Wednesday, 25 November 2015

ABO introduces Find Your Way

Catherine Arlidge at a CBSO Family Concert
Catherine Arlidge at a CBSO Family Concert
With the decline in public investment in arts organisations, and the perception that the audience for classical music is ageing, there is a great need for the development of a new generation of leaders. In response to these challenges the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) has introduced Find Your Way, a new development programme which offers tailored coaching and mentoring programmes to four aspiring leaders. The programme was developed following sessions at the ABO's conference at Gateshead in January 2015 when leadership and succession planning were discussed.

The first four participants on the programme are Flo Ambrose (performance and programming manager, Royal College of Music), Catherine Arlidge (violin, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), Tim Davy (tours & projects manager, London Symphony Orchestra), and Sue Voysey (artistic planning manager, Hallé Concerts Society). Participants will work with Richard Wigley, arts consultant and former general manager of the BBC Philharmonic, on Individual Development Plans, have one-to-one mentoring at CEO-level, be offered shadowing opportunities at their host organization, participate in a Fresh Thinking session at the ABO Conference and mentor prospective future participants.

Mozart - Il re pastore

Mozart - Il re pastore - Classical Opera
Mozart Il re pastore; Sarah Fox, John Mark Ainsley, Ailish Tynan, Benjamin Hulett, Anna Devin, Classical Opera, Ian Page; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 17 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Difficult to imagine it being done better, Mozart's pastoral opera

Mozart's opera Il re Pastore dates from 1775 and was commissioned by his employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg as part of entertainments for Archduke Maximilian Franz who was visiting Salzburg. Classed as a serenata, the piece was not intended to be as elaborate as a full scale opera seria. In their survey of the complete operas by Mozart, Ian Page and Classical Opera have reached Il Re Pastore. Their new recording on Signum Classics features Sarah Fox, John Mark Ainsley, Ailish Tynan, Benjamin Hulett, and Anna Devin with Ian Page conducting the orchestra of Classical Opera, with Steven Devine (harpsichord), Joseph Crouch (cello) and Cecelia Bruggemeyer (bass) providing continuo.

Mozart's production of operas slowed down somewhat in the 1770's because in 1771 his employer died and was replaced by a new Archbishop of Salzburg who insisted that Mozart stay at home and fulfil his duties at the Archepiscopal court. Il re pastore, because it was commissioned for entertainment actually at Salzburg, is thus one of the few operas from this period when Mozart's music was developing as he reached his late teens.

The opera sets a libretto by Metastasio originally written for Empress Maria Theresa's birthday and at whose first performance all five solo roles were sung by her children; as such it was very apt choice to entertain her youngest son when he visited Salzburg. As we might expect from Mozart at this period (he had already written symphonies no. 25 and 29 and Exsultate Jubilate) the music is confident in style and highly capable. But more than that, it shows Mozart really coming to grips with a sense of characterisation in the music and real atmosphere. Unlike some of his previous operas, this is clearly music by Mozart and it never resorts to the generic note-spinning.

So it is somewhat a shame that the libretto is rather standard and somewhat trivial. Alessandro (Alexander the Great) gets involved in the love life of a young shepherd who is in fact the real heir to the throne of a city whose tyrannical usurper he has just overthrown. Being Metastasio there are unnecessary complications partly because no-one quite dare tell Alessandro that he is wrong!

Music in the time of Goya

The National Gallery's current exhibition Goya: The Portraits is certainly well worth visiting, and on Friday 27 November there is an additional musical reason too. At 6pm in room 36 (one of the Barry Rooms) there is a concert entitled Music in the time of Goya. The Iberian and Latin American Music Society presents an exploration of the elegant musical aesthetic of Goya's era and its effect on the Romantic imagination of 19th-century composers such as Enrique Granados, and beyond to the 20th-century works of Manuel de Falla, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and the film music of Roque Baños. 

Expect a colourful programme of fiery Spanish fandangos, seguidillas andboleros alongside well-known classical favourites by Beethoven, Ravel, Scarlatti and Sor, performed by an exciting collective of leading young Iberican artists with special guest, flamenco artist, Nina Corti. Other performers include Violeta Barrena (violin), Elena Jáuregui (violin), Cressida Wislocki (viola), Evva Mizerska (cello), Isabel María Martínez (guitar), Amaia Azcona (soprano), Eduardo Frías (piano), and Helen Glaisher-Hernandez (piano).

Further information from the Concert Diary website. Admission is free, but places are allocated on first-come first-served basis.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Leeds Lieder Festival launch

Leeds Lieder Festival
Last night (23 November 2015) we had a taster of the treats to come at the 2016 Leeds Lieder Festival, as the festival's director Joseph Middleton and the 2016 artistic director Roderick Williams were joined by storyteller Jo Blake-Cave to perform songs from Brahms's Die schöne Magelone, then Williams and Middleton in conversation with Sara Mohr-Pietsch explained a bit more about the festival.

Brahms' Die schöne Magelone is problematic for performers because Brahms extracted songs from Ludwig Tieck's narrative and without the supporting structure of Tieck's story the songs do not make a coherent narrative group. Different performers choose different options. Here, Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton performed nine of the songs whilst Jo Blake-Cave narrated Tieck's story in her own inimitable way. Williams and Middleton gave us a very fine performance, with Williams singing from memory in a performance that was vividly direct and poetic, with a strong emphasis on the words.

Roderick Williams
Roderick Williams
The Leeds Lieder Festival was founded in 2004 by Jane Anthony, giving a lieder festival every other year in Leeds. With Anthony as the festival's overall director, each individual festival is curated by a different artistic director. So far, artistic directors have included Graham Johnson, Roger Vignoles, Malcolm Martineau, Julius Drake and Iain Burnside. On Jane Anthony's untimely death in 2014, Joseph Middleton was appointed director and the artistic director for 2016 is Roderick Williams.

The festival runs from 1 to 3 April 2016 in Leeds, but Joseph Middleton explained that they are hoping to expand the audience for lieder so that they are presenting lieder concerts in Leeds every month between October 2015 and the festival. Middleton commented that he had come late to lieder, and initially the genre went straight over his head. You cannot simply listen to it passively but must work, hence the plan to increase exposure. He added that it is hard to hear song recitals outside London and that Music Clubs find it hard to sell them, which is a shame as it is such a rich and vivid art form.

Joseph Middleton
Joseph Middleton
When asked about the programme for the 2016 festival, Roderick Williams laughed and explained that the first thing the artistic director does is get out their address book and contact their friends. His artistic plans for the festival are very much involved with the idea of telling stories, and the storyteller Jo Blake-Cave is participating in the festival, and the opening concert includes the actor Rory Kinnear.

The opening concert is Rory Kinnear with Roderick Williams, Mark Padmore and Julius Drake in Songs of the Sea, other highlights include Katarina Karneus and Joseph Middleton in Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, the distinguished soprano Elly Ameling in conversation, the Myrten Ensemble (Mary Bevan, Anna Huntley, Nicky Spence, Joseph Middleton) in Brahms, Schumann, Barber and Faure, Claire Booth and Christopher Glynn in a new Edward Rushton piece, Nicky Spence and Iain Burnside in Britten, Finzi and a new Cheryl Frances Hoad piece. The closing recital is Iain Burnside's Shining Armour, his new narration round Brahms' Die schöne Magelone performed by Roderick Williams, Victoria Newlyn and Iain Burnside.

There are also a whole series of concerts leading up to the festival, so do check out the festival's website.

Stylistic dichotomy - Orfeo ed Euridice from Laurence Equilbey & Franco Fagioli

Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice - Franco Fagioli
Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice, highlights of Orphee et Eurydice; Franco Fagioli, Malin Hartelius, Emmanuelle de Negri, Accentus, Insula Orchestra, Laurence Equilbey
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2015
Star rating: 3.0

A stylistic dichotomy in this period Orfeo with title role lacking classical purity

For their latest disc on Archiv, conductor Laurence Equilbey, her Insula Orchestra and choir Accentus give us almost two works for the price of one. The disc encompasses elements of both Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (Vienna 1762) and later Orphee et Eurydice (Paris 1774) with Franco Fagioli as Orfeo, Malin Hartelius as Euridice and Emmanuelle de Negri as Amore. They perform complete Gluck's original 1762 version Orfeo ed Euridice and then on a third disc, entitled Orpheo, there is a 65 minute compilation which has highlights of both the 1762 version and the later 1774 Paris version. Essentially producing a potted historically informed version of the Ricordi Edition, the version of the opera most common in the 20th century. Laurent Equilbey hopes that this compilation will appeal to people who would be put of by the purist complete 1762 opera. (see my interview with Laurence Equilbey)

Gluck produced a number of versions of Orfeo/Orphee, the 1762 Vienna version in Italian with alto castrato in the title role, a revision of this for soprano castrato (now very rarely performed) and the 1774 Paris version in French which expanded the original court entertainment into a full-length evening with an haut-contre replacing the alto castrato. In fact the original had a strong French influence with a lot of dance and the integration of the chorus into the action.

Remembering Raymond Banning

Lorraine and Raymond Banning
Lorraine and Raymond Banning
Raymond Banning was Professor of Piano at Trinity College of Music, as well as being a concert pianist. He died on 2 December 2012 at the age of 60 having suffered from a rare and rapidly-progressing form of young-onset dementia. On 2 December 2015, the third anniversary of Raymond's death, his widow Lorraine Womack-Banning, who is also a pianist, will be giving a concert at the 1901 Arts Club, 7 Exton Street, London, SE1 8UE. The programme includes the world premiere of S G Potts’s The Raymond Variations for Piano (set 1): Variations on the Andantino Themes from the Raymond Overture by Ambroise Thomas. The concert also includes music by Granados, Bizet and Debussy.

Further information from The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog.

Monday, 23 November 2015

More than just a piano recital - Chopin's mazurkas at St John's Smith Square

Warren Mailley-Smith - © Ben Ealovega
Warren Mailley-Smith - © Ben Ealovega
The pianist Warren Mailley-Smith is currently performing all of Chopin's works for solo piano in a concert series at St John's Smith Square, a total of 11 recitals in all. For his recital on 27 November 2015 he has invited the Mazury Dance Company to join him.

The programme for this recital includes the Mazurkas No 11, 12, 13,14 and 15; the Waltz No 14 in E minor and the Polonaise in B flat, in addition to the rarely performed Sonata No. 1 and Twelve Etudes Opus 25.

To give Chopin's reworking of the traditional Polish dance-rhythms some context, the Mazury Dance Company will perform Mazur Straszny Dwor (the Mazur from the opera, The Haunted Manor by Stanislaw Moniuszko) immediately before the recital. The company is London-based, founded at the Polish YMCA in 1949 and they celebrated their 65th anniversary in 2014 with a tour to Poland.

Jazz inspired - the Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall

Britten Sinfonia
Britten Sinfonia
Stravinsky, Zappa, Ogerman, Milhaud, Bainbridge; Eddie Gomez, Steven Osborne, Britten Sinfonia, Kristjan Järvi; Saffron Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 21 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Varied but mixed jazz-inspired programme including new work from Simon Bainbridge

Steven Osborne - credit Ben Ealovega
Steven Osborne
credit Ben Ealovega
The Britten Sinfonia's jazz-themed programme, which debuted at the London Jazz Festival earlier this week, made an appearance a Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden on Saturday 21 November 2105 which gave us the opportunity to visit this relatively new cultural destination for the first time, and it was recently announced the the Britten Sinfonia will be resident at the hall from next year.

The Britten Sinfonia was joined by legendary double bass player Eddie Gomez, who has performed with the Bill Evans Trio and with luminaries such as Miles Davis, pianist Steven Osborne (best known for his classical repertoire from Beethoven to Britten but here showing his engagement with jazz and improvisation), drummer Sebastiaan de Krom and conductor Kristjan Järvi. The programme included Stravinsky's Tango and Ragtime, Frank Zappa's Igor's Boogie and The Perfect Stranger, excerpts from Claus Ogerman's Symbiosis, Darius Milhaud's La creation du monde, and Simon Bainbridge's Counterpoints (which received its world premiere earlier this week).

We started with Igor Stravinsky's crisp and stylised piano solo Tango, played by Steven Osborne, one of the first pieces Stravinsky wrote in the USA after emigrating in 1940. This was very much Stravinsky's own distinctive take on the tango genre. Steven Osborne followed it with a darkly dramatic solo improvisation, more free jazz than Stravinsky.

Frank Zappa's tiny Igor's Boogie came next, in an arrangement for chamber ensemble by Philip Cashian. Invigorating and brightly vivid, the piece created very much its own intriguing sound world. Stravinsky's Ragtime for 11 instruments was performed without a conductor, with violinist Jacqueline Shave directing from the leader's desk. The work grew out of the more popular-style ragtime sections of The Soldier's Tale. The work's distinctive sound world comes from Stravinsky's use of a cimbalom as continuo instrument. Here the performers gave a pin sharp rhythms and tight focus, to create a fabulous performance. It was intriguing to hear the way Stravinsky took familiar ragtime rhythms and moved them into strange and interesting places.

Britten Sinfonia become resident at Saffron Hall

Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall - © Roger King
Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall - © Roger King
The Britten Sinfonia has been a regular visitor to Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden since the hall's opening concert in 2013. Now this partnership has been cemented with the orchestra being announced as resident at the hall for the 2016-17 season. The orchestra already has strong links with the East of England with residencies in Norwich and at the University of Cambridge, as well as being an Associate Ensemble at the Barbican in London.

The ensemble's residency at Saffron Hall promises a programme of outstanding and musically diverse concerts. And as both the Britten Sinfonia and Saffron Hall have strong learning and participation programmes, it is to be hoped that they develop some synergy and the plans are for a sustained programme of music education and participatory activities for both secondary and primary schools and wider communities across the region.

Saffron Hall is an award-winning 740-seat performance space built in the grounds of Saffron Walden County High School. In a remarkable piece of sharing, the hall functions both as a facility for the school and as a venue for public concerts. It opened in 2013 and since then performers have included the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Maxim Vengerov, Penguin Cafe, Nicola Benedetti, Courtney Pine and The Sixteen.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

In the sky I am walking

In the sky I am walking - Rebecca Hardwick, George Chambers - photo Minjas Zugik
In the sky I am walking - Rebecca Hardwick, George Chambers
photo by Minjas Zugik taken at a performance prior to that at the Greengrassi Gallery
Karlheinz Stockhausen In the sky I am walking; Rebecca Hardwick, George Chambers; Greengrassi Gallery
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2015
Star rating: 5.0

An astonishing event based around Stockhausen's challenging work for just two singers

In the sky I am walking - Rebecca Hardwick - photo Minjas Zugik
Rebecca Hardwick - photo Minjas Zugik
In the classic white cube of the Greengrassi Gallery in Kennington on Friday 20 November 2015, tenor George Chambers and soprano Rebecca Hardwick gave us a remarkable programme of music for just two voices, centred on an iconic work from the 1970's, Karlheinz Stockhausen's In the sky I am walking which was written as part of his ALPHABET for Liege. To accompany the Stockhausen, George Chambers and Rebecca Hardwick performed Ode Machines 5 & & from Cornelius Cardew's The Great Learning (another iconic work from 1968/71), and a newly commissioned work Black Eyes from the young composer Daniel-Lewis Fardon.

The performance area was set with music-stands (the Daniel-Lewis Fardon and the Cornelius Cardew were performed from music, the Karlheinz Stockhausen from memory) plus cushions, brass bowls (one holding petals), and a pair of bar chimes. The audience was seated on benches around the performers; the event was so popular that extra chairs had to be brought out. Against the gallery's white walls it felt like and art installation rather than a concert. And perhaps that is what it was, at least Karlheinz Stockhausen's work is very much a piece of visual theatre and not just a song-cycle as the composer specified not just notes but the performer's movements.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Competition winners and a Gluck premiere - news from Bampton Classical Opera

Galina Averina, winner of Bampton Classical Opera's Young Singers Competition
Galina Averina
November 14, 2015 was the final of Bampton Classical Opera's Young Singers Competition, a biennial competition founded in 2013 to celebrate Bampton Classical Opera’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK. 67 singers aged between 21 and 30 entered this year, and at the final the winner was Russian soprano Galina Averina (currently in her second year of Opera School at the Royal College of Music) and the runner-up Welsh soprano Céline Forrest (currently a young artist at the National Opera Studio). The adjudicators were tenor Bonaventura Bottone, and conductors Andrew Parrott and Peter Robinson, who is also a vocal coach at the Royal Academy of Music. Galina is awarded £1,500, and Céline £500.

Celine Forrest,runner up in Bampton Classical Opera's Young Singers Competition
Celine Forrest
Looking ahead to next year, Bampton Classical Opera will be performing a double bill of Gluck's Philemon et Baucis and Arne's The Judgement of Paris. Gluck's one-act mythological opera was written for the wedding celebrations of Ferdinand, Duke of Genoa and Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria in 1769, some years after the premiere of Orfeo ed Euridice. Bampton's performance will be the work's first staging in modern times and the UK premiere of the work. It will be performed in a new English translation by Gilly French, in a performing edition based on the manuscript in the Royal College of Music.

The companion work is Arne's The Judgement of Paris, a short opera in the late Baroque style written in 1742. The text is by Congreve and was originally written for a famous competition in 1701 seeking new English operas. Both operas will be conducted by Paul Wingfield, designed and directed by Jeremy Gray with movement by Triona Adams.

The Deanery Garden, Bampton, Oxfordshire: Friday, Saturday 22, 23 July 2016
The Orangery Theatre, Westonbirt School, Glos: Monday 29 August 2016
St John’s Smith Square, London: Tuesday 13 September 2016

Creating La Boheme in wartime Paris - an encounter with Nina Brazier

 Ryedale Festival Opera - The Coronation of Poppea, with Elizabeth Holmes (Poppea) and Stephanie Marshall (Nero) Photo Emma Lambert
 Ryedale Festival Opera - The Coronation of Poppea,
with Elizabeth Holmes (Poppea) and Stephanie Marshall (Nero) Photo Emma Lambert
You have one of the most iconic operas of all time, limited resources, no chorus and just a piano for accompaniment: how does a director bring La Boheme to life for an audience which mixes those who have seen it dozens of times and those for whom it is a first opera? I met up with the young director Nina Brazier to talk about her new production of Puccini's La Boheme which debuted at the Clapham Opera Festival yesterday (20 November 2015).

Nina Brazier
Nina Brazier
We started by talking about re-interpreting opera in new productions and the pressure on a director, particularly a young director, to do something difference. Nina felt that it was important that your 'take' on a piece should offer a reason for doing it in the first place, and that you shouldn't re-imagine an opera in such a way that it was unrecognisable. 

The challenge is to bring out the particular individuality without distorting the work

She sees the challenge as being to bring out the particular individuality without distorting the work. And it is a greater challenge in a fringe environment with limited resources, but Nina seems to view this as exciting rather than difficult. She is even up-beat about just having a piano accompaniment and no chorus, seeing the stripped-back nature of the production another challenge which means the staging has to work harder, and it can add intimacy and focus to a production. The director also needs to use imagination in finding other moments of interest in the music and staging to compensate for the times when things like the chorus is lacking.

With a reduced accompaniment, the advantage, from a casting point of view, is that younger, lighter voices can be used and most of the performers in Clapham are singing their roles for the first time. The production offers a way in for singers who are just bedding a role down and not yet ready for a big house.

Composing on the periphery - Quator Tana, plus my pre-concert talk

Quatuor Tana - photo Nicolas Draps
Quatuor Tana - photo Nicolas Draps
The Quatuor Tana, whom I last saw playing Gabriel Jackson & John Taverner at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival in 2014 (see my review), is playing at Conway Hall this Sunday (22 November, 6.30pm) in their Sunday Concerts programme. The quartet is playing an interesting programme of quartets from different 19th & 20th century traditions, with Arriaga's Quartet No.1 in D minor (Spanish/Basque), Shostakovich's Quartet No.8 in C minor Op.110 (Russian), Turina's La Oración Del Torero (Spanish) and Dvořák's Quartet in F Op.96 ‘American’ (Czech)

I will be giving the pre-concert talk for the event, so come along at 5.30pm to hear my talk Composing on the periphery.

Based in Belgium, Quatuor Tana was formed in 2010 to promote contemporary chamber music repertoire. The quartet places no boundaries when selecting style or genre and often presents classical repertoire alongside contemporary works.

Full information from the Conway Hall website.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Music for Youth Proms

Massed ensemble at the Music For Youth Proms
Massed ensemble at the Music For Youth Proms
For three nights, 23-25 November 2015, Music For Youth takes over the Royal Albert Hall and presents 3000 young musicians in the Music for Youth Proms. Each night 1000 young musicians take part in a concert like no other: full-scale symphony orchestras are showcased side by side with some of the best jazz bands, chamber groups, rock bands and choirs from across the UK. And each night a Massed Ensemble of over 500 musicians performs new work, specially commissioned for this occasion, with Martin Read's Mary Rose, The Mighty Sky based on work by Beth Nielsen Chapman, and Russell Hepplewhite's 800 Miles as the Albatross Flies.

On Monday 23 November, Hampshire Music Service presents Mary Rose, a composition project by Martin Read involving choir, orchestra, new music by local students, drama and dance. The piece is based on the story of the Mary Rose – Henry VIII's ship – a local story representing the various aspects of the tragic circumstances surrounding the ship’s sinking in the Solent.

On Tuesday 24 November, The Mighty Sky Choirs and Orchestra features musicians from Kirklees Music School, Daventry Music and Performing Arts Centre and Chiltern Music Academy for a visual and musical spectacular. Involving over 350 young people, the project created to inspire and expand their understanding of astronomy. The Mighty Sky album by Beth Nielsen Chapman is at the heart of the project, a collection of songs bordering blues, country, folk and pop which has now been arranged for soloist, choir and orchestra.

On Wednesday 25 November,in partnership with English Touring Opera, nearly 500 children from the Oval Cluster of primary schools in Lambeth sing in a performance of 800 Miles as the Albatross Flies, a new dramatic song cycle by Russell Hepplewhite. Exactly 100 years ago the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton attempted to sail to South Georgia in the tiny James Caird lifeboat, across the most dangerous seas in the world, in order to save his stranded crew. The new piece sees 500 badly equipped and poorly trained Lambeth children attempt to recreate the journey with disastrous consequences. The singers are joined by young percussionists, among other players, and features singer-actors from Lilian Baylis Technology College, as well as an albatross

Seasons - Oliver Davis and Antonio Vivaldi

Seasons - Oliver Davis, Vivaldi
Oliver Davis Anno, Anno Epilogue, Vivaldi The Four Seasons; Grace Davidson, Kerenza Peacock, The Trafalgar Sinfonia, Ivor Setterfield; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 13 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Vivaldi's iconic work paired with new setting of the accompanying poems

Everyone seems to want to record Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and to stand out, you need a take on it. Thankfully this new recording on Signum Classics from violinist Kerenza Peacock with Ivor Setterfield conducting the Trafalgar Sinfonia is quite straight forward without any untoward quirks, instead it is the pairing which brings the interest. The young composer Oliver Davis has set the four poems which preface each of the concertos (poems which may even be by Vivaldi himself), sung by Grace Davidson. This new work Anno prefaces The Four Seasons on the disc and then Davis has written a short Anno Epilogue to round things off.

Oliver Davis graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 1994 and his work since then has included soundtracks, albums, television scores as well as concertos and ballet. His debut album Flight was a series of violin concertos written for Kerenza Peacock, the solo violinist on this disc.

The poems from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons closely parallel the musical programme (which is why people think Vivaldi wrote the poems). Oliver Davis's setting, in the original Italian, divides the setting of each poem into three sections mirroring the three movements of Vivaldi's concertos. Throughout the new work, Anno, I noticing a number of influences on the sound of the music. The one which I mainly kept coming back to was Britten's Les Illuminations, there is something about Davis's writing for soprano and strings which kept echoing the earlier work, particularly in the textures of the piece. And frankly Britten's song cycle is no bad model to have, and overall Davis creates a distinct and attractively appealing sound.

Composers competition celebrates Shakespeare's sexuality

The Fourth Choir has announced a choral composition competition to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, which falls on 23 April 2016. The winner receives a prize of £1000 and their composition will be premiered by the Fourth Choir on 23 April 2016 in London’s historic Middle Temple Hall. 

The choir has created the competition so that as part of the celebrations for the anniversary, we are celebrating Shakespeare's sexuality. To that end the competition is it set one of Shakespeare's sonnets which were originally written to an unknown young man. 

Composers must write a setting for unaccompanied choir (SATB or SSATB) of one of the following Shakespeare Sonnets:
  • Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws (Sonnet 19)
  • Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed (Sonnet 27)
  • Against my love shall be as I am now (Sonnet 63)
  • My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming (Sonnet 102)
  • To me, fair friend, you never can be old (Sonnet 104)
  • Two loves I have of comfort and despair (Sonnet 144)
The Adjudication Panel will consist of the Fourth Choir’s Artistic Director, Dominic Peckham, its Associate Music Director, Andrea Brown, and its Resident Composer, Alexander Campkin. There is no entry fee for the competition,, the closing date is 15 January 2016, and further information on how to enter can be found at

L’ospedale - a work which still resonates today

L'Ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
L'ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
L’ospedale, Libretto by Antonio Abati, composer unknown, incorporating madrigals by Gesualdo; Jonathan Sells, Rebecca Moon, Thomas Herford, Michal Czerniawski, Nicholas Merryweather, Lucy Page, Solomon's Knot, dir: James Hurley, cond: James Halliday; Wilton's Music Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Nov 17 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Unique modern revival of a highly pertinent baroque opera

Lucy Page - L'Ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
Lucy Page
L'ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
The 'baroque collective' Solomon's Knot have resuscitated an opera unperformed for some 350 years and brought it, via Aldeburgh’s Open Space residency programme, to Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End (seen 17 November 2015). Naomi Matsumoto of Goldsmith’s, University of London, rediscovered the score when researching for her thesis on the origins of the operatic mad scene. 

She and Solomon's Knot have created a performable work that resonates for today’s audiences sold on the notion that we are own best doctors – until something goes wrong, and then we are at the mercy of expensive and charismatic doctors. Directed by James Hurley and conducted by James Halliday, the cast included Jonathan Sells, Rebecca Moon, Thomas Herford, Michal Czerniawski, Nicholas Merryweather and Lucy Page.

Nicholas Merryweather - L'Ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
Nicholas Merryweather
L'ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
It is thought that L’ospedale was intended for small private gatherings at court or of academics. The libretto by Renaissance Italian satirist Antonio Abati is full of puns and the music, by an unknown composer, has been supplemented for this production by two madrigals by Gesualdo. The space at Wilton’s was ideal acoustically and in terms of the intimacy it offers. The six-piece band (strings and continuo) led by James Halliday was raised high on the Wilton’s stage with the action taking place on the flat, the audience seating on two sides around a hospital bed exposed or hidden by a curtain. Everything looks a bit grubby. A hospital vending machine sells unhealthy snacks. It certainly felt immediate. And recognisable to anyone who has been inside a hospital.

The action of the opera is framed by spoken recordings over the PA from the allegorical figure ‘Health’, first touting platitudes about the importance of exercise and personal responsibility, and later patronising the frazzled medical profession.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Art meets music in a limited edition print disc celebrating the alto guitar

Altgitarr Nils Klöfver
Until I received an email from Swedish guitarist Nils Klöfver, I had never heard of an alto guitar. The instrument was developed 50 years ago in Sweden by luthier Georg Bolin and guitarist Per-Olof Johnson. It is an extended range guitar with eleven strings (though Bolin sometimes made 13 string ones as well). It arose because Per-Olof Johnson was looking for a way to play lute music using guitar playing technique. The design introduced two main elements, to provide conventional lute tuning by tuning the first six strings a minor third higher (hence the name "alto guitar") and to add five extra strings to accommodate low notes. The name for the guitar in Swedish is Altgitar.

This is the name that Nils Klöfver has given to his new disc of music for the alto guitar. Recorded to celebrate the instrument's 50th anniversary, the disc includes music by Bach and Weiss, including Bach's Lute Suite.

But the album has another twist too. It is produced in vinyl and Nils Klöfver has collaborated with artist Jenny Svenberg Bunnel who has produced drawings of Nils and the disc comes with one of three prints of the drawings as its cover. These are produced on a batch of art paper which was produced in the 1970's. The discs are limited edition, individually numbered and signed by the artist.. Something for the wall or something for the turntable. Don't worry, you get a digital download as well.

There is an introductory video on YouTube, with full information from the Altgitarr website.

Mesmerising, intense and very quiet - Morton Feldman's For Bunita Marcus

Ivan Illic plays Morton Feldman
Morton Feldman For Bunita Marcus; Ivan Ilic; Paraty
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 11 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Mesmerising, intense and very quiet; Ivan Ilic really makes you want to listen

On this new disc on the Paraty label (distributed by Harmonia Mundi) the Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilic has recorded Morton Feldman's long piano piece, For Bunita Marcus. Written in 1985, For Bunita Marcus comes almost at the end of Feldman's long list of piano works and the dedicatee, Bunita Marcus would commission and premiered his last piano piece Palais de Mari (1986). Bunita Marcus was a student of Feldman's from 1975 to 1981 at the University of Buffalo and would go on to be his intimate companion until his death.

This disc is the third part of Ivan Ilic's Morton Feldman Trilogy. The first part, the CD The Transcendentalist juxtaposes Scriabin miniatures with music by Feldman, Cage and Scott Wollschleger. The second part, Detours Which Have To Be Investigated is a book, CD and DVD. Ilic has clearly invested a lot of time and thought in Feldman's music and this clearly pays off in his performance of the long For Bunita Marcus.

Feldman's music is obsessive, repetitive and largely quiet. He nags away at the same group of notes until he has extracted the last essence from them before moving on. Though Feldman's music is often linked to that of the minimalists, he does not use the same sort of process mechanism on which minimal music is based. Instead his note patterns seem to have been purely instinctive. There is often a sense of floating in space in the notes, each one there to be enjoyed on its own and tempting the listener to hear it in relation to the others.

In his own introduction to the piece which is included on the Universal Edition website (and it is well worth looking at) Feldman talks about how his primary interest in the work was rhythm and metre and at the start of the article he makes the cryptic comment that 'for me rhythm does not exist'. In this work he uses mainly bars of 3/8, 5/16 and 2/2 (the latter for punctuation I think), and then develops his ideas metrically. This explains the extraordinary fluidity of the piece, something which Ilic brings out.

From Darkness to Light: Angels and Saints

From Commedia by Monika Beisner
From Commedia by Monika Beisner
Following on from the Academy of Ancient Music's concert Music from the Dark Side directed by Pavlo Beznosiuk (see my interview with Pavlo to talk about it), the Academy of Ancient Music are returning to Milton Court Concert Hall on 20 November 2015 for another concert in their From Darkness to Light series. This is the complementary concert to the previous one, and Bojan Cicic directs the ensemble in Angels and Saints, a programme inspired by visions of the spirit world and the promise of the after-life.

The programme includes Vivaldi's concertos "per la Solennitá di S Lorenzo", "il Riposo per il S Natale" and "S Lingua di S Antonio di Padova", and his sonata "Sancto Sepolcro", Biber's Passacaglia for unaccompanied violin "Guardian Angel" from his Rosary Sonatas and two sonatas "Sancti Spiritus" and "Paschalis", written in 1666 by Vejvanovsky, the greatest trumpet virtuoso of his age, plus music by Leclair and Manfredini.

Full information from the Academy of Ancient Music website. The concert will also be at Dorset County Museum, Dorchester on 25 November, and the Hall for Truro, Cornwall on 26 November, further details of the tour from the website.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Sebastian F Schwarz becomes next general director of Glyndebourne

Sebastian F. Schwarz
Sebastian F. Schwarz
The move of Roger Wright from the BBC to Aldeburgh triggered the usual fascinating sequence of moves in the world of music and operatic administration. David Pickard having been announced as moving from Glyndebourne to become director of the BBC Proms, Glyndebourne has now announced that from May 2016 the new general director of Glyndebourne (the seventh in the company's 81 year history) will be Sebastian F Schwarz.

Though viewed as typically English, in fact Glyndebourne has always had an interesting European view as well. This dates back to the company's origins as those involved in creating the company, conductor Fritz Busch, director Carl Ebert and general manager Rudolph Bing were all exiles from Nazi Germany and brought a welcome whiff of European operatic tradition to the Sussex countryside.

Sebastian Schwarz is currently deputy artistic director of the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, a role he has taken for eight years, a period which saw the theatre's move away from presenting a mixture of opera and musicals to being a full time venue for opera and classical music. Schwarz is also artistic director of the Vienna Chamber Opera which was incorporated into Theater an der Wien in 2012, and for which he founded an international ensemble of singers who perform for both companies. Schwarz co-founded the Pietro Antonio Cesti International Voice Competition for Baroque Opera in Innsbruck.

Schwarz's biography on the Glyndebourne website describes him as being 'a passionate linguist, speaking eight languages and an active beekeeper in the Eastern Alps, near Vienna'.

Wagner's Dutchman comes to Fulham

Keel Watson
Keel Watson
Having made an impression with Verdi's Falstaff, bass-baritone Keel Watson is returning to Fulham Opera to perform the title role in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. Fulham Opera' s new production, directed by Daisy Evans opens on 19 November 2015 and runs until 5 December 2015 at St John's Church, Fulham. As well as Keel Watson, the cast includes Janet Fischer as Senta, John Milne as Daland and Edward Hughes as Erik, and will be conducted by Ben Woodward and Jonathan Finney. The work will be performed in a new reduced orchestration by Jonathan Finney.

Fulham Opera are of course the company which gave us a fully staged Ring Cycle in 2014 so their take on The Flying Dutchman should be highly recommendable. Full information from the Fulham Opera website.

The comic yet unnerving feel of a sketch from Monty Python - Simon Vosecek's Biedermann and the Arsonists

Leigh Melrose - Biedermann and the Arsonists - Independent Opera - (c) Robbie Jack.jpg
Leigh Melrose - Biedermann and the Arsonists
Independent Opera - (c) Robbie Jack
Simon Vosecek Biedermann and the Arsonists; Mark Le Brocq, Alinka Kozari, Leigh Melrose, Matthew Hargreaves, Raphaela Papdakis, Adam Sullivan, Johnny Herford, Bradley Travis, Laurence North, dir: Max Hoehn, Britten Sinfonia, cond: Timothy Redmond; Independent Opera at Sadler's Wells
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Brilliant new production of a striking new satirical opera by young Czech-Austrian composer

To celebrate its 10th birthday, Independent Opera at Sadler's Wells (a company which exists to support young artists) staged the UK premier of Simon Vosecek's opera Biedermann and the Arsonists (Biederman und die Brandstifter) at the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells Theatre on Saturday 14 November 2015. The director was Max Hoehn, the 2015 Independent Opera directing fellow. Designed by Jemima Robinson, with lighting by Giuseppe di Iorio and video by Daniel Denton, the opera was sung in David Pountney's English translation with Timothy Redmond conducting the Britten Sinfonia. Mark Le Brocq was Gottlieb Biedermann, Alinka Kozari was his wife Babette, with Leigh Melrose and Matthew Hargreaves as the arsonists Schmitz and Eisenring, and Raphaela Papadakis as Anna. Adam Sullivan, Johnny Herford and Bradley Travis were the Firemen, and Laurence North was the Policeman.

Mark Le Brocq, Matthew Hargreaves - Biedermann and the Arsonists - Independent Opera - (c) Robbie Jack.jpg
Mark Le Brocq, Matthew Hargreaves - (c) Robbie Jack
Simon Vosecek is a young Austrian-Czech composer and chansonnier, and his opera Biederman und die Brandstifter was premiered in 2013 by Neue Oper Wien. It is based on a play by the Swiss-German writer Max Frisch, the play was first performed on the radio in 1953 and given its stage premiere in 1958, receiving its UK premiere in 1961 at the Royal Court Theatre in a production directed by Lindsay Anderson. The play was last seen in London (as The Arsonists) in 2007. It is a satirical fable, Frisch called it a 'morality without a moral'.

The anti-hero of the piece is Gottlieb Biedermann, who runs a successful hair tonic business during a period when the city is beset with a spate of arson attacks. His wife Babette, of a highly nervous disposition, is profoundly anxious about the possibility of arson. Schmitz, a supposed wrestler, talks his way into the Biedermann's house and uses emotional blackmail to make them accept him. His friend Willi Eisenring appears, a former waiter, and the two start storing barrels of petrol in the house. Rather than report them, Biedermann appeases the arsonists and pretends to treat it as a joke. The opera ends with a tense dinner for the four and a final explosion.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Longtime György Kurtág collaborator, András Keller to become professor of violin at Guildhall School

 András Keller conducting concerto Budapest - photo: Benkő Sándor
 András Keller conducting Concerto Budapest
photo: Benkő Sándor
The Hungarian violinist András Keller, known for his collaborations with composer György Kurtág, has been appointed professor of violin at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. This is Keller's first UK appointment, and he served as head of the Chamber Music Department at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest from 2012 to 2015. András Keller begins teaching at the Guildhall School in January 2016.

András Keller studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music where his teachers were Dénes Kovács, György Kurtág, and Ferenc Rados, and he later studied in Salzburg with the great Sándor Végh. He founded the Keller Quartet in 1987, and since 1978 has been performing and premiered works by György Kurtág.

Midsummer Opera - Un ballo in maschera

Midsummer Opera presents Verdi's Un ballo in maschera this weekend in semi-staged concert performances at St John's Church, Waterloo on Friday 20 November 2015 and Sunday 22 November. The cast includes John Upperton as Riccardo, Jane Streeton as Amelia, Andrew Mayor as Renato, and Joanna Gamble as Ulrica, with David Roblou conducting the Midsummer Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Based on the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, Verdi's opera suffered from problems with the censors and Verdi's original intention to have the piece set in Sweden with the title character being Gustavo was prevented and the work was premiered with the title role now Riccardo, Governor of Boston. Ultimately though, the work's location matters a lot less than Verdi's brilliant handling of the conflicts between love and duty.

And of course, the opera is in fact entirely a-historical, as King Gustav III was in fact assassinated by a group of aristocrats opposed to his increasingly autocratic rule. And the real Gustav would have been unlikely to have had an affair with his best friends wife as he was thought to have been predominantly homosexual.

Further information and tickets from

Loquebantur - Music from the Baldwin Partbooks

Loquebantur - Marian Consort, Rose Consort of Viols
Music from the Baldwin Partbooks - Robert Parsons, Thomas Tallis, William Mundy, William Byrd, Hugh Asston, Derrick Gerarde, Elway Bevin, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Orlande de Lassus, Christian Hollander, John Tavener, John Baldwin and John Sheppard; The Marian Consort, Rose Consort of Viols; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 11 2015
Star rating: 4.5

Engagingly intelligent and musical performances of music from an important Tudor collection

The Baldwin Part Books are a set of manuscript part-books currently in the library at Christ Church College, Oxford. Created in the late 16th century they are an important source of Tudor church music. The contents of the part-books run to over 160 motets in manuscript so a complete overview on CD is not possible. For this new single-disc sample on Delphian, Rory McCleery and The Marian Consort (Emma Walshe, Gwendolen Martin sopranos, Daniel Collins, Rory Mcleery counter tenors, Guy Cutting, Ashley Turnell tenors, Rupert Reid baritone, Christopher Borrett bass), director Rory McLeery, sing a selection of motets from the part-books, whilst the Rose Consort of Viols (Ibi Aziz, John Bryan, Alison Crum, Andrew Kerr, Roy Marks, Peter Wendland) plays the items for viols. The selection of music on the disc is quite varied with works by Robert Parsons, Thomas Tallis, William Mundy, William Byrd, Hugh Aston, Derrick Gerarde, Elway Bevin, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Orlande de Lassus, Christian Hollander, John Tavener, John Baldwin and John Sheppard.

As with many part-books from the period, the Baldwin Part Books are incomplete and the tenor book is missing so that pieces have to be re-constructed using material from elsewhere, but sixty of the pieces are unique to the part-books which mean that imagination has to be used. Sometimes the tenor part can be completed simply by taking the original plainchant around which the piece was built, but where this cannot work then an editor gets involved. On this disc three of the pieces have new tenor parts - Mundy's Adhaesit pavimento, John Sheppard's Ave maris stella, Derrick Gerarde's Sive vigilem.

John Baldwin (c1560-1615) was a tenor lay clerk at St George's Windsor in 1575, becoming a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1598 and singing at the funerals of Elizabeth I and Prince Henry, and the coronation of James I. He was responsible for the collation and copying no only of the Baldwin Part Books but also John Baldwin's Commonplace Book and was the copyist for My Ladye Nevells Booke a compendium of keyboard music by William Byrd.

Baldwin included printed material in the Baldwin Part Books so that in addition to the 160 plus pieces in manuscript, the contents of William Byrd and Thomas Tallis's Cantiones Sacrae of 1575 is bound up as well with Baldwin selecting the manuscript motets so that there are no duplications.

The manuscript selection is very wide ranging with polyphonic settings of hymns and responds, large-scale Marian antiphons, canticles, a mass, lamentations and motets. There is also untexted consort music for between three and six parts. On this disc the Marian Consort sing the texted music one singer to a part, whilst the Rose Consort of Viols plays the untexted consort music.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Relax and be charmed - Rameau's Anacreon

Anacreon - Signum Classics
Rameau Anacreon; Matthew Brook, Anna Dennis, Agustin Prunell-Friend, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Jonathan Williams; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 04 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Low on drama but high on charm and Rameau's imaginative orchestration

Rameau in fact wrote two unrelated opera entitled Anacreon and featuring the Greek philosopher-poet. The earlier of the two, to a libretto by Cahusac has been recorded on Signum Classics by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenement and the Choir of the Enlightenment conductor Jonathan Williams, with Matthew Brook as Anacreon, Anna Dennis as Chloe and Agustin Prunell-Friend as Batile.

Rameau seems to have written Anacreon as part of a multi-act opera-ballet called Les beau jours de l'Amour which was started in the 1750's but remained unfinished. The two surviving acts Anacreon and La Naissance d'Osiris both developed independent lives and Anacreon was given at Fontainebleau in 1754. There was a Paris Opera production of the work in 1766, two year's after Rameau's death but incorporating revisions made by Rameau and Cahusac after the 1754 performances..

Reviving the piece is, however problematical. All we have from 1754 is the libretto and an incomplete set of vocal parts, which can be supplemented from surviving material from the Paris Opera's performances in 1766 and 1771. The overture is, however, entirely lacking and the work on this disc starts with just a short Ritournelle.

Save the Children Refugee Appeal

Mozart in aid of Save the Children
The London Chorus, conductor Ronald Corp, is joining forces with the Orpheus Sinfonia to present Mozart's Mass in C minor at a concert in aid of the Save the Children Refugee Appeal at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, SW1X 8SH on 17 November 2015. The soloists in the Mozart at Emma Tring, Catherine Backhouse, Greg Tassell and James Oldfield, whilst there will be a reading from actor Freddie Fox.

Mozart's large-scale Mass in C minor was written in 1782/83 and was his final setting of the mass (except for his Requiem), written after Mozart had left the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg. It is not clear why the mass was left unfinished, especially as it was performed in Vienna in 1783.

Further information and tickets from the London Chorus website.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

London debut of Alex Petcu-Colan

Alex Petcu-Colan - photo Mark Stedman
Alex Petcu-Colan - photo Mark Stedman 
Irish Heritage is presenting Percussive Counterpoint,  the London debut of percussionist Alex Petcu-Colan at The Forge in Camden on Tuesday 17 November 2015. An Irish musician of Romanian origin, Alex Petcu-Colan is one of the few Irish percussionists to focus on solo and chamber music. He is a founding member of the Beyond Borders Percussion Group, an international collective of some of the finest percussionists in the world, and the Bangers and Crash Percussion Group, a new Irish percussion ensemble. He recently won first prize at the Irish Freemasons Young Musician of the Year competition and reached the semi-finals at the Tromp International Percussion Competition. At The Forge, Alex will be playing on marimba, vibraphone and percussion, presenting a fascinating solo recital featuring music by Steve Reich, Joseph Schwantner, Keiko Abe, Debussy, J.S. Bach and more.

Further information and ticket information from The Forge website.

Purcell - Twelve Sonatas in Three Parts

Henry Purcell Twelve Sonatas in Three Parts; The King's Consort, Robert King; Vivat
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 11 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Brilliant follow up to this group's previous disc in Purcell's wonderfully fecund sonatas

Rather appropriately Robert King and the King's Consort have followed up their fine recording of Purcell's Sonatas in Four Parts (see my review) with a recording of the Twelve Sonatas in Three Parts on the Vivat label. The performers being violinists Cecilia Bernardini and Huw Daniel, bass viol Reiko Ichise, theorbo Lynda Sayce with Robert King on organ.

Though the ten Sonatas in Four Parts were issued posthumously by Purcell's widow in 1697, whereas Purcell supervised the publication of the twelve Sonatas in Three Parts, both groups were almost certainly written at the same time probably in a single great burst in the early 1680's. In his excellent booklet not Robert King suggests that the court's summer recess to Newmarket would have given Purcell the space.

The titles of the two groups of works are confusing because both are in four parts with a basso continuo part which is separate from the bass viol part. In his introduction to the 1683 publication Purcell explained that the sonatas were re-written to include this extra part (rather than the bass viol part following exactly the basso continuo part). Probably as a result of Purcell seeing Corelli's first set of Sonate da chiesa which were first published in Rome in 1681.

The idea of separate basso continuo part written out was new in the UK and Purcell takes full advantage. The bass viol  part is developed to be almost the equal of the violins, leaving the continuo to be more slow moving, strengthening the harmonic bass of the works.