Wednesday, 8 December 2021

It's your move: W11 Opera celebrates its 50th anniversary with a new opera

W11 Opera - It's your move
During lockdown in 2020, W11 Opera created an online opera, Jukebox, that celebrated the company's long history and mixed the children's self-recording footage with graphic illustrations to imaginative effect. To celebrate the company's 50th anniversary this year, the company commissioned a new opera especially for film. It's your move features an original story and script by Susan Moore and songs by Tim Yealland (Lyricist) and Russell Hepplewhite (Composer). 

Russell Hepplewhite has written two previous operas for W11 Opera, The Price and Ever Young as well as several operas for young people commissioned by English Touring Opera including the award-winning Laika the Spacedog [which I saw in 2013 with a cast including Susan Moore, now artistic director of W11 Opera, see my review].

The resulting film, It's your move, builds on lessons learned in 2020. It is created from illustrations by Chris Glynn and an amalgamation of online and in-person activities and rehearsals, self-recorded over three months with participants aged 9-18 from twenty schools.  All was then edited into an hour long film by Amy Banks.

Susan Moore comments "Using the lessons learned from our lockdown opera Jukebox last year, we commissioned a piece specifically to work on film rather than our usual stage production. By exploring their characters in a creative, safe space online and in person, this psychological, family-based drama, has allowed our young cast to work through many of the emotions we have all had to deal with through the lockdown and subsequent months".

W11 Opera was founded in 1971 and its open auditions attract a cast drawn from over 30 London schools (in both the private and state sectors), with full bursaries being offered to over 30% of the cast. For many of its participants, it is a first introduction to music theatre of any kind, and over the 50 years that W11 Opera has been in existence, more than two thousand children have appeared in 38 brand new commissions. 

It's your move is being shown on the W11 Opera website on 11 and 12 December. Tickets, by donation, from EventBrite.

Songs of Faith, Nature & Fellowship: Thomas Isherwood and Erika Gundesen at Bishopsgate Institute

Thomas Isherwood
Thomas Isherwood
A tradition since 1948, the free Friday lunchtime concerts have returned to the Bishopsgate Institute, 230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH, in September 2021, with each week, performers responding to a theme suggested by the collections in the Library and curating their programme around it. 

The final concert for this year, on Friday 10 December 2021, features baritone Thomas Isherwood (who has been performing the role of Escamillo in Bizet's Carmen with Opera Loki) and pianist Erika Gundesen in Songs of Faith, Nature & Fellowship including RVW's Songs of Travel, Finzi's Let us garlands bring, plus Britten folksong arrangements and three songs from musicals.

Full details from the Bishopsgate Institute website.

Open Up & Let Loose! - National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at Barbican and Warwick Arts Centre

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Under the theme of Open Up & Let Loose! the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (NYO) is presenting two concerts in January 2022, at the Barbican and at Warwick Arts Centre. Conducted by Sian Edwards and Andrew Gourlay, the concerts will feature Canadian-American composer Karim Al-Zand's City Scenes (Three Urban Dances), Dani Howard's Coalescence (commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to open their 2019/20 season), Thomas Adès' Dawn (Chacony For Orchestra At Any Distance) (premiered at the 2020 BBC Proms by the London Symphony Orchestra and Simon Rattle), and American composer Gabriela Lena Frank's Three Latin American Dances alongside Ravel's La Valse and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.

The teenage musicians of NYO come from all over the UK, and from very different backgrounds, 55% of the orchestra is made up of musicians in state schools and 48% of leadership positions across the orchestra are occupied by female and non-binary musicians. And the orchestra is trying to open up the concert experience in other ways too, with free tickets for under-19s.

Further details from Barbican and Warwick Arts Centre website.

2022 Sheffield Chamber Music Festival features composer Helen Grime as guest curator

Ensemble 360
Ensemble 360

Next year's Sheffield Chamber Music Festival will feature composer Helen Grime as the festival's first Guest Curator. Running from 13 to 21 May 2022, Music in the Round's festival features resident group, Ensemble 360 in 15 concerts, the majority at Sheffield's Crucible Studio Theatre. G
rime explained that "Each concert features the music of at least one female composer, including overlooked gems from the last few hundred years, as well as more recent pieces and a world premiere". There will also be guest artists including guitarist Sean Shibe, soprano Ruby Hughes & pianist Joseph Middleton, folk duo Karine Polwart & Dave Milligan, and Bastard Assignments.

There are concerts at Sunrise and Sunset, links between works of art and music, a Nordic journey and an exploration of music in 20th century France. Throughout the festival, performances of Grime's music run as a thread including her String Quartet no. 1, Bright Travellers and Seven Pierrot Miniatures. Other contemporary composers featured in the festival include Caroline Shaw, Errollyn Wallen, Oliver Knussen, Huw Watkins, Anna Meredith, Judith Weir, Arlene Sierra, Hans AbrahamsenBritta Byström, Judith Bingham, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Julia Wolfe, and Tarik O'Reegan.

The festival was started in 1984 by Peter Cropper, leader of the Lindsay String Quartet, and is held in the intimate Crucible Studio Theatre, a unique in-the-round space that brings audiences to within an arm's length of the chamber musicians.  Ensemble 360 was formed in 2005 as the resident ensemble at the Crucible Studio Theatre.

Further information from the Music in the Round website.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Royal Academy of Music celebrates its bicentenary with a year-long season of events from new opera to Purcell's Fairy Queen and Bach cantatas

Royal Academy of Music at night (photo Adam Scott)
Royal Academy of Music at night (photo Adam Scott)

The Royal Academy of Music was founded in 1822 by the soldier and diplomat, John Fane, Earl of Westmorland who was a good violinist and a prolific composer, along with the French harpist Nicholas Bochsa. And the Academy is celebrating its 200th birthday in fine style with a season of events running from January 2022 to 2023. Although there is not a single date when the Academy was founded, 21 July 1822 marks the announcement from the committee, and the Royal Charter was granted by King George IV in 1830. The first lesson took place on 14 March 1823. The Academy is the oldest UK conservatoire and the second oldest in the world after the Paris Conservatoire (founded in 1795 when the Royal School of Singing was combined with an institute responsible for training musicians for the National Guard bands)

There Academy's birthday season will include the world premiere of a new opera, WITCH from Freya Waley-Cohen, which was commissioned the Academy, Purcell's Fairy Queen will be performed using the autograph score from the Academy's collection, plus a new staged work, Daylighting, by Louise Drewett featuring local school children

There are concerts from the Academy Symphony Orchestra with conductors Semyon Bychkov, Christian Thielemann, Ludovic Morlot, Lorenza Borrani, John Wilson, Sir Mark Elder and Trevor Pinnock, and masterclasses from Dame Sarah Connolly, James Ehnes, Joyce DiDonato, Dave Holland, Angelika Kirchschlager, Igor Levit and Claude-Michel Schönberg , the Academy Song Circle will be performing works from 1822 and 1922 at the Wigmore Hall, and the Royal Academy Musical Theatre Company will be working with Claude-Michel Schönberg, Imelda Staunton, John Caird, Natalie Abrahami and Sandy Faison. The Academy's Bach cantata series continues with a new exploration, performing Bach's 1723 cantata cycle.

The ambitious 200 pieces project continues with new works written for solo instruments and voices, including by Hans Abrahamsen, Sir George Benjamin, Sally Beamish and Daniel Kidane.

From a year-long exploration of rare Telemann to Bach at Christmas: adventures online with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment - Telemann’s Essercizii Musici

Using filmed performance online can enable ensembles to do things rather differently to their concert hall presence. And now that they have returned to live concert giving, the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment is doing just that. 

Telemann’s Essercizii Musici is a colourful feast of 24 musical delights; dating from around 1740 (or before) it consists of 12 solo sonatas (for flute, violin, viola da gamba, recorder, oboe) and 12 trio sonatas. It is difficult to do justice to the collection in concert, and the pieces were not intended to be performed en masse. So, over a year, OAE Player is featuring a monthly concert, Tales with Teleman which will include music from Essercizii Musici, thus enabling us to explore the complete collection. The journey started last month, and November's episode features Violin Sonata in F major and Trio for oboe, violin and basso continuo in G major alongside one of Telemann's sacred cantatas. And the performers don't just include members of the OAE and rising stars, but also students from the orchestra's home, Acland Burghley School reading from Aesop's Fables.

Also released this month on OAE Player, Look no bass! is an intriguing recital in which the violinists from the OAE present music for violins alone, from concertos for four violins by Telemann to arrangements of Matthew Locke, John Adson and Gabrieli. 

Further ahead, there is more conventional Christmas repertoire; on 17 December the OAE joins forces with the choir of Clare College, conductor Graham Ross, for Bach's Magnificat (the version with Christmas interpolations) and Handel's Dixit Dominus, with a fine cast of young soloists, Lucy Knight and Emilia Morton (sopranos), James Hall (counter-tenor), Hugo Hymas (tenor) and Andrew Davies (bass). Further information from OAE website.

To present the artistic diversity and quality of the European opera scene: Introducing ARTE Opera

Walter Bergman of ARTE Opera
Wolfgang Bergmann of ARTE Opera
Now in its fourth season, ARTE Opera presents current productions that whenever possible are live-streamed  from the opera house, and  afterwards the operas, ballets  and concerts can all be viewed as videos on demand. All productions are available throughout Europe and most of them  even worldwide. Wolfgang Bergmann, managing director of ARTE Deutschland and ARTE Coordinator of the ZDF, was kind enough to answer some questions about the enterprise.

ARTE seems a huge undertaking, what are its aims?

The goal of the European project of the ARTE Opera Season is to present the artistic diversity and quality of the European opera scene and to introduce it to new audiences. 

Furthermore, ARTE Opera is conceived as a network between opera houses, festivals and ARTE as a broadcaster, aiming to work on a pan-European visibility of European opera production. We are very happy to count 21 of the leading European opera houses among our partners, e.g. the Paris National Opera, the Berlin State Opera, the Royal Opera House in London, the Royal Theatre of Madrid or the Czech National Theatre of Prague.

Monday, 6 December 2021


If Opera - Adjustments
If Opera is a new company with a long history. Founded as Iford Arts, the company has reinvented itself since ceasing to perform at Iford Manor, where the company was founded. 

Since the beginning of this year, Michael Volpe has been chief executive, and the aim is to transform If Opera into a repertory opera company with a fixed group of singers, performing work in specially chosen venues across the South West. 

The company has not yet announced its plans for next year, but it has not been silent and a new film, Adjustments written by Nicola May-Taylor, directed by Harry Mackrill, is now available on the company's website. It is not an opera, and wisely doesn't try to be, instead May-Taylor's story explores the power of music's effect on grief and the grieving process.

May-Taylor plays Maya, a sound engineer returning to work after the death of her father and whose life is profoundly changed by the effect of the music she hears, performed on the film by soprano Nadine Benjamin. It is a short, yet powerful and intriguing piece of work, one which is determinedly a film rather than a film musical performance, yet succeeds in making us consider music's effect on grieving and on mental health.

If Opera's Adjustments is available on YouTube.

Zest and energy: New Sussex Opera revives Offenbach's La princesse de Trébizonde

Offenbach: La princesse de Trébizonde - Meriel Cunningham, Mark Saberton, Anthony Flaum, Miriam Sharrad - New Sussex Opera (Photo Robert Knights)
Offenbach: La princesse de Trébizonde - Meriel Cunningham, Mark Saberton, Anthony Flaum, Miriam Sharrad - New Sussex Opera (Photo Robert Knights)

Offenbach La princesse de Trébizonde; Mark Saberton, Chiara Vinci, Meriel Cunningham, Anthony Flaum, Miriam Sharrad, Peter Martin, Giles Davies, Paul Featherstone, dir: Anthony Baker, cond: Toby Purser, St Paul's Sinfonia; New Sussex Opera at Britten Theatre

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 December 2021
A revival of an Offenbach rarity proves to be delightful yet madcap evening in the theatre.

New Sussex Opera has returned to live performance with another of its explorations of unaccountably neglected opera. We caught the final performance, at the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music on Sunday 5 December 2021 of New Sussex Opera's production of Offenbach's La princesse de Trébizonde, directed and designed by Anthony Baker, conducted by Toby Purser with Mark Saberton as Cabriolo, Chiara Vinci as Zanetta, Meriel Cunningham as Regina, Anthony Flaum as Tremolini, Miriam Sharrad as Paola, Peter Martin as Prince Raphael, Giles Davies as Dr Elastoplast, Paul Featherstone as Prince Casimir and St Paul's Sinfonia. Lighting was by Jo Underwood, choreography by  Eleanor Strutt, and the work was performed in a new English version by Anthony Baker and a new orchestration by James Widden.

One of the reasons that Offenbach's operas are neglected is that there are so many. In 1869 alone, he wrote Vert-Vert for the Opera Comique, La diva for the Bouffes-Parisiens, La princesse de Trébizonde for Baden-Baden, and  Les brigands for the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris. And for its Paris premiere in December of that year, he revised La princesse de Trébizonde to create the three-act version that New Sussex Opera performed.

Offenbach: La princesse de Trébizonde - Chiara Vinci, Peter Martin - New Sussex Opera (Photo Robert Knights)
Offenbach: La princesse de Trébizonde - Chiara Vinci, Peter Martin - New Sussex Opera (Photo Robert Knights)

Whilst the work's recent history has been somewhat limited, a fascinating article in the programme booklet made it clear that La princesse de Trébizonde was something of a success at the time, not only being performed in Paris, but having extensive performances in the UK and America. Like the majority of Offenbach's works of this period, La princesse de Trébizonde lacks the satirical point of his earlier operas. Whilst Étienne Tréfeu and Charles-Louis-Étienne Nuitter's text does make occasional points, such as the circus performers puzzlement at the idea of living on one place, or the elements of social comedy involved in a circus proprietor being made a baron, none are really seen through and the work's last act is closer to a mad-cap farce.

Offenbach's music, however, is certainly on a high level. This was the period when his operettas moved closer to opera comique (Vert Vert), as well as experimenting with mixed, romantic forms (Fantasio) which could lead eventually to Les contes d'Hoffmann. Indeed the lovely duet for Prince Raphael and Zanetta in Act Two of La princesse de Trébizonde seemed very much to point towards Hoffmann. But, Offenbach also could not resist using the contrived situations in the plot to poke fun at operatic conventions (the Act One finale includes the circus performers bidding farewell to their old home with a parody of Rossini's Guillaume Tell).

Grappling with the unknowable: James MacMillan's remarkable new Christmas Oratorio receives its UK premiere at the Southbank Centre

James MacMillan: Christmas Oratorio - Lucy Crowe, Roderick Williams, London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir, Sir Mark Elder - Royal Festival Hall (Photo Mark Allan)
James MacMillan: Christmas Oratorio - Lucy Crowe, Roderick Williams, London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir, Sir Mark Elder - Royal Festival Hall (Photo Mark Allan)

James MacMillan Christmas Oratorio; Lucy Crowe, Roderick Williams, London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir; Sir Mark Elder; Royal Festival Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 December 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
James MacMillan's thoughtful and intriguing response to the Christmas narrative finally gets its UK premiere in a superb performance from the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir

James MacMillan's Christmas Oratorio was premiered in Amsterdam in January 2021. A co-commission from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, NTR Zaterdagmatinee, The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the work received its UK premiere at the Southbank Centre on Saturday. Sir Mark Elder conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir in James MacMillan's Christmas Oratorio at the Royal Festival Hall on 4 December 2021 with soloists soprano Lucy Crowe and baritone Roderick Williams.

It is a substantial work, around two hours of music, and though MacMillan restricts his orchestral forces (double woodwind, brass, percussion, harp, celeste) there is a substantial role for the large chorus, as well as two arias a-piece for the soloists. MacMillan's aim was not pure narrative, this was not a work that began at the beginning the way a Passion narrative might, nor was it pure celebration (there wasn't a Christmas carol in sight), though the opening sinfonia was full of dancing rhythms. Instead it seemed an exploration of what the birth of Christ might mean, so there was joy and celebration (those dancing rhythms), mystery and wonder (choral settings of texts such as O Magnum Mysterium), anger and drama (including the Slaughter of the Innocents), narrative and mysticism. The phrase that I kept coming back to was the line from the Gospel according to St John, 'And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us'; MacMillan seemed to be constantly wondering what this might exactly mean, looking at the idea from multiple angles.

James MacMillan: Christmas Oratorio - Lucy Crowe, Roderick Williams, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder - Royal Festival Hall (Photo Mark Allan)
James MacMillan: Christmas Oratorio - Lucy Crowe, Roderick Williams, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder - Royal Festival Hall (Photo Mark Allan)

Formally, the work has quite a tight structure, two halves, each in seven movements - sinfonia, chorus, aria, tableau, aria, chorus, sinfonia. The choruses are largely liturgical Latin texts, though the chorus also takes a significant role in the two tableaus, the first a narrative of the Nativity, the second covering text from St John's Gospel 'In the beginning was the Word', whilst the arias were moments of contemplation setting 16th and 17th century English texts.

Yet, within this there was a profound restlessness of structure and texture, a mosaic of smaller strong-coloured moments so that the work almost dazzled with its vividness and with MacMillan's willingness to juxtapose vastly different timbres and textures. But, if you are grappling with a subject so immense and unknowable as the Incarnation, such an approach is understandable.

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Written for London and his second most performed work, Leoncavallo's Zingari has fallen out of the repertoire but Opera Rara aims to change all that

Leoncavallo: Zingari - Łukasz Goliński, Krassimira Stoyanova, Arsen Soghomonyan, Stephen Gaertner - Opera Rara (Photo Simon Weir)
Leoncavallo: Zingari - Łukasz Goliński, Krassimira Stoyanova, Arsen Soghomonyan, Stephen Gaertner - Opera Rara (Photo Simon Weir)

Leoncavallo Zingari, Puccini/Rizzi Tosca Symphonic Suite; Krassimira Stoyanova, Arsen Soghomonyan, Stephen Gaertner, Lukasz Golinski, Opera Rara Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlo Rizzi; Opera Rara at Cadogan Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 3 December 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Opera Rara revives Leoncavallo's opera, written for London, where the composer seems to revisit the musical world of his major hit, Pagliacci

Leoncavallo's Zingari was written for London in 1912 and it went on to have an incredibly long run both in London and in the United States, making it Leoncavallo's most performed opera after Pagliacci, yet somehow the opera has fallen out of the canon. Opera Rara wants to change all that and has been recording it. As the culmination of the recording sessions, Opera Rara presented conductor Carlo Rizzi, soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, tenor Arsen Soghomonyan, baritone Stephen Gaertner (standing in at short notice for Carlos Alvarez), bass Lukasz Golinski, Opera Rara Chorus, and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Leoncavallo's Zingari and Carlo Rizzi's Puccini arrangement, Tosca Symphonic Suite at Cadogan Hall on Friday 3 December 2021.

We give a nod to contemporary music but don't relish it: conductor Zvonimir Hačko aims to change that with the founding of the International Centre for Contemporary Music

Zvonimir Hačko in rehearsal
Zvonimir Hačko in rehearsal

The newly founded International Centre for Contemporary Music (ICCM) is an ambitious multi-faceted organisation devoted to the performance, production, and promotion of contemporary music. ICCM was founded by Croatian/American conductor Zvonimir Hačko, who is now its Artistic Director & Music Director. ICCM projects already underway include plans to record all of Krzysztof Penderecki’s symphonies with the Philharmonia, a mini-series of three concerts (with the Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) entitled Leaning East, Music of Eastern Europe including two world premieres of ICCM commissions (by Wojciech Błażejczyk and Paweł Mykietyn) and three UK premieres. Zvonimir was recently in London to record music by Clarice Assad, Sofia Gubaidulina and Anna Clyne, and I took advantage of this to chat to him about ICCM and its plans.

Krzysztof Penderecki in Gdańsk, 2008 (Photo Adam Kumiszcza)
Krzysztof Penderecki in Gdańsk, 2008
ICCM will be recording all of his symphonies
(Photo Adam Kumiszcza)
Traditionally organisations such as orchestras commission music and then perform it, but Zvonimir's ambitions for ICCM are far greater than this, though he understands that to become a real centre for contemporary music they must operate in several different departments which need to be synchronised. So in addition to simply performing the music, ICCM wants to be concerned with the composers' experience, the audience's experience and young people's experience. Zvonimir feels that it is important for ICCM to 'have the whole pie', and rather than launching everything at once, they will be working over several years in a phased way.

Inevitably, there will be overlap with other organisations promoting contemporary music, but Zvonimir regards this as a good thing and he uses the metaphor of it being an advantage to open a restaurant in an area where there are other restaurants. And having other organisations means that ICCM can collaborate with others with a similar goal. The distinctive aim of ICCM though is to be comprehensive regarding its treatment of contemporary music, and exclusive, in that it only treats contemporary music and music from the very recent past. They will be dedicating their efforts just to the music of the last 70 years.

This means that ICCM will not just be promoting contemporary works but those of the more recent past that are becoming part of the canon, so they are planning performances of music by Witold Lutoslawski and Penderecki combined with other contemporary works. Zvonimir wants ICCM to promote works that are of significant, ground-breaking and seminal, older works that are of enduring quality with the intention of creating new great works that need to be heard.

Friday, 3 December 2021

Riot Ensemble's annual Call for Scores

The Riot Ensemble
The Riot Ensemble 

The Riot Ensemble has announced its annual Call for Scores, open to composers throughout the world. The ensemble is seeing submissions from composers for two new works, to be performed by the ensemble in July and October 2022. There is no entry fee.

The first commission is for a quartet, lasting 5-8 minutes, for flute, clarinet, violin, and cello (with or without electronics) which Riot will premiere at Israel’s Tzlil Meudcan festival in July 2022. The commission fee for this work is worth £750. 

The second commission is for an ensemble work, lasting 10-12 minutes, for up to twelve musicians (with or without electronics) for Riot’s autumn 2022 concert at Kings Place, London as part of its ongoing residency at the concert halls. The winning piece will be presented alongside Anna Korsun’s Ulenflucht (for 20 singing and playing musicians) and David Del Tredici’s Syzygy.  The composer will select their own line-up of 12 musicians from these forces.  The commission fee for this work will be £1500 - with an additional fund of up to £500 available to offset travel costs. The premiere will take place at Kings Place on 14 October 2022. 

The deadline is 27 December 2021, full details from the Riot Ensemble website.

Fiesta: the Autumn season of Dylan Perez' Re-Sung ends with an engaging evening of 20th-century Spanish song

Jesús Guridi in 1915
Jesús Guridi in 1915

- Falla, Turina, Guridi, Granados; Lucy Anderson, Dan D'Souza, Sofia Kirwan-Baez, Dylan Perez; Re-Sung at Church of St John the Divine, Kennington

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 December 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A group of young performers in an engaging recital, bringing the warmth of Spain into a cold Winter's evening and encouraging us to explore 20th century Spanish song

The Autumn season of Re-Sung, pianist Dylan Perez' song recital series at the Church of St John the Divine, Kennington, came to an end on Wednesday 1 December 2021 with Fiesta, a programme of Spanish songs by Manuel de Falla, Joaquin Turina, Jesus Guridi and Enrique Granados, sung by Lucy Anderson, Dan D'Souza and Sofia Kirwan-Baez, Dylan Perez accompanied, as well as providing engaging spoken introductions to the songs.

We began with perhaps one of the best known works in the relatively small group of Spanish songs that are widely performed internationally, Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas, seven Spanish folksongs that Falla arranged for voice and piano in 1914. Usually sung by a female voice, here they were intriguingly sung by baritone Dan D'Souza. With a resonant masculine voice singing the songs, with little of the flirtatiousness that female performers often bring, the result was a surprising refocusing of the music. Throughout the cycle, I was far more conscious of the Spanish words and the phrases they made than is often the case. By turns sonorous, serious and insouciant, D'Souza brought a different feel to the music from the vividly vibrant tones of 'Seguidilla murciana' to the sculptural phrases of 'Nana' and the joyful swagger of 'Cancion'. Throughout, D'Souza was finely partnered by Perez whose rhythmically alert performance complemented D'Souza's admirably.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Unsung Heroine: The Telling in music of Hildegard of Bingen and troubadour songs

Unsung Heroine & Vision; The Telling; First Hand Records

Unsung Heroine
& Vision; The Telling; First Hand Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 December 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Created as sound-tracks for films made during lockdown, these recordings have now become an expressive testament to the art of a much-loved performer

During the Summer of 2020, The Telling made films of two of Clare Norburn's concert plays, Vision, about the life and music of Hildegard of Bingen, and Unsung Heroine, about the life of the woman troubadour Beatriz de Dia. The group made the films because they could, having toured both works in 2019 and early 2020, and faced with lockdown, filming was something that became possible [see my interview with Clare Norburn]. For the sound-tracks of the films, the group made studio recordings. The films were issued, on the group's website during 2020. And that was it.

Unfortunately, the singer Ariane Prüssner, who featured in many of The Telling's performances, died from lung cancer in May 2021. Having these recordings was an unexpected legacy, and so they have now been released on disc, partly as a memorial to Prüssner who sings in both works. Issued on First Hand Records, the disc features performances of the music from Unsung Heroine: The Imagined Life and Love of Beatriz de Dia and Vision: The Imagined Testimony of Hildegard of Bingen performed by The Telling -  Clare Norburn and Ariane Prüssner (voice), Jean Kelly (medieval harp), Joy Smith (medieval harp, percussion),  Giles Lewin (vielle, bagpipes).

It should be emphasised that these are not the concert plays themselves, but the musical aspect. For Vision we have a series of sacred works by Hildegard of Bingen, including ten pieces from Symphonia armoniae celestrium revelationum (Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations) her cycle of over 70 liturgical songs. These are performed by Prüssner and Norburn with just the harp of Jean Kelly. For Unsung Heroine we have songs by troubadours both male and female, including one by the heroine of the play Beatriz de Dia along with others. For some songs, melody lines exist, for others the performers have had to borrow the music. And they are performed by Prussner and Norburn, with harp and percussion from Joy Smith, and vielle and bagpipes from Giles Lewin.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Brahms and the Great Romantics

Pianist Warren Mailley-Smith's Piccadilly Chamber Concert Series will be returning to St James' Church, Piccadilly for its fourth series in 2022
Pianist Warren Mailley-Smith's Piccadilly Chamber Concert Series will be returning to St James' Church, Piccadilly for its fourth series in 2022.

The new series, Brahms and the Great Romantics, will be exploring aspects of Brahms' chamber music alongside other works that influenced him, and there will be performances of Brahms' Piano Trio No. 1, Clarinet Trio and Piano Quartet in G minor, along with the composer's solo piano music plus trios by Beethoven, Coleridge-Taylor, Chopin, Bridge, Mendelssohn, and Rota, Schubert's The Shepherd on the Rock, Schumann's Piano Quartet, Farrenc's Piano Quintet and Schubert's Trout Quintet.

The opening concert on 28 January 2022, features Mailley-Smith with Victoria Sayles (violin) and Victoria Simonsen (cello) in Beethoven's Piano Trio Op 1 No.1 in E flat Major, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Piano Trio in E Minor and Brahms' Piano Trio No. 1 op 8 in B major. 

Subsequent concerts in the series follow on Fridays in February, March, May, and July 2022.

Full details from the series website.

Northern Ireland Opera presents Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods at the Lyric, Belfast, directed by Cameron Menzies

Stephen Sondheim: Into the Woods - Northern Ireland Opera

Northern Ireland Opera has presented a series of highly successful music theatre productions at the Lyric theatre, Belfast, including The Threepenny Opera (2018), Sweeney Todd (2019) and Kiss me Kate (2020), and in 2022 the company will be returning to the Lyric with Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.

The new production will be directed by Cameron Menzies, the company's artistic director, and this will be only his second live production with the company since taking over as artistic director in 2020. Menzies staged Puccini's La Boheme with the company at Belfast’s Carlisle Memorial Church in September 2021.

The performers in the production will be a mix of local talent with West End performers, some originally from Northern Ireland and making long-awaited debut performances back home.

Northern Ireland Opera's production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods will be directed by Cameron Menzies, designed by Niall McKeever and choreographed by Jennifer Rooney, and the show runs from 3 to 27 February 2021 at the Lyric, Belfast. Full details from the theatre's website.

Virtuoso instrumental focus: in Handel's Unsung Heroes, David Bates & La Nuova Musica highlight Handel's brilliant instrumental solos in his arias

Handel's Unsung Heroes; Leo Duarte, Joe Qiu, Thomas Gould, Lucy Crowe, Iestyn Davies, Christine Rice, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; Pentatone

Handel's Unsung Heroes
; Leo Duarte, Joe Qiu, Thomas Gould, Lucy Crowe, Iestyn Davies, Christine Rice, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; Pentatone

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 November 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A disc that throws the focus onto some of the virtuoso instrumental solos that Handel wrote for the distinguished members of his theatre band

Handel's orchestra for his operas included some of the finest players of the time and Handel took advantage of this, writing solos for a wide variety of instruments in tandem with his vocal soloists. When listening these arias we can often focus so much on the singer (and their vocal pyrotechnics) that we almost take the instrumentalist for granted. Handel's Unsung Heroes, David Bates and La Nuova Musica's recent disc on Pentatone, aims to set this right. Yes, it does indeed feature soprano Lucy Crowe, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice and counter-tenor Iestyn Davies (all three on cracking form), but it also features a fine array of solo instrumentalists including Leo Duarte (oboe), Joe Qiu (bassoon), Thomas Gould (violin), Paul Sharp (trumpet), Roger Montgomery and Joseph Walters (horn), in music from TeseoRinaldoAlcinaGiulio Cesare in EgittoAriodante Aci Galatea e PolifemoAmadigi di Gaula, and Agrippina. It is a disc that invites us to consider these 'unsung heroes'.

We begin with a fine account of the overture from Teseo, which leads to a sequence from Rinaldo. First off the Marcia and Battaglia, in which Handel shows off his four trumpets magnificently and bearing in mind that the Haymarket Theatre stage could be opened up to a depth of some 90 feet, clearly we might expect dramatics on stage too. The aria, 'Or la tromba', features Iestyn Davies in sparkling form trading fanfares with trumpeter David Sharp; delightful and brilliant.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Young Composers and Emerging Musicians

The National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) has announced details of the 2022 Young Composers Award, for composers aged 25 and under. The Liverpool Philharmonic has launched of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Emerging Musicians Fellowship to provide four musicians at the beginning of their orchestral careers with an immersive experience in the world of the orchestra.

The NCEM Young Composers Award 2022 is presented in association with BBC Radio 3. The 2022 edition of the award asks young composers to write a work for string quartet (lasting three to four minutes), working alongside the Consone Quartet, an historically informed group playing on gut strings.

Shortlisted composers will be invited to the Award Day at the National Centre for Early Music in York when the shortlisted compositions will be presented by the Consone Quartet in a workshop led by composer Professor Christopher Fox.  In the evening, the Consone Quartet will perform each of the pieces for a panel of judges.

The two winning pieces, one from each age category (18 years and under; 19 to 25 years), will be premiered by the Consone Quartet at Stour Music festival on 26 June 2022. The performance will be recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show, and the quartet will be performing the compositions at the Stour Music Festival.

Full details from the award website, and you have until 18 February 2022 to register.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Emerging Musicians Fellowship will run annually starting with the 2022-23 season, and will provide four musicians at the beginning of their orchestral careers with an immersive experience in the world of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, both on and off the stage through four residencies during four weeks spread over the course of a year. Notably, the Fellowship is the first paid opportunity of its kind in the North of England.

Fellows will rehearse and perform with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the regular season programme, receiving bespoke training and will be mentored by an orchestral musician. Fellows will rehearse and perform within chamber ensembles, with the year culminating in a public chamber performance. They will access the Orchestra’s pioneering Musicians Performance and Wellbeing programme, and participate in Learning programmes such as In Harmony Liverpool.

Further details from the orchestra's website.

Herr Arnes penningar: Göteborg Opera revives rarely performed opera by 20th century Swedish composer Gösta Nystroem

Gösta Nystroem's opera Herr Arnes penningar at Göteborg Opera

Swedish composer Gösta Nystroem (1890-1966) studied composition in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Paris, and in Paris his teachers included Vincent D'Indy and Leonid Sabanayev. Nystroem is not a well-known name today, though in the 1930s his music was regarded as modernist in Sweden.

In 1959 his opera Herr Arnes penningar (Mr Arne's Money) was created as a radio play and first staged in 1961 in Gothenberg, where Nystroem lived for most of his life after his return from Paris. In 2017, Göteborg Opera gave a concert performance of the opera which received critical acclaim and now the company is planning to stage it in 2022 as part of the city's 400th anniversary celebrations.

Herr Arnes penningar is based on Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf's novel of the same name, dating from 1904. Lagerlöf was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the novel tells a somewhat macabre story, a riveting tale of murder, stolen treasure and ill-fated love set in the bleak and supernatural wintery landscape of the medieval Gothenburg region.

Nystroem's output includes six symphonies, concertos, chamber music and songs, but Herr Arnes penningar seems to be his only opera.

The production will be directed by Mattias Ermedahl and conducted by Patrik Ringborg with a cast including Julia Sporsen, and it debuts on 19 February 2022. Full details from the Göteborg Opera website.

A Night at the Opera

Ulster Touring Opera logo
Ulster Touring Opera is an ambitious new cross-border company based in Belfast. Under artistic director Dafydd Hall Williams the company has announced its debut season, a concert series A Night at the Opera which is touring during February 2022 to seven venues, three in the Republic and four in Northern Ireland (Newtownabbey, Enniskillen, Omagh, Monaghan, Armagh, Letterkenny, Cavan). 

Four Irish singers, Carolyn Dobbin, Gavan Ring, Amy Ní Fhearraigh and Malachy Frame will be joined by pianist Ruth McGinley and BBC Radio Ulster presenter Marie-Louise Muir for a programme of duets and ensembles by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini.

There will also be a chance for audiences to try out the company’s ground-breaking Augmented Reality opera projects in the foyer of the theatres.

Full details from the Ulster Touring Opera website.

A snapshot of London musical life in 17th and 18th centuries from Ensemble Hesperi at Temple Church

John Playford (engraving by David Loggan)
John Playford (engraving by David Loggan)

Handel, Purcell, Blow, Playford, Oswald; Ensemble Hesperi; Temple Music at Temple Church

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The period instrument ensemble exploring music by the web of musicians who lived or worked near Temple during the late 17th and early 18th centuries

During the late 17th and 18th centuries, the area around the Temple was home to quite a number of musicians. During the 1640s, John Playford opened a music shop by Temple Church and his business would remain in the area, whilst John Walsh would open his music shop in the nearby Strand in the 1690s. Other musicians lived in the area also, and it was this web of connections that Ensemble Hesperi explored in their concert in Temple Church on Monday 29 November 2021 for Temple Music. The ensemble, Mary-Jannet Leith (recorders), Magdalena Loth-Hill (baroque violin), Florence Petit (baroque cello), Thomas Allery (harpsichord), has become known for its exploration of Scottish 17th and 18th century music, and their Temple Church programme included some of James Oswald's music from their recent disc Full of the Highland Humours [see my review] alongside music by Purcell, Handel, Farinel, Pepusch, Finger, Blow and Matteis plus tunes from Playford's A Collection of Original Scotch Tunes and the English Dancing Master.

Thomas Playford's shop was the first music shop as we know it, and it was home to his music business. Samuel Pepys would queue up at the shop to buy the latest music by Henry Purcell, and Playford's son Henry would collaborate with Purcell's widow in printing more of the composer's music. Henry Playford also conducted auctions of music libraries (generally after someone had died), and when the composer Gottfried Finger failed to win the competition to write an opera based on John Eccles' libretto, The Judgement of Paris, the composer left London for good and Walsh auctioned his library. As Playford's business declined, John Walsh developed his, notable for his publishing of Handel's music (at first pirating it and then in collaboration with the composer).

Monday, 29 November 2021

Anthony Bolton's The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko

Anthony Bolton's The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko at Grange Park Opera

Anthony Bolton's The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko debuted at Grange Park Opera in July 2021. Delayed by a year, thanks to the pandemic, the new piece is an operatic treatment of the real-life story of the killing of the Russian exile living in London. With a libretto by Kit Hesketh Harvey, the opera is a musical treatment of a highly dramatic re-life episode, and a welcome mark of confidence from Grange Park Opera in the idea of new, large-scale opera.

The production, directed by Stephen Medcalf and conducted by Stephen Barlow, featured Adrian Dwyer, Rebecca Bottone, Stephan Loges, and James Laing.

For those that missed the live performances, a film of the production is now available on the Grange Park Opera website.

Live from London - Christmas 2021: Voces8's online series returns with youth choirs featured alongside professional ensembles

Live from London - Christmas 2021
Voces8 launches its LIVE from London - Christmas 2021 season this week; 13 online concerts featuring a wide range of performers in events across Advent and the Octave of the Nativity. The concerts are all filmed with live audiences at churches across London (with two American guest groups thrown in). But in addition to the professional musicians, there is also a chance for youth groups to shine as well as each concert will feature a guest spot from youth groups.

So, in the run up to Christmas we will be hearing from Voces8, The Kings Singers, Apollo5, Stile Antico and I Fagiolini, with American guests The Crossing and St Olaf College, including a performance of Handel's Messiah from Voces8. Then for the Christmas period itself, the Gabrieli Consort and Players are performing five concerts featuring the music of Bach and Praetorius.

Alongside these there will be guest spots from youth choirs including Barnsley Youth Choir, Hartt Voices, National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain, London Youth Choir, iSing Silicon Valley, Voces8 US Scholars, Daubeney Primary School and Gabrieli Roar.

Full details from the Voces8 website.

The journey begins: Richard Jones and Martyn Brabbins launch a new Ring Cycle at ENO, dramatically anti-heroic yet with strong musical values and some intriguing ideas

Wagner: The Valkyrie - Rachel Nicholls - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Wagner: The Valkyrie - Rachel Nicholls - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Wagner The Valkyrie; Rachell Nicholls, Emma Bell, Nicky Spence, Matthew Rose/Tomasz Konieczny, Brindley Sherratt, Susan Bickley, dir: Richard Jones, cond: Martyn Brabbins; English National Opera at the London Coliseum

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Strong musical values, a largely home-grown cast and some intriguing dramatic ideas make for an interesting start to ENO's new Wagnerian journey

The Bayreuth Festival apart, few opera companies reveal a new Ring Cycle in one fell swoop, instead the cycle tends to be developed over a number of years so that the whole production beds in. This means that the first production in a cycle has to be thought of as not so much a finished product as the beginning of a journey, designer, director and conductor laying out the ground rules.

English National Opera has not had much luck with Ring Cycles in the last few decades. The iconic Ring Cycle of the 1970s, conducted by Reginald Goodall, was ground-breaking but perhaps had a sense of 'follow that!' to it. Not until the 1990s did they plan a new one directed by David Pountney. But this cycle never got beyond a production of The Valkyrie bedevilled by an overly complex set and an ailing Brünnhilde
. Phyllida Lloyd then directed a Ring Cycle in which each of the individual operas were staged, in 2004 and 2005, but the complete cycle never appeared. And so, we are now returning to the Ring again at the London Coliseum, perhaps more in hope than expectation.

We caught Richard Jones' new production of Wagner's The Valkyrie for English National Opera at the London Coliseum on Sunday 28 November 2021. Conducted by Martyn Brabbins, the production featured Rachel Nicholls as Brünnhilde, Emma Bell as Sieglinde, Nicky Spence as Siegmund, Brindley Sherratt as Hunding, and Susan Bickley as Fricka. Matthew Rose was ill and unable to sing Wotan and unfortunately his cover was unavailable as well. Luckily the company had managed to fly Tomasz Konieczny in, so Rose acted the role and Konieczny sang in German from the side of the stage. [Konieczny was Telramund in the Bayreuth Festival's new production of Lohengrin in 2018 and 2019, see Tony's review]

The new Ring Cycle is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, yet Richard Jones' approach seems to deliberately avoid both the technological sophistication and the naturalism for which the previous two Met Rings were notable. In fact, given the sheer sparseness of Stuart Laing's designs, you wonder how the production will sit on the vast open spaces of the Met's stage.

Wagner: The Valkyrie - Nicky Spence, Brindley Sherratt, Emma Bell - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Wagner: The Valkyrie - Nicky Spence, Brindley Sherratt, Emma Bell - English National Opera (Photo Tristram Kenton)

Jones and Laing take very spare, stylised approach to the opera and any sense of an heroic, mythic past is generally avoided. There are no moments of great theatrical magic, everything is plain and direct. But the mythical past is not entirely absent, the cast wield spears and swords; there is a sword in the tree in Act One, and in Act Two, Susan Bickley's Fricka points to places on Wotan's spear when elucidating the various contracts that bind him. There is sufficient material here for one to be intrigued as to how Jones will develop it. His previous Ring Cycle, at Covent Garden, was notable both for the fidelity to the score and for the quirky way that Jones implement this fidelity.

Sunday, 28 November 2021

'A Dangerous Obsession: The Relationship of Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud' at the London Song Festival

Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud
Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud

A Dangerous Obsession: The Relationship of Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud
; Ben Vonberg-Clark, Julien Van Mellaerts, Nigel Foster, David Mildon; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 November 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★)
The relationship of Verlaine and Rimbaud in their own words, explored in an enthralling programme of settings of their poetry

The relationship between the poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud remains one that continues to fascinate and puzzle in its sheer intensity and violence. As poets, both would have an enormous impact on French poetry and both would inspire generations of composers. For the latest concert in pianist Nigel Foster's London Song Festival season at Hinde Street Methodist Church (26 November 2021), A Dangerous Obsession saw tenor Ben Vonberg-Clark, baritone Julien Van Mellaerts, actor David Mildon and Foster exploring Verlaine and Rimbaud's relationship through songs to their poems, with music by Faure, Charpentier, Debussy, Varese, Vierne, Hahn, Hahn, John Alden Carpenter, Poldowski, , Daniel Ruyneman, Hindemith, Jean Rivier, Eisler, Leon Orthel, Maxime Jacob, Britten, and Pascal Zavaro.

The evening was arranged as a narrative, with Ben Vonberg-Clark (who stepped in at the very last possible minute) singing settings of Rimbaud's poetry and Julien Van Mellaerts singing settings of  Verlaine's poetry, plus David Mildon providing linking narrative, the whole having being devised by Nigel Foster. The fascinating thing was that, unlike many similar such programmes, here the songs became part of the narrative as many of the poems were written at the time of the events being narrated or were about the situations being talked about. The result was absorbing and imaginative, almost Verlaine and Rimbaud in their own words. Add to this Foster's imaginative selection of songs and you had an engrossing evening.

The narrative took us from their very first meeting (after the teenage Rimbaud had written to Verlaine) right through to their final, short meeting after Verlaine's release from prison, following which the one would write no more poetry, go travelling and have an important role to play in the colonial exploration of East Africa, whilst the other would discover religion and lose it again, struggle with his sexual nature and decline into alcoholism, but write a remarkable oeuvre of poetry. In between was a remarkable tale of obsession, violence, intensity, struggle, parting, reconciliation and more violence. You felt sorry both for Rimbaud's mother and for Verlaine's wife, both of whom were significantly involved and neither of whom seemed to be able to keep the pair away from each other for long. The violence that characterised the pair's relationship, however, was truly staggering.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Following her passion: for Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir writing music as a calling

Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Photo Saga Sigurdardottir)
Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Photo Saga Sigurdardottir)

For the third of my interviews with composers nominated for the 2021 Ivors Composer Awards, I chatted to Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Þorvaldsdóttir) who is a first time nominee. Anna is nominated in the large scale composition category for her orchestral piece Catamorphosis. The work was a co-commission from the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic, conductor Kirill Petrenko, on 29 January 2021 [the concert is available from the orchestra's Digital Concert Hall]. Catamorphosis takes as its starting point the fragile relationship between humankind and the planet, and can be taken as a purely musical work, overflowing with drama and unexpected turns, or as a metaphor for the climate emergency.

I was intrigued as to the origins of the title, and Anna explained that it is a combination of two different words 'Catastrophe' and 'Metamorphosis' which goes back to her initial inspirations for the work. Whilst she does not always find it necessary to have the inspirations indicated in the title of the work, this time she felt that it was. The work started as a completely open commission as to length and subject matter. She enjoys working with a large-scale format as this gives her ideas space, and for this work she needed the full 20 minutes. The ideas and the work came naturally. It wasn't a case of pinning an idea or a concept on a piece; the inspiration came intuitively, and the subject matter, relating to humans, the planet and climate change, was a large part of the creation of the work.

If you read about Anna's music, her inspiration from landscape and nature is often mentioned. But she does not try to describe particular landscapes, she takes inspiration from nature for the structure and flow of the construction of her work. Nature is complex and complicated, and she is able to reflect this in the music with every type of emotion. She does not find sounds in nature, but uses it as the inspiration for her construction material, finding shapes. She sees her music as being about the state of being. 

Friday, 26 November 2021

A tremendous achievement: premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's 'Scenes from the Wild' as part of City of London Sinfonia's 50th birthday celebrations

Frances-Hoad: Scenes from the Wild - William Morgan, City of London Sinfonia, Geoffrey Paterson at Southwark Cathedral (Photo Nick Rutter for Apple and Biscuit Recordings)
Frances-Hoad: Scenes from the Wild - William Morgan, City of London Sinfonia, Geoffrey Paterson at Southwark Cathedral (Photo Nick Rutter for Apple and Biscuit Recordings)

Frances-Hoad Scenes from the Wild; William Morgan, City of London Sinfonia, Geoffrey Paterson; Southwark Cathedral

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A humungous achievement for all concerned; Frances-Hoad's remarkable 80-minute song cycle celebrating the orchestra's birthday, the natural world and the thoughts of a remarkable young man

City of London Sinfonia is celebrating its 50th birthday with a season of concerts, Origin, at Southwark Cathedral. For the third concert in the series on Thursday 25 November 2021, Geoffrey Paterson conducted City of London Sinfonia and tenor William Morgan in the premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Scenes from the Wild with a libretto by Amanda Holden based on Dara McAnulty's book Diary of a Young Naturalist.

A conservationist and an activist, Dara McAnulty's book explores the natural world throughout the seasons, his fascination with flora and fauna being tied up with both his activism and his autism.  Holden's libretto distilled the book down to 26 episodes, spread across the four seasons of a year (2018 to 2019). The result was something of a tour-de-force for both composer and performers, as the song cycle lasted around 80 minutes, as well as a bit of a challenge for listeners.

The choice of the book and the theme of the work was deliberate, so that Scene from the Wild is intended to reflect on the orchestra's extensive participation work in mental health settings, a belief in inclusion and music for all and care for the environment.

McAnulty's writes in poetic prose, and his thoughts on particular aspects of the natural world can develop into poetic meditations, anger about loss of habitat or aspects of living with autism. Frances-Hoad reflected this by giving the music a free-form, rhapsodic nature, with each song/episode often featuring a solo moment for particular instruments from the orchestra. Though writing for quite a small chamber orchestra, 10 strings, single woodwind, two horns, trumpet and percussion, Hoad managed to create a series of atmospheric and imaginative textures, as well as bringing the feel and sound of the natural world into the music without ever feeling cornily descriptive. 

How I wonder what you are: RR Bennett, Hindemith, RVW, Schubert, Mussorgsky, Barber, and Alex Groves at Re-Sung

John Tenniel: the Mad Hatter (from Alice in Wonderland) reciting 'Twinkle, Twinkle, little bat'
John Tenniel: the Mad Hatter (from Alice in Wonderland)
reciting 'Twinkle, Twinkle, little bat'

How I wonder what you are
- RR Bennett, Hindemith, RVW, Schubert, Mussorgsky, Barber, Groves; Ben Vonberg-Clark, Stephen Fort, Edward Picton-Turbervill, Nick Quanrud; Re-Sung at St John the Divine, Kennington

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An engaging and imaginative programme about the wonder of the stars from a group of young artists at this lively concert series in Kennington

Re-Sung is a lively concert series organised by pianist Dylan Perez, and the latest season is presenting concerts at the Church of St John the Divine in Kennington, just up the road from where I live and another lovely example of how concert-life is, slowly, becoming more local.

On Wednesday 24 November 2021, Re-Sung presented a programme entitled How I wonder what you are which was curated by pianist and composer Edward Picton-Turbervill. Exploring our attitudes to the stars and, as Picton-Turberville explained in his introduction, trying to capture something of the wonder that we feel, it was a programme that mixed song and spoken word. Tenor Ben Vonberg-Clark and bass Stephen Fort performed songs by Richard Rodney Bennett, Hindemith, RVW, Schubert, Mussorgsky and Samuel Barber, there was the premiere of a new piece for piano and electronics by Alex Groves, and Nick Quanrud (who is a member of the clergy team at St John the Divine) gave a series of readings.

Share Sound: From a quick-fire germ to something beyond the scope of any project Orchestras Live has ever delivered before

Orchestras Live's Share Sound

Orchestras Live's Share Sound initiative was conceived as an 'of the moment' project, a response to the fact that as a result of the pandemic, young people were no longer going to be able to meet, to perform or create live music together, and that his would affect many of Orchestras Live's music education partners.

So, Share Sound was born, a digital creative project enabling young musicians to explore digital ensemble music making, composing, and performing with professional composers and orchestras. 'Of the moment' it might have been, but experience, connections, knowledge and deeply held beliefs about musical inclusion, drove the project beyond the scope of any project the organisation has ever delivered before.

Share Sound developed into large-scale digital project involving six music education hub partners, three orchestras, six music creators and composers, over 250 young co-creators plus an additional 132 primary school performers, and a professional digital production team, culminating in a live broadcast event watched by approximately 2,000 people.

A lot has been learned from the project, and now a report has been produced enabling others to learn:

  • How an inclusive approach resulted in high-quality musical outcomes
  • How digital delivery methods have enabled partners to enhance their youth music offers
  • The digital production skills needed to produce a project of this scale
  • The challenges of producing the project and lessons learned
The Share Sound report is available from Orchestras Live website.

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