Rough Book #4: Scandal, education, Britten, Bach & the RPO

The aftermath of the Michael & Kay Brewer trial has gained considerable web traffic on this blog and (presumably, a great many others like Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc and Jessica Duchen’s Classical Music Blog) over the weekend following the news that one of the witnesses for the prosecution – violinst Frances Andrade – had committed suicide. The Guardian also published correspondence between RNCM management concerning the appointment of Malcolm Layfield to the position of Head of Strings at the College. Today, The Guardian has also identified more women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by a different teacher at the same school as Michael Brewer. There’s a full set of links available here.

Still on education, Lancaster University are a step closer to shutting down their music department. Lancaster has long demonstrated a respectable return on its musical education investment. The year I graduated, there were professionals, semi-professionals not to mention countless arts administrators-in-waiting, most of whom continue to prosper today.

The University – like a great many others – offered an opportunity to study music to those who either didn’t want to subject themselves to the pressurised environment of a music conservatoire, who weren’t quite up to the mark. The course then had a lasting effect. It’s a shame to think – though perhaps not entirely surprising – that in a considerably more competitive market, the University can’t afford to bolster a department that doesn’t attract sufficient students to keep it going. We’re all hoping for a miracle. Instinct tells me we’ll be disappointed. Assistant Editor at Lancaster University student rag Scan Ronnie Rowlands has written a bold call to arms in defence of the department.

The Independent ran a story this morning concerning documentary maker Tony Palmer’s efforts to obtain footage from the Ministry of Defence for the documentary Nocturne he’s producing about Benjamin Britten. Repeated difficulties contacting the MoD plus a reported conversation in which staff there are alleged to described Britten as a ‘deserter’ (referring to the composer’s pacifism and subsequent conscientious objector status during the second world war) will no doubt ruffle a few feathers as well as provide some excellent advance publicity for the Sky Arts documentary which runs  later in the year.

The RLPO/Petrenko concert featuring Mark Anthony-Turnage’s new Cello Concerto and a performance of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony has received a rave review in yesterday’s Guardian. Now that the magic PR dust has settled on the Britten/syphilis controversy, the reviewers are sharpening their nails and reaching for their keyboards. Igor Toronyi-Lalic writes for The Telegraph on Paul Kildea’s book, there’s also one from last week on The Independent website. The housepoint for most conscientous reviewer must surely go to Philip Hensher for his comprehensive piece for The Guardian. If anyone’s wondering, I’ve got to page 100. I’m a slow reader. Bite me.

John Eliot Gardiner is celebrating his 70th birthday on 20th April and will – I hope – reward himself with a long holiday after the nine hour marathon of music by JS Bach performed by him, the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists and various other guests at the Royal Albert Hall in London. More details on the Bach Marathon website and on this blog in the coming weeks (it will be a welcome relief from all that Britten). If you can’t get enough Bach (and frankly, who doesn’t like Bach?), there’ll also be a 90 minute doc on the BBC plus a whole host of other things as part of the corporations ‘Bach-to-Bach‘ extravaganza this Spring.

The RPO have given some of their London gigs a push including an entire concert dedicated to composer Peter Maxwell Davies on Tuesday 12 March at 7.30pm , and the London premiere of Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness suite on Tuesday 23 April, both at Cadogan Hall.  If May isn’t too far away to plan for, they’re also doing Mahler 4 at the Southbank Centre on the 29th. More on this blog in the coming weeks.




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