The rock god Ian Anderson, frontman and flautist for the legendary band JETHRO TULL is one of my all-time musical heroes. Ever since I was introduced to their music as a high school student visiting my Aunty Tricia and John, her boyfriend (and subsequently her husband and my uncle) at their university flat. Tull was always playing and became a influential or should that be in-flute-tial part of my formative and not-so-education, listening to albums such as THICK AS A BRICK, AQUALUNG and A PASSION PLAY.
Ian’s signatures are the one legged stance and the iconic flute, which he actually took up started playing because of his frustration with the guitar and he wanted something a bit more idiosyncratic for the band formed in 1967 and named after the British 18th century agriculturist.
I have been lucky enough to see Ian and Tull perform a few times and in fact meet Ian before a concert in Melbourne, Australia, albeit it briefly many moons ago. It only occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that I hadn’t drawn him, so that go sorted lickity split and I posted the drawing to his company. It came back even lickity splitter, signed, before he embarked on the latest North American tour. It’s one of my most treasured pieces.
Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincai made his international debut as MacDuff in Verdi’s MACBETH at the Hamburg State Opera in January 2009 and later that year first appeared at the Royal Opera House, playing Rodolfo in LA BOHEME. He returned to Covent Garden last month as Lieutenant Pinkerton opposite Ana Maria Martinez in MADAMA BUTTERFLY, where he signed my drawing.
Puerto Rican-American soprano Ana Maria Martinez returned to Covent Garden last month to play the lead role of Cio-Cio-San in the Royal Opera’s production of Puccini’s MADAMA BUTTERFLY. Since making her Royal Opera debut as Donna Elvira in DON GIOVANNI in 2002, Ana Maria has starred in a number of productions including MADAMA BUTTERFLY when she replaced the ill Alexia Voulgaridou in 2015. She is very familiar with the character of Cio-Cio-San, having also performed the part for the Metropolitan Opera and the Barvarian and the Vienna State Operas among others.Ana Maria signed my sketch after the final night performance in London last week.
If you search any list of the greatest conductors of all time, Marin Alsop appears on most, if not all of them. The American ‘batonist’, violinist and Bernstein protege was the first female to become a principal conductor of a major orchestra – the Baltimore Symphony, where she is still musical director. She also holds the same position with the Sao Paulo State symphony orchestra. In the UK she has been involved with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the City of London Sinfonia.
She was also with the Bournemouth Symphony from 2002-2008. Marin became the first woman to conduct the Last Night at the Proms in 2003. She is the recipient of many awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship – the only conductor to do so and the only classical musician to be included in The Guardian’s Top 100 Women list. On a less elevated level she is the first conductor I have drawn.
I drew this very quick two-minute sketch to capture the energy of her performance, which she signed for me at the Royal Festival Hall in London last Friday evening, after she conducted the European Union Youth Orchestra.
Argentina tenor Marcelo Puente is so good at being bad, he gets booed at the curtain call. Making his Covent Garden debut as Pinkerton, one of Opera’s great villains in the latest revival of Puccini’s MADAMA BUTTERFLY at the Royal Opera House, the 38 year old has fulfilled a fourteen-year dream to perform at the iconic venue. Taking a break from his opera scholarship in Düsseldorf in the summer of 2003 he came to London and took a job as a waiter in an Italian restaurant near the ROH. They found out he was a singer so he performed between waiting tables and everyday passed the Opera House dreaming one day he would be on the famous stage. He actually gave up medical school and changed his career direction after hearing a recording of Pavarotti.
The reviews have been excellent. Tim Ashley, in the Guardian also mentioned opera audiences habit of booing reprehensible on stage characters and commented, when Marcelo takes his curtain call they greet him with “the kind of noise usually accorded a pantomime villain, despite giving one of the most complete and convincing portrayals of the role to be heard for some time.” He went on to say that, “Some might argue that the response validates his characterisation, though whether it’s a fitting acknowledgement for such a superb achievement seems to me debatable.”
I’ve drawn plenty of violinists but this is my first ‘big violinist’ sketch, or as they like to call it, a cellist and it just so happens to be Steven Isserlis, one of the world’s best. Britain’s greatest cellist, who could pass for a Brian May sibling, is known for his diverse repertoire and distinctive sound using gut strings. It was reported that he has never taken more than three consecutive days away from his cello since he was ten years old. He believes cellos have souls rather than characteristics. “It’s like breathing to me,” he said.
Steven has a calming ritual before a concert. Rehearse in the morning on his Marquis de Coberon Stradivarius on loan from the Royal Academy of Music, have a huge lunch, drink coffee and listen to The Beatles. “It’s partly superstitious – but my father was Russian so I was bought up with superstition,” he said. Steven performed at the Royal Festival Hall in London where he signed my ‘big violin’ sketch.
Albanian-Italian soprano Ermonela Jaho is the toast of the opera world this week after her opening performance in the title role of Puccini’s tragedy MADAMA BUTTERFLY at the Royal Opera House.
Critics from all the mainstream papers in the UK and beyond have cemented the 43 year-old’s star status. “The best Cio-Cio-San London has seen in years,” wrote Michael Church in the Independent. The Guardian’s Tim Ashley headlined his five-star review of the Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier production with “The whole evening is outstanding.” He went on to write,”Ermonela Jaho, one of the great verismo interpreters, brings uncompromising veracity to the title role.”
I left this drawing at the stage door and it came back signed along with a dedicated photograph.
Consistently appearing in all the lists of the world’s greatest violinists is 37 year old American Hilary Hahn. The three-time Grammy Award winner is renowned for her virtuosity , expansive interpretations and creative playing who champions contemporary music with several modern composers writing works especially for her, including Edgar Meyer and Jennifer Higdon.
Hilary started playing the violin one month before her 4th birthday and seven years a later made her major orchestral debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, beginning an extensive international career. In 2004 she recorded her first film score for M. Night Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE, which received an Academy Award nomination. She plays a 1864 copy of Paganini’s Cannone violin by Vuillaume, which according to a recent interview, never leaves her sight. I drew this sketch of Hilary when she performed late last year at the Royal Festival Hall in London, but missed getting it signed. When she returned to the city last week for a one night performance at Wigmore Hall it gave me the opportunity to complete my mission.
“We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor…” The opening lyrics to one of the great anthems A WHITER SHADE OF PALE, the debut single by the British rock band Procol Harum. It was released in May 1967, in the ‘Summer of Love’, reaching number one across the globe, including the UK, where it stayed for six weeks. Written by founding member Gary Brooker, with Keith Reid and Matthew Fisher it is one of fewer than 30 singles to have sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Rolling Stone magazine listed it at number 57 in its top 500 songs of all time and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of fame in 1998. As part of the 50th Anniversary tour Gary and the band played one night at London’s Royal Festival Hall earlier this month. It completed their set list and received a standing O. Afterwards he and the rest of the band signed my sketch.
The poignancy of posting this today – 16 March – is that my dear friend Bronwyn Blackstock would have celebrated her 60th birthday. She was part of our Light Fandango Company, a small group of friends who shared and enjoyed life. It was coined after this song and she was our treasurer (assets nil). Fandango three (F3). Sadly she lost her brave battle with cancer a year ago. This is in memory of her. Happy Bday B.
Australian mezzo-soprano Emily Edmonds is one of the rising stars of opera and a member of the prestigious Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at London’s Convent Garden. The Royal Opera’s high profile training scheme attracted 370 applicants from 59 countries in 2014, who were put through a gruelling audition process until the final five was selected ….one of whom was Emily!
Her first season included performances in ORPHEUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in Shakespeare’s Globe, SOUR ANGELICA and WERTHER on the main stage and the world premiere of 4.48 PSYCHOSIS at the Lyric Hammersmith. During the current 2016/17 season she has appeared in MANON LESCAUT, MADAMA BUTTERFLY, DON CARLO and will be seen in Philip Glass’s dance opera LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES at the end of this month.
I left this drawing at the ROH and Emily signed and returned it to me last week.