JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with CHOCOLATE AND SILVER, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1771 Entries

Happy Shakespeare's Birthday, everyone! 
There are Shakespeare concerts absolutely everywhere tonight and I'm off to do a pre-concert talk for the one at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, where Lahav Shani - the young conductor who won the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition the time I went to watch it in Bamberg - is at the helm for the CBSO's one. The programme involves three very different works based on the same Shakespeare play: Romeo and Juliet. We'll be looking at how Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Bernstein all made this drama their own, each staying true to the spirit of Shakespeare as they viewed him, yet imbuing the story with their own time, place and personality. The talk is at 5.45pm - please note, half an hour earlier than usual! - and the concert starts at 7pm. Info and booking here. Do come along.

I am quite sorry not to be hearing the LPO's Shakespeare extravaganza today, though. They're doing everything from A Midsummer Night's Dream to Henry V and finishing with the end of Falstaff, and they've got Simon Callow and an amazing line-up of singers including Toby Spence and Kate Royal. Vladimir Jurowski conducts. Read Vlad's Shakespearean insights here.
7 months ago | |
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Going to this tomorrow at the World Intellectual Property Organisation in Geneva: 

Image: WIPO

WIPO Conference on the Global Digital Content Market

April 20 – 22, 2016 (Geneva, Switzerland

The creative content economy has seen radical change to access and business models for more than a decade.The tensions between increased access and a sustainable economic value chain are the essence of this conference, which will explore:-- copyright in the digital age-- the impact of the digital environment on creators-- the role for publishers, producers and distribution platforms-- digital markets, access, and participationThe conference will feature sessions on music, film, broadcasting and publishing, as well as collective management and emerging models and markets.The proceedings are being live-streamed and you can tune in here.
  • Back in a while...
7 months ago | |
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five15 Launch Video from London Oriana Choir on Vimeo.

Bravi to the London Oriana Choir. When it turned out that fewer than 4% of people questioned could name a composer who was female, they decided to do something to help redress the balance.

Their new project, five15, centres on the commissioning of 15 new works, aiming to give "a voice" to women composers. Cheryl Frances-Hoad is to be composer in residence. The project will launch formally with a concert on the Cutty Sark on 6 July.

It looks absolutely excellent and includes everything from a competition for young composers to a recording, the publication of an anthology, workshops and incentives for others to follow suit.

The website explains everything. Do take a look.

The project’s aims are:

To help address the lack of recognition shown to women composers in the UK.

To champion the work of British women composers so that they and their work are more widely recognised for the long term.

Through our performances and education/outreach work, to provide opportunities for women composers and mentoring for young composers.

Activities planned over the five years include:

Commissions: Commissioning 15 new choral works from five emerging women composers of all ages over a period of five years which the choir will perform in the UK and abroad. Each composer will have the chance to work closely with the choir and Music Director over a period of a year and receive three paid commissions.

Anthology: Publishing an anthology of work by British women composers, including all the works the choir commissions, to provide a useful resource for other choirs.

Competition: Organising a competition for 18-24 year old composers and performing the top three winning works.

Programming: Committing to including the work of women composers in its self-promoted concerts, wherever possible.

Workshops & training: Developing and promoting a programme for workshops and training for the next generation of British women composers, including mentoring by an existing established female composer such as Cecilia McDowell and others.

Recording: Creating an album of all the commissioned five15 items and other works by women composers.

Festival: Launching a high profile festival with other partners devoted to the works of women composers.

Pledge: Encouraging other choirs in the UK to take the five15 pledge to support the work of women composers and commit to performing more of their works.

The choir’s passion and dedication in the project is demonstrated by the fact that it is funding the commissions in the first year out of its existing funds but will be seeking partners and other forms of sponsorship to help with executing the other aspects of the plan.

Why do we care so much? Look at the results of our survey into awareness of women composers
7 months ago | |
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The composer Roxanna Panufnik isn't only writing an opera at the moment (our Silver Birch for next year's Garsington). She's also raising money for Friends of Cathedral Music, which aims  to support the making of music in cathedrals and sustain it for future generations. Reduced funding means that an increasing number of cathedral choirs are under threat and with them the wonderful musical experiences and educational opportunities for their young choristers. Rox has helped to launch the Diamond Fund for Choristers. They're doing a sponsored cycle to get the fundraising underway. Not just another Beethoven cycle, either: they're riding from Windsor to Westminster.
Choristers off duty! Photo: Steve Bainbridge
Here's a message from Roxanna:
Every Christmas we take for granted the sublime angelic voices that radiate from radio and TV - and are part of the very fabric of British culture. But many cathedrals choirs are at risk because of reduced funding and not enough boys and girls are aware of the amazing experience, opportunities and education being a chorister can bring. The Diamond Fund for Choristers has been launched by Friends of Cathedral Music as a supersonic drive to keep our choristers flourishing - please support us in our epic cycle, from St George's Chapel Windsor to Westminster Abbey as part of this journey! 
Love from the WACky RacerS(cycling team of Westminster Abbey Choir School) xxx
Please help support the choristers of the future at her JustGiving page, here.
7 months ago | |
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A concert in a car park, pufferfish with doughnuts and a dancing Katie Derham: here's my Proms preview for the new-look Independent. 
It's a very safe season, on balance, but there are some great experiments with venues, five women conductors (in two months of daily concerts...I haven't worked out the percentage, but it's small) and some real gems among the performances. The selection of top ten Proms is my personal one, but there are at least ten others I could have included equally happily. 
I wouldn't say no to a waltz around the arena, but I do think it would be more of a thrill if some conceptual feathers could be ruffled now and then... Still, we all think we know what we want of the Proms - but we aren't the ones who have to deal with the realities of filling that hall.

7 months ago | |
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If you'd like to be credited as a patron of GHOST VARIATIONS, but haven't stepped up yet, then please PRE-ORDER BY TUESDAY 19 APRIL! Going, going... https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations
7 months ago | |
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The composer Emily Doolittle has been pondering the niceties of the word "talented". She Googled "talented composer" and was both interested and not too delighted when she saw what happened. But it's not simply a patronising way in which women musicians are sometimes described: she detects a more general problem in the use of this word. Does it perhaps set up false expectations about how tremendously hard musicians actually have to work to achieve the necessary standards? Does it perhaps "deprofessionalise" the entire field? I've asked her to write a guest post on the subject, so here it is.

THE (LOVELY AND) TALENTED...by Emily Dootlittle

A couple years ago I had a piece performed on a programme of music by women composers. I was a bit surprised that we were collectively described as “talented”: I’d always associated that word with students and young people, and most of us were professional composers in our 30s, 40s, and beyond. Although “talented” was almost certainly intended as complimentary, it came across to me as a bit patronizing. Since then I’ve noticed a number of examples where composers who are women are described, individually or collectively, as “talented”.
Wondering if it was just me who found this a slightly dismissive way of describing composers, I conducted an informal Facebook and Twitter poll on other people’s reaction to the word. Approximately a third of the friends who responded felt it was an unproblematic compliment; a third agreed that it was applied in a slightly gendered way, with (often unintended) condescending connotations; and a third found it problematic for other reasons, with or without being used in a gendered context. 
Describing someone as “talented” can erase the years of hard work that go into being a composer or performer. “Talented” may suggest that someone has potential, but has not yet produced much – perhaps a suitable descriptor for a student (though I prefer more precise descriptions like “learns quickly,” “has great ideas,” or “knows how to work to achieve what they want”), but not for someone who is already accomplished. It can serve to deprofessionalize the whole field of music, suggesting that good musicians are just lucky, not people who have devoted consistent, long-term effort (in an often hostile cultural and financial climate) to developing their skills. 
Some performers noted that people who described them as “talented” often expected them to perform for free. I think describing musicians as “talented” can also be a way of making us into something “other” – writing us off as quirky societal outliers, rather than recognising that anyone can make music as a meaningful part of their lives, if they have the opportunity to learn, a willingness to work, and a culture that supports music and the arts as an essential part of life for all.
Still curious about whether women were disproportionately described as “talented” I turned to my other favourite online resource, Google, and did a search for “talented composer”. Indeed, my suspicions were confirmed. Of the first 40 results returned for “talented composer,” 10 referred to women and 12 to young composers. The first 40 results for “gifted composer” returned 6 references to women, and 8 to young composers. “Skilled composer” returned 2 references to women, and “genius composer” and “masterful composer” returned only one reference each! I couldn’t do a search just for “composer,” because so many of the results were non-music-related, but a search for “music composer” also returned only 1 woman out of the top 40 results. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that women and men composers are still described in different terms. A number of recent studies have shown that recommendation letters for women and men in a variety of fields tend to employ different words to describe the applicants. (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/11/10/letters)

This post isn’t intended as a criticism of anyone who has described women composers as “talented”: I’m more interested in bringing to light how our language use shows our lingering, often unconscious, cultural assumptions about women. We’ve reached a time where we’re collectively quite willing to accept women as having potential (more than 50% of music students in conservatories and universities are now women), but not willing to accept women as leaders (note the shortage of women conductors in the highest positions). I do suggest that if we are writing about women composers, we take a moment to consider if we would write about male composers of similar stature in the same way, and if not, think about changing our language. But I certainly hope this doesn’t put anyone off of writing about women composers, out of fear of accidentally using the wrong words. It’s only through writing and discussing that we can understand where we are, and how far we still have to go.
Composer Emily Doolittle was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1972, and lived in Amsterdam, Montreal, and Seattle, before moving to Glasgow in 2015. Upcoming projects include the premiere of her chamber opera Jan Tait and the Bear, by Glasgow-based Ensemble Thing, in October, 2016, and interdisciplinary research into seal vocalizations at St. Andrews University. Her CDall spring was released on the Composers Concordance Label in July, 2015.  www.emilydoolittle.com
7 months ago | |
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Meanwhile in Westminster, it's not all scandal: over in the Westminster Cathedral Hall, the splendid Chopin Society continues to hold piano recitals on Sunday afternoons, given by some of the world's leading artists. Next up is the adorable Piers Lane in an all-Chopin programme. It's his only London recital for the remainder of this season - he is a very busy person and has a massive commitment in his native Australia, where he is now head of the Sydney International Piano Competition. On Sunday he'll be playing the Society's beautiful new Hamburg Steinway Model B grand, for which the gala we both attended about 18 months ago raised funds (see pic).

Here's a taster of what goes on when you choose a new Steinway in Hamburg: Piers went there six years ago to select another instrument, and was filmed...

Here are full details for the concert on Sunday:

Sunday 17th April 2016 at 4.30pm (16:30)Westminster Cathedral HallAmbrosden Ave SW1P 1QW(nearest tube: Victoria)
A piano recital by


who will play an all-Chopin programme as follows:
Impromptu No. 1 in A flat major Op. 29
Fantasie in F minor Op. 49Etude in E major Op. 10 No. 3 “Tristesse”Ballade No. 3 in A flat major Op. 47Polonaise in F sharp minor Op.44Scherzo No. 4 in E major Op. 54Nocturnes Op. 62: No. 1 in B major and No. 2 in E majorMazurka Op. 17 No. 4;Barcarolle Op. 60
Tickets: £14 (standard), £12 (seniors over 60), £8 (students)*Book online via this link: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/354575*students tickets only available on the door. Student reservations: 020 8960 4027.Stay for tea and meet the pianistTea tickets: £7, £5 (students), £4 (Youth Members)Tea tickets available on the door on the dayTravel directions to the venue on our website: http://www.chopin-society.org.uk/venues.htm
7 months ago | |
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Jeremy Siepmann
Very sad to see that Jeremy Siepmann, the critic, broadcaster and writer has died, aged 74.

I grew up listening to his mellifluous broadcasts, in conversational Bostonian baritone, on BBC Radio 3, where he often presented the forerunner of today's In Tune; his line-up of music often seemed the most interesting, exciting and sympathetic on offer. He was as fine a writer as he was a presenter and produced a number of biographies and the 'Life and Works' series on Naxos. He was a fine pianist himself and the piano remained, I think, his first love. When I went into journalism I was overjoyed to meet him, and in my five years as editor of Piano Magazine (in its initial title of Classical Piano) I commissioned a lot of articles from him. When I left, he took over as editor and held the post for many years, filling the publication with the sort of fascinating material - notably a "symposium" approach, in which a collection of different pianists would talk about the same composer or the same issue - that you just couldn't find in many others.

He was a lovely person: idealistic, gentle, enormously knowledgeable and full of terrific anecdotes, a fount of information about the world of music and musicians; I particularly remember interviewing him about Jacqueline du Pré, whom he knew well. Here is a full obituary from the Telegraph.
7 months ago | |
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Sir András Schiff is giving a masterclass at the Royal College of Music at 3pm this afternoon and if you can't get along 
to hear it, you can watch it on a live stream HERE. The students playing to him include are three of the 
UK's most exciting young talents: Martin James Bartlett, Hin-Yat Tsang and Alexander Ullman.  
(follow this link to the RCM's own site.)

This past week Schiff has been at the Wigmore Hall performing a series of three recitals of Last Works: the late sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, each concert involving no break. "András doesn't like intervals..." announced David King, house manager, from the platform yesterday. Last night's closing concert opened with Mozart's final sonata, full of subtle chromaticism; then the unquiet spirit of Schubert, already half removed from life in his B flat major sonata D960; Haydn's great E flat Sonata, still firmly rooted in earthy humanity and irrepressible joie de vivre; and Beethoven's Op.111, unleashing struggle, mystery, transcendence. And it all sounded pretty different, not least thanks to the piano itself.
The new Bösendorfer 280VC grand
Schiff was playing a brand-new Bösendorfer, the 280VC Vienna Concert Grand; I'm told this particular instrument is only the ninth that has been produced. Everything is new: "Nothing has been left unchallenged," says the company's website. The result felt yesterday like a movable Musikverein on three legs. The piano carries with it a similar ambience to Vienna's great golden hall in the sense of tonal warmth, dynamic range, an intimate atmosphere capable of the grandest scale sounds, a dark and velvety bass and a sustaining tone that cradles the melodic lines and makes them shine. I hope to have the chance to get up close and personal with one of these magnificent creations before too long. 
Between pieces our pianist did not leave the stage. Two hours without a break might seem intense, yet the only pauses found Schiff leaning gently on the piano with arms outstretched as if unifying spiritually with it before the first notes. The tone he found for each composer was subtly distinctive: the Schubert rounded and transparent, the Mozart singer-like, the Beethoven travelling to the extremes at the bottom of the keys yet without a hint of harshness. For us in the audience, the total effect rather resembled a guided meditation; you are drawn in to the concentration and the stillness, lifted out of all other concerns and immersed body, mind and soul. Schiff's recitals are the closest we can experience to music as spiritual practice - and they are all the more valuable for that.
Anyway, don't forget to come back at 3pm. 
7 months ago | |
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