JDCMB
Jessica
JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with ginger, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
1315 Entries
Tomorrow, Danielle de Niese is giving a recital at St John's Smith Square in aid of the Sohana Research Fund. Her programme is glorious - from Handel to Fauré and Delibes, Puccini to Gershwin. Book here.

Danni says:

Hey Everyone! (PLEASE FORWARD AROUND!!)

I WANT TO INVITE YOU ALL TO COME AND JOIN ME TOMORROW IN LONDON AT ST JOHN'S SMITH SQUARE IN AID OF A LITTL GIRL CALLED SOHANA WHO SUFFERS FROM RECESSIVE DYSTROPHIC EPIDERMOLYSIS BULLOSA (“RDEB”). RDEB IS AN INCURABLE GENETIC SKIN BLISTERING CONDITION. IT IS PROGRESSIVE AND INCREDIBLY PAINFUL AND LITTLE SOHANA HAS HAD THIS CONDITION ALL HER YOUNG LIFE! 

PLEASE COME AND LET'S CELEBRATE AN AMAZING CAUSE, UPLIFT SOHANA'S SPIRITS AND HELP HER TO BELIEVE THAT WITH OUR AID AND SUPPORT TOWARDS RESEARCH, WE CAN FIND A CURE FOR HER AND THE MANY OTHER KIDS WHO SUFFER FROM THIS RARE CONDITION.

IMAGINE WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE TO HAVE RDEC: IT IS LIKE HAVING BURNS THAT TAKE A LONG TIME TO HEAL – IF THEY HEAL AT ALL. BURNS THAT FLARE UP TO EVEN THE SLIGHTEST TOUCH.

PLEASE PLEASE COME AND CONTRIBUTE TO THIS CAUSE. YOU CAN SEE MORE ABOUT SOHANA AND THE DEBRA RESEARCH BEING DONE AT:

http://www.sohanaresearchfund.org/

AND

https://www.debra.org.uk/

THANK YOU FOR READING THIS, LOVE TO YOU ALL AS ALWAYS…

DANNI

PLEASE FORWARD AROUND TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE.
XOXO

Booking details here.
3 months ago | |
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I can think of few greater privileges in the musical world than having the chance to listen to the crème-de-la-crème of a college's talented youngsters perform all day. Last weekend I was lucky enough to be on the panel for the Royal Northern College of Music's Gold Medal Competition, together with the college's principal Linda Merrick, its artistic director Michelle Castelletti, composer Robert Saxton and general manager of the BBC Philharmonic Simon Webb.

The eclecticism, imagination and programmatic flair that we heard was a joy in itself. The day was arranged into five concerts, each consisting of two solo performances and in four of the five newly composed saxophone quartets. The atmosphere was lively and enthusiastic, with plenty of audience to cheer on the contestants, and on the platform all of musical life, just about, was here - from a budding Wagnerian soprano to an extraordinary performance on the cusp of body percussion, mime and contemporary dance, and from Berio's Sequenzas to a close encounter with Russian pianism of the Gilelsy kind. Ten of the college's most gifted students had reached this final stage, along with four composers, and the standard was so high that we ended up awarding four medals instead of three, plus one designated for a composer.

Here are our winners, in alphabetical order.

L to r: Lauren, Alex, Leanne, Sergio, Delia
Leanne Cody (piano). A young pianist whose passion for contemporary works was reflected in her ability not only to memorise Joe Cutler's On the Edge, George Benjamin's Shadowlines, and Ligeti's Etude No. 10 'Der Zauberlehrer', but to play them with the musicality, imagination, beauty, flair and sheer sense of love that other musicians might offer Beethoven or Schubert, creating rapt atmospheres with singing, glowing sound.

Sergio Cote (composer): Sergio, from Colombia, wrote a short saxophone quartet that made immense virtuoso demands on its performers and their ensemble, pushed the boundaries of the soundworld with startling breathing effects, and kept us on the edge of our seats.

Lauren Fielder (soprano). Lauren is blessed with a rich, pure and powerful soprano voice that proved deliciously versatile, especially when handled with so much intelligence and stylistic awareness. Having wowed us by opening with the demanding 'Come scoglio' from Così fan tutte, she gave mellifluous performances of three of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, a set of beautiful and sensitively performed Roger Quilter songs and to close 'Voi lo sapete' from Cavalleria Rusticana - in which she suddenly sounded entirely Italian.

Alexander Panfilov (piano). Having started his studies at the Gnessin School in Moscow, Alex has one of those unmistakeable techniques that shows the Russian School is alive and well...and living in Manchester. He's a big chap with a big sound, yet capable of great delicacy and vivid colouration; he performed a little-known piece of Beethoven, the Fantasia Op.77, with improvisatory flair and an ideally Beethovenian sound, followed by a very fine account of the Chopin Second Ballade, in which his feel for musical storytelling was particularly impressive. Finishing with Stravinsky's Three Dances from Petrushka he gave the music all the narrative and virtuosity you could wish for, besides making it look ridiculously easy.

Delia Stevens (percussion). It seems almost invidious to call Delia a "percussionist": what we saw here bordered on performance art and sound sculpture. She opened with Casey Cangelosi's Nail Ferry from Naglfar, a fearsome invocation of Norse mythology's "beginning of the end of the world" veering from repetitive bass drum booms to a conclusion in which cutting a series of strings released 20 suspended chopsticks onto the ground - think Norns cutting the strings of life, humanity scattered to the winds... Per Nørgård's Hexagram No.57: "The Gentle, The Permanent" from I Ching was a rapt meditation; marimba virtuosity whirled us away in Leigh Howard Stevens's Rhythmic Caprice and to close, the Compagnie Kahlua's Ceci n'est pas une balle required her to undertake a mime of invisible bouncing sphere to a pre-recorded tape that would surely make Marcel Marceau applaud.

Many plaudits to all our contestants: Helen Clinton (oboe); Michael Jackson (saxophone) - who gave a stunning performance of Berio's Sequenza VIIb; Kimi Makina (viola); Kana Ohashi (violin); Jeremy So (piano), Meinir Wyn Roberts (soprano); and composers Nelson Bohorquez, Richard Evans and Aled Smith.

Thanks to all of you for an amazing and memorable day.
3 months ago | |
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What a beautiful morning! It's the summer solstice and my friend the Wagnerian contralto who's also a Shamanic celebrant was off to conduct an appropriate service at 3am. It is also World Music Day, a time to celebrate live music of all types everywhere.

To celebrate, the subscription online arts channel Medici.tv is making its whole collection free to all for 24 hours. They have 1377 online videos of classical concerts, operas, ballets and documentaries and all you have to do to see them through 21 June is go to http://www.medici.tv/#!/fete-de-la-musique-2014.

Thanks, Medici - we all need a little escapism and a treat or two now and then. Enjoy.
3 months ago | |
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I don't cycle (yet), but am a big supporter of those who do. So it was touching to see this video of our old friend Raffy Todes, second violinist of the Allegri String Quartet, who got on his bike to go to a rehearsal, en route was apparently pounced on in friendly fashion by the Tower Hamlets Wheelers, and duly played them some Bach over their breakfast.

The Allegri Quartet, by the way, is turning 60 this year. Its players are considerably younger than their ensemble, which now has claims to be the longest-established of its type in Europe. They will be giving a special anniversary concert of Beethoven, Shostakovich, Thuille and Brahms at the Wigmore Hall on 6 July. Do come and cheer them on.
3 months ago | |
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The National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Opera AssociationArticle 19The Dramatists Legal Defense FundFree Expression Policy ProjectfreeDimensionalFreemuse, and PEN American Center have issued a statement opposing the Metropolitan Opera's cancellation of live HD simulcast of John Adams' opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, to about 2000 cinemas in 65 countries. They are urging the Met and its director, Peter Gelb, to reconsider that decision. According to Broadway World, further organisations are expected to join the protest. 

Ole Reitov, director of Freemuse, has commented (as quoted on Broadway World): "Whether self-censoring is motivated by pressure from corporate, social or political interests, cultural institutions should never forget, that once they accept such pressure they lose artistic credibility and signal lack of integrity."

The full statement from the NCAC is online here, but my computer is refusing to load it. I hope this is due to weight of traffic, and does not suggest some sort of online censorship of anti-censorship.

UPDATE, 22 June, 10.20am: If you only read one piece on this subject, make it this one, from a British-Israeli tenor who has sung in the opera:

http://singingentrepreneur.com/the-music-of-our-complexity/

3 months ago | |
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How to turn a good contemporary opera into an eternal iconic masterpiece 101: suppress it. Comment piece now up on the Amati.com webzine.

UPDATE, 19 June 6.40pm: Please read, too, Anthony Tomaasini in the New York Times: What 'The Death of Klinghoffer' Could Have Accomplished.

UPDATE, 22 June, 10.20am: If you only read one piece on this subject, make it this one, from a British-Israeli tenor who has sung in the opera:
http://singingentrepreneur.com/the-music-of-our-complexity/
4 months ago | |
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The new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, directed by Jonathan Kent, has already divided audiences into those who applaud the contemporary relevance of its updating and those who'd rather just see the beautiful Kristine Opolais clad in a nice pretty dress. Others still were so swept away by the music and its ravishing performance that they didn't much care what was going on on the stage in any case.

The Manon Top is not Jonas Kaufmann - well, he is, but there's someone else too. It's the conductor, Tony Pappano. That ROH orchestra blazed almost as if Toscanini himself had stepped out in front of them. The highlight of the evening was the Intermezzo before the second half, given to us with an urgency, sweep and intensity of tone that could raise your hair and crack your heart open. This rarely-performed opera is dramatically problematic - it could use an extra scene or two to make the narrative less patchy - but the music is some of Puccini's finest (personally I'd even put it ahead of Butterfly) and an interpretation of this quality is absolutely what it needs, restoring it to the front ranks where it belongs. Kristine Opolais and Jonas Kaufmann matched Pappano's glories turn for turn: Kaufmann contained and paced his ever-irresistible singing, saving the best for the last act, and Opolais infused every vivid note with her character's charismatic personality. The three together were a dream-team, inspiring one another to a level of artistic wonder that we're lucky to be alive to hear.

Now, back to the production. Manon Lescaut is not a nice pretty story. The book, by the Abbé Prévost, is light years away from big romantic tunes; it's a terse, nasty page-turner, an 18th-century thriller that careers at high speed through a hideous, greedy and depraved world which the clever Manon tries to use for her own ends, but which eventually destroys not only her innocence but her life.

Contemporary? Relevant? Just a little. Intriguing to note that there are no fewer than three different adaptations of the book on offer at the ROH this year: operas by Puccini and Massenet and, in the autumn, the Kenneth MacMillan ballet (including several performances with Natalia Osipova in the lead); four if you include the return of Turnage's Anna Nicole, which opens the season - the same kind of story, only real. This can't be a coincidence.

Jonathan Kent's production was booed on opening night - though it was cheered, too. It maybe needs time to warm up and settle a little more, but the concept is powerful and the tragedy overwhelming: Opolais and Kaufmann are stranded as if mid-air at the end of a collapsed and abandoned motorway in the middle of the American nowhere.

At the outset Manon arrives by car in a housing estate of pre-fab flats with a casino to hand; her wide-boy brother (wonderfully portrayed by Christopher Maltman) never flinches at the idea of selling his mini-skirted sister to the imposing Geronte. She becomes instantly an object, a blank slate for the depraved manipulation of all around her with the sole exception of Des Grieux.

Kaufmann's Des Grieux is a touchstone for other values, other worlds - choosing a book when others choose the gambling tables, holding on to the concept of love when it leaves others unscathed; however much the students sing about it at the start, they are clearly out for less exalted emotional encounters. Manon, meeting his impassioned declarations, responds like a rabbit in the headlights; such things are beyond her spheres of reference and when she runs off with him, she is running away from Geronte rather than towards her new life.

Puccini's opera, unlike Massenet's and the ballet, lacks a scene in which Manon and Des Grieux are poor but happy. Instead we cut straight to Geronte's mansion: Manon has abandoned love for luxury. Cue cameras: Kent turns Geronte implicitly into a porn king, filming Manon in a ghastly blonde wig and pink Barbie dress, the dancing master transformed into the director, instructing her while the visiting singer (Nadezhda Karyazina) engages in some apparently titillating girl-on-girl manoeuvres with her. There isn't much that any director can do to make her response more sympathetic, though, when Des Grieux arrives to rescue her and she hesitates too long because she doesn't want to leave her jewels behind.

The hypocrisy of this society, though, is underlined by the way Geronte and his friends debase, exploit and corrupt Manon, but then have her arrested and deported for prostitution. The scene by the ship in Act III turns into reality TV: Des Grieux's plea to go with her takes place under the lights and cameras. (Aside: reality TV is turning into an operatic trope and is on the verge of becoming a cliché: after seeing it in ENO's Götterdämmerung and, of course, Anna Nicole, I suspect that perhaps it's time to leave it for a while. One could say the same about staircases, spiral and otherwise.)

Act III, by the ship, is dominated by a huge poster: a beautiful face, a giant pink lily, the word NAÏVETE emblazoned across the image as if for a perfume advert. Later, the poster is slashed, across the model's cheek. This is a world that has gone beyond the romanticisation of naïveté, one that can only corrupt and disfigure beauty, one that experiences beauty only to squander it for greed. And when we see the blasted-out motorway in the final scene, it seems symbolic in the extreme. The crash barrier is broken. It is not only Manon that is dying, ruined and corrupted and learning her lessons too late; it is, quite possibly, western society as a whole.

Try seeing the production with open eyes. If you don't like it, close them and listen to the performance. But this Manon Lescaut succeeds because its director understands the story is too close for comfort.



4 months ago | |
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Luca Francesconi's Quartett opens at the ROH Linbury Studio tonight. Somehow I think this combination of Les liaisons dangereuses and a World War III concrete bunker may require some prior girding of loins, so to speak. Reviews of its other productions to date have greeted it with great acclaim. Here's a preview I wrote of it for the Independent's Radar section the other day. 


Transforming a Cold War dystopian drama into a visionary, immersive opera is a task that might well defeat the faint-hearted. Not so Luca Francesconi, the composer of Quartett. Much acclaimed upon its premiere at La Scala, Milan three years ago, the work sets Heiner Müller’s 1980 play of the same title as an opera for two singers plus a cutting-edge mix of live and pre-recorded instrumentation.
The play is based partly on Les liaisons dangereuses by Laclos, but takes place in a concrete bunker in which the protagonists are the last people left alive after World War III. They convey multiple realities as Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil undergo an intense succession of role-play. Francesconi has created a range of music to match and John Fulljames, the Royal Opera House’s associate director of opera, has been tasked with the work’s first UK production, about to open at the ROH’s Linbury Studio. 
“It’s an extraordinary play – dark, ambiguous and open in terms of the way it’s staged,” says Fulljames. “The drama goes from the most intimate to the most epic and the most political: these two trapped people are somehow the entirety of humanity. The political ambition as well as the emotional ambition of the work is extraordinarily high.”
Francesconi, the Italian former pupil of Karlheinz Stockhausen, radical pioneer of electronic music, has made the most of today’s music technologies, using them to enhance and transform the work’s message. Two orchestras are involved: one plays live, and the second is pre-recorded, sampled, treated, and then, Fulljames suggests, its sounds seem to slide over the heads of the audience: “The aural landscape and what it demands technically creates a new possibility for opera,” he says.
“I think it’s that second orchestra that makes the audience feel as if they’re immersed in the middle of the piece, even though they’re watching it at a distance,” he adds. “They are implicated within it, trapped in its soundworld. That is a very different idea of what opera is, rather than the traditional architecture where we sit in our seats and it takes place over there...”
The pre-recorded orchestra also adds the element of hope that is absent from Müller’s play. “The live orchestra is very much associated with the two people in the bunker, but the pre-recorded one is more environmental, representing what’s happening in the outside world,” says Fulljames. “It’s the waves, the wind, amoebas, other life forms which will keep growing and reproducing. Life inside the bunker is dying, but Francesconi finds hope in the idea that the universe, the ecosystem, will carry on breathing.”
Despite all this innovation Quartett is, in Fulljames’s view, a deeply operatic experience. “Opera has always worked best when it’s raw and visceral, dealing with emotional extremity – and this one does,” he says. “I think anyone who enjoys operatic storytelling will get a great deal from it.”
Quartett, Royal Opera House Linbury Studio, 18-28 June. Box office: 020 7304 4000




4 months ago | |
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I had an excellent chat with Tony Pappano recently about Manon Lescaut (which opens tonight), working with Jonas Kaufmann (who's singing Des Grieux), what it's like to be music director of the Royal Opera House, why conducting gave him tennis elbow and what he has to say to our government about cuts to the arts. Article is in today's Independent.

"I say to these guys: be careful. This place [the ROH] is one of several crown jewels in the UK; internationally speaking it's a fantastic representation of our grit and our taste. And I think funding decisions are made so quickly sometimes, and so recklessly. It's the same approach in music education, which is facing enormous cuts. This is ridiculous. It's not 'my opinion' that people who study music develop their brains better for the future – it's proven fact. Take that on board!"
Read the whole thing here.
4 months ago | |
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And it's a knighthood for maestro András Schiff in the Queen's Birthday Honours. It couldn't happen to a better guy or a finer artist. Congratulations! More here: http://www.wigmore-hall.org.uk/about-us/news/sir-andr%C3%A1s-schiff
4 months ago | |
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