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.
1362 Entries
Having greeted the idea of this CD with huge enthusiasm and given it some warm announcements right here, I'm sorry to say that a certain tenor's new recording, 'Du bist die Welt für mich' (English title is on the cover, right), has in its entirety proved a tad underwhelming. So I've written a piece for Amati's magazine about why a little lightness can't hurt. Read it here: http://www.amati.com/magazine/149-comment/comment-the-unbearable-lightness-of-jonas-kaufmann.html
2 months ago | |
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Everyone seems to be doing "10 pieces of music you'd rather not hear again", which is funny but quite a negative kind of thing. Instead, here are 10 pieces I think we don't hear enough and that I would like to see popping up more often on concert and opera schedules.

Fauré. Whatever happened to Pénélope?
1. Fauré opera Pénélope.
2. Brahms Nänie, choral piece, utterly gorgeous.
3. Korngold Sinfonietta. Only ever heard it once live (beyond the ballet La ronde), and on that occasion it was played appallingly badly.
4. Bach Cantatas other than the Xmas one. Treasure-trove of genius.
5. Saint-Saëns Symphony No.1. It's a really good piece! And throw in his Violin Concerto No.1 too, please.
6. Schubert operas Alfonso und Estrella and Fierrabras.
7. Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera The Silver Tassie. Great piece. Needs to be done again. Ideal for WWI commemorations.
8. Rameau when it is not his anniversary.
9. Bartók's Divertimento for string orchestra.
10. Many, many, many good pieces by composers who happen to be women. They still are not getting enough of a look-in.
Speaking of which, please come to this fascinating afternoon that BASCA is putting on on 11 November at the Jermyn Street Theatre. I am chairing it and we'll have a panel of seven composers who happen to be women, each of whom represents a different generation. Starts 1pm & finishes at 2.45pm. More details and booking here.
2 months ago | |
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Back in April we were quite excited to read about the Vienna State Opera's ambitious plans for digital webcasting on the grand scale. Here it comes. The ad above shows you something of what they're doing and a few questions from me about how/how much have elicited the following information: 


For payment you have several possibilities. You can pay 14 euros per view for a live opera/ballet or 5 euros per view for the performances in the vidéothèque. But you can also subscribe to the “smart live” offer which gives you eight live opera performances at home for just €11 each or the “premium live” offer with 12 months of live opera and ballet at home.Here's how you can use the services offered by the Wiener Staatsoper at home:
- directly from the website www.staatsoperlive.com on your computer, optimally on a TV set or beamer connected to it.
- by using the Samsung Smart TV App on a Samsung TV.
- by downloading the Staatsoper Live App on your smartphones and tablets.  The latter device can also be used to see the subtitles and the scores while watching the performances on TV or computer.
The live broadcasts from the Wiener Staatsoper can be watched everywhere and are also transmitted time zone delayed within 72 hours. When you make your purchase, you can choose whether you wish to watch the broadcast live at the Vienna starting time or in your personal prime time in your time zone. You have to specify your desired starting time within 72 hours.
There are two live channels. Many opera lovers want to have a view of the entire stage the whole time, but sometimes it can be interesting to get a closer view of the singers and the events taking place on stage as well. With the live broadcasts from the Wiener Staatsoper, we offer both. Viewers at home can switch between two live channels at any time: an overall view of the stage ("Total"), and a live-edited opera film with close-ups and moving cameras. I particularly like the idea of the app that enables you to follow the score while listening...The series kicks off on 14 October with Mozart's Idomeneo, directed by Kasper Holten and conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Next up, Roberto Devereux, Ariadne auf Naxos, Tannhäuser, La Bohème, Khovantshchina, The Marriage of Figaro, Mayerling, La Cenerentola, Arabella, The Nutcracker on boxing day and Die Fledermaus on new year's eve. The list, and the variety of repertoire, continues. As far as I can see, the only thing missing is a replacement for absconded maestro "Frankly..." on the conductor's podium once or twice. UPDATE, 8 October 11.15 am: The Vienna State Opera is very kindly offering JDCMB readers free access to the live stream of Ariadne auf Naxos on 23 October. Use the code JDCMB#aria
2 months ago | |
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...let's let SERGEI RACHMANINOFF himself have the final say. As you see: Sergei with an i. Rachmaninoff with fortissimo. (I wonder what he did in London in 1929.)

Many thanks to Richard Bratby for sending me the link.


2 months ago | |
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Delighted to say that in the first five days of October, Team JDCMB has clocked up £166 for the appeal by Macmillan Cancer Support. The challenge is, as you know, to stay away from alcohol for the whole of October, something that can be more difficult for journalists than we'd like it to be.

I've promised all musicians, organisations and those supporting them an on-blog acknowledgement and link by way of a thank-you, with lists presented weekly. So here is the first group of marvellous people who have given generously to our campaign.

Thank you a thousand times to:

Lady Ellen Dahrendorf
Simon Spence, chairman of the excellent Co-Opera.
David Nice, Classical Music Editor of The Arts Desk. Do take out a subscription - you get quantities of quality arts writing for less than the price of one cappuccino a month.
Gill Newman of The Chopin Society. Great series of world-class piano recitals (and the occasional concert-of-the-novel!) in Westminster Cathedral Hall on Sunday afternoons.
F L Dunkin Wedd, composer - have a listen to him at his website.
Nick Spindler

So, six days in and there's still a long way to go. Keep 'em coming, folks. It's a wonderful charity and terribly necessary.

You can donate via my personal page, or via Team JDCMB's (which is wide open for any other doughty campaigners to join, should you so wish!)


2 months ago | |
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Interesting info re the spelling of Serge(i) Rachmaninov/ff has been popping into the in-box since my post the other day, so here's what they're saying.

Alexandra Ivanoff, culture journalist and music editor of Time Out, Istanbul, gives her interpretation:


Rachmaninov/off at the piano
"As I understand it from my grandparents, -OFF was their generation's anglicization of the Cyrillic letter B (lower case). The 20th century generations chose the -OV, partly because it's one less letter to deal with.
Also, the Cyrillic B can be pronounced like an f or a v, so it's kind of toss-up - that evidently continues."

My doughty editor at The Arts Desk, ace critic and Russophile David Nice, offers further explanation:

"The solution is simple, though the inconsistency is maddening: both Prokofiev and Rachmaninov were known in France as 'Serge' and with two ffs, the French transcription. They were published by Editions France de Musique which was bought up by Boosey and Hawkes, hence the publisher's insistence...The Rachmaninoff Society insists on this, and the foundation is supporting the concerts... I ALWAYS put v (and one s in Musorgsky, no reason for two in transliteration. And always Ye for the Russian E (ie Yevtushenko, Yesenin, Yevgeny, Yelena...)" 

Critic and author Matthew Rye adds: "I had always understood that the 'ff' was R's own self-spelling when he moved to the US (in the same way that Schoenberg chose to lose his umlaut and added the first 'e', and Rubinstein became Arthur rather than Artur)." 

John Riley says: "Academically it should be Rakhmaninov, but that seems the least popular option."

The discussion has put me in mind of my experience aged 18 in what would now be called a gap-year internship, but was then simply a part-time job in a year out between school and university. (It was paid, too, and we even got luncheon vouchers.) I was lucky enough to be taken on as office junior by a famous musical publication with an eminent editor, whose letters I had to type from audio-recorded dictation - and he had spelling issues that I simply could not fathom. They were far indeed from Music A level. Skryabin, for a start; and I think my fuzzy memory must have blanked out his solution to the -off/-ov issue. The most confusing, though, was Chaikovsky, with no T. The terror that this struck into my heart has never quite left me.

Come to think of it, my own name in its eastern-bloc Cyrillic original would have been best transliterated as DUKHEN. I've evidently been missing a trick. By this token you are now reading...

DZESIKA DUKHEN'S CLASSICAL MUSIC BLOG
2 months ago | |
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This fun explanation turned up on Classic FM's Facebook page yesterday. We all know about 'the Mozart Effect', by which listening to Mozart is supposed to make your child awfully clever. But supposing your little ones like other composers too? [warning: irony font applies throughout]


So where do we go from here? Here are a few suggestions for composers who didn't make the shortlist above...

The Korngold Effect:
Child fills room with as many different percussion and keyboard instruments as possible, then eats chocolate while playing them all in F sharp major. Teachers express extreme disapproval, while secretly sympathising.

The Chopin Effect:
Child insists on cladding the living room walls in dove-grey silk to ease piano practice.

The Mendelssohn Effect:
This child seems to speak so easily that he/she is dismissed at school as a brattish know-it-all. Later it turns out that he/she is exhausted because in fact he/she has been putting painstaking hours of revision into every sentence to make it sound effortless.

The Scriabin Effect:
Child starts putting coloured filters over all the lights in the house and reaches a state of desperate over-excitement when they meet and mix. It'll all end in tears.

The Ravel Effect:
This fastidious child is a perfectionist in every way. Writes very little, but comes out top of the class every time. Is nevertheless only acknowledged by classmates for the one occasion when he/she decided to write the same two sentences again and again and again in different-coloured ink, just for a lark.

The Fauré Effect:
Only in evidence after age 16: youngster eyes up opposite sex while supposedly paying attention at respectable school prayers.

The Orff Effect:
Child decides to please teachers in a hardline school by writing exactly what they want. The result is crass and cynical, but everyone loves it.

2 months ago | |
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You'd think Sergei Rachmaninov would be the most peaceable and easy-to-love of all composers. But it's not as simple as all that...

Last night the LPO's Rachmaninoff: Inside Out celebration got off to an astounding start at the Festival Hall. Phenomenal playing in The Isle of the Dead and the Symphonic Dances (let's leave aside the soloist in the original version of the Piano Concerto No.1 for now), with man-of-the-moment Vladimir Jurowski at the helm, fresh from the announcement that he's staying on as principal conductor for another three years. Great audience and much enthusiasm. But immediately we ran into trouble. The series - the biggest-ever celebration of the composer's works with orchestra, involving operas, concertos and lots of different versions of things, and extending across 11 concerts this season - is called RACHMANINOFF: INSIDE OUT. Meanwhile we have all been writing about RACHMANINOV. With a V not a FF. Which is correct?

A flood of responses on Twitter has proved inconclusive, if amusing. A small selection:

"Russian pronunciation would be nearer Rakhmaninav, no? #canofworms" (@DaveGnu)

"He always signed Rachmaninoff" (@chadrbowles)

"Rachmaninov. End ov." (@larkingrumple)

"You should know that Jessica! B&H use OFF, everyone else uses OV." (@PhilLittlemore)

"RachmaninON" (@jules141)

And a quick dip into the video introductions on the LPO website thickens the plot when their presenter names him SERGE Rachmaninov/ff, not SERGEI, which was his name.

Meanwhile, woe betide any concert-goer in London who doesn't like Serge/ei Rachmaninov/off, because over at the Barbican during the course of this season the LSO is busy doing him too, with Gergiev (when he's around - he has quite a busy schedule just now) and pianist Denis Matsuev, who for some reason is their featured artist this autumn.

Didn't someone check the calendars? Or maybe as the LPO is doing RachmaninOFF and the LSO is doing RachmaninOV, no clash was perceived?

Well, whatever you call him, it is high time Mr R was recognised as the first-rate composer he always was - time to shake off the silly old prejudices about tonal music in the 20th century, please - so all this comes not a moment too soon. The more, the merrier.

Here is a very special introduction to the composer as human being, featuring film of Rachmaninoff (sic) himself...






2 months ago | |
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This is the Russian pianist Lev Oborin playing 'October - Autumn Song' from Tchaikovsky's The Seasons, filmed in 1971. It's mesmerisingly wonderful. Sounds - and images - from another world altogether...



This remarkable piano cycle - still desperately underrated - was commissioned by the editor of a Russian magazine named Nuvellist: one piece was printed in each monthly issue through 1876. What a good idea - how about the editor of a monthly culture journal commissioning one of our leading composers to write something similar? Come on guys, what are you waiting for?

Here is some more info about Oborin, courtesy of the Fryderyk Chopin Information Centre, Poland:

Lev Oborin – 1st Prize winner, 1st International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (1927). Lev Oborin was born into a middle class family. His father was a rail transport engineer and his mother a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine at the Moscow University. Due to his father’s frequent relocations Lev Oborin’s early childhood was spent in several cities, including Homel’, Vitebsk, Orsha and Minsk.In 1914, when the Oborin family settled in Moscow, the talented son, who had long desired to take up an instrument, was sent to music school. As a result of the rapid development of his talent it was decided that the boy be moved to the Gnessin Music College to study with Professor Elena Gnessina. A former student of Ferruccio Busoni, she taught him a modern approach to the piano according to the teaching of her master. Results quickly followed.Alongside his piano studies, Oborin took composition lessons with Alexander Grechaninov, with admirable results. In this manner, Elena Gnessina wanted to give Oborin an alternative track for developing his musical abilities, should his career in piano be hindered by his somewhat weak hands.In spring 1921, Lev Oborin graduated from the Gnessin Music College, playing Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor and Chopin’s Impromptu in C sharp minor, Balakirev’s The Lark paraphrase on Glinka’s song, and Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor.That same year (1921) Oborin enrolled for the Moscow Conservatoire at two departments – piano and composition. His teachers for piano and composition respectively were Konstantin Igumnov and Georgy Catoire. After Catoire’s death Oborin continued his composition studies with Nikolai Miaskovsky. He also took conducting classes with Konstantin Saradzhev, and occasional teaching from Bruno Walter and Hermann Abendroth who travelled to Moscow for concerts. It is from student days that Oborin’s friendship with Dmitri Kabalevsky, Vissarion Shebalin and Dmitri Shostakovich originated.Oborin started performing in public while studying at the Conservatoire. He completed his piano studies in 1926, graduating with honours with his name being inscribed in gold letters on a white marble plate in the lobby of the Small Hall of the Conservatoire. For his graduation concert, he played Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, Prokofiev’s 3rd Concerto in C major and some other works. In autumn 1926, he gave a sensational performance of Prokofiev’s Concerto in C major with Moscow’s highly praised ‘Persimfans’ Orchestra (short for “Piervyj simfonicheskii ansambl byez dirizhora”, or “First symphonic orchestra with no conductor”).In December 1926, the announcement for the 1st International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw reached Moscow. Igumnov immediately thought of his student Oborin. Since Oborin did not have the repertoire required by the competition rules ready, he mastered all the works in a month and played them at a concert at the Great Hall of the Conservatoire on 14th January 1927. Unfortunately he managed only to play Chopin’s Concerto in F minor with orchestra, having to leave for Warsaw the following week.Oborin’s performance at the competition was a triumph – he received the 1st Prize. Professor Stanislaw Niewiadomski wrote in the Warsaw press:“The first place among yesterday’s candidates was taken by Lev Oborin […]. The general level of playing was of the highest order […]. For the Slav listener Oborin’s poetic, touching simplicity, highly spiritual understanding of Chopin’s music, modesty and spiritual purity of his performing art are uplifting […]. Each piece from the beginning to the end had a proper plan, intelligible and appropriate to the content of the work and spirit of the author. In a word, we are standing on real art territory.”And famous Polish poet and writer Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz thus wrote on Oborin’s playing:“With his driving energy, youthful unevenness, phenomenal musicality, and technical bravura, Oborin appears as some fantastic musician from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s stories. Like the Pied Piper he has captivated the Warsaw audience […], which has exploded with hysteria hearing the young Russian […]. Oborin’s success took on acute symptoms of psychosis.”Audiences throughout Poland keen to hear the young pianist, he went on a country-wide tour playing in Warsaw, Lódz, Cracow, Poznan and Vilnius. He also appeared several times in Germany.After returning to Moscow, Oborin quickly completed his post-graduate studies with Konstantin Igumnov and started teaching at the Moscow Conservatoire (1928). Until 1945 he performed exclusively within Russia. In 1935 he played for the first time with David Oistrakh, marking the beginning of a long-term musical partnership. In 1936 he gave the first performance of Aram Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto, beginning a series of first performances of modern composers’ works, including Shebalin, Miaskovsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. Between 1941 and 1963, Oborin together with violinist David Oistrakh and cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky formed a world-famous chamber trio.After World War II, Oborin played in Poland (1949,1950,1955), many European countries, Japan, and the USA (1963).As a piano teacher Oborin worked with many distinguished pianists, including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Mikhail Voskresensky, Dmitri Sakharov, Alexander Bakhchiev and Andrei Egorov.Oborin sat in the juries of the 4th and 5th International Chopin Competitions in Warsaw, as well as competitions in Moscow, Lisbon, Paris, Leeds and Zwickau.His rich discography includes piano concertos by Balanchivadze, Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninov and Khachaturian, solo works by Beethoven, Borodin, Brahms, Glena, Debussy, Liszt, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Scribing, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Schumann, and chamber works by Bach, Beethoven (complete recording of violin sonatas with David Oistrakh), Haydn, Greg, Dona, Mendelssohn, Miaskovsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Svetlana, Taney, Franck, Tchaikovsky and Schubert.
Stanislaw Dybowski
2 months ago | |
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I wrote this for the Indy's 'Observations' section last weekend, but can't find it online, so here it is in full glory...Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West opens at ENO tonight, with Susan Bullock as Minnie. Enjoy.




Sometimes you can wait two decades for a new production of a particular opera, only to find three turning up within a year. Until recently Puccini’s La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) was a relative rarity on these shores. But with stagings this year at Opera North, Opera Holland Park and now English National Opera, where a new one directed by Richard Jones opens on 2 October, it looks as if this entrancing work’s day has arrived.
It is not before time. The composer regarded it as one of his greatest; leading sopranos put its heroine, Minnie, at the top of their role wish-lists. Yet this piece can raise awkward expectations in a movie-drenched public: it’s an operatic western. Puccini gives his all in the service of a story about miners, bandits and a feisty female saloon owner. Maybe opera-goers are more accustomed to tales of consumptive courtesans perishing by inches in 19th-century Paris.
To Puccini himself, though, the Californian gold rush was wildly romantic; as exotic as those topics he tackled elsewhere, such as the Geisha girls of Japan (Madama Butterfly) or rebellion, torture and passion in 18th-century Rome (Tosca). Basing the opera on David Belasco’s play of the same title – and, so the story goes, inspired by an illicit female muse a little way from his home at Torre del Lago, Tuscany – he set to work at fever pitch. The world premiere took place at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 1910.
In Minnie he created a gigantic leading role, requiring great stamina and strength. It is a dream part for sopranos with the right voice and personality to carry it off; today such stars as Eva-Maria Westbroek and Susan Bullock, who takes the lead at ENO, cite it as a top favourite.
A passionate, complex character, with music to match, the saloon keeper Minnie risks all for love. She falls for the mysterious Dick Johnson, only to discover that he is a bandit in disguise. Despite the deception, she is willing to save him – with her own life, if need be – and the opera offers that rare treat: a happy ending.
The Wild West nevertheless may not be its only problem in reaching the modern public’s hearts. It lacks set-pieces that can be plucked out and popularised. There is no show-stopping aria like ‘Nessun dorma’ from Turandot or ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Tosca that can be played time after time on the radio. Instead, the entire score is magnificent, in a whole different way: it is riveting music-drama, a play set to sophisticated, wonderfully orchestrated, through-composed sonic treats. Take on Fanciulla and you take all or nothing.
Perhaps this gold rush of productions shows that finally we are ready for that. Meanwhile, if operatic westerns are having a moment in the sun, it is maybe time for a British company to present the American composer Charles Wuorinen’s recently premiered opera of Brokeback Mountain.
The Girl of the Golden West, English National Opera, from 2 October. Box office: 020 7845 9300

2 months ago | |
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