JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with ginger, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1186 Entries
In my Amati.com Soapbox this week I've tackled a particular bugbear of mine: please can we have less curating and more artistic directing in these parts?

http://www.amati.com/articles/1046-please-return-our-artistic-directors.html 

And yes, that is me as the Statue of Whatever's Left of Liberty.
4 months ago | |
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My Yorkshire sister-in-law has drawn my attention to this wonderful memoir from a member of the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, which is performing the Britten War Requiem tonight at Sheffield City Hall with the CBSO under Michael Seal.

Steve Terry is supporting the performance through the Friends of Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus Scheme "in celebration of my late wife and of Benjamin Britten's genius". He knew Britten well as a youngster and has written about their friendship on the website. He remembers BB as "a fairy-tale uncle, living in a beautiful house full of treasures (Constable paintings, Rodin and Henry Moore sculptures, a gorgeous parrot) and creating the most remarkable music, which I found both accessible and intellectually and emotionally challenging."  Read it all here.
4 months ago | |
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The Royal Opera House's new production of Parsifal opens in three-quarters of an hour. I'm not going until 11th, but can't wait...it will be my 4th Parsifal of this year. I simply couldn't stand the thing when I first heard it. Yet now the piece has got under my skin the way no opera has since Die Zauberflote. So it was intriguing to be presented with the chance to ask its  director, Stephen Langridge, a few big questions in an e-chat...(This is a long version of a short piece for the Indy.)

JD: What does it mean to you personally to be directing Parsifal?

SL: I first saw Parsifal in the Hans Jürgen Syberberg film version as a teenager, and loved it… but in my twenties I really fell out with the piece (loathed it), and only in the last few years have I returned to it. But even when I hated it I was always aware of its enormity and importance. Now I find myself moved by its simple humanity and complex almost desperate scrabble for spiritual meaning in life.

JD: Please tell us something about what you're doing with it in this new production?

SL: There are a couple of clear developments the piece which emerge from a close consideration of the story’s background and when you take the characters seriously as people rather than symbolic representations of an idea. One is the effort to effect a paradigm shift – to move from a world ofschadenfreude, cruel mocking laughter at another’s suffering, to one of mitleid, compassion. The other is from a hierarchical, closed and exclusive spiritual community, to an uncovered Grail, where each person must make their own connection with the numinous. These ideas are on one level, simple, but Wagner is not simplistic, and he forces us to experience very dark twists and turns on the journey. Our attempt is to tell a clear story, but to allow the piece to keep its mystery: to find recognizable humanity in the characters, but also to keep the magic of the myth.

JD: Many opera-lovers (myself included) feel that Parsifal is itself a kind of Holy Grail... What are its biggest challenges, excitements and dangers for you as director? Do you see it as in any way a story for our times?

SL: Parsifal is like the Holy Grail if you are ever tempted to think that there is a perfect way to do it, which will be forever relevant. Its philosophy and even its narrative are slippery, contradictory, intangible. It is a huge piece - not just in terms of length - through which there are probably as many journeys available as there are people to engage with it. As a director I suppose the main thing is not to be overwhelmed by its performance history, but to listen openly as if for the first time, to focus on the human moments that resonate and move us. Is it a story for our own times? Yes – but perhaps this could be a definition of any masterpiece, when a piece’s multifaceted complexity reveals itself anew to each generation.

JD: Wagner has become desperately associated with the Nazis and anti-Semitism. How can we best deal with this today?

SL: Wagner was anti-Semitic, and he wrote and said poisonous things. But I think he composed beyond his bigotry, plunging instinctively into deep myth structure. I don’t think that we need to present his operas to comment on his horrible views. If I felt that was all that was going on in Parsifal, I wouldn’t direct it. It’s right to continue to examine and expose Wagner’s views and behavior, and to wonder at this same man being able to compose such sublime music, and to dedicate his last work to the idea of human compassion. In the stark contradiction sits flawed humanity.

Parsifal, Royal Opera House, from 2 December. Box office: 020 7304 4000
And here is a video preview in which Gerald Finley talks about singing the role of Amfortas.


4 months ago | |
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If you missed my Building a Library today, comparing recordings of Chopin's 4 Ballades on BBC Radio 3's CD Review, you can download it as a podcast here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/bal

Enjoy!
4 months ago | |
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Tomorrow morning my Building a Library on the Chopin 4 Ballades is on BBC Radio 3 at about 9.30am. I may live-tweet it. Or I may hide. Haven't decided yet.

After the Wagner play last Sunday, another Alicia's Gift two nights ago, getting an iPhone yesterday and trying to learn how it works (a decision that has taken, um, 5 years) and generally trying to stay on top of everything, I'm knackered. So...time for some wonderful ballet.

I've often wondered why the Chopin Ballades haven't been choreographed more often - apart from the obvious challenges for the pianist in residence, they would seem a gift to the world's great dance dramatists, wouldn't they? Until now I'd only found Jerome Robbins's The Concert with its marvellous Butterfly dance for the Third Ballade....but John Neumeier has created La Dame aux Camélias to Chopin, and here are Sylvie Guillem and Nicholas Le Riche working absolute wonders with a pas de deux to the great G minor Ballade No.1 - sexy, doomed and devastating. (Ne tirer pas sur le pianiste...)


4 months ago | |
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This is the space to watch that I mentioned yesterday...

Percius, the artists' management company headed by John Willan, has signed up Gad Kadosh, a young French-Israeli conductor with whom I was much impressed at Bernard Haitink's Lucerne masterclasses a couple of years ago and who was also in that sought-after selection for the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition this year. I'm told we can look forward to his UK debut in 2015.

Here's his biog from the Percius website.

Gad Kadosh is a young, intensely engaging Israeli conductor with a keen musical mind. Currently working as second Kapellmeister and assistant conductor at Theater Heidelberg, Gad received the first prize in the MDR Conducting Competition (MDR Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig), in 2011. He was then selected by Bernard Haitink as one of seven candidates to take part in his 2012 Conducting Masterclass in Lucerne with the Lucerne Festival Strings.
Journalist Jessica Duchen writes: I first encountered Gad Kadosh at Bernard Haitink’s Lucerne Festival Academy masterclasses and was immediately impressed with his sensitivity, intelligence and intense musicality. When he took the podium the music seemed to flow naturally out of the orchestra; he allowed the piece to speak for itself. I hope we will hear a lot more of him in the future.”
Gad studied piano performance at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel-Aviv University and was awarded scholarships from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. He went on to study conducting with Vag Papian in Israel, Lutz Köhler in Berlin and Martin Hoff in Weimar. Prior to his position in Heidelberg Gad worked as Solorepetitor and Assistant Conductor at the Theater für Niedersachsen in Hildesheim.
In Heidelberg and at Winterthur he has conducted Tosca (Puccini) and Die Fledemaus (Strauss), and in Hildesheim works such as Don Pasquale (Donizetti), Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky), Das Land des Lächelns (Lehár) and Ein Walzertraum (Oscar Straus). Whilst Classical and Romantic repertoire form the core of his current oeuvre Gad has worked with young composers and conducted contemporary repertoire; he has directed ensembles such as Klangzeitort and Zafraan in Berlin, and conducted Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot (Maxwell Davies) and Arlecchino (Ferruccio Busoni).
Future appearances include performances of Cosi fan Tutte (Mozart), Die Fledermaus (Strauss), Rumor (Christian Jost), Babar, der kleine Elephant (Poulenc), Ifigenia in Tauride (Traetta), Un ballo in maschera (Verdi) and his debut at Longborough Festival Opera in 2015.
4 months ago | |
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Last week Gustavo Dudamel had to drop out of some concerts with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. To replace him, the orchestra needed to look no further than the stylish young winner of their recent Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition - 24-year-old Lahav Shani. Here's a video from the orchestra about working with him.

You may remember that in June I was there for the contest final and was lucky enough to talk to Marina Mahler, granddaughter of GM himself, to ask her what she and the jury were looking for in their champion. "That's easy," she said. "Someone with the potential to become a great musician." Is Shani on his way? He's got the ears, the brains, the support systems, the charisma and the prize. The proof, though, will be in the Mahler.

Meanwhile we hear that there's some good news on the way about another highly gifted young conductor who was among the GMCC's 12 selected candidates... Watch this space.
4 months ago | |
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The world premiere rehearsed reading of my new play about Wagner, Sins of the Fathers seems to have gone down pretty well yesterday at the Orange Tree. The audience laughed a lot, the actors seemed to be enjoying it (I think) and the performance zipped by and I got a jolly nice round of applause too, and it was all a bit wonderful. Our fabulous cast was Sarah Gabriel (Vicky/Cosima), John Sessions (Wagner) and Jeremy Child (Frank/Liszt).

A few pics from the rehearsal, complete with a reasonably idiomatic piano score of Tristan und Isolde and the magic bottle of Chateau Tristan 1865...





4 months ago | |
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A weekend full of anniversaries kicks off with a new weekly "soapbox" slot, which the stringed instrument dealers Amati.com have asked me to write. They've even drawn me standing on one!


You can read my first Soapbox tract here. It's about Great Britten, of course.

And so tomorrow it is the world premiere, as rehearsed reading, of my new play Sins of the Fathers, about Wagner, Liszt and Cosima, at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Info here. Call the box office for returns.

What does a playwright do all day once the thing is written and delivered? Well, I've been hunting for candle glue, preparing some labels for the bottle of magic wine and sourcing Wagner's dressing gown. Social media proved worth its weight in gold where the latter was concerned: an appeal on Facebook ("Urgent: need a silk dressing gown for Wagner, must fit John Sessions") has produced a friend - the real sort, not only the Facebooky sort - who inherited an antique silk red paisley number from her great-uncle that fits the bill to perfection. Now we just have to find the right something for Liszt to wear. A cravat should do the trick.

From this anniversary line-up, Verdi is missing. Only one thing for it: over to Jonas...






4 months ago | |
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It's you-know-who's birthday today. I wanted to find something to post that is out of the ordinary, but close to my heart. So I've hunted down some video - from the Teatro Real, Madrid - of The Little Sweep, the children's opera that involves major audience participation in some wonderful mass songs. I had a recording of this when I was about 8 and it's one of the things that first turned me on to music. I think I wore out the LP. I still think it's a masterpiece, though the emotional content - the story of a Victorian chimney sweep boy - is even more upsetting now than it seemed then.

It is, as far as I can tell, hardly ever performed today - at least, not in the UK. Talk about BB going international. The dialogue here is in Spanish, and the singing in English, without much sense of diction, but if you don't know the music, these two videos - the very beginning and the very end - will give you a taste of it.

Have a good Britten Weekend, wherever you are. I am missing the fun as I'm a little preoccupied right now with the world premiere of my new play on Sunday afternoon at the Orange Tree Theatre. It's about Wagner.










4 months ago | |
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