Tuesday 31 July 2012

Santa Fe Bound

Interior of Santa Fe Opera Theatre, photo credit Wikipedia:Chyeburashka
Interior of Santa Fe Opera Theatre
Next week we fly off to the USA for a visit to the Santa Fe Opera. The season runs from 29 June to the end of August. The theatre, set on a hill just outside of Santa Fe, has one of the most magical locations, with views of the desert and the possibility of glorious sunsets. The operas this season are Santa Fe's usual canny mix of familiar and unfamiliar (they have given a number of world premieres and US premieres).

Music@Malling - celebrating Dickens

Church of St Mary, West Malling, Kent(photo Hywel Williams)
St Mary's West Malling, (photo Hywel Williams)
Thomas Kemp's Music@Malling festival takes place from 27 to 30 September in venues in and around West Malling in Kent.  Dickens lived at Gad's Hill, which is 7 miles from Wast Malling and the author was a regular visitor to the town. So this year the festival celebrates the 200th anniversary of Dickens's birth by featuring composers that he most admired, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Chopin, and interleaving them with some of today's contemporary voices, Huw Watkins and Judith Bingham. The festival features  Thomas Kemp's own group Chamber Domaine plus the Sacconi Quartet, soprano Yeree Suh and baritone Jonathan McGovern.

Saturday 28 July 2012

The Wolves Descend

The Wolves Descend, Matthew Pearson and Harry Benfield
An upper room in a pub isn't the place that you would normally expect to come across the world premiere run of a new opera. But the enterprising Bristol-based Little Room Productions presented Matthew Pearson's new opera at the upstairs theatre at the Lion and Unicorn Pub in Kentish Town, London. We saw the performance on July 27, so there was an unfortunate clash with another event happening at the Olympic Stadium, but there was still an enthusiastic audience for the 60 minute chamber opera, The Wolves Descend.

This is Pearson's second opera, his first Sanctuary was produced by Little Room Productions at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe. Sanctuary was the winner of the 2012 Raymond Warren Composition Prize, awarded by Bristol University where Pearson is currently studying for a PhD in composition.

Recent CD Reviews

My review of the new recording of Handel's incidental music to Tobias Smollett's play Alceste, from Christian Curnyn and his Early Opera Company with Lucy Crowe, Benjamin Hulett and Andrew Foster-Williams is here, on MusicWeb-International.com -  Chandos CHAN0788

If you haven't yet made the acquaintance of Handel's personable score, then this is the time to do so and this is the recording to go for. 

And my review of Bach's Mass in B Minor from Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Ghent, with Dorothee Mields, Hana Blazikova, Damien Guillon, Thomas Hobbs and Peter Kooij is here, also on MusicWeb-International.com - Phi LPH004

If you are looking for a good middle of the road modern recording then this is one to consider. 

Save Sibelius

As mentioned in an earlier post, Avid Technologies (which now owns Sibelius) has announced its intention to close the Finsbury Park office where Sibelius is based and move the product development to one of Avid's existing sites. This is what big companies do, they streamline, and Avid is furiously busy streamlining at the moment in order to improve its financial situation. There have now been further developments.

Friday 27 July 2012

Good news for V&A redevelopments

Frieze detail from internal courtyard Victoria and Albert Museum showing Queen Victoria in front of the 1851 Great Exhibition.
Frieze detail from showing
Queen Victoria in front of the 1851 Great Exhibition.

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has had two pieces of good news recently when it comes to the museum’s redevelopment plans. First off, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has given them planning permission for the Exhibition Road project. And secondly the Heritage Lottery Fund has given them a chunk of funding for the redevelopment of the Europe 1600-1800 galleries.

Le Roi malgre lui - time for a re-assessment?

Chabrier's Le Roi malgre lui has always rather reminded me of Bernstein's Candide. A work admired for its music but which struggled with the text, going through a variety of versions. But where Bernstein re-worked the music, and lived long enough to settle on a viable version and to record the work, Chabrier hardly tinkered with the music, other people worked on various versions of the opera and the composer died too young to see the opera to its perfect form.

There were two versions produced in his life-time, that of the premiere in 1887 and the 1888 performances at the Theatre Lyrique in the Place du Chatelet. The 1888 performances seem to have included cuts, but in fact Chabrier himself decided to drop Alexina's aria as it held up the action. But 1888 saw the libretto reworked and it was again in 1929 when Albert Carre produced his own version for the Opera Comique. In fact, it is this 1929 version which is generally used; Carre changed all the text but not the music. Alas, Carre's improvements hardly make dramaturgical sense of the plot either.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Ibragimova and Tiberghien in Schubert

Last night, 25 July, we heard a private rental last night by violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cedric Tiberghien. They are coming to the end of a run of performances of Schubert's music for violin and piano, prior to going into the recording studio.

Florence Easton

Florence Easton
in Gianni Schicchi
The English soprano, Florence Easton (1882 - 1955), has come up in conversation a bit recently. In my interview with Claire Rutter, Claire mentioned Easton because, though Easton was regarded as a dramatic soprano, she was an early Butterfly and sang Lauretta in the premiere of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. She sang everything in Wagner except the Gotterdammerung Brunnhilde, whilst keeping the rest of her repertoire. She is one of the few sopranos to have sung Brunnhlde and Norma in the same season (at the Met I believe), something that was only repeated at the Met when Rita Hunter appeared there.

Now soprano Helena Leonard has put together a one-woman show about the soprano, The Nightingale of South Bank. In it, Leonard sings many of Easton's arias and tells the story of Easton's long and varied career. The show was at the Buxton Festival Fringe, though alas I missed it, but there is a review of the show here.

Herne Hill Festival

Herne Hill junction
Your chance to see this blogger and composer as performer as my ensemble, the FifteenB Consort, are performing at this year's Herne Hill Festival. The festival takes place in and around Herne Hill in South London from the 11 to 20 October 2012. There is an eclectic programme with jazz and cabaret, skiffle, the flute choir Opal Flutes celebrating Black History month, Verity and Giles Thirkettle in music for piano and violin, Medieval minstrels, London Consort of Winds, an oboe and cello duo and Vivace Brass, these latter two at the Half Moon Pub. There is even a Composition Competition.

New Andrzej Panufnik web-site

www.panufnik.com has just been launched, in preparation for centenary of the composer's birth in 2014. The site includes recorded samples and photos, many documenting the composer's remarkably dramatic life. Surviving in war-torn Poland, he lost most of his relatives and all of the music he composed before he was 30, as his manuscripts were destroyed by fire in the Warsaw uprising.

The audio samples are all taken from cpo's new series, Panufnik: The Symphonic Works. There is also an excellent discography, listing not only the current releases but those not necessarily currently available. One fascinating area is the selection of diagrams, which are designs for compositions, a remarkable insight into the way that Panufnik created his work. A single diagram encapsulates the entire design of the Sinfonia Concertante of 1973. There is also a section on Panufnik's early film scores with a clip from the 1938 film Strachy.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Stowe Opera - Just moved in

Winslow Hall
Winslow Hall
This week sees performances by Stowe Opera of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at Winslow Hall in Buckinghamshire. Performances started on 21 July and run until 29 July. They are directed by Yvonne Fontane who sings the Countess and conducted by Robert Secret, founder of the opera company. This represents a welcome return for a company which from 1995 to 2006 gave a highly regarded annual summer season of opera at Stowe but his since been rather quiet. Previous successes have included Les Contes d'Hoffmann, La Traviata, Hansel and Gretel, Rusalka and Il Trovatore.

Opera on a Barge!

Today you can catch Ann Dudley's opera The Owl and the Pussycat, to a libretto by Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame). The opera is produced by the Royal Opera House's ROH2 wing, but to find the performance you'll have to first locate the barge. The performances all take place on a barge in and around London's waterways. And because of the barge, the subject matter has to be the Owl and the Pussycat and their beautiful pea green boat. It all sounds very gloriously mad. Jones's libretto is a prequel to Lear's poem; the opera finishes with the Owl and the Pussycat going off in the boat.

Change at the top for LPO

The London Philharmonic Orchestra has just announced that it is changing the structure of its Board. The orchestra is player owned; the shareholders are all the playing members of the orchestra and they have now decided to make changes. The orchestra was founded in 1932 by Sir Thomas Beecham, but when he left the orchestra in 1939 the company was re-founded as one entirely owned by the players.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Britten's Canticles at St. Brides

St Bride's Church, 19th century etching
As part of their Olympic festival, St. Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London, mounted an enterprising concert encompassing all five of Benjamin Britten’s Canticles performed by the church’s Director of Music (Robert Jones), assistant Director of Music (Matthew Morley) and a group of singers and instrumentalists, many of whom are associated with the church. Britten’s Canticles cover nearly the whole of his composing life. Each written for different forces, they were not necessarily designed to go together but make a highly satisfactory whole, with a remarkable coherence between each of them.

The single common factor in all five is the tenor voice, in particular the tenor voice of Peter Pears. At St. Bride’s Church, tenors Tom Herford and David de Winter shared the honours with Herford doing the first three Canticles and de Winter the last two.

Tenebrae - Proms Chamber Music Concert

Tenebrae, photo credit Eric Richmond
I caught the second Proms Chamber Music concert, 23 July, on Radio 3 broadcast live from the Cadogan Hall. In it, the chamber choir, Tenebrae, conductor Nigel Short, gave a programme which mixed Orlando Gibbons’s The Cryes of London with Steve Martland’s more contemporary take on similar material, Street Songs. In the middle, the premiere of a BBC commission from Julian Philips, Sorrowful Songs.

Olympic event we won’t be seeing

The International Olympic Committee was treated last night, 23 July, to a private gala at the Royal Opera House. The event started with a specially written fanfare by Alex Wolff and performers included Bryn Terfel and those well known Britons, Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming. Things concluded with a performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy performed by singers, orchestra and dancers, but the highlight of the evening seems to have been Boris Johnson reading a newly commissioned Pindaric Ode (in ancient Greek) celebrating the Games. Shame we are never going to be able to see it.

Monday 23 July 2012

Chamber music in Lincolnshire

Having been intrigued earlier this year by an arts festival in Skegness (Lincolnshire), I was pleased to note that Ashley Wass's Lincoln and Lincolnshire Chamber Music Festival goes from strength to strength. I have an interest because, like Wass, I am a Lincolnshire lad. The festival is based in Lincoln but uses venues in and around the county.  It runs from 15 to 19 August and this year's theme is Notes from Nature, from Biber's imitations of the animal world through to Messiaen's birdsong, with Sally Beamish as the Composer in Residence.

Village Romeo and Juliet - Back in London

The first performance in London for 50 years of Delius's A Village Romeo and Juliet takes place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 25 September in a concert performance. Amazingly, despite the Delius 150th anniversary celebrations, there doesn't seem to be a major production planned by any of the opera houses. So all credit to Ronald Corp and his New London Orchestra for filling the breach. They will be joined by a fabulous cast including Andrew Staples, Anna Devin, Christopher Maltman, Andrew Shore and David Wilson-Johnson. Further details from the New London Orchestra's website and tickets from the Southbank website.

Opera diary

I see from this month's Opera Magazine that Opera North will be giving complete cycles of their semi-staged Ring cycle in 2015, including one at the Festival Hall in London. Still in London, Renee Fleming will be giving her Covent Garden farewell performances in a new production of Der Rosenkavalier in 2016-17. The most curious thing is that the director is given as Christoph Waltz, the Austrian actor best known for his film roles (Inglourious Bastards), though it seems that Waltz did study singing.  Over in NY, the new Met Der Rosenkavalier in 2016-17 will be directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov with Eva-Maria Westbroek; now that will be interesting.

Sunday 22 July 2012

All female Dido and Aeneas

Better Strangers Feminist Opera Collective are back with a Purcell's Dido and Aeneas performed with an all female cast on Thursday 26 July. Sounds intriguing? Further details from the Kings Head website

Inaugural Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival

Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival
Hatfield House in Hertfordshire has a selection of possible venues for musical performance, not just the house itself but the nearby church of St. Etheldreda's and the Old Palace. Now these are being capitalised on in a new chamber music festival organised by cellist Guy Johnston (who was BBC Young Musician in 2000). Over a long weekend (20 to 23 September 2012) there are a variety of concerts and events.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Opera Holland Park - Falstaff

For their last new production of the season which opened on 21 July, Opera Holland Park turned to an opera which has never been performed there, Verdi's Falstaff with the title role sung by Olafur Sigurdarson, something of an Opera Holland Park favourite, though in serious dramatic roles rather than buffo ones. The production was directed by another Opera Holland Park regular, Annilese Miskimmon and designed by Nicky Shaw. Shaw's set looked promising, against the backdrop of Holland Park House, there were a number of houses, in simple schematic building block forms. Simple and striking, and as Holland Park House dates from 1605, this was very apt.

Cool Fusion

John Holland  rehearses with  Lambeth Wind Orchestra
John Holland
rehearses with
Lambeth Wind Orchestra
More Olympic related contemporary music, this time an interesting mix of contemporary, jazz improvisation and spoken word. Cool Fusion is a collaboration between the London Composers Forum, Colchester New Music, Lambeth Wind Orchestra and Putney Writers Circle, all groups from the voluntary arts sector. They are creating an event which celebrates the music, drama and sport thriving in London during the Olympic summer. 12 composers have written pieces involving wind orchestra, percussion, electronica, and jazz with improvisation being an important element. There is a spoken element as well, all on themes of Olympics and sport. The first performance takes place tonight (21 July) at All Saints Church, Lovelace Road, West Dulwich.

Friday 20 July 2012

Recent CD review

My review of  Bach's 1725 version of the St. John Passion, given a rare outing by Concerto Amsterdam under Nico Van der Meel, is on the MusicWeb International web-site.

Outgunned but if you are interested in Bach’s second version then certainly you should hear this disc.  

Ashley Wass goes pastoral

Ashley Wass, Beethoven/Liszt Pastoral Symphony
I first came across pianist Ashley Wass when I interviewed him at the start of his survey of Bax's piano music on Naxos. His name has cropped up in a variety of contexts, including a chamber music festival in his native Lincolnshire. But most memorably for me, his Proms debut in 2008 was the Vaughan Williams piano concerto in a stunning performance (also available on disc). He has returned to the Proms in subsequent years to play John Foulds, Stravinsky, Antheil and McCabe. Wass now has a new CD out, a recording of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony in Liszt's piano transcription, played on a forte piano!

Il Viaggio a Reims

It is 20 years since Covent Garden's one and only staging of Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims, in a rather over-cooked production by John Cox. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Jette Parker Young Artists summer performances the opera returned for one night only on 19 July, with all the current and 2011 young artists plus returning ones including Ailish Tynana, Marina Poplavskaya and Jacques Imbraillo. The women all looked stunning in their ball gowns, Pedro Ribeiro brought just enough drama to the staging and Daniele Rustioni conducted a vibrant performance. The ENO Orchestra played on-stage (giving the ROH one a night off), they seemed to be having fun playing a repertoire they don't get a lot of at home. A good time was had by all. My full review is on Opera Today.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Canticles and Psalms - St. Brides Olympic Festival

St Brides Fleet Street Olympic Festival
Next week, St. Bride's Church in Fleet Street is having a short, but rather imaginatively put together festival to celebrate the Olympics. On Monday 23 July at 7pm there will be performances of all five of Benjamin Britten's Canticles. Setting of poets as diverse as Francis Quarles, Edith, Sitwell, T.S. Elliot and the Chester Miracle Plays, they were written at various points in his career and do not strictly form a cycle. Instead they are almost a survey of his career. The second canticle, Abraham and Isaac was written for Peter Pears and Kathleen Ferrier; the fourth canticle, Journey of the Magi sets T.S. Elliot's poem of the same name for counter tenor, tenor and baritone; the fifth canticle was written in memory of the writer William Plomer (who wrote a number of Britten's librettos) and was premiered by Peter Pears and Ossian Ellis. This is a rare opportunity to hear the five canticles performed together. 

Panufnik performed by London Oratory School Schola

Roxanna Panufnik, thanks to her Westminster Mass, is a composer who is perhaps associated with the Roman Catholic Liturgy but her interests are far wider. Her 2006 work, Love Abide (for soli, chorus, organ, harp and strings) sets both the Bible (I Corinthians 13) and the 14th century Sufi poet Rumi. The first movement of the work is a setting of Rumi's poem Love is the Master and it was this movement which the London Oratory School Schola sang as the conclusion to the first half of their Gala Concert on Wednesday 18 July at London's Cadogan Hall.

Diamond Songs

Diamond Songs, 12 October 2012, Colston Halls, Bristol
The English Poetry and Song Society are celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee with a concert on 12 October at the Colston Halls in Bristol, performed by soprano Sarah Leonard and baritone Stephen Varcoe with accompanist Nigel Foster. 

Entitled Diamond Songs, their programme includes music by various Masters of Queen's/Masters of the King's music. Composers include W. Parratt, Elgar, Walford Davies, Bax, Bliss, Malcolm Williamson and Peter Maxwell Davies, plus Britten, Moeran, Ivor Novello and Noel Coward. The will also be including the winning songs from the latest English Poetry and Song Society Competition, where composers have to set a poem written during the Queen's reign.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Magnificats and Masques - the fascinating Mister Cornysh

Opening of the O Maria salvatoris mater, by John Browne, in the Eton Choirbook (c. 1490)
Eton Choir BOok
Say the name William Cornysh to most musicians and they will think of the Eton Choirbook. The choirbook, which was compiled circa 1490 to 1502, contains several substantial works by Cornysh alongside those of Browne and Fayrfax. Cornysh's work appears in a few other sources, his Salve Regina is found in a number of places and his Magnificat is in the Caius Choirbooks (compiled 1518 to 1520). And that's the lot for Latin church music by Cornysh, all the other works mentioned in the sources have disappeared. There is, however, secular music in the Fayrfax Book (which was copied in 1501).

Reading Thomas Penn's recent book Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England, William Cornysh leaps of the page. Penn has written a fascinating biography of Henry VII which concentrates on the final years of the king's reign. William Cornysh was one of the servants at court, he became master of the children of the Chapel Royal. During the Twelfth Night celebrations in 1494 around midnight, he appeared dressed as St. George, leading into Westminster Hall a pageant which included a huge red dragon spitting fire.

Three Choirs Festival

The Three Choirs Festival opens in Hereford on Saturday 21 July, lasting until Saturday 28 July. As ever there are lots of good things, with an emphasis on English music. For me, the stand out event is a performance of Dyson's The Canterbury Pilgrims on Wednesday 25 July at Hereford Cathedral with Susan Gritton, Alan Oke and Simon Bailey with Martyn Brabbins conducting the Festival Chorus and the Philharmonia Orchestra.

As a student I listened to a lot of Isobel Baillie's recordings (they had just been transferred to LP) and I have very strong and fond memories of her account of the A Good Wyfe there was beside Bath (You can hear  her singing the aria on Youtube). I've never yet managed to get to a performance of the work, and no doubt shall be missing this one as well alas.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

What no composer wants to hear

The problem with using computers as a tool to write or transcribe your compositions, is that you become dependent on the computer and the software suppliers. Some composers use manuscript paper and the computer is simply a transcription tool, whereas others (myself included) rely more heavily on the software during the writing process. (In my case it stops the neighbours having to listen to my incessant thumping out of bits of the piece on the piano).

In Harmony expands

In Harmony Lambeth's full ensemble, the Stockwell Children's Orchestra, rehearses at Wheatsheaf Hall in Vauxhall, London. 11 May 2012. Photo: Reynaldo Trombetta.
The Stockwell Children's Orchestra,
Photo: Reynaldo Trombetta.
In Harmony - Sistema England will be expanding its projects from this year. It has been announced that there will be funding, from the Arts Council and from the Department of Education for six projects running from 2012 to 2015. The existing In Harmony projects in Lambeth and Liverpool will be joined by new ones in Leeds, Nottingham, Telford & Wrekin and Gateshead. The new projects are being delivered by a similar mix of council services and musical organisations as the current two (the Lambeth project has been delivered by Lambeth Council and the Liverpool project by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra).

Monday 16 July 2012

Opera Holland Park - Double Bill with Christine Collins Young Artists

Gianni Schicchi in rehearsal (OHP Young Artists) (c) Alex Brenner
Gianni Schicchi in rehearsal
OHP Young Artists
(c) Alex Brenner
For the Saturday matinee (14 July) at Opera Holland Park, the performance of their double bill of Masgagni's Zanetto and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi featured the Christine Collins Young Artists in the Puccini. Thanks to Mrs Collins's sponsorship, this is the first year that Opera Holland Park have been able to turn their support for young artists, into a fully fledged emerging artists performance.

Mascagni's Zanetto, performed by the main festival cast, is a rather slight piece lasting just 40 minutes and involving two singers. Sylvia (Janice Watson) and Zanetto (Patricia Orr). For so thin a plot, amazingly, the work was based on a play (Le Passant by Francois Coppee) which had even been performed in by Sarah Bernhardt.

Madama Butterfly in the South West

New Devon Opera's tour of Puccini's Madama Butterfly starts this week, opening at the University of Plymouth, with dates at Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton Music Festival, Exeter, Darmouth and finishing in a marquee at Ugbrooke House; directed by Martyn Harrison, conductor Paul Foster. Further information from the New Devon Opera website.

Richard Lewis

What does the name Richard Lewis mean to you? The finest Gerontius on record, a superb singer or Mahler or Mozart, Walton's Troilus. You can hear him as Troilus on Youtube, he recorded excerpts with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as Cressida; she was Walton's first choice for the role but never sang it on stage. And of course he premiered Tippett's A Midsummer Marriage with Joan Sutherland as Jennifer (a live recording is available on disc and well worth-while seeking out).

New Music 20x12 - Zatopek and Hands Free

Emily Howard's 12 minute opera, Zatopek! was commissioned by Second Movement as part of the PRS for Music Foundation's 20x12 project (twenty 12 minute pieces in a wide variety of styles). Zatopek!, to a libretto by playwright Selma Dimitrijevic, concerns Czech runner Emil Zatopek's Olympic Gold Medal victory in the 5000m race in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. By co-incidence a 5000m race takes just over 12 minutes to run, so Howard's opera lasted effectively the length of Zatopek's race. It was premiered in Liverpool last month and was given is London performances on 15 July at the Purcell Room as part of the South Bank Centre's New Music 20x12 weekend.

Sunday 15 July 2012


It has been a busy week with some stunning performances at the Buxton Festival, where we covered five productions (see our Buxton Festival page)  and two further visits to Opera Holland Park, where we covered Eugene Onegin and the Christine Collins Young Artists performance of Gianni Schicchi (see our Opera Holland Park page).

The Hollow Crown

Last night we caught Henry IV Part 2, the third instalment of The Hollow Crown on BBC TV. An impressive cast, led by Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston, strong productions values and a successful editing of the play down to two hours meant that we got thrilling television.

How to find Zatopek! and New Music 20x12

We are going to the South Bank this afternoon to see a performance at 5pm of Emily Howard's opera, Zatopek! One of the New Music 20x12 project where 20 twelve minute pieces have been commissioned through the PRS for Music Foundation, Premiered all over the UK, they are being featured in the South Bank Centre's New Music Weekend. All well and good?

The pieces are being performed all over the South Bank, along with other events, over this weekend. Go to the South Bank Centre website to explore New Music 20x12 and you get a rather nice listing of all the events, with their dates and locations but no times. At no point did I find on the site a nice listing of the New Music 20x12 events in date time order with a clear indication of what time they were so that you could plan your day (or am I being mad).

So, a little exploration. At 4pm there is Ann Meredith's Hands Free which features the National Youth Orchestra in the Clore Ballroom, playing without their instruments! At 6pm there is Michael Wolters The Voyage, this will be a concert performance by the theatre company, Stan's Cafe, along with a film of the original staging where the audience seating platform gradually moved during the performance! Sounds fascinating, but its a pity that the full staging could not have been brought.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Opera Holland Park - Eugene Onegin

On a very grim, rainy evening, Daniel Slater's new production of Eugene Onegin opened at Opera Holland Park (14 July). The theatre is completely watertight though partially open to the elements at the sides, but you felt great admiration for both singers and players in the way they performed as if there wasn't rain thundering on the roof or gusts of cold wind blowing through the auditorium. Instead they successfully transported us to Slater's slightly skewed vision of Tchaikovsky's opera.

During the prelude we saw the mature Onegin (Mark Stone) and Tatyana (Anna Leese) wandering across a stage which was littered with fragments of furniture and panelling. Designer Leslie Travers had produced a nearly all-white landscape which looked like the deconstruction of a palatial room, or a dream-scape. Though Onegin and Tatyana were on stage together, each was in their own dream of remembrance, they did not meet. Then for much of act 1, Stone was on stage as the mature Onegin, observing and remembering.

Friday 13 July 2012

Third generation

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra has announced the appointment of a Young Conductor in Association, a one year appointment that sees the young conductor working with the orchestra and principal conductor Kirill Karabits. After an audition process, the post has gone to Maxime Tortelier, a post graduate from the Royal Academy of Music. Tortelier is the son of Yan Pascal Tortelier and grandson of the cellist Paul Tortelier).

Buxton Festival - Vivaldi L'Olympiade

Megacle (Louise Poole), Aminta (Mhairi Lawson), Aristea (Rachael Lloyd), Clistene (Stephen Gadd) & Alcandro (Jonathan Gunthorpe), L'Olymipiade, La Serenissima, photo Maxim Reider
Photo Maxim Reider
The problem with Vivaldi's L'Olympiade is that Vivaldi and Metastasio (writer of the original libretto) probably took the libretto entirely seriously. The plot is a terrible farrago of unintended consequences and unforseen co-incidences, the sort of thing which gives opera seria a bad name. In effect, it is a series of dramatic situations strung together; each scene gives the composer an interesting new aspect of the characters. It might not be helped by the fact that Vivaldi replaced a significant number of Metastasio's aria texts, his libretto being adapted by Bartolomeo Vitturi. The result is rather too many simile arias, that fatal last resort of the opera seria librettist. But Vivaldi's response was to write a series of arias with catchy tunes or accompaniments. What's director to do. For their new production, La Serenissima turned to Richard Williams whose response was to ensure clarity of plot and to apply just enough wit and humour. I saw the production on 11 July at its first appearance at the Buxton Festival.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Buxton Festival - Jephtha

James Gilchrist as Jephtha, Buxton Festival
James Gilchrist (Jephtha) and Chorus
Handel's oratorios are dramas of the mind; Handel wrote them with no thought of staging, liberated from the requirements of the theatre of his day. A natural dramatist, his oratorios have seemed to cry out for transfer to the stage and this has become commonplace in recent years. But with discontinuous plotlines, minimal dialogue and long static choruses, a director must address how the piece is to fill the stage. Usually this is done by projecting the work's story onto a contemporary analogous plot – works like Jephtha, Susannah,, Theodora and Saul seem to cry out for this. The result though can be a production which is unnecessarily busy, which seems to mistrust the music by overlaying it with innumerable stage details. For his new production of Jephtha at the Buxton Festival, seen 11 July, Frederic Wake-Walker eschewed this approach.

Buxton Festival - postcard 3

Buxton Festival Fringe
Buxton Festival Fringe is now in its 33rd year. It runs in parallel to the main festival and, just as the festival has grown so has the fringe. This year there are 170 or so events running from 4 to 22 July.

The events are in the usual categories. There is comedy of course, some contemporary dance including work from Buxton Community School, Critical Dance Collective (from Derby University) and a day of Morris Dancing all over Buxton on 21 July (oh, joy!). There is the Buxton Open Shorts 2012, a competition for all amateur film makers. There are lots of events for families, besides the For Families category, many other events are marked as being family friendly.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Buxton Festival - Too Hot to Handel

William Towers and Yvette Bonner in Too Hot to Handel
William Towers and Yvette Bonner
William Towers, in jest, suggested the title Too Hot to Handel to Christopher Monks of the Armonico Consort. Monks challenged him to come up with a programme and the result was a string of favourite arias, mainly for soprano or alto; they suggested the possibility of a plot. This would enable the arias to be sung in context rather in isolated concert fashion.

The result is a modern pasticcio, using modern English words in the arias to tell a story in two acts. The production, directed by Emma Rivlin, is being toured by the Armonico Consort and I saw it at Buxton Opera House on 10 July. The production is also going to London, Solihull, Crawley and Shrewsbury, more details from the Armonico Consort website.

buxton Festival - Intermezzo

Stephen Gadd (Robert), Janis Kelly (Christine) in Intermezzo, Buxton Festival 2012
Stephen Gadd (Robert) and Janis Kelly (Christine)
Richard Strauss's opera Intermezzo is still a relative rareity in the UK, having not yet had a London production. Strauss intended the opera as a very human, modern, psychological comedy of character and based it on an event in his own life; the text set in a way which ensured the conversational character of the piece. But he found it difficult to find a librettist, and ended up writing the words himself. And after the first performance (in Munich in 1924), despite the work's success, there was a view that the work was tasteless. This attitude has, in the past, impeded the work's performance but times and attitudes have changed. Intermezzo is regarded as one of Strauss's greatest works and it is to Buxton's credit that they have assembled such a strong account of the work. The production, conducted by Stephen Barlow and directed by Stephen Unwin, debuted on 7 July and I saw the second performance on 10 July.

Buxton Festival - postcard 2

Buxton Well Dressing
Buxton Well Dressing
This week is the 87th Buxton Well Dressing Festival. The festival was established in 1840 but the tradition of well dressing dates back at least to the medieval period. It is a curiously Derbyshire Peak District tradition, whereby wells are celebrated by having decorations made of flowers and other natural objects assembled like mosaics with striking pictures. The tradition may have pagan roots, but nowadays many of the pictures that are created, by pressing the flowers and suchlike into damp clay, are religious.

The dressing at St. Anns Well this year, which took three days to create, was inspired by the 200th anniversary of the founding of St. John's Church. The church was build in 1811 by the Duke of Devonshire to cope with the influx of visitors. During the festival it is the scene not only of sung choral services on Sunday mornings, but regular concerts as well.

Where the Heart Beats - John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists

Kay Larson's book Where the Heart Beats has as its subtitle 'John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists'. At first you might think that this was another biography of John Cage. Though there is a strong biographical element in the book, it is more the biography of an idea, a study of the way Zen Buddhism came to be at the centre of the working life of a group of artists, centred on John Cage.

Cage wrought one of the revolutions in 20th century music and Larson's book is a brave attempt to make us understand the way Cage's thinking developed and why. Central to this is Cage's attendance at the lectures of Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki in New York in the 1950's. Suzuki, a Zen Buddhist teacher, was an influential figure in the dissemination of Zen Buddhism to the West.

Larson's book is divided into three parts, which attempt to follow the arc of revelation as Cage comes to discover Zen Buddhism and through it effect changes to his work.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Buxton Festival - Double Bill (now with images)

The Maiden in the Tower Kate Ladner and Richard Berkeley-Steele, Buxton Festival
The Maiden in the Tower
Kate Ladner and Richard Berkeley-Steele
Double bills are always a problem, how to make a pair of disparate operas work together. And the canon is littered with one act operas which languish because they have no obvious mates. Few pairings function with the complementarity of 'Cav and Pag', so it was both canny and fortuitous that Buxton managed to find not one but two operas both of which deserved to be staged and which worked together as a double bill. Sibelius's The Maiden in the Tower is his only completed opera, early Sibelius but Sibelius nonetheless and deserving of a hearing. Rimsky Korsakov's Kashchei the Immortal is a little masterpiece and it is puzzling why it has not been staged in the UK before. Both works were receiving their first UK staging on 9 July in productions by Stephen Lawless, conducted by Stuart Stratford.

Buxton Festival - postcard

Buxton opera house
Buxton Opera House
For the next few days I am based in Buxton, attending five operas (including one double bill); three productions by the festival itself and two visiting productions. The festival, which was founded in 1979, is based around the Buxton Opera House which is at the centre of a complex of buildings which arose because of Buxton's position as a spa town.

Monday 9 July 2012

Les Troyens at the Royal Opera

Les Troyens - Royal Opera House
Unlike Wagner, when Berlioz wrote Les Troyens he was not writing his ideal opera. His ideal subject certainly, but the structure of the opera is heavily dependent on the French grand opera which developed in the earlier parts of the 19th century. Berlioz was no particular admirer of Meyerbeer, but to do justice to his subject he needed the resources of the Paris Opera. And if the Paris Opera was to perform Les Troyens then it had to conform in some ways to what grand opera was expected to be. So we have a work in five acts, substantial, long even, but not wildly ridiculous when compared to Halevy's La Juive. There are ballets, grand ceremonial scenes and public events against which private emotion can be put.

Sunday 8 July 2012

A Night at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Caneletto painted this famous view of the Grand Walk in 1751.
Canaletto - The Grand Walk, 1751
For two hundred years Spring Gardens at Vauxhall was the site of one of London's major attractions, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Founded in the 1660's, in the 1720's the gardens were taken over by the entrepreneur, Jonathan Tyers who turned the place into a festival of art, architecture and music, the place to see and be seen, the place for assignations. Music was important, there was a resident band of around 15 musicians, both Thomas Arne and James Hooke were musical directors, Paganinni played there twice and the vocalists who sang there in the 18th century were the pop stars of the day.

The site of Neptune Fountain is now St. Peter's Church,Kennington Lane, a glorious 19th century gothic church by JL Pearson, rather forbidding outside, it is a high church gem within. This was the site for London Early Opera's concert on 7 July, A Night at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The group, under harpsichordist Bridget Cunningham has just recorded the programme for CD, and this performance was part of St Peter's Church Music Festival, intended to raise money for their historic T.C.Lewis organ

Recent CD reviews

My review of Iestyn Davies disc Arias for Guadagni is on MusicWeb International definitely a highly recommended disc.

Finely performed and a fascinating and illuminating programme. 

And my review of a live recording from the 1970's of Sutherland singing Delibes Lakme from Australian Opera is on Music Web International.

Probably for Sutherland completists and AO supporters only.  

City of London Festival, Swedish Wind Ensemble and Christian Lindberg

Dawn at Galamanta - photo credit Peter Lloyd
Dawn at Galamanta
(photo credit Peter Lloyd)

The event ‘Dawn at Galamanta’ – a place somewhere close to home – was performed last night (6 July) as part of the 12 week London 2012 Festival. Held in the Guildhall, and sponsored by the Embassy of Sweden in London, the event had more of a feel of a gala than a concert, especially when Ian Richie, director of the City of London Festival explained his personal involvement with Christian Lindberg and the Share Music Sweden Group, before the event began. The design of the whole event was very interconnected emphasising links between Sweden and the UK, links to earlier city of London festivals and family ties.

Saturday 7 July 2012

From Elvira to Sieglinde - interview with Claire Rutter

Claire Rutter as Norma, John Hudson as Pollione in Norma, Grange Park Opera 2009
Claire Rutter as Norma,
John Hudson as Pollione in Norma,
Grange Park Opera 2009
photo Alastair Muir
Next year soprano Claire Rutter will make her debut in two roles, Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani and Sieglinde in Wagner’s Die Walkure. She will sing Elvira at Grange Park Opera with conductor Gianluca Marciano in a production in which it is intended to perform the work in all the original keys (which will certainly make life interesting for the tenor singing Arturo). Sieglinde she will be singing at the Opera de Rennes, with Willard White as Wotan.

The first role is a pinnacle of the bel canto repertoire and the second one of the major peaks for Wagnerian dramatic soprano. Rutter’s debut as Sieglinde is all the more remarkable because this will be her first ever Wagnerian role, in fact her first German language role. Unlike many sopranos, she has never even strolled in the Wagnerian foothills, never having done the woodbird, Freia or Gutrune. Rutter is known for her singing of the Italian bel canto repertoire but her she has proved equally at home in Verdi and Puccini. Now she is dipping her toes into Hochdramatischer Soprano fach, whilst expanding on to her existing bel canto repertoire

Friday 6 July 2012

Judith Bingham's Jacob's Ladder - Ancient and Modern revisited

Whilst the memories were still fresh in my mind, I was luckily able to listen to the Naxos recording of Judith Bingham's Jacob's Ladder, played by the modern instruments of  the Dmitri Ensemble, with Tom Winpenny. It was interesting comparing this with memories of the performance on Wednesday, given by the strings of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with Daniel Cook organ. Thanks to BBC IPlayer, I was able to refresh my memories of this performance. Now one inevitable difference, apart from the strings, is in the organs; this is inevitable as no two are alike.

Listening to the Naxos recording (and looking at the score, courtesy of the composer), it was noticeable how much less textural contrast I felt. The modern strings and the organ blended nicely with the strings often forming something of a backdrop to the organ, whereas the gut strings (with no vibrato) gave a striking contrast to the smooth textures of the St. Brides organ. (But, by contrast, I felt that Tom Winpenny played using slightly distinctive stops, where as Daniel Cook seemed to choose softer edged stops). The modern strings gave the whole piece rather greater surface beauty, with the playing technique causing the textures of the music to coalesce into a lovely whole; after all, that is why modern string playing developed. By contrast, the period performance emphasised transparency and edge. There was a greater sense of individual line, with each being more strongly characterised. In the modern version, I felt some of the textures came to be rather denser.

Cendrillon in Blackheath

Gustav Dore's illustration for Cendrillon
Gustav Dore
Massenet's opera Cendrillon is having another outing, this time at Blackheath Concert Halls  with Blackheath Halls Community Opera conducted by Nicholas Jenkins and directed by Harry Fehr. The cast includes Sally Silver as the Fairy Godmother, Anna Patalong (Lauretta in the Opera Holland Park Gianni Schicchi) as Cinderella, Stephanie Marshall as the Prince, Grant Doyle and Louise Winter, with Blackheath Halls Orchestra and Community Chorus. And we are promised a large retinue of South East London Primary School children to accompany the fairy godmother. It will be sung an English translation by Jeremy Sams.

Wishful Singing at the City of London Festival

Dutch vocal group, Wishful Singing
Wishful Singing
One of the delights of the City of London Festival is the way that it puts events in different parts of the City. I have to confess that I had never been to the delightful little enclave that is Austin Friars and was completely unfamiliar with the Dutch Church. The building dates from the 1950's but the site has been used as the Dutch church since the 1500's. On 7 July, the Dutch group Wishful Singing gave a concert there as part of the festival. Wishful Singing (Anne-Christine Wemekamp, Maria Goetze, Marjolein Verburg, Annemiek van der Ven, Rosalie Sloof) are five Dutch female singers who founded the a cappella vocal group in 2005. Glamorously dressed in coordinating outfits of black and blue, they sang a wide variety of music ranging from Renaissance through to contemporary and popular.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Christine Collins Young Artists at Opera Holland Park

On Saturday 14 July, Opera Holland Park launches its Christine Collins Young Artists Scheme, with a matinee performance of Gianni Schicchi, starring Alan Opie (from the main cast) but with all the other roles sung by young artists conducted by Matthew Walden. (The companion piece in the double bill, Zanetto, will be given with the main cast). There is more information at the Opera Holland Park website, and they have started a blog from one of the young artists, do check it out.

See our Festival pages:
Buxton Festival 2012
Opera Holland Park 2012
Grange Park Opera 2012

Musical Athletes

The Cheltenham Music Festival, which is on until 12 July, has this weekend devoted to Musical Athletes. This is part of the Cheltenham Festival's Laboratory in which medical science is brought to bear on all the Cheltenham Festivals. The event this weekend looks at how musical performance affects the performer's body and how athletic they need to be. There is a surprising amount of illness and injury in musicians and a group of scientists and performers, including pianist Melvyn Tan, will be looking at the various parts of the human body and how performance affects it.

The event was previewed in a nice article in the Guardian, covering how Tan's body was monitored during performance to see what the physiological effects were.

Ancient and Modern - Judith Bingham and OAE

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Daniel Cook
To celebrate Judith Bingham's 60th birthday the John Armitage Memorial Trust (JAM) came up with the idea of teaming Bingham (a previous JAM commissionee and now on their panel) with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The concert, on Wednesday 4 July at the City of London Festival, took place in the church of St. Bride's Fleet street and will be repeated in Hythe on Friday 6th. The programme teamed up two baroque masterpieces, Handel's Organ Concerto in D minor and Pergolesi's Stabat Mater with two of Bingham's works, Jacob's Ladder and The Hythe.

Daft but fun

The horn section of the LPO playing the National Anthem on car horns - shades of Ligeti's Le Grand Macbre!


Wednesday 4 July 2012

Go on, give it a go

CoMa's Contemporary Music Summer School runs from Sunday 29 July to Saturday 4 August at Bangor University in North Wales, encouraging all of us whether experienced or not to try something new. CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) has run summer schools since 1993 and they have recently started doing them as a joint initiative with the ELLO Late Starter String Summer School. The summer school is intended to help broaden the horizons of all musicians, providing a non-competitive teaching programme which is accessible and exciting for both the inexperienced and the experienced. I attended one some years ago and have always intended to go back, finding them exciting and stimulating, giving me the opportunity to try things that I'd never thought about before.

Mohammed Fairouz

The BBC World News is broadcasting a documentary about the young Arab-American composer, Mohammed Fairouz, for their series Collaboration Culture. For the documentary, Fairouz developed and unveiled an entirely new dance work, Hindustani Dabkeh, featuring David Krakauer, the American String Quartet and Bollywood star Shakti Mohan. Fairouz, who studied at the Curtis Instute and the New England Conservatoire, lists György Ligeti, Gunther Schuller, and Richard Danielpour as his principal teachers. His style 'melds Middle-Eastern modes and Western structures to deeply expressive effect'. Despite being under 30 (he was born in 1986) his catalogue includes operas (one premiered, one in progress), symphonies (four so far), chamber works, choral music and electronic music.

His opera, Sumeida's Song, is being released on Bridge Records on 1 October 2012. The opera was performed in concert at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. The libretto is based on the play Song of Death by Egyptian playwright Tawfiq El-Hakim and follows the return of the protagonist Alwan to his Upper Egyptian peasant village, and his attempts to bring modernity to darkness in an effort to break a never ending cycle of violence.

The Collaboration Culture programme on Fairouz and Shakti Mohan will be broadcast Friday 13 July, Saturday 14 July, Sunday 15 July

Recreating the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

A prospect of Vauxhall Gardens in 1751
The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens have completely disappeared, being successfully obliterated by the railway and 19th century development. There is little, beyond a rather grim open space and a gay pub to suggest what the area might have been. St. Peter's Church, Kennington Lane, SE11 5HY is a 19th century church on the site of the pleasure gardens, and its altar is the site of the garden fountain. It is here that, on Saturday 7 July, London Early Opera under their musical director Bridget Cunningham will be evoking the 19th century gardens.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Idomeneo at Grange Park Opera

Hye-Youn Lee (Elettra), Idomeneo - Grange Park Opera 2012 (Photography: Alastair Muir)
Hye-Youn Lee (Elettra)
(Photography: Alastair Muir)
Charles Edwards's production of Idomeneo at Grange Park Opera opened (1 July 2012) with the striking image of Elettra (Hye-Youn Lee) walking in front of the drop curtain (a map of the Greek islands spattered with blood), she was swathed in red and carrying a shield and axe. The shield (in the form of the famous death mask of Agamemnon) and axe were then hung up at the side of the stage, balanced on the other by an image of a Trojan warrior - the political pull of the opera being thus neatly defined. It was also visually striking in the way the Edwards combined the neo-classical costume for Elettra with symbols of savagery.


Last week, in between singing Palestrina's Missa tu es Petrus at an ordination at St. Mary's Church, Cadogan Street, and rehearsing for the London Concord Singers concert on July 12th, we went to St. Paul's Cathedral for the amazing experience of hearing the Berlioz Requiem live, conducted by Colin Davis, and took ourselves off to Grange Park for their final weekend, Idomeneo and Queen of Spades, where the weather was kinder than expected.

Coming up we've got more events at the City of London Festival (including JAM's celebration of Judith Bingham's birthday), an interview with soprano, Claire Rutter, and more Berlioz (hurrah!) Les Troyens at Covent Garden.

Monday 2 July 2012

La petite Bande

Financial misery in the arts isn't just confined to the UK, the distinguished Flemish group La petite Bande have had their funding withdrawn by the Flemish government. There is a web-page set up to support the group.

Queen of Spades at Grange Park Opera

Carl Tanner (Herman) & Anne Sophie Duprels (Lisa), Queen of Spades - Grange Park Opera 2012 (Photography: Alastair Muir)
Carl Tanner (Herman) & Anne Sophie Duprels (Lisa)
Photography: Alastair Muir)
To Grange Park on a cool, but thankfully dry evening for the last performance of Anthony Macdonald's striking new production of Tchakovsky's Queen of Spades (30 June). Both designer and director, Macdonald set the production in Russia at the time of the work's composition. The first scene opened in a flexible, neutral space, pannelled walls, painted white and grey with wall-paper of a view of St. Petersburg. This would function as the outside space and the ball room. The centre of the stage was occupied by what appeared to be the outside of a rotunda. For the interior scenes, this turned round to create a small, claustrophobic interior space. Thus giving the opera's locations a confined feel; Macdonald's Russia was a place of hurried liasons in small places and draughty streets where friends meet.


Profuse apologies if you have been getting warnings about Malware from the site. I had a link (in the RH column) to a site which Google has decided to flag as a distributor of malware. There was no content from this site on my site and there should not have been a problem. I have, however, taken off the link. I have also, for the moment, suspended comments.

Sunday 1 July 2012

Brass crossing genres

London Brass logo
A few months ago I interviewed legendary film-composer Lalo Schifrin, whose recordings Jazz Meets the Symphony have generated a large following for his particular blend of classically inspired symphonic jazz. One of the collaborators on Jazz Meets the Symphony was the Australian brass virtuoso James Morrison. Now Morrison is collaborating with London Brass on a concert at the Cadogan Hall on Saturday 7 July, which promises to mix things up.

An eclectic mix of 10 players, London Brass were formed in 1986 and have a remarkably wide range, from Gabrieli to Freddie Mercury. At their concert with Morrison, the group will be playing a range of pieces including a group of Morrison's own compositions, plus music by Jerome Kern, Mercer Ellington, Paul Hart, Chick Corea, Lutoslawski (his Variations on a theme by Paganini) and the 17th century English composer Anthony Holborne. The keynote being virtuosity and a desire to showcase the versatility of all the brass instruments.

Further information and tickets from the Cadogan Hall website.

The Collaborative Orchestra

Collaborative Orchestra poster
On Friday 6 July at St. John's Smith Square, a new orchestra makes its public debut, the Collaborative Orchestra. The brainchild of conductor Andrew Farid, the idea is to bring together professional musicians to provide a platform for performers and composers. The orchestra has members not just from the UK but from all around the world.

"The orchestra is a group of people that have come together with a shared goal and ethos, to try and give composers and musicians and opportunity that we feel is lacking to them." 

For their first concert they will be performing an appealing if relatively mainstream programme consisting of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, Haydn's Trumpet Concerto (with soloist Andrew Tovey) and Dvorak's 9th Symphony. But Farid has a background a film composer and the orchestra has plans for recording a film sound-track and producing work with living composers. The area of TV and film is one that the group will be focussing on, aiming to provide composers with a competitively priced platform for performing work.

Andrew Farid trained at the Conservatory of Tehran and already has a background of successfully forming orchestras there. His new venture, rather enterprisingly sponsored by a Persian beer company and a Persian restaurant, looks all set for an interesting life.

Tickets are available from the St. John's Smith Square website.

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