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Last orders

For those still filling in their worst-ever classical Christmas track, there's a late surge of support for Robert Alagna's Sleigh Ride Medley on DG's We Wish You A Merry Xmas album. No more egregious assault on English language and cadence has been heard since the late King Lucy slaughtered cod lyrics to Adolphe Adam's Cantique de Noel - dee star (sic) are brytlee shyning, eet ees dee nyte - in duet with Crown Prince Placido on untouchable Sony. There's also a specially written slice of mince on … [Read more...]

The sincerest form of flattery

My recent book, The Life and Death of Classical Music, contains an analysis of the 20 worst classical records ever made. Colin Larkin (see press release below) has appended the 100 worst pop records to his outstanding and important Encyclopedia of Popular Music, which goes online from next week (see below once more). Among Colin's 100 worst are seven chilling Xmas albums. My list had room only for Kiri at Christmas, although a new compilation from Sony came tantalisingly close. Has there ever … [Read more...]

A winner for all time

The discreet charm of Arthur Rubinstein, discussed in my current column, provokes this memory from an audience member at his first international piano competition: Emanuel Ax won and everyone got terribly pompous and aware of The Great Occasion, Rubi stood up and said to Ax something like: As the lucky winner you get a medal with my profile! Just in case he forgets who's number one... … [Read more...]

A job designed for doormats

I was sorry to read (on that Harry Kraut had died. In a job designed for doormats, Harry stood up combatively to Leonard Bernstein, whose business affairs he managed from 1972, and did his best to curb his excesses. Discreet as a trappist, he gave no quarter to journalists or biographers and kept publishers, orchestras and festival organisers at an appropriate arm's length. Meryle Secrest, Lenny's most objective biographer, thought he bore a passing resemblance to the … [Read more...]

All bets are off

Hot ticket at next summer's Salzburg Festival is Gounod's Romeo and Juliet with Paris Hilton and Jonny Depp in the title roles - sorry, make that Netrebko and Villazon. Both dumped on Salzburg with last-minute cancellations last summer, so don't book yet. Myself, I'd check the pedigree of the understudies before making smmer plans. Over at the Landestheater a week later, London's National Theatre will be staging David Hare's production of Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking with Vanessa … [Read more...]

More on the missing concerto

Two eminent violinists have been in touch concerning my recent assertion that the Mieczyslaw Karlowicz concerto has 'not been played outside Poland in living memory'. Tasmin Little, who made a lovely recording for Hyperion with the BBC Scottish four years ago, tells me she did her best to secure a public performance in several countries and actually got it into a BBC concert, only for some chicken-heart to change the programme for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained. Tasmin's … [Read more...]

orchestra of the 21st century?

Running my eye down the list of players, as I do when I haven't heard a band in a year or so, I noticed that the principal horn in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is a woman (Elspeth Dutch) and the principal harp a man (Robert Johnson). Not much to raise an eyebrow over these days but as little as a decade ago either placement would have been almost inconceivable. In the 20th century, blowing was for guys, plucking for gals. Today, gender equality rules and long may it do so. There are … [Read more...]

Panic in the Langham Bar

I was having morning tea on Friday with Anne-Sofie von Otter and her accompanist Bengt Forsberg across the road from the BBC when Bengt's mobile bleeped with a text and his face lost most of its colour. As soon as Anne-Sofie was out of earshot he said to me, 'what do you do if you're giving a recital in 24 hours and someone has left your music on a plane?' The music was fairly rare - some songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold - and a call to the original publisher's London shop confirmed that it was … [Read more...]

Blazing a trail

Why is it that amateur and community orchestras can be so much more adventurous in their programming than the heavily-funded behemoths who occupy Carnegie and other great halls? After writing on Nigel Kennedy's current advocacy for the Mieczyslaw Karlowicz concerto, I heard from two players who had been involved in performances in the past year. Francis Norton of London, a member of the (amateur) Royal Orchestral Society, reported his delight at a concert he played in at St John's, Smith Square, … [Read more...]

Here’s to a lady who lunched

I was saddened and suprised to learn of Maggie Carson's death. Saddened because I liked the old girl, and suprised because I thought she'd gone years ago. That's the thing with musical PRs: you don't hear from them for a month or two and you assume they have either died or married a conductor. When I started out at this game, there were two tough ladies in New York who could lunch you to death. One was Dorle Soria who, with her husband Dario, ran Angel Records, and the other was Margaret Carson … [Read more...]

A report from the edge

Here's a reality check from a western musician now living in the Slovak capital, Bratislava: The decline in state contributions (sponsors do exist, but not fully interested in performing arts) musicians have perhaps grim prospects. An orchestra member of the national no.1 orchestra the Slovak Philharmonic earns only one third of the average income. Just above the minimum wage (of course he still teaches in the afternoon, etc). But they compare themselves to their colleagues in Vienna, half an … [Read more...]

How to make a happy cellist

Watching the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in concert at the famous Opera House a couple of weeks back, I thought the principal cellist looked a bit familiar. 'Who's that?' I whispered. 'Nathan Waks,' said my neighbour. 'Never!,' I exclaimed. The last time I was in Sydney, in 1995, Nathan Waks was head of music at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a man of influence and authority. I could hardly imagine a BBC executive giving up the trappings and going back to play in an orchestra where he … [Read more...]

A Snowstorm in the Sahara

Before leaving for Australia a fortnight ago I left a Pavarotti appreciation at the paper, sensing from the medical reports that he did not have long to go. Even so, the sad news came as a shock and, just off the long-haul return flight from Melbourne, I found myself having to adjust my perspectives to a world without the big man. Through a haze of media calls, I tried to remember where and how I first heard that voice. And then I realised that it is the first impression will abide. The … [Read more...]

The late and supposedly less great

Since none of the British papers have yet noted the death of Russell Johnson, I devoted my page in the Evening Standard yesterday to an appreciation of the man and his work. You can read it here. Nor have the UK obit pages cottoned on yet to the passing of Tikhon Khrennikov, the titular head of Russian music for more than half a century who directed the persecution of those composers who refused to toe the party line. Instead, the main papers carry fulsome tributes today to my late colleague and … [Read more...]

whose minimalism is it, anyway?

Nice riff going on at Kyle Gann's blog over the New York Times critics' choice of their prime cuts of minimalism. What struck me was the list's insularity. Apart from a concerto by the Dane Poul Ruders, issued on a small US label, all the composers and works chosen were American. Granted, minimalism was a Californian invention by Terry Riley and LaMonte Young, arising from their exposure to John Cage and to eastern esoteric philosophies. But the tendency was far-flung and often oblivious to its … [Read more...]

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