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Saturday, 22 October 2016

Two hours of Monty Python on acid: Shostakovich's The Nose at Covent Garden

The Nose, The Royal Opera © ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
The Nose, The Royal Opera © ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Shostakovich The Nose; Martin Winkler, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, John Tomlinson, Rosie Aldridge, dir: Barrie Kosky, cond: Ingo Metzmacher; Royal Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 19 2016
Star rating: 3.0

Shostakovich's satirical opera re-invented as highly theatrical vaudeville

Martin Winkler - The Nose, The Royal Opera © ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Martin Winkler - The Nose © ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Barrie Kosky's previous production in the UK included the dramatic and highly sexualised Castor et Pollux (Rameau) for English National Opera and the brilliantly re-conceived Saul (Handel) for Glyndebourne (see my review). So his Covent Garden debut, directing Shostakovich's anarchic and satirical early comedy The Nose, was eagerly anticipated (20 October 2016).

Performed in David Pountney's new English translation (at times more of a version rather than strict translation) with a stellar cast including Martin Winkler, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, John Tomlinson, Rosie Aldridge, Susan Bickley and Ailish Tynan, the opera was conducted by Ingo Metzmacher. Sets and lighting were by Klaus Grünberg with Anne Kuhn as associate director, costumes by Buki Shiff and choreography by Otto Pichler.

The absurdist short story by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) is a satire on Russian society and Shostokovich's opera, using a variety of Gogol stories as source materials, extends this. Though the libretto is ostensibly a satire on the Russia of Tsar Alexander I (reigned 1801-1823), it is allied to music of such startling modernity that it is clear that Shostakovich had his sights on contemporary Soviet society.

Shostakovich's score is a musical twin to the modernism which swept artistic Russia in the 10 years following the revolution before the repressions of Stalin took over. By the time the opera came to be performed this was already starting to be felt, and the piece was dropped after 16 performances, not to be performed again in Russia until 1974.

Barrie Kosky had come up with an anarchic vaudeville, two hours (the three acts play without a break) of organised chaos which mirrored Shostakovich's score.

Crossing boundaries: composer Sven Helbig talks about his latest work 'I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain'

Sven Helbig- photo Claudia Weingart
Sven Helbig- photo Claudia Weingart
The German composer Sven Helbig is perhaps best known in the UK for his work with the Pet Shop Boys including their Alan Turing project at the BBC Proms in 2014. Sven is a representative of the new classical music, spanning both the classical and pop worlds, and he uses elements of each in his music. I first met him in connection with his Pocket Symphonies disc, which I heard the Faure Quartet perform live at the Reeperbahn Festival in 2013 (see my review). Sven's latest project, combining choir and electronics, I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain, came out on the Berlin-based Neue Meister label in September, recorded by Vocalconsort Berlin, conducted by Kristjan Järvi. Sven was in London recently and I took advantage of catching up with him, and finding out more about I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain and the philosophy behind the work.

Sven Helbig - I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain - Kristjan Järvi, Vocalconsort Berlin
Sven Helbig - I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain
Kristjan Järvi, Vocalconsort Berlin
At first, our conversation seems to continue the themes from my interview with Kristjan Järvi, as Sven talks about how he is troubled by the current state of the world, and wonders how art can make a difference, feeling that we need to go back to human values. So it comes as no surprise to discover that Kristjan Järvi is a friend, and that the two have worked together on a number of Sven's projects. When, later in the interview, I ask Sven to describe I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain for someone who has never heard it, he starts not with the music but with the text and with the work's philosophical meaning.

The work is not just a concept album created simply for the recording studio, but something which has a life in the concert hall, combining choral performance with Sven's own live electronics. The work was performed this year at the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, with visuals from Icelandic artist Mani Sigfusson and costumes by Esther Perbandt. Sven comments that the classical part of the festival has grown considerably since I saw him performing there in 2013, and this strand of the festival very much represents the new classical movement, spanning the interface between classical and popular.

Composers like Sven take influence sideways, rather than just from past classical masters

Sven feels that this style of music is very much a product of our times, being influenced by the availability of information via the internet. Composers like him take influence sideways, rather than just from past classical masters so Sven's music uses post-rock and electronics but transforms it by classical instruments.

Sven was born in 1968 in Eisenhüttenstadt in the Eastern part of the DDR close to the Polish border. He talks about how in 1982 if you found a disc which you liked, a recording by Anne Sophie Mutter say, there was little opportunity to find out more information about her or the music, all you could do was ask your friends, and wait until someone came across something. He talks graphically about phoning magazines, ensuring you have enough change for the phone, to try to get a copy of an article about an artist he was interested in. He sees all this as making people more focused, not really able to see what other things are happening, being so focused on Anne Sophie Mutter and probably not taking in music by Miles Davis or Radiohead.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Provencal Handel in Faversham

Peter Paul Rubens - The Judgement of Solomon
Peter Paul Rubens
The Judgement of Solomon
On Saturday 22 October 2016, Musique Cordiale International Festival is presenting Handel's Solomon at Faversham Parish Church, in Kent, as part of the Canterbury Festival. Graham Ross conducts the Musique Cordiale Choir and Orchestra with soloists Kate Howden, Dima Bawab, Elizabeth Karani, Paul Young and Johnny Herford.

The Musique Cordiale Choir and Orchestra performed the oratorio with Graham Ross in August as part of the Musique Cordiale International Festival in Provence. It is a multi-generational ensemble made up of young professionals and established musicians, and acts as a platform for burgeoning soloists and orchestras.

Further details from the Musique Cordiale website.

Unequal Times: Club Inégales 5th anniversary season

Peter Wiegold and Notes Inégales by Frederique Bellec
Peter Wiegold and Notes Inégales by Frederique Bellec
The second concert of Peter Wiegold's Club Inégales autumn season, Unequal Times, takes place on Thursday 27 October when Chorale Inégales (made up of singers from Trinity Laban) will perform choral improvisations alongside the re-working of Purcell's King Arthur which premiered at the Spitalfields Festival this Summer (see Ruth's review on this blog). The Euston-based club is celebrating its fifth anniversary, presenting a wide range of events and inviting people from variety of genres to collaborate and to listen with open ears.

Further ahead the trumpeter Byron Wallen is joined on taegum (a form of transverse bamboo flute) by Hyelim Kim (12 November), and the Academy Inegales Weekender (13 November) will be showcasing emerging composers and performers. Cellists Shirley Smart and Kate Shortt will be joined by accordion player Tommie Black-Roff on 8 December for an evening which promises to encompass classical, jazz and Arabic influences. All these events take place in the club premises at 180 North Gower Street, NW1 2NB. Doors open at 7pm, with music from 8pm and there are always sets from the guests and sets from the resident band, Notes Inégales, as well as great food.

For the final even of the season on Wednesday 14 December, the club moves to the Antonin Artaud Building, Brunel University, Kingston Lane, Uxbridge, UB8 3PH, when the poet Benjamin Zephaniah will be performing alongside improvisations from the resident band, Notes Inégales.

Full information from the Club Inégales website.

CONNECT: The Audience as Artist

Connect: The Audience as Artist
On Saturday 22 October 2016 at St John's Smith Square, London Sinfonietta and conductor Sian Edwards are presenting two world premieres, by Christian Mason and by Huan Ruo as part of the inaugural concert of the pan-European project CONNECT, with both works involving a degree of audience participation. The evening concert is preceded by a conference during the day in the Weston Pavilion at the South Bank Centre, which will explore key questions about the public's engagement with contemporary music.

Christian Mason's In the Midst of Sonorous Islands takes the audience on a sonic adventure, as audience members play improvised percussion instruments alongside the percussionists in the orchestra. And Huang Ruo's The Sonic Great Wall takes the Great Wall of China as its starting point, surrounding the audience with whispered words evoking the stories of the wall. Both works explore the relationship of audience and performer, and this is part of CONNECT's intention, and the works will receive further performances by ensembles in Frankfurt, Den Bosch and Porto. You can find out more about CONNECT from a film on Vimeo.

The conference which precedes the concert will be looking at the audience engagement with contemporary music, asking questions such as why it is so hard to build an audience and whether the current funding climate requires new models. Also, the crucial question of audience engagement and participation will be looked at.

Further information from the London Sinfonietta website.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Bizet's Pearl Fishers make a theatrical return to ENO

ENO - The Pearl Fishers - (c) Robbie Jack
English National Opera - The Pearl Fishers - (c) Robbie Jack
Bizet The Pearl Fishers; Claudia Boyle, Robert McPherson, Jacques Imbrailo, James Creswell, dir: Penny Woolcock, cond: Roland Böer; English National Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 19 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Not quite a vintage revival, but much to enjoy in this spectacular & stylish show

English National Opera -  The Pearl Fishers - Jacques Imbrailo - (c) Robbie Jack
Jacques Imbrailo - (c) Robbie Jack
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2016. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

The Pearl Fishers is an early work (Bizet's first full length opera) with a profound faulty libretto which a more experience composer would have surely done something to remedy. After Bizet's death attempts were made to correct and improve the work, but often these resulted in the removal of Bizet's more innovative details. ENO uses an edition by Martin Fitzpatrick which attempts to go back to Bizet's original intentions, and was performed in Fitzpatrick's own translation.

Redefining what a competition is: the Leeds International Piano Competition

Dame Fanny Waterman c. Andy Manning (2009)
Dame Fanny Waterman c. Andy Manning (2009)
Since its inception in 1961, Dame Fanny Waterman has very much been the Leeds International Piano Competition, founding it, acting as artistic director and CEO. That was until she retired after the festival in 2015. The joint artistic directors of the festival are now Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse and at an event at the Wigmore Hall on Tuesday 18 October 2016, the two shared their artistic vision for the festival. And we were also treated to some music as the 2015 festival winner, Anna Tsybuleva played some Scarlatti and some Saint-Saens. Dame Fanny was there too, now 96 and the recently honoured at the Woman of the Year Awards, present to see the future of the festival handed on.

Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse explained how they wanted to build on Dame Fanny's legacy and develop the competition. As a young pianist, Paul Lewis admitted that competitions had not filled him with joy, that they were something he had to tough out. So he and Gatehouse wanted to redefine what the competition was. They were concerned that the competition be not just about winning, that they could find and nurture all interesting musicians. Also they wanted the competition to be more accessible and outward facing, making it welcoming and enjoyable, and they would be embracing a greater use of digital technology. But of course, a competition is still about winning, and they wanted to make the prize meaningful for the performers, as well as having an international jury.

These are all laudable aims, but what was impressive was the way the artistic team has developed the specifics.

A labour of love: John Joubert's Jane Eyre

John Joubert - Jane Eyre

The South-African born composer John Joubert (based in the UK since the late 1940s) will celebrate his 90th birthday in 2017, and in celebration his opera Jane Eyre is being recorded on the SOMM label. The opera is being given in concert on 25 October 2017 (the work's world premiere) with Kenneth Woods conducting the English Symphony Orchestra at the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre, King Edward's Schools, Birmingham B15 2UA, and the performance is being recorded by SOMM. The performers include April Fredrick as Jane, David Stout as Rochester, Clare McCaldin as Mrs Fairfax and Mark Milhofer as Rev. St John Rivers. I caught up with soprano April Fredrick to find out more about the opera.

April Fredrick
April Fredrick
Despite have a wide catalogue including seven operas, Joubert is perhaps still best known for his carol Torches which was published in Carols for Choirs. His operas have included others of literary origins, Silas Marner premiered in 1961. Jane Eyre was written between 1987 and 1997 with a libretto by Kenneth Birkin, an academic whose interests include the collaboration between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hoffmanstal, a significant model indeed for an opera librettist. A number of people involved in the Jane Eyre project refer to the opera as a labour of love.

This was something picked up on by soprano April Fredrick (who plays Jane Eyre) when I spoke to her about the opera. She points up the fact that to transform such a well-beloved novel into an opera was a huge undertaking. She finds the level of detail in Joubert's writing impressive, as he has a clear grasp of musical psychology in the way that he transforms motifs. And though the writing can be tough and spiky it is lyrical too. April has been finding it an incredibly satisfying piece, musically rich on every level,

April had never sung any of Joubert's music before and as well as appreciating getting to know his music, she finds he writes well for the voice, and he aptly captures Jane's combination of a passionate nature with strong self control.

She has warm words too for Birkin's libretto, with its combination of carefulness and lushness. The compression necessary to turn the novel into an opera has been done with imagination. The first scene is an imagined confrontation between Jane and Mr Brocklehurst, as she is about to leave Lowood, which telescopes the first ten chapters of the book.  This technique is used in other scenes, to put some of the back story into monologues. The libretto uses a lot of text verbatim, and the passages that are not feel a close version of the original.

Jane herself is a very big role, on stage for a lot of the time, and singing a great deal. In style, April feels that the dramatically well realised opera recalls Britten in the psychologically acute way Joubert writes, and for April you forget that singing is not the normal way of communications. Even in the most lyrical moments, Joubert adds something to the harmonic mix which keeps the music from being perfectly consonant all the time.

Joubert's opera is in three acts, but the performance on October 25 will be cut, re-shaping the work into two acts so that it fits onto two CDs. April does not feel that the essentials of the opera are lost,

It is very much a stage work, not a concert piece, and though the performance on 25 October is being given in concert April feels that it really deserves to be on the stage. The performance and subsequent recording will thus not only celebrate Joubert's 90th birthday, but hopefully will stimulate interest in the opera. April feels that it deserves to be seen and having got to know the work, she is amazed that it has never been done before.

SOMM records has previously celebrated Joubert's 80th and 85th birthdays with recordings so this 90th birthday tribute will be very apt indeed. Further information about the concert from the English Symphony Orchestra website. The SOMM recording of Joubert's Jane Eyre will be issued in March 2017

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Italian and the French taste explored: the music of Francois Couperin and Sebastien Brossard

Couperin - Lecons de tenebres - La Nuova Musica - Harmonia Mundi
Couperin Trois lecons de Tenebres, Brossard Sonate en trio en mi mineur, Sonate en trio en la mineur, Stabat Mater, Lucy Crowe, Elizabeth Watts, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; Harmonia Mundi

Couperin Les Nations: Sonates e suites de Symphonies en trio; Jochewed Schwarz, Emer Buckley; Toccata Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 09 2016
A trio of recent discs enables us to look at the French and Italian styles in 17th century music in France

Recent discs from La Nuova Musica (on Harmonia Mundi) and Jochewed Schwarz & Emer Buckley (on Toccata Classics) give us a snapshot of the way Francois Couperin and his contemporary Sebastien Brossard combined the French and the Italian taste in their works. David Bates and La Nuova Musica perform Couperin's Trois Lecons de Tenebres (with Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts) plus Brossards trio sonatas and Stabat Mater, whilst Schwarz and Buckley perform Couperin's late suite Les Nations on two harpsichords.

Much ink was spilled in the late 17th century and early 18th century on the differences between, and importance of, the French and Italian styles in music. At first, it seems incredible to us that such details could matter so much, and we are rather with the composer Francois Couperin who wanted to unite the two tastes (amongst his last works was Les gouts reunis).

Couperin - Les Nations - Toccata ClassicsFor the 18th century the arts were political, part of a ruler's armoury. So recast the the controversy into more modern issues of inclusion/exclusion, national/international and we can see that we continue to have similar arguments. Politics was at the centre of the controversy; the Fronde in France (civil wars from 1648-1653) was partly because of the pro-Italian policies of Queen Anne (the Regent), and Cardinal Mazarin (her political advisor). When the young Louis XIV took the reins of power in 1661, it was politically expedient to repudiate anything Italian, and that included music and the arts. Italian composers, including Cavalli, were sent home, and native composers encouraged to develop a French national style (ironically, in opera the leading light was Jean-Baptiste Lully who was Italian born).

As the controversy bobbled on, not every French composer was obsessed with French style. Sebastien Brossard had greater access to Italian scores because he lived in Strabourg, close to the German border. On their new disc from Harmonia Mundi, David Bates and La Nuova Musica use Brossard's trio sonatas to punctuate their performances of Couperin's Lecons de Tenebres, which makes a nice mix of styles.

Frederic Wake-Walker directs first new production of Le nozze di Figaro at La Scala for 30 years

Frederic Wake-Walker in rehearsal with cast of Le nozze di Figaro at La Scala - Photo credit BresciaAmisano ©Teatro alla Scala
Frederic Wake-Walker in rehearsal with cast of Le nozze di Figaro
Photo credit BresciaAmisano ©Teatro alla Scala
Frederic Wake-Walker, the artistic director of Mahogany Opera, is directing Le nozze di Figaro at La Scala, Milan in a production which opens on 26 October 2016. It is the first new production of Mozart's opera at La Scala for 30 years. The production follows in the footsteps of Giorgio Strehler's production which has held sway at La Scala for the last 30 years.

Wake-Walker's recent work has included Mozart's La finta giardiniera at Glyndebourne as well as Hans Krasa's Brundibar (see my review) and HK Gruber's Gloria, a pigtale with Mahogany Opera Group, plus Lost in Thought (music and concept by Rolf Hind), the world's first mindfulness opera.

Wake-Walker's new production of Le nozze di Figaro opens at La Scala on October 26, with Diana Damrau (Countess), Marianne Crebassa (Cherubino), Golda Schultz (Susanna), Markus Werba (Figaro), Carlos Álvarez/Simon Keenlyside (Count), conducted by Franz Welser-Most.

LMP goes Bach to Baby

At a Bach to Baby concert - ©Bach to Baby Alejandro Tamagno.jpg
At a Bach to Baby concert
©Bach to Baby Alejandro Tamagno.jpg
At a time when arts organisations are concerned to attract younger audiences, Bach to Baby has been creative and started at the very beginning, by creating concert series aimed at including parents, toddlers and babies. Now the organisation is teaming up with the London Mozart Players (LMP), and their first collaboration is a pair of concerts at LMP's new home, St John the Evangelist, Norwood, on 3 December 2016 when the founder of Bach to Baby, Miaomiao Yu will perform the Andante from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 as part of on all Mozart programme.

Bach to Baby specialises in performing live music to babies and toddlers in a family inclusive atmosphere, organising around 40 concerts per month across London and the South East. LMP relocated its headquarters to St John the Evangelist in Norwood in July 2016, where they are reaching new audiences and developing their education and community outreach programme, LMP Voyager.

Further information from the Bach to Baby website (tickets go on sale at 11am on Thursday 3 November 2016)

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Timeless story told with elegance and economy: Monteverdi's Ulysses from English Touring Opera

Monteverdi - Il ritorno d'ulisse in patria - English Touring Opera - photo Richard Hubert Smith
Monteverdi - Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria - English Touring Opera - photo Richard Hubert Smith
Caroline Dobbin, Andrew Slater, Clint van der Linde, Robert Anthon Gardiner - Monteverdi - Il ritorno d'ulisse in patria - English Touring Opera - photo Richard Hubert Smith
Caroline Dobbin, Andrew Slater, Clint van der Linde,
Robert Anthony Gardiner - photo Richard Hubert Smith
Monteverdi Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria; Benedict Nelson, Caroline Dobbin, Andrew Slater, Robert Anthony Gardiner, Clint van der Linde, Nick Pritchard, Old Street Band, dir: James Conway, cond: Jonathan Peter Kenny; English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Oct 15 2016
Star rating: 4.0

There is a consistency that comes from the cast, band and creative team working together intensively on a number of shows – a rare thing these days

Monteverdi wrote Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria when he was 73 years old – it was premièred in Venice in 1640, 33 years after Orfeo, so by now we can safely say he had honed his craft. This opera doesn’t need championing or explaining, as it tells a timeless story about love and the passage of time.

Caroline Dobbin, Benedict Nelson - Monteverdi - Il ritorno d'ulisse in patria - English Touring Opera - photo Richard Hubert Smith
Caroline Dobbin, Benedict Nelson
photo Richard Hubert Smith
Here (Hackney Empire, 15 October 2016) it was simply and beautifully told by English Touring Opera's well-matched cast (Caroline Dobbin, Benedict Nelson, Andrew Slater, Robert Anthony Gardiner, Clint van der Linde, Nick Pritchard) directed by James Conway, and the ETO’s period-instrument band, the Old Street Band under Jonathan Peter Kenny. There is a consistency that comes from the cast, band and creative team working together intensively on a number of shows – a rare thing these days.

Voices were full and more dramatic than one often hears in the repertoire. Carolyn Dobbin, still and poised throughout, seems ideal for the role of Penelope and her three suitors Antinous (Andrew Slater), Eurymachus (Robert Anthony Gardiner) and Pisander (Clint van der Linde) doing some great slapstick, especially when failing to make a bow for Ulysses, after creepily pawing at her earlier on. This trio had already sung the allegorical figures of Time, Fortune and Human Frailty in the Prologue – and van der Linde also camped it up marvellously as the Nurse Ericlea. Martha Jones doubled as Melanta and Love. This was a very economical use of singers. The final duet with Penelope and Benedict Nelson’s Ulysses was touching but also one could not help wondering (with echoes of the reconciliation of the Count and Countess at the end of Figaro) he has already abandoned her because of Helen of Troy…

Vivaldi Rocks: Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt at Kings Place

Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt
Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt
Hugo Ticciati and his Swedish ensemble O/Modernt Chamber Orchestra are returning to Kings Place on Saturday 22 October 2016 for a typically challenging and intriguing concert. Very much true to the ensemble's name (which means Un/Modern in Swedish) they are combining Vivaldi concertos with rock music in arrangements of Metallica, Muse and Dream Theater. The Vivaldi concertos will include the Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor RV 531, Bassoon Concerto in A minor RV 499, 'Winter' from the Four Seasons RV 297 and La Folia, Op.12 No. 1. The pairing might seem a bit extreme, but this was some of the most popular music of the day and performances in Vivaldi's time were far more emotive than many of our polite renditions, in fact, according to music historian Richard Taruskin, the best way to understand the excitement of an original Vivaldi performance is to attend a rock concert.

The idea is not to 'rock up' Vivaldi but to emphasise the 'latent rock' in his music by artful pairing. There are innovations, the two soloists in the double cello concerto are a bassoon and a double bass, the basso continuo is played on a Hammond Organ, which should create a rather interesting sonic buzz. You may bridle at the idea of a Hammond Organ, but plenty of classical ensembles beef up the continuo in various ways and take a creative view, this is just an additional step. In La Folia, the soloists will be performing improvised rock-style cadenzas. The works by Metallica, Dream Theater and Muse will be interspersed between the movements of the Vivaldi to create a seamless whole.

So go along without pre-conceptions and listen to Vivaldi with new ears. Further information from the Kings Place website.

Transcendent dance: Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time at St John's Smith Square

Olivier Messiaen in 1946
Olivier Messiaen in 1946
Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time; Daniel Grimwood, David Campbell, Jamie Campbell, James Barrelet; St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Lunchtime performance of Messiaen's quartet which explored the extremes of beauty

Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time was the focus of the lunchtime concert at St John's Smith Square on Thursday 13 October 2016, performed by David Campbell (clarinet), Jamie Campbell (violin), James Barralet (cello) and Daniel Grimwood (piano, replacing Simon Callaghan). This was the second performance of the work which I had heard recently (see my review of the performance at Omnibus in Clapham), and it was fascinating to hear how a different group of players brought different aspects of the work into focus.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Played by the picture of Nobody

Egon Schiele
PLAY, the festival of arts and humanities held at the King’s College London, continues apace and on Wednesday 19 October 2016 the ensemble Lontano conducted by Odaline de la Martinez and the Tali-Varbanow Piano Duo will perform a programme of music by Harrison Birtwistle, George Benjamin, Rob Keeley, and Silvina Milstein, with Milstein, Keeley and Benjamin all holding posts within the music department at King's College, London.

The programme explores music for two instruments, as many of the pieces include pairs of matched instruments from two trumpets in Birtwistle’s Five Little Antiphonies for Amelia to two pianos in Silvina Milstein’s In a bowl of grey-blue leaves, and two double basses & harp in her and a thousand golden bells in the breeze. The evening ends with Rob Keeley's Fiestas for two pianos, and there will also be music for solo piano and solo violin by George Benjamin and by Harrison Birtwistle.

The concert is free, but you need to register on the Eventbrite website. Further information from the King's College website.

Baltic Wagner: Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic

Wagner - The Ring: An Orchestral Adventure
Wagner/de Vlieger Wagner's Ring: An orchestral adventure; Baltic Sea Philharmonic Orchestra, Kristjan Järvi; Sony Classical
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 6 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Exciting orchestral Wagner from Kristjan Järvi's new young ensemble

This new disc on Sony Classical showcases Kristjan Järvi's new ensemble the Baltic Sea Philharmonic. Comprising young players from all ten Baltic countries, the orchestra has grown out of Kristjan Järvi's Baltic Sea Youth Orchestra (with whom he recorded Baltic Sea Voyage, see my review). The Baltic Sea Philharmonic has already give two tours with Kristjan Järvi and in this, their first disc, they get to show off in The Ring: An orchestral adventure, Henk de Vlieger's 60 minute digest of Wagner's Ring.

In the CD booklet Jan Brachman cites various theories, some controversial, which suggest the Baltic region as the original venue for the stories on which Wagner built the Ring. So there are potential Baltic links with the work. A work which, with its concerts over the harmony of nature, links into the ecological concerns and desire to reconnect with nature which Kristjan Järvi links with the ethos of the orchestra (See my interview with Kristjan Jarvi).

Fascinating mix of old and new: Brodsky Quartet and David Hansen

David Hansen - photo Tonje Thilesen
David Hansen - photo Tonje Thilesen
Purcell, Handel, Bach, Pergolesi, Respighi, Goosens, Paweł Szymański, Roxanna Panufnik; David Hansen, Brodsky Quartet; Kings Place
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Oct 13 2016
Star rating: 4.0

New and old works for counter-tenor and quartet, enjoyed by all on stage and off

“I can’t tell you how much fun we’re having!” said Paul Cassidy, the Brodsky Quartet’s viola player. This Kings Place concert (13 October 2016) came under the Baroque Unwrapped umbrella, the Brodsky Quartet and counter-tenor David Hansen were exploring typical and untypical counter-tenor repertoire alongside string-quartet fare with music by Purcell, Handel, Bach, Pergolesi, Respighi, Goosens, Paweł Szymański, and Roxanna Panufnik. With the Brodskys one gets the feeling that everything they do is fun – even after 40-odd years.

Brodsky Quartet
Brodsky Quartet
David Hansen is a Norway-based Australian with a gorgeous creamy, flexible voice, a wide, even range and solid technique. He started with two slow counter-tenor numbers: Purcell’s Music for a while (with rather a lot of l’s in “shallllll allll” (your cares beguile) and an aria from Handel’s Hercules. In both cases diction was less than clear – whether this was because he was singing at modern pitch and slightly higher than usual, I couldn’t say but, though the sound was glorious, I would have liked to be reminded what he was singing about.

The quartet then gave us some Bach as a preface to one movement of a piece written by Roxanna Panufnik in memory of her father. O tu, Andrzej had echoes of Geusaldo and was mesmerisingly still, and I for one am dying to hear the other movement now.

Respighi is another composer who incorporated music of the past into his 20th-century writing. Il tramonto, written in 1914, was based on a Shelley poem. We are used to hearing it sung by a mezzo-soprano. The Quartet provided luxurious romantic vibrato. Hansen sounded great but he gave no sense he was telling us a story (or even singing in Italian). It was too dark to read the text in the printed programme, so we had to watch his gesticulations that alas gave the game away: this is a hard piece and he didn’t really feel at home in it.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Two clarinets - Ponchielli's Il Convegno

Ponchielli - Il Convegno
Amilcare Ponchielli is best known for his opera La Gioconda, but he also wrote instrumental music and there is a chance to hear his Il Convegno, divertimento for two clarinets and piano, on Monday 17 October 2017 at the 1901 Arts Club in Waterloo. 

Franklin Cohen (former principal clarinet of Cleveland Orchestra) and Chris Richards (principal clarinet of London Symphony Orchestra) will be joined by the Kazakh pianist Dina Duisen in a programme which also includes Weinberg's Sonata for clarinet and piano Op.28, Schumann's Fantasiestücke Op.73, Poulenc's Sonata for clarinet and piano in B flat major (written in 1945) and transcriptions of Schubert songs.

Full information from the 1901 Arts Club website, and the concert is being repeated on 19 October 2016 at St Mary's Church, Perivale.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Wanda Landowska tribute

The great Polish-French harpsichordist Wanda Landowska is remembered in a recital on Sunday 16 October 2016. Harpsichordist Katarzyna Kowalik pays a tribute to legendary harpsichordist at the Polish Hearth Club, 55 Princes Gate, South Kensington, London, SW7 2PN. The concert features some of Landowska's favourite pieces, including works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Francois Couperin and others, as well as some of her own compositions.

Landowska played a large role in reviving the harpsichord in the early 20th century. She collected older harpsichords, and had custom-built modern versions of the instrument made. Her favourite being a large-scale instrument made by Pleyel. She was the first person to record Bach's Goldberg Variations on harpsichord (in 1933), as well as having important music written for her by Poulenc and Manuel de Falla, 

Katarzyna was highly commended in the final of the 2015 York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, and was member of the Handel House Talent scheme in 2015, a new scheme to further the career development of promising young professional baroque music performers.

Full information from the Polish Hearth Club wbsite

If the UN had a house-band circa 1962: Thomas Lauderdale and Pink Martini

Thomas Lauderdale, China Forbes and Pink Martini
Thomas Lauderdale, China Forbes and Pink Martini
The genre-crossing pianist Thomas Lauderdale and his ensemble Pink Martini are currently on tour and will be performing in the UK from 21 October 2016, including appearing at The Royal Albert Hall. The Portland, Oregon based 'little orchestra' has a repertoire which includes classical, Latin, jazz and classic pop, and is currently celebrating its 22nd birthday. I caught up with Thomas recently to find out more.

When asked to describe the ensemble's musical style Thomas comes up with 'a rollicking around the world adventure, from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to "La Dolce Vita"', adding that 'if the UN had a house-band circa 1962', then it would be them.

Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes
Thomas Lauderdale & China Forbes
When he founded the ensemble, Thomas never imagined that the ensemble was go on so long and be viable for nearly 25 years. He thinks that it has helped not having any goals or expectations for the ensemble, and if you ask him 'Where would you like Pink Martini to be in five year's time, his answer would be I couldn't say'. Thomas never had a plan for the ensemble, and simply responded to events; their work is simply a reflection of an ongoing adventure, which he feels makes it very nice. The only aim is to do better, and they say yes to most things.

Not only is Pink Martini remarkably long-lived, but it has been a stable ensemble for two decades. The singer China Forbes was with the ensemble from almost the beginning, along with others who are founder members or who have been with Pink Martini since near the beginning. Thomas attributes this partly to the fact that the performers are all well paid, with a fair distribution of profits from the album sales, and that they take advantage of great opportunities.

Their repertoire is a reflection of Thomas's current concerns; he calls it a journal of his daily life.

Friday, 14 October 2016

A sound investment: BCMG's new season

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's (BCMG) 2016/17 season starts on 15 October 2016 at the Wigmore Hall, with the first of two BCMG concerts devoted to the music of Helen Grime. Grime was first commissioned by BCMG in 2009, and the concert will feature her music alongside composers who have profoundly influenced her. Grime is currently Composer-in-Residence at the Wigmore Hall, the concert on 15 October 2016 is part of a day devoted to Grime's music.

BCMG returns to its regular home CBSO Centre, Birmingham for a concert devoted to the music of Kevin Volans on 15 November 2016 when the Signum Quartet give world premiere of Volans’ String Quartet No. 12, and pianist Barry Douglas joins BCMG for the world premiere of Volans' Piano Concerto No. 4.

This season marks the 25th anniversary of BCMG's Sound Investment scheme, a pioneering fundraising scheme that introduced the concept of ‘crowd-funding’ long before the word had even entered the lexicon. Since 1991, over 400 people in the UK and internationally, have supported Sound Investment, collectively donating more than a quarter of a million pounds to the creation of new music. The 2016/17 season includes world premieres of works for voice and ensemble by Colin Matthews and emerging Spanish composer, Francisco Coll, plus recent and earlier Sound Investment commissions from composers Thomas Adès, Simon Holt, Gerald Barry, Richard Baker and Zoë Martlew.

A special 25th Anniversary concert, conducted by former BCMG Music Director Thomas Adès takes place on Saturday 10 December at CBSO Centre, Birmingham, and features the world premiere of a new work by Patrick Brennan, BCMG/Sound and Music Embedded Composer.

BCMG’s 2016-17 season also marks the arrival of the ensemble’s new artistic director, Stephan Meier, and new Executive Producer, Caroline Newton

Diversity and Inclusion

Chineke! Orchestra
Chineke! Orchestra
The predominantly white male middle-class nature of Western classical music is something which is, thankfully, changing; rapidly in some areas, less so in others. BBC Radio 3 is focusing on the area of composition and holding a Diversity and Inclusion in Composition one day conference at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on 19 October 2016, hosted in partnership with BASCA, the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Northern College of Music, and in association with the BBC Black and Asian Forum. 

Whilst in another area of inclusion, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has been awarded funding from the Art's Council's Change Makers fund which, along with a significant donation, allows the orchestra to host a training placement for James Rose, a conductor with disabilities, to accelerate his development, experience and confidence as an artist.

The BBC's conference will include guest speakers Alan Davey (BBC Radio 3 Controller), Tunde Ogungbesan (the BBC’s Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Succession), Chi-chi Nwanoku (founder of the Chineke! Foundation), Toks Dada (Programme Coordinator at Town Hall, Symphony Hall, Birmingham) and composers Daniel Kidane and Errollyn Wallen. The day will feature panel discussions, Q&As and talks from the guest speakers, and will conclude with a live broadcast of Radio 3's In Tune programme which will talks from the day’s speakers, live music from the BBC Philharmonic, performances from students of the Royal Northern College of Music and members of the Chineke! Orchestra, Britain's first professional orchestra of black and ethnic minority musicians.

James Rose - photo Hanazushi Rhodes, Royal Academy of Music
James Rose - photo Hanazushi Rhodes, Royal Academy of Music
BBC Radio 3 programming all week, Monday 17th to Friday 21st October, will complement the conference, Breakfast (6.30-9am) and Essential Classics (9-12am) will feature the music of composers from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities, while Composer of the Week (Monday-Friday, 12am-1pm) will explore the life and music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912). This programmatic theme continues to Saturday 22 October when many of the day's programmes are related to the theme, including an edition of Music Matters recorded at the conference.

The conductor James Rose, will take up his training placement with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in June 2017, and over the course of 18 months' mentorship from the orchestra will create, curate and direct a disabled-led ensemble. The ensemble, conducted by James will deliver a series of performances and workshops to young people and adults with and without disabilities across the region. James was selected by the BSO for his outstanding ambition and commitment to the art of conducting and music direction. He has a unique conducting style, using a head-baton, which challenges commonly held perceptions about the nature of a conductor’s role.

Of the 20 successful applicants for the Arts Council's Change Makers fund, the BSO is not only the only orchestra to receive funding, but is also the only disabled-led music project in the country to receive funding through the scheme.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

18-year-old Freya Ireland becomes RPS/Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer

Freya Ireland
Freya Ireland
The composer Freya Ireland has been appointed the RPS/Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer, in association with the Duet Group. A mere 18 years old and just left school, Freya is the recent winner of the inaugural Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Duet Prize for Young Composers. Freya will receive both formal and informal teaching and advice from the Wigmore Hall Composer in Residence, Helen Grime, attending regular rehearsals and concerts, meeting musicians and composers at the Wigmore Hall, and assisting Helen in secondary school workshops. Her apprenticeship begins with Helen Grime Day at the Wigmore Hall (Saturday 15 October) and continues throughout the Wigmore Hall’s 2016/17 season, during which time she will also write a new work.

In 2016, Freya was principal composer for the National Youth Orchestra, having joined the composing section in 2013; her music has been performed by members of the NYO in Birmingham Symphony Hall, Tate Britain, the Royal Festival Hall and other venues.

You can hear Freya's work on

Pure magic: sung poetry from Christian Gerhaher in Schumann

Christian Gerhaher with his Wigmore Medal at Wigmore Hall 12.10.16 c. Simon Jay Price
Christian Gerhaher with his Wigmore Medal at the Wigmore Hall 12.10.16 - photo Simon Jay Price
Dvorak Biblical Songs Op.99, Schumann Six Poems of Nikolaus Lenau and Requiem Op.90, Three Songs Op.83, Twelve Kerner Lieder Op.35; Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber; the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 12 2016
Star rating: 4.5

One of the great lieder singers of our day in an intense and interior programme

Recitals by the German baritone Christian Gerhaher are rather special affairs and his concert at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 12 October 2016, with his regular accompanist Gerold Huber, was no different. It was a very serious affair, Antonin Dvorak's Biblical Songs op.99, some late Schumann (his Six Poems of Nikolaus Lenau and Requiem Op.90 and Three Song Op.83) finishing with Schumann's Twelve Kerner Lieder Op.35, a song-sequence from the great year of 1840 but one which is slightly less easily accessible than its fellows. But it was a programme which provided enormous rewards if you were prepared to surrender to Gerhaher's very personal and very intent delivery. Every note and every word counted, creating a mesmerising sequence of sung poetry which, at first under-stated, developed a cumulative power.

Dvorak's Biblical Songs date from the same American period of the Symphony No. 9 and String Quartet No. 12 "American", but the songs lack the sheer melodic approachability of these works. Instead, the austere directness of Dvorak's setting of the Czech translations of the psalms has a contemplative and troubled feeling which perhaps reflects his own unease in the USA far from loved ones (his close friend Hans von Bülow died whilst he was away and his father was terminally ill). The songs virtually have to be sung in Czech,, Dvorak's publisher Simrock was annoyed that the pieces did not work in German.

Thea Musgrave's Ithaca

Seven Ages of Man - Londinium
Thea Musgrave's 2010 Proms commission Ithaca will be performed by Londinium, conductor Andrew Griffiths, as part of their Seven Ages of Man concert on Friday 14 October 2016 at the Church of St Sepulchre without Newgate, Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2DQ. 

Ithaca sets a text by C P Cavafy, the Egyptian-born Greek poet, a celebration of life's journey in all its splendour, and Musgrave describes it as being ‘about the journey of life that we all undertake’. John Allison writing in the Daily Telegraph referred to 'the fascinating Ithaca whose moral is that the journey is more important than the destination.'

Ithaca forms the centrepiece of a concert which takes as its theme Jacques 'Seven ages of Man' monologue from As you like it . The wide ranging programme starts with Eric Whitacre's Sleep My Child, and ends with William Harris' luscious Bring us, O Lord God, including along the way music by Dufay, Tallis, Gabrieli, Byrd, Bruckner, Parry and Holst plus Dominic Argento's There was a naughty boy and Bob Chilcott’s Even such is time.

Full information from the Londinium website.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Cross-cultural friendship: Jean-Guihen Queyras, Bijan & Keyvan Chemirani

Thrace: Sunday Morning Sessions - Harmonia Mundi
Thrace: Sunday Morning Sessons; Jean-Guihen Queyras, Bijan & Keyvan Chemirani, Sokratis Sinopoulos; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 3 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Cross cultural collaborations with friendship at their heart

Thrace: Sunday Morning Sessions is a new disc from Harmonia Mundi which combines a classical cello with the lyra (a Greek and Turkish instrument whose origins date back to Byzantine times), and Middle-Eastern percussion instruments the zarb and daf. As befits the eclectic mix of instruments, the performers give us a variety of composers, Frank Leriche, Sokratis Sinopoulos, Witold Lutoslawski, Ostad Mohamad Reza Lotfi, Bijan & Kevyan Chemirani, Jorg Widman, Ross Daly as well as anonymous.

The mix sounds a little indigestible on paper, but works in practice perhaps because it has at its heart a cross-cultural friendship. Cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras grew up with Bijan and Keyvan Chemirani (whose father, the great Persian tombak player Djamchild Chemirani, had settled in France). As children Queyras and the Chemirani brothers bonded over football, but as Queyras' musical horizons expanded after joining the Ensemble Intercontemperain, the friendship turned into a musical collaboration. And here they are also joined by the Greek musician Sokratis Sinopoulos, a contemporary master of the lyra, a small bowed instrument whose range and volume belies its size.

The music which they play is wide ranging, but in all the pieces they bring what might be called a Mediterranean sensibility to the music.

Celebrating 10 years of concerts in Eaton Square

Eaton Square Concerts at St Peter's Church, Eaton Square
Eaton Square Concerts at St Peter's Church, Eaton Square
Eaton Square Concerts, the concert series at St Peter's Church, Eaton Square, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the launch of the autumn 2016 season on Thursday 13 October 2016, when the Piatti Quartet and the Fitzroy Quartet will be joining forces to perform Mendelssohn's Octet in a programme which also includes quartets by Haydn and Beethoven. The Fitzroy Quartet are the current winners of the St Peter's Prize, which Eaton Square Concerts awards to a string quartet at the Royal Academy of Music, and the Piatti Quartet are former winners of the prize.

The season also includes the Artea String Trio (Thomas Gould, Benjamin Roskams and Ashok Klouda) performing Bach's Goldberg Variations (see my review of their performance at the Kings Place Festival), pianist Artur Pizzaro in Schumann, Brahms and Kreisler, the Vasari Singers in Handel's Dixit Dominus and motets by Bach, and flautist Katherine Bryan in music from her recent CD Silver Bow (see my review).

Delightful evening with a dark backdrop: Handel's Xerxes from ETO

Andrew Slater, Julia Riley - Handel Xerxes - English Touring Opera - ® Richard Hubert Smith
Andrew Slater, Julia Riley - Handel Xerxes - English Touring Opera - ® Richard Hubert Smith
Handel Xerxes; Julia Riley, Laura Mitchell, Galina Averina, Clint van der Linde, Carolyn Dobbin dir: James Conway, cond: Jonathan Peter Kenny; English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Apr 13 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Well sung, great ensemble acting and tremendous fun

Galina Averina, Laura Mitchel - Handel Xerxes - English Touring Opera - ® Richard Hubert Smith
Galina Averina, Laura Mitchell - Handel Xerxes
English Touring Opera - ® Richard Hubert Smith
English Touring Opera’s Autumn 2016 season started off with a revival of its 2011 production of Handel’s Xerxes at the Hackney Empire on 9 October 2016. Some of the cast were new and others were revisiting their roles from five years ago and they were using Nicholas Hytner’s 1985 translation for ENO, so there was a seasoned quality to this opening night. James Conway directed, with designs by Sarah Bacon, and Jonathan Peter Kenny conducted the Old Street Band with Julia Riley, Laura Mitchell, Galina Averina, Clint van der Linde, Andrew Slater, Carolyn Dobbin and Peter Brathwaite.

The set is simple and stylish, with a Nissen hut shown outside and inside, 1940s costumes and ubiquitous cigarettes and pipes. Apart from the back of a plane, it all looked very portable for the tours to a dozen venues. Much versatility is expected of the singers who are playing multiple roles on the tour which consists of three operas and a St John Passion.

This is a delightful production of what is in many ways one of Handel’s sunniest operas – all those love triangles that work out happily in the end.

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