JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with CHOCOLATE AND SILVER, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1492 Entries
When it's a political football. In The Amati Magazine today, my thoughts on the mooted new venue for London and what it is perhaps really about... http://magazine.amati.com/149-comment/comment-hall-mirrors.html
4 months ago | |
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It's the sort of documentary I didn't think they'd allow any more: a fabulously filmed celebration of a genuinely special artist, focusing on its subject, not some "celebrity" presenter, and with plenty of music. There's a certain poetic justice to the fact that Christopher Nupen, who captured the likes of Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim on film in the 1960s, is still around to document the talent of Daniil Trifonov. This mesmerising documentary captures the poetic fire of the young Russian pianist, who talks about "boiling" himself in the music. The film went out the other day on BBC4 and can be watched on the iPlayer for 28 days thereafter. Today is Chopin's birthday and one could do worse than celebrate by watching it. The whole thing is here.

Just one thing: the clips in the film of Trifonov's own Piano Concerto seem absolutely wonderful. I think we ought to have the whole thing as an adjunct - it is a substantial work that sounds well worth hearing.

Trifonov, though, has now gone off sick, having to drop out of a tour with the Kremerata Baltica. The search for a replacement artist for the remaining performances proved so dispiriting, according to Norman Lebrecht, that Kremer appears to have decided to cancel the rest of the tour and take a well-earned rest. In an open letter, Kremer blamed recalcitrant promoters who he says refused to accept any of his suggestions for a pianist who could take over the task of playing both the Chopin concerti on a substantial tour at short notice.

One artist they allegedly refused was Yulianna Avdeeva, the Russian pianist who took first prize at the Chopin Competition at which Trifonov himself pulled in third. Highly recommended by many musicians including Krystian Zimerman and Martha Argerich. A superb artist who by rights should be far too busy to be free to step in to such a thing. Here is what they're missing.

4 months ago | |
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According to Building.co.uk, the search for a site for the new London concert hall, or "cultural hub" as some are inevitably calling it, is homing in on "the triangle between Moorgate, St Paul's and Farringdon tube stations". The report says that "a road tunnel under the Barbican complex may make way for the venue". The City of London Corporation is said to be keen on "much more intensive use of the area", especially once the Farringdon Crossrail station is ready in 2018.

More info here.
4 months ago | |
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Or so they say. According to the Evening Standard and some other papers, Chancellor George Osborne is giving his blessing to...a feasibility study to see if there really is a watertight case for a new world-class concert hall in the UK capital. That isn't quite the same thing as saying that London is definitely going to have said hall, but it's got to start somewhere, and apparently the City of London Corporation is now looking for a good site. Here's the latest: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/george-osborne-backs-move-for-new-concert-hall-for-london-10056183.html

Just in: a statement from the Barbican:

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Managing Director, Barbican and Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director, London Symphony Orchestra said:
“This commitment from the Chancellor to put new money into a feasibility study for a world-class music centre that serves London, Londoners, and the nation as a whole is a hugely exciting prospect.
“Culture is ever more important in defining our great cities, and this is a once-in-a-generation chance to explore how we could work with the City of London to create a state-of-the-art performance and education facility for the digital age that offers outstanding learning opportunities for all.”

We've been wanting this for years and years and years and decades and decades. It's a real breakthrough. First of all: thanks, guys.

So...to the reality. What happens now?

One wonders about the timing. If they find a site soon, then by the time all the processes are in place it will probably be time for Rattle to start at the LSO, assuming he is going to start at all, which remains in question. How long does it take to build a world-class concert hall these days, especially in London? Rattle is turning 60 this year. Perhaps this hall, if it materialises, will be ready to open for his 70th birthday.

OK, call me cynical. But there is a pernicious history in this country - and other places, not least France and Spain - of spending a lot of dosh on putting strange buildings in strange places for non-artistic purposes at the expense of the content. You need to invest not only in arts venues, but in art itself.

That means you need to treat performers better. Which means, in turn, that you need not only to provide better pay and conditions for your artistic companies, which you do, but also you need to ensure that all schoolchildren have the chance to learn about the arts and try their hands at them, you need to stop charging the earth for advanced high-level training - for example, you cannot with one hand introduce astronomical tuition fees at specialist colleges and with the other grumble that only rich kids go into acting - and you need to create a culture in which the value of music and arts for all is not constantly sniped at, but instead is accepted as a natural part of a civilised society. Arts, politics and education need to indulge in some joined-up thinking. (Over at The Amati Magazine, our Young Artist of the Week, BBC's Young Musician of the Year 2012 cellist Laura van der Heijden, has some strong words on music education.)

Some commentators have suggested that we don't need a hall and we should simply prioritise our performers instead. I think we need both. In an ideal world, it shouldn't be either or.

Look, it'll be great if it happens. It really will. But please, get it right this time?





4 months ago | |
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What could be cuter than turning a Moomin book into a ballet? At Finnish National Opera they are rehearsing a new ballet of Moomin and the Comet, basedon the classic children's book by Tove Jansson.Ananadah Kononen is choreographing, music is by Panu Aaltio. The Moomin blog says: "Although the body of the Moomins is not the most flexible for the ballet, the other characters of the Valley will take care of the classical ballet part."

Here are some photos by Sophia Jansson.




The ballet opens on 6 March at the Almi Hall. Those in Helsinki with strong winter constitutions can also see the Moomins dance at the free outdoors Winter Ball, on the National Opera piazza, on 28 February. More info and booking here.

KEVIN O'HARE, please can you bring them over to the Linbury? We love Moomins!
4 months ago | |
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Philippe Graffin. Photo: Marco Borrgreve

Hooray for Philippe Graffin, the Anglophile French violinist of London. He has been living here for 20 years and is marking this 0anniversary with three concerts on two days. Tonight at Cadogan Hall he gives the world premiere of Peter Fribbins's new Violin Concerto, written especially for him, with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jean-Jacques Kantorow, and throws in Ravel's Tzigane for good measure.

On Friday he joins forces with musical friends at St John's Smith Square for an evening of two performances: first, at 6.30pm (NB time) - chamber music by Debussy, Elgar and David Matthews with a line-up including Raphael Wallfisch, Roger Chase, David Waterman, Alastair Beatson, Marisa Gupta, Emeline Dessi, Chen Halevi and David Matthews himself (more info here). Then at 9.15pm there's the fabulous Enescu Violin Sonata No.3, two premieres of works written for Philippe, and a collaboration with Tango Factory from Buenos Aires to conclude with some headily gorgeous Piazzolla.

We hope he will stay longer. Here's to the next 20 years.

Here is Philippe with pianist Claire Désert in the Valse Triste by Franz von Vecsey - a 'Hungarian Dances' Concert favourite, from the album he made to go with the novel in 2008...

[UPDATE: post amended 18/2/15 to reflect fact that he's been here 20 years, not 25. Moral: never blog after a good lunch.]

4 months ago | |
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I went along to the Barbican on Tuesday for the opening night of the Rattle/Berlin Sibelius cycle. My review is for The Independent and should be online there soon. I wanted to post it here before The London Residency comes to its close tomorrow...


*****
Berliner Philharmoniker/Sir Simon RattleBarbican, London, 10 January 2015
Jessica Duchen
The Barbican was heaving at the concrete seams as the Berliner Philharmoniker began its London residency, the promise of which has been engendering unprecedented heat. Divided between this hall and the Southbank Centre, it features Sir Simon Rattle at the helm of his German orchestra, widely termed the best in the world. The expectations of this orchestra are such that tickets for its Mahler Second Symphony at the weekend are rumoured to be changing hands for £200 a piece. Meanwhile Rattle’s mooted appointment as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra is still up in the air.
Opening their complete cycle of symphonies by Sibelius with the first two, Rattle and the Berliners proved at the peak of their powers: an orchestra of individual virtuosi playing as one, as if in supersized chamber music, with Rattle, conducting from memory, leading the way with an assurance that proved at every turn that the music is part of him and he of it.
Rattle has a long history with the Sibelius symphonies – he recorded them back in his years last century with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – and his interpretations have grown into something at once individual and universal. Here the progress of the composer's imaginative sophistication from the first to the second symphonies shone out: No.1, dating from 1900, aching in the shadow of Tchaikovsky; No.2 moving into new dramatic territories in which no step is safe, no illusion unquestioned, yet no lament unanswered by hope.
For some, Rattle’s interpretations might at first seem too rich, too warm; we imagine Sibelius as rugged and lonely, shivering through the Finnish winter. But his ability to pace the drama paid ample dividends: working in long lines and giant paragraphs, generating energy from small details that gradually rise to take over, striking just the right balance to cast new light over the precipices, the power of thought is made palpable with overwhelming intensity.
Above all, though, listening to this orchestra is an experience of astonishing sensuality, the aural equivalent of, for example, bathing in asses’ milk laced with rose petals while sipping the finest vintage Bordeaux and watching the Northern Lights at their most spectacular, topped by a meteor shower. If you thought an orchestra could not do that, be advised: it can.

This opulence of tone is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s own, honed long ago under the baton of Herbert von Karajan; Rattle is in some ways åits custodian. But it is clear how much he will be leaving behind in Berlin when he departs, and equally clear what we would be missing if he does not ultimately accept that post with the LSO. Frankly we need Rattle here more than he needs us. If a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this is missed, if the UK’s only home-grown great maestro is allowed to slip through our fingers thanks to finance and mealy-mouthed politicians, it would be an act of criminal irresponsibility against the cultural life of the UK.
4 months ago | |
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Yesterday's bombshell about ENO arrived wrapped in rose-scented words just in time for Valentine's Day. Some people even fell for the good news story: £30m over two years from ACE, woo-hoo!

Oh dear. It turns out that this money is "special measures" (it's the original core funding that was in place anyway. plus £7m in transition funds, as we understand it). If the company doesn't shape up in a way that the Arts Council England approves, it could then lose all its government funding. And that, you could say, would probably mean tickets. The wrong sort of tickets.

The prospect of ENO vanishing from the planet is devastating for music lovers in London. Thinking of the finest operatic performances I've seen in the last few years, I'd have to point to many things that simply would not have taken place at Covent Garden. John Adams, Vaughan Williams, Terry Gilliam's Berliozes, Rosenkavalier staged by McVicar with Amanda Roocroft, Sarah Connolly, Sophie Bevan and Sir John Tomlinson, and that extraordinary, desperately underrated and undersold Martinu opera Julietta. Calixto Bieito. Peter Sellars. The list could go on. Not so much English National Opera, perhaps, as British International Opera. There have also been a few very big, very expensive mistakes - yet without a willingness to take risks, opera as an art form really would die. And London without all that adventure would be like...well, New York, without New York City Opera.

Which, of course, has gone. Operatic Manhattan now has only the Met. Comparisons are being drawn, even ones predicated as if this is not a bad thing. But it is a very bad thing. NYCO's closure appears to have been the result, as far as one can tell from here, of a gigantic f***-up and could conceivably have been avoided had things been handled differently earlier in the process.

Earlier in the process, as it happens, the ACE's chairman, Peter Bazalgette, was formerly the chairman of ENO. Since his move to the ACE, ENO has been targeted for bigger funding cuts than any other organisation still in the organisation's national 'portfolio'. According to the Guardian Bazalgette has reportedly not been participating in the ACE's discussions this week.

One hopes profoundly that in the two years' grace it's been so, er, kindly granted, the company can pull together and find means to survive. That what might look like cynical attempts to kill it off are not in fact that. That whatever's going on at the micro-level behind the scenes can be put to one side in favour of the macro-level bigger picture. That artistic vision can be respected on the one hand and financial prudence accepted on the other.

Since the resignation of the executive director, Henriette Götz, two weeks ago Anthony Whitworth-Jones, formerly of Glyndebourne and then Garsington, has been brought in to help. It is interesting to reflect that Glyndebourne and Garsington are both privately funded. JDCMB is a passionate believer in the principle of public funding for the arts, but if ENO has to be privatised, it would still be better than losing it altogether. Reduce it to middle-of-the-road potboiler productions - as some would like to - and there's really not much point having it at all; the good news is that neither Glyndebourne nor Garsington has ever resorted to that.

This looks to me like something one step from Shock Doctrine-style brinksmanship - it is certainly quacking like that particular duck - but let's keep fundamental ideas strong. This is a company with a big vision, a big theatre, an expensive art form and not a big budget under those circumstances. The ACE has got them over a barrel and something may have to give. Sacrifice real estate if necessary; find other pricing models and fundraising opportunities, by all means; but whatever happens, whoever leaves, don't jettison the principle of artistic vision that has kept ENO a truly international force. Let's keep ENO BIO.
4 months ago | |
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Sir Simon Rattle: only on his terms
Photo: c Sheila Rock/EMI Classics

Following a spectacular opening for his London Residency with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon has been speaking to BBC TV News. Yesterday, in an interview with the BBC's Will Gompertz, he declared: 
"I think it's clear that London and Munich are the two great cities in the world that don't have proper concert halls. The music lovers of London and of the country would deserve to have something where also the orchestras can flourish. 
"You have no idea how wonderful an orchestra like the London Symphony Orchestra can sound in a great concert hall. The Barbican is serviceable. But it's like when I've seen so many young violinists finally be handed a great violin - it's a whole other world."
He also drew a pertinent comparison between the general conditions and the generous rehearsal time he has with the Berliner Philharmoniker and the LSO's relentless schedule of performing and touring. 
"The kind of conditions a European orchestra has, which any orchestra would take for granted in Europe, are on the wildest edges of science fiction in our country, particularly in London. It's hard to explain to people just how hard and brutally these London orchestras work."
Will Gompertz asked him whether he was saying that if he can alter the conditions towards something a little closer to that of Berlin, then he would accept the LSO music director post, and if not, he wouldn't? 
"I think the conditions for the players are incredibly important," said Sir Simon, "because it's a matter of what actually people can achieve." 
Gompertz concluded that Rattle would come back to Britain - but only on his own terms. Which is pretty much what we thought. 
The sound of the Berlin orchestra in Sibelius's first two symphonies was so overwhelming, by the way, that I scarcely slept a wink that night. My review should be up at the Independent website soon.

4 months ago | |
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Quite a thrill from Amati today: the phenomenal Roby Lakatos, no less, is to give an exclusive performance in an intimate cabaret setting during the next Amati Exhibition, to be held at the Langham Hotel, on 29 March. Tickets are £24 and include a glass of bubbly. Please book SOON because numbers are strictly limited.

Please come over to The Amati Magazine for full details of how to book. See you there!
4 months ago | |
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