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Category archive: Classical music

Tuesday June 19 2018

On Saturday June 9th, I journeyed to Blackheath’s All Saints’ Church to hear GodDaughter 2 and three of her Royal College of Music comrades in song take it in turns each to sing a few of the songs they had already done or were about to do in their graduation recitals.  It was a fine event for all present, but for me it was particularly special, because, simply, I thought that GD2 sang so very well.  There was a security, strength and beauty to her voice that I’d never heard before, and she sold her songs, every nuance of which she clearly understood perfectly, with just the right amount of facial and bodily gesture, enough to really help, but never to distract from her now amazing voice.

GD2’s graduation recital was still to come, and in the next few days I asked myself if she really had been as good as I thought she had, and whether, if she had been, she’d reproduce this recently achieved level of excellence when there was so much more at stake.

It was this graduation recital that got me, last Thursday afternoon, photoing the statue of Prince Albert outside the Albert Hall (sadly it is easier to scroll down than follow that link).  In that posting, I mentioned, in passing, that I thought GD2’s recital had been very good.  Perhaps you thought that this was mere routine politeness on my part.  No.  It really was very good, indeed.

The recital happened in a rather large hall, way too large for the number of friends and family present.  In the middle, at the back, right in GD2’s eyeline, four RCM judges sat at desks in a silent row, giving her marks out of a hundred and writing comments that would decide her future.  At first, GD2 seemed understandably rather nervous.  But once she got into it, it was like Blackheath all over again, and if anything even better.  This was a far bigger venue to fill than that church, but she did this in a way that suggested she’d do the same in a place three or four times bigger.

Most of GD2’s recent performances that I’ve seen and heard have been in opera scenes, where she was mostly just singing along with others.  Which was fine, but it was hard to judge what personal progress she had been making.

It’s no good asking any of GD2’s fellow students what they think of her singing.  They’re great kids, but all part of what is so great about them is that they never share any doubts they may have about each other’s performing progress or prowess with a mere civilian such as I.  Which means that if they now think that GD2 is as good as I do, they have no way of telling me so that is fully convincing.  My only way of knowing if GD2 is as good as she has suddenly started sounding and looking to me is simply to listen very carefully, e.g. while shutting my eyes, and then to go with what I think I heard.  And what I think I heard, and saw, especially last Thursday, was the sort of singing that would have sounded absolutely fine if I and a five hundred and fifty others had paid to listen to it in a packed Wigmore Hall.

I have always liked and admired GD2.  And ever since she got into the RCM I have admired her even more.  Clearly there were classical singing experts who thought highly of her prospects, and that was hugely impressive.  But it was only at that Blackheath church, and then again last Thursday, that I was able to hear it and see it, fully, for myself.

Here are a couple of photos I took of GD2 last Thursday, in the RCM foyer, after her recital:

imageimageimage

As you can see, I wasn’t the only one photoing her.

There’s still a long way to go before GD2’s name is in lights and on the covers of CDs, and any number of knowns or unknowns could still stop all that.  What she is doing is like running in a marathon.  It’s still quite early in the race and the leading bunch in this marathon is still pretty big.  But, the point is: GD2 is still in that leading bunch.  She’s still a contender.

It helps that her voice, mezzo-soprano, is quite rare.  Regular sopranos, along with bass-baritones, are fairly common.  Mezzos and tenors, not so much, not good ones.

Thursday June 14 2018

Yes, here is the Royal Albert Hall, photoed by me this afternoon:

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That photo was taken early this afternoon.  I was there to hear GodDaughter2’s graduation recital in the Royal College of Music, which is just down the steps and across Prince Consort Road, south of the Albert Hall.  After I had heard GD2 do her singing, superbly, and after I and all her many other friends and family present had celebrated afterwards with her, I started to make my way home. 

Before leaving the vicinity of the College and the Albert Hall, I took more photos of the statue of Prince Albert that stands at the top of the steps, the other side of the Hall from the Albert Memorial.  In the photo above, you can hardly see the Prince Albert statue.  But later in the afternoon, the direction of the sunlight having altered, Albert was looking a lot better:

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The Royal Albert Hall is looking particular fine just now, because scaffolding.

Thursday June 07 2018

This afternoon, I will journey to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, to see and hear the first night, no less, of Lohengrin.  It will be deep into the darkness of the evening before I journey back home.  It will take, I believe, the best part of four hours.

According to this Summary and Comment:

It is difficult to find a role which is more handsome than Lohengrin. This is the reason why “Lohengrin” gained popularity among opera fans. The entrance scene on stage by a magic swan boat, and the dialogue scene with Elsa are outstanding.

In addition, the music of the scene of Elsa and Lohengrin’s wedding is known as the Wedding March. You can hear this March at many weddings these days.

That’s the conclusion of the comment bit about Lohengrin.

At the beginning of the summary bit, we learn that Lohengrin is set in “the first half of the tenth century”.

But if this ROH graphic (see here) is anything to go by, it will look, this evening, like this:

image

But, he’s holding a sword.  And notice that shadow.  With luck, this will be effective rather than clunky, mindful rather than mindless updating of the setting.  I shall see.

And hear.  What I hear will not be updated and made more relevant.  That I can already be sure of.

Tuesday May 29 2018

The photos here were taken in nicer weather, by a much better photoer than me.

But my photo is better, because my photo has … cranes:

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I have visited this place several times in the last few days, each time in the evening, each time attempting to buy a certain CD at nearby Foyles.  Twice I was frustrated.  First, because I misidentified the closing time of Foyles, on some obsolete website I think it must have been.  Then, I forgot that yesterday was a bank holiday.  Finally, today, I got my CD, and several other cheaper ones from their second-hand collection.

And, this evening, I finally got the photo I wanted of this tube exit, and its cranes.  The key to it was: I had my camera ready to go when I stepped onto the escalator.  And then when I wasn’t sure I had what I wanted, I went back down again, and up again.  The trick was, taking the photo from near the bottom of the escalator, so that both cranes were included.

In addition to being willing sometimes to look like a perve, a photoer must also be willing sometimes to look like a prat.

Wednesday May 23 2018

So I went to Foyle’s this evening, to buy this but got there too late, and then went food shopping in order to confer meaningfulness on an otherwise meaningless expedition.  So then I was tired, but managed to write a posting for here, but then it turned into a Samizdata posting, which I will post tomorrow, or maybe not, because I always sleep on Samizdata postings nowadays, because that always makes them better, or not.  So now it’s tomorrow morning and I have nothing for here, so here is a photo I took through the new entrance to Tottenham Court Road tube station:

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I like that time of the evening, or the early morning come to that, when natural light and artificial light are in some balance.

Centre Point has had a total makeover and been turned into posh flats.  But, it looks exactly as it always did.

Wednesday April 18 2018

Yes, last night the Castalian String Quartet played late Haydn (op 76 nos. 1, 2 and 3) at the Wigmore Hall.  Wonderful.

Often, when I watch string quartets in action I feel a bit sorry for the second violin and the viola.  Not with these players.  Even the most innocuous and repetitious little chords, chugging away in the background, were made to come alive.  Every note, every phrase, especially every chord, had been thought about, but unlike with some of the latest string quartets, the result was not, despite my early fears, any excessive yanking around of the tempo and general over-emphasis on passing detail at the expense of the bigger musical story and the longer musical line.  There was plenty of detail, but all in the service of the pieces as a whole.

Here they are, soaking up the applause at the end:

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And here they are taking a bow:

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I was going to call this posting The Castalian String Quartet take a bow.  But when string instrumentalists take a bow, is that bow to rhyme with how (the lowering of the head forwards when being applauded), or is it bow to rhyme with go (the thing they each use to play their various instruments)?  The English language is, to borrow a phrase I recently heard being used to describe a rather over-enthusiastic expert on something or other, a minefield of information.

Whenever I really enjoy a live concert, I tend to rootle around afterwards in my CD collection to see what recordings I have of the music I just saw being played.  While concocting this posting, I had this cd on in the background.  Also wonderful.

I’m guessing from all the microphones that were to be seen last night, which my photos only show a few of, that there may soon be a cd of this concert.  I hope so.

Thursday March 15 2018

Yesterday GodDaughter2 arranged for me to accompany her and and a selection her singing student friends to a dress rehearsal of the ENO’s La Traviata.  Like every show at the E(nglish) NO, It was sung in English. It was also somewhat strangely directed, as operas tend to be nowadays.  So, the students were all grumbling afterwards.  What were those peculiar gestures the soprano kept on doing?  “Such torture” to have listen to it in English!

As for me, my problems were that we were the usual third of a mile up and away in the sky (but with no windows through which I might have taken photos of London’s Things), and I couldn’t properly see what was happening down there in the distance, beyond the woman in front of me’s head and those brass railings that she was able crouch down and look under.  I wasn’t bothered by all the strange “acting” that the singers were apparently doing, because I could hardly see it.  It was all I could do to decypher the English crib (and thank goodness for that) above the stage, of what they were singing (in English also (but as often as not you still can’t make out the damn words (because of how they sing them))).  But the music, by Giuseppe Verdi, which I knew only as a random bunch of tunes that I had just about quarter-heard before, is so good that I was kept constantly entertained.  Plus, I understood enough of what was going on to really enjoy it, and to really learn something.

It’s quite a story.  A young woman (the Traviata of the title) is trying to juggle short-term pleasure with and against long-term romantic fulfilment, is fretting about whether her true love can truly be depended upon, but also doesn’t want to get her true love into social trouble because of her lurid past causing everyone to think he could have done better, which will dishonour his entire family and make his younger sister much less marriageable.  Plus, she is not in the best of health and has to keep seeing a doctor.

I can remember, way back in the sixties, when it was believed that all that social pressure stuff was dead in the water.  Plus of course, in the sixties, everyone was far too young to be having any health problems.  Girls could shack up with guys and have consequence-free sex, and then live happily ever after with … whoever.  I think I remember thinking, even at the time: well, we’ll see.  And it turns out that young girls can now be “ruined” a lot like they were in olden times, that “society” has not gone away, that people still get ill, even sometimes ill because of sex, and that La Traviata is still bang up to date.

The Father of the Traviata’s True Love very much wants True Love to stop being Traviata’s True Love, and begs Traviata to give him up.  For the ENO, yesterday, this Father was sung by Alan Opie.  He was especially good.  A bloke had come on at the beginning and said that, what with this being only a dress rehearsal, some of the singers might be holding back a bit, saving it for the real show.  But you could definitely tell that Opie was the real deal.

Saturday March 10 2018

I visit the Royal College of Music quite a lot these days, thanks to GodDaughter2 studying there.  There were those Bach Cantatas.  Last Thursday there was a recital of songs by Women Composers, in which GD2 performed.  And this evening, there was the RCMIOS (RCM International Opera School) production of Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  All excellent.

It doesn’t feel right taking lots of photos while in the place, but here was a snap that I both liked and didn’t feel bad about taking:

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They’re hardly going to call that snooping, are they?

The RCM is a truly bizarre agglomeration of buildings.  The corridors joining this bit of it to that bit of it are labyrinthine.  I never know where I am, if only because I am usually following GD2 around the place, rather than finding my own way around.

Here is another snap I reckoned it okay to take, of some building work in progress:

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The fact that both of these snaps feature things which are only temporary is what makes me think them not to be breaches of etiquette.  I don’t know if that’s truly right, but it feels right to me.

However, the point of these two photos is, as I later (like: one hour ago) realised, that they are both photos of the same things.  The first photo is the corridor from the inside, and the second photo, in addition to all that grubbing about in the earth at the bottom, also features the same corridor from the outside.  The outside of a corridor is not normally something you get to see, is it?

The reason I found myself inside that corridor is that it is the temporary way of getting from the main part of the Royal College to the college bar and canteen.  I took the above photo on my way from that bar and canteen to the main entrance of the College.  I was on my own at the time.

Sunday March 04 2018

Yes, some truly exceptional roof clutter, photoed by me today, just as it was starting to get dark.  The buildings all so polite and proper looking, but then on the roof, they go mental:

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There is even a bridge in there.  That aerial with its big long arms is bizarre.  Was with others so had no time to check out what all this stuff was on the roof of.

My thanks to the tree, at the front, for not having stupid leaves all over it, and thus not blocking out this wondrous view.

I find myself in the South Kensington are quite a lot these days, because that’s where I often go to see and hear GodDaughter2 and her RCM pals performing.  This time it was two Bach Cantatas.  Very good, especially the absurdly young and talented tenor soloist.  A first year undergrad, apparently.

Tuesday January 30 2018

My friends Perry and Adriana now live a short walk away from South Kensington tube.  I can now get to them in about half an hour, compared to over an hour when they lived way along and just off Kings Road, and a solid bus ride away from any tube station.

And just as good, every time I now visit them to collect the Amazon purchases that they receive for me, as I did today, I get to see one of my favourite statues in London, the one of Bela Bartok.  When I walk past that, I know I’m going the right way.

Trouble is, when I go past Bartok, the sunlight usually arrives on his back, and I get a photo like this:

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Nice windows.  Shame about the face.

So, inspired by the example of 6k (see below), I cranked up my photoshopclone and redid the photo so that I could see what the face consisted of:

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Nice face.  Shame about the windows.

You could probably combine the two, and make it: nice face, nice windows.  You.  Not me.  That kind of thing just does not interest me enough to want to know how to do it. I wanted to see the face and I did.  Mission accomplished.

Saturday January 27 2018

Well, I’m making some progress on the Wordpress front, and there will be a new BMblog, but meanwhile, the last of the photos I want to show you that I took on Jan 5.  I took the tube back home, but chose to get out at Victoria rather than Pimlico, probably to try to buy the Gramophone, which I can now, near to me, only buy there.  And because I did that, I was able to feast my eyes on this:

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That is the late afternoon sun crashing through where the trains go in an out, and bouncing off various reflective surfaces.

I like how this kind of scene permits bright colours, like those little union jacks, but turns fainter colours monochrome, like when that little girl in a red coat appears in Schindler’s List.

I particularly like this little part of the scene:

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What I love about sights like that is the way the sun turns those lights on.  No electricity is involved.  It’s pure sunlight.

Wednesday January 24 2018

Melissa Chen:

I like my music like I like my liberalism: Classical

I’ve had more nearly fifty years to think of that.  Why didn’t I?  Probably because, although the music I mostly like is classical, I also like other musics, so this doesn’t really apply to me.  But, very nicely put.

Saturday January 13 2018

Yesterday afternoon GodDaughter2 arranged for me to be in the audience (which was mostly singing students like her) of a master class presided over by American operatic tenor Michael Fabiano, a totally new name to me.  He should have been.  My bad, as he would say.  Very impressive.  Very impressive.

This event was the most recent one of these.  But they scrub all mention from there of the past, however immediate, so no mention there of Fabiano, which there had been until yesterday.

Here are a few recollections I banged into my computer last night before going to bed.  Not tidied up much.  I just didn’t want to forget it.

Sing, every note, all the time – switch off singing and then when you need to switch on again, you won’t be able to do it.

Singing is not just done with two little things in your throat.  Sing with your whole body, from head to toe.  Including your balls.  (The student singers he was teaching were all guys, two baritones, two tenors.) I hope you don’t mind me saying such things.  (Nobody did.)

You must sing to the people way up in the roof.  They must hear every note you sing.  Not just the people in the first five rows.

Don’t be afraid to take a breath - I’m a great fan of breathing when you need to breath – no seriously

First note is critical.  Final note is critical.  You can screw up in between.  But first note bad can mean they’ll hear nothing further.  Final note good, and that’s what they’ll remember.

Stay firmly planted on the floor.  Stand how you stand in the tube, when you have nothing to hold on to.  Don’t rise off the floor on your toes when it gets difficult.

Stay relaxed by going to your “happy place” in your mind.

In auditions, don’t be bound by rules that box you in.  Break those rules, do whatever you have to do to do what you do.  Applies to all artists.

Piano accompanists: play louder, like an orchestra.  Louder.  Twice as loud as that.  (He spent a lot of time conducting the pianists.)

Go for it.  (Said that a lot.) Be free.  Fly like a bird.  Never relax your wings (keep singing) or you fall to the ground.

In my opinion … this is my opinion ...

Make progress as a young singer by finding one or two people whose judgement you trust.  Follow their advice and work hour after hour, day after day, with them.  A hundred people advising is confusion.  One or two is what a young person needs.

How to make the transition from student to real singer?  With difficulty.  I began by doing 22 auditions all over Europe.  First 21, I followed the rules, stood in the spot marked X: nothing, failure.  22nd audition: disaster.  Fell over at the start, literally.  But laughed at myself.  Good middle notes, they knew I had a cold, but also a good personality.  Got work.  They trusted me to do better.

Mentor?  Renee Fleming was one.  Sang next to her on stage.  Her voice ridiculously small, on stage.  But, my agent way up at the back heard everything, and wept.  I then sat way up there myself and listened to Fleming sing equally quietly, heard everything and was equally moved

Sing oh well and sing ee well, and you’ll sing ah well.  (Think that was it.) …

And probably lots more that I missed.  But, I now find, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.  However, the length-to-content ratio of watching something like this on YouTube is such that you, if you have got this far in this posting, are much more likely to make do with reading what I just put.  So let’s hope I didn’t get anything too wrong.  Plus: more mentions of this event, with video bits, at the RCM Twitter feed.  Fabiano also tweets, of course.  More reaction to yesterday there.

There were four student singers on show, first two being baritones, and in the second half, two tenors.  The most extraordinary moments of this event came in the second half, when the two tenors took it in turns to sing things that Fabiano has presumably sung for real, as it were.  And occasionally, to illustrate a point he was making, Fabiano would sing a snatch of the thing himself.

At which point, as the young people say these day: OMG.  His sound was about four times bigger than what the students were doing.  (The first of these moments got Fabiano a loud round of applause.) Fabiano’s talk, about filling the entire 2,500 people place, was a hell of a lot more than talk.  He does this, every time he sings in such a place.  The message was loud and the message was clear.  That’s what you guys must aim for.  That’s what it sounds like.

The good news is that the first tenor in particular (Thomas Erlank), was taking audible steps towards being an opera star, after only a few minutes of badgering from Fabiano.  I think you’re great, said Fabiano, which is why I’m being so hard on you.  Fabiano didn’t say those exact words to any of the others, so that will definitely have counted for something, in Erlank’s mind.  You could see him getting bigger, as Fabiano both talked him up and hacked away at his mistakes.

Of the others, the one who particularly impressed me was the second baritone (Kieran Rayner), who looked and behaved like a trainee accountant, but who sang like a trainee god.  By the time Fabiano had been at him for a bit, he started to get a bit more like an actual god.  The sheer sound of Rayner’s voice was beautiful from the start, I thought.  As did Fabiano.

Fabiano made a big deal of vibrato, which he seemed almost to equate with singing.  But vibrato is, for me, a huge barrier.  Rayner did do enough of it to satisfy Fabiano, but not nearly enough to put me off.  I mention this because I believe that I am not the only one who feels this way.  Too much wobble, and it just sounds like wobble and nothing else.  Singers who overdo the wobble never break past that oh-god-it’s-bloody-opera barrier.  But not enough vibrato, and they don’t get to fill those 2,500 seat opera houses.  And even if they do, no OMG, Fabiano style.

Final point, by way of summary.  When each singer did his performance, Fabiano made a point of going to the back of the hall, to hear how it sounded there.  Fabiano made no bones about it that what concerned him was not how you or he felt about it while doing it, or how Renee Fleming sounded to him when he was standing on the stage right next to her.  What matters is the effect it has on the audience, all of the audience, including and especially the audience in the cheaper seats.  Are they getting what they came for and they paid for?

Deepest thanks to GD2 for enabling me to witness all this.

Sunday January 07 2018

One of the problems of getting old is that it becomes gradually harder to do more than one thing in a day.  This being why my daily postings here are often rather perfunctory.

This morning, for instance, I had a most enjoyable meeting with a friend, and then, the weather being so good, I went wandering about in Soho.  That’s two things there, right away.  Now, all I am capable of is rather incoherent rambling about nothing very much.

I did, while meandering about in the south of Oxford Street area, finally manage to track down the latest issue of the BBC Music (by which is meant classical music) magazine, which is getting harder to come by with every year that passes.  Another symptom of advancing years being that it gets harder to buy the things that you particularly like, as others who also like that thing die off.

But, good news: the BBC’s preferred best performance of the Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata was a rather obscure recording by the rather obscure pianist, Peter Serkin, who is the less famous son of the famous pianist Rudolf Serkin.  I have so many CDs that I often can’t be sure whether I own some particular CD or not, and so it was with this one.  But after some rootling around, I discovered that I do possess this CD.  I love it when that happens.

And yes, since you ask, I am influenced by critics.  If someone who knows the piece in question very well thinks that this or that performance is very, very good, then I know that I will at least want to hear this performance, even if I don’t end up sharing the critic’s high opinion, which often I do.  This recommendation means I will now listen to this CD again.

The other thing I did was take a close look at a camera that I have been tempted by, but will probably not be buying, although it was interesting.  This was in a shop called Park Cameras in Rathbone Place.

Inside Park Cameras Rathbone Place I also took this photo, with the camera that I already possess:

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Good to encounter a new bridge of interest, even if it is only a miniature Lego version of an old bridge.  I have no idea why such a bridge was in Park Cameras Rathbone Place, but I wasn’t complaining.

I get the distinct impression that a golden age of bridge building arrived about thirty or forty years ago, but has now departed.  I just picture googled new bridge, and I mostly got bridges I have known about for quite a while.

I digress.

Tuesday December 19 2017

Bad news: water continues to drip from my kitchen ceiling.  Good news: I have contrived a way to divert it onto my draining board, using the lid of one of those big transparent plastic boxes, upside down so working as a shallow water capturer, with a hole drilled into it to let the water out, this side of the shelves below, all now evacuated of course.  This means that I don’t have to get up every hour of the night to empty a bucket.  The water finds its way to my sink automatically.  Good.

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Two further bits of good news.  Good, relatively speaking.  Good compared to how things might have been.

One, it turns out that the paper they use to print the sleeve notes of CDs doesn’t stick to itself when wet.  It does stick, a bit, to plastic.  But not to another bit of paper similarly soaked.  This is good news, and will significantly reduce the total damage compared to what I had feared. This was why I said “Bugger” yesterday.  Unbugger.

Two, it turns out that the guy living above me, who I had supposed to be the guilty party in this, what with him finding a dodgy-looking connection in the pipe attached to his washing machine, is another victim of this atrocity, rather than its perpetrator and perpetuator.  So, instead of being on my own in a fight with my neighbour directly above me, he is an ally in a battle we are both now fighting with whoever, above the both of us, is responsible for this crime against humanity.  Since he is an assertive, capable, early-middle-aged, educated Scotsman, I’m very glad indeed that he is on my side rather than my potential adversary.