Category Archives: Music

Emergency: My favourite festival is faced with closure

UPDATE: HERE IS A FILM ABOUT CONSONANCES

Miserable news from Saint-Nazaire, France: the Festival Consonances, which was founded and run by violinist Philippe Graffin for nearly 25 years, is faced with closure. The town’s new mayor has pulled its funding.

Opinion seems divided as to why. Hard times everywhere, say some; a new man wanting to make his mark with a new approach, suggest others; and unfortunately rumblings about classical music being “elitist” have been rumoured as well…
Philippe with ensemble & singer Christianne Stotijn

Saint-Nazaire is (or was) a ship-building town on the Loire estuary with a traumatic war history, good food and a beach. It was in a position of some strategic importance during World War II and is still the site of an indestructible concrete submarine base build by the Nazis, which the allies tried to bomb, though they only succeeded in reducing much of the town to rubble. It’s not a wealthy place, nor is it full of glitzy five-star hotels or spectacular scenery to attract well-heeled international festival-goers. Consonances was always very much for a local audience, who are not well-served with world-class classical music the rest of the year. (Above: a line-up typically worthy of the Wigmore and beyond, with Philippe’s ensemble accompanying the wonderful Christianne Stotijn.)

Nobuko Imai, Philippe Graffin, Henri Dutilleux, in 2007

Over the quarter-century he’s been there, Philippe’s programming has been so consistently high and the presence of the musicians so friendly and welcome that the audience grew to trust him and would go and hear pretty much whatever he put on, and he has never been one to stint on intriguing programming. I remember seeing families with young children queuing round the block to get in to a three-hour concert of music by Rodion Shchedrin. The Russian composer was there as artist in residence, together with his wife, the great ballerina Maya Plisteskaya. Further compositional luminaries at the festival have included Henri Dutilleux (above, with Nobuko Imai and Philippe).

Part of the submarine base was turned into an arts centre about seven years ago, and this was the location for the premiere of my play A Walk through the End of Time, with the Messiaen Quartet as companion piece. The project was Philippe’s idea and he commissioned the play especially for the occasion. The premiere was given in French by the actors Marie-Christine Barrault and Charles Gonzalès.

Consonances festival in the shipyard

The very first time I attended the festival, the Queen Mary II was under construction in the shipyard and Consonances held its final concert in a hangar on the site; vast pieces of mechanical equipment acquired through context the look of a massive iron art installation [right]. A special bus was put on to take people out there from the town centre and many were in place hours in advance to be assured of the best seats.

Here is one very general point that applies not only perhaps in Saint-Nazaire, but everywhere else too. Before anyone declares classical music “elitist” and therefore not “for” a particular sector of society, please remember this: that is just your opinion. And you are simply scratching around for a feeble excuse to hold back the money an organisation needs. And we can see through that. In effect, you are telling your populace that they are not good enough to appreciate good music. How dare you suggest such a thing? It is the most patronising thing you can possibly do. Of course they are. That was the whole point of arts funding: to make performances affordable enough for everybody to attend.

Everyone is “good enough” for the best sounds in the world. You may like these sounds or you may not, but the unforgivable thing is when the powers that be declare that you will never have the chance to find out for yourself.

http://consonancessaintnazaire.over-blog.com

Please, dear Saint-Nazaire, restore Consonances’s existence right now. It’s still in time for Christmas.

Here is Philippe’s open letter to the town (en français).

Ce  texte a été écrit mardi 16 décembre par Philippe Graffin cofondateur avec Joël Batteux de Consonances et directeur artistique  :
Philippe Graffin in rehearsal in Saint-Nazaire
“Il y a quelques jours, lors d’un concert que je donnais à Londres, une jeune violoniste américaine en se présentant me dit qu’elle allait souvent sur le site internet du festival Consonances pour s’inspirer des programmes pour le festival qu’elle vient de créer à la Nouvelle Orléans.
Si la musique et les concerts sont par essence éphémères, il n’en reste pas moins que nous ne savons pas jusqu’où ils résonnent.
Pour ma part, le soutien et l’écoute croissante du public de Saint-Nazaire font partie intégrante de la réussite et du succès de cet événement, qui revenait chaque début d’automne.
Ce pari du mariage improbable de la musique dite “élitiste”, dans le contexte du “tintamarre contemporain”, selon l’expression de Joël Batteux, a été la marque de Consonances qui affirmait ainsi ses valeurs.
Mais, finalement, que reste-t-il de tous ces sons, de tous ces concerts, de ces espoirs mis dans la musique, de ces milliers d’heures à préparer l’accueil des musiciens, du public, lorsque le festival prend fin?
Il en reste avant tout une expérience inoubliable d’avoir réussi à marier, chaque année pour quelques jours, ce patrimoine de l’humanité que représente la musique dans cette ville, fleuron de la plus haute industrie.
Consonances s’est associée aux différents événements qui ont marqué cette période, par exemple, lors de la construction du Queen Mary 2, ainsi que du drame qui a précédé son lancement.
Au fil de ces années, j’ai eu l’occasion de découvrir une ville merveilleuse et unique, de lier des amitiés fortes et d’inviter une partie du monde musical à prendre le chemin de Saint Nazaire et à la découvrir.
Des images me viennent à l’esprit, des moments forts comme la présence pleine de charme d’Henri Dutilleux à Saint-Nazaire, celle de Rodion Schedrin et Maya Plissetskaya, artistes russe ô combien légendaires, ou celle d’Ivry Gitlis ou Stephen Kovacevich avec sa chaise plus basse.
Pour moi Consonances, au détour d’un concert particulièrement réussi, fut bien le centre du monde, ne fusse-t-il que musical.
Ces “rencontres” ont porté ainsi, bien au-delà de nos frontières, le drapeau de Saint Nazaire.
Elles ont été d’abord exportées dans des salles prestigieuses, Au Wigmore Hall à Londres, pour toute une semaine autour de la musique française, reprise du festival Consonances précédent, ainsi qu’à La Haye, avec l’Orchestre Philharmonique sur le même thème deux ans plus tard, puis nous fûmes invités au festival Présence de Radio France, à Paris, à de nombreuses reprises.
The war memorial, Saint-Nazaire

Consonances c’est, au cours des 24 éditions, à peu près 450 concerts, donnés non seulement dans les salles que vous connaissez mais aussi dans les chantiers, les hangars d’Airbus Industrie, les hospices, les hôpitaux, dans la rue parfois, sous des préaux improbables, des écoles diverses ou dans des quartiers où la musique dite “classique” aurait pu paraître inadéquate. À chaque fois, ce fut organisé et joué comme si il s’agissait du Théâtre des Champs Elysées ou de la Salle Pleyel, avec la plus grande passion et simplicité.

Consonances a reçu plus de 300 artistes venus du monde entier, souvent fidélisés, et comptant parmi les plus recherchés.
C’est aussi plus d’une vingtaine d’oeuvres commandées et publiées à des compositeurs d’origines diverses et de tendances différentes.
Consonances à fait renaître de nombreuses oeuvres oubliées de compositeurs du passé, romantiques ou classiques. Nous avons repensé à maintes reprises le rapport de la musique à la jeunesse en cherchant de nouvelles formules.
Il reste aussi de nombreux enregistrements, traces de ces recherches et moments inoubliables.
Comme en témoigne cette critique du magazine Diapason, pour notre disque Chausson, qui commençait par ces mots : “Merci à la ville de Saint Nazaire…”
Au nom de mes amis musiciens, je tiens à remercier tous les Nazairiens pour nous avoir accueillis généreusement pendant 25 ans dans leur ville. Ce fut un réel port d’attache pour nous tous.
Je souhaite très sincèrement bonne chance à la nouvelle équipe municipale, à mes collègues du conservatoire, au Théâtre, à la Meet ce projet extraordinaire, au Théâtre Athénor, à Christophe Rouxel du théâtre Icare.
Je voudrais dire un grand merci, du fond du coeur, à tous mes amis de l’association Atempo, à commencer par Patrick Perrin, qui, je le sais, a oeuvré pour Consonances sans relâche, ainsi que Claire Dupont.
Consonances s’efface, certes, mais je reste et resterai toujours un ambassadeur de Saint-Nazaire et un fidèle ami”.
Plus d’informations dans  l’Echo de la Presqu’île du 19 décembre 2014

Saint-Nazaire, 44

Posted in Classical Pit

WELCOME TO THE INAUGURAL JDCMB CHOCOLATE SILVER AWARDS, 2014

Many people are saying that 2014 was simply awful. In many ways it was. My lowest point was when our best friend, Solti of the Ginger Stripes, went to the green field by the rainbow bridge – this is where the souls of cats go to wait for their humans to join them… Solti lived with us for nearly 15 years and we miss him every day.

That means that the Ginger Stripe Awards of 2013 were the last. But the spiritual presence of Richard and Cosima Wagner as guests of honour has turned out to be prophetic…

Cosima and Richard are back – aka Cosi and Ricki

Solti’s successors, even if they are still bit young and flighty, are ready to preside over their first awards ceremony, assuming they’ll keep still long enough and don’t raid the chocolate cake. Ricki is a “chocolate silver” Somali cat; Cosi, his sister, is a “usual silver”. The pet insurance documents, in the names of Richard and Cosima, are causing some amusement.

So please come in, once again, to our cyberposhplace, newly decked out in elegant brown and silver decor. Please leave your outer selves in the cloakroom. 
All your loved ones are here today for the winter solstice; your favourite tipple is on offer, whether it is specialist vodka from Krakow or English sparkly from Hampshire; and you can eat whatever you most enjoy, whether it’s roast duck and red cabbage, or nut roast, or gluten-free chocolate cake made with 95 per cent cocoa solids or…..

Our special guest has just arrived: please welcome Sir Andrzej Panufnik. For tonight only, he is back among us to celebrate his centenary. His wife, Camilla, and their children, Jem and Roxanna, are with him and he is embracing the grandchildren he never knew. Please give him a standing ovation: a man whose artistic integrity survived an onslaught of virulent political and cultural fundamentalism and has left a legacy of individual, fascinating and fine-fibred music that shares his own strength of character. Please toast him in Polish vodka: NA ZDROWIE! Annnnd… down in one! >oof<

Next, our habitual round of applause for every musician who has touched the hearts of his or her audience in this past year. You’re wonderful, our marvellous musicians. Your art makes life worth living. And we should never forget it.

Thank you! Quiet, please. Would the following winners please approach the cat-tree where Ricki and Cosi, beautifully brushed for the occasion, will give you a seriously fuzzy cuddle and their trademark pile-driver purrs. And the spirit of Great Uncle Solti is not far away.

Icon of the Year: John Ogdon, one of the most astounding, inspiring, heartbreaking and tragic figures of British music in the 20th century. This year marks 25 years since his untimely death. He is the topic of a very fine biography by Charles Beauclerk, Piano Man, which I recommend highly to anyone who’s still looking for a pianoy Xmas present.

Federico Colli, flowering

Pianist of the Year: Please step forward, young maestro Federico Colli, winner of the 2012 Leeds Piano Competition. Do you realise that your recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall got a heap of five-star reviews from critics who normally never agree with one another? And so it should. Your sensitivity, strength of mind, intense passion for your music and tremendous beauty of tone made your Schumann F sharp minor Sonata one of the pianistic high points of my year. Bravo bravissimo.

String Player of the Year: Julian Lloyd Webber, who has been obliged to call time on his performing career due to a chronic injury. The concert platform’s loss is the activists’ gain: Julian is a very special spokesperson for music education and for the cause of music for all, and his role as figurehead for Sistema England is absolutely vital, especially at a time when El Sistema is coming under vicious attack. Julian, hang in there. We love you and we need you.

Singer of the Year: Joseph Calleja, you star – what a voice you have, what charisma, and what a terrific talk we had for Opera Now. I adored your Alfredo in Munich, but would gladly listen to you singing the shopping list. You are also the only singer who has volunteered information on the effect of sex life on singing.

Joana Carneiro, conductor

Conductor of the Year: Brava,  Joana Carneiro, superb conductor of John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary at ENO. It was a true tour de force – a gigantic span of intricate writing full of amazing effects, bizarre and wonderful instrumentation (cimbalom, tam-tams, you name it), sound design, electronic frogs and fabulous soloists and chorus.










Bayreuth: Seeing is believing

Festival of the Year: Bayreuth. I came away simply furious: it was so wonderful, yet I had been conditioned by years and years of ghastly reports to steer clear! Nobody ever says how wonderful it is. Presumably the idea that the Wagner festival can be top-notch musically, have a glory of a theatre with perfect acoustics, enjoy a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere, be extremely friendly – everyone’s there because they are potty about Wagner, basically – and a nice town with interesting things to visit in and outside it…all this is waaay too threatening for the Dad’s Army mentality of the British media. Nuff said: Wagner lives. (Even if he is now a small, fluffy, brown cat.)

Youthful Artist of the Year: Ilyich Rivas, the very young Venezuelan conductor who has been in our sights for a while, made a spectacular debut with the LPO back in March. More about the evening here. Hope to hear him again soon – he’s going to be mega, IMHO.

Judith Weir

Artist of the Year: This time it’s a composer. Please step forward, Judith Weir: not merely the first woman to be appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in all of its half-millennium-long history, hence a hugely significant figurehead, but more importantly a creative and original musical mind and a person of wisdom, humour and humanity.



Lifetime Achievement Award: Dear Sir András Schiff, vast congratulations on receiving music’s best-deserved knighthood. We love you, but more importantly, just about every young pianist I’ve been talking to recently loves you too. Your influence is profound.

Colleagues of the Year: A huge cheer to all my lovely editors, to my wonderful violinist David Le Page and pianists Viv McLean and Murray McLachlan, and to festival directors Stephen Barlow of Buxton, who let us take Alicia’s Gift home to Derbyshire, and Anthony Wilkinson of the Wimbledon International Music Festival – who coolly rescheduled the show for another venue when the Orange Tree went pear-shaped. And, last but by no means least, the inimitable Chopin Society, run by Lady Rose Cholmondeley and Gill Newman – such a fantastical organisation that you just couldn’t make it up. Performing Alicia’s Gift there in September, interviewing Andrzej Jasinski in November and dancing the night away at their glorious gala the other day means they have a very special place in this year’s calendar of colleagues. If this year’s awards are looking rather Polish, then so they should.

Interviewee of the Year: Dear Jonas Kaufmann, we met at last [for BBC Music Magazine, right]. Yours remains the only interview to date for which I’ve worn snow boots. It wasn’t quite the glamorous look I’d hoped to adopt for the occasion, but it was awfully cold in New York. I’m so pleased that you’re as fascinating in person as you are on stage.

Opera of the Year: Benvenuto Cellini at ENO, directed by Terry Gilliam. The perfect match of off-the-wall piece and director, delivered with flair and rapture and fabulous imagination – but best of all was the ENO chorus belting out “Applaud and laud all art and artisans!” and audibly meaning every syllable of it.

Ballet of the Year: I adored watching Connectome, Alastair Marriott’s new ballet for Natalia Osipova, coming into being. What a treat to be in the studio only a few metres away from the Osipova Leap!

Stuffed Turkey: Not a performance, but a reaction to one. That disgraceful incident now known as “Dumpygate”.

And a few personal highlights:

Proudest moment: Deciding What To Do About Wagner. You face the facts. You face the nastiness. You look it all squarely, head on, and you think it over: OK, either I can never listen to a note of it again; or I can admit that I know all this, but now I’m going to put that aside and simply get on with loving the music. Decided on latter. End of story.

Weirdest moment: I spent much of the summer and autumn sick as the proverbial dog with what I later learned was whooping cough. I went along to the Rattle/Berliner Philharmoniker/Peter Sellars St Matthew Passion at the Proms before the bug had been diagnosed. And I sat there in reverential silence with streaming eyes and chest in spasm, managing not to cough aloud, waiting desperately for the thing to be over. But the final chord did not bring the expected relief, because the silence after it went on…and on…and on….and on………and on…….. and there could have been no worse moment in the entire evening to make a noise. I managed not to – but honest to goodness, guv, I thought I was going to die.

Biggest sigh of relief: Getting through not just that evening, but a range of concerts, talks and broadcasts without losing my voice or alternatively crashing at high volume due to said illness.

Quote of the Year: “Applaud and laud all art and artisans…” Monsieur Hector tells it like it is!

Wonderful Webmaster of the Year: Thank you, dear and marvellous Horst Kolo, for your ever-devoted updating, archiving and moral support.

Felines of the year: two little cats from school – small, fluffy, silvery and chocolatey and not very far from here.                

Thank you, everyone! We miss our lost loved ones, but we will make the most of whatever life brings us and fight on for the values of humanity, compassion, fulfilment, development, high standards and genuine artistry that bind us together. We are all interdependent in the end, and we should never forget that either. If you don’t subscribe to these values, you probably don’t read JDCMB, which increasingly I am being told is “the voice of reason” in the musical blogosphere. We won’t do near-porn for hits (or for anything else), we won’t accept mass madness, witch-hunts, blind prejudice or bullies, we stand up for what’s right and we wish to change what isn’t. We praise liberty, equality and siblinghood – and we applaud and laud all art and artisans!

Now please have another glass, sit back and enjoy a very special performance by the miraculous young pianist who keeps alive my faith in the future of British music and musicians: Benjamin Grosvenor.

Posted in Classical Pit

The Mad Hatters’ Dance-Off

Maybe you were lucky enough to get into the ZooNation show The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the ROH Linbury after I did my article about it the other week, but the thing sold out in a trice. I suspect this one will run and run.In case you missed it, here’…

Posted in Classical Pit