Formula saves the BBC Proms !

Formula saves the BBC Proms 2017!  This may be the beginning of the end for Sir Henry Wood’s dreams of the Proms as serious music. Fortunately The Formula, perfected by much-maligned Roger Wright, is strong enough to withstand the anti-music agendas of the suits and robots who now run the Proms.  Shame on those who rely on formula instead of talent, but in dire straits, autopilot can save things from falling apart.  So, sift through the detritus of gimmick and gameshow to find things worth saving   (Read here what I wrote about The Formula

 Danierl Barenboim is a Proms perennial, for good reason, so we can rely on his two Elgar Proms (16 and 17 July) especially the Sunday one which features a new work by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Deep Time, which at 25 minutes should be substantial  Pascal Dusapin’s Outscape on 19/7, 28 minutes, also substantial Anotherr “regular” Proms opera, Fidelio on 21/7, with a superlative cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Ricarda Merbeth, tho’ Juanjo Mena conducts  Ilan Volkov conducts Julian Anderson’s new Piano Concerto on 26/7 , tho’s the rest of the programme, though good isn’t neccesarily Volkov’s forte  On 29/7 Mark Wigglesworth conducts David Sawer’s The Greatest Happiness Principle  On 31/7, Monteverdi Vespers with French baroque specialists Pygmalion  

On 1/8, William Christie conducts the OAE in Handel Israel in Egypt and on 2/8, John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists do Bach and my beloved Heinrich Schütz.  On 8/8 Gardiner returns with Berlioz The Damnation of Faust, with Michael Spyres. First of this year’s four Mahlers is Mahler’s Tenth (Cooke) with  Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra  Robin Ticciati, back with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on 15/8 with an interesting pairing, Thomas Larcher Nocturne-Insomnia with Schumann Symphony no 2.  

Throughout this season, there are odd mismatches between repertoire and performers, good conductors doing routine material, less good conductors doing safe and indestructable. Fortunately, baroque and specialist  music seem immune.  See above ! and also the Prom featuring Lalo, Délibes and Saint-Saëns with François Xavier-Roth and Les Siècles on 16/8   Perhaps these Proms attract  audiences who care what they’re listening to  Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder on 19/8 with Simon Rattle, whose recording many years back remains a classic but may not be known to whoever described the piece in the programme “Gurrelieder is Schoenberg’s Tristan and Isolde, an opulent, late-Romantic giant.”  Possibly the same folk who dreamed up the tag “Reformation Day” like Nigel Faarage’s “Independence Day” Nothing in life is that simplistic  The music’s OK, but notn the marketing.

Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC SO in Elgar Symphony no 3 (Anthony Payne) on 22/8   Potentially this will be even bigger than the Barenboim Elgar symphonies, since Oramo is particularly good with this symphony, which may not be as high profile but is certainly highly regarded by those who love Elgar   On 26/8, Jakub Hrůša conducts the BBC SO in an extremely well chosen programme of Suk, Smetana, Martinů, Janáček and Dvorák   More BBCSO on 31/8 when Semyon Bychkov conducts a Russian programme  Marketing guff seems to make a big deal of national stereotypes, which is short sighted  These programmes cohere musically, but that’s perhaps too much to expect from the new Proms mindset

On 1/9,  Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bruckner and Wolfgang Rihm  An odd pairing but one which will come off well since these musicians know what they’re doing They are back again on 2/9 with  Haydn “The Bear” and Mahler Fourth  which isn’t “sunny” or “song-filled”.  It’s Mahler,  not a musical.  Gergiev brings the Mariinsky on 3/9 with Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich Symphony no 5.  Another huge highlight on 7/9 : The Wiener Philharmoniker, with Daniel Harding in Mahler Symphony no 6 – so powerful that nothing else needs to be added to sugar the pill   For me, and for many others, that will be the real :Last Night of the Proms   Party time the next day, with Nina Stemme as star guest   


Original Source: Formula saves the BBC Proms !

SHIFT — a weird PR gaffe

Resuming my blog after a gap…

I’m sorry that I said some provocative things about the SHIFT festival in DC, and then fell silent.

I hadn’t planned that. But life intervened, taking me by surprise, when my schedule got crazy.

My bad. I apologize.

And I also apologize for something off-base I said in my SHIFT post:

Special note for the Kennedy Center: Mason Bates has been your composer in residence for two years. With no disrespect to him or his music — he’s someone I’ve known cordially for years — you might ask what it means that the concert featuring him drew the smallest SHIFT audience. Something maybe isn’t working in your composer in residence promotion.

Yes, the performance by the North Carolina Symphony did sell fewer tickets than the other SHIFT concerts (by quite a lot). And they did play a Mason piece.

But wrong to suggest that Mason’s name didn’t sell tickets! How could I know that? Maybe sales would have been lower still if his name hadn’t been on the program.

Apologies, again, for going off track this way.

But there’s another issue

Why — in all the PR I’ve seen for that concert — wasn’t Mason billed as the Kennedy Center’s composer in residence?

This is crazy.

Here  — from the joint Kennedy Center/Washington Performing Arts web page for SHIFT — is the PR blurb for the North Carolina concert:

The orchestra offers an innovative program, deeply evocative of North Carolina, represented in particular by four composers with ties to the state: Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Mason Bates, and Robert Ward.

Caroline Shaw gets props (as she should) as a Pulitzer Prize winner. Mason gets nothing. He’s just a name on a list.

Even though he’s the Kennedy Center’s own guy! Personally chosen (I’d assume) by K Center president Deborah Rutter, after the success she had with him as composer in residence when she ran the Chicago Symphony.


Don’t they want to give their own guy props?

Don’t they want to be courteous to him, and mention that he’s an important figure at the place where the concert will be given?

Wouldn’t they hope Mason’s name might sell some tickets, if they reminded people in DC that he’s on the home team, a composer whose music they maybe have heard and liked?


And it gets worse

In promo emails for the concert, from the North Carolina Symphony and also from Washington Performing Arts, there’s also not a word Mason as composer in residence

Aren’t those groups collaborating with the Kennedy Center?

The orchestra writes a longish paragraph about Mason, praising him as the second most performed living composer in the US. But doesn’t say he’s composer in residence.

WPA gives a special nod to Caroline Shaw. Pulitzer Prize winner! She’ll make a “special appearance” at the concert! Mason’s name isn’t even mentioned.

(And, for even greater craziness, the email doesn’t say that Caroline’s “special appearance” will be as a violin soloist, playing her own piece. Sorry for the emphasis, but…they didn’t think to publicize Caroline as soloist? Nor did they on the SHIFT webpage, which I quoted above. What word would you use for that?)

How could this happen?

These look like silly mistakes.

But maybe there’s some deeply overthought reason for not mentioning Mason’s DC title.

“Let’s see…if we give him props for his K Center work, we’re putting the K Center ahead of WPA and the orchestra, because he’s not composer in residence for them…”

Which might just possibly make sense at 3 AM, to people with deeply furrowed brows. But then you fall into something else that seems wrong, promoting Caroline more than Mason. And you look bad to any informed observer on the outside.

In the past, I’ve blogged that the classical music field doesn’t do PR very well. (Or here, or here.)

I fear this is one more example.


Did Mason’s name sell tickets to the North Carolina concert?

I’d think the Kennedy Center would want to know. Would want to know what impact their composer in residence has in their city. Selling tickets isn’t the only way to measure that, but it’s one way.

And, more generally, I hope they and WPA did audience studies for all the SHIFT concerts. What made people choose which one to go to? What made them want to go to SHIFT at all?

Having that data would — to put it mildly — help WPA and Kennedy Center plan the continuation of the festival next year. 

Original Source: SHIFT — a weird PR gaffe

The Ghost of Sir Henry Wood? BBC Proms 2017

The 2017 BBC Proms Season, just announced, is a travesty, far adrift from the founding principles of the Proms, and indeed of the BBC itself.  Once the BBC stood for excellence, with its guiding principles to “educate, entertain and inform”, the logic being that the public can tell good quality from bad, and value learning and self-development.  Now we have a Proms season whose priorities are not musical so much as an ad for a BBC that is itself dumbed down beyond recognition.  Will the ghost of Sir Henry Wood rise, like the Commendatore, to smite those who have despoiled his legacy?  
The First Night is only 70 minutes or so, so it won’t tax the attention span. True, Igor Levit will play Beethoven, and Edward Gardner will conduct John Adams Harmonium, a big, if limited, blast. so it won’t be bad.  But once we could expect more. Daniel Barenboim brings the Staatskapelle Berlin to “launch this year’s cycle of Elgar symphonies”. Direct quote from the BBC Proms website. What Elgar symphonic cycle? One on Saturday, the other on Sunday. The Third, realized by Anthony Payne, is probably too outré for the new Proms market.  It’s been pushed to the doldrums of late August. Thankfully, Sakari Oramo conducts: he does it well.  
What kind of audience is this year’s Proms aimed at?  Read the summary here.  Sure, it’s good to have pop, light music etc. but not at the expense of serious music. One of the basic principles of marketing is to believe in what you’re trying to sell.  Raise the bar, aim for excellence, and grow the market .Pitch below the lowest possible denominator, and kill whatever audience you already have while lowering standards and decreasing expectations.  If the primary product is music, then sell music,. All the gimmicky sales patter in the world won’t make up for non-product.  If people really believe  Scott Walker is a “Godlike genius”, good for them, but don’t downgrade Beethoven.
Why sacrifice an existing market to try selling to another which might have completely different priorities?  Or perhaps that is the hidden agenda. The Far Right, the commercial sector, and vested interests have everything to gain from dumbing the BBC down. Sir Henry Wood believed that people were able, and willing to learn. Now, we live in an era where any kind of expertise is sneered at. Getting ahead means dismantling the edifices of advancement.  There’s a whole lot more at stake than just the Proms and the BBC.
Fortuntely, some of the principles of Proms planning remain, since they follow rules so simple anyone can master them.  Add a few big names – Haitink, Christie, Rattle, Salonen, Bychkov, Gardiner – and the punters will pay.  Bring in the BBC orchestras, most of which are good enough to do serious music and do it well enough without scaring the unwary.  Mark non-musical anniversaries like “Reformation Day” a term Martin Luther would have baulked at, then throw in music that has little to do with one of the revolutions in European history.  Hire famous foreign bands like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, whom everyone loves, and a few cheaper ones. Throw in a few blockbusters like Schoenberg  Gurrelieder.(Rattle 19/8) .and  Handel Israel in Egypt on 1/8 (William Christie and the Orchestra oif the Age of Enlightenment), Bring along an opera (usually Fidelio which needs little staging) and import a ready-made from Glyndebourne and bingo! The formula works, like a well-oiled machine, running with minimal human intervention.
Thus, for those who actually like music  there are other good things to seek out. Hidden under the banner “Take a musical thrill-ride from the chaos of creation” on 19/7 is Pascal Dusapin’s new Outscape. Look out too for Thomas Larcher’s Nocturne-Insomia on 15/8  New British works – David Sawer’s The Greatest Happiness Principle on 29/7, and Mark-Anthony Turnage Hibiki on 14/8. Excellent younger conductors like François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles (16/8), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (21/8),  and Jakub Hrůša (26/8 – good programme).  

Original Source: The Ghost of Sir Henry Wood? BBC Proms 2017

NMC Brian Elias Electra Mourns

At the Wigmore Hall, Brian Elias’s Oboe Quintet coinciding with the release of a new recording of Elias’s work from NMC Records, specialists in modern British music.

The title piece, Electra Mourns, won Elias a British Composer Award It received its premiere in 2012, with the Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Clark Rundell, with soloists Susan Bickley and Nicholas Daniel  for whom the piece was created. .  Electra mourns is a dramatic scena, with the stylized formality of Greek tragedy. Electra is alone, without hope, in hostile circumstances.   Bickley sings the long, keening lines expressing Electra’s desolation. But Orestes is not actually dead. Daniel’s cor anglais surrounds the vocal part, mimicking its curving lines. Voice and instrument in duet are heard against a backdrop of strings, punctuated by piano.  Functioning like Greek chorus, the orchestra comments, wordlessly, sharp angular outbursts suggesting alarm. High textures sear, like flailing whips.  Yet the cor anglais continues, unperturbed, its sensuous richness evoking elusive mysteries.   When the strings go still, its chords grow strong and clear. Electra listens.  Bickley’s voice intones at the bottom of her range, then soars.    

Electra Mourns is enhanced by Geranos, from 1985, here performed by Psappha, conducted by Nicholas Kok, who first performed it in 2003. Both pieces take their cue from Greek legend but take on different form. Geranos is tightly constructed and taut, evoking the idea of dance as athletic discipline. The slow middle movement refers to a ritual dance of mourning.  The puzzles and mazes of Harrison Birtwistle naturally spring to mind, but Elias’s style  is his own.  Sparkling textures (piccolo, strings, metallic percussion) illuminate the third and final movement.  Theseus was said to have danced on escaping the Labyrinth. Geranos ends with lucid, clear tones. A “geranos” is a crane, flying free.  

While  the texts for Meet Me in the Green Glen are by John Clare (1793-1864), Elias’s setting is minimal, almost “Grecian”.  Roderick Williams and Susan Bickley sing without accompaniment, their plaintive lines evoking timeless plainchant rather than quasi-folk song.  The unadorned beauty of the singing is enhanced by a slight echo effect, as if the recording was made in a silent chamber.  Perhaps the “Green Glen” is a tomb-like time warp. The poems refer to the past, to “Now” and”Hesperus, thy twinkling bray” that “tolls the traveller on his way that Earth shall be forgiven”.  Fascinating mix of quiet and disquiet, utterly modern in spirit.  .

The five songs of Meet Me in the Green Glen (2009)  are followed by the five songs of Once I did breathe another’s breath  for low voice and piano, premiered by Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside at the Ludlow English Song Weekend in 2012.  The texts are more disparate, and the cycle less coherent.  Ludlow began as a tribute to Gerald Finzi whose  affinity for Tudor and Stuart poetry few can match.  Roderick Williams, nonetheless, is superlative, with such a gift for communication that anything he sings is well worth listening to.   Electra Mourns is then third of NMC’s Brian Elias recordings, and a good addition to the catalogue of British music.  

Original Source: NMC Brian Elias Electra Mourns

Unique ! Jonas Kaufmann Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience.  This won’t appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.  A single voice in a song symphony created for two voices?  Not many artists have the vocal range and heft to sustain 45 minutes at this intensity but Kaufmann achieves a feat that would defy many others. Das Lied von der Erde for one soloist is a remarkable experiment that’s probably a one-off, but that alone is reason enough to pay proper attention.

The dichotomy between male and female runs like a powerful undercurrent through most of Mahler’s work.  It’s symbolic. The “Ewig-wiebliche”, the Eternal feminine, represents abstract concepts like creativity, redemption and transcendance, fundamentals of Mahler’s artistic metaphysics.  Ignore it at the risk of denaturing Mahler!  But there can be other ways of  creating duality, not tied to gender.  Witness the tenor/baritone versions, contrasting singers of the calibre of Schreier and Fischer-Dieskau.  For Das Lied von der Erde, Mahler specified tenor and mezzo, the mezzo supplying richness and depth in contrast to the anguish of the tenor, terrified of impending death.  This is significant, since most of Mahler’s song cycles and songs for male voices are written for medium to low voices, and favour baritones. Tenors generally get short-changed, so this is an opportunity to hear how tenors can make the most of Mahler.  .

Kaufmann is a Siegmund, not a Siegfried: his timbre has baritonal colourings not all can quite match. Transposing the mezzo songs causes him no great strain.  His Abschied is finely balanced and expressive, good enough to be heard alone, on its own terms. What this single voice Das Lied sacrifices in dynamic contrast, it compensates by presenting Das Lied von der Erde as a seamless internal monologue. Though Mahler uses two voices, the protagonist is an individual undergoing transformation: Mahler himself, or the listener, always learning more, through each symphony.  Thus the idea of a single-voice Das Lied is perfectly valid, emotionally more realistic than tenor/baritone.  All-male versions work when both singers are very good, but a single-voice version requires exceptional ability.  Quite probably, Kaufmann is the only tenor who  could carry off a single-voice Das Lied.

With his background, Kaufmann knows how to create personality without being theatrical, an important distinction,  since Das Lied von der Erde is not opera, with defined “roles”, but a more personal expression of the human condition.  This Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde  is unusually intense, since the person involved emphatically does not want to die.  The horns call, the orchestra soars, but Kaufmann’s defiance rings with a ferocity most tenors  might not dare risk.  Wunderlich couldn’t test this song to the limits the way Kaufmann does. Schreier, on the other hand, infused it with similar courage, outshining the mezzo and orchestra in his recording with Kurt Sanderling.  This heroic, outraged defiance is of the essence, for the protagonist is facing nothing less than annihilation. Twenty years ago, when Kaufmann sang Das Lied with Alice Coote in Edinburgh, I hated the way he did this song, as if it was a drinking song.  Now Kaufmann has its true measure, spitting out the words fearlessly, taking risks without compromise.  No trace whatsoever of Mario Lanza! This  reveals a side of Kaufmann which the marketing men pushing commercial product like the Puccini compilation will not understand, but enhances my respect for Kaufmann’s integrity as a true artist.

After the outburst of Das Trinklied, Der Einsame im Herbst is reflective, with Kaufmann’s characteristic “smoky” timbre evoking a sense of autumnal melancholy.  This is usually a mezzo song,  so at a few points the highest notes aren’t as pure as they might be, though that adds to the sense of vulnerability which makes this song so moving.  Von der Jugend is a tenor song, though no surprises there.  If Kaufmann’s voice isn’t as beautiful as it often is,  he uses it intelligently.  The arch of the bridge mirrored in the water is an image of reversal. Nothing remains as it was.   In Von der Schönheit Mahler undercuts the image of maidens with energetic, fast-flowing figures in the orchestra. This song isn’t “feminine”. The protagonist is no longer one of the young bucks with prancing horses. He has other, more pressing things on his mind.  Der Trunkene im Frühling usually marks the exit of the tenor, recapitulating Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde.  Though there are tender moments, such as the bird song and its melody, the mood is still not resigned. Kaufmann throws lines forcefully : “Der Lenz ist da!”, “Am schrwarzen Firmament!” and, defiant to the end with “Laßt mich betrunken sein!”

Jonathan Nott conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker. creating an atmospheric Abschied with muffled tam tam, woodwinds, strings, harps, celeste and mandolin.  Excellent playing, as you’d expect from this orchestra.  Just as the first five songs form a mini-cycle, the Abschied itself unfolds in several stages, each transition marked by an orchestral interlude.  The dichotomy now is not merely between voice types but between voice and orchestra: altogether more abstract and elevated.  This final song is the real test of this Das Lied and Kaufmann carries it off very well.  Now the tone grows ever firmer and more confident.  There are mini-transitions even within single lines of text, such as the beautifully articulated “Er sprach….., seine Stimme war umflort…… Du, mein Freund”.  At last, resolution is reached. The ending is transcendant, textures sublimated and luminous.  The protagonist has reached a new plane of consciousness not of this world.  Kaufmann’s voice takes on richness and serenity. He breathes into the words “Ewig….ewig” so the sound seems almost to glow.  Utterly convincing.  This isn’t the prettiest Das Lied von der Erde on the market, but it wouldn’t be proper Mahler if it were. It is much more important that it is psychologically coherent and musically valid.  Too often, interesting performances are dismissed out of hand because they are different, but Kaufmann’s Das Lied von der Erde definitely repays thoughtful listening.

Original Source: Unique ! Jonas Kaufmann Das Lied von der Erde

Alessandro Deljavan is a uniquely gifted pianist

Sometimes winners of piano competitions are not true messengers of great musical artistry. They might succeed in pleasing a panel of judges who often reward interpretive conformity and convention bundled in pyrotechnical displays, bestowing the Gold medal upon the least offending contender. Yet such a career launch may be short-lived once the round-by-round environment is no longer a convenient safety net. A truly creative musician must ultimately emancipate himself from a competitive framing and develop an unbridled, form of individual expression.

Alessandro Deljavan is one of the few young pianists of his generation whose participation in the renowned Cliburn Competition brought singular adulation from audiences far and wide, but did not attach a Gold, Silver or Bronze Medal. His BIGGER THAN LIFE talent, LIVE-STREAMED from Fort Worth, Texas, in 2009 and 2013, drew a chorus of praise from pianists, teachers, and listeners around the world who enthusiastically mouse-clicked their way to his scheduled offerings. Yet, when the Italian pianist did not make the Finals, global sighs of outrage were funneled into Discretionary honors that would not soften international waves of disappointment.

Fort Worth arts critic, Gregory Sullivan and others summed up the reaction to Deljavan’s playing during the course of the Cliburn rounds:

“Deljavan’s performance was revelatory in every respect. Everyone in the hall knew that they were hearing something special-something wonderful from the very first notes. At the end, the spontaneous eruption of cheers was so different from the perfunctory ovation that any decent performance is awarded, that being part of the thrilled crowd was a unique experience in itself.”


It’s no surprise that Deljavan is a virtuoso and poet of the piano without needing the rubber stamp of Competition juries. (Yet, he’s amassed a generous serving of first place awards at International concours)

With a mellifluous singing tone, deft technique, and immaculate phrasing, his deeply probing art serves the music and composer.

(I must admit to having shed tears listening to this Concerto excerpt) Deljavan’s riveting emotional connection to a score comes through in all style periods.



I had a rare opportunity to converse with Alessandro who was in the Silicon Valley area (CA) performing chamber music with violinist, Daniela Cammarano, and cellist, Eugene Lifschitz. The group will showcase the works of Beethoven and Brahms at the School of Music and Arts at Finn Center, 230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View, CA. Sunday, April 16th, 2017 at 3 p.m. Otherwise Deljavan is jet-setting around the world giving concerts to appreciative audiences.


Alessandro shared his thoughts about the role of chamber music in the development of a pianist, along with providing a profile of his earliest exposure to the piano, journeying into the present.


Deljavan’s OFFICIAL WEBSITE: (Click “MEDIA” for more performance samples)


Original Source: Alessandro Deljavan is a uniquely gifted pianist