Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Interview with Dudley Mo- I mean Krystian Zimerman

75 minutes before beginning a phenomenally demanding programme, Krystian Zimerman, cool as proverbial cucumber, effected a sudden and unexpected transformation into Dudley Moore. This natural-born stand-up comedian (the sit-down version) within seconds had our very substantial audience in stitches.

It's not quite the same without his impeccable timing, but here's one of the anecdotes. Krystian went to Bonn to have a look at Beethoven's hearing aids. Apparently bones can transmit a range of high frequencies that most of us can't hear, and Beethoven had a special stick that he held between his teeth and placed against the piano, so he could actually 'hear' more frequencies than anyone else can normally register. Krystian decided to try this at home. At 4am his wife went to look for him and found him hunched over the piano wearing a motorbike helmet (to cut out noise), stick in teeth...

For anyone who's curious about the switchover of keyboards, here's how it works. K plays Bach. Applause. K bows and exits stage right, while, stage left, enter piano technician. Technician unscrews something under the piano, takes off the top and puts it down, unslots keyboard in a few seconds and carries it out. Returns with other keyboard, slots it in, replaces top, does up screws, exit stage left to applause, while, stage right, enter K, who goes to piano and begins Op.111. Easy peasy. And it sounds utterly different. It's about overtones and voicing. The overtones for the Bach are glittering and penetrating even when K plays with the lightest of touches. The Beethoven is like switching from etching to oil painting: duskiness, darkness, ethereal nuance like candlelight. And K's range of colours in the Szymanowski Variations has to be heard to be believed: the sort of crescendo from nothing to everything that just when you think it can't go further, promptly does... But as K says, dynamics do not depend on loudness.

Blimey, guv. It was quite a night.

BTW, the pic was taken during the sound-check - the handbag didn't join us for the talk.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Almost a sneak preview

This isn't what Zimerman is playing tomorrow, Tuesday, when he's programmed the Bach Second Partita, Beethoven Op.111, Brahms Op.119 and Szymanowski Variations at the Royal Festival Hall. The extract below was filmed a while ago (we were all younger once), but same person, same pianist, same wonder. Also read Kenneth Woods's super tribute after the Manchester recital a couple of days ago.

Treat yourself here to the Chopin Barcarolle - and those of you in rushing up distance of London, see you tomorrow (pre-concert interview live on stage 6.15pm, concert 7.30pm).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Music matters today

I'm on BBC Radio 3's Music Matters today, in a panel discussion about music in fiction. Fellow panellists are Richard Coles and Philip Hensher, presenter is Petroc Trelawny, and Ian McEwan and Patrick Gale are quoted at some length. The programme begins at 12.15 but will also be available online at Listen Again for 7 days.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tea for everyone

It seems that everyone needs extra tea today, so here is a good dose of it from Shostakovich. Love to all.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More about KZ...

...from my colleague Michael Church in today's Indy, previewing the recital tomorrow in Manchester. KZ will then be in Basingstoke on 25th before the RFH on 27th.

By the way, Michael says that our hero won't record, but our hero told me, when I interviewed him for Pianist magazine, that he's just agreed three more recordings, even though he wouldn't say what they were going to be. Take your pick.

MEANWHILE, back in the pit...a hairy moment during the first night of Glyndebourne's Eugene Onegin when Tom managed to lose his violin part for the new Matthias Pintscher piece (which the LPO is playing at the RFH next week) down a crack between the floorboards. Despite quips about how it might be the best place for it, he transformed himself into Superfiddler and crawled through a subterranean tunnel to retrieve it, causing his colleagues much hilarity as they tripped over his legs.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Weather forecast?

I used to have a theory that if it was cold and rainy for the first Glyndebourne dress rehearsal of the season, the rest of the summer would be heavenly. Yesterday at the Onegin dress, the weather was so horrid and miserable that we picnicked in the car with some soup. Bodes well? Hmm. Last year we did exactly the same thing, for Macbeth, and then it didn't stop raining for a year. Somehow I don't think I'll be getting Michael Fish's weather job at the Beeb.

Will write about Onegin in detail once it opens - for now all I can say is it's a total treat. Meanwhile mad props to Clive Davis at The Spectator and Brian Micklethwaite at Samizdata (a Libertarian blog - !?) for their kind comments and links, and to Gert for staying for the whole of Simon Boccanegra the other night and reporting that eventually Simone gave up and was overdubbed in his death scene by, er, Paolo the villain!

And hat off to Stephen Pollard who tells it like it is about the BBC's coverage of its own recent Young Musician of the Year competition. It was won by a 12-year-old trombonist called Peter Moore, and the reason I didn't write anything about it is that I didn't even know it was on, which seems rather to prove Stephen's point. Sue Tomes has similar words in The Guardian. More of that when I can control the rage-induced tremor in my hands.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Scrumptious scrum at RPS Awards


The Dorchester was packed the other night for the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards, a highlight of the UK's music biz calendar, when accolades are given mainly (though not exclusively) to the Best of British - artists and organisations who've made a special impact or had a particularly good year in this country.

Many of the prizes went to highly deserving types, among them soprano Christine Brewer, bass John Tomlinson, conductor Ed Gardner and composer James MacMillan - who won the Opera award, a prize more usually given to a company, but this time was his for The Sacrifice, an extract of which was screened and sounded astonishingly wonderful. The large-scale composition award went to good old Thomas Ades, who sent a slightly spacey video message saying it meant just as much to him now as it did all the other times he's won it. I was especially thrilled to see the Instrumentalist award go to Imogen Cooper, that classiest of classicists who has for so long deserved such recognition and who in terms of artistry can knock the spots of the Grimauds, Lang Langs and Thibaudets any day she likes.

Best of all, we had a visit from Jose Antonio Abreu, the founder of El Sistema, along with a video thank-you from Gustavo Dudamel oozing his do-do-do-damel charm, and a speech by Richard Holloway, who is the chairman of the unlikely-but-true Sistema Scotland.

Often the RPS awards can seem too island-based, parochial in the grand scheme of international music-making, and in the past the speaker has often used the opportunity to deliver a catalogue of bile and misery directed against the government, the BBC, or the dumbing-down of whatever the latest thing is to be dumbed...

This time it was different. This was living inspiration: just one person doing something worthwhile about it can change lives, attitudes and possibly the world. Richard Holloway's speech is well worth listening to and you can hear it here. Signor Abreu, meanwhile, received a standing ovation. RPS head honcho Graham Sheffield presented him with honorary membership of the RPS - an accolade first received by Carl Maria von Weber. See pic.

I had a splendid time, though did not wear intended purple silk frock because the weather has turned and it was too darned cold; my black chiffon wrap was nevertheless a success. The dress code, 'Elegant Evening Wear' was a present for the many men in the music business who would prefer to wear...well, something other than black tie - and they blossomed out in Chinese silk jackets laden with gold embroidery, of which Mr Sheffield's was the finest of many.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

If you've been directed here from The Queen's Hall...

... please scroll down to WHEN MOSTAR COMES TO SCOTLAND. The video clip in question, of Nigel Osborne's Differences in Demolitions, is there. NOT the one directly below this post, which is of the endearingly nightmarish Florence Foster Jenkins and has nothing to do with Bosnia!

Anyone requiring temporary serious relief from the Marx Brothers potential of all this should please read the fabulous and inspiring piece in today's Guardian by Daniel Barenboim. (Intriguingly, it reveals he nearly ended up being called Agassi instead. Just think, if he'd won Wimbledon...)

An affectionate tribute, sort of

Have a listen:



It was sounds faintly reminiscent of this that sent us scurrying ignominiously out of Covent Garden at half-time yesterday after getting the giggles in Simon Boccanegra. Second-rate Verdi isn't always my tasse de the, and it needs to be very well done to come off. We booked yonks ago when Nina Stemme was listed as Amelia; she dropped out a while back (perhaps she knew something we didn't?) and was replaced by two different ladies, alternating. Reviews were generally good (it's a nice traditional production, which is all most of them want), so we decided to go anyway. Word on the ground has it that No.1 cast Anja Harteros is sensational. We saw No.2.

I forget her name, but I hope she is OK. If she had flu or a Big Personal Crisis, someone else should have gone on, or they should at least have made an announcement. It wasn't just lousy, it was hilarious; and I couldn't help feeling sorry for the poor girl when her big aria was greeted not by applause but by stunned, disbeliving silence.

Nor was the soprano - strained, squally, out of tune and unmusical as she was - the only problem. Lucio Gallo as Simone started off well, but by the interval he was sounding nearly as forced and unhappy as his leading lady. The best voice on stage was Ferruccio Furlanetto (Jacopo Fiesco) who was a stand-in himself. The tenor, one Mr Haddock, did his best under trying circumstances, but there was something fishy about the whole thing. The chorus was behind all the time. The orchestra, under John Eliot Gardiner, occasionally made some beautiful sounds - supple and persuasive strings, chocolatey clarinet, a good effort towards elan - but does that add up to good operatic accompanying? Was it a coincidence that everyone on stage (except Furlanetto) seemed to be forcing their voices? My resident fiddler, who has played this work many times, grunted uncomfortably: "Why are they playing so loudly? Why doesn't JEG take them down a few notches?" Probably, I suggested, in order to drown out the soprano.

There's a minimum standard you expect at the ROH and this wasn't it. Come back, Florence Foster Jenkins, all is forgiven.

Not sure whether to file under Conductor Does Wrong Repertoire, A Case of Mistaken Identity in the Casting Office or just These Things Happen, but we sloped away home for an early night.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Faure's birthday

Gabriel Faure was born on 12 May 1845, Pamiers, France. Here is a little birthday present: the great French violinist Christian Ferras, who died tragically by his own hand in 1982, performing the Berceuse. It's much more than just a lullaby. Merci pour tous, mon tres cher Monsieur Gabriel.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

When Mostar comes to Scotland

If you're in Scotland, don't miss the Opera Circus tour this month of Differences in Demolitions, the chamber opera by Nigel Osborne and poet-librettist Goran Simic, which grew out of the soundworld of Bosnian sevdah. I went to see it in Mostar last year - see Independent feature here - and am thrilled that they're doing it again. Attending it in its spiritual home, Bosnia, was one of the most moving experiences I've ever had. The video below gives a very small taste of it.



Here are all the tour details:

Date/time: Wednesday 14 May 7.30pm
Venue: Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
Box Office: 01592 583302
Tickets: £12/£10
www.attfife.org.uk

Date/time: Friday 16 May 8pm
Venue: macrobert, University of Stirling
Box Office: 01786 466666
Tickets: £10/£6
www.macrobert.org

Date/time: Tuesday 20 & Wednesday 21 May 7.30pm
Venue: Eden Court, Inverness
Box Office: 01463 234 234
Tickets: £12/£10, Under 18s £5
www.eden-court.co.uk

Date/time: Saturday 24 May 8pm
Venue: The Byre Theatre, St. Andrews
Box Office: 01334 475000
Tickets: £15/£12
www.byretheatre.com

Date/time: Tuesday 27 & Wednesday 28 May 8pm
Venue: Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Box Office: 0141 552 4267
Tickets: £10/£6
www.tron.co.uk

Date/time: Saturday 31 May 8pm
Venue: The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Box Office: 0131 668 2019
Tickets: £12/£10, Under 18s £5
www.thequeenshall.net
7pm Composer Nigel Osborne talks about his music
* reduced priced tickets for the music students of Napier College and the University of Edinburgh

Speaking of Bosnia, tomorrow violinist Ruth Waterman publishes a book about her experiences of working there with the Mostar Sinfonietta, bearing the quirky title When Swan Lake Comes to Sarajevo. Very much looking forward to reading it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

kurze pause...

I've had to cancel my talk in Stratford-on-Avon today because I've got tonsilitis. grrrr.

The good news is that the South Bank Show will be filming Tasmin's concert with Rox's new concerto plus the Barber concerto, as part of their programme about her coming up on BBCTV soon.

JDCMB back asap.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Oh no, not another one

Someone has found yet another Vivaldi opera lurking somewhere and finished it using bits of the others. Full story from the Indy here.

Vivaldi was an astonishing character with a hugely colourful life. But isn't there a limit to how many of these rattly, twiddly baroque things the market can take? After all, most of them feature either a one-name title (eg Tomasso, Soltino, etc) or a massively long one (Il trionfo del blogorissimo classicale di Madamina Duchene), arias da carping hell for leather for several hours trying to sound inventive on the reprise (my favourite carp is to be found in halaszle, Hungarian fish soup), not to mention recycled bits and bobs from other works, a harpsichord sounding as harpsichords do, a swarm of wasps where the violins ought to be and a reluctance to cut even one note leading to hellishly uncomfortable theatrical experiences as the reverential principles of Richard Wagner are applied willynilly to music that was actually designed as background entertainment to business meetings, illicit love affairs and the odd bit of orange throwing.

The degree course I took some while ago foisted 24 compulsory lectures on Italian Baroque Opera upon its unsuspecting first-years. I entered with a vague fondness for Monteverdi. I exited with a vague fondness for Monteverdi, too, but not before upsetting one of my teachers by finding a leitmotif in Poppea. Seriously. It's a figure of notes associated with Poppea's ambition.... (Well, whaddya expect? One has to stay sane somehow.)

ON A TOTALLY different tack, if you fancy a day or two in Shakespeare's own town, come to Stratford-on-Avon for Tasmin's Spring Sounds Festival, which is in full swing today, Sunday, and tomorrow, Monday. Tomorrow's concert by the Orchestra of the Swan features Tasmin in the premiere of Roxanna Panufnik's new violin concerto 'Spring in Japan' and Korngold's Suite from Much Ado About Nothing, and I shall be introducing it with a preamble called 'How Shakespeare Saved Korngold's Life'.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Cripes indeed

Headline on today's Independent says it all.

We woke up to find that London, effective capital of Europe, city of more than 7 million, a population of such diversity that every time you take the tube you hear at least four languages chattering around you, has elected a Tory magazine editor to be its new mayor. 'Boris', because he's an entertaining character, has previously got away with foot-in-mouth disease that would have slain any other politician - there was the time he had the whole of Liverpool baying for his blood, and several instances of racist crassness that I don't need to repeat here. But what worries us is that he's never really run anything except The Spectator, a right-wing political journal (it has some good scribblers, but editing it doesn't exactly equate to controlling London Underground).

Frankly, dear readers, if such magazine experience qualifies one to become mayor of London, then I shall have a go next time. I'm a native. I was born within the sound of Bow Bells. I've lived here all my life and I'd waited for, uh, however many decades it was for someone to improve our pathetic public transport before erstwhile mayor Ken got on with it. I'll be campaigning on the principles of scrapping the Olympics, music and dance experiences for every school every week, taxing the football clubs and giving the extra dosh to the arts, putting the congestion charge up up UP, and providing subsidised food for every cat in London.