Giving .1

Everyone’s recommending Christmas presents at the moment, believe it or not…so here are my top five suggestions for gifts.

1. Make a donation to the Big Arts Give on behalf of your loved ones. This week, it goes live: Arts & Business’s new initiative to stimulate philanthropy, aiming to raise at least £3m by Christmas for arts organisations up and down the country. As long as you donate between today and 10 December, your donation will be doubled in value. My recommendation is that you do this, then send your friend/family member a card saying that their Christmas present is a contribution to the continuing existence of the arts in the UK, or similar. Find all the details of how it works and which organisations are taking part on the Arts & Business site, here.

2. Theatre tokens. These are simply wonderful and can be used at a huge range of different venues, including at ballet and opera. They could help encourage a recalcitrant first-timer to dip a toe into theatrical waters, or simply make a devoted attender very happy indeed. Buy online from the Theatre Tokens website, here.

3. DVDs never go amiss in cold weather when we don’t much want to go outside. A new label, Accentus Music, has just been launched by film director Paul Smaczny, whose documentaries include films about Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado and much more. Among the first four releases is an amazing piano recital by Barenboim, playing Chopin in Warsaw, and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra performance is a must-have

4. Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat takes a lot of beating if you’re catering for bookworms. Subtitled ‘Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes’, it’s the personal reminiscence of one of the finest scribes in music and the theatre: the man who knew pretty much everyone and wrote pretty much everything, including the lyrics for West Side Story and some of the most beautiful and sophisticated theatrical songs of his age, ‘Send in the Clowns’ among them. Don’t miss it. Available from Amazon here.

5. CDs. They still exist. Yes, they do. Someone asked me on Twitter for my top Christmas recommendations the other day. Answer: anything featuring Jonas Kaufmann. Die Schoene Muellerin, Verismo Arias, the German Romantics, take your pick. More details here. (Btw, my column in the December print issue of Standpoint is entitled ‘In Praise of Kaufmania’ and looks at the nature of this all-too-rare operatic ‘real deal’.)

Another even more predictable but utterly yummy option is the new recording of The Nutcracker from Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil on EMI. It’s one of the few recordings of this perfect Tchaikovsky ballet music that actually made me feel like dancing, and the eloquence of Rattle’s storytelling is beautifully judged, shining out of those persuasive, go-for-it strings. A roster of attractive extra features is available online from EMI if you go for the deluxe edition (though I have to admit that I couldn’t get them all to work…but as I am a technotwit it is probably my fault rather than theirs).

That should keep you busy for a bit. Tomorrow I’m off on tour with the LPO for a whistle-stop zoom around the Balkans. I’ll have the laptop and as long as I can get Wi-Fi I should hopefully be blogging the whole thing. Watch this space for the latest from Istanbul, Skopje and Sofia.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"