Archive for May, 2009

Radio Times

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Culture with tags , , , , , on May 30, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I have just read that Gill Hudson, the present editor of the Radio Times, is to be the new editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest in the UK.

For many years the Radio Times has sunk lower and lower into an abyss in which little of value could survive. I wouldn’t know where to start in describing my contempt for this weekly dose of tittle-tattle about pop stars, soap operas, presenters, would-be singers, actresses and the like.

I have only continued to buy it for a handy check on the Radio 3 schedule – marking up items in advance each week with a red felt pen.

Might a new editor lead to improvement?


This reminded me of a solution to the declining Radio 3 content problem which I heard John Drummond put forward during his time at the BBC. He said that one solution to the increasing demands for space from elsewhere was to remove detailed Radio 3 programme details from the Radio Times altogether and to put them, in an expanded form, in The Listener. What an essential weekly purchase that would have been!

Salmon, cucumber and fennel soup

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Salmon bones aren’t generally used for stocks in the kitchen, as they tend to be a bit oily and overpowering. But I hate wasting any food – even fish bones! Once the bones have been blanched to get rid of the oils and their slight bitterness, they make a perfectly good soup or stock.

For the stock:
800g-1kg salmon bones, washed
1 leek, peeled, roughly chopped and washed
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
½ bulb of fennel
1 tsp fennel seeds
10 white peppercorns
1 bayleaf

For the soup:
40g butter
30g flour
100ml white wine
½ bulb of fennel
150g salmon fillet
4-5cm cucumber, halved lengthways and seeds scooped out
1 tbsp chopped fennel
1 tbsp double cream
salt and freshly ground white pepper

Put all of the ingredients for the stock in a saucepan and add about 1.5 litres of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, skimming every so often, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean saucepan and continue to simmer.

Poach the salmon fillet in the stock for about 4-5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and leave to cool.

Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the flour and cook on a low heat, stirring continuously for about 30 seconds.

Whisk the flour mixture into the simmering stock, season and continue to simmer gently for about 30 minutes. The soup should have thickened up nicely now and have a good flavour; if not continue simmering until it has.

Cut the cucumber into 1cm dice, flake the salmon and add to the soup with the cucumber, chopped fennel and cream, bring back to a simmer and re-season if necessary.

Audience Development

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I belong to an amateur symphony orchestra. Just as full professional orchestras need financing, we obviously depend on good audiences to pay the expenses incurred in putting on a concert. Recently a debate took place at our AGM and some members and officials asserted that programme choice had little to do with audience size in their experience. I reminded them of a popular concert we gave in 2008 where West Side Story (Bernstein) and An American in Paris (Gershwin) were played as well as Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. This was a sell-out, a thing that has not happened for more than 20 years where we had played more classical works.

When I decide to attend a concert I am attracted first by the repertoire and to a degree by the performer. And of course one can only manage to take in and afford a limited number of performances in a given period.

This week I decided not to go to the Hallé at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, despite Mark Elder conducting and despite the programme including Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 5 which I have never heard and would like to discover. The reason being I don’t care for Holst’s The Planets very much and was more attracted by the Michelangelo Quartet on Monday playing Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schumann.

One cannot help noticing though that attendances for series like the Manchester Chamber Music Society, whatever the programme, are much better than for mainstream works by excellent performers which are organised by the Royal Northern College of Music on an ad hoc basis.

A very few composers (Gershwin in particular) will put me off virtually whatever else is on the programme. I did sit through a Gershwin medley once in order to hear Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 4, but I think I would rather sit in the bar than listen to any more Gershwin again.

In my experience with local orchestras and choirs, the main factors for building up and retaining an audience are the willingness and energy of players and singers to sell tickets to friends, the literal and metaphorical warmth and comfort of the venue, the welcome from front of house staff and conductor and a programme of music which appeals to your regular audience and which introduces them to something new.

Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Posted in Music with tags , , , on May 29, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Neil Fisher’s article Harrison Birtwistle – King of the road less travelled in today’s Times is well worth reading.

This, in particular, sums up Birtwistle for me:

Recently Birtwistle was approached by a group who wanted to adapt one of his orchestral pieces. “They wanted to ‘remix’ my Triumph of Time,” he says. “I said it was perfectly mixed already.”

The Corridor, Harrison Birtwistle’s latest theatre piece will open the 2009 Aldeburgh festival and inaugurate the new studio theatre at Snape Maltings. The two-handed scena returns to a subject that has preoccupied Birtwistle for more than 30 years, the myth of Orpheus and Euridice, and forms the second part of a programme that begins with Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens, a sequence of new arrangements of John Dowland.

Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh (01728 987110), 12, 15, 17 & 18 June
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (0871 663 2500), 6, 7 July


Frederick Delius

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on May 29, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Andrew Clements in last Saturday’s Guardian, (unsympathetically) reviewing a performance of Delius’s A Mass of Life, wrote:

Hardcore English-music enthusiasts were out in force at the Festival Hall for this concert. They are easy enough to spot. Male, conservatively dressed and middle-aged (you suspect most of them looked middle-aged when they were in their 20s), they invariably have an air of disappointment, as if the music they support so enthusiastically has never quite lived up to the expectations they load upon it.

I find a little Delius goes quite a long way; it quickly palls, and A Mass of Life more quickly than most. I find myself largely in agreement with Andrew Clements’s assessment of it.

Mind you, Delius was 100% German by blood, set A Mass of Life in German, lived outside England whenever he had the choice, and once famously said “English music? What’s that? I never heard any.”

So I wonder what “English music enthusiasts” were doing there, and how Andrew Clements knew that they were such.

I wonder also if he would get away with caricaturing black or Muslim music enthusiasts in a corresponding way. I suspect not.

Apart from the subtitle of Brigg Fair (“an English rhapsody”) the English connection dates back to the re-interment at Limpsfield in 1934 when Sir Thomas Beecham made a speech arguing for Delius’s re-burial in England (no doubt some had thought it inappropriate, not least because Delius was a strident and unrepentant atheist).

Earlier, in 1908, Havergal Brian witnessed a scene between Delius and the Hallé secretary, when the Hallé were performing Appalachia but had omitted some of the instruments in the score. Delius said, “Such blundering would be unthinkable in Germany. By God, if you English ever go to war with Germany she will smash you up!”

Lamb meatball salad

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Half Hour Meals

This dish has a bit of a Moroccan theme to it, but you could easily add other related ingredients that you have in your larder such as olives, chickpeas and pickled chillies.

Butchers and supermarkets normally sell decent mince at fairly reasonable prices and you can make a good amount of meatballs out of just half a kilo of mince which will be enough for a dinner party or family meal.

For the meatballs:
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
2-3 tbsp vegetable or corn oil
500g minced lamb
salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g fresh white breadcrumbs

For the salad:
4 long red or normal red peppers
half a cucumber
2 hearts of cos lettuce, washed
a couple of handfuls of rocket, washed
a handful of mint leaves
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
the juice of 1 lemon
4-5 tbsp olive oil

First make the meatballs: gently cook the onion, garlic, cumin and paprika in a tablespoon of the vegetable oil for 2-3 minutes until soft, stirring every so often then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Mix the onions with the minced lamb and breadcrumbs and season well. Make a little tester by frying a piece of the mix, adjusting the seasoning and spices if necessary. Roll the meat into 50 pence-piece sized balls, flatten slightly and place on a tray in the fridge.

Meanwhile, halve the peppers lengthways and remove the seeds and stalk if using long ones or quarter normal ones. Place on a tray, skin side up, and place under a hot grill until the skins are black, then put them in a plastic bag for about 5-10 minutes to ease removing the skins.

In the meantime, heat some of the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and cook the meatballs in batches, depending on the size of your pan, for 2-3 minutes on each side and browning them nicely.

While the meatballs are cooking, break up the large cos leaves and mix in a bowl with the rocket and two-thirds of the mint leaves. Chop the rest of the leaves and mix with the yoghurt. Mix the lemon juice and olive oil together and toss with the leaves, then transfer to one large bowl or individual serving bowls. Cut the peppers down a bit and arrange among and on the leaves with the meatballs, then spoon the yoghurt on top.

Brown Bread: Nicholas Maw

Posted in Music, Obituaries with tags , , on May 20, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I read the very sad news in the New York Times of the death of a great British composer. Will the BBC Proms this season, amend some of their programmes to incorporate a composition or two, or even put on his Odyssey? I think not.

I hope his beautiful “lullaby for large orchestra”, The World in the Evening, is given an airing. It deserves to be recorded.

Maw’s championing of the tune and melodic line preserved a touch of sanity in contemporary musical composition. I’m sure his work will live.

He was only in his mid 70s too. His music was probably the most approachable and musically satisfying of contemporary British composers. I particularly like his Violin Concerto.

Although I much prefer his earlier works (Life Studies, Scenes and Arias) to his later ones (Sophie’s Choice), I had hoped that he might write a late great symphony. Still, there is Odyssey for those who can spare the time and the concentration to listen to it. It’s uneven, but I applaud him for writing such a large work for conventional orchestra so late in the 20th century.

The early Sinfonia of 1966, another work of his I enjoy, would probably have been called Symphony No. 1 by many composers, it’s a good thirty minutes in length too.

R.I.P. Nicholas Maw 1935-2009


The Romantic Modernist

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