Friday 31 May 2013

Vivat Brahms!

Vivat Brahms, SOMM 126
Cellist James Barrelet and pianist Simon Callaghan are celebrating Brahms' 180th birthday one month late on June 6 2013 at the Conway Hall. They are also celebrating the release of volume one of their recordings of Brahms' chamber music on the Somm label. The concert will include music from the Cello Sonata no. 1, Gestillte Sehnsucht (with Hanna Strijbos) , Hungarian Dances and the Piano Trio in C (with Anna Liisa Bezrodny). Their disc, which is available now, contains the Cello Sonata in E minor plus arrangements of the 21 Hungarian Dances. Volume two, which is available from November, will contain the Cello Sonata in F major, Gestillte Sehnsucht Op.91 Songs and the Piano Trio in C major. Further information from Somm Recordings website.

Unrecorded Grainger

Despite running to 19 volumes, the Chandos Records Percy Grainger Edition never quite managed to record everything by the prolific Australian composers. A number of the pieces so far unrecorded are gems and now the Percy Grainger Society is seeking to recorded them so that the whole of Grainger's output will be available on disc. They are planning a 4-CD set of all Grainger's music for two pianos, four hands. The discs will include the re-release of Penelope Thwaites and John Lavender's three discs, originally issued on Pearl, plus a further new disc. This will be the first time that all of Grainger's music in this genre has been available on disc.

The combination of two pianists at two pianos is one which seems to have appealed to Grainger, and many of his works for the genre are little masterpieces. Thwaites and Lavender's existing recordings include the two piano versions of Grainger's Hill Song I, Warriors and Lincolnshire Posy which are all as strong in this format, if not more so. The new recording is scheduled for August 2013 in the new hall at Chetham's School of Music. If you would like to contribute, then further information and contact details can be found at the Grainger Society's Facebook page.

Launch of the Gresham Centre

Voces8 is an eight-voice a vocal ensemble founded in 2006 by ex-choristers from Westminster Abbey. Since then the ensemble has not only gone on to gain plaudits and record eight discs, but they have developed strong outreach and education activities through their Voces Cantaibles Music (VCM) foundation. The educational and outreach work of VCM has developed to such an extent that they are taking over the Church of St. Anne and St Agnes in the City of London to develop as the Gresham Centre, as a base.

Last night (30 May 2013) there was a gathering at the church of St. Anne and St. Agnes, Gresham Street, to celebrate its new role as the Gresham Centre which VCM is developing with the Diocese of London. There was, of course, entertainment. The children of Hackney Borough Youth Choir sang Bright Eyes. They are one of the first groups with whom started working some five years ago. They were followed by the slightly older girls from the Greycoat Hospital School who sang a lively a cappella medley based on Say a little prayer for me.

Thursday 30 May 2013

Rosenblatt Recitals concludes 2012/13 season and announces exciting 2013/14

Pretty Yende, soprano
The 2012/13 Rosenblatt Recitals series concludes on Thursday 6 June 2013, with a recital at the Wigmore Hall by South African soprano Pretty Yende. The season has already been a lively one, not only is it the first Rosenblatt Recitals series at the Wigmore Hall, but four of the recitals were televised for Sky Arts (for broadcast in July 2013) and Rosenblatt Recitals has released the first three in its new CD series.  The 2013/14 series of recitals has also been announced. It is a tempting mixture of youth and experience with ten recitals at the Wigmore Hall including Celso Albelo, Leo Nucci, Giuseppe Filianoti, Rosa Feola and Dennis O'Neil.

Thursday 6 June 2013 will be the UK recital debut of a soprano who has already been creating quite a stir in the opera house. Pretty Yende studied in Cape Town and at the La Scala Academy in Milan, going on to win Placido Domingo's Operalia competition in 2011. She currently studies with Mariela Devia. In January 2013 she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, stepping in a short notice to sing Countess Adele in Rossini's Le Comte Ory with Juan Diego Florez. In April she made her role debut in Lucia di Lamermoor with Cape Town Opera. Future roles include Norina in Donizetti's Don Pasquale and Musetta in Puccini's La Boheme.

The Tallis Scholars - Tallis at 40: Gesualdo at 400

Carlo Gesualdo Prince of Venosa
Carlo Gesualdo
Prince of Venosa
For the final concert in the 2012/13 Choral at Cagodan series, the Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars returned to celebrate both their own 40th anniversary and Gesualdo's 400th. For their concert on Wednesday 29 May 2013 at Cadogan Hall they performed Carlo Gesualdo's Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday alongside other works of maverick creativity providing us with a remarkable survey of how a variety of composers in the 16th century veered off from the clarity of pure polyphony into the thickets of more chromatic writing. The result was a group of works as astonishing in many ways as Gesualdo's Responsories, with motets by Orlande de Lassus, Jacobus Gallus, Giaches de Wert, Benedictus Appenzeller, Cipriano de Rore, Hans Leo Hassler, Mikolay Zielenski and Claudio Monteverdi.

The first half of the concert was devoted to the nine responsories which make up the Tenebrae Responsories for Holy Saturday by Carlo Gesualdo (1566 - 1613). We tend to think of Gesualdo as rather an extreme composer, after all he wrote music of striking harmonic complexity and daring as well as murdering his wife and her lover. But his harmonically unstable chromatic language was in fact rooted in the style of other composers in the Naples area and, as the programme note for Wednesday's concert pointed out, he was essentially conservative in that he ignored the advances of others and worked in the genre of polyphony all his life even though it became outmoded.

Responsories combine a verse and refrain in a particular structure and are used to follow readings. The tenebrae service had a tri-partite structure. It was divided into three nocturnes, and each nocturne contained three Psalms and three readings, each reading being followed by a responsory. So for Holy Saturday there would be nine responsories in all. The works were not intended to be performed as a single whole, but dotted throughout a service and acting as a complement to the basic chant of the reading (readings would be chanted in Latin). By performing all nine of Gesualdo's responsories for Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday) in a single 35 minute sequence, Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars gave us an intense and concentrated dose of Gesualdo in a way which the composer may never have intended.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Characterful and accessible - Stephen McNeff orchestral works

Stephen McNeff - Orchestral Works, BSO Dominic Wheeler, CDLX 7301
During the three year period from 2005 to 2008 composer Stephen McNeff was embedded within the life and work of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as their composer in residence. Initially referred to as their Composer in the House,  McNeff was the first to benefit from a ground-breaking scheme by the Royal Philharmonic Society and the PRS for Music Foundation. During his three years McNeff wrote some 25 pieces for the orchestra, its ensembles and associated organisations like the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and the youth chorus. McNeff's relationship with the orchestra continued after 2008, and in 2012 he composed The Chalk Legend which the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra performed as their contribution to the London Cultural Olympiad.

This disc brings together four major pieces from McNeff and the orchestra's relationship, all recorded on disc for the first time: Sinfonia, Heiligenstadt, Weathers and Secret Destinations with Dominic Wheeler conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Bournemouth Symphony Chorus.

McNeff has a practical approach to composing: 'My music is always written for someone. I want it to talk to people, to move them and give them pleasure, possibly insight. Composers sometimes forget that they are part of the entertainment business'. Whilst resident with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra his works included not only the large scale ones on this disc, but a piece for one of the orchestra's education ensembles, a fanfare for a celebratory occasion, a waltz for a Christmas concert and an overture for a schools concert.

Supporting young musicians in the City

The City Music Foundation has been launched to provide new opportunities for aspiring professional musicians in the early stages of their careers, through financial support and through mentoring. The foundation brings together a number of institutions from the City of London, including the Barbican Arts Centre, Milton Court Concert Hall, the London Symphony Orchestra, the City of London Festival and the Worshipful Company of Musicians, to support young artists beyond the end of formal musical training or education. The foundation will identify inspirational soloists and ensembles and make them accessible to a new generation of audiences in the UK and abroad, supporting classical, jazz, world or folk music genres.

Scottish Opera 2013/14 season

Scottish Opera logo
Scottish Opera's 2013/14 season is something of a challenge as the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, is closed from February to May 2014 as part of the theatre's redevelopment. Alex Reedijk has in fact produced an imaginatively lively season with some very strong casts. The company will be performing three operas on the main stage, a new productions of Mozart's Don Giovanni and Donizetti's Don Pasquale, plus a revival of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. In addition there is a smaller scale revival of Verdi's Macbeth, Handel's Rodelinda tours Scotland and the company will have a strong presence at this year's Edinburgh Festival.

The new production of Don Giovanni is directed by Sir Thomas Allen, with an interesting cast which includes Jacques Imbrailo in the title role, Susan Gritton as Donna Anna, Lisa Milne as Donna Elvira and Ed Lyon as Don Ottavio. Don Pasquale is directed by Renaud Doucet with Colin Lee as Ernesto, Bruno Pratico as Don Pasquale and Ruth Jenkins as Norina. Madama Butterfly returns in David McVicar's production with Hye-Youn Lee and Anne Sophie Duprels sharing the title role.

Pop-Up Opera Summer season

Don Pasquale, Clearwall Caves, May 2013 (courtesy of Kate Healey)
Don Pasquale, Clearwall Caves,
May 2013 (courtesy of Kate Healey)
Following on from their Spring tour (see my review of Don Pasquale) Pop-Up Opera is returning for a Summer tour combining two one act-operas, Gaetano Donizetti's Rita and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona. In an idea worthy of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's 'richest man in Vienna', the company will be performing the two operas simultaneously, interleaving the scenes from the two operas and in fact both feature a mute servant, who will become a linking factor in both stories. Both pieces will be directed by Darren Royston.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Looking for young talent - BBC Young Musician 2014

BBC Young Musician has launched its search for young musical talent for the 2014 competition which culminates in a final at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 18 May 2014. In addition to the existing classical music competition is the new BBC Young Musician Jazz Award, which will have its final at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on 8 March 2014. It has also been announced the Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti will become an ambassador for the competition. Benedetti won BBC Young Musician in 2004 and is one of the hightest profile musicians to emerge from the competition in recent years. This list of former winners and finalists is pretty impressive and includes Thomas Ades, Alison Balsom, Natalie Clein, Michael Collins, Nicholas Daniel, Benjamin Grosvenor, Stephen Hough, Emma Johnson, Guy Johnston, Freddy Kempf, Leon McCawley, Lucy Parham, Jennifer Pike, Tom Poster, David Pyatt and Paul Watkins.

Britten and Shostakovich Violin Concertos - James Ehnes, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kyrill Karabits

Britten & Shostakovich violin concertos, James Ehnes, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kyrill Karabits ONYX 4113
The young Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits became chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 2007 and is set to be there until 2016. The two have forged a remarkable partnership and for 2013 they are surveying the relationship between Britten and Shostakovich in a series of concerts. This new disc, recorded in 2012, complements their live season as it pairs Britten's Violin Concerto with Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 (written less than ten years after Britten's). The soloist in both works is the young Canadian violinist James Ehnes, playing the 'Marsick' Stradivarius of 1715. 

Britten composed in a wide variety of genres but a remarkable number of his purely orchestral and concertante works date from before his breakthrough with Peter Grimes (1945), as if once he had discovered the way forward with opera he did not need to return to purely orchestral music. His Violin Concerto was started in 1938 and premiered in 1940. It is his only concertante work for violin, though he would write the Cello Symphony for Rostropovich in 1963. The Violin Concerto was written for the Spanish violinist Antonio Brosa, whom Britten had met through his teacher Frank Bridge. The concerto was begun whilst the Spanish Civil War was still going and completed after the outbreak of World War II. Brosa premiered the concerto in 1940 at Carnegie Hall in New York with John Barbirolli conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Monday 27 May 2013

Musical Apps

Musical apps are becoming quite imaginative, the latest pair showing what can be done to expand the musical experience both for those who are musically literate and those who do not read music. 

An app devoted to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has been created by Deutsche Grammophon and Touch Press, the app features four very different performances of Beethoven's symphony from Leonard Bernstein (Vienna Philharmonic 1979), John Eliot Gardiner (Orchestra Revolutionnaire et Romantique, 1992), Ferenc Fricsay (Berlin Philharmonic, 1958) and Herbert von Karajan (Berlin Philharmonic, 1962). Users can switch between recordings, follow a synchronised version of the score (a full digital orchestral score, a version of the score showing a changing selection of up to six instruments, the 1825 copyists manuscript from the British Library and a simplified graphical score for those who can't read music). There is also a text from David Owen Norris, synchronised commentary, analysis and interviews. The app is available from the APP Store on iPad, iPhone or iPod touch or at Further information from the Touch Press website.

Rather different in style, but equally innovative, the London band The Nyco Project are releasing their new EP as an interactive app. Each track features a number of videos showing the individual instrument parts, in the location that they were recorded (from Mallorca to Norfolk) and the user can arrange the track, discover information about the individual parts and where they were recorded. The app, The New Machine is released on 24 June and available on Android and iPhone. Further information from The Nyco Project website.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Der Freischutz - Sir Colin Davis and the LSO

Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischutz caused quite a stir after its premiere in 1821 in Berlin. But the opera's more recent history has been less happy. Weber's operas are seen as important precursors of Wagner's, but seem to have had difficulty being accepted in their own right, with the sometimes fragile charm of Der Freischutz being overlaid with a konzept. The work's recent stage history in the UK has been rather sparse, mainly relying on concert performances (Covent Garden last staged it in 1989). This disc was recorded at a pair of concerts in 2012 when Sir Colin Davis conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and a stellar cast including Simon O'Neil, Christine Brewer, Sally Matthews, Stephan Loges and Lars Woldt. Davis had a long-ish history with the work as he conducted Covent Garden's 1977 production (directed by Götz Friedrich) and all its revivals. On these discs Davis conducts the full London Symphony Chorus and an orchestra of over 80 with a pair of leading Wagnerian singers in the main roles, this is Der Freischutz on the grand scale.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Delights and temptations - Théâtre des Champs-Elysées 2013/14 season

Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris
The Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, having celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, has announced a  very attractive season for 2013/14. Staged operas include Spontini's La Vestale, Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites and Rossini's Otello, Tancredi and Il Barbiere di Siviglia, plus two further Rossini operas in concert as well as concert performances of opera and oratorio by Bellini, Handel, Donizetti, Vivaldi, Strauss and Beethoven. All complemented by a programme of orchestral and chamber music concerts. 

La Vestale (15 -28 October) gives us a rare chance to hear Spontini's 1807 in its original French. Spontini's neoclassical style was an important influence on Berlioz. Ermonela Jaho plays the vestal virgin of the title role, Julia, with Andrew Richards as her lover Licinius, and Béatrice Uria-Monzon as La Grande Vestale. Eric Lascade directs and Jérémie Rohrer conducts his own ensemble, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie (see my review of their recent recording of Cherubini's Lodoiska).

Celebrating 30 years and 300 years

The Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music 2013 has just finished (see my review of the opening concert), and it has been confirmed that we can look forward to great celebrations in 2014. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the festival, which was founded in 1984 by conductor Ivor Bolton and musicologist Tess Knighton. The 2014 festival will be celebrating other anniversaries too; the 300th anniversary of King George I's ascension to the British throne, reflecting a major period in German and British cultural history. Also the 300th anniversary of the birth of C.P.E. Bach as well as 300 years since the foundation stone of St. John's Smith Square was laid. St. John's has been the home of the festival since 1988 and was designed by Thomas Archer (1688 - 1743); it was one of a planned 50 new churches for London and Westminster funded by a tax on coal imports in 1711. The full festival programme will be announced in November 2013, further information from the festival website.

Helping a new CD via Kickstarter

Viktor Bijelovic, the young London-based Serbian pianist, is in the process of recording a new CD (see my review of his previous CD). In fact, the disc is already recorded, all he needs to do now is raise the money for the CD production and is doing so via a Kickstarter project. The recording was made at the Jacqueline du Pre Hall at St. Hilda's College, Oxford, and includes Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata plus music by Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and Rachmaninov. Many of the pieces have non-musical associations (from film etc.) and Bijelovic is keen to spread appreciation as widely as possible. At his recitals he often introduces the music, and has found this to be popular. To try to emulate this on disc, there is an introduction track where Bijelovic introduces the pieces on the disc. Additionally, those supporting the Kickstarter project will get access to further bonus tracks which are companion tracks to the recorded pieces, introducing them further. Support starts for as little as £3, further information from Viktor's Kickstarter page, the project runs until 17 June and Viktor is trying to raise £7,500. There is a video of Viktor introducing the project after the break.

Friday 24 May 2013

Wagner before he became Wagner - London Song Festival

Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883) is not well-known as a song writer and, in fact, the Wesendonck Lieder apart, most people would be hard pressed to think of any other works by the composer in this genre. In fact the Wesendonck Lieder are Wagner's only songs dating from his operatic maturity and their links to Tristan und Isolde make them rather sui generis. But he did write songs earlier in his career, so Nigel Foster and his London Song Festival at their recital on 23 May 2013 at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, London, enabled us to hear all of Wagner's completed songs, forming a programme which was full, satisfying and rather surprising. Soprano Elisabeth Meister and bass-baritone Matthew Hargreaves were accompanied by Foster, and joined by members of London Voices, giving us a rare chance to hear all of Wagner's songs in one place, giving us an intriguing glance into Wagner before he became Wagner.

Wagner completed the first opera in his mature canon, Der fliegende Holländer, in 1843 and his songs generally date from before this period so that, like his early operas, they show us the composer absorbing influences, trying on styles and even flirting with humour.

Period Debussy and Stravinsky - Les Siecles on disc and in London

Les Siecles, Francois-Xavier Roth - Debussy: La Mer - Actes Sud Musicales
Francois-Xavier Roth and his period instrument group, Les Siecles, will be giving an historically informed performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring at the Proms this year. A unique opportunity to hear exactly how the piece sounded on instruments of Stravinsky's time. (And if you wonder whether there is any difference just listen to Elgar's recordings of his own music to hear the changes in style and timbre). In a challenging and fascinating Proms programme on 14 July 2013, Les Siecles perform dance music from three different ages by Lully, Rameau, Delibes, Massenet and Stravinsky. The group are also exploring the 20th century repertoire on disc with a recording of Debussy's La Mer, which was released in April on Actes Sud Musicales. The companion work on the disc is Debussy's early Premiere Suite, written when the composer was still studying at the Paris Conservatoire. Further information from Les Siecles' website, and you can hear them in Debussy on YouTube.

Roumanian rhapsody

Alexandra Dariescu - Chopin Preludes - Champs Hill Records
The young London-based Roumanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu is having an excitingly busy patch at the moment. She is following up her debut disc on Champs Hill Records (a solo disc of Schumann, Liszt and Chopin was described by BBC Music Magazine as 'enormously impressive') with a disc of  preludes by Frederick Chopin and Henri Dutilleux which is released in June 2013. And on 7 June 2013, she makes her Royal Albert Hall debut playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 5, Emperor with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Greenwood. Then on 14 July she makes her debut with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in Liverpool, playing Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major conducted by Vasily Petrenko.

Into the Blue and into the charts

Into the Blue, a disc of music for flute and piano which was composed and performed by flautist Ian Clarke (accompanied by pianist Tim Cary) entered the Classical Artist Chart on 19 May 2013 at number 8 and is at number 15 in the Combined Chart, possibly the first occasion in many years where a disc of flute music has entered the Classical Artist Charts, and certainly the first time a disc of original flute music has done so. Remarkably, this was done without the backing of a record label. At concerts, the audience is provided with the QR codes in the programme in order to immediately download the album to their smart-phones and tablets. Clarke studied with as a part-time student of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama whilst concurrently studying Mathematics at Imperial College, London. He is now professor of flute at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Further information from

Fantasy and fairytale by the sea - Lewes Chamber Music festival

Lewes Chamber Music Festival logo
The Lewes Chamber Music Festival returns next month (7 - 9 June 2013), which will be the festival's second year. The theme of this year's festival is Fantasy and Fairytale, with music by Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert alongside lesser known works by Dohnanyi and Catoire, as well as Janacek's On an Overgrown Path and the world premiere of a new piece by Kate Whitley. Performers include the Clean String Quartet, baritone Jonathan McGovern, cellists, Amy Norrington and Guy Johnston, pianist Tom Poster, clarinettist Matt Hunt as well as violinist Beatrice Philips, who is also the artistic director. Actor Sam West will be providing readings. The concerts are held in church venues across Lewes and in Firle village, providing a more intimate experience than a formal concert hall.

Thursday 23 May 2013

31 May: Orchestra Pro Musica Uganda

Cellist Guy Johnston is playing the Elgar Cello Concerto on 31 May at Cadogan Hall with the Orchestra Pro Music Uganda conducted by Sir Roger Norrington. The concert is a fund-raiser for the Friends of Kampala Music School and seeks to help raise £190,000 towards the refurbishment of the school., which gives underprivileged Ugandans the chance to pass international exams, win scholarships, and embark on professional careers. The concert also includes Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. Further information from the Cadogan Hall website.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

23 May: Verdi Study Day

Masterclass & Co are having another study day in their Divas and Scholars series. On 23 May there as a day on Verdi's operas with the opportunity to study with eminent specialists and opera singers who will guide you through the history and the music of Verdi's operas. The lectures will be illustrated by live performance.

Monday 20 May 2013

Postcard from Montenegro - 1500m above sea level

Snow in Montenegro The approach to the Njegos Mausoleum on Thursday 1500 metres above sea level
Very late snow in Montenegro
The approach to the Njegos Mausoleum on Thursday
1500 metres above sea level

Sunday 19 May 2013

June at the Barbican

Circa I Fagiolini: How Like An Angel, London - Circa and I Fagiolini © Chris Taylor
Circa & I Fagiolini: How Like An Angel
 © Chris Taylor
June in the Barbican opens with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's contribution to Britten 100 with a performance of Britten's Owen Wingrave directed by Kelly Robinson. This is a co-production with the Banff Centre, Canada where Robinson is the Artistic Director of Theatre Arts (5, 7, 10, 12 June). Cellist Yo-Yo Ma joins the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas for a trio of concerts which include Shostakovich's two cello concertos, plus Britten's Symphony for Cello and Orchestra. Each of the three concerts includes music by Shostakovich, Copland and Britten, three great contemporaries.  (9, 11, 12 June). The LSO's pair of concerts which were intended to be conducted by Sir Colin Davis have become a memorial with a variety of conductors including the composer's son, in a programme which reflects Davis's wide interests (16, 18 June). Les Arts Florissants directed by Paul Agnew, return for more Monteverdi madrigals, this time the Fifth Book of Madrigals (15 June). And Laurie Anderson joins forces with the Kronos Quartet to premiere a major new commission and their first collaboration. (28 June). Off site I Fagiolin are joined by Circa's brand of contemporary circus in a programme called How Like an Angel at St Bartholomew the Great (25-28 June).

Saturday 18 May 2013

Something intriguing in the trees

The Arbonauts
Despite living not that far away from Nunhead cemetery, I missed Biped's Monitor which was presented in the cemetery by the Arbonauts. Described as a unique site-based theatrical experience merging highly-visual, surreal environments with an ethereal operatic score,  it involved  strange and evocative installations created for the disused chapel and trees of Nunhead Cemetery. Now the group plan to bring the event back this summer for six evenings. Biped's Monitor is inspired by the Italo Calvino folktale, The Baron in the Trees which follows a young aristocrat who takes to the trees. The Arbonauts promise a surrel experience that allows the audience to explore and encounter characters and spaces at their own pace.

Arbonauts was formed in 2011 by Helen Galliano and Dimitri Launder. They are a multidisciplinary collective which includes theatre maker Helen Galliano, designer Dimitri Launder and composers Alex Nikiporenko and Louise Drewet. They specialise in 'performative installations inspired by unusual spaces and surreal narratives. Our work is often voyeuristic and provocative – made for a curious audience.'

You can hear some of their work, Aria Arboria, on the Sound Cloud website

They recently had a successful experimental night at Battersea Arts Centre trying out ideas for a new piece called The Desire Machine set to Madrigale by Aldo Clementi.

For August they are looking for local singers and choirs to perform with them further information (and contact info) from the Arbonauts webpage.

Update: Bipeds Monitor 2013 runs from 31 July to 4 August 2013, tickets from their Eventbrite website.

Friday 17 May 2013

A scream and an outrage - 2

A weekend music marathon at the Barbican and other places: curated by Nico Muhly

The Sixteen
The Sixteen
Session 4 began far LSO St Lukes traversing music from the renaissance to present day with The Sixteen, led by Harry Christophers, who were on angelic form.
too early on Sunday morning but we were back in

The first three pieces in the concert, written by the 16th century composer Thomas Tallis (1505 – 1585), were beautifully performed - The Sixteen glided through the trademark Tallis dissonances that could be right at home in a 21st Century composition. Tallis was a local man, living in Greenwich towards the end of his life. A contemporary of Byrd, he managed to survive four monarchs and the switches in religion which claimed many lives. The three pieces performed here were all written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first, who, despite being fervently Protestant, permitted the Catholic Tallis and Byrd to write and publish music. This is the kind of music that would have been performed in the first incarnation of St Luke's and is still right at home in today’s rebuilt performance space.

22 May: Luke Bedford premieres

Luke Bedford (c) Ben Ealovga
Luke Bedford
(c) Ben Ealovga
Luke Bedford's new piece Renewal will be performed twice by the London Sinfonietta at the concert on May 22 at the Purcell Room on London's South Bank. In between the two performances Bedford will talk about the work, giving the audience insight into the work before they are able to hear it again. I wish that more premieres were like this. (In an ideal world we'd be issued with free scores beforehand too!). Also in the programme will be the UK premiere of Bedford's Wonderful no-headed nightingale in its version for ensemble as well as Gerard Grisey's Periodes from Le espaces acoustiques. Bedford won the Royal Philharmonic Composition Prize in 2000 for composers under 29 and was the Wigmore Hall's first ever composer in residence. Further information about the London Sinfonietta concert from the South Bank Centre website.

Thursday 16 May 2013

20 May: Tales from Ovid

Christopher Ainslie
Christopher Ainslie
Ian Page and Classical Opera are back with a concert which examines the 18th century's fascination with Ovid and his Metamophoses. The group will be performing Dittersdorf's symphony based on the rescue of Andromeda by Perseus, plus music from Gluck's opera Orfeo et Euridice, Haydn's Philemon et Baucis (actually an opera for marionettes) and Mozart's first opera Apollo et Hyacinthus. Performers include counter-tenor Christopher Ainslie, soprano Anna Devin and tenor Benjamin Hulett. The concert takes place on Monday 20 May at the Wigmore Hall. Further information from the Wigmore Hall website.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

17 May: Fanfare for Fran

A Fanfare for Fran - Celebrating Frances Andrade does exactly what the title says. The concert on 17 May 2013 at St. James's Piccadilly celebrates the life of violinist Fran Andrade. The Chamber Ensemble of London (an ensemble with which she was associated) are performing with soprano Gillian Rae-Walker and violinist Eri Konii, directed by Peter Fisher. The concert will help support the Rape And Sexual Abuse Support Centre in Guildford, where she lived. The event opens with Clive Jenkins' Fanfare and fugue in memorian Frances Andrade and there is music by Telemann, Monteverdi, Schubert, Harold Darke and Bach, plus Dido's Lament from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Lascia ch'io pianga from Handel's Rinaldo. Further information from the page.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

A scream and an outrage - 1

Trio Mediaeval

A weekend music marathon at the Barbican and other places: curated by Nico Muhly

Part pop festival, part classical concert, this weekend was an eclectic mix of music and I’m glad that I got to listen to as much of it as I did. 

The first session I went to was session 2 at LSO St Lukes. While I overheard someone call the space ‘brutal’ I have to disagree. By fusing utilitarian modern with its 18th century facade, this beautiful Hawksmoor with its dilapidated past is acoustically and aesthetically one of the best music spaces in London.
Before the concert proper Nico Muhly (1981-) and friends played an introduction to the first set of songs. Sat on a little carpet they played a minimalistic drone, based around a single tone with slowly changing chords, which eventually became the accompaniment to the UK premiere of ‘Three songs’. Performed by violinist Pekka Kuusisto and British tenor Allan Clayton, the songs reminded me a little of ‘Fish in the unruffled lakes’ by Benjamin Britten, albeit with guttural statements from the violin. Moments of consonance to the drone and silence were used to highlight words and phrases. When the drone finally ended its loss was keenly felt, even though you probably weren’t sure when it began.

17-19 May: Sacconi Chamber Music Festival

May 17 to 19 sees that Sacconi Chamber Music Festival filling Folkestone with some fine chamber music. The festival is organised by the young Sacconi Quartet, who open on Friday 17 May with a concert of quartets by Haydn, Ireland and Beethoven. They continue on May 18 with  a programme of Bridge, Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, RVW and Elgar which involves Mark Padmore (tenor), Richard Watkins (horn) and the Royal College of Music Chamber Orchestra.  Mark Padmore and Gary Matthewman join the quartet for RVW's On Wenlock Edge, plus Britten's Winter Words and Tippett's Boyhood's End on Sunday 19 May. Richard Watkins plays Mozart's Horn Quartet in a programme which also includes Haydn and Britten String Quartets. In between these events there are Mozart's duos for violin and viola, late night folk-fusion and a talk on Britten. The Sacconi Quartet are also involved in outreach in the area and on May 4, there is a performance of Britten's Noye's Fludde with the Canterbury Cantata Trust, schoolchildren and community musicians. Further information from the festival website.

Monday 13 May 2013

15 May: Villazon - Verdi - the concert

Following up his recent CD of arias from Verdi operas (see my review), Rolando Villazon will be singing a selection of Verdi arias in concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 15 May 2013 as part of a European tour. Further dates include Amsterdam (12 June),  Stuttgart (15 June), Nurnberg (18 June), Baden-Baden (21 June), Toulouse (24 June) and Barcelona (27 June). For the London concert Villazon will be accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by the Russian-born, Barcelona-based Guerassim Voronkov. Arias featured in the concert will include items from Don Carlo, Luisa Miller, Macbeth, plus arias from lesser known operas such as Il Corsaro and   Oberto, plus Verdi's songs orchestrated by Luciano Berio. Later this month Villazon will be appearing in L'elisir d'amore at the Liceu in Barcelon and in July he will be singing the lead role in Mozart's Lucia Silla at Salzburg.

Sunday 12 May 2013

14 May: Schumann - Under the influence

Jonathan Biss - Schumann under the influence - Wigmore Hall
American pianist Jonathan Biss continues his exploration of Schumann's music and influence, with a pair of concerts at the Wigmore Hall, Schumann: Under the Influence. On 14 May 2013, Biss is joined by the Elias String Quartet for performances of Schumann's Piano Quartet and String Quartet in A Minor, Opus 41 no. 1. In between these two there will be the premiere of a new work by Timothy Andres commissioned by Wigmore Hall, San Francisco Performances, Carnegie Hall and Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam. The concert opens with a selection of Purcell's Fantasias. The concert is preceded by a talk with Jonathan Biss in conversation with Geoffrey Norris. Then on 22 May, Biss has a solo recital at the Wigmore Hall in which he plays Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze and Phantasiestucke interspersed with excerpts from Janáček's On an overgrown path. Biss will also be playing Berg's Piano Sonata No. 1. The overall question which the concerts seek to answer is where does Schumann's music belong in the general musical scheme of things, so expect unexpected links and connections. Further information from the Wigmore Hall website.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Reduced service

There will be a reduced service on Planet Hugill for the next week or so as I will be off on holiday. Not that I will be putting my feet up, I'll be joining friends walking in Montenegro.


Gregg Kallor, whose recent album I reviewed, has an intriguing competition going. Post a coffee themed picture of yourself on Gregg's Facebook page and the winner will get their photo as the cover photo on his Facebook page as well as receiving tickets to the album launch in NYC and an autographed copy of the CD. Further details on Gregg's Facebook page. You have until May 13, so get posting!

Handel's L'Allegro at the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music

Gabrieli Consort and Players, Paul McCreesh at St Johns Smith Square, Image credit Jonathan Rose
image credit Jonathan Rose
Somewhat like London buses, Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato has made two London appearances in short succession after an absence of a number of years. Following on from the performance of the work as the close of the London Handel Festival (see my review), the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music opened this year with a performance of L'Allegro given by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players at St John's Smith Square on Friday 10 May 2013 with soloists Gillian Webster, Laurence Kilsby, Jeremy Ovenden and Ashley Riches.

Gabrieli Consort and Players  at St Johns Smith Square, Image credit Jonathan Rose
image credit Jonathan Rose
Like Laurence Cummings at the London Handel Festival, McCreesh chose to solve L'Allegro's textual problems by going back to Handel's original version, first premiered in 1740. Following on from this premiere, Handel would continue to tinker with the piece, adjusting it to the various forces available as was his wont. But also part of the tinkering seems to have been a dissatisfaction with theil Moderato. Handel adjusted this rather a lot and even dropped it entirely. Handel's revisions to his works are rarely complete improvements, and Paul McCreesh made the point in the programme that though by choosing the original version we lose some delightful music, we also gain the tautest and most vivid version of the work. One area where McCreesh returned even closer to the premiere was to use a treble, Laurence Kilsby, as Handel did rather than a second soprano, thus having a clear division between il Penseroso (soprano soloist) and l'Allegro (three male soloists, treble, tenor and bass). I did wonder whether the three male voices were intended in some way to reflect the three ages of man (youth, mature vigour, and old age), though at this performance there was no hint of old age in Ashley Riches' performance, I hasten to add.
concluding section, Charles Jennens'

Friday 10 May 2013

Mercadante's I due Figaro

Mercadante - I due Figaro: Riccardo Muti: DUC 045-47
A forgotten opera by a relatively unknown composer: I due Figaro by Saverio Mercadante is the latest to be revived by Riccardo Muti and the Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini recorded live at the 2011 Ravenna Festival. Mercadante was the nearly man of early 19th century Italian opera, a younger colleague of Rossini's who had a long and influential operatic career. Trained in Naples, he ended up as director of the conservatoire there from 1840, and it is this Neapolitan connection which provides the link to Muti's other revivals of operas by Pergolesi and Cimarosa. Though in fact I due Figaro was written for Madrid.

Mercadante had a long operatic career. A few years younger than Rossini he wrote operas from 1819 to 1857 (the year Verdi wrote the original version of Simon Boccanegra and four years after the premiere of La Traviata). His middle period operas such as Il giuramento  (1831) and Elena da Feltre (1839) are important in the modernisation of operatic technique. Mercadante followed his younger colleagues, Donizetti and Bellini, in updating his technique and he banished cabalettas and crescendos, simplified the vocal lines. His operas of this period had an important influence of Verdi (whose first opera dates from 1839). And it is the younger composer who has eclipsed Mercadante, though during his lifetime many of Mercadante's operas were more successful in Italy than Verdi's early works.

But the work that Muti has chosen to revive is a comedy dating from 1826, the earlier part of Mercadante's career, and written whilst he was working in Madrid. Mercadante's comedy dates from some years before Donizetti's well known comedies, L'Elisir d'Amore (1832) and Don Pasquale (1843). Its libretto is based on a comic play by French playwright Honore Antoine Richard Martelly dating from 1795, which somewhat satirised the characters from Beaumarchais' play Le Mariage de Figaro by inventing further intrigues for them. The libretto by Felice Romani was first set by Michele Carafa in 1820. Mercadante's version was intended for Madrid in 1826, but a dispute with his leading lady put the opera on hold and it did not appear until 1835.

Opera North new season

Opera North open its 2013/14 season with a trilogy of operas celebrating Britten's centenary, with revivals of Peter Grimes and A Midsummer Nights Dream alongside the company's first ever Death in Venice. In the Winter 2014 season there is a revival of Verdi's Macbeth plus a new production of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West). Then in the Spring 2014 season they complete their Ring with performances of Gotterdammerung with Puccini's La Boheme as the unlikely partner in the season.

Phyllida Lloyd's 2006 production of Peter Grimes return with Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts in the title role, Giselle Allen as Ellen Orford and Robert Hayward as Captain Bulstrode, conducted by Jac van Steen, the Dutch conductor who has been principal guest conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales since 2005.

Thursday 9 May 2013

London Festival of Contemporary Church Music

The London Festival of Contemporary Church Music runs from 11 to 19 May 2013 in a variety of locations in and around London. There are services of Choral Evensont, Choral Eucharist, Choral Mattins and Vespers at Westminster Abbey, St. Pancras Parish Church, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, Westminster Cathedral and many others. The opening night concert, on 11 May at St Pancras Parish Church celebrates the 70th birthday of Philip Moor with Vox Turturis, directed by Andrew Gant, performing music by Moore. And on 17 May, at St Pancras Parish Church, UCL Chamber Choir under conductor Charles Peebles perform choral music by Robin Holloway to celebrate his 70th birthday.

Popup Opera - Don Pasquale

Popup Opera logo
Popup Opera's speciality is touring small scale opera productions to unusual venues, tailoring the production to the venue. I caught their new production of Donizetti's comic opera Don Pasquale in the relatively intimate confines of the upstairs room at the Sun Tavern in Covent Garden. Directed by Darren Royston with a cast that included Raul Baglietto as Don Pasquale, Ricardo Panela as Doctor Malatesta, Ciff Zammit Stevens as Ernesto and Clementine Lovell as Norina, the lively production filled the relatively small acting space, accompanied by James Henshaw on piano. Sung in Italian, with English subtitles, the results were vividly communicative.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Cherubini - further thoughts

A number of interesting points have been raised as a result of my article about Cherubini. Perhaps the first thing that should be pointed out is that the premiere of Medee in 1797 comes just six years after the premieres of Mozart's final operas, La Clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflote, that's a long distance to travel in just six years. One thing that correspondents have emphasized is that Cherubini's operas need to be performed with 'necessary thickness' in the orchestra. During Cherubini's day this would be done by having a substantial band (as many as eight to ten desks for each violin section, with big cello and bass sections to balance and sometimes double wind). This in turn raises the interesting question of the types of  voices needed. One that it is difficult to address in the present economic climate when huge period bands are rarely possible (how about Medee at the Proms?).

The English recorder revolution

That the recorder is so ubiquitous in modern life we owe mainly to one man, Carl Dolmetsch. The first acknowledged recorded virtuoso of the 20th century, he started to seek a contemporary repertoire for the instrument. This new disc, English Recorder Works, from young recorder virtuoso Jill Kemp with Aleksander Szram, piano, and the Browowski Quartet, explores this repertoire developed for the instrument in the latter half of the 20th century with works by Lennox Berkeley, Malcolm Arnold, Gordon Jacob, York Bowen and Edmund Rubbra.

Carl Dolmetsch (1911 - 1997) was the song of Arnold Dolmetsch (1858 - 1940), a major figure in the early music revival. Carl was involved in early music, but sought new music too. It was for him that Lennox Berkeley (1903 - 1989) wrote his Sonatina for treble recorder and piano which was included in Dolmetsch's 1939 recital at the Wigmore Hall. In three movements, the work starts in dramatic and anxious manner. There is something fascinating yet oddly uncomfortable about the harmony in the first movement, with its complex, chromatic melody. The slower second movement has an equally chromatic, sinuous melody. It is clear that Berkeley was intent on writing serious, grown-up music for the instrument. Only in the finale do things relax to allow a jolly, perky conclusion.

Arensky Chamber Orchestra - auspicious debut

Jennifer Pike
Jennifer Pike
How do you re-think the classical concert? The Arensky Chamber Orchestra is a young chamber orchestra which besides bringing a new ear to the music, is bringing a fresh eye to the way concerts are presented. For their debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's South Bank on 7 May 2013 under their artistic director, conductor William Kunhardt, they worked with lighting designer Simon Gethin Thomas and actor Matthew Sharp. In other circumstance the results might have been a trifle gimmicky, but the sheer freshness and brilliance of the performances of Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, movements from Francois Couperin's Concerts Royaux and Beethoven's Violin Concerto (with violinist Jennifer Pike) was such that concert felt new-minted. An extremely auspicious South Bank debut indeed.

The concert started with Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin. Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) wrote Le Tombeau de Couperin as a suite for piano between 1914 to 1917, based on the movements of a baroque suite. He orchestrated it in 1919, omitting four of the movements. The individual movements are dedicated to friends who died in the First World War. During the war Ravel worked in , and this apparently light-hearted suite was his response. Other composers of the time who participated in the war were similar; works such as RVW's Pastoral Symphony and Arthur Bliss's Morning Heroes also lack the tortured response that we might have expected.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Singing to aid young singers

Singers are uniquely dependent on their body as their source of income, and young singers can be affected by illness, not only physically but financially too. The Young Singers' Welfare Foundation was set up to help young singers (those under 40) who suffer financial hardship as a result of a serious medical condition or illness. Soprano Rosemary Joshua, a founder trustee of the foundation, is giving a recital on 17 May 2013 in aid of the foundation. The recital takes place at the Stone House in Lewisham and all proceeds will be going to the Young Singers Welfare Foundation. Further information from the Young Singers' Welfare Foundation website.

Britten and the Classical Revolution

Classical Revolution - London
Matthew Barley's Around Britten tour reaches Classical Revolution tonight (7 May) at the Green Carnation in Soho. The cellist will be playing music for solo cello by Bach and by Britten from his tour (see my review of his Around Britten concert in Southampton) and will be improvising with musicians from the Cassical Revolution London collective. Violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen will be on-hand to play music for solo violin, and the Gelachter wind trio will be playing Mozart and McDowall.

Classical Revolution began in the USA in 2006 and was one of the first groups to take music out of the concert hall and into non-traditional venues. The London chapter has been going since 2012 and is curated by violinist Simon Hewitt Jones. Tonight's concert takes place at the Green Carnation bar in Soho, further information from the Classical Revolution website.

John Beard - a Handelian tenor and much more

John Beard by Thomas Hudson c 1743
John Beard
The eighteenth century tenor John Beard's name is known, if at all, mainly to lovers of Handel's music. Beard created a remarkable series of tenor roles for Handel. Roles which broke the mould for 18th century dramatic works based on the castrato voice and place the heroic tenor centre stage; works like the oratorios Samson and Jephtha. But Handel's oratorio seasons consisted of a dozen or so dates in Lent and singers, no matter how great, music live. In this new biography of Beard by Neil Jenkins (himself a note singer of Handel's music), a great deal of light is shed on the remainder of Beard's life, and a fascinating one it was too.

Professionally Beard became a singing actor, performing on the stages of Drury Lane and Covent Garden in a variety of works both serious and comic, becoming associated with the role of Macheath. He also made regular appearances at the pleasure gardens like Ranelagh and Vauxhall. He became something of a musical celebrity and eventually took over the management of Covent Garden Theatre.  His private life was even more picaresque as he married Lady Henrietta Waldegrave, daughter of an earl, widow of a marquess's son, descendant of James II. This caught him up in a web of family disputes which lasted his entire marriage and reads more like a Fielding novel. But happiness caught up with him late in life as he married for a second time and settled in a happy retirement.

Cambridge Handel Opera - Atalanta

Handel's opera Atalanta was written in 1736 to celebrate the marriage of Frederick, Prince of  Wales and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha (the parents of George III). It is based on an existing libretto and is very thin on plot, clearly the main event at the premiere was the fireworks at the end. There were no real fireworks at the end of Cambridge Handel Opera's performance of Atalanta on 4 May 2013, but there had been plenty of the musical kind. Also emotions ran strong as conductor Andrew Jones took his bow, this was the final performance of the run and this will be Andrew Jones's final performance with Cambridge Handel Opera and after 28 years the group will cease to exist in its present form. The performance was a fine example of Cambridge Handel Opera's ethos, using Andrew Jones's own English translation, young professionals as soloists, students as orchestra and chorus, and production values which attempt to emulate the traditional stagings of Handel's day. Director Victoria Newlyn teaches movement and drama at RADA and her staging involved the use of period gesture with painted scenery by Tom Oldham.

Monday 6 May 2013

April on Planet Hugill - once more unto the breach with fireworks and damnation

In case you missed it.

April on Planet Hugill started with fireworks and finished with damnation. We opened with a visit to David Bruce's entrancing The Fire-work maker's daughter at the Linbury Theatre, and closed with Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust with Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance so vivid it didn't need a staging. In between there was Michel van der Aa's Sunken Garden at the Barbican, with its amazing 3-D film, Walton's music for Henry V at the Temple Church on St George's Day and Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato at the London Handel Festival. There was a memorial concert for a much loved singer, Elizabeth Connell, at St. John's Smith Square.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Wolf - Das Italienisches Liederbuch - Joan Rogers and Roderick Williams

CHRCD054 - Hugo Wolf  - Das Italienisches Liederbuch
Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1903) did write operas, though he had no great success with them. But here, in  Das Italienisches Liederbuch, he brings ordinary people to life a way which is a vividly dramatic as any opera. There is no plot, instead Wolf took a set of Italian rispetti, tiny eight or ten line verses which were a popular traditional form stretching back to the Renaissance and created a sequence of tiny songs. Both the poetic form and Wolf's songs based on it, are encapsulated in the first song in the collection Auch kleine Dinge können uns entzücken which provides a list of the little things which delight us, concluding with a rose - the clinching argument. The songs are all tiny. On this new recording all 46 songs last around 77 minutes. For the disc, soprano Joan Rogers and baritone Roderick Williams are accompanied by Roger Vignoles. Issued on the Champs Hill label it gives much delight and shows that little things really can mean a lot.

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