Wigmore Hall and a full day of doing stuff

I’ve been in the office all day. The sun swung by around eleven-ish and burned its way across my monitor making the detailed website work I’ve been ploughing through today quite challenging. I impressed myself with a Britten-esque kind of resourcefulness, retrieving the remains of a superglue tube from the draw and fixing the window blind. Focus continued throughout the afternoon. Tea was made. More progress. Emails sent. Then the final task for today.

Playlist creation

I’ve always been rather cynical about playlists for streaming services. This isn’t necessarily a good thing to admit given that I’ve been commissioned to create one and write the contextual information about it. The truth is that I question whether anybody really cares what I think about what you should listen to. I’m all about personal discovery. That’s what classical music is at its heart. It’s a subjective thing after all. Therefore, you the listener need to put the hard graft in. You need to work out what it is you want to listen to. And, when you do listen, you need to be able to work out how it makes you feel. Bottom line. Why don’t people realise this?

Yet, the weird thing is, that creating a playlist for someone is a remarkably stressful process. You’re making a statement. It’s a reflection of yourself (even if contractually you’re not allowed to talk about yourself in the text you write. The copy you submit is then a constraint, even though the meat of the product is a personal selection.

An odd process. Enjoyable though. A little bit stressed about it. I am 24 business hours past my submission date. Actually emailed the editor asking for an extension. Felt like a fucking student again. So pathetic. Hope to God he replies (and pays up) otherwise I’ve spent a couple of hours doing something for no money.

More on that story later.

Festival dates

One of the other tasks for today was following up on a slew of emails from last week, one from a festival inviting me to consider attending a selection of their concerts in the spring. I browsed events with a slightly keener eye than I have done in the past, honing in on some Beethoven quartets and Bartok concertos. These things are never certain and I always feel as though I have to go the extra mile to express appreciation for being invited. It’s the right thing to do, after all. ‘Penned’ the email, was about to hit send, then thought about noting down the dates I’d asked for. It was at that point I realised I was asking to attend three concerts from Friday 29th March .. necessitating a flight to and from Europe.

Again. More on that story later.

Wigmore Hall 2019/2020

I was intending to write about three festivals in this post. But, what with the ‘stuff’ I’ve been banging on about above, I’ve really only got time for one. Bite me.

Wigmore’s 2019/2020 season preview brochure is a delightful piece of print to hold in the hand. Instantly recognisable Wigmore red covers with embossed gold lettering. The text is clear, the line-height optimised, and the artist imagery well-selected and well-positioned. This like no other season brochure I’ve seen recently means the Wigmore’s new season is the easiest to write about. Someone knows what they’re doing.

The line-up is tantalising. My attention is drawn first off to the Beethoven spotlight featuring violinst James Ehnes who I still haven’t seen in London and must (I saw him play in Verbier once – I remember his unfussy playing made his seemingly effortless artistry alluring). There’s also the marvellous Isabelle Faust and the white heat of Janine Jansen’s playing on offer too.

Leonidas Kavakos is there too and is for me another must-attend.

I see Michael Collins will be performing both clarinet sonatas with Stephen Hough (as a clarinettist myself this something I would love to see – both ravishing works for the instrument, much better than those viola arrangements). Clarinettist Martin Fröst’s terrifying musical talent also makes an appearance at Wigmore Hall. An opportunity to witness his circular breathing would be one too good to miss. Expect that gig to sell out quickly.

Iestyn Davies gets a 40th birthday concert too (I’m sure there won’t be any issues with the correct spelling of his name on the dressing room door – best make a mental note Wigmore Hall just in case though).

And the sight of pianist Leif Ove Andsnes staring out at me from page 13 with those steely grey Norwegian eyes is enough to make me buy up all the tickets on offer for both his pairing with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and his solo recital regardless of what the programme is. I’m that superficial.

The Philharmonia, faux-vegan pies, and Mahler 6 at 9.20am

I’m waiting for the oven to get up to temperature.

On tonight’s menu, an experiment. Fresh savoy, red onion, and egg pie made with vegan pastry. Why do I have to go full-vegan? Who says? Who’s writing the rules? (For anyone who doesn’t already know, vegan pastry doesn’t last well in the fridge.)

It’s a while to wait until the pies can go in. Good job. There’s a lot to catch up on.

I’ve written notes (unusual for me) in readiness – on the back of a Philharmonia mailout received over the weekend.

Philharmonia

Not bad as a marketing strategy goes. Why bother spending loads of money mailing everybody on your customer database with an entire season’s worth of material? Better to adopt a targeted approach. And whoever came up with that idea knows me surprisingly well (or they guessed well).

Either way, someone let Yehuda know from the previous podcast. Some ensembles are doing data-driven marketing. I don’t remember being asked what I was curious about, but the Philharmonia seems to have worked it out.

Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Bartok, plus a premiere by Péter Eötvös whose name I can’t pronounce which makes the event on Thursday 7 February all the more alluring. Then, later in February Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto (24 February) and a smattering of Debussy, Berio and Ravel (28 February).

Unsolicited feedback

Since I last posted, there have been many meetings. Many emails. Much unsolicited feedback. Complimentary things about the podcast shared face-to-face and over email.

And, importantly, in one conversation something that unexpectedly both rang true and acted as a timely reminder.

My professional career (in my head at least) is littered with illustrations of me not sticking at things for the long game.

Orchestral management, LBC, applying for jobs at Radio 3, the Graham Norton Show, and the producer job in BBC Multiplatform. I can point to any of those moments in my career and recall thinking, “if I’d had more resilience to stick at it, who knows what I’d be doing now”.

There’s no regret there. Not at all. I see variety as key to what I can offer to people now. Specialism isn’t all its cracked up to be.

The podcast is something I have stuck at though. So too the blogging (especially over the past three or so years). And when someone you meet up with reflects that commitment back to you unprompted, something clicks inside. Someone’s recognised what you’re doing. Stick at this.

I’ve been doing a lot of podcasting (and editing) over the past week or so. The ABO preview is me re-connecting with the joy of editing – all very polished. Lots of rapid turnaround. Swift editing. Umms and ahhs instinctively jettisoned.

Like the music the content I make is inspired by, every opportunity to revisit the tasks I love doing accesses happy memories and reinforces new, more robust, beliefs about the self.

It is, if you need an analogy at this point, like trusting your partner to make arrangements for a holiday.

When you arrive at your destination discovering its the most perfect place, the kind you probably couldn’t have selected yourself: you can’t quite believe you’ve got here; you’re hoping the days won’t run away from you too quickly either.

All this content-making reveals one other rather disappointing truth however: I am struggling to remember the last time I actually went to a concert. Making good content takes time. Does that make open to claims of fraudulence?

No.

In the event there are those who remain unconvinced, I have two ‘show and tells’ to make amends with.

Argerich and Mahler

We watched ‘Bloody Daughter‘ (‘Argerich’ on Amazon Prime) last night. Pianist Martha is both terrifying and seductive at the same time. Mesmerising technique at the keyboard and a wilful kind of self-aborbtion and obliqueness that ocassioanlly drove me wild. Daughter-documentary maker Stephanie created something utterly compelling on a par with the great Christopher Nupen. It’s something I want to watch again (before the 30 day rental period is up) and I want more of my pals to pick over too.

And this morning. Mahler 6 from MusicAeterna. Released last year. Streamed from IDAGIO after I gave the cats their medicine this morning. 9.20am I’m sobbing quite unexpectedly at the second movement, aware that crying seems like an odd thing to do at that time of the morning, aware that I have precious little to actually cry about, and yet unable to contain my reaction to what I’m listening to.

A new classical music radio station?

Does the UK need THREE classical music radio stations? Scala Radio (launching 4th March) seems to think so.

Testing out streaming service Idagio

News from streaming service Idagio earlier this week has prompted me to re-evaluate the service.

I’d previously resisted signing up to it (and the most recent competitor on the market, Primephonic) because I’m already paying into Spotify at £9.99 a month. But, review access (courtesy of Idagio) gives me a bit more time to get acquainted with what’s on offer.

Deutsche Gramophon partners with Idagio

The news this week that record label behemoth Deutsch Grammophon have signed up to the streaming service means their considerable catalogue will soon be available in high quality MP3 and lossless FLAC. According to the press release, 15,000 tracks will be added to Idagio every week. That’s a bold commitment and serves as a clear signal to devotees that Idagio is the place to come for the music we love.

That Universal Music Group (DG’s owners) have committed to Idagio makes the prospect of switching streaming service more tempting, though the other musical genres I listen to (rock, pop and musical theatre for example) offered by Spotify means I’m resistant to letting go of that login just yet.

Cost

That prompts me to reflect on how much money I’m prepared to spend on audio streaming services. If for example I was to commit to Idagio too, I’d be forking out £36 on Idagio, Spotify, and Audible for my audio-on-demand services. At first glance that seems like a lot. Then again, that’s three CDs a month. Actually, I think that’s a bit of a bargain for all of my listening needs.

Competitor Primephonic made a big play at their launch about having nailed the metadata making searching for individual tracks an experienced designed primarily for the user.

Personally, Idagio has the edge on Primephonic, because in addition to the metadata, Idagio follows through with a clear, intuitive interface. The way the information is presented, for example in the breakdown of track, work, and album, reflects the different ways I want to access this catalogue.

In terms of design too, there’s an implied deference to the art form I find quite appealing. The interface has a luxurious feel – there’s a return on my investment (or will be when I subscribe).

Niggles

There are some tiny niggles with the app and web interface.

I don’t get to see the artwork in a search result (as a listener I’m going to be drawn to recognisable labels first and make a judgment accordingly). In some respects I suppose that forces me to read the credits and make a judgment on talent rather than label.

I experienced some difficulties getting the full metadata to appear when the track is cast via Chromecast (hardly a massive problem really). If you’re looking to cast to another device, use AirPlay whereever you can. Our Onkyo amp has AirPlay built in.

I’d also like to get sleeve notes alongside each album. I found one (by accident) accompanying Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s debut album on Decca, but couldn’t tell you how I actually found it. Clicking on the various options on the Philharmonia and Jamie Walton’s cracking recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto didn’t yield any notes. In this way the user path needs tweaking a bit, I think.

The only other thing I’d personally like to see at this stage is the ability to discover albums by record label. The metadata clearly is there. Artists and ensembles are associated with labels as much as they’re identified by their own reputations, so opening up this discovery path could help increase streams.

The final would-love-to-have is for the app to determine when there’s no Wi-Fi to connect and adjust the streaming settings accordingly. So, when I’m on 4G to automatically switch from FLAC streaming to high quality MP3, for example.

Final Verdict?

Sold.

Idagio is available via the web, IOS app, and Max OS X. 14 day trial, £9.99 per month thereafter

 


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