JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with ginger, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1255 Entries
If you haven't yet come across Clément Doucet, meet him now. The pianist-creator of such pieces as 'Chopinata' and 'Isoldina' has been taken up and championed gorgeously by the likes of Marc-André Hamelin and Alexandre Tharaud, but his own recordings are stunners in no uncertain terms. I've just come across a few of Doucet's pieces that are new to me. This first one is variously known as 'Hungaria' or, apparently, 'Lisztonia'...

And if you liked that, try this...

Doucet was born in Belgium in 1895 and studied with Arthur De Greef, who had been a pupil of Liszt. He went to New York for three years in 1920 and absorbed stride piano - as you can hear - and on his return to Europe succeeded Jean Wiéner as house pianist at the Paris cabaret Le Boeuf sur le toit (after which the Milhaud ballet is named). He and Wiéner formed a piano duo and gave more than 2000 performances together between 1924 and 1939 and worked with some of the most popular French singers of their era, including Edith Piaf and Jean Sablon.

But after the war it was Wiéner who had the career. Doucet died of chronic alcoholism in 1950. I am now trying to find out what had happened to them both in the intervening years.

One more recording. They were not jazz pianists alone. Just listen to this heavenly Bach.

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I've had a sound-off in the Independent about the frustrations of TV format v. music in BBC Young Musician 2014, which reaches its final on Sunday. Concentrate on formula TV first and foremost and who loses out? The music. The competitors. And the audience. Time for a rethink, TV chaps. Stop patronising us and let us hear them play! Here it is:
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Jude Kelly & Gillian Moore of Southbank Centre
photo: Simon Jay Price
...yes, 2013 was one of the best years for music in the UK - well, certainly in London - and last night the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards recognised some of its high points. Prizes went to the Southbank Centre for The Rest is Noise (right), and the London Philharmonic which devoted itself all year long to 20th-century music for that occasion; George Benjamin's Written on Skin; the glorious Joyce DiDonato; and Daniel Barenboim for his phenomenal Ring Cycle at the Proms. Lovely win for Champs Hill in the Chamber Music and Song category, for its "holistic support" to nurture young artists working in this repertoire with a beautiful, calm concert venue and an enlightened recording label.

One very important prize: Touchpress Classical Music iPad Apps scooped Creative Communication, recognising apps as the way forward for explaining and exploring music - and quite right, too, because these interactive multimedia productions are the only thing I've ever seen that really make me believe the book as a format might just be outdated.

Prizes too for Britten 100, Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne (for Imago), Harrison Birtwistle (for Moth Requiem), Igor Levit, Patricia Kopatchinskaja. (A certain sense, on occasion, of "round up the usual suspects" - but on the other hand that doesn't mean they are not deserving.)

It was also the year I flippin'well missed the fun. I've been off sick and didn't make it to the dinner, much to my annoyance. So no goss and glitter this time, but naturally one was there in spirit.
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Psst, violinists - do you know how lucky you are to play an instrument that your furry friend can't curl up on while you're practising? Full marks to purrcussionist Tim Collins for purrseverence.... it's mewsic to our ears.
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...and Harriet Walter has given a wonderful interview to Brighton's Argus about it.

It's TONIGHT, 7.30pm. Tickets are walking, but can still be grabbed at: http://boxoffice.brightonfringe.org/theatre/5480/harriet-walter-in-new-play

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How great it is that Hans Gál is Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3. He is one of music's most genuine undersung heroes and last year it was wonderful that so many people helped to crowdfund conductor Ken Woods' latest recording in his series of Gál's works with the Orchestra of the Swan. You can listen to the programmes online and for seven days after broadcast here.

Here is an article of mine about him that I think fell down a crack between some editorial floorboards a couple of years ago. Plus a video in which Ken talks about Gál's life and work and we hear a sample of the latter. Enjoy.

Someday an alternative survey of 20th-century music should take a thorough look at the myriad composers who were reviled, then exiled, for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for writing the ‘wrong kind’ of music, and often for both. When that happens, Hans Gál’s star will shine bright.
The Austro-Hungarian composer and scholar was born in 1890 and grew up in Vienna; later he and his family were forced to flee first Nazi Germany, then Austria, for Britain. He wrote prolifically, clocking up more than 100 works, and he lived to be 97. Yet for decades even his finest music lay unrecognised and unplayed.
But in the last year or two, a series of recordings spearheaded by the Hans Gál Society and the composer’s daughter, Eva Fox-Gál, has been bringing him back at last to the public notice he deserves.
Gál effectively suffered a threefold misfortune. He believed himself part of the great German tradition of music-making; then the Nazis decided he was not. After escaping to Britain, he was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ on the Isle of Man, and his music was sidelined for sounding too German. Earning his living by teaching at Edinburgh University, he continued to write symphonies in the tradition of Haydn and Beethoven as recently as the 1970s – but by then, the musical elite tended to react vituperatively to new music that did not toe the line of accepted contemporary style.
Kenneth Woods is the conductor for several of the new recordings – the latest is Gál’s Symphony No.4 (on Avie Records). When he first realised Gál had written so much music, he says, he was astonished. Though familiar with Gál’s performing edition of Brahms’s symphonies and his superb books on Brahms and Schubert, Woods had had no idea that the academic was primarily a composer. Many of his finest works, such as the early Violin Concerto, had gone unperformed for 70 years.
“It’s tremendous stuff,” says Woods. “It’s the opposite of what people thought they had to conform to at the time; Gál just kept on writing in his own style.
“The standard of his works is uniformly high. To my mind, the closest comparison between Gál and another composer would be Haydn: the surface beauty of the music is there, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. What’s vital is the subtlety of what goes on beneath. And because the language is so classical, the writing is very ‘exposed’, making his music tremendously difficult to play.”
Eva Fox-Gál (who was born in Britain in 1944) has made it her mission to champion her father’s works; and her son, Simon Fox-Gál, is the sound engineer on the Avie recordings. “My father was genial, well known for his wit, modest, good fun to be with, and never pushed himself or his own work forward,” Eva remembers. “But that was his outer shell. To know what he was like inside, one needs to listen to his music.
“His writings about other composers are also very revealing about himself. At the beginning of his book on Schubert, he talks about Schubert’s outer persona and how the composer’s contemporaries mistook that for the real person. My father thought that that was what Schubert needed, in order to safeguard his inner core for his work. It’s his defence. I think that was what my father also had to do.”
One of Gál’s most successful works, in the 1920s, was his opera Die heilige Ente (The Sacred Duck), which stayed in theatrical schedules constantly from its premiere in 1923 until it
was banned by the Nazi regime, along with all works by Jewish composers. Gál was appointed director of the Music Conservatory in Mainz in 1929, but the Nazis had him thrown out in 1933.He and his family returned to Vienna, which they escaped at the time of the Anschluss in 1938. After a false dawn in Britain – in which Gál was much assisted by the great musicologist Donald Francis Tovey, who brought him to Edinburgh University to catalogue the music library – the composer was interned on the Isle of Man.
This was one of the most difficult times of all, says Eva: “That collection of refugees really represented Hitler’s greatest enemies, yet they were seen as a danger. The idea that they were a ‘fifth column’ that put the country under threat was completely ridiculous. There was no understanding of who they were, or of the horrors that they had already been through.” The ever-increasing stress proved intolerable for the Gáls’ younger son, who took his own life before the war was over.
Michael Haas, a distinguished record producer and music curator of the Jewish Museum in Vienna, is among Gál’s most passionate advocates. He describes Gál as an ‘anti-Romantic’: a composer who was convinced neither by the effusive styles of Liszt and Wagner, nor by the mainstream trends of his own time such as atonality, 12-tone ‘serialism’ and the neo-classicism of Stravinsky and Poulenc.“His antidote to Romantic excesses was to reach back to earlier models,” Haas suggests. “Most people assume the model was Brahms, but I believe that actually it was Mendelssohn. This accounts for his frequent lack of overt emotional abandonment.
“For me, Gál is the ‘Everyman Composer’ of the Weimar years. He was conventional, but not banal. He was far more representative of what musical life was actually like than, say, Alban Berg or Darius Milhaud. It would be like comparing Norman Rockwell with Andy Warhol. I love some of his more expressive works and admire his aesthetic composure and his extraordinary intelligence and cultivation.”
The rehabilitation of Gál’s music is long overdue – but better late than never. “Because the music is so difficult to play,” says Woods, “even when occasional performances were given, sometimes they didn’t make a strong enough case for it. But now, working with great musicians who are hungry to perform it, we hope these recordings will give people a chance to hear what wonderful stuff it is.”

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Please come to the Brighton Fringe and the MOOT - Music of Our Time series on FRIDAY 9 MAY when the utterly incredible Dame Harriet Walter (above) stars in my play A Walk through the End of Time together with Guy Paul, the wonderful American actor who happens to be her husband.

The play, in one act, explores the way Olivier Messiaen created his Quartet for the End of Time in a prisoner-of-war camp in 1940, through the prism of a contemporary story about two people whose lives have been profoundly touched by the work. (More about it here.) In the second half the Ether Quartet plays the complete quartet. St Nicholas's Church is close to Brighton station. Book here!
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Ukrainian ballerinas perform the Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake in front of Odessa's military museum and some tanks. The clip was apparently broadcast on Wednesday and thereafter went up online. Many thanks to Gramilano for drawing attention to it.

According to The Moscow Times:
Ballerinas in the Ukrainian city of Odessa have performed a dance from the Swan Lake ballet for Russian President Vladimir Putin — but the gesture was far from salutary.
The dance, performed to music by composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky outside Odessa's military history museum, was a nod to a Soviet-era tradition, the performance's organizer said, noting that state-run television traditionally aired classical music during periods of great change in the Soviet Union.
"For millions of Soviet people, televised performance of the world-renowned ballet 'Swan Lake' always signaled a change in the country's leadership — either the death of the Secretary-General, or his ouster as a result of a coup," regional lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko said when introducingthe performance in front of Ukrainian television cameras.
"Because Vladimir Putin has made a fatal mistake by unleashing aggression against Ukraine, today Odessa, as a cultural capital, performs for him this portentous composition," he said in footage that aired on Ukrainian television and was posted online Wednesday. 
This morning there comes news that more than 30 people were killed and 200 injured in Odessa yesterday when a trade union building was set on fire during clashes between pro- and anti-Russian groups. Our hearts go out to everyone there, together with a plea for peace.

These Cygnets also remind us of the way that classical music/ballet is often used as a kind of official safety curtain when seismic events are taking place behind it; it is a trick that is by no means exclusive to the old USSR. Depending on who is doing it, and how, and where, and when, it can also be distraction, a whitewash, or - very occasionally - part of a larger-scale brainwash.

You don't even have to look at world politics to see this in action. I once worked for a company that had an open-plan office in Camden Town; and if you heard Bach violin concertos drifting peacefully across the space on a Friday afternoon, it was a sure-as-hell sign that in the MD's corner box someone was being made redundant.
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It seems the profile of female conductors has been raised to the point that they can be considered a good way to advertise...well, certain bits of clothing. One maestra mate sent me a link to this video, declaring herself lost for words and hoping I'd have some. Hmm.

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Have a read of this announcement today from the Vienna State Opera. Now, THAT'S the way to do it!

WIENER STAATSOPER live at home Overview
What Vienna State Opera is offering is not comparable to standard live streaming programmes – it’s more like what a TV station or network does.
  • ?  Completely new state of the art video and audio equipment and studios have been built into the house – all remote control, invisible and distracting neither public nor artists, with full live streaming technology;
  • ?  Full HD video and high end audio – every single evening can be broadcasted, if decided for, and capable of postproduction if required; for the 2014/2015 season there will be about 45 opera and ballet performances broadcasted;
  • ?  A new webportal, a SmartTV, a Second Screen and a Publications App have been programmed;
  • ?  Innovative technologies offer synchronized multilingual subtitles and a “moving score” functionality - the customer at home can watch the opera, while enjoying subtitles and (for selected performances) historic scores from Vienna State Opera’s archives on a tablet computer or smartphone in Wiener Staatsoper Second Screen App;
  • ?  Opera lovers all over the world can switch between two live channels of the same performance at any time while watching: a total view of the stage, and a live cut opera film with closeups, moving cams, backstage views ...;
  • ?  On all platforms: computer screens or connected beamer / TV set, Connected or SmartTV – on Samsung SmartTV also through an exclusive App;
  • ?  Everywhere in the world at Prime Time: the live streams from Vienna State Opera are played out timeshifted, according to the viewers’ timezone;
  • ?  Multimedia progamme booklets can be downloaded in the Wiener Staatsoper Publications App.
    WIENER STAATSOPER live at home is payable, not free of charge,
    ? because art has value, also on the internet
    ? new revenue streams have to be assured for the opera and its artists, facing the decline of
    the physical music industry and the chances that lie in the growing digital markets For WIENER STAATSOPER live at home
Vienna State Opera has been transformed into a completely independent producer of high class digital and live opera contentdelivering high class opera to the homes of music lovers worldwide through the internet;
a video store opens the vast archives as “Opera rental” on-demand streams Vienna State Opera and Samsung are working together on a world première:
? On May 7 premium UHD content – Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco with Plácido Domingo in the title role – will be streamed live for the first time ever to UHD TVs all over the world:. It will be fully implemented in the Wiener Staatsoper Samsung SmartTV App, offering a timezone shifted playout, so that opera lovers can watch this broadcast at their
respective prime time.
staatsoperlive.com | www.wiener-staatsoper.at page1image26448 page1image26608
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