story took me completely by surprise. It felt as these concerts probably should: we may be a reader and two musicians, but their engagement with the drama and the emotions in the narrative bounced different angles into the music, while their impassioned interpretations made me see new and darker corners in my own text. It was as if we all made music together, essentially. I'm hugely grateful to them and excited about sharing a stage with them.
is on 8 June, the
St James Theatre Studio
in central London is on 11 June, and booking is open.
On Wednesday, to St John's Smith Square to hear
Angelo, you remember, is the Italian-Australian pianist we talked to a little while back when he started to make his comeback after 20 years away from the concert platform due to a trapped nerve in his shoulder. He performs in white gloves. And there's something of the white gloves about his musicianship too, in the best sense: while some complained that the programme he chose consisted more of the slow and soft than the barnstorming so many people seem to expect of concert pianists these days, that was actually the point.
Whether in the freely-calibrated rubato of the Chopin Nocturnes Op.9, two of the Liszt Petrarch Sonnets and the Ballade No.2, or the Liebestod from
Tristan und Isolde
, adapted from Wagner by various hands including Von Bulow, Liszt and Villani himself, his exceptional and microscopic sensitivity, the way he immerses us in sonority, allows us to soak up the edges of vibration as if letting subtle-coloured dye infiltrate and diffuse through our inner worlds. It's unusual and it may not be for everyone, but this is fine-art pianism and it is good to know that it hasn't been entirely lost in the outside welter of the (largely positive but often noisy) Lang Lang Effect.
There's a wonderful story about
, the founding violinist of the Beaux Arts Trio, as a young lad meeting Fauré in the foyer of the Paris Conservatoire. Monsieur le Directeur, as Fauré was then (pictured right), said to Daniel: where are you going in such a hurry? "My violin lesson, sir." Ahh, said Fauré. You'll go to your lesson and you'll learn to play fast and loud. But to play slow and soft: that is
On Thursday, my mates from the Culturekicks blog took me to the trendiest gig in town:
at the Roundhouse
. I'll be writing about it more fully for them, but in brief, the experience was a polar opposite from Angelo's concert (=ear protectors) and in other ways just like the Proms, because if you're my height you can't see much. Music: Nordic Noir without the murders. More about it soon.
The great thing is that in this extraordinary world, and especially in this matchless city of ours, there's room for everything: music of different eras, angles, twists, turns, scale, substance and aspect. Try to do it all, if and when you have the chance. Because each experience feeds the next.
Last but not least,
yesterday I went to a school reunion
and saw friends I haven't seen since our A levels, more years ago than I'd like to admit, and
they hadn't changed a bit.
Time's a funny old thing. Just as an opera that is well over 100 years old can feel as fresh and relevant in terms of drama and emotional impact as an electro-post-pop band, the passing decades simply disappear when people's energies connect, reconnect and blossom. Yes, this was quite a week...
10 days ago
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The Concert - the last word...
You know all that business about How Audiences Behave At Concerts? I think Jerome Robbins has to have the last word on that. Above,
complete, including utterly exasperated pianist, from the Paris Opera Ballet.
Busy week. Proper catch-up soon.
12 days ago
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Angelo Villani's back
.....well, THAT was Angelo's own transcription of the Liebestod from Wagner's
Tristan und Isolde
, played live in the BBC Radio 3 In Tune studio yesterday. Blimey. Come and hear him play it, Alkan, Liszt and more at St John's Smith Square tomorrow (Wednesday 8 May):
If you missed our JDCMB Q&A with Angelo a few months back, here it is again.
14 days ago
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