Thursday, 29 December 2011

Political theatre

This is an interesting article about contemporary political theatre. The author argues that at the moment there is a tendency to present the same (generally left wing) view of contemporary events in the many plays that portray them, whether the subject is the riots or Enron. This gives the generally middle class audiences for these plays a comfortable ride that isn't really challenging.

I certainly think there are valid points here that also apply to music, especially forms like opera. It seems true that at the moment political theatre isn't as challenging as it could be but on the other hand at least these plays, along with productions such as 'Anna Nicole' show that contemporary art is being produced and appreciated.

It seems to me that it would be a good thing if more productions really challenged their audience to think more, and dealt more with the ambiguities and tensions in the events they depict, rather than forcing one interpretation of events on the audience. There are those who would disagree and say that if you agree with the views in the plays then they are playing an important and active role. However, it does seem as if things are getting a bit stale, and in my opinion challenging people through ambiguity is potentially more powerful than pushing one side of the argument anyway.

Political theatre's final curtain - Reviews - Theatre & Dance - The Independent

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Conducting

This is quite an interesting article on some (definitely not all) of the basic challenges of conducting. People often wonder what it is conductors actually do, and I think having a go is a great way of finding out. The author puts it quite well, as a conductor really acts as an overall guiding force for an ensemble. This is especially so in amateur ensembles, which may still play to a very high standard but need more guidance in order to pull together the different strands of a performance. Of course there are plenty of thing that aren't mentioned, mainly rehearsal technique and issues to do with organisation and management. Issues such as trying to keep people happy during rehearsals, organising rehearsals, choosing the right repertoire for the group (in terms of variety and difficulty), and keeping everyone motivated and working as as a team can be as difficult as the conducting itself, which normally involves a lot more music than is featured in this article anyway! It is very easy to have a go at conducting as most players have an idea of the basic gestures involved, but very hard to do it well. It's a very wide ranging discipline - people skills and organisation are just as important as musicality - and this article highlights some of those issues. g

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Music in tunnels

This is a good article about how classical music is reaching out to new audiences just by putting on concerts and recitals in different venues. It's amazing how using a different atmosphere to traditional concert halls makes the same music more appealing. Hopefully these initiatives will continue and take things even further, they're certainly needed.

David Lister: In a warren of tunnels under Waterloo station, a revolution in classical music is stirring

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Nirvana: did they really "change music for ever?"

Lauren Spencer's article on Nirvana in The Observer is quite interesting, and reasonably entertaining to read. It is also incredibly frustrating.

2011 is the twentieth anniversary of Nevermind, Nirvana's most famous album, and as such there have been many articles written about Nirvana, the album, and 'grunge,' the genre they helped spawn. Obviously I don't mind people writing articles on Nirvana, and the twentieth anniversary of one of their albums is a good point in time to do so. What I do mind is the kind of lazy generalisations that are nearly always used in articles like this (this article is an example, and not the worst I've seen, like I say it was quite interesting).

Firstly, I contest the assertion that "Nirvana's legacy had lodged deeply in the public's consciousness and changed music for ever." This seems to me to be one of many strange ways the modern world has of looking at history. Other examples are: "we've just seen ... make history," "this is history in the making," and "this will go down in history as the day....." One of the most important things to understand about history is that it is not absolute fact, it is not a science, and always involves interpretation at the most basic level - that of turning historical data (in a perfect world, the knowledge of every single person's actions at every moment), into historical fact (which generally consists of larger scale events and trends). I would agree that Nirvana have been very influential over the last twenty years (largely due to Kurt Cobain's death), but that is a long way from having been influential forever. 'Nevermind' and Kurt Cobain's death were both important moments in pop music history as we currently see it, but that does not mean that it will always be that way. Schubert was relatively unknown in his day, but he is now firmly established as one of the central composers of the canon of western art music.

Secondly, and more generally, rock music has a very strange relationship with money and employment, something that Lauren Spencer doesn't question. Her article is full of statements such as "once Cobain was dead, commerce trumped art," "the radio stations were not really passionate about the music, they were passionate about making a buck," and "musicians... found themselves... having to choose between... a job at either Starbucks, Kinkos or Home Depot." There is a sense in rock music that good music cannot exist alongside work of any other kind, and that it is somehow shameful to make money from another job, which actually grants greater financial independence. This is something worth investigating, but the article does not delve any deeper.

I find it very frustrating that articles on music and musicians (as well as actors and writers) very rarely dig any deeper than what is immediately offered, unlike in politics where answers aren't taken for granted. Again, this article is an example of that: every artist quoted essentially agrees with the main element of the article (that Nirvana changed music for ever, and were absolutely amazing) - why not go out and interview some people who disagree, who contradict the other formulaic, practiced replies?

Sadly I fear this is an unlikely development. As cultural interviews only really occur when the artist in question has something to promote, and we now live in an age of PR minders, there is very little incentive for a journalist to push further - after all, the articles still sell.

I like 'Nevermind,' but although its release currently seems like a crucial moment in 1990s music history, this will not necessarily be the case forever. It is an event that changed the course of music for the next twenty years, but whether we will still give Nirvana the same importance in one hundred years time remains to be seen.


In search of Nirvana | Music | The Observer

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Steve Reich: WTC 9/11

American composer Steve Reich has just released a new album titled WTC: 9/11. The album features three pieces: 'WTC 9/11', 'Mallet Quartet', and 'Dance Patterns' on the Nonesuch label.

'WTC 9/11', performed by the Kronos Quartet (who also commissioned it) reflects on the attacks on the World Trade Center attacks of the 9th September 2001. The music is scored for three string quartets and pre-recorded voices. These come from the day of the attacks and afterwards, and feature FDNY workers, NORAD air traffic controllers, and Reich's family.

'Mallet Quartet,' written for two vibraphones and two five-octave marimbas, is performed by Sō Percussion (who also co-commissioned it).

'Dance Patterns' is scored for vibraphones, xylophones, and pianos, and was a contribution to Thierry de Mey's film 'Counterphrases of Anne Terese de Keersmaeker's Coreography.'

Via: The Independent
Source: Nonesuch

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Reviews roundup: ENO - The Elixir of Love

English National Opera have opened their new season with 'The Elixir of Love' by Donizetti, a revival of Jonathan Miller's 2010 production. The cast and staging both get high marks from the Guardian and Independent.

The Elixir of Love - review | Music | The Guardian

The Elixir of Love, English National Opera - Reviews, Classical - The Independent

Potential North/South Korean concerts

South Korean conductor Myung-whun Chung says the North and South Korean symphony orchestras have reached an agreement to hold joint concerts in December.

North and South Korea set to make sweet music together | World news | The Guardian

WNO: The Barber of Seville (Oxford)


Added this to the Oxford events calendar:

WNO - The Barber of Seville, New Theatre, Oxford.

24th November 2011, 26th November 2011 (both 7.15pm)

Rossini: The Barber of Seville

Alexander Polianichko - conductor
Eric Roberts - 'Bartolo'

Welsh National Opera

Sung in English with surtitles in English and Welsh

Welsh National Opera: The Barber of Seville

WNO: Katya Kabanova (Oxford)


Added this to the Oxford events calendar:

WNO - Katya Kabanova, New Theatre, Oxford.

23rd November 2011, 7.15pm.

Janacek: Katya Kabanova

Lothar Koenigs - conductor
Katie Mitchell - director

Sung in Czech with surtitles in English and Welsh

Welsh National Opera: Katya Kabanova

WNO: Don Giovanni (Oxford)


Added this to the Oxford events calendar:

WNO - Don Giovanni, New Theatre, Oxford.

22nd November 2011, 25th November 2011 (both 7pm).

Mozart: Don Giovanni

Lothar Koenigs - conductor
John Caird - director

Sung in Italian with surtitles in English and Welsh.

Welsh National Opera: Don Giovanni

WNO: Katya Kabanova (Cardiff)

Added this to the Cardiff events calendar:

WNO - Katya Kabanova, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

6th October 2011 and 8th October 2011 (both 7.15pm)

Janacek: Katya Kabanova

Lothar Koenigs - conductor
Katie Mitchell - director

Sung in Czech with surtitles in English and Welsh

Welsh National Opera: Katya Kabanova

WNO: Don Giovanni (Cardiff)

Added this to the Cardiff events calendar:

WNO - Don Giovanni, Wales Millennium Centre.

23rd September (7pm), 25th September (4pm), 30th September (7pm), 5th October (7pm).

Mozart: Don Giovanni

Lothar Koenigs - conductor
John Caird - director

Sung in Italian with surtitles in English and Welsh.

Welsh National Opera: Don Giovanni

WNO: The Barber of Seville (Cardiff)

Added this to the Cardiff events calendar:

WNO - The Barber of Seville, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

22nd September 2011, 24th September 2011, 1st October 2011, 7th October 2011 (all 7.15pm).

Rossini: The Barber of Seville

Alexander Polianichko - conductor
Eric Roberts - 'Bartolo'

Welsh National Opera

Sung in English with surtitles in English and Welsh

Welsh National Opera: The Barber of Seville

New series: unsung music

I'm working on a series of new posts at the moment on 'unsung music.'

These are going to be about pieces of (mainly classical) music that I really enjoy which don't seem to be performed or discussed much, looking (briefly) at their context, musical features, and why they get left behind considering their quality.

The two pieces I'm going to start with are Stravinsky's 'Requiem Canticles,' and Arvo Part's 'Passio.'

I hope you enjoy it!

London Philharmonic suspends musicians


  • 4 musicians from the LPO signed a letter (published in The Independent) denouncing the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) as part of Israel's propaganda.


  • They were suspended for nine months (until June 2012).


  • The musicians were: cellist Sue Sutherley and violinists Tom Esner, Nancy Elan, and Sarah Streatfeild.


  • "For the LPO, music and politics do not mix" (Tim Walker, chief executive of the LPO, and Martin Hohmann, chairman).


  • "It is staggeringly bad judgement for the LPO to be seen to be attacking musicians who are simply voicing support for human rights" (Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign).


  • 21 other musicians, including some from prominent groups, signed the letter.


  • The BBC suspended its live broadcast of the IPO's Proms concert due to heckling from the audience.

  • Source: The Guardian

    Comment: The New Statesman
    • Lots of people disturbed by LPO's response, think it an overreaction.
    • Seems decision meant as a deterrent.
    The LPO
    The IPO
    The Palestine Solidarity Campaign

    Friday, 16 September 2011

    BBC NOW: Adams/Beethoven 30/09/2011

    Added to the Cardiff events calendar:

    BBC NOW - Ode to Joy, 30th September 2011, 7.30pm, St David's Hall.

    John Adams: On the Transmigration of Souls
    Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 'Choral'

    Thierry Fischer - conductor
    Rebecca Evans - soprano
    Hanne Fischer - mezzo soprano
    Andrew Kennedy - tenor
    Matthew Rose - bass
    BBC National Chorus of Wales
    Choristers of Hereford, Gloucester, and Worcester Cathedrals
    Three Choirs Festival Chorus
    Sound Intermedia
    BBC National Orchestra of Wales

    BBC National Orchestra of Wales - Friday 30 September 2011 - Ode to Joy

    LSO: Steve Reich 15/10/2011

    Added this to the London events calendar:

    LSO - Steve Reich at 75, 15th October 2011, 7.30pm, Barbican Hall.

    Steve Reich: Three Movements
    Steve Reich: The Four Sections
    Steve Reich: Clapping Music
    Steve Reich: The Desert Music

    Kristjan Jarvi - conductor
    Synergy Vocals
    London Symphony Orchestra

    Steve Reich at 75 | Barbican Concerts | London Symphony Orchestra

    LSO: Britten 11/10/2011

    Added this to the London events calendar:

    LSO - Britten War Requiem, 11th October 2011, 7.30pm, Barbican Hall

    Britten: War Requiem

    Gianandrea Noseda - conductor
    Sabina Cvilak - soprano
    Ian Bostridge - tenor
    Simon Keenlyside - baritone
    London Symphony Chorus
    Eltham College Choir
    London Symphony Orchestra

    Britten War Requiem | Barbican Concerts | London Symphony Orchestra

    LSO: Nielsen/Haydn/Beethoven 04/10/2011

    Added this to the London events calendar:

    LSO - UBS Soundscapes: Nielsen, 4th October 2011, 7.30pm, Barbican Hall.

    Haydn: Symphony No. 92 ('The Oxford')
    Nielsen: Symphony No. 1
    Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3

    Sir Colin Davis - conductor
    Mitsuko Uchida - piano
    London Symphony Orchestra

    UBS Soundscapes: Nielsen | Barbican Concerts | London Symphony Orchestra:

    LSO: Tchaikovksy/Brahms 25/09/2011

    Added this to the London events calendar:

    LSO - Gergiev's Tchaikovksy, 25th September 2011, 7.30pm, Barbican Hall.

    Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2
    Tchaikovksy: Symphony No. 4

    Valery Gergiev - conductor
    Nelson Freire - piano
    London Symphony Orchestra

    Gergiev's Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4 | Barbican Concerts | London Symphony Orchestra:

    LSO: Tchaikovsky 21/09/2011


    Added this to the London events calendar:

    LSO - XIV international Tchaikovsky competition winner's concert, 21st September 2011, 7pm, Barbican Hall.

    Tchaikovksy: Polonaise from 'Eugene Onegin'
    Tchaikovsky: Letter Scene from 'Eugene Onegin'
    Tchaikovsky: Roccoco Variations
    Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1

    Valery Gergiev - conductor
    Narek Haknazaryan - cello
    Daniil Trifonov - piano
    Sun Young Seo - soprano

    XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition Winners' Concert | Barbican Concerts | London Symphony Orchestra

    LSO: Haydn/Nielsen/Beethoven 02/10/11

    Added this to the London events calendar:

    LSO - Nielsen Symphony No. 1, 2nd October 2011, 7.30pm, Barbican Hall.

    Haydn Symphony No. 92
    Nielsen Symphony No. 1
    Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3.

    Sir Colin Davis - conductor, Mitsuko Uchida - piano.

    Nielsen Symphony No 1 | Barbican Concerts | London Symphony Orchestra

    Thursday, 15 September 2011

    Watch this space!

    At the moment I'm working on building themusicnews.co.uk into a site encompassing all the music news, events, and views that you need. The finished site should be up shortly, I hope you enjoy it!