Thursday, 21 May 2009

The South Bank Show

Quite surprising how the demise of Melvyn's flagship arts programme continues to rumble on. Here's a recent FT article on the subject.

I don't know, lovely all the plaudits are for the SBS, I notice most come from blokes of Melvyn's age. Where are the younger commentators in all of this? Perhaps they have given up on TV. That's not a criticism but a sign of the times perhaps.

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Classical Brits/RAH

Domingo, Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa were some of the big names at the RAH last night to help celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Classical Brits. It hasn't had the easiest of rides with the more established end of the classical world but ten years on I sense a mellowing of attitudes. Ultimately the Classical Brits don't do anyone any harm. Take it or leave it and enjoy your life...(I borrowed that from somewhere I'm sure).

Enticingly, the boy wonder of the piano, Lang Lang was on hand to duet with jazz legend Herbie Hancock in Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Although promising on paper it sounded a bit splashy and under rehearsed but the audience loved it.

Overall the show was as slick as ever. Despite the impressive roll call, it was relative newcomer Alison Balsom who stole the show. Playing the third movement of Hummel's trumpet concerto with pinpoint precision she even managed, in her wonderfully tight dress, to add the odd shimmy on her semi-quaver runs. Never seen that before. Only at the Classical Brits....

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Aldeburgh Music Campus

Snape Maltings, home of the Aldeburgh Festival that was founded by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears many moons ago, opened its doors this weekend for a housewarming to celebrate the completion of its new music campus. Like the much older Snape Maltings Concert Hall, the new spaces have been converted from existing buildings on site which had long fallen out of use. Funded with generous support from the Arts Council and private donors, the centrepiece of the campus is a brand new concert hall, Studio 1. Seating 340 its main purpose is as a rehearsal space for the Britten-Pears School - a year round scheme that nurtures the musical talents of young and old professionals. I myself was lucky enough to play with the orchestra way back at the tail end of my trumpet playing 'career'.

It's an attractive venue that has preserved many of the building's rougher edges - if you've been to Wilton's Musical Hall, you'll know what I mean. Interestingly, when the architects Howarth Tompkins first took on the project they discovered Britten had drawn up very similar plans for the site himself. I'm sure then he'd be delighted with the outcome albeit four decades on. My one quibble is that the extensive use of large planes of wood chip all over the place gives the venue a temporary rather than contemporary look if you get my meaning. And although I was immensely impressed with Rebecca Blankenship's performance in Schoenberg's Erwartung, the acoustic didn't strike me as being particularly helpful to her or the excellent Apollo Orchestra. However, I was fiercely overruled by my colleagues on this vexed issue.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The South Bank Show, Semyon Bychkov/

End of an era. It was my bread and butter for twelve years and I loved it. Melvyn was a good boss even though I never stopped feeling slightly intimidated by him, more my problem than his. He was very fair, constructive and encouraging who allowed us to take risks. I badgered him for weeks about this exciting young jazz pianist called Jamie Cullum. Eventually he came round to the idea even though ITV was breathing down his neck about ratings. But he really went with it, capturing the zeitgeist as he so often did and was rewarded with very good viewing figures. That and many other fond memories were rudely cut short after reading the vitriolic comments about him and the show on the Guardian's website today. God almighty, what did Melvyn ever do to poor old Guardian readers?

My first head to head interview for today. I interviewed Semyon Bychkov, currently conducting Lohengrin at ROH. Excellent speaker who thankfully doesn't do pompousness like other 'maestros'. Great insights into the world of a conductor. The finished result should appear on the tv channel early next month.