Monday, 17 September 2012

Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea

Click on photographs to enlarge - far superior

Joyful children saying good-bye to me on the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea
At the opening ceremony of a General Store on the island of Tsoi, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea

You know there is an entire other side to my nature that never gets an airing living in Europe what with my serious writing and covering all these classical music festivals and competitions. That of the adventurer and explorer of remote destinations. How domesticated I have become!

Looking at all the marvellous pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visiting the Solomon Islands in Melanesia at the moment put me in a state of frightful and aching nostalgia for my own youth spent wandering the islands of the South Pacific. More recently I wrote a literary travel book about the island provinces of Papua New Guinea which was well received everywhere - even by the Prince of Wales.

It is such a tragedy that mainstream publishers are simply not interested in publishing books on truly remote destinations inhabited by people of fascinating, exotic and instructive cultures. Being ruled by the marketing department, publishers cannot guarantee sufficient sales to commission a book. As they wish to stay in business that is all that needs to be said I suppose.

For years I have been wanting to complete my originally envisioned trilogy on the Pacific. Having dealt in some detail with Melanesia, I have pretty well abandoned hope of ever getting the remaining volumes on Polynesia and Micronesia published. This is despite constant efforts and submitting many detailed proposals for books. They are all based on really remarkable stories of historical exploration  and possible exciting contemporary adventures. If Captain Cook did not visit the islands you wish to write about, you may as well forget the idea of interesting a young commissioning editor in your South Pacific project.

I am assured by publishers that literary travel as a genre (as it used to be known in the great days of travel writing) is in terminal decline. The genre was never intended to be a guide book to a region but that how travel writing seems to be evolving - that and personal motorbike adventures. People seemingly no longer want to read and learn about places they cannot visit but only places they can. A complete reversal of times past.  

Two beautiful children from New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. The blonde hair is natural, heightened by the bleaching effects of sun and sea

I have written about the decline of literary travel writing in another post if the subject interests you :

Ah well...if you would like to look up some images I took in Papua New Guinea a while back and more about the adventurous book I wrote entitled Beyond the Coral Sea: Travels in the Old Empires of the South-West Pacific (Harper Collins, London 2003, Flamingo 2004 and short-listed for sadly the last Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in 2004). It has been in print now for almost 10 years - a record I am very proud of in today's financial climate where travel books have the half-life of a container of yoghurt.

Mine was the first non-specialist-anthropological travel book on the Bismarck Archipelago of PNG for 100 years - since Richard Parkinson's Thirty years in the South Seas (1907).  It looks as if it will be another hundred before another!

Kindle Edition:

Published in Polish as Za Morzem Koralowym (PIW 2008)

Publishers are welcome to contact me. I am ready to sail for the Pacific at any time - everything planned for years!

The author Michael Moran on Kar Kar Island, Papua New Guinea 2003 
A colourful catch on the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea

My friend another musician on the beach at Sohano Island , Buka Passage lying between Buka and Bougainville - Papua New Guinea

The exhilarated author MM on the burning slopes of the erupting volcano Tavurvur, Rabaul, New Britain, Papua New Guinea 2003. Now that was an adventure!

Friday, 14 September 2012

2012 Leeds International Piano Competition

Leeds Town Hall where the Finals take place tonight (14 September) and tomorrow night (15th September)

I have not had the time to follow this competition in detail unfortunately except on the internet which is not ideal but I have certainly watched the results with the greatest interest.

Australians should take note that the fine Australian pianist Jayson Gillham reached the Finals and is playing this evening. He was also highly regarded in the 2010 Chopin International Competition in Warsaw. He really is achieving extraordinary things.

Competition Website:

Friday 14th September

Louis Schwizgebel, Beethoven: Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58

Jiayan Sun, Prokofiev: Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16


Jayson Gillham, Beethoven: Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73

Saturday 15th September

Andrejs Osokins, Prokofiev: Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26

Federico Colli, Beethoven: Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73


Andrew Tyson, Rachmaninov: Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

The Orchestra could not be better or the conductor more brilliant

The Halle Orchestra under Sir Mark Elder

The audiostream is unavailable until September 17th but  BBC Radio 3  are broadcasting the finals.  Schedule is at:

Friday 14 September 20.30 CET

Saturday 15 September 19.30 CET

They also offer a chance to hear performances again for a few days if you cannot listen at the actual times.

Results of the Finals

First Prize - Federico Colli

Second Prize - Louis Schwizgebel

Third Prize - Jiayan Sun

Fourth Prize - Andrejs Osokins

Fifth Prize - Andrew Tyson

Sixth Prize - Jayson Gillham

Terence Judd - Halle Orchestra Prize - Andrew Tyson

(Named after a gifted young English pianist of near genius Terence Judd, the last and favourite pupil of Arthur Schnabel. He made some iconic recordings and performed the Romantic repertoire magnificently. His tragedy was to have committed suicide at the age of 22 by leaping into the sea off the cliffs at Beachy Head, the chalk headland on the English coast of East Sussex . The prize is decided by members of the Halle who have been present at all the concerto performances with a casting vote if necessary by Sir Mark Elder)

Certainly this remarkable performance of the Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto in D Minor Op. 30 richly deserved this special prize. To my mind Tyson recreated the work in a way I have never heard before, extracting extraordinary lyricism with his often reduced and unaccustomed tempi which revealed extraordinary concealed life and spirit, a wonderful singing polyphony that in most performances is inaudible - even in Rachmaninov's own recorded account. Tremendously courageous and such an interpetative risk-taker is Tyson - a wonderful rethinking of the piece.

The internal life he revealed in this work by allowing it to breathe was quite spell-binding. We have become overly accustomed to hearing it so often performed as a huge virtuoso display piece with demonic in drive and intensity  a la Horowitz, that I found his deeply soulful, even contemplative approach absolutely riveting and movingly poetic. This is not to say that the viruoso elements (the cadenzas for example) were not brilliantly executed when required by his complete technique. I hope the Halle release this soon as a live recording. 

Well I have now seen the results. The jury decision on the winner is not so surprising, but the other placings not so clear. Federico Colli is clearly an artist of high calibre. His Beethoven 'Emperor' concerto was majesterial and Olympian, the Adagio deeply and emotionally  moving. 

One must remember that the winner is judged on all his performances not just the concerto. This is why Yuliana Avdeeva was a surprise winner of the Chopin in 2010 although it did not surprise me in the least from the outset. Consistency is the key to convincing jury committees. Everyone thought Ingolf Wunder should have won the competition after his superb Chopin concerto in the finals....the same feeling emerged this evening with Andrew Tyson but it was not to be his night as a winner. 

Just to reach the finals is a magnificent achievement for any young pianist. Tyson should not feel the slightest disappointment and probably does not, but having come thus far it must be tough...But how far Andrew  Tyson, this brilliant young American, has advanced in musical maturity since I last heard him two years ago in the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw! Wonderful to hear.

Chopin is an elusive creature as a composer and even more as a man...and playing Chopin in Poland before Poles with their special and even possessive attitude towards their national composer and spiritual spokesman...I would not have had the courage!  

All of these finalists are brilliant pianists and will be offered a raft of engagements with famous orchestras and conductors as well as appearances at many festivals. All will benefit tremendously in their careers.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Daniil Trifonov with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra CD


It was one of those wonderful Warsaw September evenings. May, September and if we are fortunate a golden October are really the most beautiful months in Poland - balmy still and sun-kissed, autumn just brushing the trees with gold, the softest of air as the day draws to a close. Zosia had prepared  a kurki (chanterelle) dish with potatoes, onion and boczek (bacon). We sat on the terrace overlooking the lake and watched the gliders drifting in the blue above Bemowo among high feathery clouds sipping an excellent claret as dusk settled over the land. At the conclusion of the meal and the mint chocolate ice-cream, I had a black Sumatran coffee, a balloon of armagnac and a  Cuban cigar. It was only then, properly prepared and after I had lit the storm lantern, that I put on the recording above.

I am speechless with admiration. I will only say this about Trifonov - buy this recording as soon as you are able. Anyone who reads my blog knows the adoration in which I hold this pianist since I first heard him in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 2010. He has an intensity of passionate emotional communication of the creation of music as an art, as a kabbalistic craft, greater than any young pianist I know. A magician of the instrument. The Tchaikovsky concerto has fantastic drive and elan in the outer movements with an Andante semplice of deepest yearning.

The Chopin Barcarolle  is one of the finest of recorded performances - no crashing chord, no boating accident to begin the love song on the Venetian lagoon (my bete noir - most pianists, even some of the greatest, have no idea how to begin this deeply impressionistic work that to me is like a Turner watercolour of the floating city). He presents us with a truly romantic love excursion, a seascape of fluctuating emotions, a love song  building to an ecstacy of passion subsiding at the close - as it should be. 

The Liszt/Schubert transcriptions are marvellously atmospheric and plumb the depths. The Erlkonig  is as terrifying as the legend, Die Forelle as joyful as the mountain stream where the glorious fish leaps. The Schumann/Liszt Liebeslied (Widmung) reduced me to tears with its rhapsodic conclusion that opened like a panoramic embrace.

The Erlkonig

Trifonov has this extraordinary abilty to communicate, to touch the heart and move one emotionally, a divine quality given to so few artists. It is a gift of God made up of innumerable microscopic hesitations and accelerations, indeterminate fluctuations of dynamic and phrasing, subtle variations of articulation, a wide palette of colours and nuance, a tone and touch that emerge organically from within the soul. Such profoun d and refined musical gestures are instinctive and cannot be learned. 

No sensationalist imitations of sensibility or emotion are here - all is real. His own character, the ability to sustain  a passion to explore music and maintain his formidable technique, the experience of life itself will now determine his further musical development. Pray he remains the true artist he is  in a world that bows before celebrity and the golden calf.

'He has everything and more. What he does with his hands is technically incredible. It's also his touch – he has tenderness and also the demonic element, I have never heard anything like that'   Martha Argerich

Verbier Festival, Switzerland: 28 July 2012

'Trifonov’s recital was breathtaking. Argerich last year told the FT she had never before heard a touch like his, and all I can do is concur: it’s not just a matter of precision and weighting, it’s a unique amalgam of fastidious tenderness and seemingly unfettered wildness. After two exquisite Debussy Images, he gave an account of Chopin’s complete Etudes that was truly revelatory: his emotional restraint – and frugality with the pedal – made the lyrical ones all the more moving, while his preternatural dexterity lent the finger-twisters a rare grace. For the next three weeks, anyone interested can check out this astonishing recital for free on' Financial Times (UK)

Do buy this recently released CD - please...

A wonderful evening that gladdened my spiritual heart and made me proud to be human. A rare enough experience...