Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Coming up at the Barbican - Oz live, Berio/Verdi and Belshazzar

December at the Barbican Centre sees a clutch of rather interesting concerts. There is the opportunity to see the Judy Garland film The Wizard of Oz with a live orchestral accompaniment, there is also Berio's take on Verdi with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Handel's stunning dramatic oratorios Belshazzar with an outstanding cast.


The young composer/conductor Benjamin Wallfisch will be conducting the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera live, whilst the 1939 film of The Wizard of Oz is performed. Modern sound separation has enabled the vocal tracks to be split from the accompaniment, so that you will see and hear Judy Garland, but the orchestra will be Wallfisch and the WNO orchestra. Wallfisch, of course, will have to keep strict time but will simply be using timecodes, not a click track. He is evidently a conductor (like Carl Davis) for whom getting a speed exactly to time isn't too much of a problem. (Wallfisch himself has a work  in the International Wimbledon Music Festival this year, when his Chopin's Waterloo receives its European premiere on 24 November at St John's Church, Wimbledon.)

Why bother, you may ask? Well, the advantage of all this technology and conducting skill is that we can hear the orchestrations of Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart's score. And it is beautifully orchestrated, only on the film version of the soundtrack you can't appreciate it full. The screenings of The Wizard of Oz are in the Barbican Hall on 22 and 23 December.

On 7 December  Josep Pons conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Synergy Vocals in Berio's Sinfonia. The orchestra is joined by the young Brazilian tenor Atalla Ayan for Berio's orchestration of Verdi Eight Romances for tenor and orchestra. Being Berio of course, the pieces are not simply straightforward orchestrations, but a sort of synthesis and commentary by Berio on Verdi's songs and the way that they echo and anticipate Verdi's operatic writing. The evening is concluded with the BBC Symphony Chorus in Verdi's Four Sacred Pieces. In all, a fascinating combination of different styles of vocal composition. (Will I be there, alas no. I'll be listening to Alistair Dixon and Chapelle du Roi performing my motet Puer natus est nobis  at the New Lamps for Old concert at St. John's Smith Square).

And on December 13 we have one of this year's highlights, Handel's Belshazzar performed by Les Arts Florissants conducted by William Christie, with Allan Clayton, Rosemary Joshua, Sarah Connolly and Iestyn Davies. Belshazzar is the oratorio of Handel's which is most successful dramatically. The libretto, by Charles Jennens, is pretty strong and was so substantial that Handel had to cut it considerably. His initial draft of the music for act 1 was longer than the entire piece in its final form. It opens with a truly wonderful sequence for Nitocris (Rosemary Joshua in this performance) who is Belshazzar's mother; it is not certain whether Handel ever performed this exactly as he wrote it. But it is certainly worth begging or borrowing to get a seat. (Will I be there? Alas no, I will be singing that evening in the premiere of my motet Propre es tu at a concert by London Concord Singers in the Grosvenor Chapel).

Further information about all of these from the Barbican website.


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