Saturday, November 28, 2015

Beatrice Rana: A Star is Born

Meet the 23-year-old pianist from Puglia who is sweeping to stardom. She's on the latest cover of PIANIST magazine (my interview with her is inside) and last night she took the RFH by storm in her concerto debut there, playing Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.2 - one of the darkest and most emotionally daunting in the repertoire.

Beatrice met its challenges with seemingly effortless virtuosity. She caught an ideal mix of intense expression and mercurial modernism, rising cool-headed to the challenges of the giant cadenzas and the perpetuum mobile scherzo. Fine rhythm, grace, elegance and huge reserves of fire all had their place in this performance, which brought the house down and sparked a vivacious Bach encore (the Gigue from the B flat major Partita).

I was amazed, talking to her for the interview, that she was so young. She's mature beyond her years, ferociously intelligent and mentally well organised. She went to a high school in her native Lecce, Puglia, that specialised in science. Question: if you weren't a pianist, what would you be? Answer: Space Woman! I'd love to be an astronaut or an astrophysicist. Her parents are both pianists, her sister a cellist and her grandparents makers of that fabulous strong south Italian red wine that she remarks is "not for aperetif!" And she says her dog tends to leave the room if she's not playing well.

Last year she entered the Van Cliburn Competition because she wanted to see if she could "upgrade" her career. She duly downloaded silver medal and the audiences' hearts and now she has recorded the Prokofiev, along with Tchaikovsky 1, with Tony Pappano conducting, for Warner Classics. It's a stunner. After last night, I can only urge you to go and catch her if she comes to a hall near you.

Last night's concert was conducted by Susanna Mälkki, of whom more later on...

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How do you get to Symphony Hall?

Practise, practise, practise, of course. But in the meantime, just follow the cello... You'll find it on the CBSO's Facebook page.
If you're heading to our concerts soon, you might want to know there's now a different route from the train stations to Symphony Hall. We made a little video to lead the way - follow the cello! Find out more at
Posted by City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra on Thursday, 26 November 2015

Music Into Words, 2 February 2016

Delighted to have been invited to join the panel for this interesting evening, devised and presented by pianist, teacher and writer Frances Wilson (who blogs as The Cross-Eyed Pianist). It takes place in the Court Room of the Senate House, London, 2 Feb, 7pm. Tickets are £5, and it's free to students. Further details and booking here.

Is writing about music really like "dancing about architecture"?
An event exploring the wide variety of writing about classical music today
Concert and opera reviews, academic writing, music journalism, programme notes, blogging and musicians who write about music
  • Guest speakers - including author and music journalist Jessica Duchen, academic, writer and blogger Dr Mark Berry (Royal Holloway, University of London), blogger Simon Brackenborough (who blogs as Corymbus), and The Guardian's Imogen Tilden.
  • Q&A and discussion session 
  • Networking opportunity
Tuesday 2nd February 2016

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Arts funding cuts would be a "false economy" - Osborne

There've been some surprises of the better kind in the chancellor George Osborne's autumn statement. Here's what he said about the arts today.

Please note, the small print that follows in the days after these "good news" statements often contain other surprises: how the ACE will decide to divvy up its allocation remains to be seen. Peter Bazalgette, Chair of the ACE, has apparently described the funding settlement as "astonishing" (according to the BBC's arts correspondent Will Gompertz).
Britain’s not just brilliant at science. It’s brilliant at culture too.
One of the best investments we can make as a nation is in our extraordinary arts, museums, heritage, media and sport.
£1 billion a year in grants adds a quarter of a trillion pounds to our economy – not a bad return. So deep cuts in the small budget of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport are a false economy.
Its core administration budget will fall by 20%, but I am increasing the cash that will go to the Arts Council, our national museums and galleries.
We’ll keep free museum entry – and look at a new tax credit to support their exhibitions and I will help UK Sport, which has been living on diminishing reserves, with a 29% increase in their budget – we’re going for gold in Rio and Tokyo.
The Right Honourable Member for Hull West and Hessle has personally asked me to support his city’s year of culture – and I am happy to do so.
The money for Hull is all part of a package for the Northern Powerhouse which includes funding the iconic new Factory Manchester and the Great Exhibition of the North. In Scotland, we will support the world famous Burrell Collection.
While here in London we’ll help the British Museum, the Science Museum, and the V&A move their collections out of storage and on display.
And we will fund the exciting plans for a major new home for the Royal College of Arts in Battersea.
And we’re increasing the funding for the BBC World Service, so British values of freedom and free expression are heard around the world.
And all of this can be achieved without raiding the Big Lottery Fund as some feared. It will continue to support the work of hundreds of small charities across Britain.

Here is the DCMS's response to the statement, which all looks pretty positive. It points out: "Less than 1 per cent of total government expenditure goes to culture, media and sport; sectors which account for almost a sixth of the UK economy." It does not contain one word about a new concert hall, which is also interesting.

Support Rustem's new Rachmaninoff recording

Changes in the recording industry mean that now even some musicians whose CDs have been up for major industry awards have to crowdfund their new recordings. 

The London-based Russian pianist Rustem Hayroudinoff made an enormously successful series of Rachmaninoff recordings (please note the FF for both composer and pianist) for Chandos some years back - interpretations that received rave reviews and benchmark status. One of them was shortlisted for a BBC Music Magazine award. A couple of years ago I attended a recital he gave at St John's Smith Square which included a performance of the Sonata No.1 - a Faust Symphony for piano in all but name - that had the entire audience on its feet, yelling, straight after the final note.

You have got to record it, I said to him. Now he is planning to do just that - and the ever-popular Sonata No.2 as well - but we're in a different world today and he is crowdfunding the recording. He has until 21 December to raise around £9000.

He has some trenchant views on the situation facing artists in the recording industry, too, and explains these in the video on his Crowdfunder page.

Please help support him on his page, here.