Sunday 18 October 2020

Harawi 12 years on

Gweneth Ann Rand sings Messiaen’s song cycle Harawi, with Simon Lepper, piano, at Wigmore Hall this evening at 7.30 UK time. A free live video of the performance will be available on the Wigmore Hall website for 30 days (with donations to Wigmore Hall funds welcome).

Anne Ozorio wrote a review of Rand’s (then Gwenerh Ann Jeffers) Proms performance of Harawi in 2008. (Please see here AND here). “Easily the best Messiaen singer of  her generation,” Ozorio wrote in another blog post.

Thursday 8 October 2020

She had a lot to teach me – Remembering Anne Ozorio, Number 2

Music critic CLAIRE SEYMOUR (Opera Today) recollects the
phenomenal knowledge, writing skills and generous advice of 
Anne Ozorio, who would have been 69 today 
“I’m a large Eurasian, and I’ll wear something bright.  You won’t miss me!” Anne’s response when I asked how I might recognise her when we first met, at an evening recital at Wigmore Hall during 2008, was characteristically no-fuss and direct.  And, there she was when I arrived – smiling brightly, chatting vigorously, bustling among the other concert-goers in the foyer, many of whom recognised Anne and greeted her warmly.

Our paths crossed when I was asked to join the Opera Today team of music reviewers based in London.  Both of our lives had been driven by a passion for music: listening, reflecting, writing about musical performances, recordings and experiences.  But, in very different contexts.  Whereas my background had been a rather conventional ‘academic’ one and most of my writing undertaken for ‘scholarly’ purposes, Anne later told me of how her listening experiences, from her earliest years, had led her to a career in music journalism and broadcasting.  I still know little of Anne’s personal life and career.  But, I realised from our conversation that first evening at Wigmore Hall that – vivacious, witty, knowledgeable, her chain of thought quickly making connection across diverse fields – she had a lot to teach me.

Home from home: Anne Ozorio at Wigmore Hall on 23 November 2019. This was Anne's last of hundreds of visits to Wigmore Hall  - see this.
 (photo: Roger Thomas)   

One important thing that I learned was that there was not just one way of listening, evaluating and writing – and that by broadening and developing my own, rather entrenched, habits and style, I could gain new understanding and pleasure.  My own writing was, and still is, I fear, rather formal and painstaking.  Anne’s pieces – reviews, commentary, interviews – for Opera Today and for her idiosyncratic and eclectic blog, Classical Iconoclast, were dynamic, succinct, funny – sometimes quite satirically or pointedly so. – as well as incredibly well-informed.  Whereas I honed in on a detail and got stuck there, chewing over every inference and intimation, Anne skilfully brought together a wealth of such details – her quick ear and mind instantly absorbing and responding – and assimilated them within an almost impossibly diverse cultural and historical embrace.  There was never a single superfluous word.  The reader was hooked from the first pithy utterance.  Anne’s pieces were a kinetic kaleidoscope of knowledge, ideas and personal responses, brought together into a perfectly controlled form.  She taught me the importance of developing a personal voice that could present one’s opinions in an open-minded but confident way; of writing both for myself and for others; of seeing and appreciating the significance of the bigger picture.

She also showed me the practical ropes.  Back in 2008, Anne welcomed me warmly to the London team of reviewers, encouraging me through her generous praise but also suggesting that I might be more selective and pointing me toward things that she thought, invariably rightly, would be of particular interest and satisfaction to me.  I’m sure that this was partly to save me from my own workaholic tendencies.  But, more than this, Anne’s intuition and insight – about people as much as about the music and performances that we were sharing and discussing – were both sharp and sensitive.  Quietly but thoughtfully, she made sure that I had new opportunities; and, then, would just as unobtrusively offer some honest guidance – and probably a few warnings too! – to ensure that I was able to gain the most from them.  Preparing to conduct my first interview with a singer, at the Royal Opera House, I was pleased to receive an email from Anne with some honest words of advice, and a review of the dos and don’ts.  She combined a no-nonsense pragmatism with diplomacy and kindness, and I benefited enormously from her guidance.

Later, when her health made it more challenging for her to deal with all the daily chores of scheduling, emailing and organising on behalf of Opera Today, she suggested that I might like to take over some of her responsibilities.  I like to think I’m an efficient and reliable ‘administrator’, but there are unspoken traditions and rules in the world of classical music and here, again, Anne introduced me to them with foresight, tact and thoughtfulness.  Performers, box offices, media relations companies, artists’ agencies: they all like things done a certain way – often they all like things done a different way! – and Anne knew the ins and outs better than anyone.  She took me inside this world and showed me the workings.  I couldn’t have had a better mentor.

I enjoyed countless lively exchanges with Anne over the years: in person, at Wigmore Hall, at the Proms, at the Royal Opera House, in foyers, between the concert hall aisles, at press party gatherings after the show; and by email after events that we’d both enjoyed – or not enjoyed!  As time passed, and her health (though never the sharpness of her mind or pen) became a little less robust, she became a less frequent presence in the opera house or concert hall – though if there was something that she really wanted to experience, then Anne would be there.  And, if she couldn’t be, then the words flowed no less profusely, nor less productively and perceptively.  I used to read her regular reviews of the BBC’s radio broadcasts of the Proms concerts, and ruefully reflect on how much I hadn’t heard even though I’d been at the Royal Albert Hall the night before.

Problems with her eyesight and mobility were never going to stop Anne.  I never heard her complain.  In fact, the only comment I do recall her making about having to reduce her active concert-going was typically forthright: “I may not be able to attend the performance, but I can still hear the music.”  Anne began more regularly to write CD reviews, and a glance at the Opera Today archive will attest to the diversity of her cultural experience and the depth of her powers of integration and evaluation.

Anne’s lifetime of musical memories, and her love of the art form, informed every piece that she wrote.  And, if it’s a cliché, then to suggest that the expanse, eclecticism and depth of her knowledge was ‘lightly worn’ is both true and captures nothing of the effortless sweep of Anne’s writing.  The title of her blog was apposite: she was indeed a radical, sometimes subversively so, and an individualist.  But she was also one of the most sincere, warm-hearted people I have known.  Many was the time when a small parcel would thud, unannounced, onto my doormat: a new book or CD recording that Anne thought I would enjoy.  My memories of Anne won’t fade: she was too full of life, fierce energy and passion, and kindness.  Generous, funny, intelligent, and indomitable.

More blogs soon Remembering Anne Ozorio