Thursday, 10 April 2014

Three more Aussie sopranos

In researching ‘From Melba to Sutherland: Australian Singers on Record’, aside from the A-listers that I posted recently, all sorts of others came out of the woodwork. For example:

Syria Lamonte: (above) The only things that seemed to be known about her was that she was a ‘singing barmaid’ at Rules Restaurant in London, an Aussie (probably), and that she made among the first recordings outside America – in 1898.

Violet Mount: Who, unable to get into opera in London, went on the music halls masked as ‘L’Incognita’. There was speculation as to who she really was. The great Tetrazzini moonlighting, for example?

Lorna Sydney: A superb mezzo from Perth, who was interned in Austria as an alien in WW2, then went on to sing 47 leading roles at the State Opera in Vienna.


Monday, 7 April 2014

Top ten (Aussie) sopranos

Someone started a thread on the unofficial BBC Radio 3 messageboards asking for nominations for the top ten sopranos.

It seemed to me that the emerging lists were filled with the usual suspects, and since I’m currently in the process (with Tony Locantro) of finishing up a 4 x CD set for Decca Australia entitled ‘From Melba to Sutherland: Australian Singers on Record’, this is the list I offered:

Nellie Melba
Frances Alda
Elsa Stralia
Florence Austral
Margherita Grandi
Marjorie Lawrence
Sylvia Fisher
Joan Hammond
Elsie Morison
Joan Sutherland

What a team. Other nominations?

Friday, 4 April 2014

Changing gear in Kensington

Walking from Kensington High Street to the Linley Sambourne House, we went down Argyll Street and it brought back memories of living in one of the fine houses there as a paying guest, fresh from small-town Nuneaton, in the early 1960s.

My hosts were the Bousfields. He had been Professor of English at Madras University and his wife was still working – at the Foreign Office in Whitehall. So most mornings she would drive me in her aged Austin 7 to my day job in the mail room at JWT in Berkeley Square.

The only problem, as I recall, was that she seemed unable to change gear. So, engine screaming, we stumbled along in first… along the High Street, through Knightsbridge… round Hyde Park Corner and into Piccadilly… where, quite relieved, I would be dropped off.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Inspiration and laziness

Chris McKay kindly sent me a piece on Tchaikovsky’s thoughts on inspiration and the lack of it. The composer makes inspiring (and experienced) observations on both sides of the matter. Here he is in a letter to his benefactor, Nadejna von Meck, in 1878:

In general it is suddenly and in an unexpected shape that the seed of a future work appears. If the soil is receptive, ie if it is disposed to work, this seed takes root with astonishing force and swiftness, shows itself above the ground, puts out a little stalk, leaves, twigs and finally flowers. I can most precisely describe the creative process by means of this metaphor… It is useless trying to find words to describe to you the unbounded sense of bliss that overcomes me when a new main idea appears and begins to take definite form…

Sometimes inspiration flies away for quite some time; one must seek it again, often in vain. Very often a completely cold rational technical process must be employed…

Here you very often have to overcome laziness, reluctance. Then certain things happen. Sometimes victory comes easily, sometimes inspiration slips away, eludes you. But I consider it is the duty of an artist never to give way, for laziness is a very powerful human trait… Inspiration is a guest who does not like visiting those who are lazy. She reveals herself to those who invite her.  

I think this probably applies to all aspects of the creative life, whether in the arts or science or business, or anywhere else.   

Saturday, 29 March 2014

More front than Blackpool in Cambridge

It is several decades since I was in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. What a fabulous collection of art – with a stunning exhibition of the work of John Craxton.

But how on earth did they manage to commission and build that mid-19th century fa├žade and entrance lobby. Perhaps in order to compete with the Ashmolean at Oxford?

It’s completely out of proportion to the rest of this lovely town, gigantic and loaded down with second-rate “classical” architecture and sculpture. It seems to dwarf what lies behind it – just look closely at the photo above. 

Time for a discreet earthquake?


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership

The very experienced Herbert Hoffmann, a former client at Coca-Cola, writes to say: “Based on 30 years of experience, I would seriously doubt that you can educate people in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership!”

When we were putting together the new Masters programme at City University London, which was to have nine different modules taught by seven different schools within the institution, the mix struck me as potentially of great value to students.

Included were modules on creative problem-solving, technologies for innovation, creative design, turning ideas into action, creative writing, the psychology of creativity and innovation, the creative industries, and intellectual property law. Altogether an exciting cocktail. And one for which there clearly was a market.

It only gradually dawned on me that the academic staff tasked with the delivery of these modules, academic experts in their particular disciplines, had little knowledge or understanding of the big picture. And what’s more, they seemed not to think that this was a problem. It was like having individual specialists in flour, yeast, eggs, sugar, salt, flavourings etc, but no one with real expertise in baking.  

Did it work in practice for the students? Probably, up to a point. What is clear is that a team of ingredient specialists who were also qualified as bakers would have been better. Maybe a lot better.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Creativity in academia

As founding Director of the Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice at City University London, I proposed to my boss that we start a programme to offer to academic staff across the institution an opportunity to think both about their own creative skills and how they might develop them systematically.

In the months that I had been there, it had struck me forcibly that the most important contribution to the growth and development of the university the new Centre could make would be internal.   

My boss, a senior professor, was absolutely appalled by my proposal. Pressed for a reason why, he declared: “It’s what we do.”

So we taught creativity skills only to a few paid-up students on our newly-launched Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership and left the academics well alone.


Thursday, 20 March 2014


After far too long, I was so much looking forward to seeing the Rambert Dance Company, but I’ve been under the weather with a nasty cough this past week, and decided that Debussy and the Rolling Stones and others didn’t need to be shared in duet with my chest infection.

So we had dinner together in Oxford – Sophie, who used to work with Rambert, and Dora, who loves her dance (this being her introduction at eleven, nearly twelve, to the professional contemporary variety) and me – and I left them at the theatre and caught the train back to a quiet, dark home in King’s Sutton.

Rooster. That was the headline name of Rambert’s show. It’s a series of eight classic Stones songs, opening with the great blues from 1964, “Little Red Rooster”, all wailing slide guitar and harmonica, choreographed in 1991 by Rambert’s artistic director at that time, Christopher Bruce, and a popular favourite for the company ever since.

Sad to miss it in the flesh, I played it on YouTube when I got home. Such an elegant transformation of the song. Here it is:

Then I played the Stones version of the same song with the sublime guitar-playing of an unannounced Eric Clapton. Simply amazing music-making:

Sorry you’re missing them in Australia and New Zealand.