Monday, November 28, 2016

Schubert's Autumn

Happy Monday.

Ludwig Rellstab 

Es rauschen die Winde
So herbstlich und kalt;
Verödet die Fluren,
Entblättert der Wald.
Ihr blumigen Auen!
Du sonniges Grün!
So welken die Blüten
Des Lebens dahin. 

Es ziehen die Wolken
So finster und grau;
Verschwunden die Sterne
Am himmlischen Blau!
Ach, wie die Gestirne
Am Himmel entflieh'n,
So sinket die Hoffnung
Des Lebens dahin! 

Ihr Tage des Lenzes
Mit Rosen geschmückt,
Wo ich den Geliebten
Ans Herze gedrückt!
Kalt über den Hügel
Rauscht, Winde, dahin!
So sterben die Rosen
Der Liebe dahin. 

(English translation here)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Roll over, Riverdance: this is Rhinal Tap

In case you haven't yet seen this extract from The Nose, courtesy of the Royal Opera House and director Barry Kosky, here it is.

And here's my review of this gleefully nuts early Shostakovich opera, at the Critics' Circle website (I forgot to post it when it first came out, but hope it's still reasonably entertaining).

For Barrie Kosky’s Royal Opera debut you could only expect the unexpected. The Australian director, head of Berlin’s Komische Oper, picked a work that has never before been staged at Covent Garden. It’s an extravagant, radical and often very loud take on Gogol’s surreal story in which Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov wakes up to find his nose has gone walkabout and is living the high life in St Petersburg. Premiered in 1930, but dreamed up three years earlier when the composer was 21, it’s so off-the-wall and tonally anarchic that it could almost have been written three decades later...

...Not for nothing has Kosky (going against his own policy at the Komische Oper, where he prefers opera in its original language) plumped for English rather than Russian; the earthy and up-to-date new translation is by David Pountney. It’s helpful to understand it in real time as it careers by with reference piling on reference: Cabaret, Yiddish theatre, Freudian association, Jewish jokes, Russian legend, this Nose knows it all. “Oy gevalt! The 8.23 to Kitezh has been cancelled – they couldn’t find it...”
If you want to read symbolism into it, help yourself. Is The Nose about keeping people in their hierarchical place, or about losing another person who’s part of you, or a euphemism for fear of losing another body part, with everything that implies? Or is it just pre-Python surreal nonsense? Maybe all, possibly none: Kosky lets the options flit by in front of our, er, noses, and leaves the decision to us....

Saturday, November 26, 2016

RIP Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016). Photo: Deep Listening Institute

This year, as everyone has already noted, has taken many amazing people out of this world. The latest is the composer Pauline Oliveros, creator of the concept of Deep Listening and music to match, who has died at the age of 84.

“In hearing, the ears take in all the sound waves and particles and deliver them to the audio cortex where the listening takes place. We cannot turn off our ears–the ears are always taking in sound information–but we can turn off our listening. I feel that listening is the basis of creativity and culture. How you’re listening, is how you develop a culture and how a community of people listens, is what creates their culture.” -- Pauline Oliveros, 2003

Read more about her here.

Here is A Love Song by and for her.

What is Deep Listening?
Deep Listening Institute (DLI) promotes the music and Deep Listening practice of pioneer composer Pauline Oliveros, providing a unique approach to music, literature, art, meditation, technology and healing.  DLI fosters creative innovation across boundaries and across abilities, among artists and audience, musicians and non-musicians, healers and the physically or cognitively challenged, and children of all ages.  This ever-growing community of musicians, artists, scientists and certified Deep Listening practitioners strives for a heightened consciousness of the world of sound and the sound of the world. 
Deep Listening Institute has merged with RPI to become
Center for Deep LIstening at Rensselaer 
under the direction of Tomie Hahn.  
For information on programs please contact Hahnt at 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

360 degrees of conducting

Susanna Mälkki with the New York Philharmonic last year. Photo: Chris Lee

I had a terrific interview with the conductor Susanna Mälkki for Opera News, ahead of her debut at the Met, New York, with Saariaho's L'amour de loin.

Here's the whole article, with a little taster below...

WITH CONSCIOUSNESS about the situation of women conductors expanding, and creative initiatives springing up around the world to combat the inequality, observers might conclude that the battle is almost won. This is not entirely the case. “I think the biggest change actually is on the public side,” says Mälkki. “I’ve met a lot of musicians who have been totally fine about a woman conducting, but it’s taken such a long time for the business to catch up with it—and also the press. And I think those two have been the slowest to react, because they may have been wanting to cherish old images of—well, you know what I’m referring to!” Indeed—the grand maestros of the past, those controlling, all-powerful alpha-males. 
Even so, the role’s challenges in reality have nothing to do with gender. “I think conducting is a 360 degrees kind of work, because there are so many different responsibilities,” Mälkki says. “It’s a job where you should be everything to everybody. People have so many different expectations, and these can be sometimes really disconnected from the music at hand. I think the pragmatic side and the pragmatic training for it—keeping one’s feet on the ground and concentrating on the music—has definitely helped me, and little by little I’ve developed my way to deal with the rest.
“In terms of music-making, what I find interesting to see in retrospect is that working with living composers has always been such a central, essential and natural part of my work as a conductor—and that’s going back to the basics. That’s what this profession is about. Therefore I’ve been following the other discussion feeling sometimes frustrated and sometimes amused, because I’ve been happy to be working on the real issues with real substance all the time—and contemporary composers have been extremely happy with what I’ve been doing.” ...

Monday, November 21, 2016

Tomorrow: Hungarian Dances is at The Sage, Gateshead!

Tomorrow I'm off to Gateshead to present the Hungarian Dances Concert of the Novel at The Sage, our violinist Bradley Creswick's home hall - and, indeed, home hall of the project, which was premiered there in 09, having been suggested to the Fiddles on Fire Festival by a canny librarian. Bradley, who on other days leads the Royal Northern Sinfonia, plays the living daylights out of the Gypsy repertoire - expect some surprises! - and he and Margaret Fingerhut have been working together since their college years. It's incredible to be on stage with them, and super-exciting when it's at The Sage, one of the best arts centres in the country.

Looking forward to seeing lots of North-East friends and enjoying Newcastle-Gateshead, which is not unlike Budapest: two different cities joined by a magnificent river and its bridges.

More info and booking here. (And if you are into praying, please pray for no disruption on the railways...the weather is a bit wild...)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Help the resuscitation of a lost genius

Writing a piece about the Golden Age of Pianists for Primephonic, I couldn't resist including one of the most startling, inspiring and terrifying musicians I have yet encountered on record: the Hungarian pianist Ervin Nyiregyházi. You may not have heard of him, but maybe it's time you did. All you can expect of him is the unexpected.

Kevin Bazzana's biography reveals the life of a man who lurched between genius and mental breakdown, from wild success to sleeping rough in the subway, from wife to wife - ten of them (eat your heart out, Henry VIII) - yet who was never anything less than his own true self.

The cover to be. Photo: Yoshimasa Hating
Tomoyuki Sawado of Sonnetto Classics is having a Kickstarter to raise funds to release Nyiregyházi's comeback recital of 1972 on CD. Please have a listen and consider contributing. He has 9 days left to raise the remaining 49 per cent. More details at the Kickstarter page here.

My Primephonic article explores what exactly the magic of those so-called Golden Age artists was about. It's not a comprehensive survey or a Top 300 list or similar, and is designed for general music lovers as well as serious pianophiles. I chose a selection of pianists from different places, with contrasting personalities and life stories, and wondered what brings them together under the same umbrella. It's a personal choice and assessment. There are probably 50 more who could have been included, yet the article is already double its intended length.

Anyway, hope you enjoy it. And do take a look at that Kickstarter.

Friday, November 18, 2016

You want it darker?

Listening to Christoph Prégardien singing Lieder by Mahler, Schubert and Schumann the other night at the Wimbledon International Music Festival, I couldn't help wondering if that's where Leonard Cohen got it from. The journey to the darkest regions of the human heart dates not from today's finest singer-songwriters, perhaps not even from Mahler, but from the 1820s. Schubert's settings of Heinrich Heine in his last song cycle, Schwanengesang, are a strong contender for the title of bleakest, most nihilistic music in history, should we ever need to present such an accolade. Their intense pain is only increased by their beauty - and by the craftsmanship by which Schubert is able to kick our guts out with the upward step of one semitone in 'Der Doppelgänger'.

Christoph Prégardien. Photo:
There's something almost masochistic about a really good Lieder recital. We're put through the crushing emotions of lost love, of longing for death, of self-imposed suicidal isolation, and the more it hurts, the better the singer is presenting it. We're put through an emotional mangle and sometimes we weep. And the more of that there is, the more likely we are to offer him/her a standing ovation at the end. Because actually we come out feeling better.

Is that because it's over? Nope. It's good, old-fashioned, Greek catharsis. We have the chance, listening to these songs, to go into the secret, suppressed chambers of our own hearts and concentrate on feeling, unimpeded, the emotions we might not want to let out otherwise. It hurts, but it's an experience, a meditation and a release.

The fact that Christoph Prégardien was singing in Wimbledon at all is quite a triumph for the WIMF, whose programming these days wouldn't disgrace a festival three times its weight in the centre of some gorgeous European capital, rather than suburban south-west London, where we all go wombling free (even Alfred Brendel, who lives north of the river, was in the audience for this one). Prégardien's artistry is streamlined, focused, essential: with beauty of tenor tone absolutely intact - he is 60 - diction impeccable, emotions of text and tone fused and explored to the last degree, he is the consummate Lieder singer. His partnership with the excellent pianist Sholto Kynoch matched all of that. He brought splendour, agony and ecstasy to Mahler's Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen first; bitterness, irony and a heady intelligence to Schumann's Dichterliebe in the second half; and those Schubert Heine settings in between are still alive and reverberating with wonder and horror somewhere in my subconscious several days on. You want it darker? Try Schubert.

Incidentally, the artistic director of the WIMF, Anthony Wilkinson, has for some years been spearheading an effort to get a world-class concert hall built in Wimbledon; and at the moment, he tells me, things are progressing quite well. More power to his elbow.

The festival continues with a feast of great music-making until 27 November: Christian Tetzlaff in solo Bach and Bartók, Tabea Zimmermann and Dénes Várjon, Michael Collins, Raphael Wallfisch, a Klezmer night with Balkan Voices, the Tetzlaff Quartet, the Bach Christmas Oratorio and more. Wimbledon is a short train ride from Waterloo, or take the southbound District Line to the end.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Dream job for British pianist

Kathryn Stott. Photo:
British pianist Kathryn Stott has just been announced as the new artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, taking over from Piers Lane.

The town in Far North Queensland has its fair share of palm trees, sunshine and proximity to what remains of the Great Barrier Reef; for decades the festival has welcomed the great and good of the music world to its delights. Piers has been in situ 11 years and Kathy will be only the third director to hold office.

Born in Lancashire, Kathy studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and at the Royal College of Music with Kendall Taylor. Aged 19 she was a finalist in the Leeds International Piano Competition and shot to fame; now she has long enjoyed a busy career juggling solo work, chamber music including a duo partnership with Yo-Yo Ma, teaching at the Oslo Conservatory of Music, and the occasional curating of festivals and concert series. She tells me she had been keeping an eye out for something longer term in that department, but is more than thrilled to have been recommended to the AFCM, where she has been a frequent visitor, by Piers himself.

I'm not sure for whom I'm happier: the festival having her, or her having the festival. Congratulations all round!

Here's Kathy playing Fauré's Impromptu No. 2.

Friday, November 11, 2016

About that new concert hall...

The Paris Philharmonie. We want one too! Photo: Charles Platiau

It's dead - supposedly. Theresa May's government recently decided Rattle Hall, or The Centre for Music to use its official title, wasn't "value for money" for the taxpayer (though this, one presumes, depends which taxpayers you ask). In today's Times, Richard Morrison points out that that doesn't mean it's not going to happen: it's just that it will have to be funded entirely by private money, and possibly by someone who might roll up loving Sir Simon Rattle enough to stump up a few hundred million. Well, we can dream...

The news has been greeted with a peculiar mixture of anger, relief and cynicism, and while the prevailing anxieties are Brexit and Trump, nobody seems able to get excessively worked up about it. Yes, we need a new orchestral concert venue in London because the acoustics in the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall really are several hundred light years away from today's state of the art possibilities, which are exemplified by the work of Mr Toyota. There's only a limited amount of good that their expensive refits could do them; the RFH is now over-clinical, with funny bass-treble balance in some parts of the hall, and the Barbican is louder without being warmer. But the Museum of London site is far from ideal. If we're to have a truly world-class new hall, please can we get it right this time?

What concerned me the most about the plans, as far as they went, was in fact not the location, nor the argument that the money would be better spent on music education - it never would have been in any case (different budgets). Arguably the hall would have been a major incentive to improve music education locally, if not nationally, since it would have provided top-notch facilities to be used by schools and young people and - crucially - sent out a positive and encouraging message about the value of the arts to society, the exact opposite of what pulling the plug does. Parties of children could have flocked there daily on "enrichment" projects.

No, the worrying thing was the implication for the rest of London - indeed, the rest of the country. A new hall has to be built. After that, it has to be run. And where does the money come from to do that?  Yes, government. What is the government doing to the arts? It is cutting their budget. Is there any prospect of that changing? Not while this lot is in power. So where would that money come from? Other organisations, run from the same budget, being slashed, obvs.

Musicians and audiences in London want, need and deserve a hall to match the finest in Tokyo, Berlin and Paris. What we don't want is an organisation that comes to life by snuffing out the competition. Whatever their limitations, we wouldn't be happy to see the Royal Festival Hall stripped of its orchestral programmes, which are already somewhat reduced, or the Barbican put entirely out to pasture, or ENO killed off; if that were the price for the Centre for Music, it would indeed be too high. Arts in the "regions" are to be a greater priority now - and quite right, too - but London is a massive city, and growing fast (unless we lose a six-figure number of bankers as they shift to Paris and Frankfurt post-Brexit, which could happen), and can easily support as many arts organisations as it has, and more. Especially since we expect a steady influx of tourists who can now come over more easily because of our tanking currency, and are definitely not heading here to bask on a beach.

If the new hall were to be built, with private money, in an ideal world it would be an "as well as" rather than an "instead of". As long as that is the case, it would be much better that it happened than that it didn't.

But we can't predict anything now, things being as they are, so the whole idea may yet remain one more vape dream: an empty gesture, stripped of substance.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"The great music we are sharing creates a great bond between us"

Politicians right now are not distinguishing themselves with high-level eloquence, though goodness knows we need some. Instead, here is one musician who's not willing to stand by and watch everything go to pot: the pianist Igor Levit, who is 29, has just released a speech he made before a Beethoven concert in Brussels the other night. Bravo, Igor.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Music for our days

A spot of musical escapism after a very dark night.

Tonight I'm chairing a panel discussion with five American composers who happen to be women, before the concert in Lontano's Festival of American Music at the Warehouse, Waterloo. The composers are Hannah Lash, Julia Howell, Elena Ruehr, Barbara Jazwinski and Laura Kaminsky, so it should be a fascinating chat. But it's going to be an even more interesting evening than I'd anticipated. We'd hoped to be celebrating the accession of the US's first-ever female president,

Tonight, too, the LPO pertinently plays Dvorák's "New World" Symphony at the RFH. Robin Ticciati conducts. (But listen out for the dark side of that piece. It's there.) In the first half, Anne-Sophie Mutter is playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto - on her Strad, which used to belong to Jelly d'Arányi and was probably the instrument on which the latter gave the UK premiere of the Schumann Violin Concerto.

Tomorrow at the Barbican, the LSO is playing the Schumann itself, with Renaud Capuçon the soloist. An insane piece for an insane world? Or Schumann's last stand before the crash, unfairly suppressed for 80 years until its bizarre rediscovery? It's not for nothing that that story became Ghost Variations, though I didn't anticipate that its 1930s setting would ring quite as many bells as it does. I'm looking forward to hearing Renaud play it.

At some point I'll try and produce some cogent thinking about the scuppering of the new London concert hall, but today is not the day.

Actually I am lost for words and I don't want to depress anyone further, but I have no verbal slivers of hope, inspiration or humour to offer, so here's some Schumann instead.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Farewell, Zoltan Kocsis

Zoltan Kocsis. Photo: Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI via AP,
Tragic news came yesterday that the Hungarian pianist and conductor Zoltan Kocsis has died at the age of 64. He was chief conductor of the Hungarian National Philharmonic and had also been active as a composer. In tribute, his fellow conductor Iván Fischer said: "Kocsis was a giant of music...his influence on his generation is immeasurable."

Many regrets that I never managed to meet him, and heard him play infrequently - he was not a regular visitor to the UK, and the loss was ours. I first heard him, in fact, while on holiday in Switzerland when I was 14, which must have been 1980. He gave a recital in the cinema, Pontresina, and nobody around had actually heard of him before, but he played his own transcription of the Prelude & Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and the roof nearly flew off. I remember we were all left speechless.

Kocsis had heart surgery in 2012 and more recently had cancelled a number of concerts on medical advice.

Agence France Press says:

Kocsis had served as musical director of the National Philharmonic Orchestra since 1997 and became a household name among music fans from the United States to Japan as he took the ensemble on tour.
He underwent heart surgery in 2012, and last month cancelled upcoming concerts on the advice of doctors, according to the orchestra.
Born in Budapest in 1952, Kocsis began playing the piano around the age of three.
He first played abroad after winning the prestigious Hungarian Radio Beethoven Competition at the age of 18 in 1970, and made his first concert tour of the United States a year later.
He also performed extensively with the Berlin Philharmonic, and played with leading orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
In 1978, aged 25, he was awarded the Kossuth prize, Hungary’s highest state honour for artists, an award he won again in 2005.
Often taking the conductor’s baton with the BFO, Kocsis also began composing from 1987.
His pieces, along with his transcriptions of works of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and the recordings he made from them, also won him wide acclaim. 
“His death is an irreplaceable loss for Hungarian culture,” said a statement from Hungary’s ministry of human resources.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Steve Reich at 80: a Cambridge chat

Delighted today to bring you a Q&A with Steve Reich, an interview conducted by Justin Lee, the director of the Cambridge Music Festival and generously offered to JDCMB, for which many thanks. Next week the legendary (though very real) American composer is on the UK leg of his 80th birthday tour, which takes him to just three events - the Barbican, the Royal Opera House and, on 8 November, the Cambridge Music Festival. Justin asked him about his influences, Clapping Music, Bob Dylan and the American election...

Justin Lee: My 14-year-old daughter came home on Friday and explained what she had been doing at school that day – a version of ‘Clapping Music’ – and she was so excited to hear that you’re coming to Cambridge next week. Did you know that you’re on the music curriculum in British schools, and that 'Electric Counterpoint' is on the GCSE music syllabus – our public exams at 16?

Steve Reich: First of all, I’m delighted to hear what you’re telling me because if younger people don’t like my music, my goose is cooked. They’re the next generation; they’re the future. So tell your daughter I’m delighted and I hope she’ll enjoy ‘Clapping Music’ live and that she’ll forgive me because I am 80 years old and don’t have the energy and verve that I did 30 years ago. And I’m delighted to hear that 'Electric Counterpoint' – which is certainly one of the best pieces I’ve written – is incorporated onto the syllabus for study in the UK. That’s wonderful.

JL: Can you tell me a bit about your musical background and influences? How do you account for your appeal to people who love Bach AND people who love Bowie?

SR: I started with piano, then, at the age of fourteen, I heard Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring for the first time, which of course changed my life and made me a writer and composer. Just a few weeks later, I heard Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, then I started listening to jazz, and began studying percussion and going to Birdland, to hear Miles Davis and Bud Powell. Later on, I got interested in Ghanaian drumming, then Balinese music, then John Coltrane while I was studying with Luciano Berio. I was also very attracted to Perotin and the whole Notre Dame School of the twelfth century.

If you put all that together, it’s a very wide spread of things. So there are people who are attracted to the early music, people who are attracted to jazz and pop music, people who are attracted to all of the twentieth century, and some of all these people will naturally be attracted to what I do.

Steve Reich. Photo: Wonge Bergmann
JL: When you’re composing are you thinking about whom you’re writing for, about your audience? For example, did you write ‘Electric Counterpoint’ with a festival audience like Glastonbury in mind and ‘Music for 18 musicians’ thinking of a huge concert hall?

SR: I am completely and 100% a writer – I am completely 100% selfish and I don’t think of anyone in the world but myself. I write what I believe I really must write at the time I am doing it, and it has been my good fortune, and it has been a blessing that other people have – not everyone of course – shown some appreciation of my work.

JL: What advice would you give to young composers and musicians today?
SR: The advice I have for composers is simply this: get involved yourself. If you are a performer, play your instruments with your friends, play your own music with them when you start out, when you’re young. Start out while you’re young. If you are a conductor, then conduct them, if you programme a drum machine, then programme a drum. So, get involved, do it with your friends, and if you do a recording of a piece of music you wrote, be proud of it, no apologies, and people will get to know what you really have in mind.

JL: You’re a musician, and Bob Dylan’s a musician. Do you think it’s right that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature?
SR: He’s a very good songwriter. I admired early Bob Dylan, particularly ‘Bringing it all back home’, but with 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', I couldn’t even understand the words! The interesting thing about Bob Dylan is that the magnetic attraction of his music, for me in the early days, was based entirely on the songs themselves – on the music and his tone of voice.

JL: In 1970, you wrote an essay entitled ‘The future of music’, and practically everything you predicted has come to pass. What’s the future of music today?
SR: I’m no longer young and sometimes foolish, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. But, I can tell you this, in the English-speaking world, there’s a huge group of wonderful young composers, so many good ones – like Nico Muhly and Bryce Dressner here, and Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead, who performed Electric Counterpoint at Glastonbury in 2014) in your country.

JL: November 8, the night you perform at the Cambridge Music Festival, is a big night for Americans. What has been your reaction to the presidential campaign?
SR: I’m a human being, so of course I get involved, just like everybody else, but I really don’t think composers’ views on politics are worth any more than yours or mine or the postman’s, but it certainly isn’t the greatest choice of candidates that we’ve ever had, that’s for sure.

BUY TICKETS TO STEVE REICH FROM or Cambridge Live: 01223 357851 (Mon-Sat, 10.00am – 6.00pm)
The Cambridge Music Festival runs from 8-24 November 2016 at venues across the city.

Steve Reich at 80 events

Tuesday 8 November      Cambridge Corn Exchange   7.30 pm
Programme: ‘The Mallet Quartet’, ‘Music for 18 Musicians’. The concert opens with ‘Clapping’ performed by Steve Reich and Colin Currie.

5-6 November 2016   The Barbican
The Barbican celebrates Steve Reich and his music with a weekend of concerts on 5-6 November.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Final call! Plus November update

Dave & me taking a sort of bow
Final Ghost Variations Concert klaxon of the year: tomorrow, 3 November, at the Barnes Music Society, my ace and beloved duo colleagues - the dastardly David Le Page (violin) and the vivacious Viv McLean (piano) - and I are proud to be presenting our show for its final performance of 2016. It's the last one for a little while, so if you want to hear it I recommend showing up at the Old Sorting Office, Station Road, Barnes, London SW13 tomorrow evening for a 7.30pm start.

The programme includes music by Bartók, Brahms, Ravel, Mendelssohn, Hubay, FS Kelly and Schumann, all of it chosen for its relevance to the story and most of it intimately connected with Jelly d'Arányi.

All details at the Barnes Music Society website. See you there!

And meanwhile...

HUNGARIAN DANCES is back! This autumn has marked the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and we are commemorating this with two performances in the north of England, one at the Helmsley Arts Centre in North Yorkshire on 12 November and the other at The Sage, Gateshead, on 22 November. The magical Bradley Creswick is the violinist, with the equally magical Margaret Fingerhut at the piano, and the story of Mimi Rácz's journey across the 20th century - from Roma child to celebrated soloist to exiled great-grandmother - is brought to life in music including Dohnányi, Dinicu, Debussy and much more. The venues are special delights, as Helmsley was host to my play back in July with the Ryedale Festival, and The Sage was where the whole phenomenon of the novel-concerts really took off: they commissioned the Hungarian Dances project for the Fiddles on Fire Festival back in 2009, so really this is going home.

On a totally different tack, next week, on 9 November, I'm delighted to be chairing a pre-concert women composers' panel discussion at the London Festival of American Music, under the auspices of Odaline de la Martinez.

Busy month ahead, which is fine.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Horses for courses? A guest post about Listenpony and why the EP is for them

Horses for courses? No, it's Listenpony! A group of young composers and their friends who are taking the reins: putting on concerts, commissioning new works and shuffling the genres to the manner born. They've just started a record label, so I asked them to tell us about it. Listenpony is run by three composers: Freya Waley-Cohen, Josephine Stephenson and William Marsey. Here's Josephine's guest blog on why they do what they do, how and why they've jumped into the record label water and what's in their next concert, coming up next week. JD

Listenpony: our new record label: a guest post by Josephine Stephenson

We, Listenpony, launched a new record label last month with the release of an EP of live performances by the violin duo Mainly Two. This recording was made at our last event in March and includes a movement from Prokofiev’s Sonata for two violins, a selection of Bela Bartók’s violin duets, and most importantly, the premieres of two pieces by young British composers, Dani Howard and Lawrence Dunn, which we commissioned. It is the first of a series of digital EPs designed to offer an alternative experience of our concerts, each focusing on a single performer or ensemble, to be enjoyed post hoc on the move or from the comfort of one’s own home, anywhere in the world!

The cover of “Live at Listenpony: Mainly Two”
(© Daniel Strange)

The mix of music on the record is typical of our programming. Ever since we started putting on concerts in London over four years ago, we have always aimed to showcase the wide variety of music we enjoy alongside that which we make - a bit like if someone was pressing ‘shuffle’ in one of our music libraries. For the most part, this is classical music that goes from the Renaissance to today, with a particular focus on the new music that we commission from contemporary young composers or write ourselves. But we also invite artists from other musical traditions to perform acoustic sets, and this has ranged from pop to folk via jazz and rap. We never choose music according to its style but only simply because we like it and think it’s good, and we hope that in there there is something for everyone. We often get all the performers to play something together at the end, and this always feels very special!

Tir Eolas, Abstruckt and the Vickers-Bovey guitar duo, performing at Listenpony in May 2015
(© Ben McKee)

The artists we collaborate with, performers and composers alike, tend to be young, unsigned artists of our generation whom we admire. It’s always fantastic working with them, and it’s also great that we can help make them known through the gigs and now the label too, just as they help us by making our music exist. Our recordings - which are done live by a brilliant young company called Sonus Audio - are distributed by The Orchard, thanks to whom they are available worldwide through Apple Music, Spotify and other services. As for the artwork, the covers are all unique lino prints which are handmade by the artist Daniel Strange, usually inspired by photographs of the actual event and subsequently digitalised. Dan made our brand new chicken logo too!

Here's Mainly Two performing a new piece by Dani Howard, which is on our first digital EP:

Setting up as a record label is something which we wouldn’t have imagined just 18 months ago. We didn’t even really know that it was something we could do - and yet we had all these recordings which we had been making ever since the beginning for the composers and performers’ benefit, to a higher and higher quality. It wasn’t until someone from the record industry attended one of our events last Autumn and told us that we had something they hadn’t quite seen before, and should consider putting out our live recordings, that we realised the potential of making them available to the public. This was a way for us to reach a wider audience, outside the limits of London and beyond the evening of the concert. We had everything we needed already, apart from artwork and a deal with a distributing company. We met up with a few different advisers and before we knew were a record label signed to one of the biggest distribution companies around.

Our next two EPs, to be released in the coming months, will feature the vocal consort Eo Nomine and the Vickers-Bovey guitar duo, with music ranging from the 16th century to today. Our next event is taking place on the 15th of November at Crypt on the Green, with the viola da gamba player Liam Byrne, the Laefer Saxophone quartet and the singer-songwriter Mara Carlyle. It should be another brilliant night - come along!

Josephine Stephenson