Sunday, 25 January 2015

Kaufmann as Andrea Chenier

Act one of Andrea Chenier at Royal Opera House -  © ROH. Bill Cooper 2015
Act one of Andrea Chenier at Royal Opera House -  © ROH. Bill Cooper 2015
Giordano Andrea Chenier; Kaufmann, Westbroek, Lucic, dir: David McVicar, cond: Antonio Pappano; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 23 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Superbly done, but you wished for something musically meatier or a production with a bit of edge

We caught up with Covent Garden's much anticipated production of Giordano's Andrea Chenier at the Royal Opera House on Friday 23 January 2015. David McVicar's new production (the first at Covent Garden for 30 years, and yes I did see that one too), was designed by Robert Jones (sets) and Jenny Tiramani (costumes) with lighting by Adam Silverman and movement by Andrew George. Jonas Kaufmann was Andrea Chenier, Eva-Maria Westbroek was Maddalena, Zeljko Lucic was Carlo Gerard, with a large cast including Denyce Graves, Rosalind Plowright, Peter Coleman-Wright, Peter Hoare, Carlo Bosi, Roland Wood, Elena Zilio, and dancers Sarah O'Connell and Roger Molist. Antonio Pappano conducted the Royal Opera House Orchestra.

Jonas Kaufmann in Andrea Chenier at Royal Opera House -  © ROH. Bill Cooper 2015
Jonas Kaufmann in Andrea Chenier at Royal Opera House - 
© ROH. Bill Cooper 2015
Giordano's opera was premiered 1896 (Puccini's La Boheme premiered in 1896, and Tosca in 1900). The opera applies the verismo principals of strong passions with a plot based in reality, dealing with ordinary people, to an historical subject. The librettist Luigi Illica (who also worked on Puccini's librettos in collaboration with Giuseppe Giacosa) included a lot of historical detail into his text and Giordano seems to have responded to this. The opera is full of a wealth of background, almost too much so. Giordano gives us 23 named characters; so many that sometimes you wonder who on earth this person is. Giordano does not seem to have worried and simply concentrated on ensuring that the three principals stand out in high relief. The title role is given no dramatic development, instead we get a series of brilliant poet outbursts (one in each act) some based on the original poet's writings.

You feel that if Puccini had been writing the opera, he would have insisted on changes and focussed in greater detail on salient moments. If you consider Tosca, we learn almost nothing of the background in Scarpia's Rome it is left to suggestion. Whereas Giordano has filled his opera with picaresque, Massenet-like detail without quite Massenet's gift for bringing his characters into the foreground and developing them.

This was an extremely handsome production with a very strong cast. Robert Jones's large scale set was flexible and attractive, creating a series of substantial interior and exterior settings which were beautifully lit by Adam Silverman. David McVicar seems to have decided to take the opera at complete face value, so that Jenny Tiramani's costumes were a welter of colourful period detail. Too much so in fact, and this combined with McVicar's handling of the ensemble moments in the middle two acts, tended to make you wonder whether we had wandered into a production of the musical Les Miserables! Frankly, I wanted a little more edge to the work. The moment in Act one when the peasantry bursts into the Contessa di Coigny's soiree just wasn't threatening enough, and during the post-Revolution acts we just did not feel that the crowd, with its mass of colourful characters, was at all liable to turn violent at any moment.

Once you had got over the feeling that you rather wished you were seeing him in a rather greater work, Jonas Kaufmann was superb in the title role. He stalked about the stage looking every inch the lean and hungry poet. The improvviso in Act one was superbly done, with Kaufmann's familiar dark, baritonal and highly sculpted line suiting the music and the character perfectly. He did not have the open Italianate sound that Carreras and Domingo brought to the role, but he added a superbly intelligent shaping of the music and a superb, dark intensity. He really did smoulder.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

An encounter with Leonard Elschenbroich

Leonard Elschenbroich - Copyright © Felix Broede
Leonard Elschenbroich - Copyright © Felix Broede
The young German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich may be familiar because he has spent that last two years as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist during which time he has played 13 different concertos for the BBC, and his recordings of concertos by Dutilleux and Nino Rota were broadcast on BBC Radio 3 this week. Born in Frankfurt, Elschenbroich studied at the Menuhin School before continuing his studies in Germany, and he is now based in London but has a career which takes him all over. His recent disc of music by Prokofiev and Kabalevsky, including Kabalevsky’s rarely performed Cello Concerto No 2, has recently been released on the Onyx Classics label.

I recently met up with Leonard Elschenbroich to chat about his new disc, his career so far and his plans. In person (he is 30 this year), he is personable, charming and highly articulate. We had a fascinating hour of musical talk with ranged widely. Contemporary music was a theme which cropped up throughout our interview, and clearly he is very engaged both with music and composers. But there were other interests too, and he was very keen to highlight his work with the fledgling Bolivian Philharmonic Orchestra.

Leonard Elschenbroich’s latest CD on Onyx Classics pairs Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata (with his regular pianist partner Alexei Grynyuk) with Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No. 2 (with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrew Litton). This is the second disc of Russian music which Leonard has recorded, as his previous disc for Onyx Classics paired the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata with the cello version of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata (again with Alexei Grynyuk). And not just Russian music, there is also a thread of examining the work of artists under the Soviet regime. But when I ask him whether he is planning a series, he says not. When considering recordings, he tries to choose works that he wants to listen to rather than looking for a market need. It just so happened that his initial wants list had four Russian works at the top of it!

Everything you wanted to know about opera but were afraid to ask?

The Course  - An Introduction to Opera
My lecture series, An Introduction to Opera, takes place next academic year, during January and February 2016, as part of the programme of Art History lectures given by The Course at the University Women's Club in Audley Square. The course will aim to introduce the operatic genre and put the works in historical context. There will be five lectures,  
  • Operatic Beginnings: Baroque opera from Monteverdi to Gluck,  
  • Classical to Romantic: Mozart, Beethoven and Weber
  • Italian Bel Canto: Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini
  • They do it differently in France: 19th century French opera,  
  • 19th Century Colossuses: Verdi and Wagner

Each lecture will introduce the music of the period with historical background, and concentrate on three composers with a more detailed examination of one work by each, so the first lecture introduces Monteverdi and L'Orfeo, Handel and Giulio Cesare and Gluck and Orfeo ed Eurydice. There will be the opportunity to listen, at the end of the lecture, to a suitable operatic excerpt and participants will get suggested listening lists.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Margaret Rizza's Officium Divinum

Officium Divinum - Margaret Rizza
Margaret Rizza Officium Divinum; Convivium Singers, Eamonn Dougan; Convivium Singers
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 14 2015
Conceived by the RSCM and based on Common Worship, Margaret Rizza's music transcends its usefulness

There is a term in German, gebrauchsmusik, which translates roughly as useful or needful music, that is music written for a particular purpose. There is no quite parallel term in English where the term carries a sort of sense of put-down which doesn't really occur in German. Much church music is gebrauchsmusik, well written, suitable for its function, providing musical interest but never overshadowing the primary liturgical purpose. This disc of music by Margaret Rizza on Convivium Records is gebrauchsmusik; it was written for use, designed for a particular liturgical purpose. But that does not mean that we cannot derive pleasure from it as casual listeners, in fact there is certainly much to enjoy and in extremely fine performances too.

The disc from Convivium contains Rizza's Officium Divinum, sixteen pieces gathered into four groups Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer with the texts based on the Anglican Church's Common Worship, Daily Prayer. They are performed by the Convivium Singers, conducted by Eamonn Dougan with David Price on organ.

The idea was originally that of Tim Ruffer, Head of Publishing at the Royal School of Church Music. The resulting music works in a number of ways. The pieces from each group might form the basis for a single service or can be mined for individual items for liturgical or concert use. Rizza's choice of texts is wide, she uses Common Worship but also Lancelot Andrews (1555 - 1626), Anne Harrison, David Adam, George Herbert (1593 - 1633), William Blake (1757 - 1827), and Mary Holtby, which I think gives the works a strength and depth. I particularly liked Mary Holtby's Benedictus which uses the Latin as a refrain to the English verses, and thought the William Blake poem a particularly appealing choice.

Morning Prayer consists of The Night Has Passed (Common Worship), Open Thou Mine Eyes (Lancelot Andrewes), Dedication (David Adam from The Edge of Glory), The Song of Zechariah (Benetictus) (Gospel of Luke adapted by Anne Harrison). Midday Prayer consists of Blessed Bread (Margaret Rizza), The Real Presence  (David Adam from The Edge of Glory), The Twenty-third Psalm (George Herbert), Gloria in Excelsis (Common Worship). Evening Prayer consists of Let my prayer rise before you (Common Worship), Sweet Dreams, Form a Shade (William Blake), Song of Mary (Gospel of Luke adapted by Mary Holtby), Kindle our hearts (Common worship). Night Prayer consists of Before the ending of the day (Common Worship), Keep me as the apple of your eye (Common Worship), Song of Simeon (Gospel of Luke adapted by Mary Holtby), Night Prayers (David Adam from The Edge of Glory).

Occupation: five songs that shook the world

Dan Wyn-Jones
Welsh National Opera's Occupation: five songs that shook the world has seen artists as diverse as Carleen Anderson, Judith Weir, Cerys Matthews and High Contrast commissioned to create songs responding to issues in society and current news events. The final song, from composer Daniel-Wyn Jones is released on 23 January 2015. The song is inspired by and includes lyrics from comments and quotes from the general public collected over the course of the project, feeding in their thoughts about liberty, freedom and democracy via social media. It explores a range of issues including religion, the role of media, NHS funding cuts, violence against women, and the existence of prejudice and extremism in our society. 

The artistic partner in the project, Ffilm Cymru Wales has created an accompanying film, set in The Senedd, Wales's National Assembly building. The film can be viewed at the Occupation website, and Daniel-Wyn Jones's music is available for download from Soundcloud. The other four songs are also available from the Occupation website.

Cardiff-based bilingual composer Wyn-Jones studied at the Cardiff University School of Music and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and his tutors have included Judith Weir. He is influenced by a diverse selection of modern popular and classical music and draws heavily on other disciplines especially Theatre of the Absurd, modern dance, conceptual and performance art and a variety of classic 20th and 21st century literature.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Hammers at dawn at Cafe Oto

Klammer Kang
On 3 February 2015, Klammer Klang presents drumscapes // hammerland at Cafe Oto in Dalston (just next door to the Arcola Theatre). The programme includes Fritz Hauser and We Spoke performing music by Hauser, and Eliza McCarthy in first performances of music by singer/songwriter Mica Levi. Swiss-born Hauser writes and performs music for percussion (he bangs things for a living) as well as cross-media works. We Spoke is a contemporary music group based in Switzerland. Pianist Eliza McCarthy won the top prizes in the British Contemporary Piano Competition in 2013.

Klammer Klang is a concert series at the award winning Cafe Oto in Dalston. They present curated programmes of new contemporary classical, experimental, improvised and electronic music. The series was founded in 2008 and run by Lucy Railton for four years, the series is now directed by Serge Vuille.

Jordi Savall in Bach and Vivaldi

Magnificat & Concerti - Jordi Savall
Bach & Vivaldi concertos and magnificats; La Capella Reaila de Catalunya, Le Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall; AliaVox
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 09 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Vibrant performances from Jordi Savall his training academy

This disc from Alia Vox is the fruits of the Third Academy of Professional Training for Musical Research and Performance in Barcelona in June 2013, with concerts recorded live at the Chapelle Royale of Versailles and the performers combine soloists from La Capella Reial de Catalunya, twenty young professional singers and Le Concert des Nations all conducted by Jordi Savall. They perform Vivaldi's Magnificat in G minor, and Bach's Magnificat in D major.  To these is added two recordings by Savall and Le Concert des Nations, the recording of Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor  for two violins, and viola da gamba RV578 recorded at Cardona, Catalonia in 2003 and Bach's Concerto for harpsichord in D minor BWV1052 recorded at Fontfroide Festival in 2013. The disc also comes with a DVD of performances of the magnificats and the harpsichord concerto.

The disc opens with Vivaldi' concerto for two violins and viola da gamba. The work starts with an atmospheric slow introduction with a bleak edge to the solo violins, followed by a perky allegro. The solemn middle movement, Larghetto, is rather chordal like the introduction and not at all how one thinks of a Vivaldi slow movement. The finale, Allegro, is again nicely perky. The soloists are very much primus inter pares, and not spot lit with the viola d gamba retreating rather into the general texture.

Vivaldi's Magnificat starts off  with a solemn and impressive choral opening. The piece interweaves choral and solo moments, with fewer large scale arias than Bach's version, which is in many ways very similar (Bach knew Vivaldi's setting). The larger scale choral moments are grand, but not over blown with a nice compact intensity to them. Fecit potentiam has a nice fiery drama both choir and orchestra. The Esurientes is a soprano/alto duet with the soloists providing slim voiced charm and find passagework. After another grand choral moment for Suscepit Israel, the soloists  return for a characterful Sicut locutus est before the final choral movements concluding with a lively fugue.

I have to confess that my heart rather sank when I saw that the second companion work was a Bach harpsichord concerto as too often modern performances of these seem to fail. To my ears either the the harpsichord sound is not well captured, or the instrument itself is too reticent. But here everything works superbly, from the first notes by soloist Pierre Hantai it is clear that the harpsichord is a solo instrument with a nice strong tone and he is given plenty of space by Savall. This is one of the best Bach harpsichord concerto recordings I have heard in a long time. A vigorous Allegro with the performers really digging into the notes, is followed by a sombre Adagio where a unison develops into something interesting, and a swaggering final Allegro.

Bach's Magnificat opens with a fine instrumental introduction in which there is nice balance between the instruments so that the colours of Bach's lines really come through. As in the Vivaldi, the choral singing is excellent with a real vibrancy, plus a sense of care for the details. Johannette Zommer sings the Et exultavit soprano solo with poise, care and infectiousness. Hanna Bayodi-Hirt is plangent in the Quia respexit solo with a lovely oboe solo. Omnes gentes nicely vigorous, followed by a fabulous bass solo from Stephan MacLeod. Et misericordia goes with a nice lilt, with soloists Damien Guillon and David Munderloh providing a nice combination of vocal blend and character. Fecit potentiam and following tenor solo (from David Munderloh) both have a lovely swagger to them, and Munderloh combines good runs with a nice easy top. Esurientes has gentle expressive flutes and an really characterful alto solo. A beautiful Suscepit Israel is followed by a pair of choral movements full of vigour and swagger. There are lots of good things in this performance but what I liked most about it was the sense of swagger which Savall brings to the grander moments. It isn't a pompous performance, and Savall has drawn some very vital music making from his varied forces.

The CD booklet is substantial, mainly because it has the text in French, English, German, Spanish, Catalan and Italian, plus ample photographs. The DVD contains related performances of the magnificats and the Bach concerto performed by the same forces. The DVD is quite basic, with no extras, but it provides a wonderful visual record of Savall's direction and the performers.

This was always going to be a memorable disc, nothing Jordi Savall does is boring. But the music making on this disc captures the very vitality of the live performance in just the right way.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) - Concerto con 2 violini e viola da gamba,archi e continuo RV578
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) - Magnificat in G minor RV610
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) - Concerto for harpsichord in D minor, BWV 1052
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) - Magnificat in D major BWV 243
Manfredo Kraemer (violin)
Riccardo Kraemer (violin)
Pablo Valetti (violin)
Jordi Savall (viola da gamba)
Hanna Bayodi-Hirt (soprano)
Johannette Zommer (soprano)
Damien Guillon (counter-tenor)
David Munderloh (tenor)
Stephan MacLeod (baritone)
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Le Concert des Nations
Jordi Savall (conductor)
Recorded live Chapelle Royalle of Versailles, 28-29 June 2013 (Magnificats),
Vivaldi concerto recorded 2003, Cardona, Catalonia,
Bach concerto recorded 2013, Fontfroide Festival

Elsewhere on this blog:

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Sarah-Jane Lewis and Finnegan Downie Dear

Sarah Jane Lewis
Sarah Jane Lewis
Soprano Sarah-Jane Lewis, accompanied by Finnegan Downie Dear, won the 2nd prize in the 2014 Kathleen Ferrier Competition and we were lucky enough to catch them in a private recital last night (20 January 2015). For the first half of the recital Lewis sang a selection of French songs, Henri Dupar's L'Invitation au voyage, Chanson triste, Elegie, and La vie anterieure, three songs from Debussy's Ariettes Oubliees (C'est l'extase langoureuse, Chevaux de bois and L'ombre des arbres) and Ravel's Asie from Scheherezade.

Finnegan Downie Deaar
Lewis has a rich, creamy textured voice with great warmth to it, and a lovely evenness across the range. It is potentially quite a big instrument, and it was lovely to hear her singing so fluidly and flexibly in a relatively small acoustic. Though her voice has strong operatic potential, she is clearly a gifted recitalist. She sang some songs from memory and some with music, but she was always alert and highly communicative, with lovely clear French. Relaxed enough on the platform to do spoken introductions to the songs, you occasionally got glimpses of a real personality.

The second half of the concert was more varied, with songs by Rachmaninoff, Frank Bridge and Manuel de Falla. Singing entirely from memory, in this half she seemed more relaxed and natural, so her voice really blossomed. She brought a strong sense of character to each of the groups of songs, differentiating clearly. The Rachmaninoff songs, No Prophet I, Loneliness, The Soldiers Wife and A-oo were all sung in Russian. The pair of Bridge songs were a great delight, Adoration and Come to me in my dreams, whilst the selection from De Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas (El pano moruno, Asturiana, Nana and Polo) revealed another side to her persona with dark Spanish hues in the voice.

Throughout Finnegan Downie Dear accompanied with poise and the two formed a very strong duo. I was particularly taken with Dear's  panache when navigating the thickets of notes in the piano version of Ravel's Asie.

Artists under strain Leonard Elschenbroich explores Prokoviev and Kabalevsky under the Soviet regime

Leonard Elschenbroich
Prokofiev Cello Sonata, Kabalevsky Cello Concerto No.2; Leonard Elschenbroich, Alexei Grynyuk, Petr Limonov, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Litton; Onyx
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 21 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Fine playing and fascinating programme from young cellist exploring music under the Soviet regime

Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich continues his exploration of 20th century Russian music with a new disc on Onyx which pairs Prokofiev's Cello Sonata in C op. 111 (with pianist Alexei Grynyuk) with Dmitry Kabalevsky's Cello Concerto no. 2 in C op.77 recorded live with the Netherlands Phiharmonic Orchestra and conductor Andrew Litton. Also on the disc is a group arrangements for cello and piano of items from Prokofiev's later ballets and opera, The Stone Flower, Cinderella and The Love of Three Oranges, with pianist Petr Limonov, plus Kabalevsky's Novelette.

At first the programme can seem a little oddly contrived, as if the recording of the Kabalevsky turned out too good to simply put in the archive and something had to be found to go with it. But in fact the programme reflects Elschenbroich's continued fascination with artists under the Soviet Union and how they coped. Elschenbroich's own liner note reflects his interest in how other composers than Shostakovich managed. So on this disc we have late Prokofiev and Kabalevsky.

Prokofiev wrote the Cello Sonata in 1949, four years before his death, in a period when he had had works banned and his wife had been arrested and sentenced to hard labour. He increasingly withdrew from public life and his works from this period can be seen to have similar withdrawal. The Cello Sonata, premiered by the young Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter, is seen by Elschenbroich as reflecting a surreal, dream-like state in which Prokofiev did not have to refer to reality.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Russian Passion

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
The Russian Orthodox musical tradition does not seem to do passions, but 8 February 2015 sees the British premiere of the St Matthew Passion by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev. Metropolitan Hilarion is not only a bishop and noted theologian but also a composer. Inspired by the passions of Bach, his St Matthew Passion for soloists, choir and orchestra was written in 2006 and is the only work of its kind in Russian music to depict the life and resurrection of Christ. The work uses edited liturgical texts at the libretto. It receives its British premiered at the Cadogan Hall on 8 February 2015 when the Moscow Synodal Choir performs it under the direction of Alexei Putzov. The choir is one of the oldest professional choirs in Russia. Founded in 1721 is ceased to exist in 1918 and was revived by Metropolitan Hilarion in 2009. You can hear the opening of the work on YouTube. Further information from the Cadogan Hall website.

Kitty Whately & Joseph Middleton in Schumann

Kitty Whately (credit: Natalie Watts)
Kitty Whately
credit: Natalie Watts
Schumann Frauenliebe und -Leben, Drei Gesänge, Fünf Lieder; Kitty Whately, Joseph Middleton; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 19 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Finely crafted and vividly performed all Schumann recital from BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist

Monday's BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at the Wigmore Hall (19/1/2015) was mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, accompanied by Joseph Middleton in an all Schumann programme. All the songs in the programme had texts by Adelbert von Chamiso and all were written within the space of a single week in 1840. Of the three groups of songs the best known was Frauenliebe und -Leben Op.42, but Whately and Middleton also included the Drei Gesänge Op.31 and started with the Fünf Lieder Op.40 which include the three settings of Adelbert von Chamiso's translations of poems by Hans Christian Anderson.

Joseph Middleton - credit Sussie Ahlberg
Joseph Middleton - credit Sussie Ahlberg
Schumann's Fünf Lieder Op.40 has at its centre the three Hans Christian Anderson settings, Muttertraum, Der Soldat and Der Spielmann, which are remarkable for Schumann's response to Anderson's bleak poems; in his programme note Gerald Larner talked of the way the songs anticipate Mahler. But Schumann prefixed and concluded the group with settings of more straightforward poems.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Cabaret from the unborn at the Vault Festival

Unborn in America
Unborn in America, a new cabaret opera by composer Luke Styles and librettist Peter Cant is being premiered at the Vault Festival on 29 January 2015. Luke Styles conducts Ensemble Amorpha with Jessica Walker, Lucy Stevens, Andrew Dickenson and Robert Gildon and the work is directed by Peter Cant. Performances are at The Vaults, Leake Street, London SE1 7NN, from 29 January to 1 February 2015. 

In both form and content, the new piece is unusual and perhaps controversial. Certainly the new piece's flexible form, owing something to cabaret, opera, performance art, satire and much else, will not suit everyone. And the work examines what we value in life. Set in The Petri Dish, the afterlife's cabaret bar of the unborn, foetus, Ziggy, recounts her journey from hell and back, starting in a stem cell laboratory.

Luke Styles was composer in residence at Glyndebourne from 2011 to 2014 and his final work for Glyndebourne, based on Shakespeare's Macbeth, is premiered at the 2015 festival. He was recently appointed composer  in residence at the Foundling Hospital.

Secrets and Obsessions - Songsmiths

Songsmiths - Wigmore Hall
Secrets and Obsessions: Elizabeth Watts, Mary Bevan,Anna Huntley, Marcus Farnsworth, Jonathan Lemalu, Audrey Hyland; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 18 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Secret desires explored in this stunning programme from the young group of singers with pianist Audrey Hyland

Secrets and Obsessions was a Sunday afternoon journey through secret desires, obsessions and anxieties from pianist Audrey Hyland and Songsmiths at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday 18 January 2015. Sopranos Elizabeth Watts and Mary Bevan, mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, baritone Marcus Farnsworth and bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu sang songs and duets by Balfe, Messager, Mendelssohn, Hahn, Granados, Rodrigo, Gurney, Brahms, Weill, Loewe, Wolf, Schoenberg, Britten, Schubert, Butterworth and Richard Strauss.

The format of the concert was clearly inspired by those of the Songmakers Almanac, all the singers were on the platform, the songs were performed from memory and the entire programme ran without a break with applause being restricted to the very end. We thus, were taken on a journey and though there were indeed some incredibly fine individual performances the result did add up to rather more than the sum of its parts. Few of the songs were what might be called mainstream lieder or song-recital fare, and many were unusual, but all contributed strongly. It helped that each song or duet was given a strongly idiomatic performance and for many it was difficult not to burst into applause after.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Newington Green Acoustic Concerts

Quest Ensemble
Quest Ensemble
Quest Ensemble, Voice; Newington Green Unitarian Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 17 2015
Improvised classical trio and close harmony women's voices in this contrasting double bill

New Unity Unitarian Chapel in Newington Green is a remarkably historic place. The chapel itself dates from 1708 and the worship there has included such famous names as Mary Wollstencraft. The chapel with its box pews was the venue for Newington Green Acoustic Concerts presenting a double bill of the Quest Ensemble and Voice on Saturday 17 January 2015. The Quest Ensemble is a piano trio, Tara Franks (cello), Preetha Narayanan (violin), Filipe Sousa (piano) whose repertoire blends the classical piano trio with jazz and improvisation via collaboratively written pieces. Voice is a female vocal trio, Victoria Couper, Clemmie Franks, Emily Burn, whose repertoire repertoire stretches from early music, to folk-songs and popular songs through to contemporary pieces.

The evening was quite intimate, the chapel is relatively small and the packed audience were all close to the performers. There was a relaxed casualness about the proceedings, many of the audience members knew people performing and there were no tickets (you got your hand stamped) and no printed programme. Instead the performers addressed the audience directly, chatting about the pieces and their origin. The two groups interleaved their performances, rather than doing long sets, so that each half of the programme was a varied mix of vocal and instrumental.

Victoria Couper, Clemmie Franks, Emily Burn all met in the Oxford Girls Choir and they formed Voice in 2006. Technically a close harmony group their repertoire stretches from Hildegard of Bingen through to specially composed pieces, and a big influence is Stevie Wishart with whom they have worked since they were in the Oxford Girls Choir. Their programme included singer songwriter Emily Levy's How Sweetly You Burn setting words by Hildegard of Bingen, Stevie Wishart's Happy Song, a 14th century French chanson, folk song arrangements The Water of the Tyne runs between us, The Water is wideThe lowlands of Holland, as well as glees, broadside ballads and catches. They finished the first half with the Stevie Wishart piece which was written for them and, using beat-box style techniques, pushed their technique and created something wonderful.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Supporting Cardinal Hume Centre - Ashley Wass, Maxim Rysanov, Southbank Sinfonia

Mozart Requiem - St John's Smith Square
The Cardinal Hume Centre, founded by Cardinal Basil Hume in 1986, provides homeless young people, families in need and local people support to acquire the skills they need to realise their full potential. 

On 30 January 2015 at St John's Smith Square, the centre is presenting a concert in memory of its former chairman, Paul Goggins. Pianist Ashley Wass joins the Southbank Sinfonia and conductors Maxim Rysanov and Scott Price for a programme which includes Mozart's Requiem and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4.

Wass, winner of the London International Piano Competition and former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, is the soloist in the Beethoven. The soloists in the Mozart include Eleanor Dennis, Jean Rigby, Peter Davoren and Timothy West and the chorus will be the Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School. 

Maxim Rysanov, a noted viola soloist and also a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, made his CD conducting debut in 2013 with a disc which reached number two in the UK classical charts and was shortlisted for a Grammy award in 2014.  He conducts the Beethoven and the overture to Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Whilst Scott Price, director of music at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, conducts Mozart's Requiem.

The Southbank Sinfonia brings together 32 music graduates from all over the world to further prepare them for their professional careers. Every place is free and every player receives a bursary.

Further information about the concert from the St John's Smith Square website.

Saturday Rant - The Total Experience

Scott of the Antarctic - film poster
When the film of Scott of the Antarctic was premiered in London in the 1950's, the composer RVW attended as the film use his score (the music was later re-used as his Sinfonia Antarctica). At the end of the film, this being a West End cinema, the cinema organist then launched into his usual repertoire as the audience left. So disturbed was RVW by the disjoint between film score and popular hits played on the organ that next day the organist received a sheet of manuscript with music for him to play the film out, moderating between film score and the every day.

This story occurred to me as we attended the first performance of the new production of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at the Roundhouse (see my review). Arriving early, I stood in the lower foyer awaiting D. Rock music with a heavy beat was coming from the bar, so heavy a beat that it was all encompassing and permeated all the foyers. I ended up standing outside waiting for D. No thought seemed to have been given to the audience's total experience, the heavy beat of the rock music accompanied us into the auditorium and it awaited us at the end of the opera. Frankly, after a profoundly moving performance of L'Orfeo there is little I want to hear, and certainly not rock music.
Roundhouse foyers
Roundhouse foyers

The foyers at the Roundhouse are an open and flexible spaces. You can imagine many types of music, theatre and circus skills (the production of L'Orfeo uses a lot of circus movement) would suit the spaces, entertain non-opera goers but also modulate the experience of the opera goers.

But no-one seems to have given this a thought, and this is a common problem in theatres and concert halls. too often the total experience is not considered and what goes on outside the auditorium differs radically from what is going on inside. Often difference can be good, something to clean the palate after a rich diet. But it must be planned and the random intersection of the theatre or concert programme and the play-list of the bar is hardly a creative conjunction.

Friday, 16 January 2015

International Opera Awards

Duncan Rock and Susana Gasper at the 2014 International Opera Awards
Duncan Rock and Susana Gasper at the 2014 International Opera Awards
International Opera Awards 2015 have been announced. There are 19 categories with around six finalists in each. They were selected by a jury consisting of John Allison (Opera magazine), Peter Alward (Salzburg Easter Festival), Per Boye Hansen (Norwegian National Opera and Ballet), Kathryn Harries (National Opera Studio)  Evans Mirageas (Cincinnati Opera), Nicholas Payne (Opera Europa), plus the critics Hugh Canning, George Loomis, Erna Metdepenninghen and Hugo Shirley. The nominations are intended to reflect the artists career, so that for singers and directors, no particular production is given. It is great to see ENO featured so heavily in the lists, and nice to have a counter-tenor in the male singer category.

In the CD (Complete Opera) category it is good to see Offenbach's Fantasio [links go to Planet Hugill reviews] from Opera Rara, as well as Handel's Tamerlano from Naive. Cecilia Bartoli's St Petersburg makes the cut in the CD (Operatic Recital) as does Joyce DiDonato's Stella di Napoli, Franco Fagioli's Porpora and Carolyn Sampson's Arias for Marie Fel. The Rediscovered Work category includes Opera Rara's revival of Donizetti's Les Martyrs as well as nuggets of rare Rossini, Saint-Saens, Martinu, Faccio and Barbieri. The World Premiere category includes Julian Anderson's Thebans, and John Metcalf's Under Milkwood.

It is nice to see the chorus of both English National Opera and Welsh National Opera in the Chorus category. And ENO pops up in the Opera Company category too, as well as featuring in the New Production category. This latter includes ENO's Benvenuto Cellini as well as Birmingham Opera Company's Khovanskygate and the Met's Prince Igor.

Joyce DiDonato pops up on the Female Singer category, along with Anja Harteros and Anna Netrebko, whilst the Male Singer category includes Iestyn Davies (impressive in Glyndebourne's Rinaldo), Michael Spyres (impressive in ENO's Benvenuto Cellini and Opera Rara's Les Martyrs), John Osborn, Lawrence Brownlee and Ludovic Tezier - how to choose! There are no surprises in the Director category, David Alden, Calixto Bieito, Robert Carsen, Richard Jones, Christoph Loy and Graham Vick. The Young Singer category has Angel Blue, David Butt Philip, Justina Gringyte and Nicky Spence amongst those competing.

You can see the full list at the Opera Awards website. The awards ceremony takes place on Sunday 26 April at the Savoy Theatre.

Shining Armour - Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann and more

Roderick Williams
Roderick Williams
Iain Burnside, Johannes Brahms Shining Armour; Roderick Williams, Alison Rose, Victoria Newlyn, Iain Burnside; Milton Court Concert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 14 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Brahms's Magelone cycle with striking new narrative about the relationship between the composer and Clara Schumann

Having, a
Clara Schumann
Clara Schumann
couple of years ago, heard baritone Roderick Williams performing Brahms's song cycle Die schone Magelone with an actor providing a spoken narration based on Ludwig Tieck's novella (see my review) it was fascinating to hear Williams performing it again at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Milton Court in an entirely different context. As part of the Guildhall School's Faculty Artist Series, Roderick Williams, soprano Alison Rose, pianist Iain Burnside (professor of collaborative piano at the school) and Victoria Newlyn (movement/drama tutor at the school) performed Iain  Burnside's Shining Armour on Wednesday 14 January 2015.

Victoria Newlyn
Victoria Newlyn
This wasn't quite a play, there was a bare platform with just a piano and four chairs. Iain Burnside and  Roderick Williams came on wearing normal concert dress lounge suites, whilst Victoria Newlyn looked modern but very demure. And Williams launched straight into the first song of the cycle Keinen had es noch gereut, singing in a very vital way with superb feel for both words and music in a performance which had great swagger but was surprisingly thoughtful.

Song over, Newlyn stood up and addressed us. She was billed as playing Clara Schumann and what we were presented with was a lecture by Clara Schumann but in the present day; Newlyn spoke in Clara Schumann's character but her talk was firmly based now. Between each song she would explain the plot details that were necessary to understand the songs; they come from Tieck's long narrative and Brahms set only the lyrical moments with some understanding of the surrounding plot needed. But she would then wander a little into more personal reminiscence.

The premise behind Burnside's text was the parallels between Tieck's romantic narrative and the awkward relationship (romantic and more) between Brahms and Clara Schumann (13 years Brahms's senior). Newyln as Clara pointed out the parallels early, commenting both on the hero, Peter's blondness and Brahms's blondness ('no-one could argue with his blondness'), that Peter was brave and Brahms brave 'on occasion'.

The parallels between Tieck's story and that of Brahms and Clara are not absolute ('Princesses are rarely 13 years older with eight children', and never have a job), but Tieck's romantic narrative with its unlikely co-incidences was one which Brahms took seriously and moved him ('Brahms cried so easily'). Whilst Brahms might have cast himself as the romantic hero, Clara was most certainly not a heroine and was able to look back with clarity and humour on what was obviously a very messy situation. She referred to the messiness of everyday life.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Calling young singers - Glyndebourne Academy

Singers at the 2012 Glyndebourne Academy - photo credit David Illman
Singers at the 2012 Glyndebourne Academy
 photo credit David Illman
In response to a lack of diversity amongst young singers, Glyndebourne has set up a scheme talented young singers help to pursue professional training. The Glyndebourne Academy is for singers with exceptional potential aged 16-26 whose circumstances, whether economic, social or geographic, have prevented them from following a traditional path towards a career. It was devised after a 2008 conference The Singers of Tomorrow, held at the National Opera Studio. As a result Glyndebourne and Mary King (now artistic director of the Glyndebourne Academy) set up a prototype scheme which ran in 2012. King commented that 'With no access to good musical education and advice, it is difficult for a late starter to really compete at conservatoire entrance-stage. We wondered; could we identify a small group of exceptionally talented singers who had fallen through the gaps and take them through a process that would make a difference?'

The singers will receive a one day introduction, five-day immersive residential course and a follow-up weekend and evening recital at Glyndebourne. Applications are now open for 2015, and those interested should go to the Glyndebourne Academy web page. There is a film about the 2012 Glyndebourne Academy on Vimeo

Vividly theatrical L'Orfeo at the Roundhouse

Monteverdi L'Orfeo - Gyula Orendt & Mary Bevan - ©ROH 2015. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey
Gyula Orendt & Mary Bevan
©ROH 2015.
Photo by Stephen Cummiskey
Monteverdi L'Orfeo; Orendt, Bevan, Bickley, dir. Boyd, cond. Moulds; Royal Opera at the Roundhouse
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Stylish and vividly theatrical new Orfeo with some stunning singing too

The new production of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at the Roundhouse (13 January 2015) is an intriguing new collaboration between the Royal Opera House and the Roundhouse. It was directed by Michael Boyd, former director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who was making his operatic debut. Working with his regular collaborator, designer Tom Piper, Boyd's stylish production made full use of the dramatic space provided by the Roundhouse.  

Monteverdi L'Orfeo - Gyula Orendt - ©ROH 2015. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey
Gyula Orendt ©ROH 2015. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey
Gyula Orendt sang Orfeo, with Mary Bevan as Euridice and La Musica, Susan Bickley as Silvia/Messagiera, Anthony Gregory, Alexander Sprague and Christopher Lowrey as pastores (here called pastors), James Platt as Charon, Rachel Kelly as Proserpina, Callum Thorpe as Plutone and Susanna Hurrell as a Nymph. They were joined by a vocal ensemble of students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with young dancers from East London Dance. Christopher Moulds conducted the Orchestra of Early Opera Company. Lighting design was by Jean Kalman, sound design was by Sound Intermedia; Liz Ranken was the movement director and Lina Johansson the circus director. The opera was sung in a Don Paterson's new translation.

Boyd and Piper's production, though modern in style, responded to the hierarchical nature of the society and court of the Gonzaga Dukes of Mantua for whom Monteverdi wrote the opera. Though the costumes were contemporary, so that Plutone (Callum Thorpe) and Proserpina (Rachel Kelly) were accompanied by a squad of be-suited heavies (no dark glasses, thank goodness). there was a sense of ceremonial and ritual which reminded me of Jean-Pierre Ponelle's production for Zurich Opera (which I saw at the Edinburgh Festival in the 1970's).

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Shakespeare Influence

The Shakespeare Influence
The Shakespeare Influence
The Orpheus Sinfonia and conductor Thomas Carroll continue their Beneath the Score series with The Shakespeare Influence on Thursday 22 January 2015 at St George's Church, Hanover Square. For this concert, Thomas Carroll looks at the influence of three of Shakespeare's plays A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and Romeo and Juliet. In order to put the music in context, extracts from the plays read by two young actors will be interspersed with music. The first half features Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, Korngold's incidental music to Much Ado About Nothing. The second half is based round music inspired by Rome and Juliet including music from Prokofiev's ballet, Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet, and Bernstein's West Side Story, plus Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.

The Orpheus Sinfonia was founded in 2008 to provide opportunity and support for talented young musicians emerging from study into the profession. The orchestra attracts the best of music conservatoire graduates, forming an elite group of performers excelling in artistic distinction.

Further information and tickets from the Orpheus Foundation website.

Melos Sinfonia at St John’s Smith Square

Melos Sinfonia
Melos Sinfonia
Joel Rust; Beethoven; Sibelius; LaFollette, Baker, Woo, Melos Sinfonia, Zeffman; St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jan 10 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Mix of new, old and rarely performed in enterprising concert from this young ensemble

Playing to a packed hall, the Melos Sinfonia celebrated 150 years since the birth of Sibelius with works by Beethoven, Sibelius and Rust last night (Saturday 10th January) in St John's Smith Square. The young orchestra, conducted by Oliver Zeffman, with soloists Ben Baker, Bartholomew LaFollette, and JongSun Woo, played valiantly to an appreciative audience despite a few problems in tuning which seem to be endemic to this cold space.

Melos Sinfonia was founded by Zeffman in 2010 and draws its performers from the pool of young musicians just starting their career in music. Performing chamber and symphonic music as well as opera the orchestra is able to play not just the well known classics but also rarely heard works and new compositions (including some they commission themselves). Tonight's concert ticked all these boxes.

The first work performed was 'Beyond the heart' a new piece written by Joel Rust (1989-). Commissioned by the orchestra the composer explained that it was inspired by Sibelius's seventh symphony (which was to be performed in the second half). His programme notes state that he used a motif from the opening of the Sibelius and his "musical language" was meant to be reminiscent of the "Romantic gestures of Sibelius' work". He also discusses how he separates the orchestra into smaller groups which conflict with each other.

Contextualising Minimalism – a study day with Stephen Montague

Stephen Montague
Minimalism Unwrapped; Stephen Montague, Christina McMaster, Chris Brannick; Kings Place
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jan 10 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Lecturing and performance in enjoyable and informative study day on minimalism

Part of the Minimalism Unwrapped series at Kings Place, this study day by composer Stephen Montague (1943-), along with Christina McMaster (piano) and Chris Brannick (percussion), was an interesting exposé of the music and culture of the New York minimalist movement of the 1950's and 60's. Using musical examples and a lot of humour, Montague took us on a whistle-stop tour of history – highlighting music which would become influential such as Gregorian chant, or reacted against such as Schoenberg's twelve tone music. He touched on more exotic influences such as Indian raga, Ghanaian drumming, and Javanese gamelan - and all before the first coffee break.

Following on from this was a discussion about what was happening in art and literature, and then to the nitty gritty of some of the different ideas that were being explored by people we now know as minimalists: the drones and alternative tuning of La Monte Young, repetition and processes of Terry Riley, phasing of Steve Reich, and arpeggiation of Philip Glass.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

George Frideric Handel - A Life with Friends

George Frideric Handel - A Life with Friends
George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends; Ellen T Harris; W.W.Norton & Co
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Handel through his friends; new light on Handel's life and career through looking at the lives of his close friends and the society in which they lived.

A balanced biography needs to mix the public and the personal, combining the subject's public deeds, creations and reputation with their personal life and a degree of background colour. With creative artists, their creative works can often be an indicator to their personal life, but with George Frideric Handel it is different. Few of his major works can really be tied to a sense of his inner life, and we completely lack any documentation for his personal or inner creative life. In biographies, what we are left with is a mixture of reportage, surmise and background colour.

Ellen T Harris has been taking a different approach, rather than encompassing the whole monument of Handel's life she is taking it in sections attacking it from different sides and gaining information by looking at his interactions. Her book Handel as Orpheus viewed Handel's stay in Italy through the prism of his Italian cantatas. And the book gave us some surprising insights, the theme running through it was very much about Handel's sexuality.

In her new book George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends (published by W.W. Norton & Co) Harris takes Handel's London friends and teases out a remarkable amount about their lives and how they interacted with Handel. Lacking essential knowledge about Handel's daily and personal life, she rightly thinks that we can gain a lot of information by examining the lives of those closes to Handel. The result in not a biography, but more of a voyage round Handel's life. Harris terms the book 'An intimate portrait of Handel's life and inner circle, modelled after one of the composer's favourite forms: the fugue'. Her approach is broadly thematic with the same characters cropping up in different ways throughout the book and with George Frideric as the main theme.

After an Introduction and Before London, there are then chapters on Politics, Patronage and Pension, Commerce and Trade, Music at Home, Marriage, Wealth, and Social Status, Ambition, Law, and Friendship, Making and Collecting, Religion and Charity, Sickness and Death, Wills and Legacies. As the chapters cover overlapping time periods, each has a timeline which covers the events relevant to that chapter.

Shades of Pink

Song in the City is celebrating LGBT History Month in February with a series of Thursday lunchtime free recitals at St Botolph without Bishopsgate church hall. The four recitals are being given by singers and actors from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, accompanied by Gavin Roberts who is Song in the City's artistic director. There are three themed recitals Songs from the Closet (12 February 2015) which tells the story of composers who expressed their sexuality even though in the closed, Strange Bedfellows, Queer Collaborations (19 February) is full of music and poetry which was a collaboration between lovers or close friends in same-sex relationships. And the final concerts, Glitter and be Gay (26 February) charts a 20th and 21st century struggle of homosexual composers and poets leading to eventual 'out and proud' emergence and recognition, including one of my own songs..

Roberts has cast his net wide for the songs and there will be music by Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Hahn, Ethel Smyth, Amy Woodford-Finden, Britten, Mewton Wood, Barber, Verlaine, Menotti, Tippett, Poulenc, Cole Porter, Malcolm Williamson, Judith Weir, Ned Rorem, Aaron Copland, Jonathan Dove, Stephen Sondheim. My AE Housman setting He would not stay for me will be performed in the 26 February recital.

There is a further set of recitals in March exploring the world of the Parisian salon. Full information from the Song in the City website.

Footfall - Quest Ensemble

Footfall -  Quest Ensemble
Footfall; Quest Ensemble
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 6 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Part-improvised, part-composed jazz and minimalist inspired music from a new piano trio

The Quest Ensemble is a young London-based classical piano trio consisting of Filipe Sousa (piano), Tara Franks (cello) and Preetha Narayanan (violin). This disc, Footfall, is their debut album and was released in May 2014. The works on it are something different to the usual in that the three performers collaboratively create original work which mixes composition and improvisation.

The ensemble is very much a collaboration between the three creators, each of whom specialises in collaborations which mix genres, disciplines and artforms. Cellist Tara Franks is a classically trained cellist who trained in Leeds, London and Italy as well as spending time in the Gambia and Bali. Filipe Sousa is a Portugese pianist who started his training in Lisbon as a classical pianist, before continuing with jazz piano and composition. Violinist Preetha Narayanan is, like Franks and Sousa, an alumnus of the Guildhall School and Music and Drama's Leadership programme.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Discovery and more at LSO St Lukes

LSO Community Gamelan Group
LSO Community
Gamelan Group
There is an LSO Choral Singing Day at LSO St Luke's on 7 February with a chance to sing Durufle's Requiem under Simon Halsey. some sight-singing ability is required but it is a chance to experience this wonderful work from the inside whether you sing regularly or haven't sung for years. Donald Runnicles conducts the LSO in Durufle's Requiem at the Barbican Hall on 1 March 2015.

BBC Radio 3 is presenting a series of lunchtime concerts at LSO St Luke's featuring cellist Natalie Clein and friends, including Anthony Marwood (violin) and Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord) with music ranging from Bach to Kurtag (5, 12, 19, 26 February 2015).

The LSO Discovery concerts at lunchtime at LSO St Luke's present a chance to get close to individual instruments. On 30 January it is principal bassoon Daniel Jemison and on
13 February it is the turn of the trombone, with 18 year-old Peter Moore co-principal trombone.  Other lunchtime concerts in the series include the LSO String Ensemble (27 February), Guildhall Percussion Ensemble (13 March), Storytelling for under 5's (20 March). There are also opportunities to discover Jean Sibelius with a whole day event on 15 March including a listening to a morning rehearsal with Michael Tilson Thomas.

The LSO Community Choir, conductor David Lawrence, presents French Connections, a programme of Durufle, Faure and Saint-Saens on 13 March. The LSO Community Gamelan Group joins gamelan group Lila Cita and Lila Bhawa dance company for an evening of Balinese Gamelan on 20 March.

Pride of Stratford - Orchestra of the Swan

Pride of Stratford award
The Stratford-upon-Avon based Orchestra of the Swan (resident at the Stratford ArtsHouse) has been named as a finalist in this year's Pride of Stratford Awards. Organised by the radio station 102 Touch FM, the awards recognised the best achievements in business and the community in Stratford. The Orchestra of the Swan is one of four in the running for the Stratford's Pride Award. The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on 13 February 2015.

Founded in 1995, the Orchestra of the Swan (artistic director David Curtis) not only gives concerts at Stratford ArtsHouse, but is an Associate Orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall, as well as working with schools in Stratford, and running a comprehensive Learning and Participation programme for all ages. Dobrinka Tabakova was recently appointed the orchestra's Resident Composer.