Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Woman Who Refused To Dance

The story of an unknown woman, whose punishment and death on a boat of trafficked people inspired William Wilberforce to argue for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic trade in Parliament, is the basis for Shirley J Thompson's new opera The Woman Who Refused To Dance. Thompson's new piece is premiered as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at The Place Theatre, 17 Duke’s Road, London WC1H 9PY on 27 July 2017. The piece is written for female singer, speaker, dancer and instrumental ensemble and the premiere features Nadine Benjamin (soprano) and Tania Dimbelolo (dancer) with instrumental ensemble of Rebeca Omordia, Orphy Robinson, Marsha Skins, and Byron Wallen, directed by Anastasia Belina-Watson with choreography by Monique Jonas.

2017 is the 210th anniversary of the passing of the act abolishing the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the act passed as a result of Wilberforce's advocacy inspired by the unknown woman's story. On a boat headed from Grenada to Calabar, she was beaten and hung by her ankles until she died after refusing to dance for the ship’s captain. Her refusal was read as an act of insubordination and her punishment was meant as an example to the other enslaved persons on board. Thompson's opera not only conveys the drama of the incident, but most profoundly it represents the imagined thoughts of 'The Unknown Woman' as she hangs. Thompson presents her internal monologue, describing her idyllic past and of what her future life might have been. But the opera's narrative also feeds into dialogue about present-day human trafficking.

Full details from the Tête à Tête website.

Dancing in the Ghetto

Adam Gorb - Dancing in the Ghetto - Prima Facie
Dancing in the Ghetto, Adam Gorb music for large ensemble; Royal Northern College of Music Wind Ensemble, Mark Heron, Timothy Reynish, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic 10/10 Ensemble, Clark Rundell, Manchester Camerata, Mark Heron; Prima Facie
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 17 2017
Star rating: 4.0

European influences to the fore in music for large ensemble by British composer Adam Gorb

The composer Adam Gorb is Head of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music (his Thoughts Scribbled on a Blank Wall  was performed at JAM's Spring showcase earlier this year, seem my review). This new disc from Prima Facie of Gorb's music showcases the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Ensemble, conductors Mark Heron and Timothy Reynish, along with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic 10/10 Ensemble, conductor Clark Rundell and the Manchester Camerata, conductor Mark Heron. The works on the disc are all for large ensemble, Dancing in the Ghetto, Weimar, Symphony No. 1 in C, Serenade for Spring and Love Transforming. 

The opening work on the disc, Dancing in the Ghetto (2008) is intended as the prelude to Gorb's opera Anya 17 but was written as a free-standing work. The title refers to doomed people making merry before a cataclysmic event. The music gives a fair picture of Gorb's style, highly coloured with folkloristic elements incorporated in music which is highly rhythmic and vivid. Listening to the disc, I constantly returned to the influences of Stravinsky in the music, with elements of Britten too.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

One Creation

Alice Sielle - One Creation
The St Marylebone Festival and Song in the City (artistic director Gavin Roberts) have joined forces to present an intriguing programme as part of the festival, One Creation, which is being presented at St Marylebone Parish Church tomorrow (26 July 2017). Gavin Roberts and artist Alice Sielle have invited artists and musicians born into different faiths, but not necessarily practising, to choose secular or religious texts, poems and songs from their own heritage on three subjects: ‘love of the whole of nature or creation’ ‘equality, justice, freedom for all’ and‘erotic love’.

There will be performances from artists of Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh backgrounds. The performance is combined with projections of the abstract paintings by Alice Sielle. Performers include Ranjana Ghatak, Tami Tal, Leon Silver, Merit Ariane Stephanos, Avaes Mohammad, Harpriet Kaur and Harkesh Kaur.

Further information from EventBrite.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 2017-18

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 2017/18 season at the Cadogan Hall
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's 2017-18 season at Cadogan Hall opens with a tribute to composer Howard Blake, whilst the theme of Myth and Legends runs through the 16 concert series and the orchestra has appointed its first artists in residence, violinist Esther Yoo.

Whilst Howard Blake is best known for his music to The Snowman, his career has been extraordinarily diverse and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the composer, showcase some of Blake's substantial concertante works with the Piano Concerto (soloist Sasha Grynyuk) and Diversions for Cello and Orchestra (soloist Benedict Kloeckner).

Soloists during the season include cellist Leonard Elschenbroich in Tchaikovsky's Rocco Variations (conductor Alexander Shelley) as part of a Myths and Legends programme, pianist Mark Bebbington in John Ireland's Piano Concerto (conductor Barry Wordsworth) as part of a 20th century English programme, Alexandra Dariescu in Grieg's Piano Concerto and Dinu Lipatti's Concertino in the Classical Style (conductor Cristian Mandeal), mezzo-soprano Madeleine Shaw in Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder (conductor Alexander Shelley), and pianist Dmitri Masleev in Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 (conductor Christoph Konig). Violinist Esther Yoo, the RPO's first artist in residence, will perform Sibelius' Violin Concerto (conductor Michael Nesterowicz) in a concert which also includes Gorecki's Three Pieces in Olden Style.

Full  details from the Cadogan Hall website.


The Fraternity - Requiem - Sony
Requiem; The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter; Sony Classical / De Montfort Music
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 12 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Chant from a traditional Requiem mass sung by a choir from a priestly body which specialises in this style of music

This is a most delightful disc from Sony Music, a complete plainchant Requiem Mass according to the Tridentine Rite sung by a group which sings this style of music regularly, the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter. We get the complete chant from the mass, Antiphon: Exsultabunt Domino with Psalm 50, Responsory: Subvenite Sancti Dei, Introit, Kyrie, Gradual, Tract, Sequence, Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communion antiphon, Responsory: Liber Me, Antiphon: In Paradisum, Antiphon: Ego Sum plus Responsories from the Matins of the Office of the Dead, and concluding with two motets, Pie Jesu attributed to Palestrina, and Requiem Aeternam by Giovanni Battista Martini.

The CD booklet admirably documents what is being sung, and where it was recorded (Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, Denton NE), but only tells us that the performers are a selection from The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter. It fails to tell us when the disc was recorded or quite who The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter is.

The recording is produced by De Montfort Music, and a visit to their website provides more information. The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter is is a traditionalist Catholic society of apostolic life for priests and seminarians which is in communion with the Holy See. It was formed in 1988 by a group of traditionalist priests who wished to stay in communion with The Holy See following Archbishop Lebvre's consecrations performed against the explicit orders of Pope John Paul II. Traditionalist means that the use of the Latin mass in the pre-Vatican Council Tridentine Rite (a liturgy having its origins in Pope Pius V's Roman Missal which was promulgated in 1570), rather than the revised liturgy created by the Vatican Council.

Does all this matter?

Monday, 24 July 2017

Opening today: Fishguard International Music Festival

Fishguard International Music Festival
The Fishguard International Music Festival, artistic directors Peter Donohoe & Gillian Green, opens today (24 July 2017) and runs until 4 August. The Welsh National Opera Orchestra will be making two visits to the festival, performing Bach's complete Brandenburg Concertos and performing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Peter Donohoe. Other orchestral concerts include a visit from the European Union Chamber Orchestra, and a visit from the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Carlo Rizzi.

The Gould Piano Trio celebrated their 25th year together with a new commission from Mark Simpson, and the trio will perform Mark's After Avedon alongside Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time where they are joined by Mark on clarinet. The Hermes Experiment make their first appearance at the festival with a concert which includes works by Gareth Wood, Emily Hall, Giles Swayne, Misha Mullov-Abbado and Meredith Monk as well as arrangements of Prokofiev, Debussy and Richard Rodney-Bennett. The Festival will also be offering audiences the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the ancient pilgrims to Pembrokeshire on a guided Saints and Stones tour to four ancient places of worship with live music performed by members of The Hermes Experiment at each site.

For venues, the festival casts its net widely not only using venues in Fishguard, but St David's Cathedral and venues in Newport, Haverfordwest and Rhosigilwen,

Full details from the Fishguard International Music Festival website.

Jools Scott's The Cool Web opens 2017 Wimbledon International Music Festival

This year's Wimbledon International Music Festival, the ninth festival, opens on Remembrance Day with Jools Scott and Sue Curtis's oratorio The Cool Web based on the war poems of Robert Graves (who was born in Wimbledon), performed by Sonoro, Merton Music Foundation Young Voices, Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor Robin O'Neil, with baritone Edward Grint. The work was premiered in 2014 at Bath Abbey to mark the beginning of the World War One centenary (there is a review of the original performance on The Fine Times Recorder). The festival ends on 26 November with the Philharmonia and Robin O'Neill returning for a programme of Mozart and Haydn symphonies plus Richard Strauss's Oboe Concerto with Gordon Hunt.

The Academy Choir and Baroque Players, conductor Matthew Best, with soloists Mary Bevan, David Allsopp, Andrew Tortise are performing Bach's Mass in B Minor, and the Schubert Ensemble perform a double concert celebrating the music associated with Vienna from Mozart to Mahler.

Other highlights include violinist Victoria Mullova and friends (including cellist Matthew Barley) in music by Brazilian composers, and Sir Willard White and Counterpoise in a programme of American inspired music from Gershwin to Art Tatum and Piazzolla. Tenebrae, conductor Nigel Short, will combined movements from Joby Talbot's Path of Miracles, with Holst's Evening Watch, plainchant and Palestrina. The Wihan and Sacconi Quartets join forces for a programme of octets, Quatuor Diotima performs a programme of Debussy, Dutilleux, Stravinsky and Ravel, and trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger joins forces with percussionist Colin Currie.

Other artists performing include viola player Timothy Ridout (first ever British winner of the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition), Red Priest, pianist Yevgeni Sudbin,  and the Soloists of the Russian Virtuosi of Europe.

Full details from the Wimbledon International Music Festival  website

A disc which makes me want to hear them live: The Alehouse Sessions

The Alehouse Sesson - Bjarte Eike/Barokksolistene - Rubicon
The Alehouse Session; Bjarte Eike, Barokksolistene; Rubicon
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 12 2017
Star rating: 3.5

An mix of period performance, jazz, folk and more in vividly engaging performances. The 17th century Alehouse culture with a modern twist

This disc from Rubicon presents the Norwegian-based Bjarte Eike and Barokksolistene's The Alehouse Sessions. These are innovative mash-ups of original 17th and 18th century material given a modern twist by a nine-man ensemble, The Alehouse Boys - Bjare Eike (artistic director/violin), Fredrik Bock (guitar/charango), Hans Knut Sveen (harpsichord/harmonium), Helge andreas Norbakken (percussion), Johannes Lundberg (double bass), Milo Valent (violin/viola), Per T Buhre (viola), Steven Player (guitar) and Thomas Guthrie (voice/violin).

The performances are inspired by development in later 17th century England of a strong musical culture in Alehouses. During the Commonwealth these became some of the few places musicians could play with the closing of the theatres and removal of music from churches, and this continued during the post-Restoration period as Alehouses provided a valuable extra place for musicians to supplement their income, bearing in mind that the public concert was only starting to develop. And in fact, during the 18th century rooms at pubs became a common meeting ground for musical societies.

So Bjarte Eike and Barokksolistene introduced the Alehouse Sessions in 2007 as a flexible format to explore 17th and 18th century music in a different way, giving it a popular twist. To a certain extent this has elements in common with ZRI's re-imagining of Schubert and Brahms played in a Vienna bar, or Zac Ozmo and L'Avventura London's collaboration with Scottish folk band The Old Blind Dogs and singer Siobhan Miller to explore William Thomson's Orpheus Caledonius. It recognises that there were certain strands of period performance that we cannot evoke simply by sitting in a concert hall.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Art mirroring life: Soosan Lolavar's 'ID Please'

ID Please
In 2016, the British-Iranian composer Soosan Lolavar was studying in the USA (on a Fullbright Scholarship at Carnegie Mellon University) during the Republican Primaries. With the rise of Trump and the rising tide of disturbing anti-immigration rhetoric, she wanted to do something political and started to talking to librettist Daniel Hirsch. They talked about doing a Trump piece but dismissed the idea, thinking he would drop out. And Lolavar adds that she is thankful she did not end up spending 'a year inside Trump's mind'. Instead they came up with ID Please which premiered at Pittsburgh Opera in April 2017, and receives its UK premiere as part of Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival at The Place, London on Tuesday 25 July 2017.

Soosan has two passports (British and Iranian) and borders are an ambivalent part of her life. So ID Please is a 40 minute piece with three characters, a border guard and two travellers, these latter two are ciphers representing a whole range of people. The piece is structured with three arias, three interludes and interrogations. The travellers are constantly being asked questions by the border guard but their answers shift, as they represent everyone who could pass through the border.

Soosan Lolavar
Soosan Lolavar
Soosan feels that though she was influenced by her Iranian heritage, it is not in the way that people will notice. She uses no Iranian instruments and no typical Iranian tuning (Iranian music uses microtones). But Iranian music is mainly improvised and the pulse is very flexible. And these are the aspects which she has used in the opera. There is rarely a set pulse and no two bars have the same time signature. She feels that this brings a feeling of instability reflective of borders. In Iran, melodies are memorised and then Iranian musicians improvise, so what you hear is new but with the outline of the original.

In the opera there are lots of repeated lines (questions and answers) and each time the details of the melody changes but not the overall contour so the listener can spot the influence. She does use microtones in the opera but conventional quarter tones rather than the Iranian specific microtones.

As the work was written for a university orchestra it was not possible to use Iranian instruments, though Soosan is not a fan of tokenistic use of such instruments. But this is something she has tried in the past, and would like to explore in the future though it is difficult.

Whilst rehearsing the opera early this year, Soosan had an unnerving experience of life echoing art. She was preparing to return to the USA when Trump's first travel ban came into place, chaotically applied, those with dual nationality were caught up in the event and Soosan was unable to travel. In the event, the British government negotiated a special deal for British  nationals, though if she had had another nationality she would have been stuck.

Planned the year before, the opera was about the real world, but with an element of dystopia. A worst case scenario which came true. The incident gave them so much energy and she realised that the piece became the most important she had written. She hopes that the opera will get further performances, she has already been contacted by an American opera company. It is her dream to take the piece to Europe, in particular Germany with refugees being so much at the forefront of politics.

Soosan is currently doing a PhD at City University, on contemporary composers in Iran, how Iranian composers combine Iranian and Western influences, and is looking at the social and political aspects too.

Looking ahead, on 5 August Soosan has a piece being performed at a festival in Oviedo,  it is called Girl and based on the Iranian folk-song Dokhtare Boyer Ahmadi. And The Hermes Experiment is touring Scotland and including a piece by Soosan where the harp is de-tuned to Iranian tuning, and the sing sings in Farsi drawing on both Iranian music and Renaissance polyphony and the surprising links between the two.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Clérambault, Couperin, Monteclair - Arcangelo at Wigmore Hall

Sophie Junker
Sophie Junker
Couperin, Clérambault, Monteclair; Arcangelo; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 21 2017
Star rating: 5.0

Early 18th century French chamber music and chamber cantatas performed with expressive style

The final concert of Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo's residency at Wigmore Hall (21 July 2017) explored early 18th century French chamber music with two of the suites from Francois Couperin's Les Nations and chamber cantatas by Louis-Nicholas Clérambault and Michel Pignolet de Monteclair. Violinists Sophie Gent and Coline Ormond (replacing Bojan Cicic who was ill), flautist Georgia Browne, viola da gamba Jonathan Manson, soprano Sophie Junker, with Jonathan Cohen on harpsichord performed Clérambault's Léandre et Héro, Couperin's L'Impériale and La Francoise, and Montéclair's La retour de la paix.

Clérambault's Léandre et Héro was published in 1713 in his second volume of cantatas, Canatates francoises Mellées de Simphonies and it was one of his most popular works. The author the text was Marie de Louvencourt, the mistress of Hilaire Rouillé du Coudray, one of the aristocrats whose enthusiasm for Italian music countered the court's rigid espousal of the French musical style.

The cantata is a sequence of arias and recitatives, though it has an opening trio-sonata-like prelude and adds brilliant instrumental writing to some of the movements. The instrumental introduction was elegant and slow with some extremely expressive suspensions. Sophie Junker sang with an extremely plangent and highly elegant sense of line. Her recitatives were fluent and expressive, with Clérambault sometimes adding a decorative violin line. The first aria was lively with a busy bass line, whilst the second, 'Air fort tendre' was powerful stuff indeed, and Clérambault brought in illustrative instrumental writing on the word 'Volez' (fly). This descriptive writing continued in the 'Tempête' movement with is fast passagework for the instruments (including the viola da gamba). We finished with a graceful 'Air' with a nicely perky sense of rhythm.

The art of saying no: soprano Albina Shagimuratova on Semiramide, Aspasia, Mimi and Turandot

Albina Shagimuratova as Aspasia - Mozart: Mitridate Re di Ponto - Royal Opera House (Photo (c) ROH, Bill Cooper)
Albina Shagimuratova as Aspasia - Mozart: Mitridate Re di Ponto - Royal Opera House 2017 (Photo (c) ROH, Bill Cooper)
The Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova has been wowing London audiences with her command of relatively rare repertoire. Last year she sang the title role of Rossini's Semiramide at the BBC Proms with Sir Mark Elder and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (see my review), with whom she has recorded the opera for Opera Rara. When I recently met up with Albina she was in the middle of singing the role of Aspasia in Mozart's Mitridate, Re di Ponto at the Royal Opera House conducted by Christophe Rousset, and talked coloratura, pregnancy, how to keep your voice healthy and the art of saying no.

Albina Shagimuratova (Photo Pavel Vaan / Leonid Semenyuk)
Albina Shagimuratova
(Photo Pavel Vaan / Leonid Semenyuk)
Albina comments that the role of Aspasia is not an easy part, even though she seems to always be singing tricky roles such as Semiramide. The role of Aspasia is tricky from the start with a complex opening aria right after the overture, with lots of coloratura and high notes, she describes it as more difficult that Queen of the Night. Though singing only difficult roles sometimes 'drives her crazy', she admits that she does enjoy it. She marvels at how Mozart could write such music at the age of 14, even though the opera does not compare to Die Zauberflote or Don Giovanni. And it is not just the role of Aspasia, it is difficult for everyone as the arias are long, as is the opera (lasting over four hours). This was her role debut as Aspasia and she found it fantastic to work with the director Graham Vick (the second production which she has worked on with him), as he helped her to build the character as drama. 

Singing Semiramide at the Proms in 2016 was a huge challenge and she is grateful to both Mark Elder and the OAE, and she feels that she learned so much from Mark Elder. The opera was performed (and recorded) complete which is something that has almost never been done. Albina points out that even Isabella Colbran (for whom Rossini wrote the role) made changes, but the whole idea of the performance and the recording was do to it exactly as in the score. She found singing at the Proms a fantastic experience, she finds singing in London very special and the response of the audience at the Royal Albert Hall was terrific.

Many colleagues think of Albina was a working machine with all of her high notes and coloratura, but she likes to bring character and drama on stage. She enjoyed her period working on Mitridate with Graham Vick, describing him as her type of stage director, everything he did came from the score, he does not create 'something crazy'. In Mitridate there are lots of recitatives, and she worked extensively on these with him over the three week rehearsal period, and she comments that he never let her be empty on stage, she was always Aspasia. She also comments on the superb cast that they had (Michael Spyres, Lucy Crowe, Bejun Mehta), and she found the whole experience very enjoyable. She is also complimentary about the Royal Opera House Orchestra, calling it one of the great orchestras of the world.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Neglected drama: André Tchaikowsky's The Merchant of Venice

Martin Wölfel, Mark Le Brocq - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Martin Wölfel, Mark Le Brocq - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
André Tchaikowsky The Merchant of Venice; Martin Wölfel, Lester Lynch, Sarah Castle, Mark Le Brocq, Verena Gunz, David Stout, Lauren Michelle, Bruce Sledge, dir: Keith Warner, cond: Lionel Friend; Welsh National Opera at the Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 20 2017
Star rating: 4.0

The complex, dramatic and large-scale, Polish/British composer André Tchaikovsky's magnum opus in its first London performances

Welsh National Opera (WNO) brought its production of André Tchaikowsky's The Merchant of Venice to Covent Garden (we caught the second of two performances, 20 July 2017) with Lionel Friend conducting the WNO Orchestra, and the production directed by Keith Warner with designs by Ashley Martin-Davis. Antonio was Martin Wölfel, Mark Le Brocq was Basanio, David Stout as Gratiano, Lester Lynch was Shylock, Bruce Sledge was Lorenzo, Sarah Castle was Portia and Verena Gunz was Nerissa. The production was first given in Bregenz in 2013, and WNO presented it in Autumn 2016 as part of its Shakespeare 400 celebrations.

André Tchaikowsky (1935-1982) was a Polish pianist and composer who, after a harrowing childhood in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw during the war (his mother was interned and murdered in Treblinka), Tchaikovsky studied in both Paris and Warsaw, developing a career as a concert pianist and composer though composition was something of a holiday activity. His output was small and his opera The Merchant of Venice is very much his magnum opus. Tchaikowsky left Poland and settled in the UK, and the opera is written to an English libretto by John O'Brien.

Despite some interest from English National Opera, the piece was never performed during Tchaikowsky's lifetime. It very much joins the works by other emigre composers such as Karl Rankl's Deirdre of the Sorrows, and Berthold Goldschmidt's Beatrice Cenci, which failed to find favour in the UK, though one would have anticipated that 1980s London might have been a bit more sympathetic to Tchaikowsky's style.

Verena Gunz, David Stout, Mark Le Brocq, Sarah Castle - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
Verena Gunz, David Stout, Mark Le Brocq, Sarah Castle - André Tchaikowsky: The Merchant of Venice - Welsh National Opera (Photo Johan Persson)
The opera is a large scale piece, three acts and an epilogue lasting three hours, including interval, and written for a huge orchestra including triple woodwind plus basset horn, seven percussion players and timpani, and an off-stage banda.Tchaikowsky's writing is very orchestral, not only in the way he uses substantial interludes, but the vocal lines are very much part of the orchestral texture. On first hearing it was not so much motifs and melodies which stuck in the mind as colours and textures. This is very advanced writing and all the vocal parts were complex and challenging, this was a large piece with lots of tricky notes and it received a superb performance.

Roxanna Panufnik & Jessica Duchen's Silver Birch at Garsington

Garsington Opera - Silver Birch rehearsals Sam Furness with the community chorus (Photo John Snelling)
Garsington Opera - Silver Birch rehearsals Sam Furness with the community chorus (Photo John Snelling)
Roxanna Panufnik (Photo John Snelling)
Roxanna Panufnik (Photo John Snelling)
Roxanna Panufnik's new opera, Silver Birch, is a commission from Garsington Opera and it will be premiered on 28 July 2017 at Garsington Opera with performers combining professional singers and instrumentalists with over 180 people from the local community aged 8 to 80. Students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid will perform as dancers, singers, actors and instrumentalists alongside the professionals. 

The professional roles will be performed by Sam Furness (Jack), Victoria Simmonds (Anna), Darren Jeffery (Simon), Bradley Travis (Sassoon), Sarah Redgwick (Mrs Morrell) and James Way (Davey) with the Garsington Opera Orchestra conducted by Douglas Boyd. The opera is directed by Karen Gillingham with designs by Rhiannon Newman Brown.

The 180-strong company was selected from workshops and residencies throughout Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, with over 300 people being auditioned. The community performers include a mix of 60 local adults, a 40 strong Youth Company (aged 10 to 20) from over 25 different schools and colleges, and the 50-strong Primary Company from six local schools. Four child soloists share the key roles of siblings Leo and Chloe. The company includes 10 members of the Armed Forces community including currently serving personnel, military wives and veterans including ex-Senior Aircraftman Luke Delahunty for Aylesbury who experienced a life-changing motorbike accident in 1998. Some of the performers have little stage experience, and all have responded striking theme of the opera which shows the effects of war on a contemporary family both of whose sons join up, with a libretto by the novelist and journalist Jessica Duchen.

Garsington Opera - Silver Birch rehearsals (Photo John Snelling)
Garsington Opera - Silver Birch rehearsals (Photo John Snelling)

In the pit, thanks to a partnership with Buckinghamshire Music Education Hub, a group of young local instrumentalists will play specially written shadow parts, performing alongside the Garsington Opera Orchestra, conducted by Douglas Boyd. And using created during the devising process by sound and music consultant Jem Panufnik, students from Cressex Community School will perform alongside the sound design team led by Glen Gathard and Foley artists from Pinewood Studios. 

Silver Birch is performed at Garsington Opera on 28, 29, 30 July 2017 and tickets are just £10, further information from their website.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Over There!

George M Cohan - Over There
Over There!, John Ireland, Ivor Gurney, Ian Venables, Herbert Howells & popular songs; Richard Bryan, Katie Bray, Nick Pritchard, Craig Colclough, Louise Williams, William Vann; London English Song Festival at Wilton's Music Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 19 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Powerful musical evocation of the entry of the USA into World War One

With Over There! the London English Song Festival returned to Wilton's Music Hall for a further programme exploring World War One through music and readings, this time combining popular song and art songs themed around the entry of the USA into the war in 1917. Pianist William Vann, artistic director of the London English Song Festival, was joined by mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, tenor Nick Pritchard, baritone Craig Colclough, viola player Louise Williams and reader Richard Bryan for a programme which included popular song by George M Cohan, George Fairman, Ed Nelson & Will Hart, and art songs by John Ireland, Ivor Gurney, Charles Ives, and Ian Venables. As with their 2016 programme Songs of the Somme! (see my review), this was a staged recital with the three singers in military fatigues.

We opened with Woodrow Wilson's speech to Congress on 2 April 1917 taking the USA into the war underscored with The Star Spangled Banner on the piano, followed by a sequence of popular songs which captured the upbeat mood, the most famous being George Cohan's Over There, but also George Fairman's I don't know where I'm going but I'm on my way and Ed Nelson & Will Hart's delightful When Yankee Doddle learns to parlez-vois Francais.

The Nelson connection and more: St Marylebone

Horatia Nelson
Horatia Nelson
The parish of St Marylebone is 900 this year, with the present church being 200 and the second St Marylebone Festival celebrates these events with a week of festivities in and around the church from 22 July to 28 July 2017. Things kick off with a come-and-sing Haydn Nelson Mass with conductor Gavin Roberts and soloists Helen Semple, Caroline Doggett, Nicholas Berry and Andrew Copeman. Haydn's Missa in Angustiis was written in 1798 but became known as the Nelson Mass after Nelson attended  performance of the mass at Esterhazy Palace. Nelson's daughter, Horatia was baptised at St Marylebone Parish Church in 1803. Horatia's mother was Nelson's mistress, Emma Hamilton and the concert will also include Haydn's Lines from the battle of the Nile which was written to be sung by Emma Hamilton and celebrated Nelson's victory over Napoleon in the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

Other events at the festival include a recital by Stephen Grahl celebrating the 30th anniversary of the church's Rieger organ, a festal Evensong, and Ensemble Hesperi in a programme of music and readings evoking the pleasure gardens of Old Marylebone.

Soprano Alison Pitt and pianist Gavin Roberts explore settings of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (of nearby Wimpole Street) with music by Amy Beach, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge, Michael Head, Arnold Bax, Maude Valerie White and Edward Elgar. Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were clandestinely married at St Marylebone Parish Church in 1846.

Another concert celebrates the UK premiere of Brahms' Requiem which took place in 1871 in the home in Wimpole Street of a leading surgeon, this used Brahms' own version of the piece with piano duet accompaniment and the choir of St Marylebone Parish Church is joined by soprano Lucy Hall, baritone Ben McAteer and pianists Gavin Roberts and Elizabeth Burgess. The evening also includes songs and piano music by Schubert.

The festival concludes with the church's organ scholar, Bertie Baigent conducting the London Young Sinfonia in a programme of Erwin Stein's chamber version of Mahler's Symphony No. 4 plus a new work by Baigent himself.

Full details from the festival page on EventBrite.

Choral at Cadogan at 10

Choral at Cadogan - 2017/18
Choral at Cadogan returns to Cadogan Hall in September 2017 for the tenth series with eight concerts showcasing choirs and vocal ensembles. The Tallis Scholars, artistic director Peter Phillips, open and close the series and there are concerts from The Sixteen, Stile Antico, Vox Luminis, the National Youth Chamber Choir and the Choir of King's College, Cambridge. 

The Tallis Scholars first concert features Monteverdi's works in the prima prattica style, unaccompanied polyphony following the example of Palestrina, and the concert will also feature music by Palestrina, Allegri, Gesualdo and Lotti. The choir returns in June 2018 in expanded form to perform Tallis's 40-part Spem in Alium alongside large-scale works by Sheppard, White and Sutton.

Stile Antico is joined by organist Oliver John Ruthven and violone player Kate Aldridge for music of the German Baroque including Schutz's Musiklische Exequien and Bach's Jesu meine Freude, plus music by Handl, Hassler, Daser and Knofel.

The Sixteen and Harry Christophers bring their Christmas programme, Glory to the Christ Child, which includes Poulenc's Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel and his profoundly moving Un soir de neige alongside more popular Christmas Fare. And still in a Christmas mood, the Temple Church Choir, conductor Roger Sayer, bring their Christmas programme with a selection which moves from Sweelinck's Cnatatye domino and Reger's Maria Wiegenlied to The Twelve Days of Christmas and Howard Blake's The Snowman.

The National Youth Chamber Choir, conductor Ben Parry, presents a range of music all written when the composer were in their youthful twenties, with music by Monteverdi, Britten, Owain Park, Billy Joel, Sting and more. The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, conductor Stephen Cleobury, perform music inspired by Lent and Holy Week including Tallis's Lamentations, Stabat mater settings by Palestrina and Lassus, Poulenc's Lenten motes and motets by Brahms. The Belgian group Vox Luminis, director Lionel Meunier, will be performing works by Tallis and Sheppard.

Full details from the Cadogan Hall website.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Captivating: Leoncavallo's Zaza on stage at Opera Holland Park

Johane Ansell as Floriana, Anne Sophie Duprels as Zazà, James Cleverton as Bussy and the Opera Holland Park Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production of Zazà, directed by Marie Lambert © Robert Workman
Johane Ansell as Floriana, Anne Sophie Duprels as Zazà, James Cleverton as Bussy and the Opera Holland Park Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production of Zazà, directed by Marie Lambert © Robert Workman
Leoncavallo Zaza; Anne Sophie Duprels, Joel Montero, Richard Burkhard, Louise Winter; dir: Marie Lambert, City of London Sinfonia, cond: Peter Robinson; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 20 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Leoncavallo's French music-hall drama receives a rare UK staging

Leoncavallo: Zaza - Joel Montero, Anne Sophie Duprels - Opera Holland Park (Photo © Robert Workman)
Joel Montero, Anne Sophie Duprels - (Photo © Robert Workman)
Leoncavallo's Zaza returned to public attention in 2015 thanks to Opera Rara's recording (and associated concert performance) but this is an opera which cries out for a full staging, and now Opera Holland Park staged it handsomely in a new production by Marie Lambert, designed by Alyson Cummins and Camille Assaf with Anne Sophie Duprels in the title role (seen 18 July 2017). A large cast included Joel Montero as Milio, Louise Winter as Anaide, Richard Burkhard as Cascart, James Cleverton as Bussy, Johane Ansell as Floriana and Charne Rochford as Courtois, with Peter Robinson conducting the City of London Sinfonia.

The opera is set in and around a French music hall in the 1890s, and Act One is a complex, multilayered construction with both backstage and on-stage action. In the stage directions suggest a back-stage setting with a door leading to the music hall stage, with this providing glimpses of the entertainment when open. Marie Lambert's production chose a different route, with Alyson Cummins' set taking advantage of the full width of the Opera Holland Park stage. So we had the main back-stage area, with Zaza's dressing room down-stage, then stage right was the rear of the music hall stage with the stage performers and music hall audience half hidden in the far corner, with the back stage entrance stage left. The music hall entertainment was continuous, with some acts performed silently. Quite how much of this music hall entertainment you could see if you were sitting on the very right of the auditorium I am not sure. But the result gave us a wonderfully detailed feeling of being back-stage at the music hall, and thanks to Mark Jonathan's lighting and Lambert's blocking, we always knew which part of the action was the primary focus.

What Lambert could not disguise was that Act One of the opera is a busy, fussy construction full of cameos as if Leoncavallo (who had worked at a French music-hall in his youth) wanted to include as much background detail as possible. Lambert gave each of the minor players a strong character, so we soon got the feeling of who was whom. But the centre of attention was firmly on Anne Sophie Duprels's Zaza.

Opera in the City

Opera in the City
Summer in London seems very much the time for fringe opera productions, showcasing both new composers and new opera talent in existing repertoire, along with the occasional rarity which tempts those opera nerds amongst us. Opera in the City is a new festival, presented by Time Zone Theatre (artistic director Pamela Schermann) at the Bridewell Theatre from 1 - 12 August 2017. They are presenting four different evenings of opera, with an emphasis on rarity and innovation with works by Rimsky Korsakov, Mascagni, Zemlinsky, Simone Spagnolo, and Sarah Toth, as well as a tribute to Mario Lanza.

Rimsky Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, his one-act Pushkin-based opera exploring the apocryphal story that Salieri poisoned Mozart, is being paired with Mascagni's one-act opera Zanetto, exploring the familiar themes of courtesans and lost love! Perhaps more intense, the company is also performing Zemlinsky's Oscar Wilde-based piece A Florentine Tragedy in which a couple discover the erotic power of murder! All three operas are part of Time Zone Theatre's Fin de Siecle project exploring operas written around 1900.

A double bill of a completely different kind is also being presented at the festival when two experimental works, Simone Spagnolo's Even you lights, cannot hear me and Sarah Toth's Nero monologues are performed as a double bill. Spagnolo's work for two opera singers doubling on piano and pebbles merges elements of operatic singing, chamber music and performance art. Sarah Toth's piece, for singer, dancer, piano, and string quartet, draws on material by Monteverdi, Handel, Copland, and György Kurtág to create a multi-art form pastiche chamber opera.

Finally, the festival is also presenting Lanza a tribute to the 1950s singer Mario Lanza.

Full details from the Opera in the City website.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Solo goes up into the organ loft

James McVinnie (Photo © Magnús Andersen)
James McVinnie (Photo © Magnús Andersen)
Composer Alex Groves' concert series Solo continues on Thursday 20 July 2017 with a recital by organist James McVinnie at St Andrew's Church, Holborn. McVinnie will be playing music ranging from 14th-century works through JS Bach to the world première of Alex Groves' Curved Form (No. 1), as well as Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion, Meredith Monk's Ellis Island and music by Julia Wolfe.

The organ at St. Andrew's Church, Holborn is a 1989 Mander instrument influenced by the great English organ-builders of the mid-nineteenth century - especially Gray & Davison, and William Hill. The upper part of the casework incorporates carving from an organ built in 1750 for the Foundling Hospital, London, to a design by Handel. The church also houses the tomb of Thomas Coram, founder of the Foundling Hospital.

James McVinnie has held posts at St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey and now performs around the world as a soloist, collaborating with a diverse range of artists i including Nico Muhly, Squarepusher and Turner Prize-winning visual artist Martin Creed.

Full details from the Solo website.

Scholarships for black & minority ethnic musicians at Royal College of Music

RCM Students At Work (Photo Chris Christodoulou)
(Photo Chris Christodoulou)
UK black and minority ethnic musicians are currently under-represented across the performing arts, and the Royal College of Music is to fund three UK students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds for the BMus course beginning 2018/19. The scholarships will be awarded on merit and will be up to the value of full fees (currently £9,250 a year) and can be used to cover tuition fees or help with living costs.

A UK Music survey published in January 2017 found that in the wider UK music industry, black and minority ethnic people represent 15.6% of the workforce (which is a higher figure than that for the UK population as a whole, 12.8%). For those working in the industry under a year, the figure rises to 27.5% which suggests that either the efforts to increase diversity are working, or that black and minority musicians have a greater tendency to drop out of music into other occupations. (Full details of the diversity survey on the UK Music website).

All UK black and minority ethnic applicants for the Royal College of Music's BMus course will automatically be considered for the new scholarships when they apply for admission, there is no separate application needed just a declaration of ethnicity on the application. Applications open 19 July 2017 and the deadline to apply for the 2018/19 course is 2 October 2017.

Further information from the Royal College of Music website.

Choir and brass: Lassus Requiem from Girton College & the Guildhall School

Lassus - Requiem a 5 - Toccata Classics
Orlande de Lassus Requiem a 5; Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Historic Brass of the Guildhall, London, Gareth Wilson (director); Toccata Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 11 2017
Star rating: 4.0

The combination of choir and sackbuts brings out the sombre gravity of Lassus's seldom recorded five-part Requiem

Instruments played a larger role in the liturgical performance of Renaissance polyphony than we sometimes give credit. This disc on Toccata Classics presents Lassus' Requiem a 5, relatively rare on CD, in a performance with choir and sackbuts from the Choir of Girton College, Cambridge and Historic Brass of the Guildhall, conductor Gareth Wilson. The mass is performed interspersed with motets by Lassus, Tristis est anima mea, Peccata mea Domine, Fratres sobrii estote, Exaudi Domine vocem meam, Adoramus te Christe, and Levavi oculos meos.
In 2015 Girton College Chapel Choir joined forces with Guildhall School of Music and Drama students of Historic Brass for a performance of Lassus' Requiem a 5 for Candlemass. This eventually led to this recording, which was made in Canada in July 2016 during a Canadian tour undertaken by the two groups. The service of Candlemass imbues the choice of works for the rest of the programme, themes of penitence and death moving towards consolation and hope.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Royal Philharmonic Society supports young musicians with £91,000

Royal Philharmonic Society
The Royal Philharmonic Society's Young Musicians Programme is making awards totally £91,000 this year, supporting outstanding instrumentalists, ensembles and composers in ongoing professional development. There are 13 commissions for young composers, rare opportunities for further study abroad and recognition for two outstanding chamber ensembles and a young violinist. £20,000 has been made available to enable music students in financial need to purchase much needed quality instruments.

Six new works are being commissioned by the RPS Composition Prize; Eugene Birman, Austin Leung and Freya Waley-Cohen will write for the Philharmonia Orchestra's Music of Today series; Bethan Morgan-Williams will write a new work for Cheltenham Festival, Emmanuel Charalabopoulos for Presteigne Festival, and Laurence Osborn for Music in the Round, Sheffield, for performances in 2018. The RPS has joined forces with Classic FM to commission works by seven young composers (16 and 23 years old) as part of the station’s 25th birthday celebrations; works by Alexander Woolf, Alexia Sloane, Jack Pepper, Benjamin Rimmer, Dani Howard, Marco Galvani and Oliver Muxworthy will be premiered throughout the summer and autumn, and recorded for broadcast on Classic FM.

£30,000 has been awarded for two musicians, percussionist Tom Pritchard and harpist Richard Allen, to study abroad. £20,000 is being made available to help music students in financial need purchase their own instruments essential to their professional studies through the RPS Instrument Purchase Grants; these are not loans, the Society provides one-off non-repayable awards and payback comes purely in the form of the startling musical progress that can be made on an appropriate, quality instrument.

The RPS Henderson Chamber Ensemble Award, offers £5,000 to an emerging, UK-based chamber ensemble and the Pelleas Ensemble has won the award, which will be devoted to developing performance opportunities. Other prizes include the RPS Albert and Eugenie Frost Prize won the Marmen String Quartet, the RPS Emily Anderson Prize won by violinist Amarins Wierdsma. Applications are now open for the RPS Duet Prizes for outstanding young instrumentalists and composers of secondary school age.

Full details from the Royal Philharmonic Society website.

Musical melting-pot: evoking 1780s Calcutta

Ensemble Tempus Fugit - Calcutta (Photo Saga-Images)
Ensemble Tempus Fugit - Calcutta (Photo Saga-Images)
In 1690 the East India Company was granted a trading licence by the Nawab of Bengal for three villages on the East bank of the Hooghly river. By 1780, the company had transformed the villages into Calcutta, a small English city. Musicians travelled from London to India, bringing the music of Handel, Corelli and others, whilst others played their harpsichords with Indian classical musicians, and transcribed Indian music into European notation.

It is this musical melting pot which Ensemble Tempus Fugit, director Katie de la Matter, is planning to explore in their programme Calcutta at the Brighton Early Music Festival on 5 November 2017, with further performances at Tara Arts Theatre in 2018. The material is completely fascinating, including Western transcriptions of Hindu and Bengali music (done often at the behest of the wives of English residents), as well as local Indian versions songs.

Indian music and dancing groups were invited into some British-Indian homes, and mainly female colonials would transcribe the songs (or have the songs transcribed) using a harpsichord or pianoforte, this all being part of the greater European 18th-century trend to collect ‘national airs’ — in the same vein as collections of Scots tunes, for example. One of these women, Margaret Fowkes, described the process:

‘I have often made the Musicians tune their instruments to the harpsichord that I might join their little band. They always seemed delighted with the accompaniment of the harpsichord and sung with uncommon animation, and a pleasure to themselves, which was expressed in their faces.'

Another woman, Sophie Plowden hired the musician John Braganza to transcribe songs and had the results put into a beautifully illuminated manuscript with illustrations of Indian musicians by local artists (which contain some of the earliest depictions of some Indian instruments). This survives in the Fitzwilliam Museum as MS380 and forms the basis for Ensemble Tempus Fugit's project.

The performers include James Hall (counter-tenor), Debipriya Sircar (Indian classical vocalist), Sanjay Guha (sitar), Jamie Akers (lutes), Emily Baines (early wind), Lucia Capellaro (Baroque cello) George Clifford (violin) Katie De La Matter (harpsichord & creative direction). And the ensemble will meld this unusual combination of instruments and traditions, with period music, Indian song, puppetry and drama to tell the story of music melting pot on the streets and at the soirées of Calcutta.

The group is crowd-funding for the project (see their page at, and below is their crowd-funding video.

Strong ensemble & intense drama: Janacek's Kat'a Kabanova at Opera Holland Park

Julia Sporsén as Káťa and members of the OHP Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production of Káťa Kabanová, directed by Olivia Fuchs © Robert Workman
Julia Sporsén as Káťa and members of the OHP Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production of Káťa Kabanová, directed by Olivia Fuchs (Photo © Robert Workman)
Janacek Kat'a Kabanova; Julia Sporsen, Peter Hoare, Anne Mason, Nicky Spence, Clare Presland, Paul Curievici, Mikhail Svetlov, dir: Olivia Fuchs, cond: Sian Edwards; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 13 2017
Star rating: 4.5

The tensions of small-town life, in Janacek's powerfully claustrophobic drama

Julia Sporsén as Káťa and members of the OHP Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production of Káťa Kabanová, directed by Olivia Fuchs © Robert Workman
Julia Sporsén and OHP Chorus in Opera Holland Park’s production
of Káťa Kabanová, directed by Olivia Fuchs © Robert Workman
We don't see nearly enough of Janacek's Kat'a Kabanova, English National Opera last performed it in 2010 whilst at Covent Garden it was last seen in 20007 and at Glyndebourne in 2002. Thankfully Opera Holland Park has revived its 2009 production of Kat'a Kabanova directed by Olivia Fuchs with designs by Yannis Thavoris, movement by Clare Whistler and lighting by Colin Grenfell. Sian Edwards conducted the City of London Sinfonia with Julia Sporsen as Kat'a, Peter Hoare as Boris, Anne Mason as Kabanicha, Nicky Spence as Tichon, Clare Presland as Varvara, Paul Curievici as Kudrjas, and Mikhail Svetlov as Dikoj.

Creating the right sense of small-town claustrophobia in Opera Holland Park's wide open spaces is quite tricky. Fuchs and Thavoris solved this by covering the stage with azure blue colour for the Volga River, and confining the characters to wooden walkways crossing the water. There were just two acting areas, a bed of reeds with a seat stage left, and a circular platform stage right. This latter formed the Kabanova's house in the first half, surrounded by a movable mesh half-screen which again brought a feeling of claustrophobia. And within these spaces, Fuchs regularly had the chorus spilling across, peering, prying, spying and generally intimidating. In one magical moment, during Boris and Kat'a's Act Two duet Boris (Peter Hoare) walks off the walkway into the 'water', and eventually  Kat'a (Julia Sporsen) joins him. This sense of escaping via water created a powerful resonance through the remainder of the opera.

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