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Category archive: Classical music

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:

image

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:

image

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:

image

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.

Michael Fabiano does a Master Class at the Royal College
Getting old – BBC Music – Lego Tower Bridge – etc.
The great Classical CD Holocaust of December 2017: The struggle continues
Ashes lost – CDs soaked - cranes in the sunset
Adam Zamoyski on Pilsudski
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One Kemble Street and its roof clutter as seen from the ROH floating bar
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Doing what I have to do
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Opera North’s Ring
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A vanished CD and a more tidy home
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John Croft: Composition is not research
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Art comment
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Mozart’s Requiem in Narbonne
John Cage does Sudoku
A bus ride and tea versus one of the best concert halls in the world
Bach’s development of the most intense musical vision from a straitened environment
A machine for playing in that nobody knows how to design
I slept right through it
Ronald Harwood on Karajan
On clapping in between movements at classical concerts
Out and about with GD1 (3): Baritone borrows my charger
Church not dwarfed by anything
Paul Johnson on Mozart and Da Ponte
Ruddigore in Blackfriars
Customer service
Paul Johnson on what the young Mozart was up against
An interesting front page story
Snohetta does zig zag roofs for competitive cities
Going from knowing a piece of music to also knowing what it is
The ROH bar and its floating-in-the-air drinkers
Incidental Last Friday details
To Covent Garden (1): The twisty footbridge
Photoing at the ASI party
The Magic Flute at the RCM
Pavarotti could not read music (very well)
The man who photoed the CDs in Gramex this afternoon
On the unappealingness of classical music on the internet
Having a baby can change or ruin your voice
A speculation about why Great Conductors carry on for so long
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom musical quote of the day
PID at the Times
Vespa GS in Lower Marsh
The joyful excitement of the Festival lyrique international de Belle-Île-en-Mer
Noah – Cosi at the Imax – Big Blue Cock
Happiness is a wallet that I didn’t lose after all
Classical Amazon
Christopher Seaman on conducting
The ROH from the ME Rooftop Bar
Bits of music at non-musical blogs
David Byrne on the constraints of artistic form
Quotes from there
Amazon pricing puzzle
Steve Davies talk last night
Wedding photography (6): The Wedding and the Reception
Classical CDs from Gramex
Big London Things with clutter in the foreground
A (slightly delayed) Happy New Year
England squeak through against Scotland
Knowing it but not knowing it
76 operas and a monument in the wrong place for Hermann the German
Bizarre History - Johannes Brahms did not murder cats
Shostakovich with cat
An amazon reviewer defends Alex Ross
Mozart might have become a criminal
Dawkins does better sound than God ever did
Alex Ross on Hollywood film scores
A down and up weekend
Only up to some random linkage and a little felinity
Unusual leg extension
Biker shadow
An after-echo of the creation of the world - Burgon recycles Milhaud
How building St Peter’s Rome split the Catholic Church and how marzipan was invented in Luebeck
Scrounging Englishmen and stories too good to check
Quotes dump
Alex Ross on Sibelius
Llyr Williams and Llyr Williams play Bach
Slumponomics
MP3 Haydn symphonies
Ingrid Fliter has a problem with the piano
Our shortening atten … ooh look!
On Bernstein – and Previn
Handel in London – and an angelic tenor aria
“. . . and the air froze . . .”
“Dying is a fulltime business. You haven’t time to do a lap of honour.”
A little drunk blogging
On not seeing Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra
Leonidas Kavakos (and a pianist) at the Wigmore Hall
Further thoughts on Karajan’s conducting
Watching Karajan
Lang Lang crushes Yundi Li!
Cheap CDs and sopranos I’ve never heard of
Solo piano solace – John Lenehan
Mahler’s 9th in Vienna in 1938
Gramophone are putting their back catalogue of articles online for free
On classical music voice addiction
Nigel Kennedy’s amazing Elgar
Tea with CDs
Oddities and specialisms
Dominic Lawson on Herbert von Karajan
You tend to listen more carefully when something might go badly wrong
Sounding like a different country
Exciting posting about shelves
New classical music venue just down the road from Kings Cross Supplementary
The Rite of Spring sounds to me like technology rather than nature
Toshiba’s violin playing robot
Me talking about the great twentieth century musical divide
Eee PC and Brahms CDs
Pianists conducting themselves
The great DVD packaging clearout
Michael Jennings photos Disney Hall
Taking the recording studio into the concert hall
Humphrey Searle’s Hamlet is the worst Shakespeare opera ever
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At the dogs
Lots of links
Classical under-15s
Friends of Slava
How compulsion deranges the spreading of ideas
Slava dies
The Emperor Quartet at Conway Hall
Lost Bach
Comparing classical music with modern architecture
Lebrecht daily?
Glenn Gould on the hereafter
The Joyce Hatto affair - no big deal
Incognito
Cats and keyboards
He likes it - but does he understand it?
How Stephen Hough took a nap during a piano concerto (that he was playing)
The future of music
Normblogging
Harold C. Shonberg on how to perform Bach
Dutilleux piano music on Naxos
Other people’s photos (2): New architecture in Hamburg
Fixating on particular recorded performances
Back to the future with the virtuoso violinists
Superb Simon Hewitt Jones gig – and a couple of blogger gripes
Me and Alex talking Gilbert and Sullivan
What next for the virtuoso violinists? - Simon Hewitt Jones has some answers
More G&S - and some strange Times errors
John Holloway plays unaccompanied Bach on the baroque violin
The Pirates opens in New York
Sullivan and Grove find some Schubert diamonds
At least I got today’s obligatory posting done before midnight
Feeling Much Better
Heifetz on YouTube
Alex talks (clearly) with me (not so clear) about classical music
Bang! Bang!
Frederick May
As if for the first time
All hail to the Rolling Stones assembly line
Samizdata cranks it out
A little transport history
Classical music Natalie
Alex is too busy - Sting records Dowland songs
Alex and Brian’s latest classical music mp3 – Saint-Saëns etc.
Zehetmair plays the Brahms
Alex and Brian talk classical music mp3 number two
Bartók outside South Kensington tube
One click
Jeffrey Bernard is unwell but very entertaining
This month’s Alex and Brian mp3 about classical music
Debussy denounces Massenet but Puccini follows him
Beneath the treble line with the Voglers
Another mp3 - Alex and Brian talk classical music
Giving up rouge for Lisbon
Armando Iannucci on going to classical concerts - and me on not bothering
Sergei Khachatryan plays Shostakovich Violin Concerto 1
Another Natalie
British villainy
Charles Rosen on Richard Taruskin and on the socially unbound nature of some of the greatest music
Lazar Berman’s Rachmaninov 3
Toaster
I don’t know the score
More about music bingeing
Thoughts on habits and on killer apps
Christmas with Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues
Thoughts after watching Abbado’s Lucerne Resurrection Symphony
The Elgar/Walker piano concerto and the future of “classical” music
This and that at 9.07am
David Zinman – Thomas Adès – Howard Shelley
Boulez
Benjamin Nabarro and the Belmont Ensemble