Mayhew & Marvelling Young Minds

I just wrote a brand new article, over at the new home of my blogging – part of my website. It’s all about a Family Concert format and project I’ve been working on for years now with long-time collaborator James Mayhew. Here’s a teaser opening paragraph… and an equally teasing little video. I hope one (or both) tempt to you read the whole article. Thanks for stopping by!

Just recently, I was lucky enough to share the stage with the fabulous James Mayhew. Every year we work together, preparing, rehearsing and performing our incredibly successful series of Family Concerts. These are a highlight of the de Havilland Philharmonic season, attracting huge crowds – largely, but not exclusively, made up of youngsters with their parents in tow. Grown-ups come along with their kids – and end up loving it. And the children adore it too: a telltale sign of this is how quiet they are, particularly during the music. As a conductor, even with my back turned to the auditorium 99% of the time, I can always tell…

Read the whole article, complete with an amazing little film and some brilliantly colourful artwork HERE

New year, new website

[ Hello! You’re reading this on “Dressing Rooms I have Known”. Just so as you know, this post, and many more that will surely follow, are now snug and settled over at my NEW BLOG – part of my new website. Please come over, join us, and get snug too. Why not leave a comment there??Or I suppose you can read it here, if you must… ]

January is a funny month. Always is. After a whirlwind of travelling, concerts, meetings and whatnot in the autumn, I’m now enjoying a reclusive month. I quite like it. I wish I could report I’ve spent most of it studying Mahler, or cruising the podiums of the world but – alas – that would be a lie. I’ve spent it, hermit-like, sitting at my desk, face-palming, banging my head against a wall of googlebots. But I’ve learnt something nevertheless. And you will learn, too, if you read on – if only why there’s a picture of a shed up there.

Yes, it’s a shed. Don’t let that trouble you. It’s part of my master-plan.

For reasons unbeknownst, I chose the no man’s land between Christmas and New Year to change my website. I thought it would be a low time, with few if any hits on the site. So, no problems if it all imploded – nobody would be looking at it anyway. I shut down the old one, and moved the new one over. I’d been building it on and off, for a while. In a kind of wordpress dry dock. Now, anyone who follows me on twitter will testify that NONE of this was simple. I thought it’d all be plain sailing. Oh no. No, no. I thought it would take a couple of mouse clicks and – quicker than you can say “subito!” – my new mega-site would be unleashed on the world, lights flashing, sidebars scrolling and photos gurning. Ahhh, how charmingly naïve!

Quite apart from the traumas of shifting the site over, there were more to come. Google snubbed me. Totally blanked me as soon as I switched over. Nice. Then I realised my site was getting slower and slower. Loading the media gallery was like watching the end of 2001, over and over. Perplexing, and frustrating. Basically, I’d gone from a perfectly OK site (but one which I couldn’t really update too easily) at the very top of google, to a site which was invisible to search engines, and took longer to load than a Celibidache Bruckner performance. Something had to be done.

I plunged into a fiesta of speed-tests and SEO optmization, befriended spiders and bing-bots, and essentially went a bit mad. I persevered, however, and emerged from the other side of the tunnel, my sanity more or less intact. I now have a respectable website, up-and-running. Here it is, all around you!! It isn’t perfect. Not yet. But it’s OK, I guess. I’m pretty happy.

Anyway the point is – and pay attention because this is the moral of the story – this whole shebang is something which I’ve built myself *, entirely from scratch, with no professional input at all (unless you count reading blog posts about SQL databases). I built this. I am genuinely proud. I’ve got a kind of warm glow as if, say, I was good with my hands and had built, oh I dunno, a SHED. Let’s say a SHED. From scratch. That kind of glow.

I realise this is all rather self-congratulatory, but I’ve not built anything for a long while. Certainly not a website. And very definitely not a shed. There’s a tangible sense of achievement. I can look out of the window at my shed at my website and think, “yeah, that’s OK, not bad for a first go”.

* Before I continue, can I clarify this – I couldn’t have done things without my long-suffering, much-put-upon and extremely diligent assistant, Tess. She has been the voice of reason during the lengthy gestation of this site. Now let’s move on, before this sounds like an Oscar’s speech.

As a busy conductor, obviously I spend a good part of my time immersed in some abstract intangibles. You know, this bit of phrasing, that dynamic nuance. Even my teaching work is like that – I’m dealing with people, information, passing on knowledge. I am helping to build something, yes. Maybe a performance of a Mahler symphony. Or someone’s left hand technique. But this feels totally different. I feel like a new man. In my new shed, in the new year. 

Happy 2015 everyone! Now, go and enjoy this lovely website… 🙂

the blog has moved!

Hello folks. Thanks for stopping by at dressing rooms I have known.

The blog has now moved – the whole lot, wrapped, packed-up and transported – over to my website.

Please click HERE and have a read, take a look around, maybe leave a comment, that kind of thing.

Look forward to seeing you there!

this blog has moved up the road

this blog has moved up the road

Kleiber and the PlayStation3

Yes, I reckon that’s an unusual combination too. But it hooked you in, right? Or maybe you’ve been googling something else, and have ended up here by mistake. In which case, welcome – you’re amongst friends here. I promise. I won’t judge people for their opinions on the great Carlos Kleiber, even if they’re wearing Korn t-shirts and sunken eyes (cue further embarrassing stereotypes).

So, I may be a conductor, but that doesn’t preclude me from having a PlayStation. In fact I even use it, from time-to-time. Particularly on those rare weekends with NO GIGS, like the one just gone. I hardly ever use it for gaming, mainly for DVDs, and streaming all sorts of nonsense. I realise that’s the equivalent of playing only one octave scales on your Strad, or using the microwave solely for heating coffee (guilty), but I don’t care.

Yesterday I entered a new kind of PS3 nirvana. Whilst trying to find something mind-numbingly puerile, to pacify the remaining brain-cells, I came upon….
YOU TUBE FOR THE PLAYSTATION 3.

Oh yes.

This may mean nothing to you, but it nearly brought tears to my eyes. For – LO! – I can now watch all that YouTube-y goodness in shiny HD widescreen IMAX whatnot! I can listen to concerts with sound that eclipses the tinny screetching from the computer, a sound that engulfs me in rapture, rumbling from the HiFi instead of the bottom of an iMac.

Good. Now, that’s the way to waste an entire Sunday afternoon. Better than Gears of War or GT5. Mainly because the first thing I watched, I mean properly, and couldn’t tear myself away from, was this extraordinary film – about an extraordinary bloke called Carlos Kleiber. If you’ve not seen it, drop EVERYTHING and start now. Even if you have seen it, nothing makes it more impressive than viewing from the sofa (if you’re reading in the US, that’s “couch”) – where, as we know, all the best TV-watching happens, and not when you’re at a desk staring at a computer.

Thanks, PlayStation3, and the YouTube people, for making a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon more sun-filled than you can possibly imagine.

And, thanks Mr Kleiber, too. Again.

Happy watching – even if you’re at a desk.

Guivier’s batons

Morning everyone. Straight to business! There’s a rant coming. Perhaps the first of many.

I penned my first blog-post in months the other day, and one of the topics I mentioned was batons. I assumed my next post – i.e. this one – wouldn’t quite be so soon after the first, but then I didn’t count on one of my batons displaying appalling qualities whilst in use. Let’s start from the beginning. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably.

I bought a couple of batons from Guivier’s only a matter of weeks ago. I used to use them a lot, over the years. I ordered two model P sticks. The kind Rattle is often seen sporting. I’m sure Andrew Davis also lunges with these babies too. That’s not why I bought them, mind. I’m not swayed by celebrity endorsements! I bought them because I like them, and they feel right. I buy them long, and cut the ends off – can’t stand those spindly little whiffs of sawdust at the tip – I like a log up at that end.

But enough about my proclivities.

I spent a dull (ok, it wasn’t; it was really oddly satisfying, in the same geeky way an oboist loves whittling away at their reeds) afternoon on Monday chopping and sanding the ends. In the middle of teaching Holst’s St Paul’s Suite to a student the following morning, one of them broke. SNAP. At exactly the same point as exactly the same batons always used to break years ago, which is exactly why I stopped using them in the first place. Why on earth did I go back and try again, thinking their quality-control had improved???

Essentially, what you’ve got is two bits of wood, sandwiched together and held in place merely by anti-matter, and the invisible force-fields emanating from minor 6-3 chords. Or it may as well be, because f*** all else holds it together, and the slightest twitch from the wrist renders the bits asunder.

WHAT. RUBBISH.

It really grinds my gears, as that famous conductor on telly says. It is truly, truly dreadful workmanship, and what’s more, a rip-off: At nearly £11 a pop, I’d expect a stick to last at least as far as the slow movement (of the piece, or even my career). I’ve bought a few sticks from Guivier’s since December, and they’ve often been poorly finished, badly balanced, and sometimes bent. Well, ok, I didn’t buy the bent ones, but you get the point.

So I’ve gone back to some little Maestro TR12BW jobbies, which I love, are cheaper, and above all don’t break every six bars. Much better all round.

Guivier’s should know better than to sell such dross, and I’ll be telling them so, once I’ve gotten all this off my chest. I do hope someone from their company reads this, as I’d love to offer them the right to reply. I’m not attempting to be confrontational, but when our batons are our precision tools, and they end up being far from precise, it p*sses me off big time. Plus, Guivier’s have a reputation – in a tricky world, where you can’t just grab a stick from the high street – of supplying some of the best batons to some of the best conductors. People travel there from all over, or do it mail-order. Their quality really ought to be better than that. Other company’s batons are WAAAAY better. And I’m not talking about poncey Mollards, ultra-balanced Pickboys, or Newlands embossed along the side with their own importance – I’m talking about bog-standard meat-and-two-veg sticks you can get hold of in a tiny music shop.

As you can tell, when I get ranting, I really can vent and vent and vent. So, that’s enough. I’ve got a gig tonight. Which I’ll be conducting with a simple cheap baton, the kind I’ve been using for ages. Which almost certainly won’t break. Unless someone attacks me from the viola section (it does happen, I’m told).

Anyone else got any thoughts about Guivier’s batons??? Please add comments. Maybe even photos of fatalities.

Happy snapping, folks!

this is a waltz (honest)

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So, my dear friend and collaborator James Mayhew has been doodling again. This time from the back of the hall, as we rehearsed on Thursday last week. (For more on this – at least from James’s perspective – switch blog channels and read all about his Dancing Paintbrush)

I was on stage, rehearsing. Sorting things out for the de Havilland Phil concert this weekend (see flier below, featuring a very well-known pianist). There must’ve been an awful lot of waltzing in there somewhere, because there’s a lot of waltzing in the programme. So I imagine there’s a lot of waltzing in this picture, too. Stands to reason. Ok, so there might be a bit of La Mer in there too, which could just imbue his artwork with a certain aquatic quality, but I like to think that he’s captured a waltz here, in all it’s glory. Good on you James, and thank you – this is a truly beautiful painting!

Vienna comes to Hatfield

So, it’s a waltz. Perhaps. Or so I like to think.

Now – the lovely problem is that, of course, capturing a waltz in such a perfect, frozen-in-silver(-rose) kind of way such as this makes it seem so elegant, so light and so simple. Which is the way waltzes are. Or should be. Conducting them like that, hard as it is (ok: it’s near impossible) is what I strive for.

But like I say, it’s hard! Breathtakingly subtle. In gently trying to inflect them, to turn their myriad corners and bring their inevitable rubato to life, one can trample all over their tender shoots, or snap them completely. Yet, do nothing, and the music dies – as if killed by the dullest of routiniers. Uninspiring, unimaginative. Boring waltz-killers. There are plenty about!

And of course, as a conductor, one has to make the most musical music within a waltz-beat. In other words, in one. Make the music flow, the lines sing, the contours melt and dance – all within just one beat. One fluid motion, containing all. Can’t do too much, shouldn’t do too little. And you’re always on a knife-edge between the two. Yet it shouldn’t ever appear like that, or else, again, you’ll kill the whole thing. Waltzes + fear don’t mix well! I firmly believe they should be compulsory in every kind of conducting competition – not the Danse Sacrale, or some piece written yesterday, but waltzes. Plenty of them. There are, after all, plenty of them…

Well, I’m going back to nursing my inner waltz, in preparation for the concert tomorrow. I’ll leave you with one of the few true masters (no, I don’t mean Strauss). Please don’t miss the point and think “it’s nothing to do with him” and “the orchestra do that anyway”! There is truth in that, but it’s far from the whole story. And if, after watching all of this, you still feel that way, then I suggest a diet of Zen koans (because they sum up the endless secret of good waltzing). Or maybe some polkas.

Oooh, and before I go, here’s that flier. I’ll tell you how the waltzes (not to mention the great Emperor with John Lill) go in my next post. There may even be a photo from my dressing room

sun & studying

Foto ANton Dvorak in 1868

Image via Wikipedia

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…