Wednesday, July 29, 2015

On holiday

My holiday, however, involves a Jonas-and-Kristine fix in Munich on Friday night and Tristan at Bayreuth on Sunday. So I might end up writing something about some of it, wifi willing. Failing that, I leave you with this...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cheering up with the Wonderland Blues



Before all that rain started, we spent a gorgeous afternoon at Opera Holland Park, under the leaves in the Yucca Lawn groves, watching Will Todd's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's on until 1 August, so assuming we're clear of the rain, do try and catch a show.

It's one of those rare delights that holds little kids riveted, yet their parents equally so: a sassy adaptation of the characters and elements of the story, plus an eclectic take on the music with everything from gospel through a hint of zany modernism to something edging towards Somewhere Over the Rainbow (and try the Wonderland Blues above, starring the larger-than-life Keel Watson as the Caterpillar and super Fflur Wyn as Alice).

Wonders in Aliceland. Photo by Alex Brenner


The sets are dotted around in different spots beneath the trees; your ticket is a cushion and you take it with you to sit on on the ground, moving around between scenes. Full marks to the orchestra - known as the Alice Band - for shifting too, and to the cast for marshalling us all into the right places at the right time.

And in this environment, after a while even the most hardened critic/opera fan begins to shake off the old encrustations of cynicism and overwork grumpiness and...well, if you're surrounded by entranced four-year-olds, eventually you begin to feel like one yourself. And you discover anew that 'opera' scrubs up as enormous fun: a good story well told, through top-notch music and singing and movement and drama and costumes, all live in front of you. What a refreshing and welcome joy with which to see in the rest of the summer.

This show, incidentally, has legs. Though OHP commissioned it two years ago, it's travelling excellently and will be at the Linbury in November. A CD (as above) is now available too. More info about cast, performance dates, etc, here.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Glamour time - are we listening or looking?



I took part in a discussion for the US radio station WQXR's programme Conducting Business about playing the glamour card in classical music. Have a listen above.

More info here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Farewell to a wonderful clarinettist



The clarinettist John McCaw, always known personally as Jack, has died at the age of 96. He lived opposite us.

We had no idea, when we moved to our house back in the last century, that he was there. Virtually every clarinettist I've come across since then had at some point been to our street for lessons with him. He was principal clarinet successively of the Philharmonia and of the London Philharmonic, many years ago (and would always watch with much amusement as Tom zoomed out of our front door with instrument case and raincoat to catch the train to Glyndebourne). He was well known as a soloist, and made the recording above of the Nielsen and Mozart concertos with the New Philharmonia and Raymond Leppard in, I believe, a single day.

He can be heard in innumerable recordings, including, if I remember rightly, the Elgar Cello Concerto with du Pré, Barenboim and the LPO (1967), the Nielsen Symphony No.5 conducted by Jascha Horenstein and apparently with Placido Domingo singing 'La vita e inferno' from La forza del destino. In 1977 he played the Mozart Concerto at the Proms with the Philharmonia under Riccardo Muti. He also championed the works of Joseph Holbrooke.

Jack was born in New Zealand at the very end of the First World War and came to live in the UK a few years after the end of the Second, when he was about 30. He and his wife, Ann, a pianist, had lived in their house for more than 50 years.

He was a vivid, sparky character with an unfailing wit, a great deal of charm and, we hear, little patience for nonsense from conductors. He was meticulous, house-proud and a keen gardener. Even when he was over 90 we would see him on a step-ladder with an electric saw, trimming his hedge into a perfect oblong.

For friends and former pupils wishing to attend his funeral, I am told that it will be at Mortlake Crematorium on Tuesday 28 July at 4pm.

We will miss him very, very much.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wigmore debut for remarkable young composer-pianist

I was sent a CD by the young Israeli pianist and composer Matan Porat to review a couple of years ago and was mightily impressed (I called his playing "cool-tempered, intelligent and sophisticated"). The other day I heard - just one week before the event, of course - that he is making his Wigmore Hall debut on Sunday (26th). I can't go, annoyingly, but asked him for an e-interview. Here he is. 



Matan, where did you grow up, what is your background and how did you start to play?

I grew up in a non-musical family. My mother loves music and as a toddler I learned to listen to LPs on my own, and was fascinated for hours from music by Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. My parents bought me small musical toys and I used to sing and play all day long. One day I came across a piano, and it was clear for me that is the instrument I want to play, as it provided instant gratification and had the possibility of imitating a whole orchestra. 

I started both piano and composition at the age of six. For a very long time, until I was 18, I was mostly interested in composition and improvisation, and piano studies were secondary. 

Which musicians and teachers have been most important to your development? 

All had changed when I entered the Tel-Aviv university. Initially, I wanted to study only composition, but my teacher advised me to apply also for the piano department. I had the immense luck to study with a fantastic teacher, Emanuel Krasovsky, who saw immediately the big potential I had and together we were able to accomplish many things, despite the fact my first public concert was when I was over 18.

Over the years I was privileged to work with some great artists who greatly inspired me, such as András Schiff, Daniel Barenboim and Richard Goode. 

Among my "regular" teachers, I have learned most from my first teacher, Emanuel Krasovsky, and my last teacher, Murray Perahia. 

How do you combine your joint activities as composer and pianist? And does understanding the composition process make a difference to how you approach the music that you perform?

It is essential for me to do both professions at the highest level possible, and each year it becomes a greater and greater challenge as my concert schedule is always growing and I need to find time to write my commissions. As it is impossible for me to compose in months I have lots of concerts or on tour, I find each year at least two months where I do not perform, and that is when I compose. 

Although the two professions are very different from each other, as a pianist I feel my approach to music is closer to a composer approach- I am always interested in form and harmony and never found myself interested in other performers, or "superficial" performance aspects (i.e. octaves, scales, etc.).

As a composer, I am more empathic towards performers, as I know hard it is to play, and I'm always making sure I do not create unnecessary difficulties. 


What ideas and motivations inspire you as a composer?  
As a composer, my ideas come from various different sources- together with musical inspirations, I am often inspired by films, paintings, books and poetry. Once an idea is planted, all I need is to concentrate and develop it. But to reach that initial idea can take a long time...

Please tell us about your programme for the Wigmore concert.
For my Wigmore recital I wanted to pick three very different, though wonderful works: Ligeti's Musica Ricercata, which is one of the composer's early works from the 50s, and in which he has already found his unique voice, departing from the language of Bartok and of eastern-European music. These 11 bagatelles are each constructed from an added tone: the first uses only 2 notes, the second 3, the third 4, and so on until the last piece which uses the full 12 notes. 

The second piece which I will present is Rameau's Nouvelle Suite en La. Naturally, Rameau is a harpsichord composer and many of the ornaments are better suited for harpsichord than for the modern piano. However, I find that rather than imitating the harpsichord, it is rather convincing to play it in a modern tradition, and even at times to use (God forbids!) the pedal. These wonderful dances include a harmonically daring Sarabande and the famous and virtuosic closing Gavotte et Doubles. 

I don't think it is needed to introduce Schubert's A Major sonata D959, the one before last sonata and one of the last pieces which he wrote. I feel very close to Schubert's music, and this sonata is one of my favourites among his pieces. 

Coming from the Middle East, do you feel music can be a positive force for change and reconciliation there? 
I do believe music, or any form of art for that matter, has no nationality or boundaries and is stronger than any political thought, regime or power. It has always been that way and will always remain independent.