JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with ginger, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
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It was 10 years ago today that I thought I'd investigate these strange new things called blogs. All of a sudden, you could write something and press a button and a minute later a total stranger could be reading it on the other side of the world. For a writer this was a) mind-blowing, b) irresistible. I started mucking about with a site or two and next thing I knew, I had my own blog. I didn't know you could give blogs fancy titles so I just called it Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. And here we are.

Celebration? Well, there's a Hungarian Dances novel-concert this afternoon at 3pm at the gorgeous St Mary's Perivale, with me, David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano). Admission is free, though you can make a donation afterwards. There will be cake, and there's a pub over the road.

So, how have things changed in these first 10 years?

First of all, and most obviously, we are still here. Many are not. I've recently overhauled the blogroll and am surprised by the number of writers who've stopped blogging in the past couple of years. Perhaps novelty wears off; perhaps pressures of time encroach too much. I've often considered closing down this one, but have never quite been able to bring myself to do it. It's often a sort of mental limbering up at the start of the day, a way of getting brain into gear - even though you should never blog before your second cup of coffee - and it's cheaper than therapy. More importantly, there are few ways to keep certain values going in this scary world, but JDCMB is one. If you are a regular visitor, chances are that you know them. That's why I keep on keeping on.

When the Internet was becoming ubiquitous, its gatekeepers - and its users - made two enormous mistakes. One was to allow anonymity. The other was to make everything free.

Ten years on, many gifted individuals are struggling to make ends meet because of the second; as for the first, this is why many of us have closed our comments facilities and never read "below the line". I closed the JDCMB comments facility not because there were regular trolls, but because it was always a worry that there might be. One needs to eliminate sources of avoidable stress whenever possible.

When Amazon started to allow anonymous book reviews, one of the first things that happened to my stuff was that someone wrote a vicious anonymous review of my Korngold (pictured right) biography. I was convinced I knew who'd written that review and sent a letter to the Society of Authors journal saying, essentially, that anonymity makes nonsense of the whole idea of reviewing. Apparently this was news and I got interviewed by The Guardian. That was 15 years ago, never mind ten; it's still true; and it's still not sorted. (I still think I know who wrote that review, btw, only now I think it wasn't the person I thought it was then. It's worse. Never mind.)

As for free...well, this blog is, obviously, free. Mainly because I haven't worked out a way to put up a paywall. If it becomes possible, I may do so. I've tried other ways to allow it to bring in an income, including, briefly around 2009, virtually selling my soul (it's back - thanks). Occasionally some of you kindly decide to sponsor Solti's cat food and receive a sidebar advert in return. You can still do this if you so wish. Thank you to everyone who's taken up the possibility, especially Amati.com, our latest long-term sponsor, for whom I now write a reasonably regular Soapbox column. Here's the latest, featuring one of Mr Buchanan's priceless cartoons: when should we applaud prodigies?

A lot has happened to me in ten years. I've written four novels, two plays and several words&music projects, joined the Independent as a freelance music and ballet correspondent, met and interviewed many of my heroes and heroines, become a bit of a campaigner for women's equality in the musical field and survived a Dalek invasion (my digestion remains a long-term casualty). I've travelled a lot and fallen in love with Budapest (right); I've trailed Martha Argerich to Rome; I've even found my way back from Munchkinland. And if you've enjoyed the novels to date, there IS another one, it is finished and it is musical (we just have to find it a publisher who doesn't think classical music is elitist...). But do read this article from The Observer today.

During the past decade we've watched the emergence of many glorious new artists: Benjamin Grosvenor, Daniil Trifonov, Juan Diego Florez, Jonas Kaufmann (left, in the Met's new Werther), Julia Fischer, Alisa Weilerstein, Joseph Calleja, Yuja Wang and more have risen to prominence. It's been a privilege to chart this. Here is my latest big interview for Opera News, with the glorious mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch (March issue cover feature).

But the most worrying thing at present is the reduction in freedom of expression that results from this bizarre climate of mass hysteria and free-for-all, line-toeing mudslinging, encouraged by the tabloids and a few bloggers who like high ratings. Such a climate has never happened before in my lifetime. "What do they want? Blood?" asked someone recently. I fear so. It resembles a primitive call for blood-letting - like The Rite of Spring, a ritual in hard times to bring back the sun. It is always the innocent who are sacrificed - whether it's an abstract force for good, like art music itself, or learning, or intellectual capability; or the Chosen Maiden of Stravinsky's ballet, who if you remember is a young, innocent and terrified teenage girl. Guess what? It doesn't help.

I believe we need nothing less than the Enlightenment. An embracing of reason, clarity, proportion, sense and sensibility; love to combat hatred; the power of laughter, which is also an endangered art; a note of sanity to restore rational thought against ideologies that have tipped askew under their own over-inflated obesity. This doesn't mean "a return to..." anything - because you can never go backwards. Nothing does. Time doesn't work like that. You can only go forward. Let's go forward to a fresh Enlightenment. Let there be light.

So, to celebrate JDCMB's tenth birthday, above is the ultimate Enlightenment masterpiece: Haydn's The Creation, a work that features all the qualities and values I love the most, in a performance from 1951 conducted by Eugen Jochum. Enjoy.




4 months ago | |
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Tomorrow we have the last performance for a little while of Hungarian Dances: the concert of the novel, at the beautiful 12th-century church of St Mary's Perivale. Stars David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano) and I narrate. Start time is 3pm and admission is FREE, though if you like us you can make a donation at the end. Do join us. There will be cake.

Last night, though, we experienced a taste of the real thing, courtesy of the Balassi Institute Hungarian Cultural Centre: the Hungarian Roma guitarist and composer Ferenc Snétberger, his trio and some of his students came to London to perform at a converted chapel in Bloomsbury.

Snétberger's music combines influences of traditional music with classical technique and raptly concentrated improvisation. He's a stunningly versatile musician; and besides his hypnotic jazz he has written a concerto for guitar and string orchestra entitled For My People - a tribute to the Roma Holocaust, which he has recorded with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, Budapest. His music gets to your innards and twists them with a mix of meditative immediacy and hinted nostalgia as his drummer surrounds much of the music with a glimmer of cymbal or a hiss of brushed side-drum, as if we're listening through the crackles of an old LP.

Snétberger has started an academy for young Roma musicians in Hungary, near Lake Balaton - the Snétberger Music Talent Centre. Last night several of the students were here with him: a 14-year-old violinist who already has a sweetness of tone and depth of musicality to promise much for the future, and a 17-year-old pianist whose absorption, assurance and personal style of playing made a terrific impression.

Here he is with some of the students...

4 months ago | |
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Last night I took a trip to London's newest concert hall: Milton Court, a 600-seat, wood-lined venue under the auspices of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, across the road from the Barbican Centre. I hung around to talk to people after the concert, then set off for home (I don't have a car, so only use public transport) at about 10.20pm...and somehow got deeply and hopelessly lost in an area to which I've been trotting regularly ever since the Barbican opened in, er, 1982.

It wasn't pleasant. There was nobody around except for one or two speeding (and occupied) taxis; the giant new blocks housing financial and legal institutions all look the same when deserted by night - glass, glass and more glass, alleviating the surrounding concrete but creating more of the same problem in a different style; and these great piles seem to shake up the GPS on the mobile phone, which didn't seem able to show me where I was or where I was going. I know the way to Moorgate, honest guv. Yet somehow I ended up at St Paul's Cathedral. It is magnificent at night with its floodlighting, but it wasn't where one wanted to be.

Location, location, location? London's concert halls occupy some funny places. The South Bank has transformed for the better this century, but it took a long while to reach the status it has now and make the most of its riverside setting (and even now there'll be trouble until they can sort out the refurbishment issues with the mayor, who it seems prefers to placate a handful of skateboarders rather than encourage access to a varied feast of cultural activities for several million people). The Barbican's location has always been awkward and unwelcoming, and Kings Place is cursed in terms of journey and surrounds, though it's terrific inside. The Wigmore Hall is the one venue that is central for all. It's an issue of practicality, of course, London's land and property prices being as they are; the idea of "regenerating" an area by building a new venue, too, is admirable, but I'm not convinced it has yet been proven to work. The biggest mistake of London's musical scene was the decision not to rebuild the Queen's Hall after the war. It was just north of Oxford Circus.

The hall at Milton Court, though, is in itself wonderful. There's a resemblance to the auditorium of Kings Place, but the acoustic is a little warmer, the space bigger and perhaps more versatile, and the wood darker. It was a great forum in which to cheer on Tasmin Little and Martin Roscoe in a delicious programme of Mozart, Fauré, Ravel and Franck. The Guildhall used to have the dubious distinction of being housed in one of the nastiest buildings in which I've ever spent time - it was (and the old building remains) right over the Barbican's car park, fumes and all, and you can't see much beyond the concrete. The new place is an improvement beyond recognition.
4 months ago | |
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Tasmin Little has just learned that she's both Artist of the Week all this week on Classic FM and Artist of the Week all next week on BBC Radio 3. Comparisons with buses come to mind, but she certainly deserves an accolade or many, even if they do all arrive at the same time. We can hear her in recital tomorrow at Milton Court - London's newest concert hall, clocking up a fantastic series in the new building of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama - when she and Martin Roscoe play, among other things, my very favourite sonata, Fauré's Op.13 in A major and much more besides... Above: Tazza plays Kreisler's La Gitana with a rose...and John Lenehan (piano).
4 months ago | |
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No British violinists have got in to this year's Menuhin Competition. Have Brits been left behind in music's global market? You bet. Here's my piece on the topic from today's Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/where-has-the-british-classical-music-talent-gone-9150300.html
4 months ago | |
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It is farewell to the pianist Alice Herz-Sommer: survivor of Terezin, daughter of a friend of Kafka and Mahler, resolute lover of life and an inspiration to us all. She made it to 110.

The clip above is from a film by Christopher Nupen, made when she was 98. Here's an article I wrote about her in 2010 and here is an obituary from The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/23/alice-herz-sommer-holocaust-survivor-dies


4 months ago | |
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If you're in the know about the Lucerne Festival, you may have heard that its director Michael Haefliger's plans to build a new opera house, the Salle Modulable, for the Swiss lakeside town looked set to turn into fairy dust upon the withdrawal of necessary funds. This has been challenged in court and the opera house has won. We hope that in due course opera amid the mountains will become as vital a highlight of the European musical calendar as Lucerne's existing festivals are today.


Salle Modulable Foundation wins its case: withdrawal of funds was unlawful

Lucerne/Hamilton, 21 February 2014 – The judge of the competent court in Bermuda has ruled that the withdrawal of funding for the Salle Modulable in Lucerne took place unlawfully and that Butterfield Trust (Bermuda) Limited must fulfil its obligations.

The Salle Modulable Foundation has won its case before the Supreme Court of Bermuda: the withdrawal of funding for the Salle Modulable by Butterfield Trust (Bermuda) Ltd. (Butterfield) in October 2010 has been ruled unlawful. The presiding judge has found that a contract of donation governed by Swiss law was entered into in the summer of 2007 and that Butterfield must meet its obligations arising from it. If the Salle Modulable Foundation submits a feasibility study, adapted to the new circumstances, for a venue with flexible arrangements for experimental music theatre in the City of Lucerne, Butterfield is bound to honour the promise of finance it originally made in the amount of up to CHF 120 million. The feasibility study will be updated and adapted as part of the New Theatre Infrastructure Lucerne (NTI) Project.
Butterfield’s counter-claim was rejected in its entirety. The judge has not yet made any final pronouncement on other questions. This will entail a further hearing. The judgment may yet be referred to the Bermuda Appeal Court.

Hubert Achermann, Chairman of the Salle Modulable Foundation, says: “Naturally we are very pleased with the outcome and believe that justice has been done. Our expense and effort have paid off, and I thank everyone who has supported us in these lengthy proceedings. Still, we remain far from our objective. First, we expect the opposing party to accept this judgment and desist from further time-consuming and costly legal proceedings. Then we have to produce an updated and authoritative feasibility study, in co-operation with the Canton and City. For this purpose, we can build on the work done so far. We have a fine opportunity to create something unique for Lucerne, as the City of Culture and Festivals, and for its institutions, not least in memory of the great patron, Christof Engelhorn.“ 
4 months ago | |
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I was lucky enough to spend yesterday adjudicating the Chappell Medal - the Royal College of Music's top award for pianists. With me on the jury were the pianists Margaret Fingerhut and Charles Owen and we were prepared for a day-long feast of music from the creme-de-la-creme of the college's students. What we hadn't anticipated was being completely blown away by one extraordinary winner.

John Granger Fisher from Brisbane, presented the kind of programme you don't see every day in concert halls, let alone a college contest. He opened with the Haydn Sonata in B minor; next, the Brahms Paganini Etudes, both books thereof; as interlude, the Chopin C sharp minor Etude from Op.25; and to close, Balakirev's Islamey. We were put in mind of the story that Murray Perahia tells about Horowitz: at one of Perahia's consultation lessons, Horowitz said to him, "If you want to be more than a virtuoso, first be a virtuoso." John - a modest and unaffected performer - made the gargantuan demands of the Brahms and Balakirev look easy, wrapping them up with stylish phrasing and classy finishing touches. His virtuosity knocked us over. More than that, he simply moved us to tears.

We were delighted to award second prize to Riyad Nicolas from Syria, a fascinating, accomplished young artist who is very much his own person and excelled particularly in Ravel's 'Scarbo' and Ligeti's 'Fanfares', as well as some gorgeous Scarlatti; and third to Jun Ishimura, who drew us into her beautifully coloured and shaped performances of Beethoven Op.109, the Chopin B flat minor Sonata and Ravel's La Valse. Prize for the best undergraduate went to the highly promising Aleksander Pavlovic from Serbia and we much enjoyed the performances by Dinara Klinton from Ukraine whose Prokofiev Sarcasms were glittery, original and well projected, and Hin-Yat Tsang from Hong Kong, whose tone quality and sense of love for the music were exceptionally beautiful.

Here's John's biography from a competition he entered last year.

John Granger Fisher

John Granger FisherAge: 27Origin: AustraliaEducation: Hartt School of Music University of Hartford, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith UniversityCompetitions and Awards: Queensland Piano Competition (First Prize), Yamaha Australian Piano Competition (First Prize), 4MBS Chamber Music Competition (First Prize), John Allison City of Sydney Piano Scholarship, Florence Davey Piano Scholarship, Queensland University Postgraduate AwardJohn Granger Fisher was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1984. He began piano lessons with his mother at the age of four. In 1997 he commenced studying with John Winther at the Young Conservatorium Queensland. In 1998 he began studying with Natasha Vlassenko. From 2006 to 2008 he studied with both Natasha Vlassenko and Oleg Stepanov.John completed the Bachelor of Music (Advanced Performance) with First Class Honours at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. He has been studying at the Hartt School of Music since September 2008. He has taken lessons from Oxana Yablonskaya and Boris Berman.John has won first prizes in a number of competitions including: the Queensland Piano Competition (2001), the 5th Yamaha Australian National Piano Competition (2001) and the 4MBS Chamber Music Competition (Trio) (2004).  He has also been awarded the Queensland Conservatorium Postgraduate Award (2006); the Florence Davey Piano Scholarship (2007); the John Allison City of Sydney Piano Scholarship (2008) and the Hephzibah Menuhin Memorial Scholarship (2009). He received the second prize in the 2009 Louisiana International Piano Competition.In Australia, John has appeared in the Tyalgum Festival of Classical Music, Kawai Keyboard Series, 4MBS Beethoven Sonata Series, Mostly Mozart Concert, Ithaca Auditorium Brisbane City Hall and the 4MBS Mozart on the Move Concert Series. He has appeared as soloist with a number of Australian Orchestras. In 2009 he toured with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”.John has also maintained a keen interest in accompanying and Chamber Music. In 2005 he accompanied the Queensland Chamber Choir in a performance at the Queensland Parliament House. He has performed in a variety of chamber music ensembles and is involved in the 20/20 chamber music program at the Hartt School.
4 months ago | |
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The clever old Barbican has launched a free app with which you can order your interval drink in advance, from 48 hours earlier to 30 mins before the concert begins. More info here. And you can download it here. Well done, chaps. Fast may this spread.

It's not a minute too soon - we all know the score. You have a 20-minute interval. You spend 15 minutes of it queuing up, another 2-3 processing your drinks order (finding, pouring, paying), and then you have 2-3 mins to down the liquid before you go back into the hall (being a classical audience, you are expected not to take said drink in with you). Alternatively you might have arrived early to spend 15 mins queuing before the concert to order your interval drink. And you can't help wondering, having been to sensible places like Germany, why we can't do as they do and have a whole rack of ready-poured helpings of the most popular drinks - red & white wine, beer, orange juice and water - so that people can just pick one up and hand over the cash pdq, which would save person-hours, aggro and the usual headache of having to choose between a drink and a trip to the loo.

Speaking of which, please can someone invent an app to create faster access to the Ladies Room?





4 months ago | |
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Following Kiev developments with much anxiety. Updates can be found here. 

It is about 20 years (!) since I went there with a close friend whose family was from the city originally, but had emigrated to Israel in the 1970s. She hadn't been back since she was about eight years old.

It was a powerful week that I will never forget. We were overwhelmed by the warmth, hospitality and profoundly cultured outlook of the people we met; they lived often in conditions of what we in the west regarded as quite some deprivation, but never lost their sense of dignity and perspective for a moment. I was bowled over by everything we saw - from the beauty of the cathedral to the numb horror of the monument at Babi Yar.

The depth of the metro seemed incredible: you'd get on the escalator at the top without being able to see the bottom. And back in the open air I adored the magnificent monasteries and the sound of their bells, which is pure Rachmaninov (guess where he got it from)...and we visited the Great Gate, which is really rather small compared to Mussorgsky's picture of its picture. Inside crumbling concrete high-rise blocks, astonishing things included the fact that the lift actually worked - getting into it was a little frightening, though - and the sheer quantity of cockroaches, as I just didn't know you could have that many cockroaches in one place at the same time...

In those days everyone was still adjusting with some surprise to the lack of Iron Curtain and experimenting with the new openness, dipping their toes - and often more - into the notion of capitalism. Pianists turned into marketing managers. Smart cars were still rare, but existed. New blocks with smart flooring and plate glass windows rubbed shoulders with the Soviet era towers near the sprawling Dnieper. We ate blinis and Russian salad and probably got through a fair bit of vodka; our hosts opened some Soviet Champagne, which tastes a little like fizzy dry sherry, and washed it down with huge amounts of cake. We heard an extraordinarily gifted young pianist in a celebratory concert at the conservatoire; she was about ten, so she must now be 30. I hope she is still playing.

I often think of our friends there and wonder how they are and what has become of them. Sending you love, wherever you may be.

In tribute and in hope, here is some of that bell-laden Rachmaninov... played by Martha Argerich and Lilya Zilberstein. It is from his Suite No.1 and it's called "Russian Easter", but please note that this is a musical statement, not a political one!




4 months ago | |
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