Category Archives: Brilliant

RTE Concert Orchestra (NCH, 25 March 2015): Ravel’s piano concerto in G

RTÉ Concert Orchestra: Essential Classics

John Wilson conductor
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet piano
RTÉ Contempo Quartet

Eric Coates Dancing Nights
Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major
Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Gershwin An American in Paris

“What links all these pieces?” began conductor John Wilson, biding time as the stage was reset after the Vaughan Williams piece.

“Maurice Ravel.”

With a raconteur’s fluency, leaning casually on the podium, Wilson then gave a fascinating programme note. (I had been, shall we say, just in time for the concert, and so hadn’t availed of a printed programme.) Ravel was teacher to Vaughan Williams for an intense period that marked a transformation in his style; Gershwin adored the composer but Ravel famously recognised that the world would benefit more from a first-rate Gershwin than a second-rate Ravel; Coates was one of the few composers that Ravel sought out, on account of his command of the modern instruments (e.g. vibraphone, saxophone).

Coates’s ‘Dancing Nights’ was the only piece that I hadn’t heard before, but its stylish gaiety — with such glorious melodies and harmony! — was immediately familiar and just thoroughly enjoyable. It’s the music from this period that John Wilson has championed in his career and it is one of the very best things to do in Dublin to hear him conduct the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

Onto Ravel. I fell in love with this piece of music when i first encountered it at university. (The conductor of the Edinburgh University Chamber Orchestra at the time, Richard Jeffcoat, conducted it from the piano. I was on clarinet.) It may say ‘piano concerto’ on the cover, but it’s an incredible piece of work that treats the orchestra more as a chamber ensemble. The writing for each and every instrument demands extraordinary technique. Perhaps this is why it’s so exciting to hear: it’s just so interesting! Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the piano soloist, was such fun to watch — his remarkable abilities allowing the jazzy energy of the music to shine. There’s a thundering piano run in octaves in the first movement that he played rather differently than I’ve heard on recordings and that was the moment for me when I knew something really special was happening.

The second movement is one of the most perfect things ever committed to paper. It is simply one of the best things in my life; one of those things that I can’t even really recommend to you because, to me, it’s so completely mine.

(If you look very closely you can see me sitting in the balcony, directly above the harp!)

Here’s a gem of a book (click the cover below for Kindle version) by the brilliant fiction writer Jean Echenoz that I read, and loved, a few years ago. Echenoz uses the facts of Ravel’s last ten years to create a wonderful, charming work:

Chaff and grain (quote from Christopher Stevens’ biography of Kenneth Williams)

The quote that most often closed his letters (sometimes in full, sometimes indicated with just the words ‘chaff & grain’) was from a forgotten Victorian novelist, Mrs Craik: ‘Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.’

Handholds (quote from Christopher Stevens’ biography of Kenneth Williams)

Williams, whose mind was a compendium of verses and tag lines, sources and quotations, felt his thoughts were clearest when told in other people’s words. Wilfred Owen, Roy Fuller, A.E. Housman, John Milton and T.S. Eliot all left deep grooves to which he returned for handholds, proving the truth of an argument by showing that the thought had been beautifully phrased by a better mind.

Last tour of the year

imageI’m on a plane from Boston to Washington DC, where we play the first gig of this tour tomorrow. It’s a relatively short run, just two weeks, and in that time we’ll do eight shows: Washington DC, New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

I’m excited — our tour of Europe in October went really well — and also nervous. It’s cool to be going back to cities we played earlier in the year, this time to slightly larger venues. There’s a sense of growth and development that’s satisfying and gratifying. I’m looking forward to visiting Portland for the first time, too.

On the flight to Boston, Adrian and I watched the very funny ’22 Jump Street’ and then I watched some episodes of ‘Girls’, ‘Hello Ladies’, and ‘True Detective’. Cue much accent mimicking on my part in Boston airport…sorry guys!

On this flight, I started reading Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes Please’ (which is already funny and charming and wise) and listened to a wonderful recording of Shostakovich’s 2nd piano concerto, played by Elisabeth Leonskaja with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (it’s on Spotify — check it out).

There are kids in this airport with ‘Class of 2020’ shirts on! On that note…here’s to a brilliant tour!

MOJO — The 100 Greatest Singles Of All Time

http://open.spotify.com/user/1156132078/playlist/19AG9Umk5ZRi12fwdUeMnT

I’ve had a collector’s edition of MOJO magazine since 1997 that lists The 100 Greatest Singles Of All Time, voted for by this impressive judging panel:

image

Now, thanks to the unprecedented availability afforded by Spotify, here they are. (Apart from the songs by The Beatles and John Lennon, which aren’t available in their original versions on Spotify. I found some really faithful covers of The Beatles’ numbers, and a beautiful instrumental version of ‘Imagine’.)

Enjoy — and let me know what you think of the choices of the 17-years-ago music industry…

PS They’re in order, from no. 100 (Frank Sinatra) to no. 1 (The Beach Boys).