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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Rising star alert: Irish mezzo Tara Erraught is giving her London debut recital at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday afternoon. She is then singing Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne. I've been following her career for a good few years as she's worked her way up, not least via the Bavarian State Opera's young artist programme, and her enthusiastic advocates include pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who introduced and accompanied her in a big outdoor concert in Amsterdam a few years back. I asked her for an e-interview... First, an extract from La Clemenza di Tito in Munich...




JD: Tara, tell us about you. You’re from a big family in Ireland? How did you start to sing?  
TE: I am one of three children, but we grew up on my grandfather’s farm on the east coast, with all of my mother’s family.        I began to play the violin aged five, as we had a wonderful orchestra in the primary school, and all of my family had learned before me. However, when I was ten I was taken for my first singing lesson with the wonderful Geraldine Magee in Dundalk, with whom I studied until the age of 17. I was a huge fan of singing and I knew every word to the cassette tapes of Neil Diamond and the hits from the 60s that my parents had, so it was a good time to learn an appropriate song for a young girl! I loved it from the very beginning - there was never any question of which I preferred.

JD: What have been your big career breaks so far? Which roles/concerts have you enjoyed most up til now?
TE: I have been so lucky! Really blessed to have such opportunities. Firstly, I have been blessed with wonderful teachers, without whom one could not tackle wonderful opportunities when they arise. Before we mention professional success, I should mention how important it was to my career becoming a member of the opera studio of the Bavarian State Opera. That was already a "big break". Directly after the third year of my undergraduate degree, they offered me a position in Munich, which of course I jumped at! Two immensely important years that helped form my performance abilities, stage technique, understanding of the industry and audition practices. Without these things I would not be where I am today.             Since then, I think most everybody would say my big break was jumping in at five days notice to sing Romeo in the first night of Vincent Boussard's production of Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. It was an amazing evening, one that I will never forget for the rest of my life, so I hold that opera very close. I sang the title role in a first night of Rossini's La Cenerentola at the Vienna State Opera in 2013, another wonderful time, with a composer I LOVE! Of course I must also mention my last role debut as Sesto in a premiere production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito at the Bayerische Staatsoper this past March. Another production I will never forget, a stunning role, surrounded by my best friends on the stage, this was a very special experience! JD: What has it been like to be on contract to the Bavarian State Opera? What does their young artist programme offer that is special? In what ways has it been good for you?TE: It is wonderful to be a principal Soloist at the Staatsoper, not only as a performer but also because many other incredible performances and artists surround us on a daily basis. I loved my time in the opera studio. There were only eight members and not only did we have singing lessons, repertoire coaching, drama class, language classes, but also one full production a year, as well as small roles on the big stage, the ability to watch performances, and more importantly, to watch other artists rehearse. What I learned there about my own voice, my performance abilities, was incredible, but it was so very important to watch older singers, to learn the tricks of the trade through observation.JD: You’re about to sing Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne. How do you like Glyndebourne? And how do you like Octavian? What are your thoughts about his character?
TE: Glyndebourne is the most stunningly beautiful place! You can’t imagine what it is like to take a break from rehearsal, and enjoy some air while walking through the gardens or around the lake! I mean, it’s something from a dream. I am loving our rehearsals, the cast and collective colleagues are a great team, and although we laugh a lot, we get a lot done! 
Without giving away much about my character, I will say that I don't play him, I try to inhabit him, and in turn I think there is quite a depth to this young man. He is not in an easy situation from any angle, and he goes from being a young lover, to being a man... it’s an amazing growth to experience. However, to say any more would be giving things away... I must say, I LOVE this music, it enraptures you! This is my first Strauss main role, and I tell you, it pulls at your heart strings! At our first musical rehearsal I didn't even make it to the end of the first act with shedding a few tears of total awe.
5. Tell us about your programme for the Wigmore recital - how did you choose it? (It is an unusual line-up of Brahms, Britten, Wolf and Haydn.) Are you excited about singing at the Wigmore?
TE: I cannot tell you how excited I am to make my British recital debut in the stunning surroundings of the Wigmore Hall. I have just finished my second recital tour in the USA and I loved every minute, so I am so looking forward to doing a recital here! A recital is a wonderful way to get close to the audience, to feel them, what they like, and to discover new levels in your own performance.            The programme: I wanted to do some of my favourite repertoire, which reflects where my path has taken me thus far. The Wolf and Brahms, both German, are so so much fun to sing, goodness me, I mean, talk about a belly full of fire! I desperately wanted to do some Britten as I have not yet had the pleasure to sing any of his operas, but I have always been a big fan of his music, and to take his folks songs out and present them seemed like the perfect idea! Finishing with the Haydn, I began singing in Italian as I learned my vocal technique, so to come back to this language is always a pleasure, and I just LOVE this piece! JD: What are your dream roles for the future? 
TE: There are so many - it all depends on where the voice decides to go. I would love to sing a Donna del LagoItaliana in Algeri andOtello from Rossini as well as Mozart’s Susanna from Figaro - those four are right up there on my list. Some day, I want to revisit Romeo, I will also look at Der Componist from Ariadne auf Naxos, Adalgisa from Norma, Orsini from Lucrezia Borgia and Sarah from Roberto Deveraux. But right now, I am happy with the roles I am singing! 
JD: Any more highlights for the rest of the summer or the 2014-15 season that you’d like to flag up?TE: I am very much looking forward to taking a supporting role this autumn in a new production of the Makropulos Case in Munich, a holiday performance of Hansel with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, singing Barbiere and La Cenerentola in Hamburg next winter, making my US operatic debut in Cenerentola at Washington National Opera, and returning home to Dublin for my first solo gala with the RTE next June.
4 months ago | |
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1. It was a great honour that this year I was asked to be on the jury. I was only able to emerge around Christmas from underneath the biggest heap of CDs that has ever colonised my study (dividing brooms syndrome) - but there could be many worse things in life than listening to c250 five-star discs in quick succession and exploring them over copious quantities of tea with respected colleagues. We had a ball, really. Best, in most categories we pick three and it is you, the readers, who vote for the one you want to win.

2. Alisa Weilerstein's Elgar and Elliott Carter cello concertos - with the Berlin Staatskapelle conducted by Daniel Barenboim - won Recording of the Year. Very wonderful it is. Here's an introduction to it. (And here's an introduction to Alisa herself over at Sinfini.)



3. At lunch I "was sat" next to Igor Levit, who was voted Newcomer of the Year. Perhaps paradoxically, he is already jolly well known: his debut CD of late Beethoven sonatas for Sony Classical sparked the sort of superlatives you don't see too often. Last year I interviewed him for the cover feature of International Piano. He is one of a remarkable bunch of pianists currently zooming to fame in their twenties: youngsters who already know their own minds and musicianship so well that they play with the assurance of seasoned masters. It's arguably the most interesting crop of young pianists we've seen in a long time, also including Grosvenor and Trifonov - all very heartening. Presenting yourself on the recording scene for the first time with with Beethoven's last five sonatas indicates no small ambition, and in Igor's case gambling on this repertoire was clearly the right choice. He will soon be recording some Bach. And incidentally he has a very natty way with ties.

4. Plenty of accolades for Jonas Kaufmann, whose Wagner album won the vocal category, despite powerful competition from an amazing CD of Hanns Eisler by Matthias Goerne. JK wasn't there in person, but recorded a touching video message for us from somewhere on his Winterreise tour, in which he added that the fact that the choice comes from listeners rather than critics makes this the biggest prize of all. I was on Easyjet from Moscow while he was singing Winterreise here the other night, and am I sick as a parrot about missing it or what. (Below: spotted outside the Moscow Conservatoire the other day. Missed him there too.)

5. Additionally, that Tosca from the ROH starring Angela Gheorghiu, JK and Bryn Terfel, with Tony Pappano conducting, grabbed the Performance DVD category. Bryn, who's currently starring in Faust at Covent Garden, was there to collect the award and told us fulsomely about their week of rehearsals for the performances at the ROH at which it was filmed. Angela, he said, moved everyone to tears in the studio when she sang 'Vissi d'art'. Jonas had flown in from New York and promptly got sick, so Bryn didn't hear him sing out until they were on stage. We were treated to an extract of film from Act II, when Cavaradossi sings 'Vittoria!' and Jonas emitted the kind of long, high, off-the-leash note that can flatten the entire music business at a stroke. At that point, said Bryn, even his threatening Scarpia-stare turned into "a small, wry smile," which he was glad the cameras didn't pick up.

6. Chamber category winner: the Ebene Quartet's gorgeous, impassioned, searingly intense recording of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. You couldn't hope for a more convincing advocacy of the neglected sister in this family duo than this from the lovely chamber-music boy-band of Paris; besides, the F minor Quartet comes leaping off the page as Felix's musical mid-life crisis that should not have been his swan-song, but was. With my Mendelssohnian hat on, this was my Record of the Year.



7. Rachel Podger's fascinating and velvety solo album of baroque violin rarities, Guardian Angel, scooped the Instrumental category. The first time I encountered Rachel was nearly 20 years ago in a festival in Australia, when she and her ensemble played their way valiantly through more than three hours of Telemann in high heat... Since then we've been watching her growth as an artist and now she is in her prime and flowering. This is the album of hers I have enjoyed the most, ever; sophisticated performing filled with sensitivity, intuition, character and insight. Brava! I'd also like to put in a good plug for another shortlisted disc, Richard Egarr's Bach English Suites, which I adored (yes, you read aright: I loved a harpsichord album.)

8. Orchestral went to Riccardo Chailly's Brahms Symphonies with the Leipzig Gewandhaus. They don't come much better than that. Yet for some of us, the surprise wild card of the year was a blistering account of the Strauss Alpine Symphony from...the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra under Frank Shipway. Fair blew my socks off, that one.

9. Other highlights included a gargantuan quantity of Britten wins, a Premiere award for George Benjamin's opera Written on Skin, a vast film about Cavaillé-Coll and his organs, and the first-ever App Award, which went to the Touchpress/DG exploration of the Beethoven Symphony No.9. You can see the full list of winners on the magazine's website, here.

10. Last but not least, two dear friends and colleagues whom I've known separately for years told me that they're an item. This was the news of the whole day that made me happiest. Cheers, chaps!

4 months ago | |
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I've just been to Moscow for the first time. Since I've been mesmerised by Russian literature and music for as long as I can remember, it's taken me a while to get there. Yet much as I love the culture that I know, nothing, but nothing, had prepared me for the sheer magnitude of the real thing.

These guys do nothing by halves.

Moscow is a giant onion, one that makes London - less than half its size - seem like mere wild garlic. This onion is still growing. You can peel back layer after layer, prising them apart with some difficulty: Tsarist Russia, Lenin, Stalin, Putin, everything superimposed and juxtaposed or simply posing - but as fast as you slice, so the new skins slide into being. Everywhere you notice building, restoration, cranes, scaffolding. It's a city that never ceases the process of becoming.

I've been paying house-calls to a few personal heroes. While tourists queue to worship the hoard of silver, gold and Fabergé-jewelled treasures at the Kremlin's Armoury [note to self: Google how this little lot survived 1917?], I found real treasure in the love with which the modest composer and writer museums are cared for - I saw Scriabin's, Chekhov's, Pushkin's, Bulgakov's (the haunted flat itself), but there are many more, and almost every one with a little theatre or concert room attached. The Bakhrushin Theatre Museum is a gem, filled with its eponymous collector's assemblage of memorabilia including Chaliapin's costume for Prince Igor, some rare portraits and photos of Pavlova, Nijinsky, Karsavina, and much more...

Here's Chekhov's house on the Sadovaya Ring, his home between 1886 and 1890:















Today, though, his view over the road looks like this:















Scriabin's home is particularly excellent. The apartment, in a dark turning off Old Arbat Street, feels as if he and his family could walk in at any moment. There's even a little machine on which he would mix coloured lights, furnished with still-functioning bulbs. Here is his Bechstein:




Casts of his hands - and his top hat and tails, preserved in a glass case - prove that he was remarkably tiny in stature. Just picture him strolling up the street with his student chum, Sergei Rachmaninov...

Hours after visiting Scriabin's home, I encountered some of his music. Peter Donohoe played Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No.3 with the Moscow Philharmonic at the Great Hall of the Conservatoire (pictured at the top of this post, the conservatoire with its statue of Tchaikovsky) - an amazing performance in which Peter brought such a range of power and colour to the solo part that it was like having a second orchestra on stage. As encore he added Scriabin's Fifth Sonata - and, listening, to compare that little ring of coloured lights with the breathtaking wildfire of the composer's imagination is quite a leap. Moscow may seem vast; but the inward vision of some of its artists was treble that size. 

Peter, as it happens, was my cover star for the very first issue of my old Classical Piano Magazine, some 21 years ago (!) and is somewhat renowned for beating the Russians at their own game - notably the Tchaikovsky Competition at which he shot to fame in 1982. If you don't yet know his blog, please have a read. This British piano lion completely "gets" Russian music and the style of the Russian school, with all the necessary perspective, limitless expressive range and oversized scale of concept. He's a brilliant raconteur, too, and has much to say about his tours of Russia in the Soviet era. It was snowing just before his concerto the other day and the wind chill was around -6. Hah, said Peter, that's nothing. He once did a concert in Siberia in -58. And the hall was full. That was just the beginning...

The Conservatoire (pictured, top, with its statue of Tchaikovsky) has been restored, and beautifully so; the process is, of course, ongoing. The Great Hall feels bizarrely intimate given its generous seating capacity, and its acoustic is warm, vibrant and vivid - among the best I've encountered. The soaring staircases and foyers are painted delicate shell shades and portraits of composers adorn the walls. I had some fun with my limited knowledge of Cyrillic, working out how to spell HAYDN; it comes out as something resembling GAIDEYNI.

If you love literature and music you can't help enjoying the fact that the biggest statues around Moscow are of writers and composers; many streets, squares and Metro stations are named after them. This towering man is Mayakovsky, in the centre of a large square outside the Tchaikovsky Hall:


And here is the entrance to the apartment building housing Bulgakov's "odd flat" from The Master and Margarita:



In five days I have scarcely made so much as a first incision into the surface of this metropolis, one that can, conversely, swallow you up at a gulp. Only one solution: go back, soon.

I had a list six pages long of must-sees, and I saw about one third of one page. I've come home, though, with a still longer list of must-reads and must-hears. We read Chekhov here...but not Ostrovsky? We know about Glinka...but not Verstovsky? (Who he? - Ed. contemporary of Glinka's, vital Russian opera pioneer, but here name pretty much unspoken and music unplayed...). We know something about Stanislavsky - but we maybe didn't know that Chekhov's nephew took another branch of the Method to America with him and taught it to some of Hollywood's leading actors. And when do we ever stumble over a volume of Mayakovsky in sunny London?

Here is a memorial to Emil Gilels on the apartment block where he lived:



Hugely grateful to our wonderful Russian friends Alex and Erika, Sasha, and the British Council people who threw a very lively party in Café Tchaikovsky after a certain concert the other night, for making us feel so welcome and at ease in what might otherwise have been a daunting environment...and for taking us to some super restaurants - one Uzbek, another Georgian, and the Coffee Mania outlet beside the Moscow Conservatoire - plus the cafés of the Shokolade chain, where I sampled something delicious called sea buckthorn, packed full of vitamin C and jolly nice with honey and lemon.

After merely five days in Moscow, staying on Tverskaya Street (over the road from the Gilels plaque) amid unbelievable quantities of traffic (four lanes in each direction, or five?), with the thrill of seeing Red Square for the first time, and having to go "Pinch me, someone, I am really, truly, in the Moscow Metro..." it feels very odd to be home. Trips like this give you a new perspective, honest, guv. The South Circular? A little suburban side street. British weather? Mild, excessively damp, but kind. Surroundings? Green. Very green. You can smell the blossoms. It's quiet. As for cultural life - someone said that there are 40 orchestras in Moscow, most of them state funded. Theatres, concerts, ballet, opera, performance - it is part of a whole way of life. Like I said, these guys do nothing by halves.


You see what I mean?




4 months ago | |
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The BBC's sole classical music radio station has bitten the dust, at least in the form we know it. Today there came the surprise announcement that the much-loved yet sometimes controversial BBC Radio 3 has been privatised: sold to the Russian oligarch Viktor Bulshchytovsky in return for a boost to the BBC of an eight-figure sum, rumoured to be in the region of £30m. Whether this is part of a rush of Russians in London to dispose of assets before further "sanctions" strike, or a clever piece of forward thinking by the British parties involved, nobody is, so far, letting on.

The move, Bulshchytovsky said in a press conference at dawn, makes perfect sense. "At Winter Olympics, opening and closing ceremony both offer finest music, ballet, celebration of writers and artists," he declared. "Russia is classical music and ballet. Greatest practitioners of distinguished art forms all, all, all Russian. In past we have Pavlova, Karsavina, Diaghilev, Horowitz, Oistrakh, Milstein, Richter. Imagine world of music without, no? Today we have Gergiev, Osipova, Vasiliev, Matsuev, Sokolov..." He continued to rattle off a string of names that left tabloid journalists frantically Googling for spellings. "Russia values finest music," he said. "This is statement that we believe in future of high art as pinnacle of human excellence - and I have put money in mouth." (It was thought that he meant he has "put his money where his mouth is".)

Questions were raised about what would happen to the channel if Bulshchytovsky's assets were to be frozen, but the oligarch brushed these concerns aside while the rather morning-faced assembly at the very early breakfast briefing in his Knightsbridge mansion was served with coffee, blinis, caviar and a shot of vodka. The money, he said, had already changed hands; we were invited there not to argue, but to celebrate. "This is only way in current climate that philistine country like UK can secure future of true culture on mainstream radio," he announced.

What about the Proms? We understand that Mr Bulshchytovsky is speaking to three potential candidates - all of them high-profile Russian conductors - about taking over the programming.

"Is obvious move - we just reunify territory that is naturally Russian. Perhaps is destiny! Look at crest on Broadcasting House," said Mr Bulshchytovsky, who was in singularly jovial mood by this time. "'Nation shall speak peace unto nation.' Even in 1932 they not use definite article!"

Remarkably few objections were raised by the assembled press in the face of what would, until a few years ago, have been considered an act of national betrayal by the public service broadcaster. Whether it was the vodka, the early hour or the disturbing suspicion that Mr Bulshchytovsky might be right, none could say.
4 months ago | |
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HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE BARTÓKBy Jessica Duchen
A talk given at the Balassi Institute Hungarian Cultural Centre, 25 March 2014. On the evening the author was joined by the violinist David Le Page and the pianist Viv McLean, who performed the solo piano and chamber works referred to in the script.

It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to be here in the Hungarian Cultural Centre to talk about Hungary’s greatest composer, Bela Bartók, today, on what would be his 133rd birthday.
As you know, I’m a British writer and music journalist. I’m not Hungarian myself, but I have a thing about Hungarian music. This ‘thing’ is hard won. It was really only a few years ago that I began to appreciate not only Bartók himself, but why I appreciate him, and, with him, the special approach to musical performance and training that came out of Hungary and the ethos of the Franz Liszt Academy and some of its professors.
When I started to write my novel Hungarian Dances, my initial motivation was that I wanted to write a book about a violinist. I began to think about who plays violins, and where, and why, and I became fascinated by the fact that in Hungary – the very centre of the European map – several extraordinary traditions of violin playing flourished side by side. First, most of the great 19th century violin pedagogues came from Hungary - the people who laid the foundations for the way the violin is played today. Joseph Joachim, for instance, the close friend of Schumann and Brahms; and Leopold Auer, who taught in Odessa people like Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein. And many, many others followed in their footsteps.
Alongside there flourished, of course, the Gypsy bands you can hear in restaurants, cafes and everywhere else. The violin is also central to Hungarian folk music, highlighted for a wide international audience by groups such as Muzsikas, who have in turn collaborated with ensembles like the Takács Quartet to show the origins of Bartók’s folk music influences. When I went to Budapest for the first time, almost every street corner was occupied by a busking violinist. It seemed to me that music was the stem-cell of Hungary and the violin its nucleus.
While I was writing Hungarian Dances, I’d sent my violinist heroine, Mimi, to New York to get her away from the Second World War, and one day something unexpected happened. I found Bartók knocking on Mimi’s door. I had not planned for him to put in a personal appearance, but he somehow insisted. And he was right: you couldn’t have a story about Hungarian musicians without him.
I’d like to read you a wonderful description of Bartók, written by his friend and patron, the Swiss philanthropist Paul Sacher. 
"Whoever met Bartók, thinking of the rhythmic strength of his work, was surprised by his slight, delicate figure. He had the outward appearance of a fine-nerved scholar. Possessed of fanatical will and pitiless severity, and propelled by an ardent spirit, he affected inaccessibility and was reservedly polite. His being breathed light and brightness; his eyes burned with a noble fire. In the flash of his searching glance no falseness nor obscurity could endure. If in performance an especially hazardous and refractory passage came off well, he laughed in boyish glee; and when he was pleased with the successful solution of a problem, he actually beamed."
But the fact is that for years I was simply terrified of Bartók. Looking back, I think that was perhaps some reflection on the kind of preconceptions we had in the UK in the second half of last century about Hungary, its music and Bartók in particular. There was, of course, the iron curtain; recordings from the eastern bloc and of historical musicians were not so easy to come by, so our information was limited. Then there were certain prevailing attitudes in the musical establishment and academia towards the music you were meant to like, and the reasons you were meant to like it. You definitely were meant to like Bartók - but not necessarily for reasons that might have pleased Bartók himself. It was quite a noxious cocktail.
I still remember the first time I heard a piece by him. I have a brother, Michael, who is 13 years older than me and plays the violin very well. He was in a youth orchestra and they had a concert at the Royal College of Music. I was rather small, but I was taken along and expected to sit very still and quiet and listen, and they played the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, which I think I expected to sound something like the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. But what I heard was this.
Bartók: Music for String, Percussion and Celesta, Movt III:
Those slides on the timpani really got to me. I hadn’t realized drums could do that. As a child you think that a drum is something you hit and it goes bop and that’s that. It can be oddly destablising to hear something that makes you question the received wisdom of your primary school teacher so very deeply. A drum changing its tuning after it’s been struck is a scary sound in itself, but perhaps the root of its unsettling effect is that it makes you question everything you thought you knew about the instrument. And, by logical progression, it makes you question everything else as well. When you are too little to unravel that that is what it’s doing to you, it is terrifying. All I know is that today I do question things. I don’t like to accept what people say at face value. There is always the potential for something deeper, more bizarre, more imaginative and sometimes more sinister behind it. I do recall reading that habitually we use only about ten per cent of our brain’s potential. Bartók can show us all this with one bop on a kettledrum.
My next Bartók moment was at my violin teacher’s house. The next pupil turned up early so she decided to get us to play some duets and she put one of the simpler Bartok duos in front of us. Of course, these pieces are designed for teaching, but they are based soundly in Hungarian folk music. For schoolkids in the London suburbs who think folk music is rather glum English songs like ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘The Oak and the Ash’, it can be a bit of a shock to encounter the snappy rhythms, the dissonances, the clashes – and the sheer energy and passion of Hungarian music. If you’re eight, it can be like a visit to Mars. Here is one of them - it’s Duo No.32 and it is simply called Song from Maramaros.
Bartók: Duo No.32, Song from Mármaros - Muzsikás
Cue the 1980s. I was a teenager and taking the piano increasingly seriously. A schoolfriend who was a very gifted pianist indeed suggested I go with her to the Dartington International Summer School of Music to participate in masterclasses being given by a very exciting young twenty-something Hungarian pianist… whose name was András Schiff. We spent a week in that studio listening to András teaching, day in, day out. I was mesmerized by the whole experience. We know now, of course, that András is one of today’s very greatest musicians and if I felt lucky at the time, that’s nothing compared to how lucky I know now that I was.
So what appealed so strongly about his teaching? For a start, he was both kind and rigorous. He used imagery a great deal and continually made connections between different pieces and styles. For instance, he would compare the start of a Schubert impromptu to the music Schubert would have known for unaccompanied male choruses in the Austria of his day. If two melodic lines in a piece of Schumann seemed to sing a duet, he’d encourage you to bring out the bass line more by saying it was a duet between Robert and Clara Schumann and we mustn’t neglect Bobby. He’d notice every detail of the musical text. Everything was pertinent and imaginative and direct. András had most of his training at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, where his teachers included Ferenc Rados, Pál Kadosa, and György Kurtág – all absolute legends among musicians today.
András’s playing has a very special sound. You can recognize his tone right away. There’s a clarity to it, a special, open, singing, airy quality that’s more or less unlike anyone else’s. I’ve only heard something close to it from one other pianist. That person, on record of course, is Bela Bartók himself.
Again, until just a few years ago, it wasn’t easy to hear recordings of Bartók playing the piano. Although he was a sought-after pianist in his day, he didn’t make nearly enough recordings – according to his younger son Peter’s book, which is entitled simply My Father, this was because of a bizarre situation with the Musicians Union in America. It was boycotting the recording industry because it thought that if musicians made recordings, it would lead to people not booking live performances! If Bartók made records against the union’s policy, he then wouldn’t be able to give performances. Eventually he left the union, but by then he was already ill with what he didn’t know was leukaemia, and he wasn’t well enough to make recordings. Too late.
So back in the Eighties, I’d never heard what recordings there were, and nor had most of my fellow masterclass students. And, unless I'm much mistaken, I don’t remember anybody in that class playing Bartók to András. Everyone wanted to play Bach and Schubert and Schumann, and you can’t blame them, but it still seems a lost opportunity.
There was one sole piece of Bartók that many students of our generation were learning and performing. It was the Allegro Barbaro. What? A barbaric allegro? Many people certainly played it that way – as if it were an excuse to bash the living daylights out of the poor old piano, make as much noise as you can as fast as you can – after all remember that Bartók regarded the piano as a percussion instrument.
Percussive? But. Um, we mentioned earlier what Bartók could really do with percussion instruments – remember the sliding timpani?... Anyway, I didn’t know or connect any of this and the poor old Allegro Barbaro just fanned the flames of my fear of this composer.
András used to say in the class ‘Don’t hit the piano – it hits back!’ And in reality Bartók’s touch as a pianist could not have been more exquisite or more sensitive. And if he could treat the piano as a percussion instrument, he could also treat it as anything else: a legato singer, a bagpipe, or a woodland bird – the slow movement of the Second Piano Concerto is full of sounds of night birds and insects, both of which fascinated Bartók all his life. The piano could also be a carrier pigeon of love letters to his second wife, Ditta Pasztory, for whom he composed among other things his Third Piano Concerto, left unfinished by just a line or two upon his death. The Allegro Barbaro, an early piece written in 1911, is one of the most percussive works and actually Bartók himself plays it without ever banging – it has vigour, but it also has grace.
Bartók: Allegro Barbaro, played by the composer: 
So, that was the Allegro Barbaro. And many people didn’t play it with that dancelike nature, or the earthy pentatonic melody lines that are derived from folksong, let along its humour – those little slides in the bass. There must be something about Bartók and slides…
It was two or three years after Dartington that I began to notice that somehow all my favourite musicians were Hungarian. I still knew nothing of Hungary or its musical traditions. Indeed, in the 1980s I’m not sure I even knew where Hungary was. It was a strange, alien land, somewhere beyond the Iron Curtain, and although it seemed easier to encounter Hungarians in London than it was to meet a non-defected Russian or Pole, we sheltered teenagers drew a bit of a blank.
But every time I heard someone whose playing I really adored, bingo, they’d trained at the Franz Liszt Academy (left) or with Hungarian emigrés. One time we were on holiday in the Engadine Valley in Switzerland and heard a young Hungarian pianist who absolutely raised the roof. He was called Zoltán Kocsis. Soon after that, there was a concert in London by another, one Dezsö Raánki. And there was the great Takács Quartet, led in those days by Gábor Takács-Nagy, who’d be more of a household name here if he were easier for the Brits to pronounce. My parents and I went to all their concerts at the Wigmore Hall. They used to bring in a small carpet to put under Gábor’s feet because he had a way of playing the violin with his entire body and used to stamp his left foot in enthusiasm. Today he is a conductor and an inspirational coach of chamber music. I recently listened to him teaching in the Verbier Festival’s summer academy – and it was similar to listening to András teaching. The same mix of encouragement, humanity and absolute musical rigour, the use of vivid metaphors and imagery, the exact attention to finding within the musical text the nuances that the composers wanted to get through. There was something very pure about it.
The cellist Steven Isserlis is the lynchpin of a small corner of England that is forever Hungary – the International Musicians’ Seminar at Prussia Cove, Cornwall, of which he’s been artistic director since the death of its founder, the great Hungarian violinist Sándor Vegh. Steven didn’t train in Budapest, but in an interview he told me that he too adores the Hungarian tradition and loves working with Hungarian musicians because their approach is so pure and so rigorous. Everything is about the music. They don’t become preoccupied with matters of how you market yourself, how you look on stage, how you plan your career. They look deep into the music itself and that is that.
This was rather different from the English university I attended in the mid 80s. Its obsession was with historic performance practice and what was then called “authenticity”, a term that’s now disused because the concept has been proven spurious. I remember 24 compulsory lectures on Italian baroque opera, a course on early Wagner up to – but not beyond – the point at which he started to become interesting, and being forbidden to play Bach on the piano because it was ‘the wrong instrument’. You can imagine how that felt to a would-be disciple of András Schiff! We studied Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Debussy, but very little Bartók crossed my path; what there was focused on his occasional ventures into serialism, or his use of microtonality. Those were what Bartók was valued for, if anything. Meanwhile they preferred to teach us lute tablature. Really useful…
Hungary was still behind the iron curtain, if a little more accessible than certain other places, and here in the West these were still the days of high modernism, electronic experimentation, total serialism and so forth. It often seemed to me that what was going on was a kind of progressive dehumanizing of music. This may or may not be so, but it was how I felt at the time, and my experience, I believe, was far from an isolated one.
In this context Bartók had somehow become rather an icon of the kind of approach to 20th-century music that we could call “Difficult or It’s Rubbish” – or perhaps “DIRE” for short. We trooped dutifully to listen to the complete Bartók string quartets and nodded wisely at their profundity and difficulty, without really understanding a note of it. We listened to his opera Duke Bluebeards Castle as an intellectual exercise – exploring its structure, but never really tapping its humanity. Bartók was Good For You – but he wasn’t there to be enjoyed. His collecting of folksongs was recognized as important, but was rather viewed as an adjunct to other aspects of his music, rather than the absolute heart of the whole thing as it truly was.
The ‘difficult’ works, the supposedly percussive piano, the forbidding look of Bartók with those haunted eyes – that was the image we absorbed. Even today we find articles saying things like, and I quote, “There is a bad habit of pretending that concert music needs the charisma of folk music to widen its appeal” – this is something I found recently in a publication called the New Republic, in an article about Bartók’s string quartets. But for Bartók himself, folk music wasn’t a charismatic pretence; it was the heart and soul of his creativity. If we can’t first grasp this one basic simplicity, we can’t hope ever to understand his complexities.
After we graduated, by the way, a couple of my friends hared off to study in Budapest. Gosh, they were happy. It wasn't just that sheet music there cost peanuts. It was the musical attitude towards their training - rigorous, focused and centred on truth towards the music itself, not perceived trendy values...
Sometimes I think we are simply not supposed to like serious music. We are paying for this long-term attitude now, in the form of people heralding the death of classical music. I still hope they’re wrong.
Here is a piece of Bartók that it’s virtually impossible not to like. It’s the First Rhapsody. Bartók wrote it for his friend the violinist Joseph Szigeti in 1928 and the idea was to bring the world of Hungarian folk violin style right into the concert hall. It’s a classic Verbunkos – the slower Lassu, then the rapid Friss – and the joyous rhythms and infectious high spirits of Hungarian folksong are present right through.
Bartók: Rhapsody No.1, played by Joseph Szigeti and the composer:
There was one single thing in my personal Bartók journey that made all the difference in the world. Despite everything, I hadn’t actually been to Hungary. Eventually we went to Budapest one gorgeous sunny September, less than 10 years ago. It was wonderful. The huge river, the rolling hills, the crumbling charm of old Buda, and slight air of threat and edginess around Pest that you can’t quite define; and oh, the Gypsy music, the wonderful wine, cold cherry soup and those absolutely incredible cakes at Gerbeaud’s. As Mimi is promised in Hungarian Dances, there will be cake… And the inflections of the language get into your ears and your bloodstream even if you can’t understand a word of it. Best of all, we visited Bartók’s house, which is now a terrific museum. It houses, among other things, the equipment he and Kodály used for recording folk songs, some lovely carved and painted Hungarian wooden cupboards, various manuscripts and much more. It has a glorious view of the hills.  How he must have missed it when he left.
The day after we came home I heard the Concerto for Orchestra and I ‘got’ it. It was just like being back in Budapest! Its rhythms, its energy, its quirkiness, something about the pace at which it breathes – and of course its fabulous melodies, based again on folksong – these are so at one with the sounds and rhythms of Budapest that you can’t imagine one without the other. So literally: I went to Hungary, I fell in love with Budapest and only then could I chuck out my misconceptions about Bartók and appreciate him properly.
This is the evocative fourth movement of the Concerto for Orchestra, Bartók’s equivalent to the rather wistful, dark intermezzos you sometimes find in Brahms’s orchestral works. The big tune on the cellos is actually based on a number from an operetta by Zsigmond Vince, entitled The Bride of Hamburg, with words that translate as ‘Hungary, you are beautiful and splendid’. The faster passage that follows is, according to Peter Bartók’s book, a skit on Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony, which itself is said to quote a tune from Lehár’s The Merry Widow, one of Hitler’s favourites. The repetitive passage of the Shostakovich’s first movement irritated Bartók, Peter writes – and in his music, you can clearly hear him laughing at it.
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra, Movt IV: 
That was part of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra – perhaps his most often-played orchestral work. He wrote it in America, in 1943  - it was a commission from Serge Koussevitsky at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Koussevitsky could see Bartók was in dire straits financially and wanted to help him out by offering him a major commission, and Bartók – who ironically was feeling a little better at this stage of his progressively worsening leukaemia – rose to the challenge by pulling out all the stops. The thing is, the music is so intensely Hungarian that you can tell that even if he was physically in New York, his spirit was still back in the old country.
Bartok did not actually have to leave Hungary. For him going into exile in America was a personal choice, a protest at the rise of fascism. In the 1930s he’d refused to perform or allow his works to be broadcast in Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy. He had plenty of problems from his stance – not least, his son Peter was bullied at school because of his father’s well-known anti-fascist politics – but he wasn’t Jewish and he wasn’t in direct danger of being arrested and sent to a concentration camp. It was his own conscience that sent him abroad. In that sense, he was quite a hero.
Perhaps this is the most famous quote about him and his outlook. He said:"My true guiding principle...which I have been fully aware of ever since I have come upon myself as a composer: the ideal of the brotherhood of peoples, brotherhood created despite war and all conflict. It is this ideal which I work with all my power to serve through my music; this is why I do not avoid any influence, be it from Slovak, Rumanian, Arabic or any other source. The only thing that matters is that the source be pure, fresh and healthy!"
I only recently got hold of the book by Peter Bartók. It’s not available in the UK and I had to track down a copy in the US via the second-hand books website upon which I spend much of my disposable income.
It paints a wonderful, human, intimate portrait of Bartók the man and the father. He was deeply sensitive and passionate about nature to the point - he wrote down birdsong and collected insects. He didn’t drink, and he ate very simply. He was so light on his feet that his shoes lasted pretty much forever. In Budapest he would always take the tram and only a taxi if he was going to give a concert. He was constantly tormented by noise and thought the radio was the worst invention in the world because it devalues the availability of music and intrudes on other people.
I was entranced to read about things so familiar that they made me feel Bartók and I virtually shared some part of a soul. The way he created a sort of white-noise machine to screen out the neighbours’ radio, for instance – I used a ionizer for the neighbours’ all-night TV in my first flat. Then there is a wonderful account of a family holiday that the Bartóks took in the Engadine Valley in about 1938, literally just down the road from where my parents and I heard Zoltán Kocsis that time – and as Peter describes his father walking among the pine trees absorbed in the glories of the mountains I seem to see my own father – who coincidentally looked a little like Bartók – doing exactly the same thing 50 years later.
The book is full of wonderful stories. For instance, in 1945 when Peter was serving in the US Navy he was in Panama and Bartók, who was already very ill, wanted to know what the insect life there was like. Peter captured an enormous beetle and sent it to his father for his collection. Bartók was delighted and he took the Hungarian word for beetle – bogár – and added the Italian suffix for a thing on a grand scale. The beetle became the Bogárone. That was barely a couple of months before Bartók died.
Bartók seems to have been a very pure soul, truly a man of principle. He was utterly devoted to his folk music collection and hated teaching the piano – ironically, when talking to Peter as a child, he referred to the Franz Liszt Academy where he taught piano as ‘the Awful Place’. All he really wanted was peace and quiet to write and collect.
We often hear about what a terrible time he had in the States, and Peter’s book reveals that this was due principally to his ill health. His leukaemia was either not properly diagnosed or he wasn’t informed of the nature of the illness, but it gave him a constant low-grade fever which meant and he was unable to travel and perform, so the family finances were straitened indeed. Oddly, in a later phase of the illness he felt better and he composed some of his finest works at this time – including the Sonata for Solo Violin, for Yehudi Menuhin, the Concerto for Orchestra, the Viola Concerto and the Third Piano Concerto.
When he was on the final page of the Third Piano Concerto, his temperature – which again was rather raised – suddenly dropped. His doctor recognized this as a sign of extreme danger and insisted he go to hospital immediately. Bartók didn’t want to accept this urgency and he got Peter to draw the barlines for the last lines of the score so he could quickly finish writing down the concerto first. No, no, said the doctor, you must go right away. Bartók would much have preferred not to be in hospital having invasive drips fitted. He knew it was the end, and would rather have stayed at home finishing his concerto while he still could. Finally he fell into a coma in hospital and died leaving those few bars still unwritten.
Peter recounts that in a final conversation with his lawyer in hospital, Bartók revealed that his one regret was that he was leaving the world with what he termed ‘a full trunk’. He had so much more to give, so much music within him still untapped. Peter’s book finishes with the words: “He was the most wonderful man I ever knew”.
That is certainly how I see him now.
Here is one of the best-loved of all Bartók’s pieces: the Romanian Folk Dances. Now we really can stop worrying and enjoy loving the music. Thank you very much.
Bartók: 6 Romanian Folk Dances, Joseph Szigeti (violin) and the composer (piano):

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Bombshell from the Beeb this week as we heard that Roger Wright is leaving the controllership of Radio 3 and the directorship of the Proms to be chief executive at Aldeburgh.

Filling both these rather distinct roles at once is a tall order - especially at the moment. One job looks like the biggest toy box in the western world (OK, in reality it probably isn't - but who wouldn't love to dream up their perfect Proms season?). The other...doesn't; on the one hand, whoever runs Radio 3 will probably have to wield a sharp-edged axe, but on the other, the recently appointed director general, Tony Hall, is the most sympathetic to the arts in many a long year. Who could be in the frame to take over?

In the spirit of fantasy football - for none of us have much idea which way things might go - here is my personal shortlist for the headhunters' reference.

The director of the Proms needs the experience, the knowledge, the contacts, the drive, the ambition, the personality and the thickness of skin to reach for the stars. It is high time, of course, that the Proms was run by a woman. It's been run by a man for over 100 years. Radio 3, of course, has never been run by a woman either. Chances are probably limited, given the male weighting within the station and its listeners, but you never know; stuff could yet be swayed. Here is a 50-50 selection in no particular order, plus a little thinking outside the box. Some of these names have been bandied about a lot; others haven't, but perhaps should be.

GILLIAN MOORE. The Southbank's head of music has a simply staggering breadth of knowledge about the classical repertoire, not least contemporary music - and commissioning the latter is a vital part of the Proms role. She's also stupendously creative in programme planning. Witness last year's The Rest is Noise.

ALAN RUSBRIDGER. The editor of The Guardian is a passionate music lover and clearly has the cool head, steady hand and strength of personality to carry off the joint post and all it entails. After dealing concurrently with Snowden and learning the Chopin G minor Ballade, he might find it a tempting piece of cake.

JOHN GILHOOLY. Running the Wigmore Hall is something that nobody would want to stop doing - unless they wished to be let off the leash with a bigger place and programmes to match. He has an impeccable track record as chief exec and artistic director of the Wiggy and head of the Royal Philharmonic Society. (PS - John, when you get this appointment, please can I have the Wigmore job? Thanxbijx.)

KATHRYN MCDOWELL. As CEO of the LSO she is accustomed to dealing with Gergiev, so probably most other jobs will seem a picnic. She's maintained the orchestra's position at the top of the UK's orchestral tree while keeping discretion, valour and a level head.

TOM SERVICE. The critic and broadcaster is virtually a walking musical encyclopaedia - and is a brilliant communicator, too. His soundness, enthusiasm and conviction would be invaluable assets in the role. Nicholas Kenyon went to this job from being a critic and broadcaster, so precedent exists.

FIONA MADDOCKS. The Observer's music critic, she is a former editor of BBC Music Magazine and along with the necessary breadth of knowledge she has managerial experience, a razor-sharp brain and a scrupulous attitude towards fairness and balance.

...Anyway, I know who I think should get the job, but we are not yet off to the bookies to place bets.






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These questionnaire pieces can be fun if you're up too early on a Saturday morning... When were you happiest? Probably when I heard I'd passed maths O level and realised I'd never have to do it again.  What is your greatest fear? Losing my loved ones.What is your earliest memory? Climbing on the back of an armchair to reach the LP turntable.  What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Forgetfulness. What was your most embarrassing moment? 
Playing part of the Mozart G minor Piano Quartet in the final concert of a music course and falling over my fingers. This wouldn't have mattered as much if two of my group hadn't been the kids of a VIP conductor who'd turned up to listen. Owch.Property aside, what's the most expensive thing you've bought? My Bechstein.Where would you like to live? New York.What would your super power be? Dematerialising then rematerialising in the place I want to be without having to travel. Beam me up, Scottie.What do you most dislike about your appearance? I'm too short.What do you owe your parents? Everything.If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose? Vibrato. Who would play you in the film of your life? Lauren Bacall, please.Is it better to give or to receive? To give. You know there's no hidden agenda.What is your guiltiest pleasure? C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E...To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why? To a couple of friends whom I introduced to other friends thinking there could be a good alliance, only to find that they weren't really friends at all and the results turned embarrassing.What has been your biggest disappointment? Discovering that musicality is no guarantee someone is also a decent human being. If you could edit your past, what would you change? I'd cut the bit where my parents and sister all died of cancer, and would keep them alive and healthy and happy today.When did you last cry, and why? At last year's Proms launch, when I heard they'd programmed the Korngold Symphony.How do you relax? Jogging. What is the closest you've come to death? Plane struck by lightning between Rio and Buenos Aires. Apparently it's not really so dangerous, but it didn't feel great.Where would you most like to be right now? Somewhere hot, soaking up the sun with a long coffee and a good book.Tell us a joke. The world's most expensive musical instrument - £45m - has been plastered all over the papers these past few days. It's a viola. 
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It's the strange case of the missing Rite of Spring.

The launch of the Royal Festival Hall's newly refurbished organ has been dominating the Southbank Centre all this week, with a no-holds-barred festival called Pull Out All The Stops. My old friend and colleague Clare Stevens was at the recital by the distinguished French organist Olivier Latry last night and she reports on an incident that has implications far beyond the sound of the mighty "king of the instruments". 

Latry had planned to play a transcription of The Rite of Spring, apparently originating in the composer's own version for two pianos, four hands, but the programme was changed to Widor's Fifth Symphony. What happened?


Clare says: "In addition to referring to his disappointment in very strong terms in his pre-concert talk, Latry read a prepared and clearly very impassioned statement at the start of the second half apologising to the audience especially those who had booked tickets in order to hear the Rite, and explaining that Stravinsky's publishers had withheld permission, on the grounds that it would be an infringement of Stravinsky's intellectual property to play it. Apparently it is OK to play it in the US where the publishers' writ doesn't run. Latry added that he still hoped to be able to come back and play it at the RFH one day, if the rules change."

As a TV presenter once said to a tattoo artist, where do you draw the line? On the one hand, it is vitally important to uphold those laws; otherwise it is artists/creatives who lose out. On the other hand, it would also be nice to think there could be some two-way traffic and that an arrangement could be reached whereby an artist as stupendous as Latry could indeed be heard performing a work like Rite, especially for such a special occasion (apart from anything else, imagine all the work he must have put into learning the thing). Where dedication and tribute is surely a motivation, in the context of the very top level of the world's organs and organists, shouldn't the situation be rather different from the more widespread acts of piracy, cheating and unauthorised exploitation? But meanwhile this Rite - with a certain irony - had to be sacrificed.

The organ festival - which runs til June - continues this weekend with Cameron Carpenter (yes, that guy) improvising a live sound-track to the 1920s German Expressionist film classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari tomorrow night, plus fun and games all around the centre including free taster organ lessons. Check it out here.


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Here's what happened on Saturday in the fish market of Odessa, the city at the tip of the Crimea that was the birthplace of Sviatoslav Richter and the training ground for the class of Leopold Auer - Heifetz, Milstein and Toscha Seidel included.



Credits: Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra & Opera Chorus, Hobart Earle (conductor).
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Our friend Serhan Bali, editor in chief of Turkey's classical music magazine Andante, has sent me this very troubling letter from Istanbul and asks us to help spread the word about these developments. Please read. jd



Turkish performing arts institutions are being abolished by the government 

Serhan Bali
The AKP government in Turkey is preparing to bring a new law to the parliament in a short time that will abolish all of the state-funded performing arts institutions in the country. 

Why are they doing this? We are told that the main goal of this draft bill is to establish an ‘arts council’ in Turkey. This body - for which the government officials seem to get inspiration from the UK's Arts Council England - will execute the policy of delivering the cultural funds to the people and organisations who will offer to produce any kind of artistic event in the country, be it opera-ballet-dance-theatre production, symphony concert, art exhibition, children’s play etc. 

However, the arts community of Turkey is strictly opposed to this draft bill, for a couple of reasons. First of all, this new law also includes a clause that will shut down all of the state funded performing arts institutions in the country! So all of the state symphony orchestras, state opera-ballet-dance companies, state theatre companies, state choirs which the majority of them have been operating in the country over 50 years will be closed from the time this law will be accepted in the parliament by the AKP MPs who comprise the majority. 


From the time this draft bill will be accepted, millions of Turkish people throughout the country will absolutely have no access in their region to any kind of artistic activity. 

For years, people in Turkey have had the benefit of attending low priced, qualified arts programs in the season. These long-established state funded organisations, besides operating in their home cities, also have been making regular tours to their surrounding areas, and these can also be the remotest parts of the country, where people with very low income struggle to live. 

This arts policy, stemming from the cultural revolutions of the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, has been accepted as the primary social responsibility of all of the Turkish governments so far. It seems that this government doesn’t want to feel this responsibility after staying in power for the last 12 years. 

By the way, some people in the arts field, myself included, don’t have any negative opinion towards the concept of an arts council. We believe that this kind of cultural body could well be used in order to deliver the public funds with fair methods and in a more democratic way among the Turkish people. But the problem is that the governments in Turkey, including the current one, unfortunately don’t have enough vision to handle the arts scene in all its entirety with an updated and modern view. 

But what the current AKP government has in mind by bringing their arts council model (which is called TUSAK-Arts Organisation of Turkey) to the public attention has nothing to do with the present day acceptances. First of all, this TUSAK definitely will not act as an autonomous entity, but will work as none other than a government agency because of the fact that all of the 11 members of the board of TUSAK will be elected by the cabinet of ministers. In AKP’s Turkey, this means that these members will only prefer to fund the pro-government cultural demands and projects. We believe that TUSAK will have the sole mission of delivering the public cultural funds only to the people who have been ideologically close to this government. 

On the other hand, some well known AKP ideologues have been known setting the standards of a so-called ‘conservative art’ concept for the last two years. I and many other people in Turkey believe that TUSAK is the brain child of this new concept. With this tool, they feel that they have the mission to abolish the whole arts establishment in the country and reorganise the arts scene according to their concept of ‘conservative art’. This concept refuses the notion of independence of the arts and the artists and also the autonomy of the state funded arts institutions in the country. 

The government officials headed by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been expressing their disgust and dissatisfaction towards the artists who are working in state funded arts organisations for quite a long time. These artists are accused of taking active part in the opposition camp and raising their voices to the acts of the government especially in the arts field. 

‘We will privatise all of the state funded performing arts institutions in the country so that from now on artists will play or sing or dance as they wish with the help of private donors. Our government won’t operate any theatres, operas, symphony orchestras from this time on.’ This was the crucial statement of Mr Erdogan in April 2012 after he boiled over the theatre actors’ raising their voices against the government’s acts of slashing the independence of the management of public theatres at that time. 

Now we can understand that this speech became the signal rocket of this draft bill. What he meant that time by ‘privatisation’ is being served now in our plates in the guise of TUSAK. By this manoeuvre the AKP government is planning to throw all of the arts institutions overboard and wants to establish a new arts hierarchy in the country which will be fully controlled by the government and by PM himself. This has nothing to do neither with democracy, nor with freedom. 

One other aim with the TUSAK law seems to establish a commercialized system in all of the artistic fields of Turkey. People who are ideologically close to the government but with no scope and vision of arts are expected from now on to benefit from the funds that will be delivered by TUSAK. On the other hand, the artists are still trying to explain the government officials that symphony orchestras, theatre-opera-ballet-dance-choral companies cannot survive in a developing country like Turkey without the full support of the government - but so far we haven’t been successful in persuading the officials. This is not surprising, because we are aware of the real intention in Ankara.

The arts community in Turkey nowadays makes a word play and justifiably calls ‘TUSAK’ as ‘TUZAK’ which means ‘trap’ in Turkish - because arts people in Turkey believe that this draft bill is nothing but a trap of the government in order to get rid of the artists and their institutions. But we know that this act will certainly bring no good to the people in Turkey, will commercialise and cheapen the arts and will pave the way to the desertification of the country in terms of qualified artistic events.

Serhan Bali
Editor in chief, ‘Andante’ classical music magazine
www.andante.com.tr
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