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.
1424 Entries
Some would say it's Jonas Kaufmann.


Others suggest that my lovely Hungarian Dances violinist colleague, David Le Page, bears a certain resemblance to the film star.


But full marks to The Mozart Project - the producers of a superb interactive, multi-media e-book about the composer - for noting that in fact the mysterious hero of Hollywood appears to have been separated at birth from none other than...


...our very own Gabriel Fauré.

2 months ago | |
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I'm officially on holiday - a long way off, somewhere hot and sunny that involves hammocks, trees and the sound of the sea. But there's WiFi, so I can still offer you, belatedly, some impressions of the two gentlemen above, whom I was fortunate to hear at Wigmore Hall last Sunday, at an extremely welcome last minute.

Yes, Der Jonas was back in our top Lieder hall, and there are few finer places in which to appreciate his remarkable qualities at close quarters, within a warm acoustic magnifying glass. Here, even from the back row, the ambience and sound quality are intimate enough to let us hear a degree of nuance that might not come over to the same extent in a larger, more impersonal space.

An all-Schumann first half from two highly sophisticated German musicians could scarcely be bettered. First of all, the partnership between Kaufmann and Deutsch - Jonas's Lieder Svengali - is something quite exceptional. The voice and the piano are so attuned to one another as to fuse into an indivisible sound, just as an orchestra at its best becomes a single entity. To call Deutsch an accompanist would be not just invidious, but unthinkable. They opened with five of the too-rarely heard Kerner Lieder, topped by 'Stille Tränen' - one of Schumann's most devastating songs, laden with the burdens of depression and intense longing, to say nothing of the glories of its melody. Kaufmann built up to this song as the climax it needs to be - and can hardly help being, given its quality - and unleashed the full power of his exceptional dynamic control.

Some musicians' sounds, whether they are singers, violinists, pianists or anything else, strike us at what certain New Age types would call the Chakra points. The vibrations might strike us primarily at the top of the head, between the eyebrows, around the solar plexus, clean in the stomach or guts, and probably one or two other spots as well - but whichever is the case, it becomes irresistible, setting off goose-bumps in some cases, tears in others, or simply the sense of rising far from everyday predictability into something rare, more sensitive, more extraordinary, that carries us with it to some measure of the beyond. Suffice it to say that this song did that.

Dichterliebe - the ultimate Schumann cycle, to many - is a work much maligned and misinterpreted, despite its phenomenal beauty and the perfectionism of its writing. This is not Schubert; far from the innocence and tragedy of Die schöne Müllerin and the desperation of Winterreise, this is Schumann's take on a love story - won, then lost - as portrayed by the poet Heinrich Heine, master of double-edged irony. Some suggest, oddly, that Schumann ignored Heine's detachment and cynicism. Yet the composer was a highly literary individual, one as adept (or nearly) with words as he was with music, constantly inspired by the poetry and novels of German romanticism at its peak. Kaufmann and Deutsch's Dichterliebe was as much Heine as it was Schumann; Kaufmann's gifts as storyteller were to the fore, backed by the refulgent tones of Deutsch's pianism; this was delicate, close-sketched life-drawing, leaving an emotional impact as subtle as the poet deserves - not head-butting indulgence, but something far more nuanced and colourful.

After the interval came the Wagner Wesendonck Lieder, Kaufmann bringing to the world of solo song the composer with whom he is perhaps most strongly associated. Studies for Tristan? If the third and fifth songs are indeed, Kaufmann will (hopefully) be a Tristan to be reckoned with if/when he gets round to singing the role. For the time being, this was a Wagner incarnation as rare and insightful as the Dichterliebe was to Schumann: a fresh, convincing and unexpected take that made complete musical and poetic sense. These songs, usually larger than life with a mezzo and an orchestra, became intimate and transparent, but in a world of their own, distinct from the Schumann; Kaufmann's perfect Siegmund tone shone at its steel-and-caramel best.

For Liszt's three Petrarch Sonnet settings - oddly, better known in their solo piano versions -  Kaufmann turned Italian. Like a religious convert who becomes more zealous than those born into a faith, he can sometimes seem more Italian than the Italians. The sound of the words becomes not only the inspiration for the music - instead, the words are the music, the latter simply a manifestation of a soundworld that is already there in Petrarch's dazzling love poems. If Dichterliebe was a set of keenly observed charcoal sketches, the Sonnets were as gigantic and perfectly wrought as Michelangelo sculptures. Petrarch gives his all in these poems, Liszt follows suit and Kaufmann and Deutsch delivered in kind. One encore - Schumann's 'Mondnacht' - quietened down to an exquisitely controlled, half-lit cantilena in which - as often through the evening - you couldn't help wondering when he manages to breathe.

Most Jonas concerts involve a substantial quantity of encores, but this one didn't. Whether that was because it was a huge programme and he is saving himself for the small matter of Andrea Chénier rehearsals at the ROH, or because the audience mostly didn't stand up, then started to make its way out while he was taking curtain calls, is hard to say. The Wigmore is the finest concert hall in London by a long chalk, but it is a notoriously difficult place in which to get up and yell and cheer, which is what we'd have liked to do and which is what this performance deserved. Not wishing to embarrass my colleagues in Critics' Corner, I resisted the temptation. What a pity one feels one has to. I've seen a place as staid as Vienna's Musikverein go totally, utterly bananas over a Jonas-and-Helmut recital and the fact that that didn't happen in London says more about us than it does about them.
2 months ago | |
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http://www.classicfm.com/music-news/latest-news/charlie-hebdo-barber-adagio-london/

This took place in London in tribute to the Paris murders of the Charlie Hebdo journalists and artists. I am away, but feel there in spirit. Watch the complete Barber Adagio played by 150 musicians in Trafalgar Square via the Classic FM link above.
2 months ago | |
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http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/tom-piper-and-orfeo-from-poppies-to-opera-9961278.html
My interview with theatre designer Tom Piper from yesterday's Independent. The man behind the Poppies at the Tower is now doing Monteverdi's Orfeo at Covent Garden/The Roundhouse, but he had quite a few things to say about commemorations, crowds and critics. It made the News page.
2 months ago | |
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Sinfini has just released this gorgeous video of Benjamin Grosvenor, that golden boy of British pianists, playing Granados's 'The Maiden and the Nightingale'. This piece is a big favourite of mine thanks to its presence in the Alicia's Gift concert; it used to be a staple recital item, but fell oddly out of favour somewhere between the early 1980s and wherever we are now. Lovely to see it coming back. Enjoy.



Over at Sinfini, I've provided an introduction to Benjamin, the piece and the performance, which took place at Leighton House.


2 months ago | |
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I'm doing a pre-concert talk at the Wigmore Hall on 26 January about three of Mozart's greatest string quartets, the last half of the six he dedicated to Haydn, which the Hagen Quartet will be performing that night. I've been swotting. And it's heaven.

If you listen to only one piece today, make it this: the slow movement of the C major Quartet K465, the 'Dissonance'. Here's the Ebène Quartet playing it. I find it deeply saddening that there are thousands, millions, of people in western 'democracies' who will go through their entire lives without hearing music of such phenomenal beauty because they've been taught to imagine that it is 'not for them'.

If you have never heard this piece before, I hope your day is lit from within by it. And if you know it well - likewise. Then please sit one person down and get them to listen to it too.






2 months ago | |
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A very happy new year 2015 to all our readers and friends everywhere in the world! With love from London.

2 months ago | |
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New years bring new fears - this one more than any I can remember.

Interesting to glance back at where we were last time. Here is that list. 

Progress? First of all, our consciousness-raising about gender equality (lack thereof) and sexism in the industry started to do some good, though there's a long way to go. Then, in concert, there was indeed plenty of Panufnik. And a few people have performed other interesting programmes, too. As for absent friends, Sokolov is still not coming to Britain, but Zimerman's name is in the LSO's schedule for July 2015, when he'll play Brahms's Piano Concerto No.1 with Simon Rattle conducting.

But Rattle still has not confirmed or denied that he'll take over the LSO's podium wholesale; we do know, however, that there will be no new London hall for him in the Olympic park redevelopment. Meanwhile Mayor Boris has delivered the coup-de-grace to Southbank Centre's redevelopment plans by taking sides with a small group of intractable skateboarders, rather than supporting the largest possible access to the arts for the largest number of Londoners (yes, really, o surprised overseas friends in sensible places - you couldn't make it up.) Generally, arts organisations are struggling, more so than before, and the senseless bullying and witch-hunting over different varieties of rubbish has got worse.

Top ten hopes for 2015? I almost can't look...


1. That we emerge from the general election in May with a government that will drop crackpot ideology in favour of down-to-earth measures to help to create a fairer and happier society, and that will recognise that nothing can change unless it changes at the level of education. We need good, free education for every child, in which music and the arts can play a central role at a strong level. This means we also need excellently trained music teachers, the encouragement of parental involvement in practising, and instruments made available to borrow, or to rent at a pittance. Education is the single most important issue facing the music world at the moment.

2. That we can change some of the narratives that are currently parroted about in the arts world (and beyond) yet make little practical sense.

3. That we emerge into 2016 with all our orchestras, opera companies, ballet companies, choirs and youth music organisations fully intact.

4. That people decide it's better to have a sense of proportion and stop the knee-jerk petty offence-taking over trivialities. My advice is: don't sweat the small stuff - because if you do, then how are you going to cope with real trouble?

5. That nobody goes to war with anybody else.

6. That the Leeds Piano Competition can find a worthy successor to Dame Fanny Waterman and that the cavalcade of contests for the instrument in 2015 - Dublin, Leeds, Warsaw, Moscow - will find winners equally as interesting as the last lot (Trifonov, Colli, et al).

7. That more would-be music students in Britain realise that as EU citizens they can receive tertiary training free of charge in some places on mainland Europe, and consequently make sure they learn German.

8. That proven facts can be noted more than paranoid fantasies. Truth is not simply what you want to believe. Truth is found in scientific observation. Like it or lump it.

9. That news starts bringing us actual news instead of gossip about a "celebrity's" backside. The other day I picked up a free newspaper on a train and had to turn to page 28 (or was it 36?) to find even one paragraph about Ukraine.

10. That there is still such a thing as professional music journalism in 2016.


2 months ago | |
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Piers Lane
Christmas: the kiss of death, if you're a musician. Or a music-lover, for that matter. Nothing but Messiahs and Nutcrackers being wheeled out all over again as far as the ear can hear. After you've been around for a few decades, you may start wanting to scream at the sound of that celesta. Maybe escapism is the reason so many of us eat and drink ourselves into a stupor over the days of festivities. By 30 December, enough, already.

Thank you to all those doughty musicians who brave the seasonal wheeliebin to remind us that life goes on. At the Wigmore Hall tonight the smiley, gleamy-toned Australian pianist Piers Lane is doing a recital that is refreshingly free from anything topical. The first half is Rachmaninov and the second is Schubert, culminating with the great A major Sonata D959. Do please try to tear yourselves away from the overload and hear some really wonderful piano playing. Book here.

A few other chippings of gold amid the general plastic recycling have come from the Royal Ballet, which gave Alice's Adventures in Wonderland instead of The Nutcracker this time, and BBC4, which made the Christmas ballet treat The Winter's Tale - an absolute glory of a full-length story ballet, choreographed this year by Christopher Wheeldon, which needs to be seen by lots and lots of people. It is not exactly seasonal, despite the title; instead, it's a very grown-up and brilliantly imagined balletic translation of Shakespeare's play, with a specially composed score by Joby Talbot and featuring astounding performances from Edward Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson as Leontes and Hermione, and Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae as Perdita and Florizel. (You can catch it on the iPlayer for another 25 days if you missed it.)

Last but not least, do catch Fascinating Aida's brilliant show Charm Offensive at the Queen Elizabeth Hall during the first two weeks of January. Here's a taster, which I've been attempting to bear in mind this past week (honest, guv).




2 months ago | |
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Gustavo Dudamel conducts Raploch's Big Noise orchestra in the opening event of the 2012 cultural olympiad
Sistema Scotland has just announced it is receiving a £100,000 donation from Stirling entrepreneur Tom Cox and his wife Alix McNicol Cox, which will support the work of Raploch's Big Noise orchestra. Stirling council provides over 50% of the funding for Big Noise, but there is still much dependency on private donations, foundations, trusts, et al.
Supporting Big Noise however was “an easy decision” said Tom.
“I am not sure people realise the full extent of the work this orchestra does. It goes way beyond simply free music lessons to something genuinely transformative, not just for a few children but for huge numbers. For me, it took about five seconds. I just got it, and it is a privilege to support this fantastic idea that originated in the poorer areas of Caracas and is now being delivered here in Stirling and in many other parts of the world.
“I hope there are others in Scotland that can also get behind this musical phenomenon. This programme will be truly life-changing for the children involved.”
In 2011 a Scottish Government evaluation of Sistema Scotland's work in Raploch found: 
“...there is evidence that Big Noise is having a positive impact on children’s personal and social development, including increased confidence, self esteem, a sense of achievement and pride, improved social skills, team working skills and expanded social networks. For those children with special educational needs, behaviour issues or unsettled home lives, particular benefits include a sense of belonging, improved ability to concentrate and focus on a task, a sense of responsibility and positive behaviour change.”
One in the eye, perhaps, for those who are hell-bent on wrecking the fine work of Sistema in the UK. There's a lot of it around at the moment - involving first of all some interesting political divides, and secondly some fundamental misunderstandings about how much work it takes to make musical progress, and how early in life you have to start if you're to get anywhere with it.
2 months ago | |
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