Filling in the gaps

New habit (ish). Not listening to the radio or watching the TV news at any point during the day. If I am working at home then generally speaking I’ll either bask in carpeted silence, or allow random thoughts generate searches on Spotify.

Yesterday, I went from Joseph Horovitz’ Captain Noah (yeah OK, via BBC iPlayer Radio), to his Clarinet Sonatina, to David Bedford’s Ronde for Isolde, Gregson’s Festivo, Davies’ Galaxies for Wind Band, Gregson’s concerto for tuba and orchestra, before Dvorak’s Wind Serenade, before stumbling on Bernstein conducting the New York Phil in a rip-roaring studio performance of Smetena’s Bartered Bride overture and three dances. Terrifying.

I love how random back-of-the-head thoughts can generate music choices that aid focus whilst, from time to time, command such attention that something new can be discovered. Yesterday was an exciting day of listening.

Today, different.

Emails in the morning. Print deadline sought after for a review, website work (lots of fiddling around with logos for the homepage), more emails, purchase orders confirmed, and a bit of fumphering around with a funding application.

Slumped on the sofa around 4.30pm to hear Mark Carney deliver the terrifying reality about a no-deal Brexit – did anyone need further clarification of the blindingly obvious? Then a knock on the door from a neighbour collecting a parcel. He comments on how I’m ill again. I struggle to know how to deal with this.

I realise that I’m providing more detail than I would normally. But the point is this. After a much-needed dose of self-care on the sofa (The Thorn Birds, episode one, Amazon Prime), I end up in the bath listening to Bartok’s fourth string quartet. Spikey. Uncompromising. Dark. Difficult.

There are some pieces of music that succeed in filling in the gaps left by every day life. I didn’t know I needed to hear it. Didn’t appreciate the extent to which I would appreciate it hearing it either.

Verbier 2016: Bartok, Brahms and Schubert

If you want an introduction to chamber music and get a flavour of just how rewarding it can be, the Verbier Festival should be on your list.

Performances here are the product of the community spirit that underpins the Festival. The concerts are collaborations between friends whose mastery of their instrument comes in a close second to an unequivocal passion for their art.

The spirit which emanated from the stage sets the bar high: this is what the music was written for, anything less than what you see here probably isn’t worth listening to.

In Bartok’s Contrasts for Clarinet, Violin and Piano opened the programme; clarinettist Martin Frost coerced, taunted, and cajoled with a sometimes devilish balletic presence. The menacing first movement gave way to a plaintiff second featuring an exquisitely sweet high melody from violinist Leonidas Kavakos. The third and final contrast brought things to a spectacular end, violin and clarinet locked into a frenzied battle to the end. Frost’s breathing is remarkable in fast sequences like those in the last movement, so too his fluid finger work.

The Brahms Trio saw violin Kavakos come to the fore – a dramatic contrast with the Bartok before it – playing with a tone so evenly matched with his counterpart Gautier Capucon (cello) that the difference between the two instruments was imperceptible. Capucon is a remarkable force on stage: a brilliant cellist whose technique is flawless, and range utterly enthralling.


Kavakos is humble and self-effacing, but Capucon still takes care not to let personality get in the way of the instrument’s voice. As a result, the immediacy of their music-making transports the audience quickly to a higher plane. A sublime first movement was followed y a delicate playful second movement with some heart-warming connections between cello and pianist Yuja Wang.

And while the fourth movement was suitably conclusive, the notable moment was during the remarkably still third in which all the instrumentalists on stage pulled the audience in further with the quietest sound created by the smallest gestures.

Pianist Yuja Wang had her moment with Schubert’s Piano Quintet Op. 44, in what had surely, by then, been a demanding programme. Kavakos, Wang and Capucon were joined on stage, by violinist Roman Simovic and viola player Blythe Teh Engstroem.

Between them produced moments of great warmth, spirit, and precision. They worked closely together, exchanging glances and infectious smiles. The third movement was so good, the audience continued to clap at the end of the concert until the group sat down and played it again.

All images are the copyright of Aline Paley

Prom 58: New York Philharmonic / Lorin Maazel

It was a big night at the Royal Albert Hall tonight. At least it felt that way as I sat in the bar beforehand chatting to a handful of familiar looking people.

I knew I’d wanted to go to tonight’s concert when I was traveling back down to London the night before, listening to the New York Phil give the first of their two Proms on Radio 3. It’s the New York Phil, I thought. I want to be there tomorrow night. I’ve heard people mutter about the New York Phil. I definitely want to go.

The first half certainly didn’t dissapoint. The excitement partly came from this being a visiting orchestra. We want to show the visitors a good time. We want them to feel as though we appreciate them coming all this way. Give ’em a good show and they’ll give us a good show.

They certainly seemed like a different crowd on stage. Calm and collected. Focussed. They had stamina. They were cool. They looked good on the platform. And stylish conductor Lorin Maazel came with his own special, rather tasteful looking podium.

I must be a sucker for the popular stuff, because Ravel’s Mother Goose essentially seduced me from the start.

I’ve heard more orchestral music over the past few weeks (both at the Proms and on Radio 3) than I dare calculate. Maybe it’s that which fine-tunes the senses. Many more regular concert-goers I know comment on how individual orchestras have an individual sound.

Outside the stage door post-concert

To be honest, I’d not really appreciated exactly what they meant. Maybe I’d looked on them cynically. Surely, orchestras all sound the same?

This year, however, I’ve come to trust my judgement. I realise now that it doesn’t take long to hear how different individual orchestras can sound and it was really refreshing to hear the New York Phil’s individual sound. Just don’t ask me to describe it. This blog entry could go on for ever. And none of us want that.

It was the Tchaikowsky symphony I was really looking forward to. After the thrill of hearing the RPO play the 5th symphony last week, I wanted a similar style of transportation with what I thought was going to be an unfamiliar work.

I was wrong. So very wrong. I knew the work well. I’d played it in Suffolk Youth years back. The initial opening chords were an unexpected surprise as a result. But to then hear what Maazel did with the rest of the work was an even bigger thrill.

I’ve not seen the man conduct before, but it was apparent soon after he raised his rather long baton that this man was a real showman. Knowing the work myself probably helped a great deal, but there is something the man does with speeds which leaves me breathless and clearly kept the adept orchestra on it’s toes as well. The audience didn’t disappoint either with their appreciation. Maazel repaid them with a good three encores.

Prom 58 (Part One – Ravel / Bartok) on the BBC iPLayer
Prom 58 (Part Two – Tchaikowsky – Symphony 5) on the BBC iPlayer