Sunday, 19 April 2015

Debussy: Songs for His Muse - Gillian Keith and Simon Lepper

Debussy: Songs for his muse
Debussy - Songs for his muse: Gillian Keith, Simon Lepper; Deux Elles
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 04 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Debussy's exotic, neglected songs for his first muse

Debussy's early songs are only just starting to get greater currency, and in fact some have only recently made it into print (Nigel Foster's first published edition of Caprice, Rondel chinois, La fille au cheveux de lin was only recently issued). This disc Debussy:Songs for his muse, on Deux-Elles, from soprano Gillian Keith and pianist Simon Lepper, explores some of Debussy's early songs and provides an interesting element of contrast too. So we have Fleur des bles, Jane, Caprice, Rondel chinois, Les papillons, Rondeau, La fille au cheveux de Lin, Romance (Non, les baisers d'amour), L'archet, 'Flots, palmes, sables', Le matelot qui dombe a l'eau, Les elfes and Sequidille all of which date from the years 1880 to 1883, plus Beau Soir and Ariettes Oubliees which are later. It proves and enlightening and entrancing disc, as Keith and Lepper reveal sides to Debussy of which we might not have dreamed. And the contrast? Well Ariettes Oubliees were originally written in the later 1880's and the original songs still breathed a similar world to the earlier ones, but in 1903 Debussy revised them and re-published them as a group, Ariettes Oubliees allowing us to experience how the older Debussy re-worked his early songs.

Debussy was accepted for the Paris Conservatoire from the age of 10, he was clearly a prodigy but initially it was not clear whether he would be a pianist; in fact composing won out. From 1880 the 18 year old Debussy got a job as an accompanist in the studio of Madame Victorine Moreau-Sainti, and there encountered one of her students, Madame Marie Vasnier. It developed into a real education sentimentale as not only did Debussy dedicate 29 of his early songs to her (the Vasnier Songbook, 7 of which are on this disc), but they moved to a full blown love affair, despite Madame Vasnier being married. But he was a frequent guest at the Vasnier's home, enjoyed their intellectual friendship and run of their library and enjoyed family life with them. His time with the Vasnier's, including travel with them, remedied the cultural gaps and helped him learn more about literature and start exploring poetry. Many of the poets that he set in this period would be ones to which he returned.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Nearly there - motet for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Dicit Dominus - Robert Hugill
The Lord saith: I think thoughts of peace,
and not of affliction: you shall call upon Me, and I will hear you;
and I will bring back your captivity from all places.
Lord, thou hast blessed Thy land; Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.
 (Jer 29:11,12,14)
Hot off the press! I have just finished the setting of Dixit Dominus, my setting of the Latin Introit for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. This is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, and I have only got the Introits for the Feast of Christ the King, and the Feast of All Saints to set and then my collection Tempus per Annum of motets for the church's year will be complete, 72 motets in all.

Resurrexi, the Introit for Easter Day, was premiered on Easter Saturday by Ben Woodward and the Choir of St John's Church in Fulham, and there have been a number of other performances and premieres, and Peter Leech and Harmonia Sacra will be recording one this year. The completed motets are now available for free download from CPDL where you can find the motets for Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension and much of Ordinary Time. I am hoping that the collection will be complete in a few months time. A nice 60th birthday present to myself.

Who are we writing for? My article in the journal of the Institute of Composing

My article Who are we writing for? has just been published in Issue 3 of the journal of the Institute of Composing. The article examines the contemporary composer's relationship with the audience and whether composers should be more aware of a potential audience when writing their music. 

The current issue includes not only my article, but Tansy Davies on creating her new opera Between Two Worlds, Susanna Eastburn on giving creative artists a chance, folk music as a contemporary art form and a thoughtful article by Alwynne Pritchard which encompasses the writings of Foucault and the marketplace. Head over to Issue 3 of the journal of the Institute of Composing for an intriguing read.

Paying for our Entertainment - Power, Patronage and Sponsorship

Winaretta Singer, Princesse Edmond de Polignac
Winaretta Singer
Princesse Edmond de Polignac
Opera has always been expensive and required backers, but with the money and support comes power and the ability to control. In the past this has ranged from influencing who performs and what is performed to selecting where it is put on. In the modern world sponsorship and patronage rarely comes without strings even though the power or influence exerted may be less than obvious, and it may manifest itself in the nicest and discreetest of ways. But at its best this sort of relationship can be creative, and many of the great works of the past owe their existence to the enlightened patronage of great figures such as Winaretta Singer (Princesse Edmond de Polignac) who spent her share of her father's Singer Sewing Machine fortune on matters artistic including commissioning artists as diverse as Francis Poulenc, Manuel de Falla, Kurt Weill, Igor Stravinsky.

But, it has to be admitted that patronage and sponsorship are rarely entirely disinterested, the person or body receiving money has to providing something in return, or satisfy certain criteria. This is as much true of public bodies as private patronage; even the Arts Council at its most expansive provided money with strings; opera companies had to satisfy the opera panel, and the council was famous for turning on clients and dropping groups like D'Oyly Carte Opera and Kent Opera. And the modern day Arts Council England has very much its own agenda, involving access, youth, education and diversity. But however admirable these requirements may be, they have to be satisfied by potential clients before any support can be considered.

All public patronage is like this in the current economic climate. With a shortage of available money, public bodies have to prioritise their own concerns. Perhaps when the Arts Council was first founded it had the aim of providing disinterested art, but shortage of money supply brings power. So that opera's sheer expense makes it vulnerable. Some fringe companies work outside the system, taking no external monies and working from hand to mouth in a way which can seem like hard work to the outsider. But in fact this means that they are also free from outside interference; they can spend their limited income without any artistic influence.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Royal College of Music - a dramatic new development

Artists Impression: New quad viewed from cafe in foyer at RCM - John Simpson architects
Artists Impression: New quad viewed from cafe in foyer at RCM
John Simpson architects
The composer George Dyson is famous for the fact that, when he became principal of the Royal College of Music one of his first acts was to re-organise the Ladies' lavatories! Dyson devoted a great deal of his energies to the college plant at a time when the student body was expanding and money was tight. This was because he understood the importance of surroundings on doing good work. 

This week the Royal College of Music (RCM) announced a spectacular new plan to further enhance the plant. As anyone who has visited the college's Britten Theatre (see my review of the recent performance of Adriano in Siria there), the imposing college building hides a welter of buildings arranged round courtyards. Now the college has commissioned John Simpson architects to open up on of the courtyards to provide improved facilities and better circulation. The image to the right is the artist's impression of the new courtyard.

RCM courtyards today from the air - photo Google Earth
RCM courtyards today from the air - photo Google Earth
Britten Theatre to the left, new courtyard space to right
Prince Consort Road at top of picture

The project is planned to start in 2016, and will take two years and cost £25 million. The resulting works will give the students, and us:-
  • Two new performance spaces (of 150+ and 90+ seats) with the latest technology in acoustics and lighting.
  • Additional music practice rooms.
  • A permanent and accessible home for the RCM’s Museum of Music to display the RCM’s Special Collections in an interactive context.
  • Additional recording and broadcasting capability.
  • Improved access and circulation around the site, connecting together the RCM’s key spaces; the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, the Britten Theatre, the Library and the Museum of Music.
  • An enriched experience for the general public to include new foyer and meeting spaces for visitors, participants on RCM’s community learning programmes, students and RCM professors, a new café/restaurant area, a theatre bar and additional visitor facilities.
  • Increased step-free access to the RCM’s facilities.
It is an impressive and much needed project. As anyone who has ventured beyond the concert hall or the theatre will testify, the RCM is a positive rabbit warren and needs a strong hand to create order out of the chaos of over 100 years of expansion on a limited site.

Dramatic revival - JC Bach's Adriano in Siria

Ellie Laugharne and Erica Eloff  in Adriano in Siria - Classical Opera
Ellie Laugharne and Erica Eloff
JC Bach Adriano in Siria; Erica Eloff, Ellie Laugharne, Rowan Hellier, Filipa van Eck, Stuart Jackson, Nick Pritchard, dir: Thomas Guthrie, cond: Ian Page; Classical Opera at the Britten theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on April 16 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Mozartian pre-echoes in this opera receiving its first performance in 250 years

Ian Page and Classical Opera kicked off their mammoth Mozart 250 celebration which for now until 2041 will be exploring the music of Mozart year by year, 250 years after he wrote it. The festival started this year with the seven year old composer visiting London. As Mozart wasn't writing operas (though it would only be a few years before he did), the main work for the launch was an opera which was premiered in London during Mozart's visit, by a composer that Mozart revered, JC Bach.

JC Bach's Adriano in Siria, setting a libretto by Metastasio, was premiered in London at the Kings Theatre in 1765. Classical Opera is giving the work's probably modern premiere at the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music this week. We caught the second performance, on Thursday 16 April 2015, in a production directed by Thomas Guthrie and designed by Rhys Jarman with lighting by Katharine Williams. Rowan Hellier played Adriano, with Stuart Jackson as Osroa, Ellie Laugharne as Emirena, Erica Eloff as Farnaspe, Filipa van Eck as Sabina, Nick Pritchard as Aquilo. Ian Page conducted the orchestra of Classical Opera.

The libretto by Metastasio had been originally written for a setting by Caldara in 1732 in Vienna, but would go on to achieve great popularity and JC Bach's setting was preceded by 40 more that we know about. The libretto was adjusted for London, and anyone who knows Handel's later operas will recognise the principles with a drastic reduction in the amount of recitative, a re-balancing against recitative in favour of arias and a tendency to prune sub-plots to the point of nonsense. Plot-wise, JC Bach's opera had a number of glaring gaps and it was almost a 'highlights' opera. Classical Opera performed a version with around 2 hours of music and had only omitted a couple of minor arias and made small cuts to the recitative. I imagine that Hasse's 1752 setting lasted far longer. Hasse was famous for being true to his friend Metastasio's libretti and setting the full recitative uncut, whereas JC Bach seems to have had more modern impulse.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Salieri's La grotta di Trofonio

Antonio Salieri
You have probably never heard of Salieri's opera La grotta di Trofonio, I certainly hadn't. Surprisingly, for a composer best known for not poisoning Mozart, it is a comic opera written in 1785 whilst Salieri was the director of the Italian opera in Vienna. It was premiered at the Burgtheater and the plot is reckoned to have influenced Lorenzo da Ponte when writing the libretto of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte (which was premiered at the Burgtheater in 1790).  The Trofonio of the title is a magician whose cave can change people's personalities, two couples have this happen to them with the usual consequences.

The opera is being revived by the ever enterprising Bampton Classical Opera with a cast which includes Matthew Stiff in the title role and Anna Starushkevych, Aoife O'Sullivan, Christopher Turner and Nicholas Merryweather as the young lovers. There are performances at the Deanery Garden, Bampton (17, 18 July 2015), Westonbirt, Gloucestershire (31 August) and St John's Smith Square (15 September). The opera will be directed by Jeremy Gray and conducted by Paul Wingfield who was a Jette Parker Young Artist at Covent Garden from 2012-2014.

Joyce DiDonato in Camille Claudel: Into the Fire

Camille Claudel in her studio
Camille Claudel in her studio
Reynaldo Hahn, Claude Debussy, Jake Heggie; Joyce DiDonato, Brentano String Quartet, Jake Heggie; Milton Court Concert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 4 2015
Star rating: 4.0

European premiere of Jake Heggie's song cycle based on Camille Claudel

Jake Heggie's song cycle Camille Claudel: Into the Fire was written for Joyce DiDonato and she gave the work's European premiere at a concert at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Milton Court Concert Hall on Tuesday 4 April 2015 as part of her residency at the Barbican. Accompanied by Jake Heggie, Joyce DiDonato performed Reynaldo Hahn's Venezia, then the Brentano String Quartet performed Debussy's String Quartet, finally in the second half Joyce DiDonato was accompanied by the Brentano String Quartet in Jake Heggie's song cycle.

The programme was put together by Joyce DiDonato and Jake Heggie, based around the new work. Debussy's string quartet was included because Jake Heggie had been so influenced by the piece when writing Camille Claudel: Into the Fire. But it was not entirely clear why a group of songs to Italian texts which were written in Venice in 1900 by the Venezuelan born (but Parisian by adoption) Reynaldo Hahn. But no matter, the songs are lovely and make a seductive start to the concert.

Resplendent in a multi-coloured dress, but in mismatched shoes and having to sit (because of a sprained ankle), Joyce DiDonato showed herself to be at her most artful in these finely crafted performances. The six songs all set 17th and 18th century poetry about love, gondolas and water. In each, Joyce DiDonato created a vibrant character. To Sopra l'acqua indormenzada she brought a rich dark, vibrant voice but each phrase was carefully caressed and shaped, with a richly vivid language. La barchetta (in which the poet describes exactly what he is doing to Nineta she sleeps) was more plangent and the vocalise at the end of each verse simply made you tingle with delight.
L'avertimento was vividly sung with a very up-front chest voice and drama, here Joyce DiDonato was clearly channelling her experience playing trouser roles. La biondina in gondoleta and Che peca as similarly strong, and full of character, finally La primavera was all lightness and air.

Estonian Music Days - day three, live on the radio

Tallinn Chamber Orchestra in Studio 1 of Estonian Public Broadcasting at Estonian Music Days
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra in Studio 1
of Estonian Public Broadcasting
photo Mait Juriado
Kristjan Randalu, Liisa Hirsch, Elis Vesik, Sander Pehk, Mariliis Valkonen, Helena Tulve, Kirstaps Petersons; Triin Ruubel, Juta Ounapuu-Mocanita, Triin Piirsalu, Triinu Veissmann, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Atvars Lakstigala; Estonian Music Days at 1st Studio of Estonian Public Broadcasting
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 12 2015
Star rating: 4.0

New music for violins and string orchestra in a live radio broadcast

My last visit to Estonian Music Days in Tallinn saw me attending a live radio broadcast in Studio 1 of Estonian Public Broadcasting. Though the radio has a beautifully refurbished modern office (and I was privileged to get a trip round Klassika Raadio's 9th floor offices), the original post-war building (housing Studio 1) is still in use and about to be refurbished.

So on Sunday 12 April 2015, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by the young Latvian conductor Atvars Lakstigala performed a programme of music by Kristjan Randalu, Liisa Hirsch, Elis Vesik, Sander Pehk, Mariliis Valkonen, Helena Tulve and Kristaps Petersons with violinists Triin Ruubel and Juta Ounapuu-Mocanita. The music in the programme was mainly for strings, to which were added percussion at times. Though the programme was called Two Ladies there were in fact four violinists, as two of Triin Ruubel's young pupils Triin Piirsalu and Triinu Veissmann played Sander Pehk's piece as part of Mini-EMD. Remarkably, ALL the works in the programme were premieres.

We started with the premiere of Emigrane for string orchestra which was written in 2015 by Kristjan Randalu (born 1978). Using two contrasting ideas, vibrant polytonal chords and a more lyrical theme, Kristjan Randalu created a dynamic piece which had references to the style and genre of a variety of familiar string orchestral works.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Earth's Call - songs by John Ireland

Earth's Call - April Fredrick - SOMM
John Ireland Mother and Child, Songs Sacred and Profane, Three Songs to Poems by Thomas Hardy; April Fredrick, Mark Bebbington; SOMM Recordings
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 2 2015
Star rating: 4.0

One-disc exploration of some of Ireland's fine but neglected songs.

The composer John Ireland wrote a significant body of songs spanning some 35 year of his composing life but only a handful are well known. This disc on SOMM Recordings from the young soprano April Fredrick, accompanied by Mark Bebbington, brings together a selection both well known and lesser known, representing a little under 50% of Ireland's output. On this disc April Fredrick and Mark Bebbington perform the song cycles Mother and Child, Songs Sacred and Profane and Three Songs to Poems by Thomas Hardy, alongside individual songs.

April Frederick
April Frederick
Despite a troubled childhood (Ireland's father, a newspaper editor, was over 70 when he was born), he took from his upbringing a love and knowledge of literature and it is as a setter of poetry that Ireland is best, and justly, known. His selections ranged widely, and it is clear from the songs that the words came paramount, despite the enormous melodic felicity of his talent. That is what makes his popular songs so much so; Ireland had the ability to harness a rattling good tune in the service of the words.

Ireland's upbringing left him with another legacy, a profoundly repressed sexuality. Quite what he was repressing, no-one is sure. Certainly his attempts at marriage and female relations were quite disastrous and he was a very homo-social man, and I understand that his surviving correspondence with his friend Rev. Kenneth Thompson (1904-1991) does refer to the attractions of choir boys. But, this repression seems to have had an outlet in his music, and passion is rarely absent in one way or another. Not for the first time, a composer's troubled private life leaves us all the more the benefitters.

Le Tombeau de Rachmaninov

Noriko Ogawa
You may not necessarily have heard of Music Haven, but they are a firm which publishes and promotes new music. For their latest venture, the pianist Noriko Ogawa (who is also involved in Jamie's concerts for people with autism and their carers) will be playing Le Tombeau de Rachmaninov at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall this Sunday, 19 April 2015.

The work is intended to celebrate both Ravel and Rachmaninov, composers featured in the Bridgewater Hall's Ravel & Rachmaninov: International Concert Series so Le Tombeau de Rachmaninov takes the same form as Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin but each movement of the new work is written by a contemporary composer whose movement echoes the work of Ravel and Rachmaninov; so that the movements are Prelude by Stephen Hough (b.1961), Fugue by Alan Mills (b.1964), Forlane by Peter Fribbins (b.1969), Rigaudon by James Francis Brown (b.1969), Menuet by Cecilia McDowall (b.1951) and Toccata by the Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu (b.1953).

A couple of the composers have explicitly written their movements in memory of someone lost in the war (just as Ravel had done with the movements of his piece), with Peter Fribbin's Forlane dedicated to his grandfather who died in the First World War, a week after his 21st birthday, and Cecilia McDowall dedicating her Menuet to the composer Jehan Alain who died  during the Second World War.

Noriko Ogawa will also be playing piano music by Ravel and Rachmaninov, further information and tickets from the Bridgewater Hall website. The concert starts at 7.30pm, and at 6.30pm some of the composers involved will be talking about the work.

Estonian Music Days - day two, Polish/Estonian collaboration and a cartoon

Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn - photo Robert Hugill
Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn - photo Robert Hugill
Maria Korvits, Age Veeroos, Tonu Korvits, Mari Vihmand, Ewa Fabianska-Jelinska, Witold Lutoslawski, Michal Ossowski, Rafal Zapala, Artur Kroschel, and Kazimierz Serocki; Sepia Ensemble; Estonian Music Days at Tallinn Secondary Science School
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 11 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Estonian/Polish interaction in this concert by a Polish ensemble spanning music of two countries

My second day at the Estonian Music Days in Tallinn started with a sightseeing tour, spending two hours walking round the Toompea and the historic Old Town, and then driving out to the Song Festival Grounds. These are used for all sorts of music events, but their main focus is the Song Festival. Established in the 19th century, this festival (originally every 3 year and now every 5 years) gathers thousands of people together to sing national songs. The Song Festival Grounds were the focus for spontaneous singing demonstrations in 1988 which helped lead to the overthrow of the Soviet regime in the Singing Revolution. 

Ensemble Sepia - photo Peeter Larvits
Ensemble Sepia - photo Peeter Larvits
Then at 6pm we assembled in the hall of Tallinn Secondary Science School (Tallinna Reaalkooli Saal), a handsome late 19th or early 20th century building with a hall far grander than we had when I was at school. We were there to listen to the Polish new music ensemble, Ansambel Sepia (Sepia Ensemble) performing their Zooming: Estonia programme. The programme was a collaboration between Estonia and Poland and the ensemble has already presented a similar one in their native Poznan. The first half of the programme contained new Estonian music from Maria Korvits, Age Veeroos, Tonu Korvits and Mari Vihmand, whilst the second half contained new and contemporary Polish music from Ewa Fabianska-Jelinska, Witold Lutoslawski, Michal Ossowski, Rafal Zapala, Artur Kroschel, and Kazimierz Serocki.

The Sepia Ensemble was founded by Artur Kroschel and Rafal Zapala in 2012, and consists of graduates and higher level student of the IJ Paderewski Academy of Music in Pozanan. There is a core of 12 musicians who perform in various combinations; we heard Paulina Gras-Lukasewska (flute), Szymon Jozwiak (clarinet), Wojciech Jelinski (trombone), Tomasz Sosniak (piano), Aleksandra Dzwonkowska (percussion), Olga Winkowska and Anna Podsiadly (violins), Tomasz Citak (viola), Anna Szmatola (cello), Mateusz Loska (double bass), with artistic director Artur Kroschel.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Day the Music Died - BASCA's Digital Royalties Campaign

One of the topics which came up during the discussions at the ISM's conference Making Music Work recently, was the issue of royalties for composers from digital services, and the way that music is used on platforms such as YouTube leading consumers to presume that music just gets there without any cost or labour by musicians. Now BASCA (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) has started a campaign The Day the Music Died which is calling for a better deal for songwriters and composers and those that the digital universe has forgotten.

The campaign calls for a 50/50 split of gross royalty invome for writers from digital services, as with broadcasting synchronisation splits; advertising income paid to creators for all usage including YouTube, the removal of auto-predictive fill in of illegal content with internet search engines, the removal of safe harbour for content platforms such as YouTube and the loosening up of the terms of NDA's (Non disclosure agreements) to allow for comprehensive CMO audit rights.

They have started a three pronged attack, asking music industry for better deals, the Government to change legislation, and the public to change attitudes towards filesharing. None are easy targets, but if nothing is done, then the next generation of composers will effectively cease to be able to earn income from royalties.

60th birthday piano fundraiser at St Paul's Knightsbridge

St Paul's Knightsbridge
St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, has rather an unusual fundraiser on Saturday 25 April 2015 at the church when Thames Chamber Orchestra, conductor Keith Marshall will be performing Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, Mozart's Piano Concerto No 12 and Mozart's Symphony No. 40, with choral music performed by St Paul's Knightsbridge Choir, conducted by Stephen Farr. So far, so traditional. 

The fundraiser is to help raise funds for St Paul's to buy its own piano, as at the moment it does not have a viable one and despite being a regular concert and recording venue pianos are hired in. So a parishioner, John Sunderland is celebrating his 60th birthday by setting himself the challenge of performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No 12 at the concert with the Thames Chamber Orchestra. Sunderland hasn't played the piano in public since university, and hasn't played this concerto before! So do help him celebrate, and support the church in its efforts to raise the money for the piano. Tickets are available on-line,

Estonian Music Days - day one, introducing a vibrant music scene

Tallinn old town from Toompea - photo Robert Hugill
Tallinn old town from Toompea - photo Robert Hugill
Jakob Juhkam, Tatjana Kozlova-Johannes, Meelis Vind, Kristo Matson, Riho Esko Maimets, Tonu Korvits; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Taavi Kull; Estonian Music Days at Solaris, and Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 10 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Opening concert of the Estonian Music Days is fine showcase

Having been in Istanbul last month, I was in a very different but equally historic place last weekend (10-12 April) when I attended the Estonian Music Days  (Eesti Muusika Paevad) in Tallinn, a festival of Estonian contemporary music organised by the Estonian Composers Union (Eesti Heliloojate Liit). The artistic directors of the festival this year are Helena Tulve and Timo Steiner, and over the course of three days I attended five events, all comprising contemporary music with many world premieres, by predominantly Estonian composers. Tallinn is a very historic city and the festival used a wide variety of venues.

Mini-EMD - Dancing robots at Solaris in Timo Steiner's 'Stuck in a Loop' - photo Robert Hugill
Mini-EMD - Dancing robots at Solaris
in Timo Steiner's Stuck in a Loop - photo Robert Hugill
In parallel with the main festival there was also Mini-EMD which was curated and organised by a team of young people (secondary school age). The first event (on Friday 10 April 2015) that I attended was in the shopping centre, Solaris, where amidst the shoppers coming and going and the smell of fruit and vegetables, a group of robots performed Timo Steiner's Stuck in a Loop. The humanoid robots, each named after a philosopher, moved as well as making sounds so that it was almost a music theatre piece.

The opening concert of the main festival took place later that evening (10 April 2015) at Estonia Concert Hall, when there were six newly commissioned works performed by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, conductor Taavi Kull. The hall is a handsome neo-classical building originally built in 1913, and reconstructed 1947 after destruction in 1944; it is part of the complex which holds the opera house. In the foyer as we deposited our coats there were music stands holding a selection of the scores of works to be performed during the festival (a feature of all the concerts I discovered). The opening work was in fac performer-less, it was a striking sound collage by Jakob Juhkam (born 1992), First, assembled from the first symphonies of Estonian composers.

Taavi Kull and Estonian National Symphony Orchestra - photo Peeter Langovits
Taavi Kull and Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
photo Peeter Langovits
The second work (the first to be played by the orchestra) was Lighting the Fire by Tatiana Kozlova-Johannes (born 1977) which was written for huge symphony orchestra. All five orchestral works that evening took advantage of the large forces available with lots of percussion, and the whole orchestra barely fitted onto the platform. Tatiana Kozlova-Johannes' work was based on a passage from Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women Who Run With Wolves (Myths and stories of the wild woman archetype). Starting from the slow moving texture of plucked strings and sustained wind with lots of tuned percussion, there was a sense of movement in the texture even though there was no sense of pulse, just a feeling of seething underneath which gradually built to an ear shattering climax. In the relatively close confines of the hall, it was one of the loudest unamplified sounds I have ever heard.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and their Encore project

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra - photo credit Michael Trippel
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
photo credit Michael Trippel
The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra's ambitious new project to commission around 40 new works, encore pieces to promote new music and show that contemporary composers can be entertaining!

The Bamberg Symphony Orchestra is 70 year old next year, and has a long an interesting history. Recently the orchestra has been making something of a name for itself under their conductor Jonathan Nott. They have established the Gustav Mahler Conducting Prize which had Gustavo Dudamel as its first winner in 2004. Now they have come up with in interesting project to refresh the orchestral repertoire in a manageable and rather lively way. I had an email interview with Marcus Rudolf Axt, the chief-executive of the orchestra to learn more about it.

The orchestra's Encore project is designed to do just that, commission new encores which the orchestra can use on their tours. They want new works are 'which strong enough to end the concert "with a smile"'. But the project is ambitious, they aim to commission around 40 pieces by various composer. Five have been premiered so far, and the intention is to provide an overview of the range of creation in contemporary music at the moment. Marcus is clear that overall, they want to promote new music but doing so by showing that contemporary composers can be entertaining.

Howard Blake at Milton Court

Benedict Kloeckner - photo Marco Borgreve
Benedict Kloeckner
photo Marco Borgreve
On Friday 17 April 2015, the Guildhall School's Milton Court concert hall will see the London premieres of no less than four of Howard Blake's works. The German cellist Benedict Kloeckner is joined by violinist Madeleine Mitchell, viola player Rivka Golani and pianist Sasha Grynyuk to perform Blake's Diversions for Cello and Piano, Piano Trio no, 3 'Elegia stravagante', Piano quartet, Prelude for solo viola and The Enchantment of Venus for cello and piano.

Benedict Kloeckner (born 1989) won the European Broadcasting Union's Young Artists Competition in Bratislava in 2010, playing Blake's Diversions and subsequently Blake has arranged a number of works for Kloeckner including the two of them have performed Blake's work together a number of times and recorded the music for cello and piano on the Genuin label. I first heard Blake and Kloeckner playing together in 2013 (see my article) at a concert to celebrate Blake's 75th birthday.

Further information about the concert and tickets from the Barbican Centre website.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

European Mavericks: The Smith Quartet explore post-minimalism

The Smith Quartet
The Smith Quartet
Gavin Bryars, Graham Fitkin, Louis Andriessen, Steve Martland, Wayne Siegel; The Smith Quartet; Kings Place
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Mar 4 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Minimalism and post-Minimalism explored in music by European Mavericks

Last night (4 March 2015) as part of the Kings Place series exploring minimalism the Smith Quartet performed a selection of post-minimalism works from 'European Mavericks'. Composers included Gavin Bryars, Graham Fitkin, Louis Andriessen, and Steve Martland pus a world premiere by Wayne Siegel.

The Smith Quartet, Ian Humphries and Rick Koster on violin, Nic Pendlebury on viola and Deirdre Cooper on cello, have been playing together (with a few changes of personnel) since 1988. In that time they have commissioned more than 200 pieces of music, including works by Michael Nyman, Donnacha Dennehy, Joe Cutler, Tunde Jegede, Gabriel Prokofiev and Jon Lord, and have produced some 24 recordings. They also worked with Steve Reich to record 'Different Trains' for the award-winning film 'Holocaust – A Music Memorial Concert from Auschwitz' which marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ben Johnson and James Baillieu

Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
Tosti, Respighi, Stanford, Parry, Coates, Elgar, Sullivan, Head, Hughes, Woodforde-Finden, Lehmann; Ben Johnson, James Baillieu; Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on April 8 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Out of the parlour: Beautifully thoughtful performances of songs spanning high and low culture.

Ben Johnson's Rosenblatt Recital at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 8 April 2015 explored songs which were written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, works produced by composers in the intersection between popular and high culture, the well made lyrical song. The composers were all, with one exception, perceived as in some way British. Accompanied by James Baillieu, Ben Johnson sang song cycles by Francesco Paolo Tosti (naturalised British) and Respighi, plus songs by Parry, Stanford, Elgar, Sullivan, Eric Coates, Michael Head, Herbert Hughes, Amy Woodforde-Finden and Liza Lehman. This is repertoire which requires a strong technique to be done well and is often neglected partly through being badly performed or not taken seriously; errors which Ben Johnson certainly never made. He lavished the same care on the songs as any in his repertoire, and most responded beautifully.

Ben Johnson and James Baillieu opened with Tosti's cycle of five songs setting Gabriele d'Annunzio, Malincolia, written in 1887. The melancholy of the title being elegant rather then depressive with a suggestion of stylish posturing from d'Annunzio. Dorme la selva had a long slow line which Ben Johnson caressed and shaped making something highly expressive with clear words. Perfect of its style and of great beauty in the combination of song, performance and voice. Ben Johnson had a lovely low-centred lyric tenor voice with dark hints. He is becoming known for the Italian operatic repertoire and his technique has Italianate elements but without the glare and wide open tones which can sit uneasily on the concert platform. Quando'io ti guardo was more urgent, rising to fine passion. L'ora e tarda combined a lyric piano line with a more conversational vocal line, finely shaped by Ben Johnson. Or dunque addio developed from conversational to real passion in a way which reminded me perhaps of Puccini-lite. Chi sei tu che mi parli was slower and darker, the lovely melody when it finally came was given an Italianate feel, but beautifully controlled without belting.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Classical music in Turkey, a long history and a promising future

Giuseppe Donizetti
In the light of my recent visit to Istanbul, and visit to hear Sascha Goetzel and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra performing Haydn's The Seasons, I have written an article which takes a quick look at the wider scene of classical music in Turkey, including opera, to put the recent developments with the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra into context.

If you are interested in reading a little about Giuseppe Donizetti (brother of the composer) and his work in Istanbul, the vexed question of venues for performance in Istanbul and a hint of what other performing groups are doing then head over to The Culture Trip website for my article.

Sibelius Nielsen Festival in Stockholm

Sibelius Nielsen festival
If you fancy a trip to Stockholm, then the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra (Kungliga Filharmoniska Orkestern) is presenting all of Sibelius and Nielsen's symphonies in a festival from 14 to 26 April 2015. Over the space of 12 concerts the orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo (chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra) along with an amazing nine orchestras from Denmark, Finland and Sweden, will be performing all seven Sibelius symphonies and all six Nielsen symphonies, alongside symphonies by Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, RVW, Atterberg, Stenhammar, Beethoven, Mahler, Ives, Mendelssohn and Brahms.

Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra are being joined in the festival by Alexander Verdenikov and the Odensee Symphony Orchestra, John Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Francis and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Leif Segerstam and the Royal Swedish Opera Orchestra, Stefan Solyom and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marc Soustrot and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, and Alexander Shelley and the Gothenborg Symphony Orchestra.

Each of the festival’s 12 concerts will also be prefaced by introductions presented by Mats Engström, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra’s director of programme and curator of the festival, in company with guests including Ilkka Oramo, John Fellow, Sakari Oramo, Ida-Maria Vorre of the Odense Carl Nielsen Museum as well as several Swedish musicians and composers.

Nielsen conducted the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in 1918 and again a decade later, in performances of his Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5; Sibelius conducted them in 1923 and 1924, directing the orchestra in the world premiere of his Symphony No. 7 on 24 March 1924 and also conducted his Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 6. Sakari Oramo's association with the orchestra began in the mid-1990's and has continued more recently.

The concerts all take place at the Stockholm Concert Hall, built in the 1920's to house the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. If you want to know more then there is a special edition of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra's magazine, or there is a special YouTube introduction from Sakari Oramo.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

An intimate evening with a dramatic diva

Nelly Miricioiu
Nelly Miricioiu
The British/Romanian soprano Nelly Miriciouiu's most recent London performances have generally been to large halls in full scale Italian operas (including Verdi's Stiffelio in 2014 with Chelsea Opera Group, see my review). On Tuesday 21 April 2015 she will be in more intimate mode when, at St John's Smith Square she will be accompanied by pianist David Gowland in a programme of songs and operatic arias.

In the first half she will be performing Ravel's Cinq Mélodies Populaire Grecques and songs by Chausson, Respighi and Chopin plus folksongs from her native Romania. Then in the second half we will be treated to arias from operas by four of the composers most associated with Nelly, Puccini, Bellini, Rossini and Verdi. There will be arias from Puccini's La Rondine, and Suor Angelica, Bellini's Il pirata, Rossini's Semiramide and Verdi's I due Foscari.

Nelly Miricioiu was born and studied in Romania and fled the country in 1981, making her debut at Scottish Opera and in 1982 she made her Covent Garden debut. David Gowland is the Artistic Director for the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

Further information and tickets from the St John's Smith Square website. You can read my interview with Nelly on this blog (with the second part here).

Making Music Work - ISM Conference

ISM - Make Music Work
Make Music Work was the title of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) conference on Tuesday 31 March at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Milton Court. The event brought together a huge number of ISM members, and students to listen to and take part in debates about the big questions around creating a sustainable career, with The Jury's Out focussing on competitions, Make Something from Nothing looking at ways of being creative, Getting is Straight looking at legal issues and not getting ripped off, and The Idea's the Thing about turning an idea into a career. Interspersed with these were performances from a wide variety of musicians including Westcombe Brass, Juice vocal ensemble, Benjamin Baker, Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family and Kesnija Sidorova.

Things kicked off in a lively fashion with Westcombe Brass (Paul Bosworth and Nial Mulvoy, trumpets, Alex Joyce, French horn, Emma Bassett, trombone, and Joe Palmer, tuba) performing Elgar Howarth's Processional Fanfare, and arrangements of Jimmy McHugh's On the Sunny Side of the Street and Irving Berlin's Putting on the Ritz.

The Barry Ife, president of the ISM  and head of Guildhall School, and trumpeter Alison Balsom introduced the day.  Ife described the conference as an 'audit of systems in place to ensure young people progress into the profession', whilst Balsom talked about the steps in her career which took her from student to professional musician, and these were many and varied ranging from BBC Young Musician to studying in Paris for a year where the teaching tradition was radically different. Throughout she emphasised the need to balance repertory with integrity with music which people want to pay to listen to.

Castaway in the east: The wild man of the West Indies

Donizetti: Wild Man of the West Indes - ETO, Sally Silver - Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Sally Silver and company
Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Donizetti The Wild Man of the West Indes; Sally Silver, Craig Smith, Peter Brathwaite, Njabulo Madlala, Nicholas Sharratt, dir: Iqbal Khan, cond: Jeremy Silver , English Touring Opera at Hackney Empire
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Mar 12 2015
Star rating: 4.0

A spectacle and performance it would be a shame to mis

The ETO's performance of Donizetti's 'The wild man of the West Indies' at Hackney Empire was a superb exploration of 19th century island life. Directed by Iqbal Khan and conducted by Jeremy Silver the performers found humanity and pathos in Donizetti's less than finest offering.

Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (1797-1848) was the youngest child of a pawnbroker in Bergamo, Italy but was educated at the Lezioni Caritatevoli School where he learned music and literature until his voice broke. The school was run by the opera composer Simone Mayr who mentored the young Donizetti through the Academia Carrara and helped him find a scholarship to continue his musical training. By 1819 Donizetti was starting to find his feet as an opera composer -writing 'Il falegname di Livonia' which was performed at the Teatro San Samuele in Venice.

Donizetti: Wild Man of the West Indes - ETO, Peter Brathwaite, Craig Smith - Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Peter Brathwaite, Craig Smith - Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
'Il furioso all'isola di San Domingo' (1833) - translated by the ETO as 'The wild man of the West Indies' was written in a mature style honed by the years of comic (and some serious) opera. It was written hot on the heels of 'L'elisir d'amore' (1832) and in the middle of a writing frenzy which saw him stage more than ten operas in five years and solidified his position as an opera composer to be reckoned with.

'Il furioso all'isola di San Domingo' is loosely based on one of the stories from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605) where Cardenio's one true love, Lucinda, marries his friend Don Fernando and Cardenio find solace in isolation. In this tale love eventually conquers all and Cardenio and Lucinda, as they are in 'Il furioso', reunited.

The libretto was written by Donizetti's several time collaborator Jacopo Ferretti but for me was lacking in movement and character development. The plot is simplistic with none of the twists and turns of 'L'elisir d'amore'. Donizetti was forced to repeat each phrase several times to provide enough space for his performers to make something of the music. The composition itself was lacklustre and half-hearted, with few chances for the performers to show off their skill. Some of this might be explained by the original cast who were all young performers and perhaps Donizetti was writing for their capabilities.

Donizetti: Wild Man of the West Indes - ETO, Craig Smith, Sally Silver - Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Craig Smith, Sally Silver and company
Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
That said, what this opera does have is space for the performers to perform. What they could not say with words they had to say with their bodies and emotional tone – and this is where the ETO excelled.

The first act was dominated by the day to day island life and, to their credit, the ETO did not shy away from depicting the slavery which a 19th century audience would have keenly felt. The road to emancipation for Santo Domingo was not smooth with slavery only being widely abolished during the Haitian Haitian occupation (1821–44). Slavery was abolished in 1833 in the British West Indies.

Craig Smith was superb as the half mad Cardenio and had an interesting relationship with Peter Brathwaite (last seen singing Entartete Kunst) as the scared and bullied salve, Kaidamà. Bartolomeo (the plantation manager) – Njabulo Madlala and his daughter Marcella, performed by Donna Bateman, provided the voices of reason. But their characters especially (and their voices) could have withstood further development by the composer. More too could have been made out of Marcella's love for Cardenio and the potential for jealousy when Cardenio's wife, Eleonora performed by Sally Silver, appeared on the scene.

Donizetti: Wild Man of the West Indes - ETO, Nicholas Sharrat - Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Nicholas Sharrat - Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
The final player was Nicholas Sharratt who portrayed Fernando. In this interpretation of Cervantes' story Fernando was Cardenio's brother who had had an affair with Eleonora. Again these relationships were very clinical. There was some lingering resentment of Fernando by Cardenio, but this was quickly overcome.

I did wonder at the end of the first act how Donizetti was going to eke out the second half – however it was here that he supplied the more interesting music in some protracted solos for Cardenio where Smith had to chart his way through differing moods. Sally Silver's flexible and passionate voice made the most of her character's desperation and Sharratt's clear and unforced top notes shone out.

The clever ship/quay stage design by Florence de Maré, and the costumes, brought the island to life and provided an evocative setting for the magnificently believable performances. The orchestra were a little heavy handed on all the identical repeated cadences which they had been given by Donizetti – but who can blame them. Even the surtitles gave up leaving swathes untranslated.

'Il furioso all'isola di San Domingo' is rarely performed and even that alone would be a good enough reason to see it. However, despite the uninspiring writing, the ETO have managed to produce a spectacle and performance that it would be a shame to miss.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

Elsewhere on this blog:

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

National Youth Choir of Great Britain - by Special Arrangement

National Youth Choir of Great Britain
In what is turning out to be a real youth music weekend (see my previous posts on the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and on the National Children's Orchestras), the National Youth Choir is performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 12 April 2015. The choir's director Ben Parry (a former Swingle Singer) shares conducting honours with another former Swingle Singer, Tom Bullard. The choir will be joined by the Swedish vocal ensemble, The Real Group for the programme By Special Arrangement. The two groups will be giving the premier of Water which has been written specifically for the National Youth Choir by Anders Edenroth, The Real Group's founder.  Also in the programme will be arrangements of music by Chopin, Mahler, Ravel, Schubert, Bach and Mozart, all of it virtuoso a cappella music.

By Special Arrangement is also the closing event of two South Bank Centre festivals: Chorus (30 March–12 April), their annual festival celebrating the power of singing together bringing together over 100 choirs and thousands of singers to perform, share, learn and experiment; and a brand new festival Strive (10–12 April) a celebration of youth, programmed by and for young people.

The Dragon of Wantley

The Dragon of Wantley
The Dragon of Wantley
Lampe The Dragon of Wantley; Susanna Fairburn, Rhiannon Llewellyn, David de Winter, James Harrison, Ars Eloquentiae, dir: Anne Allen, cond: Chad Kelly; London Handel Festival at St George's Hanover Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 07 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Lively revival of a neglected 18th century English comic gem

The Dragon of Wantley by John Frederick Lampe is one of those work which tends to crop up in history books rather more than on the operatic stage. A comic English language work which, when mentioned usually gets linked to works like The Beggars Opera, the group Ars Eloquentiae gave us the opportunity for finding out for ourself when their performance of it was staged on Tuesday 7 April 2015 at the London Handel Festival, at St George's Church, Hanover Square. Ars Eloquentiae, artistic directors Chad Kelly and Leo Duarte, was directed from the harpsichord by Chad Kelly, with Susanna Fairbairn as Margery, David de Winter as Moore of Moore Hall, Rhiannon Llewellyn as Mauxalinda, James Harrison as Gubbins and the dancer Francesca Bridge-Cicic as the dragon. The stage director was Ann Allen.

John Frederick Lampe (c1689-1743) was a bassoonist from Saxony who settled in London and ended up in Handel's orchestra. He also became friendly with a crowd which included composer Thomas Arne and the poet, composer and singer Henry Carey (c1689-1743). Between 1732 and 1734 Lampe and Carey collaborate on for operas in English, but they were flops; the audience was not interested in serious opera in English, it was Italian opera which was popular. What was popular in English was the ballad opera, the prime exemplar of which is The Beggars Opera premiered in 1728, and in her article programme book Katie Hawks makes the valid point that whilst the popularity of ballad opera had little material effect on that of Italian opera in London, it probably did inhibit the development of English opera.

Carey had written the words for a number of ballad operas (which tended to be satirical, and take pot shots at key issues of the day), and in 1737 he and Lampe had another go. Carey wrote a comic libretto based on an old English ballad, and Lampe set it to music. Not as a ballad opera, but as a through composed neo-Italian opera, thus sending up the genre of opera seria good and proper. Lampe's music has all of the rhetorical devices that would have been familiar from the Italian opera, but allied to ludicrous words and a very anti-heroic story. For instance Margery's lovely tragic aria which opens act two has the words 'Sure my stays will burst with sobbing'.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

National Children's Orchestras

National Children's Orchestras
The National Children's Orchestras have a pair of concerts coming up which will showcase the organisation's main orchestras. The Main Orchestra is performing at Colston Hall, Bristol on Saturday 11 April 2015. Conducted by guest conductor Howard Williams, they will be joined by Bristol Choral Society and soprano Rhiannon Llewellyn for Poulenc's Gloria along with Elgar's Cockaigne and Ravel's Bolero. Whilst the Main Orchestra is the most senior group with children up to the age of 14, the Under 13 Orchestra has children under 13 and this group will be conducted by Roger Clarkson at The Anvil in Basingstoke on Sunday 12 April 2015, in a programme including Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture, Liszt's Les Preludes, the Berceuse and Finale from Stravinsky's Firebird as well as other colourful items. Both groups have to be seen and heard to be believed (see my review of the two orchestras join concert at the Royal Festival in 2013)

Good Friday Passion at St George's Hanover Square

St George's Church, Hanover Square
Bach St Matthew Passion; Nathan Vale, George Humphreys, Anna Dennis, Alexandra Gibson, London Handel Orchestra, Choir of St George's, Lawrence Cummings; London Handel Festival at St George's Church, Hanover Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on April 03 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Richly dramatic, involving and moving - the Good Friday passion at St George's

I last attended the annual Good Friday performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion presented by the London Handel Festival at St. George's Church, Hanover Square some 20 years ago when, I think, Denys Darlow was still in charge and the interval was long enough for us to go to D.H. Evans on Regent Street for afternoon tea. We returned this Good Friday (3 April 2015) to hear Laurence Cummings conduct the London Handel Orchestra (leader Adrian Butterfield) and choir of St George's Church with Nathan Vale as the Evangelist, George Humphreys as Christus and soloists Anna Dennis and Alexandra Gibson. The passion is performed in the context of Vespers, as it was in Bach's day, so that we started with a hymn, had a hymn and a short sermon from Father Nicolas Stebbing from the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield and concluded with Jakob Handel's motet Ecce quomodo moritur and a final hymn.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Schumanesque transformation - Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto, new light from a new edition

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 1879 version, Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2; Gerstein, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Gaffigan; Myrios
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 28 2015
Star rating: 4.0

A first outing for the new edition of Tchaikovsky's own edition of the famous concerto

It wasn't unusual in the 19th century for the solo part in a concerto to be edited to a certain extent by the virtuoso for whom it was written (Brahms's friend Joachim provided advice for the violin concerto Brahms was writing). But Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto was premiered in 1875 by Hans von Bulow, who was enthusiastic about the piece and it had its first Russian performance that year with Nikolai Rubinstein (who had been initially dismissive of the work) conducting Sergey Taneev. Shortly after this, Tchaikovsky made some revisions and this version was printed by his publisher P.Jurgenson in 1879. This was the version that Tchaikovsky performed for most of his life. But in 1894, after Tchaikovsky's death a third edition was produced and printed, and it is this version which is has traditionally become known as Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto.

It is not certain who edited the concerto for the 1894 edition, but it seems to have been Tchaikovsky's pupil Alexander Siloti, who claimed in a 1929 interview to have spoken to the composer about the revisions, notably the changes to the famous chords in the opening piano sequence. As I have said, changes to concertos by virtuoso was relatively commonplace, and the early printings of the score from 1879 were rare, so it is the 1894 edition which became accepted. There is no documentary evidence for the changes, they just appear in 1894 out of nowhere, and by contrast in 1912 Sergey Taneev (who not only played it but helped in the preparation and copying of the score) expressed disbelief.

Perhaps the reason for the popularly of the 1894 edition is the character change which Siloti's edition has wrought on the work, because in the famous opening Tchaikovsky did not write chords but arpeggiated passages, and this has a general effect on dynamics and general feel. What Tchaikovsky wrote is subtler, and far less combative, and much more Schumanesque. Siloti's changes have moved the concerto a little closer to the combative model of concerto rather beloved of the 19th century composers (piano v. orchestra) whilst Tchaikovsky has written something richer and more poetic.