I'm very late with this as I've only just seen it myself, but if you can catch the programme before it disappears from iPlayer tomorrow, then watch John Ogdon: Living with Genius. Anyone familiar with that great pianist's life story will know that it was ultimately a very sad one, and parts of the film do not make easy viewing, but it is a portrait of a unique musician by those who knew and loved him best.
If you click on the music section of the archive you'll find a fairly eclectic mix to the posts, but today's one fits no easily defined category. As I write, well over 29,000,000 people have seen this video, but I've only just been shown it, so if you haven't already watched this Italian edition of The Voice, have a look, and be sure to click the 'CC' button on the bottom right of the screen for the subtitles which you'll need from around the 2.20 mark. Brava, Suor Cristina!
I've been an admirer of John Lill's playing since as a student I bought his recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas on cassette. I've seen him play live once or twice, though not for some years, but he's currently on his 70th. birthday tour and was performing here in Edinburgh at the Usher Hall* last night, so I couldn't miss the chance to go and see him again.
He was playing Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 with the RSNO, and his enormous power - very focused, very direct, intense, and supremely eloquent - was quite electrifying.
Glasgow people, I think there are still tickets left for the Royal Concert Hall and the same programme tonight (Saturday), so snap them up if you can. Anyone else who's interested, you might like to hear John Lill's Desert Island Discs recorded a few years ago.
*The painting of the Hall is by Stanley Cursiter.
Edited to add: I haven't found a review of Friday's concert, but here is one of Saturday's, and, as you'll see, its writer shares my enthusiasm.
It's been ages since we had any music on the blog, but Poulenc's Gloria was on the radio at breakfast this morning, and as it's so spirit-raising I thought I'd offer you a recording of the first part. (You can find the whole work here.)
Edited to add: apologies for the videos not appearing - all looked fine in draft and preview, but when I published the post something went haywire and the embedded clips were not right at all! I'll try to get them back, but the links above should work for now.
Later: the embedding seems to be working now, but I'll leave in the links for good measure.
I used to enjoy watching Through the Keyhole in the olden days when it was David Frost and Loyd Grossman, the latter giving a guided tour of some famous person's house while the panel back in the studio had to guess whose it was.
Along the same lines, if I were to ask you who might live in the Rome apartment, part of which you see above, you might be stumped until I offered the picture below along with a clue: two people who have seventeen pianos between them.
If you have five minutes to spare, listen to this episode of the BBC World Service programme The Srand on music from Iceland, and specifically to the segment which starts at 11.20. In it, composer Hafdis Bjarnadottir explains how she has written a piece of music based on a knitting pattern. Taking a chart for a lace shawl, Hafdis has translated both its colours and stitch sequences into sections of the orchestra, notes, chords, rests and so on. If you were a speedy knitter, could you knit the shawl in time to the music, I wonder, and along the same lines, I'd love to know what music might emerge if based on the colours and rhythms of a fine piece of Fair Isle.
By the way, for more on knitting in Iceland, see this post.
Over on Cornflower Books we've had one or two posts about writers' dogs, so let's balance things up and look at the canine companions of well-known musicians here. When I was writing about Aldeburgh and Benjamin Britten yesterday I remembered this picture of him with his dachshund Clytie which I'd seen in the newspaper recently, and on looking for it online, I discovered this lovely post on composers' dogs - well worth a look to see who had which breed (Grieg shares my fondness for Labradors, for instance, and there's a link to a very touching story about Glenn Gould's closeness to his dogs).
We had a literary curiosity yesterday, and I have a musical one for you today. I heard the piece on Radio 3 this morning and couldn't quite believe my ears, but yes it is what it seems, a ragtime version of Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde: click here (listen to the Chopinata first, if you want) and skip to the 3.23 mark and enjoy the "novelty piano solo" Isoldina by Clément Doucet - rather catchy in a toe-tapping way, though I expect Wagner is turning in his grave, and don't you think this must have been part of Mrs. Mills' repertoire?
"The Guardian editor's account of a remarkable musical
challenge during an extraordinary year for news.
As editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger's life is dictated by
the demands of the 24-hour news cycle. It is not the kind of job
that leaves one time for hobbies.
But in the summer of 2010, he managed to make his annual escape
to a 'piano camp'. Here, inspired by another amateur's rendition,
he set himself an almost impossible task: to learn, in the space of a
year, Chopin's Ballade No.1, one of the most challenging one-movement pieces ever composed, with passages that demand
outstanding feats of dexterity, control, memory and power – a
piece that inspires dread in many professional pianists.
His timing could have been better.
The next twelve months were to witness the Arab Spring, the
Japanese tsunami and the English riots, and were bookended by The Guardian breaking two remarkable news stories: WikiLeaks
and the News of the World hacking scandal. It was a defining year
in the life of The Guardian and its editor, and one of the most
memorable in the history of British journalism.
Such was the background against which he tried to carve out
twenty minutes' practice a day, find the right teacher, the right
piano, the right fingering – even if that meant practising in a Libyan
hotel in the middle of a revolution. Fortunately, he was able to
gain insights and advice from an array of legendary pianists, from
theorists, historians and neuroscientists, from a network of
brilliant amateurs unearthed online, even occasionally from
secretaries of state.
But was he able to play the piece in time?"
Click here to see Jorge Bolet playing the Ballade, and still on matters pianistic, Lang Lang's extraordinary life is profiled in this recent documentary, part of the Imagine arts series (and look out for the delightfully serious little boy Lang Lang is teaching at about the 20.40 mark).
... a couple of points to follow on from the last two posts. Re. learning things as an adult, I don't think the programme is available on iPlayer, but Radio 3's Breakfast on 20th. September included a short interview with pianist James Rhodes (as part of their Piano Season) in which he gave advice to someone who had recently given up piano lessons having felt he just wasn't getting anywhere. James - who was quite evangelical about it - urged the man to find another teacher, someone who is empathic and sympathetic in the sensitive sense, and then to keep at it, practising for as little as 20 minutes a day. I just thought I'd mention that in case the advice is of use to anyone struggling to master anything: find a 'good' teacher, if applicable (granted, that's easier said then done), and then devote a short while each day to working on the skill. It sounds obvious, but sometimes these things need to be stated.
And now back to notebooks. I love Janet's coining of the name "Journal Phobic Association", and Ann's suggestion to write a favourite poem or some such on the first page to 'break in' the book and then take it from there on subsequent leaves is a good one. Or, you could do as I have now done and buy a cheap notebook (I got these) to slot inside a pretty cover. The pages are perforated for easy removal should you want to delete something, but the smart exterior makes it more special. There will be numerous online tutorials for making similar covers, but if you happen to have The Liberty Book of Home Sewing, you'll find instructions on page 82, together with the suggestion that you cover favourite books in this manner, too, "and fill a whole shelf with Liberty prints"!
The Edinburgh International Festival drew to a close last night with its annual fireworks concert. For the uninitiated, this is when the Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays a 45-minute programme from Princes Street Gardens at the foot of the Castle Rock while way up above them a stunning and sympathetically choreographed fireworks display is set off from the Castle ramparts.
We were fortunate to have a superb vantage point from the rooftop terrace of a building in George Street, a stone's throw from the action, so here are some 'before' and 'during' shots. It was, as always, spectacular!
This post is specially for Shirley who has fond memories of Edinburgh at Festival time.