Wajahat Khan – the great sarod virtuoso comes to Lugano, Switzerland

It may seem obvious to us that many musicians and composers stem from musical families. Mozart’s father Leopold was himself a composer, Beethoven was the grandson of a Flemish bass singer and son of a tenor, Bach’s musical links are even broader, with a plethora of musicians and composers scattered throughout his family.

But even these great composers could not trace their musical roots back through an unbroken line of musicians that goes back 400 years.

Is this the world’s most musical family?

In India, the name Khan needs no introduction in musical circles. Not only does the Khan family contain a number of current musicians who are respected as some of the most renowned and accomplished in their individual instruments, its musical heritage goes back to the time of the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th century.

Not only have the family been at the forefront of musicianship over the past centuries, theirs is a history that has shaped the landscape of Indian classical music through their creation or evolution of instruments including the sitar and surgahar, and their development of musical forms that have since become the norm in modern musical performance.

Wajahat Khan

Wajahat Khan belongs to the eighth generation of the Khan family of musicians and is something of a trailblazer even within such an illustrious dynasty.

Instead of concentrating on the traditional ‘family’ instruments, the surbahar and the sitar, Wajahat Khan chose to play the sarod, becoming the first musician in his family to take up the instrument. He also has a history as a prodigious singing sensation, beginning his musical career with performances as a vocalist that were showcased on the BBC, among other stages.

More than 30 years later, Wajahat Khan has gained a world-wide reputation for excellence, bringing the experience of a 400 year old tradition, the musicality of an exceptional vocalist and a legendary insrumental virtuosity that only the most gifted, consummate musicians can display.

Wajahat Khan’s debut concert in Switzerland

While Khan has played in some of the most incredible venues and festivals in the world (including the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Kremlin Palace in Russia, the Lincoln Centre in New York and the Philharmonic Hall in Koln), on the 22nd of September he will be giving his first ever concert in Switzerland.

Along with his fourteen year old Hussaim Azaam Khan (the tradition continues!) at the tanpura and sitar, and Hanif Khan at the tabla, he will perform Evening Raags of Indian Classical Music at Palazzo dei Congressi in Lugano.

For any of you with the opportunity to attend the event, you are sure to be treated to an unforgettable evening of music. If you are in the general vicinity and can travel there – don’t hesitate to do it!

If you’d like to find out more information on the concert or to buy tickets, pop over to the website of the concert organizers, The International Academy of Euphony http://www.academyofeuphony.com/concerto_india/home_en.htm or directly from Ticketcorner.

The concert is taking place within the ‘Month of Culture’ in the city of Lugano, under the patronage of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Italy.

And, to whet your appetite, here is a video of Wajahat Khan with Pt Anindo Chatterjee playing Raga Tilak Kamod.


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Sunday Supplement – Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya play Enrique Granados

Enrique Granados

*Each Sunday, instead of writing a full blog piece, we will be posting a video or audio recording of a classical music performance, with just a couple of lines of supporting text. If you have a few minutes, it’s a great opportunity to simply watch or listen to the music, without the usual distractions of words.

The eagle-eyed among you will realize that I am featuring a video of Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya for the second time in a week. That’s because I have quite an exciting announcement. Pretty soon I’ll be posting an interview with the classical guitarist, Alice Artzt, who was once a student of both Presti and Lagoya. Given the severe lack of accurate information available to us about Ida Presti, we will be in the fortunate and unique position of hearing views that come straight from a trusted source.

In this video, Presti and Lagoya treat us to a beautiful rendition of Oriental by Enrique Granados, from his Spanish Dances OP. 37. Granados was an accomplished painter as well as being a composer and pianist, modelling a selection of his early musical works on the paintings of Goya. He died in 1916, drowning in an attempt to save his wife’s life when the ship they were traveling on was hit by a German army U-boat torpedo.

To this day, the colorful, evocative and deeply emotive music of Granados stands as a cherished symbol of his native Spain.


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The Master Class – forging futures while protecting the past

The term Master Class is one that can be traced directly back to Franz Liszt, the creator of this form of learning that has gone on to become a staple of classical music education in the ensuing centuries.

It is interesting to note that Liszt’s thoughts on teaching were not focused upon the idea of driving out technical malpractice or altering mistakes in fingering and phrasing. Liszt’s main focus was on interpretation. He began with a method of visualization that in itself was seen as sufficient to influence the player to a vastly improved reading of the piece:

“Only picture the image and the body will find its own way to project it” – Franz Liszt

Of course, this did not mean that Liszt would suffer the wild flailings of all and every pianist that walked through his door. Quite the opposite. Each student would audition prior to being accepted into his classes and if they did not show a sufficient level of dexterity they would be politely, but firmly, guided to the local conservatory.

This was, after all, a Master Class.

You would be forgiven for thinking that because Franz Liszt invented the concept of the Master Class, he had created a blue print for how they would be conducted in the years and decades to come. For certain, the idea of students of an advanced level of ability, sat together in one room, each playing a particular piece and being guided in their playing by a Master musician, is at the heart of the Master Class concept to this date.

However, if you are fortunate enough to sign up to or be invited to a Master Class, be careful what you wish for. The teaching methods of musicians vary greatly and, it goes without saying, not all musicians are great teachers.

The example of Segovia

Depending on who you talk to, there are glaringly different accounts of the teaching prowess of the great guitar maestro Andres Segovia. Some of his strongest criticism (though not all) has come from the renowned classical guitarist, John Williams – himself a former student of Segovia.

Williams’ assertion (and you are well within your rights to dispute it) was that Segovia was far from the greatest teacher, someone who forced his students to learn through precise imitation, invoked a feeling of fear in his pupils and rallied against any individualism brought to the table of interpretation.

In one interview, he said the following:

‘…Alirio Diaz and myself would teach each other, because Segovia wasn’t always there a great deal, but when he did come, it often felt strained. As I’ve said on other occasions previously, he taught mainly by example – four bars here, four bars there, in which you were meant to imitate him.’

Perhaps it is difficult to judge Segovia in the same way as other teachers, due to the unique position he was in. He had brought classical guitar into the public eye from relative obscurity. By casting himself in the role of protector, it may have been a natural response to attempt to lay down inflexible markers that he felt his students should respect and follow.

John Williams himself came in for some pretty heavy criticism from Eliot Fisk (Segovia’s last student) who complains about his and Julian Bream’s refusal to share their own knowledge by taking on students – so it cuts both ways. You could argue that at least Segovia made concerted attempts to pass on his great knowledge:

“My rebellion is in truth against Bream and Williams… From time immemorial, it has been the practice of one generation to pass on to the next what it learned. But my generation has almost no guitar fathers. Ghiglia and Diaz taught and were accessible, but Bream and Williams were not” – Eliot Fisk

Still, no matter which side of the fence you land on, it wasn’t always easy for Segovia’s pupils, as the guitarist Michael Chapdelain learnt in this video-taped Master Class:

An example from Barenboim

For a different point of view, we can look directly at the teaching of Daniel Barenboim. The great Argentine pianist and conductor has given a large number of Master Classes throughout his career, teaching students who have gone on to have highly successful careers in the industry (think Lang Lang).

Barenboim’s views and methods are the polar opposite of Segovia’s. He himself had this to say on the subject:

“I am by nature a very curious person and I’m full of curiosities to see what it is that such talented young people, from their perspective, with their curiosity, from today’s world, how they come to this music and how we communicate about that. I find that, for myself, a very enriching experience.”

To give you a visual idea of the teaching methods of Barenboim, here is a portion of a Master Class he led with the pianist Alessio Bax:

Final thoughts

I could almost be certain that most people would prefer the idea of receiving a Master Class from Liszt or Barenboim, than from Segovia. But, the choice isn’t always as simple as it may first appear.

Many young musicians would view the Master Class as a type of finishing school, the final preparations before stepping out onto the concert stage and breaking into a career in classical music. But what one student needs and responds to may not be the same as another.

While it may well, from the outside, seem like Segovia gave Michael Chapdelain the sort of roasting that would crush any young musician’s hopes, Chapdelain himself concedes that for a character such as himself (clearly prone to over-confidence), the chastisement of Segovia was as invaluable as it was consummate.

Just like master craftsmen who pass on their knowledge from generation to generation by taking on young apprentices, it is perhaps an essential role of a great musician to ensure the lessons he has learnt will not be lost to the new generation of up-and-coming artists. Classical music can only continue to grow, develop, evolve and thrive through this unbroken chain of the master/student relationship.

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Heliopolis Symphony – rising from ashes

With the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra booked at the BBC Proms 2012, Brazil’s classical musical prowess on the international stage seems to be on the up. However, there is another orchestra from Brazil that is making waves, with a story that is certain to warm the heart: the Heliopolis Symphony.

Last week, I spoke about the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, a Venezuelan musical phenomenon that has turned over 500,000 young people in the country (mostly from the poorest backgrounds) into successful classical musicians, while having a lasting impact upon musical education across the world.

Today, we turn out attentions to another orchestra that has been the source of great inspiration within a troubled region of the world.

The favelas of Brazil

Brazil’s relationship with favelas and the people who live within them has, for years, been a difficult one. It’s quite stunning to see some of these areas from above, sprawling micro-cities, many of which stand over some of the most beautiful regions of the country.

From a Western point of view, our thoughts about the favela are most likely skewed by the coverage they have received in recent movies, including ‘City of God’ and ‘Elite Squad’. These films outline the constant friction between the police, the residents of the favelas, the conservative media and liberal intellectuals who see so many issues in Brazil as being a result of wider social attitudes.

So, when in 1996, a fire ripped through the densely populated favelas of São Paulo, causing extensive damage and leading to the loss of seven lives, it would have been easy to think that in the ensuing weeks and months the incident would be forgotten.

Not this time.

Having viewed the coverage of the tragic fire, the Brazilian composer Silvio Baccarelli was left deeply moved, taking it upon himself to form the Baccarelli Institute – a classical music educational organization based in the heart of these same favelas.

From just a few initial students, the institute now teaches over 1300 pupils. The headquarters are based in Heliopolis, which also lends its name to the institute’s orchestra – the Heliopolis Symphony.

The famed conductor, Zubin Mehta is a patron of the project. He also conducts the Heliopolis Symphony in benefit concerts (including one on August 22nd this year), the funds of which are plowed straight back into the institute and play a significant role in supporting their ongoing educational and social agenda.

It has been a life-changing and (perhaps it would not be too much to say) life-saving project that has brought hope to many, many favela residents, while helping to change both social attitudes and those related to the traditional role of classical music in our cultures.

Final thoughts

It’s a constant source of inspiration for me to hear stories of these types of projects. They prove, not just that music can improve lives, but also that people anywhere will respond to classical music when given the opportunity. From Venezuela, to Iraq, to the United States, the UK and Brazil, there is an opportunity to bring classical to the next generation without any boundaries or elitism.

Perhaps a good message for 2012 would be this: support projects like Heliopolis Symphony, support local music ventures and celebrate classical music.

Here’s a video of Heliopolis Symphony playing music from Igor Stravinsky’s 1910 ballet ‘The Firebird’ – an appropriate choice for an orchestra that rose, so beautifully, from the ashes.


For more info on the Heliopolis Symphony Orchestra, follow this link: http://www.heliopolis2012lhennessy.com/index.html

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Ida Presti – reigniting a memory

The 20th Century was a time of great movement in the world of classical guitar. Where the instrument was once seen as an inferior, niche instrument associated strongly with folk music and ‘gypsy’ performances, thanks to the efforts of a few notable pioneers the guitar has gained a far greater level of acceptance among classical music aficionados.

Perhaps because she lived at a time where this acceptance hadn’t fully taken hold, perhaps because of our own short memories, perhaps even because she was a ‘she’, the name of Ida Presti does not appear in most musical anthologies, histories or ‘Best Of’ lists.

Yet, here was a guitarist proclaimed to be the greatest of all time, a worthy successor to Segovia whose playing was said to have left critics and audiences dumbstruck, as a result of its virtuosity, color, tone and beauty.

A child born for the guitar

Before Presti had even been born, her father, having been deeply impressed by a concert given by Segovia, rushed home to proclaim to his wife that his daughter would be a guitarist. There was no choice in the matter, no further considerations to be made – that was simply to be that.

Maybe it was this unbearable pressure at such an early age, maybe it was the life of poverty that her family lived, maybe it was the fact that she became the main bread-winner in her household at age 13, but Presti was often heard to say that she had no childhood.

Yet, Ida Presti was perhaps the archetypal child star. By age 10, she had already began to give performances to the great, gifted and famous living in France at the time, stunning them with her incredible ability to extract so much feeling and life from the instrument that had been chosen for her.

In 1935 she gave her first major performance at the Salle Chopin-Pleyel in Paris. By the age of 12, she had already given two performances for the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire and Les Concerts Pasdeloup – the only artist of her age to ever have been extended such an opportunity.

At around age 13 we have this straight-to-tape recording of Paganini’s Romanza, a version that I have found myself coming back to more often than I have to the rendition I first fell in love with, by Segovia.

The great master himself said of her at this time that ‘I have nothing to teach her’.

A marriage of musical brilliance

During her 20s, Presti’s musicianship had garnered exceptional praise from critics and musicians alike. Her fame had risen to such a degree that she was entrusted with delivering the debut performance of Joaquín Rodrigo’s ‘Concerto de Aranjuez’ in her native France.

However, when Presti met Alexandre Lagoya she found a musical partner and collaborator with the skill and passion necessary to take her life on an altogether different course. Love blossomed from initial mutual respect, as the two guitarists embarked upon a journey together that would change the face of classical guitar music forever.

We have Presti and Lagoya to thank for vastly broadening the scope of the classical guitar repertoire with a wide range of transcriptions of pieces for orchestra and piano. Their work as a duo had a spellbinding effect on audiences, with critical responses ranging from ‘Remarkable’ to ‘A shock’. In essence, they were entering new territory, delving deep into the possibilities of two-part guitar music that is hugely influential to this day.

Final thoughts

Ida Presti died at age 42, having long-since given up solo performance to concentrate on her magical concerts as part of a duo and successful spells as a teacher of the guitar.

In her day she was lauded, praised and widely regarded as standing at the epitomy of classical guitar music. Today, there is hardly any information available on her. Wikipedia has the briefest of articles, one book has been written about her, but most people will admit to never having heard of her.

If there is any justice in this world, let’s hope that the future is kinder to her memory as one of the greatest, most pioneering musicians of the genre.

To leave you with today, here is a video of Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya playing George Frederic Handel’s Chaconne in G. If you have a moment, do listen to this one… it is simply stunning!


If you fancy buying the recording of Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya featured in the video, just click on the picture below:

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Finlandia – a hymn wrapped within a film noir

As you may have guessed, I make no attempt to talk in this blog on solely musical terms. Millions of others more schooled in classical music are far more qualified than me to speak in this manner and, profound and accurate as their explanations are, I have always thought that there is a space available to talk about the music in a more personal way – a way that may help others discover or remember their own personal relationship with music.

A story of childhood

As you will note from the title of this post, this article is dedicated to Finlandia, the beautiful piece of music composed in 1899 by Jean Sibelius. The name of the piece gives you some immediate insight into the real inspiration behind the composition, but when the music speaks to me I find the emotions I am left with to be something altogether more personal.

When I was a child, I loved television. I loved television so much that my parents worried. We had one TV in our house, a small wooden Sony Trinitron that was old and dated even back then. My parents had the TV in their bedroom but on this Saturday afternoon, the television had been moved to my bedroom, which was right next to theirs and separated by two doors on the first floor landing.

My mum had just cooked lunch, a steaming hot spaghetti Bolognese that sat heaped upon the top of our plates. Halfway through a TV programme (I don’t remember which) she had called us downstairs to eat. I ran with the speed of unhinged youth down to the kitchen, grabbed my lunch from the table and pelted back upstairs to carry on watching the show. At the moment I was about to enter my parents bedroom I skidded to a halt. The fact that the TV was in MY bedroom had just dawned on me and I tried to change direction mid-step to make sure I got to back to my beloved television as quickly as humanly possible.

I stopped… the plate stopped… the spaghetti didn’t.

This tasty dish of pasta, made with the love of a mother’s hands, flew from my plate, landing directly onto my parent’s floor. It was a huge mess and that was the end of television for my childhood. The next day the Sony Trinitron could be seen across the street, next to the bins in the park, waiting to be picked up by the garbage men or any other passing character.

So, what’s the point in all of this?

I’m telling you this story, not just to show you how much I loved TV, but to show you how these memories impact my current relationship with music. On a Saturday I would watch Grandstand, a British show that covered every event going on in Sport for the entire day. When the horse racing came on, I could no longer take it anymore, so I would switch over to BBC 2 and watch whatever was on at the time. Usually, it was a black and white film that made me yawn with tiredness. If the story was a gangster movie or police drama, I generally wouldn’t mind. There was something exciting to me about these early movies and the characters who roamed the city streets in their dark suits, guns hoisted at the sides of their chests, running here, there and everywhere on their quests to catch the bad guys.

For me, the music of Finlandia begins like a feeling from one of those movies. The initial strains ring out like an ominous scene, where the bad guy has just caught eye of the detectives, who are totally unaware as he follows them slowly, peeping his head around the corner of the smokey street they are walking down as part of a sinister game of cat and mouse.

It’s not just the feeling of the music that brings these memories and emotions to me, it’s the music itself. While the Sibelius composition supersedes these movies by a good deal of decades, it’s exactly the type of music that Hollywood used in these kinds of scene. And so, for me, with my childhood of TV adulation, this is where I am transported to.

As we move along further into the piece, the initial ominous feeling subsides. There is a slow, creeping build up to a triumph that still fits perfectly with the Hollywood movie score. Now we’re in the scene where the bad guy has been captured. All the world is how it should be and people are hugging in the streets and throwing their hats into the air as they realize they’ve overcome the great foe that has been making their miserable lives even more of a misery over the past days and weeks. (I didn’t say this was a good movie!).

Be still my soul

Finally, we reach the hymn portion of the music, the anthem-esque theme that has become so well known across the world. But, this for me is still a hymn. The movie ends as soon as I hear this melody, which takes me straight back to the cold, wooden pews of my parent’s church. It’s a song I love.

Sometimes, when music this beautiful was being played, it felt like a small wind was winding its way throughout the building like a spirit, wafting under my rolled up sleeves to literally lift the hairs up on end. I still get this very same feeling from this music.

I also find it unbelievably moving. I can’t help feeling the emotion that makes your stomach clench and knot as deep dreams grab you from the inside, as unavoidable as they are inevitable.

This portion of Sibelius’s piece is still a triumph, but it is a quiet triumph based upon a quiet, certain strength. In terms of the music alone, it sounds to me like the whole of a nation being restored through one small realization of its own unique sound, internal strength and nature. It is a triumph of realization above any physical triumph.

But when I close my eyes and ignore what I know about Sibelius and the piece, this melody is simply Sunday morning. A small prayer to God to help in the hardest times and give us strength when needed.

You see, the hymn from Finlandia has been written many times with many different words. It strikes a chord with so many hymn writers because it helps us to feel emotions that would otherwise lay dormant within us. It has a spiritual message within the notes alone that only music can bring without words. I still can’t listen to Finlandia without choking up.

At church, we would sing the music to the words of Be Still My Soul. Here is just one verse from that hymn. It has a personal relevance to me in times of sadness even to this day:

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Final thoughts

Of course, now I am older and slightly more knowledgeable, I have a greater understanding of the meaning that Jean Sibelius placed upon Finlandia. As a protest against the Russian empire of the time, it helped to unite Finnish people against a common foe. Some of the feelings that I have for the piece still fit. The protest is as quiet as a whisper, calling upon the people to stand strong in a time where their thoughts, words and national sentiments were being smothered and silenced.

However, the main reason I wrote this post had little to do with the initial inspirations of Sibelius. It’s just a short (some would say not short enough), insignificant article about how one piece of music can be so personal to someone that no other individual in the world can share their exact feelings for it. Music is a route into ourselves that connects us to our pasts and helps us to express, share and understand all of those emotions that lie hidden under the surface of our beings.

So, to end with today, here is the Finlandia, op. 26 by Jean Sibelius, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.


P.S. – Make sure you don’t miss out on the latest excellent opera posts on the Falstaff Music Blog http://falstaffmusicblog.wordpress.com/

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Sunday Supplement – Georges Cziffra and Georges Cziffra, Jr. play César Franck

*Each Sunday, instead of writing a full blog piece, we will be posting a video or audio recording of a classical music performance, with just a couple of lines of supporting text. If you have a few minutes, it’s a great opportunity to simply watch or listen to the music, without the usual distractions of words.

Today we have a beautiful performance from Georges Cziffra playing César Franck’s Symphonic Variations along with Orchestre National de l’ORTF, conducted by his own son, Georges Cziffra, Jr.

The incredible and, at many times, heartbreaking personal story of Cziffra will be the subject of a longer future blog post. His son Georges Cziffra, Jr. died tragically in a fire at age 39.

This recording, and the many others they performed on together, shows the profound musical relationship they shared.

So, with no further ado, here is Georges Cziffra, Georges Cziffra, Jr. and Orchestre National de l’ORTF playing César Franck’s Symphonic Variations.


P.S. – Make sure you don’t miss out on the latest excellent opera posts on the Falstaff Music Blog http://falstaffmusicblog.wordpress.com/

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Evgeny Nikitin – defining yourself through symbolism

Watch out David Brent, Nikitin’s in town

Forgive me today, because what I’m about to write can be viewed as nothing other than a rant. I thought long and hard before I wrote this piece, going backwards and forwards about whether this was the right place to go out on a limb with a highly opinionated thought-dump. But, in the end, I came to the opinion that, if you can’t say it in your blog, where can you say it! And this story really, really riles me.

Over the past few weeks, the name Evgeny Nikitin has been getting a huge amount of column inches in newspapers, websites and blogs, and the reason is this: on the brink of performing the role of the ‘Flying Dutchman’ in Germany’s Bayreuth Festival, old video footage of the Russian bass-baritone’s tattoos were discovered by the German press. Among other distasteful tattoos (and there are more than one of them) there was a tattoo etched upon his chest of what is clearly a Swastika, a symbol that has become synonymous with the Nazi movement.

Tattoos as the symbol of the 2012 Bayreuth Festival

The Bayreuth Festival has been fraught with controversy since the time that Hitler ruled Germany, due to its lock-tight links to Wagner and various documented relationships with Nazi party members and ideology. Over the past decades, there have been concerted efforts to eliminate this connection to Nazism, which have met with varying degrees of success… but that’s another post, another story.

This year, the star of the show was to be Evgeny Nikitin, a singer who seemed to cut through musical divides with his past associations with Heavy Metal music and heavily tattooed torso. The organizers of the Bayreuth Festival obviously thought it was a wonderful idea to use the tattoos of Nikitin on every publicity shot, with the clear underlying message of, ‘hey look, we’re cool – our lead performer has tattoos.’

The plan backfires

The original tattoo

With the symbolism of the festival agreed upon, it must have come as a huge shock to the organizers to find that these same tattoos that were to define this new age of ‘cool’ included a large, prominent piece that, in an earlier iteration, had been a symbol that is so offensive to so many around the world – the Swastika.

The immediate response of the festival was to terminate their relationship with the singer on the spot. The plan had clearly backfired in the most spectacular fashion.

The follies of youth

Following the revelation and ensuing scandal of tattoo-gate, Nikitin had this to say on the subject:

“I had these tattoos done in my youth. It was a big mistake in my life and I wish I had never done it”

And then:

“I was not aware of the extent of the irritation and pain these signs and symbols would cause especially in Bayreuth and in the context of the history of the festival”

Well, there you go. An admission. Nikitin is clearly aware of the tattoos he had painted on his person as a young man and feels some sort of regret, right? Wrong.

These statements were promptly followed by a number of conflicting statements that included claims that he had never been aware of what the symbols meant and even a bizarre plea to the rebel in us all, stating that getting these tattoos was just part of the “good, crazy things” you do when you are young.

Well, I once knew someone who went to Thailand and got a tattoo in the local alphabet that ended up meaning something quite other than what they had originally intended. Maybe I’d describe that as a ‘good, crazy’ thing and forgive the idea that they had no idea what it meant. But a Swastika, in this day and age, from an educated, 21st century opera singer… do me a favor.

The plot (and tattoo) thickens

So, here we are at the latest stage of this drama, with the most recent proclamations from Nikitin that these tattoos were never meant to represent a Swastika, but were the initial stages of a larger piece that is in fact an eight-pointed star. Convenient, to say the least.

Apparently, Nikitin bled so much during the initial sitting for the tattoo that he was forced to stop, just at the stage when the tattoo resembled the famed Nazi symbol. The tattoo was finished this year and is a big, thick, black blotch of a star that leaves no trace of the original imagery.

Now, call me a cynic, but if I had gone to a parlor, all hyped up about getting my new Smurf tattoo and had to stop due to the bleeding. And, if I’d then gone on to look in the mirror and seen that the outline looked exactly like a Ku Klux Klansman, I think I would have stayed in there as long as it took to get that image off of my chest.

I can hazard a guess that I wouldn’t have waited a further 6 years to finish the tattoo. I’m also pretty certain that I wouldn’t have gone onto stage shirtless and flaunted this KKK imagery to the watching public. Shame and decency would have stopped me from doing that.


The main reason I wrote this post is that I don’t think that other posts have come anywhere close to my viewpoint on the subject. So many commentators have said something along the lines of ‘well, if we were all judged on what we did when we were young, where would we be as a society.’ Some have even said that they really don’t know what the big deal is.

Now let me state clearly – I am a strong believer in redemption. I believe in second chances and, yes, I am acutely aware that if I was to be constantly judged on what I had done when I was young I would not have half the friends I have today.

However, let me just say this. Forgiveness comes at a price. It’s a small one, but there’s a price nonetheless. You have to at least admit that you have done something wrong and feel some remorse. Ignoring the issue doesn’t redeem you, neither does flip-flopping from one excuse to another when presented with the clear facts of the matter.

If Evgeny Nikitin had stuck with his first story (I was young and stupid – and I’m sorry) then I believe that this issue would not have come to where it stands today. But when you worm around in a whirlpool of self-preservation, spouting out completely conflicting explanations, more often than not people find it difficult to believe anything that you say.

Rant over.

P.S. – Make sure you don’t miss out on the latest excellent opera posts on the Falstaff Music Blog http://falstaffmusicblog.wordpress.com/

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TwtrSymphony – social media’s creative melting pot

YouTube is an odd beast. I make use of it extensively in this blog and, in a way, it has become the most vital piece in the puzzle of this website. It’s an excellent resource for classical music and a great way to share the videos you love with the world. It’s also a fantastic way to showcase your work to the wider public, a platform for performance that has made stars out of the likes of Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black. I know… I shouldn’t go there, but, please, whhhhy?

In recent times people have become far more creative in their use of social media. Musicians from far-reaching areas of the world have used YouTube to audition for music schools or even orchestras and, in the past year or so, we have seen an incredible amount of musical collaboration on ‘The Tube’.

This new form of collaboration first came to my attention when I was sent a Radiohead track that had been recorded by musicians from across the globe and spliced together in a studio. I actually found it surprisingly moving to watch.

Twitter comes to town

Now, with the TwtrSymphony we have the next step in this collaborative evolution.

TwtrSymphony was created in March of this year by Chip Michael, a composer with a vision that social media can be a great tool to bring musicians together to perform new pieces and take this music to a global public. It follows the principles of Twitter closely, with a focus upon creating music that is limited to 140 seconds per track.

The first ‘shout-out’ for collaborators was met with over 100 responses, so the auditions process began and Michael came up with a list of musicians with the talent and motivation required to undertake this unique project.

When the performers had all finished their individual parts, the music was lovingly put together in a recording studio, using cutting-edge software engineering techniques to get past the bumps and snaggles that inevitably occur when attempting to integrate the music of performers who have never met each other, let alone performed together.

Thankfully for Chip Michael and all of the collaborators, the results are great. Inspiring would be the word I’d use. You see these types of collaboration go far further than the music. They are a sign of the good things that can come from a globalized world where we are only a few clicks away from people with similar aspirations, dreams and passions – no matter where on this earth they happen to live.

You can check out the video for ‘The Hawk Goes Hunting’, the first movement of the symphony ‘Birds of a Feather’ below. All other tracks are being drip-fed to the public, but if you go to the website http://twtrsymphony.instantencore.com/web/home.aspx and become a fan, you can get early access to the entire recording. It’s well worth a listen!


P.S. – Make sure you don’t miss out on the latest excellent opera posts on the Falstaff Music Blog http://falstaffmusicblog.wordpress.com/

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Einstein and music – a relationship deeper than love

When you look at the life of Albert Einstein many thoughts enter your head: science genius, physics revolutionary, creator of the theory of relativity, humanist, extrovert… but musician? That would perhaps be far down the list of important characteristics attributable to this legendary scientist.

Yet Einstein’s love for music was so central to his own perception of his life story that he had this to say:

‘I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.’

This famous quotation tells us a great deal about the character of Albert Einstein and perhaps goes far deeper than a quick first read reveals.

Science and music

Music, mathematics and science have an incredibly close relationship. We base all of our current ideas of scale and harmony upon mathematics, from the times of the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Pythagoreans through to present day. Mathematics has been proclaimed to be ‘the basis of sound’ and harmony has, since the time of Plato, been considered an essential branch of Physics.

So, when a scientist such as Einstein states that he sees his life ‘in terms of music’, perhaps we should pay the words a little more attention.

A love grows

At the age of five, Einstein (who was born into a musical family) began playing classical violin. While his initial affection towards the study of the instrument was faint, these feelings flamed into love as he discovered the works of Mozart and Bach. Music became a pure outlet for Einstein’s passions, causing one of his contemporaries to announce:

‘There are many musicians with much better technique, but none, I believe, who ever played with more sincerity or deeper feeling.’

From his early years until the time that he could no longer physically play, Einstein’s violin was his most steady companion in life. Leave aside all of the great scientific discoveries of his lifetime, this is what the great man had to say about music:

‘I know that the most joy in life has come to me from my violin.’

More than love

But joy is one thing, passion is another and love is quite something else. It is the idea of seeing your life in terms of music that I am most interested in here. What exactly did he mean by this phrase? To what extent did music enter every aspect of his life?

Some people use music as a distraction when they work. They take a break from what they are doing and put on a piece of music to relax and escape from the rigours of the daily grind. For others, music is essential for their lives and work – listening to music brings them clarity of mind, thought and being.

Einstein’s wife had this to say:

‘Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories. He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, returns to his study.’

It seems that, for Einstein, music acted as a catalyst through which he could clarify, define and understand the complexities of his scientific discoveries. Music was not a past-time or distraction but a vital tool in focusing his mind upon the deeper questions he was analyzing in his work. And why shouldn’t this be the case? If Einstein saw his life through music and music is immovably linked to mathematics and physics, then music could quite conceivably have been the guiding force within his genius mind.

The question then remains: would the great discoveries of Einstein ever have existed without his profound, unchangeable love for music?

To leave you today, I am linking to a video of David Oistrakh’s performance of the 1st movement of the Violin Concerto in A minor by Einstein’s favorite composer. J.S. Bach:

P.S. – Make sure you don’t miss out on the latest excellent opera posts on the Falstaff Music Blog http://falstaffmusicblog.wordpress.com/

P.P.S – Since writing this article, I found this wonderful quote from Einstein: “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception”

P.P.P.S. – Earlier this week the great Violinist Ruggiero Ricci died at age 94. Einstein was a big fan and invited him to play for him in his house, where, apart from enjoying a wonderful afternoon of music, Ricci’s overriding memory was of being served tea with stale biscuits.

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