Archive for December, 2008

Bach, Lou Reed, Count Basie

December 16, 2008
FREE! Music for grown-ups on the BBC in the next 10 days

Hidden among its vast TV and radio output, the BBC broadcasts some magnificent music for grown-ups every week of the year. Xmas week 2008 is spectacularly good. And it’s all free – well, sort of….

Thurs 18 Dec
2100 Louis Armstrong, Omnibus – BBC Four
2210 Louis Armstrong, Show Of The Week – BBC Four
2300 Louis Armstrong, Good Evening Ev’rybody – BBC Four
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Fri 19 Dec
2130 & 0220 The Swing Thing – BBC Four

Sat 20 Dec
1215 Puccini Season, Music Matters – BBC Radio 3
1600 Count Basie, Jazz Library – BBC Radio 3

1700 Massenet’s Thais, from the Met, with Renee Fleming – BBC Radio 3
1900 Louis Prima, Legends – BBC Four
2100 Count Basie & His Orchestra – BBC Four
2200 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2
2330 Artie Shaw, Quest For Perfection – BBC Four

Sun 21 Dec
1900 Bach, Christmas Oratorio from Weimar – BBC Four
2230 Oscar Peterson In Concert – BBC Four
2300 Billie Holiday, Reputations – BBC Four
2400 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC 6Music

Mon 22 Dec
1200 & 2200 Puccini, Composer Of The Week
(1/5, continues Tues-Fri) – BBC Radio 3
1900 Bach at Christmas (1/3, continues Tues-Wed) – BBC Radio 3
2200 Bach, Christmas Oratorio from Weimar – BBC Four

Wed 24 Dec
1830 Carols from King’s – BBC2

Thurs 25 Dec
1400 Festival Of Nine Lessons & Carols, from King’s – BBC Radio 3
1500 Hansel und Gretel, from Covent Garden – BBC2
1950 Handel’s Messiah, LSO/Davis, from The Barbican – BBC Four
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Fri 26 Dec
1400 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC 6Music
2200 Quincy Jones: The Many Lives Of Q – BBC Four

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are broadcast live online – please see the channels’ web sites for details. Some BBC radio and TV programmes are also accessible online via iPlayer for a short period after transmission:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

And on the commercial networks:

Tues 23 Dec
0125 Spectacle: Elvis Costello with Lou Reed – C4

Gerry Smith

Advertisements

Angelika Kirschlager: three world-ranking mezzos #1

December 15, 2008
With a rare chance to compare three world-ranking mezzos in London in the space of five days, I saw the first, Angelika Kirschlager, in Hansel und Gretel at Covent Garden last Friday.

She – and the opera – were magnificent. In her usual “trouser role”, this time playing a youthful country boy, Kirschlager impressed all night long. Her singing was supple yet powerful, her comic and dramatic acting delightful.

Ms Kirschlager wasn’t the only reason for my visit, though – locally revered baritone Thomas Allen was predictably luminous as the confused Father and Diana Damrau is a compelling soprano whose acting eventually matched Kirschlager’s. The house band under Colin Davis was consistently reliable, occasionally moving.

My pre-show doubts about a fairy tale subject written by a one-hit wonder (Humperdinck) were entirely misplaced. This is an engaging version, directed by the Leiser/Caurier duo who’ve been responsible for some outstanding Covent Garden shows in recent years.

You can catch it on BBC Radio 3 tomorrow, Tuesday 16 December, at 1930.

Gerry Smith

Big screens at Bob Dylan’s London O2 show next April: “slim chance”

December 12, 2008
Thanks to Matthew Zuckerman:

“But if the big screens aren¹t used the Dylan show could be embarrassingly poor.”

The chances of Dylan allowing screens to be used at the London O2 gig are slim. How slim? Well, he has insisted that the screens be turned off at just about every festival he has played over the years, so it would be a big turnaround. (Mind you, he did allow cameras at Woodstock 2, and how many of us would have bet their mortgages — even in the present economic climate — against the possibility of Bob writing his memoirs, hosting a radio show or advertising ladies underwear . . . right up until the moment when he did it?)

This may be annoying for those in distant seats, particularly if Bob stays behind his keyboard all evening, as he has done most of the time in recent years, but that’s the way he works.

That’s what he’s doing on stage, working, and like every successful worker, he takes the opportunity to arrange his working conditions the way he likes them. And the way he likes them is to have everything conducive to his being able to put maximum concentration into his performance.

This means:

1) No cameras flashing in his eyes [There are countless mobile phones
pointed at him, to be sure, but they don’t flash — at least, not with the strength of a professional photographer’s camera — and they are far enough away to be ignored]

2) No cameramen dressed in black creeping around his stage on the periphery of his vision, cameras Quasimodo-like on their shoulders [I hear that he likes as few people as possible around the stage, and even insisted that the likes of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard cleared the backstage area when he was touring with them a few years ago]

3) No distracting chatter with the audience [Just one ‘thank you’ and the names of the band members, plus a smattering of words every dozen or so concerts if there’s something he really wants to say — eg on election night]

4) No eye contact with the audience [This is, I would guess, one of the reasons he likes to stay behind the keyboard, on the side of the stage and angled away from the audience. A few times a concert he might come to centre stage or look out at us, but he can choose the times and curtail them whenever he wants]

Now if you are stuck at the back of Earl’s Court, the NEC or the O2 arena, the gig will be a whole lot less affecting than if you were lucky enough to get a seat up front, but that’s the way the man works.

Would it be better if he played smaller venues and left the arenas to the Rolling Stones, U2 and — since he is at ease with the cameras and with reaching out to large crowds — Leonard Cohen? As long as you can get a ticket it would be, but if Dylan stopped playing arenas, ticket demand would be fierce and many would be left with nothing at all. (He can hardly double the number of shows to compensate!)

I have seen Dylan at Portsmouth Guildhall and the Urawa Bunka Centre just outside Tokyo, both small halls, as well as his residency at the Brixton Academy, and the performances have been wonderful. But no more wonderful than his 2005 performance at the cavernous NEC in Birmingham, possibly the finest of the 50 or so shows I have witnessed.

P.S. I know I am a bit of a Luddite (I prefer vinyl to digital and shellac to vinyl, for example), but when I saw the Rolling Stones at Tokyo Stadium in 1994 I had an excellent seat about 10 rows from the front, and yet still found myself drawn to watch the giant close-ups of the screens. The result? It might have been a great cinematic show, but it was not the kind of ‘live’ performance that I would expect from a Dylan concert. In order to achieve a standardized attractive appearance, supermarket produce often sacrifices the true flavour of the fruit and we are frequently in danger of doing the same with music. If you’re looking at a screen, something in your mind tells you that this is cinema or a TV programme, and you become less present in the moment. Enjoy being in the same room as Bob, even if you are at the back of the room.

Kirschlager, Didonato and Bartoli: three world-ranking mezzos play London

December 11, 2008
In the space of the next five days, I’m due to see Angelika Kirschlager, Joyce Didonato and Cecilia Bartoli, three world-ranking mezzo-sopranos, singing at three different London gigs:

· Kirschlager in Hansel und Gretel at Covent Garden tomorrow,

· Didonato singing Handel repertoire at the Barbican on Saturday,

· and Bartoli in a Rossini recital, also at the Barbican, next Wednesday.

Music for Grown-Ups Heaven!

Having seen all three before, several times each, my expectations are astronomically high: three of the greatest female voices on the planet – on show in one city at virtually the same time. It’ll be instructive, if invidious, to compare and contrast. Watch Music For Grown-Ups for reviews.

Gerry Smith

Louis Armstrong, The Police, Angelika Kirschlager

December 9, 2008
FREE! Music for grown-ups on the BBC in the next 10 days

Hidden among its vast TV and radio output, the BBC broadcasts some magnificent music for grown-ups. Every week of the year. And it’s all free – well, sort of… .

Wed 10 Dec
1200 & 2200 Robert Schumann, Composer Of The Week
(3/5, continues Thurs-Fri) – BBC Radio 3

Thurs 11 Dec
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Fri 12 Dec
2100 Roy Orbison, Legends – BBC Four
2200 Roy Sings Orbison – BBC Four

Sun 14 Dec
2400 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC 6 Music

Tues 16 Dec
1930 Hansel und Gretel, featuring Angelika Kirschlager,
live from Covent Garden – BBC Radio 3

Thurs 18 Dec
2100 Louis Armstrong, Omnibus – BBC Four
2210 Louis Armstrong, Show Of The Week – BBC Four
2300 Louis Armstrong, Good Evening Ev’rybody – BBC Four
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Fri 19 Dec
2130 & 0220 The Swing Thing – BBC Four

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are broadcast live online – please see the channels’ web sites for details. Some BBC radio and TV programmes are also accessible online via iPlayer for a short period after transmission:

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

And on the commercial networks:

Mon 15 Dec
2405 Spectacle: Elvis Costello with The Police – C4

Gerry Smith

“New” Neil Young live album – and then there were ten

December 8, 2008
I’ll be buying Sugar Mountain, the new Neil Young live album, later this week. But I’ll be buying it – the tenth live album by Young – only through force of habit, the need to keep the Shakey collection complete.

Hell, I already have nine live albums, and I only ever listen to the top three – Live Rust, Weld and Unplugged. Young’s a great live performer, but do I really need ten gigs?

I’ve been swayed because Sugar Mountain was recorded very early – Nov 1968, just before the release of the disappointing eponymous first album – and it could repay careful scrutiny.

The other Young live albums are:

Live At the Fillmore East (1971>2006)
Live At Massey Hall (1971>2007)
Time Fades Away (1973)
Live Rust (1979)
Weld (1991)
Arc (1991)
Unplugged (1993)
Year of the Horse (1997)
Road Rock vol 1 (2001)

Gerry Smith

Music for grown-ups on the mag racks: two new Miles, one new Dylan cover

December 4, 2008
Key musicians for grown-ups Miles Davis and Bob Dylan feature prominently on the magazine racks this month.

Promoting the sooopah-dooopah new Kind Of Blue box, my two favourite jazz mags both have Miles cover features. Jazzwise (Dec/Jan) uses one of the iconic Sony photos for its eight-page feature.

Jazz Magazine (Paris) uses a less familiar shot of Miles on the evocative cover of its Dec issue to trail a multi-part feature.

They nicely complement the striking portrait used by Jazziz for its September issue.

www.jazzwise.com

www.jazzmagazine.com

www.jazziz.com

The new issue (1066, 27 Nov) of the redesigned Rolling Stone has a mid-‘60s Dylan photo on its cover (he’s one of four different collectors’ covers) announcing its Special Issue – The 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time.

Dylan manages seventh place in the top 100, which was compiled by polling a couple of hundred celebs/music bizzers. I didn’t bother reading any of the short articles on the “great singers” (Dylan’s praises are sung by Bono), but the issue is a lovely addition to the collection of Dylan cover issues.

Surprisingly, there’s no place in the top 100 for tenors like Pavarotti, sopranos like Callas or lounge greats like Sinatra and Ella. Rolling Stone must have run out of space to insert the qualifying adjectives “Baby Boomer-plus rockpop” between “Greatest” and “Singers Of All Time”. Without them, the title of the otherwise admirable 40-page feature is laughable.

www.rollingstone.com

Gerry Smith

Sting sings Dowland in Sydney: encore

December 3, 2008
Thanks to Jerry Crew:

“Enjoyed reading the review from Andrew Robertson. For those who would like to hear/see/learn more about this phase of Sting’s career, you can pick up the excellent CD/DVD combo pack titled “The Journey & The Labyrinth: The Music of John Dowland”.

“It contains excerpts from a performance by Sting and Edin Karamazov at St. Luke’s in London, which sounds to be similar to the Sydney performance.”

Herbie Hancock, Roy Orbison, Robert Schumann

December 2, 2008
FREE! Music for grown-ups on the BBC in the next 10 days

Hidden among its vast TV and radio output, the BBC broadcasts some magnificent music for grown-ups. Every week of the year. And it’s all free – well, sort of… .

Wed 3 Dec
1200 & 2200 Olivier Messiaen, Composer Of The Week
(3/5, continues Thurs-Fri) – BBC Radio 3

Thurs 4 Dec
2300 Salif Keita, BBC Four Sessions – BBC Four
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Fri 5 Dec
2315 fRoots magazine’s Album of the Year, World On 3 – BBC Radio 3

Sun 7 Dec
2400 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC 6 Music

Mon 8 Dec
1200 & 2200 Robert Schumann, Composer Of The Week
(1/5, continues Tues-Fri) – BBC Radio 3
2315 Herbie Hancock At The London Jazz Festival – BBC Radio 3

Thurs 11 Dec
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Fri 12 Dec
2100 Roy Orbison, Legends – BBC Four
2200 Roy Sings Orbison – BBC Four

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are broadcast live online – please see the channels’ web sites for details. Some BBC radio and TV programmes are also accessible online via iPlayer for a short period after transmission:

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

Gerry Smith

Sting sings Dowland in Sydney

December 1, 2008
Thanks to Andrew Robertson (in Adelaide)

Why, if a person who plays the flute is a flautist, is a person who plays the lute a lutenist?

On Sunday night, we saw Sting playing his “lute concert” at the Sydney Opera House, the day after the architect who had designed the Sydney Opera House, Joern Utzon, had died. Before the concert started the boss of the Opera House came out and spoke warmly about Utzon, although the history of Utzon and his Opera House was controversial. He hadn’t been appreciated and acknowledged appropriately at the time, and the project went way over budget. As a result, Utzon had never actually seen the finished building and I believe felt some bitterness about it right to the end. Maybe there are people who know more about this than me?

Sting then spoke about his excitement and pride of playing in such an iconic venue, particularly at this poignant time. He said he’d been coming to Australia for 30 years and had never thought he’d be playing at the Opera House.

And in a world where the word “iconic” has lost some of its currency through over-use, there is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is an icon. Catching a ferry across the harbour framed by the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House is one of the world’s great travel experiences – no matter how often you do it, it can still take your breath away.

So to the concert, and what a thoroughly charming evening it was.

I was asked what were the other differences between the flute and the lute, apart from the names of those who play them, and I said the way they are played – one is played with the lips and the other with the fingers. I was informed, with a glint in her eye, that this is a big and important difference indeed! I wonder what she meant…

The concert opened with a trio comprising grand piano, cello and classical guitar playing original music (written by the pianist) which was warm and inviting, somehow contemporary in style but also with a sense of timelessness, as great classical music is. Was this great music? I am not sure, as I am probably not qualified to judge, but it was a great experience sitting there listening to it.

Then after a short interval where champagne was obligatory as we stepped outside the Opera House to look across the water at the Bridge in lights, out came Sting, accompanied initially only by Edin Karamazov, a man who I am sure is the finest lutenist in history. As the concert continued, in some songs they were accompanied by an 8 piece choir, 4 male and 4 female voices, with all of the right mixes of baritone, tenor and the rest – beautiful, although possibly slightly under-utilised as they seemed to be really only providing the harmonies when I’m sure they were capable of more. But when you have a voice like Sting’s, what more do you need?

Having heard Sting in his own jazz-inflected band back in the early ‘90s (around the time he was pursuing South America influences to create some really wonderful music) and also more recently in the Police reunion tour, I didn’t realize how good his voice really is. In the pop/rock/jazz idioms the vocal is often competing for space against all of the other instruments, and also against the sheer volume of the sounds, but against a musical backdrop of the lute, the whole lute and nothing but the lute, the voice was on full display. I am not musically literate enough to know how describe it, but I am sure it is a classical voice of rare quality.

He commented that after playing to audiences of 20-30,000 people that it was a bit intimidating to play to a small audience where he could actually see everyone’s face. The Opera House has a number of auditoriums, and this concert hall was quite small – at a guess, not more than 2,000 people, possibly less. We were close, and it was wonderfully intimate. If he was intimidated, it didn’t show – he was in command, it was very definitely his show, but in a way that expressed confidence rather than arrogance. It was also very honest – here he was doing something heartfelt, following his own musical journey and arguably risking much in terms of his reputation and audience.

The music was the songs of John Dowland from 16th century England – but songs which resonated today. Musically Sting had been quoted as saying that these songs had a direct lineage through to the Beatles, and in the encore when he played In My Life it was as if to demonstrate that. The encore also included Fields of Gold and Message In A Bottle, both of which worked beautifully in this context.

Prior to the concert I had wondered what other accompaniment he would have, other than the lutenist Karamazov. I was surprised that there was none other – but it didn’t need any more, the lute was such a rich accompaniment on its own. Particularly played the way Edin Karamazov played it. Sting also played the lute, in about half the songs, possibly more – he was good, but kind of like the rhythm lutenist to Karamazov’s lead.

Sting was very generous in his appreciation of Karamazov, and also the backing choir. Again, he came across as very human and very likeable.

In a world in which I think experiences are more valuable than things, this was a priceless experience.