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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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...



2 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".
2 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.
 
2 months ago | |
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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.

3 months ago | |
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As I pointed out to the lady who tweeted yesterday asking for a follow-up blogpost on how TO get coverage for your concert, there ain't no guarantee of nothin' in this crazy world. All your valiant efforts may amount to no more than a hill of beans. But you can try. Here are ten ways to increase your chances.


1. Be Jonas Kaufmann (left).

2. Be 8.

3. Be 90.

4. Be deported.

5. Say something horrid about women conductors.

6. Squeeze into minimal dress. Apply hair peroxide and crimson lipstick. Book expensive photographer with good airbrush. Book very expensive publicist. (NB this is intended as a strategy for women, but may arguably be more effective still if you're a bloke.)

7. Perform with a pop star (right: Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé) 

8. Convince everyone you've achieved 300m Youtube hits all by yourself.

9. Lose your £50m Stradivarius. Issue SOS. Give free concert for kind people who rescue it.

10. Die. (Not recommended.)

[Author's note: this post is presented in a different font. This is to indicate IRONY.]

3 months ago | |
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Every now and then I realise if I had back the hours I've spent answering messages from publicists that should never have been sent to me, I could probably have written a whole new book instead. At this point, I usually produce a blogpost about how NOT to get coverage for your concert. Here is another one.










1. Person Gives Concert! What an exciting topic!

2. You promise a really good story to one newspaper. Then another wants it. You take it away from the first and give it to the second instead. Then they let you down. You try the first one again.

3. You fail to read anything published in your target's newspaper about music, fail to notice that interviews don't happen unless they are with megastars or someone who has one hell of an amazing history, then write in demanding an interview for your lovely unknown artist who lives a peaceful life in a Surrey village.

4. You don't get a response from your first message. You write again. Now you get a terse "no" or an annoyed few sentences, and you're really upset and you write saying you "understand completely". Next time, you do the whole thing all over again.

5. You write to a UK journalist over the age of 22 saying you're "reaching out" to them.

6. You e-greet for the first time a UK journalist over the age of 22 with the word "Hey".

7. You declare that your artist is "one of the xxxxxest of his/her generation". Then you wonder why no one finds this interesting.

8. You write in with a brilliant story. The event in question takes place in two days' time.

9. You write to a professional journalist asking them to do an interview for their blog, which is unsupported by pay or pension: i.e., you ask them to spend their free time giving you free publicity, even when there is already a note in the sidebar of their blog pointing out that this is what you are doing.

10. You send the same message on Twitter to lots of different people, each one beginning with the addressee's tweet name - e.g. "@jessicaduchen cover Person giving Concert in Place" - and expect this somehow to be effective.

To Be Continued.............
3 months ago | |
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You know exactly why budding great pianists in their early to mid twenties are like London buses, don't you? That's right - you wait for a decade or so and then along comes a whole bunch at the same time. So please welcome yet another: to add to the roster of Trifonov, Grosvenor, Levit and Avdeeva, please welcome, from Brescia...

...Federico Colli, winner of the latest Leeds International Piano Competition, who made his London debut last night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in a stunning recital of Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. Pictured, right, with a very happy Dame Fanny Waterman, founder of the Leeds, who can be rightly proud of her laureate.

Colli - playing a Fazioli, also the choice of Trifonov last week - began his concert with the Mozart Sonata in F major K283: a vivid, spirited account that established several strengths at once, notably the sense of "flow" that characterised the whole programme, an ongoing thread of musical connection that feels as if he is entirely one with the music, creating it from the inside out. He used a light, strong touch with singing tone, beautifully balanced voicing, extremely well-judged pedalling - an ideal blend of colour and clarity. I wondered briefly about a few exaggerated gestures - hand movements for each repeated note of the slow movement's melody, for instance - but by half way through the Beethoven 'Appassionata', any such concerns went out of the window as a tingle of recognition spread that we were listening to a potential true great.

Something magical began to happen with the first variation of the Beethoven's second movement: a pattern of figuration that in other hands can be nothing more than that, but that for Colli became a shifting lattice of subtle voices, light and shade - as if he could hear and imagine things that the rest of us can't. And while everything seemed thought out and judicious, there was no sense of playing it safe: let off the leash in the finale's coda, Colli tackled Beethoven's fall of Lucifer like a lightning bolt.

Schumann's Sonata No.1 is one of the composer's weirdest works, more fantastical than the Fantasy, less "sane" by far than all those supposedly difficult "late"compositions. Pulling it off is a very tall order, yet throughout its magnificent long span Colli made it entirely his own. He gave the fantasy its head, working in the dimension of silence together with that of sound in masterful fashion: the transitions, of which there are a great many, were not only handled with ideal pacing but became virtually the raison d'être of the piece.

By now one could forget technical concerns and take for granted the full yet never heavy-handed sound quality, the singing nature of the phrasing, the richness of colour, and move instead into another world. He made sense of the work by recognising that making sense is not the point; that this is visionary, groundbreaking music far ahead of its time. He had the hall breathing and concentrating as one with him and the piano and the sonata. This was his secret world, unfolding in front of us. He gave us all of Schumann and all of himself.

For an encore he offered the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, in what I think must have been Pletnev's arrangement.

It was a short programme, but one of uncompromising and unforgettable intensity.

Meanwhile, my interview with him is the cover feature for the current issue of Pianist magazine. Enjoy.




3 months ago | |
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While we ate chocolate, they were busy with the axe.

It has not been a happy Easter for anyone who cares about music education in the UK. And, you know, many of us do - not that you'd ever guess that from the actions of a government that first commissioned a report broadly welcomed for its positive recommendations on the topic - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/music-education-in-england-a-review-by-darren-henley-for-the-department-for-education-and-the-department-for-culture-media-and-sport - yet now is apparently telling local authorities that they should have no money to fund music education.

This article from Arts Professional sets out the situation neatly: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/news/pressure-mounts-councils-cut-music-education-funding
Deborah Annetts, head of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, has pointed out the chaos instigated by mixed messages from government and lack of joined-up thinking from those wielding the purse-strings. She says:
‘Following the confusion caused by the EBacc and other mixed messages around the value the Government places on music education, we now need an unequivocal commitment from the Department for Education that it supports music education and is fully behind the National Plan for Music Education.

‘Last week we celebrated as music was included in the Government’s GCSE reforms, but this week, we find that the Government is backing additional cuts to the music education budget worth millions.

‘The National Plan for Music Education supported by the Department for Education, was a visionary strategy for music education in England. The demand that local authorities should stop funding music services risks derailing this flagship Government initiative.’

The ISM is stepping up its Protect Music Education campaign. Please sign up to it. 

UPDATE, 22 April: this piece by Jonathan Savage contains more detail - please read.

Meanwhile, this article from the Guardian raises the idea that dismantling our youngsters' creative abilities may be more sinister a move still: "Indeed, it may not be too cynical to suggest that it actually suits some if the creative noise is kept down in poor areas. Talented working-class youngsters who learn how to use the tools of their artistic trade are notoriously prone to asking awkward questions with them." 
3 months ago | |
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In an increasingly off-the-wall Easter, we have here a fantastic greeting from Bechstein Pianos:



Meanwhile stunning soprano Sarah Gabriel - who was our premiere production Vicky in my Wagner play Sins of the Fathers - found her concert dress falling foul of Easyjet's carry-on baggage regulations the other day and in the resulting carry on, worthy of the eponymous films, she came up with a fine sartorial solution, which made it into the national papers.


Don't miss Sarah at the Purcell Room on 29 April, when she will be singing KORNGOLD - a special new arrangement of the Shakespeare Songs, by conductor Ben Palmer, who wields the baton of the Orchestra of St Paul's for the occasion. Booking here.
And finally, here is a recipe for something very Easteryjet dreamed up for our piano soloist the other night, who as his recording approaches says he is going a bit Scriabinanas: 
SCRIABANOFFIEV PIE:
Biscuit base: 100g butter (unsalted)300g digestive biscuits (gluten-free if necessary)
Caramel:175g butter85g white sugar and 85g brown sugar (but if you really love Scriabin, use only darkest brown sugar for a truly demonic twist) A tin of condensed milk
4 bananasCarton of double cream, whippedHigh cocoa-solids plain chocolate to shave over the top (pref 80+%)A shot of plain Russian vodka
Mix together melted 100g butter and the crushed biscuits in a saucepan and press into 19cm loose-bottomed cake base. Chill in the fridge. Make caramel by stirring butter & sugar together in saucepan over low heat until dissolved, then add the condensed milk and mix until boiling and golden (or very dark golden if using the all-brown sugar version). Pour over the biscuit base, spread evenly & chill. When set, chop the bananas and arrange on the top. Mix the vodka into the whipped cream and spread across the bananas. Sprinkle liberally with shavings of black chocolate. Serve with a show of coloured light and prepare for either a poem of ecstasy or a vision fugitive from your guests. 
Disclaimer: JDCMB cannot be held responsible if this pie turns out to be a complete disaster. Just make sure you don't burn the sugar and keep your paws well clear of the mixture while it's hot.
3 months ago | |
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The Silver Tassie, Sean O'Casey's great anti-war drama of 1928, is about to open at the National Theatre and I was delighted to have the chance to talk to the playwright's daughter, Shivaun O'Casey, about life with her father. The piece is in the Observations section of today's Independent, and here is the director's cut, so to speak. (I don't often do theatre features, but adore it.)

Dear mother, this helpless thing is still your son. Harry Heegan, me, who, on the football field, could crash a twelve-stone flyer off his feet.
Sean O’Casey’s anti-war drama The Silver Tassie, which is about to open in a new production by Howard Davies at the National Theatre, represents the great Irish playwright at the height of his iconoclastic powers. Showing the devastating impact of World War I on an Irish footballer and his friends, it features a surreal battleground scene, as shocking today as it must have been when in 1928 O’Casey first unleashed the text upon the unsuspecting WB Yeats, a director of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.
Although he had defended O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, which shot to riot-sparking notoriety there, Yeats rejected the new play out of hand. O’Casey, he declared, should not write about the trenches because he had not experienced them; and he objected to his sundering of conventional dramatic unities. O’Casey’s riposte? “Aristotle is all balls.”
O’Casey can easily sound like a fighter and a firebrand; and his socialist standpoint was distinctly at odds with establishmentarian mainstream theatre. His daughter, Shivaun, herself a theatre director before her retirement, nevertheless casts a different perspective on his nature.
“He hated fighting,” she declares, “but he couldn’t let things lie when he saw injustices. He had to say what he really thought. In fact he was the kindest person I have ever known.” His socialism sprang more from compassion than from communist convictions, she adds: “He was never a member of the party – he couldn’t ever be a member of anything, because he couldn’t toe any line. He was a free thinker. I think a lot of people don’t quite understand that.”
Born in Dublin in 1880, O’Casey started to write plays in his forties while working as a manual labourer. Shivaun relates that he occupied a small room in an overcrowded house on Dublin’s North Circular Road where, on returning from work, he would write by candlelight far into the night.
Coming to London to accept the Hawthornden Prize for Literature for Juno and the Paycock, O’Casey discovered a more congenial atmosphere than Dublin provided – he later remarked that “in Ireland they wore the fig-leaves on their mouths”. Here he met and married the actress Eileen Carey Reynolds in 1928. Shivaun, the youngest of their three children, feels that her father’s lessons in warmth, caring and honesty have never left her: “He would quote Polonius’s speech from Hamlet, ‘To thine own self be true,’” she remembers.
The family settled in Devon, yet Ireland stayed strongly in O’Casey’s consciousness. “It was inside him and he brought it with him,” Shivaun suggests. “He continued to create Irish characters all his life.” One such character in the play Red Roses for Me, she says, was based on a local from Totnes market who asked him repeatedly whether the banks were safe. (Totnes was their chosen home after George Bernard Shaw advised that Shivaun's two elder brothers should attend the progressive school at nearby Dartington: "That's the only school for the O'Casey children," he declared, according to Shivaun.)
Despite his prolific output, O’Casey made little money from his writing. “He wasn’t what you might term a popular playwright,” says Shivaun. “Yeats’s dismissal of The Silver Tassie didn’t help him, and neither did his politics. He was always fighting for equality, so he wasn’t an easy writer to put on if you wanted to be safe.”
There is certainly nothing safe about The Silver Tassie. Today, Shivaun adds, its message is as relevant as ever: “It’s a stark reminder of what war really is, and of its terrible waste of young life.”

The Silver Tassie, Lyttleton Theatre, currently previewing, opens 23 April. Box office: 020 742 3000
3 months ago | |
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