JDCMB
Jessica
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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We were fortunate to have such a figure as Nelson Mandela in the world at all. Today everyone on social media seems to have found a pertinent quote from him - each one chosen in a way that is extremely personal to the chooser. Each one is an inspiration in itself. (Tomorrow the Indy will publish a special souvenir edition in his memory, btw.)

Instead of a quote, here's an incident.

Ten years ago the violinist Philippe Graffin went to Johannesburg to record the gorgeous violin concerto by Samuel Coleridge Taylor with the Johannesburg Philharmonic. It was an event that could never have existed without Nelson Mandela: a mixed-race South African organisation, performing a work by a composer half British, half African. This is the end of the first movement and the whole of the second movement. (Get the whole recording.) And here - from the first month of JDCMB - is why this means such a lot to me, then and now. http://jessicamusic.blogspot.co.uk/2004/03/coleridge-taylor-and-south-africa.html




4 months ago | |
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If you heard my BBC Radio 3 Building a Library on the Chopin 4 Ballades the other day, you'll know that we ended up with three top choices: Krystian Zimerman (recorded c1988), Alfred Cortot (1929) and Sviatoslav Richter (1960). It's Krystian Zimerman's birthday today, as luck would have it, so here he is in the surprise wild card of the four: the heart-warming poem that is the A flat Ballade No.3.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KRYSTIAN, wherever you may be!



4 months ago | |
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"Major Strasse has been shot. Round up the usual suspects..."
Now, this is in no way to derogate the life-force that is Harrison Birtwistle (it's taken me a long time to become a fan, but I am one now). Nor is it to derogate George Benjamin, James MacMillan, Colin Matthews or any of the exciting "9 new winners", their hard work or their fine compositions. But HOW IS IT POSSIBLE IN 2013 THAT 14 MEN GET PRIZES AND THERE IS NOT ONE WOMAN IN THE LINE-UP?

(This post has been updated since yesterday. There are 13 categories, all of them won by men. In fact one of the winning works is a joint effort, which means that 14 men, not 13, are in the lineup.)

This proves more than ever that it is time for an all-women prize for classical music. Women are achieving great things in this field - but they are not being adequately recognised for it. This time we need more than a list. We need action and we need it now.

Besides, if part of the point of these awards is to help "a composer and their work become more widely recognised" - frankly, Sir Harry is up there and he doesn't need one. The award to him is not so much Casablanca as Groundhog Day.

Here is part of the self-congratulatory press release that accompanies this pathetic outcome.



British Composer Awards 2013

9 NEW WINNERS REVEALED AT THE BRITISH COMPOSER AWARDS 2013 AS BIRTWISTLE GATHERS HIS FIFTH AWARD AND BECOMES THE MOST SHORTLISTED AND WINNING COMPOSER IN BCA HISTORY

The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) tonight announced the winners in 13 categories of the 2013 British Composer Awards in a ceremony at London’s Goldsmiths' Hall. Of the 13 categories, nine were awarded to new winners.

Six of the winners are completely new to the British Composer Awards, having never even been on the shortlist before this year: Nigel Clarke, Matthew Martin, Ed Baxter/Chris Weaver, Peter McGarr and Toshio Hosokawa.

Nigel Clarke's Cornet Concerto, Mysteries of the Horizon was the winner of the Wind Band or Brass Band category and is a spellbinding work based upon four paintings by the Belgian artist René Margritte. Matthew Martin's innovative I Saw the Lord, written for Daniel Cook and St Davids Cathedral Choir won the Liturgical category while Ed Baxter and Chris Weaver's No Such Object, a major sound art work performed using bespoke hand made electrical equipment that premiered in August 2012 at Arthur's Seat, won the Sonic Art category.

Peter McGarr's Dry Stone Walls of Yorkshire, written for CoMA London Ensemble won the Making Music Award and Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa received the International Award for his orchestral work Woven Dreams.

British Composer Awards Committee Chairman, Sarah Rodgers, said: "One of the achievements BASCA is particularly proud of is that the British Composers Awards, year on year, brings to light rising composers and supports them in taking the next step in their careers. The broadcast and other media exposure we are able to offer, together with commissions and collaborations, all contribute to helping a composer and their work become more widely recognised."

Sir Harrison Birtwistle, who won his fifth British Composer Award for Gigue Machine in the Instrumental Solo or Duo category, became the most shortlisted and winning composer in BCA history. Birtwistle’s previous awards include both the Orchestral and Choral awards in 2005, the Instrumental Solo or Duo award for Crowd in 2007 and the Orchestral category in 2012 for Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. Gigue Machine, for solo piano, was written for Nicolas Hodges and is a remarkably complex, virtuosic work described by Birtwistle as “mimicking a fantasia in two parts”, one resonant, the other staccato.

Joseph Phibbs, George Benjamin, John Surman and James Redwood, are all first-time winners although each has received previous nominations. Phibbs' Rivers to the Sea, commissioned for the 18th birthday celebrations of The Anvil, Basingstoke, won the Orchestral category while George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, which played to sold-out audiences and admiring notices at the Royal Opera House in March this year, won the Stage Works category. John Surman's Lifelines, a groundbreaking work marrying contemporary jazz with the traditional male voice choir was the winner of the Contemporary Jazz Composition category while James Redwood's massive work for 250 young musicians from six diverse ensembles Pass The Torch, An Olympic Symphony, received the Community or Educational Project Award.

Guy Fletcher, Chairman of PRS for Music, said:“Tonight’s new generation of British composers has been truly impressive and I am excited to see such breadth of talent and creativity on the winners’ shortlist. The British Composer Awards provide a vital showcase for music that is part of our cultural fabric and enjoyed the world over. PRS for Music is proud to sponsor such an important event.”

Colin Matthews, James MacMillan and Brian Elias all received Awards for the second time. Matthews, who won the Vocal category in 2012 for No Man's Land this year took the Chamber Award with his String Quartet No. 4, written for the Elias String Quartet. James MacMillan's Since it was the day of Preparation…, for bass, chorus and ensemble which tells the story of the Resurrection was the winner in the Choral category while Brian Elias received the Vocal Award for Electra Mourns, a work for mezzo soprano, solo cor anglais and String Orchestra that premiered at the Proms in 2012.

The Awards ceremony opened with a performance of Rodrigo Barbosa Camacho's work, American Candy - What the hell is Yellow no. 6?!? for viola - winner of the 4th Student Competition at the British Composer Awards - performed by Sarah-Jane Bradley.

Roger Wright, Controller, BBC Radio 3 & Director, BBC Proms said, “Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s 2013 BCA awards. As the home of classical music, and one of the most significant commissioners of new music, BBC Radio 3 is delighted once again to cover this important event for our millions of listeners.”

The British Composer Awards are presented by BASCA and sponsored by PRS for Music. In association with BBC Radio 3 providing exclusive broadcast coverage of the Awards on Saturday 7 December.
4 months ago | |
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In my Amati.com Soapbox this week I've tackled a particular bugbear of mine: please can we have less curating and more artistic directing in these parts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here's his biog from the Percius website.

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

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

Meanwhile we hear that there's some good news on the way about another highly gifted young conductor who was among the GMCC's 12 selected candidates... Watch this space.
4 months ago | |
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