JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with ginger, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1189 Entries
The world premiere rehearsed reading of my new play about Wagner, Sins of the Fathers seems to have gone down pretty well yesterday at the Orange Tree. The audience laughed a lot, the actors seemed to be enjoying it (I think) and the performance zipped by and I got a jolly nice round of applause too, and it was all a bit wonderful. Our fabulous cast was Sarah Gabriel (Vicky/Cosima), John Sessions (Wagner) and Jeremy Child (Frank/Liszt).

A few pics from the rehearsal, complete with a reasonably idiomatic piano score of Tristan und Isolde and the magic bottle of Chateau Tristan 1865...





4 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
A weekend full of anniversaries kicks off with a new weekly "soapbox" slot, which the stringed instrument dealers Amati.com have asked me to write. They've even drawn me standing on one!


You can read my first Soapbox tract here. It's about Great Britten, of course.

And so tomorrow it is the world premiere, as rehearsed reading, of my new play Sins of the Fathers, about Wagner, Liszt and Cosima, at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Info here. Call the box office for returns.

What does a playwright do all day once the thing is written and delivered? Well, I've been hunting for candle glue, preparing some labels for the bottle of magic wine and sourcing Wagner's dressing gown. Social media proved worth its weight in gold where the latter was concerned: an appeal on Facebook ("Urgent: need a silk dressing gown for Wagner, must fit John Sessions") has produced a friend - the real sort, not only the Facebooky sort - who inherited an antique silk red paisley number from her great-uncle that fits the bill to perfection. Now we just have to find the right something for Liszt to wear. A cravat should do the trick.

From this anniversary line-up, Verdi is missing. Only one thing for it: over to Jonas...






4 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
It's you-know-who's birthday today. I wanted to find something to post that is out of the ordinary, but close to my heart. So I've hunted down some video - from the Teatro Real, Madrid - of The Little Sweep, the children's opera that involves major audience participation in some wonderful mass songs. I had a recording of this when I was about 8 and it's one of the things that first turned me on to music. I think I wore out the LP. I still think it's a masterpiece, though the emotional content - the story of a Victorian chimney sweep boy - is even more upsetting now than it seemed then.

It is, as far as I can tell, hardly ever performed today - at least, not in the UK. Talk about BB going international. The dialogue here is in Spanish, and the singing in English, without much sense of diction, but if you don't know the music, these two videos - the very beginning and the very end - will give you a taste of it.

Have a good Britten Weekend, wherever you are. I am missing the fun as I'm a little preoccupied right now with the world premiere of my new play on Sunday afternoon at the Orange Tree Theatre. It's about Wagner.










4 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
I'm sure the answers to that question are many and varied. But here's one for the mix: some of them write books. I've put a few million-dollar questions to Lev Parikian, who together with Barrington Orwell has written a singularly sparkly volume, Waving, Not Drowning, about the mysterious art of the musical maestro - with tongue located in cheek.

Lev is, of course, a conductor himself; he specialises in galvanising into action a range of enthusiastic amateur orchestras. Who better to tell us what's really going on on that podium? And a few words, too, about the women conductors' issue...



JD: Lev, what made you want to write a book about conducting?
LP: There are plenty of serious books about conducting, and quite right too, for it is a serious matter. But I felt there was scope for a less earnest approach that would nevertheless contain, as one reviewer put it, "truth within the comic camouflage”.
Waving, Not Drowning started as a series of articles for Classical Music magazine highlighting some of the more mockable aspects of the noble art of conducting (and it is a noble art, although we are a more mockable breed than most, if only we realised it). From these frivolous drivellings emerged the idea for a book which I hoped would amuse, entertain and enlighten in equal measure. Whether or not it does any of those three things, it kept me harmlessly occupied and off the internet for a few months, so that’s no bad thing.
JD: So tell us...what does a conductor really do, and how?
LP: Aagh, you’ve gone for the impossible questions first. It’s tempting to say 'ask me again in thirty years', but I'm not sure I'll have an answer even then.So here goes...
What do they do? They enable a group of musicians to give the best performance available to them of any piece of music.
How do they do it? That's more difficult, because there are as many ways of conducting as there are conductors. But pick a few from the following: gestures, psychology, words, force of personality, ears (or "listening skill solutions” as we probably have to say nowadays), intimate knowledge of the music, intellect, experience, hard work, metaphors, similes, analogies, mime, encouragement, cajoling, threats, amusing anecdotes just before the break, telepathy, magic dust, did I say hard work? I’m sure I’ve missed a few out.
I think conducting is often done with the ears  – the conductor is the person on the stage best placed to hear the music, so has the responsibility for shaping the balance. But they also need to be able to engage all the musicians so that each one of them feels they are contributing to the whole – that’s where the psychology comes in. And of course an ability not only to pick (and transmit) the best tempo but also to convey the character of the music with gesture alone is a great plus. As the incomparable Professor Etwas Ruhiger (profiled in Chapter 5 of Waving, Not Drowning) put it: “If music iss like hippopotamus, do not be condectink like cherbil."


JD: Why do you think there is such a mystique around the profession of conducting? Is it justified?LP: The mystique of the conductor is understandable – he or she is the only person on stage who makes no sound (there are some exceptions...), yet is the first to receive the plaudits. And the parallels with wizards are all too obvious: the wand, the air of mystery, the ‘look at me’ aura.
But the fact remains that without musicians, the conductor is just an idiot waving his or her arms around. Controversial statement alert: a lot of the time, the players can get on just fine without conductors. Part of the skill of conducting lies, I think, in recognising when you’re needed and knowing what to do about it (which is a different matter entirely). 

JD: What would be your response to the "Oh, conductors just wave their arms around" viewpoint?
LP: I’d reply by saying that it depends on the conductor. Then I’d invite whoever said it to come and have a go themselves and have a chat afterwards.


JD: What, for you, are the best things about being a conductor? And the worst things?
LP: The best – when you know you’ve helped a group of musicians play better; the worst – when you know that you’ve made them play worse.


JD:  As you know, I've been pretty involved in the issue of women conductors, or lack of them. How can we encourage more women to become conductors, and help those that already exist to get a fair hearing?
LP: Challenge those who disagree with or ignore the idea of women conductors. Go on challenging them. Don’t give up until all talk of “women conductors” has disappeared and we talk only about “conductors”.

This interview with Mei-Ann Chen seems to me to exemplify a positive and constructive approach from an obviously extravagantly talented and motivated conductor: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glassceilingcom/how-conductor-meiann-chen_b_4276015.html

Waving, Not Drowning - paperback (Amazon)
Waving, Not Drowning - Kindle edition (Amazon)
4 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story


This is Terence Judd in a live performance from 1978 of Scriabin's Etude Op.42 no.5. By the end of the following year, this brilliant young British pianist, winner of the 1978 Tchaikovsky Competition, was dead. His body was found under Beachy Head, a notorious cliff by the sea in Sussex, where he was assumed to have taken his own life. He was 22 years old.

A few years ago I met his sister, Diana, and interviewed her about him. He had had a severe nervous breakdown several years earlier, she recounted: "He spent several months in a terrible place, in north London, having electric shock treatment and more. He used to think that he was Jesus Christ, and he would tell me that he would go into space and get a planet for me." (Read the rest here.)

The Scriabin Etude above is only about three and a half minutes long, but it is a harrowing thing to listen to. You need to feel strong to withstand the opening up therein of a soul in crisis.
5 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
I've written an article for The Independent about creating my new play, SINS OF THE FATHERS, which is premiered next Sunday in the International Wimbledon Music Festival at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. In brief: how do you write a play about somebody you can't stand?

Incidentally, the only way I could get started was by thinking: "Well, what would Woody Allen have done?"...

Cast for our performance:
VICKY/COSIMA: Sarah Gabriel
FRANK/LISZT: Jeremy Child
WAGNER: John Sessions

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/my-tricky-waltz-with-wagner-8940302.html
5 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story


It's BBC Children in Need again and Radio 3 is pitting girls against boys as their competitive star turn. So here are the girls. Singers are Ruby Hughes, Clara Mouriz, Charlotte Trepess, Elizabeth Watts and Kitty Whately, with the ladies of the BBC Philharmonic and The Halle conducted by Sian Edwards. And look out for special guests in the ranks: violinist Tasmin Little and pianist Kathryn Stott. (Why not a woman composer too? As for Pudsey Bear - we don't know about that...)

Happy Friday. I am chopping a script, and it hurts. Cuts are a vicious matter. I'm wondering if this is how our prime minister feels sometimes.
5 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
Brava bravissima to the young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, who has just won the Woman of the Future Award.


Alexandra says: "This evening we celebrated women, equality between genders and an internationally cherished Romania, a country that makes me proud. I was the only non Brit in the Arts and Culture category and it gives the hugest of honours to announce that I was awarded the Woman of the Future Award, becoming an Ambassador for classical music. It's an exciting time for women all over the world and a huge step for us, strong, united and because we can!"
5 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
Tonight: we are delighted that Alicia's Gift: The Concert of the Novel will be presented by the Kensington & Chelsea Music Society at Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road
London W14 8LZ. It's an amazing venue, the former home of Lord Leighton and his art collection, where east meets west...

Kick-off is 7.30pm and Viv and I, much encouraged by Saturday's successful outing (unexpectedly alongside a Mighty Wurlitzer), are looking forward to it immensely. Enormous thanks to the doughty Peter Thomas and the enthusiasm of KCMS for this project. I read; Viv plays Chopin, Falla, Debussy, Ravel, Granados, Messiaen and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue; and we finish with eine kleine piano duet...
BOOK HERE: http://www.kcmusic.org.uk/alicia_concert.htm
5 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Here is my short but heartfelt tribute to John Tavener, who died today at the age of 69, greatly mourned. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/pioneer-of-new-classical-music-john-tavener-dies-aged-69-8935709.html
5 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
91 - 100  | prev 67891011121314 next
InstantEncore