At The Queen's Hall this morning, Stephen Hough gave a breathtaking performance of pieces by Schubert, Franck, and Liszt, and a sonata of his own (the only work, interestingly, for which he used a score). The recital - minus the encores which included Mr. Hough's own sparkling arrangement of 'Waltzing Matilda' - was broadcast live on Radio 3, but you can hear it here for the next four weeks or so.
Mr. Hough is quoted here talking about possible changes to the typical concert format in order to attract younger audiences. We remarked yet again today on the high average age of the audience at concerts we've been to in recent years. Admittedly for many, work would have precluded attending this morning's event (11.00 - 1.00 on a weekday), but there was a similar preponderance of snowy-headed concert goers at Saturday evening's Matthew Passion. Where are all their younger counterparts?
At the other end of the scale, we have noticed some children in the audience. If you listen to today's broadcast you'll hear Donald Macleod refer at the end to a little Chinese girl who sat "motionless and totally attentive throughout" (she did indeed), while on Saturday there were some equally well-behaved under 10s at the Bach. Neither programme seems an obvious choice for youngsters, but I hope they all found these concerts memorable, and for the right reasons.
Back to Stephen Hough himself for a moment: world-renowned pianist, composer, writer, artist .... there's a nice interview with him here in which he talks in passing of the musician as a bringer of joy; he played that role to perfection today.
In lieu of taking you all with me to last night's majestic performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion at the Usher Hall, here is a shot of Sir John Eliot Gardiner acknowledging the ovation for his principal soloists, James Gilchrist and Stephan Loges, the Monteverdi Choir, and the English Baroque Soloists.
To give you a flavour of it, here are two excerpts from an earlier occasion, firstly the very dramatic Sind Blitze, sind Donner:
and then the sorrowful Können Trännen meiner Wangen:
Sir John Eliot writes, "Give me a bare stage (not a picture frame) peopled with choristers freed from their scores and soloists interacting with the obbligato players and, I believe, the audience's imagination can fill it with images far more vivid than any scene painter or stage director can provide. For it is the intense concentration of drama within the music and the colossal imaginative force that Bach brings to bear in his Passions that make them the equal of the greatest staged dramas: their power lies in what they leave unspoken. We ignore that at our peril."
Doing a bit of fact-checking yesterday I came across the website All of Bach, a marvellous ongoing project by the Netherlands Bach Society. Every Friday they post a new video, a special recording of one of Bach's works with background information and interviews with the performers. Thus far there are well over 100 pieces up, searchable alphabetically, by BWV number, and genre, instrument or series. If you're a Bach lover, do take a look.
If you have three of four minutes to spare, listen to this lovely rendition of The Fairy Garden* from Ravel's Mother Goose Suite played (as an unorthodox encore during a Proms concert) by Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the conductor Philippe Jordan.
If you have longer, click here for the whole concert and go straight to M. Thibaudet's sparkling performance of Ravel's G major piano concerto beginning at the 20.04 mark.
*The resolution to the story of Sleeping Beauty, as you'll see here.
Still on the subject of music, if you're in the mood for something joyful, may I offer you the above performed by Edinburgh's own Dunedin Consort conducted by John Butt (and I suggest listening closely to Matthew Brook's bass part). For the significance to the piece of the number three, click here.
For more from the Dunedin Consort have a look at these videos - we had the benefit of John Butt's erudition at an excellent evening a couple of years ago so I can tell you he is well worth listening to.
My thanks again to Rosie for flagging up Eric Whitacre's Cloudburst, a piece I hadn't come across before; to hear it, follow the link in Rosie's comment here.
"My only purpose in this book was for me, as a music lover, to have a discussion of music with the musician Seiji Ozawa that was as open and honest as possible. I simply wanted to bring out the ways that each of us (though on vastly different levels) is dedicated to music." Haruki Murakami's passion for music runs deep. Before turning his hand to writing, he ran a jazz club in Tokyo, and the aesthetic and emotional power of music permeates every one of his much-loved books. Now, in Absolutely on Music, Murakami fulfills a personal dream, sitting down with his friend, acclaimed conductor Seiji Ozawa, to talk about their shared interest. Transcribed from lengthy conversations about the nature of music and writing, here they discuss everything from Brahms to Beethoven, from Leonard Bernstein to Glenn Gould, from record collecting to pop-up orchestras, and much more. Ultimately this book gives readers an unprecedented glimpse into the minds of two maestros.'
The snails have made a garden of green lace: broderie anglaise from the cabbages, chantilly from the choux-fleurs, tiny veils- I see already that I lift the blind upon a woman's wardrobe of the mind.
Such female whimsy floats about me like a kind of tulle, a flimsy mesh, while feet in gumboots pace the rectangles- garden abstracted, geometry awash- an unknown theorem argued in green ink, dropped in the bath. Euclid in glorious chlorophyll, half drunk.
I none too sober slipping in the mud where rigged with guys of rain the clothes-reel gauche as the rangy skeleton of some gaunt delicate spidery mute is pitched as if listening; while hung from one thin rib a silver web- its infant, skeletal, diminutive, now sagged with sequins, pulled ellipsoid, glistening.
I suffer shame in all these images. The garden is primeval, Giovanni in soggy denim squelches by my hub, over his ruin shakes a doleful head. But he so beautiful and diademed, his long Italian hands so wrung with rain I find his ache exists beyond my rim and almost weep to see a broken man made subject to my whim.
O choir him, birds, and let him come to rest within this beauty as one rests in love, till pears upon the bough encrusted with small snails as pale as pearls hang golden in a heart that know tears are a part of love.
And choir me too to keep my heart a size larger than seeing, unseduced by each bright glimpse of beauty striking like a bell, so that the whole may toll, its meaning shine clear of the myriad images that still- do what I will-encumber its pure line.
"Writing held little interest for me before I began this memoir; I always found its melody too linear. In music, the composer can make several voices speak at once. Beneath the upper register that sets the tone, there may be a concurrence of other melodies, signifying sadness or reflection, gaiety or religious devotion, like those dazzling In Nomine pieces by Bull or Sweelinck: in these, the solemn plainsong, played in the lowest register with the left hand, may be heard beneath the variations, fantasies, trills and flights of fancy expressed by the right hand. With writing, it is difficult to make several voices heard at the same time; perfect chords in literature are the work of rare geniuses, and even they cannot be relied upon: Master Shakespeare achieved it in Hamlet or Lear, Messire de Montaigne on a few of his pages, Francesco Petrarca, Torquato Tasso and Thomas Wyatt in some of their poems. But one rarely finds such complex melodies on the written page.
Now that I have myself begun to write, I understand much better how hard it is."
I've written about Helen's shoes before as I've been a customer of hers for many years, though my taste runs to the more understated end of the range, but above you'll see some of her striking designs worn by violinist Alice Rickards and cellist Sonia Cromarty as they play a piece from Transplanted, "a celebration of the rich diversity of Scotland's plant life and its music". The sonata is Primrose by Scottish baroque composer James Oswald.