The inaugural project of The Music Troupe
The only chance I had recently of catching up with Julian Jacobson and Mariko Brown who have formed an exciting piano duo http://marikojulianpianoduo.com was to go to their rehearsal in Birmingham last week.
A single remaining, inexpensive amphitheatre seat tempted me to venture to Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Royal Opera House yesterday afternoon.
Recently attended an operatic relay from Royal Opera House in the local cinema. Heard much about these events and wanted to experience one for myself, but I have to admit I was dreadfully disappointed.
Although as a youngster I certainly wanted to write, I felt a pre-requisite of becoming a composer was a thorough knowledge of musical history and musical language. The study of harmony and counterpoint from medieval methods through to the serialists absorbed me until my mid-twenties - along with the process of becoming a musician.
We recently celebrated Verdi's 200th birthday. I arranged a kind of party in Newbury, invited locals to Come, Sing or Listen, and Drink. I might well have added Eat, since a beautiful cake was made in his honour. Verdi's not my favourite composer - I don't think I have a real favourite anyway - but I wouldn't have wanted to organise this occasion for anyone else. Verdi's special. You don't have to be a revolutionary to write good music. You don't have to adopt a musical language which is up-to-the-minute, or even avant-garde. You just have to write good music. And in Verdi's case, he wrote in a style which is so much his own that you can't mistake it for anyone else. Once he gets into his stride, he doesn't imitate anyone else. And no other composer sounds like him. Therefore that makes him individual.
Compare him to Wagner. Everyone started writing like Wagner. And if Verdi's heir is Puccini-cum-Wagner - well, then everyone started writing like Puccini, and Hollywood still does! The late Romantic style is common currency, a sort of Esperanto of music, to be consumed globally like MacDonalds! Verdi - not so. A rock-solid individual.
I went last night to see my daughter in a school play. Since daughters don't always communicate very thoroughly with their parents I had no idea what it was.
I must catch up with some more operatic experiences this year: there was Glass' A Perfect American, whose music was much less absorbing than that of Akhnaten or Satyagraha and whose subject was not very interesting. If Walt Disney had no redeeming qualities, how was the opera going to yield any insights into the human condition? Apart from an entertaining production, the work itself seemed pointless.
Lohengrin in Cardiff was visually depressing - a nineteenth century prison? - but the music won out in any case. Brought back many memories of one of my first tasks at the Royal Opera House when I joined the staff there: coaching the chorus was hampered by constant strikes in those medieval, pre-Thatcher times and it was touch-and-go whether the music could be learnt in time. No such worries with WNO - the chorus were spectacular and so were the cast and orchestra. The clarity and directness of the music when performed well like this are very refreshing in comparison to Wagner's later works.
Wagner Dream by the late, great Jonathan Harvey was, unfortunately for me, impenetrable. Multi-layered, complex and very dissonant. The work was definitely not helped by having the main action spoken by actors, a disappointing decision since too much dialogue, here accompanied by the orchestra, simply shows up opera's weaknesses: better for the music to stop so you can concentrate on the dialogue and the acting. Or you could take the view that the spoken text pales in comparison to the sound of the singing voice - since, after all, we came for the music.
Attended the European premiere of this work last night. Another masterpiece from the greatest living composer - and one of the greatest of all time.
Eventually caught up with The Minotaur at ROH last night. I would hardly call it a pleasurable experience. The opera threw all sorts of other great things at me in abundance; but sheer pleasure was not one of them. Most operas give pleasure and have done so for ages; I guess the relentless atonality - and the largely declamatory style of singing that goes with it - conspired to deprive me of, well, operatic rapture. Why should this be so? And does it matter anyway? It certainly held my attention - it was compelling, awesome you might say - so it must have succeeded. But it was like beholding a brutalist piece of modern architecture which you somehow feel has been built by architects for architects, rather than for ordinary people to enjoy and marvel at. You can't deny the originality or scale of achievement. But it doesn't give you much pleasure.
Can't help but compare The Minotaur with A Flowering Tree (written within a year or two of each other). I reckon AFT would be reckoned by most as quite a 'difficult' modern opera, and in fact it seems TM has received more performances. Both works are original and up-to-date and inventive. But AFT has an additional dimension: the beauty of sound and of singing.
Composer and musician