Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Music and mental health in Manchester: Emanuel Rimoldi and Manchester Camerata

Manchester Camerata at Home
Prizewinning Romanian-Italian pianist Emanuel Rimoldi, who made his Wigmore Hall debut last week, performs with the Manchester Camerata on Thursday 2 February 2017 at the arts centre HOME in Manchester. The concert, which features music by Robert Schumann, Sergei Rachmaninov, Hugo Wolf and Jimi Hendrix, looks at the relationship between music, creativity and mental health (a theme which was also reflected in Alice Coote's recent recital at Wigmore Hall). 

All the composers in the programme struggled with mental health issues, using their extraordinary abilities as both a therapy and a means to personal redemption. The music will be interspersed with readings which illustrates the artist's emotional and mental state at the time they were writing the music.

Full programme, Schumann Quintet in E flat major Op.44, Rachmaninov Trio Elegiaque No.1 in G minor, Wolf Italian Serenade. Hendrix Purple Haze. At 6.30pm, Manchester Camerata Youth Forum presents the premiere of a film about young people’s Manchester journeys.

Full details from the Manchester Camerata.

Wind from the East: three seminal Bulgarian composers

Victoria Terekiev - Wind from the East - Lyubomir Pipkov, Parashkev Hadjiev, Pancho Vladigerov
Wind from the East, music by Lyubomir Pipkov, Parashkev Hadjiev, Pancho Vladigerov; Victoria Terekiev; Gega
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 24 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Piano music by three seminal Bulgarian composers in engaging performances

Wind from the East, on the Bulgarian label Gega, is the sort of disc where you feel you should know the composers better. The pianist Victoria Terekiev plays piano music by three composers from Bulgaria, all second generation of Bulgarian composers, born between 1899 and 1912. Terekiev plays Lyubomir Pipkov's Bulgarian Suite for piano, Op. 2, Parashkev Hadjiev's Melodic Etudes and Pancho Vladigerov's Bulgarian Songs and Dances, Op.25

The generation to which the three composers belonged all received their musical education outside Bulgaria, and would in the 1920s and 1930s be responsible for developing native-trained Bulgarian composers. All three composers on the disc worked in a variety of genres, but all three were remarkable pianists.

Lyubomir Pipkov was the son of the composer Panayot Pipkov. Lyubomir Pipkov  studied in Paris at the Ecole Normale de Musique with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger. He returned to Bulgaria in 1932, where in 1933 he was a founder member of the Contemporary Music Society, predecessor of the Union of Bulgarian Composers. His Bulgarian Suite of 1928 is amongst his earliest piano works, written whilst still in Paris. On being shown it Paul Dukas commented 'Pipov has found his road'. The six movements are all folk-based, though Pipkov gives them just Italian tempo markings as titles. There is a certain austerity to the pieces, as many use simply a single line which is decorated or harmonise,  but the language, though tonal, brings a real feel of the 20th century.

Eavesdropping on European sound archives: Europeana Radio

Europeana Radio
Europeana Radio, which launched in January 2017, is a project which allows people to hear music from national libraries and sound archives, making archive recordings easily available on the net for the first time. The on-line portal (http://www.europeana.eu/portal/en/radio.html) allows you to play in radio mode, having a random selection of recordings or you can search away to your hearts content. It is quite seductive, just selecting the Classical or the Folk and Traditional Music genre and listening away. Many of the recordings are short, just tantalising glimpses into the recorded past.

The project is currently crowdsourcing the tagging of the recordings available, and the portal allows people to add tags to recordings they recognise with the aim of getting 10,000 of the archive's recordings. tagged.

The project is part of Europeana Sounds which links an impressive number of institutions.  (British Library (BL), Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (NISV), ‎Kennisland (KL), Europeana, National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), NET7 SRL, Historypin (HP), Centre national de la Recherche scientifique (CNRS), UAB DIZI, Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB), Music Library of Greece of the Friends of Music Society (FMS), Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo Unico delle biblioteche italiane (ICCU), Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA), The Language Archive at MPI-PL (TLA), The National Library of Latvia (NLL), Österreichische Mediathek (OeM), Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO), Statsbiblioteket (SB), Austrian National Library (ONB), Institute of Contemporary History – Universidade Nova de Lisboa (FCSH), Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann

Monday, 30 January 2017

First fruits: Tim Mead and James Baillieu in recital at Wigmore Hall

Tim Mead - photo Benjamin Ealovega
Tim Mead - photo Benjamin Ealovega
Herbert Howells, RVW, Roger Quilter, betty Roe, John Ireland, John Dankworth, Peter Warlock, Benjamin Britten, Purcell, Stanford, Joseph Phibbs; Tim Mead, James Baillieu; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 29 2017
Star rating: 5.0

Twentieth century Romantic English song at the centre of this engaging recital from counter-tenor Tim Mead

At the end of the afternoon concert on Sunday 29 January 2017 at Wigmore Hall, counter-tenor Tim Mead introduced his encore and took the opportunity to say that the recital had been his first ever song recital. Though well known in baroque music, oratorio and opera, this was a new venture into song as, accompanied by James Baillieu, Tim Mead sang a selection of English song which he described as 'songs he'd heard throughout his singing career and jealously wanted to sing'.

The emphasis was on 20th century with songs by Herbert Howells, RVW, Roger Quilter, Betty Roe, John Ireland, John Dankworth, Peter Warlock and Benjamin Britten, but there was Purcell too (in Britten's arrangement), and Charles Villiers Stanford, plus Joseph Phibbs more contemporary piece. The Phibbs and the Roe were all specifically written for counter-tenor, all the others presumably the composers expected the high voices to those of women. But throughout the programme, which was sung from memory, Mead really made the music his own, making his innate sense of line work for him. If there were awkward register changes then they were not apparent, all seemed ease and fluency, with a lovely evenness of tone from top to bottom, combined with a lovely sense of the texts.

We opened with Herbert Howells King David with the elegant melancholy of Mead's line complemented by Baillieu's fluent piano, with some lovely nightingale moments. In many of the songs, we noticed the sheer beauty of Mead's tone, but he did not coast along and each song was a little narrative, with a sense of character. RVW's Linden Lea was finely controlled, with intelligent shaping of phrases and supremely communicable words. Britten's arrangement of Purcell's Lord, what is man? used a very strong piano accompaniment to the lyrical arioso, which mean that Mead was able to sing rather more strongly than if he had done the song in its Baroque version. There were some lovely rhapsodic moments but his Baroque background told in the finely executed runs at the end.

Adès Deconstructed: In Seven Days

Thomas Ades - In Seven Days - London Sinfonietta
On Wednesday 1 February 2017, the London Sinfonietta is presenting Thomas Adès' concerto for piano and orchestra In Seven Days at the Royal Festival Hall, with pianist Rolf Hind, the Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble and Sian Edwards conducting. To help the audience explore the complexities of Adès' work, instead of companion pieces the first half of the programme will consist of an exploration of In Seven Days. Guided through the score’s structure by presenter Sam West, the orchestra and Rolf Hind playing short extracts to explore how Adès created the work.

Premiered in 2008 by the London Sinfonietta with pianist Nicholas Hodges, conducted by Thomas Adès, with video accompaniment by Tai Rosner, In Seven Days is in seven movements, and the work the creation myth from the Book of Genesis from through to a final contemplation of God's creation. the original performers recorded the work for Signum, and it is available with a DVD film including Tai Rosner's visuals (available from Amazon.co.uk).

Full information from the Southbank Centre website.

Dark doings: Menotti's The Medium from Magnetic Opera

Menotti - The Medium - Magnetic Opera
Gian Carlo Menotti The Medium; Magnetic Opera,Thomas Henderson, Calum Fraser; Barons Court Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 28 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Menotti's grand-guignol opera in a performance from a strong young cast in a basement theatre

Gian Carlo Menotti's opera seem to be still out of fashion, though Samuel Barber's Vanessa (to which Menotti wrote the libretto) has made something of a comeback. But Menotti's smaller scale operas remain more popular with fringe companies. In 2014 we heard The Medium given by Operaview at the Grimeborn Festival (see my review), and on Saturday 28 January 2017 we encountered the opera again, performed by Magnetic Opera at the Barons Court Theatre, directed by Thomas Henderson, with Calum Fraser as musical director and designed by Clara Lopez Merino. Michaela Parry was Madame Flora, and Catriona Hewitson was Monica, with Andy Peppiette as Toby, Jana Holesworth as Mrs Gobineau, Mark Nathan as Mr Gobineau, Rachel Falaise as Mrs Nolan with Julianne Gallant (piano) and Emma Donald (violin).

Magnetic Opera is a young opera company founded by Calum Fraser, whose previous productions at Barons Court Theatre have included Puccini's La Boheme. The theatre space is unusual, part of pub it is in the basement providing a dark, enclosed space with audience on three sides of the performing area. A very apt space in which to perform Menotti's The Medium.

Premiered in 1946, with a libretto by the composer, the work is pure Hollywood noir melodrama and in fact the composer helped turn the opera into just such a film 1951 (the DVD is available from Amazon). Lasting only an hour it is a concentrated piece, Madame Flora (Michaela Parry) acts as a fake medium extorting money out of fragile clients, Mr & Mrs Gobineau (Jana Holesworth and Mark Nathan), and Mrs Nolan (Rachel Falaise), aided by her daughter Monica (Catriona Hewitson) and Toby (Andy Peppiette), a mute who has taken in by Madame Flora. Madame Flora becomes obsessed with a possible genuine manifestation with tragic results. Menotti is very interested in this interaction between the real and the fake, and when Madame Flora tries to tell her clients she is a fake they all deny it, convinced their experiences are real.

Menotti's music is lyrical, Puccini-esque even, and certainly out of step with the prevailing musical styles of the 1940s. But in a strong performance we can appreciated the work's power.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Music of a forgotten master: piano works of Adolf von Henselt

Adolf von Henselt - Daniel Grimwood
Adolf von Henselt piano works; Daniel Grimwood; Edition Peters
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A showcase for the music of a forgotten talent, one of the great influences on the Russian piano school

I have to confess that until being sent this disc, I had never heard of Adolf von Henselt. But this disc on Edition Peters presents us with nearly 80 minutes of engaging piano music played by Daniel Grimwood, of a style and technical difficulty which puts the composer on a par with Chopin and Liszt.

So who was Adolf von Henselt. Born plain Adolf Henselt in a town in Bavaria, he studied with Hummel and settled in St Petersburg where he added the von to his name, and became one of the founders of the Russian school of pianism, one of his pupils was Zverev, Rachmaninov's teacher and Rachmaninov rated Henselt highly.

Daniel Grimwood
Daniel Grimwood
During his life Henselt was known and revered, spoken of in the same breath as Liszt and Chopin, his music played by such luminaries as Clara Schumann (who premiered his F minor Piano Concerto), Liszt, Rachmaninov and Chopin. Yet we have somehow lost touch with his music. It perhaps does not help that he retired from the concert platform before he was 40, suffering from profound stage fright, and that his duties as a revered teacher in Russia meant that his composing in later life rather tailed off in quantity (though not in quality).

Adolf von Henselt was just four years younger than Chopin, and three years younger than Liszt and his piano music does indeed breath the same air as these composers. The opening Variations de concert sur le motif de l'opera 'L'elisir d'amore' is a substantial concert work in the manner of Liszt's early operatic transcriptions, but Grimwood follows this with a sequence of smaller works where Henselt combines elements of the salon with some remarkably inventive harmony, meaning that beneath the great charm there are elements which intrigue (In his booklet note Daniel Grimwood sees the Deux petite Valses as looking forward to Scriabin).

There are four large scale works on the disc, as well as the Donizetti variations there is the Tableau muscal: Fantaisie dur un air bohemien-russe, another Lisztian piece where Henselt wanders freely and even evokes Rachmaninov in the bigger passages. The Ballade, Op 31 is perhaps where we can hear the mature Henselt, written in 1854 (when he was 40) moving away from the earlier Lisztian pieces. It is still technically complex, but the difficulties are not necessarily there for show. The music is still pleasing grateful and melodic, but with some terrific purple passages. The disc finishes with another big work the Grande valse 'L'aurere boreale'  which also dates from 1854. As Grimwood points out, the work sounds very Russian, as with much of Henselt's writing he reaches climaxes by thickening textures to create a real richness of sonority.

Brundibár Arts Festival in Newcastle and Gateshead

Hans Krása (Composer)  Flašinetář Brundibár Organ-grinder Brundibár (Bumble Bee).
Original poster for Hans Krása's   Flašinetář Brundibár
Organ-grinder Brundibár (Bumble Bee).
Founded in 2016, the Brundibár Arts Festival runs from 30 January to 7 February 2017 in Newcastle and Gateshead. The UK's first recurring festival devoted to the music and arts of the Holocaust, artistic director Alexandra Raikhlina (sub-principal first violin with the Royal Northern Sinfonia) wants to showcase the little known music written during the Holocaust.

The festival opens on 30 January with a recital by Katya Apekisheva, Simon Wallfisch and members of Royal Northern Sinfonia in music by Weinberg, Schulhoff, Ullmann and Krása, and closes on 7 February with Natalie Clein, Jack Liebeck, Krzysztof Chorzelski and members of Royal Northern Sinfonia in sextets by Brahms, Schulhoff and Schoenberg, along with the world premiere of the festival commission, a new string sextet by emerging composer Frederick Viner, winner of Sage Gateshead Mozarts of Tomorrow Composers Competition.

In between there are masterclasses, klezmer, schools workshops, Jessica Duchen's play about Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time and an exhibition and documentary screening about Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat, often named the "Japanese Schindler" who saved over 2,000 Jews during the Holocaust earning him the title "Righteous Among the Nations".

The festival is named for Hans Krása's children's opera Brundibár. Full details from the festival website.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Muhly, Argento and Schumann from Alice Coote and Julius Drake at Wigmore Hall

Nico Muhly - photo Ana Cuba
Nico Muhly - photo Ana Cuba
Nico Muhly, Dominick Argento, Robert Schumann; Alice Coote, Julius Drake; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 27 2017
Star rating: 5.0

Three powerful cycles, from 21st, 20th and 19th centuries exploring creativity and mental health

'I myself am the enemy who must be loved? What then'
This programme from mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and pianist Julius Drake at Wigmore Hall on 27 January 2017 explored creativity and mental health, with the premier of a new song-cycle by Nico Muhly, Strange Productions, Dominick Argento's From the Diary of Virginia Woolf and Robert Schumann's Twelve Kerner Lieder, Op.35. In the case of the Muhly and the Argento, the authors of the texts had experience of mental illness. Nico Muhly's new piece, written for Alice Coote, used texts from G. Mackenzie Bacon's On the Writings of the Insane and poems by John Clare (who spent his final years in an asylum). Argento's Pullitzer Prize-winning cycle, which was written for Janet Baker in 1975, goes from Virginia Woolf's first diary entry to the poignant last one before she committed suicide. And of course, Robert Schumann spent his last years in an asylum.

Dominick Argento
Dominick Argento
G Mackenzie Bacon published his On the Writings of the Insane in 1870, and the extracts Muhly used for his Strange Productions all referred to the way Bacon saw the act of writing as a tell for mental health problems, three narrative passages by Bacon are interspersed with a sample letter from the book, full of striking non-sequiturs, and two of John Clare's poems. The two Clare poems are full of lyrically passionate descriptions, but I was unclear how we were meant to read them in the context of a song cycle about mental health.

The work is constructed rather like a baroque cantata, with Bacon's narrative passages forming linking recitative between the three 'arias', the two Clare poems and the sample letter from Bacon's book. And, like some Baroque cantatas, Muhly's work started in media res with the piano plunging straight into the recitative-like setting of Bacon's text, Alice Coote's superb diction bringing out the sense of the words with comments from Julius Drake on the piano. The setting of Clare's An Invite to Eternity paired Alice Coote's slow yet lyrical vocal line with a spare, yet dark piano accompaniment. Muhly's use of melisma in the vocal line moved meant the piece gradually became more rhapsodic, with Coote developing in intensity and Drake's comments darkening, providing a mood of foreboding over Clare's lyrical rhapsody. The second recitative-like setting of Bacon's narrative, led to a letter from one of Bacon's patients, in which the text is full of free-association and non-sequiturs. Any single moment sounds rational, but the transition of one to another brought nonsense. Muhly's busy and vivid music enable Coote to really bring out the sense/nonsense of the words and she created a really disturbing effect, inhabiting the character completely. The final recitative section, led to the setting of Clare's 'I am!' in a form of lyrical arioso, which Coote and Drake made really strong and powerful stuff, getting quite mystical at times.

Nico Muhly always writes intelligently and sympathetically for the voice, and his new piece really played to Alice Coote and Julius Drake's strengths, enabling them to give a powerful and disturbing performance, yet to have a view of Muhly's music I think I would have to have further listening.

New ideas round the edges: I chat to London Handel Festival's Samir Savant, the new Festival Director

 Adrian Butterfield (Associate Director), Catherine Hodgson (retiring Festival Director), Samir Savant (incoming Festival Director), Laurence Cummings (Artistic Director), Richard Hopkin (Chair)
Adrian Butterfield (Associate Director), Catherine Hodgson (previous Festival Director)
Samir Savant (Festival Director), Laurence Cummings (Musical Director),
Richard Hopkin (Chair)
The London Handel Festival has a new Festival Director, after the 2016 festival Catherine Hodgson retired after 17 years as Festival Director and Samir Savant took over, with Laurence Cummings continuing as Musical Director. The 2017 festival, which runs from 18 March to 24 April 2017, is the first under Samir Savant's stewardship, and whilst it is too early to see the full effect of his ideas, there are indications of a refocusing of some aspects of the festival. I caught up with Samir by telephone to find out more about his ideas for the festival.

One of the first things we talked about was the question of the festival venues. This year, the festival is venturing away from St George's Church, Hanover Square to give concerts in venues such as Cadogan Hall, and Charterhouse. But St George's Church, as Handel's own parish church, remains a core venue, with the opera staged of course at the Britten Theatre.


Anna Devin in the title role of Handel's Semele with Lawrence Cummings and the London Handel Festival with Rupert Charlesworth, Louise Innes, Ewa Gubanska & Maria Valdmaa at the London Handel Festival in 2015
Anna Devin in the title role of Handel's Semele with Lawrence Cummings,
Rupert Charlesworth, Louise Innes, Ewa Gubanska & Maria Valdmaa
at the London Handel Festival in 2015
Thankfully plans are in hand to remedy some of St George's Hanover Square's limitations, adding risers to the 2nd and 3rd rows of the gallery to enhance visibility, and smart brass plaques to number the seats should be an improvement too. Other problems are more intractable, the size and layout of the church means the performing area is cramped; Samir comments that has performed in the church with the Pegasus choir and can testify to the difficulty of fitting performers in. The question of toilets and facilities is another big problem, and here the church hopes to develop the undercroft to provide improved facilities including decent back-stage areas for the performers. Samir adds that he feels that performers will live with cramped performing spaces if they have a decent backstage area.

Whilst St George's Church remains central, this year's festival includes events at the Cadogan Hall, the Foundling Museum, the Royal Academy of Music and Charterhouse. Whilst the links between the Foundling Museum and Handel are well known, there are in fact links to Charterhouse too. At Charterhouse, the organist in Handel's day was Johann Pepusch, best known for his arrangements of the music for The Beggar's Opera, but Samir adds that Pepusch was also involved in the concerts put on in Clerkenwell by the musical coal merchant Thomas Britton, where Handel also played.

Friday, 27 January 2017

BBC Concert Orchestra names Dobrinka Tabakova as composer in residence

Dobrinka Tabakova - photo ECM Records/ Sussie Ahlburg
Dobrinka Tabakova
photo ECM Records
/ Sussie Ahlburg
The composer Dobrinka Tabakova is the new composer in residence at the BBC Concert Orchestra. Dobrinka will work with orchestra initially for a period of three years, and the orchestra will both explore her existing compositions as well as commissioning three new works from her. Dobrinka will also be involved in the artistic planning of the orchestra's work, including concerts, recordings and learning projects. Her first orchestral commission is for the orchestra's 2018/19 season at the South Bank Centre where it is an associate artist.

Dobrina Tabakova was born in Bulgaria and came to London with her family in her early teens. Recent work has included Immortal Shakespeare, written for the Shakespeare 400 celebrations for Orchestra of the Swan (where she was Resident Composer from 2014 to 2016) and Tamsin Waley Cohen. I interviewed Dobrinka in 2015 (see my interview) when she was featured composer on BBC Radio 3 and at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival.

Dobrinka is also composer in residence at Truro Cathedral and as part of BBC Radio 3's programming for International Women's Day, Choral Evensong will come from Truro Cathedral where the newly formed girl choristers choir will perform a new piece by Dobrinka.

Soprano and piano trio

Sergei Taneyev
Sergei Taneyev
The combination of soprano and piano trio is perhaps not an obvious one for a concert programme but the soprano Gillian Keith joins a piano trio made up of Russian and Lativan musicians, Yuri Zhislin (violin), Sergei Podobedov (piano), Kristina Blaumane (cello) at Kings Place on Sunday 29 January 2017, for a programme of predominantly Russian music with works by Rachmaninov, Borodin, Taneyev and Tchaikovsky. There will be trios by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, some of Borodin's Songs and Romances for soprano, cello and piano, the Canzone for soprano and piano trio by Sergei Taneyev (who studied composition with Tchaikovsky and piano with Nikolai Rubenstein at the Moscow Conservatoire).

Gillian Keith has written an interesting posting on her blog about learning songs in Russian, a language which she does not speak.

Full information from the Kings Place website.

A busy 2017 for Music Theatre Wales

Peter Eötvös - The Golden Dragon - Music Theatre Wales
Peter Eötvös - The Golden Dragon - Music Theatre Wales
Music Theatre Wales, artistic director, Michael McCarthy, has announced their plans for what promises to be a busy 2017. They will be premiering a new Welsh language opera, Guto Puw's Y Twr, at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, touring their 2016 production of Peter Eotvos's The Golden Dragon, taking their production of Philip Glass's The Trial on tour, giving the work's Scottish and American premieres, and returning to South Korea for the Tongyeong International Festival.

Music Theatre Wales's production of Philip Glass's The Trial has already started its Scottish tour (see my article) and the production will be travelling to the USA in June for the American premiere at Opera Theatre St. Louis.

Guto Puw's new Welsh language opera Y Twr is being given its premiere in May 2017 at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, as part of the Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival. The production is directed by Michael McCarthy and conducted by Richard Baker with Gwion Thomas and Caryl Hughes. The production will then go on tour in Wales (to Aberystwyth, Bangor, Mold, Swansea), and to the Buxton Festival in July 2017.

Music Theatre Wales gave the UK premier of Peter Eotvos' opera The Golden Dragon at the Buxton Festival in July 2016, and the company is finally able to take the work on tour in 2017, directed by Michael McCarthy, conducted by Daniel Norman, with a cast including Llio Evans, Lucy Schaufer, Andrew McKenzie-Wicks and Johnny Herford. The Autumn tour travels to Cardiff, Birmingham, Basingstoke, Bangor, Snape and the Hackney Empire.

Music Theatre Wales previous appeared at the Tongyeong International Music Festival in South Korea in 2015, performing Turnage's Greek, and will be returning in 2017. Nicholas Kok will conduct The Golden Dragon with all the original cast, in March/April 2017.

Getting beyond music history: Rossi's The Songs of Solomon in engaging performances

Salomone Rossi - The Songs of Solomon
Salomone Rossi Hebrew Psalms & Instrumental Music;Profeti della Quinta; Pan Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 20 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Salomone Rossi's Hebrew psalms and instrumental music in engaging performances

Salomone Rossi's Hashirim Asher LiShlomo - The Songs of Solomon, printed in Venice in 1623, is something of a landmark in Western classical music, the first works printed with Hebrew texts. The music remains rather more of a musicological phenomenon than a musical one, and there have been few accounts of them on disc. Profeti della Quinta is an ensemble founded in Israel but currently based in Switzerland. Ruth, on this blog, was impressed with their performance at the 2016 London Festival of Baroque Music (see our review), and it is heartening to be able to welcome their disc on the Pan Classics label. This disc is not new, it has been around since 2009, but has been re-issued.

Salomone Rossi - The Songs of Solomon title page
Salomone Rossi - The Songs of Solomon
title page
Rossi's 1623 publication contains 33 Hebrew psalms but here we get a selection interwoven with Rossi's instrumental music to give a more balanced picture of the composer and to provide a variety of textures.

Rossi lived in Mantua at the same time as his distinguished fellow composers, Ludovico Viadana, Giaches de Wert and Claudio Monteverdi. As both were violinists, Monteverdi and Rossi must perhaps have worked as colleagues. Rossi's instrumental music lives in the same world as Monteverdi's music, virtuosic, full of ideas, rhythmically varied and full of harmonic surprises.

The music is written generally for two melody instruments and basso continuo and Profeti della Quinta ring the changes by using violin, flute and cornet, and similarly use a varied grouping for the continuo. The performances are rhythmically alert, intimate and appealing, real chamber music. The music falls generally into the longer sonate, often based on pre-existing music which Rossi developed variation-like and the shorter preludial sinfonias.

These form a nice contrast to the vocal music, the two being interleaved. The contrast is highlighted because Rossi's Hebrew psalms are relatively conservative in style. They certainly bear no comparison to Monteverdi's Latin psalm settings.

But there is a reason. Music was ostensibly forbidden in the synagogue and by writing in a style which eschewed secular modern taste, and ensured that the words were audible, went a long way to making it acceptable.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Kancheli, Martinu and RVW: three contrasting 20th century figures from the London Philharmonic

Vladimir Jurowski - photo Roman Gontcharov
Vladimir Jurowski - photo Roman Gontcharov
Kancheli Mourned by the Wind, Martinu Memorial to Lidice, RVW Symphony No. 9; Isabelle van Keulen, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 25 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Three striking but contrasting 20th century works in a vibrantly engrossing programme

The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) under its conductor Vladimir Jurowski presented a trio of striking, yet rarely performed 20th century at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday 25 January 2017. They were joined by viola player Isabelle van Keulen for Giya Kancheli's Mourned by the Wind (Liturgy in memory of Givi Ordzhonikidze for orchestra and solo viola), and the followed this with Bohuslav Martinu's Memorial to Lidice and RVW's Symphony No. 9. The performance of the Kancheli was supported by donors to the LPO's Kancheli Appeal which raised in excess of £45,000 to support adventurous programming.

The concert came under the banner of the orchestra's year-long festival Belief and Beyond Belief, with the Kancheli and the Martinu both having some sort of spiritual/commemorative dimension; Kancheli's instrumental liturgy being written in memory of a close friend, the Martinu written to commemorate and mourn the killing of nearly 200 men at the village of Lidice by the Nazis. The RVW symphony is less easy to shoe-horn into this framework, but thankfully the LPO's programming allows them interesting digressions. The result was certainly an intriguing and striking exploration of 20th century orchestral music by three composers each of whom took idiomatic nationalism to a very striking conclusion with three very contrasting works.

10 concerts, 150 psalms - Elysian Singers' PsalmFest concludes

The Elysian Singers
The Elysian Singers
The Elysian Singers, conductor Sam Laughton, has been celebrating its 30th anniversary with a year long series of performances, PsalmFest 2016. In ten concerts they  performed settings of all of the 150 psalms (or at least something from each psalm). This striking feat culminates in their final concert of the celebrations when on Saturday 28 January 2017 at St John's Smith Square, Sam Laughton conducts the Elysian Singers and the Elysian Festival Orchestra in Stravinsky's Symphonies of Psalms, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Judith Weir's Psalm 148 and music by RVW, Elgar, Holst, and Bruckner.  The Elgar settings will be Give unto the Lord and Great is the Lord, anthems rarely heard in their orchestral versions.

The choir will be joined by a number of former members of the choir, bringing numbers up to around 80 voices.

Full information from the St John's Square website.

Premieres and celebrations, BCMG in 2017

BCMG logo
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) continue their season with a wide variety of concerts, ranging from a celebration of American music, to premieres of works by Helen Grime and by Colin Matthews, and a celebration of the music of Thomas Adès.

A lunchtime concert at St David's Hall, Cardiff (4/2/2017) sees players from BCMG performing music by Charles Ives and Elliott Carter, including two of Carter's favourite Ives pieces and Carter's final work which was premiered by BCMG in 2013.

Helen Grime's Piano Concerto is premiered by Huw Watkins, with Oliver Knussen conducting (both distinguished composers in their own right) at the Wigmore Hall (3/3/2017) with a further performance in Birmingham (5/3/2017). The programme includes Grime's A Cold Spring (a BCMG Sound Investment commission from 2015), with music by Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez and Peter Maxwell Davies. Helen Grime is the Wigmore Hall composer in residence and her Piano Concerto is a co-commission between BCGM Sound Investment and the Wigmore Hall.

BCMG returns to the Wigmore Hall on 25 March for a day devoted to the music of Thomas Adès including the BCMG Sound Investment commission Concerto Conciso  (with the composer as soloist) and Gerald Barry's Octet.

The final premiere of the season is another BCMG Sound Investment commission, Colin Matthews new vocal work which is being performed by soprano Claire Booth, with Oliver Knussen conducting, plus music by Knussen, Harrison Birtwistle and Colin Matthews, at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham on 10 June.

This season BCMG's pioneering crowd-funding Sound Investment scheme celebrates 25 years, encouraging music lovers contribute to the commissioning of works and get more involved in the commissioning process.

Further information from the BCMG website.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Harrison Birtwistle's The Last Supper on Radio 3

Roderick Williams as Christ, centre, performs The Last Supper with the BBCSSO. Photograph: Alex Woodward/BBC
Roderick Williams as Christ, centre, performs The Last Supper with the BBCSSO. Photograph: Alex Woodward/BBC
For those of us who felt frustrated at not being able to see the semi-staged performance of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's The Last Supper in Glasgow last week (14 January 2017), then fear not. There is a chance to hear the work on BBC Radio Three on Saturday 28 January 2017, and the programme will then be available from BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

The opera was originally commissioned by Glyndebourne, and the Staatsoper Berlin, and the performance in Glasgow was the first UK performance of the work since the production at Glyndebourne. Conductor Martyn Brabbins (new musical director of English National Opera) conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with a strong cast including Roderick Williams as Christ and Susan Bickley as Ghost (the only female singer in the cast).

The opera is described as dramatic tableaux, and rather than dramatic action the piece relies on Birtwistle's music. We won't have the visuals of the semi-staging, but there will be a lot to listen to and digest. (See the review of the original performance on The Guardian).

There is a lovely interview between Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Martyn Brabbins on the BBC website. I love Birtwistle's dead-pan manner when talking about his complex music, he comments that the subject of The Last Supper attracted him because he likes solving problems on stage, and the piece has problems such as it is for a lot of men, how to deal with the last supper with the crucifixion being on stage and there is no obvious drama, and he has to tease out the dramatic implications.


See BBC iPlayer for details.


Christ ..... Roderick Williams (baritone)
Judas ..... Daniel Norman (tenor)
Ghost ..... Susan Bickley (mezzo soprano)
Little James ..... William Towers (counter-tenor)
James ..... Bernhard Landauer (counter-tenor)
Thomas ..... Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts (tenor)
Andrew ..... Alexander Sprague (tenor)
Simon ..... Thomas Walker (tenor)
Bartholomew ..... Andrew Tortise (tenor)
Philip ..... Marcus Farnsworth (baritone)
John ..... Benedict Nelson (baritone)
Matthew ..... Toby Girling (bass-baritone)
Thaddaeus ..... Matthew Brook (bass)
Peter ..... Edward Grint (bass)

BBC Singers
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Sound Intermedia
Martyn Brabbins (conductor)

Looking Ahead: Vale of Glamorgan Festival

Ewenny Priory
One of the festival venues - Ewenny Priory
The only UK festival to be devoted entirely to living composers, the Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival gives audiences a chance to experience a wide variety of contemporary music in some striking venues in the Vale of Glamorgan, which is the area West of Cardiff. This year the festival runs from 19 May to 26 May 2017 and there are six world premieres (two from the Welsh composer Guto Puw), including four festival commissions, as well as a UK premiere of John Adams.

Music Theatre Wales will be presenting a new Welsh language opera, Y Twr (The Tower) by Guto Puw with a libretto by the Welsh poet Gwyneth Glyn based on the classic 1978 play by Gwenlyn Parry. In addition, Puw's new work for fairground organ and brass will be premiered by Onyx Brass as part of a concert at the Eastern Shelter, Barry Island, in a programme which also includes the premiere of a new arrangement of John Adams' China Gates, and music by James Maynard, Stuart MacRae, Joe Dudel, Tim Jackson and Michael Berkeley. Onyx Brass will also be giving free concerts along the Vale of Glamorgan coastline.

Guto Puw's work for Onyx Brass is a replacement for a commission which was originally offered to the late Peter Reynolds. Peter Reynolds was a long time supporter of the festival, and The Peter Reynolds Composer Studio is being created in his name supporting the development of eight composers in the early stages of their career.

The Marsyas Trio will be performing a programme of music by women composers Gates of The Soul: Celebrating Women Composers in the historic surroundings of Ewenny Abbey. The concert includes the world premieres of Hilary Tann's Into the Air and Steph Power's And ante, plus music by Cecilia McDowall, Judith Weir, Chen Yi and Elisenda Fabregas. There is a meet the composer's event prior to the concert with the chance to hear Steph Power and Hilary Tann in conversation.

There is something of an American theme running through the festival. One of the guest artists at the festival is the American keyboard sextet the Grand Band and they will be giving the premiere of a new work by Ben Wallace alongside music by Paul Kerekes, Philip Glass, David Lang, John Metcalf (artistic director of the festival) and Steve Reich. During their two day residency, The Grand Band will also be working with composers from The Peter Reynolds Composer Studio, giving a masterclass with students from Cardiff University and giving a primary schools concert.

In addition to Onyx Brass's performance of John Adams China Gates, Robin Green and Mei Yi Foo will be performing the complete piano works of John Adams including the UK premiere of Roll Over Beethoven, and the Polish group, Apollon Musagete Quartet will be performing John Adams' John's Book of Alleged Dances in a concert which also includes Krzysztof Penderecki's Quartet No. 3. Music by John Adams also features in the concluding concert in the festival with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Tecwyn Evans with Paul Watkins (cello), Sophie Westbrooke (recorder) and the Apollon Musage Quartet, performing Adams The Chairman Dances and Absolute Jest, plus Huw Watkins Cello Concerto and the premiere of Graham Fitkin's Concerto for amplified recorders and orchestra which was written for Sophie Westbrooke, former BBC Young Musician Finalist and still only 17.

Poetic exploration: Dresden Festival Orchestra in Schumann

Jan Vogler, Dresden Festival Orchestra, Ivor Bolton - Schumann Cello Concerto & Symphony No.2
Schumann Cello Concerto, Symphony No. 2; Jan Vogler, Dresden Festival Orchestra/ Dresdner Festspielorchester, Ivor Bolton; Sony Classical
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 20 2017
Star rating: 4.0

The first disc from the Dresden festival orchestra, includes Schumann's concerto with the festival's artistic director

This disc on Sony Classical is something of an exploration, the first disc from the orchestra of the Dresden Music Festival, the Dresden Festival Orchestra (playing on period instruments) under its conductor Ivor Bolton, and it also represents cellist Jan Vogler's first outing using gut strings on his Stradivarius cello (Jan Vogler is artistic director of the festival). The repertoire is a canny choice, Schumann's Cello Concerto and Symphony No. 2. One was written whilst Schumann was living in Dresden, the other shortly after he left.

Schumann's orchestral music responds well to historically informed performance practice, the perceived problems with the orchestral writing largely disappear and the transparency of texture brings light and clarity to the music. Whilst the orchestra's strings make a good firm sound, the balance has plenty of room for the wind.

The concerto opens in intimate and confiding manner, and throughout it is restraint and poetry which are paramount.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Looking ahead: Garsington expands into 2017

Garsington Opera
Garsington Opera at night
Garsington Opera is expanding, this year the season runs from 1 June to 30 July 2017, there are four productions for the first time in the festival's history as well as a large-scale work for a professional cast with local community participants of all ages,, and the duties in the pit will be shared between the festival orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra. The main stage operas are Handel's Semele, Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande, Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and Rossini's Il turco in Italia, with Roxanna Panufnik and Jessica Duchen's people's opera Silver Birch receiving its premiere.

Handel's Semele will be directed by Annilese Miskimmon, artistic director of Norwegian National Opera, and conducted by Jonathan Cohen (artistic director of Arcangelo) with American soprano Heidi Stober making her UK debut, with tenor Robert Murray and mezzo-soprano Christine Rice. Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande will feature the Philharmonia Orchestra in the pit conducted by Jac van Steen (who conducted Strauss's Intermezzo at the festival in 2015). Michael Boyd, who directed last year's Eugene Onegin (see my review) directs with designs by Tom Piper. Pelleas is Jonathan McGovern (who sang the role with English Touring Opera in 2015, see my review) and American soprano Andrea Carroll is Melisande, with Paul Gay as Golaud.

Rossini's Il turco in Italia is a revival of Martin Duncan's 2015 production with David Parry conducting. The cast includes three members of the original cast, Mark Stone (who we last saw in Gerald Barry's Alice's Adventures Underground) as Prosdocimo, Quirijn de Lang as Selim and Geoffrey Dolton as Geronimo, with Sarah Tynan as Fiorilla, Katie Bray as Zaida and Lucian Botelho as Narciso.

John Cox's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro was first seen at Garsington Manor in 2005, and is being re-created for 2017 with a cast including Joshua Bloom and Jennifer France as Figaro and Susanna, Canadian soprano Kirsten MacKinnon makes her UK debut as the Countess with Duncan Rock (who we saw as Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne in 2016) as the Count.

The community opera Silver Birch, with music by Roxana Panufnik and words by Jessica Duchen will include over 180 community participants aged 8 to 80, plus student Foley artists (sound effects) from Cressex Sommunity School, alongside professionals from Garsington in the cast and the orchestra, including Sam Furness, Victoria Simmonds, Darren Jeffrey, Bradly Travis, Sarah Redgwick and James Way, Douglas Boyd conducts.

Full details from the Garsington Opera website.

Philip Glass's The Trial receives its Scottish premiere

Scottish Opera - The Trial - Philip Glass
Philip Glass's opera The Trial receives its Scottish premiere at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow tonight (24 January 2017) when Scottish Opera perform the work. The opera is a co-commission and co-production with Music Theatre Wales, the Royal Opera and Theater Magdeburg. Philip Glass worked with playwright Christopher Hampton to create the piece based on Franz Kafka's novel The Trial.

The production, which is directed by Michael McCarthy, artistic director of Music Theatre Wales, and conducted by Derek Clark, head of music at Scottish Opera, debuted at the Royal Opera's Linbury Studio in October 2014 and then toured to theatres in England, Wales and Germany.

The cast includes Nicholas Lester as Joseph K, plus Michael Druiett, Paul Carey Jones and three of Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists 2016/17 - Emma Kerr, Hazel McBain, and Elgan Llyr Thomas.

The production is at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow until 28 January 2017, and tours to Edinburgh's King's Theatre (3,4 February 2017).

Full information from the Scottish Opera website.

Intense abandon: Christine Rice and Julius Drake in Haydn and Poulenc

Christine Rice - photo © Patricia Taylor
Christine Rice - photo © Patricia Taylor
Haydn Arianna a Naxos, Ravel Chants populaire, Kaddisch, Poulenc Le voix humaine; Christine Rice, Julius Drake; Temple Song at Middle Temple Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 23 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Christine Rice incarnating two abandoned women in an evening of intimate intensity

Mezzo-soprano Christine Rice is a relatively rare visitor to London's recital halls so it was a pleasure to be able to hear her in recital with Julius Drake for the first of Temple Music's Temple Song series of 2017, at Middle Temple Hall on Monday 23 January 2107. Abandoned women seemed to be the underlying theme of the programme as we opened with Haydn's Arianna a Naxos and closed with Poulenc's La voix humaine, in between there were Ravel's Chants populaires and Kaddisch.

Haydn's cantata Arianna a Naxos was written around 1789/90, with keyboard accompaniment, and swiftly became one of his most popular works. In a sequence of recitatives and two arias, Arianna wakes up, looks for her beloved Teseo, then sees him fleeing on his ship and finishes with a lamenting aria. This was in no sense an historically informed performance, Christine Rice and Julius Drake used the full range of their modern resources. The opening recitative was taken at quite a leisurely tempo, but this gave plenty of space for Rice to show us what a fine singing actress she is, combining a feel for the words with richness of tone and a remarkable amount of character both in the voice and in the dramatic presentation; the result was rather gripping.

The first aria,'Dove sei, mio bel tesoro?' was sung with an expressively shapely line, and full, sculpted phrases. Though in no way dramatised, Rice's vivid presentation gave us a strong sense of Arianna's dramatic presence. In the second recitative, when Arianna discovers Teseo has left, the drama became positively operatic. The final aria, 'Ah, che morir vorrei' started off steadily, showing off Rice's shapely way with the phrases, bring out the intensity of the music and with remarkably vivid second half.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Prizewinning Italian pianist Emanuel Rimoldi at Wigmore Hall

Emanuel Rimoldi - Photo: Laura Rizzi
Emanuel Rimoldi - Photo: Laura Rizzi
Having won the First Prize in the 'Top of the World' competition in Tromsø, Norway in 2013, and First Grand Prize and the Ivo Pogorelich Prize at the Manhattan International Music Competition in 2016, the Romanian-Italian pianist Emanuel Rimoldi will be giving a recital at the Wigmore Hall on 24 January 2017, performing Mozart's Piano Sonata No.8 in A minor K.310, Schumann's Humoreske Op.20, Liszt's Verdi transcription ‘Danza sacra e duetto finale’ from Aida, and Rachmaninov's Ten Preludes op.23.

The recital is the Keyboard Trust's 2017 Prizewinners Recital. The trust you talented performers aged 18 to 30, by offering them opportunities to perform throughout the world. The Trust has presented nearly 200 young international pianists, historic keyboard players and organists in concerts worldwide.


Full information from the Wigmore Hall website.

Flute, viola & harp: From Belle Epoque to Debussy's Sonata - Trio Anima at Conway Hall

Trio Anima (Anneke Hodnett, Matthew Featherstone, Rosalind Ventris)
Trio Anima
(Anneke Hodnett, Matthew Featherstone, Rosalind Ventris)
Dubois, Hahn, Ravel, Faure, Debussy, Couperin; Trio Anima, Matthew Featherstone, Rosalind Ventris, Anneke Hodnett; Conway Hall Sunday Concerts
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Debussy's sonata the centrepiece for a stylish and intelligent programme of music for flute, viola and harp

The Sunday concerts at Conway Hall are a regular feature of London's concert life, providing a wide variety of chamber music performed by established performers and up and coming young artists in the intimate surroundings of Conway Hall. On Sunday 22 January 2017 we went along to hear Trio Anima (Matthew Featherstone flute, Rosalind Ventris viola, Anneke Hodnett harp), in a programme of French music including Debussy's Sonata and Syrinx, Theodore Dubois' Terzettino and Reynaldo Hahn's Romanesque, plus arrangements of Debussy's Children's Corner, and Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin.

It was Sebastian Erard's invention in the early 19th century of the double-action pedal harp, permitting greater access to complex chromatic music on the instrument, which allowed composers to use the instrument more. But progress was slow, partly because of the lack of instruments and good players, but by the end of the 19th century the harp was common in orchestral music. In chamber music things were somewhat slower, with the repertoire being dominated by salon-style music. It was Debussy who very much put writing for the harp in chamber ensembles on the map, and in his late Sonate for flute, viola and harp he took the ensemble out of the parlour and into the complex world of 20th century chamber music.

The programme from the Trio Anima presented Debussy's Sonate in context, giving us a snapshot of music in Belle Epoque France in the first half, and then in the second we heard two works which arose out of the First World Way, Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin (in Paul Silverthorne's arrangement) from 1919 and Debussy's Sonate for flute, viola and harp from 1915.

Mahogany Opera Group's Various Stages Festival 2017

Mahoganny Opera Group - Various Stages
Mahogany Opera Group's Various Stages Festival is returning in 2017, with an all-day event at the ICA on 24 February 2017. There will be a chance to see showcases for six projects in development, and each showcase will include contextual information as well as a critical feedback session afterwards; scary but necessary for artists when developing new works. Almost as important, the festival will provide attendees and artists the chance to network as well. The resident ensemble for the works will be the Riot Ensemble.

The operas being developed which will be performed on 24 February are:
  • The Finding by Lucy Bradley, Richard Melkonian and Zoë Palmer - an exploration of suffering, loss and vulnerability through female voices across generations, drawing on magical realism and incorporating a choir of mothers and babies
  • In a Grove by Christopher Cerrone, Stephanie Fleischmann and Brian Mertes -an immersive opera inspired by a short story by Japanese author Ryūnosuke Akutagawa examining an incident of love torn by violence from multiple perspectives
  • Mưa (Rain) by Dai Fujikura and Dam Van Huynh - a movement opera using the ancient art of Vietnamese water puppetry to explore life experience
  • Palace of Junk by Metta Theatre (Oliver Brignall and Poppy Burton-Morgan) - a multimedia retelling of the tragic tale of the Collyer brothers, an infamous pair of hoarders, and an exploration into hoarding disorder
  • Traffick by Nic Chalmers and Emma-Ruth Richards - a chamber opera that unravels the experience of young men and women who have been trapped by the terrifying underground world of human trafficking. Developed with the Royal Opera House
  • Calamity/Billy by Théâtre de la Croix-Rousse, Gavin Bryars, Ben Johnston and Michael Ondaatje - a double portrait of two iconic wild west heroes Billy the Kid and Calamity Jane that shows a different and more intimate side to the characters

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Tête à Tête is 20, and the opera festival is 10

Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 10th anniversary report
Amazingly Tête à Tête is 20 this year, and Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival will be celebrating its 10th anniversary too with the 2017 festival which runs from 24 July to 13 August 2017 at Kings Place and The Place. The company has also launched a new website, which has both public areas and an area for artists and opera producers, and has released a report into the company's activities which sheds light on quite how inclusive the company is.

Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival was founded in 2007 and has been hosted in the Kings Cross area since 2014. There have been over 1000 performances and over 400 new shows, quite a statistic. The festival arose out of the company's own lively and ground breaking productions, creating a festival with the intention of giving creators the chance to make shows themselves. Impressively the company's 10th anniversary festival report shows a 50:50 split between male and female producers commissioned to produce new work, plus new shows from transgender artists. BAME artists are there to, with 22% of composers in 2015 coming from minority backgrounds.

As well as developing formal shows Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival introduced the delightful concept of pop-up opera, where three or four different shows would be popping up in the foyers repeatedly during the festival. Providing festival goers with an intimate and up front experience, which was free; over 8 years 36 tiny operas have been commissioned and performed. This expanded into the Cubitt Sessions where last year, the company performed a series of new shows outdoors for whoever wanted to stumble across them and watch.  These attracted huge audiences; the fact that there were no tickets and that people could simply wander past meant that anyone could happen by and be drawn in. The Cubitt Sessions will be back at the 2017 festival.

The new website is aimed at both opera lovers and opera producers. For the opera lover there is plenty of information, including an industry newsletter, and the prospect of interviews with key figures; the first interview is with Daniel Kramer, as well as on-demand videos of new opera. For the opera creator and producer there is an artists area which is aimed at continuing the sort of facilitation which Tête à Tête has been doing, helping potential creators to talk to each other and create new work.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Looking ahead: Rattle-mania and more at the Barbican in 2017/18

LSO with Sir Simon Rattle - photo Ranald Mackechnie
LSO with Sir Simon Rattle - photo Ranald Mackechnie
The Barbican's 2017/18 classical music season is one of enormous diversity. Simon Rattle takes up his post at the London Symphony Orchestra with music from Byrd to Birtwistle, Sakari Oramo conducts all of Sibelius' symphonies, Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking gets its UK premiere with Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen, Iestyn Davies sings the title role in Handel's Rinaldo and the Academy of Ancient Music perform Purcell's King Arthur.

Visitors include the Bavarian State Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of La Scala and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Composers celebrated include Esa-Pekka Salonen, Julian Anderson and Leonard Bernstein. American pianist Jeremy Denk is the artist in residence at Milton Court.

The Barbican is making a big splash for the arrival of Simon Rattle at the London Symphony Orchestra with ten days of concerts under the banner This is Rattle which includes Rattle conducting the LSO in five evening concerts with repertoire ranging from Helen Grime, Harrison Birtwistle, Thomas Adès and Oliver Knussen, through Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust to Stravinsky's ballets, plus a series of composer curated concerts given by musicians from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Britten Sinfonia and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Away from the Rattle-mania, there are plenty of other good things going on.

Joyce DiDonato with Philip Cutlip in Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie at Houston Grand Opera, 2011 - photo Felix Sanchez
Joyce DiDonato with Philip Cutlip in Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie
at Houston Grand Opera, 2011 - photo Felix Sanchez
Bernard Haitink returns to the LSO for concerts not only including Brahms and Beethoven but Thomas Adès too. A celebration of all things Bernstein includes Marin Alsop and Simon Rattle conducting all the symphonies, and Wonderful Town too (albeit in a shortened concert version). Rattle's other concerts include Das Lied von der Erde with Simon O'Neill and Christian Gerhaher (if we must have the baritone version then Gerhaher is probably the only person to bring it off). Michael Tilson Thomas will be conducting the LSO and London Symphony Chorus in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with Joelle Harvey, Sasha Cooke, Toby Spence and Luca Pisaroni. Francois-Xavier Roth will be conducting a series commemorating the centenary of the death of Debussy and at LSO St Lukes there is a day devoted to Debussy's piano music with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet.

All tickets for under-18s at LSO's Barbican concerts will be £5, there is also a new initiative: Half Six Fix – early evening concerts conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, Simon Rattle and François-Xavier Roth, offering an hour of orchestral music at the end of the working day. In 2018, Simon Rattle will direct a performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gruppen in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern.

The Academy of Ancient Music presents a semi staged version of Purcell's King Arthur conducted by Richard Egarr and staged by Daisy Evans, with Louise Alder, Mhairi Lawson, Charles Daniels and Peter Harvey, and other concerts include a programme directed by Pavlo Beznosiuk which explores the English links of the 18th century Italian concerto grosso

Martyn Brabbins conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Birtwistle's Earth Dances and RVW's Sea Symphony with Elizabeth Watts and Marcus Farnsworth. Lili Boulanger's music pops up in a BBC SO concert conducted by Jon Storgards and Sakari Oramo is conducting a full cycle of Sibelius symphonies with the BBC SO. Jospe Pons conducts the orchestra in Granados Goyescos. Joyce DiDonato features as Sister Helen in Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking conducted by Mark Wigglesworth and directed by Leonard Foglia; rather amazingly the works UK premiere and a chance to hear a work which is very popular in the USA.  Sakari Oramo conducts Elgar's Dream of Gerontius with Stuart Skelton, Alice Coote and Alan Ewing.

The BBC Singers are conducted by Peter Dijkstra in a reconstruction of Mendelssohn's version of Bach's St Matthew Passion with Nicolas Mulroy as the Evangelist and Brindley Sherratt as Christus, and the choir gives an all Handel programme conducted by Sofi Jeanin.

The BBC's first Total Immersion day is devoted to Julian Anderson, with a programme of events culminating in Edward Gardner conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in an all Anderson programme with Carolin Widman the soloist in In lieblicher Blaue. And the second is devoted to Esa-Pekka Salonen concluding with Sakari Oramo conducting an all Salonen programme. The final Total Immersion day brings all the Bernstein strands together with a day devoted to his music.

The Britten Sinfonia is joined by Kings College Choir for a programme which pairs Bernstein's Chichester Psalms with RVW's Dona Nobis Pacem and a new work from Emma Ruth Richards. And Britten Sinfonia Voices join the Britten Sinfonia for Stravinsky's Mass conducted by Eamonn Dougann in a programme of Mozart and Stravinsky. Thomas Ades conducts the orchestra in a cycle pairing Beethoven's symphonies with the music of Gerald Barry.

The English Concert, conducted by Harry Bicket, is returning with another Handel opera. This time Iestyn Davies sings the title role in Handel's Rinaldo; Handel's first opera for England and a role which Davies sang very memorably at Glyndebourne in 2014 (see my review).

Solomon's Knot will be performing all of Bach's motets in a Bach Weekend which includes Isabelle Faust and Kristian Bezuidenhout in Bach's Violin Sonatas, the Monteverdi Choir, Jean Rondeau in the Goldberg Variation, Jean-Guihen Queyras in the Cello Suites.

Singcircle, director Gregory Rose will be performing Stockhausen's Stimmung and Cosmic Pulses. Other visitors include Cecilia Bartoli, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Les Talens Lyriques in Francois Couperin, Franco Fagioli and the Venice Baroque Orchestra in Vivaldi and Handel Les Arts Florissants in Monteverdi's Selva morale e spirituale, Jonas Kaufmann, Diana Damrau and Helmut Deutsch in Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch. 

Christopher Purves joins Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo for an all Handel programme, Mark Elder conducts the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle with Robert Hayward. Gustavo Dudamel brings the Los Angeles Phiharmonic for three concerts, performing Varese, Shostakovich, Ted Hearne, Bernstein (Chichester Psalms) and Beethoven.

Full details from the Barbican website though there is so much on offer you might be better off downloading the season brochure (PDF).

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