James Rhodes interview: this clown can play Beethoven

No cheesy crossover, no TV ad favourites, but Bach partitas, Beethoven sonatas, Chopin études and wild, sprawling piano fantasies by the crazed 19th-century composer Charles-Valentin Alkan.

And he’ll be playing them live, too, in venues where classical music has never been heard: the Latitude festival, for example, a sort of highbrow, right-on Glastonbury held on the Suffolk coast in July. Next Wednesday he performs in the Udderbelly, a tent in the shape of an upside-down purple cow on the South Bank.

The cover of Rhodes’s second album (the last before Warner snapped him up) shows him dressed like a mime artist at a psychedelic rave: face slathered in white make-up, a smear of scarlet lipstick, plastic trousers – one leg red, one blue. When it came out, I wrote a blog post asking: “Why does this clown think he can play late Beethoven?”

Read the full interview in The Telegraph here.

Times may be tight, but we're hooked on classics

Summer is upon us, which means that cultural tourists will once again be dusting off their sandals and dinner jackets and heading for the airport.

The classical music festival has taken root and blossomed during the past 20 years. At times it can seem as if every Italian town, Swiss village and Croatian seaside resort is wooing cultural tourists. And the remarkable thing is that despite the economic woes affecting Europe, the number of festivals on offer is actually on the increase.

Read the full article in The Independent here.

How to sell classical music to a new audience

Gabriel Prokofiev, classical DJ, composer and grandson of Sergei:

The current concert format is old-fashioned. It’s based on rules devised by the bourgeoisie at the turn of the 19th century to protect and elevate their culture. They tried to make it this semi-religious experience, sacred and serious. But in Mozart’s time concerts were more informal: Mozart expected one movement to be played, he didn’t expect a perfect rendition of the whole symphony. I know plenty of people who feel intimidated by a classical concert. They feel as though there’s some sort of code, some sort of language they’re just not worthy of knowing. I went to the ballet to see Romeo and Juliet, by my grandfather. I’m not joking, I turned up a minute late and they wouldn’t let me in. I missed the whole of the first act. That’s part of the formality of these kind of events. Why do they start at 7.30pm? For the past six years I’ve been running classical club nights upstairs in the Horse & Groom pub in Shoreditch, East London. The live music doesn’t start until nine o’clock. There’s a DJ between acts, people can have a drink and chat. If they don’t like the piece they can move to the bar. It’s what people are used to at pop gigs. We’re reaching out to a younger audience.

Read the full article in The Times here.

Festival will celebrate Japanese and Japanese American arts

A variety of Japanese and Japanese American arts — including Butoh and jazz, as well as  anime — will be celebrated during “JapanOC,” a seven-month festival presented by Carnegie Hall, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Programs will feature traditional and contemporary music, dance, theater, film and visual art. Among the highlights will be tributes to composer Toru Takemitsu and sculptor-designer Isamu Noguchi by artists including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Tokyo String Quartet.

Music offerings include:

  • Guitarist Kazumi Watanabe playing selections from Takemitsu’s avant-garde works on Dec. 19 at OCPAC’s Samueli Theater.
  • Gustavo Dudamel leading the L.A. Philharmonic in a program of Takemitsu’s “Requiem for Strings” and works by Webern and Bruckner on March 5 at OCPAC’s Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
  • The Tokyo String Quartet performing Takemitsu’s “A Way a Lone” and other works on April 19 at the Samueli Theater.

Read the full article in The Los Angeles Times here.

San Franciscans welcome Gustavo Dudamel

Reporting from San Francisco

The houselights stayed dim at the start of Monday night’s concert at Davies Symphony Hall for longer than usual, as if to milk the moment for all it was worth. Only a few extra seconds elapsed before Gustavo Dudamel strode on stage to join the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But the sense of anticipation in the concert hall seemed to make those ticking seconds feel like an eternity.

Just as he has bewitched Los Angeles audiences since becoming music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic last fall, so the charismatic 28-year-old conductor has quickly brought Bay Area audiences under his spell. A pair of sold-out concerts in San Francisco on Monday and Tuesday evenings marked the launch of Dudamel’s inaugural tour as music director of the Philharmonic — the orchestra’s first national tour in almost a decade. If audience reactions to Monday’s performance are anything to go by, the Philharmonic will be returning home later this month after completing its all-but-sold-out 10-concert journey with eight cities full of Dudamel devotees in its wake.

Read the full review in The Los Angeles Times here.

More Gustavo in The Los Angeles Times here, here, here and here.

Gustavo Dudamel leading the LA Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall

Avery Fisher Hall was sold out for the concert by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Thursday night, the first chance for concertgoers in New York to see him in action since he became the orchestra’s music director last fall. He has since galvanized Los Angeles with his exuberant music making and inspiring capacity for outreach.

But part of the job description for a music director at a major American orchestra involves fostering the technical skills of the players and giving assured, fresh performances of works in the central repertory. In this regard, Thursday’s concert was a disappointment. It began with an arresting account of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 (“The Age of Anxiety”) with the pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet dazzling in the formidable solo part.

After intermission, however, Mr. Dudamel turned to Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony, and the performance, though rhapsodic and intensely expressive, was rough and unfocused. Mr. Dudamel conducted from memory and exuded involvement. Clearly, he knows the score and knows what he wants. But he may have wanted more than the music could bear.

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

Bargemusic keeps reinventing itself with new programs

There is usually a moment early in any concert at Bargemusic when even listeners who have spent many evenings hearing music in this converted coffee barge find themselves wondering why they couldn’t have found something to do on dry land. The barge, moored on the Brooklyn side of the East River — near the River Café and a stone’s throw from the Brooklyn Bridge — is a boat, after all, and it is given to the gentle rocking motion that mariners love and landlubbers can find mildly disconcerting.

But part of the magic of Bargemusic is that you quickly forget about the motion. When you take your seat, you face a stage set before a large window that offers a spectacular view: the river, with its varied traffic, and the looming cityscape of Lower Manhattan. The performances, by an expansive roster of regulars, as well as visiting ensembles and soloists, are typically so involving that they eclipse even the view.

Lately the programming has been increasingly inventive, as Mark Peskanov, the violinist who has been Bargemusic’s president and executive and artistic director since 2006, has added a new-music series (Here and Now), an early-music series (There and Then) and jazz concerts to the diet of standard repertory solo and chamber works that has been Bargemusic’s main fare. All told, the barge presents about 220 concerts year round.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

The Met Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez

The list of significant conductors who have never appeared at the Metropolitan Opera grew shorter during the past two seasons with the acclaimed house debuts of Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Muti and Esa-Pekka Salonen. One notable maestro, Pierre Boulez, remains on that list, and at 85 he is not likely to commit to a Met production, which would involve several weeks of residency.

But Mr. Boulez was at least enticed to conduct the Met Orchestra, and that long-awaited concert took place on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall. The program — Bartok’s mysterious ballet score “The Wooden Prince” and Schoenberg’s operatic monodrama “Erwartung” — was tailored to Mr. Boulez’s expertise and interests. The concert was a triumph. I lost track of the number of times Mr. Boulez and Deborah Polaski, the compelling soprano soloist in the Schoenberg, were brought back to the stage during the long final ovation.

With his acute ear for color and texture, Mr. Boulez can usually elicit a certain sound from whatever orchestra he conducts, especially with musicians as skilled and responsive as these. In Bartok’s “Wooden Prince,” written in 1917, the orchestra played with warmth and radiance yet uncanny clarity, a Boulez hallmark.

Read the full review in The New York Times here.

Is high culture too pricey? Not at all!

How affordable is high culture? One great myth of our time — surely up there with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the Prince of Wales’s supposed eye for fine architecture — is that tickets for opera, theatre, ballet and orchestral concerts are too expensive, especially for the young. It’s a well-known medical fact that your blood boils more often as you get older. But few things set my corpuscles seething more than this oft-repeated chestnut.

In Britain, at least, it’s nonsense — as a music blogger (intermezzo.typepad.com) has just reminded me. She compared prices for top-range British orchestral concerts with similar events abroad. The cheap tickets to hear London’s orchestras range from £7 to £9 — same as a cinema ticket, and lower than at many pop and comedy venues. For comparison, when the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform with top soloists and conductors the cheapest seat is £30; and at the Berlin Philharmonic it’s a wallet-draining £46.

Read the full article in The Times here.