Graham Johnson on Schubert (I)

“Schubert had a response to words that is quite extraordinary. It’s the way that the interaction between words and music – which in a sense gives the song its own life – takes place that interests me. Josef von Spaun once wrote very perspicaciously that Schubert writes a poem on the poem, [by which he means that] the song is a commentary on the poem. And how and why it is a commentary in detail is what really interests me.”

- Graham Johnson

Schubert Complete Songs Yale

I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with pianist Graham Johnson earlier this year and had the opportunity to talk to him about his abiding love for Schubert, the art of accompanying Lieder singers, and how he has managed to develop as a writer, while at the same time holding down the day job at the piano keyboard. The result is an in-depth, two-part portrait of the artist, the first part of which is above. Part two is coming shortly.

Here’s an extract from my introduction to this podcast:

“Graham Johnson was born in 1950 in what was then Rhodesia. He came to this country in the late sixties to pursue his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, the city which has remained his home. In the mid-seventies, he formed The Songmakers’ Almanac to explore neglected areas of piano-accompanied vocal music. Before long he had developed a reputation as one of the world’s finest vocal accompanists, and although he has a deep knowledge of the English and French art song traditions, and has recorded and published on both, it is with German Lieder and in particular the music of Franz Schubert that he is most closely associated.

In this first part of our interview, we talk about Graham’s early encounters with Schubert and the German language; his association with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears; his decision to specialise in accompanying vocal music, and becoming a writer under the mentorship of Eric Sams.”

You’ll find more information about the Schubert companion on the Yale University Press site here. And more about Graham’s Schubert Lieder cycle on the Hyperion site here.

Graham Johnson at home

Graham Johnson at home, May 2014

 

 

Continue Reading · 30 October, 2014 · art and music, podcasts, poetry

Peter Carey: Amnesia on the fire escape

I’ve long yearned to conduct an author interview on the fire escape at Faber, and recently my wish came true, with Peter Carey no less. Here he is talking about his new novel, Amnesia:

Peter Carey introduces his new novel, Amnesia from George Miller on Vimeo.

Continue Reading · 24 October, 2014 · history and politics, literature, video

(Nearly) two hundred years of the Old Vic

The Old Vic first opened its doors in May 1818. Back then, building a new theatre south of the river was a commercially risky venture, and the Royal Coburg Theatre (as it was originally known) was only made viable by the recent construction of Waterloo Bridge. The first night programme included a melodrama, a pantomime and a harlequinade. Outside, Waterloo Road was unpaved and only half-completed, Waterloo station was still thirty years in the future. The approach to the theatre was across a badly lit bridge and then through Lambeth Marsh and theatre-goers worried about falling prey to thieves…

Terry Coleman’s fascinating history of the Old Vic covers all of the astonishing ups and downs in the theatre’s history from opening night via Lilian Baylis and the Olivier era as first home to the National, to Kevin Spacey and beyond. I was lucky enough to get the chance to talk to him about it in this interview recorded on location in the circle bar last month for the Faber podcast.

And here is an interview from last year of related interest with director Michael Blakemore in which he speaks about his involvement with the early years of the national theatre in the seventies:

terry coleman

Continue Reading · 21 October, 2014 · history and politics, literature, podcasts, theatre

Conversations with translators (II): Rosamund Bartlett on Anna Karenina

For this, the second in a series of Conversations with Translators (following my interview with Oliver Ready on Crime and Punishment from earlier this year), we stick with the Russians and turn to a new version of Anna Karenina produced by Rosamund Bartlett for Oxford University Press. This was in fact my third visit to […]

Continue Reading · 18 August, 2014 · literature, podcasts
Rainy Brain Sunny Brain cover

Sunny Brain, Rainy Brain – the science of optimism

“The core components of optimism surprisingly don’t really have too much to do with positive thinking at all. One of the major components actually is a sense of control; what psychologists have found is that optimists are people who have a sense that they’re in control of their own destiny [...] there are lots of […]

Continue Reading · 8 June, 2014 · podcasts, science and philosophy
Keith Kahn-Harris

Uncivil War: the Israel-Palestinian Conflict and the Jewish Community

  “For Jews, Israel goes very close to the heart, whether you’re a Jewish supporter of Israel or you’re a Jewish critic of Israel and of Zionism, it’s very hard to be indifferent about it. In fact, it would be very odd if most Jews were indifferent about Israel because this is the major project […]

Continue Reading · 1 May, 2014 · history and politics, podcasts, religion and belief

Anton Chekhov: About Love and other stories (an Oxford World’s Classics audio guide)

Without quite planning it, Podularity seems to have been having a bit of a Russian season of late, so I thought it would be worth re-presenting this audio guide which OUP commissioned me to produce a couple of years ago with Rosamund Bartlett, translator of Chekhov’s short stories (and also Anna Karenina (forthcoming, 2014)). Here’s […]

Continue Reading · 8 April, 2014 · literature, podcasts

Conversations with Translators (I): Oliver Ready on Crime and Punishment

I visited Oliver Ready recently at St Antony’s College, Oxford, where he is a research fellow in Russian society and culture, to hear about his five-year engagement with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics, 2014): what persuaded him to take the project on? how did he limber up for it? and why – unusually – […]

Continue Reading · 7 April, 2014 · language, literature, podcasts, translation

Rebecca Mead on The Road to Middlemarch

Rebecca Mead is an English-born, Brooklyn-based, New Yorker staff writer. I met her recently when she visited Toppings bookshop in Bath to talk about her new book The Road to Middlemarch. Rebecca’s book explores her fascination with George Eliot’s great novel, which started when she first encountered it at the age of seventeen, and has […]

Continue Reading · 4 April, 2014 · biography and memoir, literature, podcasts

Catriona Kelly St Petersburg interview – part II

I don’t want to normalize it completely, but I think Britain has many of the same problems as Russia actually: mass alcoholism – there’s plenty of that – a governing elite that doesn’t really give a toss for anybody, doesn’t have its finger on the pulse of what’s going on, what happens when you administer […]

Continue Reading · 3 April, 2014 · history and politics, podcasts

Catriona Kelly on shadows of St Petersburg’s past

The present and the past are intertwined and it doesn’t matter if what people remember about the past isn’t true – it’s got significance for them now. I’m going between lots of different layers, because that’s what people do in their conversation. My guest in this programme is Catriona Kelly, who is Professor of Russian […]

Continue Reading · 21 March, 2014 · history and politics, podcasts

Historical novelist Maria McCann on Ace, King, Knave

[An] exuberant revivification of grave robbers and gamblers, hucksters and whores in 18th-century London: like Hogarth sprung to life. – Hilary Mantel, Books of the Year 2013, Observer This is my second interview with Maria McCann – I first interviewed her back in 2010 about her previous novel, The Wilding, which was longlisted for the […]

Continue Reading · 16 February, 2014 · historical fiction, literature, podcasts

Jon Ronson on The Psychopath Test

Early on in his book The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson writes: I’d never really thought much about psychopaths before that moment and I wondered if I should try and meet some. It seemed extraordinary that there were people out there whose neurological condition, according to James’s story, made them so terrifying, like a wholly malevolent space […]

Continue Reading · 15 February, 2014 · medicine, podcasts, science and philosophy