Friday, 20 October 2017

Albion Quartet residency at Kings Place

Albion Quartet Rosalind Ventris, Tamsin Waley Cohen, Emma Parker, Nathaniel Boyd
Albion Quartet Rosalind Ventris, Tamsin Waley Cohen,
Emma Parker, Nathaniel Boyd
On Sunday 22 October 2017, the Albion Quartet (violinists Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Emma Parker, violist Rosalind Ventris and cellist Nathaniel Boyd) begins a residency at Kings Place. The quartet will be giving four concerts across two seasons at the venue, as part of London Chamber Music Sundays. Each programme will link British and European music via a common theme. For the first concert, Folk, the quartet plays Schubert’s String Quartet No.13 in A minor D804 ‘Rosamunde’, Elizabeth Maconchy’s String Quartet No.3 and Dvořák’s String Quartet No.10 in E flat Op.51 'Slavonic'.

The second concert of the series, on Sunday 25 February 2017, Hymns will include Peter Fribbins; String Quartet No.2 ‘After Cromer’, Haydn's String Quartet No.3 in C, Op.76 ‘Emperor’, Suk's Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale ‘St. Wenceslas’, Op.35a, and Dvořák's String Quartet No.12 in F, Op.96 ‘American’. 

Full details from the Kings Place website.

Norwich chamber music: the Neave Trio in French piano trios

Neave Trio (Photo by Mark Roemisch)
Roussel, Fauré, Debussy, The Neave Trio; The Chapel, Park Lane, Norwich
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Oct 15 2017 Star rating: 4.0
A piano trio of maturity, subtlety and substance

The Neave Trio - which, incidentally, derives its name from the Gaelic word ‘niamh’ meaning ‘bright’ and ‘radiant’ - lived up to this description inasmuch as their performance at The Chapel, Park Lane, Norwich on Sunday 15 October (as part of Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music), was bright and radiant and, indeed, lively and entertaining. The programme included Roussel's Piano trio in E-flat major, Faure's Piano Trio in D minor and Debussy's Piano Trio in G major.

And in this vibrant and highly-talented ensemble, formed just seven years, a trio of nations come together with American-born violinist, Anna Williams, Russian-born cellist, Mikhail Veselov and Japanese-born pianist, Eri Nakamura.

Regally, they follow in the footsteps of such famous trios as the Istomin/Stern/Rose Trio (whom I had the great privilege of seeing in the Usher Hall at the Edinburgh Festival in the 1970s) and the Beaux Arts Trio as well as the Florestan Trio and the Gould Trio who have both performed in Norwich under the auspices of the Norfolk & Norwich Music Club. In fact, the Gould Trio return to Norwich early next year to treat Music Club audiences to the complete piano trios of Beethoven over three concerts at the John Innes Centre on Saturday/Sunday, 20/21 January 2018.

A globe-trotting outfit, that’s for sure, the Neave have performed all over the show including New York’s Weill Recital Hall (the chamber hall of Carnegie Hall) and now The Chapel in Norwich (a wide contrast in venues, may I add!) by invitation of Roger Rowe, a champion of classical music and opera across the board. He has just retired as programme director of the Norfolk & Norwich Music Club after enjoying an immensely-successful 20-year tenure.

Rising stars: Christophe Rousset directs Handel's Semele with an emphasis on youth

Louise Alder (photo Will Alder)
Handel Semele; Louise Alder, James Way, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Ashley Riches, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Christophe Rousset; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 18 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Christophe Rousset directs a predominantly young cast in Handel's opera/oratorio

Handel's Semele was the focus of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's (OAE) concert at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday 18 October 2017. Marking the launch of the Rising Stars of the Enlightenment (the OAE's young artists scheme). Christophe Rousset conducted a cast which included three of the present tranche of young artists, Rowan Pierce as Iris, James Way as Jupiter, Ciara Hendrick as Ino, plus Louise Alder as Semele, Ashley Riches as Somnus and Cadmus, Ray Chenez as Athmas and Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Juno, plus the OAE and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment.

This was a concert performance, but all concerned brought a sense of humour and character to the performance which helped to nullify the effect of the Royal Festival Hall's large open spaces on a work which demands a level of intimacy. The OAE and choir were expanded somewhat to take account of the space, with 28 strings and 33 singers, though I rather suspect that Handel would have increased the number of oboes and bassoons too. In the tutti passages the woodwind sound did rather get lost.

Christophe Rousset's interpretation certainly took no prisoners and from the overture onwards, fast speeds were really fast. Not only did he elicit impressive crisp passagework from the orchestra but his soloists, notably James Way and Louise Alder, showed an impressive turn of speed (and accuracy) in their passagework. Rousset drew some very vivid playing from the orchestra, which ensured that the work was engaging and exciting rather than driven, though I have to confess occasionally wishing he would take let the music ease up. But, despite some fine individual performances, the rather tricky first act did not really catch fire until the final aria.

Louise Alder made a delightful Semele.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Independent Opera, new fellowships, sponsorship and a new oratorio

Peter Kellner
Peter Kellner
Independent Opera has been busy this last month. 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner was announced as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, receiving a two-year award of £10,000 as well as professional mentoring from Independent Opera and the Wigmore Hall. Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria.

Independent Opera's 2016-17 Voice Scholars, sopranos Samantha Clarke, Charlie Drummond and Nika Gorič; and mezzo-sopranos Katie Coventry and Jade Moffat, gave a showcase concert at the Wigmore Hall accompanied by James Baillieu. Voice Scholars receive scholarships which provide them with £5000 towards their final year of study, and they additionally receive professional mentoring from Independent Opera’s Creative Director Natalie Murray Beale.

Looking ahead, Independent Opera will sponsor the 2019 Wigmore Hall International Song Competition, and Joby Talbot has been commissioned to write a major new oratorio to be premiered in 2019. The new piece will be inspired by Queen Victoria’s diamond and sapphire coronet designed for her by Prince Albert. The coronet was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum thanks to a gift from William and Judith Bollinger, and in 2019, the coronet will be the centre-piece of the newly-refreshed William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery, at the museum.

Bach the Universe and Everything

Bach, the Universe and Everything
Bach’s Cantatas will mix with talks from some of the UK’s leading physicists in a new Sunday morning series from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The Institute of Physics at Kings Place starting on Sunday 22 October. A deliberate departure from the typical concert format, each performance will combine a mind-expanding lecture with the immersive atmosphere a Bach cantata performance. And afterwards there is a chance to bond with fellow music lovers over coffee and cake.

The first event in the series combines Bach’s Ich glaube, lieber Herr BWV 109 directed by Robert Howarth with Helen Charlston (alto) and James Way (tenor), with a discussion on the birth of galaxies from Professor Carlos Frenk. A winner of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2014, Frenk has played a key role in the development of Cold Matter Theory, the current model for the formation and evolution of cosmic structure.

With so many Bach cantatas to choose from, it is an intriguing idea pairing them with a 'relevant' talk on physics, plenty of fun hours of speculation! Future talks in the series include What is Light? with Professor Sir John Pendry (26/11), paired with Wachtet! Betet! BWV 70 and Antimatter Matters with Professor Tara Shears (17/12), paired with Darzu is erchienen BWV40.

Full details from the OAE website.

Lieder von Orient - Benjamin Appl and Graham Johnson at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Graham Johnson and Benjamin Appl at BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert at Wigmore Hall (photo BBC Radio 3)
Graham Johnson & Benjamin Appl at BBC Radio 3
lunchtime concert at Wigmore Hall (photo BBC Radio 3)
Lieder vom Orient, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Loewe, Wolf, Strauss; Benjamin Appl, Graham Johnson; Oxford Lieder Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 17 2017 Star rating: 4.5
A wonderful exploration; inspired by Middle-Eastern poetry, German poets provided 19th century composers with striking material

Benjamin Appl and Graham Johnson's recital devoted to Lieder vom Orient in the Holywell Music Room at the Oxford Lieder Festival on 17 October 2017 came at the end of a day of concerts & lectures devoted to late Brahms (see my review). So Appl and Johnson gave us the chance to appreciate a younger Brahms with the 9 Lieder under Gesänge, Op.32 from 1864. These were heard in the context a programme of settings of poems by German poets inspired by Oriental literature, including songs by Schubert, Schumann, Carl Loewe, Wolf, Peter Cornelius and Richard Strauss.

German poets discovered the Oriental (in fact more Middle-Eastern in modern parlance) in the early 19th century, the poetry of Persians such as Hafiz offered the German poets a route to a lightness and formal elegance which did not always come easily in the German language. But if the idea of the 'Orient' suggests a parallel lightness in the music, then nothing could be further from the truth. In the songs particularly from Schubert and Brahms, the poetry was allied to music of remarkable intensity and angst.

Brahms Late Idyll at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Ashley Riches (photo Debbie Scanlan)
Ashley Riches (photo Debbie Scanlan)
Brahms, Schubert, Dvorak, Marx, Zemlinsky; Ashley Riches, Sholto Kynoch, Natasha Loges, Emma Stannard, Louise Demeny, Max Welford, Brian O'Kane, William Vann; Oxford Lieder Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 17 2017 Star rating: 4.0
A day devoted to late Brahms with intriguing links and fine performances

Whilst the songs of Gustav Mahler are the thread running through this year's Oxford Lieder Festival, there is plenty of room for further exploration of fin-de-siecle Vienna, both looking forward and looking back. Events on Tuesday 17 October 2017 were mainly devoted to Johannes Brahms and his late flowering. At lunchtime, Ashley Riches (baritone) and Sholto Kynoch (piano) gave us Brahms' Four Serious Songs Op. 121 (his last songs) alongside Dvorak and Schubert, and in the afternoon Natasha Loges talked about Brahms' late style and accompanied Emma Stannard (mezzo-soprano) in Brahms' songs. Then at the rush-hour concert Louise Kemeny (soprano), Max Welford (clarinet), Brian O'Kane (cello) and William Vann (piano) performed Brahms' late Clarinet Trio Op.114 alongside Zemlinsky, Marx and Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock.

Then, at the end of the day came Benjamin Appl and Graham Johnson's Lieder von Orient recital, giving us a chance to experience a young Brahms (see my review).

At the Holywell Music Room at lunchtime, Ashley Riches and Sholto Kynoch put together a programme considering the sacred and the numinous, with Schubert's Totengräbers Heimweh D842, Nachtstück D672, Seligket D433 and Dithyrambe D801, six of Dvorak's Biblical Songs Op.99 setting texts from the 16th century Bible of Kralice, and Brahms Four Serious Songs Op.121, setting texts from Luther's translation of the Bible and written two years after the Dvorak.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Writing About Contemporary Artists: Challenges, Practices and Complexities

Annie Yim and Christopher Le Brun at Arndt Art Agency, Berlin
Annie Yim and Christopher Le Brun at Arndt Art Agency, Berlin
An international multi-disciplinary three-day conference at the University of Surrey starting 20 October 2017 will look at the challenges facing scholars, journalists and creative practitioners when writing about living or recently deceased figures. MusicArt London will give a Keynote Concert & Dialogue at the conference, Annie Yim, founder of MusicArt London, will discuss MusicArt London's collaborations and commissions to date and will be joined by Christopher Le Brun, President of The Royal Academy of Arts, to explore their ongoing collaboration. Annie will perform the specially commissioned piano work by Richard Birchall (2015) as well as music by Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Berg, and Debussy.

Keynote speakers at the conference include Professor Björn Heile (Professor in Music since 1900, University of Glasgow), and rhe conference will also feature a complete performance by Nancy Ruffer and Ian Pace of Morton Feldman’s three-and-a-half hour work for flute and piano/celeste, For Christian Wolff (1986), incorporating dance improvisation from in-house student dance company Actual Size.

Full information from the university's website.

Scarcely a problem: Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony from Semyon Bychkov & Czech Philharmonic

Semyon Bychkov - Tchaikovsky Manfred Symphony - Decca
Tchaikovsky Manfred Symphony; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Semyon Bychkov; Decca
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 4 2017 Star rating: 4.5
Richly dramatic account of Tchaikovsky's 'problem' symphony from Bychkov

Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony is not an early work, it was written three years before Symphony No. 5 and at first the composer thought it was the best thing he'd done, though he later changed his mind. This, and the piece's length, has rather prevented live performance though not recordings. On this new one from Decca, conductor Semyon Bychkov continues his Tchaikovsky Project with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (part of a wider Tchaikovsky Project the conductor is undertaking). The conductor has also been announced as the orchestra's new Chief Conductor.

The idea to write a symphony based on Byron's poem Manfred almost came to Tchaikovsky by accident. In the wake of Berlioz' visit to Russia in 1867-68, when his performances of his programme symphony Harold in Italie cause a stir, Vladimir Stasov wrote a synopsis for a similar work based on Manfred for Balakirev. Balakirev, feeling it was not suitable for him, put it to one side but many years later brought it to Tchaikovsky's attention. Tchaikovsky declined, but Balakirev persisted and after Tchaikovsky re-read the original poem he started work on the symphony.

The poem might have had intriguing  attractions for the composer. It is commonly believed that the tortured and forbidden relationship between Manfred and Astarte is a reflection of Byron's relationship with his half sister Augusta Leigh, and that the idea of forbidden sexuality might have had its attractions for Tchaikovsky. Simplistic, perhaps, but definitely an intriguing idea.

Kill or cure! Julian Jacobson introduces his 70th birthday series at St John's Smith Square

Julian Jacobson (photo Roger Harris Photography)
Julian Jacobson (photo Roger Harris Photography)
The pianist Julian Jacobson is about to turn 70, and has chosen to celebrate with a concert series at St John's Smith Square combining music by Beethoven and Schubert with Prokofiev's war sonatas (the first concert is on Sunday 22 October with Beethoven's Eroica variations, Schubert's Four Impromptus and Prokofiev's Sonata No. 6). I recently met up with Julian to find out more about the series, and my first question was why had he chosen this particular programme for the series. He suggested that it was 'kill or cure', the programme would 'either do for me, or catapult me into a reasonably active 8th decade'!

In fact, Julian had originally conceived of doing a complete cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas. Such cycles are something for which he has become known, but this time he found he lacked the enthusiasm. Partly because with seven or eight concerts, it would be hard to fill the hall and then there is also the need to find something new to say.

So instead he thought of turning to other composers, though known for his Beethoven he has always loved Schubert but has not played much of his music recently and finds it the 'other side of the coin' to Beethoven. Julian wanted to perform some of the late, great Schubert sonatas (he is performing the Sonata in D, D850 and Sonata No 20 in A, D959). Whilst Julian thinks that Schubert is fully the equal of Beethoven, he finds Beethoven's middle and late sonatas so titanic. Schubert's message would be dissipated if he played the Hammerklavier Sonata, so he has chosen to perform the earlier, popular, Beethoven sonatas.

In addition he decided he wanted to do a major 20th century work. Here the present political climate came into play, with the 'fix we are in' Julian felt that a nod to the 'terrible and heroic things which happened in the 20th century' was appropriate, and this seemed to need Prokofiev's war sonatas (Piano Sonatas Nos. 6, 7, and 8, Opp. 82–84 written in 1939).

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Songs and Sounds: Premiere of my W.B. Yeats cycle 'He Wishes...'

Soprano Donna Lennard and pianist Gavin Roberts are giving a recital on 22 November 2017 at Old Paradise Yard, SE1 7LG. Entitled Sounds and Songs: Exploring Contemporary Music the evening will be an informal event where people can relax and enjoy and evening of contemporary song.

Donna and Gavin will be giving the world premiere of my song cycle He Wishes... setting four poems by W.B.Yeats - 'The Poet pleads with his Friend for Old Friends', 'He wishes his Beloved were dead', 'He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven', 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree'. (see my on-line catalogue for details of the printed music).

The programme will also include songs by Cecilia MacDowell, Julian Philips, Stephen McNeff, and Leslie Phillips.

Wednesday 22 November 2017, 8pm
Old Paradise Yard
20 Carlisle Lane / Royal Street corner
London SE1 7LG
Tickets £10 in advance (email, £12 on the door

A visually flamboyant path to enlightenment: The Magic Flute at the Met

Mozart: The Magic Flute - Metropolitan Opera (photo Metropolitan Opera)
Mozart: The Magic Flute - Metropolitan Opera (photo Metropolitan Opera)
Mozart The Magic Flute; Golda Schultz, Charles Castronovo, Markus Werba, Kathryn Lewek, Rene Pape, dir: Julie Taymor, cond: James Levine; Met Live in HD
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Oct 14 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Julie Taymor's fairy-tale production in a strong revival at the Metropolitan Opera

Julie Taymor’s kaleidoscopic fairy-tale vision of Mozart's The Magic Flute was broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera this Saturday (14 October 2017, seen at Barbican Screen One) with Golda Schultz and Charles Castronovo as Pamina and Tamino. Markus Werba was the birdcatcher Papageno, Kathryn Lewek the Queen of the Night and Rene Pape as Sarastro. James Levine, Music Director Emeritus, conducted.

Best known for her production of The Lion King, Julie Taymor’s visually arresting fantasy Flute draws inspiration from more cultures than you can shake a stick at. African masks, oriental puppetry, Euclidian geometry and Chinese opera all rubbing shoulders in whimsical grandeur. The dominant feature, a Plexiglas cube, rotates to reveal the symbols of spirituality (circle) and the physical (square). Contained within a triangle, man, woman and the two halves of our nature are united. Ultimately aligned, the philosopher’s stone is revealed – the Magnum Opus of alchemy.

Occasionally fussily intrusive in close-up, this production is undoubtedly dominated by it’s visuals but thankfully, under the sensitive direction of James Levine, the music is never overwhelmed. The acting wasn’t half bad either; the number of times, in the past, I’ve found myself wishing that they’d just get on with the music. It was a pleasure to hear the dialogue so charmingly and convincingly handled. Indeed the stage was chocker with charismatic performers.

Handel's Neun Deutsche Arien from Penelope Appleyard & Florisma

Handel - Neuen Deutsche Arien - Convivium Records
Handel Neun Deutsche Arien; Penelope Appleyard, Florisma; Convivium Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 19 2017 Star rating: 5.0
Engaging and colourful version of Handel's sacred chamber music

Though Handel and Bach had a similar basic kapellmeister training, the two developed different responses to Lutheran sacred music. Handel does not seem to have been entirely comfortable in the musical genres of the Lutheran church though he remained a devout Lutheran (later Anglican). His main essay in the genre is his Brockes Passion which seems to have been performed in Hamburg in 1719. And there is a similar probably Hamburg link with Handel's Neun Deutsche Arien. Composed between 1724 and 1726, they also set texts by Brockes. But here Handel is moving away from the Lutheran liturgy and providing vocal chamber music, different in style but akin to the Italian chamber duets which he wrote throughout his life.

On this new disc from Convivium Records, soprano Penelope Appleyard joins Florisma (Penelope Spencer, violin, Gail Hennessy, oboe, William Drakett, harpsichord/organ, Aileen Henry, triple harp, Hetti Price cello/viola da gamba, Michelle Holloway, recorder) to perform Handel's Neun Deutsche Arien.

The surviving autograph of the arias does not specify the instrumentation, they are simply written for soprano, melody instrument and continuo, and could easily be performed on violin, harpsichord and cello. But though Handel may not have been entirely comfortable with the passion form, he clearly responded to Brockes' texts and each aria has a different and specific character. So on this disc we get a variety of instrumentations with 'Süsse Stille' on tenor recorder and triple harp, 'Das ziternde Glänzen' on oboe, some of the more serious texts use organ and cello continuo and others use harpsichord and viola da gamba.

London, Cambridge, St Petersburg: new production of George Benjamin's Written on Skin

Barbara Hannigan in George Benjmain's Written on Skin at the Royal Opera 2012. © ROH/Stephen Cummiskey
Barbara Hannigan in
George Benjamin's Written on Skin
at the Royal Opera 2012
© ROH/Stephen Cummiskey
With George Benjamin's new opera Lessons in Love and Violence receiving its world premiere at Covent Garden in May 2018, it is exciting that a new production of Benjamin's previous opera Written in Skin is about to take wing. The enterprising young conductor Oliver Zeffman and his Melos Sinfonia (an ensemble Zeffman founded when he was 16) are behind performances of the opera taking place from 19 October in Cambridge, London and St Petersburg.

Directed by Jack Furness with a cast including Lauren Fagan (Anges), Ross Ramgobin (the Protector), Patrick Terry (Boy/Angel 1), Bethan Langford (Marie/Angel 2), and Nick Pritchard (John/Angel 3) the production is being presented at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge on 19 October (the work's first performance in the UK outside London), at LSO St Lukes on 20 October (in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum's exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics) and at the Mariinsky Concert Hall, St Petersburg on 22 October. This latter performance happens at the invitation of Valery Gergiev, a conductor with whom Zeffman has worked.

Full information from the Melos Sinfonia website.

Monday, 16 October 2017

New recording of Populus Sion from Harmonia Sacra

Harmonia Sacra - Lux Memoriaque - Nimbus Alliance
Peter Leech and Harmonia Sacra's new disc from Nimbus Alliance, Lux memoriaque, is based around contemporary sacred music from Advent, much of it performed at the group's regular Advent Sunday concert at St Thomas the Martyr in Bristol. Amongst the works which the choir has performed over the years are a group of my Advent motets from Tempus per Annum, my cycle of 70 motets for the Church's year (all motets are available for free download on

Lux memoriaque includes one of these, Populus Sion, alongside music by Lawrence Whitehead, David Bednall, Jonathan Lee and Peter Leech.

Full details of the disc can be found on the Amazon website.

Little Venice Music Festival

The Berkeley Ensemble and James Baillieu
The Berkeley Ensemble and James Baillieu who open the
Little Venice Music Festival on 19 October.
The Little Venice Music Festival returns 19 October 2017, with the Berkeley Ensemble curating the festival for the second time, having taken over from the festival's founder Sylvia Rhys-Thomas in 2016. Based at St Saviour's Church, Warwick Avenue, the programme (which runs to 22 October) showcases chamber music and song with Schubert's Trout Quintet, Brahms String Sextet in G and Schumann's Dichterliebe alongside contemporary works by Thomas Ades, Michael Berkeley, Misha Mullov-Abbado and Rachel Stott

Pianist James Baillieu joins the ensemble to perform Schubert's Trout Quintet at the opening concert, and pianist Imogen Cooper performs Beethoven's Piano Sonata in A flat, Op.110 at the closing concert. Baritone Benedict Nelson with pianist Simon Over will be performing programme of Schumann song cycles.

BBC New Generation Artist Misha Mullov-Abbado is Artist-in-Residence this year and will be performing with his Misha Mullov-Abbado Group for the festival's first jazz event, as well as writing a new work to be premiered by the Berkeley Ensemble. A second world premiere is provided by Michael Berkeley who writes a piece for solo double bass in collaboration with the Berkeley Ensemble's double bassist Lachlan Radford. Other works in the festival include Thomas Ades' Darknesse Visible, Rachel Stott's Serendipity and Household Objects

Husband and wife actors, Edward Fox and Joanna David will be joined by their daughter Emilia and son Freddie to read a selection of Tales from Beatrix Potter, specially adapted by pianist Richard Sisson.

The Berkeley Ensemble was formed in 2008 from members of the Southbank Sinfonia, it is a flexible chamber ensemble based around Sophie Mather and Francesca Barritt, violins, Dan Shilliday, viola, Gemma Wareham, cello, Lachlan Radford, double bass, John Slack, clarinet, Andrew Watson, bassoon, and Paul Cott, horn.

 Full details from the festival website

A little bit of magic: Valery Gergiev conducts the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra

Valery Gergiev
Valery Gergiev
Rossini, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn; Roman Simovic, Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, Valery Gergiev; Oxford Town hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2017 Star rating: 4.5
The combination of Gergiev and the Oxford Philharmonic makes for interesting results

How much effect does a major conductor have on an orchestra with which they have not worked regularly; how much is skill of the moment and how much created over a period of time?

Roman Simovic
Roman Simovic
These were thoughts which occurred to me as I waited for the start of Valery Gergiev's concert with the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra at Oxford Town Hall on Friday 13 October 2017, when they performed a programme consisting of the overture to Rossini's Guillaume Tell, Stravinsky's Violin Concerto  with Roman Simovic, Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 'Italian' and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (1919 version).

Valery Gergiev has conducted the orchestra once before, in 2013, and the Oxford Philharmonic is not a full time orchestra, the players all play in other ensembles as well. So could Gergiev make the magic happen?

Oxford Town Hall is not an idea concert venue. With no podium for the orchestra, sight-lines from the hall were not perfect, and the acoustic is moderately resonant (not to mention the distracting profusion of plasterwork), making me wonder whether the very present quality of the orchestral sound was a factor of venue or conductor. In fact, Oxford Town Hall is not the orchestra's regular home but the Sheldonian, where they give many of their concerts, was in use for the opening of the Oxford Lieder Festival.

The opening of Rossini's overture was striking for the strong, rich tone of the solo cellos and bass, though there were moments which made us realise how exposed the passage is. The storm was full of vivid drama and crisp excitement with very strong brass, whilst there was nice orchestral detail in the pastoral episode. The final galop started crisp, tight and fast, generating real excitement to the end. A striking and perhaps very particular reading of such a familiar piece.

Jonas Kaufmann: Tenor for the Ages: Engaging, thoughtful and candid-seeming profile of the star tenor

Jonas Kaufmann © Gregor Hohenberg
Jonas Kaufmann © Gregor Hohenberg
John Bridcut's film Jonas Kaufmann, Tenor for the Ages was broadcast on BBC Four (available on BBC iPlayer) on 15 October 2017 as part of the BBC Opera season. In this engaging 90 minute film we follow star tenor Jonas Kaufmann across  two years of engagements and, thanks to a series of interviews with him, gain insight into his world and what it is like performing at the top level under such intense scrutiny. That the film has such fascination is partly due to serendipity, the engagements covered are Kaufmann's residency at the Barbican when he had just recovered from vocal problems, and then he went on to sing at the Last Night of the Proms and make his role debut as Otello in Verdi's Otello at Covent Garden (the production was broadcast on BBC Four the same evening and is also available on BBC iPlayer).

It is Otello which bookends the programme, it forms the core of the narrative as the cameras follow Kaufmann backstage, front stage and in rehearsal.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Historical context: Lucy Worsley's Nights at the Opera

Lucy Worsley's Nights at the Opera
Lucy Worsley's Nights at the Opera
Lucy Worsley's Nights at the Opera is a two part television series in which the historian takes a look at eight seminal moments in opera history. (Part One was shown on BBC 2 on Saturday 14 October 2017). Linked to the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Opera: Passion, Power and Politics, Worsley takes the same structure, looking at operas in the context of the city where they were premiered (except for Puccini's La Boheme where she considers the city where it is set). So eight operas and six cities: Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea (Venice), Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro (Vienna), Beethoven's Fidelio (Vienna) and Verdi's Nabucco (Milan) in the first episode, Bizet's Carmen (Paris), Puccini's La Boheme (Paris), Wagner's Ring Cycle (Bayreuth) and Richard Strauss's Salome (Dresden) in the second.

Worsley is a cultural historian (but, as we found at  Q&A at the preview showing of the programme, she is also a musician), so this is opera from a cultural perspective with remarkable details of the society in which the operas were premiered. But music is not ignored, and Antonio Pappano takes the viewer through some key moments in the operas being considered, and why the pieces work as they do.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Violin Muse: Madeleine Mitchell the remarkable collection of music written for her

Madeleine Mitchell
Madeleine Mitchell
Violinist Madeleine Mitchell's new CD, Violin Muse, which comes out this month on the Divine Art, isn't just a disc of seven new works for violin by Guto Puw, Michael Nyman, David Matthews, Sadie Harrison, Geoffrey Poole, Judith Weir and Michael Berkeley. It is also a remarkable testament to Madeleine's interest in contemporary music with five of the works on the disc being written for her, and during her career she has had around 30 works written specifically for her. I recently met up with Madeleine to find out more.

The works on the disc represent a collection of pieces written for Madeleine which she has been building up over the last ten years. Some of the composers on the disc are old friends, the earliest is by Michael Nyman, a composer whom she knows well, and his Taking it as Read was written for Madeleine for her Red Violin Festival in Cardiff (the first international, eclectic celebration of the fiddle across the arts). She has known David Matthews for twenty five years, and knowing that he likes to write for strings she commissioned a piece from him. He warmed to the idea of writing a Romanza, and he wrote two versions one with piano accompaniment and one with string orchestra, and Madeleine premiered both.

Madeleine Mitchell & Michael Nyman
Madeleine Mitchell & Michael Nyman
Madeleine first met Guto Puw, whose violin concerto Soft Stillness appears on the disc, at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Puw had written an oboe concerto for BBC National Orchestra of Wales and he was keen to write a violin concerto. Madeleine premiered the work in 2014 at Bangor with the Orchestra of the Swan, conductor David Curtis. As it was a Shakespeare themed concert, Puw based the concerto on lines from The Merchant of Venice and called the piece, Soft Stillness. But the music that he first sent Madeleine was fast and furious, when she phoned him to find out more he explained that this was the wind in the trees. She explains that it is the second movement which evokes 'soft stillness in the night', and describes it as a wonderful moment with a soaring violin writing. Madeleine was invited to play the work with BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, and it was recorded live by the BBC. The performance went well and she is very grateful to the BBC for licensing the recording to be used on the disc. Adding the violin concerto into the mix on the disc seemed a good idea, so that it was not just works for violin and piano, and instead is an exploration of different timbres.

Premiere of Paul Barnes string quartet

Not every composer is lucky enough to be able to work at it full time, and most of us fit other things in as well; Paul Barnes was Professor of Physics and Chemistry at the University of London. 

Essentially self taught, he is launching a major new work on Sunday 15 October, his string quartet Layers of Life. The work will be performed by the Billroth Quartet at Platform in Islington, the former Hornsey Road Baths.

Further information from the composer's website.

My review Beethoven's Fidelio from Dresden in November issue of Opera magazine

Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Ivor Bolton, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Ann Kern, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Ivor Bolton, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Ann Kern, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
In June 2017, I was in Dresden for the 40th Dresden Music Festival, I caught the events of the closing weekend which also celebrated the reopening of Dresden's iconic Soviet-era Kulturpalast. My review of the closing concert, Beethoven's 1805 version of Fidelio, is in the November issue of Opera magazine

The performance featured Ivor Bolton conducting the Dresden Festival Orchestra, and soloists Miriam Clark, Eric Cutler, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Christina Gansch, Martin Mitterrutzner, Peter Rose and Tareq Nazmi. Also taking part with the festival's young artists, Bohème 2020, Joscha Baltes, Maja Blomstrand, Danae Dörken, Anne Kern, Romain Rios, and Robin Thomson.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Overture: Meet the National Opera Studio 2017/18 Young Artists

National Opera Studio 2017-18 Young Artists (C) NOS - Marc Gascoigne 2017
National Opera Studio 2017-18 Young Artists (C) NOS - Marc Gascoigne 2017
Three weeks after they started their training programme at the National Opera Studio (NOS) we had the chance to hear the 2017/18 cohort of singers and repetiteurs in action, in a concert at 22 Mansfield Street on 11 October 2017. We heard sopranos Carly Owen and Lorena Paz Nieto, mezzo-sopranos Bethan Langford, Polly Leech and Sinead O'Kelly, counter-tenor Feargal Mostyn-Williams (the first ever counter-tenor on the NOS’s main Exceptional Talent Training Programme), tenors Andrew Henley and Satriya Krisna, baritone Daniel Shelvey, bass-baritones Edmund Danon and Emyr Wyn Jones, and repetiteurs Erika Gundesen, Igor Horvat, Satoshi Kubo, and Florent Mourier, in music by Rossini, Mozart, Dvorak, Verdi, Gluck, Handel, Donizetti and Puccini as well as two more unusual items, an aria from the Spanish zarzuela El barbero de Sevilla by Geronimo Gimenez and Manuel Nieto, and the aria 'Questo amor' from Puccini's Edgar.

Each of the singers is part of the way along the long journey to develop voice and artistry, and what is fascinating about such occasions is the chance to see how the individual performers are developing, each voice at a different stage of development, the sense of an personal presence in the performer's artistry. Singing to patrons at a salon is as old as opera itself, and the skill of being able to do so, being able to sing an opera aria in a drawing room (albeit a grand Robert Adam designed one) with the audience only feet away is an important skill to learn.

Each singer gave us a solo aria, a party piece which encapsulated the best in their voice, and then each participated in one of a group of ensembles. Rather delightfully, the evening finished with an encore, an arrangement of the septet (not actually by Offenbach) from Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann for all eleven singers, a wonderful end to the evening, and very loud indeed.

We started with Sinead O'Kelly as Rosina from Rossini's Il barbiere di Sivigla, then came Daniel Shelvey as the Count in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Carly Owen in the 'Song to the Moon' from Dvorak's Rusalka, Emyr Wyn Jones as Mozart's Figaro, Satriya Krisna as Alfredo from Verdi's La traviata, Bethan Langford as Gluck's Orfeo, Feargal Mostyn-Williams as Bertarido from Handel's Rodelinda, Loren Paz Nieto in an aria from the zarzuela El barbero de Sevilla by Geronimo Gimenez and Manuel Nieto, Andrew Henley as Nemorino from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, Polly Leech as Sesto from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, and Edmund Danton as Frank from Puccini's Edgar. Along the way we also eard Niteo and Henley in the Act One duet from La traviata, Leech and Shelvey in Dorabella and Guglielmo's duet from Cosi fan tutte, Owen, Langford and Danon in trio from Cosi fan tutte, Jones and Krisna in the Act Three duet for Rodolfo and Marcello from Puccini's La boheme, and O'Kelly and Mostyn-Williams in The Cat Duet (an anonymous compilation based on material by Rossini).

The event marked the start of a busy, celebratory period for the National Opera Studio as it celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2018. To mark this, it has launched at 40th anniversary appeal, the 400 Appeal, inviting people to pledge £1 a day or £10 a day throughout the 400 days of celebration (for further information contact Development Manager Robert Moffat

Another celebratory event is the series of lunchtime recitals being given at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Thursdays, in association with the museum's new opera exhibition. The recitals will feature current young artists alongside distinguished alumni including Ronald Samm, Lesley Garrett, Linda Richardson, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Katherine Crompton and Nicky Spence. Full details from the studio's events page.

Review of Verdi's Un giorno di regno in November issue of Opera magazine.

Verdi: Un giorno di regno - Heidenheim Opera Festival (Photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi: Un giorno di regno - Heidenheim Opera Festival (Photo Oliver Vogel)
In July we were in Heidenheim, Germany to attend the Heidenheim Opera Festival where we caught a performance of Verdi's rarely performed second opera Un giorno di regno. My review of the performance is in the November issue of Opera magazine.

You can also read more about our non-musical activities on our trip in my article on The Culture Trip website.

Leeds Lieder's 2017/18 concert season opens with Schubert

Leeds Lieder 2017/18
Leeds Lieder's 2017/18 concert season opens on Saturday 14 October 2017 with Nika Gorič (soprano), James Newby (baritone) and Joseph Middleton (piano) performing songs and duets by Schubert in settings from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. The concert is the first in a Schubert Series presenting young artists in association with the BBC New Generation Artists, Kathleen Ferrier Awards and Young Concert Artists Trust. All the concerts in the Schubert series are at the Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall. Further ahead there is soprano Mary Bevan (1 November) and bass-baritone Ashley Riches Joseph Middleton (3 March 2018) to be looked forward to.

Other events in the 2017/18 season include a pair of concerts at Opera North's Howard Assembly Room, baritone Benjamin Appl and Joseph Middleton in Schumann's Dichterliebe, Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte and settings of Yeats by Ivor Gurney and Marian Ingoldsby (22 November 2017), and soprano Christiane Karg with Joseph Middleton in Debussy's settings of Verlaine and Baudelaire, and Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder (26 January 2018).

Tenor Toby Spence and Joseph Middleton will be performing Poulenc, Britten and Finzi at the University of Leeds (13 March 2018). The concert series is also going on tour, performing the three Schubert Series concerts at Sheffield University's Firth Hall.

The 2018 Leeds Lieder Festival runs from 19 to 22 April 2018.

Full details from the Leeds Lieder website.

Terrific show: Verdi's Les vêpres Siciliennes at Covent Garden

Erwin Schrott as Procida and dancers in Les Vêpres siciliennes © ROH / Bill Cooper 2013
Erwin Schrott as Procida and dancers in Les vêpres Siciliennes
© ROH / Bill Cooper 2013
Verdi Les vepres Siciliennes; Malin Bystrom, Bryan Hymel, Erwin Schrott, Michael Volle, dir: Stefan Herheim/Daniel Dooner, cond: Maurizio Benini; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 12 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Strong revival full of stage spectacle and intense performances

Stefan Herheim's spectacular 2013 production of Verdi's Les vepres Siciliennes returned to the Royal Opera House (seen 12 October 2017) for a revival (revival director Daniel Dooner) with a number of the original cast. Bryan Hymel, Michael Volle and Erwin Schrott returned as Henri, Guy de Montfort and Jean Procida, with Malin Bystrom as Helene, and Maurizio Benini conducted.

I still have my doubts about Herheim's production (see my review of the original performances) but there is no doubt that he and designers Philipp Furhofer and Gesine Vollm have created a terrific show which matches the grand sweep of the opera with suitably spectacular settings and stagings. This time round, the scenery did not creak so that the scene changes mid-aria worked well. I am still not certain what Herheim is trying to say, and don't feel that he has solved the work's problems. But the whole articulates the genre of French grand opera in a way which a lot of contemporary productions fail to do.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Hospital Passion Play: New opera for those recovering from life changing injuries and conditions

Orlando Gough's new opera Hospital Passion Play is being presented at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Saturday 14 October in a collaboration between Garsington Opera and Rosetta Life (note the event is sold out). The piece addresses issues of recovery from life changing injuries and conditions. It stories of rehabilitation, from those who have had a brain or spinal injury, into a new opera which is being performed by seventy performers, including a choir of twenty stroke survivors and the Garsington Adult Community Chorus plus films of intimate performances from the Stoke Mandeville National Spinal Injuries Centre and hospitals from across London. 

The opera is directed by Karen Gillingham, Creative Director of Garsington Opera Learning and Participation and led by Lucinda Jarrett. The concert is part of health charity Rosetta Life’s three-year arts-into-health intervention Stroke Odysseys. It is part of a series of opera performances at the V&A, designed to bring opera to a wider audience and to coincide with the V&A exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018).

Sesto as a tenor

Italian tenor Francesco Borosini
Italian tenor Francesco Borosini
When it came to Italian opera, there were effectively two Handels, the composer and the impresario. The first created the work in the first place, tailored to the voices of the first cast. The second endlessly re-worked the pieces to suit the casts of each revival. The rewrites and re-workings that the operas underwent were rarely improvements, and generally performers nowadays opt for Handel's original version of the opera. The biggest exception to this rule is Radamisto where the first revision is as important as the original, but there are others notably a little known re-working of Giulio Cesare that perhaps deserves wider currency.

Handel's Radamisto was premiered in April 1720 with the title role being sung soprano Margherita Durastantini (who had first worked with Handel in 1707 in Rome). But Handel may have known, or hoped, that the alto castrato Senesino was due in England later in the year. Winton Dean suggests Handel may have written music capable of being transposed down, so that in December 1720 a revised version of Radamisto was performed this time with Senesino as the (alto) hero and Margherita Durastantini as his (soprano) wife Zenobia (a contralto in April 1720).

This involved creating a major new version of an opera, transposing arias up (for Zenobia) and down (for Senesino), writing new arias and improving existing ones, not to mention adding a striking quartet. Often, Handel's process of adapting operas for new casts was to bring in arias from other operas, yet here he did not do that; as with many of Handel's operas, we have no ideas of his thought process, which he created such a considered new version.

Four years later, in February 1724, Handel premiered Giulio Cesare (with Margherita Durastantini playing the role of Sesto). Sesto is a youth, so having him played by a woman makes a lot of sense, but in the January 1725 revival Sesto was played by the tenor, Francesco Borosini.

Borosini was a major talent, and Handel wrote him two roles, Bajazet in Tamerlano and Grimoaldo in Rodelinda. By the conventions of the day, tenors and basses were never heroes, so Handel had to be innovative; Bajazet is the heroine's father but has a major role in the drama including the famous on-stage death scene, whilst Grimoaldo is the villain of the piece. Additionally, for Borosini Handel completely re-wrote the part of Sesto in Giulio Cesare, no-long a youth but a man of action.

Handel's process of creating a tenor version of Sesto gives us an interesting insight into his attitude to octave transposition of roles; though he transposed Sesto's recitative down an octave and he retained only two of Sesto's arias, removing the others as well as the duet with Cornelia. He compensated with three new arias, Winton Dean describes them as extended forceful pieces with virile coloratura. The arias transform the character of Sesto from an excitable boy into a mature and confident man of action, which is of course a dramatic weakness given Sesto's failure to actually act on his impulse to kill Tolomeo.

This re-casting of Sesto as a tenor is intriguing, especially with the three new arias which seem to be worth performing.  I do rather keep hoping that some enterprising company will do just that.

Post-minimal moods: Michael Vincent Waller's Trajectories

Michael Vincent Waller
Michael Vincent Waller Trajectories; R Andrew Lee, Seth Parker Woods; Recital Thirty Nine
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 27 2017 Star rating: 3.0
Thoughtful introspective music from the young American post-minimalist composer

This new disc from Recital Thirty Nine explores the music of Michael Vincent Waller, a young American composer whose work I have reviewed before (see my review). On this new disc pianist  R. Andrew Lee plays four piano works by Waller and is joined by cellist Seth Parker Woods for two work.

Michael Vincent Waller is a composer and visual artist who has an impressive avant-garde pedigree in his studies, having studied with La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela (the light artist, designer, painter and musician who sang in La Monte Young's group Theatre of Eternal Music) and Bunita Marcus who is strongly associated with Morton Feldman. Michael Vincent Waller's early work was mainly avant-garde, using microtonality and alternative tunings. His recent work, which has been described as post-minimalist, still preserves the interest in tunings but using alternate scales and modes.

The works on this disc are very much quiet and contemplative, almost introspective. The opening  work on the disc by itself (2016) introduces us to the style with Lee placing down notes in a very considered and thoughtful way, creating harmonies by keeping the pedal down so that we get a whole variety of harmonics and overtones.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Club Inégales goes Off the Page

Peter Wiegold & Notes Inégales at Club Inégales
Peter Wiegold & Notes Inégales at Club Inégales
Peter Wiegold's Club Inégales begins its 18th season on Friday 13 October 2017 with a late night session at Kings Place celebrating Howard Skempton's 70th birthday. Skempton will be joining Wiegold and Notes Inégales to play, sing and improvise.

Entitled Off the Page the season features over 40 new scores. There are three collaborations with the London Jazz Festival, on 10 November at the Royal Academy, Wiegold and Notes Inégales will be joined by the young jazz composer Kim Macari and saxophonist Raymond MacDonald to discuss and perform new graphic scores, and to celebrate the festival's 25th anniversary there will be performances of 25 newly commissioned one page scores over two marathon performances on 12 & 19 November.

Further ahead, folk-singer Sam Lee will be launching his new album on 7 December.

Full details from the Club Inégales website.

Capturing our imagination: Felicity Palmer makes a welcome return to the song recital

Two Little Words - Felicity Palmer - Resonus Classics
Two Little Words; Felicity Palmer, Simon Lepper; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 4 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Eclectic charm from this recital by distinguished mezzo-soprano Felicity Palmer

This delightfully eclectic recital on the Resonus Classics sees Dame Felicity Palmer returning to song recitals after a gap of some years. Accompanied by Simon Lepper, Felicity Palmer performs songs by Michael Head, Marshall Palmer (her father), Alan Murray, Joseph Horovitz, Benjamin Britten, Manuel de Falla, Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Madlein Dring, Stephen Sondheim, John Pritchett and May H. Brahe

Palmer, who is 73 (the recital was recorded in early 2015), still has a lively operatic career with performances of roles like Klytemnestra in Strauss's Elektra ahead. This disc seems to have been the result of a serendipitous collaboration with pianist Simon Lepper. Palmer's article in the CD booklet talks about the way they 'clicked', and it is clear that we have Lepper's encouragement partly to thank for this disc.

Many of the songs are included because they have personal links to Palmer and her career including songs by her father, though some of the repertoire is new such as Joseph Horovitz's scena Lady Macbeth. And there is only a limited amount of the classic song repertoire by Schubert and Brahms; Palmer admits that Schubert has always daunted her. But there is plenty of Russian song and she is clearly in sympathy with the style and the language, singing with a remarkable richness, depth and firmness.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Re-Sung: Dylan Perez introduces his new concert series in Bloomsbury

Creating your own opportunities is very much something that has become increasingly common with young artists and performers, happy to combine artistic and entrepreneurial skills. Re-Sung, a new song-recital series opens on Wednesday 11 October 2017 at Bloomsbury Baptist Church and will be running throughout the year with four Autumn concerts already announced. The series is the brain-child of accompanist Dylan Perez, who is currently just finishing his studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The concerts take place at 6pm, and last for around 50 minutes, and Dylan wants them to provide a new look at both the song recital repertoire and format, both of which can often be pretty traditional.

Dylan John Perez (Photo Bertie Watson Photography)
Dylan John Perez (Photo Bertie Watson Photography)
Dylan wants to try and break down the barriers between the audience and performers, and the church is set up so that both can mingle and give the performers chance to talk to people. The series came about because Dylan was keen to create more performance opportunities for himself and was offered a slot at the Bloomsbury Baptist Church by his sponsors. He asked if it was possible to do more than one concert a year, and was presented with 12!

Dylan is keen to improve the audience's knowledge of the songs beforehand, so that during the performance the singers are not presented with a sea of heads reading their song translations, not to mention the rustling of papers. He plans to put full translations up on the Re-Sung website before- hand, along with further information and essays. On the day, the audience will get just sentence or two, summarising the song.

Tenor Nicky Spence is one of the singers performing at the first concert, and what attracted him to Re-Sung was partly this idea of presenting the songs in a way which gives the audience a simple key, a paraphrase to help the audience. Whilst full translations are wonderful, Nicky feels that for the audience to be able to pay attention to the performance, they need something a bit more straightforward.

Nicky Spence (Photo David Bebber)
Nicky Spence (Photo David Bebber)
Given Re-Sung's rush-hour time slot and more casual presentation, Dylan is hoping to attract new audiences, and feels that this simpler presentation will help engage them. Nicky emphasises that they are not trying to re-invent the wheel, but simply to give singers the opportunity to really own something, to be in their moment. Dylan thinks that it is important for a young performer to have a forum in which they feel safe enough to be able to take risks and to feel liberated enough to try things. He points out that once you get out of college, it is a relief that you don't have to impress people and juries.

The first concert, on Wednesday 11 October, will be a song sampler with all different kinds of songs, languages and genres, very much an introduction to song. After that, each concert will delve into more specific topics such as sonnets or fables, and of course there will be a Schubertiade. The venue is known for other concerts, and Dylan has already been doing other things there. If people miss the rush hour and take a later train home, then they will be able to catch 50 minutes of song, and there is a good pub across the road for carrying discussions on afterwards, providing space for performers and audience members to talk about the songs with the feeling of being grilled. And Dylan is keen to talk to the audience after events, to find out what worked and what people did not like.

Nicky feels that performers sometimes have to work quite hard to keep song alive, and the number of singers who have purely song recital careers is quite small. But there is a lot of enthusiasm for song from song performers and Nicky finds it nice to work in a small direct way. Despite the enthusiasm from performers, there are not actually that may opportunities to do recitals and doing a full recital can be quite overwhelming for a young performer, and something of a labour of love with all those texts to learn. Re-Sung will be using a group of singers for each concert, so that each gets a chance to shine.

The recitals will be free, Dylan doesn't feel that students and young artists can charge a huge amount for tickets, and if you want to attract a young audience you have to have pricing accordingly. Nicky feels that the Wigmore Hall's £5 tickets for the under 35s is just right.

Dylan Perez and Robert Hugill chatting about Re-Sung (photo Nicky Spence)
Dylan Perez and Robert Hugill chatting
about Re-Sung (photo Nicky Spence
Dylan admits that it is an ambitious series, and he does not know if it will work. He has a lot of ideas and needs to see what works. Dylan has programmed the Autumn season, and is just about to organise the Winter series. One of the areas that Dylan is interested in is programming new music, but he feels it needs to be things with melodies, that the audiences can grasp. And there is so much possible repertoire, that he is aware of the need for balance. As an American, he hopes to present more American music and thinks that there are some amazing songs. Once composers he mentions is William Bolcom, and his cabaret songs. Bolcom used to teach at the University of Michigan where Dylan first studied.

As an accompanist, Dylan has quite an impressive pedigree. He completes his studies at the Guildhall School in 2018, and prizes have included the Gerald Moore Prize for accompanists, and the Paul Hamburger Prize for Accompaniment as well as being a a finalist in the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier awards at Wigmore Hall where he, along with his duo partner mezzo soprano Bianca Andrew, received the Loveday Song Prize, and was a finalist in the competition again in 2017. Along with duo partner Iúnó Connolly, Dylan was a semi-finalist in the 2017 Das Lied International Song Competition in Heidelberg, Germany.

Wednesday's concert will be performed by three singers, Nicky Spence, Frances Chiejina (currently a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at Covent Garden) and Julien van Mellaerts (winner of the 2017 Wigmore Hall / Kohn Foundation International Song Competition and the 2017 Kathleen Ferrier Awards), with a repertoire including Schubert, Schumann, Richard Strauss, Wolf, Faure, Ravel, Britten, and Quilter. Nicky will be performing the Richard Strauss songs; he has recently start performing songs by this composer having been asked by Roger Vignoles to sing on the eighth (and final) volume of Roger Vignoles' complete Richard Strauss song series for Hyperion Records. Nicky comments wryly that he was effectively assigned all the songs that people had said not to earlier on in the series, citing one which has both a top C and a bottom A in it. But they found it an interesting challenge to make the songs lyrical, and not just sounding difficult. But Nicky is also keen to perform them, finding it a very different sensation to sing a song live than to record it.

Full information about the new concert series from the Re-Sung website.

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