Beethoven and Beethovathon

Despite being a celebratory year for those two Scandi-giants Sibelius and Nielsen, a number of my opening concerts this year have a distinctly Beethovenian theme. Take this weekend, for example: an all-Beethoven evening on Saturday, with an award-winning soloist, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Care. We open with Coriolan - it's always a huge joy to conduct this overture. A display of pure rhythm, yet partnered with one of the most touching second subjects in the repertoire. I still remember sitting there, dewy-eyed, minutes after the postman delivered a box-set of Carlos Kleiber DVDs. This was the first time I'd seen his live performance of this piece, only days after DG released it, with Bayerisches Staatsorchester.

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The 8th symphony completes the first half, undoubtedly a more challenging undertaking for all - including the conductor. And (to quote Paavo Järvi - one of my teachers - in a rehearsal I was lucky enough to catch in Bremen) "clear proof that, by this point in his life Beethoven was profoundly deaf" - referring, tongue-in-cheek, to the insane timpani writing in bars 480 & 490 of the finale. Go check it out. It always makes me smile, as it did in Bremen. Of course, it was helped by the superb timpanist in the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Stefan Rapp. He never needs much excuse to play insanely.

Post-interval, the Violin Concerto, with Joo Yeon Sir - currently a junior fellow at London's RCM and embarking on a bit of a Beethoven odyssey herself. It's one of my favourite concertos, for any instrument, by any composer. I remember as a kid, aged about 13, stealing mum's knitting needles and swiping my way through it in my bedroom, accompanied by that famous recording with Schneiderhan and the Berlin Phil. Mum blamed me for bending all her needles. I blame that recording, and this piece, for kickstarting my conducting career.

The week after, on Saturday 7th Feb, I accompany another fine soloist in another marvellous concerto - Cordelia Williams in the fourth piano concerto. Again, breathtaking music - and I can't wait. Full details of this concert, and the Macmillan all-Beethoven programme, are HERE on this website. I'd love to see some of you at one of them!

Finally, to another charity event - a huge project in aid of Comic Relief Red Nose Day 2015. On Saturday 21 March, along with many conductor colleagues, I'm involved in the Beethovathon - a simply wonderful, not to mention utterly, utterly bonkers project to perform all nine symphonies. Yes, all nine. In one day. And in order. Which is, by the way, if you're going to undertake such a thing, the only good way to do it (today's top tip for those planning to emulate this project in future).

We're performing in the acclaimed acoustics of the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton, in four little (or not so little) concerts, spanning the whole day from 11am until after dark. Full details of this are HERE on the Beethovathon website - please take a look, and don't leave that site until you've (a) bought tickets; (b) popped the date into your diary; and (c) clicked on Ludwig's red nose. Disclaimer: I abdicate all responsibility for this crude ploy, as I didn't design the site. It is rather amusing, though.

This is a potentially huge fundraiser. We're determined to raise well over £10K -- but can only do that with your help. Please would you get involved? Come along for even a small part of the day, especially if you're a physiotherapist or osteopath (!) - and send some money via the just giving page.

I love the fact that Beethoven's incredible music - concertos, symphonies, and all the rest - is raising passions, and raising for charity more than ever. Long may it continue - may every year be a Beethoven year!


sun & studying

Spring has sprung. At least in my little garden it has. The second day in a row when it's warm enough to sit out there. Of course we conductors live a little bit of a charmed life, don't we? Apart from all the travelling and agonising decisions about bow-tie-tying, we get to spend every working day in the company of genius. And, no, I don't mean our managers. I mean Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart - whoever we're spending the day with. Of course we're lucky. And sometimes we get to study that genius in the sun. Hard life (note to self: must remember not to moan any longer, ever)

I've two Dvorak symphonies to resurrect - ones which I've done before (one of them often) but not lately: No 6, which isn't played so often anyway (http://ow.ly/1secyc), and the famous New World symphony, which is. And I've a premiere of a four-movement 45 minute work by Elfyn Jones coming up too, alongside the Dvorak 9 (http://ow.ly/1seczN)

Before I head back to Mr Jones, I was ruminating earlier upon this, whilst staring idly at my roses rather than analytically at my score...

TIPS FOR SCORE-STUDYING IN A SUNNY GARDEN

  • Mobile phone: off (ok, silent. One step at a time)
  • Sun: on
  • Score: open, not already over-marked
  • Mind: open, not prone to repeat the assumptions of the past
  • Pencils: good ones - I love those Japanese ones, they're black - "tombow" I think they're called. Every mark you make looks slicker, somehow (see "pencils I have used" blog for further info*)
  • Metronome: see mobile phone (and. don't. get. distracted. by. twitter)
  • Car-alarms: infrequent (not around here, then. Alas)
  • Coffee: not too much, or the imagination runs too fast (see metronome). Unless you're preparing Symphonie Fantastique, when it's fine - imbibe often for full-on Berlioz-madness effect
  • Cats: quietly basking, not inanely asking (for food/attention/another toy because the other one's now behind the compost heap)

(*must try to get out more)

Feel free to add some more via the comments.

NB: just for fun. No prizes awarded. Serious score-study suggestions can be found in multiple textbooks. And have no place here.

Right, back to the sun...


Never thought it'd be Smetana

Maybe I knew I'd start a blog one day. Maybe I imagined it'd be bright and brilliant, full of erudite observations. And followed dutifully, bootifully by hoardes of admirers. Maybe I thought I'd post the odd video of someone conducting something. But, you know, I never ever dreamt that my first video post would be Vltava, from Smetana's Ma Vlast. (It is, by the way, if I get that far - this isn't a red herring).

Maybe it would've been some Mahler, or some Carlos Kleiber, in my imaginary pre-blog blog. Or Tennstedt. Or Jeff Buckley.

Then, for all sorts of reasons, I was reminded today of this incredible musician, this poet with his hands (and, in rehearsal, an alchemist of words and imagery). Straight away, it was obvious what my first video would be - Ferenc Fricsay, one of the most extraordinary conductors. He makes this music sound almost unbearably alive. Achingly full of character, dance, and - excuse the pun - flow. His spirit and energy are still convincing today. Infectious! Even in monoaural monochrome.

Such a tragedy his life was cut short. And that there aren't more conductors around today to take these kind of risks...


Mravinsky, Arthur Bliss & Schmoo

Ok, ok - I promise this is the last test while I set up this blog. And the last cat. Probably. I can never resist a cat on a piano stool, especially with a Colour Symphony score in the background (does anyone know this? I'm considering it for later this year...)