JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with CHOCOLATE AND SILVER, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1686 Entries

This extraordinary piece of music is going to dominate my next six months or so, so I'd love you to get to know it a little now. I'll be posting a lot about it for reasons that will become apparent. Please note that the second movement's main theme shares its derivation with that of the Geistervariationen, to which we listened here the other week. This wonderful performance is by Christian Tetzlaff, with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi.
4 months ago | |
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So the feasibility study for the new concert hall - The Centre for Music - has finally surfaced, a little later than planned. It's being greeted, generally speaking, as if it's to be the next London Olympics. "A global beacon," declares The Standard... Nicholas Hytner (he who said that building the Southbank Centre extension would spoil the view from his National Theatre) compares it to Tate Modern, which he says enlarged audiences for other visual arts rather than taking them away. This should, he says, be "a Tate Modern for music".

Having writtten more times than I can count that it's a disgrace London has no world class concert hall, on one level there's nothing I'd like better than to see it materialise. But there are an awful lot of questions to ask first.

1. Who's going to do the acoustics? If £278m is to be spent on this thing, it does have to be world class. World class has to mean putting its purpose first, its functionality as a hall, ahead of architectural concerns. Please, George, can we have Mr Toyota? Musicians in the know tell me that his halls are the finest in the world.

2. What are we going to put in it, besides the LSO? We have a name in this country for building boxes and then having trouble with content. It took a long time for the Millennium Dome to find its purpose in life. Waterloo Station, the busiest in the country, has a row of platforms that have sat disused since Eurostar shifted to St Pancras. Yes, just sitting there. And so forth. "The LSO" is not answer enough to this question: no orchestra performs every night of the week, and while visiting recitalists and international orchestras will welcome the venue, can they fill it every remaining evening? Dark nights would make it difficult to stack up the sums of money involved.

3. Assuming the £278m is found - and we can probably add a few extra £ms to that, as few projects are ever realised for the planned amount - that's one matter. The money for actually running the place day to day, year after year, will come from a different budget. That's where ACE competition is likely to kick in. If extra filthy lucre isn't forthcoming, this place is going to be competing for the same, dwindling pot of cash as the Southbank, the Barbican, dear ENO and the rest of it. This project would appear to be the darling of all concerned in creating it. What happens to everyone else?

4. Will London in the end be culturally better off - or worse? Will this be an excuse to axe classical music at the Southbank, the Barbican and one of this 10m-people city's all-of-two (2) opera houses? Is the price of running the new hall and its Orchestra Rattle going to be the lifeblood of the Philharmonia, the LPO, the RPO, the OAE and more? If so, that price is too high and it will leave London with worse musical provision, not better.

5. Where is Sir Simon going to take his shower? (Or his bath. Apparently he had a bath installed in his dressing room at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, during his CBSO years.) There's a good dose of hot air around: "There will be no 'formal' front and back of house areas dividing the musicians from the audience," the Standard reports. So, er, how do we think performers work? They need to change, wash, do their hair, rest, eat, be recorded and, above all, practise. The backstage facilities in London's current delights are currently woeful - when one big visiting orchestra was in town not long ago we found them changing in the corridors because they'd arrived with their concert clothes in their usual wardrobe trunks and there wasn't room for them all in the school-gym style dressing rooms. There's no space for anyone to rest between rehearsal and concert, let alone practise. You'll find, if you visit a "state-of-the-art" hall or a great historical one in Germany or Austria or Moscow, that the soloist and conductor have roomy rooms to themselves, usually with a grand piano. Most halls also have a good staff canteen, rather than making people who work there queue for hours at fancy sandwich bars in the foyer. The backstage facilities at this new place need to be better, not non-existent. This clause raises a question about what planet the planners are living on.

6. Does that piece of hot air indicate more of the same? 

7. When are we going to have proper musical education in this country? Space and inspiration for education projects is very nice. All arts organisations need education departments these days (not least because they can thus access funding to run them). But isn't it time to take a long, hard look at what they achieve long-term? I do know people who have been inspired to discover their musical vocation by visiting orchestra education projects - the composer Tansy Davies is a case in point. But essentially, education departments were invented back in the 1980s as a sticking plaster to hide the wound left by the axing of peripatetic instrumental teachers throughout the school system.

Today the battle to include music as a core subject in schools is raging more than ever before. America has apparently elected to do it. As yet, we have not - despite the case having been made again and again and again, and thoroughly proven. The problem is that music needs to be taught consistently, week after week, by dedicated, qualified teachers, and practised daily by disciplined young people who want to learn to play or compose or both. Otherwise they can't become musicians. Dangling a great orchestra in front of a child for a day and taking some photos is no substitute and it never was. It may look wonderful - but what's left for the children after the orchestra goes home, unless they can be provided with instruments to play and teachers to show them how, regularly and consistently?

Learning music is like taking care of your teeth every day. A once-a-year visit from someone's education and outreach department is like going to the dentist once a year without flossing or brushing in between.

Music needs dedication and that's why some of the most musical kids in this country end up being home-schooled. For this young prodigy, Alma Deutscher, 10, no tests, no TV  and no classroom: just fresh air and a magic skipping rope...

8. Location, location, location? The Museum of London site is a miserable place surrounded by City concrete and busy roads. On the other hand, I have no sensible ideas for a reasonable alternative... Battersea Power Station? Um, the London Coliseum? (Also... the riverside area around the Mortlake brewery could use some brushing up. The brewery could come down, the hall could go up, and I could walk there in 10 minutes. We can dream, can't we...)

9. How come funds go to buildings, but not the people who produce the art within them? Our performing artists are not paid adequately. They are subsidising the art themselves by accepting levels in some cases a quarter of those afforded for artists elsewhere. Musicians are struggling - most orchestral players can't afford to live in London any more - and if we think they have it bad, just try dancers, who have it even worse. As for extra individuals such as guest speakers, just the other day I was asked to do something at a distinguished concert venue which sounded fun, but when I asked what the fee would be I was told: "This event does not have a budget. We are looking for volunteer's who we believe have a lot to offer people...". (That's pasted in from the email, apostrophe and all.) I won't be the only one who faces this situation. How come a top venue is so starved of funds that it must refuse to pay its project participants even a tenner? Before we spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a new venue, we should ensure that its content is going to be provided for, and at levels that match those paid in comparable places in other countries.

10. Please, can we just get our priorities right? Yes, we want a great hall. Yes, London deserves one. But a civilised society also deserves the arts to be supported at every level, for every age, because if you don't nurture children with education in the arts, and if you don't present adults who have trained for an artistic profession since they were five years old the opportunity to make a decent living at it, and if you don't make the arts a daily part of life in a way that will help maintain the audience, then who will be left here to perform and listen to music in that snazzy new hall in any case?

4 months ago | |
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The BBC's decision not to renew the contract of the BBC Symphony Chorus's conductor, Stephen Jackson, has sparked much upset and anger these past days. Spearheaded by singer Harold Raitt, who runs a social enterprise for schools, a letter has been written to BBC director general Lord Hall, objecting to the decision and expressing considerable discontent with how the chorus has been treated in this matter. The film director Tony Palmer has added his weight to the issue, contributing strong words to a press release issued by Raitt, and he has sent me the full letter.

Dear Lord Hall,
We are writing to you as both licence fee payers and a mix of:• proud members of the UK’s world-class community of amateur (or, in many cases, ‘unpaid professional’) musicians who sing, have sung, or are considering singing in, Symphony Choruses in London or other towns and cities across the UK• professional musicians (soloists, choral singers, instrumentalists, conductors, teachers, composers and administrators)• some music-lovers who are also concerned and appalled.
You are, no doubt, aware of the immense discontent at the BBC Symphony Chorus, especially now that it has been covered in Private Eye. However, you may not be aware of the way in which the actions of the BBC Symphony Orchestra General Management, and the overall management of BBC Performing Groups, have been seriously damaging both the standing of the BBC, and the potential future of one its most important assets for a considerable period.
The pictured advert for “BBC Performing Groups” was a major affront to the unpaid professionals in the BBC Symphony Chorus, as well as their colleagues in the BBC National Chorus of Wales. Why on earth did the BBC consider it has only one singing group? Are the BBC Singers only world-class or worthwhile or valuable because they are paid? Is a group of unpaid professionals such as the BBCSC or BBCNCW not as valued, despite the lists of award-winning recordings to their names, and their high profile at national events such as the Proms? Despite requests, no retraction of, or public apology for this insult was made by the BBCSO General Management or by BBC Performing Groups.
The dismissal of Stephen Jackson after 26 years’ dedicated service, without any prior consultation with the BBCSC and conducted in a way as to try to prevent the Chorus even saying a proper goodbye to him, is an affront not just to the BBCSC, but to the entire amateur choral scene in the UK. Its members subsidise classical music in the UK to the tune of millions of pounds annually. The cost of a chorus of 100+ at MU minimum rates for just a single concert would be a large five-figure sum, or a six-figure sum for much of the larger and more rehearsal-intensive rep. Yet the attitude of the BBCSO General Management towards the BBCSC has been one of a disengaged and supercilious employer. But, in the case of unpaid professionals, it is us who really hold the keys; we pay our travel expenses to rehearsals, we donate our time, expertise and (in many cases) years of training and singing lessons to you free of charge, we learn difficult rep and present it to audiences flawlessly. The very least that can be expected is that we are treated as partners and stakeholders, rather than as disposable labour who need not be considered, consulted, acknowledged or even – on occasion – properly thanked.
None of us can think of a single other Symphony Chorus in the UK where the singers (either en masse, or via their representatives on committees) would not be thoroughly consulted on a leadership change of this magnitude.
The vast majority of the signatories to this letter are not currently and have never been members of the BBCSC. However, many of us are members of volunteer choruses in London or around the UK. Some of us chose to sing with other choruses because of our geographic location, rehearsal days or because of different performing opportunities. However, we all have immense respect for Stephen Jackson, and for the choice of our colleagues to sing with and under him.
Many of us are astonished that the BBCSC has not decided to go on strike until Jackson is reinstated. However, we recognise this not as tacit support for the BBCSO management, but as a sign of the love for music and its audiences that drives all such performers to do what they are so committed to.
You should be aware of how – despite ‘perks’ such as getting to star annually on the Last Night of The Proms – the BBCSC’s capacity to attract new volunteer unpaid professionals to sing in its ranks has been considerably damaged by these ongoing slights. Those of us who are ‘amateurs’ would be much harder pressed to consider singing with the BBCSC while the current General Management remains in place and/or remains so unashamedly unapologetic.
Furthermore, as licence payers, we are appalled at the callous disregard for the integrity of an asset which, in any other country, would be valued in millions of dollars or Euros, and which remains, given its budget of £0 for its unpaid professionals’ salaries, the envy of the world. For the moment.
Yours sincerely,
Harold Raitt+ 146 other signatories 
Responding with a statement, quoted in Classical Music Magazine, BBC Radio 3 said: "We regularly appraise the freelance contractual arrangements we have across BBC Radio 3 and the performing groups and took the decision, in this instance, not to renew Stephen Jackson’s contract. We’d like to thank him for his service over the years and wish him well for the future...Freelance musician contracts are rightly confidential arrangements between the individual and the BBC. We’re satisfied that this matter is being handled in a professional and responsible manner and are liaising with the Chorus whenever possible."
4 months ago | |
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Many thanks to Tasmin for sending this to me to run in full. 

on 2nd December 2015 to MPs, Lords and members of the music profession and teaching profession 

Tasmin Little. Photo: Paul Mitchell

Good afternoon. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Tasmin Little and I have worked as an international solo concert violinist for nearly 30 years. I've performed in every continent of the world, I have received a Classic Brit Award, a Gramophone Award and a Gold Badge Award; I am an Ambassador for The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, I have  4 Honorary degrees, a Fellowship of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and an OBE for Services to Music. A couple of weeks ago, I gave my 1500th professional performance. 
I spoke here in 2013 to a committee of MPs on the subject of music education - and it's something I feel very strongly about, because I wouldn't be here addressing you now were it not for the fact that, when I was growing up in the early 1970's, my State Primary School in London employed a full-time violin teacher. I did not come from a musical background, but was lucky enough to have a teacher of quality who was able to recognise my talent.  Any state primary school child should be able to aspire to my level of achievement but I do not believe they currently stand an equal chance of doing so. 
During the 1980's, music education in this country took a nose dive and we are still recovering from an extended period when it was very far down the list of priorities.  A whole generation missed out, not only on opportunities to enjoy playing and listening to music themselves, but, as many of them are now the teachers and parents of today, on the knowledge of what it can bring to their own children.  
I believe that many people take for granted the  importance of music - and fail to appreciate that it is an integral part of each and every person's life, whether they realise it or not.  
It's an interesting exercise to imagine for a moment, a life lived without any music of any kind - 90 per cent of YouTube would no longer exist, Ipods would be semi-redundant, almost all Radio stations, as well as hugely popular television shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor would be axed.  Summer festivals such as The Proms, Latitude and Glastonbury, along with the majority of West End theatre shows,  would disappear;  Christmas would be devoid of carol singing, no-one would lock arms and sing Auld Lang Syne after the New Year chimes of Big Ben, The Pop Industry would be extinct, & films would consist only of talking, losing so much of the atmosphere and emotion induced by music. Ballet performances, catwalk shows, weddings, state ceremonies... and funerals would be seriously impoverished. I could go on and on... 

This aural diet of dry husks would make each and every one of us yearn for the vast and varied panoply of music to nourish our ears, enrich our souls, and provide joy as well as comfort.  
This is taking it to extremes as, in the context of most societies, there will always be music. Indeed the banning of music under rule of The Taliban and ISIS demonstrates how barren life would be without it. However, we are in danger in this country of putting music so far down the educational agenda that we risk not only diminishing the superb quality and status of those first class musicians who we have enjoyed up until now, but also losing a huge part of our cultural heritage.

We're all here because we believe in the importance of music in our lives and in providing high-quality music education in this country. But there really is a great deal more to be done in order to ensure that all children are receiving the best opportunities possible, and that we maintain the highest standards for our future generations.
Music is worthwhile in its own right, but I'd like to explain why music education provides so much more than the obvious. I'm hoping that you've all been given a list of 14 points which fill in more detail than I have time to talk about now. Please take this list away with you and peruse the  information, as it is based on results of research taken from all over the world.
One of these studies, a highly comprehensive one produced by the German Socio-Economic Panel in 2013, stated the following: 

“Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theatre or dance.” In addition, the study found that children who take music lessons “have better school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.” 
In addition to the sheer joy of playing music, there are so many additional benefits :

It improves reading and verbal skills, and helps children get good marks in exams.
It raises IQ, encourages listening and helps children learn languages more quickly. 
It strengthens the  motor cortex and improves working memory and long-term memory for visual stimuli. It helps people to manage  anxiety, enhances self-confidence, self-esteem and social and personal skills.
It slows the effects of ageing! That's got to be good news!
It also encourages creativity – no surprises there.
This next one is a particular favourite as I have experienced this a great deal over the years... Learning a musical instrument  encourages team building and, what's even better is, that these effects are not only felt by the pupils, but by the schools, and far into the wider community. 
At the ground-breaking primary school in east London, Gallions,  every child learns a string instrument – as a result, there are no discipline problems, no absenteeism from the staff, and no truancy, even though this school is situated in an area of social deprivation.
Finally, music also improves mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning.
When you consider that these skills are highly prized by the government and are vital  in a multitude of potential careers including maths, engineering, architecture, gaming and especially working with computers, it's fair to say that young musicians can pretty much succeed in any field they decide to pursue.

Which brings me to my next point – how music is perceived within the education sector. I spoke recently to the Head teacher at a nearby Grammar School and asked him why music education seems permanently to be at risk of being downgraded in the curriculum. His answer was: because it is not seen as a “facilitating subject”.  
This really makes no sense at all, based on all the research and hard evidence of what music can provide.
So this surely begs these questions: 
Why is this? 
And, crucially, what can we do about it? 
I think the first thing that needs to happen is that we must urgently invest in good teacher training. Sadly there are still many primary school teachers who are terrified to teach music because they themselves have not been taught the necessary skills to give their best – this situation is vastly unfair both on pupils and teachers.  
In addition, I do believe that there are some Head Teachers who don't understand what music can bring to their school - and I had a direct experience of this myself a couple of years ago, at a time when I was visiting a great many schools during the course of an academic year at the invitation of a County Council. 
Most schools were genuinely thrilled to have me there – however one primary school Head Teacher made it clear that my visit was a nuisance and interfered with important school routine. It was only after being incessantly pestered by the children whose classes I wasn't visiting, that she came in to see what I was up to - and finally asked me to play in the  end-of-day assembly. To her credit, she was the first to start the rapturous clapping at the end, and her parting words to me were along the lines: “I'm sorry, I know I was unfriendly when you arrived but I've had OFSTED here all week and it's been so stressful. I thought your visit was the last thing I needed. But, in reality, it was the very thing that we all needed - the highlight of the whole week."
Whilst my story has a happy ending, there is clearly so much more work that needs to be done to ensure that teachers do not feel that music is a chore, and a box to be ticked. 
I have visited hundreds of schools over the past 30 years and played to literally thousands of children of all ages, both here, and abroad in countries such as Zimbabwe and China, so I know what can happen when music is brought into the classroom and how the experience fuels the children's desire to make music themselves. 
So I've been thinking about how to facilitate the stimulus of live music in schools, so that it becomes a regular event in schools.  I've had an idea. What if a programme were developed within music colleges and universities whereby music students are given some training to go into schools to play and demonstrate their instruments, as well as chat to, the children – this would have a number of benefits:  the primary school children would have access to high-quality music; it would enable young performers to gain important performance experience; it would give teachers ideas to build on for future classroom lessons and help them feel more comfortable with the subject; live music is very good for school morale; for those many musicians whose career will take them into teaching, the  experience would be invaluable; and for those intending a career in performance, it would help equip them  with the necessary skills now needed to successfully interact with audiences of all ages, and promote one's career. 
Historically, our education system has been the envy of the world – and currently,  thousands of pupils come from abroad to enjoy what our education can provide. I don't think this is because we teach English, maths and science better than any other country - it's because we are one of the few countries that truly provides a breadth and range of curriculum essential to give each individual the maximum chance to find and develop all their talents. 
We have been a nation of innovators, precisely because of this -  and historically, we have always valued that most important quality, creativity. 
Einstein said - imagination is more important than knowledge 
And when we think of all the people in the  history of this country, who have made a difference on both an international and a domestic stage, the vast proportion were intensely creative. They were people who dared to challenge  preconceived ideas, ignore the  rules, and come up with radical innovations, both technological and artistic.  
However, if the reasons I have provided thus far are not convincing enough, then let's consider the impact of music as a financial benefit to our economy. 
UK Music has published an annual economic survey of music’s vast contribution to the UK economy. In 2014 the music industry contributed £4.1bn to the economy and the sector once again outperformed the rest of the British economy, with growth of 5% year-on-year; the industry provides 117,000 full time jobs; and music exports contributed £2.1bn in revenue .
So, although many people assume that our economic success depends on commerce alone, this is clearly not  the case. 
Even the Chancellor George Osborne seems to agree – he said recently:
“Britain’s not just brilliant at science. It’s brilliant at culture too. One of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media and sport. £1 billion a year in grants adds a quarter of a trillion pounds to our economy – not a bad return. So deep cuts in the small budget of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport are a false economy”
- but if this is the case and the Arts truly ARE valued in this way, then it is imperative that this is reflected and strengthened by their high visibility in the Ebacc curriculum. We will cease to be brilliant at these subjects if we do not nurture music and the Arts from the very start of the education system, and keep it high on the agenda right through secondary education.  
In fact, I believe we've already begun to fall behind other European countries, as well as America, Scandinavia, China and the Asian Continent.  In a recent leading international competition - one which has often been able to showcase outstanding young UK musicians in the past - there were no UK entrants of a high enough quality to enter even the competition's initial rounds, let alone get to the Finals and gain any prizes.” This is doubly depressing because it needn't be the case. 
In October of 2013, neuroscientist Thomas Südhof was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology for his work in explaining the mechanisms of the presynaptic neuron.  Interestingly, he attributed most of his success to the qualities he learned from his early training in classical music, and the value of disciplined study, or repetitive learning, for creativity. 
Music is a discipline - it requires patience, hard work, flexibility, understanding, teamwork, good communication skills and the ability to maintain concentration and really listen. 
Wouldn't it be wonderful if all young people of today were able to truly learn these qualities and take them into their future?
I would like to end  with a quote from Sophocles:

Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future. 

Below is a supplementary document:

Some of the benefits of learning music
Tasmin Little OBE

1. Music improves reading and verbal skills
Several studies have found strong links between pitch processing and language processing abilities. Researchers out of Northwestern University found that five skills underlie language acquisition: “phonological awareness, speech-in-noise perception, rhythm perception, auditory working memory and the ability to learn sound patterns.” Through reviewing a series of longitudinal studies, they discovered that each these skills is exercised and strengthened by music lessons. Children randomly assigned to music training alongside reading training performed much better than those who received other forms of non-musical stimulation, such as painting or other visual arts.

2. It improves mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning
Music is deeply mathematical in nature. Mathematical relationships determine intervals in scales, the arrangement of keys and the subdivisions of rhythm. It makes sense then that children who receive high-quality music training also tend to score higher in maths. This is because of the improved abstract spatial-temporal skills young musicians gain. According to a feature written for PBS Education, these skills are vital for solving the multistep problems that occur in “architecture, engineering, maths, art, gaming and especially working with computers.” With these gains, and those in verbal and reading abilities, young musicians can pretty much help themselves succeed in any field they decide to pursue.

3. It helps children get good exam results
In a 2007 study, Christopher Johnson, a professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, found that “elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22% higher in English and 20% higher in maths scores on standardized tests compared to schools with low-quality music programs.” A 2013 study out of Canada found the same. Every year that scores were measured, the mean grades of the students who chose music were higher than those who chose other extracurriculars. While neither of these studies can necessarily prove causality, both do point out a strong correlative connection.

4. It raises IQ
Surprisingly, though music is primarily an emotional art form, music training actually provides bigger gains in academic IQ than emotional IQ. Numerous studies have found that musicians generally boast higher IQs than non-musicians.
5. It helps children learn languages more quickly
Children who start studying music early in life develop stronger linguistic abilities. They develop more complex vocabularies, a more nuanced understanding of grammar and higher verbal IQs. These benefits don’t just impact children’s learning of their first language, but also their ability to learn every language they attempt to learn in the future. The Guardian reports: “Music training plays a key role in the development of a foreign language in its grammar, colloquialisms and vocabulary.” These heightened language acquisition abilities will follow students their whole lives and will aid them when they need to pick up new tongues late in adulthood.5
6. It encourages listening
Musical training makes people far more sensitive listeners, which can help tremendously as people age. Musicians who keep up with their instrument enjoy a much slower decline in “peripheral hearing.” They can avoid what scientists refer to as the “cocktail party problem” in which older people have trouble isolating specific voices (or musical tones) from a noisy background.

7. It will slow the effects of aging
But beyond just auditory processing, musical training can also help delay cognitive decline associated with aging. Some of the most promising research positions music as an effective way to stave off dementia. Studies out of Emory University find that even if musicians stop playing as they age, the neurological restructuring that occurred when they were children helps them perform better on “object-naming, visuospatial memory and rapid mental processing and flexibility” tests than others who never played. The study authors add, though, that musicians had to play for at least 10 years to enjoy these effects. So this adds even more weight to the argument in favour of starting children early and continuing with music lessons during high school.

8. It strengthens people's motor cortex
All musical instruments require high levels of finger dexterity and accuracy. The training works out the motor cortex to an incredible extent, and the benefits can apply to a wide range of non-musical skills. Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013 found that children who start learning to play before the age of 7 perform far better on non-musical movement tasks. Exposure at a young age builds connectivity in the corpus callosum, which provides a strong foundation upon which later movement training can build.

9. It improves working memory
Playing music puts a high level of demand on one’s working memory (or short-term memory). And it seems the more one practices their instrument, the stronger their working memory becomes. A 2013 study found that musical practice has a positive association with participants’ working memory capacity, their processing speed and their reasoning abilities. Writing for Psychology Today, William R. Klemm claims that musicians’ memory abilities should spread into all non-musical verbal realms, helping them remember more content from speeches and lectures. Good news if you want a career in politics.
10. It improves long-term memory for visual stimuli
Music training can also affect long-term memory, especially in the visual realm. Scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington reported last year that classically trained musicians who have been playing more than 15 years score higher on pictorial long-term memory tests. This “heightened visual sensitivity” likely comes from parsing complex musical scores.

11. It helps people to manage anxiety
Analyzing brain scans of musicians ages 6 through 18, researchers out of the University of Vermont College of Medicine have found tremendous thickening of the cortex in areas responsible for depression, aggression and attention problems. According to the study’s authors, musical training “accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.”
12. It enhances self-confidence and self-esteem
Several studies have shown how music can enhance children’s self-confidence and self-esteem. A 2004 study split a sample of 117 fourth graders from a Montreal public school. One group received weekly piano instruction for three years while the control received no formal instructions. Those who played weekly scored significantly higheron self-esteem tests than those who did not. High levels of self-esteem can help childrengrow and develop in a vast number of academic and non-academic realms.

13. It encourages creativity
Creativity is notoriously difficult to measure scientifically. But most sources hold that music training enhances creativity “particularly when the musical activity itself is creative (for instance, improvisation).” According to Education Week, Ana Pinho, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, found that musicians with “longer experience in improvising music had better and more targeted activity in the regions of the brain associated with creativity.” Music training also enhances communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. And studies show musicians perform far better on divergent thinking tests, coming up with greater numbers of novel, unexpected ways to combine new information.

14. It encourages team building and these effects are not only felt by the pupils but by the schools and far in to the wider community.

But most of all: It is musical, and important in its own right as its own subject, its own discipline and its own artistic, intellectual, academic, professional career path.
4 months ago | |
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I went to Paris for a working day-trip earlier this week and saw this extraordinary exhibition. Many, many thanks to the ever-fabulous Mikhail Rudy for showing me round it himself. The article is in today's Independent (Radar's Observations section)...

Chagall's Commedia dell'arte, 1958, from the Frankfurt Alte Oper. (c)ADAGP-Paris2015

Paris has faced dark times in recent weeks, but an antidote to the tense atmosphere following the 13 November attacks has materialised in a perhaps unexpected quarter. Marc Chagall: Le triomphe de la Musique (The Triumph of Music) is the first exhibition that the Philharmonie, the city’s new, state-of-the-art concert hall, has initiated and produced. To walk into it is to be enveloped in a high-spirited celebration of colour, sound, dance and what its musical director, the Russian pianist Mikhail Rudy, terms "art total" ("complete art work").
Almost more an installation than a conventional exhibition, it brings together for the first time Chagall’s designs for theatre, ballet and opera, including The Firebird, Daphnis et Chloe, The Magic Flute, a little-known ballet by Leonid Massine called Aleko, and, from the 1920s, the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre. There’s a special focus, too, on the ceiling panels that the artist painted for the French capital's Opéra Garnier, his magnificent canvas “Commedia dell'arte” from Frankfurt's Alte Oper, and designs for the two giant panels that hang in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, from one of which the exhibition title is taken.
Fragile sketches for some of the projects are enjoying rare public display; and a film created by Rudy with the Google Cultural Institute views the Opéra Garnier ceiling in high definition close-up, revealing details effectively invisible in the theatre: the minutiae of brushstrokes within floral bouquets, characterful expressions on the faces of stylised figures and the fading in and out of clear, brilliant colours – all accompanied by extracts from the 14 pieces of music that Chagall names as the images' inspiration. Eventually one seems almost to be hearing the painting itself.
Rudy, now 61, was a young musician of 23 seeking political asylum from the USSR in France when he first met Chagall. He was asked to perform in a concert marking the artist’s 90th birthday, and thereafter saw Chagall frequently during the last seven years of his life. "He always had a twinkle in his eye," he says. “And he used to say that the best things in life were the Bible, Mozart and love.”
Recently, Rudy devised an animation of the Opéra Garnier ceiling panels, The Sound of Colours, which is screened together with live piano music to match the images – a project that Rudy says came about after the artist's grand-daughter, Meret Meyer, saw a similar work he had created of Kandinsky images synchronised with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and asked if he would do something similar for her grandfather's works. "I would never have dare touch them otherwise," says Rudy. In collaboration with the Philharmonie, this proved the starting point for Rudy to begin making his long-held dream of the exhibition a reality at last.
This show, and its companion exhibition Marc Chagall: Les Sources de la Musique (currently in Roubaix) will go to Montreal in 2017; next year part will be displayed at the Chagall Museum in Nice.
For Paris the timing may be coincidence, but could scarcely have been better. It's more than a feast for eyes and ears: the artist’s sense of joy proves a marvel for the rejuvenation of the spirit.

Chagall: Le triomphe de la Musique is at the Philharmonie de Paris until 31 January. 
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I was looking for a composer with whom to celebrate a landmark that makes me supposedly "mature" (give or take a bit) and realised that there is only one possibility.

We take him for granted. He's everywhere. We learn about him (if we're lucky) when very young. As Schnabel said, his music is too easy for children and too difficult for adults. But more and more, he becomes one of the wonders of the world, in any way, shape or form.

Enjoy our beloved Mozart.

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Stormy weather: ENO's chorus in Martinu's Julietta. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

London stands to lose a lot more than Kasper Holten (see yesterday) at this rate. Sir Antonio Pappano (music director at Covent Garden) has written an open letter to The Times, warning that cuts to the English National Opera chorus members' contracts and the limiting of the season to a grand total of eight operas could destroy the company.

Today The Guardian carries two letters of support for ENO, one from the head of Equity's live performance section, the other from a group of ENO stalwarts and other musicians including David Alden, Sarah Connolly, Marin Alsop, John Eliot Gardiner, Stuart Skelton and Sir Willard White. Read them here.

The threat to the chorus is particularly noxious - because over the past few years ENO's chorus has been among the best in the business. Many, many times they've proved the highlight of the performance: their vibrancy, accuracy and intensity in The Flying Dutchman was unforgettable, for example, ditto The Death of Klinghoffer, and in Benvenuto Cellini the way they belted out "Applaud and laud all art and artisans!" with such relish will stay with me for a very long time. Indeed, were I to list all the works in which ENO's chorus has proved its very best feature, this would be an overlong blogpost.

But what's really insidious is the underlying sense that perhaps the chorus is believed, somehow, by someone, somewhere, to be something that can and should be chopped back. That it doesn't really need to be there. That it's subsidiary to the "star" soloists, a poor relation to the business of a tenor hitting the high notes.

Guess what? The chorus is the lifeblood of opera.

Can you think of many operatic masterpieces that could survive without their chorus? For the majority of great opera composers, the chorus is a character - often the central character. Peter Grimes is all about the chorus, which becomes the seething almost-lynch-mob of the Borough. Parsifal's choruses are integral to the music's detailed, mesmerising tapestry. Anyone fancy Nabucco without the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves?

And by the way, being an opera chorus member isn't something just anybody can do. If one thinks "chorus" and pictures a nice amateur choral society trotting out Messiah with one rehearsal a week and scores to read from, that's not what's going on here. Opera choruses are not keen amateurs; they are seasoned professionals who learn everything from memory, have to work with those demanding directors, have to do very strange things sometimes (in Munich's Manon Lescaut the Bavarian State Opera Chorus had to bob about in fat suits...) and work extraordinary hours for not a great heap of remuneration*. The soloists are the cherries on the cake. The chorus is the cake.

"Without them there is no ENO" declares the luminaries' letter.

Applaud and laud all art and artisans, please: once more from the top!

* Note: in some German houses the chorus is rather well paid, in some cases earning more than some of the soloists.
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Sad to receive the press release this morning informing us that Kasper Holten, director of opera at the Royal Opera House, is to leave his post in 2017, after his new production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg opens. Here's his letter.

Kasper Holten. Photo: Sim Cannetty-Clarke
Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to you as I want to share with you that I have decided to leave my position at The Royal Opera in March 2017.
I love working at ROH – and with all the amazing colleagues here – and it feels very painful to let go of that in 2017. But when I moved to London, my partner and I didn’t have children. Now we do, and after much soul searching we have decided that we want to be closer to our families and inevitably that means we make Copenhagen our home where the children will grow up and go to school.
So when Alex offered me an extension of my contract for another five years beyond summer 2016, I have decided only to ask for an extension of seven months, giving the ROH time to plan for my succession and for me to continue the work as long as possible. I will therefore leave my position in March 2017 after Tony and I open our new production of Wagner’s Meistersinger here at ROH. But my work isn’t done yet, so please don’t do too many farewells quite yet!
I will continue to work hard for The Royal Opera until the day I leave, and Tony and I will put strong plans in place for The Royal Opera until 2020 and beyond, with a varied repertory and many exciting new commissions and productions.
It is with a very heavy heart that I send you these lines, but at the end of the day this decision has been inevitable for me. I am deeply grateful to ROH and to all of you for the amazing adventure it has been to work here – and will continue to be for a while yet!
Warmest regards

Kasper's resignation is part of a trend that I suspect is on the increase: the best  overseas professionals deciding to leave the UK for pastures a little more reasonable. London's insane housing prices, the shockingly dreadful state of our school provision system (I know nobody with children who has not gone through a nightmare or many when finding places to educate them), the distances that people have to travel between work and home and the time it takes to do so - these make family life in the capital an affair so stressful that one can't blame anybody who can move to a more civilised environment for wanting to do so. If we leave the EU, moreover, it's likely to become more difficult still to engage and retain the best European experts. 
Kasper is an often brilliant director, a dynamic and inspiring character and always a joy to interview. We'll miss him, but understand his decision.
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Here's my latest Editor's Lunch feature for The Amati Magazine. It's Barenboim. Michael Barenboim. He had some jolly interesting things to say, too...

Here he is in the work that is helping to establish him as a force to be reckoned with in his own right: Boulez's Anthèmes II.

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The great Polish pianist is 59 today. Still one of the greatest of them all.

If he will forgive me for posting this, here he is with a rather special take on the 'Moonlight' Sonata that's a bit appropriate. Enjoy!

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