Cheering up with the Wonderland Blues



Before all that rain started, we spent a gorgeous afternoon at Opera Holland Park, under the leaves in the Yucca Lawn groves, watching Will Todd's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's on until 1 August, so assuming we're clear of the rain, do try and catch a show.

It's one of those rare delights that holds little kids riveted, yet their parents equally so: a sassy adaptation of the characters and elements of the story, plus an eclectic take on the music with everything from gospel through a hint of zany modernism to something edging towards Somewhere Over the Rainbow (and try the Wonderland Blues above, starring the larger-than-life Keel Watson as the Caterpillar and super Fflur Wyn as Alice).



The sets are dotted around in different spots beneath the trees; your ticket is a cushion and you take it with you to sit on on the ground, moving around between scenes. Full marks to the orchestra - known as the Alice Band - for shifting too, and to the cast for marshalling us all into the right places at the right time.

And in this environment, after a while even the most hardened critic/opera fan begins to shake off the old encrustations of cynicism and overwork grumpiness and...well, if you're surrounded by entranced four-year-olds, eventually you begin to feel like one yourself. And you discover anew that 'opera' scrubs up as enormous fun: a good story well told, through top-notch music and singing and movement and drama and costumes, all live in front of you. What a refreshing and welcome joy with which to see in the rest of the summer.

This show, incidentally, has legs. Though OHP commissioned it two years ago, it's travelling excellently and will be at the Linbury in November. A CD (as above) is now available too. More info about cast, performance dates, etc, here.
Posted in Classical Pit

Glamour time – are we listening or looking?



I took part in a discussion for the US radio station WQXR's programme Conducting Business about playing the glamour card in classical music. Have a listen above.

More info here.
Posted in Classical Pit

Farewell to a wonderful clarinettist



The clarinettist John McCaw, always known personally as Jack, has died at the age of 96. He lived opposite us.

We had no idea, when we moved to our house back in the last century, that he was there. Virtually every clarinettist I've come across since then had at some point been to our street for lessons with him. He was principal clarinet successively of the Philharmonia and of the London Philharmonic, many years ago (and would always watch with much amusement as Tom zoomed out of our front door with instrument case and raincoat to catch the train to Glyndebourne). He was well known as a soloist, and made the recording above of the Nielsen and Mozart concertos with the New Philharmonia and Raymond Leppard in, I believe, a single day.

He can be heard in innumerable recordings, including, if I remember rightly, the Elgar Cello Concerto with du Pré, Barenboim and the LPO (1967), the Nielsen Symphony No.5 conducted by Jascha Horenstein and apparently with Placido Domingo singing 'La vita e inferno' from La forza del destino. In 1977 he played the Mozart Concerto at the Proms with the Philharmonia under Riccardo Muti. He also championed the works of Joseph Holbrooke.

Jack was born in New Zealand at the very end of the First World War and came to live in the UK a few years after the end of the Second, when he was about 30. He and his wife, Ann, a pianist, had lived in their house for more than 50 years.

He was a vivid, sparky character with an unfailing wit, a great deal of charm and, we hear, little patience for nonsense from conductors. He was meticulous, house-proud and a keen gardener. Even when he was over 90 we would see him on a step-ladder with an electric saw, trimming his hedge into a perfect oblong.

For friends and former pupils wishing to attend his funeral, I am told that it will be at Mortlake Crematorium on Tuesday 28 July at 4pm.

We will miss him very, very much.
Posted in Classical Pit