JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. Music & writing, with CHOCOLATE AND SILVER, in London, UK. Author & journalist JD writes for The Independent.
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In a move that has shocked the UK arts world, the government has let it be known that it will not be providing any cash towards the new Centre for Music in the City of London. Instead, the project's board members will be expected to raise the necessary money by crowdfunding. "It's a scheme that has worked perfectly well for everything from orchestral tours to new product design," a spokesperson for the DCMS pointed out. "Why not a concert hall?"

A group of experts has been assembled to devise the pledge rewards for the scheme, aiming to reach £270m by the end of this year. While details are yet to be confirmed, it is understood that ideas mooted include:

£5: MUSIC. A ticket to a concert in the first season;
£10: CAFFEINE. A ticket plus a coffee or tea in the first season;
£100: GRUB. Two tickets and a light meal in the canteen for you and your companion;
£500: SELFIE. You may go backstage and take a selfie with Sir Simon.
£1000: CHAMPERS. You may bring a bottle of champagne backstage and present it to a musician of your choice.
£10,000: KNICKERS. You may throw knickers to a musical star of your choice in concert at the hall. (NB Jonas Kaufmann incurs a premium of £2,500.)
£50,000: PHILANTHROPIST. All of the above, plus a suitably sycophantic interview in one of those magazines that supports the privatisation of absolutely everything.
£100,000: NAME. All of the above, plus an orchestral player renamed after you.
£250,000: NAME IN LIGHTS. All of the above, plus your name to be flashed in lights every night across the entire City from a big screen atop the hall.
£500,000: TICKETS. All of the above, plus tickets for every performance you wish to attend at the new hall for the rest of your life;
£1m: LUNCH: Lunch with a cabinet minister of your choice and whoever becomes London Mayor in May, at the closest Starbucks to Westminster (net donation to project: £500,000, once expenses are deducted).
£2m: CHOCOLATE! All of the above, plus a lifetime's supply of high-quality chocolate, not lower than 85 per cent cocoa solids.

JD particularly likes the sound of the final option, and once the film of GHOST VARIATIONS has scooped all the Oscars, starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Helena Bonham Carter, Colin Firth and Sebastian Koch, directed by George Clooney, she hopes to participate with enthusiasm.

5 months ago | |
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A few months ago I interviewed the amazing Mona Golabek, whose one-woman show The Pianist of Willesden Lane was subsequently a smash hit at the St James Theatre. The pianist turned actress tells the story of her mother, Lisa Jura, who after travelling from Vienna to Britain on the Kindertransport, which saved her from the Nazis, pursued her dream of becoming a pianist despite all. (The piece is here.) Now news has arrived that the book on which Mona's show was based, The Children of Willesden Lane, written by Mona with Lee Cohen, is up for movie development at BBC Films. Watch this space.

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Musician and researcher Rachel Beckles Willson, Professor of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London, is about to launch a new project tracing the different musical traditions in which this exquisite instrument plays a central role, and the stories of migration that go with it. I asked her to tell us all about it... JD

Hearing the Ottomans in London

“So tell me, which singer does she aspire to be?”“Almost all the famous singers. But always with the same voice, the same makam, and interpreted in exactly the same way.”“That means she is a true original! It’s solved. Unique and new. Pay attention here! I mean new, new in capital letters! For when it’s a matter of the new, there’s no need for any other talent. Now we need only choose which direction to take: folk music or classical Turkish music, or folk music with a hint of alafranga, or perhaps alafranga with a hint of folk?” (The Time Regulation Institute, trans. Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe, Penguin Books 2013.)

Rachel Beckles Willson (oud) and Nilufar Habibian (quanun) in concert

Music threads through the novels of Ahmed Hamdi Tanpinar in a tapestry of love, ambition, nostalgia and ambivalence. For a society newly ruled by clocks, radios, and popular song from Europe, what use were Ottoman repertoire and classical modes (makam)? Tanpinar’s protagonist bemoans his sister-in-law’s disregard for tradition (‘she knows nothing about music’) whereas his friend dismisses it: ‘Today who would ever think of trying to distinguish the Isfahanfrom the Acemasiran?, he asks.
While in Europe, classical music institutions flourished beyond the collapse of empire following WWI, in Ataturk’s Turkey, the centuries-old repertoire of the Ottoman courts and dervish houses was sidelined in favour of music that could embody the new Republic. In Greece the situation was similar: the focus fell on music that could express essentially European qualities of the modern state.
But the last decades of the 20th century saw a new growth of interest in Ottoman music, and public support emerged as well. So much so, in fact, that one can now study classical Ottoman repertories in Turkey, Greece, Germany, Holland, France and beyond. There are printed scores, recordings, theory books, teachers… and of course there are many concert performances.
On 13 April, one of London’s most beautiful salons, Music at 22 Mansfield Street, is hosting an evening of Ottoman classical music.
The concert will begin with some of the earliest Ottoman pieces of all, several of which are attributed to Persian musicians at the court of Selim I (1512-1520). We draw the music from scores prepared by Wojciech Bobowski (1610-1675), a Polish slave-musician and translator who converted to Islam and took the name Ali Ufki; and Dimitrie Cantemir (1673–1723), the Moldavian Prince, musician and man of letters who lived in exile in Constantinople from 1687 to 1710. Their scores and other remarkable notated sources reveal the continuous development of Ottoman musical styles from around 1630 right through to the present day.
Our programme then moves on into the late 19th century and shifts south to present the tradition in the Egyptian Nahda(Renaissance). We exchange kemencheh for violin to demonstrate the flamboyant Arabization that was part of that development. We also present Egyptian settings of Andalusian poetry, muwashshahat, along with a range of more recent music from Turkey, Armenia and Iraq.
At the heart of the concert is the oud, which is the predecessor of the European lute and reminds us of Europe’s debt to Al Andalus, the Muslim rule of southern Spain, Portugal and parts of France 711-1492. The oud itself is still played throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and increasingly widely in Europe and North America. I first discovered it by chance while I was researching western style music education among Arab communities of Palestine and Israel. I was increasingly captivated by the sound of the oud, its beauty, and by the way it could transform a social event, triggering laughter, song or tears – or all three of these.
I bought an oud in East Jerusalem, hoping my Arab friends would play it when visiting me back in London. But I found myself trying to play myself, initially grappling with the Iraqi tradition, then slipping into the music of Egypt, Turkey and Crete. A couple of years further on I started to integrate oud with my professional life, drawing it into undergraduate teaching and research. Gradually I’ve found myself performing in public again, many years after leaving my career as a pianist behind.
In the London concert on 13 April I am joined by several brilliant musicians (their origins combine Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine and Turkey) to launch a website that is part of my current research [www.oudmigrations.com]. The website illustrates how ouds can be keys to unlocking stories of migration, and how they offer us fresh perspectives on the ever-changing relationships between Europe, Asia, and North America. The UK’s oldest oud was sent as a gift from the Khedive of Egypt to the South Kensington Museum in 1867. But Europe’s oldest surviving oud probably arrived in Brussels from Alexandria 28 years earlier, ordered by a Belgian researcher.
Several writers will be contributing to oudmigrations.com, so there will be stories from a range of places and in a range of voices. Please visit to watch the project develop. More details about the concert will be posted there shortly.
13 April 2016, 19.30 (welcome drinks served from 19.00).
22 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NR.All the artists are giving their services free, ticket prices cover costs only.
Welcome drink and concert: £20 (students and under-18s £10)
Welcome drink and concert, drinks and canapés after: £30 (students and under-18s £20) Book by email – boas22m AT btinternet.com

Rachel Beckles Willson
5 months ago | |
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A hard-hitting interview with the composer Olga Neuwirth has appeared in VAN magazine in which the distinguished composer tears the patriarchal structures of the classical music world into little bits and pieces. (The interview took place in November last year and has been translated, in what the magazine says is abridged form.)

It is also fairly horrific to discover that on one occasion an opera commission together with the author Elfriede Jelinek was cancelled, and the reasons Neuwirth alleges were behind this. Jelinek subsequently won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Here's a taste of Neuwirth's work: this piece is all about listening to different spaces...

Neuwirth also asks in this interview where those people who now speak up against sexism in the industry were 25 years ago, when she'd already started doing so.

That got me thinking. Where were we? Why are we late starters? Why were we listening to different spaces then?

Well, some of us were pretty young and green, for a start. I was in a junior post, learning how magazines were put together. I got my first music journalism job on The Strad when I was 24 and I had not the first clue about the structures and traditions of the music business. I was resistant to the notion that music was a business at all. Until a year earlier I'd spent three to five hours a day practising the piano, and I was still licking wounds that resulted from that dreamectomy. My mother had cancer and her illness hung over our family like a sword of Damocles. I had other preoccupations, too, as one does at 25, and was basically trying to find my feet, do my job and learn my way around the industry in which I'd landed.

My elder sister was the family feminist and activist. She was a lecturer in French history and politics, at that time at Bath University (she subsequently moved to Sussex). Although she sometimes berated me for my head-in-the-clouds devotion to music, I somehow imbibed the sensation that feminism was her patch and that should I turn in that direction I would never in a thousand years be able to live up to her standards and her expectations.

I'd found the male-dominated aspects of my university sometimes unpleasant, arrogant and intimidating, but I was there and determined to do my own thing - or so I thought. Actually I buried ideas of composition lessons within three weeks of going "up", having spotted how unwelcome a girl composer would be... but the crucial point is that it didn't occur to me that one could challenge this. Surely one didn't need to, not in 1985?!? A woman was prime minister: that proved a woman could now do anything. Ours was the first generation that thought we could have it all. Even so, I did not experience a single lesson with a woman at that university in three years. Unless I'm very much mistaken, the only women teaching in that music faculty were one ethnomusicologist and a brilliant composer (a Schoenberg expert) who was doing a doctorate. It was just how it was. I certainly had daydreams of sneaking down to the faculty by night and spraying on some graffiti, or smashing a window or two, but a) that was for other reasons, and b) I'd never have dared.

Still, I think the sorry underlying truth was probably the syndrome I see in many young women today. They've made it, so why can't others? What's the problem? I am fairly sure that at 25 that's how I must have seen things. It never occurred to me that I'd be overlooked because I was a woman; I applied for jobs and got them, so pas de problème...

What happened? I spent 20 more years in the business. My sister died of cancer, aged 45, and I realised that life is short, short, short. I began writing for the Independent. If I'd approached a national newspaper wanting to write about sexism in the music industry as an importunate upstart of 25, I reckon I'd have been laughed out of town. Then I interviewed Pierre Boulez. He said you can't sit in front of a situation you see is wrong without wanting to do something to change it, and I realised he was right. It wasn't long after that that I found myself sitting in front of something that I felt was very wrong and I decided to do something at least to raise awareness of it, because now I could.

The floodgates of consciousness have opened all around us now and it has been heartening to see the industry's decision-makers responding: festivals from baroque to contemporary programming music by women, International Women's Day taken very seriously on Radio 3 (now we need to address the rest of the year too), the launching of awards for women in the creative industries under the auspices of the Southbank Centre's WOW festival. The argument has widened to consider diversity as a whole, and necessarily so. Chineke! has got off to a flying start, and now Sound and Music is taking direct action to address the lack of diversity in new music "because it's 2016" - here's what they're doing and how and why.

Of course Neuwirth is right: it would have been good if more people had spoken up 25 years ago. But we can't change the past. With any luck, though, we can make some impact upon the present and future.

(Meanwhile, anyone who still requires proof of the ugly nature of misogyny in the music world need only go to the reader comments thread following a Slipped Disc post about Khatia Buniatishvili - some of the views expressed below the line are nauseating. I'm not linking to it - find it yourself if you wish.)
5 months ago | |
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Don't miss this on BBC4 this evening at 7pm. The Sixteen joined forces with Streetwise Opera, the charity that works with the UK's homeless, to stage Bach's St Matthew Passion in Campfield Market, Manchester, last night, directed by Penny Woolcock. They introduce it in this film for The Guardian, and while the BBC is screening a one-hour version tonight you can see the whole premiere on the G's site from Monday.

"The whole of civilisation is founded on art," one of the homeless participants reminds us.
5 months ago | |
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I've reviewed Anna Beer's book Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music for today's Sunday Times. It's a great read, exploring the lives and times of eight remarkable people who were significant both to their day and beyond: Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Marianna Martines, Clara Schumann, Fanny Hensel, Lili Boulanger and Elizabeth Maconchy. The whole review is here. (There's a paywall. Which, let's face it, is probably the only way forward.)

The only thing I really didn't like was the title: "sweet airs" is exactly the sort of nonsense that women who compose have had to face across century after century and not far off "tinkling prettily" (a term I've seen applied to two very different composers whose works, had they been by men, would probably have been lauded instead for their Bergian expressivity or their contrapuntal rigour). Perhaps in this case it was picked for irony...

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Here is Sir András Schiff talking about Bartók, whose birthday is today.

The music shall continue. Great art is eternal...

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The Independent produces its last print edition tomorrow. Many unknown quantities remain regarding the future - as I'm a mere freelancer I work from home and I know nothing, but a great many superb journalists are losing their jobs and/or their columns, there's been a roaring silence thus far concerning future arts coverage and let's say I'm not holding my breath regarding classical music articles.

So here's what's probably my last piece, barring some miracle, and I'm glad to say it's a Glyndebourne preview. They've got an absolute peach of a season coming up and I enjoyed a lovely chat with Gus Christie - but it has to be noted that if you want a top-price seat for Meistersinger it'll cost rather a lot. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/glyndebourne-preview-seats-at-britains-best-known-opera-festival-this-summer-will-cost-up-to-300-a6946276.html

My heart is with my friends and colleagues today, editors, writers and columnists, people at the very top of their profession who in some cases have devoted almost their entire working lives to that newspaper and never ceased trying to make it the best in the business. I'm proud to have worked with you for 12 years and I am going to miss you very, very much.

Over and out.
5 months ago | |
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The irrepressible Michael Volpe, head of Opera Holland Park, has made a little film, available on BBC Arts, about what happened when he took some fellow Chelsea fans for their first-ever experience of opera, specifically La traviata.
Some remarkable things began to happen quite early in the journey, not only to them...
5 months ago | |
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The government has published its first White Paper on Culture for more than 50 years, only the second one ever, and it is full of good stuff. Unfortunately, an adequate resemblance of its contents to the picture on the ground has thus far passed me by.

There are BME children playing violins on the cover, a trendy stakeholder hashtag #OurCulture, quotes from Shakespeare, strong words about inclusiveness, an insistence that every child should have the opportunity to encounter culture both in and out of school. There is, too, a thing called 'GREAT Britain' which seeks to increase the UK's 'soft power' in the world in general, through the impact and repute of its cultural life. Culture is the third most important concern for those wishing to visit the UK, it seems (only 17% of people cited the weather as an attraction), and the figures of its worth to the economy are writ large, in pink.

The good news is that a reasonably convincing attempt has been made to quantify the true value of culture - to the economy, to society, to people's quality of life, to our health, to the country's world standing and more. It's a difficult thing to pull off, but they have managed it, and done so with clarity, if not with a huge amount of detail as to how they intend to achieve their objectives, beyond working with the right people and organisations in such areas as diversity and devolution.

It is brilliant to see this being recognised at government level. But what is said, and what actually happens, still seem dangerously at odds. Try this, re public libraries:

Public libraries are an important part of our local communities. The Leadership for Libraries Taskforce was established in 2015 by the government and the Local Government Association. Its objectives are to support collaboration, best practice and development across England’s public library service. 

Oh yes? Did you know that several hundred public libraries have been forced to close in the past 5 years? Have a look...

The single biggest problem we're facing here, I think, is a lack of joined-up thinking. You can't make something happen by waving a lordly hand and saying "Make It So". It's fine to trumpet high ideals, but you cannot simultaneously cash-starve the local authorities that you expect to deliver them. They also have to take care of the elderly and the sick, organise rubbish collections, collect parking fines and find enough places in schools for local children, among other tasks. Many of them have been forced to slash their arts budgets because they simply can't afford them any more. For instance, an orchestra on tour or playing in residencies up and down the country may find that when once they were guaranteed a fee for a local appearance, instead they have been asked to share the risk with the local authority that runs the hall in question, and some are now being asked to shoulder all the risk if they want to keep playing there. Which they can't. And local authorities are closing libraries because they can't afford to keep them going.

A spirited response has come in from Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians. She, too, has homed in on the gulf between ideal and reality - in particular, where provision of music in schools is concerned, and where intellectual property issues need to be to the fore. She says:

‘We are delighted to see the Government re-state its real commitment to music and the wider cultural sector. It is clear that Ed Vaizey and the wider Department really understand the importance of the creative industries to our economic success; something also recognised by the Chancellor George Osbourne.‘We particularly welcome the recognition that there is a need for “facilities that allow artists to develop and create new work”, something that will be of critical importance in supporting new composers and performers.‘We are however concerned that this White Paper stands in isolation from the wider ecology of the cultural sector. The absence of a commitment around creators’ rights and intellectual property – something that lies at the heart of our profession – is particularly notable.‘Likewise, the investment in music education hubs and the Mayor’s Music Fund in London continues to be welcome, but music delivered as part of the curriculum in our schools is increasingly under pressure. With a newEnglish Baccalaureate (EBacc) replacing theold EBacc, the future of the arts subjects in schools and in the classroom is at risk. This is where the skills and talent pipeline of the future come from, the entrepreneurs, micro and small businesses of the future and it is an enormous cause for concern for the future of the creative industries.’
Read the whole Culture White Paper here.
No doubt a lot more responses will be turning up before very long.

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