Wednesday, 23 September 2020

From Early English epic to music-theatre: Toby Young's Beowulf with the Armonico Consort and AC Academy choirs

Toby Young Beowulf; Timothy West, Elin Manahan Thomas, Anne Dennholm, Toby Young, Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks; SIGNUM

Toby Young Beowulf; Timothy West, Elin Manahan Thomas, Anne Denholm, Toby Young, Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks; SIGNUM

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 September 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A modern re-interpretation of the epic Early English poem with forces which include members of choirs from Armonico Consort's education scheme

The epic poem, known as Beowulf (the sole surviving manuscript lacks a title) is one of the most important surviving works of Old English literature. And for all its significance, it is also a rattling good tale, though the poem's length (some 3,000 lines) and form (alliterative Early English verse in heroic style) make the poem somewhat tricky to apprehend. No translation can ever quite do justice to the original, and the use of alliteration and other structural devices can seem archaic and, frankly, sometimes laughable, yet it takes some doing to appreciate the poem in its original Early English. But, if you put in the work then the effect of Beowulf recited aloud is thrilling.

This new disc from Signum Classics transfers Beowulf to something like music theatre, with music by Toby Young and a narration spoken by Timothy West. Christopher Monks directs the Armonico Consort with AC Academy Warwick and AC Academy Scholars, plus soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, harpist Anne Denholm and the composer on keyboards. The text of the piece is based on an original idea by Daniel Coleman-Cooke, with script by William Towers and libretto by Jennifer Thorp.

The inclusion of two choirs from Armonico Consort's AC Academy after-school choirs scheme give a clue to the work's genesis. This is an inclusive project with performers including 23 young people, and in his introductory note in the booklet Daniel Coleman-Cooke makes it clear that the work was aimed at adults and children, at those unfamiliar with the original.

Spotlight on Mark-Anthony Turnage, Brian Elias, Eleanor Alberga: Music@Malling on-line festival

Malling Abbey (Norman West front and the modern church) - Photo Malling Abbey
Malling Abbey (Norman West front and the modern church) - Photo Malling Abbey

Each September, Thomas Kemp's festival Music@Malling brings a programme of live music, ranging from early to contemporary, classical to jazz, world and film music, to West Malling in Kent. This year, celebrations are on-line as the festival (founded in 2011) looks forward to its 10th anniversary in 2021. So this year there will be the Music@Malling Online Festival running from 16 to 18 October 2020, with the spotlight on music of Mark-Anthony TurnageBrian Elias and Eleanor Alberga. But outside this, activities continue on the festival's on-line channel At Home with Music@Malling, with a programme of performances, workshops, outreach and educational events.

The on-line festival will feature pianist Daniel Grimwood performing Beethoven sonatas alongside music by Brian Elias and Mark-Anthony Turnage, Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time with Thomas Kemp (violin), Jon Carnac (clarinet), Richard Harwood (cello), Sophie Rahman (piano) alongside improvisations by James Pearson (pianist at Ronnie Scott's), cellist Richard Harwood performs Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 plus music by Reger, Turnage and Elias, and harpist Hugh Webb and violinist Ann Beilby in a programme of English music.

The festival's resident ensemble Chamber Domaine performs music by Turnage and Elias, plus music from the festival's young composer forum Go Compose! Other events include Lizzie Ball and Classical Kicks, James Pearson and his trio, an on-line workshop with Nigel Short of Tenebrae, and there are a number of Meet the Artist events with Lizzie Ball, James Pearson, Thomas Kemp, composers Mark Anthony Turnage, Brian Elias, and Eleanor Alberga.

The finale to the festival is a performance of Eleanor Alberga's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs narrated by Matthew Sharp; an interactive and fun concert for all the family to enjoy, which will also form part of an extended outreach programme in 20 local primary schools run in conjunction with Kent Music.

Looking ahead, Music@Malling returns to live performance in April 2021 with a celebration of the 300th anniversary of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, performed in Malling Abbey alongside new works by Brian Elias, Deborah Prichard, Daniel Kidane, Joseph Phibbs, Michael Price and Stevie Wishart. And in May 2021 there will be Turnage at 60, a weekend exploring the music of Mark-Anthony Turnage, including the premiere of a new Clarinet Concertino.

Full details from the Music@Malling website.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Make Opera Live Again: Helena Dix returns to Chelsea Opera Group for a live concert at Cadogan Hall with Catherine Carby, Christopher Turner, Julien van Mellaerts and Gary Matthewman

Helena Dix
Helena Dix
Soprano Helena Dix sang the title role in Bellini's Norma with Chelsea Opera Group in 2018, to great acclaim [see my review], and planned a return to the company in June 2020 to sing the role of Queen Elizabeth in Donizetti's opera Roberto Devereux, but fate had other plans. 

Not only was the performance of Roberto Devereux cancelled as a result of lockdown, but Dix herself came down with COVID-19. But the soprano is returning to sing with Chelsea Opera Group with a live audience at the Cadogan Hall on 8 November 2020, when Chelsea Opera Group is presenting Make Opera Live Again a concert of opera arias with a reduced orchestra.

The concert will feature Aria and ensembles from popular works by Verdi, Mozart, Bellini and Donizetti, performed by Helena Dix (soprano), Catherine Carby (mezzo-soprano), Christopher Turner (tenor) and Julien van Mellaerts (baritone), conducted by Gary Matthewman.

Christopher Turner sang the role of Pollione in that 2018 Norma, and had planned the title role in Mozart's Idomeneo with Chelsea Opera Group (another casualty of lockdown). We last caught Catherine Carby as Elcia in Rossini's Moise in Egitto with Chelsea Opera Group in 2018 [see my review]. We last caught Julien van Mellaerts singing the title role on Stanford's The Travelling Companion with New Sussex Opera [see my review], and in the London Song Festival's concert celebrating Walt Whitman's bicentenary [see Anthony's review]

Full details from the Cadogan Hall website.

Positive Note Autumn Sessions

I last heard tenor Daniel Norman in 2019 in RVW's On Wenlock Edge with Sholto Kynoch and the Brodsky Quartet at the Oxford Lieder Festival with an animated film by Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood. This year, of course, Norman's diary rapidly emptied. He started producing on-line performances, including Oxford Bach Soloists' St John Passion in nine weekly episodes. Norman has developed this into Positive Note Films, and will be presenting an online festival in October, Positive Note Autumn Sessions. 

The festival will be behind a paywall, and they are currently crowdfunding so that they will be able to pay all the artists taking part in the festival. The intention is not only to enable performers to perform together again, but to earn an income as well.

The performances will not be live streamed, but created as films which avoids the technological problems associated with live-streaming and enables some post-production work. There will be also added content, such as some animation in one of the films. The performances are all taking place at the Silk Hall in Radley College in Oxfordshire.

The planned eight performances feature an impressive selection of performers in a wide range of repertoire:

  • The Dance Continues with soprano Anna Dennis, mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals Simmons, tenor Daniel Norman, baritone Roderick Williams, and pianist Sholto Kynoch in songs of birds and trees with shadow pupped animations by Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood
  • the Gesualdo Six in Bushes and Briars, music of Nature and youth
  • violinist Jonathan Stone and Sholto Kynoch in Beethoven and Mozart
  • Daniel Norman and oboist Emily Pailthorpe in RVW's Blake settings with Blake's original images
  • A voice of one's own songs by women composers performed by Diana Moore and John Reid 
  • The truth about love featuring Percy Grainger's folk-song arrangements, Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock, Finzi's Bagatelles and Britten's Cabaret Songs with Helen Sherman, Claire Egan, Catriona Scott and Charlotte Brennand
  • Haydn and Smetana piano trios with the Mitsu Trio
The crowdfunding runs until 8 October with an attractive range of rewards, and from then tickets will be available for purchase. Further details from the Crowdfunder website,  with more information at the Positive Note website after 8 October.

The Rakes Progress: Blackheath Halls Opera goes online with Nicky Spence, Ashley Riches, Francesca Chiejina

Stravinsky: The Rakes Progress - Nicky Spence, Ashley Riches, Francesca Chiejina - Blackheath Halls Opera

At a time when large-scale amateur music making is hardly possible, Blackheath Halls Opera, having cancelled plans for live performances of Verdi's Macbeth, has come up with a lively way to ensure that its members are able to continue performing, a 30-minute digested version of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, directed by James Hurley and film in Blackheath Halls and in the performers' homes. 

The film debuts on-line on Saturday 3 October 2020, and features a terrific cast with Nicky Spence (the company's patron) as Tom Rakewell, Ashley Riches as Nick Shadow, Francesca Chiejina as Anne Truelove, James Way as Sellem, Kitty Whately as Baba the Turk and Carolyn Williamson as Mother Goose, with musical director Christopher Stark and featuring Blackheath Halls Orchestra, Blackheath Halls Chorus, Royal Greenwich & Blackheath Halls Youth Choir.

All orchestral and chorus music was recorded by players in their own homes, aided by recordings prepared by singers at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Blackheath Halls Opera aims to include 30% of participants who have not been involved in a production before, and chorus members often have no previous choral experience. 

The film follows the success in June of Blackheath Halls Opera's online performance of 'Tre sbirri, una carrozza' from Puccini's Tosca starring Matthew Rose.


Steravinsky's The Rakes Progress premieres on Saturday 3 October 2020 at 5.30pm on Blackheath Halls YouTube & Facebook

New programming, new beginnings: the Gesualdo Six's London Sound Gallery

The strange situation this year has made a number of artists act proactively in terms of creating performances or rethinking the way that they interact with audiences. A new festival in response to the present crisis challenges young performers to explore new programming and to collaborate. The London Sound Gallery, a new festival created by the Gesualdo Six, artistic director Owain Park, will present six performances, live and on-line, from some of London's lively young talent. Live concerts take placed on 28 and 29 October 2020, and are to be streamed on Sundays from 25 October to 5 November.

Performers in the festival include  Fieri Consort in Monteverdi and Marenzio alongside contemporary pieces,  mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and lutenist Toby Carr explore abandoned heroines in 17th century music (and there are plenty of those!), Ensemble Augelletti explore composers' habit of re-orchestrating music for different forms with pieces by Handel, Bach, Corelli, Graun, and Schop,  trumpeter Matilda Lloyd and pianist Martin Cousin perform Marcello, Sofia Gubaidulina, Brahms and Laurence Bitensky, and The Hermes Experiment in Emily Hall, Errollyn Wallen, Alex Mills, Anna Meredith and Peter Maxwell Davies, plus two new graphic scores by Anna Disley-Simpson and Jacob Fitzgerald, as well as the Gesualdo Six in a programme exploring modern settings of ancient texts including Kepler Motets by Tim Watts who is artist in residence at Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy. 

The festival's themes are new beginnings and reconciliation, and performances will see the Gesualdo Six collaborating with each artist as part of their programme. The new festival is very much a response to the current crisis, and the group intends it to offer a focal point for new programming and collaborative performances.

A limited number of tickets are available for the live performances on 28 and 29 September, and streaming starts on Sunday 25 October 2020 at 5pm, see the Gesualdo Six website for details.

Monday, 21 September 2020

Making the Magic happen again: Leoncavallo's Pagliacci live in Islington

Leoncavallo's Pagliacci live on October 3, 2020

With theatres and concert halls closed for over six months and, despite some very welcome performances, no prospect of regular concert life returning, some artists are turning entrepreneur and making events happen. Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard has gather some musical friends together, braved the rigours of risk-assessment, social distancing and lack of budget, and Let Us Make Noise was born. The company is putting on Leoncavallo's 1892 Verismo masterpiece Pagliacci is being performed at St James' Church, Islington on Saturday 3 October 2020, with Elin Pritchard as Nedda, Peter Auty as Canio, Robert Hayward as Tonio, Nicholas Lester as Silvio and Aled Hall as Beppe, directed by Christopher Luscombe, conducted by John Andrews, with accompaniment provided by Berrak Dyer (piano), Fenella Humphries (violin) and Sophie Gledhill (piano). And there will be a small chorus of recent music graduates.

Conductor John Andrews said: "This seems such a timely piece at the moment. Performers are struggling so much under current conditions, but the need to put on your costume, do your make-up and give an audience a damn good show, is as strong as ever."

Christopher Luscombe directed Verdi's Falstaff at the 2019 Grange Festival with Robert Hayward in the title role, Elin Pritchard as Alice Ford, Nicholas Lester as Ford [see my review], and we last caught Peter Auty as Des Grieux in Puccini's Manon Lescauty at Opera Holland Park in 2019 [see my review].

The company aims to take a leap of faith and strip opera to its emotional core of music and drama, and with a few days of intense rehearsal they will make some magic happen again. 

Full details and tickets from EventBrite.

A Life On-Line: Joyce DiDonato in the Ruhr, ORA Singers in the Turbine Hall, Dowland at Hatfield House

Suzi Digby and ORA Singers in the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern
Suzi Digby and ORA Singers in the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern

Our week started with Joyce DiDonato who gave a live recital as part of the Met Stars Live series. Originally intended to be filmed in Barcelona (where DiDonato lives), the venue was moved twice and ended up being filmed at the Jahrhunderthalle Bochum in the Ruhr, Germany. The programme, inspired by the Langston Hughes poem I dreamed a world, moved freely between Baroque and Contemporary, with a lot in between and there was an element of 'no expense spared' about it as for the Baroque music, DiDonato was accompanied by the period instrument ensemble Il Pomo d'Oro, and for the remainder of the repertoire by Carrie-Ann Matheson on piano. It was a staged recital, DiDonato did not use music and brought a strong element of dramatic staging to her performance, so that a vivid yet fragile account of Ottavia's 'Addio Roma' from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea led to a highly dramatic and very personal performance of Didon's final scene from Berlioz' Les Troyens which seemed to almost merge into Mahler's Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen sung with intimate, bleached tone. It was a striking concept and DiDonato's mesmerising performance held things together despite the disjoint between Il Pomo d'Oro's accompaniment of the Monteverdi and the Berlioz on piano.

If the first section of the recital was all about loss, then the second was intended to consider the consolation of nature. We started with the American traditional song Shenandoah sung unaccompanied, followed by a strikingly direct account of 'As with rosy steps the morn' from Handel's Theodora, and then an engagingly dancey version of Penelope's 'Illustratevi, o cieli' from Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse with lots of delightful ornamentation from the instruments. Finally, in this section came Ariodante's joyous 'Dopo notte atra e funesta' from Handel's opera, again with a sense of dance rhythm so strong that you felt that DiDonato wanted to dance as well as sing.

Next came a contemporary piece, a new commission; a setting of Langston Hughes' I dream a world by Kenyatta Hughes, at first a slow bluesy, it became more dramatic yet always highly soulful. DiDonato met Kenyatta Hughes whilst he was incarcerated at Sing Sing Prison, and she commissioned the song directly from him. In one of the intervals of the concert there was a tri-partite discussion between DiDonato, Kenyatta Hughes and Sister Helen Prejean (who wrote the book Dead Man Walking on which Jake Heggie's opera was based). This was followed by another of the programme's striking leaps, back to Antonio Cesti's 1656 opera Orontea and a touching account of 'Intorno all'idol mio', and the final appearance of Il Pomo d'Oro in the programme.

The juxtaposition of Cherubino's 'Voi che sapete' from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Edith Piaf's La vie en rose (written by Louiguy) might not seem obvious, but DiDonato had decided to return to Cherubino (a role she has not sung on stage for some time) by imagining the young man in a French cabaret! Then came the elegant melancholy of Alberto Ginastera's Cancion al arbol del olvido, and finally 'You'll never walk alone' from Rogers and Hammerstein's Carousel which certainly does not sound hackneyed when DiDonato sings it! [Met Stars Live]

On Wednesday, Suzi Digby and ORA Singers gave the premiere of James MacMillan's 40-part motet Vidi aquam in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern (celebrating the release of their recent disc of the work alongside Tallis' 40-part motet, see my review).

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Composing The Red Shoes: I chat to Terry Davies about creating the score for Matthew Bourne's ballet based on Bernard Herrmann's music

Matthew Bourne: The Red Shoes - Ashley Shaw  as Victoria Page, Glenn Graham as Grischa Ljubov ( Photo by Johan Persson)
Matthew Bourne: The Red Shoes
Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page, Glenn Graham as Grischa Ljubov
(Photo by Johan Persson)

The film of Matthew Bourne's ballet The Red Shoes is due to be released on 30 September 2020 (The Red Shoes is directed for the screen by Ross McGibbon and distributed by More2Screen, screening information from the film's website).

Terry Davies
Terry Davies

The ballet is inspired by the 1948 Powell and Pressburger film (which featured Dame Moira Shearer) and by the original Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. The film was notable for featuring a full fifteen-minute ballet, with music by the British composer Brian Easdale (1909-1995), who wrote music for a number of Powell and Pressburger films and who was the first British composer to win an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score for The Red Shoes. But for his ballet Matthew Bourne turned to the music of another distinguished film composer, Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) with the arrangements and orchestration done by Terry Davies, who has collaborated with Bourne on a number of other ballets. I spoke to Terry to find out more.
Terry admits that it was not an easy decision to ignore Easdale's music when looking for a score for the ballet, but apart from the much-lauded ballet sequence, there was simply not enough music in the film. Matthew Bourne had long wanted to do something using Herrmann's music and the choice made life much easier for Terry as Herrmann's music is thematically rich and structured in a way which made it easier to include the music in a very different narrative to the films for which it was originally written.
Bourne had a clear idea of the music of Herrmann's that he liked, and they concentrated on Herrmann's earlier, pre-Hitchock scores. They used a relatively small number of Herrmann's scores; the more they talked about it the better it seemed to keep the unity of the score, and from the point of get the rights to the music. It also meant that the final ballet score would avoid the feeling of being simply a mix of favourite tracks.

Original publicity still for the film 'The Red Shoes.' From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives
Original publicity still for the film The Red Shoes
Moira Shearer, Robert Helpman, Leonid Massine
From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives

Terry and Matthew Bourne know each other well, having worked on a number of previous projects and this meant that they could keep the 'nuts and bolts' discussion to a minimum.

Friday, 18 September 2020

Music from a Room

Joel Lundberg Music from a room; Kalle Stenbäcken

Joel Lundberg Music from a room; Kalle Stenbäcken

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 September 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Diverse influences, including that of Frank Zappa contribute to this suite of piano pieces by contemporary Swedish composer, Joel Lundberg

Joel Lundberg is a contemporary composer based in Sweden, and his background includes a long stint playing the guitar in a progressive indie rock band as well as having a degree in composition and improvisation. His inspirations range from Kraftwerk, Charles Mingus, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Radiohead to Stravinsky, Bartok and Debussy, with Frank Zappa looming large. Joel Lundberg's latest project is Music from a room, a disc of piano solos performed by Kalle Stenbäcken.

One of the inspirations that Lundberg quotes is Frank Zappa, "The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively - because, without this humble appliance, you can't know where The Art stops and The Real World begins. You have to put a 'box' around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall?

Choral-electronic mixology! Festival Voices perform Handel remixes live in Peckham

Handel Remixed Volume II from Festival Voices on Vimeo.

The vocal ensemble Festival Voices has livened up previous London Handel Festivals with choral/electronic re-mixes of Handel favourites and the plan was for them to do something similar at this year's London Handel Festival. That performance has now been re-scheduled and on Saturday 3 October 2020, in collaboration with the London Handel Festival, Festival Voices are performing at Copeland Park in Peckham. If you are a Handel purist, then stop reading here as I doubt this is for you, but if you are willing to open your ears and consider new ways of performing and listening to Baroque music then read on.

Gregory Batsleer will conduct Festival Voices and Ensemble FV in what is described as 'a programme of choral-electronic mixology featuring Handelian choruses and arias from the Coronation Anthems, Jephtha and Tamerlano.' The programme will be re-mixed live with electronic music by DJ and producer Nico Bentley.

I have to confess that the term 'choral-electronic mixology' really grates, I dislike the term when used to refer to cocktails and it seems even more false when applied to electronic remixes of Handel's music. But it is unwise to let over-clever marketing affect our appreciation of music, and certainly Festival Voices' performance promises to be a breath of fresh air.

Nico Bentley has this to say about the music, 'Without doubt the standout features of the baroque repertoire are a fixation of both rhythm and pulse plus they love a solid harmonic progression. This is also the backbone of all electronic music.  The fusing together of two genres like this is both an exciting and thrilling opportunity to experiment and explore how the fundaments of music haven’t changed for over 500 years. The style of Handel's music lends itself brilliantly to incorporating beats commonly heard in clubs throughout the world.'

There will be two performances, at 4pm and at 7pm, with 120 tickets for each. Full details from the Festival Voices website, and the London Handel Festival website.

O Lux Beata Trinitas

The Slovenian Philharmonic Choir, conducted by Sebastjan Vrhovnik in a setting of the early Christian hymn of St. Ambrosius, O Lux Beata Trinitas, by Slovenian composer Andrej Makor (born 1987). The choir was founded as a professional choir in 1991; initially known as the Slovenian Chamber Choir, it has been operating within the framework of the Slovenian Philharmonic since 1998. 

Andrej Makor studied in his native Slovenia and at the conservatory in Padua, Italy. In Ausut 2015 his work Paisaje was performed by the BBC Singers, and in  2018 his composition Silence won second prize at the London Ear Festival, and his piece Kyrie was commissioned by the BBC for the BBC Singers.

The recording was made in August 2020 at the Church of St. Francis (Cerkev sv. Frančiška), Ljubljana, Slovenia. The church was built by Jože Plečnikbetween 1925 and 1927 and is similar to Plečnik's designs for the church of the Sacred Heart in Prague, built-in 1922.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Petworth Festival - live on-line

Petworth Festival

You won't need to travel to Petworth for this year's Petworth Festival as the events are all being performed live in Petworth and streamed on the festival website. And a fine line-up of performers they have too, with instrumental recitals, chamber concerts and Beethoven concerto.

The festival runs from 16 October to 1 November 2020, and opens with Howard Shelley and the London Mozart Players in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3. Other events include cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason in Bridge, Beethoven and Rachmaninov, pianist Mitsuko Uchida in Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, violinist Tasmin Little in one of her final concerts before retirement performing music by Brahms, Strauss, Amy Beach and Lili Boulanger with pianist John Lenehan, guitarist Milos, and pianists Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva in Brahms, Schubert and Beethoven. There are also concerts from Clare Teal and her trio, and Patti Boulaye, who is singing repertoire associated with Aretha Franklin.

The festival also includes the Petworth Literary Week which kicks off on 24 October 2020 with Joanna Trollope.

Full details from the festival website.

Intimate and forward-looking: Niccolò Jommelli's Requiem from Italian forces

Jommelli Requiem; Sandrine Piau, Carlo Vistoli, Raffaele Giordani, Salvo Vitali, Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, Giulio Prandi; Arcana
Jommelli Requiem; Sandrine Piau, Carlo Vistoli, Raffaele Giordani, Salvo Vitali, Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, Giulio Prandi; Arcana

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 September 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An eighteenth century pre-cursor to Mozart's Requiem proves to be an intimate and subtle work

If Niccolò Jommelli is known at all it is mainly for his sequence of operas written for the Duke of Württemberg at his palace of Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart. These operas played an important role in the development of the operatic reform movement whose best known operas are those of Gluck. But though Jommelli is known for his operas, he wrote other works too, particularly in the period of his life before he worked for the Duke of Württemberg. But even for the Duke, Jommelli did write some sacred music and on this new disc from Arcana we hear Niccolò Jommelli's Requiem with Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, conducted by Giulio Prandi, with soloists Sandrine Piau, Carlo Vistoli, Raffaele Giordani, and Salvo Vitale.

The Duke was cultivated and music loving (a pupil of C.P.E. Bach, who dedicated a celebrated collection to him) and he allowed Jommelli considerable lee-way when it came to the sequence of operas written for him. So, when on 1 February 1756, the Duke's mother, Maria Augusta of Turn und Taxis, died it was to Jommelli that the duke turned for a Requiem Mass. Maria Augusta had been Roman Catholic, though the duchy was Protestant, and her funeral was held in the intimate chapel at Ludwigsburg. Evidently the music was composed quickly (the surviving manuscript suggests three days!), but it became very well known and was one of the most popular settings of the Requiem Mass until that of Mozart (written in 1791). Mozart may well have known the setting, as a pupil of his father's transcribed the work in Salzburg in 1775.

On-line fundraiser for Conway Hall: Jubilee Quartet in Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven

The Jubilee Quartet
The Jubilee Quartet

Like many venues, Conway Hall is short of money having had to cancel its live programme. The Sunday concerts series is the longest-running of its kind in Europe and the hall is fundraising to that the series may continue. On Sunday 20 September 2020, the Jubilee Quartet (Teresa Privratska, Julia Loucks, Lorena Canto Wolteche, Toby White) will be giving an on-line concert from the hall as a fundraiser to support the continuation of concerts. The quartet was recently named as the Associate String Quartet at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and in 2019 released its debut disc of Haydn quartets [see my review]. Sunday's programme will be Haydn's Quartet in E flat Op.20 No.1, Schubert's Quartetsatz D703 and Beethoven's Quartet in A minor, Op.132.

To experience the event, you need to register in advance and the hall is asking for a donation when registering. Further details from the hall's website. You can also simply support the fundraising directly    

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Back in business: St John's Smith Square announces a season of live concerts and digital events

St John's Smith Square
St John's Smith Square

Having successfully piloted concerts with live audiences in July, St John's Smith Square has announced a season of live concerts commencing in October and stretching all the way to the venue's 35th Christmas Festival. The concerts for October have already been announced and start on 1 October 2020 with a lunchtime concert, Foi d'animal from soprano Sian Dicker and pianist Krystal Tunnicliffe, organised in conjunction with the Oxford Lieder Festival. Concerts for November and December will be announced on 5 October 2020, with the Christmas Festival running from 8 to 23 December. Alongside the live concerts is a programme of digital events.

Other lunchtime concerts in October include Anneke Scott (horn) and the Consone Quartet in the intriguingly titled Mozart's Stolen Beauties with music by Michael Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart, baritone Roderick Williams, pianist Mark Bebbington with members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jan Latham Koenig in Poulenc's Aubade and Le bal masque,  The Gesualdo Six in Tallis and White juxtaposed with Roxanna Panufnik, Judith Bingham and Alec Roth, the Minerva Piano Trio in Schubert and Ravel, and the Early Music group Improviso as part of SJSS Young Artist Series. There will also be a chance to hear the SJSS organ in recital with Peter Holder.

There are also afternoon concerts, including bass James Platt and pianist Michael Pugh in Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death and Brahms' Four Serious Songs, Chineke Chamber Ensemble, the Revolutionary Drawing Room in Beethoven's Late Quartets (including the Grosse Fugue) spread over four concerts. 

Evening concerts include Rolf Hind's festival Occupy the Pianos returns, pianist Joseph Havlat in Suk and Dvorak as part of SJSS Young Artist Series, James Blair conducting the Young Musician's Symphony Orchestra, a repeat of the Gesualdo Six's lunchtime concert, a further appearance from Chineke Chamber Ensemble in Samuel Taylor Coleridge and RVW, and Kristian Bezuidenhout conducting the English Concert in a programme of Purcell odes.

Many of the concerts will also be available on line, and Improvisio will also be giving an online workshop, whilst soprano Lotte Betts Dean and pianist Joseph Havlat will be giving an exclusive online performance of Messiaen's Hawari

The hall will be operating at significant reduced capacity (20% of peak capacity) with a one-way system in operation and many other measures. 

Full details from the SJSS website.

Of clocks, time and the hive mind: Martin Bussey's 'Timeless Figure' and 'We Sing/I Sang' at Tête à Tête

We Sing/I Sang - Hannah Gardner, Leo Doulton, CN Lester - Tête à Tête 2020 (Photo Claire Shovelton)
We Sing/I Sang - Hannah Gardiner, Leo Doulton, CN Lester - Tête à Tête 2020
(Photo Claire Shovelton)

We Sing/I Sang
, Martin Bussey Timeless Figure; Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at the Cockpit

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 September 2020
A meditation on time, based around 17th century Shropshire clock-maker, and an improvised opera which attempted to assess the reactions of the audience's Hive Mind

Martin Bussey: Timeless Figure - Peter Edge - Tête à Tête 2020 (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Martin Bussey: Timeless Figure
Peter Edge - Tête à Tête 2020
(Photo Claire Shovelton)

On Tuesday 15 September 2020, we returned to The Cockpit for two further live opera premieres from Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival. Timeless Figure by Martin Bussey, performed by Peter Edge, baritone, Daniel Mawson, clarinet, Joe Lenehan, viola, and Darren Gallacher, marimba, conducted by Martin Bussey with images by Laurel Turton, plus We Sing/I Sang, an improvised opera devised by Leo Doulton with CN Lester, voice, and Hannah Gardiner, viola, musical director Erika Gundesen.

Martin Bussey was the composer of Mary's Hand about Queen Mary I, which was performed at the 2018 festival [see my review]. His new opera also takes an historical figure, the clockmaker JB Joyce (Peter Edge) who founded the eponymous firm of clockmakers (still in existence) in 1680. During the 19th and early 20th centuries the company was responsible for installing many of the display clocks around the world. Bussey, who wrote his own text, used the historical figure of Joyce and the connection to clocks around the work, to create a meditation on clocks and time across the ages.

The result was something of a 45-minute tour de force for baritone Peter Edge, whose engaging performance very much carried the piece. Edge managed to bring personality to what was less of a narrative and more of a thoughtful and complex philosophical consideration. He was finely supported by the musicians, and Bussey's writing structured the work in sections so that we got to appreciate his imaginative writing for marimba, clarinet and viola, with the composer using the instruments singly or severally to create some striking textures. In style the music was fundamentally tonal, but complex with Edge's vocal line being expressive and singer-friendly yet highly wrought.

Accompanying the music was a series of images by Laurel Turton, these formed their own meditation on clocks and time, with a focus very much on clocks installed by JB Joyce and company. Unfortunately, these images were perhaps a bit too absorbing and sometimes took attention from the performance, particularly when there was a disjoint in subject. Turton seemed to have a particular fascinating for historic locations in Chicago, which was a city which did not seem to crop up in Bussey's text, leading you to wonder why.

The Heath Quartet at Wigmore Hall: late Bach and middle-period Beethoven

The Heath Quartet
The Heath Quartet
(Oliver Heath, Gary Pomeroy, Sara Wolstenholme, Christopher Murray)

Bach The Art of Fugue, Beethoven String Quartet in C Op.59 No.3 'Razumovsky'; The Heath Quartet; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 September 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A riveting account of middle-period Beethoven and some stylish, expressive late Bach
My first visit to the Wigmore Hall since it re-opened, a strange experience with a widely spaced out audience and staggered entry times, but it was lovely to be able to experience live music indoors. Whilst the hall's concerts are available for streaming on the hall's website, there is nothing like hearing live music in close quarters.

On 15 September 2020, the Heath Quartet (Oliver Heath, Sara Wolstenholme, Gary Pomeroy, Christopher Murray) performed a programme of Bach and Beethoven at Wigmore Hall, pre-fixing  Beethoven's String Quartet in C Op.59 No.3 'Razumovsky' with four movements from Bach's The Art of Fugue, contrapunctus 1, 5, 9, 14.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Sinfonia Cymru looks forward to returning to live performance to celebrate 25 years

Sinfonia Cymru will be 25 next year, and the Welsh chamber orchestra is going to be celebrating. Its on-line presence continues with two series, In Conversation and Musicians in Lockdown, whilst it is planning a return to live performance in 2021, with 25 performances across Wales in The Mainly Village Halls Tour, and Tales from a French trumpet with French trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary.

Summer 2021 will see the ensemble giving 25 free mini-concerts in towns and villages around Wales to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Before then in March (18-21/3/2020) in Cardiff, Hafren and Mold, the twenty-one-year-old French trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary will join the orchestra for a jazz-inspired programme which moves from Hummel's Trumpet Concerto to Kurt Weill's Je ne t'aime pas! March also sees the continuation of the ensemble's Curate series at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, in which members of the orchestra create their own concerts. Next year also sees the continuing of the orchestra's lunchtime concerts at The Riverfront, Newport, and they will be joining with the National Museum in Cardiff for A Day at the Museum (8/4/2021).

Before then, there is a chance to get to know the orchestra on-line. A new on-line series, In Conversation (beginning 22/9/2020) sees the orchestra's leader, Caroline Pether having a series of conversations with musicians including conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy, and Sinfonia Cymru musicians Simmy Singh and Roberto Ruisi, plus board member Simone Willis. The orchestra's on-line Musicians in Lockdown series also continues, with orchestra members producing content from their own homes, including a version of Aretha Franklin's I say a little prayer.

Full details from the Sinfonia Cymru website.

Orchestral showcase: Simon Rattle conducts Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen on LSO Live

Janacek The Cunning Little Vixen; Lucy Crowe, Gerald Finley, London Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle; LSO Live
Janacek The Cunning Little Vixen; Lucy Crowe, Gerald Finley, London Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle; LSO Live

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 September 2020 Star rating: 4 (★★★★)
This live recording of Janacek's delightful opera from Simon Rattle is very much a showcase for the London Symphony Orchestra, with a strong ensemble cast

Sir Simon Rattle has quite a long history with Janacek's 1924 opera The Cunning Little Vixen. He performed in it as a student (and a very transformative experience this was, according to his booklet note on this new recording), and it was the opera with which he made his debut at the Royal Opera House in 1990 in Bill Bryden's new production (a performance which can also be found Chandos' Opera in English series). Bryden's production, for all its charm, was not naturalistic and instead used elements of the man-made industrial landscape to create the forest. When Rattle returned to the work in 2017, it was in a semi-staging by Peter Sellars at the Berlin Philharmonie with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the London version of this production [see the review on The Arts Desk], with Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in 2019, which forms the basis for this new set. Evidently, Sellars' production was rather a gritty urban vision, so perhaps Rattle likes his Vixen rather edgy.

LSO Live has now issued Simon Rattle's account of Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen with the London Symphony Orchestra, and Lucy Crowe as the Vixen, Gerald Finley as the Forester, Hanno Müller-Brachmann as Harašta, Jan Martiník as Badger and Parson, Peter Hoare as Mosquito, Rooster and Schoolmaster, and Sophia Burgos as the Fox.

The performances in 2019 were very much events involving the whole LSO community, so that there was the orchestra, the London Symphony Chorus (over 70 non-professional singers) and 25 children from the LSO Discovery Voices some of whom provided solo voices in the work. The recording was made at two live performances, so we get all the vivid advantages of live performance in a work which relies for its effect very much on the story telling ability of the cast. 

Janacek: Cunning Little Vixen - Gerald Finley, Lucy Crowe with LSO in 2019 - (Photo Mark Allan / LSO / Barbican)
Janacek: Cunning Little Vixen - Gerald Finley, Lucy Crowe with LSO in 2019
(Photo Mark Allan / LSO / Barbican)

Bringing you closer to the music and the musicians: new festival at Clerkenwell’s Fidelio Orchestra Café - Up Close and Musical

Up Close and Musical logo
Clerkenwell’s Fidelio Orchestra Café has been hosting live, socially distanced concerts since July and in November the café will host Up Close and Musical, a three-day cross-genre festival created by violist Shiry Rashkovsky. 

There will be hour-long concerts by featuring short, candid interviews led by Shiry Rashkovsky, and special Q&A sessions with musical entrepreneurs and journalists. All the events are scheduled around meals and drinks to facilitate spontaneous interaction with the artists throughout the weekend. Those taking part include recording artist Francesca Dego, composer Gabriel Prokofiev, cellist Abel Selaocoe, jazz-bassist and composer Misha Mullov-Abbado, pianist Alasdair Beatson, soprano Héloïse Werner, and Trio Klein, plus discussion and workshops with musical entrepreneur Raffaello Morales, journalist and writer Jessica Duchen and composer Nimrod Borenstein.

The festival will take place 6 -8 November 2020 and differs from the Café’s existing programme in that tickets can also be purchased as full day or full weekend passes. 

Full details from the festival website.

Monday, 14 September 2020

Connecting Voices: Opera North and Leeds Playhouse join forces for a season of live performance

Samuel Beckett: Krapp's Last Tape - Niall Buggy (Photo Robert Workman)
Samuel Beckett: Krapp's Last Tape - Niall Buggy (Photo Robert Workman)

Opera North is joining forces with Leeds Playhouse to stage six live-performance pieces in and around Leeds Playhouse on three weekends in October. Audiences will be able to experience, safely, live music and performance once again. The season, Connecting Voices, will feature Poulenc's La voix humaine performed by soprano Gillene Butterfield [last seen in Opera North's production of Kurt Weill's Street Scene, see my review] and directed by Sameena Hussain, Leeds Playhouse RTYDD Director, and a new piece, Orpheus in the Record Store commissioned from Leeds based beatboxer Testament and directed Aletta Collins. Orpheus will fuse spoken word and beatboxing with players from the Orchestra of Opera North, in an exciting new collaboration that gives the Greek myth of Orpheus a contemporary Yorkshire twist. Samuel Beckett's extraordinary monologue, Krapp's Last Tape will be performed by Niall Buggy, directed by Dominic Hill.

Alongside these will be newly devised piece of work from Leeds-based spoken word artist Khadijah Ibrahiim, and director Matthew Eberhardt [who directed Street Scene at Opera North]. The two will work with singers, actors, young people and musicians including classically-trained singer Keertan Kaur Rehal, soprano Amy J Payne [also in Street Scene] and actor Robert Pickavance to create contemporary responses to the themes of remembrance, collaboration and the act of storytelling.

Connecting Voices runs at Leeds Playhouse on weekends from 2 to 17 October 2020.  In line with current government guidelines, audiences will be of limited capacity with social distancing and temperature checking will also be in place. Tickets are on sale to Leeds Playhouse’s Supporters’ Club, Playhouse Pass holders and Opera North Patrons from Monday 14 September, with tickets on general sale from 12noon on Tuesday 15 September. 

Full details from Leeds Playhouse.

A Life On-Line: BBC Proms in Cardiff, Igor Levit's live Encounter, chamber music at Hatfield, Simone Kermes on Dreamstage

Tim Mead and La Nuova Musica (taken from videostream)
Tim Mead and La Nuova Musica (taken from videostream)

Whilst this week has been notable for live performances in peron, there has been plenty happening on-line with the final week of the BBC Proms, as well as the start of the on-line Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival, and we also caught up with a new platform aimed at helping artists, Dreamstage.

Tuesday 8 September 2020 saw the BBC Proms go to Cardiff for the first time when Ryan Bancroft conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW) at Hoddinott Hall. Bancroft is the BBC NOW's new principal conductor and this was his first official engagement, and his proms debut. The concert was titled American Dreams, and featured a group of 20th century, mainly American works for large ensemble/small orchestra (socially distancing the players of the BBC NOW doesn't fit all that many into Hoddinott Hall), with Martinu's Jazz Suite, John Adams Chamber Symphony, Samuel Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915 (with Natalya Romaniw) , and Copland's Appalachian Spring Suite (in the original version for 13 instruments). But in typical BBC Proms style, in the middle of this was inserted the premiere of Gavin Higgins' Rough Voices; Higgins has just been announced as the orchestra's composer in residence, so the piece made sense in a way but in style it was very different from the music around it.

Martinu's Jazz Suite dates from his time in Paris when jazz was featuring quite a lot in his work. It was a delightful find, spiky, characterful and very virtuosic (at times the music reminded me of that of Jacques Ibert), with a fast, furious and almost orgiastic end. John Adams' Chamber Symphony (where Schoenberg famously meets Looney Tunes) is actually remarkably similar in character, lively, mad and very virtuosic, full of vivid textures and a sense of multiple things happening at once. And a fast, furious and orgiastic end. Both works made fine show-pieces for the individual players of the orchestra. 

Sunday, 13 September 2020

A one-man Paradise Lost and an uproarious contemporary operetta: Tête à Tête brings live opera back to the Cockpit

Geoff Page: Paradise Lost - Lawrence Zazzo - Tête à Tête 2020 (Photo Claire Shovelton)
Geoff Page: Paradise Lost - Lawrence Zazzo - Tête à Tête 2020
(Photo Claire Shovelton)

Geoff Page Paradise Lost, Darren Berry The Crocodile of old Kang Pow; Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at Cockpit

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 September 2020
Live opera indoors with an audience: a striking double bill of Milton's Lucifer and an uproarious Marquis de Sade

This year's Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival took on an entirely new level of experiment and innovation. In addition to a programme of new and experimental opera, the company is pioneering live, indoor performance post-lockdown. So, along with around 20 other people we went along to the Cockpit Theatre on Saturday 12 September 2020, for two operas. Geoff Page's Paradise Lost (based on Milton), performed by Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor) and Geoff Page (piano), and act one of Darren Berry's The Crocodile of Old Kang Pow, with Caroline Kennedy and Phil Wilcox, directed by Christian Holder.

In order to be socially distanced, the sheer act of theatre going has changed considerably, audience numbers are far fewer and the process of getting in and out is far more logistically complex. But also, as artistic director of the festival, Bill Bankes Jones explained in his introduction, most of the productions in the festival have also had to be modified to follow the new rules. But the end result was that we were once again able to enjoy live performance.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

The Telling's #HomeTour: soprano & playwright Clare Norburn on the challenges & rewards of creating on-line content & writing new plays

Clare Norburn: Vision - The Telling & the Celestial Sirens at BREMF (Photo Robert Piwko)
Clare Norburn: Vision - The Telling & the Celestial Sirens at BREMF
(Photo Robert Piwko)

The early music group The Telling has always been interested in telling stories through their programmes. The group's director is Clare Norburn and her regular series of concert plays (narrative dramas on musical subjects which include a large live musical element) have often involved the group. With the advent of lockdown The Telling has been putting this experience to good use and created #HomeTour, a regular series of Wednesday evening broadcasts which includes a number of filmed performances of Clare Norburn's concert plays beginning with Vision: the imagined testimony of Hildegard of Bingen, and with another film coming up, Unsung heroine on the secret life and love of 12th century troubadour Countess Beatriz de Dia. I caught up with Clare by Zoom to find out more.

Clare is a familiar figure in many Early Music worlds, not only is she director The Telling (with whom she sings soprano), but she co-founded the Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) and was co-artistic director (with Deborah Roberts) until last year. She is also artistic director of the Stroud Green Festival, and with The Telling created the Liverpool Early Music Festival. Add to this a career writing concert plays including Breaking the Rules, about the life of Gesualdo which premiered at BREMF in 2013 with Finbar Lynch and the Marian Consort [see my review], Vision: the imagined testimony of Hildegard of Bingen which we saw at BREMF in 2015 with Niamh Cusack and The Telling [see my review], Galileo at BREMF in 2016 [see my review], and Burying the Dead on the life of Henry Purcell with Ceruleo which we saw at Baroque at the Edge in 2019 [see my review].

But this year has turned out completely differently to how she expected, and though she is at the moment unbelievably busy as a result of The Telling's #HomeTour, at first the group found it hard to find a way to do what they do without live performance, and everything felt impossible. Even when they started making films for #HomeTour the complexity was far more than usual, with current regulations meaning that suddenly the group had to consider COVID19 planning and risk assessment, she was responsible for lots of things that you don't normally think about, such as how people get to places, where they might stay and of course their child care.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Happy Birthday to Arvo Pärt: saxophonist Amy Dickson celebrates with new recording of 'Spiegel im Spiegel'

Today is Arvo Pärt's 85th birthday. I am sure that there will be myriad tributes. This video, released today, is saxophonist Amy Dickson and pianist Catherine Milledge performing Pärt's Spiegel in Spiegel, from Dickson's new CD Smile. The work was written in 1978, just before Pärt's departure from Estonia and only a couple of years after Pärt first introduced his, now famous, tinntinnabular style.

Late Haydn and Brahms on an Autumn evening in the park: Anthony Friend and the Solem Quartet at Battersea Park bandstand

Brahms: Clarinet Quintet - Solem Quartet, Anthony Friend - Bandstand Chamber Festival at Battersea Park (Photo William Marsey)
Brahms: Clarinet Quintet - Solem Quartet, Anthony Friend
Bandstand Chamber Festival at Battersea Park (Photo William Marsey)

Haydn Quartet in E flat, Op. 76, No. 6, Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115; Anthony Friend, Solem Quartet; Bandstand Chamber Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 September 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Two late chamber works in performances which mixed youthful engagement with Autumnal glow

We returned to Battersea Park bandstand for the third of Bandstand Chamber Festival's concerts, when the Solem Quartet (Amy Tress, William Newell, Stephen Upshaw, Stephanie Tress) performed a pair of late works, Haydn's Quartet in E flat, Op. 76, No. 6 and Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 with clarinettist Anthony Friend (the artistic director of the festival).

Haydn's six Opus 76 string quartets, written in 1797-1799 (when he was 65 to 67) and the last complete set of quartets that he wrote, and Brahms Clarinet Quintet (written when he was 58) are both late works and the Brahms is routinely referred to as Autumnal. But what struck me, listening to this programme played by the relatively youthful players (the Solem Quartet was founded in 2011) was that what the two works had in common was the way both composers seemed to have a fascination for counterpoint, each work is built out of many moving parts with both composers ensuring that all the players contributed equally. The notion of a string quartet with four independent parts very much developed during Haydn's lifetime, and his writing for the genre contributed significantly to this, whilst Brahms in his quintet avoids the sense of a mini-concerto for clarinet and writes equally for all five instruments.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

London Mozart Players' Classical Club

London Mozart Players

London Mozart Players (LMP) is presenting an Autumn season of concerts which will have a limited, socially distanced audience and be available on-line as Classical Club to a ticketed audience. LMP is taking advantage of the present unusual situation and using a variety of more unusual venues for the concerts. And in order to support young artists at the beginning of their careers, the soloists include artists from the Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT). The concerts are being presented in association with Scala Radio.

The season opens on 24 September 2020, with Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 and Schumann's Cello Concerto (soloist Maciej Kulakowski), and future programmes include clarinettist Michael Collins in Weber and Mozart clarinet quintets, Walton's Facade with Samuel West as reciter, Strauss' late glorious Oboe Concerto (soloist Olivier Stankiewicz), two of Paul Patterson's Roald Dahl pieces narrated by Polly Ives, Stravinsky's The Soldiers Tale conducted by William Vann from the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and Beethoven's Violin Concerto (soloist Jonian Ilias Kadesha).

Full details from the LMP website.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Less is more: Andrew Hamilton's 'Joy'

Andrew Hamilton Joy; Andrew Hamilton; Ergodos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 September 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The contemporary Irish composer returns to his childhood musical roots with an intimate disc of music for voice and violin

Andrew Hamilton Joy; Andrew Hamilton; Ergodos
This new disc from Irish composer Andrew Hamilton, Joy on the Ergodos label, features Hamilton as both composer and performer, as Hamilton performs his own sequence of pieces for voice and violin.

The cover of the disc (see left) features a picture of Hamilton as a child, and the music on the disc is a deliberate attempt to return to elements of his childhood. 

Hamilton writes "The pieces on this album chart a direct line back to my beginnings as a musician – I was an annoying child who was always singing and at seven I started learning the violin. Writing fragments down, singing along with them was a natural consequence and I retreated into this little world of melodies I had created. After years of study I found my way back to this type of 'beginners mind'. Performing my own works gave me the space to really experiment with material and form."

The six works on the disc vary in length enormously from under a minute to over 15 minutes, but all are linked both conceptually and musically so that Joy can play as a single over arching work, which ends with the short title track which features a recording of Hamilton as a child singing Sir Arthur Somervell's Handel arrangement, Silent Worship.

The titles of the pieces are somewhat cryptic, 'The Spirit of Art', 'a', 'May', 'product #1', 'i and i', 'Joy', yet also rather intriguing, and given Hamilton's statements about the origins of the pieces we start to construct our own narratives about the music.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Still time to join up for the Benedetti Foundation & Kaleidescope Chamber Collective's Chamber Music Weekend

Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective at Wigmore Hall
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective at Wigmore Hall
Photo taken from Live Stream

Nicola Benedetti's Benedetti Foundation continues its remarkable on-line efforts to keep students, teachers and adults active and engaged musically. The foundation's virtual Mini Sessions continue during September, and there is also a chamber music weekend. In partnership with the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective, the foundation is offering its first virtual chamber music weekend, 26 and 27 September 2020.

The Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective musicians Tom Poster (piano), Elena Urioste (violin), Savitri Grier (violin), Rosalind Ventris (viola), Laura van der Heijden (cello) and Joseph Conyers (double bass) will present sectional rehearsals, discussions and talks, as well as offering the unique opportunity for participants to play along from home with the ensemble. All participants will receive three hours tuition per day with two hours all together at the start and end of the day and one hour in sectional groups.
This is the collective's first large-scale education project and co-directors Elena Urioste and Tom Poster commented that 'We can’t wait to share our love for chamber music and all that it can teach us about the world at large – communication, compassion for others, equality and establishing a clear voice – with the next generation of musicians.'

Full details from the Benedetti Foundation website,
The closing date for applications is Friday 11 September; there is a small admin fee to participate in the Mini Sessions. Bursary support is available – no one will be prevented from attending due to financial circumstances.

Fizzing with energy: Beethoven's Seventh Symphony performed from memory outside at Kings Cross by Aurora Orchestra

Aurora Orchestra under the West Handyside Canopy at Kings Cross
Aurora Orchestra under the West Handyside Canopy at Kings Cross

Beethoven Symphony No. 7; Aurora Orchestra, Nicholas Collon; West Handyside Canopy, Kings Cross

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 September 2020
The first large-scale symphonic concert to a ticketed audience since lockdown (probably).

This was always going to be a significant occasion, and for all the limitations of a performance given under current regulations, the sheer joy of hearing a full symphony performed by a large group of musicians, all together in the same space was simply palpable.

Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra is performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 from memory at  the BBC Proms on Thursday and in the run up to this performance the orchestra had a number of extra performances presumably to get the work well bedded in. This is a common occurrence, and under normal circumstances such an extra performance would be notable but hardly exceptional. But these are exceptional times.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 - Nicholas Collon, Aurora Orchestra - West Handyside Canopy, Kings Cross (Photo Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 - Nicholas Collon, Aurora Orchestra
West Handyside Canopy, Kings Cross (Photo Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place)

Aurora Orchestra is resident at Kings Place, and someone had the bright idea of transporting the performance across the road to the West Handyside Canopy which runs between Waitrose and the new development which houses Central St Martin's. This is a large public space, but it is rainproof. So there we were, seated on socially distanced chairs with people coming and going to Waitrose on one side, and passers by walking through Handyside Gardens on the other, though it was interesting to see how many stopped to listen. Noises off included the rather disturbing sound of supermarket trollies running over cobbles, as well as more general, but overall there was a sense of occasion.

So on Monday 9 September 2020, Nicholas Collon conducted Aurora Orchestra in Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 under the West Handyside Canopy at King's Cross (a roof built in 1888 to provide a covered area for unloading fish and perishable goods from railway carriages for distribution around London, and now a space used for markets and events). The symphony was given entirely from memory with the orchestra (largely) standing up, and all suitably distanced. There was amplification which was admirable, though there were some details of balance (the prominence of the double basses) which I was uncertain whether they were due to Collon's preferences in Beethoven's textures or to the vagaries of amplifying the ensemble. 

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 - Nicholas Collon, Aurora Orchestra - West Handyside Canopy, Kings Cross (Photo Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 - Nicholas Collon, Aurora Orchestra
West Handyside Canopy, Kings Cross (Photo Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place)

However, what did come over was the players' joy in communal music making. Shorn of stands and chairs, the standing players were all free to react to the music, and react they did. Wagner called this symphony the apotheosis of dance, and here we sensed the musicians if not dancing then certainly swaying to the music. The symphony is notorious partly because of Beethoven's metronome markings imply a tempo in the final movement which can seem unachievable. I have no idea how close Collon and his players came to the historic metronome markings, but the whole symphony was taken at quite a lick. But more importantly it flowed, there was never a sense of the music being driven instead the slower movements seemed to have a sense of momentum which was welcome and the faster ones a feeling of unstoppable energy. This was an evening which positively fizzed, and the joy was palpable.

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