My most recent blogpost
turned out to be my 1000th. No one can be more surprised about
having reached that milestone than I am; when I started out, just over six
years ago, I really had no idea what I was doing, barely knowing what a ‘blog’
was. I had made a pilgrimage to Berlin, for what still remains one of the most
extraordinary musical experiences of my life, the opportunity to hear in a
little over a week all of the Mahler symphonies, in performances by the
Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim. Whilst
there, it occurred to me that it would be a nice idea simply to record some of
my impressions. Having returned home to Cambridge – as home then was – I sent
my little report of those performances to a few interested friends. One of them
suggested that others, whom neither she nor I might know, might also be
interested to read an English-language report, and that setting up a blog would
be a way for them to reach it, should they wish. Being anything other than a
technologically-minded person, I was quite pleased with myself for managing to
do that without any help from anyone else. So unversed was I in the ways of
this new world, that it had never occurred to me that I should need a name for
the blog; so, when I was asked, I simply wrote the first thing that came into
my mind, doubtless a consequence of Boulez’s pre-eminence in those performances,
but not even realising that it was anything more than a user-name, such as I
had for e-mail. Though offering a tribute to the man I still regard in many ways as the
conscience of new music was far from unfitting, there was thus a great deal of
‘happenstance’ in the naming: not entirely unlike that of his wonderful
choral work, Cummings ist der Dichter
(not, incidentally, a work of which I have had any opportunity to review a
Perhaps, then, it would have
been especially fitting, had that final posting of the first thousand related
to Boulez in some way, but it did not, and I had no intention of writing
something just for the sake of such symmetry. (More to the point, I only
realised the day before that I was approaching my 1000th
posting!) However, were I not dealing
with Boulez, it would have been difficult to happen upon something more appropriate
than a memorial concert to Sir Colin Davis, whose performances, largely with
the LSO and the Royal Opera, consistently lit up my musical life until his
death earlier this year. Indeed, I recently noted that the
little tribute I wrote, immediately upon hearing of his passing, has been
the most-read item here. And now my 1001st is able to feature them
In that spirit, I decided to
mark this coming of age by selecting twenty-one performances that have meant and,
in retrospect, continue to mean a great deal to me. (Not all of my postings
have been reviews, but I shall leave the others on one side for the moment.) It
would be meaningless to claim that they were my absolute ‘favourite’
performances during this period, for the competition would be far too fierce, and
in any case, musical performance does not or should not constitute a
competition. With all the necessary caveats, however, here is a selection of
those I especially wished to remember (in chronological order):
could hardly fail to include it, given the formative status mentioned above;
nor, however, should I ever have wished not to do so.
truly astounding performance at the Royal Opera House; somehow, Davis’s
ineffable magic managed to redeem what ought to have been irredeemable, given
the tawdry production.
heard three out of the eight recitals Barenboim gave at the Royal Festival Hall.
Somewhat arbitrarily yet perhaps inevitably, I select here the final one,
ending with op.111.
remains perhaps the most scandalously neglected of all musical dramatists.
Barrie Kosky’s scintillating production of perhaps his finest opera offered a
standing rebuke to the silence from other houses.
one might think, but this concert with the Scharoun Ensemble and Barbara
Hannigan went beyond that to undoubted greatness; I doubt that any of the works
performed has ever received a superior performance.
historic event, to be sure, but also a profoundly musical experience,
culminating in Schubert’s great B-flat sonata, D 960.
premiere of Robert Carsen’s production at the Prinzregententheater offered one
of those rare occasions when everything worked together and proved so much more
than the sum of its considerable parts – especially to be valued in this of all
have been fortunate enough to see Stefan Herheim’s staging of Parsifal three times now, twice
conducted by Daniele Gatti. Here I have chosen the stunning experience of my
first encounter; it remains the case that I have seen no better production of
any opera, anywhere.
agonised over whether to include this Wigmore Hall concert, since part of its
memorability is ‘extra-musical’. However, the way in which musicians and music
rose above disruption proved both admirable in itself and a proper reminder
that there is no more ideological a construct than ‘absolute music’.
heroic efforts of English Touring Opera may often be overshadowed by London’s
permanent companies. The first performance of a masterpiece, however, stood in
stark contrast to some of the misfires offered both by Covent Garden and ENO (Anna Nicole, Miss Fortune, and above all, the execrable Two Boys...)
truth, I could have chosen any of the five ‘Pollini Project’ recitals given at
the Royal Festival Hall, in which our greatest living pianist performed works
from Bach to Boulez. How, though, not to single out transcendental accounts of
that any of us in the know has ever doubted it, but here were a searing
performance and production, directed by Benedict Andrews, starring Tom Randle
and Pamela Helen Stephen, that demonstrated beyond doubt the towering greatness
of opera’s first titan.
signal achievement, in turning an opera that so readily palls into a great
evening’s theatre: a staging, then, much better than the work itself.
the ultimate challenge, met more successfully than any performance I have heard
since Klemperer’s EMI recording. This was a reckoning indeed with Beethoven’s towering
performance that went far beyond the self-recommending, as much a summation of
a life as Sir Colin’s Missa solemnis.
Again with the excellent Barbara Hannigan.
is the only performance I have ever heard that ‘worked’ in St Paul’s Cathedral.
And how! The last time I heard Davis conduct.
triumphant, life-affirming conclusion to a triumphant, life-affirming Proms
cycle of the Beethoven symphonies (and works by Boulez). The symphonic
Beethoven regained meaning, regained burning necessity.
Alois Zimmermann’s masterpiece receiving its Salzburg premiere, showing,
amongst other things, that when the Vienna Philharmonic puts its mind to doing
so, it can be a great advocate for new music.
knows how the Birmingham Opera Company under Graham Vick managed to give the
premiere of Stockhausen’s opera, helicopter quartet and all, let alone to do so
with such incredible success. This achievement arguably puts all of the others
mentioned here in the shade. Unforgettable!
first time around, I had had no doubt what a fine work this was, but it had not
quite knocked me for six as Gawain
had on only my second ever visit to the Royal Opera House. A superior conductor
made all the difference on the 2013 revival.
not quite the birth of a masterpiece, given that it had been premiered the
previous year in Aix, my first encounter with what will surely be judged a key
opera of the twenty-first century.