A Postcard from Marmande

Marmande, in the Lot et Garonne region of south-west France, was founded in 1182 by Richard the Lionheart, then Duke of Aquitaine and future King of England. For the next five centuries, the town experienced a turbulent history including the crusade against the Cathars, the Hundred Years War, plague and the Religious Wars. The church of Notre Dame de Marmande was built between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries and the cloisters are now fronted by a formal garden with impressive parterres and topiary.

2021 Festival de Pâques, Aix-en-Provence

The Aix-en-Provence Easter Festival, founded in 2013, is establishing itself as one of the leading events of the international classical music programme. However, the Covid pandemic meant the cancellation of the whole of the 2020 edition. With the current on-going restrictions in France, the organisers led by Artistic Director, French violinist Renaud Capuçon, were determined that this would not happen in 2021. They therefore took the brave decision to stream the entire festival for free to ensure that not only would it go ahead but that it could be seen by as many people as possible.

One concert every day for the sixteen days of the festival, 27 March to 11 April, was streamed live from the Grand Théâtre de Provence and the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume in Aix. The world-class line-up included Canadian conductor/soprano Barbara Hannigan, Les Siecles led by François-Xavier Roth, Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, pianists Maria João Pires, Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim, as well as Renaud Capuçon.

The festival opened with a weekend of delightful chamber music, on Saturday we were treated to Beethoven’s Archduke and Ghost Trios, beautifully and impeccably played by Renaud Capuçon, violin, François-Frédéric Guy, piano and Edgard Moreau, cello. On Sunday it was the turn of Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta and French pianist Bertrand Chamayou. They have been playing together for more than fifteen years and this is evident from the amazing understanding that they have developed together. They performed a programme they have been playing on some of their current European tour dates, in fact I had already seen a recording of this same programme from Venice’s La Fenice. It began with Schumann’s ‘Fantasy Pieces for Cello and Piano’ opus 73, written in 1849, originally for Clarinet and piano. This was followed by Benjamin Britten’s ‘Sonata for Cello and Piano’ opus 65, originally written for his friend Mstislav Rostropovich. Chopin’s ‘Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor”, opus 65 completed the programme.

Sol Gabetta and Bertrand Chamayou

The first week also saw a wonderful performance by Japanese pianist Momo Kodama of Messiaen’s ‘Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jésus’, a piece she has performed many times and also recorded. She played with a beautiful touch, showing a complete mastery of the composition’s technical difficulties.

The following night’s concert was, for me, the highlight of the festival – a most sublime performance of Bach’s ‘St. Matthew Passion’ from l’église de la Madeleine d’Aix-en-Provence. Ensemble Pygmalion playing period instruments under Raphaël Pichon were excellent and the vocal parts were beautifully sung, particularly by tenor Julian Prégardien as the Evangelist and baritone Stéphane Degout as Christ. Also impressive were soprano Sabine Devieilhe and alto Lucile Richardot, especially in the duet ‘So ist mein Jesus’.

The second week included concerts by some of my favourite performers: Les Siecles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, Barbara Hannigan and Martha Argerich. First came Les Siecles accompanied by Renaud Capuçon and Bertrand Chamayou in an all Camille Saint-Saêns programme. Included were a well-played ‘Piano Concerto no. 5’ and the effervescent ‘Africa’, but most enjoyable for me was an impressive performance of the well-known ‘Dance macabre’.

The concert advertised as ‘Barbara Hannigan and Friends’ was something quite different. One of the ‘friends’ was French composer and experimental musician David Chalmin, who was responsible for an unusual but interesting electronic treatment of Rameau’s ‘Tristes Apprêts’ from ‘Castor et Pollux’ as well as Ernest Chausson’s ‘Les Heures’. The concert also included more conventional performances of works by Paul Hindemith, Camille Saint-Saêns and Gabriel Fauré.

Barbara Hanningan

Pianists Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim, who have known each other since childhood, played a wonderful concert of four-handed works. They began with Mozart’s C major sonata, K521, technically demanding but delightfully played. This was followed by Debussy’s ‘Épigraphes antiques’, originally written for the stage work ‘Les Chansons de Bilitis’, sounding quite oriental. Bizet’s ‘Jeux d’enfants’, a suite of twelve miniatures, made a delightful finale.

Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich

‘The Golden Twenties’ – Berliner Philharmoniker

After the end of the First World War, Germany saw enormous changes. The Weimar Republic, proclaimed after the flight of the Kaiser into exile, meant that the new Germany was a democracy, but not all Germans were happy with the new order. Many were unhappy with what they saw as the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles, many others would have preferred a return to a more traditional order.  

The economic problems of the country increased after the invasion of the Ruhr by France and Belgium in 1923 in response to the lack of payment of reparations – but worse was to come. After the Wall Street crash in America in 1929, Germany was hit extremely hard and suffered from massive unemployment, abject poverty, housing shortages and rampant inflation that would eventually leave the German Mark virtually worthless.

Yet despite all this, Berlin became, for a decade at least, an exciting and fascinating centre of artistic creativity.  Described in the novels of Christopher Isherwood and seen in Bob Fosse’s 1971 film ‘Cabaret’, Berlin became a modernist metropolis and centre of the avant-garde. All this would, of course, eventually come to an end in 1933 with the rise of the National Socialists, but while it lasted Berlin became the ‘Babylon of the 20s’ – a utopian centre of creative freedom for all the thrill-seekers who flocked there.

Otto Dix ‘Metropolis’ central panel (1927 – 28)

Over two weeks of a Covid-hit February, Berliner Philharmoniker presented an online festival entitled ‘The Golden Twenties’ that celebrated the music of this fascinating period. With chief conductor Kirill Petrenko and guests Christian Thielemann, Marie Jacquot and Thomas Søndergård they performed works by Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Paul Hindemith, Franz Schreker and Richard Strauss.

The opening night, Saturday 13 February, saw performances by the Philharmoniker, under its leader Kirill Petrenko, of two very different works:  Kurt Weill’s first symphony, ‘Symphony in One Movement’ (1921), and Igor Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio ‘Oedipus Rex’ (1926 – 27/1948)

Although Weill’s symphony was written in 1921, when he was studying with Ferruccio Busoni, it was not performed until 1957, seven years after the composer’s death. Whilst it opens with some dissonant chords they soon give way to multi-layered sections that alternate between calm and climactic, the calmer passages sounding more like chamber music. This was an exceptional performance which brilliantly brought out the varying textures and rhythms of the piece and it provided a perfect start to the festival.

Stravinsky’s ‘Oedipus Rex’ is based on Jean Cocteau’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Greek drama of incest and murder. The work is sung in Latin, with the narrator’s part usually spoken in the language of the performance venue, in this case by German actress Bibiana Beglau. The US tenor Michael Spyres performed the part of Oedipus, whilst mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk, from Belarus, sang that of Queen Jocasta. The part of Tiresias, the Oracle, was sung by the Italian bass Andrea Mastroni. The members of the chorus, the Rundfunkchor, as befits current Covid restrrictions, were dispersed throughout the empty seats of the concert hall. All parts were wonderfully sung; but Michael Spyres, who I think was singing his role for the first time, was particularly outstanding.

Kirill Petrenko conducting ‘Oedipus Rex’, with Ekaterina Semenchuk and Michael Spyres

Tuesday 16 February saw more Kurt Weill: his ‘Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra’ and ‘Symphony no. 2’, as well as Hanns Eisler’s ‘Suite for Orchestra no. 3’. This time the performers were scholars of the Karajan Academy led by French conductor Marie Jacquot, who looked as if she was thoroughly enjoying herself throughout.

The concert opened with a very enjoyable performance of Eisler’s orchestral suite based on music written for the early sound film ‘Kuhle Wampe’ which, coincidentally, I also watched recently. (It tells the story of unemployment and homelessness among the working classes during the economic crisis and is much recommended.) The Suite is a ten-minute concert version of four sections from the film score. It begins with a lively Prelude which, in the film, accompanies unemployed men racing around the city on bicycles looking for work. This is followed by a more plaintive Intermezzo and then a jaunty Rondo. The final movement, ‘Die Fabriken’ (The Factories) has brass and banjo representing the sounds of the factory machines.

Weill’s 1925 ‘Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra’ is in three movements; the opening uses a twelve tone approach with angular, often agitated rhythms before moving into a second movement in three parts in which the violin, here played by former concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker, Kolja Blacher, duets with first, a xylophone, then a trumpet and finally a flute. The final movement goes back to more agitated rhythms, reminiscent of Stravinsky.

Weill’s ‘Second Symphony’ was partly written whilst the composer was in exile in France, having had to leave Germany. It was a commission from the Princess de Polignac, an heir to the Singer sewing machine empire. Despite the conditions of its writing, the opening movement is quite lively, although sometimes a little agitated, however, this eventually gives way to a march-like largo at the beginning of the second movement, sounding almost like a funeral procession at times, sometimes with a bluesy feel but at other times much darker and more melancholy. The final movement is much more lively building up towards a stirring coda but eventually it resolves to a more calm ending. It was extremely well performed by the Karajan Academy scholars.

The third concert saw the return of the Berliner Philharmoniker, this time under the baton of Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård. The concert was originally planned to be led by Sir Donald Runnicles and to include works by Alban Berg and Franz Schreker; however, with Søndergård stepping in as a replacement the programme was also changed, which explains its more international flavour, It opened with the Suite from Serge Prokofiev’s opera ‘The Love for Three Oranges’, then came Sibelius’s ‘Symphony no. 6’, before another operatic Suite, this time from Kurt Weill’s ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’.

Thomas Søndergård conducting ‘The Love for Three Oranges Suite’

The concert opened with a lively performance of Prokofiev’s six-movement suite from ‘The Love for Three Oranges’, a zany, surreal opera and one of my favourites since I twice attended the English National Opera’s famous ‘scratch and sniff’ production in 1989. Prokofiev’s orchestral reduction retains the madcap approach of the original and is always enjoyable.

Sibelius’s ‘Symphony no. 6 in D minor’ is, of course, a very different affair, in fact it is different to the composer’s other symphonies. Unusually for Sibelius it deploys the harp, in fact two, although their sound seems a little overpowered by the rest of the orchestra. It was composed in stages between 1914 and 1923, whilst the fifth and seventh symphonies were also being written It has an almost pastoral approach, gradually building up textures which evoke the Scandinavian landscape and whilst the melodies are often beautiful they rarely become exciting. It was not until the fourth, final movement that Søndergård really breathed life into the work and it ended with an almost breath-taking coda before subsiding to calm in the final bars.

The final piece was a seven-movement Suite from Kurt Weill’s ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’, with the orchestra augmented by the addition of saxophones, guitar and piano. Whilst it was enjoyable and performed with great energy I feel that the orchestral reduction doesn’t really succeed in recreating the atmosphere of the opera.

German actress Dagmar Manzel was the host for the next concert, which recreated ‘A Night at the Moka Efti’. Moka Efti, the legendary Berlin nightclub named after its Greek-Italian owner, Giovanni Eftimiades, was more recently featured in the first series of the German television drama ‘Babylon Berlin’. The club was completely over the top and boasted its own barber shop, post office, pastry shop, billiard hall, a room for chess-players and a correspondence room filled with typists ready to take dictation from businessmen customers. Whilst at night it was one of the most successful dance halls in the city, during the day it was a café and is said to have served up to 25.000 cups of coffee a day.

Dagmar Manzel singing ‘Belin Lit Up’

The concert saw the Berliner Philharmoniker perform 1920s songs and dance music in a programme put together by Michael Hasel, the Philharmoniker’s flautist, who took up conducting duties for the evening. Kurt Weill was again featured with ‘Berlin Lit Up’, ‘Panamanian Suite’ and ‘Little Threepenny Music’. Mátyás Seiber’s ‘Two Jazzolettes’ and Stefan Wolpe’s ‘Suite from the Twenties’ completed the programme.

‘Berlin Lit Up’, sung by Dagmar Manzel, is a slow fox-trot which was commissioned for the opening of the ‘Berlin im Licht’ exhibition, which celebrated the installation of street lighting in the city in 1928 after the opening of the new Charlottenburg power station. The toe-tapping ‘Panamanian Suite’, written in 1934 when Weill was in Paris, was only rediscovered in 1988. It comes from Weill’s music for Jacques Deval’s play ‘Marie Galante’, the story of a girl who is kidnapped and taken to Panama by a lecherous sea captain, she then turns to prostitution in order to earn money to return to France, but ends up being murdered the night before the boat sails.

In the interval and between the music Dagmar Manzel recited from autobiographical texts by Lotte Lenya, the great performer of cabaret songs and twice Kurt Weill’s wife, French entertainer Josephine Baker and German actress Trude Hesterberg. It is a quote from the latter which probably best sums up Berlin in the 1920s: “Everything became shorter: hair, clothes, love and sleep. Life began after dark. Night’s sequinned mantle covered day’s terrible nakedness. Dark figures crept from dark hallways with even darker offers: cigars?, cigarettes? cocaine? That’s Berlin!”

Hungarian-born composer Mátyás Seiber, who studied with Zoltán Kodály, travelled much during his life. He played cello in the orchestra of a ship which sailed from North to South America, he was director of the jazz department at Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, he spent two years working in the Soviet Union and then eventually found his way to England, where he married and settled. He composed a wide range of music: operas, cantatas, film and ballet music and jazz and popular works. Whilst in Germany he composed ‘Two Jazzolettes’, a sextet for saxophones, trombone, piano and percussion, which uses a variety of jazz effects and rhythms, but which also begins to explore twelve note music. It was played with great stamina and skill.

The Berliners brought the same qualities to Stefan Wolpe’s ‘Suite from the Twenties’, a collection of six short pieces written between 1926 and 1929, which together make a joyous, rhythmic whole that includes tangoes and a Charleston, but also again hints of twelve-tone techniques.

The final piece was Kurt Weill’s suite from his famous ‘The Threepenny Opera’. There are eight movements in all, including the best-known numbers from the opera: ‘Polly’s Song’, ‘The Ballad of the Easy Life’ and, of course, ‘The Ballad of Mack the Knife’. Writing to his publisher in 1929, Weill said that “I believe the piece can be played an awful lot, since it is precisely what every conductor wants: a snappy piece to end with.” And so it proved to be!

The festival ended on Saturday 27 February with Christian Thielemann leading the Berliner Philharmoniker in performances of some lesser-known works from the 1920s: the Overture from Paul Hindemith’s opera ‘Neues vom Tage’ (News of the Day), Ferruccio Busoni’s ‘Tanz Walzer for Orchestra’ and the ‘Künstlerleben Walz’ by Johann Strauss II. These were followed by ‘Die Tageszeiten’ (The Times of Day), a cycle of works for voice and orchestra by Richard Strauss.

Christian Thielemann conducting ‘Neues vom Tage’

The evening began with the overture from Paul Hindemith’s comic opera ‘Neues vom Tage’, a satire on modern life and all its problems. The overture is an extremely enjoyable work, featuring wind instruments, saxophones, piano and percussion, with only a small string section. It is a pity it is not more frequently performed. Busoni’s waltz extravaganza,’Tanz-Waltzer’, is also a rarity. Composed in 1920, it is often played in a piano version, but here the original orchestral version was highly enjoyable. Although not to my personal taste, Thielemann and the orchestra gave an excellent performance of Strauss’s ‘Künstlerleben Walz’, written in 1867 and first performed at the Vienna Carnival that year.

The final items in the programme were orchestral songs by Richard Strauss, most featuring Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund, who sang beautifully. The evening ended with Strauss’s ‘Die Tageszeiten’ (The Times of Day), published in 1928, a settings of poems by Joseph von Eichendorff, unusually scored for male choir and orchestra. It consists of four movements: ‘The Morning’, ‘Afternoon Peace’, ‘The Evening’ and ‘The Night’ and was, for me, a pleasant new discovery.

Camilla Nylund singing Strauss with Christian Thielemann and Berliner Philharmoniker

As with the Weimar Republic, all good things must come to an end, and this was a fitting ending to the festival, which, like the cultural life of the Republic, was great fun while it lasted.

Salzburg Summer Festival 2020

Cultural events all over the world have been cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, yet, remarkably, one of the biggest and most important festivals in the cultural calendar went ahead, even if in a slimmed-down version. The Salzburg Summer Festival, celebrating its 100th anniversary, took place over thirty days from 1 – 30 August.

Two operas were performed, Richard Strauss’s ‘Elektra’ and a new production of Mozart’s ‘Così fan tutte’, the latter organised at incredibly short notice. There were also a total of fifty-three concerts and recitals, with guest orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic under Andris Nelsons, Gustavo Dudamel and Christian Thielemann, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with its founder Daniel Barenboim. There were piano recitals by Andras Schiff and Daniel Barenboim, the German-Russian pianist Igor Levit performed a cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas and pianist Martha Argerich and violinist Renaud Capuçon played a programme of Beethoven, Prokofiev and Franck.

What was most wonderful of all was that it wasn’t even necessary to leave home to see it, as all this was streamed live on Arte TV and Medici TV.


Richard Strauss’s ‘Elektra’, based on the tragedy by Sophocles, was here staged by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski with set designs by Małgorzata Szczęśniak. It tells of the revenge sought by Elektra (superbly sung by the Lithuanian soprano Aušrinė Stundytė) after her father King Agamemnon, on his return from the Trojan War, is murdered by his wife Klytemnestra (Tanja Ariane Baumgartner) and her lover Aegisth (Michael Laurenz).

Aušrinė Stundytė as Elektra

Unusually (uniquely?), the performance began with a prologue delivered by Klytemnestra in which she explained the origin of the curse of the House of Atreus (The curse began with Atreus’s grandfather, Tantalus, king of Lydia, who angered the gods and was banished to the underworld for eternity) and justified the murder, thereby providing a more balanced view of events than is normal. It was only then that the Wiener Philharmoniker, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, began their immaculate, though not overly-exciting, performance.

Overall, it was an imaginative and enjoyable performance, not least because, against all the odds, it happened.

Cosi fan tutte

A new production of an opera usually takes years to plan, design, cast and rehearse, yet incredibly this was staged in just a few weeks. True it had fairly minimalist designs, inevitable with such limited preparation time, but this did not detract at all from a thoroughly energetic and enjoyable performance.

The one-hundredth anniversary of the Salzburg Festival would have been unimaginable without a Mozart opera, and so after the festival’s original plans were cancelled, festival organisers and German director Christof Loy, who had been scheduled to direct Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’, together with Russian tenor Bogdan Volkov and conductor Joana Mallwitz came up with a new project – a production of ‘Cosi fan tutte’.

A cast was quickly put together and, as other productions all over the world had been cancelled, star names were available, including one of my own personal favourites, French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa, who sang Dorabella. The cast was completed by Elsa Dreisig (Fiordiligi), Andrè Schuen (Guglielmo), Bogdan Volkov (Ferrando), Lea Desandre (Despina) and Johannes Martin Kränzle (Don Alfonso). They did not come together for rehearsals until July, with the opera debuting on 2 August. It was sung exquisitely by all.

Joana Mallwitz led a very lively and enjoyable performance by the Vienna Philharmonic, with Nicholas Rimmer providing piano in the recitatives. In my opinion, it was a triumph and hopefully a production to be repeated.

Marianne Crebassa, Lea Desandre, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Andrè Schuen, Bogdan Volkov, Elsa Dreisig

Mahler Symphony 6 (Vienna Philharmonic – Andris Nelsons)

In a way a performance of Gustav Mahler’s epic sixth symphony, with an orchestra of 108, was even more remarkable than being able to stage an opera. It is impossible to socially-distance such a large number of people on a stage and so regular testing of the orchestra members was necessary in order for them to perform together.

This was an extremely spirited performance and Nelsons seemed to be really enjoying himself in getting the best out of the Vienna Philharmonic as they interpreted the massive score. The thunderous ovation at the conclusion was thoroughly deserved.

Andris Nelsons and the Vienna Philharmonic in the Großes Festspielhaus, Salzburg

Beethoven Symphony 9 (Vienna Philharmonic – Riccardo Muti)

In the year of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth we had been promised numerous symphony cycles in celebration. The pandemic has seen nearly all of them cancelled, so it was particularly enjoyable to at least have the ninth at Salzburg.

Vienna Philharmonic, with Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Marianne Crebassa (mezzo-soprano), Riccardo Muti (conductor), Saimir Pirgu (tenor), Gerald Finley (bass).

In Muti’s hands, this was a deliberate, at times slowish performance, but it also had its explosive moments. The finale was particularly splendid. The soloists, Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Marianne Crebassa (mezzo-soprano), Gerald Finley (bass) Saimir Pirgu (tenor) were all impressive, as was the Vienna State Opera Chorus, who looked extremely happy to be singing ‘Ode to Joy’, even though it was from behind a row of perspex screens.

Martha Argerich and Renaud Capuçon

Pianist Martha Argerich and violinist Renaud Capuçon opened their recital at the Haus für Mozart with more Beethoven, this time a very lively and enjoyable interpretation of the ‘Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major’.   

Renaud Capuçon and Martha Argerich

They continued with Prokofiev’s ‘Second Violin Sonata’. Originally written for flute and piano, Prokofiev transformed the work into a violin sonata at the prompting of his close friend, the violinist David Oistrakh.

The opening sonata movement, the violin part evocative of the flute, is followed by a scherzo, a slow movement, and a finale. It is a piece that they have played often and clearly enjoy.

The third item on the programme was César Franck’s ‘Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major’, possibly Franck’s best-known composition, and arguably one of the finest sonatas for violin and piano in the repertoire. Capuçon’s playing was particularly impressive. The audience also thought so and rapturous applause brought the pair back to the stage for two encores, the finale of Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ and Kreisler’s ‘Liebesleid’.

Is streaming the future?

Although, like many others, I have suffered greatly from the cancellation of events due to the Covid-19 virus, cultural establishments around the world have been incredibly generous in trying to fill the gap by streaming productions both live and from their archives. With the virus currently showing little sign of disappearing it is possible that these streams will be our only way of watching opera, concerts and exhibitions for some time. Clearly in the longer term to sustain such programmes a charge would need to be made to viewers but given the absence of alternatives I am sure that most would be happy to pay. However, since March amazing content has been available free of charge from many establishments around the world and I have been lucky enough to experience many of them.

Metropolitan Opera in New York has been showing nightly streams of high-quality opera from their ‘Live in HD’ series. My personal favourite was a superb staging of Francis Poulenc’s ‘Dialogues des Carmélites’, with Isabel Leonard as Blanche de la Force and the incomparable Karita Mattila as Madame de Crissy.

Poulenc 'Dialogues des Carmélites' (Metropolitan Opera)

Francis Poulenc ‘Dialogues des Carmélites’ from Metropolitan Opera, New York

London’s Royal Opera House similarly provided their ‘Stay at Home’ programme, which included Mozart’s ‘Cosi fan tutte’ and ‘The Magic Flute’, Britten’s ‘Gloriana’ and a particularly enjoyable ‘Il trittico’ by Puccini.

Both the Glyndebourne and Garsington companies were also very much in evidence with some wonderful productions. Garsington Opera’s offerings included Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ and Britten’s ‘Turn of the Screw’, whilst from Glyndebourne I particularly enjoyed Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville’ and Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’. And they have still more to come in the next few weeks, including Purcell’s ‘Fairy Queen’, Brett Dean’s ‘Hamlet’ and Stravinsky’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’, with amazing designs by David Hockney.

Rake's Progress Hockney design 2

Rake's Progress Hockney design

David Hockney’s designs for Stravinsky’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ from Glyndebourne

Operavison, as always, streamed productions from all over Europe, including Wagner’s ‘The Flying Dutchman’ from Finnish National Opera and an excellent ‘Tristan and Isolde’ from La Monnaie/De Munt in Brussels, Britten’s ‘Death in Venice’ from ENO and his ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ from Montpellier, Prokofiev’s ‘War and Peace’ from Moscow and Shostakovich’s ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ from Dutch National Opera. In August they will also stream two Puccini favourites: ‘Turandot’ from Zagreb and ‘La Bohème’ from Monte-Carlo.

Concerts were frequently streamed already, although during this period when festivals were cancelled, festivals organisers provided some compensation by streaming from their archives. Of particular note was a Mahler Festival from Colorado presented by artistic director Kenneth Woods. Extremely enjoyable was an exploration of each of Beethoven’s symphonies by John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, as was a series of concerts under the ‘Always Playing’ banner by the London Symphony Orchestra. I was also particularly impressed by performances by the excellent mezzosoprano Magdalena Kožená of Mahler’s ‘Rückert-Lieder’ and Luciano Berio’s ‘Folk Songs’ – she really does have a stunning voice.

Magdalena Kozena and Simon Rattle

Magdalena Kožená and husband Sir Simon Rattle

Theatres have also been generous in showing recent productions online. There has been lots of Shakespeare, especially from London’s Globe Theatre, including ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Macbeth’. Also from London, the National Theatre streamed a range of plays including ‘Amadeus’, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Small Island’, ‘Frankenstein’, ‘A Streetcar named Desire’ and ‘Coriolanus’.


Tom Hiddleston in the title role in Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’

Exhibitions may be a little bit more difficult to stream but nevertheless there have been some excellent attempts. Having missed the van Eyck exhibition in Ghent because of the virus I was very happy to see the extremely knowledgeable Till-Holger Borchert guiding us around the show.

Till-Holger Borchert as guide to the van Eyck exhibition in Ghent

Till-Holger Borchert as guide to the van Eyck exhibition in Ghent

The BBC also broadcast exhibitions that I would have otherwise been unable to see, including the wonderful ‘Young Rembrandt’ from Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, introduced by Simon Schama.

So the Covid lockdown hasn’t been all doom and gloom, although watching on screen is nothing like actually being there. No-one knows how long this situation will last, hopefully it will soon be over and 2021 will bring all kinds of fascinating things to visit and see, but if not, as these institutions have demonstrated, all is not necessarily lost.

R.I.P. Peter Green (1946 – 2020)

He was one of my teenage heroes and formed the greatest of all British blues bands – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. He was an amazing guitarist and songwriter, responsible for songs such as ‘Black Magic Woman’, ‘Man of the World’, ‘Oh Well’, ‘The Green Manalishi’ and the instrumental ‘Albatross’. Peter Green died today, aged 73. Thank you for some fantastic music and wonderful memories. R.I.P.

Peter Green 2Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac


The spread of this awful coronavirus has resulted in the loss of numerous projects planned for 2020, many of them booked over a year in advance. I haven’t been able to see the Labeque sisters play Philip Glass in Bordeaux, Berlioz’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in Strasbourg, Benjamin Britten’s opera ‘Peter Grimes’ in Frankfurt, Bruckner and Shostakovich concerts at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, nor to visit exhibitions at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the once-in-a-lifetime van Eyck show in Ghent. I have also had to cancel my planned trip to the Aix-en-Provence festival in July to see Alban Berg’s ‘Wozzeck’.

However, the virus has sadly cost many people much more than just the loss of travel opportunities and this is its real tragedy. Hopefully, at some point in the not too distant future, we will see an end to it and a return to a life as near normal as possible.

Ingres and more in Montauban

At the Musée Ingres Bourdelle in Montauban in the Tarn-et-Garonne department of south-west France, recently reopened after a three year renovation, for two excellent exhibitions.

‘Constellation Ingres Bourdelle’ displays paintings by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, born in Montauban in 1780, and sculptures by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, a pupil of Ingres, who was born in the town in 1861. The exhibition also includes works by students of Ingres, as well as twentieth-century artists, such as Pablo Picasso, who were influenced by him. Bourdelle’s works are compared to those of Rodin and the presence of paintings by Edgar Degas, Maurice Denis and others provides a context for artistic creation during this period. The second exhibition, ‘Dans l’atelier d’Ingres’, displays the museum’s incredible collection of Ingres drawings – 4,507 works, the largest collection in the world.

Ingres 'The Dream of Ossian' (1813)

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres ‘The Dream of Ossian’ (1813)

Ingres 'Christ Delivering the Keys of Heaven to Saint Peter' (1820)

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres ‘Christ Delivering the Keys of Heaven to St. Peter’ (1820)

Portrait of Ferdinand-Philippe d'Orléans' (1842)

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres ‘Portrait of Ferdinand-Philppe d’Orléans’ (1842)

Ingres 'Portrait of Madame Gonse' (1852)

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres ‘Portrait of Madame Gonse’ (1852)

Émile-Antoine Bourdelle 'Head of Apollo' (

Émile-Antoine Bourdelle ‘Head of Apollo’ (1900 – 09)

Bourdelle 'Grand Warrior of Montauban' plus Vuillard and Degas

Émile-Antoine Bourdelle ‘Grand Warrior of Montauban’ (1898 – 1900, cast 1956),    flanked by Edouard Vuillard ‘Lucien Rosengart at his Desk’ (1930) and Edgar Degas ‘Portrait of the Artist with Evariste de Valernes’ (c.1865)

Auguste Rodin 'Eve' (1907)

Auguste Rodin ‘Eve’ (1907)

Pablo Picasso 'La Petite Corrida' (1922)

Pablo Picasso ‘La Petite Corrida’ (1922)

Pablo Picasso 'Paul, as Harlequin' (1924)

Pablo Picasso ‘Paul, as Harlequin’ (1924)

The museum also has a permanent collection of paintings from the Renaissance to the modern era, formerly the collection of the bishops of Montauban, including the recently identified ‘Portrait of a Monk’ by Jan van Eyck:

Jan van Eyck 'Portrait of a Monk' (15 century)