Monday, 31 July 2017

Who wants to listen to a film producer's music! Melissa Parmenter on composing, playing & film producing

Melissa Parmenter
Melissa Parmenter
Melissa Parmenter has an intriguing career, she studied music at Durham University but has managed to combine this with being a film producer. She was associate producer on Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs (2004) and has produced many of Winterbottom’s films, including all three entries in the critically acclaimed ‘Trip’ trilogy and Winterbottom’s Paul Raymond biopic, The Look of Love. She scored Winterbottom’s Genova and The Killer Inside Me as well as composing and performing solo piano works for several feature films, including Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart and 9 Songs, and Topspot directed by visual artist Tracey Emin (2004). Melissa recently appeared at Daylight Music at the Union Chapel in Islington, performing some of her solo works for piano, and she released a new digital track with cellist Harry Escott to coincide with the gig. In style Melissa's music is part of the new classical movement (see my interview with composer Sven Helbig) which crosses the boundaries between the classical and pop worlds.

Melissa Parmenter
Melissa Parmenter
Melissa studied dance at the London Contemporary Dance School and music at Durham University (She has composed on the piano since she was five, and was in love with film scores including classics by Philip Glass and Michael Nyman.) Leaving university she wanted to work in film music, but was unsure how to get into films as a composer so she decided to get into the film world first and got a job at Revolution Films. The idea being that once there, she would have the opportunity to 'throw a CD at the film editor',  a slightly unconventional yet ultimately successful strategy.

She managed to get some of her piano music onto Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs and onto Tracy Emin's Topspot. She was the line producer for Winterbottom's Genova which means that she was there from beginning to end including the editing, so she offered to do music for the temp track (the temporary music to which the film is edited before the final score is added), and her music simply stayed.

Hiroaki Takenouchi plays Sterndale Bennett and Schumann

Hiroaki Takenouchi - Sterndale Bennett
Sterndale Bennett, Schumann; Hiroaki Takenouchi; Artalinna
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 23 2017
Romantic piano music from an English friend of Schumann

If you play Hiroaki Takenouchi's new CD on Artalinna blind, then the first work on the disc presents an interesting challenge. The second work is Schumann's Symphonic Studies, but what is the first work, an extended lyrical almost Schumann-esque sonata? There is also a pleasing melodic quality to the piece, not salon music but there is a sense of melodic charm. In fact, it is the Sonata Op.13 by William Sterndale Bennett.

William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) is one of the great missed opportunities of 19th century British music. Between 1836 and 1842 (from the age of 20 to 32), Bennett travelled extensively to Leipzig, spent a lot of time there and knew Mendelssohn and Schumann. He admired both, and the feeling seems to have been mutual and he performed his own music there (as well as organising the first cricket match ever played in Germany). But despite this, Bennett ultimately returned home and took a safe job as the principal of the Royal Academy of Music. He would continue composing, sporadically, but his later works lack the brilliance and innovation of his earlier ones and his style never really developed.

I have long been familiar with Bennett's piano concertos (Bennett was the soloist in the third with Mendelssohn conducting at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig in the 1836/37 season), but am new to Bennett's piano music.

Biggest ever BREMF

Rory Carver, who sings the title role in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at BREMF 2017
Rory Carver, who sings the title role
in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at BREMF 2017
This year's Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) will be the biggest ever with over 30 events across Brighton and Hove from 27 October to 12 November 2017. The over-arching theme of the festival being Roots, looking at the tangled origins of classical music from the roots of polyphony in Plainchant, the development of opera, to the genesis of oratorio.

Flagship events include two opera productions, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and Rameau's Pygmalion charting the development of opera from its roots to the 18th century. And the development of oratorio is represented by performances of Carissimi's Jephte and Bach's Christmas Oratorio

The festival is known for its championing of young performers, especially its Early Music Live! scheme for emerging ensembles, and many of the groups performing this year have previously taken part in Early Music Live! including the Consone String Quartet, Ensemble Molière, The Askew Sisters, Ensemble Hesperi, Musica Poetica, Ensemble Tempus Fugit, Chelys Consort of Viols and the Little Baroque Company. This year's Early Music Live! participants will be presenting their work at a special showcase at the festival on 4 November 2017. Two concerts from the festival will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast on the Early Music Show.

Monteverdi's L'Orfeo will be staged at The Old Market in Hove, in a new production by Thomas Guthrie featuring a cast of specially auditioned young singers headed by tenor Rory Carver as Orfeo. Rameau's Pygmalion receives a new staging by Karolina Sofulak in collaboration with baroque group Ensemble Molière.

Another feature of the festival is its own ensembles, ranging from the BREMF Consort to the BREMF Community Choir. Events include the BREMF Consort and Lacock Scholars, directed by Deborah Roberts and Greg Skidmore, in a programme tracing the roots of polyphony in early plainchant culminating in a performance of Tallis's Spem in alium, and the BREMF Singers and BREMF Players in Bach's Christmas Oratorio directed by Alison Bury and John Hancorn with soloists Hannah Ely, Rebecca Leggett, Hugo Hymas and Simon Wallfisch.  The festival opens with Orpheus Caledonius an exploration of the traditional music of 18th century Scotland where L'Avventura London, the Old Blind Dogs and Siobhan Miller are joined by the BREMF Community Choir.

Full details from the BREMF website.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Amazing line-up, wonderful evening: A serenade to music at Wigmore Hall

The nineteen performers of Wigmore Hall's A Serenade to Music back-stage after the concert
The nineteen performers of Wigmore Hall's A Serenade to Music back-stage after the concert
Schubert, Purcell/Tippett & Bergmann, Croft/Britten, Purcell/Britten, Chabrier, RVW; Elizabeth Watts, Mary Bevan, Eleanor Dennis, Milly Forrest, Gemma Summerfield, Tara Erraught, Anna Huntley, Kathryn Rudge, Kitty Whately, Benjamin Hulett, Nick Pritchard, Nicky Spence, Robin Tritschler, Benjamin Appl, Marcus Farnsworth, Gavan Ring, Milan Siljanov, Eugene Asti, Graham Johnson; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 29 2017
Star rating: 5.0

Seventeen singers, and two pianists in a magical evening which moved from Schubert's solo songs to RVW's serenade with some intriguing rarities on the way

The Wigmore Hall closed its 2016/17 season with a concert of delightful improbability, seventeen solo singers and two pianists in a programme which moved from rare Schubert, through Purcell and William Croft realised/arranged by Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett and Walter Bergmann, to Chabrier and RVW. The culmination of the programme was RVW's Serenade to Music performed by sopranos Mary Bevan, Eleanor Dennis, Milly Forrest & Gemma Summerfield, mezzo-sopranos Tara Erraught, Anna Huntley, Kathryn Rudge & Kitty Whately, tenors Benjamin Hulett, Nick Pritchard, Nicky Spence & Robin Tritschler, baritones Benjamin Appl, Marcus Farnsworth & Gavan Ring, and bass-baritone Milan Siljanov with pianists Graham Johnson and Eugene Asti. Milly Forrest replaced the ailing Ruby Hughes; as well as studying at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music, Forrest is also a member of the Wigmore Hall's front of house staff.

The first half of the programme was a sequence of rare and unusual Schubert songs and part-songs, some relatively recently discovered and others unfinished, ending with Schubert's Handelian cantata Mirjams Siegesgesang for soprano solo (Elizabeth Watts), choir and two pianos, and Schubert's Kantate für Irene Kiesewetter. Elizabeth Watts was also the soloist in Emmanuel Chabrier's Ode à la musique for soprano solo, female chorus and two pianos, in a second half devoted to songs about the muse of music. It was a carefully organised (each of the sixteen singers in the RVW had a solo song in the programme), and remarkably satisfying evening.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Ability to surprise: premiere of Julian Anderson's piano concerto at the BBC Proms

Steven Osborne (Photo by Eric Richmond)
Steven Osborne
(Photo by Eric Richmond)
Julian Anderson The Imaginary Museum; Steven Osborne, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Jill Barlow on Jul 26 2017
Star rating: 4.0

One cannot but admire the ingenuity of this strikingly innovative composer as well as his impressive sonorities and masterly contrasts and pure ability to surprise

‘I don’t always know how a new piece is going to end’, proclaimed composer Julian Anderson when discussing how he approached composing his new piano concerto with BBC presenter Kate Molleson on the occasion of the world premiere of The Imaginary Museum his innovative concerto for piano and orchestra. The concerto was premiered by pianist Steven Osborne with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Ilan Volkov at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on 26 July 2017.

Indeed right from start to finish it was full of ‘non-sequiturs’ so much so that after experiencing it first live at its Proms premiere I was glad to be able to ‘Listen again’(twice in fact) on BBC’s handy ‘Listen Live ‘catchup ‘to try to sort out what was going on and even then mystery lurked, which was no doubt the composer’s intention all along.

Engaging rarity: Verdi's Un giorno di regno in Heidenheim

Verdi: Un giorno di regno - Heidenheim Opera Festival (Photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi: Un giorno di regno - Heidenheim Opera Festival (Photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi Un giorno di regno; Gocha Abuladze, Davide Fersini, Michaela Maria Mayer, Elisabeth Jansson, Giuseppe Talamo, David Steffens, dir: Barbora Horakova Joly, Cappella Aquileia, cond: Marcus Bosch; Heidenheim Opera Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 27 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A rare outing for Verdi's second opera in an engagingly lively production

Michaela Maria Mayer, David Fersini - Verdi: Un giorno di regno - Heidenheim Opera Festival (Photo Oliver Vogel)
Michaela Maria Mayer, David Fersini
(Photo Oliver Vogel)
Last year the Heidenheim Opera Festival (Opernfestpiele Heidenheim) started a project to perform Verdi's early operas in chronological order. So having performed and recorded Oberto last year (see my CD review), it was the turn of Un giorno di regno this year. Directed by Barbora Horvakova Joly with designs by Eva-Maria van Acker, the production featured Gocha Abuladze, Davide Fersini, Michaela Maria Mayer, Elisabeth Jansson, Giuseppe Talamo, David Steffens, Leon de la Guardia and Daniel Dropulja. Marcus Bosch (artistic director of the festival) conducted the Cappella Aquileia, the festival's own orchestra, and the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno.

The success of Verdi's first opera, Oberto led to a three-opera contract with la Scala, Milan. The first opera was to be a comedy, on a libretto by Felice Romani, Un giorno di regno, which premiered in 1840. For the commission Verdi was required to choose an existing libretto, the one he selected dated from 1818 and Verdi simply regarded it as the least bad.

The period 1838-1840 was a bad one for Verdi, his wife and children died and Un giorno di regno failed to please (though it did reasonably at subsequent revivals). He threatened to give up composition but the impresario persuaded him and the result was Nabucco. The rest, as they say, is history; but Verdi wrote no more comedy until his last opera Falstaff (1893), and nursed a long-standing grudge against the audience at La Scala.

So what of Un giorno di regno?

Friday, 28 July 2017

Musical moves: from Sinfonia Cymru to Manchester Camerata

James Thomas
James Thomas
The Manchester Camerata, music director Gábor Takács-Nagy, has announced that its new head of artistic development and programming will be James Thomas. James was formerly general manager of Sinfonia Cymru, another of the UK's innovative and lively non-London-based ensembles. Sinfonia Cymru won the Cardiff Life Award for Outstanding Art Organisation in March 2017, and James' projects with the ensemble included leading the innovative Curate initiative where the musicians developed and programmed their own ideas.

James joins the Manchester Camerata at the end of July 2017. The orchestra opens its 2017/18 season on 1 September with a concert featuring Pinchas Zukerman. Manchester Camerata has had a busy and successful year with a recent office move to Old Granada Studios, award wins including ABO Orchestra Manager of the Year and UK Ensemble of the Year (RPS Music Awards), and opening the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury with Hacienda Classical

Outdoor-indoor: Der fliegende Holländer in Heidenheim

Antonio Yang, Inga-Britt Andersson - Wagner: Der fliegende Höllander - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Antonio Yang, Inga-Britt Andersson - Wagner: Der fliegende Höllander
Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Wagner Der fliegende Holländer; Antonio Yang, Inga-Britt Andersson, Randall Jakobsh, Vincent Wolfsteiner, dir: Georg Schmiedleitner, Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra, cond: Marcus Bosch; Heidenheim Opera Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 26 2017
Star rating: 4.0
Clear and direct modern-dress production illuminated by a remarkable account of the title role

Antonio Yang, Inga-Britt Andersson - Wagner: Der fliegende Höllander - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Antonio Yang, Inga-Britt Andersson
(photo Oliver Vogel)
The Heidenheim Opera Festival is an annual festival based in the Swabian town of Heidenheim an der Brenz. The festival has existed for over 50 years but has been revitalised in the last few years with the appointment as artistic director of conductor Marcus Bosch (general music director of the Nuremberg State Opera and Nuremberg State Philharmonic Orchestra). Last year, with its production of Verdi's Oberto (see my review of the associated recording) the festival started a Verdi project and showed that it can certainly punch above its weight. The festival currently does two main opera productions, one in the theatre in the modern congress centre, and one outside in the ruins of the castle high on the cliff above the town.

We caught the performance of a new production of Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer on Wednesday 26 July 2017. This was supposed to be out of doors in the castle, but bad weather forced the transfer of the production to the theatre, something which happened perfectly seamlessly (tickets have both indoor and outdoor seat numbers). The theatre is a modern multi-function space in the congress centre, and rather reminded us of Saffron Hall in the way it combined a basic theatre with multi-function uses, in an admirably lively and not unflattering acoustic.

Marcus Bosch conducted the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra (resident at the festival). The production was directed by Georg Schmiedleitner (director of the production of Wagner's Ring Cycle at Nuremberg State Opera in 2013-2015), with sets by Stefan Brandtmayr, costumes by Cornelia Kraske, and lighting by Hartmut Litzinger. Randall Jakobsh was Daland, Inga-Britt Andersson was Senta, Vincent Wolfsteiner was Erik, Melanie Forgeron was Mary, Martin Platz was the steersman and Antonio Yang was the Dutchman, with the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno providing the chorus.

Being designed for out-door performance, the production was scenically straight-forward with black plastic sheeting for Act One and, following an interval, plywood staging for Acts Two and Three. Georg Schmiedleitner's production made imaginative use of the auditorium, with Antonio Yang's Dutchman and his henchmen performing most of Act One in the auditorium, thus keeping a nice division from Daland (Randall Jakobsh) and his crew on-stage.

Wagner: Der fliegende Höllander - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Wagner: Der fliegende Höllander on Heidenheim Opera Festival's out-door stage (photo Oliver Vogel)
In fact, the production started before the first note of the overture as the Dutchman's henchmen (four actors dressed all in black) strode threateningly through the audience in the foyer. The production was modern dress, and though there were unusual touches the personen-regie was relatively traditional. I thought that it was an interesting touch to have a love scene between the Dutchman and Senta visible during the opening scenes of Act Three and at the end of these scenes, the Dutchman's henchmen led the women of the chorus off, pied-piper-like, an intriguing development which was not really followed up in the production.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Mind Music - supporting Parkinson's Disease charities

Mind Music - Northern Chamber Orchestra/Stephen Barlow - Divine Art
Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, John Adams, Kevin Malone; Elizabeth Jordan, Lynsey Marsh, Northern Chamber Orchestra, Stephen Barlow; Divine Art
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 18 2017
Star rating: 4.0

An imaginative programme, engagingly played and supporting Parkinson's disease charities

This disc is the culmination of a project, conceived by clarinettists Lynsey Marsh and Elizabeth Jordan after each lost a parent to complications with Parkinson's Disease. A concert in 2016 raised funds for Parkinson's UK and the musicians then went into the studio to make this disc, all proceeds from the sale of this recording will be donated to Parkinson's Disease charities.

Mind Music on the Divine Art label, presents four pieces all with links to neuro-degenerative conditions. Some of the links are slightly tenuous, but overall it makes for a striking and unusual programme: Felix Mendelssohn's Concert Piece No. 1 in F major Op.113 for clarinet, basset horn and orchestra, Richard Strauss's  Sonatina No. 1 for Wind instruments in F major, AV 135 "From an Invalid's Workshop", John Adams' Gnarly Buttons and Kevin Malone's The Last Memory. The performers are Elizabeth Jordan (clarinet/basset horn), Lynsey Marsh (clarinet), Northern Chamber Orchestra, conductor Stephen Barlow. Barlow is the artistic director of the Buxton Festival where the Northern Chamber Orchestra is the orchestra in residence, he conducts the Strauss and the Adams whilst Lynsey Marsh directs the Mendelssohn from the clarinet.

Mendelssohn's Concert Piece Op.113 was written in 1833 for the father and son clarinettists, Heinrich and Carl Baerman, supposedly in return for them preparing Bavarian culinary classics for Mendelssohn when they visited Berlin. It is a relatively short piece, and evidently the Baerman's did a lot of editing but all concerned were happy and Mendelssohn went on to write his opus 114 for them as well. The opening Allegro con fuoco combines a rather dramatic recitative with a charming Allegro in a manner which recalls Carl Maria von Weber (whose clarinet concertos were written for Baerman senior). The second movement Andante is a rather Bellini-esque duet, the two instruments undulating in parallel over a simple accompaniment, and both Bellini and Weber seem to hover over the perky, up-tempo final movement which ends with a wonderful fart-y low note for the bassett horn. It is a lovely piece and I don't understand why it is not better known. The terrific solo parts are played with wit and charm by Jordan and Marsh.

Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra at Hellenic Festival

Bruno Campo & Etienne Abelin rehearsing the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra in Milan 2015 © Marco Caselli Nirmal
Bruno Campo & Etienne Abelin rehearsing the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra in Milan 2015 © Marco Caselli Nirmal
On Tuesday 1 August 2017, more than 250 young musicians aged ten to twenty will perform on-stage at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens as part of the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra's concert to close this year's Hellenic Festival (Athens and Epidaurus Festival) in Athens.

The performance is the culmination of the Sistema Europe Summer Residency, which brings together young people and teachers from 16 countries with Sistema and Sistema-inspired programmes for 'social change through music'. All rehearsals are hosted at the Athens Conservatoire, which supports the project.

Conducting the orchestra will be renowned personalities associated with the El Sistema movement: Bruno Campo and Samuel Matus (Guatemala / Austria / Turkey), Etienne Abelin (Switzerland), Juan Carlos Maggiorani, Félix Briceño and Ron Davis Álvarez (Venezuela , Portugal, Turkey / Sweden), and Faidra Giannelou (Greece). The French-Greek composer Alexandros Markeas has written a new piece for the occasion, Taxidi (meaning 'A journey').

Full details from the festival website.

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.

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