Friday, 19 December 2014

Unwrapping Minimalism at Kings Place

Minimalism Wrapped
Having in the past Unwrapped Mozart, Bach, Brahms and Chamber Music, next year (2015) Kings Place will be presenting Minimalism Unwrapped, a year long series of concerts exploring Minimalism in all its aspects. And if you think that means wall to wall Philip Glass and Steve Reich, then think again. The series starts with The Sixteen in Plainsong and also includes the choir of King's College, Cambridge in plainsong Vespers for Henry VI, Fretwork exploring In Nomines as well as pairing Tavener with Taverner.

The great icons of minimalism are there of course, the London Sinfonietta will be performing Steve Reich's Clapping Music and giving Terry Riley's In C with invited guests. The Aurora Orchestra pairs Steve Reich's New York Counterpoint with Perotin and Stravinsky, the Carducci Quartet's performance of Reich's Different Trains is followed by a discussion with the composer. Later in the year the Carducci Quartet returns to Glass's quartets

Other influential names who contributed to the style are included, with music by Gavin Bryars, Graham Fitkin, Lous Andriessen, Meredith Monk and Morton Feldman. The Smith Quartet will be playing the complete Michael Nyman quartets. Composers not strictly minimal but influential or related also make appearances and these range from Satie and Stravinsky to Perotin to Arvo Part and John Tavener.

In the autumn, there will be David Lang's Little Max Girl Passion, and the choir of St King's College Cambrdige, conducted by Stephen Cleobury in Part's St John Passion. There are study days with Stephen Montague, Howard Skempton and Christopher Hobbs.

The series gives us a chance to understand the style's root in a reaction to the deepening complexities of mid 20th century modernist music and how different composers developed their ideas, besides allow us to compare and contrast both with composers who influenced the 20th century minimalist style and those of the past whose styles were also a reaction to the complexity of the music of a previous generation.

You can see all the events on the Kings Place website, or download the brochure.

Favourite fifty music: the Brodsky Quartet play Bartok and Beethoven at Kings Place

Brodsky Quartet
Brodsky Quartet
Beethoven, Bartok, Purcell, Britten; Brodsky Quartet; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 11 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Music across four centuries from Kings Place's top 50 classical chamber music works

In 2014 Kings Place have been slowly working their way through the top fifty classical chamber works voted for by the readers of BBC Music Magazine. In the last week of the series, perennial favourites the Brodsky Quartet were in fine form, showing the versatility of strings, playing music from across four centuries.

The top five of the fifty chamber works were Schubert's String Quintet, Mendelssohn's String Octet, Schubert's 'Trout' Quintet, Mozart's Clarinet Quintet K581, and Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 130. Tonight's offerings were Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 131 (10th on the list) and Bartók's String Quartet No. 5 (voted at no. 35). The aggression of the Bartók and the romantic leanings of the Beethoven were balanced by the minimal 'Chaconne in G minor' by Purcell and youthful 'Poeme' by Britten.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

All change at Spitalfields Music and Leeds International Piano Competition

Dame Fanny Waterman - credit Andy Manning 2009
Dame Fanny Waterman - credit Andy Manning 2009
It seems to be all change at Spitalfields Music and the Leeds International Piano Composition. In Spitalfields, chief executive Abigail Pogson is leaving, and taking over as managing director of the Sage Gateshead. Whilst over in Leeds, Dame Fanny Waterman is stepping down as chairman and artistic director of the Leeds International Piano Competition after the 2015 Festival (26 August - 13 September 2015).

Dame Fanny Waterman will be 95 in 2015. She founded the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1961 and her name has been inextricably linked to the competition since then. The competition has become something of an institution, and pianists such as Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida and Lars Vogt are among previous winners and finalists. The Leeds competition without Dame Fanny will seem strange, and we await the news of her successor with interest.

Abigail Pogson has been at Spitalfields Music for seven years and in that time she has expanded the organisation's Learning and Participation programme, which has won both national awards and developed a strong relationship with the surrounding East London community. The Spitalfields Music Winter Festival 2014 has just finished and this year saw record audiences, and local first time buyers have been encourage to attend via a free ticket scheme funded by regular buyers.

Samuel Wesley Lewis wins the 2014 New Cobbett Prize

The Berkeley Ensemble
The Berkeley Ensemble
The Berkeley Ensemble's recent New Cobbett Prize for composition competition had its final last week and the winner was Samuel Wesley Lewis's Sequenza (for string quintet with bass) whilst Barnaby Martin's Lazarus (for mixed ensemble) and Laurence Osborn's Living Floors (for cello and double bass) were the runners up. All the finalists' works were played by the Berkeley Ensemble at a public concert at The Forge, Camden on 10 December 2014.

Samuel Wesley Lewis receives a £500 commission from the ensemble and a recording of his entry on the forthcoming album of the winning pieces, due in 2015 on Resonus Classics. You can hear another of Lewis's pieces, Alone Time, performed by Psappha on YouTube.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

A new Christmas world - the Wexford Carols

The Wexford Carols
The Wexford Carols; Caitriona O'Leary, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Tom Jones; Heresy Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 15 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Irish traditional music singer Catriona O'Leary opens a window on the surviving Christmas carol tradition from Co. Wexford

Christmas carols in England are hardly regarded as political, even earlier ones seem rarely to have ventured into the sort of satirical territory that ballads on broadsheets did. But in 1684, Luke Waddings, Bishop of Fern, Co. Wexford published his collection A Smale Garland of Pious and Godly Songs, written as solace for people like him; disinherited Roman Catholics. The background to these songs is the 1649 Sack of Wexford, one of the more gruesome events in Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland. Large numbers of Roman Catholics were deported and after the Popish Plot of 1678, suppressed completely. The carols have to be understood in this context, and even their texts have hidden resonances. The carols were used illicitly, and added to when Father William Devereux wrote A New Garland Containing Songs for Christmas in the early 18th century. These two collections plus the famous Enniscorthy Carol form a significant part of the inheritance of carol singing in Co. Wexford. And the amazing thing is that some of the carols are still in use today.

On this new disc on Heresy Records from Caitriona O'Leary, a singer known for her performances of Irish traditional and Early music, the six carols which survive in use are joined by the Enniscorthy Carol and other of the Wexford carols for which O'Leary has re-discovered tunes. The original publications did not have newly composed tunes but simply used popular tunes of the day (both English and Irish). O'Leary has gathered together a fine group of musicians and singers. She is joined by the singers American singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, the American musician Rhiannon Giddens (a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Tom Jones (yes that Tom Jones), and supported by an eight-piece band to create disc which manages to both a fascinating window into another Christmas world, and a bracingly refreshing alternative to the sentimentality of much contemporary Christmas music.

Mahan Esfahani, rare Donizetti and bawdy Arnold at the Guildhall School

Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has been appointed Professor of Harpsichord at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD) and will join the staff from Spring 2015. Esfahani will give a recital at Milton Court Concert Hall on 27 April 2015 as part of GSMD's Faculty Artist Series, also in this series Iain Burnside is joined on 14 January 2015 by GSMD alumni Roderick Williams and Victoria Newlyn for Brahms's Die schone Magelone with a new linking narrative by Burnside.

GSMD's Spring 2015 season also includes a recital celebrating pianist Joan Havill teaching at GSMD for 35 years. Joan will be joined on the platform on 17 February 2015 by former pupils, pianists Paul Lewis, Serhiy Salov, Chenyin Li, Stephen de Pledge, Ruya Taner, Sa Chen Tom Poster and Lucy Parham.

The school will be presenting the stage premiere of Malcolm Arnold's The Dancing Master as part of a double bill which includes the UK stage premiere of Donizetti's I pazzi di progetti. The productions run from 2 March 2015 and are directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans and conducted by Dominic Wheeler. Inspired by Wycherly's restoration comedy The Gentleman Dancing Master Arnold's opera was composed in 1952 but turned down by the BBC as being 'too bawdy for family audiences'. Donizetti's one-act farce was premiered in 1830 (ten months before the premiere of Donizetti's first overwhelming success, Anna Bolena) and continued to receive performances until 1845 when it was forgotten until being revived in 1977.

Dame Felicity Lott, musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic, Ralf Gothoni and Joyce DiDonato will all be giving masterclasses at the school, whilst students from the school are taking part in the BBC's Total Immersion day at the Barbican, and in Covent Garden's production of Monteverdi's Orfeo at the Roundhouse.

Further information from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's website.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Music for cello and choir - Hugill, Tavener and Bennett on 18 December

London Concord Singers and Malcolm Cottle in 2012, photo credit Josh Hayes
London Concord Singer and Malcolm Cottle in 2012, photo credit Josh Hayes
In the 1990's I wrote a work for soprano and organ for friends' wedding. A setting of words from Corinthians, Faith, Hope and Charity went through various versions including being recorded with solo violin and strings (you can hear this version on my SoundCloud page). Cellist Corinne Morris heard this version and was interested in playing it, and somehow this became combined with writing a piece for Corinne for cello and choir. The result is Faith, Hope and Charity for cello and choir which will be premiered by London Concord Singers at St Botolph without Bishopsgate on 18 December 2014, at 8pm. Also in the concert will be another pair of pieces for cello and choir, John Tavener's evocative Svyati in which the cello plays the role of the priest in dialogue with choir, and Richard Rodney Bennett's A Farewell to Arms. Bennett's lovely work sets a pair of linked poems (one 16th and one 17th century) about a soldier now retired, and the cello part rather incarnates the old soldier. The programme also includes choral music by Otto Nicolai, Palestrina, Victoria, Sisask and Bernard Hughes, and solo cello music by Bach.

The soprano who originally premiered Faith, Hope and Charity is still singing in London Concord Singers and the original organist was Malcolm Cottle, who was to have conducted the concert. With Malcolm's recent death, the concert is being conducted by Matthew Collins. Further information from London Concord Singers website, online ticket sales from EventBrite.

Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition - 2015 shortlist

The Arcadia Quartet, winners of the 2012 Competition, with John Gilhooly - photo Ben Ealovega
The Arcadia Quartet, winners of the 2012 Competition,
with John Gilhooly, Director of the Wigmore Hall.~
photo Ben Ealovega
The 12 quartets have been announced who will take part in the 13th edition of the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition. The shortlisted quartets, chosen after a blind listening process, include two from the UK, five from the USA, two from France and one each from Germany, Switzerland and Spain: Aeolus Quartet, Aizuri Quartet, Alinde Quartett, Amber Quartet, Benyounes Quartet, Evita Quartet, Piatti Quartet, Quatuor Girard, Quatuor Lumiere, Rolston String Quartet, Van Kuijk Quartet and Zora String Quartet.

The competition, which takes place from 24 to 29 March 2015, is at the centre of a week long celebration of the string quartet at the Wigmore Hall with performances from the quartets in the competition and former prize-winners such as the Tesla, Danish, Arcadia, Meccorre, Atrium and Dover Quartets.

For the first time, the Wigmore Hall has commissioned a set work; during the preliminary rounds each quartet will perform Mark Anthony Turnage's Contusion which was premiered on 6 December at the Wigmore Hall by former prize-winners the Belcea Quartet.

The winning quartet receives £10,000 prize money, a UK concert tour and a tour of Germany, residencies at the Banff Centre, Canada and Avaloch Farm Music Institute, a place at the McGill String Quartet Academy, plus recital appearances at the Morrison Artists Series in San Francisco and at the Royal Greenwich String Quartet Festival 2015.

Further information from the Wigmore Hall website.

Lux de Caelo - Choir of Clare College at St John's Smith Square

Bach, Mendelssohn, Michael Praetorius, William Mathias, Berlioz, Webern, Giles Swayne, Webern, Schoenberg; Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Dmitri Ensemble, Graham Ross; St. John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Eclectic Christmas programme culminating in Schoenberg's choral masterpiece

Graham Ross - photo credit Ben Ealovega
Graham Ross
photo credit Ben Ealovega
Graham Ross and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge returned to St John's Smith Square on 13 December 2014 as part of their Christmas Festival for what has become the choir's annual Christmas appearance there. This year they were joined by the Dmitri Ensemble which helped to launch the choir's new disc of Christmas music, Lux de Caelo. The programme was quite an eclectic mix with Bach, Mendelssohn, Michael Praetorius, William Mathias, Berlioz, Webern and Giles Swayne alongside arrangements of carols both traditional and non-traditional, plus Britten's A Ceremony of Carols and Schoenberg's Friede auf Erden.

The concert began with the choir in the balcony of St John's, from where they sang a nicely expressive performance of Bach's chorale Brich an, o schoenes Morgenlicht and Mendelssohn's Frohlocket notable for its lightness and fluency.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Malcolm Cottle (1940 - 2014)

Malcolm Cottle
Last weekend (6 December) we lost a dear friend and musical colleague, when the conductor Malcolm Cottle died suddenly at home. I had known Malcolm since 1986, when I sang under his baton in London Concord Singers 20th anniversary concert in a typically eclectic Malcolm programme which included Mozart's Requiem, Mendelssohn's 4-choir motet Hora Est and Giles Swayne's challenging Missa Tiburtina. In the Mendelssohn, singing in choir three with just one other inexperienced tenor I felt rather out of my depth and certainly knew we'd gone wrong when I realised Malcolm was bellowing our tenor part during the performance.

Since then I have sung regularly with London Concord Singers, enjoying the sheer breadth and eclecticism of Malcolm's taste in programming. Also his chutzpah in doing works like Michael Ball's Sainte Marye Virgine, Schoenberg's Friede auf Erden (in the unaccompanied version) and Schnittke's Choir Concerto. This latter work we sang twice and I am not sure that on either occasion did we quite have all lines covered for the section where the work splits into 32 parts, but it was a truly amazing experience. In all these works Malcolm demonstrated his remarkable ear for picking out errors in complex textures.

I also sang under Malcolm's baton with the Latin Mass choir at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea where Malcolm was the organist for 25 years. This wasn't the full extent of his musical activities, which also included being musical director at a Synagogue as well as repetiteur at a dance school.

Malcolm was a great supporter of my own compositional efforts. I first knew Malcolm when I was still moving away from writing cabaret to more classical choral music and Malcolm's support developed into something concrete when London Concord Singers gave the premiere of my Three Prayers in 1993. He would go on to perform a remarkable amount of my music not only with the London Concord Singers, but with St Mary's Latin Mass choir, the Salomon Orchestra and as musical director of Garrett on my first opera, Garrett. That he wasn't quite as unflappable as his demeanour sometimes suggested was revealed when he commented that conducting the premiere of some of my orchestral works with the Salomon Orchestra was responsible for him taking up smoking again.

Malcolm will be much missed both as a musical colleague and as a friend, post-rehearsal visits to the pub will never be quite the same again.

This Thursday 18 December 2014, London Concord Singers will be performing their Christmas concert at St Botolph without Bishopsgate, where the conductor Matthew Collins has bravely stepped in at the last minute to conduct the programme as planned by Malcolm - John Tavener's Svyati, Richard Rodney Bennett's A Farewell to Arms, Robert Hugill Faith, Hope and Charity for cello and cello, plus music by Bernard Hughes, Tom Hewitt-Jones, Otto Nicolai, Victoria, Palestrina and Scheidt.

Choir of King's College, London at St John's Smith Square

Choir of King's College, London
Choir of King's College, London
Martin, Lassus, Villette, Tallis; Choir of King's College, London, Wilson; St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 12 2014
Memorial and celebration, the late David Trendell's choir on fine form

Planned as a showcase for David Trendell and his choir of King's College London at St John's Smith Square's Christmas Festival, with Trendell's untimely death at the end of October the concert on 12 December conducted by Gareth Wilson became something of a memorial and a celebration. I suspect that quite number in the audience were people who had known David Trendell. Though nothing was said, Trendell's presence was palpable because it was very much his choir which we were hearing, with their remarkable vibrant and mature sound.

The programme went ahead unchanged, so that Gareth Wilson conducted the choir of nearly 30 singers, all choral scholars at King's College London, in the remarkably challenging combination of Frank Martin's Mass, Lassus's Missa Bell Amfitrit' altera, Alma Redemptoris Mater and Omnes de Saba, and two motets by Pierre Villette. The evening concluded with a group of old friends and students expanding the ensemble to to perform Tallis's Spem in Alium.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Plainchant from Portsmouth

Plainsong - Portsmouth Cathedral Choir
Plainsong; Portsmouth Cathedral Choir, David Price, Oliver Hancock; Convivium
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 3 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Thoughtful and imaginative disc, reflecting Portsmouth Cathedral's use of plainchant within their liturgy.

Different churches and different denominations use plainchant in different ways. This new disc on Convivium Records from Portmouth Cathedral Choir under their director of music, David Price, gives a lovely snapshot of the choir performing music which is central to their regular worship. The plainchant on the disc is varied, ranging from the Advent Prose and Lent Prose, to Veni Creator Spiritus, the Missa de Angelis and Psalm 42 and sung in both Latin and English. The Cathedral Choir is joined by singers from Cantate, the cathedral's youth choir and the organ accompaniments are provided by Oliver Hancock and William Wallace.

Portsmouth Cathedral Choir is made up of 22 boy choristers and 12 gentlemen (including six choral scholars). For this disc they use a choir made up of 11 boys, eight sopranos from the youth choir and the 12 gentlemen. The different items are sung by different groupings from this with some being performed by the gentlemen and some by the whole choir. The trebles and sopranos get to show off in the Hodie Christus Natus est from Britten's A Ceremony of Carols.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Max Hoehn awarded the 2015 Independent Opera Director Fellowship

Handel Furioso - devised and directed by Max Hoehn, photo Robert Workman
Handel Furioso - devised and directed by Max Hoehn,
photo Robert Workman
The young director Max Hoehn has been awarded the 2014 Independent Opera Director Fellowship. This consists of a director's stipend of £15,000 plus production costs of £28,0000 which will enable Hoehn to stage the UK premiere of Austrian composer Simon Vosecek's Biedermann und die Brandstifter at Sadler's Wells in 2015. Hoehn will receive mentoring from David Pountney and Welsh National Opera between January and June next year. The fellowship is part of Independent Opera's programme of scholarships, fellowships, partnerships and patronage which provides support for younger opera practitioners.

Vosek's opera Biedermann und die Brandstifter (Biedermann and the Arsonists) is based on Max Frisch's play of the same name and was written in 2005-2007. The opera was premiered in 2013 by Neue Oper Wien (see a review on I Care If You Listen). Frisch's 1950's play describes the decompositional process of a supposedly perfect world faced with real evil. Vosek's reflects this in the opera, as the music starts by adhering to classical rules but gradually more and more rules are lost until at the end the performers are rendered speechless reflecting the innate evil which invades Biedermann's world.

Max Hoehn translated Khovanshchina/Khovanskygate: A National Enquiry for Graham Vick's recent Birmingham Opera production on which he worked as Assistant Director. Max Hoehn has directed at the Tête à Tête and Grimeborn Festivals, including Handel Furioso, a newly devised piece based on Handel and presented by his own opera company Isle of Noise (see my review). As an Assistant Director, Max has worked at Opernhaus Zürich and Theater an der Wien, as well as at Grange Park Opera, Glyndebourne and the Edinburgh International Festival.

Songs that Shook the World - No. 3 from Cerys Matthews

WNO Occupation
Yesterday Welsh National Opera and The Space published on-line the latest of the Songs That Shook the World, five pieces of music commissioned from a variety of artists as part of the Occupation project and the artists were asked to respond to current events. 

Cerys Matthews
Cerys Matthews
The most recent one, song no. 3, is Cerys Matthews in a new version of the spiritual Nobody knows the trouble I've seen which reflects her concerns about the current wave of race-related events in current weeks. Other artists in the project, whose works have been already released, are composer Judith Weir and American singer-songwriter Carleen Andrews. The Soundcloud page for the project includes not only the finished music but spoken introductions from artists.

Weir's song, The Sleeping Mat Ballad is inspired by the Occupy Central protest in which continues in Hong Kong, and the title refers to the protestors weaving their own sleeping mats, whilst Carleen Andrews' Grains of Dust was inspired by the shooting incident in Ferguson and her theme is that 'the cycle of violence will only end when there is respect for everyone'.

There is a whole website devoted to project, where there are films being released as well and further information being released via Twitter: @_FiveSongs

Westminster Abbey choir in concert at the Cadogan Hall

Choir of Westminster Abbey - photo Paul Grover
Choir of Westminster Abbey - photo Paul Grover
Byrd, Tallis, Sheppard, Bull, Gibbons, Poulenc, Howells, Martin, Head, Gardner, Rutter, Parry; Choir of Westminster Abbey, O'Donnell, Cook; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 11 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Varied music for Advent and Christmas in a programme with a strong and serious tone

The choir of Westminster Abbey does not make many concert appearances, their performing life is intimately bound up with the building in which they sing daily services. With their conductor James O'Donnell and organist Daniel Cook, the choir made a rare appearance at the Cadogan Hall on 11 December 2014 performing a programme of music for Advent and Christmas. Whilst the theme of the concert was seasonal, O'Donnell's choice of music included some seriously chunky pieces without the sense of frivolity which can beset such programmes. In the first half, themed on Advent, we had Byrd's Vigilate and the Magnificat from the Great Service, plus two responds Sheppard's Verbum caro factum est and Tallis's Videte miraculum, and two verse anthems Bull's Almighty God and Gibbons' See, See, the Word is Incarnate. The second half opened with Poulenc's Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel before moving into more traditional Christmas fare with Howells A Spotless Rose, Matthew Martin's Dormi Iesu!, Head's The Little Road to Bethelehem, Rutter's What Sweeter Music and Sans Day Carol, Parry's Welcome, Yule! and The Holly and the Ivy.

By modern cathedral standards, the Abbey choir is a large one and at Cadogan Hall they fielded 12 singing men and 22 boy trebles. The trebles ranged in age from around 7 to 13 and dressed in their traditional red surplices and white ruffs, gave the concert an additional aah factor even before they opened their mouths (the men wore red surplices but thankfully were spared the ruffs).

It isn't just the choir's working life which is bound up with the Abbey, its very sound quality is too. They make a firmly vigorous and robust sound which is intimately linked to ensuring the music's impact in the Abbey's resonant acoustic. James O'Donnell was previously at Westminster Cathedral so it is perhaps not surprising that the Westminster Abbey trebles make the sort of strong, direct and focussed sound which has been referred to as 'continental'. I am not entirely certain that the rather dry Cadogan Hall acoustic, which does rather favour smaller vocal ensembles, responded well to the choir's sound and there were moments which seemed less than flattering. Tone which could sound firm and strong in the Abbey occasionally came across as forced, and the men's use of vibrato lent a rather virant air to the sound which was a long way from current period practice. Watching and listening to the choir there was an interesting disjunct because in style O'Donnell is not a vigorous conductor, his hand gestures were neat and precise shaping the music carefully yet the sound which they drew forth from the choir was full and vibrant. We are so used nowadays to hearing Byrd, Tallis et al sung in concert halls by ensembles of around 8 singers that hearing the music sung so vigorously by 12 men and 22 boys is something of a shock.

Friday, 12 December 2014

'We're going to show them that orchestras aren't boring'

One of Orchestras Live's Lullaby Concerts in Lowestoft with City of London Sinfonia and Claire Bloor in October 2014, photo Paul Coghlin
One of Orchestras Live's Lullaby Concerts in Lowestoft
with City of London Sinfonia and Claire Bloor
in October 2014, photo Paul Coghlin
Orchestras Live, a national music charity that brings orchestral music to thousands of people in under-served areas across England, is continuing to have a busy year. I was at one of their First Time Live Youth concerts in Grimsby in March this year (see my article) and they are rolliing out similar First Time Live Youth events at Spalding, in Lincolnshire and Furness in Cumbria. 

At Spalding, a group of young producers chosen from local schools produced a concert in November 2014 at South Holland Centre with a collaboration between the City of London Sinfonia and local singer-songwriters Alfie Jack and Tommy Loose. Whilst in Cumbria,  30 producers aged between 12 and 15 will be producing two concerts in Barrow in March 2015 with Manchester Camberata. The Barrow performances will be for primary schools and one of the young producers commented that 'We're going to show them that orchestras aren't boring' 

And in Luton, the First Time Live  project has been aiming to encourage active involvement in orchestral music by young people in Luton, much of this through Whole Class Ensemble Teaching  in schools and communities in collaboration with composer John K Miles and the City  of London Sinfonia. And in County Durham, the success of a concert by the Halle Orchestra has been built on by musicians from the Halle and instrumental tutors working with young string players on a piece of music written by Halle Education Director, Steve Pickett. The resulting performance, with students and professionals playing together, was given at North Durham Academy, Stanley earlier this month.

The North - modern saxophone music with balls

The North - Borealis Saxophone Quartet
The North, music by Carpenter, Harrold, Arnalds, Cote, Gregory, Smith, Pankhurst; Borealis Saxophone Quartet
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 2 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Forthright and edgy, new music for saxophone quartet

This new disc The North is a first disc from the Borealis Saxophone Quartet, a young ensemble consisting of Alastair Penman, Melina Zeleniuc, Gillian Blair and Daniel White. If saxophone music brings to mind sleaze, be-bop and 50's big band then think again. The quartet has assembled a fine programme of contemporary music which showcases both their versatility and the flexibility of the saxophone quartet as a genre. The music on the disc includes works specially written for the saxophone quartet by Gary Carpenter, Tom Harrold, Sergio Cote, Aled Smith and Lucy Pankhurst along with music arranged by members of the group from works by Oalfur Arnalds, Will Gregory and traditional Bulgarian music.

The disc opens in uncompromising style with the Bulgarian Suite arranged by Gillian Blair. Written for four soprano saxophones, the piece uses two traditional Bulgarian songs and the combination of the players' forthright tone and a rather medieval sound to the harmony makes a striking effect, though there are jazz and minimalist hints too.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

November on Planet Hugill - clutch of rarities including Les Martyrs and Oberon

James Laing as Nerone and Sandra Piques Eddy as Poppea in Opera North's production of Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea; photo credit: Tristram Kenton.
James Laing as Nerone and Sandra Piques Eddy as Poppea in Opera North's production of Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea; photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

Welcome to November on Planet Hugill.


Opera in Leeds

Our opera visiting started with an exciting trio of operas in Leeds where we saw Opera North performing Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea, Smetana's The Bardered Bride and Verdi's La Traviata.

Spitalfields festival in Christmas spirit with The Sixteen

The Sixteen - credit Molina visuals
The Sixteen - credit Molina visuals
Palestrina, Victoria, Lauridsen, Ireland, Warlock; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; Spitalfields Music Winter Festival at Christchurch Spitalfields
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Dec 6 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Christmas music old and new, along with Palestrina's Advent mass

Each year Spitalfields Music runs its summer and winter festivals while also supporting musicians and reaching out to residents of Tower Hamlets in London. Tickets for concerts start at £5, and if you live in Tower Hamlets there are also free tickets available. As Michael Keating, a member of the board of Spitalfields Music, explained as part of his mid concert fundraising speech, this is their 25th year of bringing music to the borough, in schools, nurseries, and community centres. Riding on their success they are starting work in other areas of the East End, including Newham, Barking and Dagenham.

The Sixteen directed by Harry Christophers performed last Saturday (6th December) in the venue where Spitalfields Music first started all those years ago – Hawksmoore's chocolate box, Christ Church. One of the prettiest churches in London, ten years ago it was restored to its 18th century elegance, at a cost of £10 million, and is now a much prized venue for events as well as retaining its original function as a place of worship.

Dido and Aeneas in Surrey

Samuel Coleridge Taylor - Thelma - Surrey Opera 2012
Samuel Coleridge Taylor - Thelma - Surrey Opera 2012
Another Dido and Aeneas this time from Surrey Opera, the company which brought us the world premiere of Samuel Coleridge Taylor's opera Thelma in 2012. The company's opera soiree on 14 December 2014 is in the concert hall at the Whitgift School in Croydon. 

Purcell's opera will be semi-staged wih  a cast including Zita Syme, Jack Tebbutt and Caroline Carragher conducted by Stephen Anthony Brown and the evening will also feature arias, ensembles and choruses by Handel, Mozart and Offenbach. Further information from the Surrey Opera website.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Crowdfunding Tudway at Wimpole Hall

Thomas Tudway
Thomas Tudway
The composer Thomas Tudway is not a well known figure. Born around 1650/1656, he sang in the Chapel Royal as a child, becoming organist at King's College, Cambridge in 1670 until his death in 1726. He was the second Professor of Music at Cambridge University, though his career seems to have been somewhat blighted by his strong Tory views. Tudway also worked at Wimpole Hall, for Lord Harley; Tudway lived at Wimpole Hall and wrote music for the chapel there. The enterprising group Eboracum Baroque plans to record a disc of Tudway's music in the chapel at Wimpole Hall, including pieces Tudway specifically wrote for it.

The group has a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds, you can learn more at their Ideastap page. Eboracum Baroque's artistic director Chris Parsons is very enthusiastic about Tudway's music and the Wimpole connection seems to be a highly imaginative way to revive interest in a lesser known English composer. Do think about giving them your support.

Eboracum Baroque are performing Messiah in St John's College Chapel, Cambridge on 20 December 2014. We caught their production of Handel's Acis and Galatea at the Grimeborn Festival this year (see my review), and we are promised more Handel for next year. Their Tudway disc will be launched at a concert at Wimpole Church on 20 June 2015, when Tudway's music will be performed alongside Handel's Utrecht Te Deum.

New Cobbett Composition Prize

The Berkeley Ensemble - photo: Nigel Luckhurst
The Berkeley Ensemble - photo: Nigel Luckhurst
The original Cobbett Competition, created by the philanthropist Walter Willson Cobbett, was responsible for commisioning works from Benjamin Britten, Frank Bridge and RVW. Now the Berkeley Ensemble has instituted the New Cobbett Composition Prize in emulation of the original. The public final of the first New Cobbett Composition Prize will take place tonight (10 December 2014) at The Forge, Camden.

The semi-finalists for the competition were announced in October and each composer got the chance to workshop their composition with Michael Berkely and the ensemble at public masterclasses. At tonight's final, Colin Matthew's Fantazia 13 will be performed alongside the works by the six finalists: Samuel Lewis, Barnaby Martin, Laurence Osborn, Nicholas Peters and James Woodhall. The winning work and the runner up will be recorded by the ensemble for Resonus Classics in 2015.

The Berkeley Ensemble was founded in 2007 by members of the Southbank Sinfonia. Their first commission, Michael Berkeley's Clarion Call and Gallop was recorded on their debut recording (see my review)

Siglo de Oro at Spitalfields Festival

Patrick Allies and Siglo de Oro
Sandstrom, Howells, Hildegard, Mouton et al; Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies; Spitalfields Winter Music Festival at St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 09 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Imaginative programme and beauty of tone from young choral ensemble

Siglo de Oro is a young vocal ensemble directed by Patrick Allies. Formed by London students in 2008, the group's name refers to the Golden Century of Spanish music and art. Allies brought the 14 person group to the Spitalfields Music Winter Festival at St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch, on Tuesday 9 December 2014 when they performed a programme of Christmas music ranging from Hildegard of Bingen to Giles Swayne and Karl Jenkins. The programme was arranged in four thematic sections, The Rose, The Mother, The Mystery, The Light. There was an eclectic mix of composers with music by Jan Sandstrom, Herbert Howells, Hildegard of Bingen, Jean Mouton, Benjamin Britten, Robert Parsons, Giles Swayne, Cristobal de Morales, Morten Lauridsen, Josquin des Prez, Thomas Tallis, Peter Cornelius, Orlande de Lassus, Eric Whitacre and Karl Jenkins.

Allies and his group linked this diverse mixture into an attractive and coherent programme with a clear thematic narrative. The choice of early music was nicely imaginative mixing the well known and lesser known, but the more recent repertoire seemed to show a slightly less deft hand with an over reliance on the well known. In particular the contemporary pieces all seemed to place too heavy a reliance on works from the Lauridsen/Whitacre axis, leaving Giles Swayne's Magnificat as the only examplar of grittier, meatier styles.

The group generally sang in a half circle, with the voices mixed up. This gave them a lovely blend and in fact the radiant tone of the choir with superb mix of voices was one of their notable features. Many of the pieces in the concert sounded ravishing and a work like Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque positively shimmered.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Hasse's Siroe on Decca

Hasse - Siroe - Max Emanuel Cencic
Johann Adolf Hasse Siroe, Re di Persia; Cencic, Fagioli, Lezhneva, Armonia Atenea, Petrou; Decca
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 26 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Cencic and Petrou move into real uncharted territory with one of Hasse's opera on Decca

If you had asked someone in the mid-18th century who the greatest living opera composer was then the answer would almost certainly have been Johan Adolph Hasse. Yet in the 20th century the revival of Italian baroque opera centred very much on Hasse's older contemporary and countryman (both was Saxons trained in Italy) Handel. Hasse's reputation still has not developed and this new recording of his opera Siroe from George Petrou and Armonia Atenea on Decca is very welcome. Petrou has a strong cast, with Max Emanuel Cencic, Julia Lezhneva, Franco Fagioli, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Juan Sancho and Lauren Snouffer. The recording is based on stage performances, directed by Cencic which took place in Athens (with performances in Versailes as well) and the recording was made in Athens.

Hasse developed an important relationship with the librettist Metastasio and from around the 1740's he set all of Metastasio's texts uncut and unchanged. In fact he went further than this and revisited some of his earlier librettos re-setting them in their unchanged state. The 1763 version of Siroe was written for the theatre in Dresden when the court of Frederick Augustus II of Saxony returned after the devastation of the Seven Years' War. It was to be the last opera Hasse wrote for Frederick Augustus. Hasse had worked in Dresden snce 1731 but shortly after the premiere of Siroe in 1763 Augustus died and his successor extensively trimmed the Dresden musical establishment so Hasse and his wife, the soprano Faustina Bordoni, departed and retired to Vienna.

New Lamps for Old at St John's Smith Square

Alistair Dixon and Chapelle du Roi
New Lamps for Old - Talls, Braid, Bordoli, Sheppard, Hugill, Harper, Darbourne, Victoria, McDowall; Chapelle du Roi, Alistair Dixon; St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 6 2014
Chapelle du Roi on strong form in programme pairing contemporary and 16th century works

Alistair Dixon and his group Chapelle du Roi gave their New Lamps for Old programme at their Christmas concert on Saturday 6 December 2014 at St John's Smith Square. Whilst the eight-voice vocal ensemble specialises in music of the 15th and 16th centuries, for New Lamps for Old Dixon paired settings of the same text - one by a 16th century composer and one by a 21st century one including a number of commissions and first performances. As one of the first performances was my own setting of the Advent Prose, this article is not a review but a reflection on the works performed and the group's fine performance

The 'old' composers were from Chapelle du Roi core repertoire: Tallis, Sheppard and Victoria, and the contemporary composers were a nicely varied bunch. The format of the concerts and time constraints in rehearsal mean that the new works needed to fit an ensemble singing mainly poyphony and chant, and in fact a number of the modern composer clearly had chant influences mixed into their writing. The composers reflected quite a wide age range from 20's to 60's with a concomittant variety of approach.

The modern composers were myself, David Braid, Samuel Bordoli, Norman Harper and Jonathan Darbourne. Braid combines composing with playing the lute, Bordoli held the Mendelssohn Scholarship and Manson Fellowship at the Royal Academy of Music and is interested in architecture and site specific pieces. Norman Harper is the Director of Music at St George's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Southwark. Jonathan Darbourne sings alto with the Chapelle du Roi and was performing in the concert.

The concert started with Tallis's Latin Magnificat; this and the companion Nunc Dimittis  (also in the concert) are highly unusual as they represent the Anglican pairing of Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis with settings in Latin. They were created for the Latin translation of the Book of Common Prayer which Queen Elizabeth I allowed to be performed in Universities (where Latin was still spoken). The Magnificat was bookended by the evocative chant antiphon O Sapientia, and then followed by David Braid's expressive setting of the same text.

Tallis's Nunc Dimittis was followed by Samuel Bordoli's Nunc Dimittis, with its hints of chant and organum; in fact Bordoli's Nunc Dimittis is a pair with his own Magnificat and I look forward to hearing them both soon.

Threading its way through the evening was John Sheppard's lovely lyrical Missa Cantate starting with the Gloria full of gorgeous melismas and a variety of vocal textures.

The final pairing in the first half was the atmospheric plainchant Advent Prose with my own setting of the same text. My work was written over a year ago, and it was lovely to make its acquaintaince again especially in such a finely mesmerising performance from Dixon and Chapelle du Roi.

After the interval, the Sanctus and Benedictus from Sheppard's Missa Cantate was followed by Sheppard's respond Verbum Caro with its clear high sopranos and distinctive rich texture. Norman Harper's setting of the same text, reflected the structure of the respond and in fact used some of the chant that Sheppard did, with highly atmospheric results.

The Agnus Dei from Sheppard's Missa Cantate was followed by Jonathan Darbourne's No Man's Land 1914 which Darbourne himself directed. Darbourne sets verses from a poem by his father, Richard Darbourne, about the Christmas Eve truce during the First World War. Both in style and content the piece was different to the rest of the programme, but Darbourne has written a strong and fascinating work which provided an interesting sense of contrast to the programme and certainly showed the singers' versatility.

The concert concluded with the final pairing, Victoria's glorious double choir Alma Redemptoris Mater and Cecilia McDowall's lyrical setting of the same text.

Throughout the concert the Dixon and his eight singers showed themselves to be on the peak of form, whether it was bringing clarity and richness to Sheppard's distinctive timbres and harmonies, or placing my own close-harmonied drones with care and attention. Talking to the performers afterwards they clearly relished the challenge of mixing the old and the new.

Elsewhere on this blog:

Dido and Aeneas in Space

Opera in Space - photo Robert Workman
Opera in Space - photo Robert Workman
Another opera crowd-funding campaign, this time to support Opera in Space whose production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is being revived at Kings Place later this month (19, 20 December 2014). The crowdfunding is to enable to company to offer free tickets to disadvantaged people in London. They have a target of £2,000 which will enable them to offer freebies to the homeless, ex-offenders, refugee groups, long-term unemployed and residents of care homes.

The company specialises in performing opera in unusual spaces and their production of Dido and Aeneas was originally performed at the CLA Art Cafe/Bussy Building in Peckham. The production is directed by Richard Pyros with musical direction from Jean-Sébastien Beauvais and movement direction from Konstantinos Thomaidis. The strong young cast includes Stephanie Marshall, Robyn Allegra Parton, Huw Montague-Rendall and Sylvie Gallant.

You can see video trailer after the break:

Monday, 8 December 2014

Avi Avital and Mahan Esfahani - concerts by candlelight

Avi Avital - photo Guy Hecht
Avi Avital - photo Guy Hecht
Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Avital, Beethoven, Martinu, Bach; Avi Avital, Mahan Esfahani; Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 07 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Informal atmosphere and brilliant music making, all by candle-light

Israeli-born mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital and Tehran born harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani brought their lively duo to the candle-lit ambience of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre on Sunday 7 September 2014 as part of the playhouse's series of concerts by candle-light. This marked their London duo debut and their programme of Domenico Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Martinu and Bach was notable for the way that the pair combined seemingly effortless virtuosity with great charm in a programme presented a serious attitude to music in a light hearted way. 

Mahan Esfahani -  Marco Borggreve: Amsterdam, 2009
Mahan Esfahani -  Marco Borggreve: Amsterdam, 2009
The various items were introduced by the performers and both indulged in what can only be described as banter (they make a very good double act) which created a lovely relaxed atmosphere in the candle light playhouse. There no electrickery at all except in the playing, which was brilliant.

The pair opened with a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, K90, which seems to exist in a version which may be for mandolin and basso continuo. Whether Scarlatti intended it or not, Avital and Esfahani made a very fine case for performing it on this combination. The mandolin has a surprisingly resonant sound, and though a plucked instrument (as is the harpsichord) has a timbre markedly different to the harpsichord's which means the two instruments set each other off nicely. Also, the mandolin has an interesting resonance which gives notes a longer duration before dying away, with the option of strumming for longer notes. After a stately opening movement we got a catchy and rather bravura Allegro, followed by a gently elegant 12/8 movement before the briskly toe-tapping finale.

Toi Toi 2015 - crowdfunding

Eight Songs for a Mad King - Helios Chamber Opera at the Grimeborn Festival 2014
Eight Songs for a Mad King
Helios Chamber Opera at the Grimeborn Festival 2014
The Helios Collective is a young opera company with exciting plans. The group is in fact an expansion of Helios Chamber Opera and in this form projects have included The Bear Goes Walkabout (see my review), and a pairing of Maxwell Davies's Eight Songs for a Mad King with Walton's Facade (see my review). The group recently gave the Russian premiere of the Maxwell Davies's piece. Under artistic director Ella Marchment and newly appointed music director Noah Mosely, the group plans a series of opera club nights at the CLF Art Cafe in Peckham. Called Toi Toi 2015 these will start next year on 23 and 24 January 2015 and are intended to provide a platform for young artists and to expand the accessibility of opera by combining contemporary opera and popular music in a friendly context. 

The evenings will be combining leading London bands, rock and electric opera groups, classical–jazz fusion groups, and politically aware modern classical operas, all in two evenings of entertainment. Toi Toi 2015's aim is to 'show that opera is as alive and as modern as the other genres of music'. There indie rock bands, classical jazz crossover in addition to an amazing total of eight new opera commissions!

The CLF Art Cafe, despite its name in fact a multi-level warehouse space, is quite a tricky space to use (see my review of Filthy Lucre 3:Cults there), but Helios has so far proved highly imaginative in both its use of space and imaginative approach to both artists and programming so their new venture  is certainly one to watch. To help the group start them off they have initiated a crowd-funding campaign at Crowd funding page, do visit the page to help.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A delight for the Christmas box - Jonas Kaufmann in Operetta

You Mean the World to Me - Jonas Kaufmann - Sony
You Mean The World To Me, operetta arias by Lehar, Tauber et al; Jonas Kaufmann, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Jochen Rieder; Sony
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 6 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Delightful revisiting of pre-war popular repertoire by the dramatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann

Always an artist to have a varied repertoire, with operas ranging from Puccini and Cilea to Wagner, as well as recording discs of Schubert songs, star tenor Jonas Kaufmann has turned his attention to the popular songs of the interwar years, the songs of his grandfather's generation. On this new disc on Sony Classical he sings music by Franz Lehar, Richard Tauber, Emmerich Kalman, Werner Richard Heyman, Hans May, Paul Abraham, Ralph Benatski, Robert Stolz, Mischa Spolianski, Edward Kunnecke and Erich Korngold accompanied by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Jochen Rieder. Some of the music is familiar and some may be unfamiliar to those not brought up in German speaking areas but much of it is delightful. Whilst operetta is the main staple, the songs move towards cabaret and the more popular as well. Though we stay firmly on the side of the sentimental and never veer into the more political and satirical.

Franz Lehar (1870 - 1948) had a remarkably long career writing operettas and his later works (from the 1920's and 1930's) were very much kept in the limelight because of the involvement of star tenor Richard Tauber, including six operettas specifically for Tauber. Kaufmann opens the disc with Girls are made to love and kiss from the 1929 operetta Paganini and the surprise on the disc is that he sings it in English. Good English, with a slight American twang to some words, but all the same I did rather miss it in German though I believe Tauber also sang it in English.  And the last item on the disc is another curiosity, a French version of a song from The Land of Smiles.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Old and new delights tonight

Alistair and Chapelle du Roi will be giving four world premieres tonight including my own Advent Prose plus new works by Norman Harper, David Braid and Jonathan Darbourne, plus Cecilia McDowall paired with music by Tallis, Sheppard and Victoria, at St John's Smith Square. Don't miss it. Further information from the earlier posting on this blog.

Alexander Armstrong and the Sixteen in Charity Christmas Single

Alexander Armstrong is best known nowadays for his hosting of the quiz show Pointless and as one half of the comedy duo, Armstrong and Miller. But his past hides a dark secret, he was a former choral scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, and nowadays he also hosts a show on Classic FM. 

Armstrong, who says he does not sing much nowadays, returned to his singing roots when he joined Harry Christopher and The Sixteen to record a new arrangement of the carol Good King Wenceslas. The resulting recording is for sale and proceeds will go to Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people. They are dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change. "Crisis works tirelessly all year round" says conductor Harry Christophers, "but it seems particularly poignant at this time of year."

The new disc is available on iTunes as an EP with two additional bonus carols by The Sixteen for £1.79 can see the preview video of the recording, and get a sample of Armstrong's vocal prowess, after the break.

England's Orpheus - Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny at Spitalfields

Iestyn Davies © 2012 Iestyn Davies and Marco Borggreve
Iestyn Davies
© 2012 Iestyn Davies
and Marco Borggreve
Dowland, Purcell, Handel; Iestyn Davies, Elizabeth Kenny; Spitalfields Music Winter Festival at St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 5 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Beauty and intensity in a mesmerisingly intimate recital

The Spitalfields Music Winter Festival opened in fine style on 5 December 2014 at St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch when counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny performed a programme of songs Purcell and Dowland, plus an aria and a cantata by Handel. All were in the intimate form of just voice and lute in a church which, apart from a spotlight on the performers, was lit only by candles. The festival had sold only the nave seats, those with a full view, and put some of the audience on the stage, to make the setting more intimate. 

Earlier this year I had a conversation with a distinguished Handel and Bach conductor about performing baroque music in large venues, and he talked about the necessity of the performers drawing you in. And this is what Davies and Kenny did. Neither attempted to big the sound up to dominate the venue, instead intimacy was performed and despite there being an audience of a hundred or so people, you felt that this was all very direct and communicative.

The title of the programme was England's Orpheus, and Davies had teamed up three rather different composers (Handel, Purcell and Dowland) who had each at some time been referred to as Orpheus by their contemporaries. Rather intriguingly he included Handel's cantata Hendel, no puo mi musa with words by Cardinal Pamphili which laud Handel by liken him to Orpheus.

Davies and Kenny started with a group of works by Purcell, the songs Music for a While and Sweeter than Roses, two lute solos A Song Tune and Rigadoon and finally Tis Nature's Voice from Hail, Bright Cecilia. Whilst Purcell wrote for larger forces, these songs work well with just simple accompniement, even the excerpt from Hail, Bright Cecilia. Throughout Davies was impressive in the way he sang the line with clarity and purity, while preserving a certain richness of tone and bringing a lovely shape to the melody. Words counted for much, as they should in such an intimate setting, and the songs were highly vivid without ever veering into preciousness.