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.
1382 Entries
The great violinist Kyung Wha Chung is making a comeback at the Royal Festival Hall with a recital on 2 December, after more than a decade of absence. Here she talks frankly about her life, work and music, the prospect of returning and the injury which kept her off stage for so long. It's wonderful to see her back again. With pianist Kevin Kenner she will perform works by Mozart, Prokofiev, Bach and Franck. Book now for the concert, here.

2 months ago | |
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Professor Andrzej Jasinski visits the Chopin Society. Photos by Marek Ostas

The other night I was fortunate enough to be drafted in by the Chopin Society as interviewer for a very special evening at Steinway's with Professor Andrzej Jasinski from Katowice, the former teacher of Krystian Zimerman and president of the jury at the Chopin Competition these past several sessions. First he played us some vivid Mozart and Chopin; then we discussed all manner of things; after that, he taught two gifted students including Mishka Rushdie Momen (top left), who has appeared on the Andrew Marr Show (amongst other accolades) and is in the final of the Dudley International Piano Competition next week.

Prof Jasinski's energy, charm and insights seemed boundless. I found myself marvelling at the mystery and complexity of the process by which music must travel from the composer via the brain and into the hands. Controlling the articulation, the professor demonstrated, is vital in order to inject a communicative, speaking sound into every turn of phrase, indeed every note.

We covered numerous topics in the interview. Prof Jasinski reminisced about a day sometime in the mid 1960s when he was assistant in Katowice to a great professor who had met Brahms...and called Jasinski asking him to teach a small boy from nearby Zabrze who needed a younger teacher. The lad's name was, of course, Krystian Zimerman. It was several years later that Jasinksi realised exactly how special his charge was: aged about 13, Krystian was asked to play Rhapsody in Blue with an orchestra, learned it in three weeks and did a great job. But to nurture such a talent, Jasinski added, you must go slowly, step by step; and he lauded his star pupil's parents for not pushing him into the limelight too early.

It's also not every day you get to ask an expert of this magnitude what the key might be to playing Chopin's mazurkas - and find a response that is so practical, solid and detailed. First of all, he promises that you don't actually have to be Polish to get the hang of them, pointing out the excellent playing of Fou Ts'ong. Next, look at the score! The indications show you where to sustain a note, where it is staccato and where an enhanced mark tells you it's more than a staccato: a jump. But a jump only in the melodic line, not the left hand as well.

The professor finished our discussion by demonstrating Chopin's closeness to Mozart. Arthur Rubinstein, he remarked, used to say that you should play Chopin like Mozart and Mozart like Chopin. He took lines of Chopin and added Mozartian accompaniments, for example turning the Fantasie-Impromptu into Rondo alls Turca as if by magic. In the masterclasses that followed, Mishka played the Polonaise-Fantasie, which to Jasinski is full of Chopin's feelings for his native Poland: conflict, fear, happy memories, the pounding of horses' hooves in battle and ultimately optimism for the future.

At discussions afterwards, I was just reflecting upon the way that a life in music can keep someone so young and energetic (the professor is 78, but followed an intense schedule of masterclasses in the various London conservatoires through his visit this week), when I met someone from the audience who was still teaching piano aged 91 - she was a former pupil of Gina Bachauer. This on top of having just received an advance copy of a CD that captures Menahem Pressler's 90th birthday concert with the Quatuor Ebène in Paris (Dvorak Quintet, Schubert 'Trout', etc) that overflows with joy in music-making.

Philip Glass may advocate yoga and vegetarianism as a secret to long life and good health, and I'm sure those help. But if you want to stay young: be a musician.


2 months ago | |
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My warmest thanks to Mark Ainley and his excellent site & Facebook updates The Piano Files for alerting us to this recording of Sergei Prokofiev as piano soloist in his own Piano Concerto No.3, with the LSO conducted by Piero Coppola. Recorded in 1932, the sound quality is incredibly good and the style is fascinating.

This is music from the horse's mouth: Prokofiev's playing glitters, glimmers and meshes with the orchestra's textures; his touch is light, singing, clear and unfussy, he never hammers at the piano and he duets wonderfully with the orchestral solo instruments. He plays in long lines, the figurations delineating extended flows and spirals. Listen, too, to the strings' portamenti. This is "authentic" style for Prokofiev, remember. Enjoy!
2 months ago | |
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I've been chewing over the matter of diversity and wondering whether the music industry's efforts have worked at anything more than box-ticking levels. Here are a few thoughts, which I've stewed in an article for Amati.com.

Basically, I think we need to a) update our thinking on what "diversity" really means, and b) recognise that superficial action on the issue can only go a certain distance without better back-up from the society we live in.

In the article I point out that in 17 years of "diversity" very little has shifted, and very little can shift without truly joined-up thinking on what is trying to be achieved, and how, and why. It is going to take a lot longer to make that change because these matters have to be instilled in the family, in early education and in our work ethics and values system. We need to be thinking long-term. And in the end it all comes down to politics.

http://www.amati.com/magazine/149-comment/comment-diversity-time-to-think-outside-the-box-ticking.html
2 months ago | |
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I met Philip Glass while he was here for rehearsals of The Trial. Now he's off on the road around the UK. Head in the Bhagavad Gita, feet firmly on the ground (or possibly the other way round, given that he does yoga every day, presumably complete with headstands).

Here he tells me why he still tours, why yoga is so important to him and how the composers of the future will make a living.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/philip-glass-from-glassworks-to-glassfest-9839242.html
2 months ago | |
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Last week I put up a list of 12 living British composers so that you could vote for your favourite. Then I was awake all night remembering the ones I'd not put in, so I put up a second list. Polling is now closed. Here are the top three places in each of the two lists:

LIST 1
1. Harrison Birtwistle, with 25% of the votes.2. Thomas Ades, with 18 %.3. Peter Maxwell Davies, with 10%.
LIST 2
1. James MacMillan, with 27 %.2. Oliver Knussen, with 24 %.3. Mark-Anthony Turnage, with 11%.
There we go, then. Thanks to everyone who voted!

In case you were wondering: the first list consisted of six men and six women. The second list was slightly less even, with just four women out of 12. In list 1, Judith Weir pulled in in fourth place, with 8% of the vote. 
2 months ago | |
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It's us! Viv McLean and I had a ball with Alicia's Gift in Presteigne yesterday afternoon. The sun shone, the Assembly Rooms piano was a warm-toned Steinway of 1899, and it was wonderful to experience the warmth and hospitality of the team from Mid Border Arts and friends old, new, expected and unexpected! Huge thanks particularly to Alison Parry and Clare and David Stevens for all their support both marketing and moral.

It's always lovely, too, when an audience that doesn't quite know what to expect from a performance by a writer and a musician together finds itself drawn into the experience as a whole and responds to it with such enthusiasm. Music or words? Both, of course!

The next Alicia's Gift concert is at the Wimbledon International Music Festival at 2.30pm on Sunday 23 November. The venue is the Rutherford Theatre of Wimbledon High School, Mansel Road, London SW19 4AB. Book here!
2 months ago | |
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According to this report in the Washington Post the pianist Dejan Lazic is asking the paper to remove a 2010 review of one of his recitals under the EU's "right to be forgotten" ruling.

The review in question is by the highly respected critic Anne Midgette and contains much fulsome praise for the musician, qualified by some reservations. But Lazic seems to feel that his search for "truth" has been misrepresented...and has also asked the newspaper to remove the review when the ruling actually applies to Internet search engines.

What is "truth" anyway? A dubious concept where artistic opinions are concerned, that's for sure. Lazic is playing soon at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, on 11 December, so we can hear for ourselves.
2 months ago | |
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The fuss over the Mrs Bach and the cello suites film is getting up my nose, and not in a good way. Of course it makes a good story. But do we really need more tales about women in music who didn't really do things, when there are so many who did, provenly so, but are not recognised for it?

When women musicians make it onto the silver screen, they tend to be there for the wrong reasons: for writing their man's music, which they clearly didn't; for having married Schumann; for being sister to an irritating prodigy (take a bow, Nannerl), or for people having released recordings under their name that they didn't actually make (three cheers for Ms Hatto?).

Still, the film studios clearly prefer the fanciful, so here are a few ideas for my next novel...

Cosima Wagner: true author of Parsifal?
1. An EU directive enforces the opening of the last Bayreuth archive. It reveals that Cosima wrote Parsifal.

2. Beethoven was great at the piano, but wanted everyone to think he could write for the orchestra as well. He paid a very accomplished lady to write nine symphonies for him and planted references to an "Immortal Beloved" in his letters to throw everyone off the scent.

3.  Emma Bardac's letters emerge from the Bibliothèque National explaining that she was not only lover to Fauré and wife to Debussy, but put them both through certain kinds of intimate therapy that unleashed suppressed emotions in their music.

4. Jenny Lind turns out to have inspired not only Felix Mendelssohn with great passion, but Fanny Mendelssohn as well.

5. Tchaikovsky's remains are disinterred for research into whether he was poisoned. The coffin contains the skeleton of a woman.


...Meanwhile I'm off to Presteigne for a lovely Alicia's Gift concert with piano darling Viv McLean at the Assembly Rooms, tomorrow (2 Nov) at 3pm. Do come along if you're in the area. Info here.


2 months ago | |
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In today's Independent, my interview with the young choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela and Royal Ballet rising star Olivia Cowley about the new ballet Cassandra, opening tomorrow at the Linbury. I watched a rehearsal and it was shaping up to be fascinating stuff, and pretty harrowing.
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/royal-ballet-dancerturnedchoreographer-ludovic-ondiviela-on-making-mental-illness-the-subject-of-his-new-work-9823920.html
2 months ago | |
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