JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with CHOCOLATE AND SILVER, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1771 Entries
My review of the First Night of the Proms is up now at The Arts Desk. It proved perfect for the occasion, despite having been planned ages ago. And Sakari Oramo is absolutely wonderful. http://www.theartsdesk.com/classical-music/first-night-proms-bbcso-oramo-gabetta-borodina
4 months ago | |
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It's impossible to offer adequate musical responses for the atrocities we're seeing around the world - from Syria to Dallas to, today, Nice.

So this doesn't pretend to be adequate, but I hope it offers a moment of meditation and solidarity: Debussy's Violin Sonata in G minor - the composer's final work, written during World War I and signed simply 'Claude Debussy, musicien français'. Here it is played by Yehudi Menuhin - an artist who devoted a lion's share of his time and energy to bringing music to those in suffering and training young musicians to do so too; and Benjamin Britten - whose superb pianism remained much underrated beside his compositions - a pacifist and conscientious objector, with whom Yehudi played to survivors of Bergen-Belsen after its liberation.

4 months ago | |
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Apart from being remembered as the man who drove the UK over the cliff, Prime Minister David Cameron may also go down in history as the one who inspired the most music. All because he left his mic on after he made his speech on Monday saying he'd be leaving on Wednesday, and hummed a little tune as he walked inside - presumably singing a song as he waved us goodbye.

Since then the musical community has been very busy trying to identify the tune: The West Wing? Tannhäuser? It's difficult to tell, so instead, some exciting and creative musicians have been trying to turn it into something new, spurred on by a challenge from Classic FM.

Here's the pianist Gabriela Montero's splendid Bachian improvisation.



Composer Thomas Hewitt Jones has created an atmospheric cello lament, written and recorded between midnight and 2am on 12 July. He's had more than 140,000 hits already.



And last but by no means least, here's a clever piece of counterpoint, since Dave Cam is most definitely gone with the wind.




Our new Prime Minister, Theresa May
Is taking over later today,
Whatever happens, let her hum on her way... 

Ironically, the First Night of the Proms on Friday features one of the works she chose when she was on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs a couple of years ago: the Elgar Cello Concerto. Did they know something we didn't?

[A little update: the headline on this piece is in fact a joke. J. O. K. E. Irony and all that. One shouldn't have to point this out, but I guess we live in interesting times. One of the best ways to navigate through daily life in 'interesting times' is to try having a dark-hued belly-laugh at them. If it helps, good. If it doesn't, well, there it is.]
4 months ago | |
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My friend and colleague Philippe Graffin, the fabulous French violinist, has just released his new recording of the Schumann Violin Concerto. As you know, this is the work that lies at the heart of my forthcoming novel, Ghost Variations. The CD also features Schumann's Phantasie in D minor for violin and orchestra and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor. Philippe is partnered by the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto, conducted by Tuomas Rousi and the CD is now available from Cobra Records. I've written the programme notes.Philippe and I have worked together on a number of other projects in the past: among these, he commissioned my first play, A Walk through the End of Time, for his music festival in France, and recorded a CD of Gypsy-inspired works to partner my third novel, Hungarian Dances. Philippe has kindly provided three copies of the CD for me to award as prizes for a very special Ghost Variations competition.HOW TO ENTERWithin the novel I have embedded a number of references to another work by Schumann: a particular song cycle. To enter the competition, correctly identify the work's title and spot all the references to it and its words in the text, list them, then send them in a PRIVATE MESSAGE to the Ghost Variations Facebook page (not a public post, please, or everyone else will see your answers!): https://www.facebook.com/ghostvariations/I'll put all the correct entries in a hat and draw out the names of three lucky winners. The closing date is 2 January 2017, which gives you four months from the novel's publication date, 1 September 2016, to grab your copy, read it and make notes accordingly.Happy reading!And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to pre-order your e-book by pledging for it now at https://unbound.co.uk/books/ghost-variations

Friends in America and Europe-proper, Unbound can now take payments in $ and € as well as the plunging £.
4 months ago | |
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The other day Surbiton High School for girls asked me to adjudicate a competition in their music department. 'Women Who Rock' was the brainchild of their head of music and her dynamic, young, mainly female team: the Year 9 girls, working in small teams, were asked to create poster presentations about exciting female musicians, some 70 of them, ranging from Hildegard of Bingen to Amy Winehouse and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla. The posters lined the walls of the rooms and the staircases, and so impressive were they that picking a winner proved a jolly difficult task.

In the end first prize went to the presentation about Jacqueline du Pré: a giant black cello painted on a dark background, with her story, her significance and the team's responses to her playing set into an advent-calendar format, each paragraph behind a different photo. They'd really engaged with her personality, her playing and her tragedy and the concept was strong, simple, striking and appropriate.

Chiefly, though, what I came away with was a sense of delight. Generally we hear so much about how music is sidelined in the curriculum, how women musicians are not recognised or studied (until a 17-year-old girl demanded a couple of years ago that an exam board add some to the A level syllabus) and how the specific issues that affect women in the industry are not thoroughly enough scrutinised or mended. Here was a music department that not only put Maria Callas, Thea Musgrave and Nina Simone before their students, but raised awareness of those issues - including role model significance, matters of body image, industry pressures and in many cases the need to fight for the right to be a musician against societal prejudices. It got the students thinking, reading, listening, responding and celebrating.

I do hope that more schools will consider following suit with similar projects. These matters aren't always down to the curriculum; they depend, instead, on teachers with great ideas, creativity, passion and leadership. If we always left everything to the curriculum, nothing especially creative would ever happen - and children and young people are creatives par excellence. Bravi, Surbiton - you already are women who rock!

Meanwhile, in a stroke of almost unutterable irony, it looks like some significant chunks of the western world will be largely run by women, rather soon.

5 months ago | |
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Poppies. Photo: John Beniston via Wikipedia

Below, the Elegy for Strings, "In Memoriam Rupert Brooke", by Frederick Septimus Kelly, the young Australian composer who was killed at the Battle of the Somme in summer 1916. Jelly d'Arányi, who had hoped to marry him, kept his picture on her piano for the rest of her life.

Please take a moment to remember that the organisation that unites European countries under one big umbrella was formed after World War II in order to stop wars from happening again between its member states. Today it's called the European Union. People in the UK last week voted by a narrow margin to leave this organisation.

It's chiefly a protest vote that lashes out against the holders of power and against that catch-all scapegoat, people who look different, speak a different language or come from somewhere else. Unfortunately the deprivation and alienation in many English and Welsh communities is the result of successive British government policies - e.g., the closure of our manufacturing bases and the mines, "austerity", etc - over the last 30-odd years (see this damning report about the UN's confirmation that the austerity regime breaches the UK's international human rights obligations). The EU actually put money into regenerating these places.

The nation that sent its finest young men to fight for our freedom a hundred years ago has now been sold down the river by a bunch of liars and jokers who were high on their own power and are living to regret it. Ironically, Theresa May, current front-runner for the vacant Tory leadership, has more or less declared that if she becomes PM the fiscal plan - the excuse for these past years of "austerity" - is dead in the water [update, 12.50pm: Chancellor George Osborne has just confirmed that the aim of a budget surplus by 2020 is being ditched]. Just in time for our Brexit-induced recession in 2017.

With any luck, this referendum can be turned to positive effect. It's exposed the depth of our societal fault-lines and the extent of the inequality that recent ideologies have worsened. It would take something as seismic as this to force a policy rethink. Now that rethink must happen, not a moment too soon.

It's not impossible that the structures of constitutional law may yet reveal Brexit as unworkable or illegal - it looks suspiciously as if it may be both. But if it does go ahead, we have to find a way to fight for the guarantees and conditions our businesses need in order to keep functioning on a global stage, and if those sunny uplands vaunted by the Leave camp turn out to exist, we have to seize the supposed opportunities they offer, whatever they may be (look, there goes another unicorn!). But the Article 50 button would have to be pushed first, and it'll be a bloody-minded PM indeed who is able to do that to his/her own country, especially when it could result in the break-up of the UK.

As we all remember the Battle of the Somme and the horrors of World War I today, let's reflect for a moment on the irony - and the hypocrisy - of the current situation.

Over to "Sep" Kelly.



5 months ago | |
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This is probably the most astonishing performance of Beethoven's 'Appassionata' Sonata that I've ever heard.



Barenboim writes about Brexit on the Journal page of his website:

"The vote in favor of Brexit is, in my view, a very sad decision for Great Britain and Europe. It is, however, senseless to bathe in pessimism and desperation as Brexit is now an unchangeable historical fact.
The best thing to do now is to analyze both the extremist and populist motivations behind the vote to leave, and the serious issues requiring improvement.
The construction of the EU is far from ideal. Europe consists of so many different peoples, cultures, and languages that the EU requires a much more substantial unifying idea than simply joint trade and a single currency.There are now two possible reactions:
To lament Brexit and watch extremist movements in other countries such as France and the Netherlands seeking to follow the example of Great Britain.
Or, to think about necessary improvements for the EU and to work together towards a true spirit of unity and collaboration, especially in finding a global solution for the refugee crisis and not an exclusively European one.
Nationalism is the opposite of true patriotism, and the further fostering of nationalist sentiment would be the worst case-scenario for us all. Instead, we need a unifying, European patriotism. In the spirit of Kennedy’s words, we need to ask not what Europe can do for us, but we can do to fortify, solidify and unify Europe."
Those words will probably be cold comfort for UK readers. It shows just how relevant we are to the big picture as seen the rest of the continent, i.e., not at all, except as a lesson to others.
5 months ago | |
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Absorbing what's just happened to my home country takes some doing. Remember, against the nearly 52 per cent of people who voted to leave the EU - many of them, tragically, on the basis of outright lies and deceptions peddled to them by the Leave camp, supported by the tabloids (and I don't know how this is even legal) - 48 per cent of us voted to stay. The gap was fewer than two million, in a country of some 60 million plus, many of whom didn't vote at all.
Anyway, in the cold light of day, what are the implications for the music industry? Well, where shall we start??

Several artists' management companies and opera houses have put out statements. Here is a hard-hitting one from Jasper Parrott, head of HarrisonParrott and one of the most strong-minded and experienced people in the business:

‘The result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union makes this a sombre and disheartening day for all of us.
‘Forged out of the bloodiest war in history after centuries of conflict and division, the European Union – however flawed it may be – has been at the heart of an international movement to share an enriching diversity of languages, cultures and aspirations, and celebrate the good of humanity.
‘The United Kingdom, one of the most active and successful laboratories for artistic and cultural pluralism, should remain true to this – one of history’s greatest projects.
‘We at HarrisonParrott are deeply committed to the idea that our business and our lives benefit immensely from the fact that our artists and our staff share such a diverse range of nationalities, languages and cultures, and we take great pride in the success of our open and internationally inclusive recruitment policy.
‘The referendum, in the considered opinion of many leading figures and commentators, was never really necessary – it was promised largely for party political purposes.
‘I believe government, in its it reckless decision to hold it, has failed us all in its primary duties of keeping us safe, protecting our welfare, and honouring our alliances and commitments. I fear this will go down in history as one of the great follies of vanity and opportunism.
‘The power of music and the arts is universal. It brings us all closer together in a creative and non-discriminatory way, which can only benefit society as a whole.
‘All of us involved in the Arts and Creative Industries must now do whatever is possible to heal these self-inflicted wounds.’

The classical music and opera world is incredibly international. Indeed, one of the weirdest things for me, watching all this unfold, is that it's barely two months ago that I went to the WIPO conference in Geneva when the contrast between territorially-based copyright laws and non-territorial, galloping technology that crosses all boundaries in a twink became abundantly clear - this is part of what is screwing the livelihoods of creatives, to put it bluntly. In such a globalised world, for the UK (or what's left of it, if Scotland goes independent) to imagine it can isolate itself and flourish by doing so is the silliest, least realistic idea imaginable.

Here are some of the most concerning issues. First:

• Money. 

The pound's value fell sharply and will probably be worth much less long-term.
-- This makes it more expensive for those in the UK to travel. So British artists earning fees on "the continent" will find their pay is worth more, but goes less far.
-- It could make it very difficult for UK promoters to afford to bring in foreign orchestras.
-- It's possible that our UK orchestras will be cheaper for the promoters overseas, so that may be a benefit. But the costs of transport and work permits/visas that currently aren't needed (assuming it turns out they do impose these) will be high and there'll be more admin involved so more costs associated with that.
-- Low pound and higher costs for imports will probably result in significant inflation, while possibly there'll be higher interest rates appearing too. Low pound is better for our exports, but we don't export very much, and of what we do, 40% goes to Europe... Inflation is a nightmare for anyone who's scratching around trying to make a living, which has already become more difficult for musicians and writers for other reasons.

So that means...
-- It may be harder to persuade people to sponsor orchestras, operas and concert series - and if the big City firms move to Frankfurt or Madrid, as they're already starting to consider, there will be fewer moneyed companies and high-earning individuals around to contribute to "Development".
-- Therefore, probably higher costs of tickets on an already squeezed audience.
-- We can manage on our own, the Leave camp assured us - ignoring the fact that the EU gives us hundreds of millions to spend on deprived areas (Cornwall and Yorkshire are already jittery about this, despite having voted to leave - pity they didn't think about that first) and on scientific research (which depends heavily on EU grants to fund crucial medical developments) and indeed on the Arts (try the Creative Europe programme, for a start). All that will simply evaporate, and the idea that our own government can replace it pound for pound is frankly laughable.
-- But also, because EU funds will not be there to help us, there will be more pressure on government funds. These will be hard hit because if the financial whizzes leave the country and so do all the hard-working, tax-paying EU immigrants, tax revenues will be seriously down. I've seen figures quoted today in significant billions.
-- So taxes will have to go up, hitting us all where it hurts. I can't imagine any alternative.
-- Austerity, austerity and more austerity, and more cuts and more cuts and more cuts, and the arts will be high in the firing line - not that they give the arts all that much now, but I won't be remotely surprised if government support for the arts simply vanishes, especially if we get a hard-right populist government led by some of the goons who have got us into this mess. Remember, Boris Johnson supported the skateboarders against the Southbank Centre redevelopment, which was a) nuts and b) fatal. Government funding has depended on the good will and appreciation of the arts among those in power. Say farewell to them, and London may also have to kiss goodbye to that dream of a new concert hall (all a bit quiet now about that, isn't it?).

Mark Pemberton of the Association of British Orchestras has warned of "challenges ahead" and writes:
‘Following the Referendum decision to leave the EU, the ABO is deeply concerned at the potential impact on its members.
‘The prospects for the nation’s public finances are worrying, and may affect the implementation of Orchestra Tax Relief, which has not as yet received Royal Assent, and lead to further reductions in public funding for the arts and local authorities.
‘We will need the new leadership of this country to give us guarantees as to continued freedom of movement across Europe’s borders for our orchestras, artists and orchestral musicians, and whether the many pan-European regulations that currently affect our sector, from VAT Cultural Exemption to harmonisation of radio spectrum, Noise at Work to the Digital Single Market, will still apply.
‘The worst outcome for our members will be additional uncertainty, bureaucracy and expense, allied to a worsening of their financial viability. The ABO’s next step is to work with whichever Ministers take responsibility from here on, to ensure the best possible outcome for our members.’

• Xenophobia

-- Our musical life is fabulously enriched by its internationalism. Musicians from the EU and beyond help to bring our orchestras, our chamber ensembles, our conservatories where they teach and study, to the level of the world's finest. London has the richest musical life of any city in Europe. All this will be in peril.
-- As part of the EU, UK nationals have the right to live, study and work in any European country. By leaving the EU, because part of the population thinks our problems are down to "foreigners" and want them not to come here any more, we are also shooting ourselves and especially our young people in the foot because we are forfeiting our own right to go to 27 other countries to live and work without being caught up in astronomical costs and a tangle of red tape. Conservatoire fees for Europeans here will be the same as they are for non-EU nationals, about £20k a year, and paying at the rates of non-EU students will most likely apply also to our youngsters wanting to study abroad.
-- It will be harder for European orchestras to justify employing British musicians, and a regulation headache for British ones to employ Europeans. This will affect, frightfully, career opportunities for the UK nationals and possibly the standards for our own orchestras.
-- I don't believe there is any reason to assume that EU musicians currently employed in British musical institutions will be chucked out, because all that will depend on the terms that are finally arranged; nothing is certain yet and currently we are still very much part of the EU, Cameron having not triggered Article 50, which starts the exit process; he has decided to leave it to his successor. We have to keep an eye on how negotiations pan out in due course. Things that happen there will do so several years down the line at the earliest; but the effects may begin sooner because some musicians will begin looking for opportunities elsewhere instead and may well not apply for UK courses and jobs for fear of what will transpire.
-- Did you know? Before the First World War foreign artists started to be banned in the UK. And before the Second World War regulations were brought in against foreign performers too, mainly targeting American dance bands.

-- All this comes from fear. But what frightens me is that the Out voters have fallen for what's probably the biggest con-trick in the history of Britain, pulled upon them by some of the most loathed politicians of today's administration including one who isn't even part of the government (Farage). Brexiting the EU will not solve any of the problems that frighten them. It will only make things more difficult for everybody (see "Money"). And when they realise that they've been had, and dragged the rest of us down with them, they'll be even angrier than they are now. The EU was the scapegoat, but it was the wrong scapegoat. It brought us innumerable advantages and all we have done is to throw them away for the sake of some kind of fictional notion of "sovereignty". When people realise the extent to which they've been duped, where will that anger go? Already there are reports of the British National Party bullying and harrassing Poles and Muslims in the east of England.

I've been writing a novel set in the 1930s and I'm beginning to feel I've stepped into it.

But:

-- Music is a profound artistic force that crosses all boundaries and speaks from a place of universal human experience.

-- Whatever happens, we have to find a way to make the best of it. We mustn't let Britain descend into fascism - the one thing it has never, ever done. We're better than that, we're better than this rubbish that's being foisted on us and, as Hans Sachs suggests in Meistersinger, we have to hold fast to our arts as the one bastion of positive identity and strength that can hold fast through everything.

And finally:

Yesterday, my musical encounters saved me in the midst of all the horror. I spent the morning interviewing one of London's greatest musician residents, virtually sitting at his feet while he talked about music and demonstrated on the instrument. Then in the evening I went to hear Benjamin Grosvenor's recital at the Wigmore Hall. The programme included the Chopin Funeral March Sonata, appropriately enough - and his interpretation seemed to articulate for all of us the emotions and anguishes we were going through. The final movement was very fast, a daring evocation of a terrifying madness. Yet at the close of the concert, his Liszt Venezia e Napoli was huge and dazzling fun. Music can still bring us together and offer us catharsis and spiritual solace - if only for a while. We can rely on music when we can rely on nothing else.


5 months ago | |
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HANS SACHS:

Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn! Wohin ich forschend blick’ in Stadt und Weltchronik, den Grund mir aufzufinden, warum gar bis auf’s Blut,
die Leut’ sich quälen und schinden in unnütz toller Wuth?
Hat keiner Lohn noch Dank davon: in Flucht geschlagen,
wähnt er zu jagen:
hört nicht sien eigen Schmerzegekreisch, wenn er sich wühlt im eig’ne Fleisch, wähnt Lust sich zu erzeigen!
Wer giebt den Namen an?
‘Sist halt der alte Wahn,
ohn’ den nichts mag geschehen,
s’mag gehen oder stehen!
Stet’s wo im Lauf. Er schläft nur neue Kaft sich ah: gleich wacht er auf,
dann schaut, wer ihn bemeistern kann!...



Madness! Madness! Everywhere, madness! Whenever I look in the archives of the
city and of the world,
to look for the reason behind
why people strive to argue in useless results for this insanity?
What are they to gain from this:
in fits of struggle
they hunt for it
and do not hear their own pain
especially when it rips into their own flesh, joy’s own embrace!
Who can name it?
It’s simply the same old craziness,
without it ever happening
in spite of itself!
It pauses. And then with sleep acquires a new strength:
suddenly awakens
then who can become master of it?




5 months ago | |
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REMAIN is the only sane choice for anybody in today's ever-more-international arts world.

Don't forget to place your vote for the UK to REMAIN in the EU. Otherwise on Friday we become nothing more than a sunk island. (Reminder of some of the reasoning.)
5 months ago | |
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