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.

Review: Martha Argerich, Janine Jansen and Mischa Maisky at Barbican

As chamber music concerts go, this was an epic battle. Martha Argerich led the charge on piano dominating during the first half, tamed in the second. If you’re looking for who triumphed it was violinst Janine Jansen. Not that it was a competition obviously.

Beethoven Cello Sonata in G minor. Defiant. Urgent. Compelling. Some moments of intonation oddness. Martha strong, almost severe. A fierce second movement followed during which two heroes teetered on the edge of a precipice.

The Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2 in e minor saw three distinct personalities on stage. Their presence established gripping drama before the music began. The end of the first movement was the high point of the first half – musically it leaves you hanging, desperate for resolution. The second movement was terrifying, the fragile third movement oddly ambiguous.

Janine Jansen was a good foil for Martha during the Schumann Violin Sonata No. 1. It was though Janine was given her moment – or maybe she insisted backstage?

The Schumann was undoubtedly the highpoint in the concert (unlike the Shostakovich where I saw one reviewer fall asleep in the second and then snore himself awake in the third movement) as this is the work where other people are busily scribbling things.

The second movement finished tenderly. Rambling sections followed in the third; balance between the personalities restored during the faster sections.

The concluding Mendelsohn saw the personalities settle their difference. Balance located. Violin and cello were given more of the light. The fluidity of Martha Argerich’s technique maintained its stunning fluidity, but there was a lessening of the intensity that seemed fitting as we approached the conclusion of proceedings.

The agonising beauty of the second movement was followed by the third that seemed to career angrily around the stage. Still, Martha Argerich appeared held in check by Janine Jansen and Mischa Maisky who solidly held their own throughout the third and fourth movements.

Gripping stuff. Loved it.


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Selected London Concerts This Week (Mon 5 – Sun 11 Feb 2018)

I’ve been meaning to put together a timetable of concerts like the one above for a few months now.

The original idea was borne out of the frustration I find trying to keep track of what’s going on when across the capital. After last week’s marathon set of announcements – Southbank’s 2018/19 season plus the four resident and associate orchestras, Barbican, and Wigmore Hall – I revisited the original planner idea.

Caveats

It’s not meant to be exhaustive though could be if I scaled it up (something I wouldn’t mind trying eventually). Instead, it’s just a way for me to map out what’s going in a given period of time. It’s also deliberately meant to be analogue as opposed to digital. The very act of drawing out a timetable, searching through the listings and writing it into a chart increases focus, in turn helping make decisions about what to see and what not.

Note – the London Mozart Players gig is on Wednesday not Monday. We’re all allowed to make mistakes.

Scope, Range and Busy-ness

It became really obvious very very quickly (even restricting myself to just seven days) that there’s not only a lot of options to hear classical music live, but there’s also a lot of information to take in. Potential ticket buyers are having to process location, time, names of performers, and works. That’s a lot of variables being considered before deciding on what to go to.

As a freelancer I have a lot more flexibility now. Concerts on ‘school nights’ aren’t such a thorny issue like they used to be. Interestingly for me however, it’s the lunchtime opportunities which seem more appealing because I feel as though I can fit them into my day more easily where evening concerts present themselves as a commitment.

Must-Attends

What surprises me is how an event like Martha Argerich, Janine Jansen and Mischa Maisky at Barbican this week could have completely gone unnoticed. The fact that it’s sold out makes getting a ticket at this late stage a bit of a challenge, but I’m going to give it a damn good shot. But the Marin Alsop conducting masterclasses is a must-attend. It’s free. And on a Wednesday lunchtime. Peachy.


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If you’d like to define your level of support please use this PayPal.Me link.

BBC Proms 2016 / 43: Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich

This may be a career limiting move, but I’m prepared to admit that I didn’t on the whole enjoy Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich’s Prom last night. I imagine you won’t read that kind of statement anywhere else on the internet.

I know of a handful of people who were very excited at the prospect of the much-anticipated double bill finally appearing at the Proms (Argerich has a reputation of not so much cancelling engagements as not committing to them in the first place, at least not in the orthodox sense – at least she was in 2001). Barenboim wows audiences wherever he appears too – of course he does. Teaming up with the West Eastern Divan Orchestra was bound to be a brilliant concert.

The paradox is that it was a brilliant concert. The band – established as a youth orchestra twelve years ago, now the players have grown up so the orchestra has matured too – played with a remarkable warmth. It was like nothing else I had heard before. As an ensemble they outstrip nearly every other ensemble and a lot of that is to do with the relationship between players and conductor.

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The creation was somehow miraculous, but it wasn’t something I wanted to hear more of. It was almost too perfect. It was as though someone had told me to try on a really expensive piece of designer clothing because they wanted me to experience that moment. I did so, appreciated it for what it was, but realised at the same time how the experience left me feeling a little cold.

Part of my problem (and really, it’s my problem – not the orchestra or the soloist or the conductor) is the sense of expectation which accompanies any Barenboim or Argerich appearance. There is an assumption that if Barenboim is on the podium it will just be brilliant, no question. That he could perhaps only step onto the podium and do nothing else and we’d all be incredibly appreciative he was even there.

I exaggerate a little to illustrate the point. But, whenever I sense that assumption about any kind of event, there’s a bit of me that rather hopes that there will be a chink in the armour. That there will be something in the perfect performance which takes me by surprise; that the armour won’t shine quite as brightly as everyone assumed it would. I don’t look out for errors – that would make a vile harridan – but I don’t want to assume it will be brilliant. What would be the point in even attending the concert in the first place if I knew for certain it would be brilliant?

Those assumptions and expectations bring out the worst in others, in particular some members of the cognoscenti. Words like ‘maestro’ are bandied around quite a lot, as though musical greatness demands we refer to people with an outdated and an archaic title – an ego-massaging or self-aggrandising exercise. Such unquestioning deference feels borderline sycophancy.

There are no assumptions with live music, that’s part of its appeal. There are certain requirements which need to be met for the likelihood of a moving performance to connect with the audience, but no-one can predict that something will be amazing before it actually happens. People I know do that before some concerts (not just Barenboim’s). And when they do, they instantly ruin the prospect.

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Implicit in this expectation is the promise of perfection. Perfection was present during the West Eastern Divan Orchestra Prom. I don’t want perfection. I want there to be some jeopardy in a live performance. Jeopardy demands investment on the part of the listener – a commitment to see this thing out and make an assessment after. If I go into a performance with no expectations then everything else that follows is a surprise. Assure me it will be brilliant, then what follows will almost certainly be a disappointment.

There was another thing I was (probably) projecting onto proceedings. Argerich’s reputation/style/tendency/distinctiveness around commitment to gigs infuriates me. Obviously, she is an amazing musician. An international exponent of her art. Artists at that level can pick and choose what they want to do, of course. But I’m a traditionalist, I think. If you’re going to do a gig, you should do the gig, unless you’re physically unable to play. Eccentricity is interesting, but at the same time it’s annoying. And when you do commit to that gig, then I start feeling condescended by your appearance on the platform.

The encore somehow provoked me even more. Conductor and pianist – lifelong friends, both of them prodigies – sit down at the piano and play a duet. Their musicianship was incredible, the energy between them remarkable. A joy to listen to. But simmering somewhere underneath was a nagging sense that the stars on the stage were bestowing on us a great gift, taking advantage of this great moment and giving the audience a chance to see something they’re probably unlikely to see in London any time soon or indeed ever again. There were even moments in the encore when it all felt a little bit self-indulgent.

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Don’t read this as an unequivocal fact. It’s opinion. More importantly, this is all a me thing. It’s about how I react to the artist, not necessarily about the artist themselves. The artist is allowed to do whatever he or she wants. Of course. How I’m reacting to it says far more about me, than it does about them, so the saying goes.

But why is it important? What do I conclude from what might seem mean-spirited?

I’ve already mentioned perfection. I think I just have an aversion to absolute perfection. If it’s utterly perfect or perceived to be then somehow it’s inauthentic. That’s such an odd thing to say when the sound is undeniably beautiful and exquisitely and instinctively executed, I know. I just need a sense that what I’m listening to is real.

But more than that there’s this sense that Barenboim and Argerich are from an entirely different classical music era, a time when instrumentalists were in the ascendancy, pursued by television producers and documentary filmmakers. A time when classical music was incredibly glamorous. Read any Jacqueline du Pre or Barenboim biographies and the glamour oozes off the page. They are both, Barenboim especially, from that age.

That way of being for instrumentalists from that era is still visible when you see them on stage. It’s not wrong. It’s not irrelevant. It’s other-worldly. It distances me from them. It makes them a member of the elite – the untouchables. And the present day is demanding that the gap between artists and audience is reduced not widened. It is a symptom of their brilliance and their genius that they are put on that pedestal. But I think I feel it more keenly now.

Their playing was spell-binding, their presence thought-provoking. But I think I’m probably more interested in musicians I can connect with as an audience member. I just can’t relate to them.