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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It's the strange case of the missing Rite of Spring.

The launch of the Royal Festival Hall's newly refurbished organ has been dominating the Southbank Centre all this week, with a no-holds-barred festival called Pull Out All The Stops. My old friend and colleague Clare Stevens was at the recital by the distinguished French organist Olivier Latry last night and she reports on an incident that has implications far beyond the sound of the mighty "king of the instruments". 

Latry had planned to play a transcription of The Rite of Spring, apparently originating in the composer's own version for two pianos, four hands, but the programme was changed to Widor's Fifth Symphony. What happened?

Clare says: "In addition to referring to his disappointment in very strong terms in his pre-concert talk, Latry read a prepared and clearly very impassioned statement at the start of the second half apologising to the audience especially those who had booked tickets in order to hear the Rite, and explaining that Stravinsky's publishers had withheld permission, on the grounds that it would be an infringement of Stravinsky's intellectual property to play it. Apparently it is OK to play it in the US where the publishers' writ doesn't run. Latry added that he still hoped to be able to come back and play it at the RFH one day, if the rules change."

As a TV presenter once said to a tattoo artist, where do you draw the line? On the one hand, it is vitally important to uphold those laws; otherwise it is artists/creatives who lose out. On the other hand, it would also be nice to think there could be some two-way traffic and that an arrangement could be reached whereby an artist as stupendous as Latry could indeed be heard performing a work like Rite, especially for such a special occasion (apart from anything else, imagine all the work he must have put into learning the thing). Where dedication and tribute is surely a motivation, in the context of the very top level of the world's organs and organists, shouldn't the situation be rather different from the more widespread acts of piracy, cheating and unauthorised exploitation? But meanwhile this Rite - with a certain irony - had to be sacrificed.

The organ festival - which runs til June - continues this weekend with Cameron Carpenter (yes, that guy) improvising a live sound-track to the 1920s German Expressionist film classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari tomorrow night, plus fun and games all around the centre including free taster organ lessons. Check it out here.

3 months ago | |
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Here's what happened on Saturday in the fish market of Odessa, the city at the tip of the Crimea that was the birthplace of Sviatoslav Richter and the training ground for the class of Leopold Auer - Heifetz, Milstein and Toscha Seidel included.

Credits: Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra & Opera Chorus, Hobart Earle (conductor).
4 months ago | |
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Our friend Serhan Bali, editor in chief of Turkey's classical music magazine Andante, has sent me this very troubling letter from Istanbul and asks us to help spread the word about these developments. Please read. jd

Turkish performing arts institutions are being abolished by the government 

Serhan Bali
The AKP government in Turkey is preparing to bring a new law to the parliament in a short time that will abolish all of the state-funded performing arts institutions in the country. 

Why are they doing this? We are told that the main goal of this draft bill is to establish an ‘arts council’ in Turkey. This body - for which the government officials seem to get inspiration from the UK's Arts Council England - will execute the policy of delivering the cultural funds to the people and organisations who will offer to produce any kind of artistic event in the country, be it opera-ballet-dance-theatre production, symphony concert, art exhibition, children’s play etc. 

However, the arts community of Turkey is strictly opposed to this draft bill, for a couple of reasons. First of all, this new law also includes a clause that will shut down all of the state funded performing arts institutions in the country! So all of the state symphony orchestras, state opera-ballet-dance companies, state theatre companies, state choirs which the majority of them have been operating in the country over 50 years will be closed from the time this law will be accepted in the parliament by the AKP MPs who comprise the majority. 

From the time this draft bill will be accepted, millions of Turkish people throughout the country will absolutely have no access in their region to any kind of artistic activity. 

For years, people in Turkey have had the benefit of attending low priced, qualified arts programs in the season. These long-established state funded organisations, besides operating in their home cities, also have been making regular tours to their surrounding areas, and these can also be the remotest parts of the country, where people with very low income struggle to live. 

This arts policy, stemming from the cultural revolutions of the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, has been accepted as the primary social responsibility of all of the Turkish governments so far. It seems that this government doesn’t want to feel this responsibility after staying in power for the last 12 years. 

By the way, some people in the arts field, myself included, don’t have any negative opinion towards the concept of an arts council. We believe that this kind of cultural body could well be used in order to deliver the public funds with fair methods and in a more democratic way among the Turkish people. But the problem is that the governments in Turkey, including the current one, unfortunately don’t have enough vision to handle the arts scene in all its entirety with an updated and modern view. 

But what the current AKP government has in mind by bringing their arts council model (which is called TUSAK-Arts Organisation of Turkey) to the public attention has nothing to do with the present day acceptances. First of all, this TUSAK definitely will not act as an autonomous entity, but will work as none other than a government agency because of the fact that all of the 11 members of the board of TUSAK will be elected by the cabinet of ministers. In AKP’s Turkey, this means that these members will only prefer to fund the pro-government cultural demands and projects. We believe that TUSAK will have the sole mission of delivering the public cultural funds only to the people who have been ideologically close to this government. 

On the other hand, some well known AKP ideologues have been known setting the standards of a so-called ‘conservative art’ concept for the last two years. I and many other people in Turkey believe that TUSAK is the brain child of this new concept. With this tool, they feel that they have the mission to abolish the whole arts establishment in the country and reorganise the arts scene according to their concept of ‘conservative art’. This concept refuses the notion of independence of the arts and the artists and also the autonomy of the state funded arts institutions in the country. 

The government officials headed by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been expressing their disgust and dissatisfaction towards the artists who are working in state funded arts organisations for quite a long time. These artists are accused of taking active part in the opposition camp and raising their voices to the acts of the government especially in the arts field. 

‘We will privatise all of the state funded performing arts institutions in the country so that from now on artists will play or sing or dance as they wish with the help of private donors. Our government won’t operate any theatres, operas, symphony orchestras from this time on.’ This was the crucial statement of Mr Erdogan in April 2012 after he boiled over the theatre actors’ raising their voices against the government’s acts of slashing the independence of the management of public theatres at that time. 

Now we can understand that this speech became the signal rocket of this draft bill. What he meant that time by ‘privatisation’ is being served now in our plates in the guise of TUSAK. By this manoeuvre the AKP government is planning to throw all of the arts institutions overboard and wants to establish a new arts hierarchy in the country which will be fully controlled by the government and by PM himself. This has nothing to do neither with democracy, nor with freedom. 

One other aim with the TUSAK law seems to establish a commercialized system in all of the artistic fields of Turkey. People who are ideologically close to the government but with no scope and vision of arts are expected from now on to benefit from the funds that will be delivered by TUSAK. On the other hand, the artists are still trying to explain the government officials that symphony orchestras, theatre-opera-ballet-dance-choral companies cannot survive in a developing country like Turkey without the full support of the government - but so far we haven’t been successful in persuading the officials. This is not surprising, because we are aware of the real intention in Ankara.

The arts community in Turkey nowadays makes a word play and justifiably calls ‘TUSAK’ as ‘TUZAK’ which means ‘trap’ in Turkish - because arts people in Turkey believe that this draft bill is nothing but a trap of the government in order to get rid of the artists and their institutions. But we know that this act will certainly bring no good to the people in Turkey, will commercialise and cheapen the arts and will pave the way to the desertification of the country in terms of qualified artistic events.

Serhan Bali
Editor in chief, ‘Andante’ classical music magazine
4 months ago | |
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I'm doing a talk at the Balassi Institute Hungarian Cultural Centre, Covent Garden, on Tuesday to mark Bela Bartók's 133rd birthday. It's called: "How I learned to stop worrying and love Bartók."

It's part of the HCC's Magyar Mind lecture series in which British academics and writers speak about Hungarian cultural topics. I'm intending to give a rather personal introduction to the magic of Bartók, skewering the silly preconceptions about him that seemed to be doing the rounds during my mis-spent youth and looking, too, at what makes the Hungarian tradition of musical training so very special. My friends David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano) will be there to perform a few key pieces. All welcome and admission is free, but please call the HCC and book a place in advance. More details here: http://www.london.balassiintezet.hu/en/events/current-events/559-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-bartok/

Meanwhile, there's an amazing new biography of John Ogdon out, by Charles Beauclerk, and I've just reviewed it for the Sunday Times. It's here (behind paywall).
4 months ago | |
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There's a debate going on at present about whether bloggers are "citizen journalists" and whether their opinions count. Provocative piece in the Telegraph here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9795521/Critics-are-important-even-in-the-blogosphere.html
and a debate live on Radio 3 this morning about the future of music criticism, led by Tom Service: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03yq7dz

Someone has to say this: there are quite a number of us who are professional writers first, bloggers by coincidence and/or in addition. I'm not "a blogger". I'm a writer who has a blog (and had a musical training). Just so you know. Cheers, all.
4 months ago | |
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Why are great tenors like the London buses? You guessed it. I have for you today interviews with not one, but two of today's very best.

Here is Juan-and-only-Diego Flórez for your delectation, in today's Independent, talking to me about his first album for four years, the not-too-inner game of tennis (including the inspiration of Roger Federer), and why he is soon going to sing Werther.

And here, dear friends, is the new April issue of BBC Music Magazine, out today, with Jonas Kaufmann as the cover star. My encounter with him has the dubious distinction of being the only interview I have ever conducted while wearing snow boots. He talks to me about versatility, Winterreise and, er, Werther.

You have to buy the magazine as it's not online. Apparently the cover is Blippable, which means you can download an app, point it at the picture of Jonas and something ought to happen, though one isn't sure precisely what.

By way of a Kaufmannesque bonus, I couldn't resist asking him whether he might ever sing Paul in Die tote Stadt - a role that seems to be crying out for his voice and his dramatic abilities. He remarked that you need a sweet tooth for Korngold, but that he has recently sung the final duet and found it incredibly beautiful - so why not? We are glad that at least he hasn't ruled it out. And a message for the Kaufmaniacs? Well, he has found that you often ask him after performances to please go and sing wherever it may be that you live - but there is only one of him, so you'll have to keep on travelling...

Just for the heck of it, here are both of them singing "Pourquoi me reveiller?" from that Massenet. Flórez's is from his new, all-French album, L'amour. Kaufmann's is from the Paris performance a few years back as broadcast by Arte/Medici TV.  See what you think...

4 months ago | |
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Please welcome Frances Wilson of The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog, with news of a wonderful young artist playing in a very special place... Great to see the South London Concert Series having to upgrade to a bigger venue, too!

Emmanuel Vass at Brunswick House
Guest post by Frances Wilson
Hard to believe it’s six months since I introduced readers of JDCMB to the South London Concert Series (SLCS), an innovative concept which gives amateur pianists the chance to take to the stage alongside the professionals. The series was launched to a full-to-bursting house at the 1901 Arts Club in November 2013 with a programme of music ranging from Scarlatti to Corea – with some Mozart, Szymanowski and Feuchtwanger along the way – and much enjoyable piano chat at the noisy post-concert reception in the 1901’s elegant upstairs bar and sitting room.
Now the series is two concerts in, both of which sold out within a couple of weeks of being advertised, with a third on 21st March, also sold out way in advance. Buoyed up by the obvious success and popularity of the concept, my partner in piano adventures, Lorraine Liyanage, and I decided that perhaps we should find a larger venue for our events. It was Lorraine who discovered Brunswick House: just five minutes from London’s Vauxhall Station, this fine Georgian mansion is incongruously flanked by the brand new 5-star hotel and luxury apartments of One Nine Elms.
Part of the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Co (LASSCo), Brunswick House is a treasure trove of antiques and reclaimed curiosities – including, conveniently, a pretty little John Hopkinson baby grand piano in the first floor Saloon, a room festooned with colourful oriental rugs, salvaged stained glass windows, glittering chandeliers, and even a life-size cut out of the actor Tony Curtis.
It wasn’t difficult to find an artist to grace the space, someone who could create the stylish, retro atmosphere of a salon concert from a bygone era: Emmanuel Vass, BBC Music Magazine’s March “rising star”, had already wowed the SLCS audience with his suave showmanship and his ability to seamlessly merge mainstream classical piano repertoire with his own transcriptions.
Emmanuel’s concert at Brunswick House comes hot on the heels of his West End debut in a DEC/Philippines appeal benefit concert, and his successful ‘From Bach to Bond’ national tour and CD launch in 2013. Described as “one to watch” by The Independent, Emmanuel will perform music by Bach, Turina, Liszt and some of his own new transcriptions. And in keeping with the original ethos of the South London Concert Series, he will be supported by performances by talented amateur pianists from the London Piano Meetup Group, playing music by Bach, Mozart, and Chopin. Added to that, guests can enjoy a glass of Prosecco on arrival, and are invited to join performers and hosts in the stylish restaurant at Brunswick House for a post-concert dinner. This promises to be a very special event, an evening of music making and conviviality in a unique and eclectic London venue.
Date: Thursday 3rd April 2014Time: 6.45pm for 7.15pm concertDress code: smartVenue: LASSCo/Brunswick House, 30 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 2LGBuy tickets: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/255923#.UyDJEV5qXdK
‘Emmanuel Vass at Brunswick House’ is presented by the South London Concert Series. Endorsed by top international concert pianist Peter Donohoe as "a wonderfully creative idea", SLCS concerts recreate the atmosphere of the 19th-century musical salon with music and socialising amongst friends in some of London’s most beautiful and intimate small venues.
www.slconcerts.co.ukTwitter @SLConcerts

4 months ago | |
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I missed the Met's cinema relay of Werther yesterday, travelling home from Paris... Thank you to their website for making the final scene available as an "encore" to watch online, starring Jonas Kaufmann, Sophie Koch and a lot of blood. (Update: we hear that this scene is online now because there were technical problems in the cinecast across the US that meant most people didn't actually see it...)

My interview with Sophie from this month's Opera News is here. Keep watching this space for news of t'other one.

Left: the house where Jules Massenet died, close to the Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris's 6ème arrondissement, which I spotted the other day.

4 months ago | |
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Been away in Paris. Here are a few bits and pieces of light reading for you while I get rid of my stinking cold and the blisters on my feet. (Apart from that, it's been a fabulous few days.)

Strauss, Pauline and the fish...a magical opera with some family insights, from the Indy: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/the-composer-and-his-muse-richard-strass-tempestuous-relationship-with-his-wife-pauline-de-ahna-9174239.html

How do you turn something as famous as Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood into an opera? I talked to John Metcalf, who has just done so. Also from the Indy. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/under-milk-wood-the-opera-a-new-voice-for-dylan-thomas-9185085.html

Pop goes the Wagner: why going gaga for JK may indicate, oddly enough, that we haven't altogether lost our marbles. From my Amati.com Soapbox. http://www.amati.com/articles/1108-pop-goes-the-wagner.html

Enjoy. I'm off to bed with some lemsip and a book about Bartok.

4 months ago | |
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Last week I went to a concert, as one does. A little way off from where I was sitting, I spotted a small African-American girl, probably aged about 8, with her mother. She sat very still and kept very quiet all the way through the first half. Then in the first piece of the second half she bent down and took a sweet out of her bag. A man in front of her turned round and glared daggers. 

When the piece was over he reprimanded her. He'd reckoned without her feisty mum, who was not going to take it. "She had one chocolate! She wasn't talking. She's a child! Were you never a child?" He retorted, with policeman-like pointy gestures: "You're at a performance." The mother, while heads turned nearby, declared: "You're a mean man!" 

Several points here. 

1. The mum and daughter were the only faces of colour in the hall that I could see, other than one or two of the musicians on stage. 
2. The little girl was the youngest person in view - indeed, as far as I could tell, the only child in the audience. I wonder if she will ever want to come back. Kids don't forget things like this.
3. Adults frequently behave far more badly than that in theatres and concert halls. 
4. The man was, regrettably, a critic. 

Don't critics have a duty not to put kids off classical concerts? 

Btw, when I posted this anecdote on my private Facebook page one well-known concert pianist responded by saying that if we can find this mother and daughter he would like to offer them comps to his next recital. That's more like it. 

4 months ago | |
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