main: August 2009 Archives
The director Jonathan Miller, inventor of time-shift opera, is in the hot seat of the Lebrecht Interview tonight at 21.15 (UK time) - and streamed all week on BBC Radio 3.
Miller confronts his guilt feelings at abandoning medicine for the arts, his anger at singers who abuse their power and his intolerance for those of lesser intellect.
His New York Mafia Rigoletto is coming back for the 27th year at English National Opera.
Criticising Daniel Barenboim's East West Diwan orchestra of young Arab and Israeli players is not something many reviewers are prepared to do. The Diwan brings together musicians from either side of the Middle East divide and the playing is, when I have heard it, of a very high youth-orchestra standard. These young artists are playing for peace on earth and goodwill for all mankind, and reviewers treat them as if they were Mother Teresa.
So praise be to Fiona Maddocks who, in today's Observer, detects a flaw in the enterprise that runs deeper than 'rough ensemble and problems with tuning'. You can read her whole review here, but allow me to quote the salient passage:
It has been reported that some Muslim players in the orchestra were observing Ramadan by fasting until nightfall. It is interesting to note, in turn, that none of the Jewish players were observing the Sabbath. I have read no comment on this discrepancy. In a conflict that is avowedly faith-based, does one faith matter more than another?
She has a point, and a very strong one. All creeds are respected in the orchestra's mission statement, but where some Moslem players maintain their observances and their pride in an ethical heritage, none of the Jewish Israelis, least of all their secular conductor, appears to show more than liberal disdain for the archaic rules of a discarded faith culture.
This is a serious shortcoming. Religious faith of all degrees, from mild affinity to wild fanaticism, lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict. If the Diwan does not represent all forms of faith, its role in the peace dialogue cannot be more than an ephemeral gesture.
A day behind the Salzburg statistics, Glyndebourne has announced 96 percent attendances over 76 performances this summer, which is four percent up on breakeven and a remarkable achievement for the marketing team in a season of corporate swine flu.
Next year will feature a new Billy Budd and Don Giovanni - plans here - and an expansion of the company's cinema screenings.
So far, none of the fat-cat music festivals has suffered the effects of recession. But most are booked early in the year and the real test of their resilience will come in 2010.
Box-office returns from the current Salzburg festival show a 60 percent increase of ticket sales in Russia and a tripling of last year's revenue from Chinese visitors.
The uptake is still a tiny proportion of the overall attendance which is overwhelmingly Austro-German, but the increase in new markets covered a sharp fall in the number of US visitors at Europe's top-prestige festival, down seven percent on 2008.
Encouragingly, a ten percent drop in corporate bookings was fully covered by an increase in private uptake. Overall, the festival is running at 93 percent capacity - not bad for a recession.
Although Salzburg relies heavily on funding from the Austrian government and such long-term sponsors as Nestlé, Siemens and Credit Suisse, approximately half of its Euro 25.2 million budget comes from ticket sales - and the prices are among the highest on earth.
The Australian has just taken note of the death of the nation's leading pianist, Geoffrey Tozer, almost a week after the sad event. But unlike the belated and bone-headed coverage in the Melbourne Age, the national Murdoch paper has got in a proper reaction - from the former prime minister Paul Keating.
Never one to mince words, Keating lays into his country's dumbed values, saying of Tozer:
"Had he been a boneheaded footballer who was biffing fellow players and chasing women down hotel corridors late at night he would have probably had a premium on his career. But to have been among one of a handful of the world's greatest pianists with all of that learning and comprehension was not quite up to it."
This is pretty much what you read here earlier in the week, but coming from a national leader, it stands out as a massive indictment of Australian priorities. Not that it will make any difference.
The writer of the obit recalls that Tozer was to be found at his finest at the national academy of music, ANAM, where he taught and where I met him a couple of years back. Since then ANAM has been shut down by the federal government. In a land that abhors tall poppies, there can be no centre of national excellence.
Advance, Australia fair...
The Age in Melbourne has just posted a belated obituary of Geoffrey Tozer, five days after his death. It is a plodding recitation of career events, almost without incident and making no attempt to place Tozer in the context of his art and his profession. He was the foremost and most successful pianist in Australia. What is the point of buying a newspaper if it doesn't give you that salient judgement?
In the three days since I posted the sad news of Geoffrey's death, many hundreds of Australians - as well as others in all parts of the world - have visited this blog to learn more. Newspapers tend to moan about their industry's parlous state. But when a famous city newspaper cannot report and comment on the death of a prominent citizen, you can see why some of them are in such trouble. I'm sorry to have to report it, but there it is.
Stephen Hough has slightly jumped the gun on one of the topics in tonight's Lebrecht Interview by setting out his views on assisted suicide in his telegraph blog, here.
We were discussing the deaths of the conductor Edward Downes and his wife Joan who, in their own way, jumped the gun recently by opting for euthenasia in a Swiss clinic, Dignitas, rather than awaiting the inevitable.
Stephen, a devout Roman Catholic, argued lucidly against the legalisation of assisted suicide on the grounds that it would encourage elderly people to makes themselves 'less of a burden' on younger relatives, and that it would subject doctors to more moral stress and executive authority than they are qualified to exert.
Quite by coincidence, a very junior hospital doctor told me yesterday of an elderly patient in the final stages of cancer who refused to sign the DNR (do not resuscitate) forms, only for the attending physician to attempt to persuade her son to sign them by proxy. The doctor will have thought he was acting in the patient's best interests - resuscitation of a comatose aged person is not pleasant for anyone - even as he overrode her express wishes. It is for such reasons that I believe we need to think very carefully before altering the laws on euthensia.
You may feel differently ... feel free to discuss below.
In our intense and extensive conversation, Stephen - who is by far the most successful British pianists of recent times - touches upon his own near-death experience, as well his battle to convince the Church to recognise gay relationships.
The Lebrecht Interview airs tonight at 2145 UK and streams all week online on BBC Radio 3.
The Age of Melbourne used to be one of the world's serious newspapers. During the 1990s it kept its finger on the pulse and was in the market for good journalism, wherever it reared its head. Many of my own pieces were syndicated in its pages.
Lamentably, like many city papers, the Age has gone into steep decline - especially in its coverage of anything above the middle of the brow. even so, I am distressed to learn that, four days after the death of Australia's leading pianist, Geoffrey Tozer, a Melburnian proud and true, the Age has neither recorded his passing nor bothered to publish an obituary.
This is not just dumbing down; it's downright bad journalism. If someone interesting dies on your doorstep and you don't bother to report it, you are not a paper where the community, local and global, turns for news.
On a warmer note, a mutual friend in Melbourne reports a Tozer anecdote. One day a student asked if they could work together on the John Ireland concerto, a piece of considerable obscurity. No worries, said Geoffrey, sitting down at the second piano and playing the entire orchestral accompaniment from memory. He was a polymath of musical byways. And how lovely to see a video of him in an unplayable De Schloezer etude on artsjournal.tv
Some respondents to my first posting have resisted my assertion that no Australian pianist since Percy Grainger has made it onto the world's leaderboard. One of them has posted a list of contenders. Worthy, indeed, some of them - but not world leaders.
The country's most successful pianist, Geoffrey Tozer, has died at home in Melbourne, aged 54. A prolific, inquisitive artist, he tackled difficult and little-known works by Busoni, Medtner, Respighi and Roberto Gerhard, much of it undertaken on a 'genius grant' given somewhat controversially by the serving prime minister Paul Keating, whose son was Tozer's pupil. Keating said later that he felt 'ashamed' to find an artist of Geoffrey's talent had been reduced to teaching high school.
I met Geoffrey in Melbourne two years ago and we had a convivial chat, finding many points of agreement about the state of music in general and its Australian impoverishment in particular. He was good pianist and a good bloke, no vanity or falsity to him, the best possible advertisement for his art and his land. I am really sorry to hear of his passing, and depressed to find that only one Australian newspaper bothered to report it within three days.
If Tozer failed to get a firmer foothold on the international circuit, the failure was one of critical mass rather than personal merit. No Australian pianist since Percy Grainger has made it onto the leaderboard, and it always takes more than one to establish an innings. Tozer was batting alone, and in more ways than one.
Australia, so quick to back its sportsmen - even when they lose, as the cricketers have just honourably done in England - offers little moral or media support to those who choose music as a means of self-expression. Geoffrey was a great ambassador for his nation's culture, Much of the time it must have felt to him as if his nation didn't care.
Several colleagues in British media have expressed surprise at Manuela Hoelterhoff's direct questions about God in the Holocaust and my equally direct answers in our conversation on Bloomberg Muse.
We were talking about my new novel, The Game of Opposites, and Manuela wanted to know if I agreed with an opinion voiced by one of the characters. So we set about the issue in a few concise lines.
'Couldn't happen here,' said a senior newspaper editor. 'God only gets dealt with in the God slots' - the statutory Saturday space for clergymen - 'or from a Richard Dawkins perspective.'
'So true,' said a BBC boss. 'God is off the agenda here, except for atheists and politicians.'
But why is that? Why can media discuss every human organ and intimacy in clinical detail, but not the issues of faith and doubt that trouble intelligent and sensitive readers? Why does the BBC appoint self-proclaimed agnostics to be head of religion? Why is serious talk about the sorrow and the pity blanked out on British media?
Clearing the summer clutter of CDs off the righthand side of my desk, I was startled to see how few of them were made with any commercial purpose. Gone are the days when multinational record labels flooded reviewers with star properties. Most of the classical records released nowadays are either self-published or cheap snapshots of live concerts.
Nothing wrong with that. There is greater diversity of music on record than ever and, for my weekly review, I have discovered an number of unsponsored talents that I really want to hear again, composers and performers alike - the Irishman John Kinsella, the Bulgarian Iossif Ivanov, the Russian-German Anna Gourari, to name just three of the more recent.
My colleague Anne Midgette, in her characteristically polite and thoughtful way, takes issue with the establishment figures who claim that records that are now being made without the musicians having any hope of getting paid is 'healthy' and right. It's actually dreadful and wrong. The prestige has gone out of making records and, with it, the editorial acumen.
There are exceptions - I have huge admiration for three French labels, Vigin Classics, Naive and Harmonia Mundi, that have nurtured a nine percent domestic classical market share - but in general musicians are either working on dinky labels for little or no pay, or out on their own on a wing and a prayer.
I stand accused of having broken the bad news in The Life and Death of Classical Music. I plead guilty as charged in respect of corporate recording, but I never said the music would stop.
Anne's right: music will survive so long as someone is around to tell the public that it exists. But what happens when the last newspaper abolishes classical coverage, or goes to the wall? Where will the credible writing appear? And how will the world hear the music? I've never believed it will disappear, but I do think we need to work on communications solutions.
The Lebrecht Interview with tenor Ian Bostridge goes out tonight on BBC Radio 3 and all week on-line.
Great-grandson of a professional footballer, born on the 'wrong' side of the river, Bozza was an Oxford academic with a research line in witchcraft when the urge to be a singer overcame an innate shyness.
His struggle between the two worlds is all too visible on stage. In an intense conversation, we look into his tensions, his motivations and whether he can ever live up to his role-model.
And that's not grandad, the Tottenham Hostpurs goalie.
He is one of the best-selling classical artists and among the most popular with his colleagues - an open, warm, intelligent and gentle man who has never sought the limelight and is famously reluctant to talk about himself.
In the Lebrecht Interview tonight on BBC Radio 3 (and streamed all week), Vladimir Ashkenazy talks about his life in Stalin's Russia, his sympathy for some of his oppressors, and the values that have sustained him.
Leo Smit, a Dutch-Jewish composer murdered by the Germans in 1943, will have two of his chamber works performed at broadcast tomorrow at the Delft Chambe Music Festival.
Dutch Radio will broadcast the concert on-line and it can be accessed pretty much wherever you are.
I owe this information to Rolf den Otter, who provides full details below:
Date: Saturday, August 8, 2009
Start Time: 1300 End Time: 1700
Sharon Kam, clarinet; Kirill Gerstein, piano; Shura Lipovsky, song e.v.a.
- Leo Smit - Trio for clarinet, viola and piano
- Leo Smit - Duo for oboe and cello
- Malkin - Songs on text of Ida Vos + Jiddische songs by Shura Lipovsky
The names and works of the Czech composers who were confined in Terezin and killed in Auschwitz have become widely known - Viktor Ullmann fio his opera Emperor of Atlantis, Pavel Haas for his string quartets, Hans Krasa, Gideon Klein, Ilse Weber (of whom more another time) and others.
Because Terezin was a showcase of Nazi 'normality', the works of its prisoners were archived on site and preserved for an unforseen posterity.
In the rest of ocupied Europe, composers suffered total obliteration - so much so that it is extremely hard to call to mind the names of Polish, Dutch, Greek or French musicians who were seized and killed because of their racial origin or political opinions.
An important piece of research has just appeared listing seven Hungarian composers who were exterminated during the short 1944-45 period of Nazi oppression - among them Bartok's personal copyist, Jeno Deutsch, and the gifted Lazslo Weiner, first husband of Vera Rozsa, who went on to become one of the world's most successful singing teachers (her pupils include Kiri te Kanawa, Karita Mattila and Anne-Sofie von Otter).
The research, by Agnes Kory, can be read here.
It breaks the silence on another group of the great unheard. Time to dig out their music.
Coming up tonight on The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 is Michael Kaiser, in very sober mood.
Known as Mr Fix-it, or the Turnaround King, for his record in hauling back arts orgs from the brink of bankruptcy, Kaiser - presently chief of the Kennedy Center in Washington DC - surveys the post-crash arts landscape and comes up with few new solutions.
A lot of companies will go to the wall, he says. Tune in to hear which, and why.
And how Michael Kaiser ticks.
There are few heroes in classical music publishing, a musty world of well-meaning mugwumps and would-be minor villains. Not enough profit, I guess, to attract screen heroes.
David Drew, who has died aged 78, was the industry's Humphrey Bogart. In 17 years as head of contemporary music at Boosey & Hawkes (1975-92), he stood for nothing but the truth: the music he believed in. By an unrelenting banging of his head against the wall, he brought a measure of fame and reward to a dozen composers whom posterity had left on the shelf.
Drew's Dodos, they were called, men (and one woman) who had made some brief claim to attention and then, by accident or misfortune, got forgotten. The composers he signed include Kurt Schwertsik, H K Gruber and York Höller, three stubborn, witty voices working outside the deadly-dull Austro-German mainstream.
He retrieved Berthold Goldschmidt, once the white hope of Weimar Germany, from a cold-water flat in Belsize Park and put him, in his late 80s, on a continental tour.
Antal Dorati and Igor Markevitch, two important conductors, had their compositions brought to print and light as did Tona Scherchen, daughter of a master-conductor and an interesting fusion-maker of Chinese and European tonalities.
Most triumpantly, David turned a man he met in a bar into the first million-selling living composer on record, retrieving Henryk Mikolai Gorecki from communist oppression and modernist disdain to a place in the pop charts with his adhesive, part-sung third symphony.
David quit the job just as Gorecki became a hit, leaving the rest of his dodos in less attentive care and with far fewer performances. Now that he is dead, they risk fading to blank.
That would be a crying shame. David had exquisite taste. Not one of his dodos is a dud, though some require close and prolonged listening before the aesthetic reward shines through. B&H, like most publishers, are going through tough times. But their brand and their future lies in the talents that David Drew accumulated and the best tribute they could pay to this most dedicated of publishers would be to mount a festival of his dodos.
I can't see it happening, but wouldn't it just be a heroic triumph?
David was also the world's greatest authority on Kurt Weill and the greatest enthusiast. I tried for years to get him to write a popular biography for a series I was editing, but he simply knew too much to condense it and, in the end, left just the one indispensible guide to the works. Watching Weill's Jonny Johnson the other week in a poor revival, I was minded how much fire David found in the piece. I meant to ring him afterwards, but forgot. Too late now.