Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Ian Bostridge the writer

There’s been quite a bit of chatter about Ian Bostridge’s new book. He’s been singing Die Winterreise for thirty years now, so I guess he’s entitled to put down some insights. The blurb on the book’s Amazon page has this to say:

Schubert’s Winterreise is at the same time one of the most powerful and one of the most enigmatic masterpieces in Western culture. In his new book, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, Ian Bostridge — one of the work’s finest interpreters — focusses on the context, resonance and personal significance of a work which is possibly the greatest landmark in the history of Lieder. Drawing equally on his vast experience of performing this work (he has performed it more than a hundred times), on his musical knowledge and on his training as a scholar, Bostridge unpicks the enigmas and subtle meaning of each of the 24 songs to explore for us the world Schubert inhabited, bringing the work and its world alive for connoisseurs and new listeners alike. Originally intended to be sung to an intimate gathering, performances of Winterreise now pack the greatest concert halls around the world.

Schubert's Winter Journey

Why didn’t we know about this production?

I’ve been searching for images of the Wexford Opera House (as you do), and that’s how I came across this photo of the 2011 production of Mercadante’s  Virginia. It looks like we would have been in our element, n’est-ce pas?

Mercadante's Virginia at wexford

The photo comes from an NPR page which gives in-depth background about a broadcast of the opera. You can click on the image to see the photo full size if you like.

Welcome Mahler Initiative from UK Government

Prime Minister David Cameron, Mahler biographer Henri Louis de la Grange and Home Secretary Teresa May announcing the new “Mahler Licence” scheme

I never would have expected that David Cameron was sufficiently savvie about music and about Mahler in particular to come up with this idea, but I have to say it all sounds surprisingly sensible, and makes me change my opinion about the man. Isn’t it nice when you form a bad opinion of somebody and later find out that you were wrong? — (though I doubt if I will ever have that experience with The Poisoned Pixie).

Anyway, follow this link to find out what I’m talking about.

Top Gays

Limelight is an Australian music magazine. I subscribe to their email feed and got the latest this morning. This item caught my eye: The 10 Greatest Gay Composers: Mardi Gras Special! and I just had to share.

It makes fun reading if nothing else, though some of the names raised my eyebrows. I like the way each entry is laid out the same way, with paragraphs for each under the headings Musical Muscle, The Goss, Out and Proud? and Phwoar Factor.

Check it out, guys.

10 Greatest Pianists

Limelight magazine in Australia has just published one of those dreaded Ten Best articles, but this time it’s of interest to us and the list has been arrived at not by the general public but by people who should know what they’re talking about.

The article in question is The 10 Greatest Pianists of All Time and has the tagline “The most influential legendary pianists, as voted by modern-day masters of the instrument”. The list of modern-day masters definitely gives added credibility: included are Jonathan Biss, Cyprien Katsaris, Paul Lewis, Pascal Rogé, Stephen Hough, Cédric Tiberghien, Roger Woodward (?), Barry Douglas, Ingold Wunder (again, ?) and Leslie Howard (also involved in the nomination process were András Schiff, Ronald Brautigam, Garrick Ohlsson, Michael Endres, David Fray, Eldar Nebolsin Steven Osborne, Imogen Cooper, Till Fellner, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Fazil Say, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Alfred Brendel, Benjamin Grosvenor, Stanislav Ioudenitch, Alice Sara Ott, Olli Mustonen, Lars Vogt, Simon Trpceski, Jayson Gillham, Margaret Fingerhut, Howard Shelley, Anna Goldsworthy, Piotr Anderszewski, Freddy Kempf, Gerard Willems, Konstantin Scherbakov, Stephen Kovacevich, Denis Matsuev and Alexey Yemtsov — so there can be no quibble with the credentials of the ‘panel’.

The 10 Greatest list is interesting, with few surprises. All I’ll say is that I am quite surprised at which pianist gets the top spot.

Anyone need a hint or two? How about some photos, would that help?

To whet our Parisian appetites

It’s an April morning on the Place de l’Opéra in Paris and Gilles Djeraouane, house manager of the Palais Garnier, perches on a roof ridge of the opera house’s majestic dome at a vertigo-inducing height above street level. A few paces further along the roof, lapped by sun-sparked clouds, stands the Garnier’s crowning decoration, a statue of Apollo with his golden lyre.

Planted limpet-like on the 19th-century metal stairway scaling the dome, I look down queasily at the flat-topped section of roof Mr. Djeraouane is now indicating. “Over there are five beehives,” he says. The bees are tended by a retired prop man, explains Mr. Djeraouane, and the floral honey is sold in the gift shop.


The photo shows the oh-so-grand (and, for me, rather desperately over-the-top) splendour of the grand foyer of Palais Garnier, the much-longer-established half of Opera National de Paris, and the text is the opening of an article in the Wall Street Journal which provides a fascinating insider’s view of some lesser-known aspects of the building. Worth a read, especially since it makes a nice advance introduction to next year’s trip.

Read the complete WSJ article here.

BBC Radio 3 Interview with Nikolaus Harnoncourt

I mentioned this last Saturday at the Spring Concert session in Seamus’s, and bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t set up streaming audio on our weblog. Now I realise that I was being silly, since I’ve already done that with a number of blog posts previously. So, here goes …

Poor old Radio 3 is now but a poor shadow of what it used to be. Roger Wright, the idiot Controller, is hellbent on tearing this once great radio station apart, especially in the morning when Breakfast and Essential Classics plumb the depths of the current wretched dumbing-down trend, unbelievably manage to out-ClassicFM ClassicFM, and make a pig’s whatever of any resemblance to the once great Radio 3. And yet, one or two decent moments still survive, and the interview with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, broadcast in the Music Matters series on Saturday 14th April, definitely kept up the old standard of excellence.

This is the programme blurb from the BBC web site: Suzy Klein presents this week’s edition of Music Matters, which features a rare interview with the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. One of the great musical figures of the 20th and 21st Centuries, renowned as a pioneer in the world of conducting, Harnoncourt was a key player in the development of the ‘period performance’ of classical, baroque and early music, in particular the music of JS Bach. The conductor is as feisty today as ever – now in his 80s, Harnoncourt is still performing, writing and thinking about music from Bach to Berio, Beethoven to Gershwin. He reveals to Suzy the conductors whose style he hated and why he can’t stand dogma of any sort; his thoughts on those early days of his musical revolution and why he continues today to make demands of his audience.

So, all that remains is to have a listen. Just click on the Play button below and yiz should be laughing. The interview is 45 minutes long, and worth every listening minute.

How it used to be

It’s been a very long time since I’ve added anything to our blog, but now at long last I’ve come across something which just has to be included here.

The wonderful film clip above includes a complete performance by Lauritz Melchior of the Prize Song from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and is a fascinating depiction of the process of recording a singer and orchestra in the days before the electrical process was invented. Just wait for the visual punchline at the end.

Video wonders!

RTÉ, and yes, even the once-great BBC, should be ashamed of themselves. Mediocre coverage of the Dublin Piano Competition every three years if we’re lucky here at home, and a few Proms on BBC4 (provided they’re not too challenging, of course), and that’s about the extent of serious music on TV from these two broadcasters.

And then just look to our Continental neighbours and see what’s on offer there! Ron regularly keeps us in touch with the content he has access to thanks to his satellite and the Arte channel, and it’s difficult not to feel just a little bit jealous of what he can watch while we’re stuck with the likes of Strictly Come Dancing. Well now, thanks to the dear old internet, we can rid ourselves of some at least of our jealous feelings thanks to Arte’s web presence at Arte Live Web.

The site is only available in French and German, but that’s a small price to pay for such wonderful material so readily available. Among current offerings are the following: Veronique Gens in a concert titled Romantic Heroines (a promo tie-in to her CD of the same name); the gala performance of Russlan and Ludmilla from the refurbished Bolshoi Theatre, L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in a programme of works by Rossini, Berlioz and Mendelssohn, and even a complete Ring cycle (a ‘pared-down’ version, with just 18 musicians rather than a full symphony orchestra).

I’ve only just stumbled on this myself, and haven’t had time to do any more than dip into a few of the offerings, but I thought it right to share with you guys. Well worth a look, and perhaps an address to add to your browser bookmarks.