Thursday 31 August 2006

Edington Diary - Thursday

At Sung Eucharist on Thursday, the organ prelude and closing voluntary were 2 attractive pieces embarrassingly unknown to me, the Introit and Sortie from Malcolm Williamson’s Mass of a Medieval Saint. The mass setting was plainsong Mass I and the Nave choir performed For he shall give his angels from Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Quite apt for the theme of the service (I am the good shepherd) and the choir sang beautifully, but as ever I was not quite convinced by the organ replacing the originally orchestral accompaniment. The Nave choir also sang a lovely The Lord is my Shepherd by Sir Lennox Berkeley. The Consort sang a fabulous O Sacrum Convivium by Guerrero. They also did an amazing piece by Edward Naylor (1867 – 1934); he was evidently organist at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and studied at the Royal College of Music. His motet Vox dicentis: Clama was evidently written in 1911. (This information gleaned mainly from Wikipedia, apologies if its inaccurate). The motet is a setting of Isaiah chapter 40, it is a fascinating and it received a superb performance from the Consort, though I suspect it was written for a bigger choir. I can’t wait to get a recording!

Evening service was a sequence of music and readings given by the Schola and the Consort, the Nave choir had the evening off. Highlights included Sir John Tavener’s The Lamb and the Agnus Dei from Poulenc’s Mass. The plainchant hymn Congregati sunt was lovely, though the plainchant Ave Verum Corpus was taken so slowly, it was almost romantic (perhaps it is). After Compline the Festival said goodbye to Andrew Carwood, who had to dash off to another Festival and his place at the head of the Schola was taken by Matthew Martin who had been playing the Nave organ all week.

This was the last day at which we went to the 9.00am matins sung by the Schola as there was no service on Friday. This service took place in the chancel, the remainder of the services taking place in the Nave. We managed to have the same seats each time, in front of the screen next to the choir organ. This meant we had a good sight/sound of everything and even got to hear the clickety/clack of the organ mechanism – very authentic and atmospheric.

Wednesday 30 August 2006

More displacement therapy

I took with me on holiday two books of poems (bought because I thought they might make interesting songs). One book is a group of translations of Japanese lyrics and the other is Tagore's Gitanjali newly translated into English poetry. I looked at neither.

I did manage to start re-re-reading Diarmaid Macculloch's biography of Cranmer with a view to creating a libretto for a full length oratorio, but quailed at the size of the task. Though I have made a list of around 50 quotes from Cranmer's own writings (and I'm not half way through yet).

I did though, make some sketches towards a Magnificat. No, I had no plans to write one, but hearing a sequence of such magnificent settings at Edington, gave me ideas.

So now I'm at home. Not writing songs, not putting the finishing touches to my setting of Isaiah 6 and not continuing with my new orchestral tone poem (which is rather languishing). I've started writing a Magnificat.

Ho hum, I'm sure there's a reason for all this skipping about that my unconscious does.

Edington Diary - Tuesday/Wednesday

Sung Eucharist on Wednesday included William Harris’s Holy is the true light; we’ve had Faire is the Heaven at previous festivals so it was good to hear one of Harris’s other works. The Consort did strong justice to Byrd’s lovely Nunc Dimittis from the Gradualia. In the evening Evensong was recorded by the BBC for broadcast on Dec 27th, this meant that we had to pretend it was Dec. 27th including singing vaguely Christmas themed hymns, besides putting up with the paraphenalia of recording. Still, the festival finds the BBC fees extremely useful in balancing the books, it receives no outside grants.

An interesting co-incidence was that the first reading was from Isaiah chapter 6; I’ve just finished my setting of the entire chapter (slightly edited) for unaccompanied chorus, so the reading somehow felt mine. The music was suitable impressive. Thomas Tomkins’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from the Fifth Service received a fine performance from the Nave choir with some excellent soloists drawn from the choir. The Consort combined with the Schola to perform John Sheppard’s magnificent 6-part motet Verbum caro factum est. The setting alternates polyphony with a fabulous high soprano part with plainchant – quite magical.

The consort and the nave choir combined to give a lively, crisp and infectiously rhythmical accuunt of William Walton carol (I said we had to pretend is was December 27th) All this time. The closing voluntary was a rather fun organ duet by SS Wesley.

Wednesday morning’s Sung Eucharist used Giovanni Croce’s Missa secunda: tertii toni sung by the Consort. It is an attractive, practical mass and its on the list of my suggestions for my church choir. (St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan St., Chelsea). The Nave choir sang Vittoria’s motet Lauda Sion with some excitingly rhythmic interplay between the two choirs. They also contributed Mozart’s Ave Verum.

The evening service was replaced by an afternoon one, broadcast live by Radio 3. This included the premiere of Antony Pitts’s Before Abraham was, I AM. Though we missed the service live, we did manage to catch up with it later thanks to the wonders of the BBC Radio 3 web-site.

Tuesday 29 August 2006

Edington Diary - Sunday/Monday

We’ve just spent the last week at the Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy. Held at the lovely 13th century priory church in Edington, Wiltshire, the Festival presents 4 services a day sung by 3 choirs. The day starts with the Schola Cantorum (director Andrew Carwood) singing plainchant Matins. Then at 11.30 the morning service (usually Sung Eucharist) is sung by the Schola Cantorum, the Nave Choir (men and boys directed by Robert Quinney) and the Consort (a mixed voice choir directed by Jeremy Summerley). Evening service is at 8.00pm (usually Evensong) again sung by all 3 choirs and then followed by the Schola doing Compline by candle light. This year we were staying in the next village to Edington so we were able to attend every service.

I kept a rough diary whilst at the festival, so am publishing it in instalments on the blog, there will probably be an entry each day for the next 5 days, covering the 6 days of the festival that we attended.

All the services were very popular and the church was full to bursting for the 2 main services each day. A surprising number of people came along at 9.00am for Matins.

Things started off on Sunday evening with Compline sung by all 3 choirs. The service included Tallis’s Te lucis ante terminum sung alternim with plainchant and John Sheppard’s In manus tuas which brought back memories of the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble performing the work at my birthday concert last year at the Barbican (co-incidentally 2 of the 8:15 singers were participating in the festival). The service finished with a lovely performance of Pierre Villette’s Hymne a la Vierge, closing with some fabulous bluesy chords.

At Sung Eucharist on Monday the mass setting was Vittoria’s Missa O Quam Gloriosum, with the boys of the nave choir producing a lovely line in the music. Juan Esquivel’s Ego sum panis vivus, beautifully sung by the Consort, was not known to me and I hope to encounter it again. The Hymn Thee we adore was sung to a new tune by John Barnard. The service concluded with a masterly performance of Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor; though it was perhaps slightly perverse to conclude a very long service with a 15 minute voluntary. The service was very, very popular partly because the preacher was Lord Carey.

Monday evening’s service was Evensong sung just by the Nave choir. Sydney Watson’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were interesting and sounded very practical; Watson (1903 – 1991) is a name that is new to me. Finzi’s Welcome sweet and sacred feast was fabulous and it is now very high on my list of works that I’d like to sing.

The organ prelude at Monday’s Compline was the Sanctus and Benedictus from an organ mass published in 1531 by Pierre Attaignant; the same source that we mined for our organ Magnificat at the FifteenB concert at this years Chelsea Festival.

Monday 28 August 2006

Review of Herodiade

The plot of Massenet’s Herodiade makes the Strauss/Wilde Salome seem a model of common sense and compression. It was Massenet’s 2nd full length opera, coming after Le Roi de Lahore. The subject matter, combining as it does overheated eroticism, sex and biblical characters, meant that the Paris Opera rejected it. It was premiered at the Monnaie in Brussels in 1881. Massenet revised it as there were complaints about the incoherence of the plot. The revised version was performed in Paris at the Theatre des Italiens in 1884. The Paris Opera did not perform it until 1921.

The plot concerns the familiar pseudo-Biblical characters, but not as we know them. To make the piece work it must be performed with the utmost commitment. The slightest hint of send-up would be fatal. Dorset Opera, performing at the Coade Hall at Bryanston School on Saturday August 20th, gave the piece wholeheartedly without the slightest trace of a knowing smile. Much to their credit.

Salome (Christine Arand, soprano) is virginal and naïve (emphasised by her 1950’s sub-Dior costume, complete with white gloves and hat). She has been abandoned as a child and was taken under the wing of Jean (Ian Storey, tenor) and his followers. For some reason that is unclear, Salome has come to Jerusalem looking for her mother. She spends the whole opera in love with Jean, in a simple pure way. They have a love scene, when Jean admits he loves her, just before Jean’s death.

Both Jean and Salome seem to be able to wander in and out of the royal palace at will. Jean’s principal function seems to be to make pronouncements which either annoy Herodiade or inflame the populace.

Herodiade (Rosalind Plowright, mezzo-soprano, in superb disdainful mode) abandoned child Salome and first husband so she could marry Herod (Franco Pomponi, baritone). Apart from one brief moment when she considers what she has lost by denying herself as a mother, Herodiade is a full on bitch.

Herod is weak. He’s infatuated with Salome despite the fact he’s only glimpsed her. When not salivating about her, he’s agitating against the Roman occupiers. This he does very incompetently and has to be rescued by Herodiade, who seems a better political operator and the dominant figure in the partnership.

The extra characters are Vitellius (Jeffrey Carl), the Roman commander, and Phanuel (Bernard Deletre, bass) a sage and philosopher whose role seems to be to fill in gaps and further the plot. He is the only person in whom Herodiade has confided the truth of Salome’s birth.

The production, by William Relton, designed by Cordelia Chisholm used a basic neoclassical set which could be dressed in various ways helped by Paul Need’s atmospheric lighting. Into this set, the production was firmly set in the 1950’s. The results were remarkably convincing, allowing for the faults of Massenet’s dramaturgy.

Herodiade is not the largest of roles in the opera, but Plowright dominated whenever she was on stage. She is a singer with the gift of being able to project a character even when not singing. The role sounds like one of those high mezzo/low soprano French roles, as such it was perhaps a tad her for her. But she sang superbly and was wonderfully dramatic, oozing disdain at every pore.

As Herod, Franco Pomponi gave a fine, musical performance with a lovely account of Visions Fugitive, the opera’s best known number. He could probably have made more of the more overheated sections; at one point he even dreams of Salome in a drug induced stupor.

Arand’s Salome was successfully virginal and suitably passionate in her love scenes with Jean. All in all it was an attractive account of the role, but without ever sending a tingle down your spine.

Jean was Ian Storey, an English tenor of whom I am woefully lacking in knowledge. He proved to have a fine, heroic tone. Like Salome, Jean is a character who barely develops, spending most of the opera thundering his message. Storey had his foot in plaster but managed to make his use of a crutch seem a part of his character. Neither he nor Salome quite let go enough in their love scene, but perhaps Massenet’s music is not quite dramatic enough either.

Bernard Deletre made much of a character who was essentially superfluous. The production fudged his role as sage and astrologer and simply had him wandering around in white linen suite with a stick.Jeffrey Carl was excellent as Vitellius and Jan Garritsen made his mark as the high priest. It was this latter who led the remarkable, unaccompanied Jewish prayer.

Massenet’s music for the opera was remarkably varied, encompassing not only this prayer but a drinking song for the Roman soldiery.

William Relton’s production was remarkably effective in the way it used the 1950’s setting to effect. Relton proved adept at manipulating the chorus in the big scenes, though some of the staging of the principals seemed a little stiff.

The chorus were remarkably convincing and enthusiastic. Only occasionally did weakness reveal that they were a purely amateur group who had first come together 2 weeks previously. It is one of Dorset Opera’s wonders, the way they mix amateur and professional to such creditable effect.

The orchestra, a professional group, coped very well with the unfamiliar music but did not quite do justice to the loveliness of Massenet’s orchestration. The strings, particularly, lacked the requisite sheen.

This year Dorset Opera lost their Arts Council grant. So, despite giving fine performances in which amateur singers and back stage crew are given the chance to perform in professional standard opera, they must now go it alone.

Next year its Turandot

Recent CD Reviews

Whilst I was away (of that more later), the wonderful web carried on working and a couple of my CD reviews appeared on MusicWeb International.

My review of Handel's Rinaldo on Naxos is here.

A performance that fails to live up to its promise; enthusiasts might want to have it, for completeness but if you are unfamiliar with Handel’s opera
seria, save up and get a better recording ...

My review of Naxos's portrait of Peter Maxwell Davies is here.

An excellent introduction to Maxwell Davies's music...

Friday 18 August 2006


Tomorrow night we are in Blandford Forum (at Bryanston School) for Dorset Opera's 2nd (and final) performance of Massenet's Herodiade, with Rosalind Plowright. Then we are staying in Steeple Ashton for the week and attending the Edington Festival. Perhaps this year, being as we are staying in the next village, we might acutally get to Matins, sung to plainchant each morning by the Schola Cantorum, directed by Andrew Carwood. The complete Festival programme is here.

As usual, I won't be travelling with a PC or laptop, so postings to this site will probably only resume on our return.

Wanted - One Poet

As I am currently chugging to the end of the first draft of my current project (the choral setting of Isaiah chapte 6), I've made one of my periodic resolutions to write more songs. This, of course, requires poetry to set - always a bit of a problem. So this lunch-time I spend a happy half-hour in Waterstones, leafing through the poetry books. I found some Paul Celan, in translation, which was very tempting but Celan has been set by a number of well-known contemporary composers, so I don't think I will try and compete. But I did find a book of Japanese Ko-Uta, short and rather haunting - just the thing for my songs. AND, Rabrindranath Tagore's Gitanjali in a new poetic translation, rather than his own poetic prose. These look very tempting.

The problem with contemporary poetry is that before songs can be used or printed, you need to address the copyright issues. But I find that it is a certain type of contemporary voice to which I am attracted, I have great difficulties find much pre-1900 poetry which I feel I want to set. I'm not sure why. So I've decided to set the poems I fancy and worry about copyright later, if I can't get permission then they can sit in the draw with all the other unperformed songs!

Thursday 17 August 2006

I'm currently working on a setting of Isaiah Chapter 6, for unaccompanied chorus (mainly SATTBB). Even edited down slightly, there is quite a lot of text; but in in the King James Bible version, the words are completely wonderful. I heard the opening verses being read at church one morning, in a modern version, and remained struck how well they'd lend themselves to music.

I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

The whole earth is full of His glory!

And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said:

Woe is me, for I am undone!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King,

The LORD of hosts.

I've been successfully motoring through this but this week came to a grinding halt. This can often happen in long pieces, somehow my unconscious (or whatever comes up with the music in the first place) needs to catch up with itself. I messed about with it for a bit but could not get an further forward.

When this happens I can either wait, move to another section of the work or write any gibberish and keep going, knowing that I must come back to the relevant section. This latter is what I did here, this morning I wrote the 3 troublesome bars knowing that I must re-work them, but it got me going and I have now reached the last section, hurrah!

My new mass is finished and preview copies sent out to a few people. I decided to make the best of it not having a name and keep it as Missa Sine Nomine. I hope to have the opening of the Kyrie up on my web-site soon. Now that I can produce PDF's of piece, this makes life far easier, I've even been able to email PDF's of the Kyrie to people. The wonders of modern technology.


Recent CD Review

My review of Meyerbeer's Semiramide is here here on MusicWeb International.

A creditable, dramatic live performance; if you are interested in early Meyerbeer or influences on Rossini, then buy it. ...

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Tuesday 15 August 2006

Snetzler in Cobham

On Sunday afternoon we took a trip out to Kent to see Cobham Hall. The home of the Earls of Darnley up to 1957 and now a well known girls school. Out of term time they arrange tours of the historic parts of the house on Sundays. One of the major attractions is the late 17th century gilt hall in a wing attributed to Inigo Jones or John Webb. The hall was re-configured as a music room in the 18th century and acquired a Snetzler organ. This organ remains, sitting high up on a balcony and was restored in 2002.

Snetzler (born Johannes Schnetzler) was Swiss. He seems to have come to England in the 1730's; his first documented English organ dates from 1741 though there may be one from 1731. Initially he built organs for the immigrant community. But then built 27 stop organ with a Roccoco case for St. Margaret's Church, King's Lynn. This made his reputation. From then on he made chamber/house organs and church organs, becoming an English citizen in 1760 and retiring back to Switzerland in 1781.

Few of his church organs survive in anything like their original state. Whilst his chamber organs are rather better preserved, only 2 survive in their original location. That at Lodge Canongate, Edinburgh, which dates from 1756 and has been altered and that at Cobham Hall which is rather larger (its a house organ rather than a chamber organ) and is uniquely well preserved mechanically. A very similar organ is now owned by the National Museums of Wales having been commission by Sir Watkin Willams Wynn and having a case designed by Robert Adam. This organ, dating from 1774, was rebuilt in 1864 but has been put back to its original state.

The Cobham Hall organ is played occasionally. The Friends of Cobham Hall arrange Events which include organ recitals. Though I think it deserves to be better known. Can't someone organise a CD of a recital there please!


I was catching up with my reading at the weekend and so was reading the latest newsletter from the London Handel Society. This included a potted biography of one of Handel's female friends. She attended on of the early rehearsals for Alcina and wrote the following to a friend:-

"Yesterday morning I went to hear the first rehearsal of the new opera Alcina and, whilst Mr Handel was playing his part, I could not help thinking him a necromancer in the midst of his own enchantments."

It set me thinking about productions of the opera. At ENO their production, by David McVicar, uses references to the theatre and to music; Alcina's enchantment is the magic of the theatre. When her magic fails, we see her sitting despondently at a harpsichord and the glorious setting of Act 1 is revealed as being nothing more than a stage set.

But I wonder whether you could go further, setting the opera in the London of Handel's day and dressing Alcina as a man in a full bottom wig, a Handel clone. Thus Alcina's enchantment of young men would have interesting resonances with the suggestions about Handel's own sexuality. I'm not quite sure how this scenario would quite play out, I'm no producer. Certainly the dressing of Alcina as a man would raise whole issues as to whether the young men Alcina enchants see him/her as a man or as a woman. But it certainly sounds an interesting area to speculate on.

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Monday 14 August 2006

Weekend Fun

Saturday morning was the annual mass in the Tridentine mass at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea. Father Peter Gee and 2 others celebrated a Solemn Mass in the Tridentine Rite. The choir came back from their holidays (no choral services on Sundays in August) and we had a good turn out, 12 people singing. Besides the extensive Gregorian chant needed, we sang Victoria's Missa Simile est Regnum Coelorum. The mass is basically in 4 parts but Agnus Dei 3 is a canon for 2 SATB choirs, which sounded lovely. For motets we did Palestrina's Ave Maria and Morales's Simile est Regnum Coelorum (not the motet on which the mass is based, but a lovely motet nonetheless.

It was a tiring morning as we rehearsed from 10am to 11.30pm or so and mass was from 12.00am to 1.15pm. Still there was a good congregational turnout including a number of people coming to St. Mary's especially for the mass.

Then in the evening, I had a group of singing friends round to try out one or two new pieces. I've just finished an unnamed 4-part mass and wanted to check it out before I print copies to send to people. Having canvassed the singers about a possible name, I think it will be Missa Sine Nomine, which just about says it all. I was very pleased with the sound of the mass, these things come over far better when sung than on the computer. I think the singers enjoyed it as well, which is a bonus.

We also tried through the new piece (3 movements) which I've written for London Concord Singers anniversary concert in November. Its for unaccompanied 8-part choir so we could only really try the piece out with piano, but it was useful to check what people thought of the pieces (tricky, but fun I'd like to think) and iron out any errors.

Saturday 12 August 2006

Recent CD Review

My review of the Avison Ensemble's disc of concerti grossi by Charles Avison is here, on MusicWeb International.

Stylish performances of some of Avison's lesser-known works ...

Friday 11 August 2006

Evidently Craig Raine said that librettists are to opera what toilets are to theatres, at least according to Simon Armitage in his article in the Guardian about writing a libretto for Stuart MacRae (for the opera which became The Assassin Tree, and which opened to plaudits recently.

Armitage writes interestingly about his view of the librettists task and how the librettist can become disengaged from the project once the libretto is written, even though the text itself is a collaboration. I suppose this is inevitable. Most composers write opera by setting a text and once given the text, they set it alone. Though of course there are lots of tweaks along the way.

Amanda Holden wrote an article about her experiences writing the libretto for Turnage's Silver Tassie which included the composer turning up on her doorstep at odd hours with ideas for changes and new sections/arias.

It helps, I suppose, if the librettist has a clear idea of his/her position in the food chain. I once had tea with Alan Bush and his wife, Nancy, and conversation wandered from Hanns Eisler, the ostensible reason for the visit, to Bush's operas. These mainly had libretto's by his wife but Joe Hill, the man who never died had a libretto by American playwright Barry Stavis. Evidently, on first hearing the work Stavis moaned to Nancy Bush that you could not hear his words.

A post-script to the above is that whilst I was at Manchester University in the 1970's the Royal Northern College of Music put Bush's Watt Tyler on at Sadlers Wells Theatre (I presume there must have been performances in Manchester but if so, they were before I arrived). I missed it and have bemoaned the lack ever since. Interestingly the lead tenor role was played by Robin Leggate`

Thursday 10 August 2006

Tallinn diary

Finally, here's a summary of what London Concord Singers got up to on their recent trip to Tallinn, Estonia.

The advanced party from the choir arrived in Tallinn on Thursday 27th July to find the old town delightful but full of tourists (at least we’d have a potential audience). The scene of our Saturday evening concert, the Lutheran Cathedral on the top of Toompea hill, proved to be even more fascinating and delightful than appeared in the website. The walls are covered in the coats of arms of the German merchants for whom it was built, but the high boxed pews made us wonder whether we’d see anything of our audience apart from the tops of our heads.

More of the choir arrived on Friday, coming by various means. Whereas the Thursday crowd all came on the same Estonian Air plane, the Friday arrivals came by various means including bus from Riga, plane from Helsinki and ferry from Helsinki. One had even managed a quick trip to the Savolinna opera festival to see the Bologna opera company doing Donizetti’s ‘La Fille du Regiment’. Friday was free time and then in the evening we all went out for a communal meal. Wandering around town we were please to note that a number of our flyers were up in the churches and the tourist office.

Come Saturday afternoon we had to stop feeling like tourists and start being choristers again. Its always tricky getting back into rehearsal mode when away on these trips. Our rehearsal in the Lutheran Cathedral was enlivened by the presence of large numbers of tourists, but the building is big enough to accommodate both us and the sight-seers, we might even have got some extra audience.

As it turned out, we need not have worried, we got an excellent audience both in terms of attentiveness and size. The programme was a typical London Concord Singers one, motets by Parsons, Bassano, Merulo, Byrd plus Britten, Richard Rodney Bennett and Urmas Sisask. It lasted about an hour and was well received. Afterwards the organist of the church presented the choir with a commemoration plate.

Afterwards we retired to a neighbouring hostelry to celebrate; but not for tool long, because we had to be up and about next morning.

Sunday morning we sang at the huge Charles XI church. Built in the late 19th century it was the centre of the Estonian National Lutheran church. Impressive and classically plain inside with just a fresco over the alter, we sat in the balcony in front of the organ. Communication was tricky, as we had to speak German to the organist and the service sheets were only in Estonian. Still, we managed to fit 5 motets into the service and the church was most helpful arranging for us to fit in as much music as possible. We managed to join in the service with the help of hymn books, service sheets (both in Estonian) and a rudimentary knowledge of Estonian gained in order to sing Tormis’s ‘St. John’s Day Songs’ in our London concert.

Most of the choir were familiar with Anglican and Roman Catholic services, quite a number of us sing at them. But it was fascinating to participate in a Lutheran service; much of it similar in structure but much of it not. Not speaking the language, we missed out completely on the Sermon.

Service once over, the formal part of the weekend was over. We concluded with a group meal in the evening at a Russian restaurant and then went our various ways.

Recent CD Review

My review of Naxos's 2nd volume of Vivaldi Sacred Music is included here, along with a review of the same disc by a different reviewer.

Creditable performances but there are finer performances and I would
advise you to save up for one of these...

Wednesday 9 August 2006

Country Life in the Barn

I've been catching up reading the copies of Country Life which arrived whilst we were away. In her column for 27th July, Carla Carlisle talks about her growing disenchantment with travelling far to listen to music (she lifes on a farming estate near Bury St. Edmunds and runs a restaurant there). Her column struck a chord with me, especially in the light of my posting on this site yesterday.

Interestingly, one of her solutions was the Summer Music festival in Blackthorpe Barn, which is close to her home. This is a festival which has been enjoyed by other friends who have a weekend place in Norfolk. They came back singing the praises of the concert which they attended at the Barn. The festivals are run, on a shoe string, by the Barn's owner, George Agnew. Evidently he eschews the red tape required to get a grant from the Arts Council, something that I can sympathise with (FifteenB haven't managed to get a grant since 1998).

So next year in July, perhaps we'll have to make room for a trip to Norfolk.

Tuesday 8 August 2006

Money up front

There's a fascinating piece here about Fanfare Magazine allegedly telling someone that they'd review his CD if he bought advertising and the more he bought the better his coverage would be. The story has evidently got quite a bit of coverage in the blogosphere (inevitably), but it does make you think. Luckily I review for web-sites that are free (, and

Here's something we missed

The Julian Anderson Prom premiere WAS something I'd like to have heard, but unfortunately we were travelling back from Estonia at the time. Shame. It's nice to read in The Times article about Anderson joining the London Philharmonic Chorus before writing the choral piece. There are too many piece that I've done where the composer has patently never listened to how a chorus works. Obviously we can't all learn every instrument that we want to write for, but there should be the world of a difference between pushing boundaries and simply writing stuff that is unnecessarily difficult.


I am rather aware that there are significant gaps in my summer concert going (what summer concert going you might ask?). Some how the Proms that I really want to hear are on days when we're unavailable or out of town on holiday, though we usually manage one or two. This year, I'm afraid that there was not very much on offer which really tempted me. The other problem with Proms is that unless you promenade (my knees won't cope with all the standing nowadays) or sit in the good seats, you can often come away feeling that you would have heard the concert better on the radio. But, of course, if you listen on the radio then other things get in the way. You start doing the dishes , the phone goes or your attention wanders (mind does all the time). Listening at home, you simply lack the enforced concentration that a concert environment brings, and I need this sort of confinement to force me to concentrate on the music at hand. So it comes back to money; picking the concerts that you feel are really worth paying top price for.

Perhaps its an age thing; now I'm in my 50's I feel less inclined to put up with discomfort and mid-week after a day at work I don't often feel so inclined to go to a concert. But its also a feature of the Albert Hall itself.

The thing that makes the concerts so accessible, the Hall's very size, means that it is one size fits none, really. Or is that me being a pessimist? Still, the Hall's owners have done a wonderful job of sprucing it up in the last few years. It makes the concert going experience a please (apart from the scarcity of mens loos).

Of course, the Proms is not the only thing going on at the moment. There are also visits from 2 great Russian opera companies. Now here I music exhibit one of my many achilles heels, I have a rather take-it-or-leave-it attitude to much Russian opera. I have a soft spot for the odd Rimsky-Korsakov extravaganza and Boris Goudonov is an opera that I have loved in the past. But the repertoire as a whole does not make me shout, Oh, Goody!. And, of course, the prices are greater than for our own opera companies.

So we come to money again, do I want to pay the prices necessary to see these pieces or not? This year the answer has been not, I'm afraid.

But there is one final issue. I rather like having a holiday from the regular round. The month of August is one where I have no regular evening choir rehearsals, no Sunday morning commitments at church choir and if there is little concert or opera going then it gives us a bit of space. Not a lot, we're away twice this summer and we are going to the Edington Festival for a week. But that is definitely outside the regular round of things.

So I'll happily browse the reviews of Proms and various visiting companies, but I rarely feel a twinge of regret. There'll always be another time!

Monday 7 August 2006


Having managed to negotiate the all German language site of Dresden's Semper Oper we now have tickets to see their new (ish) production of Weber's Euryanthe in March next year. It premiered relatively recently and is not un-controversial (the director has Euryanthe and Adolar singing their roles from the pit in the final scene and gives the triumph to Eglantine and Lysiart). But the opera is one that I've always had a fascination with and have only seen it twice before. Once in concert with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with Elizabeth Connell as a thrilling Eglantine. And at Glyndebourne with a fascinatingly spooky production by Richard Jones. I'm still waiting to acquire the old recording of the opera with Jessie Norman and Rita Hunter in the 2 main female roles. Last time I looked it was only available as an expensive import. But the cast sounds great and I've always had great fun imagining the pair of them on stage together!!!

Nearer in time, on Saturday 19th August we're off to see Dorset Opera's new production of Massenet's Herodiade with Rosalind Plowright. Bliss.

And I've bought the first tranche of tickets for English Touring Opera's Baroque Tour. We're seeing Dido and Aeneas and Carissimi's Jephte (not an opera and rather short to boot, but an interesting pairing nonetheless> at The Hackney Empire. Not an ideal venue for these operas but we have not been to the theatre since it was refurbished (shame!). The theatre's web site must win awards for being one of the most annoying and awkward to use.We hope to catch up with more of the ETO Baroque Tour and should be aiming to see Monteverdi's Orfeo in Cambridge.

PS. If you are wondering how we got on singing in Tallinn, a full report follows shortly.

A new web-site has come on line,, dedicated to London based arts. I've a couple of articles on the site and will be contributing more, do support it.

Recent CD Reviews

I've been away, but the web never stops, so a couple of my CD reviews appeared in my absence.

My review of Berlioz La Damnation de Faust from Naxos is here on MusicWeb International.

A creditable and convincing performance by predominantly French forces;
as such it is worth finding room for on the library shelves...

My review of the Tallis Scholars re-issue of early performances of Palestrina masses, is here, also on MusicWeb International.

Other, more intensely passionate styles might appeal, but if you want a
performance of Missa Benedicta es then you can’t go wrong with the
stylish perfection of The Tallis Scholars. ...

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