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VW alert

There's a Vaughan Williams world premiere next week at a venue that does not get much coverage - the Fairfields Hall, Croydon. It's a very early student work from a period when we know little of his development - a Mass written as part of his doctoral dissertation.I shall miss the show, as I'm talking Mahler in another part of the country, but I'll be curious to hear what is described as the first large-scale work by a major English composer. He is never as safe or predictable as the other kind … [Read more...]

Rattle’s Mahler Third – or Mahler’s?

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle gave a performance tonight in London of Mahler's Third Symphony that was more perfect than I could ever have imagined, and more puzzling.Every instrumental effect from the blare of brass at the opening to the ee-awing donkeys in the third, from the reverse glissando on the oboe to the ppp that precedes the contralto soloist, was achieved with a superhuman precision of a kind that Nietzsche (who wrote the words) might have appreciated. … [Read more...]

Breaking: free classical downloads from major auction house

The London auction house Bromptons has just announced a program of free classical downloads of pedigree soloists, including Casals in the Elgar concerto, Menuhin in the Beethoven and Heifetz in the Tchakovsky.The underlying aim is to grab a bigger share of the lucrative instrument auction trade, presently dominated by Christies and Sothebys. Fiddle fans, however need not hesitate. If there is such a thing as a free lunch, this is it.Press release follows:    Brompton's Auctioneers … [Read more...]

A sticky proposition

All the music you ever wanted on a memory stick for just £100 ($160)? Not quite, but it's a step in the right direction.Chandos, the indy Brits, are offering the equivalent of a large boxed set of CDs in hi-def sound on something you can stick on your key chain. Wagner's Ring? It's yours, in English. The Vaughan Williams symphonies - all bar two. The pick of Malcolm Arnold? Now there's a tempter.Press release below.P R E S S   R E L E A S EChandos offers some of its classic recordings … [Read more...]

How to botch a great recording

My CD of the week is a premiere major-label recording of music by Grazyna Bacewicz, a composer unknown outside Poland and not widely cherished within. It's the product of a passionate affinity by the pianist Krystian Zimerman and four young colleagues and it is every bit as challenging and beautiful as I had hoped.All that is missing is explanation. The value that big labels used to add to records was deep background on the composer and the music. Deutsche Grammophon appear to have given up on … [Read more...]

Garbo’s press officer dies

He was 96 years old. See here for details.Veteran press agent and producer Walter Seltzer is presented the Motion Picture and Television Fund's Silver Medallion at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in 1986. He's flanked by actors Burt Lancaster, left, and Kirk Douglas. UPI photo.Job well done, you might say.Give that man a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars. … [Read more...]

Forget the new Radiohead album – it’s the Greenwood movie you need to hear

Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead has written a stunner of a soundtrack for the forthcoming Anh Hung Tran movie Norwegian Wood, based on the Murakami novel, not the Beatles track. Both movie and music will be released next month (March 7/8, UK/US) and from what I've heard on a Nonesuch advance copy Greenwood pulls no punches when writing for orchestra.There are sentimental passages that could have fallen off the John Williams work bench, but there are also challenging streaks of Schoenberg … [Read more...]

The importance of naming Ernest

The City of Angels will be naming a square next month in honour of my late mate Ernest Fleischmann. He would have been so chuffed.Ernest, more than any man, put Los Angeles on the map as an orchestral city. If the Dude can strut the city now, it's thanks to the foundations that Ernest laid four decades ago. He broke the mould of US European orchestras hiring elderly Eurpoeans, importing Simon Rattle and Esa-Pekka Salonen while they were still learning to shave. And if he did not always get it … [Read more...]

Who’d be a cellist?

In the February issue of The Strad, I reflect on the plight of cello soloists whose agents try to make them play the same three concertos, year in, year out, regardless of creative atrophy.There's the Dvorak, the Schumann, the Elgar and if you're lucky, from time to time, the first Shostakovich or the sticky-sweet Saint-Saens. Of course, there's also chamber music - but that's not a living. A patient agent will sit down with our Curtis or Academy award winner and explain the facts of life. A … [Read more...]

Anna Nicole – seriously, now

Fiona Maddocks in the Observer is the first critic to place Anna Nicole in its musical context, assessing it both in terms of Mark-Anthony Turnage's previous two operas, Greek and The Silver Tassie, and with reference to its musical influences, detecting echoes of Puccini's Gianni Schicci and, undetected by me, Mahler's Death of Children Songs.How did I miss that? Must have been distracted by a boob overload.Mind you, I did see Fiona leaving the opera house with a score the size of Luxembourg … [Read more...]

Vienna pulls a long face

Claus Helmut Drese who led the Vienna opera through the second half of the 1980s and signed up Claudio Abbado as music director, has died at the age of 88. Cue for a flood of crocodile tears.The Viennese media, forgetting that it was they who drove him out of town, are trotting out all the usual platitudes of gratitude and lament, none more so than Die Presse, his chief tormentor. The State Opera, from which he was effectively fired, has added its own polite tributes.Drese inherited the … [Read more...]

Apart from that, Anna Nicole, did you enjoy the show?

The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, was not in sedate or solemn mood when it commissioned Richard Thomas and Mark-Anthony Turnage to turn soap into opera. The theme was the life on Anna Nicole Smith, a small-town bimbo who had a boob job, became Playmate of the Year, married a dying billionaire and died, at 39, of an apparent drugs overdose. Thomas has previously written Jerry Springer - The Opera, a National Theatre show that pictured the Saviour in diapers and, when shown on TV, drew … [Read more...]

Breaking: Liverpool faces 20 percent orchestra cut

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, which learned earlier today that its chief conductor Vasily Petrenko its taking a second job in Oslo, has been hit by a 20 percent funding cut from the city council. That's on top of whatever chunk Arts Councol England carves out of these budget.Taken together, these twin tidings spell disaster for Britain's most improved orchestra. There will be a good deal of local lobbying and protests before the council edict is confirmed, but I would urge anyone with … [Read more...]

Going for a thong

An innocent tweet as to what one should wear to tonight's operatic premiere has provoked much hilarity and a certain amount of serious contemplation.The opera in question is Anna Nicole, Mark-Antony Turnage's new work on the life of the Playboy centrefold bimbo who had a boob job, married a billionaire and died a celebrity death. Everyone expects the Royal Opera House show to be way over the top. Attire suggestions range from bare-butt, to lipstick and Jimmy Choos, to a double-breasted … [Read more...]

Conductor unwell, feeling much better

Sir Colin Davis, who crashed out of The Magic Flute at Covent Garden surrounded by medical attendants, did not suffer chest pains or a heart attack, as reported elsewhere. Apparently, he just tripped in the pit, something the late Klaus Tennstedt used to do with such regularity that players would take bets on whether he'd make it upright from wings to podium.Sir Colin, 83, is out of this week's last performance but is otherwise unharmed, I'm told. Klaus and his antics are sadly … [Read more...]

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