Sunday 31 March 2013

Haunted intensity - Alice Coote in Schubert's Die Winterreise

Schubert - Die Winterreise; Alice Coote, Julius Drake; Wigmore Hall Live WHLive0057
Though there is a long and distinguished history of mezzo-soprano's singing Schubert's Die Winterreise, the pairing still isn't all that common and often results in something extra special. Alice Coote is an artist who combines beauty of tone with a remarkable nervous intensity, so her performance of Die Winterreise was always going to be striking. She sang the cycle, with Julius Drake at the piano, at the Wigmore Hall in January 2012 and this disc, on the Wigmore Live label, is based on live recordings of two performances.

Coote and Drake establish the tone from the outset, with Coote providing burnished vocal tones and a fine sense of line, combined with a feel for the shape of phrases and a stunning intensity of words. She is ably partnered by Drake and the two bring a feeling of pressing onward and feverish brightness to the opening song, Gute Nacht (Good Night). This continues into the next song as Die Wetterfahne (The weather-vane) is characterised by an almost manic intensity.

Saturday 30 March 2013

Echoes of an earlier age

Adelina Patti
Many years ago I heard Marilyn Horne, on the radio, talking about performing Rossini and incorporating into the performance cadenza's and ornamentation from Rossini's time and then being castigated by reviewers for her over the top, cavalier ornamentation. In many ways this is quite a salutary story and makes us realise the past really is another country and that they actually do things differently there. No more so than in opera singing.

We have had years of instrumentalists re-discovering period techniques, applying them to modern practice and re-discovering sounds, qualities and textures of the past. But we still don't do this with singers. I am not aware of anyone attempting to put, say, every single detail of Manuel Garcia's singing tutor into action. The results would be illuminating, far more so than we realise.

Friday 29 March 2013

Mansfield Park returns

Jonathan Dove's opera Mansfield Park was commissioned by Heritage Opera in 2011 and has been toured to country houses with a brief run in London last year. Now it Hamstead Garden Opera are performing the work at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, the Gatehouse Pub in Highgate Village from 19 April to April 28. Directed by Bruno Ravella and designed by Holly Seager, with Oliver-John Ruthven as the musical director the piece is double cast. Librettist Alasdair Middleton has based the text on Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park. For maximum compactness, the work is scored for just piano-duet. 

Dove is one of that rare breed of composers able to write intelligent, well-written and well constructed operas which are still accessible. Alasdair Middleton has collaborated on quite a number of works with Dove, notably their operas Pinocchio and The Enchanted Pig. Dove's operas don't visit London as often as they deserve, so Hampstead Garden Opera's production Mansfield Park is a great treat. Further information from Hampstead Garden Opera's website.

Appealing and intriguing - A Single Noon

Gregg Kallor
Gregg Kallor is a young American composer pianist whose work encompasses improvisation and straddles the divide between jazz and classical. His nine movement suite, A Single Noon was premiered in April 2011 at Carnegie Hall in New York, in a concert where Kallor also played music by Bartok, Chick Corea, Annie Clark (St Vincent), Henry Mancini, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and Louise Talma, indicating Kallor's range and diverse interests. On this disc he has now recorded A Single Noon for the first time.

A Single Noon is a nine-movement suite which is a paen to life in New York City in all its diversity. The title comes from Emily Dickinson, 'It bloomed and droppt, a Single Noon', i.e. seize the day. Kallor starts with the suite's title movement, which introduces the theme which will wend its way through all the other movements.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Best and Outstanding - Olivier Awards

This year's Olivier Awards nominees have been revealed. I'm not quite sure what period they cover as one of the nominated opera productions is the recent ENO La Traviata, but the lists make interesting reading. Those nominated are inevitable only a fraction of what we've seen in the last year, but I can't help feeling that there are bits missing and that nominations do not reflect the diversity of new opera productions in London at the moment.

Young Stars - Children Helping Children

Children Helping Children concert 27 April 2013, Cadogan Hall
The 10th anniversary Children Helping Children concert takes place at Cadogan Hall on 27 April 2013. The concert supports the charity Hemihelp, the national charity for children and young people with hemiplegia. The concert presents young musicians aged between 7 and 17 years old, playing in support of the charity. At the first Children Helping Children concert ten years ago, violinist Nicola Benedetti made an appearance before going on to win the BBC Young Musician of the Year. This year the concert features a 13 year old pianist and composer who will perform a movement from his own concerto, a 17 year old clarinet player and the Junior Brass Band from the Centre for Young Musicians. Sean Rafferty, from BBC Radio 3, will act as special guest presenter, Siobhan McMahon MSP will be the guest speaker and the concert will be performed in the presence of HRH Princess Alexandra. Further information and tickets from the Cadogan Hall website.

Another Trio of Passions

Further Good Friday performances of Bach's passions have caught my eye. In Dublin, at the National Concert Hall there is a performance of Bach's St John Passion with Mark Wilde, Nicholas Merryweather, Sarah Power, Sharon Carty, Eamonn Mulhall and Gavan Ring with the RTE Philharmonic Choir and RTW National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Rosewell; they are also presenting Haydn's Seven Last Words. In Bristol, David Hill conducts the BBC Singers and St. James Baroque in Bach's St Mark Passion, at St. George's Brandon Hill in Bristol. This is a reconstruction of the now lost passion; the libretto and a torso of the music survives. Finally in Dorchester Abbey, the Orchestra of St Johns are performing Bach's St John Passion with OSJ Voices, Stuart Jackson, Ed Ballard, Ilona Domnich, Roderick Morris Christopher Turner and Johnny Herford, conducted by John Lubbock.

Tenebrae - Chapelle du Roi at St John's Smith Square

Fifteen candles on tenebrae "hearse". The candles are extinguished one by one during the course of the service.
Alistair Dixon and Chapelle du Roi's Tenebrae concert has become something of a welcome fixture in the calendar at St Johns Smith Square. Wednesday's concert (27 March) saw the group performing Lamentations by Palestrina, Victoria and Lobo, plus Responds by Victoria, a trio of motets by Byrd and Tallis, plus the first performance for 300 years of a Credo setting by Lobo. Dixon had structured the work like a Tenebrae service, complete with candles that were gradually extinguished and the hall lights dimmed so that the final Victoria Ave Regina Coelorum was sung in half-darkness. Romantically evocative, but also liturgically correct, which helps explain why the Tenebrae service was so popular.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Sombrely moving - Stile Antico at the Wigmore Hall

Stile Antico
Stile Antico is a vocal ensemble making a name for itself performing a wide variety of Early Music without a conductor. For their concert at the Wigmore Hall on Tuesday 26 Marc 2013 they performed a seasonal programme, Miserere: penitential Music by Byrd and his Contemporaries, with music not only by William Byrd, but by Thomas Tallis, Thomas Morley, John Sheppard and Robert White. Fielding some twelve singers (with all women on the alto line), the group in fact almost moves from vocal ensemble to chamber choir.

They performed in a semi-circle, alternating men and women, ensuring that all members had good eye contact. The sense of informed communication and lively interchange (both vocal and non-vocal) was a strong feature of the evening. As befitted the season, the music was all sombre and penitential with Robert White's Lamentations concluding part one, and William Byrd's Infelix ergo concluding part two.

Bach marathon on Easter Monday

Bach manuscript
If you are in London on Easter Monday then head over to the Albert Hall for the Bach Marathon led by Sir John Eliot Gardiner (or stay at home and listen to it on the radio as BBC Radio 3 are broadcasting the whole event). There are nine hours of Bach's music, which might seem a lot but frankly barely makes a dent in his total output. The event runs from 1pm to 10pm and will include Bach's Singet dem Herrn, the Easter cantata Christ lag in Todesbanden (with the audience joining in the chorale) and the Mass in B Minor with Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque soloists. Other performers will include Viktoria Mullova, Joanne MacGregor, Alban Gerhardt and John Butt. There will be a discussion panel including Robert Levin. To co-incide with the performance and to mark Eliot Gardiner's 70th birthday on 20 April, his label SDG will be releasing his recordings of Bach's four Ascension Day cantatas completing the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage series. Further information from the Bach Marathon website.

A moment of breath - premiere of Anahata by Eloise Nancie Gynn

Eloise Nancie Glynn
Eloise Nancie Glynn
Commissioned by the Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, conducted by Nicholas Collon, and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, Anahata by Eloise Nancie Gynn was a moment of breath on a cold and frantic spring evening (24 March 2013). Anahata was premiered at the start of a concert which continued with Manfred Honeck conducting Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and Brahms's Violin Concerto with Nikolaj Znaider. 

It may have been close to freezing outside but sat on one of Barbican’s sofa-like seats Anahata was the perfect meditational moment to bring everything back into focus. Nancie studied composition at Cardiff University and her interests in experimental percussion and extended wind techniques, along with her love of world music and nature have come together in a beautifully meditational work.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

A trio of Passions

Bach Passion - manuscript
If you are in London on Good Friday (29 March 2013), then there is the chance to hear one of a trio of Bach passion performances with some very strong performers. At St. Johns Smith Square, Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment perform Bach's St John Passion with Ian Bostridge, Neal Davies, Julia Doyle, Iestyn Davies, Nicholas Mulroy and Robert Davies. There is another St. John Passion at the Barbican Centre with Richard Egarr directing the Academy of Ancient Music and the choir of the Academy of Ancient Music with James Gilchrist, Matthew Rose, Elizabeth Watts, Sarah Connolly, Andrew Kennedy, and Christopher Purves. 

Over at St. George's Church, Hanover Square, Lawrence Cummings conducts the choir of St. George's Hanover Square and the London Handel Orchestra in the annual performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. This is performed in the context of Lutheran Vespers, as Bach would have known it, with a sermon coming between parts one and two. The soloists this year are Nathan Vale, George Humphreys, Stefanie True, Tim Mead and Lukas Jakobski.

Buzzing with new music - Cheltenham Music Festival 2013

Cheltenham Music Festival 2013
This year's Cheltenham Music Festival runs from 3 to 14 July and as ever it is a-buzz with new music. One of the oldest music festivals in the UK (it was established in 1945), current director Meurig Bowen has been in place since 2007; he talks about the festival's 'robust commitment to a wide range of new music'. This is particularly challenging in the current economic times, but the programme includes 15 premieres including new pieces by David Sawer, Roxanna Panufnik, Colin Matthews, David Matthews, Michael Zev Gordon, Antony Pitts and Gabriel Jackson. The festival is also launching a new Composer Academy, as well as marking the anniversaries of Britten and Poulenc. The festival uses a wonderful range of locations, many of them very historic, and it is lovely to see the way different artists thread their way through the programme in a variety of guises.

Monday 25 March 2013

Endellion String Quartet in Cambridge, London and New York

Endellion String Quartet
The Endellion Quartet are having a busy year. This season is the quartet's 34th year, and their 20th year in Residence at Cambridge University. They will also be playing the complete Beethoven Quartets twice, in the space of 10 days, at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Recent performances have included the premiere of Thea Musgrave's Towards the Blue commissioned by the Wigmore Hall for clarinettist Michael Collins and London Winds to perform with the quartet. 

Their Cambridge season ends on May 8 with a concert at West Road Concert Hall performing Bartok's String Quartet No. 1 and Haydn, plus the Brahms Piano Quartet for which Andrew Watkinson, Garfield Jackson and David Waterman will be joined by the extraordinarily gifted Hok Kiu Johnson Leung (He started giving public concerts internationally at the age of eight. He is in his first year studying engineering at Downing College. He also holds an instrumental award scholarship). The quartet returns to the Wigmore Hall on 24 April, with a concert of Haydn, Britten (String Quartet No. 2) and Beethoven (String Quartet in F, Op. 18, No. 1 'Romeo and Juliet'). Further information from the Endellion String Quartet website.

Couperin - Trois Lecons de Tenebres - Kings Consort

For their second CD on their new Vivat label, Robert King and the King's Consort have moved to the opposite extreme to their first disc of large-scale 19th century sacred music with orchestra accompaniment. On this disc there are just two singers (soprano Carolyn Sampson and mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland) and three instrumentalists (Susanne Heinrich bass viol, Lynda Sayce theorbo and Robert King chamber organ) performing early 18th century French sacred music. Francois Couperin's Trois Lecons de Tenebres programmed in a highly satisfying and intelligent sequence with instrumental works by Marin Maria and Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, plus Couperin's Motet pour le jour de Paques and Magnificat.

A truly absorbing evening - Rough for Opera

Last night (25 March) we attended Second Movement's Rough for Opera, their scratch night for new opera at the Cockpit Theatre. At these events, new opera is present as work in progress with fragments of new works and complete works in progress. After the performance there is then a chance to participate in a discussion about the new piece; a frankly scary moment for the poor composer who might have heard their work performed in public for the first time, but a usefully illuminating one. For those not interested in sounding off in public, there are feed back forms too. We heard the first scene from Mike Christie's The Miller's Wife and Scars by Kate Whitley, with Q&A's led by Professor Paul Barker from the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Sunday 24 March 2013

New sounds for 10th birthday celebrations

LSO St. Luke's is currently having a 10th birthday festival (is it really 10 years?). On Monday 25 March, composers from the LSO's new composer initiative, LSO SoundHub join with with LSO Discovery’s Digital Technology Group for a concert entitled Present. Curate. Collaborate. Innovate for what promises to be a wide range of styles, including ambient soundscapes, fully fledged hip-hop tracks and classical compositions. LSO St. Luke's birthday events run until 1 April and include performances from the LSO Community Choir, the LSO Strings, the Nash Ensemble and Tunisian vocalist Dhafer Youssef brings some Middle Eastern music to the mix. On Saturday 30 March (Easter Saturday), there is the Not(e) Perfect Orchestra for adults who haven't played an instrument for ages, or who have never played. And on Easter Monday there is a family open day. See the website for further details.

Maurice Greene's Amoretti

Maurice Greene (1696 - 1755) is one of that generation of English composers who grew up in Handel's shadow. Handel, a composer who seems to have been the least collegiate of men, was hardly the man to encourage younger composers and in fact Greene is perhaps best known for the fact that Handel disliked him. 

On this disc harpsichordist Luke Green and tenor Benjamin Hulett along with theorbo player Giangiacomo Pinardi have recorded Maurice Greene's settings of 25 of Spenser's Amoretti, effectively one of the earliest English song cycles, producing a disc of great charm.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Open source - onward and upward

Open Goldberg Variations, Kimiko Ishizaka
In January 2013, I attended a recital by the pianist, Kimiko Ishizaka, when she played the complete Well Tempered Clavier, volume 1 (see my review). Ishizaka is a great believer in Open Source and with her Open Goldberg project has made her recording and a score of Bach's Goldberg Variations available for free download. This daring is cleary bearing fruit in striking ways; Ishizaka's recording will be used as illustrations a lecture about Bach and Fractals this Saturday (March 23) at the BachHaus as part of the annual BachFest in Cochabamba, Bolivia. (If you happen to be in Bolivia, the event starts at 18:00 with a video by Arthur C. Clarke about Fractals.) You can find the BachFest programme in English at the festival website.

La Voix Humaine - Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson DVD

CHRBR045 - La Voix Humain - front Cover, Felicity Lott, Graham Johnson, Champs Hill Records
Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson's new DVD of Poulenc's La Voix Humaine was given its first public outing last night (22 March 2013) at the Institut Francais in London as part of their It's All About Piano festival which runs until Sunday 24 March. The showing of the DVD was followed by a discussion between James Jolly and the performers. The DVD is released on the Champs Hill Records label. Though Poulenc himself performed the work accompanying Denise Duval on the piano, he forbade further performances of the piano version and it is in orchestral guise that Poulenc's setting of Jean Cocteau's play is best known. For this DVD, the performers received special permission from the Poulenc estate to perform the French version.

Sound Reflections

Looking Beneath The Surface, by Susan Haire
Looking Beneath The Surface,
by Susan Haire
Indra's Net is a new show at the Cello Factory featuring large installations by artist Susan Haire. The works are innovatively designed from different reflective materials and the pieces focus on reflection and contemplation. More than that, the exhibition is a collaboration between Haire and the composer Stephen Dydo. The title of the exhibition is a reference to a Buddhist metaphor for the interconnectedness of all things. The exhibition runs at the Cello Factory in Waterloo from 16 to 23 April.  (and is open between 20 and 24 March for visitors to the London Ear Festival). But there is still more than that, as there are a series of events, many of a musical nature, being held during the exhibition so that you can see poets and musicians performing alongside the art works.

Friday 22 March 2013

Outdoor Berlioz with LSO and young musicians

LSO Open Air Classics
The London Symphony Orchestra will be back in Trafalgar Square on Bank Holiday Monday 27 May, featuring an all Berlioz programme which features young players from their music education and community programme. Valery Gergiev will be on hand to conduct Berlioz's Le Corsaire and Symphonie Fantastique. But there will also be version of the Symphonie fantastique a specially arranged by Gareth Glyn in which 80 young musicians, including conservatoire students and LSO On Track young musicians from LSO Discovery, the Orchestra’s music education and community programme, will play alongside the LSO players. Further information from the LSO Open Air Classics website.

London Song Festival develops

Nigel Foster's London Song Festival has some interesting new developments this year. First off, there is a smart new festival website. Then the festival itself has expanded and in addition to the autumn concert series, there are four events in a new spring/summer segment of the festival; these events provide the opportunity to hear the complete songs of Verdi and of Wagner. Finally, Foster has published Three Songs for Madame Vasnier, a group of hitherto unpublished Debussy songs.

Winning young talent - Sky Arts Futures Fund

Sky Arts Ignition Futures Fund logo
The Sky Arts Futures Fund aims to create life-changing opportunities for your artists; one of the first winners was Daisy Evans, whose Silent Opera project debuted earlier this year (read our review). Amongst the winners this year are composer Mark Simpson and creative producer Kate Whitley. Each winner receives a bursary of £30,000 plus mentoring from senior staff at Sky and leaders in their industry, to help develop their creative practice and take their work to the next level. Simpson will be using the bursary to compose a new piece based on John Gray's book The Immortalisation Commission. The piece will be for solo violin, 45 instruments and voices, and will last 30 minutes. Whitley won with her classical music club night project TROSP, which takes concerts out of traditional halls and into disused car parks, nightclubs and industrial warehouses across the UK. She will be using the bursary to concentrate on the project, which returns to a car-park in Peckham this summer. Other winners are writer and poet Sabrina Mahfouz, choreographer Aakash Odedra and digital artist Lu Sisi. Further information from the Ideas Tap website.

Thursday 21 March 2013

The Rival Queens return

Faustina Bordoni
Faustina Bordoni
Francesca Cuzzoni
Francesca Cuzzoni
Classical Opera Company's delightful Handel and the Rival Queens returns on March 26 at St. George's Bristol, with sopranos Eleanor Dennis and Mhairi Lawson, plus the actor Christopher Benjamin with Christian Curnyn conducting the Early Opera Company. The programme explores Handel's relationships with the two sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni at a time when he was writing operas like Rodelinda, Cleopatra and Alessandro, with fireworks both on and off the stage. The programme combines arias and duets, with lively readings from contemporary diaries, newspapers and other sources. I saw their performance at last year's Lufthansa Festival in London and can highly recommend it (see my review). If you can't make it to Bristol, then fear not, the programme is live of BBC Radio 3 as part of their Baroque Spring. Further information from the Early Opera Company website.

Edinburgh Festival 2013 preview

This year's Edinburgh Festival has its usual bewildering mix of events. Jonathan Mills's programme is intended to celebrate innovation, and there are some rather striking uses of technology in events, from Opera de Lyon setting Beethoven's Fidelio on a space station to Pierre-Laurent Aimard joining Marco Stoppa for a pair of concerts which combine the piano with cutting edge technology, to modern glass harmonica wizard, Thomas Bloch. There is a great theme of innovation in dance both with premieres and looking back on cutting edge pieces from the past, you can even see a film of the young Pina Bausch dancing. And of course, there are the high profile orchestra concerts, with conductors including Valery Gergiev, David Zinman, Michael Pletnev and Daniele Gatti with visting ensembles including the Royal Concert Gebouw Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Russian National Orchestra, the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra and the Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble.

Bryan Hymel's Arnold

Bryan Hymel, who has made such an impression in the early 19th century French grand opera repertoire with his Aeneas in Les Troyens (see my review) and Robert in Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable (see my review) is now moving on to the daddy of them all. He will be singing his first Arnold in Rossini's Guillaume Tell in July 2014 in a new production of the opera at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. The production opens the 2014 Munich Opera Festival conductor is Dan Ettinger, director is Antu Romero Nunes and the title role will be sung by Michael Volle with Marina Poplavskaya as Mathilde. You can hear Hymel singing Arnold's aria Asile hereditaire on Youtube

Hidden Handel - Ann Hallenberg - CD review

Hidden Handel - Ann Hallenberg, Il Complesso Barocco, Alan Curtis - NaiveV5326
Handel's revivals of his own operas are generally not given as much attention as his premieres. Mainly this is the right attitude, as his response to a revival was very often slash and burn and the changes he made were not guaranteed to be improvements. Changes came about because differing casts required new music or alteration to existing music; all performances were tailored to the voices and skills of the performers. Sometimes these changes are interesting, throwing up arias or groups of arias worth considering. Handel's re-writing of the role of Sesto in Giulio Cesare for tenor is a case in point; despite some fine music this version is never performed. On this disc the Swedish mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg with Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco perform a selection of arias written for performances of Rinaldo, Teseo, Amadigi Ottone, Admeto, Berenice, Alessandro and Pirro e Demetrio along with a selection of individual orchestral movements. Rather than an exercise in dry musicology, the results show Handel on strong form in sparkling performances from Hallenberg.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

My Theatre Matters!

The Stage, Equity and the Theatrical Management Association have launched a campaign, My Theatre Matters! to galvanise support for theatres across the UK. They aim to help theatres mobilise their local audiences in support. The campaign will provide theatres with the tools to help inform their audiences about the importance of public funding for theatre and turn them into advocates to rally MPs and council leaders. They will be encouraged to send a postcard to their council, saying how much they value its investment in their local theatre, and to sign up to a nationwide campaign online so that they can be contacted in the future about funding threats in their own area or nationally. Further information, and sign up for the campaign, from the My Theatre Matters! website

Reprint of classic book on British Light Music

British Light Music is a genre which seems to be disappearing except in a few brave areas. Many of the composers involved are not dealt with well by standard reference works. Now, Philip L Scowcroft's book British Light Music, a personal gallery of 20th century composers is being reprinted by Dance Books in a completely re-set edition. It contains biographical and musical essays on 30 major composers and more than 300 shorter entries on other composers. With entries on Eric Coates, Haydn Wood, Albert Ketelby, Alfred Reynolds Hubert Bath, Billy Mayerl, Richard Addinsell and many more. Ernest Tomlinson, doyen of living light music composers, contributes a thoughtful and challenging Foreword. There is a special pre-publication offer on the book £10 before April 30, or £15 afterwards. See the Dance Books website for further details.

LPO - Live and Local and in space

Galileo probe deployed 1989 - NASA
The London Philharmonic Orchestra is taking itself out of London for a short UK tour, 'Live and Local' in May and June this year, visiting Bradford (7 May), Blackburn (8 May), Liverpool (23 June) and Manchester (26 June). Tickets for the concerts will be priced at just £15. In Bradford and Blackburn, Jaime Martin will conducts the orchestra in a programme which includes Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasia para un Gentilhombre with Milos Karadaglic as the guitar soloist. Then in Liverpool and Manchester, Lawrences Renes conducts a space-themed programme with John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra and Holst's The Planets accompanied by high-definition NASA film footage. 

The films, The Planets - An HD Odyssey and The Earth - An HD Odyssey  are productions of Houston Symphony, directed by Duncan Copp. The Earth - An HD Odyssey will be receiving its European premiere and it will be the first time that the two films have been shown together with live music. You can preview the films on the Opus 3 Artists website. Further information on the tour from the London Philharmonic Orchestra's website.

City of London Festival 2013 - programme details

City workers entertained at Devonshire Square  Credit: © City of London Festival / Robert Piwko
City workers entertained at Devonshire Square
Credit: © City of London Festival / Robert Piwko
This year's City of London Festival is director Ian Ritche's eighth (and final) one, and builds on last year's 50th anniversary season. Running from 23 June to 26 July 2013, there is a fine mixture of classical music events, talks, walks and exhibitions with the emphasis on articulating and enlivening many of the historic spaces within the City of London. As ever, besides the great events there are many smaller ones, with lots of lunchtime concerts and organ recitals, including a series being given by students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. There is also a strong vein of new music running throughout the festival. Other themes within the festival are conflict and resolution, trees and city walls. This latter with special emphasis on the connection with Derry-Londonderry, whose 400 year relationship with the City of London is celebrated. Other anniversaries are the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht and Britten's centenary.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Well I never - new Chief Executive for Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House has announced that their new Chief Executive will be Alex Beard, currently Deputy Director of the Tate. He will be taking up his post 'in readiness for the 2013/14 season'. He has been at the Tate since 1994 and Deputy Director since 2002. He is described as having a life-long interest in music and has been on the board of Glyndebourne Productions Ltd since 2008. So it looks as if, as quite a few people projected, they have gone for a highly qualified arts chief executive figure rather than a mover and shaker from the arts world. Let us hope that Beard manages to repeat the success of Tony Hall in the post.

BREMF 2013

Brighton Early Music Festival 2013 (BREMF)
Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) has released details of their plans for 2013. There is music by Handel, Gesualdo, Byrd, Tallis, troubadors and trouveres.  Drama makes a feature with adaptations of a Sarah Dunnant novel, and Clare Norburn's new drama on Gesualdo. There are masterclasses before the main festival led by Emma Kirkby, Belinda Sykes and others, leading to performance in festival events. And, as ever, the singers of the BREMF Consort of Voices and the BREMF Singers are busy.

Strikingly dignified grave beauty - Tallis Scholar's recording of Eric Whitacre's Sainte-Chapelle

Eric Whitacre & Peter Phillips Photo: ©2013 Clive Barda
Eric Whitacre & Peter Phillips
Photo: ©2013 Clive Barda
Eric Whitacre's Sainte-Chapelle was commissioned by Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars to celebrate the group's 40th anniversary. Premiered on 7 March 2013 at St Paul's Cathedral (see my review of the concert), the group has recorded the piece in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford and released it as a digital download. The choir's first recording of a contemporary composer since 1984 and their first ever digital download.

For the text, Whitacre turned to long time collaborator Charles Antony Silvestri. Silvestri has produced a modern Latin text which, essentially secular, allows Whitacre to involve the various styles of music for which the Tallis Scholars is famous. The 'plot' involves a young girl going into the Sainte Chapelle in Paris and hearing the angels in the stained glass windows singing the Sanctus. The text is structured in a series of stanzas, each finishing with the Sanctus.

Linda Chatterton flute recital - music by Brian Ciach and Ailis Ni Riain

Linda Chatterton
Linda Chatterton is an American flautist currently giving a series of concerts and master-classes in the UK and Ireland. She started the tour with a lunchtime recital at St. Martin in the Fields, London on Monday 18 March 2013, playing to a considerable audience. Accompanied by pianist Matthew McCright, Chatterton performed an enterprising programme which mixed new and old material with music by Bach, William Grant Still and Francois Borne plus a world premiere by American composer Brian Ciach and a piece by UK-based Irish Composer Ailis Ni Riain which had been commissioned by Chatterton.

Monday 18 March 2013

Tallis Scholars release Whitacre commission as digital download

Eric Whitacre - Sainte-Chapelle - Tallis Scholars, Peter Philips
For their 40th anniversary concert on 7 March 2013 at St. Paul's Cathedral, London (see my review on this blog), the Tallis Scholars, director Peter Phillips, commissioned a new work from Eric Whitacre. Whitacre's atmospheric new work, Sainte-Chapelle, sets a modern Latin text by his regular collaborator Charles Antony Silvestri and to complement the premiere it has been recorded by the choir and issued as a digital download. It is the Tallis Scholars first recording of a living composer since their work with John Tavener in 1984. 

A delightful disc - Joby Talbot: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Joby Talbot and Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland represented a number of firsts; it was the first full length ballet and the first full-length narrative ballet score commissioned by the Royal Ballet in almost 20 years. It was also Talbot's first full length narrative ballet score, though he and Wheeldon had previous collaborated on the one act ballet Fool's ParadiseAlice's Adventures in Wonderland was a great success, being a co-production with the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. Wheeldon and Talbot are now collaborating on a new full length ballet based on Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. On this disc we have Talbot's Suite from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Fool's Paradise performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Austin. Austin is Talbot's long-term collaborator and assisted Talbot on the orchestrations for Alice.

Rosenblatt CD launch

Rosenblatt Recitals
Tonight, at the Rosenblatt Recital at Wigmore Hall (being given by baritone Damiano Salerno), the new Rosenblatt CD series will be launched. A partnership between Rosenblatt Recitals and Opus Arte, the first three CD's will be released in April. The CD's will mix studio recordings with live recordings taken from Rosenblatt Recitals. The first three albums will feature Ailyn Perez (arias from Massente's Manon plus Spanish songs), Lawrence Brownlee (songs by Ben Moore, plus arias by Donizetti and Rossini and Liszt's Petrarch Sonnets) and Anthony Michaels-Moore (Stanford's Songs of the Sea and Songs of the Fleet, RVW's Three Poems of Walt Whitman and Songs of Travel). Releases scheduled for the autumn will feature Ailish Tynan and Ekaterina Siurina.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Whitgift premiere

At the Whitgift School in Croydon on March 26, members of the Whitgift Chamber Orchestra will be playing alongside members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert which includes Mahler's Fourth Symphony and the world premiere of Tarik O'Regan's Fragments from a Heart of Darkness. This is the fourth occasion on which members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have joined the Whitgift Chamber Orchestra, giving the pupils a chance to work with professional musicians.

Written on Skin at Covent Garden

Barbara Hannigan and Christopher Purves,Written on Skin, Aix-en-Provence © ArtComArt 2012
Having interviewed George Benjamin and reviewed the CD of his opera Written on Skin it was with much anticipation that we went along to the opera's 3rd performance in London at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on Saturday 16th March 2013. Katie Mitchell's production has already been seen in Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse and Amsterdam. The Covent Garden cast, Christopher Purves, Barbara Hannigan, Bejun Mehta, Allan Clayton and Victoria Simmonds, were all from the original Aix-en-Provence run and George Benjamin conducted.

Saturday 16 March 2013

My turn behind the footlights

For their Easter concert my choir, London Concord Singers, conductor Malcolm Cottle, will be performing Gabriel Jackson's Requiem. Written in 2009 for the Vasari Singers, the work combines settings of the traditional texts from the Latin mass with texts from other spiritual traditions including words by Kevin Gilbert, Hojo Ujimasa, Walt Whitman, Rabindranth Tagore and Chief Aupumut. The result combines great beauty with some passages of striking originality.

Covent Garden new season - some thoughts

Covent Garden's 2012 production of Les Troyens
The Royal Opera's 2013/14 season has much to recommend it with a much needed outing for Verdi's Les Vepres siciliennes and a new Parsifal (an opera which has not had that much success at Covent Garden in recent years). It is heartening that Parsifal is being entrusted to Stephen Langridge, as the roster of directors was starting to look a little too much like the standard modish Europeans plus David McVicar. Similarly, it is good to welcome Jonathan Kent back for Puccini's Manon Lescaut, though those with long memories will recall the debacle of the last new production of the opera at Covent Garden, when Piero Faggioni's set was rejected and the director walked off, leaving Covent Garden to find a production to borrow quickly so that the gala performance with Domingo and Te Kanawa could go ahead! Other new productions are Mozart's Don Giovanni, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Richard Strauss's Die Frau Ohne Schatten

Royal Ballet 2013/14 season

The Royal Ballet's 2013/14 season is their first one where there is a chance of the hand of new director Kevin O'Hare really has a chance to be felt. In what seems to be a sign of changes of emphasis, Christopher Wheeldon is doing a new full length production, and there is a new production of Don Quixote from Carlos Acosta. There are also new one-act ballets from David Dawson, Wayne McGregor and Alistair Marriott. Nothing unusual from the Ashton/Macmillan repertoire is being revived. In fact of Macmillan's full length ballets, Romeo and Juliet is the only one which makes an appearance and none of Ashton's full length ballets appear.

Friday 15 March 2013

Extreme brilliance - Julia Lezhneva - CD Reviews

Julia Lezhneva DECCA 0289 478 5241
Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva, just 23 years old, has recorded a CD of baroque and classical motets, by Vivaldi, Handel, Porpora and Mozart, with Italian early music group Il Giardino Armonico under conductor Giovanni Antonini. Lezhneva has been making something of a name for herself and she does not disappoint on this new disc. The repertoire might be somewhat niche; the Porpora motet is a world premiere recording. But every lover of the voice will want to hear Lezhneva's stunning performances.

Classical Opera study day

Divas and Scholars
Masterclass & Co. is an admirable scheme to provide further information about opera to people who would like to know more, but have had neither the time nor opportunity to study further. As part of their Divas and Scholars programme, last year in association with the Royal Northern College of Music they ran a three-day course on Renaissance and Baroque opera, and this week I went along to their study day on Classical opera. The day took the form of three lectures followed by a lecture recital by students from the Royal Northern College of music, with a chance to interact with students and lecturers over coffee. Illness had meant that two of the planned lecturers were unable to appear, we were still provided with a lively and stimulating programme.

Norbert Meyn is a singer and a Professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, his lecture was on Goethe and the German singspiel. First of all he placed the development of German opera in an international context, touching on Schutz, Keiser, Handel and Mattheson and the Hamburg opera house. Then he focused on the provincial court of Weimar, where Goethe was resident and where he experimented with the singspiel form. Meyn brought out the roles of Johann Adam Hiller and Johann Gottfried Herder in the story, with the Italian trained Hiller encouraging singing in German, and with Herder publishing influential volumes of folk-poetry which influence Goethe's singspiel lyrics.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Sarah Walker's 70th birthday

Sarah Walker
On Wednesday 13 March 2013, two days after mezzo-soprano Sarah Walker's 70th birthday, the Wigmore Hall hosted her 70th birthday concert. Organised by pianist Graham Johnson, with whom Sarah Walker has a long working friendship, the concert was entitled Let us Garlands Bring, based on Shakepeare settings. Joining the distinguished mezzo-soprano and Johnson on the platform were actress Eleanor Bron, soprano Laura Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and baritone Stephan Loges.

Mitchell and Whately are currently playing the two sisters in English Touring Opera's production of  Cosi fan Tutte (see my review on this blog) which brought back memories of one of Graham Johnson's Songmaker's Almanac concerts at the Wigmore Hall, 'If Fiordiligi and Dorabella were opera singers'. In fact the programme very much reminded me of a Songmaker's Almanac one, with Johnson's familiar skill at pairing known and unknown songs.

CD review - Alexander Levine - Divine Liturgy

Alexander Levine's Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom SIGCD316
Alexander Levine's Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom was written in 2006, in memory of his friend Father Alexander Men, the Russian Orthodox priest who became an influential spiritual leader and architect of religious renewal in Russia at the end of the Soviet period. The work was premiered in Russia in 2008 ,but the Mariinsky Opera Choir at the Easter Festival in Moscow. The work received its UK premiere earlier this month at the launch of this CD, with Tenebrae directed by Nigel Short (see our review of the concert on this blog).

Alexander Levine (born 1955) studied at the Gnessin Music Academy in Russia, then moved to the UK in 1992 where he studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Gary Carpenter and Simon Bainbridge. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom sets the Russian Orthodox liturgy familiar from the settings by Tchakovsky and Rachmaninov. Like them, Levine uses just an unaccompanied choir (instruments are forbidden in liturgical music in the Russian Orthodox Church), but he has given some of the deacons and the priests part to the choir itself.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Covent Garden's 2013/14 opera season.

Covent Garden Theatre
Covent Garden's 2013/14 season has, of course, new productions of Verdi and Wagner, but we also get a new Richard Strauss and a new Donizetti. Francesca Zamballo's Don Giovanni is being replaced, and there is a new Manon Lescaut. There are strong casts, with Karita Mattila in two roles, Anna Netrebko making a return, Jonas Kaufmann (alas not in the new Parsifal) and Joyce DiDonato to name but a few. Pappano gets the lions share of new productions, but Mark Elder, John Eliot Gardiner, Colin Davis, Semyon Bychkov, Simon Rattle and Andris Nelsons are also in the pit. Some old warhorses do make an appearance, there are also some welcome revivals. There is the opportunity to see both the Puccini and the Massenet Manons in the same season, and there is also a mini-festival around Gounod's Faust. And over in the Linbury there is a strong programme of new opera.

The Firework-Maker's Daughter

The Firework-Maker's Daughter
Saturday 23 March at Hull Truck Theatre in Hull sees the premiere of David Bruce's new opera The Firework-Maker's Daughter. The opera is being produced by the Opera Group and Opera North, in associated with the Royal Opera House and the Watford Palace Theatre. After the premiere the production is being taken on tour to Huddersfield, London,  New York, Watford, Bury St. Edmunds, Buxton, Oxford and Newcastle. Described as a colourful new opera for children and families, Glyn Maxwell's libretto is based on the book by Philip Pullman.

Handel's Imeneo at the London Handel Festival

Luke D Williams as Imeneo Photo credit Chris Christodoulou
Luke D Williams as Imeneo
Photo credit Chris Christodoulou
Imeneo was Handel's penultimate Italian opera, and it has only been an infrequent visitor to the UK. This year's London Handel Festival opera staging at the Royal College of Music's Britten Theatre allowed us to see the work on stage, with a cast taken from the Royal College of Music's International Opera School. The opera was double cast and I saw the second performance, on 12 March, with the second cast. Paul Curran's production, in Gary McCann's designs, set the work in a modern spa hotel and encouraged a lively performance from the cast.

Hannah Sandison as Rosemene Photo credit Chris Christodoulou
Hannah Sandison as Rosemene
Photo credit Chris Christodoulou
The plot is quite simple. Before the opera starts, an Athenian youth Imeneo is in love with Rosmene, she does not return his love. But, in order to spend more time with her, he dresses as woman. When a group of girls is kidnapped by pirates, Imeneo is amongst them. The opera opens with Rosmene's anxious father, Argenio, and lover, Tirinto. When the girls return with Imeneo, he having slain the pirates when they slept, he requests Rosmene's hand in marriage. The remainder of the opera is simply the working out of this plot, with the added sub-plot that Rosmene's sister, Clomiri, is in love with Imeneo but dare not tell him. Finally Rosemene fakes madness to allow her to decide and chooses Imeneo. 

Tuesday 12 March 2013

LPO, Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet & Music Theatre Wales win South Bank Sky Arts Awards.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra has won a 2013 South Bank Sky Arts Award for Julian Anderson's The Discovery of Heaven, which was performed at the Royal Festival Hall in March 2012, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth. Among the other winners were the Royal Court’s production of Jez Butterworth’s The River, and Complicite’s The Master and Margarita, Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and Scottish Opera and Music Theatre Wales’ Ghost Patrol.

Rough for Opera returns

Second Movement's Rough for Opera returns on 24 March at the Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone. Rough for Opera is an evening where the audience gets a chance to hear composers try out new operas or sketches for new operas, and then participate in a Q&A afterwards. This time Kate Whitley will be presenting Scars and Mike Christie will present The Millers Wife.

Whitley's Scars with a libretto by Stephanie Ndoungo is a new work for soprano and is developed from a recent collaboration involving the Human Rights Charity Freedom from Torture. Scars sounds to be quite a challenging work, the text is based on Ndoungo's account of her experience of having a medical examination of the scars on her body, which formed the basis for her case for asylum.

Visions and Revelations of the Miraculous

llumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary
llumination showing Hildegard
receiving a vision and dictating
to her scribe and secretary
Following on from their Britten centenary concert (see my review), Londinium and their conductor Andrew Griffiths are exploring visions of the miraculous in a concert on Friday 22 March at St Mary at Hill, Eastcheap, London EC3R 8EE, with a varied collection of settings from the Book Revelation and other mystical texts. There's music by a wide collection of composers including Jonathan Harvey, Hildegard of Bingen, Messiaen, Stravinsky, Ned Rorem, James MacMillan, Peter Phillips, Tallis and Byrd. Plus the 'luscious Messiaen tinged' Hildegard Triptych from American composer Frank Ferko whose twin inspirations are Messiaen and Hildegard. Also, in what looks like a very full, action packed programme, there will be performances of a sequence of Lassus' Prophetiae Sibyllarum, his remarkable chromatic settings of 16th century prophecies. Further information from Londinium's website.

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