Sunday 30 June 2013

Nucleo - young music erupts on the South Bank.

In Harmony Lambeth's Holst Orchestra performing at the South Bank Centre under Gerry Sterling (Photo Reynaldo Trombetta / IHSE)
In Harmony Lambeth's Holst Orchestra performing
at the South Bank Centre under Gerry Sterling
(Photo Reynaldo Trombetta / IHSE)
Saturday (29 June 2013) I went to the Royal Festival Hall to catch some of the weekend's events surrounding the Nucleo, turning the South Bank Centre into a community centre for music. The whole Royal Festival Hall building was heaving with people, with workshops, rehearsals, coaching, discussions and performances crammed into every nook and cranny. I saw young people having guitar coaching in one of the bars and trombone tuition in one of the rooms overlooking the Thames. The whole place had an exciting buzz and I discovered one or two events by accident.

I was there to hear a performance by the Holst Orchestra from In Harmony Lambeth (the El Sistema inspired organisation based in Stockwell), but a number of other In Harmony groups were there as well. I also caught a performance by the Ethnic Contemporary Orchestra and dropped in on a rehearsal by the National Orchestra for All.

Saturday 29 June 2013

A positive cornucopia - the Kings Place festival

Kings Place Festival 2013 logo
The sixth Kings Place festival runs from Friday 13 to Sunday 15 September with over 100 concerts spread over the weekend. Over a third of the shows are free and the rest cost £4.50 if you book on-line. As ever, there is a bewildering array of things available from cake making and Indian dance to cutting edge contemporary music and jazz played by a distinguished restaurant critic.

Members of the Aurora Orchestra (resident orchestra at Kings Place) perform a programme of chamber music by Brahms, Berg and Bartok (13/9, 6pm). French composer pianist Thierry Huillet and Romanian violinist Clara Cernat, present The Little Prince a musical painting by Huillet based on Saint-Exupery's book suitable for families (14/9, 9.45am), and at the same time (in another part of the building!) there is a ukelele workshop for anyone wanting to learn and practise the ukelele.

Messiah - Les Arts Florissants

You only have to play the opening bars of the overture on this disc to know who is performing it. William Christie, conducting his ensemble Les Arts Florissants, brings an ineffable French polish to Handel's music. Rhythms are sprung just so and there are some very French sounding ornaments scattered about the work. Christie recorded Handel's Messiah in 1993, with a fine multinational cast of soloists, Barbara Schlick, Sandrine Piau, Tommy Williams, Andreas Scholl, Mark Padmore and Nathan Berg plus the chorus and orchestra of Les Arts Florissants. Amazingly, recorded 20 years ago.

The eagle eyed amongst you will have by now spotted the number of soloists. Christie uses a treble to sing the opening sequence of soprano solos, and then the remainder is shared between Barbara Schlick and Sandrine Piau. Though one of the articles in the booklet refers to the varying number of soloists Handel used in the work (and he did on occasion use multiple sopranos), no explanation for the use of two sopranos here is ever given.  The version used is essentially that Handel was performing in the late 1750's (including the chorus Their sound is gone out from 1745 and the later versions of But who may abide and Thou art gone up on high from 1750 written for the castrato Gaetano Guadagni), though unlike some historically informed performances Christie does not adhere to a particular date. But from 1749, Handel often used two sopranos (Giulia Frasi and Caterina Galli) at his Foundling Hospital performances of Messiah.

Friday 28 June 2013

Dead Sounds

What does death sound like? Sound is the last sense present moments before death. Working with a number of collaborators, Australian visual artist Saskia Moore has 'transcribed the actual music and sounds people heard while having a near death experience' and used these as a source for her new work Dead Symphonies for voice, cello, harp, marimba, keyboards and electronics. The work is being performed at Turner Contemporary in Margate on 6 July 2013 by the ensemble Apartment House. There are two performances, at 4pm and 6pm, and at 5pm Moore and Apartment House's director Anton Lukoszevieze will talk about their collaboration, the project and near death experiences. Further information from the Turner Contemporary website.

Les Pecheurs de Perles at Opera Holland Park

Soula Parassidis as Leila in Les Pecheurs de Perles at Opera Holland Park. Picture Fritz Curzon, 2013
Soula Parassidis as Leila in Les Pecheurs de Perles
at Opera Holland Park. Picture Fritz Curzon
The problem with Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles is that the last act just doesn't conclude with any degree of dramatic credibility. Despite producing some very striking, and memorable, music earlier on in the opera Bizet does not seem to have been able to transcend the poor quality of the libretto. As a composer he was very dependent on the dramaturgy of the libretto being right, deriving inspiration from the dramatic structure. Though known for his final opera, Carmen, in fact Bizet wrote some eight operas (not all were finished), of extremely variable quality. He was a composer who couldn't rise above the quality of his librettos. So, frankly, you wonder whether opera companies would revive Les Pecheurs de Perles if it didn't have the cachet of being by Bizet.  That said, it does have two stunningly memorable numbers (the famous tenor/baritone duet and the tenor's solo in act one). These two are, like most of Carmen, ear worms which stay with you long after the performance.

When Brad Cohen's edition of the opera came out, making available the score of Bizet's original version of the opera, there was hope that we might be able to retrieve some more dramatic credibility. Cohen's edition was performed at Opera Holland Park's last production of Les Pecheurs de Perles as well as being performed by Chelsea Opera Group. After the opera's premiere in 1863 it was not performed again until after Bizet's death when various hands, including Benjamin Godard, tinkered with it and re-worked it. The big disappointment is that the urtext version is no more dramatically viable in the final scene than the revised version. For the new production at Opera Holland Park (seen 27 June 2013) conductor Matthew Waldren made his own selection from the two versions, including the revised version of the famous duet and, at the end, the rather stiff and unconvincing trio for Leila, Nadir and Zurga. Though I can understand why he might want to tinker, frankly I feel that there is no excuse for it now we know what Bizet's intentions were.

That said, Oliver Platt's production paid the work the compliment of taking it perfectly seriously. Platt and his designer Colin Richmond set the opera in the mythical Ceylon required by the libretto. Richmond's set was simple, but effective; just a vivid turquoise blue floor and a large saffron sheet which, attached to ropes hanging down, variously formed a backdrop and a tent. For the final scene, the sheet was replaced by lamps on the ends of the ropes. The results were simple and effective. Richmond and Platt were clearly unembarrassed by the 17th century facade of Holland Park House and made no attempt at disguising it.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Sound Histories

On Friday 5 July 2013, 200 musicians from the Royal Northern College of Music will gather at the British Museum to present Sound Histories. From 6pm to 9pm visitors will be able to wander round the galleries and listen as the young musicians create an epic sonic journey inspired by the museum's objects and galleries. There will be over 100 pieces of music including 50 new works, performed all over the ground floor. The event will be the largest yet in the RNCM's series of site-specific installations created to animate iconic public spaces with music. They previously collaborated with the Imperial War Museum North, Manchester Piccadilly Station and Victoria Baths.

The pieces chosen for Sound Histories span over 600 years, from the 14th century to the present day, and animate collections from Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Ancient Greece, Africa, North America, Mexico, China and South Asia. Music by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn in the Enlightenment Gallery will reflect the music familiar to the Museum’s founders at the time the room was completed in 1828. Music for the Parthenon Gallery will tell the stories of the complex history of the Parthenon. And there will be a large-scale performance in the Great Court featuring all 200 musicians directed by double bassist and composer Steve Berry.

The event is free, just drop in - further information from the British Museum website.

Clarifying Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto

Tchaikovsky wrote his First Piano Concerto in 1874/5 and the work was published in the composer's lifetime, so the production of a new critical edition would seem to be just the work of tidying up a few corners? Not at all. The famous opening of the concerto, as Tchaikovsky first wrote it, was at a slower tempo and the famous tune accompanied by piano chords which are softer and more arpeggio than we know  today.

Tchaikovsky did revise the work in his lifetime. During the late 1880's Tchaikovsky started corresponding with publishers about a new edition and by 1897 (four years after the composer's death), the version that we know today was firmly established. But it is not clear what was authorised by the composer and the vagaries of 19th century publishing mean that we are not sure what score was published when. The composer Sergei Taneyev, who played the work in Russia in 1875, continued to think that the changes were inauthentic. The Tchaikovsky Research project is attempting to clarify things by collating as many early editions as possible prior to the editorial work for the new edition.

Further information from the Tchaikovsky Research webpages.

Holst Singers at the Temple Church

Holst Singers, Stephen Layton
The Holst Singers, conductor Stephen Layton, presented a programme of French music sacred and secular at the Temple Church for the latest Temple Music concert on 26 June 2013. Starting with Francis Poulenc's Un soir de neige written during the Second World War, the choir followed this with Gabriel Faure's Cantique Jean Racine and his Requiem, both accompanied on the organ by Greg Morris, Associate Organist at the Temple Church. The organ has recently been restored, it is a Harrison and Harrison Ltd. instrument originally built in 1927 and installed in the Temple Church in 1954.

Un soir de neige is a setting of four poems by Paul Eluard written by Poulenc at Christmas 1944 in Nazi occupied Paris. Poulenc's four short unaccompanied pieces evoke quite brilliantly the biting cold of winter and the despair and misery of life under Nazi occupation. The work is secular, but almost religious in its sombre intensity. Poulenc uses harmony to devastating effect, and his short, jagged climaxes can pull you up short.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Worlds in Collision: Music and the Trauma of War

In partnership with the City of London Festival, the Musical Brain is presenting a two day conference, Music and the Trauma of War at the Mansion House on 28 and 29 June 2013. The theme of the conference chimes in well with one of the themes of the City of London Festival (see my review of Britten's War Requiem). As well as lectures, there are panel discussions, and music from the Band of the Adjutant General's Corps, the Royal Artillery Band, Adrian Thompson and Anna Tillbrook.

The conference's first day has composer Nigel Osborne as its leader and looks at The Application of Music to the Trauma of War.  Talks include a number of Music Therapy, a history of Shell Shock, Nigel Osborne on creative songwriting as Music Therapy, and the work of the Band of the Adjutant General's Corps in Afghanistan. The day ends with a panel discussion, Is Creativity Theraputic?

Waterloo Festival - War and Communities

St John's Waterloo
St John's Waterloo
The Waterloo Festival runs from 27 June to 2 July 2013 at St. John's Church, Waterloo.  The festival opens on 27 June with a concert by the Southbank Sinfonia, conductor David Corkill, in a programme of works written in and around the second world war with Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen and Prokofiev's Violin Concerto no. 2 with Zanete Uskana (violin) and Poulenc's Sinfonietta.

On Saturday 29 June, the Kreutzer Quartet with Zubin Kanga (piano) and Linda Merrick (clarinet) perform a programme that explores beauty and revelation in extremis, with Giacinto Scelsi's Arc-en-ciel (‘Rainbow’), Michael Hersch's Images from a Closed Ward, David Gorton's Fosdyke Wash and John McCabe's La Donna.

Britten's War Requiem at the City of London Festival

St Paul's Cathedral from the Dome
The 2013 City of London Festival has taken as one of its themes, conflict and resolution, so in Britten's centenary year a performance of the composer's War Requiem seems a perfect fit. Edward Gardner conducted the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, CBSO chorus and Choristers of St. Pauls at St. Paul's Cathedral on 25 June 2013, with soloists Evelina Dobraceva, Toby Spence and Russell Braun. The work was written for the reopening of Coventry Cathedral and premiered there in 1962 with the composer conducting. The work has become relatively common in concert halls, but having been written for Coventry Cathedral, I was curious to find out how it responded to the very strong personality of acoustic of St. Paul's Cathedral.

From the opening notes, it was clear that St. Paul's acoustic was going to be a strong participant in the performance. Never has Britten's orchestration at the opening seemed so foreboding. Edward Gardner took the speed steady, allowing the sound to develop complementing the muttering of the CBSO chorus in a truly eerie way. This was thrilling and unsettling.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Kiss and Tell

Melinda Hughes studied at the Maastricht conservatory, the Royal College of Music and the Brussels Opera Studio and she has appeared in the title role of  Madama Butterfly with Diva Opera and Longborough Opera. Jeremy Limb read music at Queen’s College, Oxford, then studied piano at the Royal College of Music. Since leaving the R.C.M. he has broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as part of their Young Artists’ Forum concert series. But together Limb and Hughes form the cabaret group Kiss and Tell and are presenting their new show French Kiss in Edinburgh from 2-10 August at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall. Last night (24 June 2013) the presented a tryout of their new show at the Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel, joined by Andy Tolman on double bass.

George Lloyd manuscripts

George Lloyd in the Pit at The Lyceum Theatre 1935 (Aged 22)
In the Pit at The Lyceum Theatre 1935 (Aged 22)
George Lloyd's original manuscripts, including 130 of the composer's scores, have been acquired by the British Library. The composer's centenary takes place on 28 June 2013, and will be marked by a number of events including a performance of HMS Trinidad March at the Last Night of the Proms, a late night  Prom performance of the Requiem, and he will be  Composer of the Week BBC Radio 3. (In the autumn Surrey Opera will be performing his opera Iernin).

Lloyd’s Symphony No 4 will be on public display in the Treasure Room of the British Library for the next six months. Lloyd was something of a child prodigy, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra premiered his first symphony in 1933. But he suffered during the second world war, and afterwards found himself out of step with the development of modernism. Further information from the George Lloyd Society website.

Branching out in Nevill Holt

The old stable block, Nevill Holt
Having for a number of years collaborated with other companies, notably forming an out-station of Grange Park Opera, Nevill Holt is this year branching out an forming its own company, Nevill Holt Opera. Nevill Holt is the glorious house in Leicestershire which is owned by David Ross with the opera taking place in a theatre created in the courtyard of the old stable block. This year the new company has been formed with conductor Nicholas Chalmers as artistic director. Chalmers will be conducting the debut production The Magic Flute which opens on Thursday 27 June 2013 (with further performances on 29, 30 June, 2, 4 July). The director is Oliver Mears and designer is Simon Holdwworth. Chalmers, Mears and Holdsworth have worked regularly together and were responsible for the recent production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman for Northern Ireland Opera, so this new production of The Magic Flute should be highly anticipated.

A Fool for Love

Michael Spyres, A Fool for Love - Delos, DE 3414
Michael Spyres is known for singing Rossini and the lyric coloratura repertoire, though though range of roles extends wider than this. On this disc, his first aria recital album (on +Delos Music ), he has assembled a sequence of arias by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Bizet, Massenet, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Cilea, Strauss, Stravinsky and Lehar, whilst firmly staking a claim to the coloratura roles in Rossini and Donizetti. All the arias on the disc are on the subject of love and Spyres has linked them thematically, creating a notional narrative through the disc from first rapture to disillusion. 

Michael Spyres is a young American tenor, now based in Europe and making a name for himself in bel canto roles. He trained in the USA and in Austria, at the Vienna Conservatory. He was also a Young Artist with Opera Theatre St. Louis. He made his European debut in 2005 at the San Carlo in Naples. Whilst Spyres made his UK debut in 2008/9 with Chelsea Opera Group as Fernand in Donizetti's La Favorite, his UK engagements have been relatively rare (he sang in some of the performances of the recent La donna del lago at Covent Garden), so this new recital disc is very welcome.  He is accompanied by Constantine Orbelian and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. 

He opens with Ah, mes amis from Donizetti's La fille du Regiment, firmly staking a claim to repertoire whose best known exponent is currently Juan Diego Florez. Spyres has a vibrant voice with quite a tight, but attractive vibrator. He singing the aria fluidly and flexibly with secure top C's, and plenty of colour in the voice. Whilst the style does not seem to suit him perfectly, he gives a vivid performance. Showing his versatility, he follows this with a strong account of Here I stand from Stravinsky's The Rakes Progress, notable for the lively sense of line and for his superb way with the English words.

Monday 24 June 2013

Hansel und Gretel at Garsington Opera

Hansel und Gretel Garsington Opea 2013 Claudia Huckle Hansel Susan Bickley Witch credit Mike Hoban
Claudia Huckle & Susan Bickley
in Hansel und Gretel
credit Mike Hoban
Engelbert Humperdinck and his sister Adelheid Wette rather softened the story when they came to write the opera Hansel und Gretel, though sufficient undercurrents remain to allow a director scope for exploration of the more psychological aspects of the story. So I had high hopes of the new production for Olivia Fuchs’ new production, designed by Niki Turner, which opened at Garsington Opera on Sunday 23 June 2013 with Anna Devin as Gretel, Claudia Huckle as Hansel, William Dazeley as Father, Yvonne Howard as Mother, Susan Bickley as the Witch, Rhiannon Llewellyn as the Sandman and Ruth Jenkins as the Dew Fairy, conducted by Martin Andre.

The new Garsington Opera stage is open, without flies and wings, and you can see through the transparent walls of the opera pavilion to the surrounding woods. Fuchs and Turner capitalised on this by bringing the woods into the theatre with a permanent set of trees surrounding a huge open book of Grimms fairy tales. For each scene the book opened to rather magically reveal the set (Hansel and Gretel’s house, the witch’s house).

International orchestras at the Cadogan Hall

Cadogan Hall, picture credit David Underdown
Whilst the South Bank Centre offers its International Season of orchestras at the Royal Festival Hall (see my preview of the 2013/14 concerts), the Cadogan Hall has its own series during 2013/14 presenting 14 concerts by 10 international orchestras in the relatively intimate confines of the Cadogan Hall. The selection of orchestras is varied, enabling us to hear quite a few different ensembles from Moscow, Brussels, Vienna, Basel, Zurich and Tokyo in a wide selection repertoire which includes three programmes of music by John Adams, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman and Arvo Part, as well as featuring some notable soloists including Barry Douglas, Julian Lloyd Webber and Leif Ove Andsnes.

Shell Classic International Season 2013/14 at the South Bank

Claudio Abbado
The South Bank Centre's 2013/14 International Season includes orchestra from Italy, Brazil, USA and Venezuala. The Orchestra Mozart from Bologna makes its London debut conducted by Claudio Abbado and by the young Venezualan conductor Diego Matheuz, performing with Martha Argerich and Maria Joa Pires performi Mozart and Beethoven. 

Marin Alsop conducts the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra and they are joined by the Swingle Singers for a performance of  Berio's Sinfonia plus music by Bernstein and Camargo Guarnieri. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra perform two programmes including Mahler's Third Symphony, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and music by John Adams and Charles Ives.

Sunday 23 June 2013

July/August at the Barbican

Elijah by James Thornton
July and August at the Barbican encompasses the City of London Festival, the cult Italian pianist composer Ludovico Einaudi, a rare appearance of Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz's Rags, the Aurora Orchestra matching Charles Ives with film, Mendelssohn's Elijah and the LSO performing with crack chamber choir Tenebrae.

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is performing Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz's musical Rags about a young Russian immigrant mother arriving in America and her search for her husband whilst working in a sweatshop. It sounds rather worthy on paper, but in fact the score has strong jazz and ragtime elements with fascinating influences from Klezmer and other musics. The work premiered on Broadway in 1986 with a cast including the opera singer Teresa Stratas, but it closed after only 18 previews and 4 performances. A slimmed down version, using only nine actors, debuted in 1991, further extensive revisions followed in 1999 and in 2006 a concert performance for World Aids Day celebrated the work's 20th anniversary. (2-10 July).

Saturday 22 June 2013

Death in Venice at the London Coliseum

ENO Death in Venice 2013, John Graham-Hall (c) Hugo Glendinning
ENO Death in Venice 2013, John Graham-Hall
(c) Hugo Glendinning
When Deborah Warner's production of Britten's Death in Venice was new, in 2007, John Graham Hall performed the title role when the production travelled to La Scala and received good reviews in Opera Magazine. At the time, I thought it a pity that we were being deprived of Hall's remarkable performance in the UK particularly as I had doubts about Ian Bostridge's Aschenbach (see my review of the original 2007 performance). So this makes the return of Warner's production (designed by Tom Pye with costumes by Chloe Obolensky) doubly welcome, as the production is one of the most striking and visually stylish to have been produced at ENO in recent years. Andrew Shore played the baritone roles, with Tim Mead as Apollo and Edward Gardner conducted.

Warner and Pye evoke Aschenbach's Venice as a world of misty gondola rides and constantly reflected water. Working with a simple set which incorporated shiny black marble floor which lighting designer Jean Kalman had the image of reflected water moving across the stage throughout. Tom Pye's designs were finely fluid and very evocative; we did see Venice, but only fleetingly in the distance, mainly the cyclorama was just a wide open space or partially hidden. Venice was as much in Aschenbach's mind as in reality.

Replicating the Book Club Experience

Concert Club, BBC, Caper
Listening to music on-line can be a rather solitary experience, but now the BBC in association with Caper, are trying out a new idea, Concert Club. This is a new service which builds on the BBC Radio 3 performances available on BBC iPlayer, and it is hoped that the service will help audiences access music and share it with friends. The idea is to try and replicate the 'Book Club Experience', but with classical music and encourage groups of people to share both performances and their experiences. A new interface has been developed, which allows members to invite contacts to join in and listen, to create their own portfolio of concerts, and to get you started there are themed selections of concerts with concert guides (Smart Kids, Orchestras on the Edge, If you go down to the woods).

Clavier Übung III

Bach - Clavier Übung III : Stephen Farr - Resonus Classics RES10120Bach published four works under the title Clavier Übung (literally 'keyboard practice') during his lifetime. No. 1 is the Six Partitas BWV825-830, no. 2 is the Italian Concerto BWV 971 and French Overture BWV 831 and no. 4 is the Goldberg Variations. Only Clavier Übung III, sometimes known as the German Organ Mass, is specifically marked as being for organ. The other three are more generically marked as being for clavier (keyboard) and are commonly played on the harpsichord.  Clavier Übung III appeared in print in Leipzig in 1739, with the title page dedicating its contents to 'music lovers for the recreation of their spirits', though Bach adds ' and especially for connoisseurs of such work'.

Quite who Bach's intended audience for the performance of these pieces was is not entirely clear. His other published collection of organ pieces, the Orgelbuchlein (1708-1717) had a clear purpose in providing a repertoire of pieces usable in the Lutheran service. But Clavier Übung III does not seem to have had such a purpose, some of the pieces are simply too big to be used in a service and others have no apparent place in the liturgy.

On this new recording from Resonus Classics (available for download only), Stephen Farr plays the work on the Metzler organ of Trinity College, Cambridge. This instrument dates from 1975, but contains seven ranks of pipework from earlier instruments installed by Father Smith in 1694 and 1708. It is a mechanical action and is based in the original cases. It is a fine instrument indeed, and one in a fine acoustic, which is ideal for playing the music of Bach. Farr is Director of Music at St Paul’s Knightsbridge in London, and ACE Foundation Director of Music at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Friday 21 June 2013

Truly transcendent - Susan Bullock and Toby Spence in Gloriana

Britten Gloriana the Royal Opera House 2013, (c) Clive Barda
I first saw Britten's Gloriana in the 1970's when English National Opera took their production (originally mounted for Sylvia Fisher in 1966) on tour with Ava June in the title role. I rather fell in love with the opera and June's magnificent performance rather disguised the opera's shortcomings. ENO revived the production in 1984 for Sarah Walker and Anthony Rolfe Johnson (equally amazing). And that seemed to be it, the opera languished. Opera North's production in 1994 directed by Phyllida Lloyd with Josephine Barstow and Tom Randle was a thrilling dramatic event and seemed to mark some sort of rehabilitation. Whilst Opera North did revive the production and toured it, even performing it at Covent Garden (where I saw it in 1994), Gloriana remained something of a problem child. Now, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the premiere and of the coronation, the Royal Opera House has mounted a new production directed by Richard Jones with Susan Bullock in the title role and Toby Spence as Essex. The conductor was Paul Daniel, who also conducted the Opera North production. The opera was a co-production with Hamburg State Opera where the production has already appeared with a different cast. We saw the production's London premiere on 20 June 2013.

You can't help feeling that if the work's initial reception had been warmer, then Britten might have lavished a bit more interest on it and perhaps revised it. It is easy to pick holes in the piece, it is perhaps too long, there are too many small characters, structurally the work is uneven and the scene for the ballad singer in act three is simply an oddity. Britten extracted the choral dances from Gloriana and they have a successful life independent of the opera. Lovely though they are, you can't help feeling that the work's second act would be stronger and tauter if these and the courtly dances were drastically pruned, so that the drama came over better.

Opera Holland Park Christine Collins Young Artists

Christine Collins Young Artists & Alan Opie in Gianni Schicchi  at Opera Holland Park 2012 (c) Kasete Skeen
Christine Collins Young Artists & Alan Opie in Gianni Schicchi
at Opera Holland Park 2012 
(c) Kasete Skeen
On Friday 14 June 2013 I went along to hear the Opera Holland Park Christine Collins Young Artists performing in Puccini's Madama Butterfly (see my review). The aim of the scheme is to give young singers the opportunity to perform the main roles in a full opera performance in the Opera Holland Park theatre. The singers are given full training, with their own dedicated associate director, in parallel to the main cast.

The scheme's title sponsor is the philanthropist Christine Collins and she not only provides the sponsorship which enables the scheme to run, but takes an active part in it attending auditions alongside Opera Holland Park Producer James Clutton and Associate Producer Sarah Crabtree. The scheme started last year, when a group of young singers performed in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi alongside Alan Opie in the title role. This year Anne Sophie Duprels sang the title role in Madama Butterfly with the remaining solo roles being taken by young artists.

Nucleo on the South Bank.

National Youth Orchestra - Inspire!
Next weekend (28-30 June 2013) the South Bank Centre is celebrating inclusive music making and, in emulation of El Sistema, is creating a pop-up Nucleo with rehearsals, coaching, workshops, discussion and performances from young musicians of all ages. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment have OAE Tots, a session for two to five year olds and their parents, members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and BBC Singers join community choirs, Morley College and young musicians from across London to perform Tippett’s A Child of Our Time and excerpts from Holst’s The Planets,  members of the National Youth Orchestra join forces with other young musicians for performance of music from Bernstein West Side Story and everyone is invited to bring an orchestral instrument and join the Neighbourhood Orchestra with Charles Hazelwood.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Celebrating singing - Voices Now 2013

Voices Now the festival celebrating singing and choirs is back at the Roundhouse this weekend (Thursday 20 June to Sunday 23 June 2013). The festival showcases a whole variety of choral singing, with some major artists like the BBC Singers, the Hilliard Ensemble, Only Men Aloud, the London Gay Mens Chorus and the Holst Singers on the main stage. But alongside this programme there is the Open Stage featuring a wide variety of groups from the voluntary music making sector, ranging from the Anglo Chinese Junior College Alumni Choir (Singapore) and Chelmsford Community Gospel Choir to the ROH Thurrock Community Choir and Collegium Musicum London.

Things kick off tonight with a joint concert by the BBC Singers and Harrow schools. It is the culmination of a long term project that the BBC Singers have been running with schools in Harrow. The twenty-six Harrow school choirs will be performing works by Britten and Copland and a phenomenal new commission by Grace Rossiter and Stephen Jeffes The Elements. 

Then on Friday night the Hilliard Ensemble, who are celebrating 40 years performing together, will perform alongside three newly formed consorts of young singers created by Voices Now. The programme will include a range of old and new music including Viderunt Omnes by Perotin and Most Holy Mother of God by Arvo Part and a brand new commission by Orlando Gough for the Hilliard Ensemble and the new consorts.

Give it a try at the City Lit

Feel like learning the ukelele or dancing the samba? The City Lit have a remarkable number of short courses on offer this summer, enabling you to try out a possible new interest. Instrumental courses include taster sessions for the cello, clarinet, blues harmonica, and classical guitar and free improvisation on the saxophone. There is an introduction to string ensemble playing to drumming and to the tabla. You can polish your samba or learn the ukelele. Singers can get an introduction to jazz improvisation, learn to overcome stage fright or simply improve their technique. There's an opera performance workshop along with opportunities to sing Offenbach's La Belle Helene and Les Miserables, or you can sing a cappella or Gilbert and Sullivan. There are courses on a whole variety of subjects, not just music, over the summer and cost from only £12. The City Lit is London's largest college for adults. More information from the City Lit website and there is also a competition to win £500 of summer courses.

Filmic and different: The Long Time

Another disc popped through my letter box of what might loosely be called popular music written by a classically trained musician. In this case Elliott Wheeler's album The Long Time.  Elliott Wheeler is an Australian composer and producer who is one of the figures behind the music for Baz Luhrmann's film The Great Gatsby and has an impressive back catalogue of work in films. Classically trained, he studied composition at the Sydney Conservatorium. He has now released his debut studio album, The Long Time, in which each of the track on the album takes its inspiration from one of Wheeler’s favourite scenes from his most loved films of the 60′s and 70′s. The album features Wheeler's own haunting falsetto on vocals alongside Caitlin Park, Sui Zhen, Loen Carmen, Kristin Berardi and Melodie Nelson. The opening number, The Whilstler has no vocals, just Wheeler whistling.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

New George Benjamin and Martin Crimp opera

George Benjamin, credit Nimbus Records
Great news indeed. Following on from the success of George Benjamin's opera Written on Skin the Royal Opera has commissioned a new opera from Benjamin and librettist Martin Crimp for the main stage at Covent Garden. The bad news is that we will have to wait until Spring 2018. Their superb opera Written on Skin was a co-commission between a group of European opera houses including the Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Royal Opera House, the work was premiered at Aix-en-Provence last year and received its UK premiere at Covent Garden earlier this year. Its is anticipated that the new work will also be a co-commission but the Royal Opera House has said that it will receive its premiere at Covent Garden. (see my interview with George Benjamin and my review of Written on Skin at Covent Garden)

Sparkle and charm: Grieg piano music from Sandra Mogensen

Sandra Mogensen: Grieg Piano Music, volume 3, CHM120819
Sandra Mogensen is a Canadian pianist of Latvian and Danish heritage who has made something of a speciality of the music of Grieg and this is the third of her discs of Grieg's piano music. She has not recorded the pieces in opus number order, but has made her own selections. The discs mix well known and rare pieces which she has programmed so that the pieces flow from one to another. Over the three discs she has recorded the complete Opus 41, Opus 52, From Holberg's Time Opus 40, the Lyric Pieces Opus 52 and Opus 62. This disc seems to very much the dance disc, with the waltz and other movements in 3/4 time predominating.

Terrence Malick's To The Wonder

Ben Affleck & Rachel McAdams in Terrence Malick's To The Wonder
Terrence Malick's latest film To The Wonder has a remarkable sound track, not only using a large amount of classical music but contemporary pieces as well. I was alerted to this by the latest issue of the Nordic Highlights magazine produced by Fennica Gehrman who publish the music of Einojuhani Rautavaara. That composer's Cantus Arcticus, Op. 61, ‘Concerto for Birds and Orchestra’ (his 1972 orchestral work which incorporates taped birdsong) features at a key moment in the film, notably the third movement Joutsenet Muuttavat (Swans Migrating). The work is performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Remarkable variety - interview with Stephen Gadd

The baritone Stephen Gadd is currently appearing at Opera Holland Park in Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci before going on to sing Mr Redburn in Glyndebourne's revival of Billy Budd later this summer. Gadd has become something of a welcome presence at summer opera festivals in the UK, turning in a remarkable series of performances including last year's Sharpless in Madama Butterfly at Grange Park (opposite his wife Claire Rutter in the title role) and Robert Storch in Intermezzo at Buxton. I caught up with Stephen just before one of his performances at Opera Holland Park recently to talk about his career.

Remarkably, he admitted that he has no grand plan regarding his career and seems to simply view himself as a jobbing singer, fitting in performances alongside other activities and family life. He talks about the fact that for him, performing only comes alive when he is finally on stage, when he can begin to create a character. He is charmingly depreciating when talking about himself and his work, saying that he has never had the luxury of plan and has always taken what comes.

Summer temptations - 2014 and onwards with Grange Park Opera

Grange Park Opera at Northington Grange,  Hampshire
Currently in the midst of their 2013 summer season, Grange Park Opera, has announced its plans for 2014 and 2015, with some very tempting offerings. As ever the casting offers some strong singers, many returning to Grange Park. Repertoire includes a mix of the well known and the unusual, with Massenet's Don Quichotte getting a rare outing, a production of Saint-Saens Samson et Dalila in the offing as well as Bryn Terfel in a musical.

Claire Rutter, who is currently a fabulous Elvira in this summer's I Puritani, returns next year for Verdi's La Traviata. Rutter has shown herself able to span the range from bel canto through Verdi and Puccini to Wagner, so that it will be fascinating to hear her as Violetta. Alfredo will be played by Marco Panuccio and Giorgio Germont by Damiano Salerno. Panuccio appeared opposite Rutter last year in Grange Park's Madama Butterfly and also impressed as the Duke in the company's Rigoletto alongside Salerno in the title role. Salerno is also currently appearing with Rutter in I Puritani.

Guildhall Wigmore Recital Prize

Martin Häßler
Martin Häßler
On Friday 21 June 2013, baritone Martin Häßler will be giving a recital at the Wigmore Hall as the recipient of the annual Guildhall Wigmore Recital Prize. The prize annually awards an exceptionally talented Guildhall School musician with a Wigmore Hall recital. On Friday 21 June Häßler will be accompanied by Marek Ruszczynski in a remarkably wide ranging programme which includes Schubert songs (Des Sängers Habe D832, Der Wanderer an den Mond D870, Der Wanderer D493, Bei dir allein D866), Wolf's Mörike Lieder, Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death and Finzi's Let us Garlands bring.

Monday 17 June 2013

Vermeer and music - sight and sound

Vermeer - The Music Lesson (c) The Royal Collection
Music seems to be important in Vermeer's paintings and the National Gallery's forthcoming exhibition Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure examines this. But they have taken things a little further than just showing us pictures of people playing music, accompanied by learned discussions. They have teamed up with the Academy of Ancient Music and AAM musicians will give performances every hour, on the hour, three days a week during the exhibition, which runs 26 June to 8 September.

There will be three major works by Vermeer on display, each of which portrays a female musician, the National Gallery's A Young Woman standing at a Virginal and A Young Woman seated at a Virginal will be joined by Vermeer’s The Guitar Player, which is on loan from Kenwood House. Vermeer’s The Music Lesson will also be on show, on loan from Her Majesty the Queen.

Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne

Kate Lindsey (Composer) in Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss at Glyndebourne. Photograph: Tristram Kenton
Kate Lindsey (Composer) in Ariadne auf Naxos
by Richard Strauss at Glyndebourne. Photograph: Tristram Kenton
Katharina Thoma's new production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne was the first new production of the opera there for a long time and, as such, highly anticipated. Thoma is a young German director making both her UK debut and her debut directing Richard Strauss. She, her set designer Julia Muer and costume designer Irina Bartels set the prologue in an English country house during World War 2, with a nod to Glyndebourne's own history. (Seen Sunday 18 June) The prologue concluded with a bomb dropping on the house. The opera proper in the second half was ditched, instead we were back in the same country house which was now a hospital. Amongst the wounded soldiers there was also the composer and Ariadne. The naiad, dryad and echo were nurses, Zerbinetta and her troupe returned as ENSA entertainers and Bacchus was a returning, wounded airman. There were strong performances from the cast with Soile Isokoski as Ariadne, Kate Lindsey as the composer, Ulyana Aleksyuk as Zerbinetta, Sergey Skorokhodov as Bacchus, Thomas Allen as the music master, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as the dancing master and Dmitri Vargin as Harlequin with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Appear and Inspire - Edington Festival 2014

Edington Festival
The 2014 Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy runs from 18 August to 25 August this year. The festival offers four services per day at Edington Priory Church in Wiltshire sung by three choirs, an all male schola cantorum, a mixed voice consort and a choir of boys and men, directed by Peter Stevens, Matthew Martin, Jeremy Summerly and Paul Brough with Benjamin Nicholas as the festival director. The theme of the festival is inspired by the female saints, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Calcutta, St Cecilia and Teresa of Lisieux. 

Saturday 15 June 2013

Christine Collins Young Artists - Madama Butterfly at Opera Holland Park

Anne Sophie Duprels as Madama Butterfly, Opera Holland Park 2013, picture Fritz Curzon
Anne Sophie Duprels
(pciture Fritz Curzon)
The Christine Collins Young Artists scheme at Opera Holland Park was introduced last year, and this year 14 young singers performed Puccini's Madama Butterfly on Friday 14 June 2013, in the production by Paul Higgins (which debuted on June 8) joined by Anne Sophie Duprels in the title role from the main cast. The performance was conducted by associate conductor Natalie Murray conducted. A feature of Opera Holland Park's young artists scheme is that the young singers are rehearsed for the full rehearsal period in parallel to the main performers, this year they were directed by associate director Emma Rivlin. The cast included Luis Gomes as Pinkerton, Maria Fiselier as Suzuki, Ben McAteer as Sharpless, Peter Davoren as Goro and Katie Slater as Kate Pinkerton.

Paul Higgins and designer Neil Irish have created a very traditional Butterfly. Irish's fixed set, with its paper thin walls, was placed high on a platform masking the facade of Holland House and reducing the main acting area whilst providing walkways for subsidiary action. One distinctive feature of the production was the use of movement. French-Japanese movement director Namiko Gahier-Ogawa has created stylised oriental-style movement for the Japanese characters and this became the basic expressive vocabulary for Anne Sophie Duprels.

Still going strong - Ida Haendel in London

Ida Haendel
The amazing Ida Haendel will be back in London later this month. Now over 80, she was born in Poland in 1928 and trained with Carl Flesch in London and Georges Enescu in Paris.  Her recording career dates back to 1940, she made her London debut in 1937 and has appeared at the Proms some 68 times. On Sunday 30 June 2013 she is the guest of honour at a concert at the Wigmore Hall being given by musicians from the Royal College of Music, then on Wednesday 3 July she will be giving a masterclass at the Royal College of Music's Britten Theatre finally on 5 July she and Rob Cowan will be at the Cadogan Hall where she will talk about her career and play some of the pieces associated with her. You can view the complete 54 minute documentary on her (originally published in 2004) on YouTube.

Wishes, Lies and Dreams in Peckham

The Trosp Orchestra
Composer Kate Whitley is back with another one of her pop-up events in Peckham. Wishes, Lies and Dreams is a new work by Kate Whitley for children's choir and orchestra. It will be performed by a choir of 160 primary school children (from John Donne, Bellenden, Peckham Park and Kender schools) and John Donne Community Choir conducted by Christopher Stark in Peckham Rye multi-storey car-park on Saturday 6 July at 7.30pm. 

Friday 14 June 2013

Britten-Pears Archive Opens today

The new Britten-Pears Archive, designed by Stanton William (photo Philip Vile)
The £4.7 million Britten-Pears Archive is opened today by Dame Janet Baker, the singer for whom Britten wrote one of his last major works, Phaedra. The archive is the first such purpose-built composer archive in the UK. The Britten archive is the the most comprehensive collection of any composer in the world. It tells the story of Britten’s creative and personal life in extraordinary depth and breadth, including manuscripts for over 700 pieces of music (including the vast majority of Britten's original manuscripts), diaries, 80,000 letters, countless photographs, recordings, films, costumes, set models, art, books and much more.

Singing the Changes

Singing the Changes exhibition poster
Thirty year's ago this month, I agreed to stand in as musical director of a fledgling choir, the Pink Singers, the first lesbian and gay choir in London. The choir had been founded a few months earlier, inspired by the recent visit to London by the New York City Gay Mens Chorus. I was with the Pink Singers for five years and, amazingly, thirty years later the choir is still going strong. In January they had a concert to celebrate their birthday (see my article on this blog) and now they have put together an exhibition, Singing the Changes, which looks at the 30 years of their existence in the context of the changes to lesbian and gay life in the last thirty years. The social landscape was very different in 1983 and the exhibition seeks to capture this, and show how it was reflected in the Pink Singers history.

The exhibition is part oral history, with touch screens enabling you to see and hear interviews with current and former members of the choir, including Mark Bunyan (the founder musical director), one other of the founder members of the choir, myself and two further musical directors. (The choir has had just 6 musical directors in its existence and five of them were at the opening of the exhibition last night). The exhibition has been put together entirely by members of the Pink Singers, including recording and editing the video interviews.

The Ring summarised in verse

Richard Morris - The Nibelung Ballad
When I was a student I was introduced to the music of Wagner and one of the ways that I got to know about the Ring was through Anna Russell's The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis) in which she narrated the story in her own inimitable manner, including singing excerpts. The point about this was that it was both funny and apposite, bits of her descriptions stayed with me and in fact some of the points she made managed to be both hilarious and profound. These points occurred to me when reading Richard Morris's delightful little book, The Nibelung Ballad - The Story from Wagner's Ring, which confirmed that introductions to the Ring cycle don't have to be portentously po-faced.

In just 22 short pages, Morris narrates the story of the entire Ring in verse, capturing the essence of the narrative as well as the back story and something of the stage directions. There are also 13 full page illustrations by his daughter Hetty Morris.  There are 84 verses, a total of just 365 lines. Morris uses a basic rhymed four-line structure which has a limerick-like rhythm to it, but he varies things by altering the number of lines in a verse and not always rhyming the way he should. The results are both appealing and clear, you get a strong sense of the Ring's narrative as well as enjoying the verse.

JAM - onwards and upwards

John Armitage Memorial
The last year has been something of a rollercoaster for JAM (John Armitage Memorial). The failure to secure a grant for their 2012 season in Scotland last year put the concerts in jeopardy, made a rather significant hole in the organisation's budgets and made it unlikely that the organisation will, in the short term, return to Scotland. But they have bounced back renewed this year with a season of concerts in London and in Wales, along with concerts and education projects in Kent, all aimed at promoting contemporary music as a living, vibrant part of life. I met up with Ed Armitage of JAM to talk about the charity's recent concerts and future plans.

Innovation seems to be one of JAM's keyword's this year. So that their education project, A Sporting Chance, which involves five schools in the Romney Marsh area will take an inventive approach to the problem of transport. Needing to get pupils from the various schools to Hythe for the event, JAM has involved the area's most distinctive transport system, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway which will be transporting both children and parents to the event. More than 500 school children will work with Onyx Brass on the concert, which involves a performance of Bob Chilcott's A Sporting Chance. But around 2000 children in total will experience the work, as the introductory sessions involve the whole school, including year one who are able to experience a taster, whetting their appetite for further involvement in future projects.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Your chance to sing Venetian Vespers

Academy of St. Cecilia
The Academy of St Cecilia is running a one-day workshop, tutored by Robert King, on Venetian poly-choral music on Saturday 13 July at St. George's Metropolitan Cathedral, Westminster Bridge Road, Southwark, SE1 7HY. There will be rehearsals morning and afternoon, concluding with Vespers at 5.00pm accompanied by the Doge's Players led by Jeremy West. The repertoire is highly enticing, Giovanni Gabrieli's Magnificat a 14 and Laudate Pueri a 12 plus Giovanni Rovetta's De Profundis. All the editions being used are Clifford Bartlett and are included in the cost of the day. The cost is £20, with reductions for members of the Early Music Forum or the Academy of St. Cecilia. Your chance to sing under Robert King, founder of the King's Consort. What are you waiting for? Further information from the Academy of St Cecilia website.

Troy Story

Orchestra of the Swan - Troy Story
The Orchestra of the Swan in collaboration with Talking Birds and six Birmingham Schools have come up with Troy Story an 'intergalactic opera'. A community opera which sets the story of Odysseus in the year 3000! Music is by Derek Nisbet who is joint artistic director with conductor David Curtis, with Nick Walker as writer. The schools involved are Brays School,St Patrick's and St Edmund's RC Primary School in Birmingham and Welcombe Hills, Thomas Jolyffe and Wilmcote Primary Schools in Stratford-upon-Avon.  

The opera will be performed at Birmingham Town Hall on 9 July, see their website for further details. They have a lovely preview of the event on YouTube, and you can see it after the break.

Brahms music for cello and piano

SOMMCD 0126 Vivat Brahms!Brahms' first Cello Sonata dates from the early 1860's and reflects the young composer's lyrical passion. This new disc on Somm from cellist James Barralet and pianist Simon Callaghan pairs the work with Barralet's own transcriptions of Brahms' 21 Hungarian Dances. The disc is promised as volume one in a series of Brahms' cello works.

Brahms moved to Vienna in 1863 and struck up a friendship with amateur cellist Joseph Gansbacher and the two would play chamber music together in Brahms' flat. Brahms dedicated his Cello Sonata in E minor to Gansbacher. The work may have been inspired by the fact that Edmund Lalo had just published a cello sonata, but earlier works in the genre by Chopin, Mendelssohn and Beethoven would have been known to the two. Also, the current final movement pays tribute both in its form (a fugue) and its fugue subject to the work of Bach, reflecting Brahms' interest in baroque music.

Rosenblatt on TV

Rosenblatt Recitals
Four of the 2012/13 Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall were recorded for video for Sky Arts. Dates have now been announced for the transmission of the recitals. So if you missed them live and have access to the Sky Arts channel then American tenor Lawrence Brownlee's recital (see my review) appears on Monday 15th July, 8pm, followed each consecutive Monday by Spanish tenor Joel Prieto (see my review), on 22 July, Greek soprano Dimitra Theodossiou (see my review) on 29 July and Sicilian tenor Antonino Siragusa (see my review) on 5 August. The recitals will be introduced by Suzy Klein, who will also be interviewing the artists. The Rosenblatt Recitals 2013/14 season opens on September 16 at Wigmore Hall with a recital by tenor Celso Abelo. Further information from the Rosenblatt Recitals website.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Poulenc's Carmelites at Grange Park Opera.

Francis Poulenc with the first Blanche in Carmelites
Francis Poulenc the first Blanche in  Carmelites
Francis Poulenc's Carmelites is a remarkable opera. A long work from a composer renowned for his smaller scale pieces, an intensely serious piece from a man whose previous opera was a surrealist farce, and a tonal work written at a time when atonality was becoming the dominant force in contemporary music. It is not an opera that you expect to encounter at country house opera, but then Grange Park Opera is never typical with its repertoire choices. We attended the opening night of John Doyle's production, on 12 June 2013, and I have to declare a little bit of interest in the event as we made a small contribution to the support of the production.

John Doyle and designer Liz Ashcroft's production highlighted the meditative calm of the cloister, the ritual of a religious life and the sheer strength which appertains to it. Ashcroft's set consisted of a single trapezoidal room with a single slot for an entrance. Colours were all muted creams and taupes, including the nuns' habits.  Paul Keogan's lighting captured the amazing beauty of the set, and brought out a myriad of colours. It was here that the entire opera took place, in this enclosed world.

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