photo: Corinna Desch
At first I was torn between music and writing. Then I realised the trick is to combine them…
I was classical music correspondent for The Independent from 2004 to 2016, and have also written for The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times, BBC Music Magazine, Opera News and others.
My librettos for opera and choral works include Silver Birch for composer Roxanna Panufnik, commissioned by Garsington Opera and shortlisted for an International Opera Award in 2018. Current projects include a youth opera, again for Garsington, with composer Paul Fincham, and a choral piece with Roxanna for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop - both to be premiered in 2019. I’ve loved every minute of these projects and hope to do much more in future.

My novel, Ghost Variations (2016) is based on the true story of the Schumann Violin Concerto’s rediscovery in the 1930s – involving ‘spirit messages’, Nazis and some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. My earlier novels focused on tensions and cross-currents between family generations. The next, Odette (December 2018), is a magical-realist fairy tale for the 21st century.

I often narrate concert versions of my novels. Ghost Variations (“highly moving” – Birmingham Post) launched in 2017-18, setting the story of the Schumann Concerto amid music associated with the novel’s heroine, the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi. Violinist David Le Page, pianist Viv McLean and I have taken it to the Leicester International Music Festival, Kensington & Chelsea Music Society, Barnes Music Society, Burgh House Hampstead, Artrex Bromsgrove, St Mary’s Perivale and Live at Zédel. It featured on London Live TV and BBC Radio 3’s In Tune. Two other novel-concerts Hungarian Dances and Alicia’s Gift (about a child prodigy pianist) have been presented at such venues as the Wigmore Hall, the Buxton Festival, the Kensington & Chelsea Music Society and the Chopin Society, London, among others. We’re open for bookings - for these and future shows!

My first books were biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré (see Books) - both composers are long-standing passions and I go back to them time and again.

My play, A Walk Through the End of Time, introducing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, was commissioned by violinist Philippe Graffin for the Consonances Festival, Saint-Nazaire, in 2007 and won Medal of the Town of Saint-Nazaire (see Stage Works). With the great tenor Robert Tear, I gave the UK premiere in 2008. Further performances included the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, the International Wimbledon Music Festival and the Ryedale Festival, with actors including Dame Harriet Walter, Janet Suzman, Michael Pennington, Guy Paul and Henry Goodman. Sins of the Fathers, about Wagner, Liszt and Cosima, was commissioned by the International Wimbledon Music Festival in 2013, and presented at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, starring John Sessions, Jeremy Child and Sarah Gabriel. Both plays also went to the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, Queensland.

Speaking of the AFCM, in 2018 its artistic director, Kathryn Stott, commissioned me to write and narrate a words&music show about Anna Magdalena Bach. It featured festival musicians including Roderick Williams, Siobhan Stagg, Guy Johnston and the Goldner String Quartet. “Being Mrs Bach was a beautifully crafted retelling of the ‘Bach’ story with a lot of heart” (Limelight Magazine).

Over the years I’ve given pre-concert talks at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the Wigmore and the Royal Festival Hall. I write a lot of programme notes. I’ve served on the juries of the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards, BBC Music Magazine Awards and Classical:NEXT’s Innovation Award. And I’m honoured to be on the Ambache Charitable Trust’s board, giving grants to organisations promoting the music of female composers.

I still write the blog I started in 2004. “Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog” may not have the most original title, but it’s frequently ranked among the world's top sites of its kind. 

I was born within the sound of Bow Bells, studied music at Cambridge and live in London with my husband and two cats. I love theatre, playing the piano, cookery, long walks and deliciously obscure books about music.