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Jessica
Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music and writing in London, UK.
1856 Entries
Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016). Photo: Deep Listening Institute

This year, as everyone has already noted, has taken many amazing people out of this world. The latest is the composer Pauline Oliveros, creator of the concept of Deep Listening and music to match, who has died at the age of 84.

“In hearing, the ears take in all the sound waves and particles and deliver them to the audio cortex where the listening takes place. We cannot turn off our ears–the ears are always taking in sound information–but we can turn off our listening. I feel that listening is the basis of creativity and culture. How you’re listening, is how you develop a culture and how a community of people listens, is what creates their culture.” -- Pauline Oliveros, 2003

Read more about her here.

Here is A Love Song by and for her.



What is Deep Listening?
Deep Listening Institute (DLI) promotes the music and Deep Listening practice of pioneer composer Pauline Oliveros, providing a unique approach to music, literature, art, meditation, technology and healing.  DLI fosters creative innovation across boundaries and across abilities, among artists and audience, musicians and non-musicians, healers and the physically or cognitively challenged, and children of all ages.  This ever-growing community of musicians, artists, scientists and certified Deep Listening practitioners strives for a heightened consciousness of the world of sound and the sound of the world. Deep Listening Institute has merged with RPI to becomeCenter for Deep LIstening at Rensselaer under the direction of Tomie Hahn.  For information on programs please contact Hahnt at RPI.edu. 
CDL website:   http://www.deeplistening.rpi.edu/FaceBook:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/570842616417932/

6 months ago | |
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Susanna Mälkki with the New York Philharmonic last year. Photo: Chris Lee

I had a terrific interview with the conductor Susanna Mälkki for Opera News, ahead of her debut at the Met, New York, with Saariaho's L'amour de loin.

Here's the whole article, with a little taster below...

WITH CONSCIOUSNESS about the situation of women conductors expanding, and creative initiatives springing up around the world to combat the inequality, observers might conclude that the battle is almost won. This is not entirely the case. “I think the biggest change actually is on the public side,” says Mälkki. “I’ve met a lot of musicians who have been totally fine about a woman conducting, but it’s taken such a long time for the business to catch up with it—and also the press. And I think those two have been the slowest to react, because they may have been wanting to cherish old images of—well, you know what I’m referring to!” Indeed—the grand maestros of the past, those controlling, all-powerful alpha-males. Even so, the role’s challenges in reality have nothing to do with gender. “I think conducting is a 360 degrees kind of work, because there are so many different responsibilities,” Mälkki says. “It’s a job where you should be everything to everybody. People have so many different expectations, and these can be sometimes really disconnected from the music at hand. I think the pragmatic side and the pragmatic training for it—keeping one’s feet on the ground and concentrating on the music—has definitely helped me, and little by little I’ve developed my way to deal with the rest.“In terms of music-making, what I find interesting to see in retrospect is that working with living composers has always been such a central, essential and natural part of my work as a conductor—and that’s going back to the basics. That’s what this profession is about. Therefore I’ve been following the other discussion feeling sometimes frustrated and sometimes amused, because I’ve been happy to be working on the real issues with real substance all the time—and contemporary composers have been extremely happy with what I’ve been doing.” ...http://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2016/12/Features/360_Degrees.html

6 months ago | |
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Tomorrow I'm off to Gateshead to present the Hungarian Dances Concert of the Novel at The Sage, our violinist Bradley Creswick's home hall - and, indeed, home hall of the project, which was premiered there in 09, having been suggested to the Fiddles on Fire Festival by a canny librarian. Bradley, who on other days leads the Royal Northern Sinfonia, plays the living daylights out of the Gypsy repertoire - expect some surprises! - and he and Margaret Fingerhut have been working together since their college years. It's incredible to be on stage with them, and super-exciting when it's at The Sage, one of the best arts centres in the country.

Looking forward to seeing lots of North-East friends and enjoying Newcastle-Gateshead, which is not unlike Budapest: two different cities joined by a magnificent river and its bridges.

More info and booking here. (And if you are into praying, please pray for no disruption on the railways...the weather is a bit wild...)
6 months ago | |
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Writing a piece about the Golden Age of Pianists for Primephonic, I couldn't resist including one of the most startling, inspiring and terrifying musicians I have yet encountered on record: the Hungarian pianist Ervin Nyiregyházi. You may not have heard of him, but maybe it's time you did. All you can expect of him is the unexpected.



Kevin Bazzana's biography reveals the life of a man who lurched between genius and mental breakdown, from wild success to sleeping rough in the subway, from wife to wife - ten of them (eat your heart out, Henry VIII) - yet who was never anything less than his own true self.

The cover to be. Photo: Yoshimasa Hating
Tomoyuki Sawado of Sonnetto Classics is having a Kickstarter to raise funds to release Nyiregyházi's comeback recital of 1972 on CD. Please have a listen and consider contributing. He has 9 days left to raise the remaining 49 per cent. More details at the Kickstarter page here.

My Primephonic article explores what exactly the magic of those so-called Golden Age artists was about. It's not a comprehensive survey or a Top 300 list or similar, and is designed for general music lovers as well as serious pianophiles. I chose a selection of pianists from different places, with contrasting personalities and life stories, and wondered what brings them together under the same umbrella. It's a personal choice and assessment. There are probably 50 more who could have been included, yet the article is already double its intended length.

Anyway, hope you enjoy it. And do take a look at that Kickstarter.
7 months ago | |
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Listening to Christoph Prégardien singing Lieder by Mahler, Schubert and Schumann the other night at the Wimbledon International Music Festival, I couldn't help wondering if that's where Leonard Cohen got it from. The journey to the darkest regions of the human heart dates not from today's finest singer-songwriters, perhaps not even from Mahler, but from the 1820s. Schubert's settings of Heinrich Heine in his last song cycle, Schwanengesang, are a strong contender for the title of bleakest, most nihilistic music in history, should we ever need to present such an accolade. Their intense pain is only increased by their beauty - and by the craftsmanship by which Schubert is able to kick our guts out with the upward step of one semitone in 'Der Doppelgänger'.

Christoph Prégardien. Photo: Medici.tv
There's something almost masochistic about a really good Lieder recital. We're put through the crushing emotions of lost love, of longing for death, of self-imposed suicidal isolation, and the more it hurts, the better the singer is presenting it. We're put through an emotional mangle and sometimes we weep. And the more of that there is, the more likely we are to offer him/her a standing ovation at the end. Because actually we come out feeling better.

Is that because it's over? Nope. It's good, old-fashioned, Greek catharsis. We have the chance, listening to these songs, to go into the secret, suppressed chambers of our own hearts and concentrate on feeling, unimpeded, the emotions we might not want to let out otherwise. It hurts, but it's an experience, a meditation and a release.

The fact that Christoph Prégardien was singing in Wimbledon at all is quite a triumph for the WIMF, whose programming these days wouldn't disgrace a festival three times its weight in the centre of some gorgeous European capital, rather than suburban south-west London, where we all go wombling free (even Alfred Brendel, who lives north of the river, was in the audience for this one). Prégardien's artistry is streamlined, focused, essential: with beauty of tenor tone absolutely intact - he is 60 - diction impeccable, emotions of text and tone fused and explored to the last degree, he is the consummate Lieder singer. His partnership with the excellent pianist Sholto Kynoch matched all of that. He brought splendour, agony and ecstasy to Mahler's Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen first; bitterness, irony and a heady intelligence to Schumann's Dichterliebe in the second half; and those Schubert Heine settings in between are still alive and reverberating with wonder and horror somewhere in my subconscious several days on. You want it darker? Try Schubert.

Incidentally, the artistic director of the WIMF, Anthony Wilkinson, has for some years been spearheading an effort to get a world-class concert hall built in Wimbledon; and at the moment, he tells me, things are progressing quite well. More power to his elbow.

The festival continues with a feast of great music-making until 27 November: Christian Tetzlaff in solo Bach and Bartók, Tabea Zimmermann and Dénes Várjon, Michael Collins, Raphael Wallfisch, a Klezmer night with Balkan Voices, the Tetzlaff Quartet, the Bach Christmas Oratorio and more. Wimbledon is a short train ride from Waterloo, or take the southbound District Line to the end.
7 months ago | |
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Kathryn Stott. Photo: http://www.kathrynstott.com/index.htm
British pianist Kathryn Stott has just been announced as the new artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, taking over from Piers Lane.

The town in Far North Queensland has its fair share of palm trees, sunshine and proximity to what remains of the Great Barrier Reef; for decades the festival has welcomed the great and good of the music world to its delights. Piers has been in situ 11 years and Kathy will be only the third director to hold office.

Born in Lancashire, Kathy studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and at the Royal College of Music with Kendall Taylor. Aged 19 she was a finalist in the Leeds International Piano Competition and shot to fame; now she has long enjoyed a busy career juggling solo work, chamber music including a duo partnership with Yo-Yo Ma, teaching at the Oslo Conservatory of Music, and the occasional curating of festivals and concert series. She tells me she had been keeping an eye out for something longer term in that department, but is more than thrilled to have been recommended to the AFCM, where she has been a frequent visitor, by Piers himself.

I'm not sure for whom I'm happier: the festival having her, or her having the festival. Congratulations all round!

Here's Kathy playing Fauré's Impromptu No. 2.

7 months ago | |
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The Paris Philharmonie. We want one too! Photo: Charles Platiau

It's dead - supposedly. Theresa May's government recently decided Rattle Hall, or The Centre for Music to use its official title, wasn't "value for money" for the taxpayer (though this, one presumes, depends which taxpayers you ask). In today's Times, Richard Morrison points out that that doesn't mean it's not going to happen: it's just that it will have to be funded entirely by private money, and possibly by someone who might roll up loving Sir Simon Rattle enough to stump up a few hundred million. Well, we can dream...

The news has been greeted with a peculiar mixture of anger, relief and cynicism, and while the prevailing anxieties are Brexit and Trump, nobody seems able to get excessively worked up about it. Yes, we need a new orchestral concert venue in London because the acoustics in the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall really are several hundred light years away from today's state of the art possibilities, which are exemplified by the work of Mr Toyota. There's only a limited amount of good that their expensive refits could do them; the RFH is now over-clinical, with funny bass-treble balance in some parts of the hall, and the Barbican is louder without being warmer. But the Museum of London site is far from ideal. If we're to have a truly world-class new hall, please can we get it right this time?

What concerned me the most about the plans, as far as they went, was in fact not the location, nor the argument that the money would be better spent on music education - it never would have been in any case (different budgets). Arguably the hall would have been a major incentive to improve music education locally, if not nationally, since it would have provided top-notch facilities to be used by schools and young people and - crucially - sent out a positive and encouraging message about the value of the arts to society, the exact opposite of what pulling the plug does. Parties of children could have flocked there daily on "enrichment" projects.

No, the worrying thing was the implication for the rest of London - indeed, the rest of the country. A new hall has to be built. After that, it has to be run. And where does the money come from to do that?  Yes, government. What is the government doing to the arts? It is cutting their budget. Is there any prospect of that changing? Not while this lot is in power. So where would that money come from? Other organisations, run from the same budget, being slashed, obvs.

Musicians and audiences in London want, need and deserve a hall to match the finest in Tokyo, Berlin and Paris. What we don't want is an organisation that comes to life by snuffing out the competition. Whatever their limitations, we wouldn't be happy to see the Royal Festival Hall stripped of its orchestral programmes, which are already somewhat reduced, or the Barbican put entirely out to pasture, or ENO killed off; if that were the price for the Centre for Music, it would indeed be too high. Arts in the "regions" are to be a greater priority now - and quite right, too - but London is a massive city, and growing fast (unless we lose a six-figure number of bankers as they shift to Paris and Frankfurt post-Brexit, which could happen), and can easily support as many arts organisations as it has, and more. Especially since we expect a steady influx of tourists who can now come over more easily because of our tanking currency, and are definitely not heading here to bask on a beach.

If the new hall were to be built, with private money, in an ideal world it would be an "as well as" rather than an "instead of". As long as that is the case, it would be much better that it happened than that it didn't.

But we can't predict anything now, things being as they are, so the whole idea may yet remain one more vape dream: an empty gesture, stripped of substance.

7 months ago | |
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Politicians right now are not distinguishing themselves with high-level eloquence, though goodness knows we need some. Instead, here is one musician who's not willing to stand by and watch everything go to pot: the pianist Igor Levit, who is 29, has just released a speech he made before a Beethoven concert in Brussels the other night. Bravo, Igor.


7 months ago | |
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A spot of musical escapism after a very dark night.

Tonight I'm chairing a panel discussion with five American composers who happen to be women, before the concert in Lontano's Festival of American Music at the Warehouse, Waterloo. The composers are Hannah Lash, Julia Howell, Elena Ruehr, Barbara Jazwinski and Laura Kaminsky, so it should be a fascinating chat. But it's going to be an even more interesting evening than I'd anticipated. We'd hoped to be celebrating the accession of the US's first-ever female president, but...no.

Tonight, too, the LPO pertinently plays Dvorák's "New World" Symphony at the RFH. Robin Ticciati conducts. (But listen out for the dark side of that piece. It's there.) In the first half, Anne-Sophie Mutter is playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto - on her Strad, which used to belong to Jelly d'Arányi and was probably the instrument on which the latter gave the UK premiere of the Schumann Violin Concerto.

Tomorrow at the Barbican, the LSO is playing the Schumann itself, with Renaud Capuçon the soloist. An insane piece for an insane world? Or Schumann's last stand before the crash, unfairly suppressed for 80 years until its bizarre rediscovery? It's not for nothing that that story became Ghost Variations, though I didn't anticipate that its 1930s setting would ring quite as many bells as it does. I'm looking forward to hearing Renaud play it.

At some point I'll try and produce some cogent thinking about the scuppering of the new London concert hall, but today is not the day.

Actually I am lost for words and I don't want to depress anyone further, but I have no verbal slivers of hope, inspiration or humour to offer, so here's some Schumann instead.


7 months ago | |
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Zoltan Kocsis. Photo: Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI via AP,
Tragic news came yesterday that the Hungarian pianist and conductor Zoltan Kocsis has died at the age of 64. He was chief conductor of the Hungarian National Philharmonic and had also been active as a composer. In tribute, his fellow conductor Iván Fischer said: "Kocsis was a giant of music...his influence on his generation is immeasurable."

Many regrets that I never managed to meet him, and heard him play infrequently - he was not a regular visitor to the UK, and the loss was ours. I first heard him, in fact, while on holiday in Switzerland when I was 14, which must have been 1980. He gave a recital in the cinema, Pontresina, and nobody around had actually heard of him before, but he played his own transcription of the Prelude & Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and the roof nearly flew off. I remember we were all left speechless.

Kocsis had heart surgery in 2012 and more recently had cancelled a number of concerts on medical advice.





Agence France Press says:

Kocsis had served as musical director of the National Philharmonic Orchestra since 1997 and became a household name among music fans from the United States to Japan as he took the ensemble on tour.He underwent heart surgery in 2012, and last month cancelled upcoming concerts on the advice of doctors, according to the orchestra.Born in Budapest in 1952, Kocsis began playing the piano around the age of three.He first played abroad after winning the prestigious Hungarian Radio Beethoven Competition at the age of 18 in 1970, and made his first concert tour of the United States a year later.He also performed extensively with the Berlin Philharmonic, and played with leading orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.In 1978, aged 25, he was awarded the Kossuth prize, Hungary’s highest state honour for artists, an award he won again in 2005.Often taking the conductor’s baton with the BFO, Kocsis also began composing from 1987.His pieces, along with his transcriptions of works of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and the recordings he made from them, also won him wide acclaim. “His death is an irreplaceable loss for Hungarian culture,” said a statement from Hungary’s ministry of human resources.
7 months ago | |
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