JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with ginger, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1255 Entries
How often do you go to an orchestral concert and find you're on the edge of your chair, smiling at the warmth and passion bounding off the stage, thrilling at the sounds of early Shostakovich slaloming around the percussion, and watching, enchanted, a real rapport between the soloist and the conductor that makes the most familiar of piano concertos go leaping off the page like a March hare?


And then you realise the conductor is younger than your nephew who hasn't done his uni finals yet.

Meet Ilyich Rivas. Maybe you already have. I saw him conducting in Verbier several years ago and was impressed with him then; in the intervening time he has conducted for Glyndebourne Touring Opera, among other things, and been mentored by Vladimir Jurowski. Now he's been signed by IMG.

Last night's programme with the LPO - his first big London date - was carefully and beautifully chosen. They kicked off with Dvorak's Scherzo Capriccioso, continued with Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 with Simon Trpceski - who has also been following Ilyich's career with great enthusiasm for a while - and in the second half, Mahler's Blumine and Shostakovich's Symphony No.1.

The fresh air swept into the hall with this engaging young Venezuelan, who jogged onto the platform, had perhaps the clearest beat of any conductor I've seen in the past year and led the way through the pieces with some fairly extraordinary freeze-frame gestures that are certainly unusual yet seemed to work a treat. He let the music's passion, beauty and visceral élan sing out to his and our hearts' content. Particularly impressive was the way he handled gear-changes with smooth assurance, maintaining an impeccable sense of timing, and ultimately - best of all - leaving us marvelling at the wonders of the music, first and foremost.

Simon Trpceski's account of the Tchaikovsky would take some bettering. He is a fabulous showman, of course, but his special sound involves a remarkable lightness - there's swift, fierce motion, yet he scarcely seems to touch the ground and his pianissimo touch is at its loveliest in the slow movement. He made a little speech before his encore about the joy of working with Ilyich and seeing his promise coming to fruition; the encore itself, which he dedicated to the young conductor and his family, was from Album for the Young by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Simon's own breakthrough moment arrived in the same hall, with the same orchestra, when he was about Ilyich's age and won the (now sadly defunct) London International Piano Competition. That added a certain poignancy to the evening. It may be a cliché to say "history in the making" - but honest, guv, we don't say such things too often.

Ilyich's grandparents flew in from Venezuela for the concert and received a round of applause to themselves. Incidentally, Ilyich, rarely among young Venezuelan conductors, hasn't been through El Sistema. His father is a conductor and the lad absorbed the art at his knee, mainly in Denver, Colorado.

So come on, orchestra bigwigs - form a nice orderly queue, please. A decade from now, might Ilyich Rivas have the best job in the world? Place your bets.



4 months ago | |
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Tickled pink to discover my fourth novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, featuring in BBC Music Magazine's list, for World Book Day, of their pick of the 12 best novels about classical music. I've heard of being in good company, but this is ridiculous! The list is here. You can download the e-book of Songs here (paperback doesn't appear to be available on Amazon at the moment).

Meanwhile, for Women of the World week, here is my exploration of women's orchestras through the ages...http://sinfinimusic.com/uk/features/other-features/womens-orchestras

...and the Insiders Anonymous column for Classical Music Magazine this month is about The Classical Music Critic. http://www.classicalmusicmagazine.org/opinion/insiders-anonymous-the-music-critic/


4 months ago | |
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My interview with the fabulous John Adams is in today's Independent. Read it here.

I wouldn't want to say this or that person is my favourite composer of today - there are so many, so different, so fascinating, so inspiring. But hey...

Obviously if you have time to talk to a composer like Adams, you don't want to chat for just ten minutes if you can help it, so below are some "bonus tracks", Qs and As that are not in the Indy piece.



JD: I was reading something in which you said you felt the medium of the orchestra has run its course. But together with Glass you’ve done so much to put contemporary music back at the heart of full scale, mainstream concert programmes - maybe it’s not dead after all?
JA: It’s hard to say. I have good days and bad days and on bad days I wake up feeling that what we’re doing in classical music is so barely on people’s radar that I can get very depressed. But there are a lot of poets and composers and novelists like Melville and Charles Ives who did not get much attention at all in their lifetime. We do what we do because we love it and we have a small audience that adores what we do - and over time it persists, while the other stuff is revealed to be rather ephemeral.
JD: Do you still compose nine to five?

JA: I do, yes. I never work at night. (JD: Is it a question of routine?) Yes, it’s routine – I don’t travel a huge amount, but I do a reasonable amount of conducting during the year and I’m not someone who can actually compose in a hotel room, I absolutely have to be home in my studio. So when I am home I’m very disciplined. I try to work every day and have certain hours. I think most composers are that way – it’s an extremely labour-intensive activity and you have to make all the decisions yourself, so most composers I know are basically very disciplined, hardworking people. 

JD: There’s still a common misapprehension that people stroll through art exhibitions or mountain scenery and have sudden strokes of inspiration... 

JA: That's just nothing. We’re not like that at all. I just read Amsterdam which has a composer as its main character and I very much enjoyed the book but I thought his view of a composer was much too romantic. We’re much duller than that! 

JD: Is there anything in particular that does get the creative juices flowing for you?


JA: I wish I knew! If I had a magic pill or a certain place to take a walk, maybe starting pieces wouldn’t be such agony. Beginning a piece is always just hell – even if I think know what I’ve got to do. For some strange reason once a piece finally gets lift-off, if I work every day I usually – it’s like being an athlete, you’re in shape and the genetic material of the piece gives birth to tissues and organs and muscles and skeletons. Being a composer is like being a gardener – you water, prune, encourage and cut back. I take a walk every day with my two dogs. Lately I’ve been taking my iPod and listening to audio books or music and I think I should just stop the chatter and go back to what I did as a kid, when every time I took a walk I imagined a new piece of music in great detail. I’ve sort of got lazy about that. Now I’m leaving my technology behind when I leave the house.
JD: Not that long ago John Berry at English National Opera gave a press conference where he said that he hoped you’d write your next opera for ENO. Can we hope that this will happen? Have you any more operas on the go? 
JA: ENO have been absolutely among my strongest supporters and I’m deeply grateful to them. They’re creative and they make things happen... I just haven’t found a story that rang my bells the way Nixon or Klinghoffer or Dr Atomic did. I’m sure it’ll happen soon. (JD: Would you look for a similar real life event to base it on?)I think that’s sort of what I do best. I don’t think I’m a Pélléas et Mélisande type of composer - I don’t think a story that is intimate is what I’m strongest at – but I think it’s best to stay loose and not make any predictions. 

JD: Do you think The Death of Klinghoffer has finally been accepted? 
JA: The Met is doing it soon [Tom Morris's production, already seen at ENO], so I think it’s possible that there’ll be some controversy, but I don’t think it’s going to be at the level it was in '91. The issue was that the people who got so upset didn’t actually know the opera! That was almost always the case... As far as I’m concerned, it was very painful years ago, but I think over time people have realized that the opera isn’t at all about what the controversy was about. Really it’s a tragedy and it's something for everyone, it's not just about Palestinians and not just about Jews. It’s for everyone, because that’s what’s happening in the world. But it’ll be interesting at the Met because everything that does is sort of widescreen, with lots of attention and lots of people weighing in. I hope it’ll be experienced as a work of humanity, not perceived as some sort of agit-prop. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

Here he is with some of the students...

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Hubert Achermann, Chairman of the Salle Modulable Foundation, says: “Naturally we are very pleased with the outcome and believe that justice has been done. Our expense and effort have paid off, and I thank everyone who has supported us in these lengthy proceedings. Still, we remain far from our objective. First, we expect the opposing party to accept this judgment and desist from further time-consuming and costly legal proceedings. Then we have to produce an updated and authoritative feasibility study, in co-operation with the Canton and City. For this purpose, we can build on the work done so far. We have a fine opportunity to create something unique for Lucerne, as the City of Culture and Festivals, and for its institutions, not least in memory of the great patron, Christof Engelhorn.“ 
5 months ago | |
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