Thursday 31 October 2013

Garsington Opera - 2013 Simon Sandbach and Helen Clarke awards

Jan Capinski
Garsington Opera's Simon Sandbach and Helen Clarke awards have this year gone to baritone Jan Capinski who understudied Father in Hansel and Gretel, and to soprano Alice-Rose Privett who understudied Gretel in Hansel and Gretel. Both sang in the chorus in Maometto Secondo. The awards, formerly known as the Chorus Awards, recognise extraordinary young talent, musical skill and contribution to productions. 

Jan Capinski studied at the Academy of Music in his native Krakow and at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. He recently appeared in British Youth Opera's production of Britten's Paul Bunyan (see my review). Alice-Rose Privett studied at Chethams School of Music, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and continues her studies at the Royal Academy of Music. She recently appeared in British Youth Opera's production of Cimarosa's The Secret Marriage (see my review)

November on the South Bank

Monochrome image of actor Albert Dieudonné portraying Napoleon I of France in the 1927 film Napoléon.
November sees the South Bank Centre's The Rest Is Noise Festival reaching ever closer to the present day. The London Philharmonic Orchestra make a strong presences with performances of Messiane, Gubaildulina, Part and Gorecki. Visitors include the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as well as the Philip Glass Ensemble and Steve Reich. There is also a chance to see Able Gance's epic film Napoleon with a live score.

Things opens with a bang, with Messiaen's Des canoyons aux etoiles, his orchestral description of a vast space inspired by the Grand Canyon, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) under Christoph Eschenbach (2/11). The LPO under Tonu Kaljuste are also performing a Sophia Gubaidulina's Offertorium with violinist Sergej Krylov plus music by Arvo Part including the Berliner Messe in the version for choir (6/11). Under Michal Dworzynski the LPO perform Penderecki's Violin Concerto and Gorecki's Symphony No. 3. (27/11)

Hampshire Singing Competition

The finals of the Hampshire Singing Competition took place in Winchester on Monday, 28 October with 17 young singers under 30 competing. In a strong field, first prize went to soprano Sarah-Jane Lewis who won £6,000 and the opportunity to sing with Southern Sinfonia. (We recently saw Lewis in lovely performances of arias from Carmen and Cavalleria Rusticana at a gala for Amazwi Omzansi Africa / Voices of South Africa Project).  

Second prize went to baritone Duncan Rock who won £3,000 and the opportunity to sing with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Grange Park Opera Aria Prize went to soprano Susanna Hurrell. Tenor Richard Dowling won the song prize with a performance of Britten's Canticle no. 1

Britten, Poulenc and Schubert: Elizabeth Watts and Ashley Riches at the London Song Festival

Ashley Riches Credit: Debbie Scanlon & Ben Cole
Ashley Riches
Credit: Debbie Scanlon & Ben Cole
Soprano Elizabeth Watts and baritone Ashley Riches joined pianist Nigel Foster at the London Song Festival on 30 October, for a programme of songs by Britten, Poulenc and Schubert. Their concert at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden on Wednesday 30 October, focussed on three poets Goethe, Pushkin and Maurice Fombeure. A selection of Schubert's settings of Goethe's poems was contrasted with Britten's The Poet's Echo setting Pushkin, and Poulenc's Chansons Villageoise setting Fombeure. Also included in the programme were a group of Pushkin settings by Rimsky-Korsakv, Rachmaninov, Medtner and Cui, allowing us to hear how Russian composers had tackled the same verses as Britten.

Elizabeth Watts
Elizabeth Watts
The programme started with Elizabeth Watts singing three of Schubert's Goethe (1749 - 1832) settings taken from Faust, Gretchen am Spinnrade, Der Konig in Thule and Gretchens Bitte. Gretchen am Spinnrade written when Schubert was 17, is the first of his settings of the great poet. Elizabeth Watts sang with vibrant tone and fine diction, bring a range of colours to the words. Essentially a lyric soprano, she has quite a dramatic element to her voice and brought the song to a very intense climax. Der Konig in Thule followed, a rather more haunted song in which Watts' sense of line contributed to the slow build of the song. Finally Gretchens Bitte which Schubert left unfinished and which was completed by Benjamin Britten. Schubert probably never finished the song because he intended to use it in his project for an opera based on Faust. It is very much a scena, a dramatic scene and Watts took it from calm resignation to more developed drama.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

The Birth of the Symphony

The Birth of the Symphony: Academy of Ancient Music AAM001
This new disc from the Academy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr, the first on the ensemble's own label, traces the development of the symphony. Starting with the sinfonia from Handel's Saul (1738), we have Franz Xaver Richter's Grande simphonie No. 7 in C minor (1740), Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz's Sinfonia a 4 in D major (1750), Mozart's Symphony no. 1 in E flat major K16 (1764) and Haydn's Symphony No. 49 in F minor 'La passione' (1768).

This single CD could easily have been a boxed set, and one can think of lots of things that have been missed out (no Boyce and no JC Bach for instance). But here is a whistle-stop survey of the first 30 years of the symphony's development in some very fine performances.

In opera and oratorio, sinfonias were multi-movement works intended to catch the audience's attention. George Frideric Handel's (1685 -1759) Sinfonia from Saul (written in 1738) is a four-movement work with echoes of the French orchestral suite mixed in with other influences. Here we have a lively opening Allegro designed to catch the audiences attention followed by a graceful Larghetto. Then, something of a surprise, a lively Allegro which spotlights the oboe, here performed with a lovely mellow tone by Susanne Regel. The work concludes with a Minuet marked Andante, Handel's structure clearly indicating that this is not a free-standing work but one which precedes something.

Howard Blake 75th birthday

Howard Blake - Photographer: Geoffrey Argent
Howard Blake
photo Geoffrey Argent
If you say the name of composer Howard Blake, then the first thing that comes to mind is his music for The Snowman with its famous song Walking in the Air.  Sometimes a success like The Snowman can blind people to the full range of a composer's music, you only ever see the peak rather than the full landscape. Howard Blake is a bit like this, after all his opus numbers run to over 600, his Piano Concerto was written for the 30th birthday of Diana, Princess of Wales and his dramatic oratorio Benedictus has received many performances.

Benedict Kloekner - photo Marco Borgreve
Benedict Kloekner
photo Marco Borgreve
On Tuesday 29 October we attended a private concert to celebrate Howard Blake's 75th birthday. Blake himself played the piano, accompanying the young German cellist Benedict Kloeckner in a programme of Blake's music for cello and piano, Pennillion for cello and piano op 525a, Diversion for cello and piano, op.337a, Jazz Dances for cello and piano op.520 and Sonata for cello and piano, op.619.

Benedict Kloeckner (born 1989) originally got into contact with Blake in connection with Blake's virtuosic Diversions for cello and piano. Kloeckner played the work, accompanied by Jose Gallardo in the European Broadcasting Union's Young Artists Competition in Bratislava in 2010, ultimately winning first prize. Blake, as a congratulatory present, gave Kloeckner a new version of Blake's violin sonata transposed for cello. Kloeckner asked Blake if they could do a recital together, the result was an entire programme of Blake's music for cello and piano which they have performed in Germany a number with great success. They are recording the programme for South West German Radio in early 2014.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

November at Kings Place

The Brodsky Quartet performing at Kings Place
The Brodsky Quartet are in residence at Kings Place during November, bringing stories of cities, trees and walls. Scene Norway is also present, so that there are a number of Norwegian themed events. And the Kings Place Bach Unwrapped series continues with transcriptions of Bach played on the viola and on the mandolin. A new orchestra, Geneva Camerata, make their first appearance in the UK two months after their debut performance.

The Brodsky Quartet are in residence at Kings Place from 7-9 November presenting a themed group of concerts Trees, Walls, Cities where they mix Bjork with Purcell, Schubert with Alvaris and Prokofiev with Elvis Costello. They are joined on their journey by vocalist Lore Lixenberg, travelling the world in music, telling stories and confounding expectations. Included in their first programme will be Trees, Walls and Cities, a song cycle comprising of eight songs each from an appropriate city: Derry, London, Utrecht, Berlin, Vienna, Dubrovnik, Nicosia and Jerusalem. Their final programme is centred on Elvis Costello's ballet music Il Sogno (commissioned for Aterballetto) and which the quartet play in an arrangement by Robert Davidson. Davidson's own tongue-in-cheek piece, Three Men and a Blonde written for the quartet's 40th anniversary also features in the programme.

Mark Padmore - Britten Canticles - Wigmore Hall Live

Britten Canticles - Mark Padmore/Julius Drake - WHLive0064
This disc preserves the performance of Benjamin Britten's Canticles given at the Wigmore Hall on 30 November 2012. Tenor Mark Padmore was joined by counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, and baritone Marcus Farnsworth, with Julius Drake (piano), Lucy Wakeford (harp) and Richard Watkins (horn) for performances of Canticle I: My Beloved is mine, Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, Canticle V: The Death of Saint Narcissus, Canticle IV: Journey of the Magi and Canticle III: Still falls the Rain - The Raids, 1940, Night and Dawn, with the disc released on the Wigmore Hall Live label.

Britten's Canticles span much of his creative life, with the first Canticle I: My Beloved is mine written for himself and Peter Pears in 1947 and the last one Canticle V: The Death of Saint Narcissus written in 1974 when the composer was recovering from heart surgery. Canticle V: The Death of Saint Narcissus was written for Peter Pears and Ossian Ellis, because the composer was too frail to play the piano in public. Whilst the canticles were all written individually and have a rather eclectic mix of texts, they share a commonality. All were written for friends and close collaborators; Peter Pears was a constant, but also Kathleen Ferrier, James Bowman, Ossian Ellis, Denis Brain and John Shirley Quirk. Also, many of the canticles link to the operas that Britten was writing at the time, so that Canticle IV: Journey of the Magi comes just before Death in VeniceCanticle II: Abraham and Isaac has links to Billy Budd and Canticle III: Still falls the Rain has a structure which links to The Turn of the Screw, the opera which preceded it.

Monday 28 October 2013

Julian Anderson residency at Wigmore Hall

Julian Anderson, Composer in Residence at the Wigmore Hall
Saturday 2 November sees the opening concerts in composer Julian Anderson's three years as Composer in Residence at the Wigmore Hall. Two concerts, at 1pm and at 7.30pm place Anderson's music in the context of his colleagues and mentors, Oliver Knussen, George Benjamin, Hans Abrahamsen, Salvatore Sciarrino and Gerard Grisey. Anderson's music being performed includes recent instrumental compositions and the premiere of Another Prayer. Further concerts of Anderson's music in context will be given at the Wigmore Hall as part of the residency on 23 January and 15 May 2014. Anderson's music also features as part of the London Philharmonic Orchestra's season, and his opera Thebans debuts at the London Coliseum in May 2014.

Ailish Tynan - Faure Melodies

In the latest CD in Rosenblatt Recitals series on Opus Arte, soprano Ailish Tynan and pianist Iain Burnside perform a selection of melodies by Gabriel Faure. Famously long-lived Faure (1845 - 1924) wrote songs throughout his life, those selected on this new disc range from Mai, Op.1 No.2 (published in 1871) to the late cycle Le Jardin Clos, Op.106 published in 1915 when he was 70 as well as a group of his Verlaine settings including CInq Melodies de Venise Op.58.

The disc opens with a pair of settings of Leconte de Lisle. Nell, Op.18 No.1 from 1878 sets a text loosely based on Robert Burns (the Nell of the title is Burn's first love, Nell Kirkpatrick!). Tynan sings the song with an easy fluidity.  Les roses d'Isphahan (The roses of Isfahan o 1884) is an oriental love-song given and intimate and subtle performance which gets more intense as the song progresses.

Tynan's voice has a nice forward bright sound with a clear top and quite a narrow focus. She has an expressive use of vibrato, and a vocal style which is very distinctive. On first listening I did worry that her technique might sound too stylised in these songs, but it didn't worry me on repeated listening. And you cannot but warm to the lyric beauty of her voice.

Rough for Opera with Kate Whitley and Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour

Kate Whitley
Second Movement's Rough for Opera returned to the Cockpit Theatre for its second birthday, giving us the chance to see two new pieces, operas recently composed or still in development. Kate Whitley's In Flagrante was a one act opera lasting 30 minutes, with a libretto by Ian Burrows, which took the mythological characters of Orpheus and Bacchus, put them together to see what happened. Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour's The Doll Behind the Curtain is a work in development. Based on a short story by the Iranian writer Sadegh Hedayat (1903 - 1951), the opera has a libretto by Dominic Power. We saw scenes from act one. After both performances we had a Q&A session with the artists to learn more about the background to the pieces.

Kate Whitley and Ian Burrows In Flagrante arose from the suggestion of Ian Christians who owns 'Orpheus and Bacchus Experiences'. As Ian Burrows pointed out at the Q&A, in fact Orpheus and Bacchus do not interact in mythology so he and Kate Whitley had to concoct their own story. The result was intended to provoke a discussion of the dichotomy between the Orphic attitude, beating yourself up in consequence of your actions, and Bacchus's divine inconsequence.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Cool Passion: BREMF opening event

St Batholemew's Church, Brighton
This year's Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) opened with Cool Passion, what was billed as an Early Music Club Night, with 22 musicians including I Flautisti, the Borromini Quartet, the Little Baroque Company, Flauguissimo, Il Nuovo Chiaroscuro, mezzo-soprano Esther Brazil, baritone Greg Skidmore and bass viol player Alison Kinder gathered at St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton on 26 October 2013. With Piers Adams of Red Priest as presenter, they performed two and half hours of music ranging from early Renaissance through to late 18th century. Highlights of the concert will be broadcast on the Early Music Show on Sunday 3 November on BBC Radio 3.

St Bartholomew's Church is a huge space and it was laid out with three different stages, one in front of the main altar on the chancel steps, one at the side of the nave and one on the balcony high up at the back of the church. Acts appeared in all three of the stages and this meant that the evening progressed fluidly, with no awkward gaps for re-setting stages. The audience sat informally in the nave space, most on chairs but some sitting on the floor. But that was as casual as it got, the audience was very attentive, there was little moving around and most people seemed to arrive in time for the 8pm start and stayed till the 10.40pm finish.

The aim of BREMF's club night events isn't just to present music in a more casual atmosphere, but also to give a platform for a wide range of young groups which the festivals supports and nurtures. Via the link-up with BBC Radio 3, many of the groups will get their first broadcast exposure. We were treated to some fascinating music and some inspiring performances from a range of fine young musicians.

Exaudi: Exposure 13

Having just been to see the Clerks and their experiment into the perception of words in music (see review on this blog), I listened to the Exaudi Vocal Ensemble’s Exposure 13 concert at the Only Connect Theatre in Kings Cross (on Tuesday 22 October 2013) with a new (sic) pair of ears.

A brief pre-concert talk gave two of the composers, Evan Johnson and Cassandra Miller, a chance to talk to Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Exaudi director James Weeks about their compositions. Both composers were very down to earth and endearing, and shared something about their compositional process for the pieces performed. But more of that later.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Donizetti's Belisario

Donizetti - Belisario: Mark Elder - ORC49
Donizetti's opera Belisario has been having something of a birthday recently in the UK. First Chelsea Opera Group performed it with Nelly Miricioiu as Antonina, conducted by Richard Bonynge in 2011, and then Mark Elder conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in concert at the Barbican with a strong cast who were then about to record the work for Opera Rara. And now Opera Rara has released the disc, with Alastair Miles as Giustiniano, Nicola Alaimo as Belisario, Joyce El-Khoury as Antonina, Camilla Roberts as Irene and Russell Thomas as Alamiro, Mark Elder conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers.

Belisario was the next opera that Donizetti wrote after Lucia di Lammermoor. He wrote it for Venice for the Carnival season of 1835-36. it was the last opera to be produced in the season, there were cast problems and, frankly, Donizetti had set far better librettos. But the performances were a success and, despite the poor dramaturgy, Donizetti came up with some of his strongest music in two of the scenes.

Greek - Music Theatre Wales

Music Theatre Wales: Greek; Marcus Farnsworth (Eddy). Photo: Clive Barda.
Music Theatre Wales: Greek
Marcus Farnsworth (Eddy). Photo: Clive Barda.
Music Theatre Wales's production of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Greek debuted in 2011 and has been revived to pair up with Sciarrino's The Killing Flower.  We caught Michael McCarthy's production of Greek at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Theatre on 25 October 2013, with Marcus Farnsworth as Eddy and Sally Silver, Louise Winter and Gwion Thomas sharing the remaining roles. Michael Rafferty conducted the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble. Turnage's visceral score is firmly enshrined in the period of its creation, the 1980's, and the interest and challenge of these performances was to see how Music Theatre Wales brought the opera back to life 25 years after its first creation.

Greek was Turnage's first opera written for Munich in 1988. Instead of having a libretto written Turnage set his own adaptation of Stephen Berkoff's play Greek, setting the play pretty literally. This means that the opera is very dependent on the general mis-en-scene of Berkoff's original which was intended as a commentary on the strikes and riots in 1980's Britain under Margaret Thatcher. Berkoff re-set the story of Oedipus in the East End of London with the plague a clear analogy for strike-torn society. The whole thing could descend into bathos, with opera singers attempting to sing in East End accents and re-creating 1980's riots. But Turnage has written such a visceral score which takes you by the scruff of the neck and drags you with it for two hours, that it demands to be staged.

Friday 25 October 2013

Endelllion String Quartet 35th anniversary

Endellion String Quartet - 35th anniversary
The Endellion String Quartet celebrates its 35th anniversary during the 2013/14 season. The quartet is resident at Cambridge University and will be presenting six concert's at West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge. For three of the concerts, Andrew Watkinson, Ralph de Souza, Garfield Jackson and David Waterman will be joined by violist David Adams for performances of Mozart's six String Quintets. The concert series opens on 30 October with Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet plus quartets by Haydn and Mendelssohn. The series continues with Mozart String Quintets plus Haydn's Lark Quartet on 27 November 2013. Further and on-line booking from the Cambridge Corn-Exchange website.

Supporting the Amazwi Omzansi Africa / Voices of South Africa Project

Njabula Madlala
Njabula Madlala
Baritone Njabulo Madlala's Amazawi Omzansi Africa/Voices of South Africa Project aims to help an inspire the next generation of South African opera stars. This year workshops and a singing competition were held in South Africa and a further competition and workshops are planned for 2014. As part of the fund-raising for the project we attended a private concert on 24 October 2013 given by Njabulo Madlala and a group of South African performers, soprano Filipa Van Eck, soprano Sarah-Jane Lewis, soprano Joyce Moholoagae, tenor Sipho Fubesi and harpist Alison Blackhall, with accompanist William Vann. The programme included arias from Bizet's Carmen and The Pearl Fishers, Mozart's Don Giovanni, Puccini's La Boheme and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, plus a reading and traditional South African songs to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Madlala's Amazawi Omzansi Africa/Voices of South Africa Project started in 2010 when he started invited colleagues and friends to travel to South Africa with him and work with young people there. This developed into offering training workshops and staged concerts.  In January 2013 they heard more than 200 singers audition across South Africa and Swaziland to take part in workshops and a singing competition. This is being repeated in 2014 with auditions in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Swaziland. Five singers will be chosen from each city and invited to Durban to take part in the final of the competition and a week of intensive workshops and training with invited guests.

Thursday 24 October 2013

British Composer Awards - 2013 short-list announced

Orchestral - Harrison Birtwistle - British Composer Awards 2012 photo Mark Allan
Harrison Birtwistle collecting the Orchestral award
British Composer Awards 2012
photo Mark Allan
The short list for this year's British Composer Awards was announced today by the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers (BASCA). The awards ceremony takes place on 3 December 2013 at the Goldsmiths Hall, when the winners in each of the 13 categories will be announced: Instrumental Solo or Duo, Chamber, Vocal, Choral, Wind Band or Brass Band, Orchestral, Stage Works, Liturgical, Sonic Art, Contemporary Jazz Composition, Community or Educational Project, Making Music Award, International Award. With three works being shortlisted in each category.

The awards were founded in 2003 and celebrate the music of contemporary British composers, apart from the International Award, the composers must either be British or have been resident in the UK for 5 years, and the works celebrated are those premiered in the UK in the previous year.

Scottish Ensemble at the Wigmore Hall

The Scottish Ensemble
The Scottish Ensemble return to London's Wigmore Hall on Saturday 26 October for a programme which includes Walton's Sonata for Strings, and arrangement of Brahms String Quartet No. 2 in G minor and music by two young contemporary composers Leopold Hurt and Martin Suckling. The ensemble are also playing for the Sunday morning coffee concert on 27 October when they will be joined by pianist Alasdair Beatson in Schubert's Trout Quintet, plus Alasdair Sprott's Bite

The ensemble return to the Wigmore Hall on 26 Feburary 2014 when they are joined by mezzo-soprano Sophie Harmsen to perform Dvorak's Love Songs, arias by Handel plus Biber's wonderful Battalia as well as music by Sugk and Pavel Haas. Further information from the Wigmore Hall website.

Ned Rorem - Evidence of Things Unseen

Ned Rorem
Ned Rorem
Nigel Foster and the London Song Festival opened their autumn season on 24 October 2013 with a concert at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, celebrating Ned Rorem's 90th birthday.Accompanied by Nigel Foster on the piano, soprano Gillian Keith, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston, tenor Nicholas Mulroy and baritone Ben McAteer performed Rorem's Evidence of Things Not Seen. Evidence of Things Not Seen is Rorem's song cycle from 1997 which sets a wide variety of poets from William Penn and Thomas Ken, to WH Auden, Langston Hughes and Paul Monette. 36 songs in a single epic sweep lasting 100 minutes.

The work was written in 1997 and all but two of the songs were written by Rorem specifically for the cycle. He has grouped the songs into three sections, Beginnings, Middles, Ends, and the theme is all human existence from birth to death. With such a complex set of texts, the cycle has a fascinatingly operatic feel to it in the way that there seems to be an underlying drama running through with different songs interacting and commenting on each other. Rorem emphasises this by having some songs sung by groups of singers, the cycle is by no means a sequence of 36 solo songs.

The theme of love is, of course, one that threads its way prominently through the songs but, being a work by Ned Rorem this means that in addition to Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning we get more homo-erotic texts. Then in the final section, last two great songs on the subject of death are both meditations on AIDS (by Mark Doty and Paul Monette). It is still remarkably rare to find such subjects touched on in art songs, and it is testament to Rorem's skill that he weaves these themes so successfully into the rest of the cycle.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Being a bloke - An encounter with Helen Sherman

Helen Sherman as Aurelio in L'Assedio di Calais, English Touring Opera, Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Helen Sherman as Aurelio
in L'Assedio di Calais, English Touring Opera,
Photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Australian mezzo-soprano Helen Sherman is currently appearing as Nero in English Touring Opera's production of Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea. James Conway's production re-sets the piece in Stalinist Russia with Sherman's Nero as dictator. This is her second major role with English Touring Opera, as Sherman sang Aurelio in ETO's spring 2013 production of Donizetti's L'Assedio di Calais. We met up, in the middle of rehearsals, to talk about what its like to play a bad-boy like Nero on stage.

Our conversation in fact started with Sherman's previous role with ETO, Aurelio. The role was something of a mile-stone, not only did she garner good reviews but it was her first major bel-canto role. Singing it as a man she found that as well as the role's tessitura suiting her voice being masculine in her body language helped to make her feel grounded. When I talked to her about preparing for roles, Sherman echoed Beryl Reed in that finding the right shoes is imperative to start building the character.

Having succeed with Aurelio in L'Assedio di Calais she admits that the challenge is going to be to get she same physicality in her performance whilst wearing a frock and heels. She will be returning to the role of Rosina in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Sivigla next year at Longborough, and she is keen to apply what she learned even though she will be wearing a corset.

Brahms Beloved - exploring the relationship between Brahms and Clara Schumann

Brahms Beloved - John Axelrod: TEL-34658-02
This new disc from John Axelrod and  the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi on Telarc, tries to explore the relationship between Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann. Axelrod conducts the orchestra in Brahms's Symphony No. 2  in D major, Op.73 and Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op.98. These are paired with performances of songs by Clara Schumann sung by Nicole Cabell and Indra Thomas accompanied by Axelrod on piano. The results are intriguing but don't quite make for a satisfying programme, though having 10 of Clara Schumann's songs on disc is an attractive prospect.

The relationship between Brahms and Clara Schumann is one that has continued to tantalised commentators. Fourteen years her junior, Brahms was a great emotional support in the period when Schumann attempted suicide, and after Schumann's death. Quite how close their relationship was, we probably will never know as both destroyed letters. Various theories have been put forward, including one that Brahms was attracted the Schumann's daughter. John Axelrod believes that Brahms had a madonna-whore complex.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

The Clerks – Tales from Babel (Musical adventures in the science of hearing)

The Clerks
In collaboration with the Wellcome Trust and scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Nottingham, tonight’s (Friday 18 October 2013) performance by the Clerks at the Royal Academy of Music peered around the boundaries between science and music. Edward Wickham first became interested in what an audience hears when listening to polyphonic vocal music and together with Christopher Fox developed ‘Tales from Babel’ and ‘Roger go to yellow three...’ a modern investigation of the problem.

In Genesis there is the premise that all the people in the world originally spoke one language, but that after the great flood God saw that people in a new city with its tower were becoming too powerful. Consequently He decided to scatter them all over the earth, confusing language so that the different groups could no longer understand one another. From this point on the city was called ‘Babel’ meaning to jumble.

The European Music Campus - Youth, Music and Renewal at the Heart of Europe

European Union Youth Orchestra in Berlin, 2013
European Union Youth Orchestra in Berlin, 2013
The European Union Youth Orchestra, in partnership with the Grafenegg Festival in Austria, has announced the launch of The European Music Campus. Starting in Summer 2014 this is promised to be an innovatory new centre for Europe's talented young musicians. Each year, the European Music Campus will run throughout the summer season as part of a new residency of the EUYO at Grafenegg, bringing great musicians and thinkers from around the world to Grafenegg to participate in a series of workshops, seminars, open rehearsals and performances, and establishing a landmark campus at the heart of Europe. The first sessions in Summer 2014 will see the European Union Youth Orchestra conducted by Semyon Bychkov.

The first edition of the European Music Campus will focus on Looking East in Europe, towards the former Soviet Union and to the countries which once seemed to be on the opposite side of Europe. Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov will conduct the European Union Youth Orchestra in Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 as part of the summer festival and lead the Campus debate.

Angel Blue at Rosenblatt Recitals

Angel Blue
Having impressed UK audiences in La Boheme (for ENO) and American Lulu (for the Opera Group/Scottish Opera), Californian soprano Angel Blue made her much anticipated recital debut at the Wigmore Hall for Rosenblatt Recitals on Monday  21 October 2013. Accompanied by pianist Catherine Miller, Angel Blue sang a programme which opened with the Alleluia from Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate, continued with songs by Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninov, then moved into the opera arias by Gershwin, Chapi, Puccini, Wagner, Cilea, and Verdi.

Judging by her repertoire and recent roles (Musetta, Lulu, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Traviata ) I had assumed that Angel Blue would have a voice which was in the lyric/soubrette/coloratura range but not a bit. She has a bright, vibrant voice which is admirably even throughout the range including a fine upper extension and she combines easy facility and flexibility with remarkable power. This was a voice which, when she opened up, filled the Wigmore Hall. Her inclusion of Dich teure Halle from Wagner's Tannhäuser made complete sense in the context of her vocal capacity. And I certainly agree with those who have compared her to a young Leontyne Price.

Monday 21 October 2013

Modern Times in Manchester

Modern Times - Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin's 1936 film Modern Times marked the last screen appearance of Chaplin's character the Little Tramp. It is also features Chaplin's largest and most sophisticated score; the film was released as a sound film but with no dialogue, even though talking pictures had been established for more than a decade. There is just Chaplin's music and sound effects. The film itself is a biting and darkly funny critique of the dehumanising effects of industrialisation.

In 1999 the composer Timothy Brock restored and reconstructed the score for live performance and on Saturday 26 October 2013 at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester there is a chance to see the film with the score performed live by the RNCM Symphony Orchestra conducted by Clark Rundell, head of conducting at the RNCM. Further information from the RNCM website.

Win tickets to hear Roderick Williams singing Brahms' 'Die schöne Magelone'

Title page from 'Die schön Magelona', Augsburg 1535
Title page from Die schön Magelona
Augsburg 1535
There is just one week left to enter our fabulous competition to win tickets for Roderick Williams and Julius Drake's recital on 14 November, when they will be performing Brahms's only song cycle Die schöne Magelone in the historic Temple Church. The cycle sets 15 poems from a novella by Ludwig Tieck, loosely based on a medieval story of courtly love, the poems inspired Brahms to created some of his most intense love songs. We don't get to hear the work often enough and Williams performance promises to be a notable occasion.

Make sure you enter before the competition closes at midnight on 26 October, see our competition page for full details of how to enter.

The Songmen - Demonstrating Versatility

The Songmen - Midnight
The Songmen is an ensemble of six young male singers in an a cappella group, one of a number such taking the Kings Singers as models. The Songmen's repertoire mixes modern takes on popular standards with items from the choral canon. Their first two discs showcase both these talents. Midnight is full of a cappella takes on cool jazz and popular classics with a lot of beat-box and doo-wop style accompaniment. Whilst A Sacred Place consists of the sort of repertoire that many of the singers will be familiar with from their training as Cathedral songmen.

Midnight opens with Mr Bojangles (Walker) arranged by Guy Lewis, one of the group's counter-tenors. The singers are quite closely recorded, but they give the song a lovely relaxed feel, albeit with some nicely on-sync rhythms. This is a very polished performance, and the song has a very contemporary feel with beat-box style percussive accompaniment. Something which seems a speciality of the group and crops up on a number of tracks.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Corinne Morris: Macedonian Sessions

Corinne Morris
British/French cellist Corinne Morris trained at both the Royal College of Music and the Paris Conservatoire, doing a post-graduate degree at the University of Music in Austria. But a promising career was cut short by a debilitating shoulder injury. After a gap of five years, treatment from the field of sports medicine has enable her to pick up her career. This new disc, recorded with Philip Hesketh and the Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra shows her picking up the threads of her career. On the disc she performs a mixture of shorter classics from the concertante cello repertoire along with lesser known pieces, including Bruch's Kol Nidrei Op.14, Saint Saen's Allegro Appasionato Op.43, Tchaikovsky's Nocturne Op.19 No.4, Woldemar Bargiel's Adagio Op.38, Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile Op.14, John Williams' Theme from Schindler's List, her own Un Ultime Volte, Faure's Elegie Op.24, Massenet's Meditation from Thais, Piazolla's Oblivion and Falla's Ritual Fire Dance.

Morris opens with the longest piece on the disc, Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei, his 1881 work based on Hebrew melodies. Morris displays a lovely singing line and fine grained tone. The bring a rich chestnut sound to the lower register and performs the work with elegant style and gentle melancholy. There is a good dialogue between soloist and orchestra and the recording rather made me wish to hear Morris performing the Dvorak Cello Concerto.

Autumn Music at the Temple: Sacconi Quartet

The Sacconi Quartet - Picture credit David Merewether
The Sacconi Quartet
Picture credit David Merewether
The Sacconi String Quartet played last night (Tuesday 15 October) at the Temple church just outside the city of London. The Temple church was built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar, a medieval military order of monks whose duty was to protect pilgrims during the crusades. They built several churches and castles across Europe and the Middle East, as well as the Temple church, and it is the basic design of a round church (echoing the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem), and its attendant chancel, which gives the building its amazing acoustic today.

The quartets programme reflected two composer centenaries, as they played Verdi's String Quartet paired with Puccini's Crisantemi, and Britten's Second String Quartet paired with Purcell's Chaconne.

Saturday 19 October 2013

New Music North West

New Music North West
The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) and the University of Manchester are presenting New Music North West, the UK's largest festival of new British music, from 26 October to 2 November. The week-long festival takes place mainly at the RNCM and at the university's Martin Harris Centre. There is the opportunity to hear groups such as the BBC Philharmonic, Psappha, Ensemble 10/10 and the House of Bedlam and the Liverpool-born composer Edwin Roxburgh features heavily. The festival includes over 10 world premieres and 24 of the concerts are free.

For the opening weekend MANTIS (Manchester Theatre in Sound) will be presenting a weekend of electro-acoustic concerts.  Works which received their premiere at the RNCM's Sound Histories event at the British Museum in July this year will be receiving their Manchester premieres on the RNCM concourse.

Viktoria Mullova, Ottavio Dantone and Accademia Bizantina in Bach

Viktoria Mullova
Viktoria Mullova recently released a disc of Bach violin concertos with Ottavio Dantone and Accademia Bizantina (see my review), and now she and the group brought a programme of four Bach concertos to the Wigmore Hall. On Friday 18 October Viktoria Mullova was the soloist, accompanied by Accademia Bizantina directed from the harpsichord by Ottavio Dantone, in Bach's Concerto in A minor for vioolin BWV1041 and Concerto in D for violin BWV1042, plus two of Dantone's transcriptions Concerto in C minor for violin and harpsichord (transcription of BWV1060) and Concerto in D for violin (transcription of BWV1053). A packed Wigmore Hall audience were all very eager to hear Mullova's particular clean-limbed Bach in live performance.

These were small scale performances, with a total of seven performers in all, just Mullova plus single violins, viola, cello and double bass with Dantone on harpsichord. But Mullova was very much part of the ensemble, these were performances notable for the collegiality with Mullova primus inter pares. All played standing, with Mullova playing in the tuttis and leading the players by example.

Friday 18 October 2013

First look: Les Vepres Siciliennes at Covent Garden

Erwin Schrott and dancers in Les Vepres Siciliennes at the Royal Opera House - (c) ROH/Bill Cooper 2013
Erwin Schrott and dancers in Les Vepres Siciliennes
(c) ROH/Bill Cooper 2013
The Royal Opera House brought its celebrations of the Verdi bicentenary to a close with its first production of Verdi's Les Vepres Siciliennes, thankfully performed in its original French version. The opera was Verdi's first custom build opera for the Paris Opera (it was preceded by Jerusalem which was a re-write of I Lombardi). Les Vepres Siciliennes was based on a rather hoary old libretto, originally written for Donizetti in the 1830's.  It is an uneasy backward glance at Parisian grand opera, in five-acts with a ballet and with an interaction between the historical and the personal, but the plot rather runs out of steam towards the end and Verdi would re-visit the genre far more successfully in Don Carlos.

Director Stefan Herheim, working at Covent Garden for the first time, brought his famously historical approach to bear on the opera. Working with his regular collaborator dramaturg Alexander Meier-Dorzenbach, with set designs by Philipp Fürhofer and costumes by Geine Völlm, Herheim set the piece within a theatre during the period of the opera's composition.  There was a strong cast, including Lianna Haroutounian as Helen, Michael Volle as Guy de Montfort, Bryan Hymel as Henri and Erwin Schrott as Jean Procida with Antonio Pappano conducting.

I will be reviewing a later performance of the opera in detail, but one of Planet Hugill's other contributors attended the first night on 17 October 2013 and this first look is based on his report.

City Music Foundation Showcase Concert 2013

The City Music Foundation Award winners 2013 with Sir Richard Stilgoe and Director of CMF, Lizzie Allen
The City Music Foundation Award winners 2013
with Sir Richard Stilgoe and Director of CMF, Lizzie Allen
The City Music Foundation is a new initiative intended to support musicians as they launch their professional careers, providing performance opportunities, mentoring, marketing and technical advice.  The foundation brings together expertise from the City of London's music and arts community, including the Barbican Arts Centre, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the London Symphony Orchestra, the City of London Festival and the Worshipful Company of Musicians, all based within the square mile of the city. During 2013 the foundation is the main beneficiary of the City of London's Lord Mayor's Appeal and through this they have created eight City Music Foundations artists. These are young performers at the start of their career who have been chosen not just for their musical excellence but because they will be able to benefit from the advice and opportunities that the City Music Foundation will be able to give.

Mikhail Nemtsov, cello - award winner 2013
Mikhail Nemtsov, cello - award winner 2013
On Thursday 17 October the initiative was launched with a showcase concert in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's new Milton Court concert hall with all eight of the artists (six solo artists and two groups) performing, with Sir Richard Stilgoe as master of ceremonies. The City of Music Foundation artists for 2013 are Miriam Nerval (recorder), Claire Iselin (harp), Mari Poll (violin), Bridie Jackson and the Arbour (folk group), Alastair Penman (saxophone), Cordelia Williams (piano), Mikhail Nemtsov (cello) and Tir Eolas (folk group).

Thursday 17 October 2013

ETO's Laika the Spacedog wins two Best Production awards at international opera festival

Laika the Spacedog - photo Robert Workman
English Touring Opera's opera for young people Laika the Spacedog (which I reviewed in January 2013) has won two awards at the Armel Opera Competition, part of the Armel Opera Festival in Szeged, Hungary. In a remarkable feat for an opera made for Primary Schools, the opera won the International Jury Prize for Best Production and the University of Szeged prize for Best Production. In winning the International Jury Prize for Best Production the production saw off competition from productions of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Britten’s The Turn of the Screw; the first ever British opera and the first opera for children to win the Armel Opera Competition’s prize for Best Production. (Follow the Read more link to see a video of the performance).

London International A Cappella Choir Competition

London International A Cappella Choir Competition logo
Choirs have until the 31 October 2013 to enter the first round of the inaugural London International A Cappella Choir Competition. The competition will bring together 16 choirs from around the world in a series of public concerts at St John's Smith Square. The competition, from 21 to 26 April 2014 celebrates Sir John Taverner's 70th birthday and is organised in association with Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars. Peter Phillips will be chairing the jury.

The competition is open to any a cappella choir of at least 16 voices. Initially the choir must fill in an application form (available from the St Johns Smith Square website) and provide two recent recordings. The full application must be completed by 31 October 2013. Those selected will then perform in one of the preliminary rounds (22-25 April 2014) in a programme lasting 25 minutes. Those selected for the final perform a 30 minute programme each on 26 April 2014.

Further information from the St Johns Smith Square website.

Ludwig Thuille: Songs

Ludwig Thuille: Songs - CHRCD063
Rarely do I find myself discovering music that is entirely new to me. But Ludwig Thuille (1861 - 1907), the composer of these lovely songs, was a name that was unfamiliar. An older contemporary of Richard Strauss's, his music seems to have dropped out of circulation; so much so, that his Lieder are not in print at the moment. On this disc Sophie Bevan, Mary Bevan and Jennifer Johnston sing a selection of Thuille's lieder accompanied by Joseph Middleton.

Thuille was born in Bozen, part of the Tyrol when Thuille was born but now part of Italy. He studied first in Innsbruck, where he met Richard Strauss who became a life-long friend and then with Josef Rheinberger in Munich. It was in Munich that he made his second home, forming what became known as the Munich school with Strauss and with Max Schillings. It is puzzling why Thuille's songs have not remained in currency, Joseph Middleton's excellent article in the CD booklet offers no illumination here, but perhaps Thuille's early death in 1907 at the age of 46 rather contributed to it.

Whilst the voice of Richard Strauss can inevitably be heard in the songs, there are also other influences notable amongst them being Robert Schumann for whose work Thuille had a great love. He remained a fairly conservative composer and the songs on this disc never achieve the daring that some of Strauss's do. But Thuille remains and interesting voice, and a neglected strand in the history of the German lied.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Stunning versatility - the BBC Singers at Milton Court

David Hill conducts the BBC Singers and Endymion in Steve Reich’s The Desert Music at Milton Court Concert Hall - Copyright: BBC/ Sarah Jeynes
David Hill conducts the BBC Singers and Endymion
in Steve Reich’s The Desert Music at Milton Court Concert Hall
Copyright: BBC/ Sarah Jeynes
The BBC Singers opened their 2013/14 season with a concert in the new concert hall at the Guildhall School of Music's Milton Court. David Hill conducted the choir in a programme of 20th century American works. They were joined by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston for Copland's In The Beginning, then the choir sang Eric Whitacre's Three Songs of Faith, Water Night and Sleep, finally the choir was joined by the instrumental ensemble Endymion for Steve Reich's The Desert Music.

The hall is a classic shoebox style venue, clad mainly in warm wood but with some striking 1950's style plasterwork decoration on the side walls. In fact, there is something rather 1950's about the whole of the styling of the hall. The ceiling of the hall is strikingly high and there are wooden reflectors suspended from it, adjustable to provide for differences in acoustic. The main body of the hall is not very steeply raked and I was sure about sight lines.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Eaton Square Concerts

Eaton Square Concerts logo
The Eaton Square Concerts series continues on 17 October 2013, with a recital by pianist Tom Poster who plays music by Schubert, Beethoven and Chopin plus a selection of Gershwin songs and the Shrovetide Fair from Stravinsky's Petrushka

Then on 24 October, the Vasari Singers and conductor Jeremy Backhouse perform Allegri's Miserer, James MacMillan's Miserere, Parry's Songs of Farewell plus Gabriel Jackson's Requiem which was commissioned by the choir. On 7 November, the Trusler Carroll Wass Trio -  violinists Matthew Trusler, cellist Thomas Carroll and pianist Ashley Wass - perform Copland's VItebsk, Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor and Ravel's Piano Trio. There is more chamber music on 14 November when students from the Royal Academy of Music's wind and string departments performing chamber music. The programme includes Nielsen's Wind Quintet, Rossini's rather virtuosic Duetto for Cello and Double Bass and Brahms's Clarinet Quintet.  

Further information from the Eaton Square Concerts website.

Spitalfields Winter Festival

Spitalfields Music logo
The Spitalfields Winter Festival runs from 6 to 17 December 2013 and presents a delectable series of offerings ranging from Britten and Handel to early plainchant and Perotin, with celebrations of Britten's centenary, and the Hilliard Ensemble's 40th anniversary. William Whitehouse's Orgelbuchlein project appears in the initmate surrounds of St. Peter's Ad Vincula in the Tower and there is even a musical feast!

Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima are bringing the Tale of Two Seasons programme which looks at two different years in Vivaldi's life and the way that his operatic and concerto work intermingled. (6/12). There is a chance to hear Bach's Orgelbuchlein in the intimate surroundings of the Chapel Royal in the Tower, with Bach's music played alongside contemporary works by  Guy-Oliver Ferla, Vincent Paulet, Roxanna Panufnik, David Coonan, Francis Pott, plus music for voice and lute from Tim Travers-Brown and David Miller. (7/12)

Opera on to film - an encounter with Ian Russell

Lise Lindstrom as Turandot, Royal Opera House
Lise Lindstrom as Turandot, Royal Opera House
Ian Russell is the film director who turned the Royal Opera House's recent performance of Puccini's Turandot into live cinema. Having seen performances both in the theatre and in the cinema, I was interested to learn more about what goes into creating a live film of an operatic performance, so I met up with Ian to talk about creating films of opera and what it takes to make a good one. Ian is the founder of the company Sparkly Light and has been responsible for the most memorable television broadcasts of the last two decades.

Ian Russell
Ian Russell
For Ian the most important feature of a film of a live opera performance is to deliver what the audience wants to see. Subconsciously we don't want anything between us and the essential theatre of the story, we don't want to notice the extraordinary camera work, this would only add to the tension. One of the impressive things about Ian's film of Turandot was how he got this right, allowing the cameras to dwell just where we wanted them to be.

Opera is a multi-layered art: with the music you can enjoy it without understanding a word. When you add a layer of pictures, the language is still universal but there are more dialects. And when filming opera there is a world of a difference between making a film, where the film director is in complete control of all creative aspects and filming a theatrical performance. Here you are covering someone else's creative work and Ian feels you need to understand it and reflect this creative work on the screen.

Popular Posts this month