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Jessica
Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music and writing in London, UK.
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The powerful and uncompromising Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones sings Walther von Stolzing in the Royal Opera House’s new production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, alongside his fellow countryman Sir Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs. I went backstage to meet him…

Hughes Jones (left) and Terfel (right) in the rehearsal room
(c) Royal Opera House, photo by Clive Barda

Jessica Duchen: Gwyn, can you tell us about Kasper Holten’s new production, without giving the game away?
Gwyn Hughes Jones: No! Haha… I think people already know that it’s set in a club, a sort of music club. It reflects that idea of the application of rules to art and expression and how, if they’re not applied conscientiously, they hamstring the expressive sense of spontaneity, that creative evolution in art. We have to have rules in art because human beings have to have structure. Two plus two has to make four: we do need some kind of balance in nature and in the world. We can’t help ourselves. But it’s when rules take over and exist for their own sake that there’s trouble. I think this works for the piece: it doesn’t compromise it in any way. It’s always interesting to see the path directors take in their concepts of how to make a piece relevant to today. I’m sure that, as always, some people will like it and some people will not. We’ll see…



JD: You sang Walther at English National Opera not so long ago, in English, so this is your second Walther, but your first in German. What’s it like to make that change?
GHJ:  In a way, you start all over again. You can’t take anything for granted. The structure of the language is different, the inflection of the stresses are different, the way the language is used is slightly different too, so you have to be mindful of those things in preparation and delivery. I think singing these pieces in English is incredibly useful because you end up with a really broad palette of colour choice. Instead of having maybe one to three colours for a word, you have six or seven. Of course you still have to choose the right ones. But as someone who works in, if you like, the discipline of sound-painting, to have that choice of palette is always a very important weapon.
JD: Walther is a notoriously difficult role. What are the biggest challenges?
GHJ: It’s long. It’s high in some places. It’s not written in a friendly way. Nevertheless, you can look at some works of Puccini and Verdi and you see they, too, are writing for the kind of singer they have a right to expect. They don’t think we arrive without having had any kind of vocal education. These pieces play a part in stretching singers and not compromising them. I think the bel canto style was a hugely important influence on Wagner and this is reflected in all his works to some extent, but particularly in this piece. So it’s about having that elegance, it’s having the youthfulness – and one of the biggest challenges is remaining fresh to the very end.
One difficulty is this paradox that characters like Walther are young, but in real life you have to wait until you’re a fair bit older, a mature singer and a very physically strong and sophisticated singer, to be able to sing these roles to their potential. There is no other way. You will not find a 20-year old-who will sing Walther to its potential. So one of the challenges in this kind of repertoire is to keep the voice young, fresh and vibrant, so that when you come to your potential you can fulfil it for as long as possible. That’s why singers like Gigli, Björling and Pavarotti could keep that youthfulness and vibrancy in their voices for a very long time and that’s what made them convincing exponents.

Gwyn Hughes Jones as Walther with Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva in the new Meistersinger.
(c) ROH, photo by Clive Barda

JD: Do you have a regime for looking after your voice?
GHJ: It’s a lot to do with choosing the right kind of repertoire and I think the root of it goes to the beginning of my learning about singing. You have to be fortunate enough to work with good teachers, you need to work with people who know what they’re talking about and you need to be incredibly patient in your development. By all means, have targets along the way, have a long journey, but also work hard within a sense of context. You need to be sensible about repertoire choices and understand that if you do aspire to sing Wagner, if you aspire to sing the Verdi and Puccini spinto roles, then in the same way Wagner was inspired by Bellini, you have to sing that repertoire too: you have to immerse yourself in the bel canto style. You have to sing everything, but it is a process of building by small bricks. You build a very solid foundation, then build on that. You don’t just wake up one morning and find you’re a Heldentenor. It doesn’t work like that – and if people do do that, they don’t last very long.
JD: So it takes 30 years to be an overnight success…
GHJ: Yes, and to remain an overnight success, that’s the thing. It’s not about that initial splash. Spotting potential is the easiest thing in the world; allowing it to develop is something totally different. The onus is on us as individuals, but on the people we work with as well. So it is very challenging and you have to be incredibly patient too.
JD: How did you start to sing?
GHJ: My parents were not academically musical, but they loved opera, my father loved singing and there was always plenty of music in the house. Also coming from Wales there was always plenty of great culture around, so I was never far away from great literature and great poetry in English and in Welsh, and great music too. It was a very common thing for me to hear operatic arias when I was very young, sung by schoolteachers or farmers. In Eisteddfods these are competition arias, so you’d turn up to an Eisteddfod competition and there’d be people singing the ‘Prize Song’ and ‘Vissi d’arte'... So there’s a sense that, yes, they’re great, great art, but also that it wasn’t an elitist thing by any means: they were extremely reachable. You saw people who were having a singing lesson once a week or once a month, singing these arias as well as they’d be sung at some of the greatest opera houses in the world. That always for me was an example to say, ‘Yes, why not?’. 
As someone who comes from Anglesey, whose father is an engineer, whose mother is a housewife, some people would say I have no business whatsoever doing this. And yet all these influences I had in my upbringing gave me the privilege and the opportunity to be able to pick these things, experience them, enjoy them and find a path.
JD: People always think there’s a mystique about the Welsh and singing, but is it perhaps more down to this musical tradition that is very egalitarian?
GHJ: I think it’s a big part of it. Our historical, cultural tradition involves hundreds of thousands of years of storytelling. In this culture before the Romans came to Britain, we didn’t write. And that oral tradition has always been incredibly strong – the old tales in Welsh are thousands of years old and he oldest piece of poetry in the Welsh language comes from the 6th century. As a nation that struggled for its existence, you keep these things very close to you and they’re the things that keep you believing, keep you defending your culture and your language. They are incredbily important to us along with the sense of struggle and telling the story of the struggle. We love our heroes, yet we’re extremely melancholic too. There is that range of expressive colour in our culture that all goes to arm this huge weapon we have, called singing or storytelling.

As Walther in the new production.
(c) Royal Opera House, photo by Clive Barda

JD: This is quite a Welsh dominated Meistersinger: you are Walther and the freshly-knighted Sir Bryn Terfel is Hans Sachs…
GHJ: I think it’s a great achievement for the background we come from: the Eistefodd tradition, the amateur tradition. It shows how incredibly rich that was. We both were given a kind of unofficial education outside school: we were being taught some of the most amazing ideas and shown some of the most amazing art and weren’t really aware that it was happening. That’s the most wonderful thing and it’s easy to take it for granted. But it’s not just the musical aspect, it’s the literary aspect too, it’s the poetry, the understanding of how people use words and why people choose certain words to describe something. Being immersed in that – this is the consequence! I think it’s something worth reinvesting in: not just keeping it alive but allowing it to go from strength to strength. And it’s difficult, because Wales is economically poor. So it needs as much support as it can get.
JD: Have you worked with Bryn much before?
GHJ: We did some concerts together in Wales years ago, and we did Falstaff together in Chicago, which was my American debut in 1999. But we haven’t sung together for a very long time. I could have had the chance to sing Walther with him as Sachs when Welsh National Opera did Meistersinger, but it so happened with that season that I was debuting two big Verdi operas and one Puccini within the six months previously and I didn’t think it was wise to take on the part. But then ENO asked me to take on the role and it came at just the right time. It’s about having the longer journey, seeing the bigger picture – you don’t compromise yourself. For every Meistersinger, you need to do a Tosca, a Butterfly, pieces that don’t put you out there to the same extent. It’s good sense.
JD: Do you see yourself doing more Wagner soon?
GHJ: I think so... Ironically, the first opera I ever saw was the Patrice Chéreau production of the Ring cycle on TV, when I was nine or ten years old. It was Dame Gwyneth Jones and it was something amazing. Even on TV, you could tell how amazing it was. Those costumes! Those giants! It made a huge impression. Also, the first classical music tape I bought was 'Ten Tenors sing 20 Arias', which included plenty of Wagner. I enjoyed listening to it, but it didn’t appeal to me anywhere near as much as the Italian repertoire, Verdi and Puccini – that was what I really wanted to do and the kind of singer I wanted to be. So I didn’t really entertain the idea of being a Wagnerian singer. I started out as a baritone and when I became a tenor there’s an idea of the kind of colour you carry through from being a baritone: people immediately say, “Oh, you’ll sing Florestan, you’ll do Walther and Lohengrin…” But I was thinking about Rodolfo, Cavaradossi, Chénier, all these pieces, and I didn’t see myself as being a Wagnerian singer.
As Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly
I listened to snippets of Wagner over the years and it didn’t appeal to me. Also the way it was performed didn’t appeal to me, because it seemed that everything I believed in was being compromised. There’s no point working to make the voice as expressive and beautiful a communicative instrument as possible when you’re battling against an orchestra and a conductor who don’t acknowledge that actually they’re accompanying, And in some instances, too, you find that not necessarily the actual decibel volume, but the colour of the volume can be overwhelming to voices, so you have to be incredibly careful with the way that you accompany. Even when they’re expressing emotions that are not beautiful, there still has to be a sense of continuity in that character and that expression. You mustn’t compromise that in order to be heard, because then it totally defeats the purpose. You miss the potential of the work in the first place. So I was reluctant, from hearing the way people were singing Wagner’s music, to entertain the idea of doing that.
But then I found people were saying, “Well, Walther is a lyric part, it’s an Italianate part,” and your ears prick up because you realise it can be done that way and actually it should be done that way. If you go back and listen to people at the beginning of the 20th century, they sing this music in a lyrical, Italiante way – Walther, Lohengrin, they have line, beauty, harmony. You realise that somehow, in the last 50 years of performing this music, something has been allowed to fall into the shadows. And the idea that it can be, needs to be beautiful, it needs to be expressive in the right way, that made me incredibly interested in doing it. So when Welsh National Opera did put on Meistersinger in Cardiff, I went to see it and finally thought that, yes, I could see myself singing it. When the offer did come to sing Walther, I jumped at it, because it had come at the right time.
Now I’m going to be doing Lohengrin in about three years in the US. Parsifal and Siegmund are certainly roles I’d do as well. I do regard myself as an Italianate singer, though, so they’re not my main mission. There is so much to do... I’m not really interested in saying I have done 200 roles. I don’t think you achieve anything except marks on the post that way. The more you do a piece, the more you realise that you actually don’t know it and the more you discover about it. To do the iconic roles that are the mainstream in every opera house in the world, to work those pieces to their potential – not just getting through them but producing work that is significant – that interests me a lot more than tallying the numbers. I’m far more interested in doing 350-400 performances of Tosca than having 200 roles under my belt.
JD: How did you turn into a tenor from being a baritone?
GHJ: I think it’s about the colours you have in your voice. It’s funny – learning how to sing is like forgetting everything you learned between infancy and adulthood. You have to go back to that point where you find the voice works at its most efficient. One of the biggest traps that young singers fall into is that they try to create a voice colour well beyond their years. You have to allow the voice to develop into these colours. It’s OK to sound young, it’s OK to sound not ready – it’s part of that long journey. So in the pursuit of that idea, I sang as a baritone because baritone music was what suited my voice.
I wanted to sing Verdi and verismo baritones, but I always suspected I didn’t have that baritonal colour of all the singers I admired – people like Piero Cappuccilli, Leonard Warren, Robert Merrill had this beautiful round colour. Even at that age I wasn’t interested in being a lighter baritone singing Verdi’s music because I didn’t think it was honest. It wouldn’t have the gravitas, that noble colour, that these lines demanded.
I came to study in London at the Guildhall when I was 18, with David Pollard. He said to me, “I won’t tell you you’re a tenor or you’re a baritone, I have my suspicions of where you’ll go but what we have to do is work to the potential. We have to get you singing, we have to find out where your voice is most comfortable.” So I started singing as a baritone, because that was the music that fitted my voice. I sang a lot of song repertoire, so even though I didn’t have to make any cast-iron decisions about the kind of voice I was going to be, I was getting an incredibly rich and intense education in repertoire. I sang everything from the beginning, Verdi from the beginning, to get the vocal culture in place.
Then I won the Kathleen Ferrier Prize in 1992, as a baritone, and people started asking if I was interested in working on contract at various companies. The repertoire I was offered, though, was far too challenging. It was understudy work, but it’s one thing to learn a role and quite another to go on stage and perform it, which as an understudy you would have to do, and it wasn’t a good idea.
Meanwhile with my teacher we were starting to look at excerpts of very iconic tenor music – the third act of La Bohème, the first duet between Cavaradossi and Tosca, part of Manon Lescaut, parts that could show unequivocally whether I was a tenor for that sort of repertoire. One day David sent me to William McAlpine down the corridor, a very brilliant Scottish tenor who was also a teacher at Guildhall, to see what he would say. I sang him one aria and he said: “Yep, no doubt!”
But as I’d won the Ferrier as a baritone, a lot of people refused to accept that it was a good idea. I’d also won a lot of scholarships to allow me to study and those were as a baritone as well. But the way I saw it, I was awarded them because of the singer I was, not because of the voice type I was. That’s the point: you have to be allowed to discover and develop. People will always have opinions about the kind of singer you are, but in the end you have to decide where you want to go. And David said, “You have to make a decision: you can be a very, very good baritone, or you can be a better tenor. It’s up to you.” For me there was no question: this was the time to study, to make those decisions, as opposed to waiting another ten years when I might be already established in my career. 
As Cavaradossi in WNO's Tosca. Photo: Robert Workman

JD: And you’ve never looked back...
GHJ: No – there’s too much to look forward to! But you do look back, of course, because this is a career that requires absolute discipline: it requires you to be able to work right at the coalface, work in detail at things and not shirk those challenges. It’s correcting those weaknesses that allow you to build. You don’t want to take a step forward and then realise that the very thing your house is built on isn’t sturdy. So you have to work in that way, while at the same tine being able to step back and see how far you’ve come, and never lose sight of that. It’s difficult to strike that balance. We’re trying to be as good as we can be, and that’s always exciting.
JD: Is Wales still home?
GHJ: Yes indeed. It is my home and I’m obligated as a Welsh professional to work for Welsh National Opera. It’s a fantastic company. You have the potential to produce world-class opera there – you have a great orchestra, world class technical staff, a fantastic 2000 seat theatre, the opportunity to work with Carlo Rizzi, you have the opportunity to work with people who are at the best opera houses in the world and are regarded as the best in their field in the world.
JD: What’s next after Walther?
GHJ: Next I have some concerts between now and the summer at the National Eisteddfod – there are some works I’ve commissioned and as a Welsh artist I think it’s incredibly important to stimulate new compositions in Wales. In the autumn I do my first Radames in Aida and then the new year brings Forza. Next year is heavy on the Verdi and the Puccini, and then I come back to Lohengrin. You have to find a balance between the stuff that stretches and stimulates you and the stuff that stimulates you, but allows you to rest.
JD: I should let you rest too... Thank you very much for talking to us, Gwyn, and we’re looking forward to opening night. 

Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg opens at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 11 March. Kasper Holten directs, Sir Antonio Pappano conducts and besides Hughes Jones and Terfel the cast includes Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser, Rachel Willis-Søresnsen as Eva and Allan Clayton as David. Details and booking here.

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Tonight at the Royal Festival Hall, the conductor Rafael Payare joins me on stage for a pre-concert interview about his life and work, his training in El Sistema and this evening's programme of Russian music: Prokofiev's 'Classical' Symphony and the Violin Concerto No.1 and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Frank Peter Zimmermann is the violin soloist. Do come along if you can. Talk starts at 6pm and concert at 7.30pm. Tickets here.

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Thought for the day: let's persuade more of the great male performers to play some music by women!

If female composers are going to achieve equal recognition to male ones, we need men to play their music. After all, women performers play men's music. And one sometimes has the impression it can be a little bit tricky [British understatement -ed.] to persuade blokes to learn the material in question. So, chaps, I'd like to offer you suggestions for some very fine role models.


1. KRYSTIAN ZIMERMAN PLAYS GRAZYNA BACEWICZ (1909-1969): PIANO SONATA NO.2
I remember Zimerman mentioning Grazyna Bacewicz to me in an interview at least 20 years ago - he was determined to champion her works beyond Poland. He proved as good as his word.



2. PHILIPPE JAROUSSKY SINGS POLDOWSKI (1879-1932) 'L'HEURE EXQUISE'
Irene Poldowski was actually Régine Wieniawski, daughter of the violinist. Quite a life. Check her out.



-- 2.2 WHAT A HERO - JAROUSSKY SINGS PAULINE VIARDOT (1821-1910) TOO. 'HAVANAISE'




3. GIDON KREMER & CHARLES DUTOIT PLAY SOFIA GUBAIDULINA (b.1931) : OFFERTORIUM




4. MATT SHARP & DOMINIC HARLAN PLAY ERROLLYN WALLEN (b.1958):
'Dervish' from The Girl in my Alphabet




5. GREGOR PIATIGORSKY PLAYS LILI BOULANGER (1893-1918): Nocturne
Recorded in 1936. Heard since? I hope so...




6. NICHOLAS DANIEL PLAYS THEA MUSGRAVE (b.1928)
His first CD was of her oboe works.





There's plenty more where this comes from, but we still need to keep proving it.



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International Women's Day, 8 March, has risen to become a big deal in music programming these past few years - championing, not before time, the creativity and achievements of women musicians over the years, decades, centuries, often, and still often, against the odds. Here are a few highlights of the celebrations taking place around Britain this week.

• The UK premiere of Fanny Mendelssohn's 'Easter Sonata' when Sofya Gulyak plays it on Wednesday. BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting the performance live from the Royal College of Music at 1pm. The formidably gifted Sofya Gulyak is the only woman ever to have won first prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition. More about the sonata - which was mistaken for a work by Felix for years - and Fanny's 4xgreat-granddaughter Sheila Hayman's efforts on its behalf here.

• Plenty more on BBC Radio 3 this week for International Women's Day: they are playing only music by women on Wednesday 8 March. Catch up on new recordings of music by women with Alexandra Coghlan on Record Review, and an exploration of the works of Dame Ethel Smyth from Kate Kennedy. Now available on the iPlayer. And Composer of the Week is Barbara Strozzi. This is all part of some very welcome, intensive programming focusing on female composers. Full listing for Wednesday here.

• The Southbank Centre's week-long Women of the World Festival launches on Tuesday 7 March, celebrates women's achievements everywhere and surveys the obstacles that still keep them from fulfilling their potential. Musical highlights include the Women of the World Orchestra conducted by Jessica Cottis at the annual Mirth Control evening hosted by Sandi Toksvig. More here.

• Diana Ambache, head of the Ambache Charitable Trust which offers grants to aid the promotion of female composers, has started a record label and the third release is being launched on Wednesday. It's chamber music by the fabulous Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz, including the Quartet for Four Violins, Trio for Oboe, Violin and Cello, Theme and Variations for Violin and Piano and more. Details here. More to read from Diana on the topic of women composers here.

Dobrinka Tabakova. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg/ECM Records

• St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol, presents a programme featuring the music of the dynamic young composer Dobrinka Tabakova, performed by the very starry Tabakova Players (Alexander Sitkovetsky and Roman Mints, violins; Maxim Rysanov and Philip Dukes, violas; Kristine Blaumane and Dora Kokas, cellos; Stacey Watton, bass; Ashley Wass, piano/harpsichord). Programme includes excerpts from her Grammy-nominated ECM album 'String Paths'. Dobrinka gives a pre-concert talk at 6.15pm. It's the culmination of a whole day of IWD events at St George's. More details here.

• Holywell Music Room, Oxford: soprano Claire Booth, cellist Natalie Clein and pianist Anna Tilbrook present a programme including music by Rebecca Clarke, Lili and Nadia Boulanger both, Elizabeth Lutyens, Clara Schumann, Roxanna Panufnik, Charlotte Bray and a new commission from Deborah Pritchard with text by Jeanette Winterson. Booking and details here.

Ruby Hughes
• Kings Place, London: soprano Ruby Hughes and Friends offer a magnificent baroque programme entitled Heroines of Love and Loss, launching their album of the same name. Music includes works ny Francesca Caccini, Lucrezia Vizzana, Barbara Strozzi, Claudia Sessa, Antonia Bembo, Henry Purcell and John Bennet, as well as a song, 'O Death Rock Me Asleep', attributed to Anne Boleyn. Grab a ticket here.

• Hull University has a full day of events for IWD and as part of this a tribute to Pauline Oliveros is being given in a 4pm concert of her works. More details here.

• Cardiff, Hoddinott Hall: The BBC National Orchestra and Choir of Wales under its principal guest conductor Xian Zhang presents the world premiere of a new choral work, Speak Out, by Kate Whitely, which sets to music the 2013 speech by Malala Yousafzai about the right of every girl to an education. It's a commission from BBC Radio 3. In the same concert the remarkable Latvian Skride sisters, Baibe and Lauma, play Mendelssohn's Double Concerto for violin and piano and the programme ends with Zemlinsky's fairy-tale tone-poem The Little Mermaid. More here.

This are just a few selections, with a classical focus - there is much, much, much, much more out there for IWD in many different genres and countless spheres. And you can even go and hear music by men if you prefer. While the day-long celebration is snowballing into a week, sometimes longer, the challenge now is for women's music and musicianship to be celebrated not only in one patch per year, but across the board, all the time, to the point that special celebrations are no longer needed because equal representation will be a no-brainer, something that would simply be taken for granted. The more women are writing music and giving performances, the better for everyone, because there will be more music of still greater range, offering us all even more choice and even higher standards. Meanwhile, it's worth remembering that forecasts now say the gender pay gap won't close until the year 2186. That's how far we still have to go.

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Composer Hannah Kendall, one of the 157 musical creators
supported by the fund so far
Five years ago the PRS for Music Foundation created a fund called Women Make Music, designed to encourage more female creators to step up for funding, make their mark on the airwaves and become role models for the future. The grants support tours, recording, commissions and other projects that develop female musicians' careers. The results of the first five-year evaluation have just been revealed during a parliamentary round-table session and the numbers make for stunning reading.

79% said the grant helped their confidence by helping to grow their professional profile.
82% described the creative impact as significant or very significant.
82% secured more bookings after receiving the grant.
64% secured new commissions after receiving the grant.
85% said their project could not have happened without this funding.
78% said they had experienced sexism in the music industry. Classical composers pointed to a lack of female role models; those of other genres described the industry as male dominated, lacking recognition of what women contribute and achieve. Many reflected that there is pressure on women to conform to a sexy, beautiful image. Some performers said they had been made to feel like sex objects instead of artists.

The fund so far has had:
1,300 applications
£522,790 given in grants
157 individuals funded
£3,513 average increase in grantees' income
£3,600 was the average grant, therefore...
• ...100% approx, return on investment.

Vanessa Reed, chief executive of PRS for Music Foundation, said:
‘The impact of the Women Make Music fund over the past five years demonstrates how powerful and inspiring targeted funding initiatives can be. Not only is it a hugely popular programme, but a transformational one which has introduced us to new talent and positively impacted the careers of over 150 female songwriters, composers and music creators.
‘We’re pleased that the findings of our evaluation are being discussed in Parliament today and that Matt Hancock (minister for culture and digital) and Caroline Dinenage (minister for women, equalities and early years) have shown their interest and support of this work. We look forward to working with government, other funders and industry partners to grow this fund so that we can reach more of the women who deserve our support and accelerate change in an industry which would benefit from increased representation of talented women.’
Now the PRS for Music Foundation as a whole aims to achieve a 50:50 balance of male:female creator applicants by 2022.

You can read the whole report here.

The next wave of applications is now open and you can apply by 8 March. Details here.

As an addendum, here is the final section of the report:

WHAT NEXT?
This evaluation concludes that ideally, Women Make Music would not be necessary and that the music industry would be gender neutral in talent progression. But the music industry does not operate in isolation. Many of the challenges for women in the music industry are part of much wider societal challenges of gender discrimination and sexism.
The place to start overcoming these is in schools, giving girls the confidence to overcome the barriers and crucially letting them know that careers in all parts of the music industry are possible for women. However, for women who’ve embarked on a career, support like Women Make Music is equally crucial and still required. This fund has had a significant impact. It has responded to a specific imbalance in the professional
landscape of the music industry; and it has done something about it. The challenge going forward is:
page5image9784 page5image9944 page5image10104
• To continue to highlight gender issues in the music industry and to influence others to work collaboratively for change
• To nurture female talent through targeted interventions if the sector as a whole is not sufficiently inclusive
• To work toward a situation where the success of such approaches renders them obsolete because the industry is investing in talent of all backgrounds and women and men are putting themselves forward in at least comparable numbers.
There is a long way to go and for the foreseeable future, Women Make Music and other initiatives which support female talent, will be vital for a healthy, inclusive and innovative music industry. 
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JDCMB is 13 years old today! To celebrate, I thought we could show that 13 is sometimes very lucky indeed, so I've assembled 13 of the best 13-related pieces I know, aided and abetted by some friends.

The restrictions are: first, I'm leaving out the more depressing 13s - with apologies to their fans, but this is a birthday celebration! - such as Rachmaninoff's Symphony No.1, which is great but got off to a terrible start in life, Brahms's 'Funeral Ode' Op.13, No.13 from Schubert's Schwanengesang which is 'Der Doppelganger', and Shostakovich's Symphony No.13, 'Babi Yar', a towering work which deals with a horrendous massacre in Ukraine during WWII. And secondly, no composer can have two entries except Beethoven.

To offer a nod to a few other omissions, it was tempting to include the whole of Wagner's 13th opera, Parsifal, but we'd be here all day; George Crumb's 'Black Angels', which involves numerology around 13 and 7, but would need explaining; and I was intrigued by being offered bar 13 of the Andante in Haydn's last string quartet, which includes some particularly exquisite writing. Many thanks to everyone who wrote in with suggestions!


13. Beethoven: Piano Sonata Op.13, 'Pathétique' (Daniel Barenboim)



12. Korngold: Sursum corda, Op.13 (BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Mathias Bamert)



11. Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring, composed in 1913 (Pina Bausch Dance Company)



10. Mendelssohn: String Quartet in A minor, Op.13 (Calidore Quartet)



9. Chopin: Nocturne No.13 in C minor (Martha Argerich)



8. Britten: Piano Concerto Op.13 (Benjamin Grosvenor/Vladimir Jurowski)



7. Messiaen: Noel - Vingt Regards sur l'enfant Jesus No. 13 (Yvonne Loriod)



6. Bach: Goldberg Variation No.13 (Grigory Sokolov)



5. Schumann: Etudes Symphoniques, Op.13 (Alfred Cortot)



4. Ligeti: Etude No.13, 'L'escalier du diable' (Pierre-Laurent Aimard)



3. Fauré: Violin Sonata No.1 in A major, Op.13 (Jacques Thibaud & Alfred Cortot)



2. Mozart: Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments - III (Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner)



1. Beethoven: String Quartet No.13, Op.130 (Artemis Quartet)

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1 March is one of my favourite days of the year, because its arrival means that January and February are gone and won't be back for a bit. Seasonal music is always a big JDCMB favourite, so here is a piece for the incipient spring.


This was the world premiere in 2010 of one piece in the cycle of Roxanna Panufnik's Four World Seasons: it's called 'Spring in Japan' and it is played here by Tasmin Little, for whom it was written, and the Orchestra of the Swan conducted by David Curtis and led by David Le Page.

There's now a CD of the complete work - with 'Autumn in Albania', 'Tibetan Winter' and 'Indian Summer' - get it here.


7 months ago |
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An all-night Pianothon at Birmingham Town Hall is set to keep every true pianophile awake into the wee hours and beyond on Friday 3 March. Crazy idea? Perhaps - but my goodness, the Birmingham Conservatoire's piano movers and shakes have lined up some wonderful stuff to enjoy. And isn't there's something extraordinarily romantic about being out with your pals at 3am, listening to Messiaen and late Beethoven together?

I asked Birmingham Conservatoire's head of keyboard, John Thwaites, how it came about, and our old friend Anthony Hewitt, aka "The Olympianist" (he once cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats, giving a recital every night), who is on the faculty, what made him decide to cycle from London overnight, performing Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit on arrival around dawn...


JD: Why a Pianothon at all?


John Thwaites
John Thwaites: For the first time - and because we are currently under demolition! - the Keyboard Department was gifted a Town Hall Showcase by Birmingham Conservatoire. I gave serious consideration to an All Day event, but finally concluded that this was fairly standard fare. Wouldn't it be much more sexy to pull off an All-Nighter?  I thought a little: kids like "sleepovers" and staying up as late as possible -- so this is a Sleepover with Music, where no-one insists it's time for bed, and we head off for a Champagne Breakfast next morning. 
Anthony Hewitt: It’s inspired by the all-night Jazz concerts at Town Hall in the 50s and 60s. John Thwaites is a great enthusiast and has put on many festivals at the Conservatoire focusing around composers or themes. This is in the same vein, but certainly unique and daring. We hope some the celebrity names appearing before mid-night will be a draw for audiences who like their beauty sleep, and that the hard-core pianophiles will stay the distance. There may be some ‘early birds’ too in the wee hours. As for the students, they are being tempted with a dazzling array of repertoire and unmissable performers, plus of course an all-night bar (musical bars as well as refreshment!). I’m going to make it compulsory attendance for my class!
Peter Donohoe plays Messiaen in the middle of the night
JT: And we now have another mystery guest: a jazz piano phenomenon who is inspired by the gig, and has offered his services for the Champagne Breafast... and people are buying in!
JD: Who's going to turn up for it?


JT: We are inviting students of EPTA members, of specialist and other schools -- there will be a youthful element to all this, including hundreds of the Conservatoire's own students.  Also important: people can come to the first two hours! They will already have a great concert -- and we'll see when they can tear themselves away... Balcony Tickets are £1 for everyone and anyone -- no-one is prohibited by cost -- it's all part of a gift to Birmingham and the wider world, a Piano Gift.

JD: What's in it?
JT: Ingredients? Nocturnes!! The complete ones by Chopin -- I've heard Gergely Bogányi play Nocturnes in the middle of the night on my summer course, Cadenza International Summer Music Course. I remember sitting there and thinking "It doesn't get any better than this. This is completely satisfying, and one wants for nothing"....so this is then more of the same... Also nocturnes by Fauré and Debussy.
Simon Callow recites Enoch Arden
It's sort of a Piano Education in a single night! There's the last three Beethoven sonatas, to be played by a mystery guest -- and great also to have the last great Schubert B flat, played by a student (Domonkos Csabay). And if it's very difficult to accommodate as many students as I would like to, then, counter-intuitively, it's wonderful to give one this enormous Sonata...another Schumann F Sharp Minor Sonata (on a Wilhelm Wieck Piano from the 1850's), another of the "De Profundis"...
We'll have Melodramas, two of them at the mid-way point of 12 hours of piano. It'll be nice to hear a human voice..especially as one is Simon Callow, in Strauss's Enoch Arden -- I'm playing Piano for this and the rehearsal was great! But then into Speaker Pianist, and the Birmingham premiere of the Rzewski De Profundis...
Stars in their chosen firmament? Peter Donohoe is playing Messiaen and Mark Bebbington is playing Ireland - one of the greatest British solo piano works, Sarnia.


Anthony Hewitt: piano cycles
JD: Tony, you're cycling up from London and playing Gaspard on arrival. Why on earth...?
AH: It really came about because of a casual conversation with John Thwaites in the pub. Worryingly, no alcohol had been consumed...
For an all-night concert and night-ride, Gaspard has obvious connotations with images of the night, which are so masterfully conjured up by both Ravel and Bertrand’s evocative poems. It’s particularly relevant in 'Scarbo', (I hope on Friday the moon will be ‘glittering like a silver shield…'), and where the goblin vanishes and reappears, once seen no longer seen. I love the word ‘pirouetting’, although hope we cyclists will be doing none of that! The use of imagery is such an important part of playing (and teaching), and particularly in a lot of music of this era. If we can get out of our comfort zones and look at, or visualise, things which we’ve never seen, then the effect on our imaginations can only stimulate the musical experience. 
As part of my training I’ve been out cycling at night alone through narrow lanes lined with lonely trees (very spooky) and wondered what lurked beyond. I am fairly certain I’ve seen a Scarbo or two in the Surrey Hills! 
JD: Is this a pilot for more events in the future?
JT: For me, everything goes into Friday March 3rd, and that's it for this lifetime!
But I do want to launch some ongoing campaigns and opportunities... a Petition "Every School deserves a Real Piano"  and a community piano school at the Conservatoire, "Birmingham Piano Academy".

BOOK HERE:http://www.bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/events-calendar/concert-diary/gala-piano-all-nighter

More about the programme from John Thwaites:
The Greatest Show on Earth: something shocking in its audacity, youthful in its exuberance. In its totality I believe it offers the best night of piano playing anywhere on the planet this year.
Anna Scott plays Brahms
as he might have heard it
Piano-playing means Chopin, All-Nighters need Nocturnes. The Complete Chopin Nocturnes are played in three groups, B flat minor opening proceedings, by Gergely Bogányi, one of the most exceptional pianists of our times. Gergely won the 1996 Franz Liszt Competition in Budapest. In 2002 he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the White Rose of Finland by the President of the Finnish Republic, and in 2004 he received the highest artistic award of Hungary, the Kossuth Prize. Rubinstein used to say that when he played Chopin he felt as though he spoke directly to people’s hearts—no-one today does that better than Gergely Bogányi.On 1st March 1977 Peter Donohoe gave the British Premiere of Messiaen’s “La Fauvette des Jardins”, having studied it first with the composer and his wife in their apartment in Montmartre. The panoramic  “day in the life” of a garden warbler seemed fitting for this event, and Peter is joined by his wife Elaine, who he met for the first time at that first performance.
Margaret Fingerhut joins the starry line-up
I confidently expect that we’ll all be knocked sideways as our Mystery Guest walks on stage to play Beethoven’s last three Sonatas. My inspiration was the moment that Ali lit the Olympic Flame in Atlanta.The inspiration for an All-Nighter comes from the Swinging Sixties, when Birmingham Town Hall regularly hosted All-Night Jazz Festival gigs, pictures of which still adorn the lower bar. Richard Hawley of THSH has been keeping that flame alive ever since, and we include Kapustin by way of tribute.Our Prize-winning students are showcased throughout, presenting some of the greatest masterpieces for the instrument.  Domonkos Csabay, who won the 2016 Amy Brant International Piano Competition, plays Schubert’s last great Sonata in B flat D960. Lauren Zhang, a Birmingham Juniors student who won the 2016 Ettlingen International Competition for Young Pianists, plays a Transcendental Study by Lyapunov, and Róza Bene, who was joint winner of the 2016 Anthony Lewis Memorial Competition plays Couperin.In the early hours we add poetry to the mix. We are delighted to welcome Simon Callow in a recitation of the Victorian Melodrama “Enoch Arden”by Tennyson/Strauss. This is followed by the Birmingham Premiere of Rzewski’s “De Profundis” (after Oscar Wilde) for speaking pianist.
Alistair McGowan performs Satie & Grieg
Birmingham is increasingly a centre for Historically Informed Performance Practice. In this context Dr. Anna Scott will be performing late Brahms as Brahms himself might have heard Adelina de Lara or Ilona Eibenschütz playing to him. It's more than a little thought-provoking, so prepare to be scandalised, and to further enjoy the playing of Gyorgy Hodozso, a Weingarten Scholar in Birmingham and Dr. Scott's latest prodigy.An evening of international ambition, but hosted in Central England. A privilege, then, to hear Mark Bebbington play "Sarnia" by John Ireland, the British composer who has left the single greatest body of solo piano music (not to mention the Concerto and Chamber Music piano parts).Finally we welcome Alistair McGowan, to play Satie and Grieg, and to introduce his good friend, “Olympianist” Anthony Hewitt, who will cycle through the night from his London home to play Ravel’s masterpiece of nocturnal  virtuoso pianism “Gaspard de la Nuit”. After that, only the magnificent organ of the Town Hall can provide a fitting close: Messiaen’s “Dieu Parmi Nous”...

John ThwaitesHead of the Department of Keyboard StudiesBirmingham Conservatoire





7 months ago |
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As a farewell tribute to the great Polish conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who has died at the age of 93, I'd like to post this fascinating interview filmed in 2012, in which he talks at length about the arts of conducting and composing. Also, here is his obituary from Classical Music Magazine.
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An addendum to yesterday's info about the Moscow Virtuosi concert on 8 March.

A spokesperson for the Barbican assures me that it's a hall hire and nothing to do with their own in-house artistic planning.

She says: "This concert is a rental of the Barbican Hall with the marketing of the event undertaken by an outside promoter, and while the concert does fall on International Women’s Day it was not programmed to mark this event. The Barbican had not been sent or approved this version of the advert and had not been made aware that the promoter intended to market it in this way. We recognise that it is entirely inappropriate to claim any link between the concert and International Women’s Day and have instructed the concert promoter to remove all mention of this from any future advertising copy.

"Having spoken to the promoter since this advert was brought to our attention, it appears that the promoter and orchestra had misunderstood the focus of International Women’s Day on celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. They informed us that they included the mention in the advert as the focus and ways of celebrating International Women’s Day are different in former Soviet Union countries. This in no way excuses the advert making this link, I just wanted to give you some context to try to explain how this error has occurred!
"...We absolutely agree that it was entirely inappropriate for the promoter to make this link between the concert and International Women’s Day the way it is understood in the UK/more internationally."
Apparently in Russia International Women's Day is a bit like Valentine's Day, with flowers and pretty stuff, etc. - so a celebration of traditional femininity rather than of women's achievements. Very different from London.

Laurence Equilbey.
Photo from Alechetron.com
Next year the Barbican has scheduled an actual IWD concert on 8 March, featuring the Insula Orchestra with Laurence Equilbey (conductor - pictured above), Alexandra Corunova (violin), Natalie Clein (cello) and Alice Sara Ott (piano) and they will be playing some works by Louise Farrenc - whose music is so fine that really it ought to be standard repertoire by now. 
7 months ago |
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