Wednesday, September 17, 2014

No tittering at Anna Nicole

Went to Anna Nicole last night at the Royal Opera House, and took with me an American friend who was seeing it for the first time. She thought Richard Thomas's libretto was brilliant, which it is, and she laughed at the jokes, of which there are many.

At the start of the interval, the besuited guy in front of us turned round and told her to stop laughing.

Problem: this opera is meant to be funny.

The librettist would have been overjoyed to get such a positive reaction (elsewhere in the house sharp intakes of breath could be heard around some of the filthier lines). So would the composer. So would the performers; there's nothing worse than uttering something that's meant to be hilarious and eliciting...well, polite silence.

Meanwhile the management is doing its best to open up access and encourage wider appreciation of its artforms. Nobody I know in the echelons of musical performers and creators is remotely stuffy or elitist; everyone, but everyone, wants the audience to enjoy their work. The whole music world is falling over backwards trying to open itself up to bigger, broader audiences.

But frankly, if other opera-goers won't let people laugh at the jokes, what hope is there? All that effort - straight down the drain. Deity-of-choice [to quote the opera], help us all.

This incident is a nice little supplement to the time a critic was spotted telling off a small African-American child in the RFH (remember that?) and the occasion on which another one told me and my niece to stop laughing at a Prom - the incident being a pianist who as his post-concerto encore played a fugue on a Lady Gaga song, and my niece was the only one of us who actually knew what it was. If I've personally encountered such situations three times in just a few years - and I am press, for goodness sake - then I shudder to think what other people are being subjected to out there.

My friend, incidentally, comes from Detroit, which is one reason she laughed so much - for her, the portrayal to the background of Anna Nicole's trailer-trash early life rings all too true. Now she lives in Berlin and is one of the more vital movers-and-shakers in the classical music world. She sees it as her mission to help find ways for this industry to move ahead in new directions, a forum where the community of music-makers around the world can work together to create an innovative, forward-looking future. Her organisation is called Classical:NEXT. Bring it on.

[UPDATE: For those who are still not sure what Anna Nicole is all about, here is a preview from the ROH. It's a tragicomedy by Mark-Anthony Turnage, based on the true story of Anna Nicole Smith. The end is desperately sad, but the first half is full of wit and wordplay. The librettist Richard Thomas also wrote Jerry Springer: The Opera]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Orchestra calls for more women composers



The Britten Sinfonia has issued a heartening call for more women composers to step up and enter its Opus2015 competition. Currently in its third year, the scheme offers unpublished composers the chance to win a professional commission for a new work to be played in the orchestra's At Lunch series. But now the orchestra has noted that so far only 15 per cent of the applications have come from women composers - and they'd like some more, please.

Opportunities like this don't grow on trees, so all aspiring composers - both gals and guys - could do worse than get that show on the road and enter the contest! Deadline is 17 October.

Full details here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Discussing John Ogdon

Quick reminder for pianophile friends in the north London area that today at the Hampstead & Highgate Literary Festival I am in discussion with the author Charles Beauclerk about PIANO MAN, his excellent biography of John Ogdon. The venue is Anna Pavlova's former home, now the LJCC - Ivy House, North End Road, London NW11 - and we start at 3.30pm. We'll talk for an hour and Charles will be signing copies of the book afterwards. Do join us if you're free. Details here.

And here is a reminder of what it's all about: a recital that Ogdon gave at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire in 1976.




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Helter-Skelton!

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/stuart-skelton-rising-to-the-challenge-of-otello-9722095.html
Here's my piece from today's Independent about the fab Heldentenot Stuart Skelton, who stars as Otello at ENO's opening night on Saturday. He tells me about his path to the top, the challenges of Otello and why he and ENO feel the love...

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Smile, please!

Meet Gabor Takács-Nagy, the inspirational secret weapon behind an ongoing transformation of ethos at the Manchester Camerata. If you're a fan of the Takács Quartet, you know Gabor already - he was its original first violin and it remains named after him long after he moved from the violin (due to an injury) to coaching and conducting. The Manchester Camerata's new season launches on 19 and 20 September with Nicky Benedetti as soloist in a little something by Vivaldi...and the starting point for the orchestra's self-reinvention is simpler than you might expect. As Gabor says: smile...and be ready to fall in love.

JD: Gabor, please tell us something about what “drives” you musically? I’ve heard you as violinist, conductor and teacher and I’d love to know what your ideals are and what qualities you think are vital in a musical performance.

GTN: The most important thing is to manipulate the emotions of the listeners (as Leopold Mozart wrote in 1756 – sending to them spiritual messages which are behind every note and phrase). In the score we find dead notes; we have to bring them alive. In other words, the composer feels an emotion or atmosphere and finds the notes for them; we performers find the (dead)  notes on paper and have to find the spiritual values behind each of them. This is fascinating and is what drives me – I am not a genius but hopefully have antennas to them. There is an Indian saying: 'You are as rich as much as you give.'  A musical performance, which is an emotional strip-tease, is nothing other than sharing and giving emotions and spirits.

JD: How did you come to join the Manchester Camerata? What is special about them, for you? What are your plans for the new season with them? And how would you like to develop your work with them in the longer-term future?

GTN: In 2008, Bob Riley, CEO of Manchester Camerata, invited me to conduct the new year’s concert and I felt a big affinity with the orchestra. They are very nice people and very good musicians and I knew immediately that we could make music as I just described . I‘d like to use fewer gestures in future performances and rehearsals and also to talk less because now we understand each other more and more. The mutual trust and confidence in each other could be even higher, which means we could be even more creative in the future.

JD: When the orchestra says that they wish to “redefine what an orchestra can do” - what do you feel this means? How would you like to see the orchestras of the future - or, indeed, the present - operating?

GTN: When I asked my young daughters if they like concerts of classical music, they answered, “No, because the music is nice but both the musicians and public are very stiff”. I had to agree with them. We have to be more communicative, open and emotional on stage, otherwise we will lose the next generation. Some years ago, I began presenting the pieces to the public and it makes the atmosphere more human and relaxed for both orchestra and public.

JD: The conductor Iván Fischer recently said (in an interview with The Times) that he thinks the traditional symphony orchestra model can last only another few decades, if that. What do you think he meant by this? Do you agree? How will things change?

GTN: I agree with Iván – if we don’t change drastically, we could lose the next generation.  We have to reform many things, but still manage to avoid circus-like activities.

JD: How is the musical scene of Hungary at the moment? Why is the place home to such a special tradition of musicianship - and does this still exist?

GTN: The Hungarian music scene is very alive: we have lots of brilliant musicians and the public loves classical music. The tickets are getting more expensive for an average wage but there are many free events as well. I hope the country will get stronger economically, which will help cultural activities. I do not know exactly what the secret could be of the special tradition of musicianship – one thing is true, though, which is that the Hungarians are very emotional with extremes of mood that can change abruptly. This is very useful for music-making!

JD: How can we best attract and excite new audiences with classical music in a world that seems so ignorant of it and resistant to the idea of it?

GTN: With exciting, emotional, colourful performances and with smiling faces from the stage. Classical musicians, especially in orchestras, can look far too serious. One of the reasons is the fear of making small mistakes which the public doesn’t hear anyway! It’s a long story.

JD: Please would you name a few of your favourite pieces?

GTN: My favourite piece is always the one I am working on (most of the time). If you study a masterpiece and get closer to it, sooner or later you will fall in love with it. During the performance, this love can be the generator for our energy and enthusiasm.