The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has been touring Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai in a bid to inspire Indian children to explore western classical music
On the day that Indians start voting in the world's biggest general election, the country's future is at the forefront of everyone's thoughts. A tiny part of that future might just have been shaped by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who yesterday flew home after an 11-day tour of Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai, bringing western classical music to the cities in the form of concerts, workshops, school visits and masterclasses.
India is a country with an enormously rich and deep-rooted tradition of its own classical music. While western classical music is far from unknown Nehru was a fan, Calcutta has a well-established western classical music club and there are amateur orchestras both there and in Mumbai it sounds as different to many Indians' ears as their own music does to ours, and opportunities to hear and learn it are relatively rare.
As the first full biography of pianist John Ogdon is published, hear how his astonishing music-making transcended his psychological difficulties
Twenty five years since his death, the story of John Ogdon's life in music has just been told in his first full-length biography entitled Piano Man. Charles Beauclerk, a friend of the Ogdon family, gives what I think is a fascinating, unflinching, and honest account of Ogdon's astonishing virtuosity, his victory at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1962, and his friendship with the other firebrands of New Music Manchester Elgar Howarth, Alexander Goehr, Harrison Birtwistle, and Peter Maxwell Davies.
In what may seriously be one of the most amazing feats of musical brilliance of all time, Peter Maxwell Davies found a copy of Kaikhosru Sorabji's titanic four-hour behemoth, his Opus Clavicembalisticum, in a second-hand shop, and Ogdon promptly played the whole thing, some of the most mind-bendingly, finger-destroyingly demanding music ever conceived for piano, at sight. There's also an account of Ogdon's marriage to Brenda Lucas and their life of outward glamour and inner turmoil, as Ogdon's mental illnesses and obsessions became ever-more present in their life together, and the tragedy of his death in 1989, aged just 52. This tragedy came from the bouts of violence that would explode from Ogdon, the cocktail of drugs he was taking to attempt to deal with his psychiatric problems.
Mr BurnsWhen Rupert Goold took charge of the Almeida, he said every show should aim to change theatre. Anne Washburn's "post-electric" play promises to do just that, reimagining America and its pop culture not least The Simpsons in the wake of a national grid meltdown. Almeida, London (020-7359 4404) 5 June - 19 July.
Bruckner symphonies respectively the Fourth, Seventh and the Ninth have been the bedrock of the Amsterdam orchestra's enterprising Barbican residency under Mariss Jansons. The Concertgebouw play this music as well as any orchestra in the world, and Jansons is a master of balance and texture, so in the second and third concerts of the series there were times without number when the weight, sonority and tone felt exactly as the composer must have heard it in his head.
That said, the performance of the uncompleted Ninth was superior as a Brucknerian musical experience to the high-quality but rather unimaginative account of the Seventh the previous evening. The long, lonely musical lines of the Seventh need more room to breathe and blossom than Jansons, always keen to press on, allowed. It says something about the performance that the trio section of the third-movement scherzo, a meadow among the surrounding peaks, had more Brucknerian reflectiveness than the grander and more iconic passages.
Normally, switched-on smartphones are a big no-no during opera performances, but their use during this premiere of Matthew Herbert's The Crackle is encouraged. Unfortunately, there was a technical hitch on the first night; the sound artist himself came on to announce reception problems in the underground Linbury, though in the event quite a few audience members were able to receive their scheduled messages via the application Chirp.
Herbert co-directs (with Sasha Milavic Davies) his own opera to his own libretto, and also provides his own sound design. It's a lot for one creative figure to do, and he might profitably have brought in a professional writer to sharpen the text, which his humdrum musical setting makes even more flat-footed than it already is.
"She is a Don Juan among women," pronounces the judge, summing up the high-society divorce trial in Powder Her Face. He condemns the Duchess she whose face requires powdering as unfit for marriage, perverted and insatiable, with sexual predilections "seldom found north of Marrakech". The peach-satin negligee, lilac bath, white telephone, gilded hostess trolley, potted palms: all must go. Meanwhile her husband whose little mistress calls him a squiffy daddy is deemed spotless. It's a shocking moment and a brilliant reversal of the operatic norm.
Of the many singular aspects of Powder Her Face, from rapturous musical pastiche to sleazy story, the most extraordinary is that it was first seen nearly two decades ago yet still feels fresh and startling. Written when the composer Thomas Adès and the librettist Philip Hensher were still in their 20s, it already counts as a modern classic, having had several stagings, usually in small venues including the Royal Opera's Linbury Studio.
Following concert performances last year, the Academy of Ancient Music and a small choral ensemble singing four to a part have recorded the 1724 version of the St John Passion, which Bach would later revise and elaborate. As we now expect of period instrument performances, the tempi are mostly brisk, the instrumental playing clean and energetic but not forced. James Gilchrist as the Evangelist is an incisive and emotional storyteller, capitalising on the drama of the Easter story. Matthew Rose and Ashley Riches are well matched as Jesus and Pilatus, with Elizabeth Watts, Sarah Connolly, Andrew Kennedy and Christopher Purves completing a top lineup of soloists. If you want a scaled-down, intimate version of this work the absence of a big choral sound will not suit all tastes this is recommended.
Having just returned from Brazil, I eagerly seized this new compilation of arrangements from Rio de Janeiro as a way of recapturing the intensity of the great city. There are some tracks by classic Brazilians like Caetano Veloso, played with the utmost sophistication by Viktoria Mullova. Accompaniments from cello, percussion and guitars featuring Matthew Barley, Paul Clarvis and Carioca Freitas are smooth and dusky. Occasionally there's a feeling as with so many crossover classical attempts that the whole thing is too tasteful and careful, but what wins out here is Mullova's sheer dancing virtuosity in Tico tico and Brasileirinho these are as dazzling as the sights and sounds of Brazil.
The Barbican Hall's acoustics could hardly be more different from that of the orchestra's Amsterdam home, but the Royal Concertgebouw's residencies there are now pleasingly regular. The latest centres on Bruckner, with three concerts in as many days under its chief conductor Mariss Jansons, including the Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Symphonies.
It's difficult to think of any portion of the repertoire in which this superlative orchestra does not excel. But the right way to play Bruckner seems particularly hard-wired into its make up how to bring luminosity as well as weight to the textures, warmth as well as intensity to the long melodic lines, and above all how to generate huge, spell-binding climaxes without ever making them uncomfortably overbearing something the Barbican's resident orchestra would do well to learn from.
Weve been this way many times before. Let me paraphrase: how to get those of non-European origin enthralled with what has been traditionally presented as an exclusively European/Caucasian art form?
Its one of those questions like why do bankers remain unpunished? that is asked repeatedly, with little or no satisfactory forward movement. As with the bankers, some reasons are simple, some more complex; as with the bankers, they are also questions of will and priorities.
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