JDCMB
Jessica
Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music and writing in London, UK.
1909 Entries
Lise Davidsen as the Prima Donna, Nicholas Folwell as the Major Domo

Glyndebourne's Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by Katharina Thoma, has taken a lot of flak for its updating to the British 1940s. But it's actually rather good. It's been tightened up since the first run in 2013, the action flowing more slickly and convincingly; the air raid that finishes the first half does not seem incongruous at all. Part 2, in which the house is transformed into a hospital with shell-shocked patients and a suicidal Ariadne, has the aspect of a concussion-dream for the Composer, who does not vanish despite having nothing to sing. He/she appears to learn, watching Ariadne and Bacchus's final duet, that it is love that saves us, not death. This message is very much all right with me.

Moreover, with Cornelius Meister's lively, affectionate conducting, leader Peter Schoemann on great form in the violin solos and a very special cast, the score seemed to take wing and fly. Given the chance to change something about the production, I personally would cut only the straightjacketing of poor Zerbinetta, simply because it's too visually busy while we're trying to listen to all the dazzle.

Yes, that cast: plaudits are more than due to Angela Brower as a heartfelt Composer, Erin Morley as a vivid Zerbinetta, AJ Glueckert as a full-throated Bacchus (an injured daredevil pilot, in case you wondered) and the three nymphs-turned-nurses, along with Björn Bürger as an adorable Harlequin, Nicholas Folwell as the bossy little Major Domo and, of course, Thomas Allen as the Music Master, a role from which he's become indivisible. But there's no way this could be termed that critical favourite, a 'uniformly strong cast' - because there was nothing uniform whatsoever about our Ariadne.

From Norway, aged 30, please welcome the winner of Plácido Domingo's Operalia 2015, the utterly astounding Lise Davidsen. She also won the Queen Sonja Music Competition 2015 and this extract from Tannhäuser was filmed there. Just have a listen...



Vocally megawatted, toweringly tall, expressively direct, Davidsen is blessed with top notes that could ping us all the way to the moon, an eloquent middle range and a dark velvety lower register that virtually says 'Isolde' the moment you hear it. (In this interview with the Observer's Fiona Maddocks, she explains that she started off as a mezzo and wanted to be Joni Mitchell...).

Thinking of the few singers who have made a similar effect on first hearing, at least on me, I can only compare the thrill of disbelief and wild joy that her voice inspires to initial, never-forgotten encounters with the sonic glories of Anja Harteros and Nina Stemme. If she can do this at 30, imagine where she could go from here. Please, dear world, take good care of her.

And I'd appreciate it if good old Autocorrect would stop changing her name to Davidson whenever I type it, because I expect to be writing about her a good deal more in the future.

Ariadne auf Naxos is on through July - find dates, times and tickets here.

A word of warning: Southern Trains is having another work-to-rule and there are many cancellations for those trying to get to Lewes. Check before you set out, and leave plenty of time.


If you enjoy reading JDCMB, please consider making a donation by way of voluntary subscription to its year of development, A Year for JDCMB, here. 

4 months ago |
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Glyndebourne's favourite Strauss opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, is back and open, with a strengthened revival and an intriguing new cast including Lise Davidsen, Angela Brower, Erin Morley and AJ Glueckert. When the production was first staged in 2013 I went to visit the archivist and the director to interview them for The Independent, so it seems an apposite moment to re-run a select part of that feature. Don't miss the story of Rudolf Bing and the potties.

Erin Morley as a Zerbinetta for the 1940s
All photos by Robert Workman

An English country house; a rarified ivory tower in which to explore high art; the performance of tragedy and comedy alike; dinner al fresco; and that’s just on stage... Glyndebourne is back with Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and its first half concerns precisely such a situation. Nevertheless the concept dreamed up for it by the German director Katharina Thoma feels close to home for another reason. It was inspired by the World War II transformation of Glyndebourne itself into a centre for evacuees from east London.
Angela Brower as the Composer
When the floorboards of Glyndebourne’s Old Green Room – a panelled gallery in the Christie family’s manor house – were taken up for refurbishment in the early 1990s, they revealed an unexpected treasure-trove. Down the cracks between the boards had fallen layer upon layer of playing cards, greeting cards and little lead toy soldiers. This was a legacy of the time when, following the outbreak of war in 1939, Glyndebourne had hosted a hundred evacuated children aged between one and six. Archive photographs show the Old Green Room as a dormitory filled with rows of small beds; the Christie children’s nursery transformed into a sick bay, complete with uniformed nurses; and the tiny newcomers playing in the gardens, patting lambs on the farm and discovering that milk comes from cows, not bottles.
Glyndebourne’s archivist, Julia Aries, explains that the estate manager had seen which way the wind was blowing. “He didn’t want Glyndebourne to be taken over by the Ministry of Defence and trashed,” she says, “so he put it forward as an evacuee centre. Then, on the ‘false start’ of the war, they promptly shipped 300 babies and 72 carers down here.” The estate could not cope with such a massive influx and the story goes that Rudolf Bing, the opera festival’s general manager, had to rush into nearby Lewes to buy up every available potty.
Eventually the numbers settled to a third of the first rush, and country life with play-based learning and plenty of fresh air began for Glyndebourne’s new inhabitants, under the direction of a matron, who, in a somewhat unfortunate choice, termed herself the Commandant. The cook was able to amplify food rations with rabbits from the fields and eggs from the farm; and, supplied with drums of Klim powdered milk by some Canadian soldiers who were billeted in nearby Firle Place, she created makeshift ice-cream to give the little ones a treat.

Lise Davidson as Ariadne
Official photographs, mainly taken in summer, made the children’s existence look idyllic; but there is no doubt that some had been traumatised by their experiences in London or by being removed from their families. A newspaper clipping describes “one child who had refused up till then to open his mouth or make friends turned scarlet with ecstasy when he found himself clasping a lamb, and was happy and normal from that day.”
The opera and the family fared less well. The former ceased to function in 1940 and the company scattered. The music director Fritz Busch and artistic director Carl Ebert, who were both refugees from Nazi Germany, headed respectively to Buenos Aires and Turkey; Audrey Mildmay, Lady Christie, who was herself a well-known opera singer, took her two children to Canada for safety. Sir John Christie stayed behind, listening to his wife’s voice on gramophone records. He was all too aware of the irony that his house was filled with children while his own were 3000 miles away.
Katharina Thoma, who won second prize in the European Opera Competition Camerata Nuova in 2007, visited Glyndebourne for the first time in spring 2009, after the company’s general manager David Pickard and music director Vladimir Jurowski suggested that she could direct Ariadne auf Naxos there as her UK debut. The trip sowed the seeds of an idea for the production. She has updated Ariadne’s setting to – well, an English country house in the 1940s.
AJ Glueckert as Bacchus
In the story, which the writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal crafted as librettist for Strauss, our hero is the Composer, a youth creating his first serious opera on the myth of the god Bacchus rescuing Ariadne from Naxos. He is desperately upset when instructed that his lofty work must be performed simultaneously with a competing comedy due to time pressures over dinner and fireworks. The second half shows us the Composer’s opera and what happens when the comedy troupe, led by the virtuoso soubrette Zerbinetta, interrupts Ariadne’s laments. But the opera transcends all its troubles, concluding with a sublime love duet for Ariadne and Bacchus.  
“The idea of setting it in wartime came about because I felt that in the music there were more existential issues to worry over than the protagonists in the Prologue actually do,” says Thoma. “If you listen to the end of the Prologue, when everything breaks down, it sounds like a major catastrophe.”
Therefore, instead of serving as an opera-within-an-opera, the second part offers a continuity of narrative. The Composer, injured, observes the depressed and suicidal Ariadne from his hospital bed, the house having been transformed not into an evacuee centre but into a hospital treating the wounded from the Battle of Britain. “Observing her, trying to help her, and seeing what happens to her and Bacchus, he experiences a maturing process that leaves him better able to cope with the real world outside his ivory tower,” Thoma suggests.
The Ariadne set designs by Julia Müer are based generically on English country houses of that time, but the closeness to Glyndebourne will probably be self-evident. Thoma arrived there in April and has been staying in the house, as the creative team usually does during rehearsals. “Every morning I wake up and think I am on the set of my opera,” she remarks.
Learning about Glyndebourne’s fortunes during the war, Thoma says she was impressed by the way that in Britain “turning a manor house into a hospital was a typical thing, because people needed each other and held together”. It might seem risky for a German director to choose a wartime theme for her first UK production, but Thoma’s generation can perhaps take a new perspective on those years. “For me it was fascinating to see how British people have dealt with the subject in the past and still do,” she says. “They seem very open and positive.” [NB This article first appeared in 2013. Events since then may now convey a rather different impression. jd.]
She viewed a documentary in which individuals who were in their twenties during the war described it as the happiest time of their lives: “That seemed astonishing to me, but I think it must in certain ways have been a great experience to go through this endurance, because they shared their hope and their strength and they overcame it together.”
...If this Ariadne auf Naxos highlights the atmosphere of changing times, perhaps that is no coincidence...
This is part of an article that first appeared in The Independent in 2013


Ariadne auf Naxos,Glyndebourne Festival Opera, on now. Box office: 01273 813813
4 months ago |
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John Adams. Photo: Vern Evans

John Adams has just turned 70. Everyone is celebrating. Everyone wants him to celebrate with them. So when is he supposed to compose? I caught him backstage during the Dr Atomic rehearsals at the Barbican a few months ago. In the resulting interview for Primephonic we talked about his forthcoming Gold Rush opera Girls of the Golden West, set in his home state of northern California, as well as nature versus nurture, the evolution of his style and the consistency of voice within that evolution - and why he feels like "a Soviet hack composer" compared to the music of his up-and-coming son, Samuel Adams.

.....Adams reflects that this “voice” could be determined as much by nature as nurture – a sort of musical DNA. “I suspect it’s almost genetic,” he comments. “If you look at Stravinsky, there’s such radical difference between the early music and the late music, yet there is some almost inexplicable identity that carries on. And I think certainly the rhythmic energy of my music and the particular harmonic language that I have comes through.  

“Once every couple of years I conduct Nixon in China [his opera of 1987] because I like it and it’s always a lot of fun. And I’m amazed how much of that opera is expressed in minimalist style, with these crazy, whimsical marriages with jazz and big-band music. I don’t compose in that style any more. But that sort of rhythmic impulse, which you also hear in the early piano music, is still there today.”

Evolution, he suggests, occurs thanks to the needs of the pieces. “Nixon is a much more consciously minimalist piece and I think that works for the certain ironic tone of the opera,” he says. “But starting with The Death of Klinghoffer, which I composed between 1990 and 91, I had to find a language that was more serious and not at all ironic. I think that was the big moment of expanding. 

“But I’m not a hidebound, by-the-rules kind of guy. I feel that every piece I compose needs its own special language – and that’s both the joy and the anguish, because you have to find out what and who it’s going to be.” ...

Read the whole thing here.


4 months ago |
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Kaufmann as Otello, Vratogna as Iago.
All photos by Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House

One of the first rules of reviewing is: do not start by talking about the weather. So to start on the Royal Opera's new Otello by pointing out that it was the hottest first night of the year - Jonas Kaufmann's role debut - as well as the hottest June day since 1976 just isn't on. Nevertheless, it was both. In the auditorium one experienced Keith Warner's postmodern new production and Verdi's sizzling score through the gentle rattling of ladies' fans, the flapping of tickets and programmes mimicking their effect, and the upping and downing of light on rogue mobiles as certain people in my row checked Facebook every ten minutes. (Why couldn't they just have donated their ticket to a fan who would have fully appreciated the performance?)

If the audience was finding it difficult to settle, the same couldn't be said of the music. Tony Pappano, first of all, is in his element in this opera. His shaping and pacing of the drama is breathtaking: mercurial, clear, enormously energetic and deeply intelligent. The building up of the scene where Iago gets Cassio increasingly drunk is just one example, beginning almost as a pub song, joshing about, before spiralling through a queasy mephistophelian intensification into violence. The chorus's staging is often static and stylised, very far from naturalistic, but they sound simply glorious.




Again, canny pacing is everything in Kaufmann's characterisation of Otello: confident and tender until Iago plants the seed of doubt, but thereafter tumbling in stages from loss of faith through cool, calculating and controlled resolve, into increasing torment and ultimate dissolution. At ease taking command, but tentative with his new wife as she leads him to the bedroom, this Otello is a man of war first and foremost, perhaps unable to cope with the shock of his own emotions. His progress towards murder for once makes considerable sense.

Deeply convincing and vocally gorgeous, full of careful shading with brilliance reserved for the moments it most counted, this was singing in 3D. If some people expected more volume, one can only reiterate that Kaufmann doesn't do volume for the sake of it and has never been the biggest voice on the stage, just the most beautiful and intelligent one (hmm, this is my second time this year writing that). It is no reason to reject the most complex and satisfying interpretation of this role that I've yet experienced.

Marco Vratogna, replacing the originally announced Ludovic Tézier as Iago, was the wild card of the evening, bursting into our consciousnesses in impressive style. Warner's production makes him explicitly the puppet master, controlling not only those around him but the symbols of Venice, the carnival mask, the winged lion, setting the hideous process in motion with ice-cold, psychopathic glee and resembling nothing so much as a Shakespearean version of Dracula with shaven head and bat-like cloak. He could scarcely lean on a wall without making it move. Yet his raven-dark, demonically powerful voice made Iago more than merely a copybook villain. Meanwhile, as Desdemona Maria Agresta sounded vocally effortless and presented the hapless heroine as a straightforward, uncomplicated, loving young woman, trapped in a tragic situation beyond control.

Agresta as Desdemona, Kaufmann as Otello in the final scene

Visually the production has some seriously striking moments. The set design, by Boris Kudlicka, involves sliding panels that shift to show us blazes of light through glass, the bedroom through latticework, Otello's face highlighted in a window frame before the final scene, and Cassio's vertiginous descent into drunkenness, amid much else. The contrast between the public and the private moments is convincingly achieved, with Iago and Otello experiencing their oppressive solitary reflections in the darkest isolation. The aptly named Bruno Poet's lighting is, throughout, not only masterful, but often magical.

However, reflecting Otello as a tragic-faced lion-caricature in a mirror, smothering him with a carnival mask and bringing on a giant dismembered lion statue are gestures that seem to over-egg the Venetian pudding in a production that otherwise mixes and mismatches its eras to occasional ill effect. The tall ship rigged with beautiful sails arriving at the back in scene 1 is far indeed from the apparently contemporary hotel-style bedroom in which the murder takes place. And the costume designs by Kaspar Glarner, while offering flowing robes for Desdemona and that splendid cloak for Iago, experience occasional misjudgments. Emilia - the excellent Kai Rüütel - is encumbered by an impossibly stiff and outsize fake-Renaissance wig, and as for Otello's gigantic harem-style leather trousers (eh?) and the blue sparkly robe - think variety-act pseudo-magician - in which he arrives to kill his wife, these did few favours to either singer or character. If the point is that the story is timeless, we know that already and this doesn't help.

There's always some plonker who has to boo the production team, of course, and despite those few weaknesses they really didn't deserve it. It's a powerful, moving account of a towering masterpiece, with musical performances of a calibre that you won't find improved upon anywhere.

Otello is in cinemas next Wednesday, 28 June, so if you can't get to the ROH, do try and catch it on screen.

Details and booking here.


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4 months ago |
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As if taking over the artistic directorship of Australian Festival of Chamber Music weren't enough, the inimitable Kathryn Stott has joined forces with Norwegian violist Lars Anders Tomter (both, left) to start a new chamber music festival a little bit further north: Fjord Classics. They have assembled a seriously impressive line-up of artists, including Leif Ove Andsnes, Ruby Hughes, the Skampa Quartet, Vikingur Ólaffson, Christian Poltera and many more, ready to awaken the town of Sandefjord to the sounds of music from Mozart to Messiaen, Rebecca Clarke to Janácek, Alma Mahler to Fauré. The festival runs from 27 June to 2 July. I asked the energetic British pianist what they're doing, and why, and how, because it has all happened rather quickly...


Kathryn Stott
JD: Kathy, what inspired you and Lars to start Fjord Classics?

KS: Originally Lars had invited me to work on a different project with him, but when that took an abrupt turn, we started to consider other options and were very determined to find a way to get our collaboration up and running. Where to begin when starting a new festival is both daunting and exciting in equal measure, but we were more than thrilled when Vestfoldfestspillene offered us the opportunity set up Fjord Classics under their larger umbrella. 

JD: You’ve pulled it together incredibly fast - what’s that been like?
KS: If you’d asked me this question just before Christmas, I’d say we were out of breath for a few months. Thats probably an understatement! Firstly we put a lot of thought into choosing the right venues, in particular the main festival town. When we looked around Sandefjord we knew that was the one. Lars had a number of musicians all on hold from his previous venture and I have to say their loyalty in following us through to Fjord Classics speaks volumes. From there we added more musicians as our programming took shape but obviously the pace was very fast and I look forward to next time when we can focus solely on artistic thoughts and not the logistics of setting up a new festival. Our theme, 'The Dance of Life’ by Edvard Munch, gave us amazing inspiration so let's say that was a major springboard for musical ideas both on the track and some off piste!

Lars Anders Tomter
JD: How is it different from the other festivals you’ve been (and are) involved with?

KS: As you know, since 1995 I’ve been an Artistic Director on many projects but they have all been one-offs or with no real thought to follow through. That changed when I was appointed AD of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music so I was already extremely excited to have that opportunity to be creative with a vision towards the future. With Fjord Classics, Lars and I share the role. Between us we have an abundance of ideas but I think more than anything else, we compliment each other in having different skills and approaches. I see that as so positive and an aspect of our working relationship which is to be treasured.

JD: What do you think is most attractive about it for the audience?
KS: Huge variety! This year we really went for the max in all respects and from this we will see how to continue in the future. However, our primary thoughts have always been about quality and so this is never compromised. We have gathered the best musicians and put them with the greatest of music, so what is there not to like? I hope our audience is excited by what we are offering and will hold onto memorable experiences long into the future. This is just the beginning.

JD: What are you most looking forward to in it?
KS: In a way its not so much the performing aspect myself, but seeing how the programmes come together in reality and most of all, the joy of bringing musicians together from around the world and seeing what they create. Apart from anything else, I love going to concerts, so it's a musical feast whichever way you look at it.

JD: How’s your Norwegian?
KS: What was the question? Pass…...
More details and booking at https://www.fjordclassics.com/welcome
4 months ago |
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I used to have a recurring dream. I was in the library, looking for a book. I knew I'd seen it once before. I couldn't find it. It was a book of Swan Lake. I would always wake up knowing there was something inside it that I wanted, or needed, but I could never remember what it was.

This isn't the cover and it probably isn't the title either,
but a kind and creative author friend came up with the image on Canva and sent it to me

I had this dream right through my childhood into my teens and beyond, in one form or another. At first it showed me Swiss Cottage Library, which was our local. On other nights I'd see myself in Foyles, looking through the ballet section for a book that wasn't there. Wherever it might be, I always knew that it was my Swan Lake book.

Then, when I was 26, I decided that as it hadn't pitched up yet, I would write it myself.

That was in 1992. Since then I have rewritten it about 200 times: differences as small as changing the names or as large as reducing the length to half its original. The first draft was, in any case, hopeless: it was full of words.

Periodically I've shown it to people. Literary agents, publishers, friends, family. The typical reaction from the professionals? "Oh darling, we love it, it's beautiful, but it's very, er, whimsical..." They didn't fancy whimsical. Magical realism, which had flourished while I was a teenager gobbling up Angela Carter's books, had gone out of fashion. Meeting Odette, as it became called, at least for the moment, didn't fit anywhere.

Yet occasionally one of those friends or family members would pop up after reading another of my novels or attending one of our concerts and say: "What happened to the one about the swan? That was actually my favourite..."

Therefore I thought, after the splendid job that Unbound did with Ghost Variations, that I'd run it past them, just in case. Unbound likes quirky. Unbound likes whimsical. They love things that don't "fit" easily. And it didn't bother them one jot that Meeting Odette has little in common with Ghost Variations other than an association with an actual piece of music or, in this case, ballet.

It isn't a "ballet book", though, and it has nothing to do with Black Swan or any of the ballet's various stage updatings. It's a fairy-tale for the 21st century. The story of what happens when Odette is blown off course and crashes through Mary's window in a university town in the east of England has begun to feel oddly "relevant".


This isn't the title or the cover either. This is just me messing around on Canva...

All the ducks - or swans - were in a row at last. And today, 21 June, Summer Solstice 2017, we launch the campaign for Meeting Odette.

If you've enjoyed Ghost Variations, you'll probably know how Unbound works now. It's like an 18th-century subscription model. Essentially you are buying the book before it's published, rather than after, and you get thanked for it in print. It's now called crowdfunding, of course, but the inspiration is really quite archaic. (I should add, because people often denigrate self-publishing, that this is not self-publishing in any way, shape or form. Unbound has a different model, for sure, but they are top-flight professionals. I wouldn't have the first clue how to publish my own book and wouldn't like to attempt it.)

You can go for various different reward packages at different levels. Prices start at £10 for the e-book and your name in the book. The paperback basic is £20, but there's an Early Swan deal for £15 on the first 50. A book club package includes five paperbacks and an author visit; a larger contribution gets you and your plus-one an invitation to a buffet lunch with me and some wonderful friends from inside the ballet world to enjoy food, drink and good conversation about books, music, ballet, Swan Lake and, no doubt, more. Ballet enthusiasts could also consider clubbing together for the biggest one, for which I'll come to your house or institution and give a lecture about Swan Lake itself (and you get 10 paperbacks too).

Later in the process I am hoping to add further rewards in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, where a new production of Swan Lake directed by Liam Scarlett is due for premiere in May. If you've already pledged by then, you can upgrade to one of these if you want to. The site makes it nice and easy.

On Meeting Odette's page at Unbound, you'll find a video welcome from me, a synopsis, an extract and the full list of pledge rewards. Please swan over and have a look. I do hope that you will consider backing this book, which after 25 years is very, very close to my heart.

HERE WE GO.
4 months ago |
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Main Title Here

The Creative Industries Federation published an important Brexit Report last autumn, looking at critical issues for the creative industries, arts and cultural education as the UK sets its course for the cliffs. Now that "negotiations" are underway, the CIF has distilled its recommendation into seven red-lines principles.

These include:

• Guarantee the rights of EU nationals currently working in the UK;
• Retain freedom of movement for EU workers, those in education and touring exhibitions, shows, musicians and support teams
• Remain part of the EU single market and the customs union - or at least find a free trade deal that replicates its frictionless travel arrangements as far as possible
• Continue to influence the shape of the EU's Digital Single Market (DSM)
• Maintain a robust and properly enforced International Property regime. [Do you have any idea how important this is? Please read about it, fast, right now.]
• Maintain reciprocal single market access for the distribution of UK and EU member state film and TV productions and audio-visual services
• Continue to participate in EU programmes such as Creative Europe, Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+.


A HUB FOR GLOBAL TALENT: The success of the UK’s creative industries is down to the people who work within it. Britain has a longstanding reputation as an open nation that attracts diverse global talent, and it is because of this that our creative sector is world-beating. If the UK loses easy access to people, it loses its competitive edge. If it loses its creative talent, it also loses its reputation as an attractive destination for work and play. 

Read them here.

Meanwhile there would be one very simple solution, which you can guess as well as I can, but we don't seem to have the right person at the top to do that job.




Please support A Year for JDCMB with the equivalent of a small subscription 
4 months ago |
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As London lurches from one horror to another, the only place to be last night was Cardiff, or at least in front of a TV beaming it in loud and clear. The 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World final proved one of those historic-to-be occasions that do occur there sometimes: five burgeoning singers take the stage and you soon realise you don't want to miss one note of any of them. 
The victor seems to have taken some viewers by surprise, but I can't imagine why, other than the fact that she was the only performer who had not actually "won" her "round". Having grouped the contestants into a series of concerts, each of which has a winner who goes through to the final, the competition also offers a "wild card" final-round place for an extra choice. This was given to her. Her name is Catriona Morison and she comes from Scotland. (Is that why people are surprised? No one is a prophet in, etc.) Before the grand final, she had already won the Song Prize together with the Mongolian baritone Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar. We are very much in favour of joint awards when occasion demands - after all, the "there CAN only be ONE winner" trope beloved of TV talent contests serves TV way more than it serves the contestants.
Catriona Morison
In a grand final of astounding singing from most of the competitors, everyone displayed splendid, rock-solid technique. Most had planned their programmes well. The voices glowed and blazed and dazzled. Louise Alder, the English soprano, scooped the audience prize, as well she might: she's got it all, from top notes to absolute charisma. The men, even if ultimately outdone, were stunners too. The Australian tenor Kang Wang had a big following, was out to please and is clearly going places, though I thought he had a slight tendency (nerves perhaps?) to rush in the Lensky aria. But Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar, who has already won the International Tchaikovsky Competition's singers' section, offered an account of Yeletsky's aria from The Queen of Spades, with sapphire-dark shining tone, that came so much from the heart that any Lisa in her right mind would have to drop the plot and fall straight into his arms. Anthony Clark Evans's Evening Star aria from Tannhäuser was scarcely less satisfying,  and both baritones gave us the Prologue from Pagliacci, each so superb that I for one would never have been able to choose between them. Stardom awaits the lot.
What did Catriona do that was different from the others? Well, she sang Dido's Lament by Purcell.
She also sang Octavian from the first scene of Rosenkavalier, and a few other things, but frankly those pale, given what she did with the Purcell. The Lament is close to the hearts of very many music-lovers in the UK, of course, but partly because of that, it's the sort of piece we can sometimes take too much for granted. Catriona not only wrung us out with her emotional veracity, but made us feel we were recognising this music's extraordinary power and beauty for the first time. Thanks to her, it seemed that Purcell could outshine Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Puccini, never mind the bel canto stuff, plus Louise's beautiful extract from André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire. As Danielle de Niese commented, when the technical level is so high all round, the judges have to look beyond that... 
Where has she been all our lives? Actually, at Wuppertal Opera. A lot of surprise emerged on Twitter when the hosts for the evening mentioned in conversation that Germany has 83 publicly funded opera houses and 1/3 of the world's opera takes place there, but yes, they do, and they get things right: their audiences are accustomed to attending, they do rare repertoire, they present challenging productions and their ensemble companies help to train up fabulous youngsters from all over the world. Most of the best opera singers of today have done stints as company members in Germany. Some of them don't come home, which is why a British soprano, Catherine Foster, has been singing Brünnhilde at Bayreuth to great acclaim, yet nobody here has heard her... 
End of rant. Please go and listen to all five singers on the iPlayer now, and let their artistry speak for itself. 


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5 months ago |
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I haven't found the words I need to express the horror of the emotions we're all feeling here in London about the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It does symbolise, to the ultimate degree, a lot of what is wrong in the UK's social set-up today, but I don't think I can add anything sensible to the argument or assessment or comfort. Even consoling music feels inappropriate at the moment.

Life has to go on, so I'm simply going to offer you my own recipe for a refreshing drink on a very hot afternoon.




JDCMB Summer Cooler

Ingredients (to serve 4):
Fresh mint leaves
Petals of 1 smallish pink rose
2 pink grapefruit
Vanilla paste
Ice

Put the mint leaves and rose petals in a teapot and pour on boiling water. Leave to steep. Squeeze the grapefruit and strain the juice into a jug (unless you like "bits", in which case don't strain it). When the mint and rose tea has cooled, mix it with the juice - test the flavour until the balance of quantities is as you like. Pour into glasses and sweeten with a soupçon of vanilla paste (I use about a 1/4 teaspoon per glass). You could use honey instead if you prefer more sweetness and less vanilla. Pile in some ice. Garnish with a spring of fresh mint and a few rose petals.

If you fancy an alcoholic version, add a splash of Pimms. Alternatively - well, I haven't yet tried adding prosecco, but one suspects that would be unlikely to do any damage to it.

Enjoy in the sunshine. Accompany with fresh summery music such as Ravel's G major piano concerto, Fauré's Ballade - or the final, tonight, of the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, which promises to be very exciting indeed.


Please consider supporting JDCMB's development over the year ahead. https://www.gofundme.com/jdcmb
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Nice to be able to bring you some good news today. A new high-definition streaming service, designed specifically for classical music, is being launched in the UK and USA by Primephonic, and it serves to tackle several of the biggest streaming frustrations for us all.

The company is a Utrecht-based online store that for a couple of years has had, as its USP, the downloading of studio-quality recordings. As any classical aficionado knows, sound quality has been a big problem for music on the Internet and Primephonic's capacity to bring us an improved experience has been a breath of fresh air in a muddy world. Every track is available to download in 16-bit FLAC file format, i.e. CD quality, and some are more sophisticated still, with availability in studio quality and "premium pro-studio quality" (explore the options here and in more detail here). They now have more than 100,000 tracks available to stream in high-res.

For the streaming service, Primephonic is also aiming to improve the experience for listeners and creators in two further ways: better metadata, which has long been a stumbling block online, and should improve the searching capacity that we need; and crucially, payment to providers. Instead of paying out per track listen, Primephonic plans to pay per second. This should hopefully ensure that more money goes to the classical labels and thence to the artists themselves - it stands, at the very least, a better chance of getting into the bank accounts of musical creators than it does at the moment.

According to Veronica Neo, the company's head of business development, "Primephonic provides a way for streaming to give back more than ever to the classical music industry and a sustainable way for fans to support their favourite artists. As a 100% classical music service, 100% of the revenues stay in the classical industry."

I've been writing for Primephonic's website for a couple of years, doing CD reviews and occasional features (most recently, a big piece about Philip Glass for their just-published print magazine). It's a great pleasure to be involved with a company that has homed straight in on those problems, is determined to find a way to solve them and is thinking big about the possibilities for the future.

You can get a free 30-day trial subscription to Primephonic or sign up for £14.99 per month, here.



Please consider supporting JDCMB's year of development by donating here at Go Fund Me
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