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Thursday, 8 December 2016

Linus Roth in Tchaikvosky and Shostakovich

Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 2, Op.129, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto Op.35; Linus Roth, London Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Sanderling; Challenge Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 06 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Shostakovich's dark second violin concerto paired with Tchaikovsky's classic in an intimate account of a new edition

Violinist Linus Roth has followed up his discs of concertante works by Mieczysław Weinberg with a concerto by Weinberg's friend Dmitri Shostakovich. On Challenge Records, Linus Roth, the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Thomas Sanderling pair Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 2, Op.129 with Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto Op.35, with the Tchaikovsky being presented in the new critical edition.

Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 was written in 1947, but there seems to have been something personal about the work because, whilst his symphonies formed his public utterances, the concerto was not premiered until 1955 (two years after Stalin's death). Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 2 followed in 1967, ostensibly for violinist David Oistrakh's 60th birthday. But the work is hardly celebratory in mood. Shostakovich was ill, aware of his mortality and the work has references to such works as the Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 15. This performance from Roth, the London Symphony Orchestra and Sanderling really brings out the dark intensity of the work, this is music with a story, a dark back story.

It is a big work, with an opening movement lasting fifteen minutes (rather aptly the Tchaikovsky concerto is built on a similar scale).

British Composer Awards 2016

Tansy Davies
The 2016 British Composer Awards were announced on Tuesday 6 December 2016 at a ceremony at the British Film Institute. The Stage Works category went to Tansy Davies's opera Between Worlds which was premiered by ENO (see Hilary's review on this blog). and the Orchestral category went to Rebecca Saunders for Alba her trumpet concerto, partly inspired by Samuel Beckett, whose UK premiere was given by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

It was nice to see Roderick Williams' Ave Verurm Corpus Re-Imagined winning the Choral category, we caught the work's premiere when Susie Digby conducted her new ensemble Ora (see my review). And Mark Bowden's Five Memos, which won the Solo or Duo category, recently popped up on NMC's disc lovely of Bowden's music, Sudden Light (see my review).

BBC Radio 3 will broadcast a programme dedicated to the ceremony on Hear and Now at 10pm on Saturday 10 December 2016.

Amateur or Young Performers: The Monster in the Maze by Jonathan Dove
Chamber Ensemble: Freezywater by Leo Chadburn
Choral: Ave Verum Corpus Re-Imagined by Roderick Williams
Community or Educational Project: Into the Light by John Webb
Contemporary Jazz Composition: Karembeu's Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder by Joe Cutler
Orchestral: Alba by Rebecca Saunders
Small Chamber: A Day at the Spa by Oliver Leith
Solo or Duo: Five Memos by Mark Bowden
Sonic Art: Sonorama by Claudia Molitor
Stage Works: Between Worlds by Tansy Davies
Wind Band or Brass Band: Just a Vibration by Shri Sriram

Christmas celebrations from the Holst Singers

Holst Singers and City of London Sinfonia
Holst Singers and City of London Sinfonia
The Holst Singers, conductor Jeremy Cole, return to St Paul's Covent Garden on Friday 9 December 2016 for a programme of Christmas choral music in aid of the charity Breathing Matters

The programme includes both well-known, traditional carols, and more contemporary Christmas music, plus readings from BBC presenters Nigel Rees and John Sergeant. Breathing Matters (University College London Hospitals charity) supports research at UCL Respiratory. The proceeds from the concert will specifically fund research into Bronchiectasis and to raise awareness of this lung disease.  Further information and tickets from

Then on 20 December 2016 at St John's Smith Square, the Holst Singers will be join the City of London Sinfonia, with conductors Jeremy Cole and Michael Collins, for An English Folk Christmas by candlelight, with RVW's Fantasia on Christmas Carols, and other festive music from RVW, and Peter Warlock, plus readings from Dickens and others. Full information from St John's Smith Square website.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Open submission winner launches Britten Sinfonia's lunchtime concerts series

The Britten Sinfonia - photo Harry Rankin
The Britten Sinfonia - photo Harry Rankin
The Britten Sinfonia At Lunch series opens on 9 December 2016, the first of the Britten Sinfonia's lunchtime concerts this season. The first concert in the series features music by Sohrab Uduman (selected from the orchestra's OPUS2016 open submission scheme), Webern and Schoenberg performed at St Andrew's Hall, Norwich (9 December 2016), West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (13 December 2016), and the Wigmore Hall (14 December 2016). Future concerts in the series will include music by Oliver Knussen, Mark-Anthony Turnage (including a world premiere), Brian Elias (the premiere of a new oboe quartet), Mark Overton and premiere of a new work by Elena Langer written for the Britten Sinfonia Academy, the ensemble's orchestra for outstanding teenage musical talent from the East of England.

Dann klingt es auf a new piano trio by Sri Lankan-born composer Sohrab Uduman, which features in the first concerts of the series, was selected from the Britten Sinfonia's OPUS2016 open submission scheme which aims to highlight music by unpublished composers. This year there was a short-list of ten composers, selected from 280 submissions Uduman was selected as the competition winner following a weekend of intensive public workshops, which included performances, recording and discussion of all ten shortlisted works, and a one-to-one ‘instrument surgery’ with Britten Sinfonia musicians.

Verbal acuity: Ben Johnson in sonnets set by Liszt, Britten and more

Ben Johnson, Sonnets, Champs Hill Records
Sonnets Britten, Brahms, Liszt, Parry, Schubert; Ben Johnson, Graham Johnson; Champs Hill Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 30 2016
Star rating: 4.5

From Schubert to Liszt to Britten, Ben Johnson's absorbing survey of the sonnet in music

For this new disc on the Champs Hill Records label, tenor Ben Johnson has had the intriguing idea of gather together different settings of sonnets. So, accompanied by pianist Graham Johnson, Ben Johnson performs Liszt's Tre Sonnetti di Petrarca, Benjamin Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michaelangelo, plus Schubert settings of Petrarch (in Schlegel's German translations), Parry's settings of Shakespeare and Keats, and songs by Brahms, William Aikin, RVW, David Bowerman, Andre Caplet and Henri Sauget.

It is a wide and challenging programme, and we have the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition to thank for it. The germ of the programme, linking the Schubert and Liszt settings of Petrarch was part of Ben Johnson's planning for a recital programme when he competed in the competition in 2013 (he won the Audience Prize).

It seems strange that such a wordy form as the sonnet should hold the attention of composers, but it certainly has. And to a certain extent the fascination for this programme is hearing the way different composers wrestle with such a structured form and produce a melding of music and text. The programme plays to Ben Johnson's twin strengths, his ability to conjure wonderfully firm, vibrant Italianate tone, and his considerable abilities as a recitalist.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Sounds of the ancient world: Celtic horns brought to life

Dragon Voices
Dragon Voices: The giant Celtic horns of Ancient Europe; John Kenny; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 22 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Reconstructed ancient Celtic instruments brought to life

This disc is part of the European Music Archaeology Project on Delphian, and this disc turns its attention to the music made on Celtic horns. John Kenny plays the Tintignac carnyx, the Deskford carnyx and the Loughnashade horn.

The carnyx is a long Celtic trumpet, made from beaten bronze and surmounted by the tylised head of a boar. We find the work in various classical texts, including the accounts of the Julius Caesar's campaign in Gaul, and the instrument was widely depicted in Celtic images, notably the Gundestrup cauldron (the most important surviving example of Celtic Iron Age silver work). The Deskford carnyx was discovered in 1816 in Deskford, Banffshire, though only the head survives and the remainder has had to be re-constructed based on visual images. In 2004, archaeologists found a first-century BC deposit of seven carnyxs at Tintignac in the Correze region of southern France. Quite a number of instruments have survived in Ireland, and the one on this disc is a copy of one found in a peat bog in Loughnashade, Co. Armagh in 1794. All three instruments, including the speculative reconstruction of the Deskford carnyx, have a very similar fundamental which suggests that there was some sort of commonality to the instruments across the Celtic culture.

Stolen Kisses: An homage to Alberto Ginastera

Lorena Paz Nieto
Songs by Alberto Ginastera; Lorena Paz Nieto, Horacio Lopez Redondo; Song in the City, and Spanish Song and Zarzuela Festival at St Botolph without Bishopsgate
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 5 2016
Star rating: 4.0

A selection of songs by the Argentinian composer ranging from the folkloric to the more modernist

This year is the centenary of the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera and on Monday 5 December 2016, Song in the City joined forces with the Third Spanish Song and Zarzuela Festival to present Solen Kisses: An homage to Alberto Ginastera at the Hall, St Botolph without Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3TL. Soprano Lorena Paz Nieto (whom we recently saw as Morgana in Royal Academy Opera's production of Handel's Alcina, see my review), and pianist Horacio Lopez Redondo performed a programme of Ginastera's songs including Cancion a la luna lunanca, Cancion al arbol del olvido, Cancion del beso robado, the song cycle Las horas de un estancia and Cinco canciones populares argentinas.

Summer of delights at Opera Holland Park

 Anne Sophie Duprels as Iris and Noah Stewart as Osaka in Iris at Opera Holland Park 2016. Photo Robert Workman
 Anne Sophie Duprels as Iris and Noah Stewart as Osaka in Iris
at Opera Holland Park 2016. Photo Robert Workman 
The full casting for Opera Holland Park's 2017 has been announced and is full of delights, with a nice mix of established artists and young talent. Elizabeth Llewellyn will be returning to Opera Holland Park to sing the title role in Puccini's La Rondine. (I interviewed Elizabeth earlier this year in advance of her role debut as Puccini's Tosca in Magdeburg). Anne Sophie Duprels follows up her stunning performance this year in Mascagni's Iris with another role by a verismo composer.  She will take the title role in Leonocavallo's Zaza, his delightful opera set around a Parisian cafe-concert, which was recently revived by Opera Rara.

Opera Holland Park has always given strong support to young artists, and this year is no different. Ashley Riches, recently announced as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, will be make his Opera Holland Park debut in the title role of Mozart's Don Giovanni with Lauren Fagan, former Jette Parker Young Artist, as Donna Anna.

Opera Holland Park, of course, has its own young artists programme and quite a number of former Opera Holland Park young artists return regularly becoming part of the family, this year including Alice Privett and Stephen Aviss (both appearing in La Rondine), conductor Dane Lam and director Oliver Platt (Don Giovanni), Matthew Waldren (now Mackerras Fellow at English National Opera, who conducts La Rondine). This year's young artists will be on show on 22 June 2016 which is the young artists performance of Don Giovanni.

Another much anticipated returnee is Olivia Fuchs' 2009 production of Janacek's Katya Kabanova. Fuchs returns to direct with a cast including Julia Sporsen, Peter Hoare, Anne Mason and Nicky Spence.

The remaining casts for the operas are full of other delights.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Rough for Opera

Tonight (5 December 2016) is the 14th edition of Second Movement's Rough for Opera at the Cockpit Theatre, London NW8 8EH, the scratch night were producers of new opera can try things out and get audience feed back. At tonight's event there will be new opera from Anna Clock, Freya Ireland and Martin Ward. Constellations, by London-based cellist and sound designer Anna Clock, is a piece for electronics and two performers exploring our relationship with the night sky through myth, memory and the Hubble telescope!

Martin Ward is presenting scenes from The Sinken Sun, his new opera for soprano and baritone, which draws on the life and work of poet John Clare. Martin Ward's works for the stage include the opera Clocks: 1888 the greener (see Ruth's review on this blog), and The Canterville Ghost for English National Ballet.

Freya Ireland, the winner of the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society award for young composers, will be introducing new material for work in progress The Two Sided Boy an interactive web opera which looks at the volatile dynamic between the real and online world of virtual reality gaming through the relationship of a mother and her computer obsessed son.

Winning charm: Raphaela Papadakis & Sholto Kynoch in cabaret mode in Clapham

Sholto Kynoch and Raphaela Papadakis- photo courtesy of Helen Abbot
Sholto Kynoch and Raphaela Papadakis
photo courtesy of Helen Abbott
Poulenc, Satie, Marx, Schoenberg, Lehar; Raphaela Papadakis, Sholto Kynoch; Omnibus Clapham
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 4 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Delightful evening of cabaret-inspired songs

Omnibus in Clapham is our local arts centre so it was delightful to be able to walk there on Sunday (4 December 2016) to catch a recital by soprano Raphaela Papadakis accompanied by pianist Sholto Kynoch. They gave us a programme cabaret-inspired songs with music by Francis Poulenc, Eric Satie, Joseph Marx, Arnold Schoenberg and Franz Lehar. And as it was a more casual programme, the concert took place in the bar which created a nicely relaxed environment with a surprisingly sympathetic acoustic.

Raphaela Papadakis is a young British soprano whom we heard in Independent Opera's production of Simon Vosecek's Biedermann and the Arsonists (see my review), but whom we had not heard in recital. She sang the recital from memory, and was delightfully communicative, she also introduced the items in a charmingly natural way despite the audience being close at hand. The pianist Sholto Kynoch is the artistic director of the Oxford Lieder Festival (see my interview with Sholto).

Papadakis and Kynoch started with a group of Poulenc songs. The first two Voyage a Paris and Hotel, from Banalites, were Poulenc in lighter lyrical vein rather than cabaret, whilst the final one Les chemins d'amour was written for the actress Yvonne Printemps. Papadakis sang them with a great sense of character, and charm, combining the richness of her voice with a nice lyricism. She sang them on the voice rather more than some singers, emphasising the lyric line rather than the text. In Hotel there was a lovely smoky timbre, whilst Les chemins d'amour had an enchanting edge to the tone.

A musical Christmas open: our visit to Pullens Yards

Luthiers Stephen Barber and Sandi Harris in the studio at Pullens Yards
Luthiers Stephen Barber and Sandi Harris in the studio at Pullens Yards
Pullens Yards is an area of Victorian tenements near Elephant and Castle, where the associated workshops survive as artists studios. Picturesque and atmospheric, twice a year the yards have a weekend when studios are thrown open, last weekend (2-4 December 2016) was the Christmas Open weekend and in amongst the expected pottery, photographs, jewellery, and visual art, there were quirkier artists too with a number of guest artists showing alongside the residents. And we found a surprisingly musical thread running through our visit, with opera set designs, lute and guitar making, and musical pottery.

Our first call was the studio of theatre designer Leslie Travers, a large lively space which Travers' in-progress set designs were sitting alongside 3-D printing, aromas and book-illustrations (an example of the diversity of art and crafts to be found). I interviewed Leslie earlier this year (see my interview) and it was good to catch up. He had just returned from the USA where the production of Le Nozze de Figaro, which he designed, is being shared amongst a number of American opera companies, and he has also been busy at Opera North were he designed the production of Britten's Billy Budd which opened this Autumn. He had photographs of past productions on show, notably the stunning Peter Grimes on the Beach performed at Aldeburgh in 2013, plus his work in progress for Fiddler on the Roof at Malmo Opera in September 2017.

In the next yard was another musical stop, the atelier of luthiers Stephen Barber and Sandi Harris. There amidst the tidied up chaos of a practical workshop we were able to see some of the stunning lutes and guitars which they had made recently, including some pretty spectacular fine-work. Also on display were the studio's two cats, who seemed to take as their due the amount of attention they received from their visitors. In one corner a young musician played lute, showing that these instruments were not just for show. As I had D. with me (and he is a picture framer), our conversation turned to wood and glues, particularly the difficulty of getting correctly authentic ones nowadays when many traditional recipes have become unavailable.

Finally, in the largest of the yards, ceramic artists Barbara Wakefield was exhibiting in her studio, and she always has a fascinating musical theme to some of her work, with small scale ceramics with samples of scores on. Lovely items, which have a tactile quality, but also which you can read and enjoy as music (I spotted one which was the opening of the cadenza in RVW's The Lark Ascending).

There was much else besides, including some spectacular wood carving (including historic frames which really caught our attention), and some very, very tempting pottery, and fine leather-work.

Pullens Yards was the subject of a huge direct action campaign in the 1980s as Southwark Council planned to demolish the yards and the tenements and replace them. Thankfully this did not happen and of the four yards, three survive.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

In case you missed it: November on Planet Hugill - Mavra, Iolanta and Simplicius Simplicissimus

Joyce DiDonato, Manuel Palazzo & Il Pomo Doro in In War & Peace at the Barbican. Photo credit is Mark Allan/Barbican
Joyce DiDonato, Manuel Palazzo & Il Pomo Doro in In War & Peace at the Barbican. Photo credit is Mark Allan/Barbican
Welcome to November on Planet Hugill, a month when rare opera seemed to be particularly to the fore. At the Guildhall School of Music & Drama there was a double bill of Stravinsky's Mavra and Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, whilst the first UK staging of Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Simplicius Simplicissimus from Independent Opera at Sadler's Wells made for thrilling yet disturbing theatre. Less rare but no less welcome was the elegance and anxiety of Der Rosenkavalier at Opera North, conducted by the company's new musical director Aleksandar Markovic.

Brighton Early Music Festival

This year in Brighton we saw the spectacular, Gaia: Three intermedi for a living planet and heard Trio Goya in Springtime for the pian' e forte.

Wigmore Hall

Simone Piazzola gave us a climax really worth waiting for at Rosenblatt Recitals, and we celebrated 20 years with Samling Artists new and old celebrate with The Seven Ages of Man. There was a highly theatrical & musical performance of Cavalli's La Calisto from La Nuova Musica.

Various Venues

In All Blood Runs Red, London Song Festival explored composers and poets from World War One, and the City Bach Collective celebrated 40 years of Bach cantatas in the City at the church of St Mary at Hill. There was beautifully musical account of Handel's Serse from the Early Opera Company at St John's Smith Square and a radical re-invention of the concert format in Joyce DiDonato's In War and Peace at the Barbican.

Appealing charm: Oliver Davis's Dance

Oliver Davis - Dance - Signum
Oliver Davis Dance, Frontiers, Dance Odyssey, Musical Boxi, Arco, Dancing Folk, Fiddlesticks and Dance Epilogue; Kerenza Peacock, Huw Watkins, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul Bateman; Signum Clasics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 2 2016
Star rating: 3.5

The third in Oliver Davis's popular series on Signum

Dance is the third of Oliver Davis' albums on Signum Classics. The previous two, Flight and Seasons (see my review) have done very well and this one seems set to do so as well. Performed by Kerenza Peacock (violin), Huw Watkins (piano), the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Paul Bateman, the disc has Oliver Davis's Dance, Frontiers, Dance Odyssey, Musical Boxi, Arco, Dancing Folk, Fiddlesticks and Dance Epilogue.

Oliver Davis graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 1994 and has since become best known as a composer for advertising campaigns, feature films, TV dramas and animated series, as well as writing concert works. Having had works used by choreographers as the basis for dance pieces seems to have spurred him on to create an entire CD on the dance.

Fifty mad minutes: Gerald Barry's Alice's Adventures Under Ground

Hilary Summers, Allison Cook, Barbara Hannigan, Britten Sinfonia - Gerald Barry: Alice's Adventures Under Ground - photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Hilary Summers, Allison Cook, Barbara Hannigan, Britten Sinfonia
Gerald Barry: Alice's Adventures Under Ground - photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Gerald Barry Alice's Adventures Under Ground; Barbara Hannigan, Allison Cook, Hilary Summers, Allan Clayton, Peter Tantsits, Mark Stone, Joshua Bloom, Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Adès; Barbican Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Nov 28 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Cycling downhill with faulty brakes: Barry's hyperactive new opera in concert performance

Gerald Barry’s crazy opera the Importance of Being Earnest was revived in the Barbican Theatre earlier this year. I was there and described it as “breathless” [see Ruth's review on this blog]. His latest offering was a whistle-stop tour of Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books. Alice’s Adventures Under Ground received its European premiere in a concert performance in the Barbican Hall on 28 November 2016, with Thomas Adès conducting the Britten Sinfonia and Barbara Hannigan in the title role, plus Allison Cook, Hilary Summers, Allan Clayton, Peter Tantsits, Mark Stone and Joshua Bloom.

Barry and Lewis Carroll seem natural allies in the absurd, but any revisionist view of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and his rather creepy current reputation didn’t get a look-in in this show.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Crossing boundaries: I chat to conductor & viola player Robert Ames about the London Contemporary Orchestra, and about working in India & Kazakhstan

Robert Ames and the London Contemporary Orchestra performing Terry Riley's In C at the Barbican Centre
Robert Ames and the London Contemporary Orchestra performing Terry Riley's In C at the Barbican Centre
Robert Ames
Robert Ames
Robert Ames does not think in terms of labels. But when asked to describe the London Contemporary Orchestra, the group which he co-founded and of which he is co-artistic director, Robert says he does not see them as belonging to the classical world. Robert and the London Contemporary Orchestra don't so much defy genres as ignore them, and their work is indicative of the very porous nature of contemporary music in the UK. Robert's recent work has seen him touring with Jonny Greenwood (the guitarist from Radiohead whose work also includes a residency with the BBC Concert Orchestra), working with Frank Ocean, performing Steve Reich and Terry Riley, recording film scores and taking part in the South Bank Centre's Deep Minimalism festival. And for Robert all this is part of a single continuum of work. Robert is both a conductor and a viola player, and I recently met up with him to find out more about his work with the London Contemporary Orchestra, but we also talked about his musical contacts with India and Kazakhstan, were he explores another repertoire entirely.

In 2015 the London Contemporary Orchestra won the Ensemble category of the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards and the judges' citation aptly convey's the orchestra's distinctive ethic, "London Contemporary Orchestra has become one of Britain’s brightest beacons for new music. Its repertoire is adventurous yet it attracts sell-out crowds to extraordinary venues and has a remarkable online following. It nurtures new audiences, forges fruitful alliances across the stylistic spectrum, and champions challenging scores with virtuosic flair.". The orchestra deliberately has no specific residency, instead it tailors concerts to the audience but they have developed strong relationships with the South Bank Centre, the Barbican and the Round House. And their work this year will take them from collaborations with pop groups to big film scores.

Rather than thinking in terms of labels, Robert and the orchestra put on music they believe in, which the audience can enjoy in its own way. And it is quite an audience, with annual on-line figures of 2.5 million and having recently toured with Jonny Greenwood the orchestra's live audience was 20,000 this last year.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Gravely moving: Philippe Jaroussky in Bach and Telemann

Philippe Jaroussky - photo Simon Fowler / Warner Classics
Philippe Jaroussky - photo Simon Fowler / Warner Classics
Cantatas by Bach and Telemann; Philippe Jaroussky, Le Concert de la Loge, Julien Chauvin; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 1 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Lesser known cantatas by Telemann complement Bach's Ich habe genug in this rare foray into German baroque by star French counter-tenor

French counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky was at the Wigmore Hall last night (1 December 2016) with a new French ensemble Le Concert de la Loge, director Julien Chauvin, for a programme of cantatas by Telemann and Bach. We heard Telemann's cantatas Die stille Nacht TWV1:364 and Jesus liegt in letzten Zügen TWV1:983, and Bach's Orchestral suite No. 2 in B minor BWV1067 and cantata Ich habe genug BWV82. Le Concert de la Loge is a new ensemble, founded in 2015 by Julien Chavin and at the Wigmore Hall they fielded a chamber ensemble with single strings (including a double bass), plus flute and oboes as necessary.

Telemann wrote a stupendous number of cantatas, with a number of annual cycles and some cycles themed such as in the French style. The cantatas were written for the same purpose as Bach's were, for inclusion in a Lutheran service as a reflection on the sermon. What is fascinating is that given these similar parameters the two composers could come up with such a different feel, with Telemann's writing often feeling more lyrical and mellifluous, whereas Bach mined the intensity of the words.

All change at the Salzburg Festival: Markus Hinterhäuser announces 2017 programme

Markus Hinterhaeuser - photo SF Neumayr
Markus Hinterhaeuser - photo SF Neumayr
The Salzburg Festival has a new artistic director, Markus Hinterhäuser who took over in October 2016 (following the departure of Alexander Pereira in 2015). Hinterhäuser and festival president Dr. Helga Rabl-Stadler held a press conference at the Austrian Residence in London on 30 November 2016 to introduce the new artistic director's programme for the 2017 festival (21 July to 30 August) which includes new productions of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, Aribert Reimann's Lear, Verdi's Aida, Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Berg's Wozzeck.

The Salzburg Festival is old, this year will be the 97th festival. It was founded by Hugo von Hofmansthal and Max Reinhardt with the intention of creating a symbol, using the arts to bring people together following the First World War. Markus Hinterhäuser, who trained as a pianist at the Salzburg Mozarteum and was previously the artistic director of the Wiener Festwochen, picked up on this aspect of the festival when he described his thinking behind the programme for this year. For Hinterhäuser music and the arts help us to read what the world is, to analyse the human condition, and so many of the opera are linked by considerations of the politics of power.

The festival opens with a new production of Mozart's final opera La Clemenza di Tito (directed by Peter Sellars, conducted by Teodor Currentzis), the first time the opera has opened the festival and rather than using the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra or Vienna State Opera forces, the production will be accompanied by Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna. Hinterhäuser see the opera as a reflection on the mechanisms of power, on truth and forgiveness and for him the opera's presence forms a major artistic and European political statement. The 2017 festival's final production will be Aribert Reimann's Lear (directed by Simon Stone, conducted by Franz Welser-Most with Gerald Finley), one of the most powerful scores of the 20th century, a reflection on the loneliness and madness of power, which Hinterhäuser comments is the same the world over.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Music at the centre: Schaffer's Amadeus at the National Theatre

Lucian Msamati and Southbank Sinfonia - Peter Schaffer's Amadeus - National Theatre - photo Marc Brenner
Lucian Msamati and Southbank Sinfonia - Peter Schaffer's Amadeus - National Theatre - photo Marc Brenner
Peter Schaffer Amadeus; Lucian Msamati, Adam Gillen, Karla Crome, Fleur de Bray, Robyn Allegra Parton, Wendy Dawn Thompson, Eamonn Mullhall, Peter Willcock, Matthew Hargreaves, Southbank Sinfonia; National Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 30 2016
Star rating: 4.0

A revival which places Mozart's music at the core of the production with impressive use of live performance

Angus Macbean and Southbank Sinfonia - Peter Schaffer's Amadeus - National Theatre - photo Marc Brenner
Angus Macbean and Southbank Sinfonia - photo Marc Brenner
Peter Schaffer's iconic play Amadeus has returned to the National Theatre in a spectacular new production directed by Michael Longhurst, with Lucian Msamati as Salieri, Adam Gillen as Mozart, Karla Crome as Constanze Weber, Tom Edden as Joseph II, plus Alexandra Mathie, Hugh Sachs and Geoffrey Beevers. Part of the production's ethos was the extensive use of live music performed by sopranos Fleur de Bray and Robyn Allegra Parton, mezzo-soprano Wendy Dawn Thompson, tenor Eamonn Mulhall, and bass baritones Peter Willcock and Matthew Hargreaves, with the Southbank Sinfonia. We caught the performance in the Olivier Theatre on Wednesday 30 November 2016.

The production did not just use live music, but the musicians of the Southbank Sinfonia were an integral part of the production. Opening on a bare stage, the musicians assembled and in front of them Lucian Msamati's elderly Salieri in a wheel-chair addressed the audience, but interacted with the musicians too. For much of the play they were on stage, contributing and interacting, sometimes playing Mozart's music and sometimes other work (the extra music was by musical director Simon Slater), and sometimes just making noises.

Aiden Gillen  - Peter Schaffer's Amadeus - National Theatre - photo Marc Brenner
Aiden Gillen  & ensemble - photo Marc Brenner
The settings were assembled before our eyes, with fragments of columns, drapes etc, and the musicians and supers pushing things on and moving things about. This was a production which celebrated the very theatricality of Mozart's art.

The singers were all characters in the play, so that Fleur de Bray was Salieri's mistress Katharine Cavallieri, for whom Konstanze in Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail was written (so we heard her in an extract of the opera). Wendy Dawn Thompson was Salieri's (largely silent) wife, and the remaining singers (Matthew Hargreaves, Peter Willcock, Eamonn Mulhall and Robyn Allegra Parton) all played smaller roles, but they came to the fore in the extracts from Mozart's operas having to turn their hand to Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Figaro, the Commendatore, the Queen of the Night and many more. Perhaps the oddest operatic sequence was the nightmare version of The Magic Flute which re-wrote everything and was, presumably, meant to be disturbing.

Solo viola: Rosalind Ventris in Blake, Bach, and Roxburgh

Rosalind Ventris
Rosalind Ventris
Blake, Bach, Roxburgh; Rosalind Ventris; Park Lane Group at St James's Church, Piccadilly
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 1 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Music for solo viola spanning 500 years in this engaging recital

As part of the Park Lane Group Young Artists series of recitals at St James's Church, Piccadilly, the viola player Rosalind Ventris (who is a Park Lane Group Young Artist) gave a solo recital on Wednesday 30 November 2016. She performed the Prelude from Howard Blake's Benedictus Op.402 (1980), Johann Sebastian Bach's Suite No. 3 BWV 1009 for solo cello (c1720/21), transcribed for viola, and Edwin Roxburgh's Monologue for Solo Viola (2010).

The viola is not always thought of as a solitary instrument, if we hear it in recital it is usually with other instrumentalists, but here Rosalind Ventris showed that the instrument's rich elegiac lower tones and singing higher register can make a really expressive protagonist, with both Blake and Roxburgh taking full advantage of the instrument's capabilities. In the Bach, transcription simply requires playing the music an octave higher as the viola's strings are tuned exactly an octave above those of the cello, yet the particularity of the viola's tone made a very different effect.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

New David Sawer opera for Garsington

David Sawer
David Sawer
Having commissioned Roxanna Panufnik to write a community opera, Silver Birch which premieres in 2017, Garsington Opera has announced its first main stage commission. David Sawer is writing a new opera, The Skating Rink, to be premiered by Garsington Opera in 2018. The new piece has a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey (who wrote the libretto for Joanne Lee's opera The Way Back Home), and the work is based on the novel by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño (you can read Philip Hensher's review of the book in The Guardian), and the plot does involve a skating rink.

David Sawer is an interesting choice for a new operatic work. He writes highly dramatic, not to say theatrical music (as well as a significant amount of music for the theatre), yet his operatic output so far has been a bit varied. His opera From Morning to Midnight (based on a Georg Kaiser play) received a highly promising premiere at English National Opera in 2001, though sadly ENO never followed this up with a further commission. Sawer's operetta, Skin Deep with a libretto by Armando Iannucci was premiered by Opera North but it seemed to fail to take wing, perhaps because operettas require tunes. Sawer's subsequent theatrical works have not quite been in the classic opera category, so it will be fascinating to see and hear what he comes up with.

Christmas at Cadogan

Choir of St John's College, Cambridge
Choir of St John's College, Cambridge
Seasonal celebrations at the Cadogan Hall kick off tomorrow, 1 December 2016 with the first of two concerts by Barts Choir with the Trafalgar  Sinfonia conductor Ivor Setterfield in Charpentier's Messe de Minuit, plus music by RVW, and Finzi. Still in a choral vein, Tenebrae and the English Chamber Orchestra, conductor Nigel Short perform Handel's Messiah with soloists, Grace Davidson, Sarah Connolly, James Gilchrist, and Chrisopher Purves. Maasaki Suzuki conducts the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with soloists Anna Dennis, Robin Blaze, Jeremy Budd and Ashley Riches in Bach's Christmas Oratorio spread over two evenings. 

The choir of St John's College, Cambridge, conductor Andrew Nethsingha are bringing a programme which mixes traditional favourites with RVW and Jonathan Harvey, whilst the Sixteen, conductor Harry Christophers, are exploring the Three Kings with music stretching from England to Bohemia.

In a lighter vein, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be presenting its Christmas Cracker, and there is a chance to hear Ralph McTell (celebrating 50 years as a professional musician), and  the Rat Pack at Christmas. Ben Palmer and the Orchestra of St Paul's will be delighting families with The Snowman and We're going on a Bear Hunt.

Full details from the Cadogan Hall website.

Diversity alone makes for all that is perfect: Marc-Antoine Charpentier at Kings Place

An engraving from the 1682 Almanach Royal thought to be Charpentier
Engraving from the 1682 Almanach Royal
thought to be Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Hymne à la Vierge Charpentier, Couperin, Saint-Colombe, Marin Marais, Robert de Visée; Eamonn Dougan and friends; Kings Place
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Apr 13 2016
Star rating: 4.5

The music of Charpentier the starting point for a concert of rare treats

"Diversity alone makes for all that is perfect". That was Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s motto, and hence (the penny dropped for me) it is fitting that the Prelude to his D major Te Deum was adopted as the anthem for the European Broadcasting Union, familiar to millions of Eurovision Song Contest viewers. At Kings Place on Saturday 26 November 2016, Eamonn Dougan directed choral and instrumental forces, including Rachel Podger, Jonathan Manson, Steven Devine, David Miller, Kati Debretzeni, Zoe Brookshaw, Charlotte Mobbs, Eleanor Minney, Nancy Cole, Hugo Hymas, Thomas Herford, Greg Skidmore and members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a programme of music by Charpentier, Couperin, Saint-Colombe, Marin Marais and Robert de Visée.

Diversity is certainly what characterises Charpentier’s output. Though he went to Italy to learn the family trade of master scribe, he also studied with Carissimi and came back to Paris three years later a job with patroness of the arts, Marie de Lorraine, duchess de Guise – luckily for him as those Italian influences he had absorbed might not have gone down so well at Versailles.

I was intrigued to know what the relationship was with the duchess, as the composer was treated as a courtier rather than as a servant (as he would have been at Versailles). But I was left to speculate.

Lots of taste but not much excess: French baroque at Kings Place

Louis XIV in 1701 - Hyacinthe Rigaud
Louis XIV in 1701 - Hyacinthe Rigaud
Le coucher du Soleil François Couperin, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Clérambault, Leclair, Mondonville, Rameau; Robyn Allegra Parton, Instruments of Time and Truth, Edward Higginbottom; Kings Place
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Apr 13 2016
Star rating: 3.5

A varied, if too polite, programme exploring a relatively neglected corner of French baroque

Part of "Baroque Unwrapped" at Kings Place, this "Weekend of Excessively Good Taste" was curated by conductor and baritone Eamonn Dougan. Together with his friends, colleagues and mentors he put together a series exploring the relatively neglected music of the French Baroque. The Friday evening concert (25 November 2016) was the second of the mini-festival, with Edward Higginbottom directing Instruments of Time and Truth with Robyn Allegra Parton in Le coucher du Soleil – Music from the last years of Louis XIV and the Dauphin with music by François Couperin, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Clérambault, Leclair, Mondonville, and Rameau.

Edward Higginbottom introduced and directed a varied programme focusing on and around François Couperin. We started off in 1690. Couperin was organist at Saint-Gervais, a job that had been lined up for him until he was old enough. He was at the heart of the musical life of Paris, coming from a musical dynasty going back centuries. He was among the first to absorb Italian influences, particularly those of Corelli, thanks to his friendship with the Abbé Mathieu who gave him access to his extensive library, and who put on concerts of repertoire more eclectic than the rather exclusive French court would sanction.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Dig a little deeper, explore our archive of interviews on Planet Hugill

Composer Sven Helbig
Composer Sven Helbig whom we interviewed in October 2016
We have a regular series of interviews on Planet Hugill, talking singers, instrumentalists, conductors, directors and all those others who are making waves in the classical world, both the famous and those who are starting to make names for themselves. Our People we've interviewed page has links to all of them, a lovely archive to explore.

Recent interviews have included Anneke Scott the French horn player who specialises in period performance, the genre-crossing pianist Thomas Lauderdale of the band Pink Martini, piano duo Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen, the young conductor Jonathan Berman who recently made his Wigmore Hall debut with Ensemble Modern, conductor John Wilson who is best known for the John Wilson orchestra but whose work encompasses RVW symphonies with the CBSO.

Interviews are normally scheduled to publicise a particular event, but sometimes they occur simply because an artist is happy to be talked to about their career. And interesting things can happen, my interview with Rhian Lois included a fascinating talk about what its like to sing when pregnant. Politics and the state of society have, not surprisingly, cropped up more than once this year. Jan Vogler, the intendant of the Dresden Music Festival was concerned to use the arts to counter the atmosphere created by the anti-Islam demonstrations in Dresden, whilst both conductor Kristjan Järvi and composer Sven Helbig were both concerned with the nature of today's society and the relationship between music, the arts and society.

Visit our People we've interviewed page to explore further.

NYO: Increasing diversity

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (NYO) has announced its line-up for the 2016/17 season, 164 young musicians in all aged between 13 and 19. Rather impressively 21.9% of the new intake of NYO musicians identify as non-white British, which is 7.3% above than the national population average, and a 4.9% increase on the previous year. 28 of this year's musicians participated in the NYO Inspire programme, which aims to encourage talented musicians particularly in state schools and targeted at increasing all aspects of diversity: racial background, socio-economic background and access to music services. Over the past decade NYO has moved from 35% to 51% state school musicians plus 3% home-schooled and 49% from the private sector, with the private sector figure including the 18% at specialist music schools as part of the government’s Music and Dance Scheme.

The new leader of the NYO is 17-year old Elodie Chousmer-Howells who studies at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music and has played in Chineke! Orchestra and Chineke! Junior Orchestra.

The NYO musicians have a week-long residency at the University of Nottingham in late December, with conductor John Wilson (see my interview with John), culminating in concerts in Nottingham (5/1/2017), Birmingham (6/1/2017), and the Royal Festival Hall (7/1/2017, where the orchestra is now an associate orchestra), performing Szymanowski's Symphony No. 4, Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 and Brett Dean's Komarov's Fall.

On time, on budget: Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp

Queen Elisabeth Hall, Antwerp - credit Jesse Willems & deFilharmonie
Queen Elisabeth Hall, Antwerp - credit Jesse Willems & deFilharmonie
When so many concert-hall projects get mired in politics or go wildly over budget, it is heartening to hear of one completed on time and on budget (The ElbPhilharmonie in Hamburg and the Philharmonie in Paris each cost over £500 million and who knows what the new London hall would cost if it ever got built). 

The Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp, Belgium opened this last weekend (25 November 2016) at a cost around £57 million. A traditional concert hall holding 2,000 people, it will form the home of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra. The hall is designed by Manchester-based architects SimpsonHaugh & Partners co-operating closely with Bureau Bouwtechniek (Antwerp) and Kirkegaard Associates (Chicago), and reputedly has excellent acoustics. The new hall is part of an historic complex at Antwerp Zoo and so combines the modern auditorium other more historical buildings. 

The new hall will be the home of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, principal conductor Philippe Herreweghe, honorary conductor Edo de Waart.

The concert hall was inaugurated on 25 November 2016 when Edo de Waart conducted the Royal Flemish Philharmonic in Dvorak's Cello Concerto (with Truls Mørk) and Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, and on 2 & 3 December Edo de Waart conducts the orchestra in Mahler's Symphony No. 2 Resurrection. Future concerts include further Mahler, and Bruckner symphonies, Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible conducted by Martyn Brabbins, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle with Nadja Michael and Mikhail Petrenko, the world premiere of Wim Hendrickx Symphony No. 2 'Aquarius' Dream, Philippe Herreweghe conducting Mendelssohn's Elijah with soloists including Carolyn Sampson and David Soar, James MacMillan conducting the premiere of his trombone concerto plus music by Ades and Turnage,

La Calisto at the Wigmore Hall

La Calisto
Francesco Cavalli La Calisto; Lucy Crowe, George Humphreys, Jurgita Adamonyté, Tim Mead, Rachel Kelly, James Newby, Andrew Tortise, Sam Furness, Jake Arditti, Edward Grint, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; the wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 28 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Highly theatrical yet finely musical concert performance of Cavalli's opera

La Calisto was Francesco Cavalli's eleventh opera and certainly not his most successful but, perhaps because it came to prominence as a result of Glyndebourne's early revival of the work in 1970, the opera remains one of Cavalli's most revived opera in modern times. Of course, that does not mean that it easy to bring off in performance. David Bates and La Nuova Musica gave themselves an extra challenge when performing the work at the Wigmore Hall on Monday 28 November 2016, as it was being given in a concert performance, though in fact the group's lively and imaginative approach to 'staging' and keen attention to musicality meant the performance really took wing.

There had been cast changes, some last minute, with George Humphreys coming in as Giove rather late. Lucy Crowe played Calisto, with Jurgita Adamonyté as Diana, Tim Mead as Endimione, Rachel Kelly as Giunone, James Newby as Mercurio, Andrew Tortise as Pane, Sam Furness as Linfea, Jake Arditti as Satirino and Edward Grint as Silvano.

The small instrumental ensemble consisted of Oliver Webber and Miki Takahasi violins, Judith Evans violone, Jonathan Rees and Ibrahim Aziz violas da gamba, David Miller theorbo, and Frances Kelly harp, directed from the harpsichord and organ by David Bates.

The libretto, by Cavalli's regular collaborator Giovanni Faustini, is extremely schematic but it provided the right mix of high art, opportunities for luscious melodies and low comedy. Premiered in 1651, the work was the result of the development of commercial opera houses in Venice, so the works needed to be relatively compact (no large orchestras) and have the right mix to attract audiences. In La Calisto there are two main couples, Diana (Jurgita Adamonyté) and Endimione (Tim Mead) whose romance is frustrated because the goddess Diana has to be chaste, and Giove (George Humphreys) and Calisto (Lucy Crowe), add to the mix Giunone (Rachel Kelly), Giove's jealous wife, and Mercurio (James Newby), Giove's side-kick. Around these characters circle a group of lesser beings whose appetites are far earthier, providing the low comedy, Pane (Andrew Tortise), the god Pan also in love with Diana, Linfea (Sam Furness), Diana's handmaid who is frustrated by her chastity, the lecherous Satirino (Jake Arditti) and Silvano (Edward Grint).

An interesting wrinkle in the plot of La Calisto is that Giove seduces Calisto by taking the form of Diana (Calisto is one of Diana's votresses). This means that Giove is the only character who straddles the serious and the comic, all the other characters though they interact remain firmly either comic or serious. The role of Giove was originally written for a bass who could also sing in the falsetto register when Diana (thus adding to the low comedy), and rather admirably this is what George Humphreys did, appearing in a frock and wig as well, looking positively alarming (Humphreys is a very tall man). His falsetto was impressively serviceable, though challenged at times by the high tessitura, but the result really brought the mix of comedy and tragedy to life. Elsewhere in the plot, Sam Furness was equally impressive in the transvestite role of Linfea, combining a sense of comedy with a fine feel for the music.

This was one of the delights of this performance, the comic elements were really brought out in lively fashion yet the musical values were never neglected.

Monday, 28 November 2016

London Concord Singers celebrating 50 years in style

London Concord Singers 50th anniversary concert
London Concord Singers is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the choir was founded in 1966 by the late Malcolm Cottle. As part of the celebrations the choir's new musical director Jessica Norton will be directing them in a 50th Anniversary Concert on Thursday December 8, 2017 at the Priory Church of the Order of St John, St John's Square, Clerkenwell Road (full details from the choir's website). In true Concord fashion, the programme will include three world premieres, my own Dominus illumination mea, a new Christmas motet written specially for the choir by conductor Jessica Norton, and the winning work in the choir's 50th Anniversary Composition Competition, Alison Willis's Thou has made me endless

Tickets for the concert are £12 (including a festival glass of wine), with Under 25s at £5, available online from EventBrite. See the concert poster (PDF) for more details.

The choir has also had a new video created, by Laura Ruiz. You can see it below, but it is also available on Vimeo.

From Page to Stage at the Other Palace

Submissions open today for From Page to Stage, a Summer festival devoted to finding new musicals. For three weeks (14 August - 3 September 2017) the festival will showcase over 20 shows at The Other Palace, Andrew Lloyd Webber's new theatre (the former St James's Theatre) which opens in February 2017.

The festival will showcase one fully produced musical production in the theatre, plus workshops, semi-staged performances and extracts in the theatre and studio, as well as readings and songs in the bar – there’ll even be pop-up talent performing new songs from new musicals in the box office and foyer! The show does not need to be finished, entrants simply need to include their show title, composer/lyricist/book writer, short synopsis and three recorded tracks from the show (see website for full details The 2016 festival received over 200 submissions.

The Other Palace opens in February 2017 as Andrew Lloyd Webber takes over the St James's Theatre and turns it into a home and breeding ground for musicals at various stages of development. The opening production in the main theatre will be Michael John LaChiusa’s musical The Wild Party, directed by choreographer Drew McOnie. The UK premiere of Whisper House will follow in April 2017, a musical ghost story from Duncan Sheik, the composer of Spring Awakening and American Psycho. The world premiere production of Olivier Award nominee Sally Cookson’s adaptation of the Fellini classic La Strada will then take place from May to July. Further ahead in the season is the first work-in-progress, Bateman and Conley's cautionary fairy-tale musical The Little Beasts, and the National Youth Music Theatre will be presenting productions of a new musical, Imaginary, and Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George.

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