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.
1513 Entries
Melissa Hamilton & Matthew Golding in Manon. Photo: Alice Pennefather

The ballerina Melissa Hamilton is to leave Covent Garden for a year in order to work with the Semperoper Ballet in Dresden during 2016, as a principal dancer. (Here's my recent article about her from the Independent, September 2014.)
At the Royal Ballet she is still a "first soloist" and those of us who've been loving her performances can't help feeling she should be a principal here too by now. She is a sophisticated dance actress and an intelligent and intuitive performer, as well as being phenomenally determined, and this is an opportunity she deserves in every way. With the German company she will dance Manon, La Bayadère and her first Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. Initially, Hamilton will appear as a guest artist with the Semperoper Ballett dancing the title role in Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s Manon for the company’s upcoming premiere of the production in November 2015.

2 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
I've been drafted in as a late-notice pre-concert speaker for my much-loved CBSO today and tomorrow. Concert is a truly yummy programme involving a lot of Mozart and Haydn, conducted by Andris Nelsons - who last night scooped the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for conductor of the year. Today the talk is at 1pm and tomorrow again at 6.15pm, with same concert programme to follow. https://cbso.co.uk/event/haydn-in-london/

Do come along and say hi if you're there.

Meanwhile, I've done a little report on last night's RPS fun over at The Amati Magazine, here.

And rather than staying over in Birmingham, I'm heading home tonight & going back tomorrow evening - so that tomorrow morning I can get down the polling station and place my vote. Never forget: people died so that you could have the right to vote. SO DO IT.
2 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
The news of Maya Plisetskaya's death marks the end of an era for ballet. The great Bolshoi ballerina, who was 89, set extraordinary standards for all around her; not only through her technique, physique, acting and star quality, but also in terms of the way her artistry galvanised all who saw her and helped to revolutionise the repertoire, leaving a legacy that spreads far and wide across the dance world. Here is an obituary that fills in the background and extraordinary life story of the Soviet-era star who was once considered such a defection risk that the KGB even bugged her bed.

I met Plisetskaya and her husband, the composer Rodion Shchedrin, several times, notably at Philippe Graffin's Festival Consonances de Saint-Nazaire between 2006 and 2009. Plisetskaya spoke little English, unfortunately; on these occasions, Shchedrin seemed the public face and spokesman of the pair, while the ballerina - though so forceful on stage - seemed gentle, shy, enchanting, moving somehow in a world of her own. Once when they came to London I met Shchedrin for an interview and asked him to tell us the story of how his Carmen Suite came to be written. Here's his answer (accent untweaked).


"It was Maya’s idea to dance Carmen and first her step was to Shostakovich because we have very good relation to Shostakovich. She wrote libretto herself. We came to his dacha and Maya read him this libretto, of course not a professional libretto, and he said: 'Yes yes, it’s interesting, I will be thinking, I will be thinking...' and after few days he call us and said: 'Please come, I have final decision.' So we came, and he said, 'It is very nice libretto' - he is always speaking like that - 'but I refuse.' Why? 'I am very busy. Because if public will come into concert hall and want to hear song of Toreador they wil be totally disappointed. I am very busy, I am very busy, please excuse me...' 
"Then Maya asked Khachaturian and he said 'Why you need me? You have a composer at home, ask him!' And then she push me, and I remember the words of Shostakovich – he is a wise man, a wise man – and so I had to combine something: from one side it had to be something fresh, from the other side it had to be some connection with this famous melodies. And was idea, I think a lucky idea, only to have strings and percussion, because then it is a totally modern combination. The score by Bizet is fantastic, one of the best in the whole history of music. I took not only from Carmen but from L’arlesienne and his other work combined, but I had a good idea to combine strings with percussion.
"It also was some motivation because at that time strings in Bolshoi theatre orchestra was unbelievable, because it was 1967 and it was forbidden to emigrate from Soviet Union and the best string players were in Bolshoi Theatre and Leningrad Philharmonic with Mravinsky. Later around 1972-73 begin Jewish immigration from Russia to Israel, the best one because then they immediately go to America and in each orchestra the best playing in the strings are some fantastic Russian players. And also was excellent group of percussionists in Bolshoi theatre at the time. This was also some kind of motivation but in the second place – first was of course I dared to be totally far from this Bizet score without brass, woodwind, just percussion and strings, I did an orchestration that gave me many possibilities. The reaction of Shostakovich that without these melodies there would be disappointment, and some idea of the orchestration, a new point of view, and quality of the orchestra at Bolshoi at that moment in that year, altogether this gave me the inspiration to do this.
"My old publishers - it has been 15 years I have been with Schott, but before Schott, like all Russian composers, we all belonged to Sikorski - and they tell me that Carmen Suite is played every day somewhere in the world."

What better tribute, then, than Carmen itself?
 
2 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

The pianist Alicja Fiderkiewicz and the cellist Corinne Morris are collaborating to bring together a number of classical stars to give a fundraising concert in aid of the Nepal Disaster. Taking place on 29 May in St Barnabas' Church, Ealing, the event brings together the pianists Murray McLachlan, Artur Pizarro, Viv Mclean and Carlo Grante, along with Corinne and Alicja themselves, and will also include a world premiere by composer Keith Burstein. 


Alicja and Corinne write:
The entire proceeds of this fundraising concert will go to the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Nepal needs 2 things: manpower to help get things up and running and money to access this help, to start rebuilding their lives.
With our fundraising concert, we hope to provide the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) with a contribution of £10,000.
If you can support our project, either by attending the concert, or making a donation via this page and sharing this with all your friends, then together we will make an impact and via the aid agencies already in Nepal, offer some much needed support and comfort.

Our sincere thanks for your help and support.
Please book tickets via the Indiegogo page, where you select them as your 'perk': https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/classical-music-gala-concert-for-nepal-disaster 
2 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
Coming up fast at Covent Garden: Wayne McGregor's new ballet Woolf Works, based on three Virginia Woolf novels and her life story. More of this soon. Meanwhile, here is Wayne working with his regular muse, the incredible Edward Watson, who is Orlando. Amazing to watch their connection as Wayne imagines something and Ed immediately knows how to make it real.

2 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
Gearing up for the cutting-edge trade fair Classical:NEXT, which this year is being held in Rotterdam at De Doelen. It runs 20-23 May. On 21 May at 3.30pm I'm chairing a "network meeting" on the topic of gender equality in the music world, under the title "Music to our ears?".

We have three fabulous speakers: Gillian Moore, head of music at the Southbank Centre; Susanna Eastburn, chief executive of Sound and Music; and Vanessa Reed, chief executive of the PRS for Music Foundation. I'll be asking each of them to say a few words on the issue from their perspective, then we'll discuss it a bit, then open up to the floor for discussion en masse. It's the perfect chance to compare notes with our colleagues from all over the globe - male as well as female, please (it is your equality too!). Do put the session in your diaries if you're coming along to Rotterdam. We have 45 minutes - but with any luck, that'll just be the start.

Pleased to say that the course at Morley College for young women conductors has also found its way onto the list of 21 nominees for Classical:NEXT's Innovation Award, which will be presented during the fair.
3 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
Professor Andrzej Jasinski. Photo by Marek Ostas
The preliminary rounds of the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw have been and gone. Three Brits are through to the contest proper: Ashley Fripp, Kausikan Rajeshkumar and Alexander Ullman. In addition, Dinara Klinton of Ukraine, who has been studying at the Royal College of Music, is admitted to the competition without tackling the preliminaries; and RCM student  Hin-Yat Tsang of China is through too. The full list of 84 pianists can be found here.

Professor Andrzej Jasinski, who is a member of the jury, has been talking to the Chopin Society about the story so far, and here's what he has to say on the Soc's Facebook page:

"Yes,they have emerged! I am pleased to say that in my notes I put the letter "W" against the names of three potential prizewinners. This was an interesting round. Compared to previous editions the standard was very mixed.   
"What surprised me was that a good number of participants sent in excellent DVD's, whereas their live performances turned out to be disappointing. Some applied too much physical strength, ignoring the potential of the piano and the ears of the listeners. Then there were those whose playing was quite simply boring enough to put the audience to sleep.
"Fortunately there were also artistic personalities who combined truly exquisite piano playing with Chopin's aesthetic. To see that someone applies technical skills to a higher purpose rather than in order to show-off makes one very happy. 
"Another ingredient which will be needed in the finals is luck: a competition is different to a normal concert. It's a very stressful environment, the desire to do well creates a lot of pressure. One of the ways of relieving it is to have positive attitude. Each time I'm asked about it, I always say: Try to win the 1st prize. Express what you really feel and be spontaneous. 
"But in the end accept the verdict of the jury. Nothing ends with winning or losing one competition. The real competition is your life afterwards. It will decide your place as an artist in society at large"."Fortunately there were also artistic personalities who combined truly exquisite piano playing with Chopin's aesthetic. To see that someone applies technical skills to a higher purpose rather than in order to show-off makes one very happy. 
"Another ingredient which will be needed in the finals is luck: a competition is different to a normal concert. It's a very stressful environment, the desire to do well creates a lot of pressure. One of the ways of relieving it is to have positive attitude. Each time I'm asked about it, I always say: Try to win the 1st prize. Express what you really feel and be spontaneous. 
"But in the end accept the verdict of the jury. Nothing ends with winning or losing one competition. The real competition is your life afterwards. It will decide your place as an artist in society at large".
3 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story


This year's Last Night of the Proms promises to go out on a somewhat surreal note as Danielle de Niese and Jonas Kaufmann lead us all in a SingalongaSoundofMusic. Yes, we get to sing together with Danni and Jonas. And we are instructed to do this wherever we are, whether in the hall or in Birmingham or in the bath.

Moreover, at the press launch t'other day it was confirmed that it is Jonas who gets to sing Rule Britannia and it's all gone wonderfully quiet about him being, like, German. Good to see that he's the World's Greatest Tenor first and only. I hope that this is an indication from the Proms of support for the view that opera is international, music is international, people are international, the Last Night Hall is always full of flags of many, many hues, and fantasy nationalism in the end shall have no dominion.

The programme is up and running now and you can browse it all here. They're having a focus on the piano, big choral works and a heap of Nielsen and Sibelius for the anniversaries, and quite a lot of Mozart. There are 13 BBC commissions among more than 30 new music premieres of one sort or another; Marin Alsop is back to conduct the Last Night; and that evening has another soloist besides the singers, and it is Benjamin Grosvenor, who will play the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto.

One has a slight sensation that everyone is treading water. The Proms as yet have no permanent new director to replace Roger Wright, who is a very, very hard act to follow. Alan Davey has barely got his feet under the desk as controller of Radio 3, Edward Blakeman is doing his best as the 2015 Proms director under difficult circumstances, the entire BBC has become more than a tad risk-averse of late and meanwhile we're awaiting a new government, to say nothing of the likely effects of the licence fee decision, whatever it may be, which is due next year.

So if there's a certain retrenchment into things like Belshazzar's Feast (opening night), The Dream of Gerontius (with Rattle conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, yes, that's Vienna) and yummy Mozart and Beethoven piano concertos, one can't be wholly surprised. As for the complete Prokofiev piano concertos, with the LSO conducted by Gergiev and starring Daniil Trifonov, his teacher Sergei Babayan and the pianist Alexei Volodin, I for one don't particularly want to hear the five Prokofiev concertos on the same night. It's a circus trick and it's music of which a little goes a long way.

Meanwhile, out there it's Groundhog Day as the one pop-focused event grabs all the headlines. This time the presence of an Ibiza club night is giving people high blood pressure and inducing the opinion that the end of the world is upon us. By this time next year, nobody will remember that. Because last year it was the Pet Shop Boys, and it seems nobody remembers that now. Aren't we used to this yet?

I'm more concerned that there are not very many women conductors other than Marin. There are eight female composers among the premieres. You might consider this a relatively good representation. Then again, you might not.

My top Proms? Sir András Schiff playing the Bach Goldberg Variations late at night; John Eliot Gardiner conducting Monteverdi's L'Orfeo; Yuja Wang playing Bartok's Piano Concerto No.2; Nicky Benedetti playing the Korngold Violin Concerto (only I'm away then); Bryn Terfel in Grange Park Opera's Fiddler on the Roof; and a lunchtime Prom in which pianist Christian Blackshaw will perform the Mozart Quintet for piano and wind instruments with a fine ensemble of colleagues. And probably that Last Night...

Note: I've written another, rather stringsy piece on the programme over at Amati. Thing is, it's not a very stringsy season.

[UPDATE: Earlier I said there isn't a free Prom this time. A kind reader points out that in fact there is, so I've corrected the post. It's Carmina Burana. I think I must have blanked that out. It's my least favourite music ever.]



3 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
Further to my post this morning, in which I grumbled about the lack of British operas beyond G&S in the new ENO season, I've got some more depressing information. I'm reliably informed that the company was planning to put on a major work by an important living British composer, but that this had to be abandoned at an advanced stage - because of the funding cuts. As you'll remember, the ACE slashed ENO's grant by a shocking 29 per cent and removed it from the national portfolio. And so they can't do a big piece by a big Brit. This seems to me very much like the ACE shooting itself in both feet at the same time.

I'd also like to make it clear that ENO has a terrific track record of supporting British music - just a few of its recent productions have included Vaughan Williams's Pilgrim's Progress, plenty of great Britten but especially that amazing Peter Grimes, the triumph of Julian Anderson's Thebans, and the premiere this month of Tansy Davies's Between Worlds. The list could continue. It's precisely because of that track record that I find it so disappointing that there isn't anything to match it in 2015-16. New opera commissioned from Ryan Wigglesworth is due in 2017.
3 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
The announcement of ENO's new season got off to a slightly flummoxed start yesterday at a press conference in which questions from the floor were short-circuited before they could begin. There was a determined speech from artistic director John Berry about leaving the past behind and looking to the future; a thoughtful and convincing defence of opera in English from the incoming music director Mark Wigglesworth; a few words from the acting CEO Cressida Pollock; and a short introductory film that began with blood being daubed upon someone's forehead, whether on or off I'm not sure. Then we were ushered out for tea and questions in corners. Berry was mobbed; the wonderful Wigglesworth was left hovering. Innovations for the season include price reductions on 50 per cent of tickets - some 60,000 seats priced at £20 or under - and a new partnership with Streetwise Opera, which works closely with vulnerable adults and community groups; and, of course, the new music director.

It's a fine spread of repertoire, beginning with a revival of The Magic Flute and featuring new productions of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov, La forza del destino directed by Calixto Bieito, Glass's Akhnaten from Phelim McDermott, a new Boheme with Benedict Andrews in the driving seat and, best of all, a new Tristan (more of which in a moment). Revivals include Jenufa, The Mikado, Madam Butterfly, The Barber of Seville and an import of Opera North's Norma.

In a new season in which 88 per cent of the singers and conductors are either British, British trained or British resident, the 12 per cent who are not have attracted rather a lot of attention. Putting aside the reasons for which some people might consider this such a bad thing (mainly because I'm not sure what they are) I'm more curious about the match of operatic repertoire with the sort of voices that might be booked to sing in it, and how those voices come into being in the first place.

Stuart Skelton. Bring him on!
For me, the season highlight is the new Tristan and Isolde, in June 2016, to be conducted by Ed Gardner, designed by Anish Kapoor, directed by Daniel Kramer and starring Stuart Skelton (Australian) and Heidi Melton (American). Please forgive me if I'm missing something, but I would pretty much kill to hear Skelton sing Tristan and I don't give a four-x about where he comes from. Karen Cargill is Brangane and Matthew Rose King Marke, besides Gardner back in the pit, so it's not like no Brits are represented.

Besides, why should it be a bad thing to hear Xian Zhang conducting, or the glorious Corinne Winters as Mimi in La Boheme, or to explore the ever-controversial Bieito's concept for Forza (it's set, we're told, in the Spanish Civil War and features brilliant Rinat Shaham, liberated from her serial Carmens, as the mezzo-soprano who takes on that crazy war aria)? Opera is an international art. It always was, it always will be - deity-of-choice willing.

There are unquestionably some fine British singers who could take those roles. It's just that there don't appear to be very many of them. Longborough has been enjoying the voices of two remarkable British spinto-dramatic sopranos, Lee Bisset and Rachel Nicholls, in their Wagner productions; both are singing Isolde there this summer. I was lucky enough to hear a lovely young soprano with Wagnerian leanings, Lauren Fielder, in the Royal Northern College of Music's Gold Medal Competition last year, but she is still in her twenties and may not be ready for a full-blown Isolde for a while.

Ditto Ed Lyon and David Butt Philip, two notable and fantastic emerging voices, but ones who maybe could use more years under the belt before tackling a vocal marathon of that ilk, if indeed they ever grow to suit it. Longborough's Tristans are Peter Wedd (who had a fine impact as Lohengrin at WNO a couple of years ago) and Neal Cooper, whose uncle was apparently a heavyweight boxing champion. But to take on a whole run of Tristan in the biggest theatre in London, a singer has to be (a) ready, (b) willing and (c) free at the right time. Longborough is another story: a theatre that seats a modest 500-or-so, with a covered pit not quite a-la-Bayreuth and a reduced orchestra, puts less potential strain on the voice.

Dramatic-voiced singers don't grow on trees and not many appear to be growing in our indigenous woodland just now. A huge proportion of the advanced students - indeed, postgrads in general - in our conservatoires are from overseas. Meanwhile, young singers going through school and university are likely to be honed in the good old British choral tradition. This entails a pure, streamlined and rather small sound, with passion quelled in favour of spirituality and individuality in favour of blendability. It takes a very long time for a singer to get this tradition out of his/her system (usually 'his', because that's how the choirs are set up). Many British tenors seem to have started out this way, whether as boy choristers or choral scholars at Oxbridge.

Note that the really great British Wagnerites don't have that background. Bryn Terfel spent his childhood in farm gear rather than a cassock; Sir John Tomlinson was never exactly a choirboy type, training as a construction engineer before turning to singing at 21. Most of the other UK nationals who made a serious name in this repertoire are female - Anne Evans, Gwyneth Jones, Jane Eaglen...Today Catherine Foster, who sings leading Wagner roles at Bayreuth yet remains virtually unknown in her native UK, was a nurse and midwife for some 15 years before switching to music.

We do need more opportunities for young British singers, but we can't expect them to appear as if by magic, or to suit every opera that comes their way - and besides, having done our level best at conservatoire level to attract fine students from overseas to our expensive UK training, we can't then shut them out when it comes to professional engagements. And why should opera-lovers be denied the chance to hear singers such as Melton and Skelton just because they're not British? Perhaps we need to look at the entire picture of how our singers are raised and trained.

Back at ENO, more worth worrying about is the shortage of actual British repertoire in the new season. Beyond the ever-popular Gilbert and Sullivan, there's no other opera by a UK composer in the schedule. Not a Britten, a Delius, a Tippett. a Birtwistle, a Turnage, an Ades, an anything. If there really is an omission in the season, that is the one to grumble about. It's not like there's nothing out there to choose. If ENO is to continue to hold its own as British International Opera they could do worse than consistently support actual British music.

[update, 1.42pm: please see my post here for more on the British music programming - the situation is unfortunately worse than we thought...]

Here's Skelton in an extract from Britten's Peter Grimes.

3 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
61 - 70  | prev 34567891011 next
InstantEncore