Wednesday 12 June 2024

A school trip with a difference: the Richard Shephard Music Foundation celebrates Make Music Day in York

The Yorkshire region has a rich musical history from the Arctic Monkeys to the Minster Choir, film composer John Barry to the National Centre for Early Music. But like many people and organisations, Richard Shephard Music Foundation is concerned how to make sure that we are cultivating the next generation of diverse musicians. That the region’s young people not only listen to music, but are inspired to create music as well.

Working via partnerships with funders, charities, the music sector, schools, and inspiring music teachers, over the past three years, since the death of composer Dr Richard Shephard, the Foundation has been working hard to make sure over 6,000 primary school children receive a subsidised weekly music lesson – particularly those who traditionally face the most barriers to studying music.

On 21 June 2024, their annual music day in York will bring together over 300 of those schoolchildren (from York, North Yorkshire and the North East) to a school trip with a difference – a day of inspiring music making, playing instruments old and new, singing their hearts out, and in the purpose-built Creative Centre at York St John University. As well as an inspiring day for young people, the event will give the Foundation’s supporters a glimpse of what the Foundation has done since it was created in 2021.

The event is part of the UK Make Music Day, the UK’s largest single-day music festival, encouraging musicians, producers, promoters and music lovers to collaborate and organise in-person and online performances in and for their communities. Since beginning as Fête de la Musique in France in 1982, Make Music Day has grown into a global phenomenon that takes place annually in 125 countries, always on 21 June. Solo performers, groups and music creators of all types are invited to take part, regardless of age, ability or musical genre. Find out more at the Make Music Day website.

Find out more about the Richard Shephard Music Foundation from its website.

An undeniable gift for melody: Charles Mauleverer's Overture

Charles Mauleverer: Overture; Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Lee Reynolds, Prague Symphonic Ensemble, Jérôme Kuhn, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Johannes Vogel; Wotuno

Charles Mauleverer: Overture; Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Lee Reynolds, Prague Symphonic Ensemble, Jérôme Kuhn, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Johannes Vogel; Wotuno
Reviewed 11 June 2024

Ten short orchestral pieces by film composer Charles Mauleverer, spanning some twenty years, and revealing a real gift for melody and for creating atmosphere

Composer Charles Mauleverer describes his disc Overture, released on Wotuno records, as the first complete album of his compositions under his own name. The material on the disc spans over 20 years, from Overture, written in 2003 just after leaving school to Cornish Idyll from 2022. The disc features ten short orchestral works played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Lee Reynolds, the Prague Symphonic Ensemble, conducted by Jérôme Kuhn and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Johannes Vogel.

Jersey-born Charles Mauleverer is a composer whose work you might have heard even though you are unfamiliar with his name, his music features on films, TV and adverts, whilst he has also assisted on a number of film and TV works. He studied at Oxford and the Royal College of Music where teachers included Robert Saxton, Ryan Wigglesworth, Joseph Horovitz and Ken Hesketh. He clearly has interests beyond film and TV, he wrote his first symphony, One Home: An Environmental Symphony in 2015-2016, his second, Two Brothers (about the Great War) in 2017-2018 and his third, Five Curiosities (described as orchestral postcards of Jersey) in 2021-22.

Tuesday 11 June 2024

New hall, new season: newly renovated Bristol Beacon unveils its 2024/25 season of orchestral concerts

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits at Bristol Beacon (Photo: Giulia Spadafora)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Kirill Karabits at Bristol Beacon (Photo: Giulia Spadafora)

Bristol Beacon reopened in November 2023 following a radical transformation which has seen significant improvement in the appearance and function of the main hall and the restoration of the historic core to the building incorporating imaginative new work. Built in 1867 and opened in 1873, the halls have had a series of rebuilds during the 20th and 21st centuries, and in 2020 adopted the new name of Bristol Beacon.

The recent renovation was driven by a vision to enhance and expand the venue’s orchestral and classical programme, capitalising on Beacon Hall’s world-class acoustics and bringing the very best orchestral music to enthusiastic audiences in the South West of England.  Now, Bristol Beacon has announced its first full season of orchestral music following the renovation.

For the 2024/25 season, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is orchestra in residence with six concerts this season, including the opening and closing concert. Two of the performances are with the Orchestra’s new chief conductor Mark Wigglesworth, and their former chief conductor Kirill Karabits returns to present a folklore-inspired programme. They will also be joined by guest conductors Karl-Heinz Steffens, Valentina Peleggi and Gergely Madaras.  The London Symphony Orchestra returns as associate artists of Bristol Beacon with two concerts, the first of which is with its new chief conductor Sir Antonio Pappano, the second with Gianandrea Noseda.

The season sees Beacon Hall debuts for Sinfonia of London, with Sheku Kanneh-Mason and their conductor John Wilson, and the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Other visiting ensembles include the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Karina Canellakis and pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, and the Prague Symphony Orchestra with chief conductor Tomáš Brauner. The Buenos Aires Symphony Orchestra of Colón Opera not only make their Bristol Beacon debut, but also their UK debut, conducted by Mariano Chiacchiarini, the programme includes Piazzolla’s rarely performed Bandoneon Concerto with soloist Pablo Mainetti. 

Bristol Beacon (Photo: Tim Crocker)
Bristol Beacon (Photo: Tim Crocker)

Before then, the BBC Proms is at Bristol Beacon for a weekend that includes the Bristol-based Paraorchestra and Charles Hazlewood, the BBC Singers celebrating their 100th anniversary and Kirill Karabits performs his last concert as Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor and will be joined by Evelyn Glennie for a performance of Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto. Then in September, the hall hosts the grand final of BBC Young Musician 2024.

Full details from the Bristol Beacon website.

The 75th edition of the Aldeburgh Festival gets off to a good, spirited and proud start

Messiaen: Hawari - Gweneth Ann Rand, Simon Lepper - Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh Festival (Photo Britten Pears Arts)
Messiaen: Hawari - Gweneth Ann Rand, Simon Lepper - Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh Festival (Photo Britten Pears Arts)

Judith Weir: Blond Eckbert; English Touring Opera, dir. Robin Norton-Hale, cond. Gerry Cornelius
Messiaen song-cycles; Gweneth Ann Rand, Simon Lepper
Brtitten, Elgar, Shostakovich; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Alban Gerhardt, cond. Edward Gardner
Schumann and Larcher: André Schuen, Julius Drake
Henry Purcell: The Fairy Queen; Vox Luminis, Tuomo Suni, artistic director, Lionel Meunier
Reviewed by Tony Cooper (12 June 2024)

The Aldeburgh Festival's opening weekend included highlights such as British soprano, Gweneth Ann Rand, singing three Messiaen song-cycles over three concerts in the Britten Studio accompanied by pianist, Simon Lepper

Founded by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Eric Crozier in 1948, the Aldeburgh Festival (now celebrating its 75th edition) got off to a spirited and inspiring start with a new production of Judith Weir’s chamber opera Blond Eckbert in Snape Maltings Concert Hall conducted by Gerry Cornelius. 

Based on a supernatural short story by the German-born writer, Ludwig Tieck, one of the founding fathers of the Romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the opera was directed by Robin Norton-Hale and produced by English Touring Opera in association with Britten Pears Arts with the composer - now in her 70th year and one of this year’s artists-in-residence - responsible for the libretto.  

A haunting tale of isolation and enigma, the scenario surrounds Eckbert (sung by baritone Simon Wallfisch) and his wife Berthe (mezzo-soprano Flora McIntosh) living a life of quiet solitude in their cosy forest home in the Harz Mountains until Walther, an old friend of Eckbert, sung by tenor William Morgan, arrives at their doorstep on a rough and tough stormy night thereby setting in motion a series of revelations, mysteries and intrigue. 

Judith Weir: Blond Eckbert - English Touring Opera - Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh Festival (Photo copyright Richard Hubert Smith)
Judith Weir: Blond Eckbert - English Touring Opera - Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh Festival (Photo copyright Richard Hubert Smith)

13 premieres, a focus on Britten, William Mathias at 90: Presteigne Festival 2024

The Shire Hall, Presteigne; photographed by Percy Benzie Abery c. 1910s
The Shire Hall, Presteigne; photographed by Percy Benzie Abery c. 1910s

This year's Presteigne Festival, the 42nd, runs from 22 to 26 August 2024, bringing music and art to the Welsh Marches. For 2024, the festival has a focus on the music of Benjamin Britten, contrasted with works from his contemporaries, his influences and those who, in turn, were influenced by him. But the festival's continuing espousal of contemporary music remains. Richard Blackford is the composer in residence and the festival features 13 premieres from Blackford,  Michael Berkeley, Nathan James Dearden, Michael Zev Gordon, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Sarah Frances Jenkins, Tayla-Leigh Payne, Joseph Phibbs, Julian Philips, Lynne Plowman, Lara Poe, James B Wilson and James Albany Hoyle (2024 Royal Philharmonic Society composer). There is also a focus on William Mathias who would have been 90 this year

The festival opens with a thoughtful recital from guitarist Paul Galbraith with works by father and son, Lennox and Michael Berkeley alongside Britten, Sally Beamish and John Dowland. Then in the evening there is Walton's Facade alongside a new work by Julian Philips for actor and chamber ensemble performed by actor Anton Lesser, reciters Sarah Gabriel and Alexander Knox, Presteigne Festival Ensemble, conductor George Vass.

The festival continues with Anne Denholm (harp) in Britten, William Matthias and a new work by James Albany Hoyle, pianist Joseph Tong in The Piano in Nature,  cello sonatas by Britten, Beethoven and Debussy from Alice Neary (cello) and Huw Watkins (piano), music for flute, cello and piano from Daniel Shao (flute), Alice Neary (cello), Annie Yim (piano) including Hilary Tann's In the Theatre of the Air.

The Piatti Quartet have an awayday in Bleddfa performing string quartets by Britten and Moeran along with the premiere of Joseph Phibbs' String Quartet No. 4. There is more Phibbs, plus Richard Blackford's The Mirror of Perfection, Britten's Young Apollo and William Mathias' Prelude, Aria and Finale from Rebecca Bottone (soprano), Nicholas Mogg (baritone), Huw Watkins (piano), choir of Royal Holloway College, Presteigne Festival Orchestra, George Vass (conductor).

The choir of Royal Holloway College returns for Festival Eucharist including William Mathias' Missa Aedis Christi and an afternoon concert that includes Richard Blackford's Three Rossetti Songs, two pieces by Nathan James Dearden and Mathias' A May Magnificat.

Rebecca Bottone joins forces with Huw Watkins for a recital featuring music by Britten, Bridge, Walton plus Huw Watkins and Cecilia McDowall, then Watkins joins the Piatti Quartet for Britten, Mendelssohn and premieres by Richard Blackford and Michael Zev Gordon. Dr Sue Stuart-Smith's book The Well Gardened Mind is the inspiration for Annie Yim's piano recital featuring the premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Dance Suite

The festival ends with another concert from Vass and the festival orchestra featuring premieres of works by Sarah Frances Jenkins and Tayla-Leigh Payne alongside Blackford, Adrian Sutton, Lynne Plowman and very early Britten.

Other events include poetry, literature and music-based talks, a Welsh film season, nature walks and the wonderful Presteigne ‘Open Studios’ weekend.

Full details from the Presteigne Festival website.

Monday 10 June 2024

High Barnet Chamber Music Festival returns with Mithras Trio, artistic director Joshua Ballance's Mad Song, and music for cello and harp

High Barnet Chamber Music Festival

Founded four years ago by artistic director Joshua Ballance, the High Barnet Chamber Music Festival is returning with three concerts from 29 June to 12 July 2024 at St John the Baptist Church and the new recital hall at Queen Elizabeth’s Boys’ School. The series is opened by the Mithras Trio, BBC New Generation Artists, making a return visit to the Festival, following their sold-out recital in our debut season. They are performing Beethoven's Archduke Trio alongside piano trios by Germaine Tailleferre and Saint-Saens.

Ballance's own Mad Song ensemble present a concert featuring new versions of old favourites in A Purcell Garland which features Purcell fantasias in new versions by Oliver Knussen, George Benjamin and Colin Matthews alongside music by Christian Mason, Chris Mayo and Tristan Murail. And the series ends with music for cello and harp from Nina Kiva and Milo Harper, with music by Boccherini, Clara Schumann, Debussy, Poulenc, Saint-Saens, Villa Lobos, Lutoslawski, Lili Boulanger plus Hindemith's Sonata for Harp and Debussy's Cello Sonata.

Full details from the festival website.

Accordionist Melia Simonot announced as winner of inaugural BBC Radio Scotland Young Classical Musician of the Year

Melia Simonot, winner of inaugural BBC Radio Scotland Young Classical Musician of the Year
Melia Simonot, winner of inaugural BBC Radio Scotland Young Classical Musician of the Year

21-year-old accordion player Melia Simonot was announced as the winner of BBC Radio Scotland's inaugural Young Classical Musician of the Year competition, held in association with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. At the final on Saturday 8 June 2024 four finalists competed, accordion player Melia Simonot in music by Mikołaj Majkusiak , harpist Gina Gallacher in Ginastera's Harp Concerto, pianist Vita Hofinger Mihelič in Paderewski's Piano Concerto, and oboist Chris Vettraino in Martinu's Oboe Concerto, performing with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor Martyn Brabbins at Glasgow's City Halls.

Melia Simonot is in her final year of Bachelor studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the class of the distinguished Serbian teacher, Djordje Gajic. In addition to the title of BBC Radio Scotland Young Classical Musician 2024 and a trophy (designed by Simon Baker), Simonot will receive a recording session with BBC Scotland and a special feature on the station’s Classical Now programme.

The Young Classical Musician of the Year competition aims to encourage and highlight the wealth of talent in Scotland's vibrant classical scene. It joins the ranks of Radio Scotland’s other music competitions, including the Young Traditional Musician of the Year, the Young Jazz Musician of the Year, and BBC Introducing Scottish Act of the Year. 

The current winner of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year, announced in February, is singer, mandolin, and guitar player Calum McIlroy from Aberdeenshire. Pianist Michael Shankland from Edinburgh holds the title of BBC Radio Scotland Young Jazz Musician of the Year, while Bottle Rockets from Glasgow were named BBC Introducing Scottish Act of the Year 2024 in March.

See the BBC website for more information about finalists, and you can hear all the finalists on BBC Sounds.

After a successful inaugural season last year, Green Room is back for 2024 with a weekend of concerts in the Tithe Barn in Lenham

Pasadena Roof Orchestra at Green Room in 2023
Pasadena Roof Orchestra at Green Room in 2023

At a time when arts funding is at a perilous low, it is heartening to see a new venture thriving. Green Room launched last year, it is a music festival based at the Tithe Barn in Lenham, Kent, a remarkable historic structure dating back to the 14th century. Entirely self-funded, after a successful inaugural season last year, Green Room is back for 2024 with three days of concerts from 30 August to 1 September. 

This year's festival features an eclectic line-up of performers from West End and jazz to the new Barbican Sinfonia. The centrepiece of the festival is a concert from the Barbican Sinfonia and conductor Jack Gonzalez-Harding in a programme of music by Elgar, Schubert and Beethoven, plus Martinu's Divertimento for piano left hand with pianist Nicholas McCarthy. Still in a classical vein, on Saturday morning there will be a family show from Bach to Baby.

Lance Ellington, best known for being the vocalist on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, is bringing his seven piece band open the festival with songs by some of the world’s legends such as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Duke & Ray Ellington and Nat King Cole. And on Sunday, there is a chance to brunch with food critic and jazz pianist Jay Rayner and his sextet. The festival closes with an evening of songs from the shows, directed by Steve Ridley with Michael D Xavier and Emma Williams. And outside the barn, there will be a Classic Car Meet.

Full details from Green Room's website.

Saturday 8 June 2024

The Devil's Den: I chat to composer Isabella Gellis & conductor Finnegan Downie Dear about the new opera Shadwell Opera is presenting at the Nevill Holt Festival

Ben Edge: Devil's Den
Ben Edge: Devil's Den

Shadwell Opera, artistic director Jack Furness, music director Finnegan Downie Dear, is presenting its first full-length commissioned opera on Saturday 15 June when the company performs Isabella Gellis' The Devil's Den at the Nevill Holt Festival as part of a 'History and Music' day that includes Michael Morpurgo's Warhorse, Professor Alice Roberts, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall with music by Debbie Wiseman and much more. I recently sat down with conductor Finnegan Downie Dear and composer Isabella Gellis to chat about The Devil's Den.

Isabella Gellis
Isabella Gellis

Shadwell Opera's production of The Devil's Den was already in the pipeline when Finnegan was invited by Nevill Holt's guest artistic director James Dacre to conduct Melly Still's new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Finnegan suggested The Devil's Den to the festival and they said yes. 

This was particularly gratifying as given the cultural resonances of Isabella's opera, Shadwell were keen to perform it as part of a wider cultural offering, and Finnegan points to the way the festival has scheduled it alongside Michael Morpurgo, Alice Roberts and more. Finnegan is excited that they are able to present the first performance of a new opera not as a one-off event but alongside lots of different events full of wider cultural references.

Also at the festival, the artist Ben Edge will be talking about the folklore inspirations for his work. Finnegan describes Edge as bringing modern insights into folklore and his presence at the festival is particularly exciting because it was one of his paintings that was Isabella's inspiration for the opera in the first place. The painting (and the opera) concern a dolmen in Wiltshire about which there is a superstition that if a good child runs around the dolmen seven times, nothing will happen, but if a bad child does so then the white rabbit that lives in the dolmen will turn into a fire-breathing toad (which is all very Wagnerian). Isabella, in fact, has no particular connection to English folklore, she was born in London to a Canadian Jewish mother, but something in Edge's work resonates with her.

Friday 7 June 2024

Engaging, with an imaginative twist: Rossini's The Barber of Seville at Opera Holland Park

Rossini: The Barber of Seville - Paul Grant - Opera Holland Park 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Rossini: The Barber of Seville - Paul Grant - Opera Holland Park 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)

Rossini: The Barber of Seville; Paul Grant, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Heather Lowe, Stephen Gadd, Jihoon Kim, Janis Kelly, director: Cecilia Stinton, conductor: Charlotte Corderoy, City of London Sinfonia; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 6 June 2024

With Bartolo and Rosina as British ex-pats and a stage full of colour and movement, this was a traditional production with a twist, full of engaging performances and sparkling music

Rossini: The Barber of Seville - Heather Lowe - Opera Holland Park 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Rossini: The Barber of Seville - Heather Lowe - Opera Holland Park 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)

For all its popularity, Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville has a degree of oddity to it that familiarity tends to disguise. The work's best known aria is the entrance aria (and only solo moment) for Figaro, a somewhat secondary character in the drama. The work is a comedy, yet lacks the traditional final rondo, usually given to the heroine. This was in fact allocated to Count Almaviva (the work's original title was Almaviva, o sia L'inutile precauzione), but as Rossini recycled this aria for Cenerentola's final aria in La Cenerentola, the piece was dropped from Barber thus refocusing the opera and making the ending feel rather more of an ensemble piece than it would have done to original audiences. The work remains, also, a technical challenge, Rossini was writing for singers for whom the elaborate ornamental vocal style was their bread and butter, so the roles are just as challenging as Rossini's more serious operas.

For their second new production of 2024, Opera Holland Park presented Rossini's The Barber of Seville in a new production by Cecilia Stinton, designed by Neil Irish, with lighting by Robert Price and movement by Bence Kalo. We caught the production's second performance on 6 June 2024. Charlotte Corderoy conducted the City of London Sinfonia with Paul Grant as Figaro, Elgan Llŷr Thomas as Count Almaviva, Heather Lowe as Rosina, Stephen Gadd as Doctor Bartolo, Jihoon Kim as Don Basilio, Janis Kelly as Berta and Jack Holton as Fiorello.

Stinton and Irish gave us a traditional setting, but with a twist. We were still in Spain, though in the later 19th century whilst Doctor Bartolo and Rosina were English. The text was tweaked slightly, and Stephen Gadd had great fun speaking Italian with a very proper English accent when talking to the servants. The result gave an added layer to the comedy, with Gadd as a pompous British academic and Heather Lowe making Rosina something more of an English rose, albeit with hidden thorns.

A very modern sort of magic: Handel's Alcina at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Handel: Alcina - Yolisa Ngwexana - Guildhall School (Photo: David Monteith-Hodge)
Handel: Alcina - Yolisa Ngwexana (Morgana) - Guildhall School (Photo: David Monteith-Hodge)

Handel: Alcina; Georgie Malcolm, Yolisa Ngwexana, Samantha Hargreaves, Shana Moron-Caravel, Julia Merino, Jonah Halton, Alaric Green, director: John Ramster, conductor: James Henshaw; Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Reviewed 5 June 2024

Handel's sorceress gets a very modern take-over in this imaginative production full of engaging and impressive performances from the young singers and instrumentalists

The story Alcina continues to resonate with modern audiences because the heroine, building on a standard trope of the Baroque era of the wicked sorceress caught in her own toils and falling in love, is a remarkably three-dimensional modern character. Fallible and believable, Alcina combines danger, glamour with deep feeling, she is very much a cousin of the modern 'tart with a heart' and part of the opera's success is the way Handel evinces sympathy for her

Handel's opera provides a wealth of possibilities for directors using her magic as some sort of metaphor with recent productions highlighting glamour and celebrity [at Covent Garden, see my review or at Opera North, see my review], or the theatre itself [at Glyndebourne, see my review]. For the new production of the opera at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, John Ramster and designer Louis Carver chose to leave the metaphor to us, instead their Alcina was a sorceress commanding a very modern sort of magic allied to a performance which saw Guildhall School students sitting side-by-side with members of the Academy of Ancient Music in the pit.

Handel: Alcina - Georgie Malcolm and Shana Moron-Caravel - Guildhall School (Photo: David Monteith-Hodge)
Handel: Alcina - Georgie Malcolm (Alcina), Shana Moron-Caravel (Ruggiero) - Guildhall School (Photo: David Monteith-Hodge)

We caught the second performance of John Ramster's production of Handel's Alcina given by the Guildhall School at Milton Court Theatre on 5 June 2023. Designs were by Louis Carver with lighting by Andy Purves and video by Jonathan Strutt. Georgie Malcolm was Alcina, Yolisa Ngwexana was Morgana, Samantha Hargreaves was Oberto, Shana Moron-Caravel was Ruggiero, Julia Merino was Bradamante, Jonah Halton as Oronte, Alaric Green was Melisso and Harun Tekin was Astolfo. The conductor was James Henshaw and the orchestra featured members of the Academy of Ancient Music as section leaders alongside the Guildhall Opera Orchestra.

But despite the period manners in the orchestra and period style from the singers, this was a very modern production. Ramster and Carvel's designs were pure 21st century (or perhaps 20th century fantasy). And the forces used were not those Handel would have expected. The scale was different, for a start. The orchestra was significantly smaller than those typically used by Handel for his operas (a common feature of the economics of modern performance), but more significantly this performance had no chorus and no dance troupe, choruses and dances were done by the soloists themselves.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Getting ahead: Longborough Festival Opera gears up for next year.

Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Lee Bisset as Brünnhilde - Longborough Festival Opera, 2024 (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)
Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Lee Bisset as Brünnhilde - Longborough Festival Opera, 2024 (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)

Thankfully, Longborough Festival Opera’s 2025 season continues under the guidance of their esteemed and long-standing music director, Anthony Negus, who, incidentally, made his conducting début in the German city of Wuppertal (near Cologne) with Tiefland, a musical drama in two acts (with a prologue) by Eugen d’Albert, the son of ballet composer, Charles d’Albert. Maestro Negus has also worked as an assistant conductor at Bayreuth Festival and at Hamburg.

The festival’s audacity has reached new heights, too, as the new season offers a couple of remarkable operas that owe their existence to Wagner’s impact on music: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and the UK première of Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman’s Wahnfried: The Birth of the Wagner Cult.

‘I’m delighted that, beyond the Ring,’ enthused Maestro Negus, ‘Longborough’s entrusting me with other ambitious and distinguished works thereby allowing me to continue to grow as an artist. Therefore, I’m proud to be music director of this extraordinary company whose bold spirits and warm heart allows it to achieve great things.

‘I’ve always felt a special feeling towards Pelléas, Debussy’s post-Wagnerian masterpiece, whose drama is powerful yet understated and whose orchestral interludes are imbued with a Parsifal-like atmosphere as well as harmonies that fall under the spell of Tristan und Isolde.

‘We’ve waited a long time to tackle it at Longborough and I feel the time is now ripe to present it and to experience its mystery and subtle beauty in a new staging. Our theatre will serve this piece particularly well.’

Welcoming back to the fold is Justin Brown who’ll conduct Wahnfried, a work which delves into the story of the Wagner family and the politicisation of Wagner’s music in 20th-century Germany. First performed in Germany in 2017, Wahnfried was nominated for Best New Opera at the 2018 International Opera Awards.

A cast of leading British singers is lined up for Longborough’s production that includes Susan Bullock and Mark Le Brocq, coming fresh from his roles as Loge and Siegmund in Longborough’s Ring and Aschenbach in Welsh National Opera’s Death in Venice [see Robert's review].

‘Attending the world première of Wahnfried in 2017 was a profoundly moving experience for me,’ said Anthony Negus, ‘therefore I’m thrilled to be bringing this piece to Longborough next year. In fact, presenting this opera about the Wagner family here feels especially fitting as Longborough is often dubbed the ‘‘British Bayreuth”.’

Elsewhere in the 2025 season, there’ll be a new production of Rossini’s beloved comic opera, Il barbiere di Siviglia, a work known for its effervescent melodies and comedic brilliance. Considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of comedy within the opera genre it remains a popular work after 200 years.

Closing the season falls to Purcell’s masterpiece Dido and Aeneas in a new production featuring singers from Longborough’s Emerging Artists and Youth Chorus programmes. Dido offers a lovely and fulfilling end to what promises a thrilling and entertaining season.

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Rachel Nicholls & Peter Wedd - Longborough Festival Opera, 2015 (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Rachel Nicholls & Peter Wedd - Longborough Festival Opera, 2015 (Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis)

Looking ahead: Further Wagnerian performances are planned for Longborough’s 2026/2027 seasons. For instance, in 2026, there’ll be a revival of the much-lauded production of Tristan und Isolde from the 2015/2017 seasons, conceived and directed by Carmen Jakobi and conducted by Anthony Negus. Michael Tanner of The Spectator glowingly said: ‘It’s one of the most exalting operatic experiences I have encountered’. Praise, indeed!

Come 2027, having conquered the Ring twice in just over a decade, Longborough takes on a new flagship project and one of the most challenging operas in the repertoire - a new production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It will be conducted by Anthony Negus and directed by Polly Graham.

This production will allow the company to build upon their tradition of nurturing British Wagnerian and developing talent. A large professional cast and chorus will work alongside Longborough’s now established Youth and Community Choruses. And the themes found in Die Meistersinger of learning, craftsmanship, community music-making, Summer festivities and philosophy of art offers an expanded festival programme around this well-spring of an opera.

Like so many arts initiatives that thrive in the UK and, indeed, elsewhere the idea is formed and nurtured by enthusiastic and open-minded individuals. For instance, the Aldeburgh Festival (celebrating its 75th edition this year) was founded by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Eric Crozier in 1948 and with Longborough Festival Opera the fuse was well and truly lit by Martin and Lizzie Graham who started promoting opera in the grounds of their home in the Cotswolds in 1991 as Banks Fee Opera.

Since those early and pioneering days, Longborough - which has built up a loyal and ever-increasing audience over the years - has since grown into a well-established opera company with an annual season taking place in a purpose-built opera-house seating 500, an intimate auditorium thereby enabling audiences to experience the drama and emotion on the stage practically on a personal level.

A winning team! Martin and Lizzie's daughter, the acclaimed opera director, Polly Graham - whose brilliant production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress for English Touring Opera I enjoyed so much - was appointed artistic director in 2018 with Emily Gottlieb joining her as executive director in 2024 following nine years as chief executive of the National Opera Studio, the UK’s foremost opera training organisation.

For more information and to stay in touch and updated on ticket release dates, visit

Sensitive solo performances, youth choirs and with a rediscovery of the original orchestral sound: Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius from Gabrieli, Paul McCreesh, Nicky Spence

Edward Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius; Nicky Spence, Andrew Foster-Williams, Anna Stephany, Gabrieli Consort, Gabrieli Roar, Polish National  Youth Choir, Gabrieli Players; Winged Lion

Edward Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius; Nicky Spence, Andrew Foster-Williams, Anna Stéphany , Gabrieli Consort, Gabrieli Roar, Polish National Youth Choir, Gabrieli Players; Winged Lion
Reviewed 3 June 2024

A profoundly satisfying and highly intelligent account, combining sensitive solo performances with a rediscovery of the original sound world of Elgar's orchestra and terrific singing from the youth choirs

Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli's traversal of great choral works in recordings which refocus and recontextualise has reached Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius on Gabrieli's Winged Lion label. The recording pairs a recreation of an orchestra from around the time of the Birmingham premiere in 1900 with a choir which places its emphasis on youth, the Gabrieli Consort plus the Polish National Youth Choir and Gabrieli Roar, with soloists mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany, tenor Nicky Spence and bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams.

To an extent, we know what Elgar expected The Dream of Gerontius to sound like, there is a live recording of him conducting extracts from the Royal Albert Hall with a prelude that is frankly, revelatory. But much is simply tantalising, and perhaps more fascinating are the frustrating fragments of live recordings made at the Three Choirs Festival in 1927. The recording equipment at the rear of Hereford Cathedral, the sound distant and vague, but there is no denying the sheer, focused intensity of the tenor (Tudor Davies, I believe). Much more recently, in the 1980s, I had the privilege of singing the work with Bernard Haitink conducting and Richard Lewis singing one of his last performances. Lewis brought out the way that by living the work directly, a remarkable range expression can be revealed.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Light Stories: cellist Matthew Barley unveils his latest cross-arts collaboration, alongside creating the Matthew Barley Arts Foundation.

Matthew Barley [Photo: Madeleine Farley]
Matthew Barley [Photo: Madeleine Farley]

When I first interviewed cellist Matthew Barley back in 2012 [see my interview], he was preparing for an amazing 100-venue tour of Britain for Britten 2013, combining Britten and Bach for solo cello, including specially commissioned visuals from Yeast Culture, with Barley controlling the animations himself via foot pedal!

Since then his interest in cross-arts projects has continued and in 2023 he established the Matthew Barley Arts Foundation (which has recently achieved charitable status). The Foundation aims to create high quality music and other art for performance and dissemination that is made in a way that always treats all people involved and adjacent to its creation with fairness and respect, with projects combining movement, sound, the digital visual realm and a range of repertoire and musical styles, providing a platform and training for the next generation of musicians, helping them to consider how they too might push boundaries.

Barley's next project, to be launched in the Autumn, is a prime example. Light Stories, a new multidisciplinary collaboration with specially commissioned visuals from production company Yeast Culture, and on-screen dancer, Mavin Khoo, explores the transformative power of music to heal, console, and uplift.  There will be two performances as part of the Southbank Centre’s Contemporary Edit programme (28 September 2024), with subsequent performances including the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, as part of the Cardiff Music City Festival (3 October), and St George’s Bristol (11 October).

Light Stories weaves together music, projected imagery, and electronics to tell a very personal story of trauma and recovery; at the age of 16, Matthew Barley experienced a life-threatening psychotic episode caused by a drug overdose which left him scarred both physically and emotionally. Music became his lifeline.

The evening weaves together music by contemporary composers Anna Meredith, Joby Talbot, John Metcalfe, Giovanni Sollima, and Jan Bang, plus Barley's own music alongside  and Bach's Prelude from Suite No.6.

The project will extend beyond performance to include workshops with higher education institutions, where participants will engage in discussions on mental health and its connection to art, providing a safe and supportive space for creativity and expression. 

Matthew Barley's Light Stories will be released by Signum Classics on 27 September.

Taking the woman's side: Poulenc's La voix humaine and Fiançailles pour rire from Paula Sides and Sergey Rybin

Poulenc: Fiançailles pour rire, La voix humaine; Paula Sides, Sergey Rybin; VOCES8 Records
Poulenc: Fiançailles pour rire, La voix humaine; Paula Sides, Sergey Rybin; VOCES8 Records
Reviewed 3 June 2024

An intimate account of Poulenc's exploration of the female experience through of a pairing of two of his major works, creating a satisfying whole

From VOCES8 Records comes this lovely disc pairing two of Francis Poulenc's works with a direct expression of the female experience, his song cycle Fiançailles pour rire and opera La voice humaine, performed by soprano Paula Sides and pianist Sergey Rybin.

We begin with Fiançailles pour rire (Betrothal for laughs), written by Poulenc in 1939 and setting poems by his friend Louise de Vilmorin all of which deal with the female experience. The resulting cycle was premiered in Paris in 1942. 

Our newsletter is out: May on Planet Hugill

May on Planet Hugill

May on Planet Hugill
An historically informed Ring in Dresden, and a serpent in a car museum in Göttingen. 

Our newsletter this month is out on MadMimi, and if you don't already receive it, please do sign up.

Monday 3 June 2024

16-year-old Gerard Coutain wins Main Composer Prize at Eisteddfod yr Urdd, Europe's largest youth festival

Gerard Coutain, winner of the Main Composer Prize at Eisteddfod yr Urdd, 2024
Gerard Coutain, winner of the Main Composer Prize at Eisteddfod yr Urdd, 2024

Eisteddfod yr Urdd is Europe's largest youth festival, produced by Urdd Gobaith Cymru, a National Voluntary Youth Organisation with over 55,000 members between the ages of 8 – 25 yrs old, providing opportunities through the medium of Welsh.

This year's Eisteddfod yr Urdd took place at Maldwyn and on the final day (1 June 2024), 16-year-old Gerard Coutain was announced as the winner of Main Composer Prize. Gerard Coutain wins the title for composing a rhythmic and energetic piece entitled Triawd o Llannerch y goedwig (A trio from Llannerch y goedwig) for flute, viola and harp. A total of 14 entries were received, with adjudicators Gareth Glyn and Guto Pryderi Puw having "great satisfaction browsing through the variety of entertaining pieces." Second in the competition was Rafik Harrington from Cardiff with David John Ingham from Swansea in third place.

Originally from Poland, Gerard Coutain has lived in Wales for eight years and is learning Welsh. He commented, "After learning to play the piano when I was 6 years old, I started composing at 14, receiving no formal compositional training since beginning. I’ve drawn inspiration and influence from a variety of composers, including Bach, Stravinsky, Debussy, Lili Boulanger, and more recently Walter Leigh. Prior to entering the Urdd Eisteddfod this year, I was commissioned to write a piece for solo harp, Barbarica, for Young Music Makers of Dyfed in 2023, and last November I was accepted at the Purcell School for Young Musicians to study composition, piano and violin, starting in September. The piece I’ve written is scored for a trio of flute, viola and harp, after the Debussy sonata for the same ensemble. It explores the whimsical elements of nature and folklore, and the different sonorities you’d expect from a hidden away forest clearing."

Full details from their website.

For one night only: RNCM takes over the Manchester Museum for Nature's Music, live ensembles amongst the museum's collections

Nature's Music - RNCM at the Manchester Museum (Photo: ©RNCM)
Nature's Music - RNCM at the Manchester Museum (Photo: ©RNCM)

On Saturday 6 July 2024, the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) will take over the galleries of the Manchester Museum and present Nature's Music, an immersive show that puts live ensembles amongst the Museum's collections. RNCM students and guest artists will play well-loved and modern compositions inspired by the natural world, including a rare arrangement of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending for violin and chamber choir.

Visitors will take a nocturnal journey through Living Worlds and Nature’s Library, the Fossils and Dinosaurs and South Asia galleries, and more, experiencing musical interpretations of birdsong, wind and water, land and sky, and compositions that conjure up England, Egypt, China, and beyond. Performers will include guest artists Trees.R.Good and the RNCM's new Community Chorus will be performing too.

Tickets for Nature's Music are available from the RNCM website.

Nature's Music is part of the RNCM's The Future is Green, a campaign to use music as a catalyst to spark discussion about the climate emergency as the college actively seeks to reduce its carbon footprint. The Future is Green reflects concerns of the college's current students and the conservatoire’s long-standing interest in supporting Greater Manchester’s net zero targets.

Other events as part of The Future is Green include Ancient and Natural Worlds (14 June), a free concert of music by Britten and Julia Usher exploring the wonders of the world; The Silent Planet (3 July 2024), a reimagining of Holst's The Planets from Delia Stevens and BBC Radio 2 Folk Musician of the Year, Will Pound, with RNCM musicians, players from Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and youth-led climate activists Force of Nature, and featuring an original new movement called 'Earth'. Silverwood (4-5 July 2024), RNCM Community Opera with the college's new Community Chorus telling the story of a local green space under threat from developers, written by the Chorus and current students alongside composer and conductor Kate Pearson and director Jonathan Ainscough.

Further information from the RNCM website.

Saturday 1 June 2024

An Evening of Don Juan: SongEasel's imaginative programme certainly brings song to South East London in vivid performances from Ella Taylor and Jocelyn Freeman

Lord Byron on His Deathbed, by Joseph Denis Odevaere (c. 1826).
Lord Byron on His Deathbed, by Joseph Denis Odevaere (c. 1826).

An Evening of Don Juan: Emily Hazrati along with songs by Schubert, Elise Schmezer, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Wolf, Ravel, Quilter, Walton, Maconchy, Barber, Britten, James MacMillan; Ella Taylor, Jocelyn Freeman; SongEasel at St Catherine's Church
Reviewed 31 May 2024

Song in South East London, an imaginative programme taking us through Byron's Don Juan in an eclectic but vivid programme bookended by two new songs from Emily Hazrati

Pianist Jocelyn Freeman's concert series, SongEasel has as it subtitle, 'Bringing Song to South East London' and their current concert series A Vast Obscurity is celebrating music and poetry in a wide variety of SE London venues. We caught up with them at St Catherine's Church, Telegraph Hill on Friday 31 May 2024 when soprano Ella Taylor and Jocelyn Freeman presented An Evening of Don Juan, celebrating the bicentenary of Lord Byron's death with a song programme themed around Byron's famous satirical poem, Don Juan. The evening featured the premiere of two new songs by composer Emily Hazrati along with songs by Schubert, Elise Schmezer, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Wolf, Ravel, Quilter, Walton, Maconchy, Barber, Britten and James MacMillan.

SongEasel: An Evening of Don Juan
Byron wrote his satirical poem Don Juan between 1819 and 1824, completing 16 of 17 cantos; an epic poem written in ottava rima, Byron's Don Juan portrays the Spanish folk legend of Don Juan, not as a womaniser as historically portrayed, but as a victim easily seduced by women. Apart from Hazrati's two new songs, which bookended the programme, none of the songs reference Byron or Don Juan directly, instead the imaginative programme led us through Don Juan's adventures, being seduced as a schoolboy by a woman who is sent to a nunnery as punishment, being shipwrecked on a Greek island, Juan apparently forgetting the women he leaves behind, being taken up by a Sultan's wife, getting mixed up in the Imperial Russian Army, visiting London and so on.

The result was an eclectic yet satisfying programme full of vitality and variety, it also played to one of soprano Ella Taylor's strengths as it was clear from the beginning that they enjoy telling a story. Each song was projected with character, yet you never felt that they were pushing the music towards opera, this remained a song recital full of stories.

Friday 31 May 2024

Back to the 1960s: Opera Holland Park returns to its 2008 production of Tosca and creates a satisfying evening in the theatre

Puccini: Tosca - Amanda Echalaz & Morgan Pearse - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Puccini: Tosca - Amanda Echalaz & Morgan Pearse - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)

Puccini: Tosca; Amanda Echalaz, José de Eça, Morgan Pearse, director: Stephen Barlow, conductor: Matthew Kofi Waldren, City of London Sinfonia; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 30 May 2023

Transposed to the student ferment of Rome in 1968, this revival breathed remarkable life into the concept and showcased a trio of strong performances for a satisfying evening in the theatre

With this year's centenary of Puccini's death, Opera Holland Park (OHP) is celebrating a composer whose works play an important part in the company's output, both the popular ones and the lesser known. In February the company performed the Messa di Gloria in concert and in July they will revive his early rarity Edgar, however the season opened with Tosca, not in a new production but in a revival of Stephen Barlow's 2008 production which transposes the setting to Rome in 1968, with the original Tosca, Amanda Echalaz, returning to the role.

We caught the second performance of Puccini's Tosca at Opera Holland Park on Thursday 30 May 2024. The production was directed by Stephen Barlow and designed by Yannis Thavoris with lighting by Tim van 't Hof, Matthew Kofi Waldren conducted the City of London Sinfonia (celebrating 20 years as OHP's house band), with Amanda Echalaz as Tosca, José de Eça as Cavaradossi, Morgan Pearse as Scarpia, Edwin Kaye as Angelotti, Ross Ramgobin as the Sacristan, Phillip Costovski as Spoleta and Alex Jones as Sciarrone. The Opera Holland Park chorus was joined by children from the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School and the Grey Coat Hospital School.

Puccini: Tosca - José de Eça - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Puccini: Tosca - José de Eça - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)

The veristic detail of Puccini's opera presents a challenge to directors, particular towards the end of Act One. The music and the libretto seem to urge naturalism and realistic detail, yet getting the religious ceremonial both liturgically correct and dramatically coherent is a conundrum that few productions seriously solve. For me, the most satisfying, realistic Tosca production remains Anthony Besch's 1980 one for Scottish Opera, that remained in the company's repertoire for 30 years [details on the Opera Scotland website]. Not so much for the 1943 setting (brilliant though that was), but for the way Besch solved the Act One challenge. The alternative, of course, is to abandon realism and that is what made Edward Dick's recent production at Opera North so satisfying [see my review].

The brilliance of Barlow's production is that in solving the challenge of staging Tosca on OHP's stage, with a single set, he sidestepped many of the issues.

Thursday 30 May 2024

A celebration of African classical music: The African Concert Series returns to Wigmore Hall

The African Concert Series

Rebeca Omordia's African Concert Series is returning to Wigmore Hall on 20 July 2024 with a day of concerts featuring a wide range of African art music. In the morning, African Flute Music will feature works by Joshua Uzoigwe (Nigeria), Kwabena Nketia (Ghana) and Bongani Ndodana-Breen (South Africa) alongside West African traditional songs, performed by flautists Baba Gallé Kanté and Rowland Sutherland with pianist Rebeca Omordia and percussionists Richard Olatunde Baker and Moussa Dembele. 

In the afternoon, Music from North Africa features a musical kaleidoscope from Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Sudan, including music by Gamal Abdel-Rahim (Egypt), performed by Abdelkader Saadoun on mandola, Rebeca Omordia, and Ubuntu Ensemble. The day ends with An Evening of African Choral Music featuring Lichfield Gospel Choir and the South African Imbube Singers, conducted by Themba Mvula.

Full details from Wigmore Hall's website

Celebrate & share the joy of orchestral music: NYO celebrates 10 years of NYO Inspire with As One

NYO Side by Side in Liverpool
NYO Side by Side in Liverpool

42% of schools in England no longer enter any pupils for Music GCSE, and the number of pupils opting to do Music at A-Level has fallen by 45% between 2010 and 20232. There has been a 15% decline in children learning an instrument and 80% of young people believe more should be done to get their generation into orchestral music.

For ten years, NYO Inspire, the National Youth Orchestra's (NYO) scheme to encourage young people to play an instrument and discover the joys of orchestra music, has put members of the orchestra in the community inspiring their peers. To celebrate this anniversary, launching As One to connect young people across the UK by inspiring them to pick up an instrument and play music together.

Participants from NYO Inspire will embark on a national school tour for the first time, NYO will engage with music educators across the country to ensure every young person has the opportunity to play music together. And members of the 160-person Orchestra will play their part sharing the joy of live performance at primary schools in their local community.

NYO will welcome aspiring musicians from across the UK to join them for their performance at this year’s BBC Proms on Saturday 10 August 2024.

Over the last ten years, NYO Inspire has supported 5,000 young people to make music a bigger part of their lives. Last year, 82% of participants were state school educated and 41% were Black, Asian or ethnically diverse. Many musicians go on to secure a place in the Orchestra with NYO Inspire alumni making up 39% of the current Orchestra.

NYO As One

The National Youth Orchestra will play at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on 7 August, at Saffron Hall in Essex on 9 August and finally at the BBC Proms in London on 10 August. They will perform Wagner’s Overture to The Flying Dutchman, Missy Mazzoli’s Orpheus Undone and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, alongside a new piece by Dani Howard which celebrates As One, conducted by Alexandre Bloch and Tess Jackson. Tickets for the performances at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and Saffron Hall in Essex will be completely free for teenagers. This forms part of NYO’s key strategy to provide opportunities for young people to experience orchestral music together.

Further information from the NYO website.

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Scottish Young Musicians Solo Performer of the Year 2024.

7-year-old Euan Kemp, winner of Scottish Young Musicians Solo Performer of the Year 2024 (Photo: Ian Georgeson)
Euan Kemp, winner of
Scottish Young Musicians Solo Performer of the Year 2024
(Photo: Ian Georgeson)

Euan Kemp, 17-year-old Saxophonist from East Dunbartonshire has won the Scottish Young Musicians Solo Performer of the Year 2024 the final of which took place at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on 26 May 2024. Kemp, an S6 pupil from The Music School of Douglas Academy, has been playing Saxophone since he was 11 years old and performed music by Ryo Noda and André Jolivet.

Second place was shared by pianist Magnus Shanks (aged 16) from Aberdeenshire and accordion player Jake Johnstone (aged 15) from South Lanarkshire, who as accompanied on the piano by his younger sister. There were 31 finalists in all with a range of instruments including saxophone, clarsach, accordion, guitar, pipes, trumpet and more. The day culminated in performances by the winning Scottish Young Musicians Brass Ensemble of the Year, Campbeltown Brass Ensemble and Ensemble of the Year, Belmont Academy Woodwind Ensemble from South Ayrshire. 

The Scotland-wide competition is run by The Music Education Partnership Group who work with every school and local authority to support music education and opportunities. The final is the culmination of individual school and local authority competitions, and the competition this year involved local authorities covering 99% of Scotland’s population.

Singer and broadcaster Jamie MacDougall, who hosted the final, commented, "The way the different Local Authorities have embraced this competition and recognised it across the country has helped to give it the status and importance it deserves. For young musicians to have an opportunity to perform and be heard we must provide appropriate resources to schools and those who work with young people in music – without that there is no future of music in Scotland."

Further information from the Scottish Young Musicians website.

Horn & live electronics: horn player Ben Goldscheider joins Philip Dawson for new works at Southbank Centre

Ben Goldscheider
Ben Goldscheider

Horn player Ben Goldscheider has talked in interviews about his desire to expand the instrument's repertoire, and he has certainly been busy doing just that. So far this year he has premiered Gavin Higgin's Horn Concerto [see my review] as well as that by Huw Watkins [see my review], both works providing significan technical challenges, plus giving a recital at Wigmore Hall featuring contemporary works by Watkins and Jörg Widmann [see my review]. But Goldscheider is also keen to challenge perceptions of the instrument, presenting it in a wider range of settings as well as promoting it as a solo instrument. 

To that end, he has commissioned three new pieces for horn and live electronics, as he explains 'I am personally fascinated by the speed of the technology and how, in surround sound, the eyes and the ears begin to deceive one another as the live horn playing intertwines with the electronics.  This programme aims to stimulate, to broaden perspectives and allow a glimpse into relatively unknown territory with the instrument that Robert Schumann calls "the soul of the orchestra".'

On 27 June, Goldscheider will be at Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall with Philip Dawson for a programme of horn and live electronics including premieres by Zoë Martlew, Dame Thea Musgrave (who recently celebrated her 96th birthday) and Mark Simpson, all commissioned by Ben Goldscheider, plus recent works by Alex Groves and Hildegard Westerkamp.

Zoë Martlew's Nibiru is inspired by the prophecies of cataclysm from the encounter between the Earth and a large planetary object, supposed to take place in the early 21st century. Martlew describes her piece as opening with nuclear armageddon and ending with a vision of a new Eden, represented by 'the last known recording of a male Kauai O'o bird in Hawaii, calling for a mate that never came...'

Mark Simpson's Darkness Moves II takes its inspiration from the work and ideas of Belgian-born poet and artist Henri Michaux (1899-1984) whose experiments with the drug mescaline led him to 'inner vision that poured through his mind like weirdly agitated and vibrating film'. Simpson's Darkness Moves from 2016 featured a recording which was manipulated in real time, whereas he describes the new piece as a duet between horn and live electronics.

Thea Musgrave's Golden ECHO III has a similar trajectory to Simpson's piece in that Musgrave wrote the original in 1986 for the International Horn Society when a solo horn player was accompanied by sixteen of his colleagues, this was developed into a more portable piece for solo horn and tape. Now for Golden ECHO III, Goldscheider has recorded the original sixteen-horn version, overdubbing the parts himself. Musgrave describes how 'to enhance the apparent concerto-like virtuosity and freedom of the soloist' the solo part is not written in strict rhythmic notation.

Alex Groves describes Single Form (Dawn) as a 'slow motion sunrise of a piece' that 'maps out the entire range of the horn's natural harmonic series, turning dark and murky depths into a shimmering wall of sound ablaze with colour.' 

Hildegard Westerkamp's Fantasie for Horns II began as a piece for tape which received honourable mention at the 1979 International Competition of Electroacoustic Music in Bourges, France. Then, Westerkamp explains, 'After the completion of the soundtrack, it seemed natural to add a live horn part. Besides being environmental in its choice of sounds, the soundtrack could now become the acoustic environment for the horn - an instrument which, in turn, has had a long history as a sound signal in many parts of the world.' The sources of the original soundtrack being Canadian train horns, foghorns, boat horns, car horns and alp horns.

Full details from the Southbank Centre website.

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