Magnum Opera…

Last night at the ROH’s Tristan und Isolde I saw two things I’ve never seen before: 1) George Osborne – the shadow chancellor at an arts event. The only time I’ve spotted a government minister at a classical performance before was David Miliband at the LSO, but his wife is a member of the orchestra so maybe that doesn’t count. 2) A longer queue for the men’s room than the ladies’.More about Tristan itself shortly, when I’ve managed to get back down from the ceiling.

Meanwhile, here is a link to my piece in today’s Independent about the haunting quality of ghost-story operas, which trails the opening next week of ENO’s The Turn of the Screw (a revival of David McVicar’s production with an all-star cast & Sir Charles Mackerras in t’pit). I am also flattered to be included in their pick of the 25 Best Music Websites under the heading ‘Me and my Blog’, though an online link to this site would have been nice. 

Mad props too to the excellent Dilettante Music site which has run a piece about my various music&words efforts & a nice link to the Hungarian Dances CD.

[Update, 9.50am]….OK, here is the ‘director’s cut’ of ‘Me and My Blog’:

Early in 2004, I began to hear rumblings of an extraordinary development in cyberspace: via a personal web space you could make your writing instantly visible to strangers all around the world. I began surfing to investigate. Five minutes later, by accident, I had my own blog. Fancy titles are tricky to invent so fast, so I simply typed JESSICA DUCHEN’S CLASSICAL MUSIC BLOG. Then, having set the thing up, it seemed a good idea to try to use it.

It didn’t take long to discover what worked and what didn’t. Extended pieces of grumbling about what Leopold Mozart really said on the subject of what’s now called vibrato didn’t produce much effect, but pithy articles on current goings-on both musical and personal went across with more bite. Comments were essential; so was moderating them. You don’t want to find yourself providing free ads for Viagra.

I hadn’t bargained, though, on the addiction of blogging. It’s become part of the morning routine, a chance to take stock, tell stories, and spread news in a way that is informal, though hopefully no less strong for that. Sometimes it adds thoughts to my printed articles – I’ve occasionally run ‘director’s cuts’ of interviews, offering out-takes from chats with the likes of Magdalena Kozena and Angela Gheorghiu, or the behind-the-scenes saga of my recent trip to Berlin to meet Nigel Kennedy. Very occasionally, it’s just a good way to let off steam; when we put on a concert to support Philippe Graffin’s companion CD for my novel Hungarian Dances, the blog absorbed some of the stress in a spoof TV script involving a nightmare about Sir Alan Sugar.

And there’s the rapid response unit: when a big story broke – the Joyce Hatto CD forgery scandal in 2007, for example, or the sudden death of Richard Hickox – I got the details online in moments. JDCMB became something of a focal point for reporting developments in the former, though the degree of obsession among some readers proved positively terrifying! For quieter times, Youtube is invaluable for disseminating musical extracts; as historical recordings junkie, I try to run one per week, to spread the word about the marvels of Heifetz, Szigeti, Myra Hess et al.

I hadn’t expected to find so many readers; but in the end they found me. I’d long felt that classical music needed a different type of discourse to widen its remit and celebrate its power. Snobbery, exclusivity, ivory-tower obscurantism and so on had to be challenged, if possible broken, not to mention the misogyny (sad but true), but without ‘dumbing down’; therefore I aimed for good, straightforward, readable writing, not too technical but never patronising. And this was the time and place to do it. Besides, JDCMB was my space, to use as I liked. Anyone who didn’t like it didn’t have to read it.

Earlier this year, it turned out that someone did like it: Daniel Johnson, the editor of Standpoint magazine, the upmarket current affairs monthly that launched eighteen months ago. Now JDCMB has moved to the Standpoint website, and I am standing is as the magazine’s music columnist while Ian Bostridge is on sabbatical. Fortunately nobody expects me to sing.



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