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Category archive: Classical music

Sunday June 25 2017

I’ve been reading Adam Zamoyski’s book about Chopin.  So far, I love it.  And I love learning so much about a fascinating man, of whom I knew just about nothing besides his music, and the fact that he was Polish and is a very big deal in Poland, but that he lived mostly in France.

I have, in particular, learned just exactly how Polish Chopin was, and was not.  His father, Nicholas Chopin, was French.  But when the Polish aristocrat for whom he worked went back to Poland, Nicholas went with him.  In Poland Nicholas married a Polish woman, and Frederick was thus born in Poland, but with his French-sounding name.  It sounds French because it was French.

So far, I have reached the stage where Chopin has played his first few concerts at which he performed, to great acclaim, his first few compositions, most of them for piano and orchestra.  (I am very fond of these pieces, the two piano concertos and the various other one movement works for piano and orchestra.)

As for how Chopin played, Zamoyski supplies this especially pleasing quote, from an unnamed Warsaw newspaper critic:

He emphasised but little, like one conversing in the company of clever people, not with the rhetorical aplomb which is considered by virtuosos to be indispensable.

But Chopin found it difficult working with orchestras, and I’m guessing that this is partly why that stopped, and he concentrated henceforth on solo works.  But as I think the above quote reveals, that probably suited his manner of playing better.

Wednesday June 21 2017

One of the many aspects of the horrible Grenfell Tower fire that makes it such a compelling news story is that the scene of the crime (which is what most now assume it to be) is so very, very visible.  This is not the kind of horror that can be sealed off by the police and hidden from view.  There it is, in all its photogenic horror, and there it will remain for quite some while yet.

Yesterday I lunched with GodDaughter 2.  She has been allowed no time to recover from her recital (the pizza in yesterday’s posting was consumed just after that happened), but instead has been plunged into rehearsals for this showVery hot, apparently.  Lots of stage lighting, and lots of standing around, as is the way with complicated rehearsals.  I, meanwhile, was also nearly immobilised by the heat, and just wanted to get home again and be truly immobile.  So, we spent less time together than we would have had the heat been less hot.

imageBut she did show me this photo, on the right there, which was taken by a friend of hers and along with a million other such photos, has been circulating on social media.  This particular photo was taken (I think I have this right) after the fire had erupted, and then been turned entirely black and dormant by the firemen.  But then, the fire got back into business, nearly a day later.  And I bet the heat made a difference to that too.

As for the politics of this, I don’t think Mrs May will recover from the bad press she has had as a result of this disaster.  (GD2 was very eloquent about that.) But my hope is that the Corbynistas are overplaying their hand.  People, says John McDonnell, have a right to be angry.  Of course they do.  But if too many of the people being angry are thought to be politicos who are merely pretending to be angry but who are really having the time of their lives, the Corbyn project might suffer.  I’m sure the Corvbyn high-ups are aware of this danger, but knowing what is happening with something is not the same as necessarily being able to stop it.  (Ask any fireman.)

In general I hope that what I heard Matthew Parris saying on the television on the night of the election is right, to the effect that the Corbyn phenomenon will now be subjected to the sort of serious critical scrutiny by the voters which last time around they bestowed only upon Mrs May.

Monday June 12 2017

Today I was part of a impressively numerous gang of friends and family who attended GodDaughter 2’s end of third year recital, at the Royal College of Music.

The RCM, seen from outside the Royal Albert Hall, looks like this:

image

This photo was taken from just beyond the statue of Prince Albert outside the Royal Albert Hall, to the south of it.  By most standards, this statue is pretty imposing, but it is a miniature compared to the vastly bigger Royal Albert Memorial, which is to the north, the other side of Kensington Road, in Hyde Park.

After GD2’s recital, we went out and celebrated.  We ate.  We drank.  We photoed each other.  I photoed us photoing each other.  And I also took a few dozen photos in and around the RCM and its various Albert memorials, both before and after the recital.  More of that may follow (although I promise nothing).

For now, I’ll just say that although it is very hard to be objective about a person whom I have known since she was about four or some such tiny age, GD2, who is a mezzo-soprano, really seems like she is going to be the real deal.  Her voice gets stronger and more expressive, and her command of it more impressive, every time I hear her.

GD2 herself is not in the slightest bit strange, but when singing, she does strange, wonderfully.  Her performances of two of the songs from Day Turned Into Night by Iain Bell were particularly fine.  These songs feature Queen Victoria describing the life and death of – you’ve guessed it – Prince Albert.  The two that GD2 sang are very strange indeed.

Tuesday May 02 2017

Speculation: every lover of music has a particular style of music-making that he likes so much that he even likes it when it is done rather badly.  He likes, that is to say, not only this particular sort of music, but also the mere sound that it makes.  The Sound That It Makes music is, by definition, a kind of music that only you and a few like-minded freaks like.  All it takes is an efficient market and suppliers of such music will bid down the prices of it, and thanks to amazon, that efficient market now now exists.  There are bargains to be had, and I do like a bargain.

Here are my last dozen amazon.co.uk classical CD purchases:

imageimageimageimageimage
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Click on any of these if you want to take my word for it that this is nice music, but really, that isn’t my point here.

These CDs almost all fall into two very clear and distinct categories.  1.1, 1.3, 2.1, 2.3, and 4.2 are all of music by famous, front-rank composers, namely: Mozart, Liszt, Rachmaninov, and Beethoven.  Big names.  Top music.  The sort of music that all lovers of classical music tend to admire.

But, 1.2, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3 and 4.3 are CDs of music by much less well known composers.  Louise Farrenc, Ludwig Thuille, Ferdinand Ries, Franz Limmer (a completely new name to me), Hummel (the least unknown of his lower division bunch), George Onslow, Franz Danzi, and Florent Schmitt.  The first names are included because these guys are not so well known.

4.1 is a box of recordings by Martha Argerich and friends, at the Lugano Festival of 2015.  Three separate CDs, of chamber works, some by big names like Brahms and Beethoven, Schumann and Schubert, and others by somewhat lesser personages, including Ferdinand Ries.  (RIes was a close friend of Beethoven.)

But what all of these CDs have in common is that they feature the piano, and in all but one instance, other instruments, mostly in quite small numers.  The outliers are the solo piano disc of Liszt, and the concerto discs by Mozart, and by Mozart and Rachmaninov.  But even Mozart piano concertos are famous for having what critics call a chamber music “feel” to them, with important parts for woodwind soloists, who often dialogue as equals with the piano soloist.

This, then, is my favourite musical style.  Piano, and a few other instruments.  There is no other musical styles where I buy bargain performances of pieces by composers where the only thing I know about them is when they lived.  Do the critics not rate the composers?  Do they think the performances are lousy?  Don’t care.  This is my kind of music.

When I was a kid, I played the flute, and the most fun I had doing that was when me and my siblings played together.  My two older brothers both played the piano and my sister played the oboe, all very well and better than I played the flute.  Was this what got me started with this sort of music?  Is this why I love it so much.  Maybe.  Don’t know for sure.

What is you favourite sort of music?  Remember my definition.  You love the music.  But even if the music is rather mediocre, you love the sound that it makes.

By the way, yes, that is a swan in the bottom right hand corner of the cover of 1.3.  But this is part of why this CD was so very cheap.  All over the world, tasteful classical music fans said to themselves: yes, this is quite good playing, but I can’t have a CD with a swan like that on the cover.  And nor can I own a CD which, on the back, quotes the pianist saying:

“I was always aware that my first recording had to be a portrait of Lizst.  Only he would enable me to present as a unity the many aspects of my soul.”

Me?  I just think that’s funny.  And Khatia Buniatishvili can really play, so who cares about the embarrassingness of her mere words?

Friday April 14 2017

As related last Wednesday, I heard GodDaughter 2 (and others) perform this:

image

What a strange piece it is.  To an atheist like me, the plot is very simple and wholly disastrous.  Mother watches her only son being tortured to death.  Yet Rossini makes a lot of it sound rather up-beat, even jolly, despite it mostly being in a minor key.  This effect was strengthened in this performance by the fact that instead of the orchestra that Rossini specified, they made do with two pianists playing one piano.  Don’t get me wrong, these guys did fine.  But the inevitable emphasis that a piano places, unlike wind and orchestral stringed instruments, on the beginnings of notes, especially when two pianists need to keep in time with each other, created a mood not unlike a rather jolly brass band, of the sort manned by men in leather shorts.  Put on top of that singing that was more operatic in manner than traditionally ecclesiastical, and you can see why (I just learned this (blog and learn)) Heinrich Heine described the work as “too worldly, sensuous, too playful for the religious subject”.  Playful is exactly the word.  The tenor solo aria, early on, sounded like he’d just got married.

But then again, it’s not for atheistical me to be telling nineteenth century Italians how they should feel about the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  If they want to treat this as a cause for something close to celebration, which I suppose is what Christianity as a whole does, in among all the lamentation, I’m not going to tell them otherwise.  Besides which, I enjoyed it, once I had got over the surprise of how it sounded. Playful is a good sound.

If you like the sound of playfully ecclesiastical Rossini, I also recommend his Petite Messe Solomnelle.  That’s long been a favourite of mine.

There’s something about young-and-still-studying classical music voices that is often lacking with more famous, better paid and older classical singers.  Basically, their voices are still pristine, not yet having suffered from the habit of belting everything out to the far corners of opera houses.  Provided the students you are hearing are in command of what they are singing and don’t sing out of tune (these were and didn’t), they can create a sort of musical magic that you often miss on bigger and grander occasions.  There is also something appropriate about how none of them are stars, or not yet.  That way God, the Virgin Mary and her Son get to be the stars of the evening.

That said, towards the end, GodDaughter 2 had her big solo moment, doing a very difficult number with some scarily low notes.  As I already reported she did very well, in other opinions besides mine, Other than that, the highlight for me was the performance of Michael Ronan, who brought gravitas to the occasion of a sort that I was expecting rather more of.  I say “performance” because he accomplished this effect as much with his restrained and perfectly pitched body language as with his fine singing.

It was a shame that more people were not persuaded to attend this event.  I’m guessing we were mostly friends and family.  We had the performers outnumbered, but not by much.

I earlier linked to the Scherzo facebook page.  This was then still plugging last Wednesday’s performance, but as of now it features a photo of all the singers and their conductor Matthew O’Keeffe, taken after the performance.  I’m tempted to show you the photo of the photographer taking this photo that I photoed, but have resisted.  I also resisted taking photos of the performance during the performance, but she showed no such restraint, sometimes being almost in the singers’ faces.  Afterwards, I heard grumbles, but presumably she had permission.  If her efforts help Scherzo to get the bigger audiences they deserve in the future, then I forgive her.

Wednesday April 12 2017

I have GodDaughter 2 to thank for this picture:

image

That was the sight that greeted me just before I went inside St Stephen’s Church, Gloucester Road, where GD2 and some music student friends, conducted by Matthew O’Keeffe (Scherzo), were performing Rossini’s Stabat Mater.  That’s a link to a piece about the event written in the future tense, so I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s the best I can do.

I can’t be objective about GodDaughter 2’s singing, but she sounded very good to me.

Thursday March 16 2017

It went on for a really long time, though.  The show kicked off at 4.30pm, and only ended at 10pm.  There were two intervals, each of just over half and hour.  I was careful to drink very sparingly beforehand.

During the overture, before the curtain went up, I also fretted that there might not be titles in English of what was about to be sung, which would mean me spending the best part of an entire working day of time trapped in a seat and bored out of my skull, with nothing to do except listen to not-my-favourite Wagner, with constant interruptions from singers, of a sort that I typically don’t much like the sound of.  And I further fretted that if there were such titles then we might not be able to read them, what with us being stuck right next to the roof about a quarter of a mile away from the action.  But all was well.  There were titles, and they were clearly readable.

A distressing effect of us sitting up at the back and the top, was that, what with the house being pretty much full and spring having got properly started during the last day or two, it became very hot for us.  I heard one middle aged lady complaining vehemently about the heat to some hapless programme girl during the second interval, and from then on it just got hotter and hotter.

Another drawback of sitting at the top and at the back, for me and my faltering eyesight, was that I couldn’t see properly who was who on the stage.  It was just too far away.  The titles told me the meaning of what was being sung, but omitted the rather crucial detail of which character was actually singing it.  In part one this was a real problem, because the stage was mostly full of similarly dressed and similar sounding bassy-baritony blokes of a certain age, the Mastersingers of the title.  It helped that, as the night wore on, there tended to be fewer people on the stage, and I thus found it easier to deduce who was singing than it had been in part one

But oh boy, Wagner certainly takes his time with this one.  It’s supposed to be a comedy, and occasionally it was.  But one of Wagner’s favourite jokes is that he signals that something is about to happen, but then whichever dithering bass-baritone is supposed to be getting on with it then takes another five minutes actually to do it, or to sing it, or whatever he is supposed to do.  This device peaked in the final act, when Mastersinger Sixtus Beckmesser takes an age to start his butchered version of the prize song, which he has stolen from the tenor.

Leading the caste was the noted (Sir) Bryn Terfel, as Hans Sachs - philosopher, poet, Mastersinger and cobbler.  I was disappointed by him.  Terfel’s voice in no way stood out during part one, with all its other bass-baritones, and one of the other bass-baritones, Mastersinger Pogner I think it was, sounded much better to me.  This was, I believe, this guy.

The tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones, regularly complimented throughout the show on his beauty, was a fat middle-aged bloke who made a point of dressing down, rather than overdressing in the properly pompous Mastersinger style, at any rate in this production.  He looked, from my distant vantage point, more like a nightclub bouncer than a romantic lead.  But, and this is the only thing that really matters in opera, he sang brilliantly.  His voice was amazingly secure.  “Secure” sounds like damning with faint praise, but what I mean is that his voice combined the best qualities of a voice and a really well played musical instrument.  In this respect if in few others, yesterday was exactly like my earlier ROH experience, when tenor Joseph Calleja was also by far the best thing to be heard.  Hughes Jones’s performance of the prize song, right at the end, after Beckmesser’s mangling of it, was, as it should be, the musical highlight of the evening.

As with that earlier Verdi show, everyone else in this Meistersinger cast (apart from Pogner) made the usual operatic singing noises in the usual operatic ways, these usual operatic ways being the basic reason I mostly prefer classical music without singing, and as a rule avoid opera houses.  It isn’t just the crippling cost of the tickets.

There are two ways to sing opera badly.  You can sing with quite nice tone, but with far too much and far too slow and wobbly vibrato, to the point where neither pitch nor meaning are clear, even if you know the language.  Or, you can have less vibrato but a tone that sounds more like an industrial sawing process than a nice voice.  Last night, the singing wasn’t ever bad enough to be seriously off-putting to me, but there was more than a whiff of both styles on offer.  As often happens, the women were the worst wobblers.  And Bryn Terfel was the worst offender, to my ear, in the industrial sawing department, although perhaps the effect was made worse by me having been hoping for something better from him.  He did seem to get better as the evening wore on, although that could just be because both the music and the drama got better.  It got better very slowly, but it got better.

Die Meistersinger is a kind of pilgrimage, from old geezer fustiness to youthful brilliance as exemplified by the prize song, from light opera to heavy opera, from dreary pre-Wagnerian operatic frivolity, which Wagner could do only moderately well, to full-on Wagner, at which Wagner was, as you would expect, the supreme master. 

This production, especially in part one, was a bit off.  It was supposed to start in a church, but instead we were in a posh gentleman’s club, containing Mastersingers who looked more like affluent Victorian eccentrics than the real late-Middle-Ages deal.  Also, the ending was a bit un-Wagnerian, in that the lead soprano, Eva, wasn’t happy about the way the tenor was persuaded to join the Mastersingers, the way she surely was in Wagner’s mind when he wrote it.  But it was never freakishly stupid, like a Samuel Beckett play, and on the whole it didn’t just sound reasonably good, it looked very fine too.  Although Wagner takes an age to tell his story, there is at least a story to the thing that you care about.  Well, I did.  By the end.

Time to bust open the DVD of this opera that I have long possessed, having bought it for a tenner about a decade ago.  The early staging already looks much more convincing.

But, crucially, the tenor doesn’t sound, to me, nearly as good as the one I heard yesterday.  He really was something.

Tuesday March 14 2017

Tomorrow, my plan has been made for me.  I am to go to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, there to witness Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.  Judging by the reviews of it that I’ve just been reading, this is yet another of those productions that sounds glorious, especially when nobody is singing, but looks silly.

Here is paragraph one of what The Times has to say, before its paywall gets in the way:

The best thing about this show - indeed the best thing I’ve experienced in a theatre all season - is Antonio Pappano’s superlative conducting and his orchestra’s stunning playing of Wagner’s epic score. The Royal Opera should rename the opera “Die Meisterinstrumentalisten”, except it might not fit on posters. This is a musical interpretation of exemplary fluidity and pace, stirring in the right places (abetted by a rampant chorus), but also precise, subtle and virtuosic. After five hours and some, I wanted to hear it all again. Possibly, however, with my eyes closed.

Here is what the Evening Standard says.  And here is the Guardian.  The Guardian being the Guardian, he admires it, or tries to.  But you can tell he didn’t really like it.

The consensus seems to be that the best way to be seeing this production is on the radio.

Why are so many operatic productions like this?  My guess is that the opera audience is fixed.  The same old people - to be fair, not all of them actually old - go again and again, to see every new production, provided they expect it to be sufficiently sensational to satisfy their rather jaded tastes.  The last thing they want is a straight production, telling like it originally was when first performed.  They crave novelty, frisson, “interpretation”, and the latest singers who are on the up and up, which is why the chosen few get paid such fortunes.

Why don’t opera houses put on more trad productions, that would make much better sense, especially to newcomers?  Probably because that wouldn’t actually attract newcomers.  There are no newcomers in this market waiting to be attracted, or not in remotely sufficient numbers.  Oddballs like me, who only go about once a decade, just do not signify, economically speaking.  People either join that time- and money-rich audience of addicts who just can’t get enough of this weird art, probably by being the rich offspring of existing audience members, and perhaps also by studying opera singing, at which point they go and go and keep on going.  Or, they don’t.  And mostly, they (we) don’t.  Trad productions would merely piss off the actual audience by being too dull for them, without attracting that fantasy audience of newcomers, of ordinary people.  Sorry Opera.  Nobody ordinary is interested.

I’m only going because of some internet ticket muddle, involving a friend.  No way would I pay the full wack.  I haven’t even dared to ask what that is.

It’s weird when you think about it.  Ours is the age of manic musical authenticity.  God help any conductor who dares to change a single note of the sacred score, to make it sound more relevant to a modern audience, blah blah.  Yet with the staging, you can do any damn thing you like, provided only that you do something out of the ordinary.  This Die Meistersinger is set in some kind of gentleman’s club.  Well, it could have been worse, far worse.  It could have been set on Mars, or in Beckmesser’s drugged imagination, or in a bordello or a space station or a 3D printing factory or a football stadium or in the car park of an opera house, or in some evil combination of several of those things.

I hope I’m wrong about tomorrow’s show.  It sounds like it will at least sound really good.  And I might not hate the solo singing, or not all of it.  (I love good choral singing.) And there may even be bits of it that I like the look of.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday February 28 2017

Every month, I purchase copies of Gramophone and of the BBC classical music magazine. The latter magazine is called “Music”, which is rather silly but there you go.

I find classical music reviewers very helpful.  I never let them make me like something I don’t like, or not like something I do like, but they often steer me towards CDs that I like a lot.  Sometimes their criticisms tell me that I would like it, and their praise often puts me off.  But whatever happens, I am provided with valuable information.

I love Chopin’s music and relish different interpretations of it.  Which means that I might yet give the latest CD from legendary pianist Maurizio Pollini a go, despite David Fanning, in the February issue of Gramophone, saying, of this CD, this:

‘I’m in love with Chopin – his music never ceases to amaze me’, Pollini is quoted as saying on the jewel case of his latest CD. If only it sounded like it. The first thing that alienates me is the sound: the bass slightly too immediate, the treble slightly muffled, the mid-register slightly woolly, the general over-pedalling. It’s almost as though we’re sitting in the page-turner’s position rather than in the audience. Then as the Barcarolle unfolds, it’s the boxed-in rhythms that are puzzling, along with the restricted colours, and the lack of sufficient dynamic range to articulate properly either the short-term gestures or the long-term structure. All of which proves characteristic of the recital as a whole.

The best construction I can put on this is that Pollini is attempting to show that late Chopin should be stripped of the usual attributes of pianistic flair and allowed to speak unencumbered by personal intervention, trusting that it will weave its own spell without all that baggage. Certainly the nocturnes, mazurkas and waltzes here sound as severe and uningratiating as the larger-scale Barcarolle and Polonaise-fantaisie. No lilt, no magic, no sense of wonder, only a few flickerings of poetry, and beyond the obvious technical fluency and control no virtues that might compensate for the losses. I confess I struggled to concentrate all the way to the end. What on earth happened to the Pollini who was something close to a god for me in my far-off student days?

Ouch.

The first reviewer of this disc at Amazon, on the other hand, gives it five stars.  And DG have found plenty of nice things (go here and click on “reviews") said about this CD by other critics.

Friday February 17 2017

You don’t have to believe that animals either have or should have rights to realise that people who are gratuitously cruel to animals are likely to be more cruel than usual to their fellow humans.  But what of fake cruelty to fake animals leading to real cruelty to real creatures, animal or human?  I imagine there is some kind of correlation there too, although my googling skills fell short of finding an appropriate link to piece demonstrating that.

Being cruel to a fake animal that another human loves is clearly very cruel, to the human.

As was, I think, this demonstration of fake cruelty that recently hit the internet.  That link is not for those who are squeamish about beheaded teddy bears.

And what of people who are nice to fake animals?

Here is a picture I took in my favourite London shop, Gramex in Lower Marsh, in which there currently resides a teddy bear who was recently rescued from sleeping rough, by Gramex proprietor Roger Hewland:

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If you consequently suspect that Roger Hewland is a kind man, your suspicion would be entirely correct.  I agree with you that kindness to fake animals and kindness to real people are probably also correlated.

I sometimes drop into Gramex just to use the toilet.  Never has the expression “spend a penny” been less appropriate.

Wednesday February 15 2017

On January 20th I attended one of Christian Michel’s 6/20 meetings.  The subject was: The Meaning of Life.  To be rather more exact, it was: What kind of question is the question “What is the meaning of life?”

So, when I was making my way home, via Earls Court Underground Station, I guess I was in a Meaning of Life kind of mood.  Which might explain why I took this photo:

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This particular message is a bit too sentimental for my liking.  Those little hearts put me right off.  But actually, I don’t really object to these little sermons that the Underground has taken to erecting at the entrance to its stations.  This is because something that is merely written, no matter how big the lettering, is easily ignored.  I think this is one of the things I like about signs and adverts and posters and notices.  You can pay them all the attention you want to pay them, from a great deal, right the way down to absolutely nothing.

This is in sharp contrast to those appalling underground train guards who insist on preaching sermons over the intercom, instead of just telling you about how you have stopped in between stations because of a train still stuck at the next station.  Those sermons are impossible to avoid.

See also those buskers who actually climb onto trains and play.  Both these buskers and the tube train intercom sermonisers are on my personal Room 101 list.

The above also explains why Modern Art is so successful, but why, on the other hand, Modern Classical Music is so profoundly unsuccessful.  It’s not that Modern Art is mostly good while Modern Classical Music is mostly crap.  Modern Art is also mostly crap.  But, crucially, when a piece of Modern Classical Music traps you (when played live, in between two bits of proper Classical Music), you are stuck with it until it finishes.  Modern Art, in total contrast, is, when it’s crap, crap that is easily ignored.  Even when it ambushes you in an Art gallery, you can still just walk right past it.  Or, you can photo it, and then walk right past it.

Sunday February 12 2017

I just started watching the Opera North Ring Cycle on BBC4 TV.  Very good.

The basic problem with The Ring is how to stage it, and how to do the costumes.  Extreme Trad, where they all dress like nineteenth century fictional fantasy characters almost always looks ridiculous, like a bunch of opera singers clumping about in silly costumers on a daft stage, which is of course what they are.  (The only way to do that would be to do it as a fantasy cartoon movie.  Which I hope somebody will eventually get around to doing.) But modern costumes on a stage that looks like the inside of a nuclear power station is even sillier, because it plays havoc with Wagner’s very carefully scripted symbolism.  You end up with blokes who look like merchant bankers or geography teachers, holding spears and waving them at steam turbines, or some such ancient-modern mish-mash.  Either that or they go totally modern, and rewrite the opera.  Yes.  They literally do not perform Wagner.  If you change the Rhine and its maidens into a nightclub and some strippers, that’s something else, and something else pretty damn stupid.

What Opera North have done is film a stage performance.  The singers all wear suits and dresses, albeit suits and dresses that were very carefully chosen.  And then on top of that is photographically superimposed Wagner scenery, and, when it helps (it often does), simple words on the screen to tell you what is happening.  Plus, because it’s the telly, you get subtitles to tell you what they’re singing about.  (CDs have the best costumes, i.e. no damn costumes, but you do need to know what they’re singing, if you don’t do German.) It’s hard to describe, but I don’t need to, because you can sample it here, it you care to.

The Rhinemaidens are three opera singers in matching dresses on a stage, with wateriness added on top of them.  At no point are you asked to believe that they are actually swimming about, naked, under water for minutes on end, and singing.  I have never before not seen that scene look totally ridiculous, one way or another, and I bet it was totally ridiculous, one way or another, on the first night.  This time, it was not ridiculous.  That’s how very, very good this production was.

I particularly liked how, when Donner was summoning forth the right sort of weather for the Gods to enter Valhalla, at the end of Das Rhinegold, he was dressed like a conductor.  He was dressed that way throughout, but it worked especially well for that moment.

Loge was particularly good, both as an actor and as a singer.  His look and manner reminded me a bit of Stan Laurel.

Monday January 30 2017

When I make my way, as I do from time to time, to Gramex (which is near to Waterloo) to get another fix of classical CDs, I tend to use the 507 single decker bus.

Many bus stops have become a lot more customer friendly in recent years by having electronic notice boards which say what buses are arriving, where they will go, and when they can be expected to arrive.  Very soothing, especially if you are not in the habit of tracking buses with your mobile, as many are, but not me.

My 507 bus stop sports no such signs, probably because the 507 is the only bus that stops there, and there will be another one soon because they are very frequent.

But inside these 507s, I am starting to see signs looking like this:

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Again, very soothing.  You get to see progress.  You get to learn when you need to be making a move towards the door, if you are seated far away from the door, so you wont be barging past people in a hurry.  It all adds to the sense you have that buses are nicer to be on than they used to be.

Tragically, this afternoon, what one of these signs was saying was merely this:

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Not even the one item of information it did still offer was right.  It was not 6.28pm, nowhere near.

But, I am anything but scornful about this little setback.  New kit needs the bugs worked out of it.  Things get tried out, and they go wrong.  The significant thing here is that these kinds of notices are being deployed, not that they don’t yet work as well as they should.

Here is an earlier posting I did about the bus stop signs, also with photos.  And that bus stop sign was malfunctioning also, hence that posting also, and that didn’t stop them pressing ahead with installing those signs either.  Quite right too.

Monday January 23 2017

Here:

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Click on TRUMP to get the Opera House.

This fantastically cost-effective piece of political signage reminds me of the stuff that Julian Lewis MP used do to CND demos in the eighties.  They’d put however many hundred thousand pro-Soviet bodies on the street, and he’d put one big sign across the top of Whitehall for them all the walk under, saying something like: SOVIET STOOGES.  His sign would get about half the news coverage.  Drove them nuts.

Sunday January 22 2017

Classical music making is mostly museum curation.  Nothing wrong with that, because it is the best museum ever.  But that is what it mostly is.  Perhaps for this reason, it has long been speculated that classical music would soon stop being re-performed or re-recorded.  But there seems to be little sign of this happening.

Here, to illustrate the non-demise of classical music making, is a list of currently performing pianists.  It was rather hastily compiled.  Perhaps some of those listed have retired.  Some may even have died.  And there are surely many omissions, including, quite possibly, some major omissions, including, for instance people who I am assuming to be retired or dead who are nothing of the kind.

Also, there must be a huge number of Asian pianists who are very, very good, but who I have simply not noticed the existence of.  I live in London, and this list surely reflects that, both with its inclusions and its exclusions.

The number at the end of each clutch is simply me counting how many there are starting with each letter, thereby making it easier for me to count the total.  It came to: 175.

Depending on how you determine inclusion or exclusion, the list could be far longer.  I went for things like: Have I personally heard of them?  Have they done recent recording?  Are they hailed as good by classical music critics?  Do I personally like their playing?

I seriously doubt whether there have ever before been as many pianists roaming the earth, performing this amazing music, mostly by dead people.

So, here we go:

Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Dimitri Alexeev - Piotr Anderszewski - Leif Ove Andsnes - Nicholas Angelich - Martha Argerich - Vladimir Ashkenazy - Yulianna Avdeeva - (8)

Sergei Babayan - Andrea Bacchetti - Daniel Barenboim - Martin James Bartlett – Jean-Efflam-Bavouzet - Alessio Bax - Mark Bebbington - Markus Becker - Boris Berezovsky - Boris Berman - Michel Beroff - Kristian Bezuidenhout - Jonathan Biss - Christian Blackshaw - Rafal Blechacz - Frank Braley - Ronald Brautigam - Yefim Bronfman - Rudolf Buchbinder - Khatia Buniatishvili - (20)

Bertrand Chamayou - Frederic Chiu - Seong-Jin Cho - Arnaldo Cohen - Imogen Cooper - (5)

Alexandra Dariescu - Lise de la Salle - Jorg Demus - Jeremy Denk - Peter Donohoe - Barry Douglas - Danny Driver - Francois-Rene Duchable (8)

Severin von Eckardstein - Michael Endres - Karl Engel - (3)

Til Fellner - Vladimir Feltsman - Janina Fialkowska - Ingrid Fliter - David Fray - Nelson Freire - Benjamin Frith - (7)

Ivana Gavric - Alexander Gavrylyuk - Boris Giltberg - Havard Gimse - Bernd Glemser - Nelson Goerner - Anna Gourari - David Greilsammer - Helene Grimaud - Benjamin Grosvenor - Horacio Guitierrez - Francois-Frederic Guy - (12)

Marc-Andre Hamelin - Wolf Harden - Rustem Hayrouodinoff - Martin Helmchen - Angela Hewitt - Peter Hill - Ian Hobson - Stephen Hough - Leslie Howard - Ching-Yun Hu - Bruce Hungerford - (11)

Valentina Igoshina - Ivan Ilic - (2)

Peter Jablonski - Paul Jacobs - Ingrid Jakoby - Martin Jones - (3)

Cyprien Katsaris - Freddy Kempf - Kevin Kenner - Olga Kern - Evgeny Kissin - Mari Kodama - Pavel Kolesnikov - (7)

Piers Lane - Lang Lang - Dejan Lazic - Eric Le Sage - John Lenehan - Elizabeth Leonskaja - Igor Levit - Daniel Levy - Paul Lewis - Yundi Li - Jenny Lin - Jan Lisiecki - Valentina Lisitsa - Louis Lortie = Alexei Lubimov - Nikolai Lugansky - (16)

Joanna MacGregor - Alexander Madzar - Oleg Marshev - Denis Matsuev - Leon McCawley - Alexander Melnikov - Gabriela Montero - Joseph Moog - Vanessa Benelli Mosell - Olli Mustonen - (10)

Jon Nakamatsu - Eldar Nebolsin - Francesco Nikolosi - David Owen Norris - (4)

Noriko Ogawa - Garrick Ohlsson - Gerhard Oppitz - Christina Ortiz - Steven Osborne - Alice Sara Ott - (6)

Enrico Pace - Murray Perahia - Javier Perianes - Alfredo Perl - Maria Perrotta - Daniel-Ben Pienaar - Maria Joao Pires - Artur Pizarro - Jonathan Plowright - Awadagin Pratt - Menahem Pressler - Vassily Primakov - (12)

Beatrice Rana - James Rhodes - Pascal Roge - Alexander Romanovsky - Martin Roscoe - Michael Rudy - (6)

Fazil Say - Konstantin Scherbakov - Andras Schiff - Dimitris Sgouros - Howard Shelley - Grigory Sokolov - Andreas Staier - Kathryn Stott - Martin Stadtfeld - Yevgeny Sudbin - (10)

Alexandre Tharaud - Jean-Yves Thibaudet - Cedric Tiberghien - Sergio Tiempo - Geoffrey Tozer - Daniil Trifonov - Simon Trpceski - Noboyuki Tsujii - (9)

Mitsuko Uchida - Florian Uhlig - (2)

Nick Van Bloss - Denes Varjon - Stephan Vladar - Lars Vogt - Arcadi Volodos - (6)

Wiayin Wang - Yuja Wang - Ashley Wass - Llyr Williams - Ingolf Wunder - Klara Wurtz - (6)

Christian Zacharias - Krystian Zimmerman – (2)

That’s a lot of pianists.  All the major items of the piano repertoire have each received numerous recordings, and they each get performed somewhere on earth about every other day, and in the case of the popular piano concertos, several times a day.  It just refuses to stop.  The classical audience keeps aging, and then dying, only to be replaced by more aging people, who also then die, and so it goes on.

Real comments here are very rare, so all real comments on this would be very welcome.  But especially welcome would be comments informing me of major omissions to that list.