Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Towards the Global Digital Jukebox

Donizetti Dom Sebastien
We live in a digital age, where everything seems possible, yet much is not. You can access the most obscure of recordings in a way that record collectors in the 1960s and 1970s could only have dreamed (Maria Callas recorded on the 31 September 1958, certainly sir!). Yet other recordings seem tantalisingly out of reach, available for sale for a short period only to disappear in the vaults.

What one might term the politics of economics controls what we can listen to, what we can appreciate. Many record companies, or rather media companies which produce recordings, rely on the cycle of issue, deletion and re-issue for recordings as if a digital recording was the same as a vinyl disc.

In the 1980s you could go to Cramer's Music Shop in Bond Street and order custom prints of out of print music. Such economic models are still used by music publishers in the era of the PDF. And if you go to the Opera Rara website you can acquire digital downloads of many of the company's recordings which have sold out the CDs. Production of a run of CDs requires some sort of cost balance, the expectation that a reasonable number might be sold. Opera Rara has obviously decided that Donizetti's Dom Sebastian (written for Paris in 1838) is unlikely to sell out another run of 5,000 but you can still access their excellent recording via a download.

Why is this not standard?

We are overwhelmed with music, there is a ridiculous amount available. yet when I want to acquire a particular Mozart opera recording made by Sir Charles Mackerras I have to look to re-sellers providing second hand or sold-on remainders. No digital download here. Surely there are enough classical music nerds in the world to make some sort of digital juke-box viable.

Fancy being able to buy a download of every single recording of an opera. For many years I wanted a copy of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots with a largely Francophone cast led by Ghyslaine Raphanel, Françoise Pollet, Danielle Borst, Richard Leech, Gilles Cachemaille, conducted by Cyril Diederich. It was tantalisingly out of reach until the cycle of issue, delete, re-issue reached the re-issue stage and I can now listen to it.

In the age of vinyl discs, this role was played by the specialist record shops (such as the late lamented Harold Moores Records in Great Marlborough Street) and second-hand classical shops, providing a valuable source of obscure and hard to get recordings. Nowadays Amazon provides a similar service, want something obscure then if someone has one it is there, at a cost!

Our digital jukebox still seems miles away.

It is worse, the further back you go. Some 78s still have not been transferred, or are only available via some long forgotten, hard to get

In the 1980s I had a (vinyl) disc of arias recorded by the great Yorkshire tenor Walter Widdop including some live recordings. Most have made their way onto CD but one remains elusive. Perhaps I shall have to go looking for a second-hand copy of the long lost vinyl.

One of the problems is the economic model. The way music is consumed digitally, the royalty payments are zero or minimal at best. Living artists have a perpetual struggle to get paid for recordings consumed via some digital media. In the free-for-all which arose when the digital platforms developed, the expectation that such music should be free or cheap was inescapable.

So if we do have our digital jukebox, 
will anyone be willing to pay an economic amount for it?

And as a civilisation, we are still fond of things. The idea that buying a recording involves an object, rather than a mysterious digital item. That, I have to confess is an attitude I have difficulty getting rid of. If there was a digital jukebox, I would still be hankering after CDs!

Echoes of Parsifal: songs and piano music by Robin Holloway on Delphian

Robin Holloway - The Lovers' Well - Delphian
Robin Holloway The Lovers' Well, Souvenirs of Monsalvat; Clare Lloyd-Griffiths, Kate Symonds-Joy, James Robinson, Simon Wallfisch, Edward Rushton, William Vann; DELPHIAN  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 December 2018 
Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A surprising and engrossing selection of Robin Holloway's songs and piano music, where lyricism, modernism and humour intersect

This disc from Delphian features a fascinating selection of songs and piano music by Robin Holloway (who celebrated his 75th birthday in 2018), including two items for four singers and piano,  The Zodiac Song and The Food of Love and a suite for two pianos, Souvenirs de Monsalvat, along with Three Songs to Pomes by Edmund Waller, A Medley of Nursery Rhymes and Conundrums and The Lovers' Well, all performed by Clare Lloyd-Griffiths (soprano), Kate Symonds-Joy (mezzo-soprano), James Robinson (tenor|) and Simon Wallfisch (baritone) with pianists William Vann and Edward Rushton.

The recital has a certain quirkiness to it, as the centrepiece is Holloway's 27 minute waltz-homage to Wagner's Parsifal written for two pianos, so that the disc is not quite a song recital and not quite a piano recital, and the recital is bookended by a pair of songs for vocal quartet and piano. But though the genre of the pieces may not be obvious, Holloway's music certainly intrigues and entrances as he combines lyricism with modernism, passion with humour and a delightful knowingness on music of the past.

We start with The Zodiac Song, written for four singers and piano in 2017 as a sort of follow-up to Holloway's Shelly setting The Food of Love which was written for the same forces in 1996, and which concludes the disc. Here the four singers are accompanied by William Vann in a piece which places short solos and duets against a constantly moving backdrop in the piano. It is quite varied, perky at times and almost tuneful in an interesting way.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Clarinettist dedications - Roeland Hendrikx in three contrasting concertos for clarinet

Dedications - works for clarinet & orchestra - Roeland Hendrikx
Finzi, Mozart, Bruch works for clarinet & orchestra; Roeland Hendrikx, Sander Geerts, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins; Evil Penguin  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 December 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Three contrasting concertante works for clarinet, with Bruch's late Romantic double concerto being a delightful discovery

The relationship between composer and performer/dedicatee is the subject of this disc, on Evil Penguin, from Belgian clarinettist Roeland Hendrikx with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins. They play three concertos, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, Max Bruch's Double Concerto for Clarinet and Viola with Orchestra, Op. 88 (with viola player Sander Geerts) and Gerald Finzi's Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra Op. 31. Each concerto was written for a particular clarinettist with whom the composer had a strong relationship, Mozart and Anton Stadler, Max Bruch and his son Max Felix Bruch, Gerald Finzi and Frederick Thurston.

They open with Gerald Finzi's concerto, written to be played by Frederick Thurston (with Finzi conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra) at the 1949 Three Choirs Festival. Hendrikx has a particular connection with the concerto as Thurston's wife, the clarinettist Thea King, was Hendrikx's teacher and mentor and she bequeathed to him a group of letters between Finzi and Thurston which discuss the creation of the concerto; extracts from which are printed in the CD booklet.

The opening movement has a very mid-century style to it, yet there is also a rather modern quality to the playing with an elegant, strongly focused clarinet solo supported by a very strong orchestral presence. The speed is quite fast, but fluidly flowing. The slow movement emerges from nothing and is quite classical in style, certainly not over romanticised. And whilst there are clear hints of Finzi's teachers like RVW, you can also hear European musical influences too. The finale is a briskly flowing movement, beautifully insouciant.

Mozart's concerto was written for the foremost clarinet virtuoso of his day, Anton Stadler, and the concerto has rightly achieved iconic status. In fact, it probably started out as a concerto for basset horn, the first 199 bars are identical to a basset horn concerto Mozart started to write for Stadler in 1787. The final concerto was written not for the standard clarinet, but for the basset clarinet, an instrument invented by Stadler which has a few extra lower notes, though this manuscript has not survived and all performances are based on an early edition of the work adapted for the standard A clarinet.

Does this matter? Hendrikx argues not.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Annual Christmas Round-up

Carols from Chelsea
Welcome to our annual Christmas round-up, where we take a look at recent discs of carols, Christmas music and more.

100 years of Nine Lessons & CarolsThere are fewer carol disc this year, but what there are are some corkers, and we also have more general Christmas music selections including trips to the Renaissance and to France. Choirs vary from mixed voice adult choirs, Oxbridge chapel choirs using mixed voices, boys voices, and girls voices to a school choir with a difference. There are two female vocal ensembles, both bringing a distinctive twist to Christmas and Seasonal repertoire. Howard Blake's The Snowman makes an appearance in the company of the late Sir Ken Dodd, and we finish with a DVD, very traditional yet highly modern take on Cinderella.

An Ely ChristmasIf it is carols you are wanting then SOMM's Carols from Chelsea is just the thing, a delightful selection of carols and more from William Vann and the choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. The selection ranges from old favourites arranged by David Willcocks and RVW's O Little Town of Bethlehem to Tomorrow shall be my dancing day and Michael Head's The Little Road to Bethlehem, there is William Byrd too, all beautifully sung. There are organ also solos and at the end the disc's secret weapon. The choir finishes with an arrangement of White Christmas in which they are joined by Chelsea In-Pensioner George Hatton, whose first professional recording this is at the age of 88!

The choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea is a mixed voice one made up of young professionals with women on the top line. Of course, for many the sound of Christmas has to be boys' voices, and the choir of King's College, Cambridge's Service of Nine Lessons and Carols embodies this. Under retiring music director Stephen Cleobury the choir has produced a double CD set on its own label celebrating the centenary of the service at King's College. The fascinating thing about this set is the selection of archive recordings dating from 1958 to 2017 under David Willcocks, Philip Ledger and Stephen Cleobury, though it is a shame nothing earlier could have been found. Here we can trace the changes, and the constants, in 'The King's Sound'.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Reviving Mozart in Wales & family connections in Milton Keynes: I chat to conductor Damian Iorio

Damian Iorio
Damian Iorio
Damian Iorio will be conducting Welsh National Opera's revival of Dominic Cooke's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute during February and May this year; this will be Damian's debut with the company. He is also music director of the Milton Keynes City Orchestra, an ensemble with which it turns out he has strong family links. I spoke to Damian recently via Skype to find out more.

The Magic Flute is one of those operas which can be read many ways, and Damian sees it as multi-layered, with fun yet an element of seriousness so that those who wish to delve can do so. Damian's preparatory reading has suggested a number of different angles. But he is very aware that he is conducting a revival, and this affects how he approaches the piece as he does not want to weaken a production which is already there.

He has conducted more new productions than revivals, but he points out that even in a new production a conductor is not entirely in control and they will be working with the director so that ideas flow between the two. The challenge of a revival is to make the performance strong. Both situations require flexibility and being open-minded, and Damian loves being challenged.
'such a complex opera, that no definitive answer about it is possible'
Damian sees The Magic Flute as such a complex opera, that no definitive answer about it is possible. And with a revival, certain questions will have been discussed in the original production and answered from a certain point of view, and Damian needs to understand this.

This Damian's debut with Welsh National Opera and he is looking forward to it. So far, his career has been split between the opera house and the concert hall, and he enjoys making music in both. Whilst there are differences between the two, Damian thinks that it is all music and he needs to be true to both himself and to the composer, to express, listen and feel. He tends to do one or two opera productions per year and feels that he has been very lucky. His previous opera productions have included Boris Godounov in Paris, Mahagonny in Sweden, and Falstaff with Helikon Opera in Moscow, and in Siberia.

Mozart: The Magic Flute - Dominic Cooke's production at WNO (Photo Robert Workman)
Mozart: The Magic Flute - Dominic Cooke's production at WNO (Photo Robert Workman)
Damian has been music director of the Milton Keynes City Orchestra (MKCO) since 2014 but his connection with the orchestra, in fact, goes back 40 years and is very much a family one as his parents were part of the orchestra from its founding in 1975.

Damian comes from a highly musical family. His grandfather was Australian, came to the UK and became a well-known viola player, playing with The Halle and in the RAF during the war (in fact, he played at the Potsdam Conference). All three of Damian's grandfather's children became musicians, including Damian's mother who led MKCO until two years ago and she is still teaching. His father is also a violin player, his brother an opera director.

The orchestra came about because the Milton Keynes Corporation wanted to invest in the cultural life of the city, and this is still very important. The orchestra is made up of professional freelance players, though many have links to the area. Damian very much enjoys conducting the ensemble and is now in his fifth season.
'his connection with the orchestra goes back 40 years and is very much a family one'
In his period with the orchestra, he has seen some changes. Whilst the orchestra remains freelance, Damian is keen to make the identity of the players closer to Milton Keynes. And he has brought in major soloists to play with the orchestra (Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Craig Ogden and Stephen Hough as soloists in the 2018/19 season.). He feels that the quality of the artistic offering is good, but with any new orchestra, things are complicated as it has to appeal to so many.

The audiences tend to be quite mixed, so Damian has to understand which programmes work best and of course, there is the constant pressure to sell tickets. Yet he wants to challenge the public as well as giving them what they want. Damian feels that in the UK, the orchestras and ensembles outside of London are very good at challenging their audiences in comparison to other countries. But it is important to understand the audience as well as challenging them, and Damian's job is to lead everyone, both orchestra and the public. He has started introducing programmes from the stage, bringing new light on existing repertoire as well as helping with unfamiliar pieces.

Damian Iorio and Milton Keynes City Orchestra
Damian Iorio and Milton Keynes City Orchestra
Despite coming from such a musical family, his becoming a professional performer was not something that his parents insisted upon, instead, they ensured that he had a choice.  There were the usual arguments when he was in his teens, and his determination to work in music wobbled a bit. But he realised that he wanted to take his violin playing further and studied at the RNCM. Whilst there he also expressed interest in conducting and his conducting teacher there was very generous with his time, bearing mind that Damian was, in fact, a violin student.

Whilst at the RNCM he did amateur and unofficial conducting gigs. It was attending a masterclass given by the great conducting pedagogue Ilya Musin which really blew him away. And then Damian spent a year in the USA studying the violin with Franco Gulli, who was a great old-school violinist, yet someone who also played Bach with a sense of authenticity. It was Gulli who opened the young Damian's eyes in a profound way to the idea of being a musician, rather than just a violinist.

He thought that conducting was a way to further his development, but he had no money so he got a violinist job in Denmark and studied in Moscow once a month! He went on to win the second prize in the Leeds Conducting Competition and started doing a mixture of violin playing and conducting. Whilst playing the violin, he worked with a number of major conductors, such as Kurt Sanderling, whilst also still studying conducting. And then he jumped, moving to just conducting jobs; it was a risky move but was the right decision.
'he knows what it is like to sit at the back of the violins and that he knows the repertoire from within'
This career path has meant that Damian came into conducting much later than many, but he feels that this was a good thing, that he had a career in music before he became a conductor. So that he knows what it is like to sit at the back of the violins and that he knows the repertoire from within.

When I ask about his conducting heroes, he admits that this is difficult as he looked up to different conductors for different things. Whilst he was in St Petersburg he experienced playing under Temirkanov and Gergiev, whilst his uncle had worked a lot with Claudio Abbado with the London Symphony Orchestra. As a violinist, Damian found Kurt Sanderling as scary as anything to work with, yet when Damian approached him he was personally generous and gentle, lending Damian his conducting score to copy the markings. Marek Janowski was another conductor whom it was interesting to work with, whilst Vladimir Jurowski has become a friend yet is someone Damian regards as a great conductor with great vision.

But his influences are not just from conductors, and he refers back to his violin teacher Franco Gulli, and also his first violin teacher, Sheila Nelson, with whom he studied for most of his childhood and whom he regards as a remarkable person.

Welsh National Opera's revival of Dominic Cooke's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute opens on 15 February 2019 at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, and tours to Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Bristol, Llandudno and Southampton, conducted by Damian Iorio with Ben Johnson, Anita Watson, James Platt, Samantha Hay/Caroline Wettergreen, Mark Stone/Gareth Brynmor John -  full details from Welsh National Opera website.

Damian Iorio on disc:
  • Ildebrando Pizzetti: Symphony in A, Harp Concerto - Margherita Bassani, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale delle Re, Damian Iorio, Naxos - Available from Amazon
  • Alberto Casella: Triple Concerto, Giorgio Federico Ghedini: Concerto dell'albatro - Emanuela Piemonti, Paolo Ghidoni, Pietro Bosna, Carlo Doglioni Majer, Orchestra I Pomerigi Musicali, Damian Iorio, Naxos - Available from Amazon

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Chocolate covered fairy-tale: Hänsel und Gretel at Covent Garden (★★★½) - opera review
  • Joyous discovery: Alessandro Scarlatti's Messa per il Santissimo Natale (★★★★)  - concert review
  • Powerful memorial: composer Andrew Smith on his Requiem dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Utøya massacre in Norway  - interview
  • Christmas in Leipzig: Solomon's Knot in Bach, Schelle & Kuhnau (★★★★) - concert review
  • Winter Fragments: Chamber music by Michael Berkeley (★★★½) - CD review
  • Intimate delight: 18th century chamber cantatas from Tim Mead, Louise Alder & Arcangelo - (★★★★½)  concert review
  • A new record label, a new disc: I chat to Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka about bel canto and more  - interview
  • French Collection: 18th century harpsichord music (★★★½) - CD review
  • Truly scrumptious: the choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor in music for Advent (★★★★) - concert review
  • Late-Edwardian fairytale: Stanford's The Travelling Companion  (★★★★) - opera review
  • Profoundly beautiful: Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera  (★★★★) - opera review
  • Last Man Standing: Cheryl Frances-Hoad premiere at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • One crazy day: Jonathan Dove on his new opera Marx in London which premieres at Theater Bonn  - interview
  • Landscapes of the mind: Anna Þorvaldsdóttir's Aequa (★★★½) - CD review
  • Home

Friday, 14 December 2018

Chocolate covered fairy-tale: Hänsel und Gretel at Covent Garden

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel - Hanna Hipp, Jennifer Davis, Gerhard Siegel - Royal Opera House (Photo Clive Barda/Royal Opera )
Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel - Hanna Hipp, Jennifer Davis, Gerhard Siegel
Royal Opera House (Photo Clive Barda/Royal Opera )
Engelbert Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel; Jennifer Davis, Hanna Hipp, Michael Schuster, Eddie Wade, Gerhard Siegel, dir: Antony McDonald, cond: Sebastian Weigle; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 December 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)

A new version of the perennial classic, which is pure fairy-tale but done with imagination

Fairytales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way, you can take away the simple delight of the score but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

The Royal Opera's new production of Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel replaced Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier's rather dark, contemporary vision of the opera, one that was mostly aimed at adults. On 13 December 2018, Antony McDonald's new production was firmly on the family-friendly side, the production notes saying that it was suitable for children over the age of six. McDonald, who both directed and designed, took a picture-book fairytale approach, yet did so with style and intelligence.

The eponymous children were played be Jennifer Davis and Hanna Hipp with Michaela Schuster and Eddie Wade as their parents (Wade was a very late replacement for an ailing James Rutherford), and Gerhard Siegel as the witch. Plus Christina Gansch as the Dew Fairy and Haegee Lee as the Sandman. Sebastian Weigle conducted.

During the overture, the drop curtain depicted a picture-perfect Alpine valley, but we had two glimpses of Hänsel, Gretel and their family, the first happy and prosperous, the second dejected and poor, with a Swiss clock at the top of the proscenium indicating the passage of time. The look of the opening act was very much that of older traditional productions, with a realistic wooden chalet and even a stove (on which Mother would 'cook' at the end of the act). Yet the realism only went so far, and this was very much a fairytale with the family's hard times not having any of the dirty, sharp edges which some productions bring to it.

Michaela Schuster was a magnificent mother, really singing the role and making the character quite serious yet approachable. Eddie Wade gave sterling support as Father, a role which he only took over as short notice, and their scene at the end of Act One was a complex delight.

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel - Hanna Hipp, Jennifer Davis, - Royal Opera House (Photo Clive Barda/Royal Opera )
Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel - Hanna Hipp, Jennifer Davis, - Royal Opera House (Photo Clive Barda/Royal Opera )

Looking ahead: Music, Spirituality, Wellbeing and Theology at Winchester Cathedral

The Tavener Centre for Music and Spirituality
Tavener Centre for Music and Spirituality at the University of Winchester celebrates the legacy of Sir John Tavener and explores the relationship between spirituality and music. Next year the centre is holding an international symposium, Music, Spirituality, Wellbeing and Theology at Winchester Cathedral on 14 & 15 June 2018 in association with Spirituality and Music Education (SAME). 

The Symposium aims to examine the place of music in this complex world, especially its role in wellbeing, through the insights of musicologists, composers, listeners, teachers, therapists and performers. And asks the question, 'how might your own lived experience of Sir John Tavener’s music, for example, inform this dialogue?'

The call for papers for the symposium is open until 10 January 2019.

Full details from the Tavener Centre website.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Joyous discovery: Alessandro Scarlatti's Messa per il Santissimo Natale

Alessandro Scarlatti
Alessandro Scarlatti
A. Scarlatti, Gallus, G. Gabrieli, J.S. Bach; Rebecca Outram, Cecilia Osmond, Helen Charlston, Nick Pritchard, Marcus Farnsworth, English Concert, Laurence Cummings; St John's Smith Square Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 December 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Scarlatti's Christmas mass makes a delightful opening to this Christmas concert with a different

Laurence Cummings and the English Concert gave us a Christmas programme with something of a difference on Wednesday 12 December 2018 at St John's Smith Square. With soloists Rebecca Outram, Cecilia Osmond, Helen Charlston, Nick Pritchard and Marcus Farnsworth, along with the choir of the English Concert, they performed Alessandro Scarlatti's Messa per il Santissimo Natale, Jacobus Gallus' Omnes de Saba, Giovanni Gabrieli's O Magnum Mysterium and Johann Bach's cantatas Selig is der Mann BWV57 and Ich freue mich in dir BWV133.

The first half consisted of Scarlatti's mass interleaved with the two motets. The mass proved a delightful discovery, though quite what the Christmas connection was I am not sure, except perhaps a certain exuberant joyfulness in the writing. Scarlatti used nine vocal parts divided into two groups, a five-part solo group (Rebecca Outram, Cecilia Osmond, Helen Charlston, Nick Pritchard and Marcus Farnsworth) and a four-part choir, with the solo group sometimes used as a semi-chorus and sometimes with individual solos. Scarlatti seemed particularly fond of using the two sopranos together in delightful short duets.

Celebrating their centenary - Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra

Oslo Concert Hall
Oslo Concert Hall, home to the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra is 100 in 2019, and the orchestra and its chief conductor Vasily Petrenko are spreading the celebrations with tours to Spain and the UK. 

The orchestra's programme for the UK tour in March 2019 includes Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.3 and Symphony No.1, Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Sibelius’s Symphony No.5, with Nikolai Lugansky as the soloist in the two concertos. The tour takes in St David's Hall, Cardiff (6/3/2019), Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham (7/3/2019), Symphony Hall, Birmingham (8/3/2019), Leeds Town Hall (9/3/2019) and Sage Gateshead (10/3/2019).

From 29 January to 1 February the orchestra will be in Spain visiting the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, the Auditorio Nacional de Música in Madrid and the Auditorio de Zaragoza in Zaragoza. Pianist Simon Trpčeski will join the orchestra as the soloist in all four concerts, alongside Oslo Philharmonic's chief conductor Vasily Petrenko. Trpčeski will perform both Johannes Brahms’ piano concertos on the tour.

Though the orchestra was founded in its present form in 1919, it has in fact a long history dating back to 1879 when Edvard Grieg and Johan Svendson founded an orchestra, which eventually developed into a city orchestra which played at Nationaltheatret, providing music for new theatre and giving concerts. A dispute during the First World War led to the orchestra being re-founded as an independent body in 1919.  Since 1977 its home has been the Oslo Concert Hall.

Full details from the Oslo Philharmonic's website with an article about the tour.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Looking Ahead: Aldeburgh 2019 - Thomas Larcher, Mark Padmore, Barbara Hannigan

Thomas Larcher (© Richard Haughton)
Thomas Larcher (© Richard Haughton)
The composer Thomas Larcher will be one of three Artists in Residence at the 2019  Aldeburgh Festival, which will run from 7 to 23 June 2019. The other two Artists in Residence will be tenor Mark Padmore, and soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan.

Larcher's first opera, The Hunting Gun, which premiered to great acclaim at the Bregenz Festival in 2018, will receive its UK premiere at the 2019 Aldeburgh Festival conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth with a cast including Sam Boden as Dichter (Narrator). Also as part of the residency, a number of Larcher's other works will be performed across the festival, inclulding his four string quartets by the Albion Quartet, the Ardeo Quartet, the Heath Quartet and Quatuor Diotima, and pianist Paul Lewis will give the premiere of Larcher's festival commission.

As part of Mark Padmore's residency he wants audiences to think more closely about the words set in songs and in opera, so there are four Poetry and Music events where writer, broadcaster and performer Dr Kate Kennedy is joined by leading poets to discuss the texts set by Britten in his song cycles Winter Words (Thomas Hardy), The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, and Who are These Children? (William Soutar). The discussions are followed by performances from Padmore, Roderick Williams and pianist Andrew West.

These two residencies intersect when Mark Padmore performs Thomas Larcher's A Padmore Cycle accompanied by the composer. Larcher wrote the cycle for Mark Padmore in 2011 [see my review of Padmore and Larcher's CD recording of the cycle]

Padmore will be joined by Roderick Williams for a recital which re-creates the 1828 concert of Schubert's music, the only known all-Schubert programme performed in a public concert during the composer's lifetime.

Barbara Hannigan's residency is part of the Aldeburgh Festival's collaboration with Ojai Festival in California where Hannigan is 2019 Festival Music Director. At Aldeburgh, Hannigan will curate concerts in the final four days, and will be singing the role of Anne Trulove in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress.

Full details from the Aldeburgh Festival website.

Powerful memorial: composer Andrew Smith on his Requiem dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Utøya massacre in Norway

Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith
Composer Andrew Smith's background combines two distinctive choral traditions, that of Great Britain and that of Norway; UK-born yet trained in Norway, Andrew has found a niche for himself writing choral music, though he is better known in Norway than in the UK. This seems set to change with the release of Nidaros Cathedral Girls Choir's recording of Andrew Smith's Requiem on the 2L label. [available from Amazon] Combining choir, organ and improvising instrument (here the saxophonist Trygve Seim) the work is dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Utøya massacre in Norway.

Andrew was recently in the UK, to catch a performance of his music in Tewkesbury Abbey, and I took the opportunity to meet up for coffee and find out more about the Requiem and his approach to music in general.

The idea for the Requiem started simply as a commission for a piece for the girl's choir of Nidaros Cathedral (the historic 11th century cathedral in Trondheim). Andrew suggested a requiem in memory of innocent child victims. And from the outset, the work was to include improvisation. Some 10 years ago Andrew wrote a piece for the Norwegian group Trio Mediaeval and trumpeter Arve Henriksen which included improvisation, and Andrew was keen to work with Henriksen again and use improvisation on a bigger scale.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Looking Ahead: Dartington 2019 - Joanna MacGregor's last festival as artistic director

Dartington Hall (Photo Aubrey Simpson)
Dartington Hall (Photo Aubrey Simpson)
2019 sees Joanna MacGregor's fifth and final year as artistic director of Dartington Summer School and Festival which runs at Dartington Hall from 27 July to 24 August 2019.

Highlights include Britten's The Turn of the Screw with Tom Randle as Peter Quint, and Britten's Saint Nicholas conducted by Steuart Bedford, along with Sarah Gabriel directing her new play A House on Middagh Street, about the house where Britten lived with WH Auden, Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee.

Other large scale pieces include Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, and John Cage's Musicircus which will involve the entire Dartington and Totnes community! And Joanna MacGregor has commissioned a new piece from Eleanor Alberga for large choir and piano.

MacGregor's distinctive sense of programming can be seen when she pairs Moondog with Bach's The Art of Fugue,  and there is also Piazzolla, Harrison Birtwistle (who celebrates his 85th birthday) and Alice Oswald presents Nobody, her new long poem inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, with William Tillyer’s swirling, abstract paintings and improvisation with Joanna MacGregor.

Laurence Cumming conducts Handel's Saul, and Robert Howarth and Richard Williams direct Handel's Agrippina.

Full details from Dartington's website.

Christmas in Leipzig - Solomon's Knot

Solomon's Knot (Photo Gerard Collett)
Solomon's Knot (Photo Gerard Collett)
Christmas in Leipzig
Schelle, Kuhnau, Bach; 
Solomon's Knot; 
Milton Court Concert Hall  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 December 2018 
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The Baroque collective, Solomon's Knot, brings its inimitable style and engaging sense of communication to Christmas music by Bach and his predecessors

Solomon's Knot returned to the Barbican on Monday 10 December 2018 following the group's successful Barbican debut earlier this year performing Bach motets at the Bach Weekend [see Ruth's review]. Monday's concert at Milton Court Concert Hall featured the group's Christmas in Leipzig programme [which we first heard in 2015, see my review] which paired Bach's first version of the Magnificat (in E flat with the Christmas interpolations) with music by his two predecessors, Johann Kuhnau's Magnificat in C major and Johann Schelle's Machet die Tore weit.

Founded 10 years ago and led by joint artistic directors James Halliday and Jonathan Sells, the group is a collective which brings a different approach to Baroque music.  Yes the performances are Historically Informed on period instruments, and yes the forces use approximate to those which Bach probably used with a vocal group of ten (going down to eight for the Schelle) and an instrumental ensemble based on eight strings, and solos are sung by members of the ensemble stepping out.

But all sorts of modern performing traditions have started to accumulate around the performance of Baroque music, and Solomon's Knot avoids some of these. It performs without a conductor, and without the visible direction of a keyboard/director. Instead, the responsibility is collective, with the opening of a movement/section the responsibility of those starting it. This has plusses and minuses, sometimes a guiding hand is helpful in risk-taking, but the collective approach is a valid one and brings a greater level of communicability. You can see the singers and instrumentalists looking at each other, paying attention to what is going on and reacting. These are very much ensemble performances.

The other difference is that the singers of Solomon's Knot perform from memory so that their communication with the audience is very direct with no score or conductor getting in the way. Some very fine vocal ensembles give performances which, rather than being for the audience, seem to be simply allowing the audience to eavesdrop on something which is essentially private. Not here, we can see and hear the group from the outset. Apart from the group of large-scale solos at the centre of Bach's Magnificat when the singers vacated the stage, everyone was on-stage all the time and when not singing, people were listening and reacting, each in their different way. You could imagine the staging being more developed, more choreographed, but this had a nicely casual quality with reactions varying from still and solemn attention to lively delight. Though the instrumentalists were placed behind the singers, they were not secondary and we could see and hear their participation.

In terms of sound quality, the results had an engaging liveliness even in the most sober passages. And, with the large ensembles having a feeling of bounce and lightness (though not without drama) which is often lacking, and the continuo accompanied solos created a real chamber music feel.

The concert was being recorded live for future release, and the evening began with a plea from Jonathan Sells for the audience to be restrained in its noise-making. That sense of restraint seemed to carry over to the performances and the first two items, Schelle's Machet die Tore weit and Kuhnau's Magnificat seemed to be a little more careful than usual, without the element of vibrant risk-taking. But somehow, after the interval, the ensemble recovered its collective confidence and the Bach had a wonderful vividness, energy and focus, with the group's enjoyment being palpable.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Inspired by Cage and Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg - Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac
Robert Rauschenberg Palladian Xmas (Spread), 1980. 
Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac,
London Paris Salzburg © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/DACS
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in London currently has an exhibition devoted to the work of Robert Rauschenberg, Spreads 1975-1983, alongside John Cage's installation Ryoanji. Inspired by Rauschenberg's collaborations with Cage, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac and MusicArt are presenting a performance Conceptual Concert in Three Acts co-created and performed by pianist Annie Yim with poet Kayo Chingonyi and composer Raymond Yiu on 13 December 2018.

The event will include Cage's The Seasons (1947) and Winter Music (1957), combined with recorded extracts of Cage’s spoken voice, plus an original multi-media Performing Installation, created and performed by Kayo Chingonyi, Annie Yim and Raymond Yiu, with the event finishing with a performance of Cage's iconic 4’33” (1952).

Further details from MusicArt.

Winter Fragments: Chamber music by Michael Berkeley

MIchael Berkeley - Winter Fragments - Berkeley Ensemble - Resonus Classics
Winter Fragments - Michael Berkeley chamber music; Fleur Barron, Berkeley Ensemble, Dominic Grier; Resonus Classics Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 December 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
With music spanning nearly 30 years, a serious exploration of Michael Berkeley's chamber music

Winter Fragments on Resonus Classics is the latest disc by the Berkeley Ensemble to feature music by Michael Berkeley. On this disc the ensemble (Sophie Matter and Francesc Barritt violin, Dan Shilladay viola, Gemma Wareham cello, John Slack clarinets, Andrew Watson bassoon, Paul Cott horn) is joined by Fleur Barron (mezzo-soprano), Luke Russell (flutes), Emily Cockbill (oboe & cor anglais), Sarah Hatch (percussion), Helen Sharp (harp) and Dominic Grier (conductor) to perform Berkeley's Catch Me If You Can, Clarinet Quintet, Winter Fragments, Sonnet for Orpheus and Seven, music which spans nearly 30 years of Berkeley's composing life.

The disc opens with Berkeley's 1994 work for wind ensemble, Catch Me If You Can, which was written for the Haffner Wind Ensemble to take into schools, so that Berkeley's inspirations for the piece varied from Janacek's Mladi (youth) to the cruelty of children's games. In three movements, the first presents fragments which collect together in a busy dialogue where things seem to happen simultaneously. The second is slow and spare, with a sense of narrative to it and this feeling of a story being told continues with the perky final movement.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Intimate delight, 18th century chamber cantatas from Tim Mead, Louise Alder & Arcangelo

18th century chamber cantatas
Scarlatti, Porpora, Handel - chamber cantatas and trio sonatas; Louise Alder, Tim Mead, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen; Wigmore Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 December 2018 Star rating: 45. (★★★★½)
Intimate, smaller scale 18th-century vocal works in engaging & vital performances

The chamber cantata was an important element of 18th-century musical life, enabling both composers and performers to demonstrate their skills on a smaller scale. The links with 18th-century opera are quite clear, opera composers wrote cantatas for opera singers to perform for patrons who often patronised opera as well. Though it is important to recognise that in the chamber cantata, the composer could be freer and more imaginative, not confined by operatic conventions.

For their programme at Wigmore Hall on Friday 7 December 2018, soprano Louise Alder and counter-tenor Tim Mead joined Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo (Sophie Gent and Louis Creac'h violins, Max Mandel viola, Jonathan Byers cello, Thomas Dunford lute) for a programme of chamber cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti, Nicola Porpora and George Frideric Handel, ending with Handel's Amarilli vezzosa (Il duello amoroso), plus trio sonatas by Porpora and Handel.

We started with a pair of cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti, Piango, sospiro e peno H563 with Tim Mead, and Clori e Mirtillo H419 with Louise Alder and Tim Mead. The first cantata used a pair of violins with the standard continuo line-up of cello, lute and keyboard (with Jonathan Cohen moving between harpsichord and chamber organ throughout the evening). Piango, sospiro e peno introduces us to a suffering lover, though perhaps the most notable feature of the cantata was the way Scarlatti used the violins to create a trio-sonata texture full of expressive suspensions, and the cantata began and ended with striking arioso sections featuring voice and violins, with a pair of finely contrasting arias in the middle. All in all, a little gem which received a most expressive performance from Tim Mead and the ensemble.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

A new record label, a new disc: I chat to Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka about bel canto and more

Donizetti: Anna Bolena - Michele Losier, Marina Rebeka - Bordeaux (Photo Maitetxu Etcheverria)
Donizetti: Anna Bolena - Michele Losier, Marina Rebeka - Opera National Bordeaux 2018 (Photo Maitetxu Etcheverria)
The Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka has just released a new recital disc, Spirito, of bel canto arias by Bellini, Donizetti, and Spontini, on her new label, Prima Classic. Whilst appearing in the title role in Donizetti's Anna Bolena in Bordeaux, Marina made a brief visit to London and I was lucky enough to be able to meet up with her to chat about the new disc, and about her plans for the new label.

Marina Rebeka (Photo Jānis Deinats)
Marina Rebeka (Photo Jānis Deinats)
Spirito has scenes from Bellini's Norma and Il Pirata, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Anna Bolena, and Spontini's La Vestale, and in fact, they could all be classified as mad scenes or prayers and I wondered whether that had been a deliberate choice. In fact, Marina had chosen what she felt was the most difficult aria in each opera, often going for the most extreme moment, something which Marina feels is in keeping with her own dramatic nature. She also wished to do complete scenes rather than single arias, and the challenge was to fit everything onto the disc (in fact, the scene from Anna Bolena has a small cut), and she had to drop the idea of doing the final scene from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux simply because it would have been too long.

Once Marina has sung Imogene in Bellini's Il Pirata in Geneva in February 2019, she will have all the Italian roles on the disc in her repertoire. Julia from Spontini's La Vestale is rather rare and is still best known for being sung, in Italian, by Maria Callas though Ricardo Muti conducted it at La Scala in the original French. And Marina was interested in performing the music in French. She finds the music of La Vestale more engaging in French, with the phrases being longer (in Italian, the translation needs to break the phrases up). In French, the music shows the first intentions of the composer (La Vestale was written in 1807 for the Paris Opera). Marina finds it a beautiful piece with the influence of Gluck, and Berlioz admired the work a lot. Part of the reason for choosing to include a scene from the opera on Spirito was that Marina wanted to show why La Vestale was so famous.

And to do it in the original required going to the library.

This is something that Marina enjoys, for all the music on the disc she has returned to the composer's manuscripts and created her own editions (with Marija Beate Straujupe, the librarian at Latvian National Opera). Marina finds it exciting to see the music in the original manuscript, the way the words and the notes link up, and the indications of the way the composer originally thought about the music. They found small changes between the manuscripts and printed editions, ungrammatical phrases, which Marina found brought her closer to the composer.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Ideal & Flying Height: Celebrating Brian Ferneyhough

Brian Ferneyhough
Brian Ferneyhough (Photo Charlotte Oswald)
Brian Ferneyhough is 75, and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) and the Arditti Quartet are joining forces to celebrate at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. On Sunday 9 December 2018, there is a day of events at the Conservatoire launched with a conversation between Ferneyhough and fellow composer Howard Skempton. 

Also performing during the day are musicians from NEXT, a one-year programme launched earlier this year by BCMG and the Conservatoire which gives post-graduates and early career musicians training, coaching and performance opportunities to become specialist contemporary classical musicians.

Music during the day includes Ferneyhough’s La Chute d’Icare (the clarinet representing Icarus), Funérailles I & II (for seven strings and harp, dating to 1969 and 1980 respectively) which allude to Liszt’s work of the same name, and  Dum Transisset I-V (for string quartet from 2007, a tribute to 16th-century composer and organist Christopher Tye).

The events also feature works by other composers with Midlands links (Ferneyhough was, himself, born on Coventry) including Sutton Coldfield-born Jonathan Harvey’s Scena, Trauerkonzert by Michael Wolters, the Conservatoire’s Deputy Head of Composition, and Conservatoire alumna Charlotte Bray’s Beneath the Dawn Horizon in its first complete public performance.

Full details from the BCMG website.

Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti: Trikala

Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti: Trikala
Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti: Trikala Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 December 2018
Classical guitarist Simon Thacker returns with his ensemble, with further explorations of music from the Indian sub-continent

The classical guitarist Simon Thacker continues his cross-culturation explorations with his ensemble Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti with this new double-album Trikala on Slap the Moon records. For this disc he has brought together a total of 13 musicians from a variety of traditions, both Western Classical and Indian, including different traditions from the Indian sub-continent. They come together as a series of different ensembles and explore a wide spectrum of the musics from the sub-continent. 

The music on the disc encompasses Hindustani classical (north), Carnatic classical (south), Punjabi folk (west) and the Bengali mystical folk Baul tradition of both India and Bangladesh (east), and there is also a work with a Tamil inspiration, and one of Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore’s best loved melodies. With all the music on the disc re-imagined by Simon Thacker.


The London Sinfonietta explores the links between music and literature at a concert on Friday 7 December 2018 at the Purcell Room. Conducted by Jessica Cottis the orchestra is presenting a pair of world premieres, Mark Boden's new saxophone concerto Sapiens and Colin Matthews' As Time Returns.

Mark Boden first worked with London Sinfonietta saxophone player Simon Haran on a Sinfonietta Short solo work, and this collaboration has developed into a full concerto Sapiens which Boden has based on Yuval Noah Harari’s bestselling history of humankind Sapiens.

 Colin Matthews' As Time Returns is a setting of poems by the Czech poet Ivan Blatný (1919 – 1990), who defected to England in 1948 and spent most of the remainder of his life in mental institutions and care homes, and it was only when one of his carers preserved his work that it became known and published. Matthews' new work is the powerful story of one man's personal journey, performed by baritone George Humphreys.

Further ahead, on 17 January 2019 as part of SoundState, Southbank Centre's new festival celebrating new music,the orchestra will be presenting the London premiere of James Dillon’s Tanz/haus: triptych 2017, plus music by two of the Sinfonietta's Writing the Future composers, Oliver Leith and Josephine Stephenson.

Full details from the London Sinfonietta website.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

W11 Opera - Shadowtracks

The Price - W11 Opera
Russell Hepplewhite: The Price - W11 Opera, 2016
For the last 47 years, W11 Opera has been producing opera performed by young people age 9 to 18. This year the company is returning to Shadowtracks by Julian Grant and Christina Jones, which the company originally commissioned in 2007.  Shadowtracks is at POSK Theatre, Hammersmith, W6 0RF on Saturday 8 December and Sunday 9 December.

W11 Opera has a strong tradition of performing commissioned works, and has commissioned composers including George Fenton, Julian Philips, Phil Porter, Russell Hepplewhite [whose opera The Price was presented in 2016, see my review], Stuart Hancock, John Barber and Cecilia MacDowell. The company has a strong community base and for many of the young participants, working with the company is their first introduction to musical theatre. This year 70 young people will be performing, and the company has commissioned a total of 37 new works involving over two thousand young people.

Full details from the W11 Opera website.

French collection

French Collection - Katarzyna Kowalik
Jean-Philippe Rameau, Antoine Forqueray, Christophe Moyreaus, Pierre-Claude Fouquet, Francois Couperin, and Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer; Katarzyna Kowalik Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 3 December 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
18th century harpsichord pieces in a recital full of vivid colour

On this disc, the London-based harpsichordist of Polish origin Katarzyna Kowalik presents a selection of French 18th century music for harpsichord starting with Rameau's Premiere Livre de Pieces de Clavecin and then moving through pieces by Antoine Forqueray, Christophe Moyreaus, Pierre-Claude Fouquet, Francois Couperin, and Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer.

Amongst other Katarzyna Kowalik studied with Christophe Rousset and Skip Sempe, and I first came across her when she was a member of the 2015 Handel House Talent Scheme. On this disc she plays a 2012 harpsichord by Andrew Garlick after an instrument by Jean-Claude Goyon from 1749. The first thing I noticed was the wonderfully resonant and sonorous sound of the instrument, pitches of notes clearly centred with none of the annoying pecking you can get with some harpsichords. And Katarzyna Kowalik brings out a wide vareity of timbres and texture in the music, displaying the instrument's, and her, versatility. It helps that she has chosen a sequence of highly characterful, not to say vivid, pieces to which she brings virtuosity and a sense of colour. This is certainly not a boring recital!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Truly scrumptious: the choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor in music for Advent

Choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor
Choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor
Music for Advent; Choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor, James Vivian, Luke Bond; Cadogan Hall Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 4 December 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An eclectic programme for Advent as part of Choral at Cadogan

On Monday December 4 in the Neo-Byzantine surroundings of Cadogan Hall the choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor under the direction of James Vivian with organist Luke Bond performed a programme of all things Advent. The eclectic choice of repertoire spanned more than 1000 years of music from the triumphant acclamation of Laudes Regiae to Arvo Pärt’s vibrant tribute to the Virgin Mary Bogoróditse Djévo

The choir’s largely a cappella programme kicked off with a somewhat underpowered Laudes Regiae. Placing the choir off-stage rendered this responsorial acclamation a little flat. I can imagine this working wonderfully in a church, but in the dry acoustic of the Cadogan Hall the impact was lost. Thankfully when the choir did emerge, they wasted no time in showing us what they were made of in Byrd’s Rorate caeli with a dulcet light and refined touch. But there were times in the first half when it all felt a little too decorous. Aided by some programming choices, I felt parked in a stylistic cul-de-sac and ached for a little more musical variety. Weelkes, that notoriously drunkard blasphemer, for example, wrote a simple but passionate anthem in Rejoice in the Lord that to my mind would have benefitted from a bit more oomph.

If the first half was stylistically a little samey, not so the second. The smorgasbord of delights after the interval finally heralded a celebration of Advent. From Brahms’ lush Es ist das Heil through Up, awake and away and Goldschmidt’s A tender shoot to Verdi’s delicious Ave Maria and Pärt’s emotionally charged Church Slavonic Bogoróditse Djévo all classily done.

Lookng ahead: The London Schools Symphony Orchestra

The London Schools Symphony Orchestra
The London Schools Symphony Orchestra
The London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO) will be seeing in the New Year in style on 7 January 2019 at the Barbican Centre. Conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, the orchestra will be performing Richard Strauss' tone poem Death and Transfiguration, and will be joined by soprano Rachel Nicholls for some of Strauss' orchestral songs, and finally there will be potted highlights from Wagner's Götterdämmerung.

The LSSO presents three Barbican concerts plus a summer tour every year. Concerts are based around courses which run during the Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays, with intensive rehearsals and coaching by London's top orchestral musicians. The orchestra's bursary schemes ensure that young people from all backgrounds are able to join. The orchestra is managed by the Centre for Young Musicians, part of the Guildhall School, as part of the Guildhall Young Artists Programme. And there are a couple of significant anniversaries coming up, in 2020 the Centre for Young Musicians will be 50 and then in 2021 the LSSO will be 70.

Full details from the LSSO's website.

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