Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music and writing in London, UK.
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Jonas Kaufmann in recital the other night. Photo: Alastair Muir/Barbican

State of being in the Discount Tent EC1 last night post-Walküre Act I: shaking a bit, hyperventilating slightly and maybe in need of a little lie-down, toast and a nice cup of camomile tea. But even the most soothing of brews doesn't cleanse that music from your system. Nothing new about saying Wagner is like a drug, but you can feel it physically in your bloodstream. It's a substance that burns you up from within via myriad points of white heat and you sense it endowing you with superhuman powers such as flight, or at least the ability to walk upside down on the ceiling. Coming down again is the difficult part.

We'll go back to that later, but first you probably want to know what the performance was like.

After opening with the Tristan und Isolde prelude, with Wagner's own concert ending (he tacks on the end of the Liebestod), Tony Pappano kept a tight rein and concentrated atmospheres in the orchestra for the Wesendonck Lieder, which Jonas Kaufmann - as far as we know, the only tenor singing them in this day and age - approached with every iota of the expertise he brought to his recital the other night. Colour, character, control, sophisticated phrasing, poised emotional content: this was a mesmerisingly beautiful interpretation, and one in which he somehow created the illusion, especially in the closing 'Träume', that he became the poetry - as if he had turned into Mathilde Wesendonck. Watching him return to his own self as the applause began was like witnessing some strange metamorphosis controlled by an invisible, internal Tarnhelm.

You'd think this demanding song cycle was enough for a singer who's recently returned after months off sick, but the second half was of course devoted to the whole of Act I of Die Walküre. A few things to consider at this point. First, Kaufmann's voice has always been about quality, not volume: never the biggest voice in the world, but simply the most beautiful and intelligent one. Also, when Bayreuth was designed for the Ring cycle, Wagner's idea was to keep the orchestra level down, with a sunken pit, so that the singers wouldn't have to yell to be heard. Last night, our Siegmund was flanked by two giant voices: as Sieglinde, Karita Mattila and as Hunding Erik Halfvarson. They stood where singers stand in concert performances: beside the conductor, at one with the orchestra. In that context Kaufmann's voice sounded like a gleaming gemstone within the entire diadem of sound-colours. But Mattila and Halfvarson (who of course hadn't sung the whole of the Wesendonck Lieder beforehand) put on the tiara and went surfing over the soundwaves.

Mattila, her tone full of complex, honeyed herbiness in the lower registers and rays of blinding sunlight at the top, seemed ecstatic, losing herself in the music and the role. Kaufmann's Siegmund was a bitter fighter on the run, filled with character and contained power, gradually regaining his passion for life and love and unleashing the full glory at full tilt when it was needed. Halfvarson proved a Hunding in whose house you'd be very afraid to stay, his towering stage presence and magnificent bass galvanising more acting contact than there had been hitherto. Pappano conducted like a man possessed, pacing the energy up to and beyond fever pitch; and one special hero is the LSO itself, but perhaps especially the cello section and its principal, Tim Hugh, who made incandescent gorgeousness out of his solos. The whole thing left even slightly-anxious-about-it people like me longing desperately for Rattle Hall to be built and give them a world-class acoustic with real shine and bloom... And yet the total effect, give or take these quibbles, was mind-blowing.

Heading back to the Tent I bumped into a friend and we said: "Great, so what time does Act II start?"

I'll never forget the first time I heard Die Walküre. I was 25 and working as assistant editor at Classical Music Magazine. Covent Garden was staging the Ring cycle and when my boss discovered I'd never seen it he said I must join him on his press tickets. I went with some trepidation; I had never even heard Act I of Die Walküre before, because I wasn't allowed Wagner, because HITLER. I remember coming out of the opera house in exactly the state above. Twenty-five years later and I know the piece really well, yet it still does that to me. Just imagine the first-timer impact.

So look. I have faced the Wagner-and-Hitler question again and again, and thought it through ad infinitum. The issue is difficult, it's painful, it's complex and for years I felt that avoiding this music was totally justified on historical grounds. Yet it has got to the point now where I could almost feel I was swindled. I was denied, then denied myself, this consciousness-altering musical marvel, this view from the summit of summits, because of Hitler. But that lets Hitler win. Now we must reclaim the music. The greatest music in the world - and this is some of it - should belong to us all. Nobody should be denied the experience of any form of great art because someone, somewhere, is telling them "this isn't for you".

6 months ago |
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Not Jonas this time, but a quick shout-out for our friends up the road at the wonderful Ealing Music and Film Valentine Festival, bringing a lively lookout to west London from tomorrow until Monday. Here's their line-up. 

A few highlights:

  • Thursday 9th February evening: English Chamber Orchestra and Tenebrae Choir, conducted by Nigel Short, perform Mozart’s Requiem at Weston Hall 
  • Friday 10th February evening: English Youth Orchestra and Martin James Bartlett perform Tchaikovsky & Mahler at St Barnabas Church 
  • Saturday 11th February: evening: Ealing Symphony Orchestra perform a selection of film music at St Barnabas Church 
  • Sunday 12th February afternoon: The Tippett Quartet and Julian Gallant perform a chamber music concert including Haydn and Brahms at St Mary’s Church
6 months ago |
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Back on stage! 

The one problem with recitals by Jonas Kaufmann is the absolute scrum at the ladies' loos. The Barbican's facilities are confusing because there are two entrances, one at either end, and sometimes there is one queue, usually two and occasionally three. During last night's interval they brought in ushers to do a spot of crowd-control.

The fans were out in force and for good reason. This concert by Kaufmann and "his" glorious pianist Helmut Deutsch kicked off the Barbican's Kaufmann Residency, four events between last night and 13 February. It was also the charismatic German tenor's first recital in many months, marking his return to performance with Deutsch after his lengthy period of recovery from a haematoma on a vocal cord (his first return to the stage was as Lohengrin in Paris, just two weeks ago). It must have been a relief to many that he was there at all. A slight air of tension hung over the auditorium as the beginning was slightly delayed and an unspoken anxiety of the "er, is he OK?" variety seemed to shiver through the waiting rows.

He was. And he started by thanking everyone for coming along, which got a laugh - many people booked their tickets a year ago and Kaufmaniacs have flown in from all over the world. He then explained that the iPad on its stand was there because this was his first recital in a while and it was simply to make sure he didn't make any any any mistakes. This introduction was to be one of the few light moments of the evening: the artists had selected a programme of dark, disturbing repertoire, the type that excavates the soul and holds it up for forensic examination. Kaufmann's depth of tone and actorly intelligence suits this repertoire exceptionally well. He is, as ever, the ideal tenor for those who really prefer baritones.

Deutsch and Kaufmann: a peerless partnership
Let's hear it for Helmut Deutsch, whose long and distinguished career as pianist, Lieder specialist and teacher seems to have reached its apogee in his work with Kaufmann. This musical magic is utterly a joint effort - and what singer could be so lucky as to have a pianist partner (don't even think about calling him an "accompanist") whose tone is so radiant, whose dynamics are so ideally judged, whose creation of atmosphere is simply peerless and whose support is ideal at every turn. If Kaufmann is Margot Fonteyn, then Deutsch is Rudolf Nureyev, lifting him effortlessly, letting him shine, while remaining a dazzling artist in his own right - though Deutsch is probably a bit more self-effacing about it than Nureyev might have been. The two together become more than the sum of their parts, the partnership a living entity in its own right.

Schumann's Kerner Lieder Op.35 was perhaps the closest set he ever composed to Schubert's Schwanengesang. A sequence of songs rather than a cycle, they are united by the poet Justinus Kerner's undertow of threat and despair: often composer and poet fuse to a degree that it is impossible to be certain whether Schumann is delving into Kerner to craft the poet's essence in music, or whether he has perhaps found in Kerner the perfect means to capture his own. He was much under the influence of Schubert at the time and Schubertian hints surface occasionally in the music: a Rosamunde rhythm in 'Wanderlied', subtle switches between major and minor in 'Erstes Grün' - and not so subtle ones in the set's showstopper 'Stille Tränen'. The final three songs, beginning with that, are united, too, by the rhythm of the text; Schumann makes the last two essentially into one, reiterating a questioning, lost-sounding figure with a cumulative effect that can be deeply unsettling. "Why are you so ill?...Nature heals me, but man will not let me rest," says Kerner. Schumann's likely syphilis? Schubert's? (And can one help but reflect that the music business may have put rather a lot of pressure on our performer of late?) In the final song, 'Alte Laute', the poet says he is trapped in a bad dream from which only an angel can wake him; and right now so is the world, and for a few moments the musicians on stage and their audience were entirely as one.

Kaufmann's core strengths are many, but two were of special value here. One is his quietness: reserving the big, open notes for special moments alone, his eloquence is as soft and dark as mink. It combines with that other magic ingredient, expert storytelling, to the effect that instead of going out to the audience by projecting at full tilt, he makes us go to him, creating an atmosphere of mesmerising intimacy that seems to shrink the hall. Every word and phrase has character and meaning, each song a base shade of voice colour specific to its needs; such is Kaufmann's ability to inhabit the music's secret spaces that you would understand the poet and composer's message even if you couldn't hear the words, though you always can. Control is vital, and the pacing that goes with it: the long build-up from near-whisper to full-on belt-out beauty in 'Stille Tränen' hit home. Kaufmann is a supremely controlled singer; in the partnership of head and heart, it's the head in the driving seat all the way, with the perfect understanding of how to prompt our hearts.

It's difficult to understand why Henri Duparc's mélodies are not performed in every song recital everywhere in the world, or why he might ever be considered obscure or somehow difficult. The French composer, a friend and contemporary of Fauré's, offers a heady synthesis of sensuality and seamless poise, the music bathed in luminous colour. Deutsch found the light within the richly written textures and Kaufmann the subtle lines and shaping: 'Phidylé' is allowed to sleep undisturbed in a radiant dream until the poet anticipates her kiss with a renewed power, 'Le manoir de Rosamonde' is terse, frightening and verging on the tragic as the poet flees the dog-bite of love and leaves its land undiscovered, and the set is framed with two Baudelaire poems about distant dwellings - 'L'invitation au voyage' and 'La vie antérieure', each evoking an idyllic landscape that is simultaneously within the soul.

A fan presents Kaufmann with a bouquet at the end
Finally to Britten, and if you don't know the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, it's time you did. Britten's settings in Italian, written in America during WW2, prove as expert as his English operas, and while this was a chance for Kaufmann to show his stylish Italian alter-ego, he also showed us how Britten's sensitivity was in its element in those moments of self-discovery, rising from the subconscious to catch the artist off guard, faced with the pain of his own passions. Britten's style occasionally can almost resemble Prokofiev here, especially in the third song, 'Veggio co'bei vostri occhi un dolce lume', which could have stepped out of a slow-motion dream-vision ballet; and Kaufmann again excelled in mezzo voce reflection, narrative and revelation, with heroics saved for when they were most needed, such as the final song, 'Spirto ben nato' - noble soul. Yes, exactly: this singing, this partnership, is noble soul incarnate, in its finest sense - happily, undimmed despite all.

One encore - Strauss's 'Nichts' - but there's plenty more to look forward to in the week ahead, which culminates in that composer's Four Last Songs.

And a good interview with Kaufmann in the Sunday Times, by Lynn Barber, here.

6 months ago |
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Alert from Garsington Opera, which is recruiting for Silver Birch, the new "people's opera" by Roxanna Panufnik for which I've written the libretto. We need some boys aged 14-22 whose voices have broken and who can sing or dance. Auditions on 9 March. Performances in July.

We also need:
• some young instrumental players to participate in the orchestra alongside the pros;
• ten members of the armed forces to join the adult chorus;
• four very good child singers to play and understudy the crucial roles of Chloe (aged 9) and Leo (aged 11)

Please see Garsington's info for further details and contact Julian if you'd like to audition. And if you want to see the result, put 28, 29, 30 July in your diaries.
6 months ago |
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The Belvedere Museum Maurice Ravel. Photo: Ravel Foundation website
Le Figaro has carried an extraordinary report alleging that the Belvedere Museum Maurice Ravel - the composer's former home at Montfort-l'Amaury - has been abruptly closed, following "several incidents". These included, last week, having the police throw out two visitors...who happened to be Charles Dutoit and Martha Argerich.

This is a rough translation of the Figaro article:
"Officially, according to the site of the town hall, [the closure was] due to water damage. In fact, according to our information, the door lock was immediately changed.
"A few hours earlier, on 1 February, one of the mayor's deputies orally thanked and dismissed Mrs Claude Moreau, a friend of conductors from all over the world who had been visiting Ravel's house for three decades. Thousands of letters from all over the world signed by the most important personalities in the world of music attest to the excellence of her services to make the Belvedere not a mere museum but a warm home where it is almost expected that Maurice Ravel returns unexpectedly.
"A few days earlier, on Friday, January 27, two world leaders in music, Charles Dutoit, conductor and Ravel's pianist Martha Argerich, came to visit the Belvedere and were surprised to see the municipal police arrive at the museum.
"A deputy, close to the mayor, furious at having seen them take a picture inside the museum (which the sign does not prohibit) had told the police that a burglary was in progress. Instead of unrolling the red carpet like any other municipality would have done to these exceptional musicians, they were expelled manu militari from the premises.
"These last events add to a long list of dysfunctions. Absence of smoke detectors, burglar alarm not connected to the gendarmerie or a private security station, banning shooting of a small film notified to the very prestigious Chicago orchestra (very shocked, its management protested to the American Embassy Of Paris), ban of filming for the teams of France Television when broke the case of Bolero last year.
[the entry of Bolero into the public domain is a whole other story... - JD]
"Contacted this Friday morning by Le Figaro, the mayor of Montfort-l'Amaury, manager of the museum did not wish to answer. The owner of the place is the RMN, Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais. Since last spring, the management of the RMN is worried about the disappearance of movable property and archives of the Ravel museum. Contacted by us this Friday morning, the RNM management specifies that "the custody and management of Ravel's house and its museum have been transferred to the commune of Montfort l'Amaury since 1971 under a 99-year long lease" . Moreover, "this museum, labelled "Musée de France"in 2003, is subject to the scientific and technical control of the Ministry of Culture". What if "Belvedere-gate" was just beginning?"
Terrible to think that this gem of a museum, a place of pilgrimage for so many musicians and music-lovers from all over the world, could be shut down because of what looks like infighting, bureaucracy  and misunderstanding of its cultural significance.

UPDATE: I have corrected a few small but crucial points in the translation above. 'Remercie' in this context means not only 'thanked' but 'dismissed'. So Claude Moreau has effectively been fired. It would appear that the most likely aim of all this is to downgrade the museum. Previously open every day, its hours have already been reduced to weekends plus special arrangements for special visitors by prior appointment during the week. These have to be cleared with the town hall, which according to my source has allegedly refused some requests. Without the attention of Mme Moreau, the museum's future does not look bright.

Another update: For a range of wonderful photos of the place from BBC Radio 3's Sara Mohr-Pietsch, follow this link...
6 months ago |
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He's back. Presented the other day with the Special 'Victoires de la mystique classique' Award in France, Jonas Kaufmann sang Rota's 'Parla più piano' (aka The Godfather) at the ceremony. This was it.

Now is the winter when my discount tent is pitched on the concrete outside the Barbican Centre. In these grim times we need something to look forward to, and if you happen to be a "Kaufmaniac" the ultimate thing to look forward to is about to happen, right here in sunny London.

Jonas Kaufmann is presented with the Special 'Victories de la musique classique' award in Paris. Photo: Edouard Brane

'Der Jonas' is coming to town for The Kaufmann Residency at the Barbican Centre. Between tomorrow (4 Feb) and Monday week (13th) he is giving three concerts and an open interview. Some of his fans here have been nail-biting a little over the past months while he has been off, recovering from what was apparently a hematoma on a vocal cord. The pessimists among us wondered if the residency would actually go ahead.

The other week, though, Kaufmann made a triumphant return to the stage in Paris as Lohengrin, and there's no sign of fading ambition. A new recording is coming out shortly (UK release in April), in which he sings the whole of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. And in case you haven't heard, news is out that a concert performance of Tristan Act II is planned for New York in April 2018. One hopes that may indicate the ultimate Wagner tenor role sidling gently into the repertoire...

He gave an interview to Paris Match talking about his return to the stage, saying that everything is going rather well.

Vous dites avoir eu encore des soucis de santé. Comment allez-vous??
Je vais très bien maintenant, ma voix aussi. On a déjà fait des répétitions, tout est impeccable, grâce au temps de repos imposé. Mais ça a été un moment difficile à passer pour moi, d’autant que je ne suis pas quelqu’un de très patient. J’aime vraiment agir, prendre tout en main. Et j’étais là à attendre, sans avoir la possibilité d’accélérer les choses. Personne ne pouvait me dire si ça durerait deux semaines, un mois, deux mois… En quatre mois, l’hématome s’est résorbé. Tout est redevenu normal, les conditions sont donc idéales. Ce n’était pas mon premier choix de recommencer avec “Lohengrin”, même si j’ai déjà tenu le rôle plusieurs fois. Je connais cette production que j’aime beaucoup. Avec cette orchestration de Philippe [Jordan], j’étais sûr qu’il n’y aurait pas de risque. Donc, je suis très content.

Anyway, back to London. Here's what's happening. Everything is sold out, but do try for returns.

4 Feb: Recital with pianist Helmut Deutsch

Schumann Kerner Lieder, Op 35
‘L´invitation au voyage’ 
‘Le manoir de Rosemonde’ 
‘Chanson triste’ 
‘La vie antérieure’
Britten Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Op 22

8 Feb: Wagner

Wagner Prelude to Tristan und Isolde
Act I from Die WalküreJonas Kaufmann tenor
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Antonio Pappano 
Karita Mattila soprano
Eric Halfvarson bass

10 Feb, 2pm, Milton Court: In Conversation

Jonas Kaufmann in conversation with young singers at Milton Court. 

Jonas Kaufmann talks to and works with aspiring singers from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama: an unprecedented chance to witness a master-musician discussing the practicalities and fundamentals of his craft in the informal atmosphere of Milton Court.

13 Feb: Strauss, Elgar, Korngold

The Four Last Songs. Yes, they're originally for soprano. Yes, that's just fine. And yes, the programme opens with Korngold's Schuaspiel Overture, which I have never before heard live and certainly not in London, and this requires its own pre-breakfast celebratory somersault.

Korngold Schauspiel OvertureStrauss Symphonic Interlude from Intermezzo, Träumerei am Kamin
‘Ruhe meine Seele’
‘Freundliche Vision’ 
‘Heimliche Aufforderung’
Elgar In the SouthStrauss Four Last SongsJonas Kaufmann tenor
BBC Symphony Orchestra

I am intending to go to the whole lot. For the duration, JDCMB is becoming KAUFMANN CENTRAL. I'll be reviewing the performances, reporting on the conversation and keeping the Kaufmaniacs up to speed on how it's all going. Yes, it's escapism. Yes, I need that and so do a lot of us.
6 months ago |
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The Association of British Orchestras has been shaking things up this year and nowhere more so than in the matter of female conductors. James Murphy, managing director of the Southbank Sinfonia, gave a presentation on the issue. 

James tells me: "I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with a number of fantastic conductors, among them some brilliant women. It’s baffled me (and them) that some of them have not had the same breaks as men, and why our industry seems to be strangely reticent to try and achieve a little more balance in terms of the opportunities each get. I was roused by Alice Farnham’s course established in 2013 and, since then, our players have been part of the workshops she runs. But too often I’ve heard people in the sector imply that her doing that excuses them of doing anything themselves, and I decided to ask the Association of British Orchestras if we could focus on this at a future conference. I got my chance last week where, sandwiched between Chi-chi Nwanoku and Hannah Kendall speaking powerfully about other diversity and inclusion issues, I was granted ten minutes at this year’s conference to share my thoughts on the issue. I chose to do this as a volley of images projected from Powerpoint with some commentary from me as they rolled by. It seemed to go very well, and so I’ve now made a digital version of it so more people can see it online."

Here it is, above. Please have a listen, and a look at those statistics. James nails the chief issues head-on. And you know what? It's good to hear them from a bloke. 

The conference was apparently referring quite copiously to my little list, as James does here - a reference resource with names, brief summaries and web links about women conductors that I published in September 2013 - but it is much need of updating after three and a half years, so do get in touch if there's someone you'd like to add. 

And meanwhile, over in the US, there's this...

6 months ago |
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Josima Feldschuh: the child prodigy from Warsaw who died of tuberculosis at 15. Gideon Klein: perhaps the most gifted young composer of Prague, killed in Auschwitz at 25. Songs in Yiddish written in the ghettos and the concentration camps, full of black humour and pithy commentary on the internal politics of those places. A concert at the Wigmore Hall a few weeks ago placed some of these works centre stage, and for International Holocaust Remembrance Day I've had a chat with a remarkable academic who has been spearheading the hunt for the lost music. Archives are all very well, she says, but now it's time to hear the pieces too. 

Meanwhile, I'd like to give a shoutout to the Brundibár Arts Festival, which is to be held in Newcastle and Gateshead next week. Here's it's director, violinist Alexandra Raikhlina, of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, on what she's doing and why: 
Original watercolour posted for Brundibár's premiere in Theresienstadt

As Artistic Director of Brundibár Arts Festival, my vision is to create an annual programme of events that showcases the little known music written during the Holocaust, to be held here in Newcastle and Gateshead.
Launched in 2016, the annual Brundibár Arts Festival is the first recurring Festival in the UK dedicated to the Music and Arts of the Holocaust. The Festival takes its name from Hans Krása's children's opera "Brundibár". Brundibár, (meaning bumblebee) was written in 1938 by Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása, and first performed publicly by the children of Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. We see naming the Festival after Brundibár as a positive affirmation of creativity in adversity, and a lasting tribute to those children who suffered and perished.
The greatest music, art and literature has often emerged from the most threatening of circumstances, bringing comfort and expression to those in need. Once I started to research this subject, I discovered a vast wealth of relatively unknown, yet wonderful music that has struggled to get the recognition it deserves on its own merit, despite the broad range of cultural and musical activities we enjoy here in the UK. During the Festival, works by these lesser known composers will be shared and explored alongside well-loved works from the more mainstream repertoire, therefore claiming its rightful place in our concert halls.
Only through education can greater tolerance be achieved - an increasingly important subject in today's complex world. With this focus, we aim to increase the participation of young people, creating lasting links between professional musicians, local community groups, children, and artists. There are dwindling numbers of Holocaust survivors who can tell their stories first hand. Our generation carries the responsibility to find new ways of telling them, and to strive for a more comprehending and cohesive world.

Alexandra Raikhlina
(Artistic Director)
The full programme for this year includes a talk by Ela Weissberger, a Holocaust survivor who was in the first performances of Krása's Brundibár in Theresienstadt; a new documentary about Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Lithuania, who saved around 2000 of Polish Jews by providing them with transit visas; and music by, among others, Ullmann, Schulhoff, Schoenberg and Weinberg. Performers include Natalie Clein, Katya Apekisheva, Jack Liebeck and many more.

I'm touched and honoured that on 31 January they also include my play A Walk through the End of Time, complete with the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time to follow. Our actors are Joy Sanders and Phil Harrison, and the quartet will be played by Kyra Humphries (violin), Jessica Lee (clarinet), Liubov Ulybysheva (cello) and Yoshie Kawamura (piano). Venue is the Caedmon Hall of Gateshead Library. Please come along if you're around. 
6 months ago |
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The LSO visible on the pitch for the opening of the 2012 Olympics in London. Whither now? Photo: www.lso.co.uk

Working harder. Earning less. Sound familiar? That's the state of many people in many industries, and at the moment a lot of us simply shrug our shoulders, get on with it and give up the notion of having days off, ever. But as pay is stagnant or shaved downwards, and hours are lengthened, and we think our careers are going OK, really, under the circumstances, because "we are where we are", it's a risky direction - because if one goes too far, there comes tipping a point where it finally turns unsustainable, and by the time we realise this, we're in trouble.

Now it is clear that orchestras in the UK are no exception: they're experiencing a double, or even triple, whammy of central funding cuts, local government cuts and reductions in ticket income. And yet they're reaching more people than ever.

A report on the State of British Orchestras in 2016 will be launched at the Association of British Orchestras' annual conference, which kicks off in Bournemouth today. The statistics* from 51 respondents are compared to those of 2013 and reveal that last year our orchestras delivered 7 per cent more concerts than three years ago, visited 42 countries abroad compared to 35 in '13, and, admirably, reached 35 per cent more children and young people, around 900,000 of them. They gave more than 4,000 concerts for audiences totalling 4.83m people - a 3 per cent increase in attendance.

Yet they suffered a 5 per cent fall in earned income, a 7 per cent drop in Arts Council funding and a stomach-punching reduction of 11 per cent in local authority funding.

You may recall that Birmingham City Council cuts have pushed the CBSO's funding down to 1980s levels - and just when it is flying so high musically, with the best hall in the country as its home and Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, one of the most exciting young conductors on the scene, in place as music director.

The LSO, too, should be on its highest possible high as Sir Simon Rattle arrives to take its helm. And over at the Southbank it is full steam ahead with the 'Belief and Beyond Belief' Festival, featuring music (and much more) that ponders the big questions about what the heck we are really doing here, something many of us are currently asking ourselves a bit more than usual. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra juggles superb performances with a dizzying array of residencies and outreach work, including the inspirational project Strokestra, using music to help the rehabilitation of stroke victims. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is on a roll with Vasily Petrenko, the Royal Northern Sinfonia glitters in The Sage, Gateshead, and in Manchester the Halle Orchestra has a long and enviable relationship with Sir Mark Elder. This list could go on and on.

In short, things look and sound very, very good. But the direction of travel is a cause for concern, and it is a mark of our musicians' absolute professionalism and excellence that you'd never guess this at a concert.

Here's the commentary by ABO director Mark Pemberton:
“Orchestras have innovated to achieve bigger audiences and engage more young people and they should be proud of these successes. “However, the survey masks a greater reality. These larger audiences do not bring in more money and, if anything, actually increase losses. Many of the achievements have been fuelled by audience development initiatives such as discounted ticketing, free concerts and fixed fee performances at open air events.  
“These have left orchestras suffering a double whammy – a decline in earned income alongside significant cuts in public funding. The message is simple. Orchestras cannot continue doing ‘more for less’.  
“The government has this year implemented Orchestra Tax Relief and this will offset some of the cuts in public funding imposed since 2010 – but it is far from enough. We need national and, most crucially, local government to restore funding closer to pre-austerity levels to enable our members to continue delivering great music to the widest possible audience.”
     *    T     *The ABO survey asked Britain’s professional orchestras about their activities, audiences, income and staffing, between August and October 2016. 
Responses were received from 51 orchestras: 84% of those from whom responses were requested. Respondents provided data for the season/financial year 2015-2016 or the closest equivalent 12-month period. 
Comparisons are made in this report with the 2013 ‘key facts’ survey (covering 2012-2013) for a core sample of 38 orchestras for non-finance data, and 31 orchestras for finance data, that completed the survey in both years. 
As some of the orchestras that provided data in 2016 differ from those that responded in 2013, the total numbers in this report should be viewed as representative rather than firm numbers. The percentages shown in brackets for live performances and sources of income reflect changes in the comparison groups over the three-year period, and are not percentage changes in the total numbers between 2013 and 2016.
6 months ago |
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Solidarity from Brexit Island with our friends in the arts in the US, where yesterday a leak emerged suggesting that Trump wants to close down the National Endowment for the Arts, along with other stuff of which he doesn't appear to know the value.

A message came to my inbox from ShoutHouse in New York, where a multi-genre group of musicians and dancers have created a collaborative version of Radiohead's Paranoid Android specially for today. This is what they say.
Today marks a new era in our country. In Washington, D.C., a new administration is accepting the power of governmental leadership, and, with it, the responsibility to work as hard as they can to serve the best interests of all Americans. But throughout the country – and the world – many millions worry that this responsibility will be neglected. On what is traditionally a day of hope, multitudes are living in fear. Fear that their race, gender, sexual orientation, or social status will disqualify them from receiving fair and equal treatment under the law for years to come. Fear that their peaceful wishes for the world will be undermined by an ignorant head of state. Fear that their friends and neighbors may be corrupted by the hateful words of a demagogue seeking to serve the interests of the wealthy few.

We fear for the future of art, as it is one of our greatest defenses from fear. Art helps us listen to one another, to learn from those whose words we might not understand. As artists, we have a duty to create beauty in the service of truth, and to shine a light on the best and most noble aspects of human nature. Through our music and actions, we declare our opposition to the toxic divisiveness of the demagogue's words. As Nhat Hanh said, “The only answer to fear is more understanding.” We hope that our cooperation in the service of art will serve as an example to the new administration, and to anyone who does not believe that we can work with those with views different from our own.

This video was made possible by so many incredible artists. First, Radiohead’s powerful music that inspired us to create this project. We want to thank the dozens of musicians from ShoutHouse and Juilliard who believed in us and donated their time to make this possible. Our production team (especially Jack FrererLiana Kleinman, and Jordan James) and those who spent countless hours making sure this looked amazing. The arrangers and orchestrators (Will HealyAlex BurtzosJesse Greenberg), soloists (Hannah ZazzaroSpiritchild XspiritMental, Black Tortuga) without whom this never would have happened. The dancers—Quilan Cue ArnoldZachary GonderMikaela Kelly—whose powerful work represented our music visually so well. Allison Mase for helping us find and organize so many people to create this project.

If you want to support independent art that allows artists from many backgrounds to work together, please donate to ShoutHouse at https://www.fracturedatlas.org/…/profil… or visit www.shouthousemusic.com.

6 months ago |
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