New York here we come!

Our poll (Where do we go in 2009?) has now closed. We had 7 responses, two from non-travellers. Of the remaining five, Hamburg and Frankfurt got one vote each, while the other three were for New York. Since two of the New York responses specified travelling in May, I would interpret that as meaning that the decision is as follows:

The Music Group will go to New York in 2009, and the timing will coincide with our May bank holiday weekend.

The Bayreuth Succession

Gerard Mortier, the new general director of the New York City Opera, and Nike Wagner, a great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner, said on Tuesday that they were joining forces to seek control of the Bayreuth Festival.

The effort is a direct challenge to another branch of the composer’s family, which is also lobbying to run the hallowed precincts, where Wagner’s operas are reverentially presented each summer.

“My vision is a Bayreuth of the 21st century, a new artistic spirit,” Ms. Wagner, 63, said in a telephone interview from Weimar, Germany, where she runs her own arts festival. “We are not traditionalists, even though we have lots of respect for tradition,” she added. “We think Wagner was a composer of the future, and we always respect this spirit.”

Ms. Wagner said that if their bid succeeded, the festival and the City Opera would work together in some way, possibly by collaborating on productions. They were also proposing a separate miniseason at the festival’s theater in June, perhaps a long weekend in which the works of other composers would be performed, Ms. Wagner said. She called it a “kind of laboratory.”

So begins an article in The New York Times, adding fuel to the ongoing fire about who takes over at Bayreuth when Wolfgang Wagner bows out. Judging from here recent despicable production of Meistersinger, I’d be happy to see anyone but Katharina in charge, but then there are Wolfgang’s own wishes to consider, perhaps, and this Mortier guy also has a reputation for outlandish and controversial productions. Oh dear, oh dear … where will it all end?

London’s new concert hall


The idea of Kings Place is very much that of its developer, Peter Millican, who just happens to have a passion for art and music. Millican wanted to shape a building that, while paying its way, would also allow him to indulge these loves. Two orchestras — the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment — have already moved in at peppercorn rents.

The building’s public launch, on October 1, will be marked by a five-day festival of music, film, sculpture, paintings, food and drink.

The 450-seat concert hall is truly remarkable, one of the most handsome and intriguing new venues in central London. A shoebox auditorium, it is by necessity sealed and windowless to keep the relentless roar of King’s Cross at bay. But it nevertheless manages to avoid feeling claustrophobic. Lined throughout in veneer garnered from a single, 500-year-old Black Forest oak, it has all the elegance and grandeur of a Greek temple.

The upper level is enclosed by a geometric timber frame, with each wooden upright appearing to represent a classical column. The coffered ceiling adds to the neoclassical effect, though this pattern is the consequence, Dixon says, of acoustic rather than architectural needs. The adjustable curtains between the columns are there to control reverberation, but when these are lit a Mediterranean late-evening blue, the impression is of sitting inside a classical pavilion with the sky and music all around. A smaller, 200-seat room for experimental music and other performances, with a window looking into the building’s central atrium, complements the main concert hall.

This is from an article in today’s Guardian about King’s Place, an innovative new development in London which sounds like a fascinating and far-seeing project. As well as housing two concert halls, the building is also the new home of The Guardian itself. From our point of view, of course, the concert halls are the main point of interest. Judging from the photograph, the main hall will definitely be worth a visit.

Later Edit, 27th September  Kings Place now has its own web site. Visit the link for details of what’s on, and to book tickets for that next trip to London.

Beaux Arts Trio call it quits

I don’t know — these young people have no staying power! After only 53 years, and only aged 84, Menahem Pressler, pianist with the Beaux Arts Trio, announced last year that he was disbanding the Trio, and they’ve been busily performing farewell concerts around the world. An especially significant event occurred on Thursday 21st August, when the Trio gave their final US performance at the venue where it all began back on 13th July 1955: Tanglewood.

The programme consisted of Schubert’s two Piano Trios, and the occasion was preserved for posterity by NPR (National Public Radio) Music. This web page has the story, and also includes audio links, not only to that concert but also to several other performances by the Trio. It sounds like a wonderfully memorable occasion, and the coverage (both in terms of the concert broadcast and the support material on the web page) shows what music radio can be like when it’s done well.

One thing to stress is that this concert at Tanglewood was the Trio’s final US concert. After this there’s a European tour on their schedule which includes a stop at the Edinburgh Festival. The very final performance by the Beaux Arts Trio will be in Lucerne on 6th September.



My favourite German word is “Sternstunde”. It literally translates as “hour of the stars”, although it’s more idiomatically anglicised as something like “moment of glory”. In classical terms, it means a concert that reaches celestial heights of brilliance and revelation. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to hear one of these cosmically powerful performances, but you know one when you’ve heard it; transcending even the mundanity of a mere five stars to become something that indelibly prints itself on your memory and seems, when you’re in the hall, that your perception of the world has subtly changed.

Here in Lucerne in Switzerland, I’ve just been lucky enough to experience my latest Sternstunde: Claudio Abbado’s concert of Debussy’s Nocturnes, Ravel’s Shéhérazade, and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, conducting his hand-picked all-star ensemble, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

This is the start of a wildly enthusiastic review by Tom Service in The Guardian. Well worth a read. There’s a link included to a list of DVDs of Mahler performances by these forces.

Exploring “Non-Standard” Repertoire: Ten Suggested Recordings

A listener who wanted to go beyond what we call the standard repertoire recently asked me if I would make a list of a handful of recordings of “non-standard” symphonic works that I could recommend to someone whose taste was fairly broad, though on the conservative side. She said that she loved virtually everything from Bach to the more conservative 20th-century composers (Bartók, Stravinsky, etc.), but was not familiar with out-of-the-way repertoire. Of course, different people will have different definitions for “out of the way” – to some listeners, Carl Nielsen’s symphonies are fairly familiar territory, while to others they are totally unknown. A lot depends on the programming of your local orchestra, or on the availability of a classical music radio station (and its own approach to programming; some stations nowadays play only music from the Baroque period through perhaps early Beethoven, with an occasional single movement from a Brahms symphony, if it isn’t too loud or distracting to the background listener).

I [prepared] a list of “non-standard” pieces for this person, and thought it might be fun to share it with you …

This comes from On the Record, one of the Arts Journal weblogs which I like to drop in on now and again. I get a bit of a kick out of lists like this anyway, so I was immediately interested when I saw the title of this weblog entry. It isn’t an easy exercise putting together something like this, and I would definitely take issue with some of the choices (mainly because I wouldn’t consider them ‘non-standard’), but the writer outlines here terms of reference and invites responses anyway.

Does anyone here have any ideas for a similar list? Anything on this list you’d disagree with? Anything you’d passionately make a case for including?

It’s Poll Time!

Six members have submitted shortlists of preferred destinations for next year’s trip away. Now it’s time to see if we can reach a decision about where we actually go. Basically, the choice comes down to four cities, which, in alphabetical order, are: Frankfurt, Hamburg, Milan and New York.

Things are complicated somewhat by the fact that, when shortlisting a city, some people have specified a timing preference while others have left this open. To cover all the options in the poll which I’ve put together, therefore, I’ve included a ‘general’ option for each city as well as the time-specific options which have been shortlisted. So the idea when it comes to voting is to select the general option for your preferred city if you’re happy with going there at either Easter or over the May holiday weekend. Select a time-specific option if you have a strong preference for a listed timing.

Full information about what’s on offer musically in each city is set out in Bernard’s wonderfully detailed document which he circulated back in June.

I’m not sure how all this is going to pan out. The poll is set up to allow one choice only per person voting, so who knows what effect the multiple options for each city will have on the result. Let’s just see what happens for now. Hopefully we’ll get some indication of a trend. We can continue to a second poll with less choices if it looks as if this will help.

So it’s over to you guys now. Get voting! The poll is set to expire at 8.00 pm on Friday 29th August.

Russian to the rescue


Vasily Petrenko 

Liverpool, as its footballers do when all seems lost, threw caution to the winds and struck lucky. Two years ago it took on a Russian conductor of 29 years old and no prior form. Since then Vasily Petrenko has set the town alight. His concerts are electrifying, the audience age has dropped by two decades and some of the new string players look barely out of school. Attendances are up 40 percent since he arrived.

When he walks down Hope Street, it’s all ‘Hiya, Vasily,’ and ‘how’s it going at the Phil, mate?’ If Liverpool FC get drawn against St Petersburg, as they did last season, sports editors call him for expert comment. He plays five-a-side with his musicians, is gregarious, softly-spoken and down to earth — in short, he’s the biggest Russian hit on Merseyside since Letter to Brezhnev and vodka mixers.

The quote is from this article by Norman Lebrecht. Vasily Petrenko certainly sounds like some bloke, and a bit of a miracle worker in this instance. I wonder will we see him here soon with the NSOI?