Friday, January 27, 2017

The lost music that can still live

Josima Feldschuh: the child prodigy from Warsaw who died of tuberculosis at 15. Gideon Klein: perhaps the most gifted young composer of Prague, killed in Auschwitz at 25. Songs in Yiddish written in the ghettos and the concentration camps, full of black humour and pithy commentary on the internal politics of those places. A concert at the Wigmore Hall a few weeks ago placed some of these works centre stage, and for International Holocaust Remembrance Day I've had a chat with a remarkable academic who has been spearheading the hunt for the lost music. Archives are all very well, she says, but now it's time to hear the pieces too. 

Meanwhile, I'd like to give a shoutout to the Brundibár Arts Festival, which is to be held in Newcastle and Gateshead next week. Here's it's director, violinist Alexandra Raikhlina, of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, on what she's doing and why: 

Original watercolour posted for Brundibár's premiere in Theresienstadt

As Artistic Director of Brundibár Arts Festival, my vision is to create an annual programme of events that showcases the little known music written during the Holocaust, to be held here in Newcastle and Gateshead.
Launched in 2016, the annual Brundibár Arts Festival is the first recurring Festival in the UK dedicated to the Music and Arts of the Holocaust. The Festival takes its name from Hans Krása's children's opera "Brundibár". Brundibár, (meaning bumblebee) was written in 1938 by Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása, and first performed publicly by the children of Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. We see naming the Festival after Brundibár as a positive affirmation of creativity in adversity, and a lasting tribute to those children who suffered and perished.
The greatest music, art and literature has often emerged from the most threatening of circumstances, bringing comfort and expression to those in need. Once I started to research this subject, I discovered a vast wealth of relatively unknown, yet wonderful music that has struggled to get the recognition it deserves on its own merit, despite the broad range of cultural and musical activities we enjoy here in the UK. During the Festival, works by these lesser known composers will be shared and explored alongside well-loved works from the more mainstream repertoire, therefore claiming its rightful place in our concert halls.
Only through education can greater tolerance be achieved - an increasingly important subject in today's complex world. With this focus, we aim to increase the participation of young people, creating lasting links between professional musicians, local community groups, children, and artists. There are dwindling numbers of Holocaust survivors who can tell their stories first hand. Our generation carries the responsibility to find new ways of telling them, and to strive for a more comprehending and cohesive world.

Alexandra Raikhlina
(Artistic Director)
The full programme for this year includes a talk by Ela Weissberger, a Holocaust survivor who was in the first performances of Krása's Brundibár in Theresienstadt; a new documentary about Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul in Lithuania, who saved around 2000 of Polish Jews by providing them with transit visas; and music by, among others, Ullmann, Schulhoff, Schoenberg and Weinberg. Performers include Natalie Clein, Katya Apekisheva, Jack Liebeck and many more.

I'm touched and honoured that on 31 January they also include my play A Walk through the End of Time, complete with the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time to follow. Our actors are Joy Sanders and Phil Harrison, and the quartet will be played by Kyra Humphries (violin), Jessica Lee (clarinet), Liubov Ulybysheva (cello) and Yoshie Kawamura (piano). Venue is the Caedmon Hall of Gateshead Library. Please come along if you're around. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Double whammy: where do British orchestras go from here?

The LSO visible on the pitch for the opening of the 2012 Olympics in London. Whither now? Photo:

Working harder. Earning less. Sound familiar? That's the state of many people in many industries, and at the moment a lot of us simply shrug our shoulders, get on with it and give up the notion of having days off, ever. But as pay is stagnant or shaved downwards, and hours are lengthened, and we think our careers are going OK, really, under the circumstances, because "we are where we are", it's a risky direction - because if one goes too far, there comes tipping a point where it finally turns unsustainable, and by the time we realise this, we're in trouble.

Now it is clear that orchestras in the UK are no exception: they're experiencing a double, or even triple, whammy of central funding cuts, local government cuts and reductions in ticket income. And yet they're reaching more people than ever.

A report on the State of British Orchestras in 2016 will be launched at the Association of British Orchestras' annual conference, which kicks off in Bournemouth today. The statistics* from 51 respondents are compared to those of 2013 and reveal that last year our orchestras delivered 7 per cent more concerts than three years ago, visited 42 countries abroad compared to 35 in '13, and, admirably, reached 35 per cent more children and young people, around 900,000 of them. They gave more than 4,000 concerts for audiences totalling 4.83m people - a 3 per cent increase in attendance.

Yet they suffered a 5 per cent fall in earned income, a 7 per cent drop in Arts Council funding and a stomach-punching reduction of 11 per cent in local authority funding.

You may recall that Birmingham City Council cuts have pushed the CBSO's funding down to 1980s levels - and just when it is flying so high musically, with the best hall in the country as its home and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, one of the most exciting young conductors on the scene, in place as music director.

The LSO, too, should be on its highest possible high as Sir Simon Rattle arrives to take its helm. And over at the Southbank it is full steam ahead with the 'Belief and Beyond Belief' Festival, featuring music (and much more) that ponders the big questions about what the heck we are really doing here, something many of us are currently asking ourselves a bit more than usual. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra juggles superb performances with a dizzying array of residencies and outreach work, including the inspirational project Strokestra, using music to help the rehabilitation of stroke victims. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is on a roll with Vasily Petrenko, the Royal Northern Sinfonia glitters in The Sage, Gateshead, and in Manchester the Halle Orchestra has a long and enviable relationship with Sir Mark Elder. This list could go on and on.

In short, things look and sound very, very good. But the direction of travel is a cause for concern, and it is a mark of our musicians' absolute professionalism and excellence that you'd never guess this at a concert.

Here's the commentary by ABO director Mark Pemberton:
“Orchestras have innovated to achieve bigger audiences and engage more young people and they should be proud of these successes. “However, the survey masks a greater reality. These larger audiences do not bring in more money and, if anything, actually increase losses. Many of the achievements have been fuelled by audience development initiatives such as discounted ticketing, free concerts and fixed fee performances at open air events.  
“These have left orchestras suffering a double whammy – a decline in earned income alongside significant cuts in public funding. The message is simple. Orchestras cannot continue doing ‘more for less’.  
“The government has this year implemented Orchestra Tax Relief and this will offset some of the cuts in public funding imposed since 2010 – but it is far from enough. We need national and, most crucially, local government to restore funding closer to pre-austerity levels to enable our members to continue delivering great music to the widest possible audience.”
T     *The ABO survey asked Britain’s professional orchestras about their activities, audiences, income and staffing, between August and October 2016. 

Responses were received from 51 orchestras: 84% of those from whom responses were requested. Respondents provided data for the season/financial year 2015-2016 or the closest equivalent 12-month period. 

Comparisons are made in this report with the 2013 ‘key facts’ survey (covering 2012-2013) for a core sample of 38 orchestras for non-finance data, and 31 orchestras for finance data, that completed the survey in both years. 

As some of the orchestras that provided data in 2016 differ from those that responded in 2013, the total numbers in this report should be viewed as representative rather than firm numbers. The percentages shown in brackets for live performances and sources of income reflect changes in the comparison groups over the three-year period, and are not percentage changes in the total numbers between 2013 and 2016.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Art can still trump

Solidarity from Brexit Island with our friends in the arts in the US, where yesterday a leak emerged suggesting that Trump wants to close down the National Endowment for the Arts, along with other stuff of which he doesn't appear to know the value.

A message came to my inbox from ShoutHouse in New York, where a multi-genre group of musicians and dancers have created a collaborative version of Radiohead's Paranoid Android specially for today. This is what they say.
Today marks a new era in our country. In Washington, D.C., a new administration is accepting the power of governmental leadership, and, with it, the responsibility to work as hard as they can to serve the best interests of all Americans. But throughout the country – and the world – many millions worry that this responsibility will be neglected. On what is traditionally a day of hope, multitudes are living in fear. Fear that their race, gender, sexual orientation, or social status will disqualify them from receiving fair and equal treatment under the law for years to come. Fear that their peaceful wishes for the world will be undermined by an ignorant head of state. Fear that their friends and neighbors may be corrupted by the hateful words of a demagogue seeking to serve the interests of the wealthy few.

We fear for the future of art, as it is one of our greatest defenses from fear. Art helps us listen to one another, to learn from those whose words we might not understand. As artists, we have a duty to create beauty in the service of truth, and to shine a light on the best and most noble aspects of human nature. Through our music and actions, we declare our opposition to the toxic divisiveness of the demagogue's words. As Nhat Hanh said, “The only answer to fear is more understanding.” We hope that our cooperation in the service of art will serve as an example to the new administration, and to anyone who does not believe that we can work with those with views different from our own.

This video was made possible by so many incredible artists. First, Radiohead’s powerful music that inspired us to create this project. We want to thank the dozens of musicians from ShoutHouse and Juilliard who believed in us and donated their time to make this possible. Our production team (especially Jack FrererLiana Kleinman, and Jordan James) and those who spent countless hours making sure this looked amazing. The arrangers and orchestrators (Will HealyAlex BurtzosJesse Greenberg), soloists (Hannah ZazzaroSpiritchild XspiritMental, Black Tortuga) without whom this never would have happened. The dancers—Quilan Cue ArnoldZachary GonderMikaela Kelly—whose powerful work represented our music visually so well. Allison Mase for helping us find and organize so many people to create this project.

If you want to support independent art that allows artists from many backgrounds to work together, please donate to ShoutHouse at…/profil… or visit

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A drumroll for Bangor

Bangor University. Photo: Iwan Williams
Bangor University later this year is holding the First International Conference on Women's Work in Music, which runs 4-7 September. A call for papers is now open and the application deadline is 1 March.

Keynote speakers will be the composer and author Dr Sophie Fuller and, er, me, and the timing of the event has been chosen to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Grace Williams, one of the first Welsh composers to achieve international recognition. Across four days, it seems likely to offer an exceptional, in-depth exploration of its potentially explosive topic. Hope to see lots of JDCMB readers there.

Celebrating the Achievements of Women Musicians 

The Conference aims to bring together academics, researchers and music professionals from around the world to share their research and experience of all aspects of women working in music. 
The Conference will seek to both celebrate the achievements of women musicians, and to critically explore and discuss the changing contexts of women’s work in music on the international stage. The diversity and richness of this work will be illustrated at the conference through presentations in areas such as:
  • historical musicology, 
  • music education, 
  • ethnomusicology, 
  • practice-led research and performance, 
  • composition,
  • music analysis, 
  • popular music studies and much more.

Monday, January 02, 2017

New Year Reset

Welcome to JDCMB. If you're new, welcome aboard. If you're a regular, welcome home. At new year, it's a good moment to realign the mission statement and explain who I am, what JDCMB is, and so on. Here we go...

New Year Fireworks in London. Photo: PA

JDCMB is my personal blog. I'm based in London, UK and I've been a writer and editor in the music business for about 27 years. My first music journalism job was as assistant editor on The Strad, way back when we still used cow-gum to stick down cut-out galley proofs. After that I was assistant editor on Classical Music Magazine for three years, persuaded the company to found the first independent piano magazine in the UK which I edited for five years, then went freelance, working for BBC Music Magazine, the British Council, the Guardian and others. I started writing regularly for The Independent in 2004. My first books were biographies of Korngold and Fauré for the Phaidon 20th-Century Composers series and my first novel came out in 2006, with Hodder. Ghost Variations  is the fifth. I've written a couple of plays, words&music projects and an opera libretto for the composer Roxanna Panufnik, Silver Birch, coming up at Garsington in July. I regularly google 'How to become a plumber', but haven't enrolled yet...

I studied music at Cambridge in the mid 1980s, but my formative musical education happened in my piano lessons with Joan Havill at the Guildhall, playing in masterclasses and chamber music courses, listening to lectures by Hans Keller at the Dartington International Summer School, and some informal but crucial contact with a circle of extraordinary musicians in New York.  

What happens on JDCMB? I started blogging in 2004 because the concept was new and thrilling. It isn't extensively planned. I write about things that seem interesting and try only to post when there's something worth saying. You'll find responses to news, the occasional artist interview, a concert or opera review now and then, sometimes an e-Q&A or guest-post from someone who's doing something noteworthy. I sometimes post about my own stuff, our opera, etc.

What JDCMB tries to do: JDCMB has been called "the voice of reason". I'd like to keep it that way.

What it tries not to do: porn, clickbait, jealousy, "stirring", comment boxes, giving platforms to hate speech, encouraging witch-hunts. 

Excited by: really wonderful artistry, great music and writing, inspiration, idealism, creative thinking, and matters that help us live more fulfilling lives, from Mozart to heated blankets.

Bored by: concert-wear, gimmickry, mobile phones, crossover, marketing, toeing party lines. 

Furious about: Brexit, sexism, racism, "post-truth" (it means "lies"). 

Aims: To uphold the artistic ideals I've been lucky enough to have in my life, but that might vanish under the morass without a positive effort. And to puncture the occasional idiocy.

You can get in touch by contacting my Facebook page. I'm available to provide talks, coaching, consultations, programme notes, articles etc.

Happy new year!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Happy New Year!

Brexit island.

A very happy new year 2017 to all you lovely readers of JDCMB, from all of us lost in the Hampton Court Maze that is Brexit Island. At least we know we're in it now. The challenge will be getting out again. Let's hope that this year will be a little more positive than last. Meanwhile, enjoy the Johann Strauss this morning.