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What I’m listening to

What I’m listening to

I guess people from all walks of life get asked “what are you listening to?”, as a conductor, its one of the most frequent questions people ask me. They’re often surprised by my answers. So here’s a short list and discussion.

Like most musicians I can’t stand music playing in the background. If its playing I listen to it.

My memory is the most important tool I have, and as I rely on it daily in my professional life, I look after it outside work. That in practice means I don’t listen to works I know well unless its for a specific reason. I don’t just turn on a recording of a well-known Symphony for the hell of it. So much music sits in the memory banks that I need to keep in a “workable state”. Half-listening to something, without full attention, degrades my memory of it.

Mostly, I listen to things I don’t know, or don’t know as well as I should. Discovering new pieces makes me happier than just about anything else in life. Here’s a list of some composers that have been new for me over the past decade, and who I recommend for your own playlist…

Torsten Rasch Mein Herz Brennt

This is the most important new piece in my life in the last 10 years. Torsten’s orchestration, his sound world and the raw power of the piece constantly amaze me. Rene Pape, Katharina Thalbach and conductor John Carewe are astonishing.

Einojuhani Rautavaara House of the Sun
Some of Rautavaara’s music is relatively well-known. If you’ve never heard his name then I recommend Cantus Arcticus, Angels and Vistitations, and Symphony no.7 as great pieces to start with. House of the Sun is an opera, and thoroughly rewarding to listen to as a recording. The plot and structure are surprising and original, and the lyricism is heart-stopping.

Giya Kancheli Wingless
Kancheli’s music is well-known in Europe and there are many pieces, like his viola concerto Styx that are frequently performed. Wingless is rarely played, and is a masterpiece of drama and Kancheli’s characteristic contrast between incredibly soft sections and passages of pulsating power and volume.

Guillaume Connesson The Shining One – Piano Concerto

I love Connesson’s music, and this short piano concerto (less than 10 minutes) is a great place to start getting to know his repertoire. Its distinctly French, reminiscent of Ravel in particular, but the sound world is completely fresh and new.

What I’m reading

What I’m reading

I didn’t go to church as a child, and my introduction to spirituality came first through music. My Dad had many of the works of the Eastern Spiritual Tradition at home, so I read Lao Tzu before the New Testament. Since practicing Yoga I’ve been draw to several authors whose writing seem to be able to fuse a Western background with Eastern Spirituality. Some of my favorites are:

Eckhart Tolle A New Earth

As well as being a profound book that bears repeated reading I find this work of Tolle’s poetic and descriptive. I’ve read the opening chapter more times than I can count.

Deepak Chopra The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

The title put me of reading it until I saw a DVD about it when on holiday, and since then the book has been a constant bedside companion. Chopra’s gifts as a communicator, and his ability to translate esoteric ideas into concepts Westerners can grasp is unparalleled. This is the book I give as a gift most often.

S.N. Lazarev Diagnostics of Karma

I came across Lazarev’s writings in 1989 when I was studying in Russia. There are many books by him, but this one, the first in the series has only recently been translated into English. I found his style offensive when I first tried reading it, but now am able to suspend my disbelief for long enough to find real kernels of wisdom within. Mind-bending.

Astrid Lindgren Karlsson am Dach

I loved this book as a child and its perfectly suited to my level of German to allow me to read freely without consulting the Dictionary every line.

What I’m cooking

What I’m cooking

In my early twenties I couldn’t boil an egg. Starting a family meant our daughters’ expectations drove me to begin investigating the kitchen rather than the fridge, and some twenty-five years later cooking is one of my favorite non-working activities.

Many people (including our daughters) ask me to share recipes, so here are a few to get started. Natalia and I have spent time in Dubai, Jordan and Israel and the food of the region is one of my favorites. The lamb and rice recipes come from a hotel we stayed at on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. The salad is from Natalia’s childhood in Uzbeckistan. Place the rice on a large platter, the lamb shoulder on top and the tomato salad as a side. Voila!

Arabian Lamb



A Shoulder of Lamb

1 teaspoon of powdered cinnamon

½ teaspoon of powdered allspice

½ teaspoon of powdered cumin

½ teaspoon of powdered cardamom

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons of sunflower oil

Head of garlic

1 onion

4 cups water

IMG_2269 (1) IMG_2270 IMG_2273



Preheat oven to 220 degrees celcius.

Mix all spices and the oil in a small bowl.

Smear all over the lamb, giving it a coating.

Choose a dish with a snug fitting lid.

Put the lamb in the dish without the lid and cook for 30 minutes.

Slice the head of garlic and the onion in halves and put into the dish alongside the lamb along with the 4 cups of water.

Reduce heat to 150 degrees celcius and cook for a further 3 hours.

When ready, pour out the liquid into a small saucepan to make gravy, discard the onion and garlic, and place lamb on a serving tray. Serve with Saffron or Turmeric Rice and Uzbeck Tomato salad.


Uzbeck Tomato Salad



This is a dish from Natalia’s childhood, and a perfect accompaniment to lamb of other red meat.



4 ripe tomatoes

1 white onion

1 pomegranate

pomegranate molasses

salt, pepper

olive oil



Remove all the pomegranate seeds and place in a bowl. This is best done in a sink half-full of water. It prevents getting too many pomegranate stains on your clothing, and makes it easier, as the white pith floats to the surface and the seeds sink.

Slice the onion in very fine rings and then cut in half. Wash in cold water thoroughly.

Both the onion and the pomegranate seeds can be prepared up to a day before and kept in the fridge in an airtight container.

Slice the tomato into very small pieces, making sure all the juice goes into the salad bowl and isn’t discarded.

Mix tomato, onion and pomegranate seeds, add a dash of pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper to taste and a schlock of olive oil.

Serve immediately.


Turmeric Rice


Perfect to serve with the Arabian lamb.


1 onion

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 cup fragrant basmati or jasmine rice

2 cups of water

olive oil



Chop the onion into small pieces and gently fry in a large saucepan until translucent.

Add the rice and turmeric and a pinch of salt. Stir thoroughly so the rice is coated with oil and the turmeric is evenly spread.

Add the water and bring to the boil.

Turn the heat down to low, put on a snug-fitting lid and leave until the rice is fluffy and all the water has been absorbed (about 10 minutes).