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.
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...the brilliant young British-Australian conductor, Jessica Cottis, who has just been signed up for general management by Inverne Price. This is a Very Good Thing. Official info below.

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Jessica Cottis: equally at home with music old and new
If by their pedigree shall you judge a young conductor, Jessica Cottis is set to do great things. She has recently finished her tenure as Assistant Conductor at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, first to Vladimir Ashkenazy and then to David Robertson, and previously she has assisted Donald Runnicles at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony. Before all of which, the Royal Academy of Music graduate was taught by Sir Colin Davis. In the light of such undoubted talent and musical intelligence, Inverne Price Music Consultancy is delighted to announce that they have signed Jessica Cottis for general management.

Hailed as a "fast-rising star" by Jessica Duchen in the UK's Classical Music Magazine, "one of the big hopes for change" by the Sydney Morning Herald and as one of The Independent's "next generation" of five conductors making their mark in Britain (a list that put Cottis in the company of Robin Ticciati and Daniel Harding), the Scottish-Australian maestra is racking up the impressive credits expected from conductors of her calibre. She has given high-profile performances with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Queensland Symphony (where she returns later this month with soloist Sarah Chang), BBC Scottish Symphony, London Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic, New Zealand Symphony, Bit20 Ensemble, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Scottish Opera, the Edinburgh Festival, the Aldeburgh Festival and elsewhere. Yet amidst all of the Mozart and Beethoven and her beloved Richard Strauss, Cottis always looks to find time for her passion projects away from the well-trodden paths.

These include conducting an all female composers programme in Cardiff for International Women's Day and the Women Of The World Orchestra at London's Royal Festival Hall, founding London's Bloomsbury Opera, championing the music of her native Australia and bringing contemporary music into the spotlight. This last led to one of her career breakthroughs, the hugely successful premiere of James Dillon's Nine Rivers cycle with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Les Percussions de Strasbourg - an event that The Guardian called "unquestionably the most significant new-music event in Britain this year." In 2014, she conducted a new work by Peter Maxwell Davies  for the opening of the restored organ at London's Royal Festival Hall. Most recently, Cottis was appointed Principal Conductor of the new Scotland-based ensemble, the Glasgow New Music Expedition.

"I am obsessed with great music, whether new or old, symphonic or opera," she says, "and as much as anything, conducting the music of our own time guides us to discover anew the relevance, excitement and sense of adventure of the music of the past. So that Mozart and Berlioz and Wagner and the rest become again the music of the present."

Cottis's talent as a communicator has been welcomed by broadcasters. She has  appeared on various programs, including as conducting mentor to presenter Jenni Murray on a Radio "Woman's Hour" special (BBC Radio 4) and in a similar capacity to DJ Trevor Nelson in BBC Two Television's series "Maestro at the Opera". She has broadcast on the subjects of Brahms and of Verdi, both for Radio 4.

Ahead of her coming engagement at the Queensland Symphony - other forthcoming engagements include the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and a return to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra - she was asked to write a feature for Australia's Limelight magazine on today's "golden age" for Australian composers, which can be read here. And you can watch Cottis conduct the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at her new YouTube channel.
4 months ago | |
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I reviewed ENO's world premiere last night of Between Worlds, Tansy Davies's new opera with librettist Nick Drake on the awe-inspiring topic of 9/11. The piece? Quite a lot of problems where different aspects were at odds with each other, but some of us wept anyway. The performance? Superb. My review is in The Arts Desk, here (£).
4 months ago | |
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Hot on the heels of Leeds, Moscow has declared its participants for this year's Tchaikovsky Competition. In four categories - piano (61 accepted), violin (50), cello (49), voice (40 male, 39 female) - there are only two from the UK, and they are both pianists: Oleksandr Grynyuk and Alexander Ullman (who is indeed going for 'the triple'). Quite a few non-UK nationals are studying here, though, including, we're told, six at the RCM.

Among the female singers, all but nine of 39 are Russian. Your grasp of cyrillic, though, has to be rather good to determine exactly who they are. I find it somewhat unsettling to log in to the site to read the list, only to discover that Russian contestants are listed in cyrillic lettering, along with one from Belarus and one from Moldova. Everyone else is in our plain old usual alphabet. Honest, guv. Have a look.


4 months ago | |
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The Leeds International Piano Competition, which takes place this August and September, has announced the 79 pianists who have been selected from more than 300 applicants to take part. While numbers are overwhelmingly dominated by musicians from the Far East, there's also a relatively strong showing from home, with four UK contestants and a fair number of others who are studying at this country's conservatoires. Ashley Fripp. Alexander Ullman and Yuanfan Yang are set for a very busy autumn as they are also off to the Chopin Competition. Will any go to Moscow too and try for what one might call The Triple?

Interesting to see some rather well established names on the Leeds list, though. While Yuanfan Yang is the best-known to British audiences, having entered the BBC Young Musician of the Year twice and won the piano section the second time, Lukas Vondracek has a strong career already and Vitaly Pisarenko, who's playing soon for the Keyboard Trust, has some fairly astonishing reviews to his name. Alexander Panfilov was an impressive gold medal winner at the RNCM in June. Constanza Principe from Italy has been studying at the Royal Academy of Music, while Pisarenko and Ullman, along with Tamila Samindjanova, Samson Tsoy and Pietro Gatto are or were all at the Royal College.

The full list is on the Leeds site, here.

Meanwhile on the jury, this is supposedly Dame Fanny Waterman's last competition. The founder of the Leeds, she has just turned 95. Full list of jury here.

Dear TV crews, please can we have the old format and see the WHOLE FINAL, LIVE, this time? Like we used to in the days when the likes of Mitsuko Uchida, András Schiff and Peter Donohoe were competing? The Cardiff Singer of the World is now a BBC effort and some of us pianophiles think that Leeds ought to be as well. It does make a difference. It really does.

Here's a clip of Federico Colli's winning Beethoven last time. Only a clip. From the very end.

4 months ago | |
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North star: Andsnes triumphant
The BBC Music Magazine Awards took over Kings Place the other night and offered an evening that would in old-fashioned pop-psychology terms have been termed a "warm fuzzy". It was Leif Ove Andsnes's birthday, for starters, and he didn't only walk off with the Concerto Award, but also with Recording of the Year for his recording with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra of Beethoven concertos nos 2 and 4.

Accepting the prize, the Norwegian superstar - who, we're told, is now one of the country's biggest exports - explained that he had had to postpone the recording because at the time it turned out that his wife was having their twins three months early; they remained in hospital for two months. But all is well, the recording took place at a later point - and he says he is delighted with the results both of the recording and of the twins. Tony Pappano was there to present his prize, then sat down at the piano and struck up Happy Birthday. So now pretty much the entire UK music business can say it has sung with Tony Pappano.

It was a fine night for keyboard players, all in all. Benjamin Grosvenor won the Instrumental for his gorgeous album 'Dances'. Mahan Esfahani was Newcomer of the Year for his CPE Bach Sonatas (with his old record label, Hyperion) and he was there to perform a fabulous example from it on the harpsichord - as well as delivering an impassioned tribute to the inspiration he'd received as a lad listening to the playing of the person who presented his prize, Trevor Pinnock. And the inimitable Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music Magazine, initiated the whole evening by telling us a story about the time he had to perform the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony in Cambridge recently and the digital organ malfunctioned...let's just say that Hoffnung could not have bettered this account.

The one person who nearly succeeded, if on video, was the pianist Alexander Melnikov, whose recording of Beethoven trios with Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras won the Chamber Award. "A lot of jokes probably begin with 'A Frenchman, a German and a Russian decide to play trios together'..." he began in the most deadpan of tones...

In person once more, we were treated to a performance of one of Elgar's Sea Pictures by the amazing Sarah Connolly in tribute to her recording of these plus The Dream of Gerontius with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davies that scooped the Choral Award. Opera went to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Glyndebourne, with Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs and Vladimir Jurowski conducting; DVD was for Being Traviata, with Natalie Dessay in rehearsal; and vocal went to Joyce DiDonato for her 'Stella di Napoli' album. Premiere award was for Unsuk Chin's concertos respectively for cello, piano and sheng, and Orchestral was the late Claudio Abbado's Bruckner 9 with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

You can see the full list of winners and shortlisted discs, and listen to extracts, here.

Can't think of a single thing to argue with, really, so let's raise a glass, or a coffee (depending at what time you're reading this) to a roster of wonderful winners - devoted musicians every one of them, who deserve what little celebration this crazy world can give them. At a time when other pianists seem mired in controversy - Valentina Lisitsa being dropped from Toronto for political reasons, Gabriela Montero desperate to reveal the corruption of Venezuela and Khatia Buniatishvili causing fuss by bothering to respond to an iffy review - while we can't separate music and politics, because one never can, we can at least keep celebrating the music  first of all. Because if it wasn't for music, these would be grim times. Music can carry us to a better world. Here's hoping it always will.

Here's Benjamin.




4 months ago | |
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Piers Lane. Photo: (c) Keith Saunders
And the dream job lands a great guy. The Australian pianist Piers Lane has been announced as the new artistic director of the Sydney International Piano Competition. 

It's a fine and respected event in one of the contest world's most gorgeous cities, inaugurated in 1977 by its founder Claire Dan, founder of the Cladan Cultural Exchange Institute. The finals take place in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House.

Lane won the prize for Best Australian Pianist at its inaugural competition and was on the jury in 2004; besides being an ever-popular presence on the concert platform he is artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville and has spearheaded in London the annual Myra Hess Day at the National Gallery.

He is a sought-after adjudicator, a tireless treasure-trove raider in the rare repertoire department, and a recording artist whose discs for Hyperion are a constant delight. He's also a thoroughly lovely bloke and a man of integrity. The world of music competitions needs such people.

Maybe Leeds has missed a trick by letting him slip through the net to the other side of the world.

Update - here's an interview Piers gave to the ABC re his appointment.
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I took a writer whose books I adore to lunch at Claridge's a few weeks back. My Editor's Lunch with Louis de Bernières has just gone live at The Amati Magazine and in it the author tells me about the lavish role that music plays in his life and work. And we hear about the new book that's coming out in July - his biggest in a decade. Read the interview here...
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Zizi Strallen rehearsing as Lana. Photo: (c) Micha Theiner
I trekked off to Three Mills Studios the other week to watch Matthew Bourne's company rehearsing the long-awaited revival of The Car Man and depict him in action... the resulting piece is in The Independent today, here.

By the way, part of the score for this roller-coaster Carmen adaptation are based on the Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s reworking for strings and percussion of highlights from the original, augmented with further arrangements by Terry Davies. Shchedrin made his version originally for his wife, Maya Plisetskaya, at the Bolshoi in the sixties; she was keen to dance the role of Carmen. Apparently she asked Shostakovich first, but the great Dmitri demurred. And Bourne says that he asked Shchedrin if he'd be interested in expanding the original. "He said something like 'Couldn't you play it backwards?', so I guess he wasn't," he remarks. Expanding the score was his first project with Terry Davies, he adds, and happily they have been working together ever since.

Shchedrin might well feel that he has had quite enough of Carmen: so quirky, fresh, convincing and useful is this suite that it has been taken up by ballet companies the world over. Carlos Acosta is planning a new version too. 

Last year was all about Manon; this year it's Carmen. I've just written an article about a fascinating play sparked by the idea of a singer who seems doomed to play Carmen over and over and over and over again. Should be out soon. 


4 months ago | |
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Dennis Marks in Budapest, 2000 (Photo: BBC)
The music business is in shock at the news that Dennis Marks, former head of BBC Music and one-time general director of English National Opera, has died of leukaemia at the age of 66. Dennis was a dear friend and deeply supportive in times of trouble, besides being a true polymath with a massive inner library of cultural knowledge and apparently endless spheres of interest. Having not seen him around his usual haunts in some time, I had blithely assumed he was busy writing a book or some radio scripts. Alas, this can't have been the case. All our thoughts and love go to his widow, Sally Groves.

One of my favourite memories of Dennis dates from my launch bash for Songs of Triumphant Love in 2009. After a drinks party in Daunt Books, Marylebone High Street, a bunch of us sloped off for an Italian meal nearby. It was August and Glyndebourne was in full swing; there my husband had made friends with Adriana Kucerova and Jennifer Holloway, who were starring in a spot of Humperdinck, and they turned up to the do and joined us for dinner. At the long table, Dennis chose us all some tasty Sicilian red wine, then phoned home and declared: "I'm in Strada with Hansel and Gretel."

Here is a fine obituary from the Telegraph. 
4 months ago | |
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Wonderful talk the other week with Jonathan Dove about Swanhunter, which Opera North is currently doing at the ROH Linbury and is touring until 3 May. I love Jonathan's music, which manages to be engaging, original, interesting, compelling and atmospheric rolled into one, and it's always a joy to talk to him about his work. Not everything has gone into the paper, so here is the director's cut.


Being a contemporary classical composer can be an insecure business for some. But, it seems, not for Jonathan Dove, whom I catch for a chat just before he heads off to Hawaii, where one of his numerous operas is being staged. “I’m having rather an annus mirabilis,” he declares, mildly incredulous. Closer to home, his one-act chamber opera Swanhunter is coming to London for the first time: Opera North, which commissioned it, brings a new co-production with the theatre company The Wrong Crowd to the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio on 2 April. And this is just the beginning. 
“I like to feel useful,” Dove explains as we ponder the secret of his success. “And opera is something I like to share.” This at least partly accounts for his quantity of stage works for schools, families and community participation; they have included The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Enchanted Pig, and Tobias and the Angel, to name just a few, many of them received by audiences and critics alike with near rapture. Dove’s style is lyrical, fresh and, above all, genuine; he says he finds the matter of introducing young audiences to opera an inspiring challenge. “But whatever you do in that respect, Benjamin Britten always got there first,” he acknowledges, nodding to the prevailing influence of such works as Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and The Little Sweep.

After studying composition with Robin Holloway, Dove (now 55) learned the processes of opera from the inside, working as repetiteur, arranger and outreach animateur. “I first started to get excited about opera in my twenties, when I was playing the piano for rehearsals,” he says, “and before I started writing my own pieces I used to reorchestrate great operas like Wagner’s Ring cycle and Rossini’s La Cenerentola for what was then Birmingham Touring Opera. The idea was to take opera on the road. There’d be a bunch of us in a van, going around the country playing Rossini operas in sports centres. Opera can have a whole existence outside the opera house – you don’t have to have a proscenium arch and a full symphony orchestra, though it’s very exciting when you do.”

He wrote Swanhunter for Opera North in 2009: “The brief was to create something based on an idea of the north,” he says, “something for young people – the target audience is ages eight to 12 – and therefore not too long; and something that could be easily toured.” His regular collaborator, the librettist Alasdair Middleton, began the process by researching Nordic myths and homing in on the ancient Finnish folk-epic of the Kalevala.

Its hero, Lemminkäinen, must accomplish a set of apparently impossible tasks in order to win a beautiful bride: he must hunt the Devil’s elk and shoot the swan that swims around Tuonela, the isle of the dead. But he is killed and his body dismembered and thrown into the river. His mother fishes out the pieces, reassembles them and sings him back to life.

“It was that idea – that a mother might sing her son back to life – which stuck in my mind and wouldn’t go away,” says Dove. “It seemed an extraordinary and wonderful theme for an opera, especially one that might introduce the artform to some of the audience. It’s a story that celebrates the power of song as something magical, something that can heal and revivify.” 

This is the same story that inspired Sibelius’s Lemminkainnen Suite, its best-known extract being ‘The Swan of Tuonela’. But when Dove turns to the Swan, far from Sibelius’s dark-hued cor anglais solo, he begins its song “stratospherically high,” as he says, “descending in a cascade of harp ripples. Once I saw a child put his hands over his ears! It’s unearthly, and for people who are mainly used to hearing the human voice singing through amplification it can be interesting to see people producing these sounds without any mechanical assistance. As this will be some young people’s introduction to opera I want them to hear some of the extraordinary things the human voice can do.” 

Dove’s busy year intensifies in summer, when his enormously successful opera Flight, created in 1998 for Glyndebourne, comes to Holland Park Opera in the latest of its numerous incarnations; it has travelled the world from the US to Germany to Australia. “It was a life-changing piece for me to write,” Dove remarks. “I did what I’ve always tried to do, which is to write the piece I wanted to see. But I didn’t know whether anybody else would want to see it. It’s incredibly gratifying that it turned out they did.”  

And just as gratifying is the prospect of Sir Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Dove’s brand-new opera for children, The Monster in the Maze, in July. If this isn’t an annis mirabilis, I don’t know what is.


Swanhunter, ROH Linbury Studio Theatre, from 2 April, then touring until 3 May. Box office: 020 7304 4000




4 months ago | |
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