That thorny discussion

The press release about the BPI’s classical music streaming thing has done reasonably well. By which I mean quite a few people have read it. One person even mentioned it during a telephone call. And I discover from a tweet exchange with Yehudo Shapiro that I wasn’t quite so alone in my withering view on the announcement as I’d been thinking over the weekend.

This happens a lot with me as regular readers (and those who know me well) will testify. It goes something like this: I fire off a view, confident in my own position, wishing I communicate it in a slightly more articulate way, but still feeling resolute at my consistency railing against conformity.

Then a few hours pass and I start to look wistfully into the middle distance and nibble at the edges of my nails. Soon after that I reassure myself that I’m entitled to my own opinion (but not my own facts) and, as such, even if I make myself look like an arse, I’m perfectly entitled to do that even though I don’t especially seek to do that.

I woke up early yesterday morning. It was around 5.30am. I knew this because my next door neighbour gets up around that time to do an early pre-work run and the lights from her kitchen glow, gently illuminating our bathroom.

I sat on the toilet bowl running over an unresolved task, specifically drawing up a living will and then considering the challenge of presenting that to my partner for the first time (a massively weird experience for him I imagine – must warn him), and scrolling through a nine-tweet thread from a double bassist from Burlington I hadn’t previously been aware of who had retweeted the blog from Saturday and added his own comments. The last tweet was the one that stung the most: “To talk about the canon is so 1800s.” Ouch.

Specialist Music Chart

So, I decided yesterday to pore over the Specialist Classical Music Album Chart.

It seemed like a good place to start. Because the thing is that I’ve only ever looked at the Specialist Classical Music Album Chart once – when Radio 3 started broadcasting the top ten every week whenever it was that the chart actually started. I’m not entirely sure whether Radio 3 still broadcasts it anymore.

And I glad I did, because I’ve discovered things I had no idea actually existed. Composers. Music. Performers. And the chart provides evidence of other people who are (presumably) either buying it or streaming it. Which in itself of others a bit like me. People who want to listen to specialist stuff.

Sure, I know it all sounds a bit weird me talking about the Specialist Music Chart like its a new thing no one else knows about, but in light of the past few days and the conversations I’ve had with people as a result, it’s such a relief to discover.

And what discoveries.

The third symphony by a Ukrainian composer I’d never heard of before now – Boris Lyatoshinsky. A mix of Prokofiev, Stravinksy, John Williams, and Shostakovich all rolled into one – a sort of ‘grown-up’ Shostakovich. And a pianist on Deutsche Grammophon I’d not heard of before now (go ahead, judge me) whose articulation at the keyboard is, on a first listen, something to behold. I’m not entirely convinced whether the world needs yet another interpretation of Bach, but I liked the decoration in the right hand at various points – all very fluid, smooth and chocolatey. There are some moments when I’m not entirely sure whether we’re marvelling at the music or the technique, but still it’s a compelling listen. Igor Levit’s Life looks interesting. Currently finding the artwork annoying.

James MacMillan

After a coaching session at the Southbank Centre earlier today, and a failed attempt to collect my discounted dotted notebook from Ryman on the Strand, fifty-five minutes at Boosey and Hawkes’ sixth floor offices opposite Bush House to interview composer James MacMillan (pictured) for a podcast. ]

I’m greeted by Nathan at the door. Nathan has bright blue eyes (I’m sure that’s right), wears a jacket similar to mine and looks the kind of age I still wish I was if only I had the chance to do everything again. He asks me if i’d like a cup of tea. I say yes, being quite clear about the sugar. What he delivers shortly before the interview begins is the strength and heat I really rather like. Proper tea. That’s what’s needed for a podcast interview, I think.

MacMillan is softly spoken. I wonder whether my rather cold description of how the podcast works and the role I play in it kills the vibe before proceedings get underway. But, as conversation gets going, it turns out that Mr MacMillan is more than game and happy to play along.

We don’t talk openly about what composers do anywhere near enough. I was conscious throughout the forty-seven minutes we sat in the meeting room together that I still regard composers in a vaguely mystical way. On-demand is a given now (and as is revealed during the interview is something that makes appreciating art form a much bigger challenge for most listeners), but I wonder whether we expect transparency even more. I find myself wanting to understand precisely what it is a composer actually does to create the sound that I appreciate listening to. The impossible question.

I hesitate detailing when this particular podcast will come out, but I’m confident it will be before Holy Week, what with the week of programming he and Tenebrae’s Nigel Short have put together at St John’s Smith Square.

Voice Alone and George Benjamin at the Roundhouse

Composer George Benjamin at his home in Maida Vale, with very intense lighting.

Two unexpected announcements from the past forty-eight hours which have piqued my interest.

Voice Alone seems interesting.

In a major step towards tackling unconscious bias in casting, the first round is a blind audition, with no names, CVs or headshots – ensuring all applicants are judged by voice alone. Applications open at the end of January with the first auditions taking place in March and April.

Voice Alone Press Release, 15 January 2019

On a first read, I like the aspiration. It reminds me of a defensive line in the Moderate Soprano (not exactly the same, but similar in spirit). What intrigues me is whether the intent behind it (laudable) translates (eventually) onto stage. I like it. But I’m sceptical. And that’s a good thing. Scepticism better than assumptions. Blind auditions in March. More information on the Voice Alone website.

And George Benjamin’s (and George Benjamin too) in a Wigmore Hall promotion at the Roundhouse on the 5 and 6 March. An interesting statement event on the part of Wigmore Hall both in terms of content and the venue. I love seeing Benjamin at work in concerts – humble, unassuming, and unfussy. He lets the music do the heavy lifting. Definitely in the diary.

BBC Proms 2017 / 1: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 / John Adams Harmonium

First half disappointing.

Beethoven seemed a bit bashy. The cadenza in the first movement revealed character. Second movement too. Didn’t really feel what everyone seemed to be feeling. All felt a bit hollow. Lacked nuance. Encore seemed a bit laboured.

Harmonium was a revelation. Stunning. Restorative. Chorus struggled with a demanding vocal score, but that didn’t diminish from what was a remarkable half hour of television. Heart was pounding.

3/5 (via TV)