A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.

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On the shoulders of giants

I’m about to head off to Europe for a few weeks. Come with me! I’ll be blogging from Musique Cordiale in Seillans and from Dartington International Summer School. Of course, I’ll also be missing fabulous stuff in Sydney, but will just be back in time for Imogen Cooper playing with the SSO. Here she is in her student days…

Prizes for naming other characters in this little blast from the past (with thanks to camera man Charles Davis and archivist Jeremy Wilson, who transferred all the Super 8s onto DVD…)

You can read more about the Dartington archive and what I’m doing with it over at www.unbound.com/books/sanctuary. While you’re there, I hope you’ll make a pledge and tell everyone about it!



Digging through an archive is a bit like piecing together a puzzle. Most of the bits are there, but they need putting together, and once you have put them together you realise that something is missing. It’s like the yarning, cryptic crosswords and QI (mixed in with a fair amount of drudgery.) But every so often things fit together in new and exciting ways.

I was intrigued to find out more about early performances of Le Marteau sans Maitre. Yes, I know, nasty modern music, but that was a big part of the Summer School. You could have your Mozart and Schubert, but you needed to listen to something written yesterday too.

Pierre Boulez’s notorious work was first performed in 1955 at the ISCM Festival in Baden-Baden but I was pretty sure its first UK performance was at Dartington.

To the archive!

First, a photo: 59.42

I can make out “Boulez” and Le Marteau sans maitre, but not much else. It’s a picture of Ilona Halberstadt, a film producer and scholar, who later founded “Pix” magazine. She was also involved with Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra in the 60s.

Then here’s the concert programme:IMG_5024

August 9th, 1959 it says, in my father’s handwriting. I can almost smell the roneo ink.

And then, by recent happenstance, an introduction to the fearless conductor, John Carewe, who agreed to dredge his memory for that performance. Here’s what he remembers:
“The idea of doing it was mine. William [Glock] was enthusiastic. I had been in Paris studying with Messiaen and Boulez (I think 1956/7). I guess I gave my first concert (RFH recital room, based round 2 performances of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No 1) in Jan 1958 and William invited us to Dartington. Of course I knew Le Marteau and loved it and its challenges, hence my desire to do it..
There was a new printed version available. We started rehearsals about 7 months before that August. We had one session together (after which we sacked the percussionist and Richard Rodney Bennett took over the part). After that I took lots of rehearsals with one, two or three players. There was no guitarist at that time who could have played it so Cornelius Cardew learnt to play guitar! All the others were young professionals intrigued by the problems. In Dartington we rehearsed from 9.00 am to late evening for 5 or 6 days before the performance. I guess we got travel, bed and food and possibly £10 each for all that work.  But we loved it!”

Here’s a (terrible) picture of them rehearsing.59.98

Now I’m hoping to find someone who remembers hearing it for the first time.

Could that be you? Do get in touch!


This is a cross post from my Unbound updates page. Unbound is the game-changing publisher which finds authors with something to say then uses crowd-funding to make it happen. There are more details of my book, Sanctuarya pictorial history of Dartington International Summer School, over there, and that’s where to go if you want to get updates on what I’m finding out and pledge your support by signing up to get a copy when it comes out next year. (Go on, you know you want to!) If you’ve already signed up, thank you thank you thank you,  and do take another look because Unbound’s just relaunched a bright and shiny (and pink) new site.


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Flashback Friday

Busy studying this week so no reviews until Sunday, when I’m seeing this. Instead, I’m posting a piece I wrote back in 2011 to celebrate this month’s guest visit from Sydney Symphony’s former chief conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, along with a photo from the Dartington Summer School archive from 1964.


A young Vladimir Ashkenazy and son at Dartington International Summer School in 1964. (Photo: Catherine Scudamore, with thanks to the Summer School Foundation).

It is twenty-eight minutes past three on a cool Tuesday afternoon in Sydney. The stage of the Concert Hall in the Sydney Opera House is packed: 77 musicians sitting patiently, flicking through their music, adjusting their instruments; black clad stage managers in head sets darting from one door to another. Vladimir Ashkenazy appears on stage unannounced, dressed down in comfy slacks and a white t-shirt printed with a black and white portrait of composer Edward Elgar. He squeezes nimbly between the first and second violins, smiling, shaking hands, exchanging a few words with individuals as he goes, then hops onto the podium. More smiles, a glance at the score. ‘No. 19, please’. Then the baton goes down and the music begins.

The musicians of Sydney Symphony are rehearsing their season opener, a performance of Grieg’s incidental music for the Ibsen play, Peer Gynt. The music is interspersed with extracts from the play, read by actor John de Lancie, and this is a technical rehearsal, finalising the lighting and sound, and making sure the orchestral and non-orchestral elements run together seamlessly.

As such, the orchestra and its conductor, Ashkenazy, are just following orders. At the request of the stage manager, they skip to the night scene, where de Lancie must speak over the orchestra, recitative style. There is a moment of confusion as de Lancie pauses unexpectedly.

“What do you want us to do there?” Ashkenazy shrugs, not quite impatiently. “I don’t mind.” The stage manager negotiates a minor change to the script and the music continues.

In spite of the stop-start nature of the rehearsal, no one is fidgeting, and no-one is holding back: the music is never less than beautiful, the notes are all there, the phrases are turned with infinite care. Ashkenazy is small in stature but he bristles with energy on the podium, shaping phrases and cueing entries with a look, a gesture, a slight stiffening of the shoulders.

Ashkenazy in person is much the same as Ashkenazy on the podium. Soft spoken, economical with his words, and utterly engaged by the music. Asked whether he ever shouts or throws his weight around in rehearsals, he smiles.

“No. I’m not the type. I don’t find any reason to yell. Not with anybody. Especially not with Sydney Symphony. But I don’t think I ever yelled. It’s not my nature. If something goes wrong I just wait, and get it right. Yelling won’t help.

“You do not need so many words. The musicians do not like it. They just like to play music, to play beautifully.”

(First published in Limelight Magazine, 2011).

I suggest you hurry along to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s website to check out what’s on tonight, tomorrow and next week. It will be a treat.

Since the reduction in arts coverage at the Sydney Morning Herald there is almost no prospect of a preview, feature or review for most music ensembles in Sydney. I am, therefore, supporting artists in the best way I know how – by going to concerts, listening hard, and writing about what I hear. If you like what I’m doing, please follow my blog, like my Facebook page and support my writing by making a pledge to my forthcoming book, Sanctuary.

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Drumroll please…

Are you ready?



I’m thrilled and not a little bit nervous to announce my new book, Sanctuary, a history of Dartington International Summer School in words and pictures.

You may have gathered from that something was in the pipeline. I’ve been spending time revisiting my alma mater, and rummaging through the cardboard boxes in my father’s study, which contain the archives of the Summer School. Let me tell you, there’s gold in there. Photos, letters, diaries, programs, dating back to the very first Summer School at Bryanston in 1948.

IMG_3426 (1)The Summer School archive is the subject of my studies for a doctorate at UTS. It will become a thesis and a collection of stories, probably using lots of long words and stuff. In the mean time, however, I’ve been looking into how to get the fascinating contents of those boxes out to a wider audience. Now, thanks to UK publisher Unbound, I am delighted to launch a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds for the picture book.


Ah. Yes. Sorry. You have just been sucked into yet another crowd-funding campaign. But why do I feel the need to apologize? A book about a summer school where composers and performers and students and listeners gorged themselves on music and ideas was never going get a twentieth-century publishing deal. So I’ve gone for the eighteenth-century publishing model, with a twenty-first century spin. If Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens can fund their books by advance sales, so can I, especially with the help of Unbound!hall


Conducting Course, 1983

Over the next year I’ll be writing words, compiling photos and working with designers to create a beautiful picture book to celebrate the Summer School’s 70th birthday. I’ll be blogging about my progress and showing you some of the goodies along the way. And if you like what you see, I hope you’ll sign up to buy a copy of the book.

You can also show your support in non-financial ways. Cups of tea, glasses of wine, a big grin or a stern word when I’m doing the ironing instead of writing, all welcome. Or if you’re not close enough to make me a cup of tea, you could help a great deal by passing this on to anyone you know who might be interested. You know the drill: reblog, retweet, email, whisper secrets, gossip salaciously, dance naked down the street shouting ‘buy Harriet’s book!’. Well maybe. Anything to get the word out.

That link again:


Go on. Click. You know you want to.


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Conduct becoming

First concert for the Dartington Festival Orchestra last night, with this year’s crop of student conductors. It was an all-Beethoven program, with Joanna MacGregor clocking up her third concert in as many days in the Triple Concerto, with (equally frantic) Adrian Brendel (cello) and Chloe Hanslip (violin), and a changeover on the podium for every movement.

Conducting Course, 1983

Conducting Course, 1983 (Photo: Charles Davis, Summer School Foundation Archive)

Two hours earlier, I’d been sitting on the grass exchanging memories with a couple of DFO legends. It’s 25 years since I last played in the conductors’ orchestra, back in 1989, when Diego Masson was running the course. It was bloody hard work then, as I’m sure it is now. An opera, a choir concert, a couple of orchestral concerts, and deciphering the more or less vague gestures of rookie stickhandlers. Some of them were good. Very very good. Joyously good. Others were very, very bad. Viola player Nicky Hocking (now Smith) reminded me of the nicknames we used to give those poor lambs to the slaughter. Who could forget ‘Brown Jumper’? Or ‘Branston Pickle’? Or ‘the Surrey Fascist’?

To give them their due, it’s a tough gig for the conductors too. I imagine it’s not unlike a student teacher standing in front of a class of thirteen year olds. Except that the class is made up of 55 professional musicians who may or may not have hangovers but certainly have no time for fools. The viola section, led by the legendarily foul-mouthed Peter Gumbley, backed up by the razor tongue of Nicola, were particularly intimidating. Some of the students rose to the occasion. Some we broke.

The 2016 batch mostly scrubbed up well last night. I was particularly impressed by Australian conductor of the first movement of the concerto, who beamed across the orchestra, inciting not just notes, but perhaps even joy. The band also did well, dealing with some — dare I say it — unreasonably brisk tempi in Symphony No. 7. As for the concerto, the soloists soared out from the crowded stage, with Hanslip finding a thrilling clarity to her top register.


Martynas Levickis rehearsing for Tango Nuevo with Joanna MacGregor and Adrian Brendel

Then a late night concert from Lithuanian accordion star, Martynas Levickis. The Accordion is not everyone’s go-to instrument for musical bliss but, in the hands of Levickis, it may yet become one. He’s a natural communicator and an astonishing performer who had me grinning broadly through music by Bach, Rossini and Levickis himself, and gripped by Sofia Gubaidulina’s De Profundis. 

The future has buttons and bellows.

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Words about music

I’m reading Nicholas Cook’s excellent Music: a very short introduction. It’s a great counterpoint to the mad whirl of music-making, -talking, -listening to and -not listening to that is Dartington International Summer School. In it he talks about music and words and metaphor and the ongoing debates about how and why we even try to describe music in words. Which in turn leads him to contemplate what we are actually trying to describe…

Alfred Brendel was not stressed about metaphor in his magisterial lecture on Beethoven’s late sonatas. The piano virtuoso and polymath did acknowledge options for talking about the works — in terms of physical, psychological, historical, musicological etc. — before indulging his preference, poetical.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 9.35.02 pm

This is definitely Alfred Brendel at Dartington in 1970. Sadly, it’s not Adrian Brendel-ssohn who wasn’t due to be born for another six years. Photo: Charles Davis (DISS Archive)

It wasn’t all fine words (although there were plenty of those). He speculated on and dismissed the fanciful ruminations of various musicologists (to remain unnamed here…) Most interesting, though, was how he traced melody fragments through the sonatas, both in terms of melody shape and pitch. Something that, no doubt, leaps out at you after years and years of performing them. I can’t say I ‘get’ the sonatas now, but it was a treat to hear him talk with such authority and such love.


The 7.45pm concert was a festival of Tango Nuevo from the DISS16 all-stars, including Joanna MacGregor, Antonia Kesel, Adrian Brendel and accordionista fabulosa Martynas Levickis. Exuberant, splashy, sexy. Completing the line-up was Brazilian percussion guy Adriano Adewale, who not only gave us dance rhythms, but also two solo breaks, first on assorted ocarinari, and second on tambourine. Yes. A tambourine solo. It was one of those new music moments where you see what’s coming up, raise your eyebrows and suspend disbelief more because of good manners than any real expectation of enlightenment. And ten minutes later you’re sitting there, mouth open, eyes wide, ears alive with delight. Who knew a tambourine could make such a range of sounds? Brilliant.

tango2The all-stars were a hard act to follow. After some quick first-aid from the piano technician, the long-suffering Steinway was wheeled back centre stage for its third performance of the evening. Florian Mitrea gave a generous and energetic performance of Beethoven’s Waldstein, followed by Sonata No. 111, which I heard from outside, in the  velvety fug of a South Devon summer night.



Many voices

Yesterday started with one of my favourite sounds in the whole wide world. At approximately 9.17am around fifty voices sang five note rising and descending scales, in unison. The sound of the Big Choir warming up, their rusty morningness filtered through the stone walls of the Great Hall.

2And there it is. Bam! Nostalgia smacking me around the chops, again. I must have been about 8 or 9 when I was deemed old enough to sit through a rehearsal without undue fidgeting or nose-picking, at which point I was sent, under the maternal wing of a willing soprano, to squint at a score and make enthusiastic noises. I remember singing Schubert masses, Mozart, Poulenc, usually with a two piano accompaniment, with people like George Malcolm, fierce with the tenors, or Richard Hickox, charming the dowager altos.

That was then. This is now. This week it’s Haydn’s Nelson Mass, and Ave Maris Stella by Cecilia MacDowell. Can’t wait to hear it performed, this Friday.

Much to get through before then, however.

I heard the first of yesterday’s three evening concerts through the stone wall filter: pianist Yehuda Inbar playing Liszt’s transcription of Isolde’s Liebestod. Sitting on the lawn on a sunlit English summer evening was like being in a Merchant/Ivory movie (with a luscious soundtrack).

adrianThe main concert for the evening was a recital from cellist Adrian Brendel and pianist (and Summer School artistic director) Joanna MacGregor, demonstrating that you don’t need many individuals on stage to hear many voices.

First up, some highly expressive sign language. Pointed looks between the performers. Raised eyebrows. A smile, a look of surprise. A general shuffling as they make sure that they are, indeed, about to embark on the same piece of music, rather than two different ones. Silence as Joanna MacGregor sits, her head in her lap, for a full ten seconds, shaking with helpless laughter. Then, out of the silence, a miraculous transformation as Beethoven’s Sonata in C major begins.

The cello has become something of a trope –  romantic, soulful, your go-t0 instrument in plays and movies to characterise a grief-stricken lover or misunderstood loner. Adrian Brendel isn’t having any truck with that. Yes, he can sing out the introverted ecstacy of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, or the ache-y long lines of Shostakovich’s melodies, (before they  — the melodies, not the performers — go off the rails). But he’s not afraid to tell it how it is. So Beethoven’s late cello sonata is bewildering and beautiful, gruff and grey. “More Beethoven than cello,” says my father, sotto voce, as the applause dies down. And then  Schnittke’s Sonata No. 2, another piece written late in the composer’s life. Last, in fact, according to Brendel. A piece which breaks all the rules by being nothing like anything except itself. Notes hung out to dry, waiting for another note to join them, or finishing a conversation that started two movements back… What made this, for me, was not just the fascinating range of timbres from both players, but the sense of space: plenty of silence, but not empty silence. Silence with great arcs reaching across the gap. Sculpture in sound.

In the 10pm slot, the Skampa Quartet playing Schubert’s Quartettsatz and, with pianist Hamish Milne, Cesar Franck’s nutty Piano Quintet in F minor. I’ve heard the Skampas before, on a tour for Musica Viva. They’re good. Really good: four intense, gripping sounds, not particularly blended, and all the better for that. Four more individual voices. And as they grappled with the Franck — old Cesar does lay it on a bit thick sometimes — Hamish Milne sat like the calm centre of the storm, barely raising a sweat, creating the most gorgeous sounds from the Steinway.

A good day.




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It begins


My dad on the cricket field in ?1963.

Peter Carter (2nd violin of the Dartington String Quartet) on the cricket field in ?1963.

It begins at the turn-off to Buckfastleigh. I’m driving my father’s car. He’s next to me. We’ve done this journey so many times — together, alone. We know all the twists and bends and signs. I refrain from saying “Oh look. Charlie’s still in a mood,” as we pass the sign to Charlies Cross but I’m sure we both think it. As we pass Foxhole there’s a game of cricket in full swing, with a team in traditional whites. “Lovely,” says my father. And then we’re passing High Cross, the top gate, Martins, the gallery and the gatehouse. We’re back. I’m back.

Please forgive me for a moment of nostalgia. I grew up at Dartington Summer School. My parents met there, and continued to go to the Summer School together through engagement, marriage, two kids and one divorce. My brother and I waltzed off into life and my father got custody of the Summer School. He still comes every year, and a few years ago took on the role of archivist, assembling a magnificent collection of photos, programmes and ephemera dating from 1948 to the present day. Which is why I am here, 25 years after my last visit, accompanying my father and researching a book on the Summer School, featuring treasures from the archive.

IMG_3426 (1)I’ve got my violin with me, and I’ll be doing some chamber music, but my main practice these days is writing, and as part of that I’ll be writing a daily blogpost, which may or may not include reviews of the previous day’s concerts and events.

So here goes…

Saturday 13 August
Great HallThe Romantic Violin I

It’s a luscious start to the week with a dose of high romanticism in the shape of Dvorak and Brahms, plus a twist of Prokofiev. Chloe Hanslip is a young British violinist who studied with Zakhar Bron and is now in demand as a soloist, not least because of her amazing repertoire, which includes Korngold, Glass, Corigliano, Maxwell Davies and (Brett) Dean, not to mention all the older stuff. Her partner on stage is Roumanian pianist Florian Mitrea, who is currently ripping through the competition and concert circuit, winning prizes as a soloist and as a chamber musician.

I imagine the first concert of the week is a tough gig. The audience has just arrived and is still warming up, getting their listening ears on, pacing themselves. Hanslip and Mitrea launched into Dvorak’s Sonatina in G with serious intent — perhaps for me a little too serious, a little too muscular for Dvorak’s innocent melodies. The Brahms — Sonata No. 3 in D Minor — was forceful and brave, with gloriously sunny thirds in the second movement, but the balance between pianist and violinist in colour, dynamics and tempi was sometimes elusive.

They finally cracked it in the second half, in Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinq Melodies. Five little episodes, five moods, captured with delicacy and focus and, finally, pianissimos to make us all hold our breath. With the audience, as much as the duo, finally tuned in, the Sonata No. 2 in D major made for a stylish and satisfying play out. I look forward to hearing more from both musicians later in the week.

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From the archive: behind closed doors

A guest post from Jeremy Wilson, archivist to Dartington International Summer School

Being a Trog gives particular insights into the character and personality of artists, never more so than in the green room. Before going on stage some are quiet and withdrawn, some calm and relaxed, while others are unnaturally boisterous.

After the performance their behaviour may be even more revealing. When the violinist Henryk Scherying came off after a particularly long recital the Trog, offering him a glass, said, “you must feel tired after that…” The arrogant Szerying replied, “Does a High Priest feel tired after saying mass?”

A program from 1961. (Dad has all of them).

Coming off the platform for some it is elation, some ‘glad it’s over,’ other quietly content. One evening when a Trog commented on the beautiful encore that Paul Tortelier had just played he replied, “Ah oui. Mais comme l’amour c’est trop court.”

After a performance people can be quite angry with themselves or others. Quite often quartets or duos would come off arguing. The singer Mary Thomas, having performed a lesser composer’s imitation of John Cage’s Aria, stormed into the green room with a black face, hurled the score across the room – “RUBBISH” – then turned round with the sweetest smile on her face and went out to receive her applause.

Then there is the unpredictable. One day, in the early years at Bryanston, Elizabeth Schumann was waiting to go on stage to give a lecture and I, aged 19, was her attendant Trog. The previous lecture, John Clements speaking on the Chorus in Opera, was concluding with a record of the waltz from Gounod’s Faust. “Ah, Wunderbar!” cried Schumann, as she grabbed hold of me and waltzed all round the room with me. I subsequently begged that disc off John Clements and still have it to this day.


The Best Present

It all started about a year ago. My brother, organised and thoughtful as ever, emailed me looking for suggestions for our father’s 80th birthday.

James and Jacobs Pillow

Bassoonist’s son in Dartington Hall Gardens

After listening politely to my hopeless ideas, he said, “Shouldn’t we get someone to write a piece of music?” Not only that, but he gave John Woolrich a call and the next thing I know, the Dartington brochure comes out with a concert including a new work by Gordon Crosse dedicated to Jeremy Wilson, archivist to the Summer School. Which is how I came to be in the Dartington Hall Gardens on a beautiful summer’s afternoon this August.

I say it started a year ago. It actually started way back in 1951, when my father, a student at Bryanston School, got involved in one of Europe’s post-war cultural rebuilding efforts, a summer school of music run by William Glock. The summer school moved to Dartington Hall in 1953 and has been there ever since, and my father has been a constant presence.

He’s been an audience member, a trog*, a member of the management council and, now, archivist. His collection of photos, programs, the ‘daily’ and the ‘weekly’ are a real treasure trove. His memories are even richer. Moving harpsichords for George Malcolm, defending the Steinway in the Great Hall from being ‘prepared’, waltzing with Elizabeth Schumann and in later years, propping up the bar with Peter Sculthorpe and Wilfrid Mellers, three surprisingly non-grumpy old men of music. This year, even at the age of 80, he was still much in demand. (Good bassoonists are always hard to come by).

His involvement with Dartington Summer School has been the foundation of my musical life. My whole life, in fact, given that he met my mother at Dartington. My first Summer School was at five months, my last at about 23. So I’ve done 24 summer schools. But my father has done a great many more.

So on 19th August me, my brother, my dad and many summer school attendees heard the premiere of  Ambleside Air, a new work for bassoon, by Gordon Crosse, commissioned by the Summer School in honour of their archivist, Jeremy Wilson. Bassoonist Sarah Burnett performed it twice, brilliantly. Now my father is learning it himself (having typed the manuscript copy into his computer – “don’t like Sibelius, much prefer music publisher…”)

Great joy all round. So if anyone is trying to think of a good present for a friend or relative, ageing or otherwise, please consider commissioning a piece of music. It doesn’t clutter up the house and it keeps on giving.

*A trog (or troglodyte) was George Malcolm’s nickname for the team of stage managers.