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Go on then, pop my pistols

Searching out lost musicals of yesteryear is rather like reading The Da Vinci Code. The long slog through banal lines and plod plotting is never rewarded by the ultimate revelation. This does not stop theatres from dusting off hits of the past, usually to pointless effect and occasionally to the point of self-implosion, as English National Opera discovered when it set Kismet in post-Saddam Baghdad. Anyone for car-bombs? Most musical theatre is, of its nature nostalgic. … [Read more...]

The alternative Christmas number one

While everyone else is brushing up their best-of-09 lists, I'm shipping out the junk. Although not a vintage year for awful classical recordings, it has been bad enough to yield ten of the worst. I exclude from the top ten all crossover execrescences and self-puff start-ups. These are just ten of the worst that came my way from recognised commercial labels: 1 England, my England http://www.emiclassics.com/releasedetails.php?rid=47771 From EMI Classics, in a summer … [Read more...]

Out with the count

I was sorry to read this morning of the death of Otto, Count Lambsdorff, the former German economics minister. I met him briefly last summer at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn, where he turned out, in visible discomfort, to share memories of his heady days in office. He had been summoned into government in the summer of 1977 after one of the executives at the bank he directed was kidnapped and murdered by the Baader-Meinhoff terrorist gang. He recounted the events of that … [Read more...]

Chewing up the critics

One lunchtime last week as I masticated a lonely calory, BBC Radio 4 announced a discussion on the role of the critic. Ears pricked and finger on the button (they usually have game shows at this time), I attended with the appropriate acuity - only to find that the lineup consisted of a non-specialist critic, a book blogger and a tenured academic. I'd heard enough in ten minutes to switch off, walk upstairs and finish a book. I'm past getting angry with the triviality of public media and … [Read more...]

Who knows best in Puccini?

Contrary to a slew of press reviews that called it 'trashy' and 'pointless', I found Rupert Goold's production of Turandot at English National Opera apt and often exhilarating. Goold, 37, is the latest in a parade of youngish theatre and film directors who have been hired to bring an alternative perspective and a different, younger audience into London's second opera company. The best thing he does in Turandot is shift its frame from introspect to retrospect. Before the curtain … [Read more...]

A squirm at the opera

Duke Bluebeard's Castle was never one for the squeamish, but English National Opera's production tips Bela Bartok's masterpiece into an abyss of atrocity. Originally staged during the First World War, it retells the fable of a Transylvanian count who keeps his wives in a dungeon as a Freudian parable of female sexual curiosity and impotent male vengeance. With only two singers on stage, the orchestra gets many of the best lines and an hour can pass very quickly in a live concert … [Read more...]

A death in Haydn Year

H C Robbins Landon - who did for Haydn what Alexander Wheelock Thayer, a fellow-American, once did for Beethoven - has died at his home in France, aged 83. A jovial fellow who liked to frolic naked in his pool with research assistants and guests (or so he told the press), Robbie got on the Haydn trail in Austria as an occupying US soldier and spent the rest of his life digging out manuscripts from disused monasteries and seeing them through to performance at the Musikverireinsaal and … [Read more...]

A Serious Man? You gotta be joking…

Grounded in Detroit on a Spirit aircraft with a cockpit problem, I got chatting to my very close row-mates, an academic humanist lawyer and an Orthodox rabbi. Both had the same topic uppermost in mind. They had just seen the Coen Brothers' movie A Serious Man and were deeply troubled both by its content and by its critical reception. The film is about a man's midlife crisis in a mainstream Jewish community in the Midwest, set in 1967 when society was on the cusp of change and … [Read more...]

Last Composer Standing – the retro edition

As debate continues in several languages over who will still be heard 50 years from now, several readers have asked how accurate our forecasting can be. Well, let's go back to 1959 and ask which living composers, in the view of listeners at that time, would be likely to endure. Shostakovich, for sure - he was the flagship musician of the Soviet Union, and everyone thought the USSR was forever. Stravinsky had just produced Threni. Britten was receiving more opera stagings than … [Read more...]

Unsung premiere

Simon Mawer's reflective novel The Glass Room, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and one of my reads of the year, digresses midway into a sub-story about a shortlived composer. Vitezlava Kapralova, born in 1915 in Janacek's town, Brno, was a star pupil of the conductor Vaclav Talich and, in Paris, of the composer Bohuslav Martinu, whose lover she became (Martinu, though married, had two or three long-term liaisons, but that's another story). In 1937, Kapralova conducted the … [Read more...]

Last composer standing – the results

Of 3,200 people who read or engaged with the debate here, on twitter and on facebook, as well as an uncounted readership on radio and newspaper sites, just over 100 eligible ballots were received. Some ticked one composer for posterity, others voted for the full ten options. The results of the poll are not in any way scientific or universal. There is a bias towards US and UK composers - understandable since the debate is conducted in English - as … [Read more...]

Last Composer Standing – the top three

In light of technical and security difficulties - think Afghan election - polls for the most durable composer will remain open until 1800 EST (2300 GMT) Monday Nov 16. The response has been far heavier than expected and the spin-off discussions will run and run. Early returns show Pärt leading by a tiny margin from Reich and Adams, with Glass and Golijov strongly in pursuit. There is a heavy weighting towards US composers of a minimalist/anti-modernist tendency. It's not too late to change the … [Read more...]

Late contenders in the Last Composer Standing vote

We're getting a late surge, here and on Twitter, for Meredith Monk surviving the test of time. Now there's an interesting possibility. John Luther Adams, anyone? Could there be two Adamses in the final list? Tim Page likes Dusapin. I somehow forgot Henze: surely something from his vast output will be played. 7th symphony? Silvestrov (whom I like immensely), Beat Furrer (whom I don't). Get those votes in now. The numbers are seriously mounting.    … [Read more...]

Last composer standing

A fleeting thought while listening to Gavin Bryars has led to a sweeping discussion as to which 10 living composers will still be played in 50 years' time. We've whittled it down to five certs: Birtwistle, Boulez, Rautavaara, Reich and Sondheim. But the other five places are still open and being hotly contested on twitter and Facebook. The probables include Adams, Bryars,Glass, Kurtag, Lachenmann, Pärt, Riley, Sallinen,Sciarrino and John Williams, with a late rush of votes for James MacMillan … [Read more...]

You want to know what’s wrong with the Met?

If ever you need to know what's wrong with the Metropolitan Opera and its press puppet, the New York Times, look no further than the opening paragraph of last weekend's puff piece for tonight's production of Janacek's From the House of the Dead. Here goes: Just as a diva regards her Metropolitan Opera debut as proof that she has arrived, a Met premiere confers on a work a lasting seal of approval. On Thursday, that honor will fall to Leos Janacek's From the House of the Dead... Read that … [Read more...]

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