Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Sheer diversity: The Boulanger Legacy - music for violin and piano from the Boulanger sisters and three of Nadia's pupils, one Polish, one American, one Argentinian

The Boulanger Legacy - Lili Boulanger, Grazyna Bacewicz, Astor Piazzolla, Leonard Bernstein, Nadia Boulanger; Merel Vercammen, Dina Ivanova; TRPTK

The Boulanger Legacy
- Lili Boulanger, Grazyna Bacewicz, Astor Piazzolla, Leonard Bernstein, Nadia Boulanger; Merel Vercammen, Dina Ivanova; TRPTK

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 September 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An imaginative selection of music for violin and piano from sisters Nadia and Lili Boulanger alongside that of Nadia's pupils

Nadia Boulanger's pupils were so many and varied, from Aaron Copland to Jean Françaix, from Philip Glass to Daniel Barenboim, from Elliott Carter to Quincy Jones, from Bert Barcharach to John Eliot Gardiner, that each recital looking at their music will inevitably take a different route. 16 September is Nadia Boulanger's birthday, so it seems a good point to consider her legacy.

A disc released earlier this year, The Boulanger Legacy on the TRPTK label by Dutch violinist Merel Vercammen and Russian pianist Dina Ivanova places the music of Nadia Boulanger and her sister Lili Boulanger alongside that of three of Nadia Boulanger's pupils, Grazyna Bacewicz, Astor Piazzolla and Leonard Bernstein, providing three very different takes on what a Nadia Boulanger pupil might be.

We begin with Lili Boulanger's Nocturne and Cortege, the first originally written for flute and piano and the latter published as a companion piece. Nocturne has nothing to do with night (the title is the publisher's), it is a lovely sung melody with Spanish hints in the piano, with just enough to suggest a passionate night time serenade, whilst Cortege is a delightfully fleet piece. Both works show Lili Boulanger's debt to other French composers but also her imagination and her own voice.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Light and shade: In Soleil Noir, tenor Emiliano Gonzalez Toro takes us on a voyage around the art of Francesco Rasi, the first Orfeo in Monteverdi's opera

Soleil Noir: arie per Francesco Rasi; Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Louise Pierrard, Thomas Dunford, Flora Papadopoulos

Soleil Noir: arie per Francesco Rasi
; Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Louise Pierrard, Thomas Dunford, Flora Papadopoulos

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 September 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A spectacular and engaging voyage around the tenor Francesco Rasi who not only created the title role in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo but was associated with a number of other early opera composers

The tenor Francesco Rasi (1574-1621) is best known for creating the title role in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo in 1607, and we know the sort of feats of which he was capable as the ornamented version of Orfeo, notated alongside Monteverdi's plainer original, is Rasi's. But Rasi was a lot else besides, a composer, a noted interpreter of music by other composers associated with the development of opera, Rasi was also prosecuted for murder and attempted murder!

On this disc the ensemble I Gemelli - tenor Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Louise Pierrard (viola da gamba), Thomas Dunford (theorbo), and Flora Papadopoulos (harp) - perform Rasi's music alongside his contemporaries, Giulio Caccini, Marco da Gagliano, Giuseppino del Biado, Sigismondo d'India, Andrea Falconieri, Carlo Gesualdo, Claudio Monteverdi, and Jacopo Peri. There is nothing from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, you will have to turn to Gonzalez Toro's recent recording of the work for that, instead we have a voyage round Rasi's art and voice, with music by composers with whom he was intimately associated.

Born in Arezzo, Rasi seems to have studied with Giulio Caccini as well as Jacopo Peri, both of whom would be involved in the creation of the first operas. In the 1590s, Rasi seems to have been in Gesualdo's retinue but by 1598 he was working for the Gonzaga dukes of Mantua, and stayed with them for the rest of his life. He travelled widely, and took place in the first performances of Jacopo Peri's Euridice and Giulio Caccini's Il rapimento di Cefalo in 1600, and in 1608 sang in the first performances of Marco da Gagliano's La Dafne. In Florence, Rasi would meet a wide variety of musicians, in contact with the wide circle of composers, musicians, writers and philosophers that went into the boiling cauldron that created opera, monody and much else besides.

In 1610 he and some accomplices attempted to kill Rasi's stepmother and killed her servant in the process. He was sentenced for the murder but the support of the Gonzagas seems to have enabled the sentence to be annulled.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival - highlights from this years festival broadcast on-line

Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival

Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival might have finished its live performances for this year's festival, but the jollity is not over as on Friday 17 September 2021 the festival is broadcasting films of three of the highlights from this year's festival. 

Things begin with The Venus Bushfires, a watch party with the creative collective which has multidisciplinary artist Helen Epega at its centre. Then comes Alastair White's latest fashion-opera, RUNE. This is the third in a sequence of works which White has been producing [see my interview with him], and RUNE features performances from Patricia Auchterlonie and Simone Ibbett-Brown, an ensemble of three grand pianos, contemporary dance with interactive sculpture, and high fashion by Ka Wa Key. Finally, the evening concludes with The Castle of Crossed Destinies with words by Giovanni Privitera and music by Matteo Fania, an adaption of Calvino's novel that shows us knights in Times Square, legendary alchemists, and invisible kings, and in an event that combines animation with live performance.

Further details from the Tête à Tête website.


Friday, 10 September 2021

Faced with the lack of representation of their own experiences in the traditional song repertoire, soprano Samantha Crawford and pianist Lana Bode set about creating their own programme

Lana Bode and Samantha Crawford performing dream.risk.sing (Photo Frances Marshall)
Lana Bode and Samantha Crawford performing dream.risk.sing (Photo Frances Marshall)

Faced with the challenge of finding song repertoire which reflected the diversity of their experiences and frustrated by the lack of representation in traditional song repertoire, British soprano Samantha Crawford and American pianist Lana Bode have set about doing it for themselves. The two have created a programme that tells women's stories from a woman's perspective. The result, dream.risk.sing was developed during 2020 and Crawford and Bode will be presenting a pared down version of the recital at the Oxford Lieder Festival on 22 October 2021 at a late-evening concert which will also be live-streamed and available on the festival's website until 30 November 2021.

The centrepiece of the recital is the premiere of a song cycle by composer Charlotte Bray and poet Nicki Jackowska. Crossing Faultlines explores the topic of women in the workplace, perhaps the first song-cycle so to do. Also in the programme are two new piano arrangements of songs from Judith Weir's orchestral song cycle, woman.life.song which was originally written for Jessye Norman in 2000 and the cycle formed the inspiration for dream.risk.sing.

There are songs by Carson Cooman, about women oppressed through religious fundamentalism, by Ricky Ian Gordon, his tribute to his mother, by Helen Grime, songs from her cycle about motherhood, and by Michele Brourman, about passing the torch to future generations of women. There are also older songs, Dvorak's Songs my mother taught me and Florence Price's The Heart of a Woman.

Crawford and Bode are also recording a fuller version of the programme for Delphian records, and the disc will also include songs by Libby Larsen, Rebecca Clarke, Clara Schumann and Alma Mahler.

Further details of the concert from the Oxford Lieder Festival website.

Mixed blessing: Bach's St Matthew Passion at the BBC Proms with never quite solves the problem of how to fill the Royal Albert Hall with this profoundly contemplative work

Bach: St Matthew Passion - Arcangelo in rehearsal at the Royal Albert Hall - BBC Proms
Bach: St Matthew Passion - Arcangelo in rehearsal at the Royal Albert Hall - BBC Proms

Bach St Matthew Passion; Stuart Jackson, Matthew Rose, Louise Alder, Iestyn Davies, Hugo Hymas, Roderick Williams, Arcangelo, choristers of St Paul's Cathedral, Jonathan Cohen; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 September 2021
Jonathan Cohen brings together a fine array of soloists and instrumentalists for a very traditional style performance with moments of great musical beauty

The first performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion at the Proms wasn't until 1968 (with Karl Richter as conductor) though Sir Henry Wood had conducted highlights from the work earlier in the century. And Wood was no stranger to the complete St Matthew Passion as he conducted it at the Sheffield Festival in 1908 with a chorus of 300 and an orchestra including 'eight flutes, eight oboes and eight bassoons', a practical and effective solution to using a huge choir to perform a work written for quite tiny forces.

This question of how to, or whether to, expand the size of the St Matthew Passion to fill the space is one which hangs over every performance of it at the Royal Albert Hall. On Thursday 9 September 2020, Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo performed Bach's St Matthew Passion with relatively traditional period forces including Stuart Jackson (Evangelist), Matthew Rose (Christ), Louise Alder (soprano), Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor), Hugo Hymas (tenor) and Roderick Williams (baritone). So we had two orchestras of around 18 players each, two choirs of 17 singers each, plus the boys from St Paul's Cathedral Choir, director of music Andrew Carwood, for the ripieno. All well and good, and all traditional.

Except, of course, that it isn't. Such a style of performance is a modern invention. Bach's passions were written to be performed during the Lutheran services in Leipzig, where there was a tradition of using a small group of soloists. In 1994, Joshua Rifkin directed the St Matthew Passion at the BBC Proms with just a group of soloists, who sang everything. This is a style of performance that Bach would have recognised, and even if he had used more than eight singers (eight soloists and eight ripieno would work well), the arias would be sung be singers who were also singing the choruses and chorales, both the Evangelist and Christ sang arias as well. The result is brings an element of communality to the performance.

The question nowadays, particularly with large venues and big choirs, isn't so much whether Bach would have performed the work with just eight singers, but what decisions he might have made to expand the performance. Within 30 years of Handel's death, a tradition had grown up of performing his oratorios with larger choirs plus soloists. Many of these works were premiered with relatively small choral forces and with the soloists singing in the choir, so when expanding the forces the 18th century musicians simply factored everything up, including those oboes and flutes. Sir Henry Wood's performance is starting to look a lot less retrograde.

Haydn heard one such Handel commemoration performance in London in the 1790s, which led to his oratorios and the idea of using large forces. Mozart would re-work Handel to make him fit 18th century conventions, but the music of Bach disappeared until the revival in the 19th century. Both Mendelssohn and Schumann reworked Baroque music to suit the forces available (large choirs and halls with no organ, hence the extra instrumental parts). Bach's passions were presented as part of this large-scale oratorio tradition. And this style of performance still influences us today.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

A Companionship of Concertos: Tedd Joselson returns to the studio for concertos by Grieg and Rachmaninov

Grieg Piano Concerto, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2; Tedd Joselson, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Arthur Fagen; Signum Classics

Grieg Piano Concerto, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2; Tedd Joselson, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Arthur Fagen; Signum Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 September 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A rare return to the studio for the distinguished Belgian-American pianist with a pair of classic concertos

This new disc of Grieg's Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 from pianist Tedd Joselson, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Arthur Fagen on Signum Classics comes as something of a companion to the Lim Fantasy of Companionship for piano & orchestra which Joselson released earlier this year.

Belgian-American pianist Tedd Joselson auditioned for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra when he was only 17. The result would be a critically acclaimed sequence of six albums on RCA [reissued in 2019 by Sony Classical]. But he retired from public performance in 1999 and mostly resides in Singapore, so this disc represents a rare return to the studios in two of his favourite piano concertos made as part of a project to record both the Grieg and the Rachmaninov alongside the new work, the Lim Fantasy of Companionship all with Arthur Fagen conducting but each with a different orchestra.

We begin with Grieg's Piano Concerto, written in 1868/1869 and premiered in 1869, a rare excursion into large-scale symphonic writing for a composer who often wrote on a somewhat smaller scale. Grieg seems to have been a composer who could, on occasion, write for large scale symphonic orchestra (witness his incidental music) yet rarely felt impelled to. Schumann's Piano Concerto, which Grieg seems to have heard when he was student in Leipzig with Clara Schumann in the solo part, remains a key inspiration alongside Norwegian folk-music. The result is, perhaps, a concerto which (like the Schumann) has been expanded in modern performance from its classical roots into a large scale Romantic piece.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Oxford Bach Choir launches 125th Anniversary Season with online performance of Duruflé’s Requiem

Oxford Bach Choir is celebrating its 125th Anniversary Season beginning with a performance of Duruflé’s Requiem

Oxford Bach Choir is celebrating its 125th Anniversary Season beginning with a performance of Duruflé’s Requiem which will be performed in the Sheldonian Theatre and streamed on-line. On Sunday 19 September 2021, Benjamin Nicholas will conduct the Oxford Bach Choir in Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem (written in 1947) with Lila Chrisp (mezzo-soprano), Ben Davies (bass), Rebecca McNaught (cello) and Robert Quinney (organ). The work will be paired with Gabriel Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, and Oxford University Professor of Poetry, Alice Oswald, who will read poems and speak about the experiences of the pandemic. 

In an era when we are re-evaluating how works of art come to be created, the Requiem has an intriguing history. Maurice Duruflé was among French composers commissioned in May 1941 by the collaborationist Vichy regime to write extended works for a monetary award, he decided on a Requiem but was still working on it when the regime collapsed in 1944. However, when Duruflé complete the work in 1947 (and it was published in 1948) he demanded (and received) payment for the work!

The online concert is free and will be accessible via the choir's website, online production is by Positive Note, and the choir is inviting donations to the Oxford Hospitals Charity, to allow the online audience to thank local health workers for the brilliant job they continue to perform for the people of Oxfordshire.

The choir's 125th Anniversary Season continues on 4 December 2021, when it performs Bach's Christmas Oratorio at the Sheldonian Theatre, with Benjamin Nicholas conducting the period instrument ensemble Florilegium. This will be rare performance of all six cantatas


Scriabin complete: all ten published piano sonatas in one sitting at Puskin House as part of the Bloomsbury Festival

Alexander Scriabin
Alexander Scriabin

This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915) and in celebration, as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, Pushkin House has arranged an event where all ten of Scriabin's published piano sonatas will be performed by a team of distinguished pianists, Thomas Ang, Daniel Grimwood, Alexander Karpeyev, Dinara Klinton, James Kreiling, Yuri Paterson-Olenich, Maria Razumovskaya, Olga Stezhko and Nafis Umerkulova. On Saturday 23 October 2021 from 3pm to 6pm, they will give us the chance to hear all of the composer's published piano sonatas.

Scriabin wrote his sonatas across almost his entire mature compositional life, from 1892-1913, in fact quite a narrow time-span for ten works. His Piano Sonata No. 1 (in fact the third to be written but the first to get an opus number) was his first large-scale masterpiece, an emotionally charged work which he wrote after damaging his right hand after excessive piano playing. Through the sonatas, the development of his style can be traced from the relatively conventional Liszt and Chopin-inspired Romanticism of the early sonatas to the last five, which are written without key signature, and many passages can be said to be atonal. His Sonata No. 9 (dating from 1912-13) was given the nickname Black Mass Sonata, though the name was not Scriabin's, whilst he described the Sonata No. 10 (from 1913) thus, "My Tenth Sonata is a sonata of insects. Insects are born from the sun [...] they are the kisses of the sun" and the work his highly chromatic and atonal.

Full details from the Pushkin House website.

Ancient and Modern: Helen Charlston & Toby Carr premiere Owain Park's new piece for mezzo-soprano and theorbo

Helen Charlston & Toby Carr (Photo Vivienne Monk)
Helen Charlston & Toby Carr (Photo Vivienne Monk)

Owain Park, Purcell, Strozzi, Eccles, Monteverdi; Helen Charlston, Toby Carr; City Music Foundation at Great Hall of St Bartholomew's Hospital

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 September 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Premiere of Owain Park's new work alongside vividly intense programme of Renaissance laments and mad songs

The collaboration between mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and lutenist Toby Carr goes back some years, with a repertoire of English and Italian renaissance music from Purcell to Monteverdi to Strozzi and beyond. The idea of having some contemporary music to sit alongside this developed (as an operatic soloist and ensemble singer Charlston is very much involved in singing contemporary music alongside older repertoire). Charlston was a City Music Foundation artist in 2018, and the City Music Foundation commissioned a new song-cycle for Charlston and Carr from composer Owain Park. One movement was premiered at the Barbican Centre's Sound Unbound festival in 2019, but the events of 2020 rather delayed the complete cycle.

Last night, 7 September 2021, mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and theorbo player Toby Carr finally gave the premiere of Owain Park's Battle Cry, commissioned by the City Music Foundation (CMF), at a CMF concert at the Great Hall of St Bartholomew's Hospital (as part of CMF's collaboration with Bart's Heritage). Also in the programme were a series of laments and mad songs by Purcell, Strozzi, Eccles and Monteverdi including Strozzi's L'Eraclito Amoroso, Purcell's Dido's Lament and Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna.

Designed by James Gibbs and with an adjacent staircase featuring large-scale paintings by William Hogarth, the Great Hall at St Bartholomew's Hospital is a remarkably grand interior dating from the 1730s, but it proved to be a fine space in which to hear Helen Charlston and Toby Carr; sufficient space to allow the music to breathe yet preserving that sense of intimacy that this repertoire requires. Whilst some of the music was written for the stage, in performing it with just theorbo accompaniment Charlston and Carr were reclaiming it for a long tradition of taking music from the opera house into aristocratic salons.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Music Theatre Wales: New Directions

MTW - House of Jollof Opera - Tumi Williams & Sita Thomas 2021 Credit - Redbrck_6
MTW - House of Jollof Opera - Tumi Williams & Sita Thomas 2021 (Credit - Redbrck_6)

During September and October 2021, Music Theatre Wales, led by artistic associate Elayce Ismail and director Michael McCarthy, will be presenting three new works online. They have invited artists new to opera to create new opera for our times, and the three results are The House of Jollof Opera by Tumi Williams and Sita Thomas (launching 24/9/2021), Pride (A Lion's Roar) by Renell Shaw and Rachel Young (launching 8/10/21), and Somehow by Krystal S. Lowe and Jasmin Kent Rodgman (launching 22/10/21).

Writer, composer and performer Tumi Williams and multidisciplinary director and dramaturg Sita Thomas collaborated on The House of Jollof Opera, an exploration and expansion of the operatic form. The story is about budding chef Adeola who brings style and his speciality, vegan Jollof, to impress Asha, a tired and hard-working boss of a neighbourhood cafe (in fact, Tumi Williams is also a part-time chef and during lockdown he started his street food business Jollof House Party which serves vegan Nigerian food).

Pride (A Lion's Roar) is created by composer and music producer Renell Shaw and artist and writer Rachael Young, with visuals by Kyle Legall. The piece narrates the experience of prejudice that many people of colour have endured: of being told that you are ‘aggressive’ or ‘too loud’  because your metaphorical roars are unfamiliar in the environments that you have to operate within. Of being made to feel like you have to make yourself smaller to be accepted, turning your roar into a purr so that others don’t feel threatened.

Writer and dancer Krystal S. Lowe and composer Jasmin Kent Rodgman have created a work that draws on the theatre of opera, the emotion and expression of lieder and the innateness of dance. Somehow is an exploration of intimacy and relationships, not only between the music and movement, but between performer and audience, blurring the lines between onstage and onscreen.

Further details from the Music Theatre Wales website.

In Darkness Let Me Dwell

John Woolrich (Photo Chelsey Browne)
John Woolrich (Photo Chelsey Browne, originally in folke.life)
The composer John Woolrich is now resident in Folkstone and his latest project is aimed at bringing his music to the town. Over the last six years or so, Woolrich has been writing a series of short pieces for string quartet under the overall title of A Book of Inventions. To date he has composed 21 of them, and though some have been performed individually, his new project aims to bring them together.

Over two nights, 24 and 25 September 2021, under the title In Darkness Let Me Dwell, the Salome Quartet and the Benyounes Quartet will be playing nine of pieces from A Book of Inventions. But the project is not just about music, a group of visual artists from all over the world have been invited to create their response to the pieces, which will be displayed alongside the music.

In order to involve the young people of Folkestone, Woolrich has created nine new pieces for string ensemble suitable for young musicians. Each piece is aimed at a particular level, including parts for absolute beginners just playing open strings. The Sacconi Trust and Sounds Folkestone have been involved in organising sessions for local young players and the results will be unveiled in public for the first time in a Sacconi Quartet weekend of community music events on 23 October 2021.

Full details from the project website.

Visible Skin: Rediscovering the Renaissance through Black Portraiture

Peter Brathwaite - The Paston Treasure - #GettyMuseumChallenge
Peter Brathwaite - The Paston Treasure

Baritone Peter Brathwaite spent a good portion of lockdown last year with an ambitious Twitter and Instagram project Rediscovering Black Portraiture, where he re-imagined representations of Black portraiture from the 11th century to the present day, daring viewers to consider how people of colour have and should be seen and portrayed. He embarked on the project as part of the #GettyMuseumChallenge: restaging famous paintings with everyday household objects. Peter restaged works that focused specifically on Black portraiture using items from his family’s past, and from his cultural heritage in Barbados and Britain. Peter is currently writing a book about the project for Getty Publications.

There is now a chance to see some of Peter's work on a rather larger scale. Visible Skin: Rediscovering the Renaissance through Black Portraiture is a new outdoor exhibition across King’s College London’s Strand Campus showcasing artworks by Peter. From the 10 September 2021, photographs from this series will be shown in windows across King’s Strand buildings, as part of Westminster City Council’s launch of the Strand Aldwych project, which will transform the traffic dominated gyratory into a new pedestrian-focused destination public space in London.

A still largely unexplored facet of the Renaissance is the diverse, multicultural European life represented in its art, particularly the representation of Black individuals. Portraits and images of Black people abounded in the Renaissance. They included portraits drawn from life as well as a wider cast of imagined Black identities such as biblical subjects, saints and allegorical figures. 

The images in this exhibition not only testify to the presence and prominence of Black life in Renaissance Europe, they also mirror its complexities. European countries had a long history of trade and diplomatic contact with African kingdoms. From the 1440s onwards the trade of enslaved peoples began to overlay this longer history. But not all Black or African people in Europe were enslaved or connected to slavery, nor were all Black people African. Princes and diplomats, Black travellers, merchants, emissaries, performers, clergymen, and skilled craftsmen all appear in the records, and the visual art, of the Renaissance. 

Peter Brathwaite can soon be seen in the world premiere of THE TIME OF OUR SINGING at La Monnaie/De Munt, Kris Defoort’s latest opera based on the novel by Richard Powers. In June 2019, he sang the role of The Old Gardener in the premiere of my opera The Gardeners at Conway Hall.

Further information from the Renaissance Skin website.


Arthur Honegger: Mélodies et Chansons from Holger Falk & Steffen Schleiermacher

Arthur Honegger Mélodies et Chansons; Holger Falk, Steffen Schleiermacher; MDGArthur Honegger Mélodies et Chansons; Holger Falk, Steffen Schleiermacher; MDG
Arthur Honegger Mélodies et Chansons; Holger Falk, Steffen Schleiermacher; MDG

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 September 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Spanning over 30 years, this wide-ranging recital explores Arthur Honegger's full development as a song-composer

Like the music of the other composers from Les Six, the music of Arthur Honegger moves away from the style associated with the group in the 1920s and Honegger was a prolific composer, leaving works in a wide range of genres. Whilst a few are well-known, far more of his works remain at best curios on the edge of the repertoire. On this disc from Dabringhaus und Grimm, baritone Holger Falk and pianist Steffen Schleiermacher have assembled a selection of Honegger's songs ranging from Quatre Poemes from 1914/1916 to Quatre Chansons pour Voix Grave from 1945. Many are tiny, the longest is 3'35 and the shortest is just 40 seconds, 46 songs lasting a total of 73'30, with the result that a number of the song cycles resemble mosaics of tiny pieces rather than assemblages of larger-scale independent songs.

The poets are largely contemporary and names such as Jean Cocteau, Apollinaire and Paul Claudel providing links with Honegger's contemporaries Francis Poulenc and Darius Milhaud. But it is best to forget these two, and concentrate on Honegger himself and his approach to writing for voice and piano. 

Born in France of Swiss parents, he studied both at the Zurich Conservatoire and the Paris Conservatoire, where his teachers included Charles-Marie Widor and Vincent d'Indy and whilst Honegger followed the fashionable trends he was never the most progressive of 20th century composers. Some of the songs on this disc have the wit, energy and brevity of Poulenc's early work, but often we are struck by the composer's seriousness of purpose, even in the lighter or faster pieces, and the way that from the 1920s the piano ceases to dazzle and becomes a supportive partner with the voice at the fore. 

Monday, 6 September 2021

London Young Musician - international online music performance competition

London Young Musician
London Young Musician is an international online music performance competition that focuses on supporting the worldwide learning and creation of classical music. It is open to young musicians under the age of 28 and is available to all classical music instruments and vocals. The competition is held entirely online and welcomes applications from around the world. It provides excellent experience of competing internationally, without the hassle of travelling.

Thousands of candidates from over 70 countries and regions enter the competition. The international jury panel consists of professors from the Royal College of Music and experts from all over the world. London Young Musician has a unique competition system designed by world-class education specialists, which provides professional pathways and resources for young musicians to build higher musical skills.

The competition has four separate seasons per year with each seasonal competition being held every three months. For every season, the jury panel awards gold, silver, bronze and special prizes to competitors from each category. Other exciting prizes are available such as Ranking champion medals, Mid-season online concert invitation, Educator Awards.

Seasonal winners who have gained 6 award points or more can then enter the annual competition Musician of the Year. This year-end competition consists of a first round and a Final Round. The final round is live streamed by True Art TV. Apart from jury members’ marks, audience vote helps to determine the final results. The annual awards include: 

  • cash awards totalling £1000
  • an interview published in World of New Classical Musicians magazine
  • a CD making opportunity with the True Art TV label
  • the opportunity to perform in the online concert
  • Champion Trophies, Ranking top 1 medal and exclusive London Young Musician teddy bears

The deadline for London Young Musician 2021-22 Season 2 is 20 September 2021, full details from the London Young Musician website.

The last piano solos by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov in a recital of power and subtlety by Nikita Lukinov at Pushkin House

Nikita Lukinov
Nikita Lukinov
Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 September 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A Pushkin House music salon featuring a talented young Russian pianist

Based in an early 18th-century house in Bloomsbury Square, Pushkin House is an organisation which promotes Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet culture, founded in 1954 by a group of scholars with Russian origins. Pushkin House runs regular music salons and on Sunday 5 September 2021 we went along to hear the young Russian pianist Nikita Lukinov performing Prokofiev's Six Pieces from Cinderella, Op. 102, Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42, movements from Tchaikovsky's Dix-huit morceaux, Op. 72 and music by Scriabin.

Nikita Lukinov studied initially in his native Russia, making his orchestral debut at the age of 11, and then studied with Tatiana Sarkissova at the Purcell School. He is currently studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland were he has been the recipient of a full scholarship.

Tchaikovsky's Dix-huit morceaux were written in 1893, around the time of writing the Symphony No. 6, and were the last piano solos that composer wrote. He told his brother,  Modest Tchaikovsky, "In the meantime, in order to earn some money, I will compose a few piano pieces and romances". Lukinov performed a selection of seven of the pieces.

The history behind: 17 June 1800 - Puccini's Tosca and Sardou's La Tosca

Soprano Hariclea Darclée, the first Tosca
Soprano Hariclea Darclée, the first Tosca
Have you ever wondered why Cavaradossi, in the middle of Act Two of Puccini's Tosca, suddenly launches into a triumphal aria 'Vittoria, vittoria!' despite having just suffered torture at the hands of Scarpia's minions? You need to follow the libretto pretty closely, something I suspect few people bother to do, to realise that the aria arises directly from the very specific historical context of the opera.

Puccini's inspirations for his operas were many and various (and reading his biography the net seems to have been cast remarkably wide with some surprising ones that got away). But many of his ideas came from seeing stage works, so that both Madama Butterfly and La fanciulla del West are based on English-language stage plays by John Belasco (despite Puccini understanding barely any of the spoken English texts). 

Tosca is based on French-language dramatic play, La Tosca, written in 1887 by playwright Victorien Sardou as a vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt. Puccini saw La Tosca at least twice, in Milan and Turin and on 7 May 1889 he wrote to his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, asking him to get permission for the work to be made into an opera. The path to creating the opera was rocky, Puccini started with librettist Luigi Illica, but Illica was not keen and Sardou disliked Puccini's music! Ricordi eventually transferred the opera to Alberto Franchetti, who started work on it but somehow the project got transferred back to Puccini. There is a suggestion that Franchetti was never at ease with the subject matter. But however it happened, Puccini resumed work in 1895 and the opera premiered in 1900 in Rome with Hariclea Darclée, Emilio De Marchi, and Eugenio Giraldoni, conducted by Leopoldo Mugnone. Ricordi had arranged to premiere the work in Rome, rather than at La Scala, Milan, because of the opera's very specific Roman setting.

Sardou sets La Tosca at a very specific period of time and place, the afternoon, evening, and early morning of 17 and 18 June 1800 in Rome.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

A sequence of vivid characters: William Walton's A Song for the Lord Mayor's Table alongside Puccini, Verdi and Finzi in a superb recital from Elizabeth Llewellyn and Simon Lepper

Elizabeth Llewellyn and Simon Lepper at Wigmore Hall (image taken from live stream)
Elizabeth Llewellyn and Simon Lepper at Wigmore Hall (image taken from live stream)

Finzi, Puccini, Verdi, Walton; Elizabeth Llewellyn, Simon Lepper; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 3 September 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Songs by two opera composers whose work she is associated with complemented by song cycles from Finzi and Walton in this vivid recital from Elizabeth Llewellyn

Soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn returned to Wigmore Hall on Friday 3 September 2020 [see my review of her 2020 Wigmore Hall debut] with pianist Simon Lepper for an intriguing programme that combined songs by Puccini and Verdi (two composers with whose operas Llewellyn is very much associated) with William Walton's A Song for the Lord Mayor's Table and Gerald Finzi's Till Earth Outwears.

Finzi's cycle, setting poetry by Thomas Hardy, was created after Finzi's death (in 1956) by his executors (including his friend, the composer Howard Ferguson) from songs written between 1927 and 1956. There is no narrative, just a series of atmospheres; Hardy's view of the interaction between man and nature which chimed with Finzi's own. Llewellyn sang with wonderfully burnished tone, relishing the way Finzi's music flows around Hardy's texts. 

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Composing is not something that you decide to do, it chooses you: I chat to composer Richard Danielpour about his new work which arose directly out of the events of 2020

Richard Danielpour
Richard Danielpour

Like many creative artists, last year's events affected composer Richard Danielpour both personally and artistically. One of the results of this has been the creation of a striking sequence of piano pieces, An American Mosaic, which he wrote for pianist Simone Dinnerstein and which she premiered (online) last year and the recording of which came out earlier this year. It is a work which, in both its subject matter and the manner of its arising, comes directly out of last year. Richard intends it as a work of consolation, many of its individual movements are named for those who worked (and are working) hard to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. 

But there is much else going on musically in Richard's life, including plans for a new opera and I spent an engaging hour chatting to him last month via Zoom. We spoke at a time conditioned by the time difference; Richard has lived in Los Angeles for four years, having spent 35 years as a New Yorker. 

Richard explains that An American Mosaic's genesis arose from unique circumstances. During March 2020 he had trouble sleeping; he is asthmatic and had been warned he needed to avoid contact and so was isolated for 40 days. Not surprisingly, he suffered problems with anxiety and sleeping. He was usually awake in the early hours, and having had an idea for an opera at the beginning of 2020 he used the time to start work on an opera libretto (of which more anon). He found that listening to Simone Dinnerstein playing Bach helped him get back to sleep, notably her recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations (which legend says were written to help an insomniac aristocrat). 

Richard Danielpour: An American Mosaic - Simone Dinnerstein - (Image from IMG Artists)
Richard Danielpour: An American Mosaic - Simone Dinnerstein - (Image from IMG Artists)

This listening became something of a ritual for around a month, and he wanted to write to Dinnerstein to thank her. She was unknown to him, but when his choral work, The Passion of Yeshua had been premiered at the Oregon Bach Festival in 2018 Dinnerstein had also appeared at the festival; she and Richard had only missed each other by a day, So Richard got into contact with the festival's then director of artistic adminstration, Michael Anderson.

At the time, Richard was finding it too stressful to watch the news on television, but he kept abreast of events via the New York Times, and he felt that he wanted to write a piece that reflected the times. And when he contacted Michael Anderson at the festival, Richard told him about the idea for the piece, and it was Anderson who suggested that Dinnerstein might perform Richard's new work. So contact was made by email, then they Facetimed and she loved the idea; Oregon Bach Festival commissioned what would become An American Mosaic.

Friday, 3 September 2021

Stories from the front line: concert life might be opening up, but artists still face huge challenges when it comes to being able to rehearse and perform

Members of National Youth Choir of Scotland on the isle of Cumbrae
Members of National Youth Choir of Scotland on the isle of Cumbrae

Whilst musical life is indeed opening up, there still remain all sorts of complications, issues and costs. The changing nature of quarantine regulations means that travel is still a big issue for many artists, and my social media feed has plenty of examples of singers and instrumentalists who struggle (and sometimes fail) with the paperwork and quarantine requirements, and don't forget that five days quarantine is five days without paid work. Below are just three of the stories which have popped into my inbox, demonstrating the challenges artists face and the imagination needed to overcome them.

Temple Music has announced the appearance of American pianist Jeffrey Siegel at Temple Church on 29 September 2021 under the headline 'Fourth time lucky'. Siegel's appearance was planned for June 2020, but the date has been repeatedly moved owing to travel restrictions, quarantine complications and more, but now it looks as if Siegel will make it into the UK.

And even if artists to manage to travel, there are costs involved; not just the lack of work, but the costs of the tests generally required. The Philharmonia Orchestra is appearing at the Enescu Festival in Romania with its new principal conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali on Saturday 4 September 2021, performing Bartok, Prokofiev and Enescu's Symphony No. 3. This will be the orchestra's first international concert for 18 months, but it is taking place because the orchestra is being sponsored by Circular1Health which is covering all testing requirements and costs (which amount to quite a considerable sum for a large orchestra). This relationship has already allowed the orchestra to perform at the Three Choirs Festival, Bold Tendencies in Peckham and at the BBC Proms, and now the orchestra is one of the first UK orchestras to travel to Europe.

But even in the UK, there are complications. Amateur choirs are still recovering from the governments nonsensical refusal to let amateur singers rehearse indoors (except under certain circumstances). Luckily my own choir was able to rehearse outside. But even now, to rehearse requires a venue and the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCOS) found that a planned return to in person rehearsals and concerts was threatened because many of the choirs rehearse in schools, largely in partnership with the local education authorities. However, with Covid uncertainty and the current guidelines in Scotland, many schools are unwilling to host, or are unsure about outside groups using the facilities; they want to keep the premises safe, healthy and secure for their own pupils. 

Luckily, another institution was sympathetic and the Church of Scotland stepped in, churches in the regions NYCOS was having difficulty in were identified and over the coming weeks, nine of the Regional Choirs will be able to continue thanks to their help. 

And NYCOS also ran its first residential course for two years, in a tent on the island of Cumbrae. Instead of using a school, as has happened in previous years, NYCOS instead found Field Studies Centre (FSC Millport) on the island of Cumbrae to host and erected an enormous marquee in its grounds to house rehearsals. 70 members of NYCOS travelled to Cumbrae from the four corners of Scotland and beyond to rehearse for three days in the most beautiful of scenery in stunning weather preparing the choir to return to performance at the highest level.  And you can hear the choir at the Lammermuir Festival later this month.

National Opera Studio's Young Artists for the 2021/22 season

National Opera Studio Young Artists 2021/22

The National Opera Studio has announced its roster of Young Artists for the 2021/22 season, but it will not be bidding goodbye quite yet to some of the 2020/21 Young Artists as they are offering all the 2020/21 Young Artists additional coaching and support as Associate Artists during the year, whilst once of the 2020/21 Associate Artists, South African tenor Monwabisi Lindi, is returning as a full-time Young Artist.

This year's roster is:

  • Russian soprano Aleksandra Chernenko (Mozarteum University, Salzburg, Austria & Conservatorio Santa Cecilia, Rome, Italy)
  • Welsh soprano Ffion Edwards (Royal College of Music, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama)
  • Ukrainian soprano Inna Husieva (P. I. Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music)
  • Latvian soprano Laura Lolita Perešivana (Guildhall School of Music and Drama), who was in the Guildhall School's triple bill of Italian rarities last year [see my review] & the recent programme of new and early opera [see my review]
  • British mezzo-soprano Siân Griffiths (Guildhall School of Music and Drama), whom we saw in the title role of Rossini's La Cenerentola with British Youth Opera in 2019 [see my review]
  • British mezzo-soprano Joanna Harries (Royal Northern College of Music, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), who sang the title role in Holst's Savitri with Hampstead Garden Opera last year
  • Australian mezzo-soprano Shakira Tsindos (Guildhall School of Music and Drama)
  • Belgian countertenor Logan Lopaz Gonzalez (Conservatoire Royal de Mons, Royal Academy of Music)
  • South African tenor Monwabisi Lindi (Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) Pretoria, South Africa)
  • Korean baritone Jeongmeen Ahn (Theatre Academy August Everding, Munich)
  • South African baritone Kamohelo Tsotetsi (North West University in Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa)
  • South Korean pianist Chloe Jihee Kim (State University of New York, Sorbonne Université, Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris)
  • Brazilian pianist Alexsander Ribeiro de Lara (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul State),
  • Australian pianist Elli Welsh (Royal Academy of Music, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University)
Full details from the National Opera Studio website.

Quite an occasion: Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts early Handel and Bach for his 60th appearance at the BBC Proms

Handel: Dixit Dominus - Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner - BBC Proms (Photo Chris  Chris Christodoulou/BBC)
Handel: Dixit Dominus - Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner - BBC Proms
(Photo Chris  Chris Christodoulou/BBC)

Handel, Bach; Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Ann Hallenberg, Sir John Eliot Gardiner; BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 2 September 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Dazzling chorus work, superb team musicianship and the largest choir we've heard live for months

Sir John Eliot Gardiner first conducted Handel's Dixit Dominus at the BBC Proms in 1974, a date when many of the singers in his current Monteverdi Choir were almost certainly not born. He returned to the Royal Albert Hall for his his 60th appearance at the BBC Proms on Wednesday 1 September 2021 for a programme which combined Handel's Dixit Dominus with two other works from the same period, Handel's motet Donne che in ciel, with mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg, and Bach's first surviving church cantata Christ lag in Todes Banden, performed by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.  We had quite a large ensemble of performers, 27 members of the English Baroque Soloists led by Kati Debretzeni, and 30 members of the Monteverdi Choir. Perhaps one of the largest choirs we've heard for quite some time, which only went to make the occasion even more special.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Re-visiting the American Dream: Emma Jude Harris' production of Amy Beach's only opera Cabildo

 

Amby Beach: Cabildo - Helen Stanley - (Photo Ali Wright)
Amy Beach: Cabildo - Helen Stanley - (Photo Ali Wright)

Amy Beach (1876-1944) became the first successful American female composer of large-scale music. Trained as a concert pianist, she turned to composing when marriage forced her to give up performance in public and her compositional style remained somewhat independent of the main-stream. Her large scale orchestral compositions date from the 1890s and much of her later output was for smaller forces, but in 1932 she wrote a one-act opera Cabildo. I am not clear quite why Beach turned to opera so relatively late in her career, and the work was not performed in her lifetime and had to wait until 1947 before its premiere and its first fully professional performance was not until 1995, with the first UK performance not until 2019.

In the opera, Beach makes use of folk-song and Creole tunes, and the libretto by Nan Bagby Smith tells the story of the pirate Pierre Lafitte during the War of 1812, between the USA and Great Britain, when Britain has New Orleans under siege. The Cabildo was the seat of Spanish colonial city hall of New Orleans, and in 1812 was used by the Louisiana territorial superior court.

American director, Emma Jude Harris directed Beach's Cabildo at Grimeborn in 2019, the work's UK premiere, and now the production is transferring to Wilton's Music Hall, 7-11 September 2021, with Peter Martin, Helen Stanley, Kieran Rayner and Julieth Lozano plus the Del Mar Trio (Yshani Perinpanayagam, piano, Francesca Barritt, violin, Morwenna Del Mar, cello)

Beach and Bagby's opera is a nostalgia-filled look at nineteenth-century American history, featuring folk influences and swashbuckling naval battles. This production will offer a critical perspective on the stories we tell about our national history. [see review of the original 2019 production in The Guardian]

Full details from the Wilton's Music Hall website.

Surprisingly satisfying: Bach's The Art of Fugue from Les inAttendus

Bach The Art of Fugue; Les inAttendus; Harmonia Mundi
Bach The Art of Fugue; Les inAttendus; Harmonia Mundi

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 August 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Despite the unlikelihood of the combination of accordion, bass viol and Baroque violin, this account of Bach's late masterpiece pleases on so many levels

It might seem highly unlikely but this new disc of Bach's The Art of Fugue from Harmonia Mundi proves surprisingly satisfying on many levels. Surprising because the players are the French group Les inAttendus, comprising accordion Vincent Lhermet, seven string bass viol Marianne Muller and Baroque violin Alice Piérot , not a combination of instruments which immediately springs to mind when considering Bach's late masterpiece.

As Les inAttendus, Lhermet (accordion) and Muller (bass viol) had already recorded a disc for Harmonia Mundi (Poetical Humours, a depiction of English melancholy with music by Dowland, Gibbons, Hume), and have already explored Bach’s Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV 1027-1029), and they started talking about The Art of Fugue in 2015. With the addition of Pierot, they had the ability to cover all four lines of the music, with the accordion playing two parts (one per manual). 

Bach wrote The Art of Fugue during the 1740s, one of a number of 'summation' works which he produced late in his life. It examines the possibilities of fugue, with 14 of them all written out in open score with the possibilities of the instrumental rendering unspecified. It was probably a keyboard work (the open score format was used in the 17th and 18th centuries for this purpose), but this degree of uncertainty along with other imprecise aspects of the final work (Bach died before the first publication in 1751) have meant that musicians feel free to explore the possibilities of the piece in a variety of ways.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Finns to the fore: the Philharmonia's new season showcases new principal conductor, Santtu-Matias Rouvali, and featured artist, violinist Pekka Kuusisto

Santtu-Matias Rouvali and the Philharmonic (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Santtu-Matias Rouvali and the Philharmonic (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)

It is all change at the head of many of the UK's orchestras, and this season Santtu-Matias Rouvali takes over as principal conductor of the Philharmonia. Not surprisingly, the orchestra's 2021/22 season very much showcases the young (born 1985!) Finnish conductor. He opens the season with a pair of concerts which include orchestral showpieces from Richard Strauss and Stravinsky alongside the UK premiere of Bryce Dessner's Violin Concerto (with Pekka Kuusisto) and music by the Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1889-1940). 

Pekka Kuusisto is a featured artist for the season and he reappears as soloist in Sibelius' Violin Concerto, music by Vivaldi (guess what) and conducting the premiere of a new piece by Isobel Waller-Bridge, as well as curating the Philharmonia's Music of Today series with works by Gabriella Smith, John Luther Adams and Anna Thorvaldsdottír.

Philip Glass' film environmental film Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance will be screened in the Royal Festival Hall with the score played live with conductor Michael Riesman, Synergy Vocals and the Philip Glass Ensemble. The film is part of the orchestra's Human / Nature: Music for a Precious Planet series which looks at  how composers across the centuries have responded to the natural world, and exploring the ways today's composers are addressing the global climate crisis. 

Other new works in the season include the premieres of Gabriel Jackson's The Promise and Richard Blackford's Vision of a Garden performed as part of conductor David Hill's concert with the Bach Choir, Fauré’s Requiem: Music for Reflection and Hope. 

Rouvali returns during the season conducting more Strauss, Wagner's The Ring without Words, Sibelius, Beethoven, Rossini, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite. Other artists include Elim Chan conducting RVW, Brahms, Prokofiev and Gabriella Smith, Xhiang Chang conducting Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Dame Sarah Connolly and Andreas Schrager, Andras Schiff directing Mozart from the keyboard, and Philippe Herreweghe conducting Bach, Mozart and Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1 with Steven Isserlis.

Full details from the Philharmonia's website.

Unsettling and distinctive: Gregory Brown's new work for vocal sextet and electronics, Fall and Decline

Gregory Brown Fall and Decline; Variant 6; Navona Records

Gregory Brown Fall and Decline; Variant 6; Navona Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 September 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A contemporary vocal work that marries lessons from history with contemporary vocal techniques to striking effect

Variant 6 is an American vocal sextet whose work involves commissioning new pieces, and collaborating with a range of artists from composers to dancers to visual artists. On Fall and Decline, on Navona Records, American composer Gregory Brown has written a work for Variant 6, Fall and Decline for vocal sextet and electronics.

Variant 6 comprises six young singers, sopranos Jessica Beebee and Rebecca Myers, mezzo-soprano Elisa Sutherland, tenors Steven Bradshaw and James Reese, and bass Daniel Schwartz, who perform with other leading American ensembles from Trinity Wall Street to Apollo's Fire to The Crossing.

Gregory Brown's new work for them continues his exploration of complex contemporary polyphony which will be familiar to anyone who knows his 2011 Missa Charles Darwinwritten for the all-male ensemble New York Polyphony. This new piece continues the vein of complex modern polyphonic textures, but adds microtones and other vocal techniques and interweaves them with electronics.

Unfamiliar voices: Société de musique contemporaine du Québec's new season (live & on-line) gives us a chance to explore a range of Canadian composers

Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ)
For 2021/22, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) is presenting a series of monographic concerts dedicated to Québec composers; as the concerts are being presented both live and on-line this means that audiences outside the Québec area have a chance to explore music by contemporary Canadian composers.

The season begins on 26 September 2021 with an event devoted to André Hamel, who has been active as a composer since the mid-1980s. Then on 10 October there are three contemporary operas by women composers and librettists, composer Sonia Paço-Rocchia and librettist Marie-Ève Bouchard, composer Parisa Sabet and librettist Nika Khanjani, composer Anna Pidgorna and librettist Maria Reva.   

Further ahead there are portrait concerts devoted to Simon Bertrand, Michel Longtin, Jean Lesage,  and Linda Bouchard.

None of the composers are well known in the UK, and the monographic concert format will give us a chance to explore a range of unfamiliar voices.

Full details from SMCQ's website

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Britten Pears Arts: Festival of New

Photograph used with kind permission of Thorne Old Photos
Photograph used with kind permission of Thorne Old Photos

Britten Pears Arts' Festival of New went on-line earlier this year, but the festival returns to live events at Snape Maltings over two days in September, 10/9/2021 and 11/9/2021, with seven performances and two installations developed during residencies at Snape Maltings which are designed to give artists creative freedom.

  • Singer/songwriter/producer THABO telling stories through song within an immersive environment which offers sights and scents as well as sounds
  • KOGG - an experimental electronic collaboration between Selena Kay and Cerys Hogg, a fusion of their diverse musical backgrounds and collective interests
  • Call Me Unique - singer/songwriter & guitarist who fuses the sounds of jazz, soul, futurebeats, and scat-singing with influences from Lauryn Hill, Ed Sheeran, Ella Fitzgerald & Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes
  • Thea - an opera by composer Amanda Johnson and librettist Jo Clement about a single strong female character, inspired by one of the composer’s Bargee Traveller ancestors. The work aims to challenge the unfavourable portrayal of women in opera, particularly those from Traveller backgrounds
  • PRANASA - Supriya Nagarajan (voice), Sarah Waycott (flute), and Yanna Zissiadou (piano) take their name from the Sanskrit word ‘Prana’, meaning ‘ultimate breath’, and ‘Anasa’, Greek for ‘Breath’
  • Christo Squier: Subatomic - composer Christo Squier and experimental particle physicist Dr. Teppei Katori are joined by a host of instrumentalists to explore this fascinating subatomic world via composition, sonification, projection and performance
  • Sound Voice Project - a visionary exploration of the human voice and possibilities of collaboration from Hannah Conway and Hazel Gould
  • BPYAP Composers Film - specially-commissioned short film by Jessie Rodger, focusing on the creative processes of the six early-career composers currently supported by the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme


Full details from the Britten Pears website.

Medieval Manchester Festival

Chetham's Library
Medieval Manchester: Chetham's Library is 600 years old this year

When I was a student in Manchester in the 1970s, I was barely aware of the city's Medieval history, yet the area around the cathedral comprises of an important group of historic buildings, with the cathedral itself, originally Manchester Collegiate Church, plus what is now Chetham's School of Music and Chetham's Library. Chetham's was originally built in 1421 to accomodate the priests from Manchester Collegiate Church, and the site has developed into the modern day with Chetham's School adding the award winning Stoller Hall in 2017.

Now, a new festival is celebrating Chetham's 600th birthday. Over the weekend of 25 and 26 September 2021 there will be a range of events to commemorate Manchester's oldest buildings, with events held in Chetham's courtyard.

The events range from live music from Manchester Baroque and Chetham's School of Music choristers to performances from Horrible Histories. There are tours of Chetham's Library, the oldest library in the English-speaking world, as well as food, falconry, story-telling and much more.

Further information from the Chetham's website.

Against the odds: a fine musical performance triumphs over unseasonal weather and an unsympathetic sound system in ENO's venture south of the river

Puccini: Tosca - David Junghoon Kim - ENO at South Facing Festival (Photo Lloyd Winters)
Puccini: Tosca - David Junghoon Kim - ENO at South Facing Festival (Photo Lloyd Winters)

Puccini Tosca; Natalya Romaniw, David Junghoon Kim, Roland Wood, English National Opera, Richard Farnes; South Facing Festival at Crystal Palace Bowl

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 August 2021
Powerful performances from a superb cast really lift this outdoor concert staging

The Crystal Palace Bowl is known locally as the rusty laptop; Ian Ritchie's 1996 design for a concert platform in a lake, though, has rather fallen out of use. The South Facing Festival presented a wide array of open-air concerts in Crystal Palace Bowl this August, an admirable effort towards revitalising the venue, though it has to be pointed out that the concerts took place on a modern temporary structure and did not use the 'rusty laptop' itself. The reach of the concerts was wide, with artists ranging from Dizee Rascal, Supergrass and The Streets, to Max Richter and English National Opera in Puccini's Tosca. We went along on Sunday 29 August 2021 to catch the second of two performances of Puccini's Tosca given by English National Opera at Crystal Palace Bowl as part of South Facing Festival, conducted by Richard Farnes with Natalya Romaniw as Tosca, David Junghoon Kim as Cavaradossi, Roland Wood as Scarpia.

The venue is a natural amphitheatre so that as well as people at the front on seats, there were lots people sitting on the ground and views were good. There were two large screens, providing close-ups of the singers and the camera work was very responsive. It was a brilliantly promising idea, and a way for ENO to continue its aim of popping up in unusual locations. Unfortunately, the venue and the nature of the festival rather mitigated against full enjoyment, though thankfully strong and engaging performances ensure that we drew musical and dramatic pleasure from the evening.

Puccini: Tosca - Natalya Romaniw - ENO at South Facing Festival (Photo Lloyd Winters)
Puccini: Tosca - Natalya Romaniw - ENO at South Facing Festival (Photo Lloyd Winters)

Things began badly for us, after after a short but tiring up-hill cycle ride we found the festival venue but entirely failed to locate the badly signposted cycle racks. Bikes finally locked up, we joined the very slow-moving queue to have our bags and bodies checked. The advance information had forbidden the bringing of food and drink, which proved rather puzzling to the audience. For many, coming to the opera on a regular or an occasional basis, Summer outside-opera is associated with picnics and the idea of picnicking on the grass before the opera.

Instead, we had to make do with the rather poor festival catering, clearly aimed at the lowest common-denominator audience, pizza, burgers and such. This, plus a very poorly stocked festival bar suggested that the festival organisers had not really thought about the changes in demographic between their various audiences. 

The same seemed to be true of the sound-system which was set at blast-out level and really emphasised the bass. The sound of the orchestra was bottom heavy but rather muddy (the woodwind disappeared during the large-scale passages) and it might have been better to use a reduced orchestration. The sound-system mitigated against the English translation (a classic one by Edmund Tracey) coming across well, though all the singers tried very hard and you suspected that a better sound-system would have generated a finely comprehensible event. As it was, the text was only patchily understandable, there were no programmes, no on-line synopsis and no surtitles. If this was meant to be an accessible event, attracting those who did not come to the opera very often then it was going about it the wrong way.

However, ENO had fielded a top-notch array of artists and frankly, I would travel a long way to hear a Tosca of this quality of musical performance.

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