Saturday 31 August 2013

September at the Barbican

The Rite of Spring
September sees the London Symphony Orchestra start its season with Verdi's Rigoletto whilst the Academy of Ancient Music are performing Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. The Kronos Quartet join forces with Kimmo Phojonen and Samuli Kosmini, whilst the BBC allow us to be totally immersed in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring whilst the London Schools Symphony Orchestra scale another peak.

The LSO opens their season with a concert performance of Verdi's Rigoletto conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, with Dimitri Platanias in the title role (the Greek baritone made his Covent Garden debut in the smale role in 2012) plus Desiree Rancatore (I think this will be the Italian soprano's first performance of Gilda in the UK) and Giuseppe Filianoti. (15/9) Mitsuko Ushida joins the LSO for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 K453 conducted by Robin Ticciati. (19/9)

Finely Poetic - Philip Handy's 'The Romantic Cello II'

Philip Handy, cello
This is the second cellist Philip Handy's Romantic Cello discs on VIF Records, exploring the 20th century romantic repertoire for the cello. (see my review of the first volume) Accompanied by pianist Robert Markham, Handy performs Sergei Rachmaninov's Sonata for Cello and Piano, the Serenade for Solo Cello by the young British composer Benjamin Woodgates, Frederick Delius's Serenade and John Ireland's Sonata for Cello and Piano.

Rachmaninov's Sonata for Cello and Piano was written in 1901, premiered a few months after his Second Piano Concerto; the work was the composer's last piece of chamber music. Handy and Markham make the Lento introduction slow and evocative, each instrument answering the other in beautifully shaped phrases. With the Allegro Moderato the pair contributes a highly poetic performance, beautifully flowing rather than intense. Handy's cello sings, with a slim, elegant tone.

Friday 30 August 2013

Njabulo Thabiso Madlala at St Lawrence Jewry

Njabulo Madlala
For the penultimate concert in the August Music Festival at St. Lawrence Jewry, the baritone Njabulo Thabiso Madlala gave a recital of songs by Schubert, RVW and Roger Quilter, along with some folk-songs from his native South Africa, accompanied by William Vann. First came Schubert's Liebesbotschaft (Love's Greeting), Schafers Klagelied (Shepherd's Lament), Wanderers Nachtlied  (A Wanderer's Night Song) and Rastlose Liebe (Restless Love) and then RVW's Linden Lea, Silent Noon and The Roadside Fire. Roger Quilter's O mistress mine, Go lovely rose and Now sleeps the crimson petal were then followed by three South African folk-songs, Malaika, the Click Song and Lakutshoni Langa.

Strekoza i Muravej (Dragonfly and Ant) - an original voice

Madeleine Holmes as Strekoza (Dragonfly) in Brian Hosefros and Vadim Yurchenko's Strekoza i Muravej (Dragonfly and Ant)
Madeleine Holmes as Strekoza (Ant)
Strekoza i Muravej (Dragonfly and Ant) is a new opera by Brian Hosefros with a libretto by Vadim Yurchenko, based on Aesop's fable The Grasshopper and the Ant. The production was seen earlier this month at Tete a Tete: the Opera Festival and we caught it at the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, on 30 August 2013. Madeleine Holmes was Strekoza (Dragonfly) and Sheridan Edward Muravej (Ant) with Alistair Sutherland, Fiona Mackay and Christina Gill. The production was directed by Martyna Lyko and designed by Marianne Raye with Matthew Waldren conducting an eight-piece instrumental ensemble.

American born composer Brian Hosefros studied at Goldsmiths with Dmitri Smirnov and went on to study for a year at Moscow Conservatory. His website explains is interest in Russian culture and the fact that he studied the Russian language at St Petersburg State University - Smolney. Unfortunately this passion for Russian culture has tempted him to premiere a new opera sung in Russian by a non-Russian cast to a preponderantly Anglophone audience. I have a feeling that Vadim Yurchenko's libretto might have been rather interestingly poetic, though I don't speak Russian and was heavily dependent on the surtitles. I could not help feeling that the language was a barrier to preventing the new work being appreciated and that it would have had a more immediate impact if presented in the language of the audience.

Thursday 29 August 2013

BBC goes 18th Century

George I by James Thornhill
George I by James Thornhill
BBC Two and BBC Four are celebrating the 18th century with a new season of programmes celebrating both 18th century music in Britain and the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian Succession.

Eighteenth century music on BBC Four will be presented by Suzi Klein and will look at the social, cultural and political context of music in Britain in that era, subjects to be touched on include the English oratorio, the impact of war and revolution on national identity with references to God save the King and Rule Britannia. The series will be complemented with live music and events on BBC Radio 3.

Additionally there will be a one hour documentary on BBC Two celebrating the creation of Handel's Messiah, re-creating the London premiere of the work at the Foundling Hospital.

Finally, 2014 also marks the 300th anniversary of accession of George I to the English throne and BBC Four is marking this with a series devoted to the first Hanoverian kings. Hanoverians: The First Georges will be presented by Dr Lucy Worsley and is being given in partnership with the Royal Collection Trust. There will be a parallel exhibition at The Queen's Gallery curated by Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queens Pictures.

Further information from the BBC website.

Glyndebourne's 80th anniversary

Glyndebourne logo
2014 is Glyndebourne Festival's 80th anniversary. The festival was founded in 1934 and will be celebrating with Robin Ticciati conducting his first Glyndebourne Festival as Music Director. The festival opens with a new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier and other new productions are Mozart's La finta giardiniera and Verdi's La Traviata. Alongside these will be revivals of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Mozart's Don Giovanni and Handel's Rinaldo. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will have a busy summer, performing in the Mozart and Handel operas with the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing for the remainder.

Peter Grimes from Aldeburgh

Peter Grimes: SIGCD348
Whatever its virtues (and they are not inconsiderable) this recording will be for ever associated with the performances of Peter Grimes on the beach in Aldeburgh in June 2013. This recording, made at concert performances June this year, was used as the basis for the live performances on the beach. With remarkable speed the recording has been used on CD. The cast is strong, with Alan Oke in the title role with Giselle Allen, David Kempster, Gaynor Keeble, Alexandra Hutton, Charmian Bedford, Robert Murray, Henry Waddington, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Christopher Gillett, Charles Rice and Stephen Richardson, with Steuart Bedford conducting the chorus of Opera North, the chorus of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the Britten-Pears Orchestra.

I never heard Peter Pears as Grimes live, for my generation the Peter Grimes was the great dramatic tenor Jon Vickers. His visionary and dramatic account of the role was a radically different interpretation to that of Pears, which was evidently not liked by Britten. Subsequent tenors such as Philip Langridge reclaimed the role for the lyric tenor.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

City Music Foundation Inaugural Awards Announced

City Music Foundation
Six soloists and two instrumental have been selected by the City Music Foundation, a new charity established to support musicians at the start of their professional careers. The 2013 award winners are cellist Mikhail Nemtsov, recorder player Miriam Nerval, saxophonist Alastair Penman, violinist Mari Poll, harpist Claire Iselin, pianist Cordelia Williams, folk band Bridie Jackson & The Arbour, and alternative-folk group Tir Eolas.

Handel Furioso

Handel Furioso: Anna Starushkevych and Robyn Allegra Parton: photograph Robert Workman
Anna Starushkevych & Robyn Allegra Parton
photograph Robert Workman
Handel Furioso - A love story, is described as a new staging of arias and duets by George Frideric Handel. Starring soprano Robyn Allegra Parton and mezzo-soprano Anna Starushkevych, the production presented by Isle of Noise opened on 27 August at the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre. The production was directed by Max Hoehn, artistic director of Isle of Noise, designed by Holly Pigott and accompanied by the Sounds Baroque Ensemble conducted from the harpsichord by Julian Perkins.

In just over 75 minutes the selection of Handel's Italian arias and duets told the story of the girl (Robyn Allegra Parton) and the boy (Anna Starushkevych). Divided into four sections, the plot was roughly childhood - becoming friends; youth - falling in love; young adult - marrying; mature adult - divorce; old age - reconciliation and death. On a small flexible but fixed set with the instrumentalists behind, the plot was simply an excuse to make an enticing selection of Handel's arias and duets work live on stage.

The selection of music ranged widely with three of Handel's chamber duets, plus arias and duets from Rodelinda, Poro, Deidamia, Ariodante, La Resurrezione, Rinaldo and Il trionfo del Tempe e del Disinganno. The piece opened with the overture to Alcina and other instrumental movements were taken from Handel's Trio Sonata in B minor and from the ballet music to Ariodante. Recitative was kept to a minimum, but in keep with the work's pasticcio tradition it was written by the piece's creators Julian Perkins and Max Hoehn.

Glad to be gray

Saga Logo
My blog has been listed by Saga Magazine  as one of their Top 50 Bloggers over 50, and described as 'genuinely fascinating' in an article appearing in the September issue of the magazine.

Man on a mission - an encounter with Dionysios Kyropoulos

Drottningholm Slottsteater
If you think of historically informed staging of opera, what comes to mind? Authentic costumes and scenery with a production which gives only the barest nod to authentic gestures and is in effect a modern staging in old dress, a purist staging where everything from the sets to the lighting and gestures is authentic, or perhaps a rather fey period staging whose heart is in the right place but whose budget and theatrical life are rather too low. The Historically Informed Performance movement has been with us for 30 years, developing from a small scale curiosity into regular part of concerts and recording. But Historically Informed Stagecraft has not seen a parallel development and with one or two notable exceptions, has been rather ignored.

Dionysios Kyropoulos as Uberto (La Serva Padrona) - photo by Grigoris Siamidis
Dionysios Kyropoulos as Uberto in La Serva Padrona
photo by Grigoris Siamidis
I have always been interested in the subject of how baroque opera is staged, so I was fascinated when I came across Dionysios Kyropoulos who is about to do a MPhil in the subject at Cambridge. I first saw Dionysios singing in Danyal Dhondy's Secretary turned CEO, (see my review) a radical re-working of Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona. I was fascinated when I discovered  Dionysios's parallel interest in historical stagecraft and we met up to talk about the subject further.

Dionysios is anything but a typical academic and in person combines knowledge of his subject with a keenness to enthuse others. He likens Historically Informed Stagecraft today to the position that Historically Informed Performance was in during the early years of the 20th century. At that period even the harpsichord was rather derided and a performer like Wanda Landowska created her modern hybrid harpsichord in order to convince people that the instrument was valid on their own terms.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Gramophone Classical Music Awards - Winners 2013

Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2013
The Gramophone Magazine has announced the award winners in the 11 main categories. Tenor Jonas Kaufman's disc of Wagner arias with Donald Runnicles and the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper on Decca has topped the Vocal category, whilst the Royal Opera House's DVD Richard Jones's production of Puccini's Il Trittico with Antonio Pappano on Opus Arte is the Opera category winner. Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players re-visiting of their Venetian Coronation programme on Signum is top of the Early Music category, whilst John Eliot Gardiner's disc of Bach motets with the Monteverdi Choir is the Baroque Vocal category winner and Mark Elder's account of Elgar's The Apostles with the Halle on their own label is the Choral category winner. Barbara Hannigan's disc of music by Henri Dutilleux with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under Esa Pekka-Salonen on DG is the Contemporary category winner. The awards have been announced in advance of the ceremony on 17 September, which is dedicated to the memory of Sir Colin Davis. Full information from the Gramophone Awards website.

Philip Venables

Philip Venables, the first Guildhall School/Royal Opera House Doctoral Composer-in-Residence
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Opera House have announced that the composer Philip Venables will be the first Doctoral Composer in Residence starting in September 2013. Venables will be researching a writing a new major work for performance in the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio in 2016. The position effectively combines the role of composer in residence with a Doctoral thesis, the Doctoral Composer-in-Residence studentship is part of the Guildhall School’s doctoral programme which is validated by City University London.

Katherine Broderick and Marcus Farnsworth at the North Norfolk Music Festival

Katherine Broderick
Katherine Broderick
Marcus Farnsworth
Marcus Farnsworth
We discovered the North Norfolk Music Festival by accident as we were in North Norfolk to visit the Houghton Revisited exhibition. The music festival is in its ninth year, directed by Barry Cheesman and Simon Rowland Jones, based around St Mary's Church, South Creake, a glorious 14th century with a fine rood screen and a wonderful set of angels supporting the roof. We attended a recital given by soprano Katherine Broderick and baritone Marcus Farnsworth, with pianist Simon Lepper, on Sunday 25 August in a programme of arias by Britten, Wagner and Verdi in celebration of the triple centenary with arias from Albert Herring, The Rape of Lucretia, Tristan und Isolde, Tannhauser, Don Carlo, Ernani, Otello and Aida.

Our visit was preceded by a delightful dinner in a marquee in the churchyard, a regular occurrence at the festival, which gave the evening an extra special touch.

Monday 26 August 2013

Fairytales for accordion

CHRCD055 - Ksenija Sidorova Fairy Tales
The accordion is coming more to the fore as a solo instrument in classical and contemporary music, with a diverse contemporary repertoire developing. This new disc on Champs Hill Records from the young Latvian accordion virtuoso Ksenija Sidorava mixes contemporary pieces with arrangements of the standard repertoire. The centre piece is the Fairy Tales Concerto by Czech composer Vaclav Trojan, which Sidorova plays with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Clark Rundell. They also accompany Sidorova in an arrangement of Astor Piazolla's Oblivion. The other contemporary pieces on the disc are Who's the Puppet? by Russian composer Artem Vassiliev and the Scherzo-Toccata by Petr Londonov, a Russian composer of an earlier generation. The transcriptions on the disc are the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, Mortiz Moszkowski's Caprice Espagnol and Grieg's Holberg Suite.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Voices from the Past

Voices from the Past, music for French horn, instruments from the Bate Collection played by Anneke Scott
The Bate Collection at the Faculty of Music at Oxford University is the music comprehensive collection of European woodwind, brass and percussion in the UK. Now the collection is given us a chance to hear the instruments with the launch of a series of CD's showcasing some of the gems from the collection. The first volume, played by Anneke Scott, focuses on the French Horn. The CD's repertoire ranges from fanfares for the earliest 'cor de chasse' to early 20th century pieces, including music by Dampierre, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Simrock, Moscheles, Schubert, Saint-Saens, Richard Strauss and Dukas.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Sinfonia Cymru Curate's Unbuttoned

Sinfonia Cymru - Unbuttoned
Sinfonia Cymru, the Welsh chamber orchestra, is launching a new series called UnButtoned. Described as concert events, these will take place at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and will start on Friday 6 September 2013. Part of an increasing trend with smaller ensembles looking to relax their presentation style, UnButtoned aims to show classical music in an entirely new light, mixing a live score with responsive imagery and improvised electronic landscapes. It seems genuine attempt to re-invent the concert.

The first event promises to be an eclectic mix. Sinfonia Cymru will be working BAFTA-award winning Tom Raybould whose website says he is creating 'an original interactive audio/visual performance incorporating the orchestra, my laptop, triggered visuals and audience participation. I’m really excited about this opportunity to play with a live orchestra again. We’ll be scoring original pieces to play together, which incorporate orchestral scores with contemporary sounds designed by your truly. Gonna be a lot of fun.' Sounds a lot of fun! Also involved will be BAFTA-winning motion and interactive design team Roughcollie. Also involved are  Cardiff’s audio-visual arts collective, Arc Vertiac, and artist, DJ, and VJ Chameleonic. It will feature musicians from Sinfonia Cymu performing solo and chamber works, whilst people can sit, talk and get drinks, a choreographed show of music, sound and interactive imagery, intended as a feast for eyes and ears as the visuals react to the music.

The events are produced by Sinfonia Cymru Curate which was launched in 2013. Curate is a group of musicians, administrators and other creatives who have been given a say on how the orchestra is run. They have programmed a concert series which toured Wales in July 2013 and members of Sinfonia Cymru Curate are responsible for the creation, promotion and delivery of the UnButtoned events, with members of Curate deciding who they want to partner with for each of the events. The first event, on 6 September, will be the first time that Sinfonia Cymru has performed at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. The centre describes itself as an ambitious, multi-artform cultural space based in Cardiff, Wales that presents and produces international art, performance and film alongside a dynamic social space.

Sinfonia Cymru was formed in 1996 with a mission to support young musicians at the start of their professional careers and to tour chamber music across Wales.

Friday 23 August 2013

Motets pour la Maison de Guise

Marc-Antoine Charpentier - Litanies de la Vierge - Sebastien Dauce and Ensemble Correspondance - Harmonia Mundi HMC 902169
This new disc, the first release on Harmonia Mundi France by Sébastien Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances, explores the music which Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote for Mademoiselle de Guise in whose employ he was for nearly 20 years. The richly textured six-part motets featured on the disc include Miserere H193, Annunciate superi H.333 and Litanies de la Vierge H.83.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 - 1704) was born in or near Paris, son of a master scribe with connections to the Parlement de Paris. After a good education, Charpentier went to Rome for two or three years where he studied with Carissimi. On his return from Rome he went to work for Mademoiselle de Guise and stayed in her employ until his death, living at the Hotel de Guise in the rue de la Chaume (now the rue des Archives). She was the grand daughter of of Henri de Lorraine, Duc de Guise, one of the organisers of the Catholic League, who was murdered in 1588 on the orders of King Henri III. Henri de Lorraine's son Charles de Lorraine was forced into exile, and his daughter formed her musical tastes listening to music at the court of the Medici in Florence. Luckily for Charpentier, Marie de Lorraine preserved her taste for the Italian style of music and so was presumably sympathetic to the Italian style which Charpentier's music betrayed.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Pelleas et Melisande at the Grimeborn Festival

Ilona Domnich as Melisande and Simon Wallfisch as Pelleas (Picture: Alastair Muir)
For this year's Grimeborn Festival, the Arcola Theatre has collaborated with Bury Court Theatre on a production of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande. One of the great icons of the opera stage, Debussy's only completed opera is a stretch for any company, particularly one performing in a small scale studio theatre with just a piano as accompaniment leaving nowhere for the singers to hide indeed. Luckily Grimeborn was blessed with a very strong cast consisting of Simon Wallfisch, Ilona Domnich, Alan Ewing, Oliver Hunt, Carris Jones, Lucy Roberts and Justin Brindley with Philip Voldman at the piano. The production was directed by the Swiss-Turkish director Aylin Bozok and lighting was by Joshua Pharo.

Costumes were loosely 19th century and Ilona Domnich's Melisande had luxuriant long blond hair. The set, such as it was, was abstract with much use of Pharo's evocative lighting. The effect of performing with the audience on three sides of the playing area, in a studio theatre, was to bring the singing into strong relief. This was intensified by the fact that by using the piano accompaniment we lost much of the effect of the orchestra.

St Lawrence Jewery August Music Festival

St Lawrence Jewery
The August Music Festival at St. Lawrence Jewery is in full swing with free lunch time recitals each week day.On Wednesday 21 August I went along to hear a programme from Song in the City. Pianist Catherine Norton was joined by soprano Holly Marie Bingham and tenor Eduard Mas Bacardit (both studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama) in an intriguing programme which interwove Britten's song cycle On this Island with songs by Schubert.

On this Island was Britten's first published song cycle, based on poems from a collection of the same name published in 1936 by W.H. Auden. The cycle was performed with each song paired with a song on a similar theme by Schubert, with the two young singers taking it in turns.

Complete Organ all set to return to the Royal Festival Hall

Image: Hayes Davidson / Nick Rochowski
Thanks to contributions from 60,000 people, not to mention an epic bike ride and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the South Bank Centre's Pull Out All the Stops campaign has reached its target, which means that the final third of the organ is on track for being re-installed in the Royal Festival Hall. Hurrah!

Some 60,000 people made contributions totalling £1.35m, and the South Bank Centre Chairman Rick Haythornthwaite and a team of cyclists did a sponsored ride from Durham to London in 24 hours and raised £100,000. The Heritage Lottery Fund has contributed £950,000. All this means that Harrison and Harrison (who originally designed and built the organ in 1954) will have completed the reinstallation of the final third of the organ by the end of this summer and are ready to commence the final voicing. The organ will be complete for the Pull Out All the Stops Festival which starts on 18 March 2014.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Dame Janet Baker - a birthday tribute

Janet Baker - Kindertotenlieder - EMI ASD 2338Today is Dame Janet Baker's 80th birthday so I thought that I would allow myself to reminisce a bit, about some of the superb performances of her's that I had seen over the years. I was a student in Manchester in the mid-1970's when the glow of Sir John Barbirolli's artistic relationship with Dame Janet was still cast over the city. I remember vividly her performance in Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (ironically with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Raymond Leppard) as well as song recitals at the old Free Trade Hall. (She sang Had I but Jubal's Lyre as an encore and interleaved Debussy and Faure settings of the same texts for the first half).

Other performances have tended to blur into subsequent ones, seen a few years later in Birmingham. It was there that I saw her as the Angel in The Dream of Gerontius at Birmingham Town Hall (this was well before Birmingham Symphony Hall).  But more than these live encounters she was the sound track of my learning large chunks of the classical repertoire, her recordings the benchmark.

Wigmore Hall / Kohn Foundation International Song Competition

2013 Wigmore Hall / Kohn Foundation International Song Competition
The Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition returns to the Wigmore Hall this year. The biennial event has been running since 1997 and this years competition starts on 30 August with the first of a series of preliminary public rounds. The four singers chosen for the final will battle it out on 3 September at Wigmore Hall.

Vivienne - a second view

Clare McCaldin in Stephen McNeff and Andy Rashleigh's Vivienne
Stephen McNeff and Andy Rashleigh's Vivienne was reviewed in a guest posting on this blog when Hilary Glover went to see Clare McCaldin's performance at Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival. I was keen to see the work for myself, so went along to The Forge in Camden on Tuesday 20 August. To catch Joe Austin's production with Clare McCaldin and Libby Burgess at the piano.

The 40 minute work is one single extended operatic monologue, a tour de force from performer, Clare McCaldin, and composer alike. I had never visited The Forge before, and Vivienne suited the venue's relatively intimate space.  The work deals with Vivienne Haigh-Wood and her disastrous marriage to the poet T. S. Eliot and her eventual confinement in a mental institution, ignored and unvisited by Eliot.

Austin's production, designed by Simon Kenny, took place in a simple white space with two white chairs. McCaldin, as,Vivienne, entered wearing just a white shift. Set in the context of Vivienne's incarceration in a mental institution, the work looked back at her relationship with Eliot, whilst conveying the feeling that in the constant present she was eternally waiting for him.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Romantic Cello

The Romantic Cello - Philip Handy, VIF Records VRCD076
This new disc from the young cellist Philip Handy and pianist Robert Markham, on VIF Records, is centred on the music of Frederick Delius. They perform Delius's Sonata for Cello and Piano and his Caprice, and surround these with other works from the 20th century romantic tradition, with Frank Bridge's Meditation, Berceuse and Sonata for Cello and Piano, and Samuel Barber's early Sonata for Cello and Piano. The recital is completed with the Homage to Delius by Thomas Daish which was written for Philip Handy.

Frank Bridge wrote many small pieces for cello and piano, and Handy and Markham start their recital with two, Meditation and Berceuse. Both are very much songs without words and Handy plays them with a very elegant sense of line. he has a nice singing tone with a good depth to it, and he shapes Bridge's phrases finely. The Berceuse is perhaps the slightly more complex piece, with a nicely flowing piano part.

Bridge's Sonata for Cello and Piano is an entirely different affair, far bigger in scale. It was written in the period 1913-17 (roughly the same time as Delius was writing his sonata), and the work reflects Bridge's despair over the war and the state of the world.

Monday 19 August 2013

Flourish - opera competition

Two Caravans
Opera Up Close has launched Flourish, its second annual competition to find a new chamber opera. The competition aims to provide a platform for emerging and established composers and librettists. The initial round is doing anonymously and six entries are shortlisted for a showcase performance, the composer/librettist entering a score for 20 minutes of muisc. Last year the winning pieces was Two Caravans, composed by Guy Harries with a libretto by Ace McCarron, based on the novel by Marina Lewycka, best-selling author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. The opera is being produced at the Kings Head opening on 29 September. The final performance of Two Caravans on 20 October will be preceeded by the showcase performance of the shortlisted entries in this year's competition. The winner of this year's competition will be produced by Opera Up Close next autumn. The closing date for entries is 1 September, info and guidelines from the Kings Head Theatre website.

Schubert at St James's

Veneta Neynska
The young Bulgarian pianist Veneta Neynska will be performing Schubert at a lunchtime recital on Wednesday 21 August at St. James's Piccadilly at 1.10pm. Neynska's programme will include Schubert's Moments Musicaux Op 94 and Sonata in G Major op 78.  The sonata was written in 1826 and is the last of Schubert's sonatas to be published in his lifetime. 

Neynska trained in her native Bulgaria, at the USC Thornton School of Music in the USA and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and this concert represents her long awaited return to the UK after a gap of four years. Entrance to the concert it free.

Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival - a third helping

Grant Doyle, Rebecca Askey, Rebecca Thorn & Hazel Holder in Dart's Love by Kerry Andrew and Tamsin Collison , (c) Claire Shovelton
Grant Doyle, Rebecca Askey, Rebecca Thorn & Hazel Holder
in Dart's Love by Kerry Andrew and Tamsin Collison
(c) Claire Shovelton
For our final visit to Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith on Sunday 18 August 2013 we caught two operas, Richard Barnard's The Hidden Valley which was commissioned by WNO MAX and Kerry Andrew's Dart's Love which was commissioned by Tete a Tete. The two were linked in a number of ways, both dealt with a watery river theme combined with love: in Barnard's opera a cow herder falls in love with the daughter of the River God, in Andrew's opera the River Dart itself is in love with a young man who swims there. But both operas also featured the talents of Kerry Andrew, her vocal group Juice Vocals sang in Barnard's opera whilst she composed Dart's Love

The Hidden Valley was performed by Laura Pooley, Owen Webb, Meillir Jones, Tome Lowe, Alexei Winter, Michael Lowe and Juice Vocals, conducted by Richard Barnard and directed by Dafydd Hall Williams, with designs by James Helps. Dart's Love was performed by Grant Doyle, Claire Wild, Rebecca, Askew, Rebecca Thorn and Hazel Holder, conducted by Timothy Burke, directed by Bill Bankes-Jones and designed by Tim Meacock.
Owen Webb, Laura Pooley and Tom Lowe in he Hidden Valley by Richard Barnard and Alan Harris (c) Claire Shovelton
Owen Webb, Laura Pooley and Tom Lowe in
he Hidden Valley by Richard Barnard and Alan Harris
(c) Claire Shovelton

Sunday 18 August 2013

En travestie - the curious tradition of the breeches role

Minnie Nast as Sophie and Eva von der Ostern as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier (1910/11)
Minnie Nast as Sophie and Eva von der Ostern as Octavian
in Der Rosenkavalier (1910/11)
Women playing men's roles on stage, so-called breeches parts, is on the face of it rather a curious tradition. Men playing women's roles are generally comic, but women playing young men is a more complex issue. In opera the tradition can be explained in terms of the way women stood in for and then replaced castratos. In Italian baroque opera the hero always had a high voice and this created tradition of women, usually contraltos, who specialised in playing male roles. Handel, when in London with a limited supply of castratos, often had recourse to using women for his leading men. French baroque opera, with its use of high tenors rather than castratos, seems not to have developed the same tradition and breeches parts are rare.

But as the tradition developed into the 19th and 20th centuries, it raises erotic and gender issues, how did the audience really view these women and how should we?

Saturday 17 August 2013

Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage at the Proms

Sir Andrew Davis - © Dario Acosta Photography
Sir Andrew Davis - © Dario Acosta Photography
Sir Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage has a lot of things against it, it requires a large cast including dancers and a large chorus and orchestra, the plot with its elements of Jungian analysis is confusing, the composer's libretto with its colloquial elements now sounds rather dated and frankly a bit embarrassing. But you only have to listen to the music to be entranced. From the opening moments of Sir Andrew Davis's performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall on 16 August 2013, you knew that you were in for a very special occasion. The BBC had assembled a very strong cast, with Paul Groves and Erin Wall as the Mark and Jenifer, David Wilson-Johnson (standing in for Peter Sidhom) as King Fisher, Ailish Tynan and Allan Clayton as Bella and Jack, Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Sosostris, and Madeleine Shaw and David Soar as the Ancients, with the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Chorus. The performance was billed as semi-staged, directed by Kenneth Richardson.

The stars of the show, though, were undoubtedly Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, bringing out all of Tippett's dancing rhythms and giving a lovely sheen to the complex orchestral textures. The music for the entrances of the Ancients, with the celesta, were simply magical. Without any dancers, we were left to our own imaginations for the Ritual Dances, and Davis brought out the full range of drama and danger in these pieces. I had forgotten how richly and imaginatively they were written, but throughout the performance I came back to Tippett's rhythms. Davis clearly loves the opera and he and the orchestra gave us Tippett as his rhapsodic and entrancing best.

Friday 16 August 2013

Bruce Munro's Cantus Arcticus

Bruce Munro, Cantus Arcticus, 2013 © Bruce Munro. Photo by Matthew Lloyd © Getty images
Bruce Munro, an installation artist working in light. has produced an exhibition inspired by Einohujani Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus. The exhibition is on at the National Trust's Waddesdon House, it was installed in March and is on display at the Coach House Gallery for the 2013 season. Munro's Cantus Arcticus was inspired by the shimmering curtains of the Northern Lights and by Rautavaara's music of the same name, which in turn was inspired by the landscape and bird song of the Arctic tundra.

Munro's piece is composed of 15 abstract bird forms rendered in curtains of glowing fibre optic occupying the Coach House floor. Light cascades from above each piece, casting soft pools that change colour in response to Rautavaara’s music, which plays in the space. Finnish composer Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus was written in 1972, subtitled Concerto for Birds and Orchestra it incorporates tape recordings of birdsong recorded near the Arctic Circle and on the bogs of Liminka in northern Finland.

Composing without the Pictures - Concert works by film composers

Composing without the Pictures - Concert works by film composers; Richard Harwood; RES10121
This fascinating disc is a compilation of concert music written by some well known film composers. But what makes it so striking is that Richard Harwood as assembled a group of pieces written for solo cello, not a genre you would associate with composers like Ennio Morricone and Miklos Rosza. The recording includes a wide variety of composers, Morricone, Rosza, Ernst Toch, John Williams, Dario Marianelli, Alex Heffes, Fernando Velazquez and Benjamin Wallfisch. The recording is available for download only, on the Resonus Classics label.

The first two pieces on the disc are linked to one of the great mid-20th century cellists, Gregor Piatigorsky.

Ernst Toch (1887 - 1964) is best known for the scores to Peter Ibbetson, Ladies in Retirement and Address Unknown. His Impromptu for Cello Solo in Three Movements, Op 90c from 1960 was composed for Piatigorsky's 60th birthday. The work is in three movements, Andante Cantabile, Allegretto grazioso and Adagio, con espressione - quasi der Letzte Kampf. This last is likely to refer to Toch's battle with stomach cancer. The Andante Cantabile is rather a free cantilena which Harwood plays with a fine grained singing tone. The Allegretto is a perky, Shostakovich-esque movement, followed by the rather darker Adagio. Again Harwood plays with lovely fine grained tone and a singing line, with darker undertones leading to a haunting end.

Britten100 goes global

Scene from Billy Budd at San Francisco Opera, 2004 (c) Darryl Bush/ San Francisco Chronicle
The celebrations for Britten's centenary have turned into a global event with concerts and opera performances all over the world. Some are sponsored by the Britten Pears Foundation and the British Council, but many are simply organisations own responses to the composer with a number of different Britten festivals being presented. There are currently over 150 performances of the War Requiem scheduled world-wide, with over 100 of A Midsummer Night's Dream, over 80 of Peter Grimes and 40 of Billy Budd.

In Moscow there a festival planned by the Britten Pears Foundation and the British Council including the Russian premiere of Death in Venice conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, though quite what effect the work will have given Russia's new clampdown on homosexuality is anyone's guess. Also in the festival Sir Mark Elder conducting the Russian National Orchestra and Ian Bostridge in The Canticles.

Thursday 15 August 2013

New musical director for the Temple Church

Temple Church, London
Temple Church, London
The Temple Church has announced that from later this year, their musical director will be Roger Sayer. The current incumbent, James Vivian, is becoming the Director of Music at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, this autumn. Roger Sayer has been at Rochester Cathedral since 1994, as Director of Music and as Organist. He is also Deputy Chorus Director of London Symphony Chorus, working with conductors Valery Gergiev, Sir Mark Elder and the late Sir Colin Davis. A prizewinner at the St Albans International Organ Competition, Sayer is a guest teacher at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. (Further info and a video announcement after the break).

Competition results

Our competition to win tickets for Live by the Lake at Kenwood closed this morning. Congratulations to the 50 people who entered the correct answer (Ana Maria Martinez caused a stir at Glyndebourne in 2009 in Rusalka) and particular congratulations to Hayley whose name came out the hat first. We hope that she enjoys Opera Alfresco on 31 August, with Ana Maria Martinez, Wynne Evans and David Kempster and the ENO Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel in Bizet- Carmen & The Pearl Fishers • Rossini - William Tell & The Barber of Seville • Dvorak - Rusalka • Puccini - La Boheme, Madam Butterfly & Turandot • Verdi - Don Carlos, La Forza del Destino, Rigoletto & La Traviata.

Christopher Wood - Requiem

Christopher Wood - Requiem
This new disc is a live recording of a new Requiem Mass by Christopher Wood, orchestrated by Jonathan Rathbone. The performance was recorded in a concert given by soloists Rebecca Bottone, Clare McCaldin, Ed Lyon, Nicholas Garrett with L'Inviti Sinfoni and L'Inviti Singers conducted by Paul Brough.

If you think about it, there aren't many large scale romantic requiems. Despite the attempts of choral societies and orchestras over the years, Mozart's Requiem with its sombre orchestration is neither romantic nor large scale. There is Verdi's Requiem of course, which brought the opera house into the church. And Faure's Requiem, though or course this latter started as a small scale piece and only grew into the full blown romantic work as a result of Faure's publisher.

The Miller's Wife

Cheyney Kent in The Miller's Wife by Mike Christie at the Grimborn Festival
Cheyney Kent in The Miller's Wife by Mike Christie
at the Grimborn Festival
I first came across Mike Christie's opera The Miller's Wife when he presented the first scene at one of Second Movement's Rough for Opera evenings (see my review). Now the complete opera has been premiered (on 14 August 2013) at the Arcola Theatre as part of the Grimeborn Festival with a cast including Owain Browne, Clara Kanter, Susan Jiwey, Margaret Cooper, Cheyney Kent, Tamsin Dalley, Lindsay Bramley, William Morgan, Eleanor Ross, Stella Woodman with Susannah Wapshott at the piano. The opera was presented in the smaller of Arcola's two studio theatres, performed in the round with Matthew Gould's production, designed by Jean Gray, making effective use of the space.

Mike Christie's own libretto tells a story inspired by an event in his family. Set in the 19th century, the first act dealt with the Miller, Bill Marner (Owain Browne) and his desire for a son and complex lovelife. His wife (Clara Kanter) is an invalid and her carer, Maude (Susan Jiwey), is Bill's mistress and having his baby. Except she's not. Stir into this mix a pregnant village girl (Margaret Cooper) and her vengeful father (Cheyney Kent), who thinks Bill has raped is daughter, plus a pair of comic aunts (Tamsin Dalley and Lindsay Bramley) and you have a mix worthy of Catherine Cookson.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

On the Road Again - the Sixteen's 2013/14 programme

The Sixteen
Under their conductor Harry Christophers, the Sixteen are presenting a 2013/14 which includes some serious Tudor polyphony on their annual Choral Pilgrimage and elsewhere. Naturally there will be celebrations for Britten's centenary. Handel's Jephtha makes an appearance with the promise of a recording to come next year.

The Sixteen's Choral Pilgrimage 2014 presents a programme of early Tudor polyphony with music by John Sheppard, Richard Davy and William Mundy including Mundy's glorious Vox Patris Coelestis and Sheppard's Gaude, gaude Maria. The tour starts in Paris 13 Feb 2013 and continues to Cambridge, Oxford, Croydon, Greenwich, Exeter, Truro, Llandaff, Ealing, Rochester, Peterborough and York with further dates in Autumn 2014, giving you the chance to hear some amazing large-scale (Vox Patris Coelestis is BIG) in the sort of acoustic for which it was intended.

Ben Johnson in Britten and Handel

Ben Johnson, credit Chris Gloag
Ben Johnson, credit Chris Gloag
Having enjoyed Ben Johnson's recent recording of Britten's Canticles (see my review), I wanted to hear him in more Britten and so was pleased to find that he was performing Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings with the Trafalgar Sinfonia, conducted by Ivor Setterfield, at St Martin in the Fields on Tuesday 13 August 2013.  Johnson also sang a pair of Handel arias, and Britten's O Waly, Waly whilst the orchestra played Handel's Concerto grosso op 6 no 9 and Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Purcell's Chacony and Elgar's Serenade for Strings.

The Trafalgar Sinfonia is a string ensemble of some 12 young professional players. It was formed in 1992 by Ivor Setterfield and they are in their 14th season of concerts at St Martin in the Fields. Whilst many of the concerts there seem to be of the Vivaldi by Candlelight genre, in fact if you look at the repertoire they play there are some interesting nuggets to be had. On 22 August for instance, you can hear concertos from Vivaldi's L'Estro Harmonico and La Stravaganza.

They opened with a crisp and lively performance of the sinfonia from act three of Handel's Solomon (The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba) in a version which replaced Handel's oboes with solo violins. This was a firmly modern performance with bows definitely on string, but the players made a rich sound with a nice bounce to it. There were similar virtues in Purcell's Chacony in G minor (Z730) which Setterfield made quite dramatic at times.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Britten on Film

The Night Mail
BFI Southbank iscelebrating Benjamin Britten's centenary with a series of screenings. There is a programme GPO Documentaries devoted to Britten's work with the GPO Film Unit, plus filmed versions of his operas including a version of The Turn of the Screw long thought to be lost, as well as special previews of new films by John Bridcut and Tony Palmer.

The Coral Sea - music for saxophone and piano

The Coral Sea - McKenzie Sawers Duo DCD34121
The McKenzie Sawers Duo is an Edinburgh-based saxophone and piano duo, comprising Sue McKenzie and Ingrid Sawers. For this new disc on Delphian, they have recorded a programme of contemporary British music for saxophone and piano. A vein running through all the piece is jazz and its influence, as all the composers on the disc, Gabriel Jackson, Graham Fitkin, Nikki Iles, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Gavin Bryars, are influences by jazz in some way, particularly given the saxophone's history with jazz music.

Gabriel Jackson is perhaps best known as a composer of choral music but in The Choral Sea he displays and equally deft touch with instrumental forces. The Choral Sea is inspired by a photograph of the same name by Robert Mapplethorpe which in turn inspired a prose poem by Mapplethorpe's friend Patti Smith. Jackson's piece is in three movements, Prologue, Voyage and Litany, corresponding to the three sections of the poem with Jackson reflecting the construction of the poem in his music.

The result is an uneven distribution of movements (their respective lengths are 0:53, 12:39 and 3:12) but the piece reads well as a single span of music. Written in 1996-97, it was premiered by Martin Robinson and Antony Gray at the Tate Gallery. It opens with a piano introduction followed by a soulful, chant-like solo for the saxophone with just the occasional piano in the bass.

Monday 12 August 2013

Autumn at the Handel House Museum

Philip Mercier: Handel composing at a single manual harpsichord, c 1730.
The Handel House's Autumn season includes a number of intriguing events. Composer in residence Cevanne Horrocks Hopayian presents a series of concerts themed on duels, Handel's Muses reaches Anna Maria Strada and Elisabeth Duparc and we get to examine music played for Louis XIV's dinners.

Richard Egarr is in residence with recorder player Pamela Thorby, performing Bach's French Suites and music by Charles Dieupart (c1667 - 1740) - 9 & 10 September.  And composer in residence is Cevanne Horrocks Hopayian. She presents four concerts on a theme of duelling, with husband and wife violinists Ellie Fagg and Tom Norris (17/10), Hugh 'Crewdson' Jones playing his electronic concertina (20/10), virtuoso guitarist Christ Montagu (24/10) and a duel between Red Priest's harpsichordist David Wright and Bjork's percussionist Manu Delago (27/10).

Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival - a second helping

Dionysios Kyropoulos and Alberto Prandini in Danyal Dhony and Becca Marriot's The Secretary Turned CEO at Tete a Tete the Opera Festival. (c) Claire Shovelton
Dionysios Kyropoulos and Alberto Prandini
in The Secretary Turned CEO (c) Claire Shovelton
A visit to Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival is always a varied and thought provoking experience. We went along on Sunday 11 August and saw three pieces which took very different starting points. Thus presenting us with a variety of ideas for what opera is (see also Hilary's guest posting about her visit to Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival on Thursday 7 August). Danyal Dhondy's The Secretary Turned CEO (presented by Lucid Arts and Music with Dionysios Kyropoulos, Charlie Drummond and Alberto Prandini) re-worked Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona into a a hilarious, accessible modern farce. Tom Floyd's MICROmegas gave us the first act of a new SciFi opera based on Voltaire (presented by Shadow Opera Group with Alex Bevan, Jan Capinski, Richard Downing, Robert Garland, Sophie Goldrick and Emily Griffiths), whilst Paul Everndon's Guilt based on texts by Hildegard of Bingen (with Sibylla Meinenberg and Jeanna L'Esty) had us discussing whether it was an opera at all.

Dhondy's The Secretary Turned CEO, with libretto by Becca Marriot, was first tried out at one of Second Movement's Rough for Opera evenings (see their blog).  The piece combines a new libretto with arrangements of Pergolesi's original arias and new recitatives, set for an ensemble consisting of double bass (Diccon Cooper), guitar (Oliver Weeks) and piano/violin/melodica (Danyal Dhondy). Dhondy and Marriot wanted to try to re-capture the original’s scandalous aesthetic.

Sunday 11 August 2013

Billy Budd at Glyndebourne

Billy Budd, Glyndebourne 2013, photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Billy Budd, Glyndebourne 2013,
photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Michael Grandage's production of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd debuted in 2010. Within Christopher Oram stylised but traditional sets, the production brilliantly evoked the tensions within a Napoleonic era ship. Now the production has returned revived by Ian Rutherford, with Jacques Imbrailo still in the title role, surrounded by an enormously strong ensemble including Mark Padmore, David Soar, Richard Mosley-Evans, John Moore, Peter Gijsbertsem, Colin Judson, Stephen Gadd, Darren Jeffery, Alasdair Elliott, Brendan Collins, Duncan Rock and Jeremy White, conducted by Andrew Davis. We saw the first night, 11 August 2013, and there wasn't a weak link in the casting; this is the sort of piece which Glyndebourne is able to do extremely well, generating a real sense of ensemble in the long rehearsal periods. But more than that, it mined the opera's full emotional power.

Whilst Grandage's production is traditional, its concerns were in fact akin to those of David Alden's radically different production for English National Opera. Both deliberately ignored the sense of the sea in Britten's score, and set the opera in an enclosed world in the middle of the ship. There, of course, they part company with Grandage and Oran offering us a very detailed reconstruction of life on a Napoleonic ship. Oran's accurate costumes combined with Grandage's detailed action for the sailors, into apparently presenting a realistic view of life on a Napoleonic era man of war. This was deceptive, of course, the set was in fact the hollowed out centre of the ship, stylised rather than realistic, and the action though detailed, would never have passed muster on a real man'o war; there was often the sense of action for the sake of it. But the top level of Oran's set lowered impressively so that for some of the scenes below decks, we got a real feeling of the pressure-cooker nature of life on board.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Only four days left! Win tickets to Live by the Lake at Kenwood

Don't forget our fabulous competition to celebrate Live by the Lake, the return of outdoor concerts to Kenwood we have two tickets for the Opera Alfresco event on 31 August to give away. See our competition page for more details, you have until 14 August to enter.

John Eliot Gardiner conducts Bach at the Proms

Sir John Eliot Gardiner (c) Sheila Rock - Decca
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
(c) Sheila Rock - Decca
The late night Prom on Friday 9 August 2013 at the Royal Albert Hall featured John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in a pair of Bach works which do not get the exposure that they deserve, the Easter Oratorio and the Ascension Oratorio. Both works contain some vintage Bach but are relatively short and live in the awkward territory between cantata and what we nowadays think of as oratorio. Along with soloists Hannah Morrison, Meg Bragle, Nicholas Mulroy and Peter Harey, Gardiner and his forces gave us life-enhancing performances which made you wonder why we don't hear this music more.

Bach's Easter Oratorio went through a series of curious transformations before Bach settled on its final form. It started out life as a birthday cantata, with a text by Picander, for Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels in February 1725, Picander and Bach then turned it into a cantata for Easter Sunday in 1725, before re-cycling the work again as birthday cantata for Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming. The 1725 Easter version had four named characters, Mary Mother of James, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John but in the 1730's Bach returned to the work, dropped the characters names and made some other changes, turning it into the Easter Oratorio. There is still no direct narrative, no Evangelist, just a series of recitatives and arias which touch on the Easter story. Though there is much vintage Bach in the work, particularly in the glorious orchestral writing, as a contemplation of the Easter story it lacks the emotional depth of the Passions. The pastoral nature of the original birthday cantata is still discernible in the music.

Friday 9 August 2013

Tête à Tête Opera Festival at the Riverside Studios

Fossils and Monsters  Photo Credit – Claire Shovelton
Alison Wells in Fossils and Monsters
Photo Credit – Claire Shovelton
The Opera Festival organised by Tête à Tête at the Riverside Studios is now in its seventh year. Running over three weeks from the 1st to the 18th August this festival showcases brand new, short, operas, from which the audience can pick and choose. Each show is about 40 minutes to an hour long, while ‘Light Bites’, at only five minutes long, entertain the audience in-between the main events, as well as being performed at Fulham Palace and in parks and squares around Hammersmith.

Last night (Thursday 9th August) I saw Fossils and Monsters, The Garden, and Vivienne. Short, however, does not mean that these operas are somehow lesser than grand classical operas. Like a good short story they get straight to the point. Character development is as strong as the emotional intelligence delivered by the performers.

Fossils and Monsters compares the lives of two extraordinary women living at a time of great scientific discovery and theorising about the nature of life and creation (some years prior to Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’). Mary Anning was a fossil hunter who found the first ichthyosaur in the unstable Blue Lias rocks at Lyme Regis. Both Mary and the ichthyosaur are childhood memories of mine but, as anyone who has seen Horrible Histories knows, Mary Anning’s life was not equal to her scientific talent – male scientists who came to her for help in identifying fossils took credit for her work.

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