Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Richard Danielpour: The Passion of Yeshua

Richard Danielpour The Passion of Yeshua; Hila Plitmann, Matthew Worth, Kenneth Overton, J'Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, James K. Bass, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta; NAXOS
Richard Danielpour The Passion of Yeshua; Hila Plitmann, Matthew Worth, Kenneth Overton, J'Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, James K. Bass, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta; NAXOS

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 May 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint

The Passion of Yeshua is a dramatic oratorio by the contemporary composer Richard Danielpour. Written in 2017, the work has been issued by Naxos in a performance recorded in 2019 with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, UCLA Chamber Singers and soloists Hila Plitmann, Matthew Worth, Kenneth Overton, J'Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon and James K. Bass.

The work is a Passion Oratorio, that is an oratorio written for concert purposes telling the passion story, as opposed to a Passion which sets the Gospel texts and is written for performance in church. (With the adoption of Bach's Passions as concert works we have rather lost the distinction between the two works).

Danielpour has assembled the text himself from both the Christian Gospels and Hebrew Scriptures, to create a work which uses both Hebrew and English for its text. Danielpour's aim seems to have been to get back to an earlier conception of Jesus, perhaps a more Jewish conception, which avoids the '1800 years of European accretions and horrible acts that were committed in Europe in the name of Christianity.' Many of the Hebrew texts, which are sung by the chorus and by the two soprano soloists (as Miryam Magdala and Miryam) are Messianic texts. Another deliberate intention by Danielpour was to bring the role of these two women forward, Miryram Magdala (Mary Magdalene) and Mary the mother of Jesus (Miryam) as they are present in the Gospels but never to the forefront. Women seem to have played a significant role in Jesus' mission, but the creating of the synoptic Gospels during the Roman Empire effectively removed the women from the narrative.

The musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain invite us to come together for a performance of 'Jupiter' from Holsts 'The Planets'



Following the success of the communal (socially-distanced) performance of Beethoven's Ode to Joy (#NYOdetojoy), the musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain are inviting musicians of all standards to share a performance of 'Jupiter' from Holst's The Planets on 29 May 2020 at 5pm. The musicians are looking to inspire others in their local communities, and to make genuine connections through performance using Holst’s rousing ‘Jupiter’ – either putting together a street ensemble, or performing alone somewhere significant to their local area.

The orchestra is asking that every performance, whether physical or digital, be shared using the hashtag #NYOMusicalPlanet, so everyone who takes part can share in the diversity and individuality across our incredible musical planet.

Full details and resources from musicians from the orchestra's website.

The Goldberg Variations: Meditations in Solitude

Trailer 1: Goldberg Variations with Simon Russell Beale from Greengage Ventures on Vimeo.

The conductor Jonathan Berman has been busy during his period of enforced idleness. Berman has curated, directed and produced a film of Bach's Goldberg Variations which combines Bach's music, played by the Ysaye Trio (Willem Stam - cello, Emlyn Stam - viola, Rada Ovcharova - violin) in their own arrangment of the music for string trio, interspersed with poems that illuminate unusual angles on solitude from 19 authors ranging from Wordsworth, Keats and Woolf to Rilke and Hesse, read by Sir Simon Russell Beale, and photographs by the Austrian artist Kristina Feldhammer.

The project is released 31 May 2020, but there is a chance to see it early as there is a preview event on 27 May 2020 which includes a screening and a Q&A with the artists. The preview is pay what you will, with 20% of funds raised going to the Royal Society of Musicians and the remainder to the artists. Details from EventBrite.

Earlier this year, Berman was in the studio with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales recording Symphony No. 1 by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Schmidt (1874-1934), as part of Berman's project to record all of Schmidt's four symphonies in time for the 150 anniversary of Schmidt's birth in 2024. The first recording will be issued by Accentus later in the year, and there is a preview on YouTube.

Berman has also created a website, Stand Together Music, which highlights the performances which have been cancelled due to the lockdown.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Tracing a youthful relationship: Tony Cooper looks at Britten's links to Norfolk & the city of Norwich

Frank Bridge; Benjamin Britten; Ethel Bridge  by Unknown photographer snapshot print NPG x15184 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Frank Bridge; Benjamin Britten; Ethel Bridge by Unknown photographer
snapshot print NPG x15184 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Norfolk-based music writer, Tony Cooper, traces the steps of Benjamin Britten’s youthful links to the county of Norfolk and, in particular, to the fine city of Norwich.


Born a Suffolk boy on 22nd November 1913 (which also happens to be St Cecilia’s Day, the patron saint of music) at 21 Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft, Edward Benjamin Britten (he dropped his first name early in life) was the son of a dentist and his mother, an amateur choral singer. But practically forgotten about nowadays is to the fact that he forged his early musical talents in Norfolk and, in particular, in the fine city of Norwich. From the tender age of 10, he regularly visited the city for viola lessons with Mrs Audrey Alston, a good friend of his mother and a member of the Norwich String Quartet.

She was heavily involved with classical music in Norwich and practically knew everyone in the music business including the eminent Brighton-born composer, Frank Bridge. He studied at the Royal College of Music from 1899 to 1903 under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and stayed with Mrs Alston while attending meetings of the Norfolk & Norwich Triennial Festival at St Andrew’s Hall, the ‘home’ of the Triennial since its inception in 1824.

What could well be said to be an important part of Britten’s musical education occurred at St Andrew’s Hall on 30th October 1924 when he witnessed Frank Bridge conducting his suite for orchestra, The Sea, while three years later, on 27th October 1927, Mrs Alston urged Bridge (who was in the city conducting the première of his latest work, Enter Spring) to meet the young aspiring Suffolk-born composer. Reluctantly, he agreed to her request. Following an inspection of Britten's music, Bridge heartily accepted him as one of his very few composition pupils.

A young Michael Crawford in the 1959 production of Britten's Noye's Fludde at St Margaret's Church in Lowestoft; cast members pictured with Benjamin Britten (Photo Eastern Daily Press)
A young Michael Crawford in the 1959 production of Britten's Noye's Fludde at St Margaret's Church in Lowestoft; cast members pictured with Benjamin Britten (Photo Eastern Daily Press)
Britten’s links to Norfolk, however, were strengthened when he enrolled at Gresham’s School near Holt in 1928. He was there for less than a couple of years, leaving in July 1930. He found Gresham’s not to his liking. But once he had actually taken leave of his friends and masters he commented: ‘I didn’t think I should be sorry to leave.’ It was at Gresham’s where W H Auden befriended Britten and acted as a mentor to him encouraging him to widen his aesthetic, intellectual and political horizons.

Lifting the Lid: a chance to explore the mysterious world of the piano accompanist

#LiftingtheLid - SImon Lepper & James Baillieu
For those on the outside, the accompanist's art is a somewhat mysterious one, what they do is important and creating partnerships with instrumentalist or vocal is a prime part of their art. Yet few collaborative pianists talk about what they do, it tends to be the other partner whether vocalist or instrumentalist who features in the spotlight. All this is set to change with Simon Lepper's new series on Instagram, #LiftingTheLid, in which he will be talking to fellow collaborative pianists about their art. The first one went out on Friday, with Roger Vignoles and that is still available [Instagram]. Today (25 May 2020) at 4pm (UK time) Simon will be talking to James Baillieu [see my interview with James and violinist Tasmin Little, chatting about their CPE Bach project].

Catch it on Simon's Instagram feed [Instagram:simon_lepper]

Sunday, 24 May 2020

A Life On-Line: Der Freischütz and Arabella in Vienna, Orphée et Eurydice in Munich, and Nicky Spence in London



This week we begin and end with tenors; first tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado who with Opera Settecento and Leo Duarte shared a pre-lockdown video, a  lovely account of 'Amor deh lasciami' from Handel's pasticcio, Elpidia - in fact an aria by Orlandini [YouTube, embedded above]. I've managed to miss Jorge's Handel performances at the Göttingen Handel Festival and do look forward to being able to hear him live in the UK soon.

Willingdon House Music is a group of four musicians, Max Mausen (I reviewed Max's debut CD back in 2015), Flavia Hirte, Nicola Barbagli, and Ellen Bundy, living together, who make music regularly on Facebook with delightful programmes ranging from Bach to Bartok to folk-music. Violinist Tasmin Little was on BBC Radio 4 playing Harold Arlen's Somewhere over the rainbow, but only got to play a few notes, so she and her daughter Chloe got together to give us the whole piece [YouTube]. Music on the Rebound contributed a video of flautist Clare Chase in Dai Fujikura's Sandpiper [YouTube]. Pianist Yulia Chaplina's Music for the Mind series this week included a Schubert Impromptu [YouTube], and a chat with pianist Katya Apekisheva [YouTube].

Soprano Gemma Summerfield gave us Ophelie's Mad Scene from Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet accompanied by Ella O'Neil (piano) [YouTube]. Tenor Jesus Leon [see my review of his 2015 CD, Bel Canto] accompanied himself in Ennio Morricone's Se which comes from the film Cinema Paradiso [YouTube]

Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston was remembering performing with lutenist Toby Carr last year for the City Music Foundation and gave us some Barbara Strozzi [YouTube]. Soprano Jessica Hale's account of 'Guardian Angels, O Protect Me' from Handel's The Triumph of Time and Truth was recorded before lockdown with pianist Jo Ramadan [YouTube].

In lieu of talking at the Colorado MahlerFest, Gavin Plumley made a Mahler in Isolation film [Facebook].

Like many people, pianist Simon Lepper has been teaching on-line, and contributed a video of one of his students from the Royal College of Music, soprano Stephanie Hershaw singing Schumann' s Widmung [Facebook]. The problems of rehearsing on-line featured in Richard Barnard's Choir Rehearsal in Lockdown with soprano Elizabeth Karani, tenor Thomas Atkins and pianist Edmund Whitehead [YouTube].

The London Funeral Singers have raised over £1,000 for Hospice UK with their #ASongForThem, providing tribute videos through music for people who have recently been bereaved and shared a special version of Simon & Garfunkel A Bridge over troubled Water [Facebook].

We have attended some lovely concert at Conway Hall over the years, particularly as part of the Sunday Concert Series (which dates back to the 19th century), where I often give pre-concert talks and write the programme notes. And Joanna Wyld and my opera The Gardeners was premiered there last year. The venue is about more than just music, with a regular programme of talks and lectures. They are currently running a #DoorsOpen fundraiser to help them keep going at a time when the venue's income has plummeted [Facebook]

Dutch National Ballet is streaming Ted Brandsen's 2016 ballet Mata Hari all week (until 30 May), and it has a major score by Tarik O'Regan, see the their website.

This week we started off with Weber's Der Freischütz at the Vienna State Opera, a new production by Christian Räth from 2019 which was the first time the opera had been performed there for 20 years (so it isn't just in the UK that Weber's opera gets overlooked). Räth's production replaced the scenario with one where Max was Weber himself, overcoming writer's block via a deal with the devil. I wasn't quite convinced, but there were some spectacular scenes, and terrific performances from Camilla Nylund as Agathe, Andreas Schager as Max, Daniela Fally as Ännchen  and Alan Held as Capar, conducted by Tomáš Netopil.

And we went back to Vienna State Opera for another opera currently rather ignored in the UK, Richard Strauss' Arabella. I have very fond memories of seeing Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role in the 1981 revival of Rudolph Hartmann's 1965 production at Covent Garden conducted by John Pritchard, with Ingvar Wixell as Mandryka (the production lasted right until 1996!). And also remember seeing Josephine Barstow memorably singing the role at English National Opera in the 1980s. Since then, sightings have been rarer. In this 2012 Vienna performance, Emily Magee was a very striking Arabella with Tomasz Konwiczny as a very buttoned up yet rather sexy Mandryka, in a production by Axel Kober which moved the action to the 1920s or 1930s. I am not sure that this translation works, but the performances were very affecting nonetheless.

And over in Munich, at the Bavarian State Opera, there were more unhappy musicians with Vesselina Kasarova's troubled composer Orphée in Nigel Lowery's production of Berlioz's 1859 version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, conducted by Ivor Bolton. Musically this was terrific, with Rosemary Joshua as Eurydice, but Lowery's translating the action to a modern opera house rather weakend the drama somewhat.

We end with another tenor, this time Nicky Spence, whose Janacek recording with Julius Drake won the Vocal category in the BBC Music Magazine Awards. The Friends of English National Opera presented their first on-line event, a delightful evening with Nicky and his partner, pianist Dylan Perez who entertained us with live music from Richard Strauss to Scots song, and chatted as well.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Clouds, Clocks and Improvisation: I chat to composer & pianist Karol Beffa about the separate but related acts of improvisation & composition

Karol Beffa performing at Rencontres de Cannes in 2019 (Photo Loic Thebaud)
Karol Beffa performing at Rencontres de Cannes in 2019 (Photo Loic Thebaud)
The pianist and composer Karol Beffa was due to be giving a concert in London this month, at the Institut Français' Beyond Words literature festival. In the event, the festival went on-line and Beffa performed remotely [available on YouTube], giving a programme in which he improvised on themes provided in advance by the audience.

Beffa is something of a polymath, a distinguished composer and pianist known for his improvisations, he also has degrees in English, History, Mathematics and Musicology, studying in both Paris and at Cambridge. His doctorate in musicology involved a thesis on György Ligeti's Piano Etudes [in 2016 he published a book on the composer], and he now lectures at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. But intriguingly, from the age of seven to 12 he was a child actor, appearing in more than 15 films. As a composer he was written a piano concerto for Boris Berezovsky and a violin concerto for Renaud Capuçon.

I caught up with Karol, via Zoom, at his studio to talk about playing the piano, the act of composition, and how his improvisation relates to his compositions, and not to forget his work in film.

Karol explained that his improvisation in performances came about by accident. Around 20 years ago he was due to give concert, sharing the platform with another pianist, but at short notice he was informed that the other pianist had had to pull out and that Karol would need to play a full programme. There wasn't time to prepare additional repertoire, so he asked if he could improvise. He took themes from the audience and discovered he rather liked it.

Karol admits that part of the excitement of improvising is that it is like a high-wire act in the circus, you have to go from one point to another with the possibility that you will fall into the pit! But clearly, this is the sort of stimulus he enjoys. So though improvisation came about by accident, Karol took it as a sign and it now plays a significant part of his concert-giving as a pianist.

Friday, 22 May 2020

From Blackheath to California: moving courses on-line as a result of lockdown has expanded Blackheath Conservatoire's audience to a global one

Blackheath Conservatoire (Photo Alexander Nicolaou www.alexandernicolaou.com )
Blackheath Conservatoire (with Blackheath Halls next door)
(Photo Alexander Nicolaou)
With the rigours of lockdown, didactic arts institutions have had to re-invent themselves so that teaching can continue on-line. In the case of Blackheath Conservatoire, its art, music and drama courses aimed at students of all ages and abilities, have not only been taking place on-line but this has resulted in a significant widening of the audience for classes. Based at London's oldest purpose-built arts centre, Blackheath Conservatoire (founded in 1881, with the present building dating from 1896) used to have around 2000 people a week attending classes, from toddlers to pensioners (there is no audition or entry level requirement, just a desire to learn).

Blackheath Conservatoire logo
Now, post-lock down the conservatoire is offering interactive Zoom classes and on-demand YouTube ‘box sets’ for courses ranging from ukulele for 5-year-olds, to watercolour and drama courses for adults. And going on-line has widened the audience for courses from just those people within commuting distance of Blackheath, so that now there are sign-ups from as far away as Scotland and California.

The conservatoire is best known for its early years music classes that plant the seeds for a lifelong musical journey, the online courses include music sessions for tiny tots, ukulele tuition for three-year-olds and above, and individual instrument lessons for children and adults. But during lockdown, parents are finding that the courses are ideal for those coping with home-schooling, and for those interested in acquiring a new skill.

To encourage uptake of its online courses, special offers will be rolled out on social media, including a Course of the Day offer every day on Facebook, free taster lessons for younger children on Facebook and YouTube during half-term, and exclusive course discounts for their e-newsletter subscribers. Extra tutors will be taken on to support the demand, helping to sustain artists and musicians who have been hit by the loss of work with the closure of venues and orchestras. And the Conservatoire’s roster of summer courses for adults and children of all ages opens for booking in June.

Full details from the Blackheath Conservatoire website, details of the remote-learning courses.

 

Essential listening for anyone interested in Estonian music: Vox Clamantis' profoundly beautiful account of the music of Cyrillus Kreek, 'The suspended harp of Babel'

The suspended harp of Babel;
Cyrillus Kreek The suspended harp of Babel; Vox Clamantis, Jaan-Eik Tulve, Anna-Liisa Eller, Angela Ambrosini, Marco Ambrosini; ECM Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 May 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Music at once familiar and unfamiliar, the Estonian choir explores the sacred music of one of the founders of the Estonian choral tradition

To listen to the choral pieces on this disc is to hear music which is somehow familiar. The name of the composer Cyrillus Kreek may well be unfamiliar, but his use of Estonian folk-song as material and his way of treating it musically has had great influence in Estonia. To listen to this music is to hear an essential component of the DNA of much 20th century and contemporary Estonian music. The Suspended Harp of Babel from ECM Records features Vox Clamantis and Jaan-Eik Tulve (conductor), Marco Ambrosini and Angela Ambrosini (nyckleharpa), Anna-Liisa Eller (kannel) in four of Kreek's psalm settings, a selection of his arrangements of Estonia folk-hymns, and settings of verses from the Orthodox liturgy.

Estonian folk-music is threaded through Kreek's work, alongside choral music, the two indissolubly intertwined; Kreek would notate nearly 1300 folk songs, both sacred and secular, and would create choral arrangements of around three quarters of these, providing a fundamental component in the make-up of Estonian choirs. [see my article on Cyrillus Kreek for more background]. Whilst in Psalms of David (1923), the music is his own, in Sacred Folk Songs consists of arrangements of existing Estonian folk-material, but there is a continuum between the two and Kreek's own music has all its elements based on folk material, but used in a sophisticated and sympathetic way. To listen to Kreek's music is to hear his influence on Veljo Tormis and Arvo Part, but it is also to hear that Kreek trained in St Petersburg Conservatory (1908-1916) at a time when Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil (Vespers) was premiered. But Kreek's ear for colour, and his way with his material means that he creates his own distinctive world.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Derek Jarman: Words, Music, Pictures and a Garden



The first Derek Jarman film that I saw was Sebastiane (1979) which, at the time, seem unutterably daring with its combination of homo-eroticism, lyrical male nudity and dialogue in dog Latin (the script was written in English then translated by an academic), and reportedly it was the first film passed by the British Board of Film Censors that depicted an erection. Jarman's film making has provided some of my most memorable film images, with two musical ones standing out; the divine Elisabeth Welch singing in The Tempest (and she was in her mid-70s when the film was made), and Annie Lennox singing in Edward II.

Now there is a chance to celebrate Jarman in a different way, as following the Art Fund's successful campaign of Jarman's Prospect Cottage there is a forthcoming exhibition on his art and his garden at the Garden Museum, and BBC Radio 3 celebrates his garden in Words & Music.

Of course, seeing Sebastiane wasn't the first time that I saw Jarman's work, but I found out afterwards that he was production designer on Ken Russell's film The Devils (1971) and Savage Messiah (1972). But Jarman's feature films from this period, Sebastiane, Jubilee (1978), The Tempest (1979), The Angelic Conversation (1985), Caravaggio (1986), right through to Edward II (1991) were some of the few occasions when I saw films in the main-stream cinema which seemed to speak to me as a young gay man.

Jarman purchased Prospect Cottage on the shingle shore at Dungeness in 1986 following his diagnosis as being HIV positive and it formed the backdrop for his 1990 film The Garden. With the death of Jarman's partner, the fate of the cottage, its garden and contents were in doubt and the Art Fund successfully led a campaign to secure Prospect Cottage for the nation.

The cottage is tiny, and unlikely ever to be open to the public in the usual way, but there is a chance to explore it via the Garden Museum's next exhibition, Derek Jarman: my garden's boundaries are the horizon. This will be the first exhibition to focus on Jarman’s love of gardening, and the role of the garden in his life and work, with works of art and film alongside personal artefacts borrowed from inside the cottage, giving a rare opportunity to experience this precious work of art, garden, and life. The exhibition will display paintings and sculptures from throughout Jarman’s career. The museum is currently closed, but check the museum website for details,  and if you want a preview the exhibition catalogue is available to buy.

And on Sunday (24 May 2020), BBC Radio 3's Words & Music programme is on the subject of Derek Jarman's garden, with from Stravinsky's the Rite of Spring to pop songs by the Pet Shop Boys and Annie Lennox which Jarman directed the videos for. Tilda Swinton reads words from Jarman's books Modern Nature, Chroma, and At Your Own Risk, a moving history of homosexuality in the UK, and Samuel Barnett reads poetry including John Donne's The Sun Rising which is inscribed on the wall of Prospect Cottage.


United in Music: international performance of Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins in aid of UN Refugee Agency

United in Music
At 6pm GMT on 28 May 2020, the violinist Schlomo Mintz will lead a group of international instrumentalists in a virtual performance of Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins. The project, United in Music, is to raise funds for the UN Refugee Agency's COVID-19 response (UNHCR), and the performance will be hosted on UNHCR's YouTube channel
.

The project was initiated by Christine Mori and Alexis Spieldenner of Canadian-based Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts, and now Vivaldi's concerto will be performed by musicians from London, Toronto, Buffalo, New York, San Francisco, Auckland, and Toronto. The soloists in the Vivaldi will be Schlomo Mintz, Carmine Lauri of the London Symphony Orchestra and Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, Jonathan Crow from Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Nikki Chooi from Buffalo Symphony Orchestra.

The programme will also include Mintz's solo rendition of Kreisler's Recitative and Scherzo, and a string version of Rachmaninov's Vocalise performed by young violinists, competition winners and some professors from Albanian, Austria, Australia, Argentine, Brazil, Canada, China, UK, Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Holland, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Taiwan, Singapore, Spain, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, USA and South Korea. Each instrumentalist will rehearse and record in their own home.

You can contribute to UNHCR's fund-raiser by donating at http://unh.cr/5eb9342511, and the concert will be on UNHCR's YouTube channel.

To establish immediate paid opportunities for music creators, so that they can continue working, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival sets up commissioning fund

Jake Burdass, one of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival's Young Curators
Jake Burdass, one of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival's Young Curators
In response to the ongoing crisis, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival has announced a fundraising campaign to provide five £1,000 commissions for UK-based artists affected by the present crisis. Each commission would be for a 15-minute work to be presented at a future edition of the festival. Through the commissions, the festival is seeking to establish immediate paid opportunities for music creators, so that they can continue working, and earning, while securing a commitment that their work will appear at future events.

As a result of being one of the PRS Foundations' Talent Development Partners, the festival has a number of other initiatives supporting young creatives. The Young Curators’ Programme is supporting five Kirklees-based curators in taking their next career steps, developing talent and leadership amongst the music programmers, promoters and curators of the future. Programme participants include Jake Burdass, founder of Huddersfield venue and studio community hub, BASSment, and you can read more about Jake in a profile on the festival's website.

The festival has partnered with Yorkshire Sound Women Network (YSWN) and the Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM) at the University of Huddersfield to create Sound Pioneers, a project offering residencies to create a new piece of music which will be performed at a future edition of the festival.

Please think about donating to the festival's COVID-19 Commissioning Fund.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Music for concentrated and serious listening: Piers Hellawell's Up by the Roots on Delphian

Up by the roots, recent works by Piers Hellawell; Fidelio Trio, Sinead Morrissey, Paul Watkins, Huw Watkins, William Howard, Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, Ulster Orchestra; Delphian
Up by the roots, recent works by Piers Hellawell; Fidelio Trio, Sinead Morrissey, Paul Watkins, Huw Watkins, William Howard, Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, Ulster Orchestra; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 May 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
This disc of music from the last decade showcases the sheer diversity and strength of composer Piers Hellawell's work

This new disc of work by composer Piers Hellawell, the second disc of his work on Delphian, showcases music composed in the decade 2009-2019, as well as celebrating various creative partnerships that Hellawell has developed. We hear Up by the Roots for piano trio and narrator performed by the Fidelio Trio with Sinead Morrissey reading her own words, atria performed by cellist Paul Watkins and pianist Huw Watkins, Ground Truthing performed by the Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, conductor Paul Hayes, Piani, Latebre performed by pianist William Howard and Wild Flow performed by the Ulster Orchestra, conductor Paul Watkins.

Hellawell is based in Belfast where he is professor of composition at Queen's University, and Bernard Hughes' introductory article in the CD booklet fascinatingly explores the ways that Hellawell is both physically and psychologically somewhat on the fringes of the British musical establishment. There is not doubt that his is a distinctive and characterful talent, and this selection of pieces from a decade helps to form a picture of his current approaches to musical style.

Music across the ocean: Chineke! and Sphinx collaborate in digital performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's 'Othello Suite'

Samuel Taylor-Coleridge
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
From today (20 May 2020 until Sunday 24 May 2020) the Chineke! Foundation and the Sphinx Organization will be releasing a series of films of a digital collaboration between the two organisations, a transatlantic concert performing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Othello Suite, with one movement from the suite being released each day.

72 musicians of the Chineke! Orchestra and Sphinx Organization and 9 conductors recorded their individual parts in their homes in the UK, USA and in Europe. Simon Weir of Classical Media then edited the multi-screen footage to create the unified sound of one ensemble.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in London, the son of an English woman and a Creole man from Sierra Leone who was studying medicine in London. Displaying talent from a young age, he was initially taught violin by his grandfather (a farrier by trade), and thanks to family support was able to attend the Royal College of Music, studying composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Coleridge-Taylor wrote incidental music for a production of Shakespeare's Othello at His Majesty's Theatre in 1910-11, and he subsequently arranged five movements as a suite.

Founded in 1997 in Detroit, Michigan, Sphinx has been a trailblazer in enhancing minority ethnic representation in classical music in the United States, and Chineke! was founded in the UK in 2015 to provide performance opportunities for established and up-and-coming black and minority ethnic (BME) musicians, through the work of its professional Chineke! Orchestra, Chamber Ensemble, the Chineke! Junior Orchestra and a thriving Learning & Participation programme.

The films will be released daily at 3pm (UK time) on the social media channels of both organisations:
Sphinx: YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Earth - London Youth Choir goes on-line for the first song from Russell Hepplewhite & Michael Rosen's new collection for Friday Afternoons



Friday Afternoons is a project led by Snape Maltings which aims to connect teachers and young people with contemporary composers, inspired by Benjamin Britten's songs Friday Afternoons which were written for the children at his brother's school.

This year's project involves composer Russell Hepplewhite's collection EVERYTHING, with texts by renowned children’s author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen. Michael completed these texts before he became unwell. The full collection of 12 songs from EVERYTHING will be launched during 2021, and as a taster the London Youth Choir has recorded the song 'Earth' from the collection on YouTube.

Russell Hepplewhite's award-winning opera Laika the spacedog, recently revived by English Touring Opera, was due to be performed at the Opera Comique in Paris this April, and his opera Every Young was performed by W11 Opera in December 2019 [see my article]
Full resources for the song are now available to download for free on the Friday Afternoons website, including scores, lyrics and backing tracks

Going out of their comfort zone: David Nebel and Kristjan Järvi in violin concertos by Philip Glass and Igor Stravinsky

Glass and Stravinsky Violin Concertos; David Nebel, London Symphony Orchestra, Baltic Sea Philharmonic, Kristjan Jarvi; Sony Classical
Glass and Stravinsky Violin Concertos; David Nebel, London Symphony Orchestra, Baltic Sea Philharmonic, Kristjan Järvi; Sony Classical

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 May 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Two disparate composers and two violin concertos, yet each takes the composer out of his comfort zone

At first sight there does not seem much to link Igor Stravinsky's Violin Concerto of 1931 and Philip Glass' Violin Concerto of 1987. But on this new disc from Sony Classical, violinist David Nebel and conductor Kristjan Jarvi pair the two works, the Stravinsky accompanied by Järvi's Baltic Sea Philharmonic Orchestra and the Glass by the London Symphony Orchestra.

In an intriguing note on the booklet, Järvi argues that there are links between the works. Both composers were in their 50s when the works were written, and each work took its composer out of his comfort zone.

Glass' Violin Concerto was the composer's first large-scale orchestral work and his first work for large concert hall, prior to this Glass' music had been chamber scale or for large ensemble. And it isn't just the orchestral forces, this was Glass' first work which addressed traditional Western symphonic form, and Glass' idiosyncratic take in it would lead to his sequence of symphonies, a second violin concerto and three piano concertos.

Glass dedicated the Violin Concerto to his father, saying "His favourite form was the violin concerto, and so I grew up listening to the Mendelssohn, the Paganini, the Brahms concertos. ... So when I decided to write a violin concerto, I wanted to write one that my father would have liked." So in this piece, Glass the Minimalist approaches the Romantic concerto. Violinist Paul Zukofsky, who was a friend and who premiered the piece, played a significant role in the work's genesis as did its first conductor Dennis Russell Davies, who would encourage Glass to write further large scale orchestral works.

1987 was a fascinating year for classical music, whilst in opera John Adams' Nixon in China and Judith Weir's A Night at the Chinese Opera were premiered, in the concert hall the premieres were all of music which preferred complexity to minimalism, including Nicholas Maw's Odyssey, as well the uncategorisable such as John Cage's As Slow as Possible, so Glass' tribute to the Romantic violin concerto tradition, with its tonal structure and lyrical, melodic solo line, must have struck a very different chord indeed.

Stravinsky was similarly outside his comfort zone, writing in a traditional form which he had so far eschewed. In fact, Stravinsky effectively jumped over the Romantic concerto and as with much else in his neo-Classical period was inspired by Baroque music, particularly the concerto grosso with its alternation of large and small groups, even the movement names refer to the Baroque, 'Toccata', 'Aria I', 'Aria II', 'Capriccio'.

Live in Lockdown: The English Music Festival goes on-line

English Music Festival
In common with many other arts events, the 14th English Music Festival (EMF) which was due to take place this month has moved on-line with a weekend of events from Friday 22 May to Monday 25 May 2020.

A number of EMF artists have live filmed concerts and talks from their homes, so we will hear baritone Roderick Williams on Vaughan Williams’s Willow Wood, conductor Hilary Davan Wetton on British composers, conductor Joseph Fort looks at the English version of Brahms’s Requiem, plus talks from composer Richard Blackford and violinist Rupert Marshall-Luck. In his film, Paul Guinery also delves into his basement archive and shares with us his beautiful and fascinating scores.

The baroque group Ensemble Hesperi will be seen in live footage from recent concerts as well as introductions to the music in question, while pianists Duncan Honeybourne and Paul Guinery invite us into their homes for recitals of music by Bax, Vaughan Williams, Howells, Ireland, Moeran, Scott, Ivor Novello and Noel Coward.  Cellist Joseph Spooner is joined by pianist Nicholas Bosworth in a concert entitled The English Cello at Home and Abroad, while Rupert Marshall-Luck plays a solo violin programme of music by Bach, Elgar and Joseph Phibbs.

Full details from the English Music Festival website.

Monday, 18 May 2020

#staystrong: Laura Wright, choir of Royal Holloway College & Rupert Gough release new single to raise awareness of mental health



Soprano Laura Wright has released a new single, written by composer Thomas Hewitt-Jones and lyricist Matt Harvey, with the choir of Royal Holloway College and conductor Rupert Gough. Can you hear me? is released today to raise awareness of mental health and to encourage people to seek support and donate to mental health charities if they feel able to.

All of the musicians involved gave their services for free and hope that the song can be an anthem for kindness, bringing hope all around the world to those suffering with their mental health. Released by Signum, proceeds from the single will be donated to a number of UK-based mental health charities.

Thomas Hewitt-Jones won the BBC Young Composer Competition in his teens and writes contemporary classical music as well as music for film and TV. His most recent projects include a Divertimento for Strings commissioned by Lucy Melvin to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of her Chamber Players courses, and a new organ piece for the centenary of the Exeter & District Organists’ Association to be premiered by Thomas Trotter in Exeter Cathedral, and a large choral commissionfor Sheringham & Cromer Choral Society.

With the aim to guide people to seek help, the accompanying music video provides links to staystrong.org.uk. The #StayStrong campaign provides invaluable links to numerous mental health charities around the UK.

Can you hear me? on YouTube.

In search of Bach and Handel, and Mendelssohn too: Baroque music aficionado, Tony Cooper, travels to Leipzig and Halle

St Thomas’ Church, Leipzig (Photo: S-kay - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5196670)
St Thomas’ Church, Leipzig (Photo: S-kay - Own work, Public Domain)
I’m strolling through the lovely and welcoming city of Leipzig and for some reason or other I feel there’s a touch of magic in the air! Maybe it’s because I’m lost in the mists of time in the company of that great German baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Who knows!

Statue of Bach at St Thomas' Church, Leipzig (Photo: Eric Pancer - I (Vxla (talk)) created this work entirely by myself., CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12392521)
Statue of Bach,
St Thomas' Church, Leipzig
Photo Eric Pancer
Leipzig, however, enjoys a rich musical tapestry inasmuch as Richard Wagner was born here, Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn died here and JS Bach spent the best part of three decades here employed as Kapellmeister at St Thomas’ Church from 1723 until his death in 1750. Robert Schumann also lived here, Georg Philipp Telemann worked here and just up the road in Halle, George Frideric Handel was born. That’s just for starters! And Leipzig’s St Thomas’ Boys Choir is almost as old as the city itself as this world-famous choir was founded in the early 13th century.

Surprisingly, during his lifetime, Bach was not recognised as the great composer he is today until a revival of interest in his music was led in the first half of the 19th century by the young Felix Mendelssohn. He conducted at the age of 20 in 1829 the St Matthew Passion, the first performance since the composer’s death. That started the Bach ball rolling and, thankfully, it hasn’t stopped. And Leipzig plays its role to the full by staging the BachFest - inaugurated in 1904 but held on an annual basis since 1999 - which is nothing but brilliant. Its current artistic director is Sir John Eliot Gardiner who also serves as President of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig.

A frequent visitor to the British Isles, Mendelssohn was truly outstanding becoming conductor of the famous Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in his mid-twenties and going on to found the Leipzig Conservatoire while only in his early-thirties.

Opera Holland Park Open Day

Opera Holland Park open day
Saturday 23 May 2020 is Opera Holland Park's annual Open Day, only this year the Open Day will be a bit different as it is taking place on-line.

There is a Meet the Singers Q&A with three of Opera Holland Park’s principal singers: Alison Langer, Nadine Benjamin and Paul Carey Jones, hosted by Anna Picard, and three Opera Holland Park conductors, Matthew Kofi Waldren, Dane Lam and Lada Valešova, will be giving private and group conducting lessons over the course of the day via Zoom. OHP chorus member, and master of make-up, Ian Massa Harris will be talking about the art of transforming your face for the stage, there is a family workshop based around Verdi's A Masked Ball with the OHP Inspire team, BBC Dancing Town’s Steve Elias leads a fun dance class for all ages and abilities on Zoom, and there will be a tongue-twisting finale with the chorus.

All activities are free and will be available across OHP's social media channels on the day, full details from the OHP website.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

A Life On-Line: Veiled Prophets, Invisible Cities, Swiss Resistance and 'British exceptionalism'

I couldn't resist, this week, another dose of the LouLouBelles, this time in Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, a song which takes me over 30 years to the period when I was doing arrangements for the cabaret group The Insinuendos.

Two cellists, Urska Horvat and Thibault Blanchard-Dubois, performed Borsarello's Tango [YouTube] in support of the Concordia Foundation's Vital Fund. From the cello to the viola da gamba as Ibraham Aziz accompanied himself on harpsichord in J.S. Bach's Andante from Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord no. 2 in D major, BWV 1028 [YouTube]. More Bach from Living Room Live, which has been presenting regular concerts, the most recent was Tamsin Waley Cohen in Freya Waley Cohen's Unveil and J.S. Bach's Violin Partita in E major BWV 1006 [Facebook].

Another group presenting regular live-streamed concerts is Front Room Concerts [Facebook], and any donations made are split between the performers and Help Musicians UK. 12 Ensemble has also started live-streaming, and the first of its events went out this week [Facebook]. The Opera Story was supposed to be giving us a new opera, Pandora's Box, but they continue to be creative in lockdown and are presenting a series of short songs, commissioned and recorded remotely. The first, The One With The Skype Call by Vahan Salorian with Alice Privett, Katie Coventry, Anthony Flaum and Berrak Dyer [YouTube]. Pianist Reiko Fujisawa and actor Crawford Logan are presenting a series Beethoven - pianist, prophet and dreamer exploring Beethoven in words and music [YouTube].

Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has been sharing a delightful series of performances [Facebook], accompanying herself on the piano; the most recent in celebration of Mother's Day in the USA [Facebook], and Angus McPhee was in similar sentimental mood with some Ivor Novello [Facebook]. Maddy Holmes, accompanied by Ben Parker, shared another highly apposite song, 'No-one is alone' from Sondheim's Into the Woods [Facebook]. And in lighter mode, Steven Devine and Kate Semmens provided words, music, vocals and piano for Boris has a road map [YouTube]

Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort & Players' new recording of Purcell's King Arthur [see my review], won the opera and best recording categories in the BBC Music Magazines awards. In celebration, five players and soprano Carolyn Sampson gave us 'Fairest Isle' [Vimeo]. And soprano Barbara Hannigan was due to receive the Glashütte Original Music Festival Award at this year's Dresden Music Festival. As the festival went on-line this year for a 24-hour non-stop event, Hannigan received the award remotely as part of the celebrations.

The British Council School in Madrid has created a terrific on-line version Madness' Our House as Our School [YouTube].

This week we caught up with the Wexford Festival's 2019 performance of Charles Villiers Stanford's first opera The Veiled Prophet which was given in concert with David Brophy conducting Simon Mechliński, Sinéad Campbell-Wallace, Gavan Ring, Mairéad Buicke, John Molloy, Dominick Felix,  and Thomas D Hopkinson. For all its contrived exoticism (the piece was designed to tick all the right Meyerbeerian boxes), the opera is in fact based on a poem, Lalla Roohk by the Irish poet Thomas moore. And whilst Stanford's first opera is not his strongest, it is great to see the Irish composer finally getting a look in at the festival, and performances like this and New Sussex Opera's recent revival of The Travelling Companion [see my review] finally give us a chance to evaluate Stanford as opera composer. [On RTE Player].

And on OperaVision we caught up with the 2012 performance of Rossini's Guillaume Tell from the Pesaro Opera Festival, directed by Graham Vick. Like the performance of Richard Strauss' Die Frau Ohne Schatten from Munich [see my article], the production was somewhat baffling, but the personen-regie was so strong and the musical performance superb so the result was riveting. Michele Mariotti conducted, with Juan Diego Florez as Arnold, Nicola Alaimo as Tell, Amanda Forysthe as Jemmy, Luca Tittoto as Gessler, and Marina Rebeka as Mathilde. The strength of the performance was indicated not so much by the (very fine) performances of the arias but by the sturdy drama of Nicola Alaimo's account of the title role, which has virtual no arias. [OperaVision]. Guillaume Tell is something of a rarity at the best of times, and to hear it performed so well in such a full version was a delight.

Another rarity on OperaVision was Rimsky Korsakov's The Invisible City of Kitezh, a strange late work which people sometimes liken to Parsifal. Dmitri Tcherniakov's award-winning production from Dutch National Opera rather eschewed the religious aspect, but again performances were riveting particularly Svetlana Ignatovich in the terrifically long role of  Fevroniya, with equally strong support from John Daszak, and Maxim Aksenov, conducted by Marc Albrecht [OperaVision]. Like Rossini's opera, this is a piece that we are unlikely to see again soon (and the work has had precious few performances in the UK), so being able to catch it on-line is a boon.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

From the Pillars of Creation to Ely Cathedral: I chat to composer Chris Warner about his Wonders of the Cosmos

Recording The Wonders of the Cosmos in Ely Cathedral
Recording Wonders of the Cosmos in Ely Cathedral
Whilst the name of composer, orchestrator and sound-designer Chris Warner may not be familiar, his work may well be, as this includes orchestrating TV series such as McMafia and the film Common People as well as composing for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Now he has an album out on Audio Network, Wonders of the Cosmos, the musical description of an interstellar voyage across the universe inspired by images from the Hubble telescope, and by the sound of the majestic Ely Cathedral organ. I met up with Chris recently, via Skype, to chat about being inspired by astronomy, writing production music, story-telling in music and more.

Chris describes Wonders of the Cosmos as depicting a journey from the early beginnings of the universe to almost the present day, starting with the cosmic microwave background, going through galaxies, past a planet being eaten by a star right to the edge of our solar system. Chris has a great interest in astronomy, he shares a friend's telescope and is a member of Ely Astronomy Club. As a result of the 30th anniversary of the Hubble telescope, Chris was inspired by images produced from the telescope.

But the project wasn't simply a fantasy idea, but a clear commercial one. Chris works extensively writing production music (what used to be called library music). This is music written by composers without a specific purpose and made available so that it can be used by production teams working in television, film and such. Most TV music is production music; an example that he gives me is the theme tune for Mastermind. Chris writes for Audio Network, a company which gives its artists quite a free-range so that if composers have a creative idea they can pitch to Audio Network and if the company likes it, the composer runs with it. Hence, Chris' suggestion of Wonders of the Cosmos.

The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, original photo taken by the Hubble telescope in 1995
(Photo NASA, Jeff Hester, Paul Scowen - Arizona State University)

A lot of the time production music simply gets released to the film/television industry (this was via CDs in the old days but it is now all on line), but Audio Network chooses selected projects to be released on disc, so that though Wonders of the Cosmos is production music it is also getting a commercial release, and is now on Spotify and 'Whirlpool Galaxy' has reached number 6 on the Spotify Space-Themed Classical Music playlist.

Chris was also keen to involve the fine Harrison & Harrison organ at Ely Cathedral (Chris lives five miles outside the city), so they recorded the organ in the cathedral (played by the cathedral's director of music Edmund Aldhouse), and also recorded soprano Grace Davidson singing in the Lady Chapel, with strings being added at Abbey Road Studios but using some of the acoustic from Ely.

Vale of Glamorgan at Home

Vale of Glamorgan Festival
This weekend, the Vale of Glamorgan Festival is going on-line, with a series of events featuring composers who were to be part of the 2020 festival. The first event, last night, was a mix of discussion and performance with composer and pianist Huw Watkins, composer and festival director John Metcalf, composer and writer Steph Power and harpist Anne Denholm [available on YouTube].

On Monday 18 May 2020, Steph Power will be joined in discussion by composers Mark Bowden, Mared Emlyn, Maja Palser, David John Roche, and director of Ty Cerdd, Deborah Keyser. And there will be performances of each of the composers' music, by David Adams, violin, Robin Green, piano, Anne Denholm, harp, David John Roche, guitar, Matthew Jones, violin, Annabel Thwaite, piano.

Then on Friday 22 May 2020, the festival goes international as John Metcalf and Steph Power will be joined in conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams to discuss his music and creative process. Musicians George Barton (percussion) and Siwan Rhys (piano), and Anne Denholm (harp) perform music by John Luther Adams and also join in the conversation.

See the Vale of Glamorgan Festival's YouTube channel.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Support in uncertain times: Stephen Emmer's 'Maison Melody' released on line

The composer and music producer Stephen Emmer has today, 15 May 2020, released a new album Maison Melody. The album was written and recorded solely by Emmer whilst in lockdown and explores the idea of isolation, family and solitude.

Emmer describes the album thus:

“After finishing composing and arranging in my own house, I re-recorded the piano and string-quartet outside of the house with some other musicians such as Marcel Worms, Dimitrie Leivici and the West Side Trio in a professional studio. The album got mixed by Francesco Donadello who has previously worked with Hildur Guonadottir, Johann Johannson & Ludovico Einaudi. Mastering took place in Berlin. The 10 compositions are lyrical and meditative piano miniatures, characterized by impressionist elegance with simple and direct melody in an effort to compose calm and soothing music for people with an unspoken voice deep inside.”

The album will be free to provide people with music to support them in these uncertain times, particularly those who would not be able to purchase the album due to the impacts of the pandemic.

Stephen Emmer was a member of the Minny Pops (who made their debut supporting Joy Division), The Lotus Eaters and The Associates but he is also renowned for his, ‘concept,’ albums from a spoken word album with Alan Ginsberg, Lou Reed, Richard Burton & Yoko Ono.

Emmer hopes that listening to Maison Melody will inspire others to create at home.

Listen to Maison Melody on SoundCloud and on BandCamp.

Virtual Evensong from Rodolfus Foundation, Friends of Cathedral Music, ChoralEvensong.org, and many more



On Tuesday 19 May 2020, the Rodolfus Foundation, musical director Ralph Allwood, is presenting a Virtual Choral Evensong, a service of Evensong presented on-line and collated from more than 900 video and audio submissions. Participants include Stephen Fry, Alexander Armstrong, Simon Russell Beale and the Rev’d Richard Coles, plus members of the Rodolfus Choir, members of VOCES8 and of course the many people who have submitted videos.

This ambitious project brings together video and audio submissions from around the world for various parts of evensong including an introit, responses, psalms, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, a hymn, anthem, readings, organ voluntaries and prayers. It is bookended by Cosmo Sheldrake’s Evening Chorus, an improvisation using endangered British birds’ songs recorded in Dorset woodland.

The project, in association with ChoralEvensong.org, is in aid of the Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund, set up by the Friends of Cathedral Music and the Ouseley Church Music Trust. The fund aims to raise £1million to support choirs that might not survive the Covid-19 lockdown. Donations can be made at the project's JustGiving page.

Further information from the Rodolfus Foundation website.

Care pupille: The London Concert 1746 - Samuel Mariño in soprano arias by Handel and Gluck

Care pupille: The London Concert 1746 - arias by Handel and Gluck; Samuel Mariño, Handel Festspielorchester Halle, Michael Hofstetter; Orfeo
Care pupille: The London Concert 1746
- arias by Handel and Gluck; Samuel Mariño, Handel Festspielorchester Halle, Michael Hofstetter; Orfeo

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 May 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The young Venezuelan counter-tenor sings soprano arias by Handel and Gluck in a debut recital which demonstrates his remarkable poise and technical facility

Samuel Mariño is a young counter-tenor from Venezuela whose voice has the astonishing ability to sing in the soprano register. His debut disc evokes the tantalising relationship between George Frideric Handel and Christoph Willibald Gluck; the two met whilst Gluck was in London but there are conflicting reports of their relationship. The new disc from Orfeo, Care pupille: The London Concert 1746, invokes a joint concert that was given by the two composers. Samuel Mariño sings largely soprano castrato arias from Handel's Berenice, Atalanta and Arminio, and Gluck's Antigono, La Sofonisba, La Corona, Il Tigrane, accompanied by the Handel Festspielorchester Halle, conducted by Michael Hofstetter.

In March 1746, there was a benefit concert for Decay'd Musicians in London, where music by Handel and Gluck was performed, opera arias by Gluck, opera and oratorio arias by Handel. Handel's focus during this period was firmly on oratorio, he would premiere Occasional Oratorio in 1746 and Judas Maccabeus in 1747. His last opera Deidamia, premiered in 1741 and since then Handel rather seemed to have turned his back on opera, even going so far as to refuse to write a new opera for the Earl of Middlesex's operatic venture in London. Gluck, by contrast, was at the beginning of his career and was invited to London to write for the Earl of Middlesex's company at a period when Gluck was a young travelling virtuoso opera composer. It was bad timing for Gluck as in 1745 the theatres were closed owing to the Jacobite rebellion, but two operas were performed in 1746, La caduta de' giganti and Artamene, both essentially pasticcios. What has come down to us of the relationship of the two composers is a wry anecdote from Handel, and a statement from Gluck about how much he learned in London. Handel's comment (that Gluck knew less about counterpoint than his cook) can be read two ways, as a put down pure and simple or as an indication of the compositional gap between the two.

Mariño, Hofstetter and the Halle orchestra do not try to reconstruct the original concert (which probably included one of Handel's organ concertos), instead they give us their own selection of arias, those by Handel selected from his operas from the 1736/37 season and written for the soprano castrato Gioacchino Conti. The Gluck arias are selected from the composer's surviving early Italian operas, dating from 1743, 1744, 1752 and 1755.

Samuel Mariño has an astonishing voice, unlike some men who sing in the soprano register, Mariño does so with ease, bringing a remarkable fluency and fluidity to his singing.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Sandbox Percussion: 'And That one Too' on Coviello Classics

And that one too - Andy Akiho, David Crowell, Amy Beth Kirsten, Thomas Kotcheff; Sandbox Percussion; Coviello Classics
And that one too
- Andy Akiho, David Crowell, Amy Beth Kirsten, Thomas Kotcheff; Sandbox Percussion; Coviello Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 May 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A striking debut disc from the young American percussion quartet, featuring four works written for them

Sandbox Percussion is an American percussion quartet currently making a name for themselves. The group made its UK debut at the 2019 Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival when they premiered a piece by Benjamin Wallace for percussion quartet and fairground organ!

For Sandbox Percussion's debut album, on Coviello Classics, And That One Too, they perform music by Andy Akiho, David Crowell, Amy Beth Kirsten and Thomas Kotcheff. Sandbox Percussion is Jonny Allen, Victor Caccese, Ian David Rosenbaum and Terry Sweeney.

The disc opens with Andy Akiho's Haiku 2, the second of six short pieces he wrote for a contemporary music ensemble in 2011. Akiho has created a new version for percussion quartet, scored for tuned ceramic bowls, metal pipes, wooden slats, a metal pot lid, a glass bottle and a piece of scrap metal. The result is very seductive, as if Ravel's Princess and the Pagodas had come to land in a 21st century percussion quartet. Though wordless, the piece does observe the conventions of haiku with its rhythmic structure.

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