Wednesday, 19 December 2007

British Music in St Petersburg

We end our posts for 2007 with another piece from Boydell music editor, Bruce Phillips, pictured here in front of the Glinka Capella.

British music does not travel, it is said. Having been dismissed by a 19th-century German critic as ‘the country without music’, Britain produced a whole generation of fine composers and instrumentalists towards the end of the Victorian era and beyond into the twentieth century, most of whom remain relatively unfamiliar in the concert and recital halls of continental Europe. Hats off then to two intrepid promoters of the cause of British music, Edward Clark and Rudi Eastwood, for dreaming up and bringing to fruition their bold conception of a month-long festival of British music that ran from 31 October until 1 December in St Petersburg. Thirteen concerts, recitals, and other events in a variety of spectacular venues offered the Russian concertgoer a chance to sample a wide spectrum of music from Purcell and Boyce to David Matthews and Michael Finnissy, taking in a tasty smorgasbord of music by such composers as Edward Elgar, Frederick Delius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Benjamin Britten, Malcolm Arnold, John Tavener, Matthew Taylor, and John Francis Brown.

The roster of performers mixed British and Russian soloists. The orchestras and ensembles were all Russian, taken from the incredibly wide pool of highly talented musicians available in St Petersburg. Sponsorship was raised from several British composer and charitable trusts and foundations, the British Council, British Airways and other sources. One of them was the John Ireland Trust, the Trustees of which were attracted by the idea of having Ireland’s piano concerto played in Russia, quite possibly for the first time since it was written in 1930, by a rising star in the UK pianistic firmament, Tom Poster, under the direction of Rudi Eastwood, a graduate of the St Petersburg conducting class. The orchestra was that of the State Academic Capella and the final concert of the festival took place on Saturday 1 December in their magnificent concert hall, popularly known as the Glinka Capella.

As soon as we heard the magical sounds of Delius’s wonderfully evocative On hearing the first cuckoo in spring we knew that we were not going to be disappointed, and the orchestra negotiated this (to them) unfamiliar music as to the manner born under Rudi Eastwood’s firm control.

Then Tom Poster, fresh from his triumph in the 2007 Scottish International Piano Competition, delivered a fluent account of Ireland’s masterpiece, Eastwood proving well up to the challenge of keeping the orchestra and soloist together, no mean feat in the last movement which was taken at an impressive speed. So great was the audience’s acclaim for this performance that Mr Poster sat down once more and played us Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s charming piano piece Farewell to Stromness, thus ensuring the inclusion of the Master of the Queen’s Musick in the list of composers represented.

St Petersburg is the largest city nearest the Arctic Circle and thus presumably furthest away from the Antarctic. It was perhaps appropriate that the final work should be Vaughan Williams’s Sinfonia Antartica, the symphony he fashioned from the score he wrote for the film ‘Scott of the Antarctic’. The plan to show the film at the Dom Kino earlier in the week ran up against technical problems, but happily no such pitfalls attended the excellent performance by the orchestra, complete with wind machine, soprano soloist and chorus of women’s voices.

I also attended a challenging piano recital by the pianist Jonathan Powell which took place in one of the gallery rooms in the house of the painter Isaac Brodsky. One’s eyes were drawn to a magnificent portrait of Chaliapin while one’s ears took in a wide ranging anthology of unfamiliar and technically challenging British piano music from Sorabji to Finnissy all played with supreme assurance by Mr Powell. One’s ears were grateful for the occasional relief provided by music by York Bowen, Frank Bridge, William Baines and John Foulds, and also by Powell’s own attractive piece Barcarola. Only when we returned for a second visit to this fascinating collection of paintings by Brodsky and his contemporaries did we see tucked away the portraits of Lenin and Stalin—Brodsky having been the only artist allowed to portray Lenin in the early days of the Revolution.

At another concert, this time in the hall of the Sheremetev Palace, the Modus Quartet, a fine ensemble of young players from the St Petersburg Conservatoire, played Sir Malcolm Arnold’s second string quartet, and were joined by Tom Poster for a grandiloquent performance of Elgar’s Piano Quintet. The first work in the programme was Tavener’s settings of poems by Anna Akhmatova for soprano and cello. Only after I had returned to the UK and studied the excellent Companion Guide to St Petersburg by Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes did I realise that Akhmatova had lived there for many years after the Revolution.

Audiences at all the events were good, and their appreciation of the chance to hear so much unfamiliar music was palpable. There are plans to repeat the festival next year, and one can only applaud all those involved, either as administrators or performers, for having successfully brought off this deeply impressive event. More information can be found at their website.

It only remains for us to wish you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful 2008. We will begin the New Year with something about Lord Berners.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

What Next?

Paul Griffiths is one of the University of Rochester Press’ favourite authors. His biography of Jean Barraqué, The Sea on Fire, is a scholarly and imaginative triumph, while his collection of occasional pieces and reviews, The Substance of Things Heard, was described as “illuminating, translucent, sagacious” by the TLS. Griffiths is also an accomplished librettist, and here he writes about recent performances of his collaboration with one of modern music’s greatest composers:

New York, December 12, 2007: Yesterday was Elliott Carter’s 99th birthday, celebrated with the fourth and last performance of a terrific production of his lone opera, What Next? A librettist’s point of view may not be unbiased, but for me this was the best presentation the piece has had. Jeffrey Milarsky, conducting the young AXIOM ensemble, led a musical performance that found so much rapture, wonder and wit in this extraordinary score, and Christopher Alden directed a staging that brought the drama of disconnection into tight focus. There was also an outstanding cast. Susan Narucki gave a driving intensity to Mama's pleadings, Katherine Rohrer was lustrous and warmly firm as Stella (a brilliant idea to make her star song so sexy), and Amanda Squitieri was dazzling in the coloratura role of Rose. Morgan Smith made sense of Harry or Larry as a young man whose anger bursts out as song, and Matthew Garrett let us hear the vocal magic Zen retains in his bewilderment. Ninety years younger than the composer, Jonathan Makepeace sang the part of Kid trimly in tune. That the production took place at all was due to the faith and campaigning energy of George Steel, who, as executive director, has remade Columbia University’s Miller Theatre as the prime venue in the city for exciting music and adventurous programming.

Having seen his opera staged in his native city, Carter now moves into his second century with undiminished creative energy. In the past year he has written, apart from several smaller pieces, a piano concerto that Daniel Barenboim will feature at the centenary concert in Carnegie Hall a year from now.

The New York Times agreed. Stay tuned, as they say, to this blog for something special on the Elliott Carter front in 2008.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Chosen Press

We’re pleased to announce that Boydell has entered into an agreement with Chosen Press to distribute their books worldwide. Their first title, a fascinating anthology of writings by and about Gerald and Joy Finzi, edited by Rolf Jordan, was published earlier this year and has already earned some enthusiastic reviews. From Boydell’s point of view, we felt it fitted nicely with Diana McVeagh’s biography of Finzi, and we were won over by Philip Lancaster’s philosophy of publishing books that he felt needed to be read. However, in case any of you are considering getting in on the publishing game, first read Philip’s story of getting The Clock of the Years into print:

The publication of our first book was rather a steep learning curve. Although, editorially, it had been in progress for a couple of years, the final days were rather fraught! We had worked up the typesetting of the volume in-house over the few months prior to our fixed publication date (an immovable feast, since the date had been long advertised as part of the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival), and it was therefore with great relief that we finally uploaded the files to our printer’s server. Or rather it should have been. The book text was fine; the jacket was an entirely different matter. A few days later we had a phone call from the printers, stating that there were numerous issues with the jacket, and that it would be easier if they spoke directly to our designers. Er, that will be us then. Despite our careful measurements, it was apparently too short; and most importantly, we had not appreciated the tonal differences between two means by which one could produce the dominant colour on the dust wrapper: black. Surely black is black, isn’t it? Obviously not.

This would have been fine, had we not been working in deepest darkest Herefordshire at this critical time, in a mobile telephone blackspot (one had to travel about 4-5 miles to get reception) and away from any internet communication. This was further frustrated by the fact that our Quark file corrupted and we couldn’t make the necessary alterations. Why did we ever decide to go into publishing?! At whatever the cost, we had to ask the printer to take it into their studio and sort it out themselves.

These problems delayed the final production, and it was a great worry as to whether the book would be ready in time for the launch. However, our printers, Cromwell Press, turned it round wonderfully quickly, and so on the morning of the book launch we were able to make a 110 mile diversion to collect part of the stock, making it to Gloucester only just in time for the launch lunch.

Next time you look at the book, pay particular attention to the dust wrapper, and admire the wonderful unity of the black colour across the jacket!

Monday, 3 December 2007

Discovering Mahler

Recently AbeBooks ran a competition based around new music books from Boydell & Brewer. The feature included the following interview with Donald Mitchell which gives some background to his new book, Discovering Mahler. Those of you who are not frequent visitors to the AbeBooks site might have missed it, so here it is again:

Boydell: Why have you called the final book in your four volume series Discovering Mahler?

Donald Mitchell: The essays represent in detail the history of my own personal discovering of Mahler and also the history of the evolution of comprehending Mahler and his music in cultures, and the UK in particular, which had been so long delayed.

B: When the first volume, Gustav Mahler: The Early Years, was published in 1958, Mahler’s music was something of a specialised taste. Fifty years on, it seems every conductor with a recording contract undertakes a complete cycle. Why has Mahler’s music taken so long to assume its place in the core repertoire?

DM: Two factors, I believe, were crucial. The tragic interruption of the Second World War and the fact of an obstructive British musical culture which for decades was antipathetic to the culture that gave birth to Mahler.

B: Mahler supposedly told Bruno Walter, who was admiring the view from the railway station near the composer’s summer home, “Don’t bother with that – it’s all in my music!” Do you find Mahler’s music “pictorial” in this way, or was he pointing to something more elemental in the music?

DM: On this occasion it is probable that it was the view itself, which is not to suggest that Mahler was a ‘descriptive’ composer or uninfluenced by the landscapes, sights and sounds, which were part of his daily experience.

B: In Gustav Mahler: Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, you demonstrated how the composer’s early sketches shed important light on the reading of works such as Das Lied von der Erde. What approach to the middle and last symphonies have you adopted in Discovering Mahler?

DM: I concentrate on the forms of Mahler’s symphonies, and especially those from his middle and final periods. There is nothing quite comparable elsewhere in the history of the symphony. While I explore each symphony as a discrete work, running through this collection of essays is an implied overview of the oeuvre as a whole, of Mahler’s startling and wide-ranging creative journey.

B: Das Lied von der Erde and the Ninth Symphony seem close to the ultimate expressions of farewell in any artist’s work. Had Mahler lived, would he have had much more to say?

DM: Absolutely, yes. One need think only of the unfinished Tenth Symphony and what extraordinary creative musical responses for the future it embodied.

B: You revised your earlier volumes when they were published in paperback by Boydell & Brewer. Have you said all that you set out to say on this composer?

DM: I should be very surprised indeed if that proved to be the case. Almost always when I hear a work with which I suppose myself to be entirely familiar I discover something that I had not noticed – not heard – before. Mahler’s works are never-ending in the new challenges they represent. One is always a few steps behind him. I have done my best in the current volume to close, reduce, some of the gaps. But I have no doubt at all that new discoveries will continue to be made in the future by others and myself.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Letters from a Life

This isn’t a blog for blowing our own trumpet beyond giving you some idea of what we’re publishing and why we publish it. However our acquisition of the series, Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten 1913-1976, is too important not to mention here. The fourth volume, covering the years 1952-7, will be published in May 2008, and takes in the years of Gloriana, Turn of the Screw and the ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas.

During this period, too, Britten’s stature as a major figure of the European musical establishment was blossoming. It also takes in his involvement with the Aldeburgh Festival, the English Operas Group and Covent Garden. Central to this period, and to many of the works that followed it, is Britten’s trip with Peter Pears to the Far East, where he encountered the music and cultures of Japan and Bali for the first time (see also Mervyn Cooke’s fascinating study of this in the Aldeburgh Studies in Music series).

Edited by Philip Reed, Mervyn Cooke and Donald Mitchell, Volume 4 of this series – “One of the most illuminating biographical projects in recent years” according to Peter Ackroyd – will possibly be the most exciting yet.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

More on John Stainer

Another view of the recent John Stainer event at Magdalen College from Boydell editor, Bruce Phillips:

To the man on the Clapham omnibus the name John Stainer, if it means anything at all, tends to mean one thing only: his Passion oratorio The Crucifixion, first performed in 1887. Yet, as Jeremy Dibble asserts in John Stainer: A Life in Music, he was by no means a one-work composer. The long list of his musical and literary works in Dibble’s book bears witness to a prolific composer of church and choral music of all kinds, together with books, articles, lectures and musical editions. On top of all this Stainer was a highly accomplished organist and choir director, and played a leading part in the raising of standards in choral singing and music education in Victorian Britain.

In 1860, at the age of only 20, Stainer was appointed organist and informator choristarum at Magdalen College, Oxford. It was thus highly appropriate that Magdalen chapel should be the setting for Evensong on Sunday 28th October in which all the music was by Stainer. A group of enthusiasts and Stainer family members (Stainer had five children) gathered there to hear the choir under Bill Ives sing his rarely performed Evening Service in E, and the anthem They were lovely and pleasant in their ways, a setting of verses from Ecclesiasticus, written by Stainer during his twelve years at Magdalen. Both hymns were by Stainer, and one could easily imagine oneself back in the 1860s, Stainer conducting the becassocked and besurpliced choristers, candlelight piercing the gathering darkness, in this wonderfully expressive music so redolent of the Victorian era.

After the service there was an opportunity to congregate in a Magdalen senior common room surrounded by portraits and photographs of its eminent sons (including Stainer himself of course), congratulate Jeremy on his splendid book and drink a toast to the memory of Stainer and to several of his descendants who were present for the occasion. Many copies of the book were bought, and as I left the room I saw Jeremy signing the last three.

As Dibble says in his concluding paragraph, Stainer may be fairly termed the epitome of the Victorian composer. While he could not boast the higher profiles of Sullivan, Parry and Stanford (on the last two of whom Dibble has written outstanding biographies) his contribution to the larger fabric of Britain’s music was immense. We have now moved on from the reaction against Victorian culture and Dibble’s book, the second to appear in Boydell’s new series Music in Britain 1600-1900, will at last help us to get to grips with one of its leading composers.

Monday, 12 November 2007

John Stainer & the saint of lost causes

If, as a publisher of specialist books on music, we can contribute something to raising the profile of a particular figure, that is a useful and rewarding service that we can offer the "community". John Stainer certainly falls into this category: a giant in his own time but now remembered largely for one work. Jeremy Dibble, author of a recently published biography of the composer writes:

John Stainer was recently launched at Magdalen College, Oxford on the Feast of St Simon and St Jude. St Jude is often remembered now as the saint of lost causes and for many Stainer has been associated with just this kind of sentiment. The Crucifixion, his best known work, may have its detractors,yet its undying popularity since its composition in 1887 tells us something about how ingrained and how “national” the appeal of this piece is to British ears, especially those within Anglicanism.

Stainer was a supreme professional, a deep thinker, one of this
country's finest and clear-thinking theorists, and, at his best, a fine
composer. His hymn tunes, like those of John Bacchus Dykes, are unrivalled,his anthems and services deserve to be better known - Magdalen choir's performance of the Evening Service in E and They were lovely and pleasant in their lives served as a vivid reminder of their quality, inspiration,and craftsmanship - and the musical excellence in our cathedrals and elsewhere, a national treasure, we owe to his vision, hard work and amiable personality. He is indeed one of our major musical luminaries.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Edvard Grieg in Knightsbridge

Bruce Phillips, editor-at-large for the Boydell Press, writes:

On 20th September I was a guest of the Grieg Society of Great Britain at a reception given at the official residence of the Norwegian Ambassador to London and the World War II meeting place of the Norwegian government in exile under King Haakon. The Chairman of the Grieg Society, Boydell author Beryl Foster, addressed a gathering in one of the official rooms of this imposing building, One purpose of the occasion was to present a special medal to the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra for its superb recordings of Grieg’s complete orchestral works on the BIS label. Another was to hear a terrific performance by the outstanding young pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi of Grieg’s intensely moving Ballade for piano. Not overlooked however was the fact that Beryl’s book, The Songs of Edvard Grieg, was being published that day, and that two copies had been presented by Boydell as raffle prizes.

After the concert we were all invited by the Ambassador’s wife, Mrs Lindstrom, to partake of some very delicious Norwegian-style food. I spotted another Boydell author, Lionel Carley (Edvard Grieg in England), and was glad I had remembered to take a sample copy of his book and some flyers for it and for Daniel Grimley’s Grieg: Music, Landscape and Norwegian Identity (Boydell, 2006).

I also met again after a long interval Irene Lawford-Hinrichsen, star musical philatelist and author of a history of her family firm, C F Peters, publishers of Grieg among many other composers. Having been unsuccessful in persuading my former employers at a leading university press to publish it, I was not surprised to find that she had given publishers up as a bad job and produced the book herself. She happened to have a copy of it with her. Would I like to buy it at a modest discount? Reaching for my wallet I meekly assented, but Irene said I ought just to wait until the raffle tickets were drawn in case I won the copy she had contributed. Not having won anything in my life I thought this unlikely, but the money for the book stayed in my wallet.

The tension grew as the tickets were drawn. I was pleased to see that one copy of Beryl’s book was won by the general manager of the Bergen Philharmonic, Lorentz Reitan. But the acme of the evening’s enjoyment for me was attained when one of my tickets was called. I am now the proud possessor of Irene’s splendid volume which traces the history of Peters from its beginnings in Leipzig to the appalling problems faced by the firm in the Nazi era, and then its subsequent post war revival in Frankfurt, London and New York. And her inscription makes no mention of my earlier non-association with the book or the loss of her sale!

Monday, 22 October 2007

Imogen Holst Day in Aldeburgh

While the rest of East Anglia was enjoying Apple Day on October 20th, Aldeburgh was celebrating the life and work of Imogen Holst. The day began with a concert in Aldeburgh Parish Church where the Navarra Quartet, augmented by Alasdair Tait, performed her Fall of the Leaf and String Quintet as part of a varied and thoroughly engaging programme.

Next the audience moved on to the wonderful local cinema, where Aldeburgh Music had organized a panel discussion with Chris Grogan (editor of the recent Boydell title, Imogen Holst: A Life in Music), Rosamund Strode and Colin Matthews (both contributors to the book). This was a unique opportunity to hear the reminiscences of two people who knew her extremely well, their contributions augmented by some well-chosen audio clips of “Imo” herself from the Britten-Pears Library archive. The 250 or so members of the audience - a large proportion of whom seemed to have known her personally - were entranced, and would have happily carried on listening to the speakers long after The Bourne Ultimatum was due to start.

There followed a signing session by all three, plus Christopher Tinker who analysed and catalogued Imogen Holst’s music in the book, at the nearby Aldeburgh Bookshop. Mary James handled the logistics of four signers extremely well, while John James handed out glasses of wine to those waiting to meet them. For those not already committed to watching England lose to South Africa in the rugby final, there was a second concert to round off the day in considerable style.

The only absence from the celebrations was Simon and Thomas Hewitt Jones’ eagerly anticipated CD of music by Imogen Holst performed by the Court Lane Strings. Unfortunately the criminal fraternity of South London have caused an unscheduled delay in its release (more on Simon’s blog) but it can be pre-ordered online and the group’s tour will go ahead regardless.

I think Imo would have admired their commitment.

Friday, 19 October 2007

A Book & its Cover

Our colleague Ralph Locke writes:

As Senior Editor of the Eastman Studies in Music series (University of Rochester Press), I am often involved not just in selecting and shaping the innards of a book but its outer design as well. I was delighted and challenged when one of our recent authors, Jeremy Day-O’Connell, came up with a design for his book’s jacket himself. It was unconventional, in that it used several strikingly different images, from various times and places, creating what I feared would be a visual jumble.

The result, once it was tweaked by the designer hired by URP, was delightful and intriguing, as numerous people have commented. It means more and more, the further one reads into the book, yet it also is so striking that it makes one want to pick the book up in the first place.

I recently asked the author to set down, for this blog, his thoughts about the resonances of the jacket. I should explain briefly that the book deals with the many meanings of the pentatonic scale, more or less equivalent to the black notes on the piano. But enough from me. Here’s the author’s view of that amazing blue jacket:

“The rather dense intermixing of visual elements on the jacket is meant to reflect the rich, untidy history that is the subject of the book…Focused though it is on the musical examples, the book also explores the sources and meanings of this music, the most important of which are encapsulated as the "exotic" pentatonic (represented here by the Chinese characters, paraphrased from an 18th-century French treatise), the "religious" pentatonic (represented by the stained-glass window), and the "pastoral" pentatonic (represented by the peasants of Millet's famous "L'Angelus," which itself also contains an explicitly religious dimension).”

URP often invites authors to submit images that might be used by a designer. Should we invite authors to draft the jacket itself, in the future? Maybe Jeremy Day-O’Connell is an exception.

In any case, it’s a fabulous book and one that readers should judge by its cover!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Diana McVeagh at Bard

Diana McVeagh, author of Gerald Finzi: His Life and Music and Elgar the Music Maker, recently attended a rather special Elgar symposium in the United States. Here is her report:

I’m recently back from the USA, where I was attending the Bard Summerscape Festival, Elgar and his World. Bard College lies in 540 acres up the Hudson valley. The first surprise for me was how rural and beautiful it is, only two hours drive north of Manhattan. Bard has run Summerscapes since 1990. Last year the composer was Liszt, next year it will be Prokofiev. Elgar was the first UK composer to be so honoured.

“…and his World" is the important phrase. Here we had two weekends (one more to come, October 26-27) of recitals, concerts, symposiums, introductory talks. The scholar-in-residence, Byron Adams, had devised programmes that were delightful in themselves but also history lessons in sound. Everyone knows that Elgar’s Enigma Variations put English music on the European map ‘at a stroke’. Hearing them after Parry’s Symphonic Variations and Stanford’s Concert Variations, worthy though both are, one understood exactly why Elgar’s genius simply shone out! There was less well-known Elgar, his early Harmony Music, his occasional Crown of India, his late Civic Fanfare. There were cross-references, to Debussy’s Noël des enfants and Faurés La bonne chanson. There were real discoveries (Ethel Smyth’s variations for flute, oboe and piano) and reinforcements of previous high opinions (Bliss’s Clarinet Quintet). There was popular music hall song, and the kind of intimate recital held in the homes of wealthy patrons.

The talks put Elgar in the context of literature, history, the visual arts, gender, imperialism. The performers were less familiar with the music than Londoners would be. Falstaff was note-perfect, but lacked communication. Enigma was played without the associations, traditions, and emotional baggage that we are used to – ‘ Dorabella’ with less tenuto than usual on the first wind semiquaver, ‘Nimrod’ without the Cenotaph, as it were - cleaned-up, uncluttered. I felt I was hearing the work freshly, almost for the first time, more what they would have heard in 1899. Leon Botstein, principal of Bard College and principal conductor, secured one of the most powerful performances of Gerontius I have ever heard.

For me, the Festival was stimulating, exhausting, provocative, enlarging. I have never found greater enthusiasm in any audience. The core comes every year, whoever the composer. I lost count of the people who said to me “When we heard it was to be Elgar, we wondered why. Now we know.” This year, Elgarians came from far and wide. I met people whose names and work I had long been familiar with, made new friends, partied, sat up half the night talking. We UK visitors were royally treated and entertained. Thank you Bard!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

What the web needs now... another blog. From Beyond the Stave is the new music blog from the Suffolk-based publisher, Boydell and Brewer, and its US sister company, the University of Rochester Press in New York State. Here you'll read about some of the people and stories connected to our music book publishing programme, snippets from our authors, comments from our music editors - Bruce Phillips in the UK and Ralph Locke in the US. We hope to include pieces on the important issues in classical music, features on our books in the media and, of course, lists (every blog has lists). Oh yes, and we'll tell you about our new music books and where you can find them.

We hope you'll enjoy it. We also hope you feel moved to comment now and then. After all, there just aren't enough blogs around, are there?