Husband and wife pianists Ivo Varbanov and Fiammetta Tarli are starting a new record label next month.

We asked them to explain the USP of ICSM Records. Fiamma, being Italian, muttered something about fighting the mafia. Ivo objects to the over-production that takes place on major labels.

We asked them to talk it through. So they did. Right here:

ivo and fiamma


Ivo and Fiamma, why your own record label?

Fiamma: The cultural system these days is dysfunctional.

Ivo: Little public (and private) funding for classical music has not helped the present situation. But the main problem is ethics. It is morally unacceptable that a well-known octogenarian conductor would receive, say, an £80,000 fee for a single concert. A fee of this kind in a 2,500 seats concert hall would make necessary the use of public money to cover losses. The consequence of this and similar scenarios leaves the remaining 99,99% of musicians in an awkward situation.

Fiamma: Being Italian, obviously I am very sensitive to the word “mafia”, and probably it is a very strong expression, but it is clear that the main culprits of the present situation (a network of greedy agents, not-so-competent promoters and orchestra managers, power-driven conductors, self-centred artists, and “dependent” record labels) intend to keep the status quo, and do not consider the consequences of their actions on a long-term basis.

Ivo: It is also obvious that the decision-makers and “guardians” of the public funds are not viewing this situation as disastrous and corrupt.

Fiamma: We have worked with commercial labels in the past, and we have plans to continue working with some – within limits. To have our own record label means first of all that we have artistic and financial control over our recordings.

Ivo: The market for quality and uncompromising recordings of classical music is tiny. Modern recordings often stink of surgical spirit and are made of plastic because of excessive interventions by people who believe they are making them better by intervention, when they are achieving the opposite. Also, labels expect to have a ready-to-sell product and very often rely on their own archives.

Fiamma: ICSM Records is going in the opposite direction: working with like-minded artists, sound engineers and people from the music world, daring more adventurous programming, searching for a personal approach and dialogue with audiences. Audiences should “get closer” to Music, not vice versa. We aim to reproduce the realism of the concert experience as close as possible.

Ivo: ICSM Records will not be a display of a circus-type of dexterity, as we believe that on the foreground should be music’s spiritual content. We call it “SLOW MUSIC” – inspired by the “SLOW FOOD” movement – which does not mean at all a preference for slow-paced pieces, but the fact that music, as every art form, needs time to develop and show its inner qualities from all sides: performers, who need time to assimilate the musical content, and audience, who needs the time to sit and understand it.

Fiamma: First and foremost we are human beings, secondly musicians, and finally instrumentalists. There is consequentiality. Every human being has the spiritual need of art, beauty, music, etc. Being a pianist should be the very last part of the “chain”. The instrument is only a medium for art content. Our listeners should not only enjoy our recordings but also find in them a source of beauty and meditation.


Future Releases ICSM

19 September 2014

• ICSM 005 (Jazz series)

Theodossii Spassov Trio live at the South Bank, London

Theodossii Spassov, kaval

Christo Yotzov, drums and percussion

Roumen Toskov, piano and keyboards

17 October 2014

• ICSM 006

Igor Stravinsky, Rite of Spring and


Original transcriptions for piano 4 hands

Fiammetta Tarli and Ivo Varbanov, piano four hands

28 November 2014

• ICSM 007

Johannes Brahms, Cello & Piano Sonatas Op. 38 and Op. 99

Jozef Luptak, cello

Ivo Varbanov, piano

(Brahms on the piano, Vol. 3)

• ICSM 008

Works for flute and piano by Hindemith, Poulenc, Messiaen, and Martinu

Daniela Troiani, flute

Fiammetta Tarli, piano

Such a lovely man.

Dr Carey Andrew-Jaja of Pittsburgh has attended 8,000 deliveries and sings to most of them. Welcome to our world!

carey andrew-jaja

The theatre, in Kilburn, northwest London created a censorship furore when it demanded right of approval of films in the Jewish Film Festival and that the festival refuse a small subsidy from the Israeli Embassy. The demands were made amid heightened anti-Israel rhetoric in UK media.

Today, the Tricycle backed down. The Jewish film festival will go ahead at the Tricycle, with funding from the Israeli Embassy.

A sensible, civilised result, the outcome of reasonable discussions. Let’s hope they emulate that spirit in the Middle East.

Statement posted here.

A joint statement from the UKJFF and Tricycle Theatre:
Some weeks ago the UKJFF fell out, very publicly, with the Tricycle over a condition imposed by the Tricycle regarding funding. This provoked considerable public upset. Both organisations have come together to end that.

Following lengthy discussions between the Tricycle and UKJFF, the Tricycle has now withdrawn its objection and invited back the UK Jewish Film Festival on the same terms as in previous years with no restrictions on funding from the Embassy of Israel in London.

The UKJFF and the Tricycle have agreed to work together to rebuild their relationship and although the festival is not able to return in 2014, we hope to begin the process of rebuilding trust and confidence with a view to holding events in the future.

We both profoundly hope that those who take differing views on the events of the last few weeks will follow our lead and come together to acknowledge that dialogue, reconciliation and engagement will resolve points of difference and ensure that cultural diversity thrives in all communities.’

lang lang tiger

Message from the pianist: I met a Siberian tiger cub today in the city of Harbin in Northeastern China. We need to do everything we can to protect the tigers and other endangered animals!! Supporting World Wildlife Fund and other organizations like it is a great place to start!

(Not sure how his head got bitten off.)

Professor Jan Ekier, pianist, composer and Chopin editor of the Polish National edition, died today, a fortnight short of his 101st birthday. His death has just been reported on Polish radio.

Jan, born August 1913, came eighth in the 1937 Chopin competition in Warsaw and made his name more as a scholar than as a performer.

He lived through Nazi occupation, Communism and rampant capitalism. I met him last summer at a conference for his centenary where speaker after speaker extolled his virtues and Jan seemed sweetly unmoved – except by the playing of music by Chopin, when he sat alert in his chair, following every note.

jan ekier

Milan Milisavljević, is assistant principal viola in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra.

milan haiti


Last year, concerned about the lack of resources in impoverished Haiti, he gave up a mid-season week’s break to help kids on the island with their music education. Here’s Milan’s story. Sample:
I staggered onto my return flight with serious food poisoning and without my wallet (which had been stolen during one of our nights out), and yet, I was profoundly sad to leave. New York was cold and snowy, and the difference between the place I had just left and the place I called home could not have been more jarring.

Despite my illness, I attempted to return to work at the Met the next day, and found everything to be sterile and incomprehensibly foreign. As I walked around my home, I would suddenly start crying, beset by memories and many unanswered questions. The powerlessness I felt was hard to deal with. The scope of problems in Haiti was overpowering, and what we did to help was just a drop in the bucket. I could not help but wonder what the lives were like of the people I had met. Although I did not know for sure, it was not hard to imagine the tremendous hardships most of them must have been through. And yet, the children showed up every morning on time, in their freshly pressed school uniforms, and eagerly played Bach, Telemann, and Mozart. 

milan haiti2

You might wonder whether any members of the Met’s board and management have made a comparable effort for the world’s needy.


Meet Jacob Collier. He’s 19, lives in Maggie Thatcher’s old constituency and is described to us by one conductor as ‘the closest thing to Mozart I’ve ever seen’. Jacob is working with legends (see pic below) and has a contract with Universal (they’ve kept it under wraps).

This new video you have to see. It’s his own arrangement of Fascinatin’ Rhythm in which Jacob, plays and sings all 14 parts.


Share, if you like.

jacob collier quincy jones

l-r: Quincy Jones, Jacob Collier, Herbie Hancock.


The St Louis Symphony thinks this is how to get a new audience into the concert hall.

The slogans on the soundtrack are persuasive:

– It’s a language the communicates with so many people emotionally.

– It can be very, very moving.

– You can always find something that you like.

– Once you realise how good it makes you feel afterwards, then you ca’t be without it.

Now hang on a minute.

These are all things we tell ourselves. To a young person who has never experienced a symphony concert they are blurry soft-soap. There’s not much in this to make someone feel: I need to have some of that.

Can’t someone, in 2014, come up with a better sell for an orchestra?


david robertson

At 4pm Central Europe time (10am New York):

netrebko domingo 2014
Verdi’s Trovatore live from the Salzburg Festival, starring Anna Netrebko, Plácido Domingo, Francesco Meli and Marie-Nicole Lemieux.

Click here – and share!


Marina Poplovskaya has withdrawn from the new Marriage of Figaro ‘for health reasons’.

The Russian is replaced as the Countess by all-American soprano Amanda Majeski (pictured), making her Met debut – assuming the dispute between Peter Gelb and the main unions can be settled in time for the season to open.

Lockout deadline: this Sunday.

amanda majeski

Emergency services were called out last after resident reported a loud bang and saw smoke billowing from the theatre building. Happily, 60 fire fighters got there fast, traced the blaze to the costumes department and extinguished it fast. No-one was hurt.

Damage is estimated at 150,000 Euros – very light, indeed.

stuttgart oper

The diva has been showing her new rock in Salzburg.

It  reputedly cost 62,000 Euros and is made of all the right stuff, according to the German magazine Bunte, where this picture appeared.

Her fiancé is Yusif Eyvazov and they have been dating since March.

netrebko ring

(c) Brauer Photos/Bunte, all rights reserved

It’s not the kind of ring you could easily lose.