JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with ginger, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1190 Entries
It's Don Giovanni. Why on earth do we find him irresistible? Clue: clever librettist plus divine composer, but there are darker factors at work too. I had some interesting chats with Mariusz Kwiecien (who sings him in the ROH's new production next week) and the great Gerald Finley about the Fifty Shades of Don Giovanni and my piece is in the Independent today.

Meanwhile, here is another of the all-time greats - Simon Keenlyside - in what's perhaps the defining moment of the whole opera...as staged by Calixto Bieito. Covent Garden's new production opens on Saturday night, directed by Kasper Holten. Anything could happen!






2 months ago | |
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Sobs in sunny Sheen today upon the news that Edward Gardner is leaving English National Opera. The highlights of his stint as music director have been many and various - I'd pick out his Der Rosenkavalier, The Flying Dutchman, Wozzeck and The Damnation of Faust, to name but a few, as some of the most exciting operatic treats of the past several years. The vitality, intelligence and sheer electric delight of his music-making have never failed to light up the Coliseum. The job now passes not to another young whizz-kid (Ed was 31 when appointed), but to Mark Wigglesworth: a tried, tested, known, solid, liked and respected British musician, who will probably do a jolly good job. Ed, though, is off to Bergen, which unfortunately is in Norway and not accessible via the District Line. Excuse me while I go and have a howl.


2 months ago | |
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Meet Kristine Balanas, 22, from Latvia, an advanced student at the Royal Academy of Music. She's a very lucky young violinist as she will be joining Yuri Bashmet in a concerto performance with the Moscow Soloists at the Barbican on 1 February, and will be on BBC Radio 3's In Tune with him the day before. Currently she's studying with Gyorgy Pauk and she's due to graduate this summer. I recently had a tip-off about her - and sure enough I find her musicianship quite enchanting.
For the 1 February the RAM is lending Bashmet and a few members of the orchestra some instruments from the institution's top-notch collection of stringed instruments. Should be a fun evening. (Though I suspect Kristine is playing SCHUBERT, not the SHUBERT currently advertised on the Barbican website!) The Mozart concerto above was filmed at the 5th Sendai International Music Competition last May.
3 months ago | |
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Hint: yep. I went to see the simply fabulous Fascinating Aida and have jotted down some thoughts for my Amati Soapbox.
http://www.amati.com/articles/1057-having-a-hoot-at-the-qeh.html
3 months ago | |
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This is my tribute to Claudio Abbado as published yesterday in the Independent. First, some Mozart, from Lucerne (with thanks to Medici TV).



Claudio Abbado’s Mahler Symphony No.9 with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is among those rare concert experiences that will stay with me forever.

At the end the strings faded into the ether as if merging with an ineffable, eternal life force; you could scarcely tell where sound stopped and silence began. The level of intensity that this extraordinary conductor summoned from his players could lift a musical masterpiece from the great to the utterly transcendent – a quality audible not primarily at the moments of greatest volume, but rather at the quietest.

No wonder he was widely considered the finest conductor of his day; he was certainly the best-loved of them all.

It was not the monumental in music that set him apart, but his humanising of it. He approached orchestral works as chamber music, giving his players space to contribute their own artistry, drawing them out with his ability to listen – and often with his sense of humour – rather than imposing a will of iron.

The results were supple textures, clear, warm and beautifully balanced, with an exceptional capacity for intimacy: Bruckner, Verdi and Brahms are just a few of the composers whose creations in his hands could flower into unsuspected territories. Mark Wilkinson, president of Deutsche Grammophon for which Abbado recorded over 46 years, describes him as “a man who put himself entirely at the service of the music he conducted and, in doing so, made listeners feel that they were hearing it properly for the very first time.”
Portrait of the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, taken in Milan, 1979 
Portrait of the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, taken in Milan, 1979
 
Abbado first began to draw public attention when he won the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood in 1958; he made his debut at La Scala, Milan, two years later.
He went on to hold a succession of the world’s most prestigious posts, including music director of La Scala (1968 -86), the London Symphony Orchestra (1979-1987) and the Vienna State Opera (1986-91), as well as general music director of the city of Vienna from 1987.

The Berlin Philharmonic’s members elected him as its artistic director, a post he took up in 1990, yet he stunned his fans by leaving after 13 years [most expected him to stay forever]. He never held a directorship in the US, though, saying in interviews that he did not wish to battle union regulations on rehearsal time. His musical standards were exacting; he was willing to give everything to achieve them and expected nothing less from his players.

As champion of youth orchestras, new music and the widening of audiences, Abbado’s impact on concert life was simply immeasurable. In Milan he presented concerts for students and workers; in Vienna, he established the Wien Modern Festival, now a crucial event in the contemporary music calendar; and he founded the European Union Youth Orchestra, which later became the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, plus the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Orchestra Mozart (though the latter closed down last week, apparently unable to continue without him). In 2003 he spurred into existence the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, its players hand-picked and as dedicated to him as he was to them.

His last appearance was a performance with the LFO of Bruckner’s Symphony No.9 at the Lucerne Festival in August 2013. The festival’s chief executive, Michael Haefliger, recalls: “There was a sense in the hall that it might possibly be his final concert, so far removed and deeply transfigured did Claudio Abbado seem to all of us on this unforgettable evening, in this moment of unfathomable silence.”

Claudio Abbado died in the early hours of Monday morning in Bologna, with his family at his bedside. In 2000 he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and underwent drastic surgery that left him thereafter extremely slender and apparently physically frail; sadly the disease caught up with him in the end. Those close to him report that in his last months, talking about music would always lift his spirits. His musical legacy will continue to raise ours, even though he is no longer with us.
3 months ago | |
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Tragic news from Italy this morning that Claudio Abbado has passed away. Here is the report in Il Post.

Farewell, dear maestro. You were, I think, the most beloved of them all.

Below, his official biography from DG. Here, a fantastic gallery of photographs across the decades, from Italy's Repubblica. [UPDATE, 4.40pm: my appreciation of him, for The Independent, is online now.]

For a man who has dedicated a lifetime to music, Claudio Abbado – who celebrates his 80th birthday in June 2013 – has few words to describe his work as a conductor. He prefers to speak through the music, something he has been doing with extraordinary results for over half a century. Little interested in celebrity, he once said: “The term ‘great conductor’ has no meaning for me. It is the composer who is great.” They are not empty words, for he has demonstrated their meaning through his innate ability to go directly to the heart of a wide range of music.
Claudio Abbado was born into a musical and artistic family in Milan in 1933, and studied piano, composition and conducting at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in his home city, before going to Vienna to follow a postgraduate course in conducting in the mid-1950s. He won the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Koussevitzky Prize in 1958.
He made his debut in 1960, at the Teatro alla Scala, and was appointed music director there at just 35, remaining in post from 1968 to 1986. Three years after his debut he won the Mitropoulos Prize, and worked for several months with the New York Philharmonic as assistant to Leonard Bernstein. He was then invited by Herbert von Karajan to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time at the Salzburg Festival in 1965. In the same year he directed the world premiere of Giacomo Manzoni’s Atomtod at La Scala.
He was known for ground-breaking initiatives in Milan, expanding the repertoire to embrace major new works. He introduced guest conductors, such as Carlos Kleiber, and discouraged notions of elitism by opening up the house to a wider audience, presenting a concert programme specifically for students and workers.
During his 18 years in Milan, he also became music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, where he served from 1979 to 1987. He was music director of the Vienna State Opera from 1986 to 1991, and in 1987 became Generalmusik­direktor of the City of Vienna.
At the end of 1989, amid the turmoil and optimism of the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was elected by the players of the Berlin Philharmonic to succeed Karajan as the orchestra’s artistic director, and again his appointment led to the establishment of new initiatives, such as the Berliner Begegnungen, an opportunity for young players to perform with established artists. Abbado was forced to stand down from the podium for several months in 2000 when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, but he returned to the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic for two final seasons, during which he conducted Parsifal and Lohengrin in Berlin, Edinburgh and Salzburg.
Throughout his career, Claudio Abbado has been a champion of contemporary music. He has promoted the works of Nono, Stockhausen, Rihm and many other composers. In 1988, while serving at the Vienna State Opera, he initiated the “Wien Modern” Festival, offering 20th-century music its own platform in Vienna.
Abbado devoted much time to nurturing young talent, and was founder and music director of the European Union Youth Orchestra, which developed into the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in 1981. He also founded the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in 1986, formed the highly acclaimed Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2003 and the following year was named musical and artistic director of The Orchestra Mozart in Bologna.
In 1967 he began what was to become an extraordinary and long-lived relationship with Deutsche Grammophon. It is an indication of his musical maturity even relatively early in his career that his first recording for the label remains in the catalogue to this day: an iconic account of Ravel’s G major piano concerto and Prokofiev’s Third with the Berlin Philharmonic and soloist Martha Argerich.
Abbado’s recording history reflects the story of his musical career. La Scala productions that he recorded include Simon Boccanegra and Macbeth, with the theatre’s orchestra and chorus. His years with the London Symphony Orchestra saw many recordings, including Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Cenerentola and notably music by Mozart (piano concertos with Rudolf Serkin), Mendelssohn (symphonies), Ravel, Stravinsky and Debussy. When he moved to Vienna in 1986, it was the beginning of a tenure which saw many legendary productions, including Wozzeck and Pelléas et Mélisande, both preserved on record by DG. His recordings with the Berlin forces include a complete set of the Beethoven piano concertos with his long-standing colleague Maurizio Pollini and, in 2001, his second cycle of the Beethoven symphonies (his previous cycle, with the Vienna Philharmonic, had been issued in 1989). A complete cycle of Mahler symphonies, including the Adagio from Symphony No. 10, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic, was released in 1995. With the Chamber Orchestra of Europe he conducted recordings of Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims and Schubert’s complete symphonies (both winners of Gramophone’s “Record of the Year” award, in 1986 and 1988 respectively).
In time, Abbado amassed a huge discography on Deutsche Grammophon, including the entire symphonic works of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Schubert, and more than 20 complete operas. For Abbado’s 80th birthday year there will be two new releases with the Orchestra Mozart (Mozart Concertos and Schumann Overtures and Second Symphony) and a 40-CD Symphonies Box. 
Among the many awards bestowed on Claudio Abbado are the Bundesverdienstkreuz – Germany’s highest award –, the Légion d’honneur and the Mahler Medal. In 2012 he was honoured with a Gramophone “Lifetime Achievement Award” and won the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for Conductor. The citation for the RPS award summed up a conductor who has given so much to music: “Every one of the infrequent but annual appearances by this conductor produces a performance of indelible, life-changing moment. His extraordinary, revelatory concerts with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra … changed perceptions, and raised the bar once again on what it is possible for a group of musicians to achieve.”
3 months ago | |
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The lovely Melanie Spanswick has uploaded to her Classical Piano and Music Education Blog a filmed interview with me for her Music Talk series, complete with forthcoming concert dates for my stage projects and some wonderful Ravel played by Viv McLean at one of our Alicia's Gift concerts. Please pop over to her site, here.
3 months ago | |
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Last night I had my first introduction (live) to the playing of Yulianna Avdeeva, winner of the 2010 Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She took first prize as Daniil Trifonov pulled in third (and second prize was shared between Wunder and Geniusas, two contestants with fine names in every sense). To say that the competition sent waves of controversy through the pianophile community at the time probably isn't saying enough. The petite Russian girl from Munich is 28 years old, clad in a tailcoat, not much taller than I am and, unless I'm much mistaken, the first woman to win the Chopin since Argerich. And I'm very glad to report that she is the real deal, plus some.

She played Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 at the Royal Festival Hall last night with the LPO and Jurowski. They are all now on a plane to Spain, where late-night audiences in Madrid can catch them this evening.




From the very first entry Avdeeva showed a musical and intellectual sophistication that is several cuts above the average. She has an astonishing sense of the ineffable in sound: she can conjure a mezza voce that is both translucent and mysterious, filled with Brahmsian innigkeit, for instance; it's somewhat Kaufmannesque in concept. She spins long, wonderfully shaped melodic lines, but builds the music from the bass up, through the harmonic structure, and has the full compass of counterpoint, voicing and balance (listen to the close-knitted coda of the Chopin Fourth Ballade above, for example - it's carefully managed yet never loses fire). She may be slender, but her power, when fully unleashed, is thunderous; and that unleashing only happens when the music calls for it.

I can think of few pianists who can blend with the orchestral texture so ideally - many wouldn't even think of doing so, but at times this mighty concerto became nearly a concertante piece as Avdeeva duetted with the solo horn, accompanying, exchanging, playing chamber music, assuming a collegial role as one part of the massive and inspiring whole. There's a mesmerising beauty and intelligence to her interpretation and something that I don't mind classifying as an old-fashioned classiness of the best type: fully informed and intellectually aware yet deeply intuitive as well and with the ability to find not only the right sound for Brahms but the right sounds for every shade of his very considerable spectrum. It's worth adding that the players adored her awareness of orchestral sound and interaction, and one violinist declared it one of the best Brahms Firsts he's played in in 28 years.

Given this level of musicianship, the cruelty of some of the 2010 competition reviews is simply  staggering. But John Allison from the Telegraph was there and was hugely impressed with her. Let's hope she will come back soon.

3 months ago | |
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That was Aurora by William Lloyd Webber - the most substantial piece of orchestral music, as far as we know, by the father of Andrew and Julian. His centenary falls this year, on 11 March, and there's to be a big celebratory concert that day in St Martin-in-the-Fields, led by Julian. I've been exploring William's music and, in short, am quite in love with it. The other day I had a good chat with Julian about life with his father and the legacy of William's music - personified by his influence on Andrew.

I also had a wonderful talk with John Lill, who knew the family extremely well as a young man, and as I'd like this celebration to be an ongoing thing, I will post that interview here a little closer to the anniversary date. In the meantime, here is my introduction to William Lloyd Webber in today's Independent. Enjoy.
3 months ago | |
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Born in Colombia, living in Vienna, flexing his muscles and charming the everything off everyone, to judge from this video from Portland, here comes the new boy at the London Philharmonic. Andrés Orozco-Estrada (he pronounces his own name Orozcestrada) has today been announced as the band's new principal guest conductor, taking over when Yannick Nézet-Séguin's tenure concludes at the end of this season. I haven't seen him in action live yet. He only conducted the LPO for the first time a couple of months ago.

Here he is conducting the Tonkunstler Orchestra in the Figaro overture.

We look forward to getting to know him. 



3 months ago | |
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