Rough Book #2: Trombone playing in the snow, HMV & Britten

A quick round-up of some classical music-related stuff this week. It’s not exhaustive, obviously.


The Britten 100 celebrations are underway and this is reflected in a flurry of output. Charlotte Higgins provides a summary of Britten’s compositional legacy, illustrates how the Britten estates fuels the creative economy and raises the question of what impact Britten’s international reputation has on the current crop of jobbing UK composers (Thomas Ades reckons being called ‘the next Benjamin Britten’ is both “unhelpful and confusing”, for example.)

Elsewhere, tenor Ian Bostridge has a top ten list of ‘Britten’s best bits’ (expect to see a whole lot more of these before the year is out) to promote his 16th January appearance in Birmingham’s Britten 100 events.

Also on 16th January, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor performs Britten’s Piano Concerto with conductor Andrew Litton and the Ulster Orchestra, (sort of) repeating his performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra last week broadcast on BBC Radio 3. That performance of Britten’s youthful work (described by one contributor to the broadcast commentary as ‘a pre-cursor to Monty Python ‘) deservedly went down well with the audience. Grosvenor’s interpretation contributed something fresh: an acknowledgement of the cracking pace the allegro sections need to go, with no shame at really emphasising the rallentandos in the first movement, for example. The Independent by the way reckoned that performance confirmed Grosvenor’s “formidable authority“. That there Independent deploy the right reviewers for the job, obviously.

Trombones in the snow

There’s nothing complicated about this. It’s a trombonist skiing down a slope. That’s it. And it’s fantastic.

HMV calls in the administrators

News that HMV has called in the administrators has – inevitably – prompted Twitter to go a bit mad. Some classical music fans have waded in. Most people have commented on how sad the news is. How things have changed since the first store was opened in 1921 .. by the composer Edward Elgar.

I can’t remember the last time I bought a classical music CD from a shop, let alone HMV. If I cast my mind back, I do recall only ever wanting to visit the Oxford Street Virgin Megastore because they had a soundproofed air-conditioned classical, world and jazz section that favoured browsing (even if I didn’t purchase much).

But, searching for ‘HMV and classical music’ returns a surprising trail of stories over the past eight years. In 2005, Brand Republic was reporting on HMV reciprocal deal with Classic FM supporting the radio station’s classical albums chart in return for in-store branding, HMV magazine promotion plus “the relationship could be extended to and HMV’s new download service.” In 2008, Retail Week was reporting about an HMV/Classic FM partnership launching a budget line of classical music CDs. By 2009, Damian Thompson in the Telegraph in 2009 threw light on HMV’s reduction in classical music CD stock and the petition about it that never materialised. In 2010 Tom Service blogged in 2010 on the need to not let enthusiasts music shops go under in favour of “pile-’em-high, sell-’em-cheap behemoths of HMV et al on Oxford Street“. I’m presuming there won’t be many tears shed in the classical music world when HMV goes, but I’m prepared to be corrected.

Finally, the Telegraph’s Rupert Christiansen provides his take on ENO’s most recent Annual Report . But to be clear, he’s not gloating.



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