JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with ginger, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
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...and Harriet Walter has given a wonderful interview to Brighton's Argus about it.

It's TONIGHT, 7.30pm. Tickets are walking, but can still be grabbed at: http://boxoffice.brightonfringe.org/theatre/5480/harriet-walter-in-new-play


3 months ago | |
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How great it is that Hans Gál is Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3. He is one of music's most genuine undersung heroes and last year it was wonderful that so many people helped to crowdfund conductor Ken Woods' latest recording in his series of Gál's works with the Orchestra of the Swan. You can listen to the programmes online and for seven days after broadcast here.

Here is an article of mine about him that I think fell down a crack between some editorial floorboards a couple of years ago. Plus a video in which Ken talks about Gál's life and work and we hear a sample of the latter. Enjoy.




Someday an alternative survey of 20th-century music should take a thorough look at the myriad composers who were reviled, then exiled, for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for writing the ‘wrong kind’ of music, and often for both. When that happens, Hans Gál’s star will shine bright.
The Austro-Hungarian composer and scholar was born in 1890 and grew up in Vienna; later he and his family were forced to flee first Nazi Germany, then Austria, for Britain. He wrote prolifically, clocking up more than 100 works, and he lived to be 97. Yet for decades even his finest music lay unrecognised and unplayed.
But in the last year or two, a series of recordings spearheaded by the Hans Gál Society and the composer’s daughter, Eva Fox-Gál, has been bringing him back at last to the public notice he deserves.
Gál effectively suffered a threefold misfortune. He believed himself part of the great German tradition of music-making; then the Nazis decided he was not. After escaping to Britain, he was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ on the Isle of Man, and his music was sidelined for sounding too German. Earning his living by teaching at Edinburgh University, he continued to write symphonies in the tradition of Haydn and Beethoven as recently as the 1970s – but by then, the musical elite tended to react vituperatively to new music that did not toe the line of accepted contemporary style.
Kenneth Woods is the conductor for several of the new recordings – the latest is Gál’s Symphony No.4 (on Avie Records). When he first realised Gál had written so much music, he says, he was astonished. Though familiar with Gál’s performing edition of Brahms’s symphonies and his superb books on Brahms and Schubert, Woods had had no idea that the academic was primarily a composer. Many of his finest works, such as the early Violin Concerto, had gone unperformed for 70 years.
“It’s tremendous stuff,” says Woods. “It’s the opposite of what people thought they had to conform to at the time; Gál just kept on writing in his own style.
“The standard of his works is uniformly high. To my mind, the closest comparison between Gál and another composer would be Haydn: the surface beauty of the music is there, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. What’s vital is the subtlety of what goes on beneath. And because the language is so classical, the writing is very ‘exposed’, making his music tremendously difficult to play.”
Eva Fox-Gál (who was born in Britain in 1944) has made it her mission to champion her father’s works; and her son, Simon Fox-Gál, is the sound engineer on the Avie recordings. “My father was genial, well known for his wit, modest, good fun to be with, and never pushed himself or his own work forward,” Eva remembers. “But that was his outer shell. To know what he was like inside, one needs to listen to his music.
“His writings about other composers are also very revealing about himself. At the beginning of his book on Schubert, he talks about Schubert’s outer persona and how the composer’s contemporaries mistook that for the real person. My father thought that that was what Schubert needed, in order to safeguard his inner core for his work. It’s his defence. I think that was what my father also had to do.”
One of Gál’s most successful works, in the 1920s, was his opera Die heilige Ente (The Sacred Duck), which stayed in theatrical schedules constantly from its premiere in 1923 until it
was banned by the Nazi regime, along with all works by Jewish composers. Gál was appointed director of the Music Conservatory in Mainz in 1929, but the Nazis had him thrown out in 1933.He and his family returned to Vienna, which they escaped at the time of the Anschluss in 1938. After a false dawn in Britain – in which Gál was much assisted by the great musicologist Donald Francis Tovey, who brought him to Edinburgh University to catalogue the music library – the composer was interned on the Isle of Man.
This was one of the most difficult times of all, says Eva: “That collection of refugees really represented Hitler’s greatest enemies, yet they were seen as a danger. The idea that they were a ‘fifth column’ that put the country under threat was completely ridiculous. There was no understanding of who they were, or of the horrors that they had already been through.” The ever-increasing stress proved intolerable for the Gáls’ younger son, who took his own life before the war was over.
Michael Haas, a distinguished record producer and music curator of the Jewish Museum in Vienna, is among Gál’s most passionate advocates. He describes Gál as an ‘anti-Romantic’: a composer who was convinced neither by the effusive styles of Liszt and Wagner, nor by the mainstream trends of his own time such as atonality, 12-tone ‘serialism’ and the neo-classicism of Stravinsky and Poulenc.“His antidote to Romantic excesses was to reach back to earlier models,” Haas suggests. “Most people assume the model was Brahms, but I believe that actually it was Mendelssohn. This accounts for his frequent lack of overt emotional abandonment.
“For me, Gál is the ‘Everyman Composer’ of the Weimar years. He was conventional, but not banal. He was far more representative of what musical life was actually like than, say, Alban Berg or Darius Milhaud. It would be like comparing Norman Rockwell with Andy Warhol. I love some of his more expressive works and admire his aesthetic composure and his extraordinary intelligence and cultivation.”
The rehabilitation of Gál’s music is long overdue – but better late than never. “Because the music is so difficult to play,” says Woods, “even when occasional performances were given, sometimes they didn’t make a strong enough case for it. But now, working with great musicians who are hungry to perform it, we hope these recordings will give people a chance to hear what wonderful stuff it is.”

3 months ago | |
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Please come to the Brighton Fringe and the MOOT - Music of Our Time series on FRIDAY 9 MAY when the utterly incredible Dame Harriet Walter (above) stars in my play A Walk through the End of Time together with Guy Paul, the wonderful American actor who happens to be her husband.

The play, in one act, explores the way Olivier Messiaen created his Quartet for the End of Time in a prisoner-of-war camp in 1940, through the prism of a contemporary story about two people whose lives have been profoundly touched by the work. (More about it here.) In the second half the Ether Quartet plays the complete quartet. St Nicholas's Church is close to Brighton station. Book here!
3 months ago | |
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Ukrainian ballerinas perform the Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake in front of Odessa's military museum and some tanks. The clip was apparently broadcast on Wednesday and thereafter went up online. Many thanks to Gramilano for drawing attention to it.

According to The Moscow Times:
Ballerinas in the Ukrainian city of Odessa have performed a dance from the Swan Lake ballet for Russian President Vladimir Putin — but the gesture was far from salutary.
The dance, performed to music by composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky outside Odessa's military history museum, was a nod to a Soviet-era tradition, the performance's organizer said, noting that state-run television traditionally aired classical music during periods of great change in the Soviet Union.
"For millions of Soviet people, televised performance of the world-renowned ballet 'Swan Lake' always signaled a change in the country's leadership — either the death of the Secretary-General, or his ouster as a result of a coup," regional lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko said when introducingthe performance in front of Ukrainian television cameras.
"Because Vladimir Putin has made a fatal mistake by unleashing aggression against Ukraine, today Odessa, as a cultural capital, performs for him this portentous composition," he said in footage that aired on Ukrainian television and was posted online Wednesday. 
This morning there comes news that more than 30 people were killed and 200 injured in Odessa yesterday when a trade union building was set on fire during clashes between pro- and anti-Russian groups. Our hearts go out to everyone there, together with a plea for peace.

These Cygnets also remind us of the way that classical music/ballet is often used as a kind of official safety curtain when seismic events are taking place behind it; it is a trick that is by no means exclusive to the old USSR. Depending on who is doing it, and how, and where, and when, it can also be distraction, a whitewash, or - very occasionally - part of a larger-scale brainwash.

You don't even have to look at world politics to see this in action. I once worked for a company that had an open-plan office in Camden Town; and if you heard Bach violin concertos drifting peacefully across the space on a Friday afternoon, it was a sure-as-hell sign that in the MD's corner box someone was being made redundant.
3 months ago | |
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It seems the profile of female conductors has been raised to the point that they can be considered a good way to advertise...well, certain bits of clothing. One maestra mate sent me a link to this video, declaring herself lost for words and hoping I'd have some. Hmm.





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Have a read of this announcement today from the Vienna State Opera. Now, THAT'S the way to do it!


WIENER STAATSOPER live at home Overview
What Vienna State Opera is offering is not comparable to standard live streaming programmes – it’s more like what a TV station or network does.
  • ?  Completely new state of the art video and audio equipment and studios have been built into the house – all remote control, invisible and distracting neither public nor artists, with full live streaming technology;
  • ?  Full HD video and high end audio – every single evening can be broadcasted, if decided for, and capable of postproduction if required; for the 2014/2015 season there will be about 45 opera and ballet performances broadcasted;
  • ?  A new webportal, a SmartTV, a Second Screen and a Publications App have been programmed;
  • ?  Innovative technologies offer synchronized multilingual subtitles and a “moving score” functionality - the customer at home can watch the opera, while enjoying subtitles and (for selected performances) historic scores from Vienna State Opera’s archives on a tablet computer or smartphone in Wiener Staatsoper Second Screen App;
  • ?  Opera lovers all over the world can switch between two live channels of the same performance at any time while watching: a total view of the stage, and a live cut opera film with closeups, moving cams, backstage views ...;
  • ?  On all platforms: computer screens or connected beamer / TV set, Connected or SmartTV – on Samsung SmartTV also through an exclusive App;
  • ?  Everywhere in the world at Prime Time: the live streams from Vienna State Opera are played out timeshifted, according to the viewers’ timezone;
  • ?  Multimedia progamme booklets can be downloaded in the Wiener Staatsoper Publications App.
    WIENER STAATSOPER live at home is payable, not free of charge,
    ? because art has value, also on the internet
    ? new revenue streams have to be assured for the opera and its artists, facing the decline of
    the physical music industry and the chances that lie in the growing digital markets For WIENER STAATSOPER live at home
Vienna State Opera has been transformed into a completely independent producer of high class digital and live opera contentdelivering high class opera to the homes of music lovers worldwide through the internet;
a video store opens the vast archives as “Opera rental” on-demand streams Vienna State Opera and Samsung are working together on a world première:
? On May 7 premium UHD content – Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco with Plácido Domingo in the title role – will be streamed live for the first time ever to UHD TVs all over the world:. It will be fully implemented in the Wiener Staatsoper Samsung SmartTV App, offering a timezone shifted playout, so that opera lovers can watch this broadcast at their
respective prime time.
staatsoperlive.com | www.wiener-staatsoper.at page1image26448 page1image26608
3 months ago | |
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ENO announces its 2014-15 season this morning. Gently buried within is the information that they are going to do... musicals. They have a new partnership with Michael Grade and Michael Linnit to this end.

The latter two say:
"We are delighted with this unique and exciting partnership, which creates an opportunity to embrace the new climate where audiences seem to enjoy the blurring of boundaries between opera, theatre and musicals and clearly they love a first class show. Bringing the considerable creative flair of ENO to bear on modern musicals will bring new audiences to the Coliseum, new revenues to ENO, and a new look at some of the greatest pieces of musical theatre ever written."

OK, so maybe they need the money; who wouldn't these days? But er, modern musicals? Isn't the West End a bit full of commercial theatres doing this already? Major, major hmmm. That is not, repeat NOT, why we need a subsidised English-language opera house. Jerome Kern's Showboat would be great, of course, as would West Side Story, but these are hardly modern...

First reaction to the rest of the season, though, is that it is absolutely yummy scrummy. A few highlights, in no particular order:

Stuart Skelton sings Otello.
First full staging of John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary, directed by Peter Sellers.
Meistersinger with Ed Gardner conducting, directed by Richard Jones. Yes yes yes!
Mike Leigh to make operatic directorial debut in The Pirates of Penzance. (?!)
Richard Jones also directs The Girl of the Golden West, with Susan Bullock as Minnie.
Felicity Palmer as the Countess in The Queen of Spades.
New opera about 9/11 by Tansy Davies.
Joanna Lee writes ENO's first opera for children.
New partnership with Bristol Old Vic => Monteverdi Orfeo directed by Tom Morris.
ENO conducting debuts for Joana Carneiro and Keri-Lynn Wilson.
London Coliseum to open to the public all day, with new foyer cafe & general retweaking of eateries/foyers.
New research project with UCL into the future of the performing arts. (But do see other announcement, top.)

UPDATE: Here is the season trailer, just released...



3 months ago | |
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A statement from Julian's press agent informs us:

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber announced today that he has been forced to stop playing due to a herniated disc in his neck which has reduced the power in his right arm.  His final performance as a cellist will be on 2 May at the Forum Theatre, Malvern with the English Chamber Orchestra.

Lloyd Webber said: “I am devastated. There were so many exciting plans that cannot now come to fruition. I have had an immensely fulfilling career and feel privileged to have worked with so many great musicians and orchestras but now I have to move on.

I have no intention of enduring a forced retirement though. I would like to use the knowledge I have gained through my life as a musician and an educator to give back as much as I can to the music profession which has given me so much over the years.

I have just completed two new recordings which will be released later this year but after 2 May my cello will fall silent.  I now need time to reflect and to consider this sudden and distressing life-changing situation and there will be no further comment at this time".
3 months ago | |
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OK, there's self-interest here - next week, on Friday 9 May, they are doing my Messiaen play. I'm more than thrilled that the founder of MOOT, Brighton-based musician Norman Jacobs [pictured below with literary companion], wanted to include the play and the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time in his varied, exciting and intriguing festival on the Brighton Fringe. Do please come to St Nicholas's Church, Brighton, on 9 May to see A Walk Through the End of Time performed by Dame Harriet Walter and Guy Paul and the Messiaen played by the Ether Quartet. Book for all MOOT events here.


JD: Norman, please tell us about MOOT. How did you start the series and what are your aims with the programming in general?
NJ: The idea came to me one New Year’s Eve after thinking that although so many good musicians live in Brighton there was no one facilitating innovative contemporary music events on a regular basis.
Several musician friends I spoke to said that they had had enough of ‘background’ gigs and only wanted to play foreground music. After a few months of just playing records (starting with Berio’s ‘Sinfonia’!) and having a reasonable sized number of attendees our very first concert took place: Travels with my Theremin with Sarah Angliss We managed to get and audience AND pay the musicians. MOOT – music of our time had come of age.

JD: For this year’s series, themed around war, you've got a wonderful variety of events - how did you arrive at this? Point us towards a few highlights?
 NJ: Music’s role during times of war is multifarious: a tool to lift morale at home and in the field, as a form of protest, witness, remembrance or documentary.
I hope that the series will provide audience with a view of music at the start of the First World War, specifically on the music and lives of soldier-composers, pacifists and women – three very important parts of British society of that time which continue to have resonance in our lives and thinking today.
For me the highlights are A Walk Through the End of Time (Messiaen and a play with the brilliant Harriet Walter and Guy Paul!) [thank you!! JD] , the Heath Quartet and Nigel Cliffe in A Letter from Private Joe with music by Roxanna Panufnik, and the Post War Orchestra (weapons transformed into musical instruments). I am also looking forward to hearing music across ten concerts by our featured composer Frank Bridge, the Brighton-born composer and pacifist.

JD: Is Brighton a good spot for a series like this? How does it work in terms of support, funding, interfacing with the festival, etc?
 NJ: I seem to spend a third of my year completing funding forms. Thankfully, the effort was not wasted as we have been successful in receiving funding from Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, Sussex Community Foundation, Brighton & Hove City Council and half a dozen other organisations. If only it were easier so I could spend more time on the creative side of concert planning, which is what I enjoy most in what I do.
JD: What are your plans and hopes for MOOT in the future? 
 NJ: In September, the legendary American pianist Ursula Oppens is visiting the UK and she has agreed to play inBrighton a programme of Ravel and American modern masterpieces. Definitely one not to miss!
Next year marks Pierre Boulez’s 90th birthday. As one of our patrons we will definitely include his music. I also want to include more music by women composers in next year’s series. Watch this space.
 
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Sinfini Music? recently unleashed me on a 20 Great Pianists feature. I had to choose from all alive and all dead-but-recorded, so it was kind of tough... The result is a very personal selection. So, bearing in mind that I have a bit of a thing for historical recordings, please don't take it personally if your favourites (or you yourself) are not included! Even a Top 40 wouldn't have been enough. It's online here, complete with extracts of recommended recordings.

Incidentally, the order in which the pianists appear is NOT a 1-to-20 ranking. It's done purely according to date of birth. The oldest is first and he just happens to be Rachmaninov.

I am now going into hiding.

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