Masterclasses are valuable experiences

Susan Tomes, pianist and writer, mused on masterclasses on her blog yesterday. The anecdote that inspired the post makes for a depressing read.

I commented on her post. I’ve shared the same comment below.

“There is something remarkable to be observed in a masterclass.

First, you hear a complete performance of a movement from a work you may not have heard before.

You think you’ve heard something amazing – a moment where the performer has tried to create a magical moment. We’ve all willed them on. We’ve all experienced something.

Then you hear someone with more experience encourage that same performer to look at the work from a different perspective.

Then we hear the resulting performance.

In the moment, the transformation itself is amazing.

The performer gets something rare and incredibly valuable. The audience gets the best of both worlds.

I’ve always felt incredibly humble in a masterclass. I don’t understand why anyone would consider participating in one an onerous task.”

Gramophone Awards 2017 Category Winners Announced

The Gramophone Award Category Winners have been announced.

The Gramophones are quite a complicated affair procedurally (see here for a primer), reflected in an unnecessarily fussy website. So, in the spirit of (trying) to make things quick to digest, below are the top three in each category, with the winner marked in red bold.

There’s also a selection of category winners in this hastily drawn-up Spotify Playlist.

One of these recordings will now go on to win Recording of the Year, announced on September 13 alongside Artist of the Year, Young Artist of the Year, the Lifetime Achievement Award and Label of the Year.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on The whole ceremony will also be available to watch on the Classic FM website.

Baroque Instrumental

Florilegium: Telemann: Ihr Völker hört. Concertos (Channel Classics)
Gli Incogniti / Giuliano Carmignola / Amandine Beyer: Vivaldi: Concerti per due violini (Harmonia Mundi)
La Serenissima / Adrian Chandler: ‘The Italian Job’ (Avie)

Baroque Vocal sponsored by Mrs Joan Jones

Iestyn Davies; Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen: Bach: Cantatas Nos 54, 82 & 170 (Hyperion)
Les Arts Florissants / Paul Agnew: Monteverdi: Madrigals, Vol 3: Venezia (Harmonia Mundi)
Sir John Eliot Gardiner / Monteverdi Choir; EBS: Bach: St Matthew Passion (SDG)

Chamber sponsored by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute

Danish Quartet: Abrahamsen, Adès, Norgård: String Quartets (ECM)
The Nash Ensemble: Bruch: String Octet. String Quintets (Hyperion)
Silesian Quartet: Bacewicz: Complete String Quartets (Chandos)

Choral sponsored by IDAGIO

Paul McCreesh / Gabrieli Consort & Players: Haydn: The Seasons (Signum)
Hervé Niquet / Le Concert Spirituel: Cherubini, Plantade: Requiems (Alpha)
Masaaki Suzuki / Bach Collegium: Mozart: Mass in C minor (BIS)


Lisa Batiashvili; Staatskapelle Berlin / Daniel Barenboim: Sibelius/Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos(DG)
Danny Driver; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Rebecca Miller: Beach, Chaminade, Howells: Piano Concertos (Hyperion)
Isabelle Faust; Il Giardino Armonico / Giovanni Antonini: Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos 1-5(Harmonia Mundi)

Contemporary sponsored by Naim Audio

London Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Adès: Adès: Orchestral Works (LSO Live)
Pierre-Laurent Aimard; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / George Benjamin: Benjamin, Ligeti, Murail: Orchestral Works (Neos)
Renaud Capuçon / Various: Dusapin, Mantovani, Rihm: Works for Violin and Orchestra (Erato)

Early Music

The Binchois Consort: ‘Music for the 100 Years War’ (Hyperion)
Cut Circle / Jesse Rodin: Dufay: Les messes à teneur (Musique en Wallonie)
Phantasm: Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven Tears (Linn)


Murray Perahia: Bach: French Suites (DG)
Beatrice Rana: Bach: Goldberg Variations (Warner Classics)
Daniil Trifonov: Liszt: ‘Transcendental’: Etudes d’éxécution transcendante (DG)

Opera sponsored by E. Gutzwiller & Cie, Banquiers

Glyndebourne / Leo Hussain: Britten: Rape of Lucretia (DVD) (Opus Arte)
Hochschule für Musik, Freiburg / François Bollon: Goldmark: Die Königin von Saba (CPO)
Zurich Opera / Fabio Luisi: Berg: Wozzeck (DVD) (Accentus)

Orchestral sponsored by the European Foundation for Support of Culture

Il Giardino Armonico / Giovanni Antonini: Haydn: Symphonies Nos 12, 60, 70 (Alpha)
Minnesota Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä: Sibelius: Symphonies Nos 3, 6 & 7 (BIS)
Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard: Mahler/Cooke: Symphony No 10 (Seattle SO)

Recital sponsored by Primephonic

Joyce DiDonato with Il Pomo d’Oro / Maxim Emelyanychev: ‘In War and Peace’ (Erato)
Anett Fritsch with Munich Rundfunk / Alessandro de Marchi: Mozart: Arias (Orfeo)
Anna Prohaska with Il Giardino Armonico / Giovanni Antonini: ‘Serpent and Fire’ (Alpha)

Solo Vocal

Benjamin Appl & James Bailieu: Heimat (Sony Classical)
Florian Boesch & Roger Vignoles: Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österrichischen Alpen (Hyperion)
Matthias Goerne & Christoph Eschenbach: Brahms: Vier ernste Gesänge; Songs Op 32 (Harmonia Mundi)

Philharmonia Orchestra Preview: September – October 2017

Yesterday, Wigmore Hall highlights. Today, Philharmonia. There is a lot going into my diary. If only the Festival Hall was pretty as the outdoor venue the band played on the Amalfi Coast in August.

September 2017

September sees Royal Academy of Music graduate 22-year old Tom Blofield joins the Philharmonia as Joint Principal Oboe.

The Philharmonia’s season kicks off with a concert conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen including Sibelius’ 6th and 7th symphonies, contrasted with two contemporary works by Icelandic composers. Thursday 28 September.

Also, on Thursday 28 free pre-concert and interval opportunities available to experience parts of Sibelius’ 5th symphony in Virtual Reality.

Mahler 3 is billed for Sunday 1 October at 3pm. A must-attend. Because. Mahler 3.

The following Sunday evening features just two works: Dvorak’s Violin Concerto and Smetana’s Ma Vlast. Sunday 8 October, 7pm

Voices of Revolution: Russia 1917

After the critical acclaim and industry recognition for their Stravinsky series, the Philharmonia embarks on a major exploration of the music and culture of Soviet Russia after the October 1917 Revolution in a series devised by Russian conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy.

The first event is a live screening of Battleship Potemkin accompanied by symphonic excerpts by Shostakovich performed by the orchestra. Thursday 12 October

Vladimir Ashkenazy was a valuable international cultural figure in the Soviet Union. But under suffocating restrictions imposed by the USSR he eventually left for self-imposed exile in 1963, first staying with his parents in London before moving to Iceland with his wife where he set up the Reykjavik Arts Festival.

Book tickets via the Philharmonia wesbite


Wigmore Hall Preview: September 2017

With the summer drawing to an end, the new season of concerts are gearing up.

And, charged up by chamber music love-in at Verbier this year, I’m hoping to spend a bit more time at Wigmore Hall over the next few months.

Not only exploring instrumental music, but getting in a little deeper with vocal recitals too.

Here’s a few that caught my eye. Looks like September’s going to be quite busy.

Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake perform Schubert songs 9 September, 7.30pm.

Sonia Prina sings songs by Gershwin, Falla, Chopin and others, accompanied by Paolo Spadaro Munitto 10 September, 7.30pm.

The Doric String Quartet begin a season-long Haydn String Quartet Series  on 13 September, 7.30pm.

Simon Trpčeski and cellist Daniel Müller-Schott in sonatas by Beethoven, Debussy and Rachmaninov 15 September, 7.30pm.

Sir András Schiff 23 September, 7.30pm and 26 September, 7.30pm

The Heath Quartet perform Jörg Widmann’s string quartets 24 September, 7.30pm.

Sarah Connolly and Malcolm Martineau with music by Hanns Eisler’s, and Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies 29 September, 7.30pm.

The morning Diana died

Twenty years ago, the Britten-Pears Orchestra were billed to give the last night of the Snape Proms at Snape Maltings Concert Hall in Suffolk.

Strauss waltzes were on the programme. The concert was sold out.

I know this detail because I was the orchestra manager, charged with booking the players, the conductor, setting up music stands, and as I recall, proposing the programme.

Early on the morning of the concert – Sunday 31 August – I received a telephone call in my flat on Britten Close in Aldeburgh.

“Jon. Have you seen the news?”

The phone crackled a bit. It was Hugh Maguire (below), former leader of various London orchestras, Head of Strings at Britten-Pears, and the conductor for the ‘last night’ concert, calling from a village just a few miles away.

Bleary-eyed and a little unnerved that Hugh was calling me at home, I coughed and confirmed that I hadn’t heard the news. I reminded him it was quite early.

“Princess Diana’s died. We need to change the programme for this afternoon’s concert. I was thinking Brahms. Do you have any Brahms? Can you get access to the Britten-Pears Library and get some Brahms? Or some Schubert? What do you think? Brahms or Schubert? Or what about Beethoven 7?”

I liked it when Hugh asked me what I thought about things. He may not have necessarily heard anything of what I said in response, but to be engaged with on a matter other than travel and accommodation arrangements flattered me a bit.

“I don’t think the Britten-Pears Library is open on a Sunday, Hugh.”

I was still in a bit of a daze. Not really processing the news, or what Hugh was proposing. All I did understand was that an entire programme of Strauss waltzes did, on the face of it, now seem a little crass.

As it turned out, the Britten-Pears Library at Britten’s former home, the Red House, did end up opening on a Sunday morning. I didn’t go, the Director of the Britten-Pears School went instead. When she returned, the news wasn’t especially good.

“Can you believe it?” she said to me incredulously, “they wouldn’t let us borrow any of the orchestral parts – they said they were too ‘precious’.”

I could believe it. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Here was music marked up by musicians who had been conducted by Benjamin Britten himself.

The curators of the Britten-Pears Library weren’t going to be especially keen to have history rubbed-out and marked-up differently for the sake of a dead Princess.

“What’s the point in having music in a library if it’s not allowed to be played?” she added. “Still, I’ve got an idea. They did agree to loan me the conductor’s score.”

I paused, waiting for the idea.

“So I was thinking that we could photocopy the conductor’s score, cut out each line from the copies and create individual parts for the orchestra.”

I’m all for bold statements and grand achievements, but given there was only 90 minutes before the final orchestral rehearsal got underway, what the Director of the School was proposing seemed a little ambitious, even by my standards.

I shook my head, slowly.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen. There isn’t the time to do it. There only has to be one mistake in the music we’ve put together and the whole thing will be a disaster.”

I was being an orchestral manager. A good one. Identifying risk and presenting it as very real.

She persisted with a slight irritation in her voice.

“I think there’s time. It’s Schubert’s Unfinished, not Beethoven 7.”

I dug my heels in. I’m glad I did. Orchestral management (booking players, arranging travel, scheduling rehearsals and the ilk) demands a special kind of brain, one my parents had failed to bestow on me. The job was already stressful enough. Adding to the pressure seemed foolish.

Another phone call to the Britten-Pears Library. First the Director, then Hugh Maguire. A car journey to and from Aldeburgh.

Ten minutes before the final rehearsal gets underway, the instrumental parts for Schubert’s Unfinished were on the music stands being peered at by the orchestra. When one of them bemoaned the fact they’d spent a week rehearsing Strauss waltzes most of which weren’t going to be played, I said, “Consider it a lucky escape.”

I can’t be sure even now, but it seems like a fairly safe bet that the parts we were using for that performance were those used in a 1972 recording made by the English Chamber Orchestra with Britten conducting.

To the best of my knowledge, the ECO never recorded Strauss waltzes.