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Jessica
Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music and writing in London, UK.
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I've spent part of this week on tenterhooks, chasing one of the best-loved of all British baritones for an urgent interview deadline. He's appearing as Tonio in I Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House, opening tonight - and something had happened to his arm. But finally 9am Thursday arrived and there on the line was...


Simon Keenlyside
Photo from classical-music.com

...and we had the most fascinating chat. Most of the interview will appear in the magazine of the Musikverein in Vienna, auf Deutsch, but some of it is for right here, right now.

JD: Simon, thank you so much for making time to talk. I heard you've had an arm operation. What happened?

Simon Keenlyside: I fell through a trap door 12 years ago and shattered both arms, though I didn’t know it at the time. The ligaments that hold the bones on had gone. It’s only been the muscles holding it on and one by one they got tired and snapped off - left arm triceps, left arm biceps and I’m sure this is the last one. It usually takes a year to get it back, and in that time I’ve overcompensated with the right arm and it just snaps. 

But you know, in the light of lovely Dima Hvorostovsky passing away, I keep things in perspective. It’s very annoying, I can’t sleep and the pain is big, but it’s just an arm injury, it’s just mechanics. 

Something about people, not just singers: as Dima got older, he got nicer and nicer. He was such a nice man, such a kind man, never mind his wonderful talent. And he had two young children...

JD: Now that the operation's done, how are you enjoying Pagliacci?

SK: Oh, I love it! That aria’s my favourite in the whole baritone repertoire. I think it’s wonderful and beautiful - and actually I love this opera deeply. I used to feel quite offended that wonderful maestri like Muti and Abbado used to consider it "cheap" music. I don’t agree at all, I think it’s a great, great piece. The baritone aria, if you peruse the words, couldn’t be more of a credo for any of us. I just love it. And right now, when my arm is so painful, it upsets me quite a lot because it’s so in keeping with what I’m singing about. Life reflecting art reflecting life reflecting art, chicken and egg in a nutshell. 







JD: You're extraordinarily versatile - you seem to have done everything from Papageno to Pagliacci to Prospero - and that must mean being versatile about productions too. [The ROH's 1950s-realism Cav and Pag production by Damiano Michieletto won an Olivier Award, but hasn't been universally adored - the revival, starting tonight, gives us a chance for another look...] Do you have a preference for modern productions or traditional ones?

SK: Well, I think it would be a mistake to set Pelléas et Mélisande in the baroque period - and I don’t like Figaro set after 1930 - because by and large you lose the whole discussion about rights, responsibility and class. The points that are made are about general humanity, but are made through issues of class, and that is lost. If there’s no distinction in class between the Count and Figaro or Don Giovanni, Don Ottavio and Leporello, or what they consider the ordinary people, the servants, Susanna and Figaro, then you can’t make the point. I think that makes it very difficult. It just becomes a toe-tapping evening with nice tunes. 

On the other hand, I’m thrilled to bits when we dispense with the need for Masonic symbolism in The Magic Flute. It’s a distraction. The closed world of the Masons can just as easily be represented, to my mind, by the closed world of, say, banking, or anything that shows a world or society that one man, Papageno, doesn’t want and his friend, Tamino, does want. It represents something - if you get hung up on what a set of compasses represents I think you’ve missed the point. 

Sometimes getting into a diffeernt time period can make it more difficult, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that if you dislike something so much that it makes you miserable, then resign and go home! And if you are going to stay, then please don’t stay and moan the whole time. Help, as far as possible, the director to realise what he/she wants to do. The piece, guess what, will live to fight another day and you’ll get to do your thing another time. And occasionally a little nugget of interest will present itself to you and you can add it to your toy-box of your life’s experience in that role. It’s really interesting. Sometimes it comes from the most unexpected of quarters.

JD: Could you give us an example, please?

SK: Truths for performing artists often reveal themselves viscerally rather than intellectually. For instance, in Flute, we know "in vino veritas" and we know that when the young man [Papageno] is told by the Priest that he’s failed, he’s failed in everything, and he rounds on the Priest and says "But I don’t want anything, I never asked you for anything, all I wanted was a glass of wine and maybe a nice girl. That’s all I wanted!’ and the Priest says ‘That’s really all you ever wanted?’ - in frustration the young man says, "Well, yes, actually." Then he gets his wine, he drinks it and says "wow, wonderful, beautiful, fantastic..." And he says "I wish…I want…what is it that I want?" 

And if you get the timing right as the singer, you will see in the audience a lot of shiny bums on seats shuffling uncomfortably. You will see elbows being nudged into, usually, old men’s sides; you can see the winks and nudges and looks to one another; and as if that wasn’t already rather lovely, you then get ten notes from a man who could have written any melody under the sun, ten notes that are as close to the Marseillaise as we know it now as any notes could be. And if you look at the original scores, which I have, there aren’t even the embellishments. The Marseillaise itself would not have been embellished with its syncopation as it is now, and it was written only shortly before Flute anyway as the European anthem for freedom. 

So I think what Mozart is saying, and I’m certain in this belief in my little truth, he’s saying ‘What is it you want?’. Given Mozart and da Ponte’s whole operatic discourse on freedoms and liberties in Figaro, Giovanni and Così, I think Flute you’d put in the same boat. What is it you want? And there comes the melody from the least threatening instrument imaginable, the glockenspiel, saying again and again: freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom. But not the freedoms of the da Ponte operas. The freedom to be that which you want to be, but at nobody else’s expense. That’s a long-winded answer to your question - but that’s the truth I believe was revealed to me through hundreds of outings. 

The Royal Opera House's Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci opens tonight. Booking here. 


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4 months ago |
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It's been a strange week. Our concerts at Burgh House and the Barnes Music Society went wonderfully. Since then I've listened to 52 different recordings of Beethoven's 'Hammerklavier' Sonata (results will be in BBC Music Magazine in January). I've mulled over the tragedy of Hvorostovsky - the news brought back difficult memories since I lost three close family members to cancer too young. I refused to get caught up in the "let's get Mariss Jansons" mob because life is too short. Yesterday I went to hear Imogen Cooper play Beethoven, Haydn, Chopin and Adès at the Chopin Society's series and marvelled particularly at her pure and exhilarating account of Op.110. That was both curative and unforgettable.

So here's a seasonal recipe, which I hope will be curative and possibly unforgettable too. I cooked it for some very dear musical friends the other day after listening to the 'Hammerklavier' ten times, which is why it's called "Beethovenian" - but the golden baked squash, the dusky mushrooms and their strong, concentrated flavours might merit the notion too.


BEETHOVENIAN BAKED BUTTERNUT

1 good-sized butternut or coquina squash
200g pack of cooked, peeled chestnuts (or roast them yourself if you prefer)
1 30g tub dried wild mushrooms
3 tblsp olive oil (or other if preferred)
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
Seasoning

Pre-heat over to 200 degrees. Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for about 20 mins, then drain, but keep the tasty mushroomy water to use in a sauce or something. Peel the squash (easiest to do this if you cut it into quarters first), scoop out and discard the seeds. Chop into cubes around 1-2cm. Pour the oil into a baking dish, put in the squash pieces and roll them around until coated. Sprinkle on the thyme. Cover with foil and bake for about half an hour - take the dish out every ten mins or so and turn the pieces over. Chop the chestnuts into halves or quarters as you prefer. When the squash is just about done, add the mushrooms and chestnuts to the baking dish, stir them into the hot thymey oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for another ten minutes or thereabouts.

This is seriously yummy. We had it as a side-dish to garlicky chicken with a gravy made of the mushroom water, a squeeze of tomato puree, a dash of red wine and a little vegetable stock, boiled up and reduced to concentrate the flavour. But it could be a nice veggie main course in its own right: try adding a herb/pine nut/breadcrumb topping, or a good sprinkling of grated cheese or both.

Bon appetit.


4 months ago |
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Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Photo: Pavel Antonov
Tragic news on St Cecilia's Day: the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky has died at the age of 55 after a long battle with a brain tumour. His office has issued a statement saying that the singer "died peacefully", "surrounded by family", adding: "May the warmth of his voice and his spirit always be with us."

Goodnight to this glorious artist. Cancer is a scourge that robs us prematurely of too many of our best and dearest beings. It has now taken another gem away.

Here is some film of Hvorostovsky's surprise appearance at a gala at the Met in New York in January, singing an extract from Rigoletto.



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The celebrated iron gate to Edition Peters' Leipzig headquarters

While we were in Leipzig the other week, we went to visit the historic headquarters of Edition Peters. After long hauls in various directions across the length of the 20th century, the company finally came back to the city three years ago and was reinstated in the building designed for it by Gottfried Semper, under the restored ownership of the heirs of the Hinrichsen family. There's a flat in the same building that was designated for Grieg's use. Linda Hawken, the company's managing director, showed us around and talked us through some of the history. And as that history encompasses Grieg, Mahler, Schoenberg, the horrors of the Third Reich, the regime of the DDR and the fall of the Berlin Wall, it really needs a book to itself (in fact, it has some - do read this and this, both by Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen).

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the iconic green cover we all know and love - if it ain't broke, don't fix it - so here is my interview with Linda. Happy birthday, dear Peters!

An autumn day in Leipzig...

JD: Linda, tell us about this anniversary?

LH: The 150th anniversary is of the launch of the iconic green cover design for which everyone knows EP. It’s not only a great design, but it also revolutionised music publishing, because for the first time music was produced on a rotary press, so music was a fifth of the price of any other publisher. This is the big message about Peters: we were responsible for making music affordable for all. So it was a major revolution in the industry. That was in 1867. 

Before that the company had passed through many different hands. It was founded in 1800 as a music shop, then they started publishing. CF Peters only had the company for 13 years, but the next owner, Böhme, stipulated in his will that the company should always have the name C F Peters in perpetuity. So that’s why we always kept hold of the name. In 1863 Max Abraham came into the firm. He wasn’t by training a musician but he could see the wonderful potential of the firm – he was a business visionary. 

JD: Leipzig became an incredibly important centre for all manner of reasons...?

LH: Yes, one of the company's advantages was Leipzig itself: the musical connections historically are truly extraordinary. For many years the company was actually based in Mendelssohn’s house – his family lived upstairs and the company was on the ground floor. It’s a really lovely connection for us. The Bach connection has always been incredibly important, too: the first serious Bach editions were produced by Peters. 

This was a hugely important trading city and the concept of the trade fair was invented here. A lot of the money came from the fur trade, coming from the east. And musically, you can never underestimate the power of the Gewandhaus. It’s an extraordinary history: when you go to a concert now, you’re surrounded by people who regard it as their orchestra. It’s wonderful. The Hochschüle was incredibly important too, founded by Mendelssohn; there was also Schumann nearby, with the Schumann Haus where he wrote some of his greatest works. But most importantly, it was where the publishers were, because of the printing. This was a mecca for books and their production in Germany.

JD: So, Max Abraham...


LH: In 1863 Max Abraham came to the business, saw the potential and came up with the concept of the first practical, affordable editions, with consistency of design and quality, working with the very best editors & scholars of the day. Probably the most important factor for his incredible success is that the printers were here, pushing at the boundaries of technology: Röder invented the rotary press, which was the first time they’d mass-produced music. They launched in 1867 and it was the most outrageous success. They produced a range of music that no other publisher had produced and the rate of success was so good he commissioned Semper to build this incredible building, Talstrasse 10, which is just a total joy to work in. 
The important thing about the rotary press is that Max didn’t keep it to himself. He encouraged Breitkopf to come and use it too, because they needed to produce music people can play. So other publishers came and used it: it wasn’t only for Peters, it was opened out to the market.
By the 100th anniversary in 1900, Max Abraham was ill and he handed over to his nephew, Henri Hinrichsen, who was also trained as a lawyer... But the story of how we came to be back in the building is extraordinary – I’ll come back to that!
JD: The relationship with Grieg seems to have been something quite exceptional?
The salon in Grieg's apartment
LH: Grieg first came to Leipzig as a young student of 17. From the very beginning Max spotted his genius and there began the most extraordinarily close, unique relationship between publisher and composer. There are over 300 letters documenting it. He had his own apartment in this building: he would come here and compose, he would go on holiday with the Hinrichsens, he went to Bayreuth with them and Abraham paid for the plot of land for Grieg's house at Troldhaugen to be built. The company made so much money from Grieg that Max just kept paying Grieg much much more than he was ever supposed to! It was the Piano Concerto that was the extraordinary success - but also the piano pieces, the Holberg Suite, and more. After Max died in 1900 Henri continued the close relationship, and after Grieg died Henri continued to look after his widow, Nina - apparently she was terrible with money, so they kept making sure she was fine and had an allowance. It’s the closest relationship I know of historically between publisher and composer.
JD: Then there was Schoenberg, plus the saga of Mahler's Symphony No.5?
LH: Past 1900, the international success of the green series is extraordinary. Henri went over to the international world fairs – Chicago, Philadelphia, Paris – and started to make a commitment to contemporary music, the beginnings of serialism. He committed to Schoenberg’s 5 Orchestral Pieces, which was a big risk - but one we benefitted from greatly. And Mahler Five...! If you read the correspondence about the production and the corrections, it’s quite extraordinary, and after the first performance Mahler wanted it all done again! Henri really went with it: he was a passionate believer. He was hemorrhaging money on this work, but he kept going because that’s what publishers tend to do: you commit to something and you keep going.
After that, the relationship with Richard Strauss is interesting - it's documented in Irene's book - and you get the first seeds of the antisemitism which is to lead to Henri’s death... 
JD: It was a horrific tragedy...
Henri Hinrichsen
Photo: Edition Peters website

LH: By 1933 and the first antisemitic laws introduced by the Nazis, Peters was a hugely successful company. So it was one of the first companies they went after to "aryanise". The story is very tragic. Max Hinrichsen, Henri’s eldest son, married a non-Jew. Some of the first legislation was against mixed marriages, so very early on Max and his wife and daughter had to flee. Henri just couldn’t believe what was going on. He found it difficult to forgiuve Max for leaving, because Henri had always said he was German first. he was the chairman of the Music Publishers Association and he was certain he’d be safe. But Max, a younger generation, went to London and founded Peters Edition London, and Walter, the next son, left for New York and founded CF Peters Corporation there. So these three bases in the world which miraculously we still have today, are the result of a terrible history. 
Henri stayed in Germany; but the company was taken over by Dr Johannes Petschull, who was a co-director of Schott. Henri was not allowed in the building knowingly but Petschull still used his knowhow and expertise – he was an expert in German copyright law – and he was fighting all the time to retain some of the assets. 
Henri and Max, as much as they made money, gave it all away. There was the famous Peters Music Library, an ioncredible archive of letters and facsimiles and scores - it’s in the building just over there... Max and Henri wanted people to come and see the originals. Henri also made incredible philanthropic donations, all his life, to the city of Leipzig. Just along the street is the Henriette Goldschmidt Schule, the first upper school for women in Europe, and that was founded by Henri. He was then barred from going into the school he had founded. 
Things deteriorated. Max and Walter were pleading with Henri and his wife Martha to leave - and by the time he decided to do so, it was too late to get to America and allegedly Petschull wouldn’t give them the letters of legality that could allow them to leave. They finally reached Brussels - but Martha, who had diabetes, couldn’t get insulin and she died. Henri after that was on his own in a boarding house. There the Gestapo came for someone else who was out - and they took him. He died in Auschwitz on 17 September 1942 in a gas chamber. The close friend of Grieg. 
JD: After the war, there came the DDR...
LH: Walter Hinrichsen was trying to rebuild music in Berlin. He came here and had some discussions with Petschull, who had obviously been a Nazi card-carrier. After the war Walter and Max did a sort of deal with him and allowed him to start a company in West Germany, in Frankfurt. Meanwhile here in Leipzig, this firm became the East German state publishing house. But for decades after that there were difficulties between Frankfurt, London and NY - because Petschull was Petschull. 
JD: The same Petschull?
LH: Yes, he died aged 100 in 2001...
Meanwhile the Wall had come down. Petschull closed this company, which left terrible feeling here in Leipzig, because we had really great musicologists here who had done excellent work during the intervening time. 
This building was falling down. Then a doctor from Wiesbaden committed to restoring it; he owns it. The London company by that time had passed into the hands of the Hinrichsen Foundation, a charitable foundation. In New York the heirs were the children of Walter, Martha and Henri, and a long project came about to bring the ownership of Peters back to the heirs: in 2010 it was achieved and Edition Peters group was formed, finally in the ownership of the Hinrichsen heirs. 
JD: And today you have a vast roster of contemporary music - including the opera Silver Birch that Roxanna Panufnik and I wrote! What have some of the highlights been?
LH: One of them involved Walter signing John Cage – that was a huge risk. (JD: I imagine it must have paid off...) LH: Yes, it’s extraordinary, over 400 works! And George Crumb, Ligeti, Kagel... So contemporary music went on from Schoenberg and became a huge part of the strategy. Rights have to be at the heart of any publishing house.
JD: Who's your most recent signing? 
LH: Du Wei, who’s based in Beijing – a hugely talented Chinese woman composer. I met her two years ago and was blown away by her music. 

JD: Last but not least, the return to beautiful Leipzig...
LH: In 2014 we closed the Frankfurt company and came back to Leipzig, to the joy of the city council, into this beautifully restored building. So in Germany it’s been very well received that we came back - but nobody really knows the complexity behind that. 
Now we’re here, we’re back in this amazing building and operating as a very successful international group. I think Henri would be OK with that.
More about Edition Peters here. 
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5 months ago |
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Viv, Jess and Dave
And that's just for starters. Bit busy in these parts.

David Le Page, Viv McLean and I are performing Ghost Variations at Burgh House, Hampstead, London NW3, next Sunday, 19 November, 6.30pm. And the day after, at Barnes Music Society, London SW13, Viv McLean and I are bringing Alicia's Gift to the Old Sorting Office (OSO) Arts Centre - Monday 20 November, 7.30pm.

Meanwhile Viv is also playing the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto in Southampton on Saturday night, 18th; and Mozart's A major Concerto K414 in Cockermouth on Tuesday 21st. Blimey, guv. But as he says, "It's going to be FUN." And Dave is busy too, with the Four Seasons in Gloucester Cathedral on Friday night, 17 November.

Here are the booking links.

GHOST VARIATIONS at Burgh House, 19 November

ALICIA'S GIFT at OSO Barnes, 20 November

Vivaldi, The Four Seasons: David Le Page and the Orchestra of the Swan, Gloucester Cathedral, 17 November

Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto: Viv McLean and the City of Southampton Orchestra, conducted by Philip Hesketh, 18 November

Mozart Concerto K414: Viv McLean and the Northern Chamber Orchestra, Cockermouth, 21 November

I think between us we seem to have a good bit of England covered, so do come along to anything and everything you like and can!
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Delighted to hand the floor today to our young correspondent Jack Pepper today for a look at why we need a new Britten in Britain for the 21st century, and what conditions might be necessary for one to emerge. And no, it's not just the mainstream media. Jack, 18, is a writer and composer. JD

Great BrittenJack Pepper
A centenary stamp for Benjamin Britten, 2013

We need another Britten. Facing social and political divides, and frequent misperceptions of classical music, we need a musical polymath to become an ‘establishment’ figure who can excite the public and prove that all aspects of music can unite us. What happened to the classical musician as the public voice of justice and humanity?
In public and in private, Benjamin Britten was exactly what the 21st-century needs. The problems we face today were all in some ways addressed by the composer. Born in Lowestoft, Britten was never a representative of the highest born elite, and so was a perfect representative of the ideal of music for all. Today classical music faces criticism that it is the preserve of a wealthy minority. Composing for schoolchildren and amateur groups in works like Noye’s Fludde, Britten opened the genre to younger audiences, a passionate advocate of music education. 
Today we are surrounded by debates about how best to engage younger audiences with classical music. Determined to ensure the success and accessibility of Aldeburgh and later Snape Maltings, in 1953 Britten told Imogen Holst that “We’ll have a school here”. Today music festivals are fighting over Arts Council funding whilst trying hard to launch new schemes for young composers and performers. As a homosexual who neither flaunted nor suppressed his sexuality in public, Britten frequently used his music to express his personal viewpoints and comment on contemporary issues, be it conflict in the War Requiem or homosexuality in Death in Venice. In 2017, we commemorate 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, whilst also facing growing conflict in Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. Britten was a vital figure in a divisive century; he came to epitomise freedom, the rights of the individual, and the openness of music to all. He came to symbolise Britain.
But where is our Britten today? We have musicians who champion classical music amongst young people and amateur ensembles, likewise we enjoy high-profile conductors like Sir Simon Rattle championing the arts in the face of cuts and cultural cynicism. But do we have a figure entirely comparable to Benjamin Britten, both in the breadth of musical disciplines they represent and the public platform they occupy? In being equally capable and known as a composer, teacher, conductor, pianist, accompanist, writer, musical spokesperson and civil rights symbol, Britten was able to demonstrate the gamut of music’s potential to benefit society as a whole. Barenboim is probably the most notable and publicised musical polymath of today, known equally as a conductor, pianist, writer and political activist, but who in Britain can claim to combine such disciplines in an equal manner, and with similar publicity in the mainstream media?
Britten: a public voice?
Photo from allmusic.com
A musician of Britten’s versatility is more likely to encourage the public to adopt them as a figurehead, since they represent so much more than an interest in a certain repertoire or an area of music. To generalise, a top-class, frequently-televised conductor will likely appeal to an audience at least partially distinct from that which is attracted to a musical academic; it is reasonable to assume that a conductor of, for example, Leonard Bernstein’s stature, was attracting certain fans who may not have occupied the circles surrounding, say, Charles Rosen. Similarly, a song accompanist will likely have a very different main circle of admirers than a musician who is a political heavyweight. Britten, and Bernstein in America, stand out because they combined these diverse skills, and in doing so they came to represent all that was great about music, making them more likely to be adopted by the broader public as a representative of the arts. In uniting different musical disciplines, and combining this with a distinct personality and determined set of personal beliefs, Britten was able to symbolise all that was exciting, fair and engaging about classical music. A representative in its fullest sense.
But Britten was not only a great figurehead because of his own attributes. Society was receptive to his influence. Britten was commissioned to compose an opera – Gloriana - to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, whilst he also welcomed the Queen to the new Snape Maltings hall, just outside Aldeburgh, in 1967. He was given a platform that made him very much an establishment figure – one who the public recognised and thus one who was listened to – whilst also maintaining the freedom to express his own, often then-controversial, views. He was associated with his country and treasured by its public whilst also able to maintain his own viewpoints. Nowadays, composers continue to be commissioned to compose for royal events, with Paul Mealor writing for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; classical music continues to be at the heart of national occasions. Music itself has not lost its ability to unite people or to commemorate moments of national significance; likewise, music has not lost its share of high-profile figures who champion the arts. The problem is that the public platform for such views has diminished. The majority of these figures are still confined to musical circles. The debate about the importance of music in a volatile world is restricted to the musical world alone. What Britain lacks today is a figure that represents the arts to the wider public.
Other nations have this. Gustavo Dudamel opened up music for younger generations when he was appointed music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar – Venezuela’s national youth orchestra - in 1999. Daniel Barenboim has shown music’s capacity to unite opposing factions by conducting both Israeli and Palestinian musicians at a concert in 2014 to promote peace in Gaza. However, it’s not that Britain doesn’t have its own classical figureheads. Nicola Benedetti established the ‘Benedetti Sessions’ workshop programme that offers rehearsals, masterclasses and performances for young people. Classical music still enjoys a broad range of global and national ambassadors who, like Britten, champion the genre as a way of breaking down age, class and political barriers. But are they recognised in truly public spheres for doing so?
Adele
Photo from Wikipedia
We no longer see vast crowds of excited children attending the opening of a classical concert hall, as we did with Britten in 1967. Nor is the general public likely to identify a classical musician as a national and global figurehead for education, rights and freedom. Whilst Britten came to epitomise musical inclusiveness and the apogee of British musical achievement, today we lack a figure who an everyday Briton would immediately recognise as ‘ours’. Top musicians like Rattle, Benedetti and others are widely recognised for their championship of the arts, but this is still largely confined to musical circles. Think how many movie stars appear on The Graham Norton Show, The One Show or Top Gear, and then consider how many classical musicians we see in similar prime-time slots. Ask someone in the high street which musician best unites and epitomises this country, and they’d probably say Adele. But Adele does not combine the variety of disciplines that Britten did, a diversity that would provide the strongest possible evidence of the power and importance of music to all. Britten was a fantastic symbol of music’s potential to better humanity because he represented so many different aspects of this musical world. 
Yet without a platform, even a figure who did match Britten’s diversity would struggle to become a national icon. Whilst classical musicians are still trying their utmost to promote the accessibility, equality and openness of music in the manner of Britten, they seem to lack the public voice that gave such a platform to Benjamin Britten, and to Handel and Elgar before him.
What makes a Britten so necessary today is that he represented a time in which classical music occupied a central role in society. Whilst music, both then and now, tries to unite people in times of division – look at the ‘One Love’ concert in Manchester – classical musicians no longer seem to occupy a pivotal position in this. It is significant that, on that Manchester stage, not one classical musician appeared. This is at least in part a result of newspaper headlines that today favour a Britain’s Got Talentcontroversy rather than a Leonard Bernstein, and newspaper arts sections that diminish in size by the day. Whilst classical music used to feature heavily in newspaper columns and radio discussions, we must now travel ever more frequently to specialist music websites and journals to hear the same level of discussion about classical music. There are numerous individuals working tirelessly to promote classical music and to bridge divides, but they are not receiving the publicity they deserve. Their voices are confined to the musical circles that already support their beliefs.
However, it would be wrong to suggest classical music has diminished as an agent of change on the world stage solely because of a lack of mainstream media coverage. Alongside greater media support, classical composers must not be afraid to speak the language they find most truthful to them; with the growing recognition of film and game scores as legitimate forms of classical music, and the movement away from the hegemony of atonality and the accompanying belief that one must only write twelve-tone music to be taken seriously, I believe our musical integrity is improving. We must continue to pursue music as an honest reflection of what is within us, and not write what we feel we ought to. 
Once again, Britten perfectly captured this musical truthfulness; he wrote mostly tonal music at a time when the Darmstadt school was bringing dodecaphony and electronic music into the mainstream, a time when tonality was increasingly dismissed as backward. As Oliver Knussen argued, Britten, “rather than trying to do something new and different for its own sake, says something important with means that can communicate very directly. He deals with imponderables in a very commonsensical way.” 
And so, to be both artistically true to oneself as well as socially useful – is that not the purpose of music, after all? – composers must be strong enough to pursue their own individual goals, without fearing stigmatisation, whilst also trying to have some form of useful voice. Britten was strong enough to admit he was many things at a time when it was unconventional to be so: a pacifist in a time of war, a homosexual in a time of conservatism, a tonal composer in a time dominated by atonality. He was strong enough – and respected enough – to be himself.
As such, we need another Benjamin Britten - someone all people can identify with, and identify with classical music – as well as a mainstream media that gives greater attention to such figures. We need someone who can encapsulate both the freedom of music to say what one desires, as well the necessity of allowing such music to communicate something valuable to the broader public. British classical music needs a polymath public figurehead again.
Jack Pepper is an 18-year-old composer and writer from Surrey. Having written a fanfare for the Royal Opera House in 2016, he has since composed for Classic FM’S 25th birthday, in association with the Royal Philharmonic Society. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic performed this commission in October 2017. His writing has appeared on the Gramophone and RPS blogs, and in Opera Today.

5 months ago |
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Nicola LeFanu.
Photo: Michael Lynch

Please come along to The Warehouse, Theed Street SE1, tonight to hear Lontano and Odaline de la Martinez give a special concert devoted to the music of Nicola LeFanu, celebrating her 70th birthday. In a 'Meet the Composer' session I'll be the lucky person interviewing her before the performance (6.30pm). It's a major retrospective with a selection of six works from 1974 to 2017. Congratulations, too, to Lontano for planning this more than timely celebration of such a special and marvellous composer. (As it happens, talking to composers is one of my favourite things in the whole world, so this is going to be a treat and a half.)

Book at Eventbrite, here.

Nicola LeFanu was born in England in 1947, the daughter of Irish parents: her father William LeFanu was from an Irish literary family, and her mother was the composer Elizabeth Maconchy. LeFanu studied at Oxford, RCM and, as a Harkness Fellow, at Harvard. She has Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Durham, Aberdeen, and Open University, is an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College Oxford, and is FRCM and FTCL.

She has composed around one hundred works which have been played and broadcast all over the world; her music is published by Novello and by Peters Edition Ltd. She has been commissioned by the BBC, by festivals in UK and beyond, and by leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists. Many works are available on CD, including music for strings (Naxos), Horn Concerto (NMC) and Saxophone Concerto (NEOS).

She has a particular affinity for vocal music and has composed eight operas: Dawnpath (New Opera Company, London, 1977), The Story of Mary O’Neill, a radio opera, libretto Sally McInerney, (BBC, 1987), The Green Children, a children’s opera, libretto Kevin Crossley-Holland, (Kings Lynn Festival, 1990), Blood Wedding, libretto Deborah Levy (WPT, London 1992), The Wildman, libretto Crossley-Holland, (Aldeburgh Festival, 1995), Light Passing, libretto John Edmonds, (BBC/NCEM, York, 2004), Dream Hunter, libretto John Fuller (Lontano, Wales 2011, London 2012) and Tokaido Road, a Journey after Hiroshige, libretto Nancy Gaffield, (Okeanos, Cheltenham Festival, July 2014.)

She is active in many aspects of the musical profession, as composer, teacher, director and as a member of various public boards and new music organisations. From 1994–2008 she was Professor of Music at the University of York, where many gifted composers came to study with her. Previously she taught composition at Kings' College London; in the 1970s, she directed Morley College Music Theatre.

In 2015 she was awarded the Elgar bursary, which carries a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society. In 2017 she was BBC Radio 3 ‘Composer of the Week’.

Recent premieres include works for chamber ensemble, with or without voice, for solo instrumentalists, and for orchestra. Threnody was premiered in Dublin in 2015 (RTE NSO) and The Crimson Bird, the RPS commission, at the Barbican, London, in 2017. BBCSO/Ilan Volkov with Rachel Nicholls, soprano soloist.


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Pop over to the BBC Arts website and experience the story behind Silver Birch, the opera by Roxanna Panufnik and muggins for Garsington Opera!

In the chief film, some very, very clever technology has enabled you to experience in 360 degrees what it was like to be in the performance. There were 180 performers and you, the viewer, become Person 181. The BBC site tells you how to make the most of the tecchy element, but here's the general version...



On the same page you'll find three more short films: The Story of Silver Birch - how the opera came to be; The Veterans - four army veterans performing in an opera for the first time ever tell their stories; and Jay's Story - our military adviser and inspiration, on whom the character of Jack is based.

ENJOY!
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The lost manuscript, recovered...
Credit: Freie Universität Berlin, Institute for Theatre Studies,
Theatre History Collections, Gerda Schaefer papers

1931, Berlin. It's the depression, the Nazis are in the ascendency and the composer Kurt Weill is at the height of his powers. For a political revue to benefit unemployed actors of the Berlin Volksbühne, he creates a song entitled 'Lied vom weißen Käse'. In it, a blind girl tells of a phoney evangelical preacher's attempts to heal her using white cheese - represented by a Lutheran chorale - and concludes that it might be better if everyone were blind so that they couldn't see what was happening in the world.

The lyrics, by Günther Weisenborn, satirise the methods of a notorious Berlin faith-healer, Joseph Weißenberg. Lotte Lenya, for whom the song was written, remembered its existence, and began looking for it in the 1960s, without luck. "Nowhere to be found. Probably buried in some basement," she concluded.

Until now. It has just turned up unexpectedly in the archive of the Volksbühne actress Gerda Schaefer and will soon be published at last.

And it's a whopper. The New York Times has a performance of it to hear, from the Kurt Weill Foundation - please pop over and listen to this. Its bite is powerful with its Bach [sorry].

"Although the discovery is small in terms of the song’s length, it is truly sensational," commented musicologist Elmar Juchem, Managing Editor of the Kurt Weill Edition, who was able to identify Weill's manuscript while conducting archival work in Berlin. "Nobody believed that something completely unknown by Weill could still surface, let alone from his Berlin heyday." Juchem came across the song in the archives of the department of theater studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. While examining documents related to Weill's music for the play Happy End (1929), he inquired whether the university held any other Weill-related materials. Archivist Peter Jammerthal pulled a number of programs, photos, and press clippings, and then retrieved the hitherto unidentified music manuscript. The neatly written holograph score resides among the papers of a relatively obscure actress named Gerda Schaefer, whose documents came to the Freie Universität several years ago. Schaefer was an ensemble member of the Volksbühne in the early 1930s.

More about it from the Kurt Weill Foundation, here.
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Bach Winner: Jessica Dandy
Bach is in the air. Even as I write, my husband is busy practising a violin partita downstairs - he starts every day by playing Bach - and having spent time in the composer's world of Leipzig has given us both a new perspective on the man and his music which is about to be very useful indeed...watch this space...

Just before we went, though, I was honoured to be part of a beautiful Bach event a little closer to home. For many years the London Bach Society, founded in 1946, has run an annual LBS Bach Singers Prize, designed to encourage young singers to come to Bach's music with enthusiasm, stylistic awareness and appropriateness of approach. This year they invited me to join the jury, where I found myself working with two eminent Bach singers, Ian Partridge and Stephen Roberts, and the oboist and conductor Anthony Robson.

It was a full-on  experience, to put it mildly. We started off with a first round in which we listened to around 40 singers in one day, performing arias and recitatives, from which we chiselled out ten semi-finalists who returned a few days later to present extracts from the St Matthew and St John Passions. Ten had to become four...and the competition closed with a final in the ancient church of St Bartholemew-the-Great (for those who haven't been there, it's the setting for the climactic scene of Four Weddings and a Funeral, where Anna Chancellor whacks Hugh Grant with the bouquet...).

Our final was unusual as we had four very different voices to enjoy: a soprano, a counter-tenor, a tenor and a contralto. The repertoire, with a Martin Luther leaning for the Reformation anniversary, was mostly drawn from the cantatas, and was in many cases quite unusual. The London Bach Players, who accompanied that night, had just a couple of days to learn some very tricky stuff indeed (our continuo player, who switched apparently effortlessly between organ and harpsichord, later showed me a photo of himself holding the heap of scores just after the repertoire was announced...).

It wasn't easy for us either. Our young professionals were at a tremendous level and of course there's that platitude about apples and oranges. The soprano Rebecca Lea prepared an intriguing programme on the theme of masters and servants; in the semi-final she'd moved us all to tears with her account of 'Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben' from the St Matthew Passion. The fine tenor Hiroshi Amako went all-out for drama, choosing music that explored the storms inherent in "being a Christian". Counter-tenor Alex Simpson projected a vividly characterised programme about faith. They were all splendid and I look forward to hearing them many more times in future.

But our prize in the end went to the contralto Jessica Dandy, whose spirituality and sheer love for the music she sings was complemented by a voice that yielded more and more of its intriguing reserves as the competition went along. She offered a richness of colour that varied yet impressed across the registers, and a natural, direct style that did credit to her artistry and Bach's too. I was very moved by her "Erbarme dich" in round 1 and was keen to hear her again: she didn't disappoint. And the aria "Vegnügte Ruh" from Cantata BWV 170 is my new favourite thing in the whole world, thanks to her.

Congratulations from one Jess to another - and may your singing bring everyone joy for many years to come!



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