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Category archive: Classical music

Monday December 17 2018

I am now listening to this conversation between Roger Scruton and Jordan Peterson, about transcendence.  While so listening, I found myself thinking back to this morning, when I listened to the first half of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, as recorded by Sir John Eliot Gardiner.  I found listening to this recording to be an unsatisfying experience, which was why I did not also listen to the second half of it.  For me (and I emphasise that this is only my personal take on this recording), what this recording lacks is … transcendence.  To me, it sounds too brisk, too lively, too mundane, too earthly, too humdrum, too fussy.  Too businesslike.  Too lacking in legato.  Not enough grandeur.

To repeat the point in brackets above: many, listening to this same recording, will hear exactly the virtues which, for my ear, it lacks.  Gardiner himself was certainly aiming at transcendance:

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That is the cover of this Gardiner recording, which is put out by Gardiner’s own label, Soli Deo Gloria, and Gardiner will definitely have approved that cover.

Neverthless, tomorrow, I think I will search in my CD collection for a different and older recording of this work, a less “authentic” one, the one conducted by Eugen Jochum.  This one.

Pause.

During that pause, I conducted that search, so that tomorrow morning I won’t have to search, or to remember that I must so search.  The CDs will be there, next to my CD player.

I also encountered, in one of the Amazon reviews of Jochum’s Bach B Minor Mass, praise for his recording of the Bach Christmas Oratorio.  I also placed this next to my CD player.

Christmas is, after all, coming.

And, what do you know?  The B Minor Mass gets an explicit mention in the Scruton/Peterson conversation.  I hour 18 minutes in.

Saturday December 08 2018

Stow-Away is a recent arrival in Lower Marsh:

Stow-Away is a new sustainable and eco friendly apart hotel concept. Stow-Away Waterloo is our first London base made from 26 re-purposed shipping containers, stylishly designed to provide a snug comfortable Stow-Away sleeping experience.

Lots of people have tried to do architecture with old shipping containers, but personally I doubt if it makes much sense.  But, if your task is to sell hotel rooms, then shipping containers are perhaps a good gimmick, for attracting attention and for giving guests something to talk about.  “I slept in a shipping container.” Etc.  I’ve never done this.

It got my attention:

imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage

I enjoy in particular the various reflections there.

All but the last of these photos were photoed in one burst, last September.  The final photo was photoed more recently, in the evening.

I think this hotel is quite good fun, especially those strange looking shades, red on the inside, that are a feature of the front.  But, I regret the trend of which this “apart hotel” is a part, which is the transformation of Lower Marsh from a fascinating and quite cheap thoroughfare, full of diverting shops and eateries, into a dreary and expensive thoroughfare, stripped of all those diverting shops and eateries.

This happens all the time.  A street contains lots of lively and amusing stuff.  Word of that liveliness spreads, and the rents then go through the roof.  The liveliness is priced off to another part of town.  Such is urban life.

What I am really saying is: RIP Gramex.  Follow that link and you find “an important message to our much-valued customers”.  That would be me.  But this “important message” is dated 4th August 2017.  I gave up hope at least a year ago.

Sunday November 18 2018

Yesterday, my friend Nico invited me to an orchestral concert that he was playing in.  He was playing the drums.  But this was not some ghastly rock and roll ordeal, it was an orchestral concert, in Blackheath. 

Blackheath has a place called Blackheath Halls, and last night, the Blackheath Halls Orchestra performed, in the particular Blackheath Hall called the Great Hall, works by Debussy (the Nocturnes) and Sibelius (the 7th Symphony).  I’d offer a link to the announcement of this eventy, but now that it’s happened, the announcement of it has disappeared, like it never happened.

This Great Hall actually is pretty great.  Just recently, it has had its seating redone, with a flat floor being replaced by a slab of raked seating.  I photoed these after the concert had finished, and they looked like this:

image

What that meant was that we in the audience had a great view of the everything.

Here is a photo I took of how things looked as the orchestral players were making their way onto the stage at the beginning:

image

Here is a photo I took of conductor Christopher Stark, just before he embarked on the Sibelius symphony.

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And here is a photo taken at the end, when the applause was loud and long, which includes my friend Nico and his drums.  Was Nico the best?  Maybe.  I really couldn’t say.  But he was, at any rate in the Sibelius, the highest up.

image

So, what to say about the music, and the performances?  Well, the Blackheath Halls orchestra is an amateur orchestra, and if the sounds they made are anything to go by, the hardest task facing an amateur orchestra is when its violin section must play very high notes, very quietly.  That is when ensemble is tested to destruction.  I blame nobody for this.  On the contrary, this was exactly the sort of thing I was eager to learn about, not having witnessed an amateur orchestra in action for about half a century. 

Today, I played a CD I possess of these Debussy Nocturnes, with Pierre Boulez conducting the Cleveland Orchestra, on Deutsche Grammophon.  And guess what: it is a more polished performance than the Blackheath Halls Orchestra managed last night.  But having heard, and watched, amateurs play these piece, I now know them a lot better.

In the second Nocturne, there is a big march, and Nico was in his element.  He did an excellent job, then and throughout, with his usual dignity and exactitude and his usual total absence of fuss.  I never caught the conductor looking at him, which, I believe, was because the conductor wasn’t worried about Nico.  He had other worries to attend to.

That these Blackheath violinists had nothing to reproach themselves for became clear during part two of the concert.  There was a particularly striking passage in the Sibelius, when, instead of having to play high and soft, they played very low and very loud.  They sounded terrific.

So did the rest of the Sibelius, to me, but only after I did something rather surprising.

Christopher Stark, as conductors tend to do nowadays on occasions like this one, said a few words about each piece of music before he conducted it.  And what he had to say about the Sibelius included how this symphony, instead of being chopped up into separate movements, quick and slow, with silent gaps in between, is instead all in one movement, but that during this one movement, the music “morphs” (his word) from one rhythm to another, fast to slower, slow to faster.  At certain points of the piece there are both a fast little rhythm and a bigger and slower rhythm, both happening at the same time, in time with each other.

Stark’s conducting was as good as his words.  However, when I watched him conduct, I was only able to hear the fast little rhythm.  I missed those longer and slower rhythms.  This was probably because not only Stark’s arms and fingers but his entire body were all concentrated on communicating exactly how that fast little rhythm should be played.

So, I closed my eyes.

And, immediately, I heard both rhythms, just as he had described them.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the musical results he was getting.  It was just that the visual methods he was using were preventing me from hearing those results properly.

I kept my eyes closed for the rest of the performance, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  As did the rest of the audience, judging by the enthusiastic applause at the end.

What the hell, you may be asking, was the point of going to a concert, at which I could see, very well, all the musicians in action, if I then shut my eyes?  The point is: I was able to experience the extremity of this contrast.  Had I only been listening, as with a CD or a radio performance, that contrast would not have registered.  As it was, the moment when I shut my eyes was, for me, extraordinary.

Usually, I experience this effect at chamber music concerts, where the “body language” of the musicians constantly illuminates the nature of the music, and causes me, literally, to hear it better.

But, because (I surmise) the conductor last night was more bothered about getting his musicians to play the music as well as he could make them, than he was about explaining the music to us, the audience, with his visual gestures, I actually heard the music differently, and less well, when I watched him conducting.  Again, I am blaming nobody.  On the contrary, it was a most interesting thing to see and hear.

It helped a lot that Stark was able to explain something of the music, and in particularly this rhythmic aspect of it, with … words.  Things conductors don’t usually bother with, on the night, for the benefit of the audience.

Another aspect of the evening that was fun was how the audience and the musicians mingled.  I mean, how often, at an orchestral concert, does the man on the drums come and talk with you during the interval, and thank you for coming?  That would never happen with the London Symphony Orchestra.  During our conversation, I thanked Nico for telling me about this event and telling me also, beforehand, that the hall was architecturally interesting, in itself and because it had recently been remodelled.  That helped to persuade me to come, and I am very glad that I did.

Tuesday October 23 2018

I tried to put together a more complicated posting about, well, wait and see.  But it is taking too long, so here is something simpler.

A favourite blogger of mine is Mick Hartley, who oscillates between the insanities of the anti-semites and the Islamists (heavy overlap there) and photos.  Photos by himself, and by others.

The photos by others are often antique and black and white.  His photos are in colour, and they are typically very colourful indeed, especially when the sky is very blue

Colour is an obsession of Hartley’s, both when it is present, and when it is not.

Here is a photo I recently took, which is the sort of photo Mick Hartley would take, if he ever went West:

image

That’s the Victoria and Albert Museum, unless I am mistaken (as I might well be), photoed by me from the big old road that goes from the Albert Hall (and more to the point from the Royal College of Music, where GodDaughter 2 had been performing) down to South Kensington Tube.  This I know, because of a photo I took of a street map, moments after taking my Hartleyesque photo above:

image

That being the relevant detail.  I never regret map photos.

By the look of it, the V&A is a building I should explore.  Especially its upper reaches.  Maybe there are views.

Monday October 22 2018

Yes, here’s Bartok (again), from a slightly different angle, so that the tube station is right behind him:

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A regular bloke in the street.

But now look at this.  Same view, but with three newcomers, down at the bottom:

image

The statue of Bartok is a lot nearer to me that you perhaps assume, and crucially, those tiles look like bricks but are actually bigger than regular bricks, which makes this scene look a lot smaller than it really is.

Which is why the additional ladies at the bottom of the second photo really are so very small.

Photos taken by me yesterday.

Thursday October 04 2018

Yesterday I attended a Master Class at the Royal College of Music, in which five singing students, GodDaughter 2 among them, were publicly instructed by distinguished tenor and vocal teacher Dennis O’Neil.  It was fascinating.  He spent most of the time focussing on the art that conceals art, which meant that I couldn’t really understand what he was saying.  The minutiae of sounds and syllables, and of where the sound comes from, in the head or in the body.  All like a foreign language to me, but it was fascinating to expand the range of my ignorance, so to speak.  I am now ignorant about a whole lot more than I was.

This all happened way down at the bottom of the RCM, in the Britten Theatre (which you go down to get into but the theatre itself stretches up to the top again), On the way back up the numerous stairs to the street level entrance, I saw, through a very grubby window, and photoed, this:

image

Okay the window is indeed very grubby, but, you know, how about that?  All that roof clutter, buried in the middle of the College.  Although, I think that this particular clutter is part of Imperial College, which is next door.

Backstage architecture, you might say.

The Royal College of Music is as amazing an accumulation of architectural chaos as I have ever experienced.  It must take about half of your first year to learn where everything is, and years later you are probably still getting surprises.  I never knew this was here!  Etc.

That corridor made of windows, bottom left, with the light in it, is something I have several times walked along, to a canteen or a bar or some such thing, I think.  By which I mean that I think I have walked along it, but that this could be quite wrong.  Like I say: architectural chaos.  I took a look at the place in Google Maps 3D, but I still have only the dimmest Idea of where I was on the map.

The night before, I was at the Barbican Centre, also for some music, and that’s almost as architecturally chaotic as the inside of the RCM.  But there, they don’t have the excuse that the architectural chaos accumulated over about a century of continuous improvisation.  At the Barbican, the chaos was all designed and built in one go.

Tuesday September 25 2018

I was reading this piece by Will Self about the baleful effect upon literature of the internet, screen reading instead of proper reading from paper bound into books, etc.  But then I got interrupted by the thought of writing this, which is about how a big difference between reading from a screen, as I just was, and reading from a printed book, is that if you are reading a book, it is more cumbersome, and sometimes not possible, to switch to attending to something else, like consulting the county cricket scores (Surrey are just now being bollocked by Essex), seeing what the latest is on Instapundit, or tuning into the latest pronouncements of Friends on Facebook or enemies on Twitter, or whatever is your equivalent list of interruptions.

This effect works when I am reading a book in the lavatory, even though, in my lavatory, there are several hundred other books present.  The mere fact of reading a book seems to focus my mind.  Perhaps this is only a habit of mine, just as not concentrating is only a habit when I am looking at a screen, but these onlys are still a big deal.

The effect is greatly enhanced when I go walkabout, and take a book with me.  Then - when being publicly transported or when pausing for coffee or rest or whatever - I cannot switch.  I can only concentrate on the one book, or not.

It’s the same in the theatre or the opera house, which friends occasionally entice me into.  Recently I witnessed Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  The production was the usual abomination, but the orchestra and chorus were sublime, as were occasional bits of the solo singing.  And I now know Lohengrin a lot better.  Why?  Because, when I was stuck inside the ROH, there was nothing else to do except pay attention.  I could shut my eyes, which I often did.  But, I couldn’t wave a mouse or a stick at it and change it to The Mikado or Carry on Cleo, even though there were longish stretches when, if I could have, I would have.  It was Lohengrin or nothing.

I surmise that quite a few people these days deliberately subject themselves to this sort of forced concentration, knowing that it may be a bit of a struggle, but that it will a struggle they will be glad to have struggled with.  I don’t think it’s just me.

This explains, among other things, why I still resist portable screens.  Getting out and about is a chance to concentrate.

Sunday September 23 2018

I am watching, on my television, Eric Lu’s Leeds Piano Competition performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4, a performance I earlier listened to on the radio.  My impression from the radio was that this was a rather “private” performance, and somewhat more so than I think ideal.  But the exact same performance, on TV, now seems, perhaps because the public nature of the event itself is inescapable, much less private than I had supposed from the radio.  Every bit as good as I recall, but different.  More assertive, more rhetorical, more like a Shakespeare soliloquy spoken out loud, and quite loudly, to a theatre audience than the same soliloquy done as a stream-of-consciousness interior thought process, perhaps also on the radio.  Odd how the medium can have such an impact on the message.

I see from the Eric Lu website that this Beethoven concerto performance, together with two Chopin solo pieces that he played in earlier rounds, is now being made available on CD.

Now I am watching a Chinese guy play the Schumann concerto.  And the contrast in how it comes across is exactly the same as with Lu’s Beethoven performance.

Eric Lu playing Beethoven 4 on the TV
An ideal Show Boat
Another go at Bartok – and two competitions
Kensington Gore
That Bartok statue again
Two good jokes – and a mystery (and a sign (and a cartoon dance))
Busy (and hot) few days
Esa-Pekka Salonen says Bye to New YorK
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Gurrelieder at the Royal Festival Hall
GD2 graduates
Royal Albert and his Hall
Lohengrin at the ROH
The new Tottenham Court Road tube exit – with cranes
So …
The Castalian String Quartet at the Wigmore Hall last night
ENO Traviata dress rehearsal
A temporary RCM corridor – the inside and the outside
South Kensington roof clutter
A face and some windows
The light and the lights of Victoria Station
Classic tweet
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
Ashes to virtual Ashes
David Starkey on how Handel trumped Shakespeare
Is Martha Argerich about to go solo again?
Rodelinda at the ENO tomorrow evening
Solid light
Gerald Elias on classical music performance style(s)
While England were winning the World Cup I was photoing adolescent swans
I don’t know whether it’s the weather or my camera
Nice events – shame about the weather
Sculpture with greenery
One Kemble Street and its roof clutter as seen from the ROH floating bar
How Michael Tanner both misunderstands and understands Turandot
Doing what I have to do
Just how Polish Chopin was and how he played
Heat
A recital by GodDaughter 2 at the Royal College of Music
Liking the sound that it makes
Stabat Mater at St Stephen’s Gloucester Road
Gloucester Road with evening sun
Die Meistersinger was very good
ROH Covent Garden here I come
The god that failed
Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
An Underground sermon
Opera North’s Ring
A sign in a bus and the same sign malfunctioning
Trumping the Opera House
A list of well-known currently performing classical pianists
A new stadium for Chelsea
A vanished CD and a more tidy home
An enlarged Dinky Toy in Belgravia
John Croft: Composition is not research
Pletnev plays Haydn and I own it!
Art comment
I want to write more here about music
Wonderful
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
Photos - four transport - two artistic
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