Quatuor Diotima(Megadisc Classics)
It was never subjected to the same number of reworkings and expansions as some of his later works, yet Livre pour Quatuor, Pierre Boulez’s only string quartet, remained in a state of compositional flux for the last 60 years of his life. Boulez began the original six-movement version in 1948, when he was 23 and had just completed his Second Piano Sonata. The title, Livre, was a homage to Mallarmé and to the poet’s idea of a book in which the individual chapters could be shuffled: Boulez intended that the movements of the quartet could be reordered, or even detached and performed separately. His original manuscript has no bar lines and few tempo markings and dynamics and, at that stage, it seems, he planned to publish two versions, the original form and in a score with time signatures that would make it much easier to perform. In the event, though, only the first two movements were performed at the premiere in 1955, and the full score was eventually published three years after that as a five-movement work (the fourth was omitted, though the original numbering of the movements was retained).
My friend and colleague John Evans, who has died aged 62 of a heart attack, made significant contributions to three musical institutions.
Born in Swansea, the son of Leslie, a band leader, and his wife, Avis (nee Jones), John went from Gowerton grammar school to University College, Cardiff (now Cardiff University). After gaining his MA in music in 1976, he worked for five years, latterly as a research scholar, at the Red House, Aldeburgh, Benjamin Britten’s home for the last part of his life, and now housing the Britten-Pears Foundation. John’s doctoral thesis explored the structure of Britten’s Death in Venice, and he wrote insightfully about other operas by the composer. With Donald Mitchell he collaborated on Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976: Pictures from a Life (1978), and he laboured lovingly on the selection and editing of Britten’s revelatory diaries, eventually published as Journeying Boy (2009).
Nicholas Martin’s wonderful screenplay for the new film is accompanied by Jasper Rees’s biography, which details the scandal in Jenkins’s life and presents her as a symbol of female empowerment
On 25 October 1944, as Japanese and American forces pulverised one another in the Pacific, Florence Foster Jenkins took to the stage at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Before a crowd of 3,000 – thousands more were left outside, having failed to get tickets – she performed a challenging programme including the Queen of the Night’s aria from The Magic Flute, “In the Silence of the Night” by Rachmaninoff and “Clavelitos”, “a short, flirtatious song in the Hispanic idiom”. But this was no ordinary concert, the main draw being that Jenkins, a stately soprano then in her mid-70s, was utterly tone deaf. Throughout the performance the audience were laughing so hard at her tuneless screeches and yelps that, according to some reports, they completely drowned her out. One actor suffered such incontrollable hysterics that she had to be removed from her box. The music critic from the New York Post stopped the singer’s partner and “personal representative”, St Clair Bayfield, as he left the hall. “Why?” he asked. “Because she loves music,” came the reply. “If she loves music,” countered the critic, “why does she do this?”
It is a question many of us will have pondered as we watch The Voice, The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. And indeed the story of Jenkins, a woman who did not let a lack of talent limit her ambitions, seems to speak to a certain spirit of our age. The first play about her, Terry Sneed’s Precious Few, premiered in 1994, and since then she has inspired ever more prestigious stage productions, culminating with Glorious!, which opened in the West End in 2005. Now, with the release of an eponymous film about her, starring Meryl Streep and directed by Stephen Frears, her continued fame seems assured. The screenplay by Nicholas Martin, which is tagged on to the end of Jasper Rees’s biography, furnishes the myth with many delicious details: Jenkins’s obsession with potato salad, which she served in such great quantities at her private “musicales” that she stored it in the bath; the suggestion that syphilis, contracted from her first husband, may have been the cause of some of her eccentricities; her habit of carrying her will around at all times in a large black briefcase.
Whether raunchy or religious, everything Purcell wrote had the same unstuffy grit. Ahead of her show at the London festival of baroque music, the folk star pays tribute to a champion of the vernacular
When I was nine or so, a nymph-like young woman with long blond plaits and steel-rimmed specs (think Joni Mitchell meets Virginia Woolf) came to teach me and my friends in Oxford Girls’ Choir “baroque dancing” on Saturday mornings.
I’m not sure how authentic our interpretations were, and the older girls joked about having to wear “doilies” on our heads. But the countless period performances of Dido and Aeneas, the first English opera, which we toured around the UK and Europe, were deeply formative and fun. The music was as beguiling and alive for me as a drunken sailor, a witch or a cupid, and this is where my relationship with Purcell began.
First staged a year after she killed herself, 4.48 Psychosis was called Kane’s suicide note. As a new opera version opens, the team behind the play’s Royal Court premiere look back – and her brother gives a rare interview about a work that roars with life as it gazes at death
On 3 November 1998, Sarah Kane arrived at Royal Holloway, University of London, to do a student workshop. She was there to talk about her plays – Blasted, which had scandalised and horrified the critical establishment back in 1995, and her equally mould-breaking dramas Cleansed and Crave, both of which had opened earlier that year. Just before she left, Kane let slip that she was working on a new script: its title was 4.48 Psychosis. “Whatever it is that I began in Crave it’s going a step further,” she said enigmatically. “Where it goes after that, I’m not quite sure.”
Related: A blast at our smug theatre: Edward Bond on Sarah Kane
Maestro who quit as Milan opera house’s musical director amid acrimony will conduct two concerts in January
Riccardo Muti, the celebrated Italian musical conductor, will make a dramatic return to opera’s spiritual home La Scala in Milan, in what appears to be a burying of the hatchet between the Italian maestro and the opera house after a falling out in 2005.
La Scala said Muti, who serves as a musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, would perform two concerts in Milan in January as part of the Chicago group’s European tour.
Few other chamber orchestras have the vision and chops to pull off a set that includes Stockhausen and Mitchell, then conclude with improvisation
The SEM Ensemble has always held a missionary zeal for contemporary programming. That was the case when composer-conductor Petr Kotik founded the group and led its initial performances of works by John Cage and Cornelius Cardew in the 1970s. And this crew is still ahead of the curve – as they demonstrated with this week’s diverse and occasionally astonishing program at the Bohemian National Hall.
Few other chamber orchestras have the vision and chops necessary to pull off a set that includes Stockhausen’s Zeitmaße (or Time Measures) and a thrashing new symphonic piece by composer-saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell (which also included the composer-saxophonist’s own firecracker playing). On Monday night, Kotik and his associates presented those high-energy compositions with startling precision, and had plenty of concentration left over for sparer works by the likes of Cage and Kotik himself. Not to mention music from another pair of composers – all before a jointly improvised performance concluded the event.
Graham Vick was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards. This is a transcript of his speech.
Any work of art worth its salt contains the demand for change. So it’s no surprise that our most conservative of countries should feel challenged by the very concept of art, just as it’s always been challenged by the concept of religion; never more so than now. But King Canute got his feet wet, change happens and the country of my childhood, which struggled to pull together and build a better future for its young, instead has built today’s dangerously divided society - divided by opportunity, race, religion and above all, by wealth.
How can we bind this fractured world together? Where can we look for our common humanity? I look for it in music. Music already belongs to everyone. The democratic wonder of opera is that we all of us already share the material - it is of us. We have been singing stories for as long as we have existed. The music has always been in us and the stories always about us. However new or strange or alien a creation may seem, it can only be made from what already exists. Insights, leaps of the imagination, never-heard-before sounds can all be broken down to the familiar. Stockhausen’s Wednesday from Light is a dazzling riff on the theme that to receive music is only a matter of tuning in, like a radio receiver. All sound, all thought, shares roots. Our work is the revelation of what is. This boundless mystery can’t be captured on a printed page - it’s only music when given life and breath in performance - when heard, experienced - when the listener is a participant contributing through their own existence to their own unique work of art.
Graham Vick, maverick founder of Birmingham Opera Company, lambasts increasingly privatised art funding at classical music world’s Oscars
Opera companies need to get out of their “ghetto” where they are protected by concepts of excellence and artistic integrity and find new audiences on their own ground, the director Graham Vick has told a gathering of the movers and shakers of Britain’s classical music world.
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