Saturday, 9 November 2019

Bringing to the community something which it would not otherwise see: I chat to festival director Anthony Wilkinson about the Wimbledon International Music Festival

Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt who make a number of appearances at this years Wimbledon International Music Festival
Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt who make a number of appearances at this years Wimbledon International Music Festival
The Wimbledon International Music Festival opens today, 9 November 2019; three weeks of music making and events under the theme of 'Music Mathematics Architecture'. This year's festival is the eleventh and I recently met up with festival director Anthony Wilkinson to chat about the festival's achievements, this year's highlights and future plans.

The festival is notable for the variety and imagination of Anthony's programming, alongside standards such as Haydn's Creation (which opens the festival), and the Philharmonia Orchestra in Bach, Bartók and Mozart (which closes it) there are programmes such as cellist Matthew Barley joining with Indian musicians, and a number of programmes from the ever imaginative Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt.

Wimbledon International Music Festival 2019 logo
Anthony comments that each year he finds the more imaginative programmes, the ones which bring the most letters, are often the ones where ticket sales are the most sluggish. He finds this sad, because for him one of the joys of the festival is bringing to the community something which it would not otherwise see. And a few times during our chat, we return to the problem of how to promote fantastic music that is unusual, how to encourage the joy of discovery in listeners.
This year he has used the theme of Music Mathematics Architecture to make some interesting connections.
He points out that both Indian classical and Western classical musics are mathematically based, so there is cellist Matthew Barley with Soumik Datta (sarod) and Sukhvinder Singh Pinky (tabla) in 'Zero' to 'Infinity'. A programme which includes Bach, Debussy, Ligeti and Xenakis alongside Indian classical music. The first concept of zero was introduced by an Indian mathematician in the eighth century, and many of the great Ragas are algorithmically based, whilst a lot of Indian rhythmic patterns are based on the Fibonacci sequence. But he also points out the fascinating fact that the Greek composer Xenakis was a mathematician and engineer, working with Le Corbusier on the city of Chandigarh in the Punjab (and the concert includes a new work Chandigarh for sarod, cello and tabla).

When I ask about this year's highlights Anthony comments that for him, every concert is a highlight as he does not choose anything that is not, for him, first class. One of Anthony's favourites this year is the appearance of Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt. Anthony had been to Ticciati's O/Modernt festival in Stockholm and been bowled over, and he enjoys Ticciati's style of programming where the music is played seamlessly, and you don't want a pause. Their Method in Madness programme will compare and contrast mad scenes from Vivaldi's operas, combined with Finnish folk and rock music. And Anthony comments on singer Luciana Mancini's terrific stage presence [she is currently based at the Berlin Staatsoper, and I caught her with O/Modernt at a recent CD launch, see my article].

Another O/Modernt event is one which Anthony describes as two delicious events on a theme. Under the billing of Musical Labyrinths, Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt are giving two concerts. In the afternoon, Bach's The Art of Fugue which gradually becomes deconstructed and metamorphoses into Beethoven's Grosse Fuge, and then in the evening a programme of music based on musical labyrinths - 'easier to get into than to get out', from Locatelli to the Cuban composer Aurelio de la Vega, whose work The Magic Labyrinth is written on the page as a labyrinth, whilst another work is based on the exact measurements of the labyrinth in Florence Cathedral.

Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt are also giving a family concert, based on games around the ground bass. And another highly approachable event is Walton's Facade, with Richard Stilgoe and Patricia Hodge as narrators, combined with a song cycle by David Nield on Lewis Carroll nonsense rhymes. This very much reflects how Anthony programmes mixing the heavyweight repertoire with the fun, and where possible trying to combine the two.

Two years ago, during a recital at the festival given by pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, someone came up to Anthony during the interval and said 'I've come to apologise'. This turned out to be the pianist Sunwook Kim (the youngest-ever winner of the Leeds Piano Competition). Anthony had booked him to do a recital of the final three Beethoven piano sonatas, and at two days notice his agent had to phone and pull him from the concert, because of UK Border Control! It turned out that he was in the UK on a student visa for a conductor's course. Which meant that Border Control would not let him do any performing that was not related to conducting (ie he could do a piano concerto performance, as he might learn something from the conductor!). The happy outcome of this is that Sunwook Kim is playing a recital of Bach, Beethoven and Shin at this year's festival.

In fact, pianists are well represented at this year's festival. The piano duo of Louis Lortie and Helene Mercier (the two were students together in Canada) are playing Rachmaninov, Arensky and Debussy's La Mer, whilst Lars Vogt is performing Beethoven and Franck violin sonatas with Christian Tetzlaff, and Sholto Kynoch (artistic director of the Oxford Lieder Festival) is accompanying the distinguished German tenor Christoph Prégardien in Schubert & Schumann.

When I ask how he feels that festival is developing Anthony comments 'I wish I knew'. After each festival people tell him that it was 'better than ever' but for Anthony each festival is the best. He aims simply to put on the best quality concerts that he can afford. Most of the performers at the festival, Anthony has already heard live. One project on the horizon (a mere speck when Anthony and I first talked a number of years ago, but now an established project) is the Wimbledon Concert Hall. Hopes for this project are now looking very positive, there is an architect (Frank Gehry) and distinguished patrons (Darcy Bussell, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Vladimir Ashkenazy). Of course there are still the problems that classical concert halls are seen as expensive and elitist, but for Anthony the idea is not just to give the festival a home but to give something to the community. For him it is important that young people from all backgrounds deserve to be given a chance to experience classical music. The concert hall is intended to engender a sense of community, not just performers going out into the community but bringing the community into the hall, given local performers a chance to play there. Anthony also sees concert halls as places of healing, citing the research that has been done into the power of music, how people who enjoy music and play instruments or sing tend to excel in other subjects. Anthony wants to go out and try to persuade people to sing and play. One related scheme at this year's festival is the idea of bringing your grandchildren and pay a token £1.

Anthony has wide musical tastes (wider perhaps that those of the public he serves), he hears new sounds and new shapes and is intrigued by them. And he enjoys putting on programmes such as the ones performed by Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt at this year's festival. He brings in the analogy of painting. Growing up he adored the Renaissance painters, but more and more he finds that their very perfection gets in the way of the soul and that he finds 20th and 21st century attitudes to art really beguiling. And for Anthony, it is similar with music.

Anthony Wilkinson
Anthony Wilkinson
He worries about the contemporary audience's power of concentration, pointing out that whilst so many young people go to Tate Modern, the average time spent in front of a painting is under two seconds! Songs on Spotify or iTunes can be a mere three or four minutes long, but in terms of getting an audience for classical and contemporary music, this requires concentration. A symphony might last 50 minutes with one movement being 12 minutes. With the ever-increasing pace of modern life, there is a tendency for those not familiar with classical music to often simply say 'I don't know anything about music', to fidget and be bored. It is a conundrum that perpetually puzzles Anthony as promoter and programmer. There are a lot of people out there whose lives would be immeasurably enriched by classical music, but how to communicate with them?

Full details of the Wimbledon International Music Festival's programme from its website.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Engagingly youthful: Mozart's Cosi fan tutte from Ian Page and the Mozartists (★★★★) - opera review
  • Beethoven Transformed: volume 1 of Boxwood & Brass' new project  (★★★★) - Cd review
  • A final farewell: the Hilliard Ensemble & Jan Garbarek captured live on their final tour, Remember me, my dear (★★★) - CD review
  • A distinct voice: Emergence, Nadine Benjamin & Nicole Panizza in settings of Emily Dickinson (★★★½) - CD review
  • The Exiled Outsiders: music by Hans Gál, Max Kowalski, Peter Gellhorn at London Song Festival  (★★★★) - concert review
  • An artist should be careful not to put themselves in a box: I chat to tenor Leonardo Capalbo about the challenges of singing the title role in Verdi's Don Carlos - interview
  • Kiandra Howarth takes first prize at the Grange Festival International Singing Competition - my article
  • 'The first great example of British exceptionalism': Purcell's King Arthur re-thought in an engaging performance and accompany CDs from Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli  (★★★★★)  - CD & Opera review
  • A ravishing and heart-rending evening: Massenet's Manon from the Met, Live in HD (★★★★) - opera review
  • A remarkable reinvention: Verdi's Don Carlos in French in Flanders (★★★★½) - opera review 
  • Eccentric, passionate harpsichordist, in a ménage à cinq: the lives of Violet Gordon-Woodhouse - feature article
  • An intoxicating concert - that is the magic of song: Walt Whitman's bicentenary celebrated at London Song Festival  (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Valuable first thoughts: John Butt & the Dunedin Consort record every note of Samson as Handel first performed it  (★★★★★) CD review
  • Home

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