main: May 2010 Archives
The Swedish detective series Wallander is a contemporary television phenomenon. Each episode is 90 minutes long, panning slowly across a grey landscape with a music track that gets more morose by the minim.
The tension rises by imperceptible notches to a point where my teeth sink into the armchair. There is nothing like it in television drama, at least in the Swedish original (a British remake, with Kenneth Branagh as the world-weary detective, paled by comparison). Much of the dialogue consists of 'tak' and 'bro'. I am, in case you hadn't guessed, hooked.
So it came as an irritant to discover that the series creator, Henning Mankel, is one of 11 Swedes (including composer Dror Feiler and theologian Ulf Camesund) on the politically contentious and tragically impeded naval aid convoy to Gaza.
Now I am not in the least bothered by Mankel's take on Palestine, any more than I am by Valery Gergiev's on Vladimir Putin or Vanessa Redgrave's on Trostsky. Art is art and life is life and most of us can bring down the mental shutters quite smartly between one and the other. That attitude, however, is sustainable only until something goes wrong. Today's attack changed everything.
I very much hope that Mankel and his Swedish companions survived the Israeli boarding assault unscathed. I look forward to seeing their homecoming press conference, to hearing of their experiences and sharing their outrage. Whether I share their views or their priorities is neither here nor there. For the moment, I am just concerned for their safe deliverance.
And yet I am, at the same time, irritated. Nothing stronger than irritation, just a mild irk of knowing that I can never again watch Wallander with such innocent pleasure or suspension of disbelief. Mankel, its creator, has intruded into my perception of the work.
It is never a good idea for a writer to become the story. And in this case, the story is greater and more contorted than anything Mankel has invented in his TV plotlines. The issue here, for Israelis and Palestinians, is existential. It makes Wallander seem trivial. I shall miss it.
Germany's rare victory in the Eurovision Song Contest - its second in 55 years - was predicted last Monday by the UK trade magazine, Music Week. Good call. An MW feature on the reviving German music market tipped Lena Meyer-Landrut, a Universal-signed number one hit in six countries, to grab the crown. Google and Der Spiegel also claimed prescience.
Once she finishes school-leaving exams this summer, Lena, 19, wants to act. That seems a good career move, because she cannot read music, can barely hold a vocal line and speaks in a Martian English accent. What won the public heart is her girl-next-door naivety and the lack of hardcore gimmicks in her almost embarassingly amateur act.
She is a not quite the Singing Nun, a previous Euro winner, but she makes a refreshing change from the Eurotrash standards of recent years - not to mention the tedious over-exertions of Andrew Lloyd Webber to manufacture a UK winner. Germany won by putting global marketing muscle behind a rising national icon, potentially the next Steffi Graf. It was helped by the absence of several countries that could not afford to participate.
Britain, misjudging the recessional mood with over-choreographed 1970s style, came last.
Given that it's illegal to sell a polyester shirt as silk, I struggle to understand why so many record companies think it's okay to push out pop trash on their classical labels. And then they have the effrontery to be amazed when those labels lose their once-loyal public.
The history of crossover is short and nasty. It began in the 1990s when the CD boom faded and most shops still had classical shelves. Fill those racks with more popular material, ran the argument, and you maintain market share and profitability.
It was short-termism at its worst, replacing symphonies with slush, but the tactic continues even now when there are few record shops left, let alone ones with classical shelves. So why do labels do it?
Well, one crossover album in a hundred still makes a mint so executives believe it's worth playing the lottery in the hope of hitting the jackpot. The real reason, though, is a refinement of the original deception.
The adjective 'classical' suggests something worthwhile, uplifting, exclusive. Attach it to any musician and its boosts their prestige, gets them onto better and broader radio outlets. It can also give them an aura as public benefactor and educator. Witness the late-life resurrection of Sting and Elvis Costello.
The downside is that it drains the vitality of what was once a vibrant classical market. Much the same has happened to jazz, as Clive Davis demonstrates in today's Times.
The way to revive classical records is to restore their integrity. So far, only one major label has understood that lesson. From what I hear, another may be about to do so. Watch this space.
Meantime, here are a few more horrors that readers have asked to be drummed out of the classical charts:
21 Sarah Brightman (#18 on Billboard classical charts)
22 Richard Clayderman
23 The Priests
24 Mike Patten/Mondo Cane
25 Josh Groban.
Walking down the South Bank last night to the funeral of arts broadcasting on British commercial television, I tripped over a red carpet and asked WTF it was there for.
National Movie Awards, apparently. This is where people who go to multiplexes get to nominate their favourite heart-throbs and win a chance of attending the ceremony. As I am digesting this information, a limo draws up and Tom Cruise comes walking towards me. Some women start screaming and a clutch of bald men rush towards him with photographs to be signed, and posted on e-bay within hours.
Tom, who probably wanted a part in my new film, gave a shrug and did his stuff. He's a pro. I waved, and walked on to the National Film Theatre where Lord Bragg, Melvyn of the Glens, was presenting the last edtition of his South Bank Show, axed after 33 years and 736 episodes by the visigoths of ITV.
It was a sentimental occasion, the final show consisting of chats with two of Melvyn's directors, Ken Russell and Tony Palmer, and a short disquisition on his own interviewing technique. Melvyn refused to be maudlin but, as I left the party, someone muttered in my ear, 'you're looking at a room full of talented people who will never work again.'
Which is dangerously close to the truth. Arts documentaries are almost dead in the UK. BBC4 has picked up the baton for niche audiences but the mass audience has eluded the BBC which persists with a yoof-oriented Culture Show of no discernable quality and the noisy self-puffery of Alan Yentob's fawning and visibly compromised Imagine strand (its last edition was a tie-in with a reissued Rolling Stones allbum).
Melvyn could be fawning, too, but he was always informative. As a young man, I would rush home Sunday nights to catch the South Bank Show at 10, avid to learn about artists. It wasn't always great, as Melvyn readily admitted, but its heart was in the right place. One week it did Harold Pinter, the next Paul McCartney, Tracey Emin or Iggy Pop. I had completely forgotten the early collector's edition interview with Ingmar Bergman, recalled in Melvyn's new book of the series, called Final Cut.
The difference between Melvyn and his imitators was always the vocabulary. The South Bank Show was always well scripted, easy on the ear, Melvyn singing its shapely cadences with an agreeable lilt. The Imagine films, by comparison, are verbally incoherent, barely articulate. Yentob habitually mumbles. Melvyn knows what to do with a labial consonant.
The killing of the South Bank Show, after it was pushed over recent years to ever-later slots, was an inevitable piece of corporate vandalism by Peter Fincham, the ITV boss, who performed similar acts while he was in an executive chair at the BBC. A pox on him.
SBS is irreplaceable. Television will never again attract audiences of 4-5 million for living art - or much else, except bloated spectator sports and soap opera. Sic transit media mundi.
All day long, people have been volunteering entries for the list of musicians who should never be allowed back on a classical label. Adding to the first ten I named, here's a second crossover sin bin from a wide range of readers:
11 Katherine Jenkins - how could I forget the 'opera singer' who cannot sing an opera?
12 Bocellism - as one wit refers to him.
13 Ex-advertising composer Karl Jenkins
14 Publishing dynast composer Ludovico Einaudi
15 Somebody known as Rhydian
16 Diminutive tenor Alfie Boe
17 Amelia Ferrugia (who she?)
18 One-hit wonder Susan Boyle
19 World cellist Yo Yo Ma
and never to be forgotten
20 Electric violinist Vanessa Mae.
Keep your nominations flooding in.
Several respondents to yesterday's post called for a clean-up campaign of record labels that put out non-classical material under a classical banner. I share their view.
When I go to a vegetarian restaurant, I don't want to find chicken livers in my lasagna. They may be perfectly good livers, yielded by the happiest and most willing chicks, but if the sign outside says vegetarian that's what it ought to be - and, if it ain't, there are laws that deal with people who pass one thing off as another. It's no different from selling fake Rolexes. The classical industry ought to wise up to that fact while it still has a business to look after.
End of sermon. Quite a few people, led by Carole Cameron, called for a list of so-called artists we'd like to have kicked of classical labels. The estimable Carole proposed:
1 Conductor/composer Howard Goodall, a British TV classical chef
2 Faryl Smith (a singer, apparently)
3 Anything off a TV talent show....
4 André Rieu, the chart-topping schmaltz violinist
5 ex-popster Jon Lord and
6 everyone who's taking part in a Mercedes-Benz summer fest.
Here, for your consideration, are the ten I'd most like to see kicked off.
1 Russell Watson, the amplified aria belter
2 Myleene Klass, the Satie-playing fashion model
3 Il Divo... need I say more?
4 André Rieu, Viennese sediment for life's departure lounge
5 Paul Potts (well he's virtually vanished already)
6 Popstar to Opera Star winner Darius Campbell
7 Sting on Deutsche Grammphon
8 Bryn Terfel sings Lloyd Webber
9 Renee Fleming in smooch mode
10 That egregious bunch called Blake.
Let them take their fake smiles and flash their wares elsewhere. Feel free to vote for kick-offs and add your own selections in the space below.
Quicker than Barcelona with Fabregas or Beckham when a camera's pointing his way, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has locked its two conductors into long contract renewals. Vladimir Jurowski has signed on til mid-2015 and Yannick Nézét-Séguin til mid-2014.
This is good business all round. The rising Juro, 38, also music director at Glyndebourne, is attracting lots of US interest. Yannick N-S, 35, is music director in Rotterdam and the first Canadian baton to win international attention.
In a boom economy, their agents would be sifting million-dollar bids. But the US orchestral sector is presently catatonic with fear, Europe has caught Greek pneumonia and both young men have still a lot of rep to master before they step up to a major league club.
Better for them to weather the recession in London's diverse and uniquely competitive musical economy before emerging strengthened into the long-promised recovery. Smart maestros are staying put in 2010.
My first university lecture in Sociology, long ago, dealt with the official abuse of data and quoted Mark Twain's famous aphorism (which he attributed dubiously to Benjamin Disraeli): 'There are lies, damned lies and statistics'.
The account of UK classical record sales in 2009 from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) calls that admonition gloomily to mind. If you believe the BPI, two Universal labels now command more than half the UK market. Deutsche Grammophon and Decca have a combined 58 percent share, way ahead of plummeting rival EMI, which is down to 9.2%.
But that depends what you call 'classical'. The BPI counts as classical pretty much anything that comes its way from major classical labels - including Katherine Jenkins' pop smooch, TV talent show winners, Bryn Terfel singing Andrew Lloyd Webber, Il Divo, Sarah Brightman and the Band of the Coldstream Guards. All a label has to do is label a title Now That's What I Call Classical, and into the stats it goes.
The real market is rather different. While DG and tacked-on Decca have gone on an all-out grab for overnight sensations, EMI Classics has reclaimed the classical high ground with a list that is free of gimmicks and, at times, ear-prickingly original. It has a raft of new stars in Natalie Dessay, Kate Royal and Philippe Jaroussky and it is signing them young and longterm. It is, in other words, behaving like a classical label.
So why has it lost market share? Fact: it hasn't. On the classical side, EMI's figures are looking so good that (I gather) parent hedge fund Terra Firma has given the go-ahead for further signings. There is a discernable bounce feeling at EMI, and that doesn't come from trailing in the charts.
Overall, consumer habits are changing and the BPI-rated classical share of a shrinking UK market is down to just over 3 percent, little more a quarter of where it stood in the 1990s CD boom. But making a living in classical music is about building audience loyalty. You don't get that from TV constests, from Andre Rieu or even from Kathleen Jenkins sings for our boys in Afghanistan. There are many reasons why Lang Lang quit Deutsche Grammophon, but one of them is that its former prestige as a classical label no longer counts for much.
Claudio Abbado has been admitted to a clinic in Berlin for treatment that is likely to last several weeks, according to his doctor's statement. The conductor, 76, had a large part of his stomach removed a decade ago in the course of cancer treatment, shortly after stepping down as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.
His musical recovery has been miraculous and his Mahler performances with his own hand-picked orchestra at the Lucerne summer festival have been a cultural highlight of the European calendar.
The undisclosed illness has obliged Abbado to cancel a sentimental return next month to La Scala, where he was music director from 1968 to 1986, and there is no suggestion at this point that he may also pull out of Lucerne. Three years ago, he cancelled all engagements 'in the near future', but bounced back within two months. Everyone who cares about music will be praying that his present recovery is just as swift and complete.
But who fills in while Abbado is out? There is an opportunity here for a 30-something to step up. In the absence of Mariss Jansons, who is undergoing cardiac care, his fellow-Latvian and only pupil Andris Nelsons has leaped in at the Vienna Opera and various German venues. Being a good pupil and a decent man, Nelsons insists that he is only keeping the seat warm for Mariss's return, but the appearances have greatly boosted his continental career, beyond the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, where he is music director.
Abbado, however, has no obvious substitute. If the music business runs to form, it will plunk in some Zubin Mehta or Lorin Maazel to please the front-row fat-cat donors. But if the future of music matters to summer festival organisers, they should be rummaging among a talented crop of up-and-comings, all in their 20s and 30s, certainly the most gifted pack since Abbado, Muti, Levine and Barenboim were strutting their youthful stuff.
I could name names, but I'll save them for another post.
It was a cheap and hackneyed way of filling three pages. After the new Tory culture secretary Jeremy Hunt made his inaugural speech, the Guardian newspaper asked heads of UK arts institutions to respond. All did so in the same fawning tones as they used only last month with the outgoing Labour secretary - and you can hardly blame them since a large chunk of their budget is dependent on government whim.
The lone exception was Liz Forgan, chair of Arts Council England, who nannyingly instructed 'every member of the government to go out and actually experience an art event... preferably in the company of someone under 12.' Liz, a diehard Labourite, is due for the chop and her organisation will not long survive unreformed.
Six spots below we meet, in large type on the pages of the Guardian and uncorrected on its website, somebody called 'John Betty' of English National Opera, who has yet to cross my radar. Could they possibly be referring to John Berry, ENO's artistic director?
Berry is one half of the team that brought ENO back from a near-death precipice. He is well known and liked across the arts and he can - I can vouch from many communications - spell his own name. How on earth did the Guardian transform him from robust Berry to rather wimpish Betty? Did some unpaid intern, pushing the free copy onto three pages, think it looked better that way? Was there no journalist on duty? Should Peter Geld (sic) be worried about his next policy statement from the Met? And Gerard Mortuary?
I guess John will get an apology in the next few days, but I wonder who's next for a Grauniad lapse. The German Chancellor cannot know how close she comes nightly to being mistaken for a lewd medieval object while the White House must be offering bedtime prayers that the organ of British left-rectitude does not headline its master as 'President Osama'.
It's all part of a great Grauniad tradition. As Gustav Mahler famously said of the Vienna Opera: 'what passes for tradition is usually an excuse for Schlamperei (sloppiness).' Obviously, he was another satisfied Guardian reader.
Yvonne Loriod, second wife and longterm widow of the composer Olivier Messiaen, has died near Paris, aged 86. An intense and introspective pianist, she was only ever referred to as the wife or widow of a great man.
Loriod undertook that role with due humilty, appearing mostly in performances of her husband's music. When one saw her in concert in the Turangalila symphony, Messiaen's most popular work, it was a reminder was that she was the original object of his frustrated sexual desires during the long period of first wife's physical and mental decline. Yvonne's sister, Jeanne, often played the ondes martenot in the same work. It was a family show.
Yvonne married the devoutly Catholic Messiaen in 1961; he died in 1992. I never heard Yvonne utter a syllable of regret about her secondary status as wife and relict. On the contrary, like many widows, she devoted the years of mourning to securing posterity for her husband's music. I did wonder whether in her heart of hearts she might not have hankered for a separate identity. There is a Youtube clip of her playing part of the Alban Berg piano sonata which suggests she had extensive interests beyond Messiaen.
Be that as it may, Loriod revelled in her role as relic, much as the good Veuve must have done when the great champagne maker Cliquot predeceased her. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Word has broken at the Cannes Festival of final casting for the film of my first novel, The Song of Names. Hoffman and Hopkins have signed up to play Dovidl and Martin in an international production, directed by Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog).
The Hollywood Reporter was first with the story. Shooting is scheduled for later this year and release for 2011. Further details will follow as soon as I am allowed to disclose them - especially, how the music is going to work since it is so integral to the story. The score will be by Titanic composer, James Horner.
The producer, Nick Hirschkorn, has moved mountains to make this happen in a climate when the big studios are slamming down the hatches and the little ones are trying to make movies on minuscule budgets.
Movie rights in The Song of Names were sold well before it won a Whitbread Award in 2003. This development has been a long time coming to fruition, but all the sweeter to see it happening in a time of such harsh financial realism.
More background can be be found here.
And here's some rapid comment from New York magazine.
England's football team threw away its best chance today by announcing Marks & Spencer as supplier of the official team suits. Trust me, nobody wins anything in an M&S suit.
Socks? sure. Underpants? unbeatable. Sweaters? sometimes. But M&S suits have a quality of undesign that make them crumple in all the wrong places and hang like carboard from the rest. Take a look at the squeamish looking team pics released today:
Examine what is professionally known as the lunchbox area. Does that look wearable? I am not a fashion fanatic like opera chic nor a professional footballer, but I know the cut of a good jib and M&S just ain't got it.
You might as well send Wayne Rooney out to play in carpet slippers for all the good these suits will do to England's chances next month. Who chose that austerity grey, that cheap-look crimpline, those bus-conductor lapels?
Which feeble-minded football official did that scuzzy deal with a high-street chain renowned for everything but its suits? As a cultural commentator, I face many difficult and challenging questions of taste, but this isn't one of them. It is a total absence of taste.
And this is a team with an Italian in charge, for heaven's sake. They'll be a laughing stock on any street in Milano.
Get those suits off before the team gets on the plane.
MORE NEWS JUST IN from operachic: Apparently the Italian team are wearing Dolce & Gabbana underpants - at least until they step into the shower, as this video demonstrates.
How can out boys compete with D&G in M&S suits, I ask you!
Although it has yet to be announced, it seems certain that Ed Vaizey will become Minister for the Arts in the Cameron-Clegg government. Before Ed gets too excited, he should know that it is a lowly job from which no minister in my memory has emerged with much credit.
A middle-ranking civil servant at the Culture Department was telling me the other day about how he was asked to write a paper for a former Minister for the Arts, whose blushes I will spare by withholding his identity. All I need to disclose is that he was a schoolteacher before he went into politics. The official did what was required and was surprised, the following day, to be summoned for a carpeting by the Permanent Secretary of the Department.
'I have received your paper back from the minister,' said the PS.
'Ye-es?' quavered my guy.
'It has come back with corrections. In red ink. There appear to be errors of syntax and spelling.'
'Terribly sorry, Permanent Secretary...'
'Oh, don't worry about it, dear boy. The poor minister has nothing better to do. Nothing at all.'
Love the Times front-page pic today of Lady Warsi, the new Conservative Party chair, posing in front of 10 Downing Street with her handbag at her feet and her coat slung across a railing but still within the frame.
Where were the fixers, the photo-oppers, the spinners and mind-benders who controlled all such occasions under the New Labour regime that is alreader deader than do-dos? Mandy, Campbell, crunch-buckets and soil-splashers would never had allowed such a thing.
One of the most refreshing aspects of the new government is that ministers can dare - for a while, at least - to be themselves, coats and all. Gone are control freaks, along with all the flunkeys, bag carriers, coat hangers and political advisors - gone as the snows of yesteryear (is that Pushkin? someone help me out).
Less cheering is the news that the Times, having worked them to death in the election, is getting rid of ten percent of its editorial staff to stem haemmorhaging losses. Next year's Times content will be written by interns. And can you find today's front page pic online? I couldn't. It's confusion as usual in the daily rags.
Although arts chiefs uniformly support Labour at election time, their backing this year was half-hearted. After 13 years of Blair-Brown rule, there is appetite for change at the top of the arts and the new regime can deliver several benefits.
1 Mitigate Cuts
The outgoing government had warned arts organisations to expect ten percent budget hits in each of the next three years. Much of that has been put into repertoire planning. What the new government can do is make sure it does not exceed the Labour cuts and, where possible, softens them.
Jeremy Hunt, the new Culture Secretary, had told organisations to expect equal pain. That was the wrong message. Everyone must have prizes (or punishment) was Labour's message. The new regime must make it clear that it takes clear decisions and rewards merit.
Labour changed Culture Secretary three times in two years, showing how low the arts ranked in its priorities. The new team needs to stay in place for at least three years.
Tony Blair hated opera, classical music and most high arts. Gordon Brown wasn't interested. Even Cool Britannia was disowned when pop stars trashed a Downing Street reception. A night at the opera by Cameron or Clegg would send a strong signal of support.
5 Abolish bureacracy
The Blair-Brown years will be remembered as a time when arts company chiefs spent more time filling in forms than attending rehearsals. Most had to do with activating Labour policy on education, social integration and equality. Orchestras were asked to report how many Afro-Asian immigrants attended their concerts. Amazon forests were felled to fuel Labour's paper trail. The new government should let the arts focus on the arts and leave social policy to the political wonks.
6 Restore freedom
Under Labour the arts were yoked to government policy. A Culture Department official, Alan Davey, was sent to run the Arts Council, whose chairmen were Labour donors or supporters. The Council is discredited and should be devolved and scrapped. But first it must be depoliticised. A change of faces at the top will be necessary, and well received.
The coming years are going to be hard going for British arts, but loosening central controls - abandoning control freak machinery - would create a new modus vivendi that allows the arts to flourish and government to appear enlightened. It can be done.
Germany's two senior composers have not exchanged a civil word in 30 years. Hans Werner Henze and Helmut Lachenmann are natural antipodes. Henze is expressive, extravert, gay, socialist and rich. Lachenmann is ascetic, precise, married to a Japanese pianist, and a professor at Harvard.
They have been sworn enemies since Henze, in some published musings, attacked Lachenmann for writing musica negativa. The pair then had a ding-dong on Stuttgart Radio in which the less flamboyant composer felt he was given insufficient chance to counter the accusation. Since then, they have co-existed in uneasy silence, broken by the occasional barbed letter to a music magazine.
So there was a certain anxiety when, this week, the Royal College of Music called in its patron, Prince Charles, to present Henze with an honorary doctorate in a ceremony attended by Lachenmann.
Whether it was something in the air, as Cameron and Clegg were forming Britain's first coalition government since the war, or whether the two old gents were simply looking for someone else who spoke German, to everyone's astonishment Lachenmann marched up to embrace Henze and the pair chatted away happily into the night - a reunion captured by photographer Chris Christodoulou (pictures here and here).
Now before you all go ooh, ahh and why should I care?, this is a very big deal indeed in the annals of German music. It's rather like Bach and Handel bumping into one another at the eye doctors and declaring eternal brotherhood, or Wagner inviting Brahms to Bayreuth and greeting him with a great big kiss. With tongues.
It's a breakthrough moment, a dawning of sweetness and light, a time for happily ever after, a lesson to us all. So who's next? A hug from Barenboim to Thielemann? Boulez sending an 80th birthday card to Stephen Sondheim? All the Wagner family having lunch together? Any London orchestra saying nice things about another? Let's not get carried away...
Jeremy Hunt has been announced as Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport in the new Con-Lib British government. He will also inherit the separate and unnecessary job of minister for the Olympics, a seat created by Gordon Brown to keep Tessa Jowell off the dole.
Merging the roles makes sense. It may also create savings in two obese organisations.
Hunt is culturally literate and fiscally severe. He has told heads of arts organisations that there will be no exemptions from the imminent cuts. The successful will be treated as harshly as the failures, at least in the first sweep. He may need to revise that line.
In the election run-up, Hunt promised not to abolish the Arts Council, a bureaucracy that lost all independence under Labour and became an arm of government. That pledge, too, might be ripe for reconsideration. In the first instance, he will need to depose the Arts Council chair, Liz Forgan, a card-carrying Labour loyalist.
The arts element of the 2012 Olympics will also be high on the agenda. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has his antennae out for political capital.
Watch this space for more.
It will come as no surprise to anyone to discover that classical music PR has been hit as much as any other sector in the downturn, more so perhaps because much of it is mired in old technology and false terminology.
Artists are always great or important, they are only ever motivated by inspiration and, if they cancel a concert for a hottie on a South Sea beach, they must surely be doing so on doctor's orders. Many careers have been made by PR and twice as many damaged.
Rollando Villazon - to name just one obvious victim - might still have a voice to die for if he hadn't allowed himself to be used as Anna Netrebko's PR prop.
In the June issue of The Strad, print version only, I ask whether classical PR does more harm than good. If you work in the music business, or have been asked for $10,000 to place a New York Times feature, you may want to read it.
Herbert Breslin, where are you now?
The Orchestre de Paris is offering free streaming of the complete symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) as its centennial gift to the world. The details are announced on his website by its outgoing chief conductor, Christophe Eschenbach, and is being operated in conjunction with Medici TV and the Arte channel.
There appear to be no hidden traps or constraints. Once the orchestra has performed each symphony, it will remain available online until July 2011. All the details can be read, in English, at http://mahler.christoph-eschenbach.com/
There is just one shortcoming. I have a problem, and I am not alone, with Eschenbach conducting Mahler. Every symphony I have heard from him - tenth, second, first and sixth - has been rhythmically idiosyncratic to the point where I felt the conductor was imposing an irrational personal imprint on the music. I came out neither uplifted nor outraged, but mildly irritated by the conductor's wilfulness, which seemed to me remote from Mahler's intentions.
In my forthcoming book Why Mahler? I have a section that discusses close to 2,000 interpretations of the works. I am unlikely to listen to another Eschenbach interpretation when there are such thoughtful and fulfilling new releases from, among others, David Zinman, Paavo Järvi, Peter Vronsky and - I never thought I'd find him on the leaderboard - Roger Norrington, whose recent ninth lingers tenuously in my ear.
So try free Eschenbach by all means. Just don't expect too much.
LATE EXTRA: The London Philharmonic are streaming the season's final concert, containing Liszt's seldom -heard Faust Symphony. Catch it here: www.lpo.org.uk/listenagain
The eminent artist Avigdor Arikha and the outstanding violinist and teacher Stefan Gheorghiu have died. They were born in the same year in Rumania. Arikha came from Czernowitz (now Ukraine), fled to Palestine, was wounded in the 1948 war and wound up in Paris, where he formed a creative friendship with the playwright Samuel Beckett.
Moving from abstract art to portraiture, Arikha had exceptional graphic insights. I met him at the British Museum in June 2006 where he was donating his lifetime hoard of etchings to the Department of Prints and Drawings. He told me how, as a penniless student in the 1950s, he had been inspired by wandering through the BM's galleries of world civilisation, open to all without admission charge. He vowed that, should he ever become famous, he would make a bequest to the Museum. Neil MacGregor put on a fine exhibition; pictures of Arikha at the show can be seen here. Obituaries have appeared in the New York Times and Haaretz.
Ştefan Gheorghiu (b. March 22, 1926 -- d. March 17, 2010), barely known outside his country, had Mihaela Martin, Silvia Marcovici and Mariana Sirbu among his many international pupils. His son Andrei, once married to the soprano Angela Gheorghiu, is planning a memorial concert. More details of his life have yet to reach me.