Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Handel Remixed: a contemporary take on Baroque classics at the London Handel Festival

Handel Re-mixed
Different generations have always treated Handel's music to re-mixes and new versions, just think of Mozart's Messiah, Mendelssohn's Israel in Egypt or the large scale orchestral versions of Messiah from the late 19th century.

Festival Voices is a young choral group interested in making bold, collaborative choral music, performing to new audiences in unexpected venues, and the group's latest project, Handel Remixed, is being given as part of the London Handel Festival. They will give festival goers the chance to hear Handel's music in a new and distinctive way, remixed for a contemporary audience.

The centrepiece of the event is a performance of Handel's Dixit Dominus in a new version reimagined live with electronic dance music performed in collaboration with Nico Bentley and the Pencil Collective who will be joining the fourteen singers of Festival Voices and a baroque ensemble. The programme also will include music from Handel's Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne HMV74 and 'Lascia ch'io pianga' from Rinaldo.

The venue is also a new one for the festival, the CLF Art Cafe in Peckham.

Full details from the London Handel Festival website.

Dance Maze: new chamber music by Tom Armstrong on Resonus Classics

Dance Maze - Tom Armstrong - Resonus Classics
Dance Maze chamber music by Tom Armstrong; Simon Desbruslais, Jakob Fichert, Nicola Meecham, Audrew Riley, James Woodrow, Fidelio Trio; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 March 2019 
Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Revision and re-working is the key to this fascinating collection of chamber music from contemporary British composer

This disc from Resonus Classics is an intriguing selection of the recent chamber music by the contemporary British composer Thomas Armstrong. Performed by Simon Desbruslais (trumpet), Jakob Fichert (piano), Nicola Meecham (piano), Audrey Riley (cello), James Woodrow (electric guitar) and the Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan, Robin Michael, Mary Dullea), we have six pieces which span a remarkable range of Armstrong's career.

The selection of pieces presents a remarkable example of Armstrong's technique as each piece is part of a process of revision which seems to be an ongoing part of Armstrong's compositional process. Some are replacements, though it seems that Armstrong is keeping the original versions as a separate revisional layer, whilst others create parallel versions often changing structure and instrumentation, a duet for electric guitar and harpsichord being re-written for piano trio.

In the cast of the piano suite, Morning Music (2012-2015), the smaller movements are in fact re-workings and re-visitings of the material used to create the longest movement, 'Aubade'. In Divertissements for piano trio (2009) we are hearing the revision of the original electric guitar and harpsichord.  And with Diversions 3 for electric guitar and cello, we also have a significant re-working of original material. And then we have Dance Maze in which we are presented with two versions, the original for piano which was written in 1994 and has itself been revised, and then the revised version for trumpet and piano from 2016-17 (and on the download, there is a version for trumpet only as well). The final work on the disc Akin is not strictly a revision, or reworking, but is inflected by previous material.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Walk within a symphony: Southbank Sinfonia invites you to experience Beethoven's Eroica Symphony from the inside

Southbank Sinfonia
Southbank Sinfonia's #ConcertLab series aims to explore how we might experience concerts differently, and the series arose in 2016 out of the orchestra's own experiences performing on stage as part of the National Theatre's production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus.

On Wednesday 27 March 2019 the orchestra is once again abandoning the concert hall, but this time giving the audience a chance to join it in an immersive experience. Under conductor Lee Reynolds they will be performing Beethoven's ground-breaking Symphony No. 3 'Eroica' at Oval Space, Bethnal Green, E2 9DT and instead of being en bloc with the audience members looking on, the players will be dotted around the space and audience members will be able to wander around between the players. This will give people the unusual experience of hearing the symphony from the inside, creating a fully immersive performance.

A further perspective will be given via Beethoven's letters, interpreted by actor Anton Lesser (also BSL interpreted) to bring out the turblent nature of Beethoven's genius.

After the main performance the bar stays open and there is more live music!

Full details from Southbank Sinfonia's website.

The road not taken: Boito's Mefistofele makes a rare London appearance with Chelsea Opera Group in terrific form

Boito: Mefistofele - Vazgen Gazaryan - Chelsea Opera Group (photo Robert Workman)
Boito: Mefistofele - Vazgen Gazaryan
Chelsea Opera Group (photo Robert Workman)
Boito Mefistofele; Vazgen Gazaryan, Elizabeth Llewellyn, Pablo Bemsch, Chelsea Opera Group, Matthew Scott Rogers; Queen Elizabeth Hall  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 
Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A rare opportunity to hear this important work, in a performance full of drama and vivid singing

It is 20 years since an opera company performed Boito's Mefistofele in London (my thanks to colleagues on Twitter for confirming that the Royal Opera gave a concert performance in 1998 and English National Opera staged it in 1999), which seems a long gap for such a significant work in Italian operatic history. Created by a young Turk intent on reforming Italian opera [Boito was 26 when it premiered in 1868], Meftistofele was a failure at first and despite later success its composer is now best known as the librettist of Verdi's final two masterpieces.

So it was grateful thanks to Chelsea Opera Group for giving us the chance to hear Boito's Mefistofele again at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall on 24 March 2019 when Matthew Scott Rogers conducted a concert performance with Vazgen Gazaryan as Mefistofele, Pablo Bemsch as Faust, Elizabeth Llewellyn as Margherita and Elena, Angharad Lyddon as Marta and Pantalis, and Aaron Godfrey-Mayes as Wagner and Nereo.

Boito: Mefistofele - Elizabeth Llewellyn - Chelsea Opera Group (photo Robert Workman)
Boito: Mefistofele - Elizabeth Llewellyn
Chelsea Opera Group (photo Robert Workman)
Boito's libretto attempts to do some sort of justice to the protean nature of Goethe's original, so that instead of concentrating on the story of Faust and Marguerite, as did Gounod and his librettists, here we have a prologue in Heaven, episodes of a witches Sabbath and Helen of Troy, in addition to Faust and Margherita.

The opera was given in Boito's revised 1881 version which trimmed it in length, in the original, far too long, 1868 version there was an additional episode at the court of the Emperor. The result is to make various pieces of the work seems somewhat disparate, and perhaps the work does not quite succeed. But there are some astonishing moments, particularly the prologue in heaven, which seems to see Boito the composer rather channelling Berlioz. Boito's revisions introduced more set pieces into the work, but you can still detect a wish to convey drama through expressive arioso-like dialogue, though I thought the the grand sing-along finale to the work seemed to resort rather to conventionality.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Late romantic journeys: opera by Ravel & Tchaikovsky in a highly satisfying double bill from Royal Academy Opera

Ravel: L'enfant et les sortileges - Olivia Warburton - Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
The child and the dragonflies - Ravel: L'enfant et les sortileges - Olivia Warburton
Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Tchaikovsky Iolanta, Ravel L'enfant et les sortileges;
Royal Academy Opera, dir: Oliver Platt, cond: Gareth Hancock; Royal Academy of Music

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 March 2019
A slightly unlikely but highly satisfying double bill, with superbly engaging performances

Whilst Ravel's opera L'enfant et les sortileges, with its libretto by Colette is not strictly a fairy tale it certainly has that combination of magic, morality and didacticism which is typical of a such tales. And, as such, it made quite a neat pairing with Tchaikovsky's problematical opera Iolanta at Royal Academy Opera's double bill. Both are 'not quite fairy-tales' (Iolanta is based on a Romantic Danish play), and in both the protagonist undergoes a metaphysical journey. And in each opera, the fairy-tale aspect of the piece puts the more disquieting elements of violence and control at one remove.

Tchaikovsky: Iolanta - Claire Tunney, Robert Forrest - Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Tchaikovsky: Iolanta - Claire Tunney, Robert Forrest
Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
We caught the final performance of the run, on Friday 22 March 2019 in the Royal Academy of Music's Susie Sainsbury Theatre. Both operas in the double bill were directed by Oliver Platt and conducted by Gareth Hancock, with designs by Alyson Cummins, lighting by Jake Wiltshire, puppetry & movement by Emma Brunton. For Tchaikovsky's Iolanta we saw the alternate cast, with Clare Tunney as Iolanta, Robert Forrest as Vaudemont, Ossian Huskinson as King Rene, Paul Grant as Robert and Robert Garland as Ibn-Hakia, plus Hazel Neighbour, Frances Gregory, Stephanie Wake-Edwards and Connor Baiano. For Ravel's L'enfant et les sortileges, Olivia Warburton was the child, with Alexandra Oomens, Lina Dambrauskaite, Ryan Williams, Tabitha Reynolds, Hanna Poulsom, Aimee Fisk, Gabriele Kupsyte, James Geidt and Will Pate.

Tchaikovsky's opera is a strange piece, King Rene's urge for total control of his daughter is disturbing, yet the character is sympathetically depicted in his concern for his daughter. Vaudemont's sudden appearance and immediate falling in love with Iolanta lacks the psychological depth of Tchaikovsky's other operas and perhaps it is significant that the composer started Iolanta after the intense labours of The Queen of Spades. What makes the opera work is the way Tchaikovsky depicts his heroine and her spiritual journey, and here you wonder whether blindness was standing stead for a number of other complex concerns in Tchaikovsky's own life.

Clare Tunney, whose roles have already included Fiordiligi (Cosi fan tutte) and Lady Billows (Albert Herring), has a substantial voice and was well able to support the role's requirement to produce endless streams of richly lyrical music (the first Iolanta was also the first Lisa in The Queen of Spades). But she also has an interesting voice, and really made you care about the character. This is important, as it is sometimes difficult to feel that Iolanta matters very much, yet here Tunney gripped us and made us really care for her plight.

As Vaudemont, Robert Forrest did not have quite the lyrical expansiveness in his voice as Tunney and when matching her in Tchaikovsky's glorious duet (the part of the opera Tchaikovsky wrote first) I sometimes felt Forrest pushed a little too much. His is a lithe, rather high tension voice with a lot of potential and here he committed himself with great intensity to this slightly problematical role. The sheer intenseness which he brought to it made it work.

Tchaikovsky: Iolanta - Joseph Buckmaster, Paul Grant, Robert Forrest - Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Tchaikovsky: Iolanta - Joseph Buckmaster, Paul Grant, Robert Forrest - Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Known for her performances of contemporary music, Clare Hammond's latest project includes the premiere of a different kind, a concerto by 18th century composer Josef Myslivecek

Clare Hammond, Nicholas McGegan & Swedish Chamber Orchestra (Photo © Ulla-Carin Ekblom)
Clare Hammond, Nicholas McGegan & Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Recording sessions for Josef Myslivecek concertos (Photo © Ulla-Carin Ekblom)
Pianist Clare Hammond is perhaps best known for her performances of contemporary repertoire, and composers such as Kenneth Hesketh have written pieces especially for her. That her latest disc includes a world premiere recording is no surprise, but that the composer was born in the 18th century perhaps might seem surprising.

Clare Hammond (Photo © Ulla-Carin Ekblom)
Clare Hammond (Photo © Ulla-Carin Ekblom)
But Clare is very passionate about the music of the Czech composer Josef Myslivecek, an older contemporary and friend of Mozart's and a great influence on the younger composer. Clare's latest disc, on BIS, presents Myslivicek's complete music for keyboard, both the solo pieces and the two piano concertos with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas McGegan. I recently met up with Clare for coffee to find out more about her relationship with Myslivecek and his music.

Clare was first introduced to Myslivecek's music by flautist Ana de la Vega (who has just recorded Myslivecek's flute concerto with the English Chamber Orchestra). Clare and Ana de la Vega played together years ago, and the flautist mentioned to Clare that there was a Myslivececk keyboard concerto which had not been published. Intrigued, Clare investigated further and found that there were two surviving keyboard concertos both in the Bibliotheque Nationale in France; one having been published in the 1960s.

So Clare seized the opportunity and typeset the two concertos and looked for performances. The result was a tour of Poland in 2016 which, at the time, was thought to be the modern-day premiere of the first concerto but subsequently a performance from the 1970s came to light. Clare has worked with the Swedish record company BIS a lot, and they were interested in a Myslivecek disc and introduced Clare to the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and conductor Nicholas McGegan. The orchestra plays on modern instruments but has a lot of experience in historically informed performance (HIP) practice, and Nicholas McGegan was very helpful with regard to the edition of the music. Clare admits to not having a great deal of experience in HIP and McGegan helped guide her through.

Clare did experiment with performing the music on a forte piano, but the playing technique was so different to that used on the modern-day pianos on which she trained, that she decided to concentrate on using a modern piano.

So why is Myslivecek's music so little known to modern day audiences?

Friday, 22 March 2019

The French 20th century saxophone: Tableaux de Provence from Dominic Childs & Simon Callaghan

Tableaux de Provence - Childs, Callaghan - Resonus
Debussy, Decruck, Maurice, Borne Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 March 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A recital which highlights the French love affair with the saxophone in the 20th century

The French composers of the late 19th and 20th centuries seem to have had an affinity with the saxophone. On this new disc from saxophonist Dominic Childs and pianist Simon Callaghan on Resonus Classics we have works by Debussy, Fernande Decruck, Paule Maurice and Francois Borne.

Quite how much of Debussy's Rhapsodie for saxophone and piano is by Debussy is anyone's guess. It was commissioned by the redoubtable Elise Hall, an American who took to the saxophone and commissioned composers accordingly. Debussy worked on his Rhapsodie for eight years and never really finished it, when he died he apparently left an orchestral sketch, and it was the composer Jean Roger-Ducasse who tidied things up. The version performed on this disc is revised by Vincent David.

It is a poetic and fluid piece that makes the most of the saxophone's liquid tones. Much of it is quietly evocative and mysterious, flowing between sections until building up quite a head of steam at the end. There is lovely interaction between Childs and Callaghan, with Callaghan making poetry of the piano part, letting you forget it may have started life as a piano reduction of the orchestral score.

Song in the South-West: looking forward to the 2019 Devon Song Festival

The Devon Song Festival was started by Devon-raised pianist Natalie Burch to create opportunities for live performance of song in the South West. This year over the weekend of 30 & 31 March 2019 there are recitals from young artists and a masterclass from the festival's patron, Sarah Walker. 

The young artists featured in the programmes include Rowan Pierce who won the inaugural Grange Festival Singing Competition and recently made her ENO debut as Papagena in Mozart's The Magic Flute, and James Newby who is a BBC New Generation Artist and winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 2016.

[James Newby will be performing my Rowan Williams' setting Winter Journey as part of the Robert Hugill in Focus event on Sunday 5 May at Conway Hall.]

The opening concert Songs of the Sea features a quartet of young artists, soprano Rowan Pierce, mezzo-soprano Felicity Turner, tenor James Way and pianist Natalie Burch in a programme celebrating songs to do with the sea, including music by Schubert, Stanford and Sondheim, at St Margaret's Church, Topsham. Then on the Sunday, James Newby and Natalie Burch will be performing Schubert's song cycle Die schone Mullerin at Stover School.

The Estuary League of Friends are able to provide transport to concerts which are then free of charge to those who might not otherwise be able to attend.

Full details from the festival website.

Man, myth and magic: how story telling has come back into opera

Gavin Higgins: The Monstrous Child - the gods in Asgard - Royal Opera (© ROH | Stephen Cummiskey)
Gavin Higgins: The Monstrous Child - the gods in Asgard - Royal Opera (© ROH | Stephen Cummiskey)
Perhaps it was John Adams and his opera Nixon in China (which premiered in 1987) who showed that story telling was still acceptable in contemporary opera; the idea of straightforward narrative with beginning, middle and end. But Adams based his opera on historical events, though the piece is very much about the creation of a modern myth. With the notable exception of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, the idea of using traditional myths, fairy-tales or folk tales as an operatic source was not something that featured that much late 20th century opera.

Noah Mosley: Aurora - Andrew Tipple - Bury Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Noah Mosley: Aurora - Andrew Tipple
Bury Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Yet last month, I attended three new operas by young composers, one based on myth, one on fairytale and one on folk tale, demonstrating that these rich sources of inspiration had returned to more regular use in the creation of new opera.

In the 19th century, folk tale, fairy tale and myth were common currency of the opera libretto, Composers such as Weber and Marschner established the new German romantic opera based very much on German folk tales and fairy tales, and Wagner developed this, creating his own very personal mythology based on folk tale and myth.

Wagner's success gave rise to generations of emulators, all by and large failed to achieve what he did. Few now remember Reyer's Sigurd though Chausson's Le roi Arthus gets an occasional outing, but Albeniz's Merlin remained buried for decades. One composer stands out from this post-Wagner crowd, Engelbert Humperdinck whose fairy tale opera Hansel and Gretel manages to be Wagnerian in construction, yet delightful and light in touch. Fairy-tale opera developed into quite a late 19th and early 20th century genre, Humperdinck would write a number and his pupil, Siegfried Wagner (Richard's son) did too.

Over in England Rutland Boughton mined Celtic myth for popular hits like The Immortal Hour (which created something of a record by running for 216 consecutive performances at its London premiere in 1922) and Stanford's final opera The Travelling Companion used a Hans Christian Anderson tale [see my review of New Sussex Opera's recent revival].

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Get to know the composer of War Horse: Inside the Creative Process with Adrian Sutton

National Theatre production of War Horse (Photo  Brinkhoff/Mögenburg)
National Theatre production of War Horse (Photo  Brinkhoff/Mögenburg)
The composer Adrian Sutton is perhaps best known for his music for the play War Horse, but he has a string of other credits as well [see my interview with Adrian]. 

Adrian Sutton (photo Matthew Gough)
Adrian Sutton (photo Matthew Gough)
He trained at Godsmiths, University of London and is returning there on Thursday 27 March 2019 for a workshop/masterclass Inside the Creative Process with Adrian Sutton in which Adrian will be discussing his varied career as a composer with Professor Mark d’Inverno, talking about the diverse range of skills and knowledge needed, and the challenges and rewards of the creative process, giving insights into what he has learned about the mechanisms of his own creativity and that of others, and what he continues to learn.

His best-known are scores are those for the National Theatre's productions War Horse, Angels in America, Coram Boy and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which have gained him Olivier and/or Tony nominations and in the case of the latter, a joint Olivier Award for Sound Design in 2013. Away from theatre and the studio, his output includes orchestral and chamber works, among them War Horse – The Story in Concert (for orchestra, chorus and narrators) the symphonic poem War Horse Suite, A Fist Full of Fives performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Radio 3, a children's concert opera The Griffin and the Grail, a Sinfonietta for small orchestra, and a Double Piano Sonata.

Full details from the Goldsmiths website.

Into the harem and beyond: the richness & exoticism of the music of Fazil Say

1001 Nights in the Harem
Fazil Say Violin concerto 1001 nights in the harem; Iskandar Widjaja, Iraz Yildiz, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Howard Griffiths; Sony Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Seductive exoticism and a rich tonal palate, the music of Turkish composer Fazil Say

This disc of music by the Turkish composer Fazil Say owes its origins to the Orpheum Foundation for the Advancement of Young Soloists, and its programme to provide young soloists with their first experience of the recording studio.

Howard Griffiths, artistic director of the Orpheum Foundation, conducts the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra in Say's violin concerto 1001 Nights in the Harem, with violinst Iskandar Widjaja, Grand Bazaar rhapsody for orchestra, and China Rhapsody for piano and orchestra with pianist Iraz Yildiz. Say's orchestration includes a number of Turkish percussion instruments, including the Kuldüm drum, played by Aykut Köseleri.

The violin concerto, inspired by Sheherezade and the 1001 Nights, was premiered in 2007 by Patricia Kopatchinskaya. The concerto doesn't so much tell a story as first of all introduces us to the inhabitants of the harem and then evoke an atmosphere.

The first movement starts with just violin and drum, before the full orchestra joins in. Say combines Turkish melodic fragments with rich and complex harmonies, yet there are also poetic moments for the violin alone. The richness of the palate rather reminds me of Rimsky Korsakov, yet clearly more modern folk-inspired composers like Enescu and Bartok are there too. The Turkish melodic and harmonic influences are central to the piece, not just window dressing. The second movement starts as a fast furious dance with lots of drums and giving us some exciting furious fingerwork from Iksander Widjaja. The third movement is quietly evocative with night-music type sounds in the orchestra, and even when a gentle dance starts we hear the night in the background.

Another composer that I though of when listening to this was Korngold for the combination of exoticism, lyricism and heart on sleeve romanticism and yet here with added spice. The finale is extraordinarily spare, virtually violin and percussion alone at first, then the violin providing birdsong over a Turkish theme in the orchestra. The soloist Iskandar Widjaja is the son of Arab/Dutch and Chinese/Indonesian parents. He trained at the Hanns Eisler University of Music Berlin.

Fazil Say's love of colour and richness of tonal palate really comes over in the orchestral rhapsody, Grand Bazaar from 2015/16, a collage of sounds and influences which receives a vivid and exciting performance. This continues with the final work on the disc, China Rhapsody for piano and orchestra. This creates a positively cinematic picture with harmonies, timbres and melodic fragments inspired by China woven in. The result is the sort of cross-polinating rhapsody of which 19th century composers were fond, but the embedding of Chinese melodies and harmonies in a Western-style orchestration by a Western-trained Turkish composer was a combination which did worry me somewhat.

There is much to enjoy on this disc from the colour and imagination of Fazil Say's music to the fine performances from the young soloists.

Fazil Say (born 1970) - Violin concerto 1001 nights in the harem, op. 25 (2007)
Fazil Say - Grand Bazaar, rhapsody for orchestra op. 65 (2015/16)
Fazil Say - China Rhapsody for piano and orchestra op.69 (2016)
Iskandar Widjaja (violin)
Iraz Yildiz (piano)
Aykut Köseleri (percussion)
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Howard Griffiths (conductor)
Recorded 21-24 August 2017, ORF Funkhaus Wien.
Available on-line.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Thrilling dynamism: Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi trinitas on Signum (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Imaginative debut: Rarities by Lalo and Milhaud on Hee-Young Lim's debut disc of French cello concertos (★★★½) - Cd review
  • Not heard since its 1956 premiere: Eugene Bozza's oratorio Le chant de la mine from Valenciennes (★★★½) - Cd review
  • One last show: Bury Court Opera draws the final curtain, with a terrific account of Britten's The Turn of the Screw (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Almost music theatre: song cycles by Dominick Argento and Robert Schumann from Sarah Connolly at Wigmore Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • Emotional soundscapes: the music of young Australian composer Brendon John Warner on his debut album La fonte  - CD review
  • Highly engaging: revival of Mozart's The Magic Flute from Simon McBurney, ENO & Complicité (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Magnificent original: Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake restored in a superb performance from Vladimir Jurowski on Pentatone (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Intimate conversations: the young Jubilee Quartet in three quartets spanning 20 years of Haydn's maturity (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Riveting drama: Peter Konwitschny's production of Halevy's La Juive at Opera Vlaanderen (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Claustrophobic & atmospheric: Verdi's Macbeth from English Touring Opera (★★★½) - opera review
  • Letting the music speak for itself: Mozart's Idomeneo from English Touring Opera (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Cadogan Hall debut: the Gesualdo Six in a programme of Renaissance and Contemporary (★★★★) - concert review
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After a spectacular debut last year the young Russian conductor Maxim Emelyanychev takes over at Scottish Chamber Orchestra for 2019/20 season

Maxim Emelyanychev & Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Photo SCO/Stroma Films)
Maxim Emelyanychev & Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Photo SCO/Stroma Films)
The young Russian conductor Maxim Emelyanychev is perhaps best known in the UK for his performances of Baroque opera as a visitor with Il Pomo d'Oro accompanying artists such as Joyce DiDonato and Franco Fagioli, but UK audiences will now be seeing rather more of him as he has taken over as conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. 

He gives his first concert as principal conductor in November 2019, with a programme which includes the UK premiere of French composer Philippe Hersant’s Five Pieces for Orchestra alongside music by Mozart and Prokofiev. In Baroque music with the ensemble Emelyanychev is evidently interested in a blended approach with a mix of period and modern instruments and there will be a chance to hear the results in January 2020 with a programme which includes music from Lully’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme plus Telemann and Rameau. Emelyanychev's final concert of the season combines Debussy with Louise Farrenc’s Third Symphony, and a Mozart Piano Concerto which Emelyanychev will direct from the keyboard. Emelyanychev will also be perfoming at the keyboard with the SCO soloists for one of SCO's Chamber Sundays concerts.

SCO Featured Artist for 2019/20 is the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto whose concerts will include music by Bryce Dessner, the UK premiere of Nico Muhly's Violin Concerto, and the double violin concerto, with violinist Benjamin Marquise Gilmore, Prince of Clouds by Anna Clyne. Clyne is SCO's new Associate Composer, and her work with the orchestra includes a new piece to be premiered in November. Scottish composer, Helen Grime is writing a percussion concerto for Colin Currie to be premiered in May 2020.

29 year old Emelyanychev made his debut with the orchestra in March 2018 when he stepped in at short notice to conduct Schubert’s Great C Major Symphony and Dvořák’s Violin Concerto with the orchestra, and the response from orchestral players, audiences and critics was unanimous in its praise [see the review on Bachtrack.com].

Full details from SCO website.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Introducing the Opera Holland Park Young Artists for 2019

Jack Holton, Sonia Ben-Santamaria and Claire Lees at the Opera Holland Park Young Artists 2019 launch
Jack Holton, Sonia Ben-Santamaria and Claire Lees at the Opera Holland Park
Young Artists 2019 launch (Photo Flickr Treble2309)
Opera Holland Park introduced its Young Artists for 2019 at an event at the East India Club last night (19 March 2019) which gave us a chance to meet them and to hear some of them in action. 

This year's Young Artists will be performing in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera on 28 June 2019, with Jack Holton as Anckarström, Claire Lees as Oscar, Georgia Mae Bishop as Madame Arvidson, Blaise Malaba as Ribbing, Tom Mole as Horn, and Samuel Oram as Cristiano, the Associate Director will be Rachel Hewer, the Associate Conductor will be Sonia Ben-Santamaria and the Young Artists Répétiteur will be Lucie Sansen. The Young Artists will be joined at the performance by Nadine Benjamin as Amelia and Adriano Graziani as Gustavo.

Last night we heard Jack Holton and Claire Lees performing 'La ci darem' from Mozart's Don Giovanni, Georgia Mae Bishop singing Olga's aria from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and Clarie Lees also gave us a taster of Oscar from Un ballo un maschera, all accompanied by a string quartet conducted by Sonia Be-Santamaria.

The Young Artists scheme at Opera Holland park is unusual in that the young performers get a whole performance to themselves, with separate rehearsals directed by the Associate Director, this year Rachel Hewer, and conducted by the Associate Conductor, this year Sonia Ben-Santamaria. In fact they will be doing two performances, as they do the schools matinee as well. Further details from the OHP website. The scheme has been running since 2011, and means that a remarkable number of those taking part in the 2019 season are returning alumni of the scheme, singers, directors and conductors.

I bumped into Jack Holton last week as he was singing with Lunchbreak Opera for their 2019/20 launch [see my article], and as many of you will know Georgia Mae Bishop is singing the role of The Mother in the premiere of my opera The Gardeners at Conway Hall on 18 June 2019 (further details from the opera's website). Last year we caught both Claire Lees and Georgia Mae Bishop in Poulenc's The Carmelites at the Guildhall School [see my review], and saw Tom Mole in Stravinsky's The Rakes Progress with British Youth Opera [see my review].

Climate change, environment and new opera at Norwegian premiere

Gisle Kverndokk (Photo Svein Finneide)
Gisle Kverndokk (Photo Svein Finneide)
Norwegian composer Gisle Kverndokk's opera Upon this Handful of Earth premiered in New York in 2017, commissioned by the New York Opera Society, and now the piece is to receive its Norwegian premiere on 24 March 2019 at Trinity Church Oslo as part of the Oslo International Church Music Festival. The new production directed by Aksel-Otto Bull and conducted by Vivianne Sydnes will feature Oslo Cathedral Choir, Oslo Sinfonietta, Oslo Cathedral Boys’ Choir, Trefoldighet Girl’s Choir and six soloists.

Inspired by Pope Francis' ground-breaking 2015 encyclical about the environment, the opera, with a libretto by Aksel-Otto Bull and Gisle Kverndokk, explores the intersection of faith and science through the story of six people whose lives have been irrevocably altered by environmental catastrophe. The project draws parallels between the Pope’s encyclical and the texts of Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Gisle Kverndokk studied composition at The Norwegian State Academy of Music, and with John Corigliano and David Diamond at The Juilliard School in New York. The Norwegian State Academy of Music premiered his first full-scale opera The Falcon Tower in 1990.

Further information from the Oslo International Church Music Festival website.

Thrilling dynamism: Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi trinitas from Owen Rees, Contrapunctus & the Choir of The Queen's College, Oxford on Signum

Taverner: Missa Gloria tibi trinitas - Signum
John Taverner Missa Gloria tibi trinitas; Contrapunctus, the Choir of The Queen's College, Oxford; Signum Classics  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 March 2019 
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Performances which restore the contrasts of scale in Taverner's great mass

For this thrilling new recording of John Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi trinitas, on Signum Classics, Owen Rees conducts the combined forces of Contrapunctus and the Choir of The Queen's College, Oxford. The programme also includes Taverner's Gaude plurimum, Le roy Kyrie, Ave Maria, Audivi vocem and Dum transisset Sabbatum.

We don't know much about the circumstances of Missa Gloria tibi trinitas' composition, it could convincingly date from Taverner's period in the collegiate church in Tattershall, Lincolnshire, or from his time at Cardinal Wolsey's Cardinal College in Oxford. The mass survives in the Forrest-Heyther part-books in the Bodleian Library which may have come from Cardinal College or the Chapel Royal.

Owen Rees suggests that for a major performance of the mass on Trinity Sunday in Cardinal Wolsey's chapel or in one of the palace chapels the full forces of the choir would have numbered some 30 to 40 singers. Far larger numbers than the majority of performances on disc.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's new season: newcomers, rarities and excitement

Thomas Dausgaard - BBC SSO (Photo BBC)
Thomas Dausgaard - BBC SSO (Photo BBC)
Under its chief conductor Thomas Dausgaard, the BBC Scotttish Symphony Orchestra's 2019/20 season is a mix of interesting new pieces and highlights of rarely performed ones. Thomas Dausgaard will conduct the premiere of a new concerto for electric violin and orchestra by Mexican composer Enrico Chapela, with soloist Pekka Kuusisto.  Dausgaard will also be conducting premieres by Emma-Ruth Richards, in the Scottish Inspirations series, and by Danish composer Bent Sørensen, as well as the UK premiere of Chaya Czernowin’s 'large-scale miniature for orchestra' Once I blinked nothing was the same (which premiered in Bamberg in 2015), plus works by Lisa Robertson, Maxwell Davies, Villa-Lobos and Toshio Hosokawa.

Principal guest conductor Ilan Volkov will be performing music by the Romanian composer Myriam Marbé (1931-1997) and will be pairing Luigi Nono’s Per Bastiana Tai-Yang Cheng with Brahms’s A German Requiem. Nono's piece was written in 1967 to celebrate the birth of his daughter and it uses a Chinese folk song with three instrumental groups playing in quarter tones and plus electronics (originally magnetic tape). Volkov is also conducting an evening dedicated to the music of Heinz Holliger.

Valentina Peleggi will be making her BBC SSO debut with Second Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman by Joan Tower, plus a new work from Roxanna Panufnik. Alondra de la Parra will be conducting music by the contemporary Mexican composer Arturo Márquez alongside Schubert, Mozart and Richard Strauss.

For those of a more traditional frame of mind, Martyn Brabbins presents Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings performed by Stuart Jackson and BBC SSO principal horn Alberto Menéndez Escribano, Antony Hermus conducts an orchestral adaptation of Wagner’s The Ring, and a Beethoven symphony cycle closes the season in May 2020 to mark Beethoven's 250th anniversary.

Full details from the BBC SSO website.

A chance for two top-class amateur choirs to shine: the Eaton Square Concerts' Spring season

St Peter's Church, Eaton Square
St Peter's Church, Eaton Square
London has hundreds (perhaps thousands) of amateur choirs ranging from local community ensembles to those whose performances and repertoire aspire to international class. The latest season of Eaton Square Concert s(which starts on Thursday 21 March 2019 at St Peter's Church, Eaton Square) is giving us a chance to appreciate two of London's top-class amateur choirs.

The concert season opens with Stephen Layton and the Holst Singers in a programme entitle Reformation and Revolution contrasting English music from the turbulent 16th century with contemporary Baltic repertoire with its links to the 'Singing Revolution' (21/3/2019). Then Andrew Griffiths and Londinium will be presenting a programme of masses by Richard Rodney Bennett, Rheinberger, Albright and RVW (4/4/2019).

Each year, Easton Square Concerts awards the St Peter's Prize to a quartet at the Royal Academy of Music, this year it is the Kirkman Quartet whose programme includes music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bridge and Stravinsky (11/4/2019).  Michael Collins and the London Mozart Players will be celebrating the ensemble's 70th birthday with Mozart and Weber (2/5/2019) whilst violinist Fenella Humphreys and pianist Nicola Eimer will be playing a selection of sonatinas (25/4/2019).

Full details from the Eaton Square Concerts website.

Rarities by Lalo & Milhaud in Hee-Young Lim's imaginative disc of French cello concertos on Sony

French Cello Concerto - Hee-Young Lim - Sony
Saint-Saens, Lalo, Milhaud, Offenbach, Massent; Hee-Young Lim, London Symphony Orchestra, Scott Yoo; Sony Classical Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 March 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An imaginative debut recital including rarities by Lalo and Milhaud, but perhaps a slightly over-serious mood from this young cellist

This disc of French cello concertos on Sony Classical from the young Korean-born cellist Hee-Young Lim with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Scott Yoo starts with the well-known Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 in A minor by Saint-Saens but then Lim's choice of companion pieces become far more interesting with Lalo's rarely performed Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in D minor and Milhaud's Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 136, along with Offenbach's Les larmes de Jacqueline as a little extra.

Hee-Young Lim plunges straight in with the Saint-Saens,her playing full of impetuosity combined with a fine strength of line and a rich, dark vibrant tone. She and the orchestra bring a nice robustness to the concertos more lyrical sections. The middle movement is finely elegant while retaining the vibrancy,  complemented by some delicate orchestral playing and the finale returns to the opening movement's impetuosity.

Monday, 18 March 2019

The Gardeners is coming and Robert is in focus at Conway Hall

The Gardeners - Robert Hugill & Joanna Wyld - Conway Hall
The Gardeners - 18 June 2019

Plans are well under way for the premiere of The Gardeners, my new chamber opera with a libretto by Joanna Wyld. The first performance is a concert at Conway Hall on Tuesday 18 June 2019, conducted by William Vann. Our exciting young cast is Peter Brathwaite (baritone), Magid El-Bushra (counter-tenor), Flora McIntosh (mezzo-soprano), Georgia Mae Bishop (mezzo-soprano) and Julian Debreuil (baritone).
Set in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in a war-torn country amongst the family which maintains the gardens, the opera examines themes of tolerance, remembrance and brotherhood using the garden as a metaphor for the possibility of growth and renewal.
The graves belong to the Dead, who once invaded the land in which they lie. Tensions rise between three generations of the same family who look after war graves in a politically divided region.
Read more about the cast, synopsis, tickets and more from:

Robert Hugill in Focus - 5 May 2019

There is a chance to hear songs from my Cd Quickening live at Conway Hall on Sunday 5 May 2019 as part of their long-running Sunday Concert Series. I will be giving a pre-concert talk at 5.30pm, and then at 6.30pm Anna Huntley (mezzo-soprano), Rosalind Ventris (viola), James Newby (baritone) and William Vann (piano) will be performing the song cycles Quickening and Winter Journey, plus Three pieces from The Book of Common Prayer, along with music by George Butterworth, Frank Bridge and York Bowen.
After the concert there will be a Q&A with myself and the artists.
Full details from

Ancient instruments and new music: BCMG's Murmurs

Wu Wei and the sheng
Wu Wei and the sheng (Photo Elsa Thorp)
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's (BCMG) forthcoming concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham on Thursday 21 March 2019 gives us the chance to further explore the music of Berlin-based British composer Rebecca Saunders (winner of the recent Ernst von Siemens Music Prize), and to extend our experience of the Sheng, the ancient Chinese instrument, via new concertos for the instrument by Donghoon Shin and by Jia Guoping.

BCMG, conductor James Leroy, will be performing Saunders' 2009 work murmurs, which gives the concert its title, along with CRIMSON - Molly's Song 1 which is based on Molly Bloom's final monologue from James Joyce's Ulysses. Rebecca Saunders will be at the concert and before hand there will be a chance to hear her in conversation with composer Donghoon Shin.

Donghoon Shin, BCMG Apprentice Composer in Residence 2017-18 and 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize winner, was commissioned by BCMG to write a concerto for the ancient Chinese instrument, the Sheng, and the concerto, will be premiered by the Chinese sheng virtuoso Wu Wei, who will also be playing Chinese composer Jia Guopong's 2002 work for sheng, cello and percussion, The Wind Sounds in the Sky.

Full details from the BCMG website.

Not heard since its 1956 premiere: Eugene Bozza's Le chant de la mine, with its hints of Florent Schmitt and Honegger, makes a fascinating revival

Eugene Bozza: Le chant de la mine - IndeSens
Eugene Bozza Le chant de la mine; Orchestre Valentiana, Nicolas Bucher; IndeSens Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 March 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
With hints of Honegger and Florent Schmitt, Bozza's oratorio from the 1950s receives a rare revival

Eugene Bozza is not a particularly well known composer outside of his native France, though his output was large with significant amounts of wind chamber music alongside five symphonies, operas, ballets and more.

Born in Nice to an Italian violinist father and a French mother, he trained at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, and at the Paris Conservatoire with Henri Busser (in fact his third period of study at the conservatoire having previously studied violin and then conducting). He won the Prix de Rome in 1934. From 1950 he was director of the Ecole Nationale de Musique in Valenciennes and it is during this period that, in 1956, he wrote Le chant de la mine; technically an oratorio, the work uses a spoken narration with text by the Belgian poet Jose Bruyr and the two regarded themselves as co-creators of the piece.

Eugene Bozza's Le chant de la mine was premiered in 1956 and not heard since, until the performance in Valenciennes in 2018 which forms the basis for this recording on the IndeSens label from the Orchestre Valentiana, conductor Nicolas Bucher, with soloists Zoe Gosset, Sarah Laulan, Sebastien Obrecht and Daniel Ottevaere, and narrator Didier Kerckaert.

Lunchbreak Opera announces its ambitious plans for the 2019/20 season

Lunchbreak Opera from Lunchbreak Opera on Vimeo.

Lunchbreak Opera is a relatively new company whose mission is to persuade those who work in the area around St Botolph without Bishopgate (where the company is based) a lunch-hour nourishing their artistic imagination with one of its accessible and digestible opera performances. The company is run by artistic director Thomas Holland and musical director Matthew O'Keeffe (who also runs the Brixton Chamber Orchestra, see my interview with Matthew).

On Friday 15 March 2019, the company had a launch for its ambitious 2019/20 season, building on the success of its previous productions, Puccini's Suor Angelica (in 2017) and Salieri's Prima la musica (2018).

On Friday were heard singers Eva Gheorghiu (soprano), Joanna Harries (mezzo-soprano), Joseba Ceberio (tenor) and Jack Holton (baritone) in a programme of opera arias and duets which, with lively narration from Thomas Holland and Matthew O'Keeffe and introductions from the singers themselves, provided an informative yet amusing introduction to the world of opera. We heard arias by Mozart, Bizet, Leoncavallo, Puccini and Donizetti, ending with a trio of numbers from more recent operas, Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, Samuel Barber's A Hand of Bridge, and Jonathan Dove's Flight.

The company plans to perform Puccini's Gianni Schicchi  from 16 to 20 September at St Botolph without Bishopsgate, in a new translation by Thomas Holland (setting the piece in Sicilian Mafia territory) with a new orchestration by Matthew O'Keeffe for a Sicilian band - accordion, trumpet, clarinet and strings, and as a taster, Eva Gheorghiu sang O mio babbino Caro. Then in 2020 the company plans Lennox Berkeley's A dinner engagement which was written for Britten's English Opera Group and premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1954

Performances are free to attend, with a retiring collection, and at under an hour long they are designed to fit into the working day with lunchtime and rush hour performances. The company performs in English with accompaniment from a chamber ensemble.

There is a treasure trove of one act operas, many woefully neglected, and I look forward to the company's explorations.

Full details from the Lunchbreak Opera website.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

One last show: Bury Court Opera's final performance ever presented Britten's The Turn of the Screw in a production vividly conceived to highlight the venue's distinctive qualities

Britten: The Turn of the Screw - Andrew Dickinson, Hugh Hetherington - Bury Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten: The Turn of the Screw - Andrew Dickinson, Hugh Hetherington - Bury Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten The Turn of the Screw; Alison Rose, Andrew Dickinson, Daisy Brown, Emily Gray, Jennifer Clark, Harry Hetherington, dir: Ella Marchment, Chroma Ensemble, cond: Paul Wingfield; Bury Court Opera  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 
Star rating: 4.5 (★★★½)
A vividly theatrical and cohesively conceived account of Britten's chamber opera, with compelling performances from the young cast

Last night (16 March 2019) was the last ever performance of Bury Court Opera, the final performance of a new production of Britten's The Turn of the Screw, the company's second production of a season which started with the premiere of Noah Mosley's Aurora [see my review].

Britten: The Turn of the Screw - Hugh Hetherington, Alison Rose - Bury Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Hugh Hetherington, Alison Rose
Bury Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Britten's The Turn of the Screw was directed by Ella Marchment and designed by Holly Pigott, with Alison Rose as the Governess, Andrew Dickinson as Peter Quint and the Prologue, Daisy Brown as Miss Jessel, Emily Gray as Mrs Grose, Jennifer Clark as Flora and Harry Hetherington as Miles. Paul Wingfield conducted the Chroma Ensemble.

Britten's opera might be quite a compact piece, using just six singers and 13 instrumentalists, but its scenic demands are quite complex as Myfanwy Piper's scenario moves in an almost filmic way between locations in and around Bly, and this movement is important to the plot. The opera is hardly one which responds to being played in a single location, and Holly Pigott's imaginative setting for Ella Marchment's production gave us everything the opera needed despite the limited facilities of the Bury Court Opera stage (for the rest of the year the venue is a barn used for weddings).

The big advantage was the dark, claustrophobic nature of the essential space, and by using the stepped stage, and various traps we had a series of evocative settings, emphasised by Ben Pickersgill's dramatic lighting, all darkness and light, full of hidden corners and wonderfully theatrical. Central to Marchment's concept for the production was the area in the upper rear stage, separated from the rest by a translucent black curtain which formed the ghosts' domain, a parallel Bly. Marchment and Pigott set the opera in the correct period, and in the programme book Marchment argued cohesively that the complex psychology of the drama only really works in the Victorian setting with its restriction and propriety.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Almost music theatre: Dominick Argento and Schumann song cycles about Virginia Woolf and Mary, Queen of Scots, expanded with dramatic texts from Sarah Connolly at Wigmore Hall

Virginia Woolf and Ethel Smyth
Virginia Woolf and Ethel Smyth
Zemlinsky, Schumann, Argento; Sarah Connolly, Julius Drake, Emily Berrington; Wigmore Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 March 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An interweaving of song and text as Schumann's Mary Stuart and Dominick Argento's Virginia Woolf are set in context and expanded into something close to music theatre

Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly's residency at the Wigmore Hall is proving to be interesting in the way she is exploring various collaborations. Last year she performed Judith Bingham with the choir Tenebrae [see my review], French song with baritone James Newby plus instrumentalists, and in April she is being joined by tenor Robin Tritschler and mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley.

Last night, 15 March 2019, Sarah Connolly and pianist Julius Drake were joined by actor Emily Berrington at Wigmore Hall for a programme of song cycles by Alexander Zemlinsky, Robert Schumann and Dominick Argento, but with a difference. For Robert Schumann's Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart Op. 135 , Schumann's songs were interspersed with texts from Schiller's play Mary Stuart (taken from Robert Icke's recent translation), whilst Dominick Argento's song cycle From the diary of Virginia Woolf was interspersed with readings from Woolf's diaries. The concert was dedicated to the memory of Dominick Argento who died in February this year.

Sarah Connolly (Photo Christopher Pledger)
Sarah Connolly (Photo Christopher Pledger)
Zemlinsky's Sechs Gesänge Op. 13 set poems by the Belgian symbolist poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck in German translations by Friedrich von Oppein-Bronikowski. As such they provide a fascinating link between Pierrot Lunaire, settings of German translations of Belgian symbolist poet Albert Giraud by Zemlinsky's pupil Arnold Schoenberg, and Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande setting Maeterlinck. Maeterlinck's poems as selected by Zemlinsky are all rather oblique, yet each features women being tested and badly treated, with endings often being left up in the air. One big feature of the songs in the original version for voice and piano is that few have piano introductions, they plunge straight in (Zemlinsky would add introductions when he orchestrated the pieces).

The music combines folk-ish elements with more turbulent passages with highly taxing piano parts. In her programme note Laura Tunbridge linked the folk-ish elements to Mahler, especially his Wunderhornlieder, but I also heard Kurt Weill both his later German style and his more complex manner during his studies in Berlin with Busoni. An intriguing link. Textures were often sparse, moving to more contorted harmonies for the more intense sections, all delivered with brilliant directness and intensity by Sarah Connolly with partnered by some superb piano playing from Julius Drake whose gusts of complex, expressionist piano acted as a commentary on the strange, hypnotic world of the songs. I am still not sure what they meant, but Connolly's sense of identification and great storytelling held us spell-bound.

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