Saturday, February 27, 2016

Let Martha's Scarlatti make our Saturday

Thanks to a doughty reader for sending me this today. Sometimes we all need a dose of Martha Argerich playing Scarlatti, to prove that, despite everything, something so totally flippin' astonishing still exists.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sir András goes to Salzburg

A rather wonderful interview with Sir András Schiff has just arrived in a press mailing from the Salzburg Festival and I thought you might enjoy it as much as I have. Here he is in the Mozart D minor Concerto, to start us off...

Salzburg Festival President Helga Rabl-Stadler in Conversation 
with Sir András Schiff 

Helga Rabl-Stadler: I had the pleasure of hearing you once again during the 2016 Mozart Week. It was wonderful. I have a question regarding the details of that concert: wherein lies the challenge and the attraction in playing two concerts on three different pianos within 24 hours – programmes featuring Mendelssohn and Mozart on grand pianos by Graf and Walter and on a modern Bösendorfer? As you did on a CD in 2013, when you played Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations on a 1921 Bechstein grand and then on a pianoforte built by Franz Brodmann in Vienna around 1820. 

András Schiff: The older I become, the more interested I am in the historical, old instruments. It is not true that today’s instruments are better – on the contrary. Being able to play Mozart’s Walter grand piano is a gift, a great privilege. It feels like returning to the source. However, one must pay close attention to the hall where one is performing. The Mozarteum is ideal for the purpose; at the Festspielhaus it would be unthinkable. Old instruments offer an enormously rewarding experience – afterwards, you play the same music on a modern grand piano quite differently, with the right tempi and true sensitivity. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: Will you choose different pianos for your three concerts this summer at the Salzburg Festival? And if so, why? On August 1 you play with one of the world’s best string quartets, the Jerusalem Quartet. On August 3, you offer something very special indeed, performing with the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, and on August 31 you appear in the finale of the 2016 Salzburg Festival, as the soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major with the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig and Herbert Blomstedt. 
András Schiff: This time I will play a new Bösendorfer; I am an old friend of that company, and they have managed to develop an outstanding new model. Incidentally, it is the same instrument on which I played the Mozart and Mendelssohn piano concerti during the Mozart Week. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: Last year you were celebrated in Salzburg for three concerts under the motto “Last Sonatas” (of the First Viennese School). This year you will perform with the Salzburg Marionette Theatre for the first time. How did this come about? 
András Schiff: The Salzburg Marionette Theatre is wonderful, I have always admired it, for example its old production of Die Zauberflöte. Philipp Brunner and his parents are old friends of mine. As a small boy, he founded a marionette ensemble with his friends in Berlin, based on the Salzburg model. In Mondsee, where I was artistic director of the Music Days for ten years (1989-1998), I was able to invite this group for Debussy’s La Boîte a Joujoux. The children did a fantastic job. Many years later, Philipp became artistic director of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre. Thus, it was logical to develop this project further. The production of La Boîte is not brand-new; we have already performed it in New York, Vienna and elsewhere. However, Papillons by Robert Schumann is new. It is a highly unusual programme. Children are welcome, but it was developed with adults in mind. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: You are esteemed the world over as a pianist, song accompanist, festival director, teacher and conductor. In chamber music concerts you often lead ensembles from the keyboard as a conductor. Are you happy to have a conductor guide you when you are the soloist? 
András Schiff: I do not imagine myself a conductor – but, if you please, neither was Mozart. When he performed his piano concerti, there was no conductor far and wide, but he led the ensemble from the keyboard, as a first among equals. His music does not tolerate anyone beating time. With my Cappella and a few other orchestras, I can communicate so intimately that we understand each other with few words, even without words. That gives me great joy. But of course I love working with such excellent maestri such as Bernard Haitink or Herbert Blomstedt. The only trouble is that there are very few like them. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: In 1982 you first performed at the Salzburg Festival – so far, you have given 52 concerts here, plus one at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. What does this Festival mean to you? 
András Schiff: Salzburg and the Festival mean very much to me. 52 performances – I would never have guessed. That is a great honour, for which I am grateful. We lived here for a long time and have many good friends here. And, above all, Salzburg is the city of Mozart! 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: You have directed and founded festivals yourself. What does a festival have to offer, compared to regular seasons? 
András Schiff: It is already inherent in the word: a festival is a “fest”, a feast, and everything is different from everyday life. “It must be something wonderful.” It is not surprising that we have so many of them today. In a beautiful place, far from the stress and strife of daily life, people are better able to concentrate on art; they can absorb more. On the other hand, there are those festival lovers who attend several events every day, only to have forgotten in the evening what they saw or heard that same morning. Enjoyment is good, but within measure. Less is more. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: You are an explorer, someone who searches through the original sources and seeks new connections. Can you reveal where your next journey of discovery is headed? 
András Schiff: As a musician, one has to travel a lot, and today, the good Lord knows that is no pleasure. I enjoy my time at home all the more – and all too rarely. Thus, my journeys of discovery are metaphorical ones. One delves very intensely into certain composers and their time. My next project will focus on Brahms, his late piano works. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: You are from Hungary, live in Italy, were knighted in Great Britain. Where do you feel at home? Was it a painful decision for you when you determined not to perform in Hungary anymore for political reasons? 
András Schiff: In principle, I feel that I am a European, a Central European. I am interested in other cultures, but my home is the Occident. What is happening with Hungary is very sad, and very little will change in the foreseeable future. However, I am optimistic that I will be able to return within my lifetime. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: Are you still in touch with György Kurtág, your teacher who turns 90 this year, and what did you learn from him? 
András Schiff: Only by phone. To me, Kurtág is the greatest, most important living composer. As a teacher, he was enormously important to me; I came to him at a very young age, when I was 14. Even the first piano lesson, on the three-part Invention in E major by Bach, was unforgettable. After about three hours, we had advanced no further than the third measure. There are few people who experience music so passionately and intensively as Kurtág. I also owe my passion for Schubert’s songs to him. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: Your wife Yuuko Shiokawa is a violinist from Japan. Do you think it is easier to be married to an artist who understands the problems of an artist’s life? 
András Schiff: Yes, certainly. It is almost impossible for an outsider to comprehend these problems. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: You are known for reading a lot. In which language, or languages, do you read? What is the last book you read? 
András Schiff: Yes, I am a passionate reader. I read Hungarian, German, English, Italian, occasionally French. My last book was Erfolg (Success) by Lion Feuchtwanger, a wonderful satire about Munich and Bavaria, very timely! 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: You perform from memory most of the time; is your memory better than everyone else’s? Doesn’t one feel more secure when one has the music in front of one? 
András Schiff: My memory is pretty good, but surely not better than that of many others. Just think of Daniel Barenboim! It is congenital, so to speak. However, one does have to work hard at it. I find it much more difficult today to learn something by heart than I did thirty years ago, since my head is pretty full and one doesn’t want to forget the most important pieces either. For me, playing from memory is a liberation, allowing me to communicate better with the composer and the audience. After all, a piano recital is not a lecture. It is my choice, and there is no need for apology or shame. 
Helga Rabl-Stadler: Which are your favourite concert halls in the world, and why? 
András Schiff: There are a few. The Musikverein, the Mozart Hall at Vienna’s Konzerthaus, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Rudolfinum in Prague, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, the Philharmonic in St. Petersburg, the Tonhalle in Zurich, and – last but not least – the Mozarteum in Salzburg. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The End of Time comes to Ealing

Absolutely thrilled that the Ealing Autumn Festival is about to put on my Messiaen play, A Walk through the End of Time, even though it is feeling very much like spring outside! The performance takes place at the Church of Christ the Saviour, New Broadway, Ealing, London W5 2XA, on Saturday 5 March 2016. 

The actors are Caroline Dooley and David Webb and after the play the complete Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time will be given by Colin Bradbury (clarinet), Richard George (violin), Adrian Bradbury (cello) and Gillian Spragg (piano). Gillian is artistic director of the festival and it is thanks to her indefatigable dedication to making this project happen that it is indeed taking place.

The drama is designed to illuminate the quartet from a creative, philosophic and aesthetic perspective, exploring the ideas behind the music and the circumstances of its composition. Through the story of two people whose lives have been deeply touched by the quartet it pays tribute to the enduring power of music, love and the human spirit. Messiaen's quartet is not only a work of genius; it is in many ways a message of hope, composed and first performed in a prisoner-of-war camp in Silesia in January 1941.

More information at this link. Do come along if you can - at present this is the only performance planned for 2016.

Book now! Tickets via Eventbrite here.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

So what's it really like to perform at the Wigmore Hall?

Viv and muggins, delivering
What's it like to perform at the Wigmore Hall? I doubt I'd ever have found out if I'd kept on with my piano studies...but in one of those weird twists of fate I found myself up there yesterday, with wonderful Viv, presenting Alicia's Gift: the Concert of the Novel to an extremely well-sold auditorium, full of people aged from what looked like 3 to 93, who listened attentively, applauded Viv's playing with great enthusiasm, and laughed at the jokes.

It's the musical equivalent of...having tea at the Ritz. You're in there with the ghosts of the finest music-making in the history of London. In the Green Room you're surrounded by the dedicated photographs of musicians who have been there over the past 115 years, from Edwin Fischer, Daniel Barenboim, Jessye Norman, Christa Ludwig, to Stephen Hough, Angela Hewitt and - the final photo you see just before you walk on to the platform - András Schiff standing beside a bust of Beethoven.

Viv McLean in rehearsal yesterday
The platform itself, under the famous cupola depicting the Soul of Music, feels protected, intimate and reassuring, bathed in golden light. It's neither slippery nor intimidating, and from the front of the stage the hall looks smaller than it really is, rather than bigger, so you feel safe and happy. The Steinway we met there yesterday was new just over a year ago and if you're me - playing it for three minutes at the very end of the concert - it's like taking a ride in the most luxurious car you could imagine, only far better; one of those pianos where you only have to think of what you want it to do and out it comes. If you're Viv, of course, it's even better.

Nor can you imagine a more helpful team of people. There's even someone whose job it is to look after the performers backstage - not that Viv and I need a great deal of looking after, as we always bring our own gf chocolate muffins etc, but it's nice to be offered tea, and there's a quiet room upstairs where Viv was able to go for a pre-concert snooze.

It's scary. You bet it's scary. I don't usually suffer nerves for our narrated concerts - only a little bit for the duet at the end - but when you're sitting on a stage and you can almost see Jelly d'Arányi three feet away playing Tzigane, and you can picture your parents up there in the balcony where they always used to sit, waving and being proud, and you're remembering all the hundreds of times you've been in there listening to the great and good, but now you have to deliver, that's another matter. Even so - what an unimaginable treat it was to do so.

We had a lively panel discussion in the Bechstein Room downstairs after the performance: cellist Guy Johnston, pianist and Chet's head of keyboard Murray McLachlan and RNCM artistic director Michelle Castelletti joined me to talk about what makes a prodigy, what special challenges face them and what the peaks and pitfalls of prodigydom can bring. Excellent questions from a capacity audience, especially three young musicians in their teens whose eager participation made the whole event extra rewarding.

Things we learned that are to the advantage of this concert project as a whole:
• Age range of audience is basically unlimited and this is quite valuable;
• Format with discussion to follow works brilliantly;
• It may be a newish and unfamiliar way to listen to music, but people do seem to like it, so if you are a promoter who hesitates to give something different a whirl, don't be scared. Apart from anything else, it's stuffed with absolutely wonderful music.

Dearest Wigmore, THANK YOU.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


Viv McLean and I are off to the Wigmore Hall today to present ALICIA'S GIFT at 2pm. At 3.30pm I'm chairing a discussion in the Bechstein Room about child prodigies.
All details here:
Please join us if you can!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Practising the Piano Online Academy: Graham Fitch tells all

 At Dartington in 1982 I shared an extraordinary experience with a group of very talented young pianists. We spent a week immersed in the masterclasses of a lively young Hungarian pianist, a rising star in his late twenties, whose performance of the Goldberg Variations in the Great Hall mesmerised everybody on day one. His name was, of course, András Schiff. For some of us it was a life-changing experience - including me, and also including Graham Fitch, who as luck would have it now lives up the road and is busy with some extremely engaging piano teaching projects. 

Notably, he has been running an excellent piano practise blog entitled Practising the Piano (I love sites that do what they say on the tin). Now he is turning the idea into an online academy for pianists of all levels - student, professional or amateur - and he's launched an Indigogo campaign to help make it happen. If you play, or want to, do take a peek and pledge your support via the links below. He's sent me a bunch of info about it, so here it all is. JD

Crowdfunding Campaign for the Practising the Piano Online Academy Launched


Pianist and teacher, Graham Fitch has launched an Indiegogo campaign for a new initiative, the Practising the Piano Online Academy. Building on his Practising the Piano blog and eBook series, the Online Academy will take his work to the next level with a comprehensive library of lessons, masterclasses and resources combined with insights from other leading experts. The materials will be presented in an intuitive, interactive manner and aims to transform the way you approach teaching and playing the piano. The funding goal is £10,000 and funds raised will be used directly for creating additional content and resources.  

The story so far

The art of practising is a special area of interest to me and is rarely taught specifically enough. Our practice time at the piano is just as significant to the end product as the hours of training undertaken by professional athletes, but this time can so easily be wasted unless we have the know-how. Effective practice is essential to mastering the piano and it’s for this reason that I have spent decades researching and experimenting in the art of practising to find the optimal approaches.

I’ve developed a methodology comprising practice tools, strategies and techniques which I’ve tested and refined in my work with students of varying ages and levels of ability. I would love to see as many people as possible benefit from my work but obviously not everyone can get to me for one-to-one lessons. Therefore I’ve embarked upon a number of initiatives to make my work more widely accessible including my blog and eBook series. These provide a conceptual introduction to my approach and I am now planning to build on this foundation with the Practising the Piano Online Academy.

What is it?

 The Practising the Piano Online Academy is an extensive, searchable, and regularly updated library of lessons, articles and resources which will:
  • Illustrate my methodologies and approach in more depth with multimedia contentinteractive features and resources including musical examples, worksheets and annotated scores which can be downloaded and printed.
  • Expand on practice tools and strategies with masterclasses and tutorials applying them to popular pieces in the repertoire, exam syllabuses and specific technical challenges.
  • Share the expertise of guest experts on subjects including applied theory, improvisation and healthy piano playing.
  • Be regularly updatedeasily searchable and allow for personalisation with bookmarking and notes.
  • Be shaped by your input, responding to your questions and suggestions for new content to meet your needs.

What it will do for you?
Whether you are a budding student, keen amateur, passionate piano teacher or a professional musician, it is my hope that the Practising the Piano Online Academy will provide you with the knowledge and resources at your finger tips to overcome technical difficulties, master trouble spots, inspire your students or deliver performances that reflect your full potential.

How can you be involved?
We’ve already started creating content for this project and are now seeking the further support of pianists and teachers via our crowdfunding campaign to help us make this resource as good as it can possibly be. A number of great rewards ranging from discounted subscriptions through to opportunities to sponsor lessons and obtain a one-to-one consultations with me are on offer. Supporters will also have an opportunity to shape the Online Academy by suggesting and voting for topics and content they would like to see featured. 

Please visit our campaign page to find out more and feel free to share this link with anyone you think might be interested.   

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Keep Calm and...listen to Jelly

I do wonder whence all these amazing recordings on Youtube are popping up. They don't grow on trees and many were never released on LP, let alone CD. This, of Jelly d'Arányi and her sister Adila Fachiri (who have become the main characters of Ghost Variations) with the pianist Ethel Hobday playing the Gigue from Bach's Trio Sonata in C BWV1037, is simply glorious and the most cheering thing I can find on a morning on which everything else seems to be in meltdown, from the BBC's music TV department to ENO to our newspaper to...

oh blast it, here's the Bach.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Farewell to Steven Stucky

The new music world is reeling after the news of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky's untimely death on Sunday at the age of 66. One of his country's best-loved and most often performed contemporary composers, Stucky had fought a short battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer. Here is his obituary from the New York Times.

The Philharmonia Orchestra here in London fortuitously made a short film in which Stucky and his friend and fellow composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, the orchestra's chief conductor, discuss the music of Witold Lutosławski. As a tribute, here it is.

Dates for the diary...

It's a busy little patch, this, so here's what's coming up.

• On Saturday afternoon, 20 Feb, Viv and I are performing ALICIA'S GIFT at the Wigmore Hall, 2pm. The concert is an hour long and at 3.30pm I'm chairing a panel discussion about child prodigies, with Murray McLachlan (head of keyboard at Chetham's), Michelle Castelletti (artistic director of the RNCM) and Guy Johnston (cellist par excellence). Tickets are going fast - and you need to book separately for the two events - so do grab 'em now. Here's the link.

• At fairly short notice, thanks to an heroic effort on the part of the Ealing Autummn Festival's devoted artistic director, Gillian Spragg, a performance of my play A Walk through the End of Time is being given in Ealing on 5 March, together with the complete Quartet for the End of Time by Messiaen. It takes place at Christ the Saviour Parish Church, New Broadway, Ealing, London W5 2XA (a few minutes walk from Ealing Broadway tube) and starts at 7pm. The actors Caroline Dooley and David Webb present a rehearsed reading of the play and the Messiaen Quartet features a group of local celebrity musicians from Ealing: Colin Bradbury (clarinet), Richard George (violin), Adrian Bradbury (cello) and Gillian herself on piano. Details here and booking through Eventbrite here.

Ghost Variations is steaming on apace and I am delighted that we'll give the first public presentation about the book, with words and music, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, Covent Garden, on 21 March. Viv (piano) and David Le Page (violin) join me to play music associated with Jelly d'Arányi, including Ravel's Tzigane and music by Bartók, Brahms and...Schumann. I'll be introducing the topic and reading some extracts from the novel. Admission is FREE, but you need to book a place in advance. The plan at the moment is for the book to be released in July. Meanwhile I am desperately trying to get the manuscript brushed up properly for the editor to tackle with red pen in March.

Back to the desk...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A waltz for the Indy

As you know, I've written for The Independent since 2004, the same length of time as this blog has existed. It's been one of the longest and happiest professional associations I've ever enjoyed and it is a great privilege to have a platform in a quality national newspaper alongside some of the best news journalists and commentators in the country. Yesterday the paper, which has run for 30 years, announced that it is ceasing its print operations. The i paper, the smaller, cheaper daily, is being sold, and The Independent as a whole will be online only. It is the first of the UK national papers to take this step, but most people feel it won't be the last.

Around half the staff are being made redundant - according to the editor Amol Rajan on BBC news, that means more than 100 jobs will be lost. Again, we are talking here about some of the most professional, experienced, sharp-minded, knowledgeable editors in the UK. I have no idea what will happen to the splendid arts team, but I have loved and still love working with them and have endless respect for my "boss" there, David Lister, who has been with the Independent since the very beginning.

I hope this is not the end of the line. It may be. It may not be. I just don't know yet.

This piece is how I feel about yesterday and I offer it to them all with love and solidarity. It's Franz von Vecsey's Valse triste, played by Philippe Graffin and Claire Désert.

Friday, February 12, 2016

So you want to play the piano even more?

Melanie Spanswick's book So You Want to Play the Piano? seems to have hit a chord with the market. She first published it herself a few years ago, but now it's been taken up by Alfred Music Publishing, revised, expanded and relaunched and it's just hit the shelves. I thought it was a great idea in the first place, so I've asked her to write us an introduction to the revised edition.

Over to Melanie:

So You Want To Play The Piano? has been revised, considerably expanded and republished in a second edition by Alfred Music. When I first wrote this book (back in the Summer of 2011), I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to achieve; which was to assist those who had never played the piano before in making important decisions about various crucial aspects at the start of their musical journey. The book is therefore useful for prospective students, beginners and all those up to and around intermediate level. However, it may also provide helpful information for piano teachers at the start of their careers.

The second edition is larger (A4 size) and much more comprehensive. Twelve chapters take the prospective student on a journey from the very beginning, examining the reasons for playing, how to ascertain the best instruments for beginners (or those who may be looking to upgrade), locating and deciphering the best or most suitable piano teachers, as well as discussing many other considerations which often crop up at the start.

Twenty-two piano tutor books are examined (both familiar and new books) and a selection of further publications are also listed, with a section dedicated to supplementary educational methods (such as the Kodaly and Suzuki methods). Another chapter indicates what can be expected from the first few lessons. Piano basics are covered in chapter eight; with advice relating to posture, hand positions and how to avoid common errors regarding rhythm and note learning. Piano technique is decoded in chapter nine, which discusses wrist flexibility, finger independence, touch, dynamics, and pedalling.

I’ve focussed on piano exams too, as many students wish to work their way through graded exams, so there is ample information regarding the most popular examination boards in the UK and abroad, and each exam component is explored with practice suggestions for scales, sight-reading and aural, as well as (hopefully) useful tips for preparing pieces. The book concludes with chapters on composers and suitable repertoire (for beginners up to and including intermediate level), and performance practice, competitions and festivals.

Littered with musical examples and photographs, as well as lists of recommended practice materials and a '5 points to remember' box at the end of every chapter, summating the most essential and relevant points, I hope piano students everywhere will find this book beneficial.
Melanie Spanswick

You can order your copy from Alfred Music here:

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Save the People's Opera

The ongoing crisis at English National Opera is provoking much thought, soul-searching and protest. The current plan on the management side is to cut the chorus's pay by 25 per cent. The chorus, not surprisingly, is balloting for strike action.

Most people who go to ENO or who have performed with the company are all too aware that the chorus is the absolute life-blood of it - and it is not least their magnificent singing that has made so many of ENO's performances so outstanding over the past years. Some singers have remarked that the planned cut amounts to a good deal more than 25 per cent in practice, and that with the costs of family life, accommodation and travel in the capital, such a cut would make it unviable for them to continue in their jobs.

Meanwhile, a petition is gathering signatures, including many from leading singers who have starred on the Coliseum stage, not least Sarah Connolly and Stuart Skelton. Soprano Susan Bullock has commented: So much damage has been done to this wonderful company in recent years, and it is now time for it to stop. Wake up ENO Board before it is too late and fight for the company you are supposed to represent. Do not allow the heart to be ripped out of it by administrators who have no clue about opera. You can’t expect high quality performances from a broken company, nor do you deserve them if you persist in making these cuts.’

Mark Wigglesworth, who is in his first season as music director, has strong words about the company's present and future in today's Guardian. He is at the helm for a revival of The Magic Flute, in Simon McBurney's edgy and fascinating production. Do read this. 

And the company is currently advertising for an artistic director...

Meanwhile, I've been having a look back at where the company used to be. It has been very easy for people to use John Berry's artistic directorship as a punchbag, and ditto for Peter Bazalgette, who has recently announced his resignation from the chair of ACE (in a former life he was on ENO's board himself). But things have been volatile at the Coli for decades. It seems an endless cycle of boom and bust. Mostly bust.

Have a look at this, from the Telegraph in 1997.

I'd like to draw attention to this section: 

Go down to the Coliseum after dark and you get swept up in pre-revolutionary ferment. The place is packed out, even for non-pops such as Verdi's Falstaff and Janácek's From the House of the Dead. The lobbies heave with men in windcheaters and ladies in print frocks, solid Labour types who come to the Coliseum two nights a week, no matter what's playing. There are schoolboys, unchaperoned by teachers, booked in of their own initiative. There are young couples of every gender-pairing and whole families, grans to tots, out for a birthday treat. No one has paid more than £25 a seat and some are in for less than a fiver.Inside the auditorium, the tension that mounts with any good drama explodes in roars of solidarity as, during curtain calls, a company member steps forward to advocate the case for survival. These appeals began spontaneously on the night of Smith's statement, when the new music director, Paul Daniel, delivered an emotional defence speech. "We have a very special platform of work," said Daniel, "and a very, very strong case for making opera as we do."
The audience is different today. So is the company. On the latter side, ticket prices are higher, considerably so; on the former, many people's incomes are less secure, more pressurised and less likely to be spent on opera seats two nights a week. Generally, loyalties are less pronounced. The company faced low ticket sales for "non-pops", even when they were as fine as Vaughan Williams's A Pilgrim's Progress and Martinu's fabulous Julietta directed by Richard Jones. And people are scared to step forward and speak up. Today does anybody dare to take the stage after the performance and tell the audience what's going on? Does the audience dare to roar its support for its beloved operatic family? I hope they will, if they haven't already. Because if they don't, it would be a sign of our cultural shift compared to 19 years back: the crushing of dissent, or self-censorship out of fear of it. Laugh if you want to, but there's a lot of this around and we ignore it at our peril.

Monday, February 08, 2016

TOMORROW: Alicia's Gift goes to Hampton Court House

Across the road from Hampton Court Palace, down a little gravel side-street, you'll find the beautiful mansion known as Hampton Court House.

An historic venue with beautiful gardens and mysterious grottos, it is now home to an adventurous independent school, whose headmaster, Guy Holloway, has been much in the news of late for advocating a later start to the school day for teenagers, whose natural body rhythms make it seriously difficult for them to get going in the early morning.

Viv McLean and I, fresh from a gorgeous afternoon at St Mary's Perivale yesterday, are off there tomorrow evening for an Alicia's Gift performance - at a place in which the pressures facing gifted youngsters is all too relevant. The hour-long concert will be followed by a discussion in which Guy and I will be joined by Hugh Mather, artistic director of St Mary's Perivale, to consider the whole matter of child prodigy musicians.

Do join us - and you can book in advance here. Hampton Court House is about ten minutes walk from Hampton Court Station and you can arrive for a pre-concert drink any time from 6.45pm for a 7.30pm start.

All details here:

Did this man get under Mozart's skin?

OK, I know this may cause a few splutterings and shouts of "preposterous" and "piffle", but this story has been bugging me like one of those planets you can't see, yet whose presence is indicated by the tugs of energy around the encircling orbs. It's a theory, nothing more. I may have added two and two and made 130. I just think it's worth a little look.

In short: was Monostatos Mozart's revenge upon the person who was probably the only man of colour he encountered within his own circles as a young man - someone happier and more successful than he was, someone of whom he had reason to be jealous at one of the most terrible times of his life? Namely, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges? Here's my theory and the reasoning behind it in the Independent. (Incidentally, this could put a slightly interesting slant on the Queen of the Night, too.)

First, here's Covent Garden's solution to the Monostatos problem. We find many remedies for that in the opera world - but little explanation of why they might have been there in the first place.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Worldwide fanfare for a very uncommon woman conductor

Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla. Photo: Nancy Horowitz

Above, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, the 29-year-old Lithuanian conductor whose appointment as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is being cheered across the globe, including in Los Angeles where she is assistant conductor at the LA Philharmonic. 

In Birmingham she will be successor to no lesser personage than Andris Nelsons - who has risen since he was chosen by the musicians there to become one of the most sought-after of international maestri, and with good reason. The CBSO has a way of picking some rather fine musicians as its music directorsL Rattle, Oramo and Nelsons are quite an act to follow, so hopes ride high for Mirga. She was, apparently, chosen unanimously by a committee of players, board members and management. 

A gentle reminder: she will be the only female music director of a UK professional orchestra when she takes up the post - unless someone else makes another appointment very quickly -  but what's evident is that she has been effectively "auditioned" by the orchestra in some extra, late-scheduled concerts along with other exciting potential appointees such as Omer Meier Wellber, and chosen absolutely on merit.

Here she is talking to In Tune on BBC Radio 3 about her appointment and the CBSO itself. "They are open to every impulse. It is a gift for a conductor."

Here is a piece by Imogen Tilden in The Guardian about her, her appointment and her background.

We look forward to hearing a very great deal more of her in years ahead.