Friday 18 October 2013

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).

Recorder player Miriam Nerval graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2012 and continued with post-graduate study there. She opened with the unaccompanied, Wat zalmen op den Avond doen  (What shall we do in the evening?) by Jacob van Eyck (1590 - 1657), a blind Dutch nobleman and musician. It is a set of divisions on one of the popular songs of the day, taken from van Eyck's publication Der Fluyten Lust-hof (The Recorder's Pleasure Garden). Starting very simply the work presents a series of variations (or divisions), each more elaborate than the previous and ending up with Nerval displaying some very nifty fingerwork. She followed this with the Sonata II in D minor Opus 1 by Louis Mercy (16?? - 1751). Mercy was an English composer and recorder player. His Opus 1, six sonatas for recorder and continuo, was published in 1718 and dedicated to James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon (and later Duke of Chandos and Handel's patron). A charming piece, in four movements - slow, fast, slow, fast, Nerval was accompanied on the harpsichord by James Johnstone. For her last piece we moved to the present day, the second and third movements of  The Voice of the Crocodile by the Australian composer Benjamin Thorn (born 1961). This was a very different sound-world using phonics and vocalisation as well as getting the performer to shout, speak and use her hands. A remarkable piece, and very popular with the audience, it put the recorder into an entirely new light.

Harpist Claire Iselin was born in Mulhouse, France and came to London to study at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, gaining an MMus in Performance in 2012. Her first work was Dance of the Bull from The Crown of Ariadne by Raymond Murray Schafer (born 1933). Schafer is a Canadian composer and the work was written for the Canadian harpist Judy Loman who premiered it in 1979. The work tells the story of Theseus and Ariadne. Dance of the Bull was an evocative work, using the unusual combination of harp and percussion (all played by the harpist), Schafer created atmospheric combinations of sounds, the interest was in the varied textures of the piece as well as watching Iselin using some of the advanced playing techniques required. She followed this with Hans Trnecek's transcription of Vlatava by Smetana. Evoking, as it does, the sound of one of Bohemia's great rivers Vltava transferred to the harp very effectively, with some lovely fluid and flowing sounds.

Mari Poll is a young Estonian violinist who studied at the Royal College of Music, gaining BMus, MPerf, Junior Fellow on Art Dip. Accompanied by Jennifer Hughes she played Ravel's Piece en forme de Habanera and Franz Waxman's Carmen Fantasie. Ravel's piece was originally written for bass voice and piano, this version for violin and piano was made by Georges Catherine. Poll played it was a lovely sweet tone and easy fluency. Franz Waxman was a German born, Jewish American composer known for his film music (he wrote the music for Rebecca). His Carmen Fantasy was written in 1946 for violin and orchestra for the film Humoresque. Poll played it with nicely seductive tone and stunning control in the technically challenging music.

The first half concluded with Bridie Jackson and The Arbour, a folk group from the North East, winners of the 2013 Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition. They sang three songs. The hypnotic and haunting We Talked Again, the simple, but effective and rather melancholy Prolong and finally Diminutive Man a more up-tempo blues influenced piece. There were four women in the group, Jenny Nendic on cello,  Bridie Jackson, Carol Bowden and Rachel Cross combining singing with playing instruments (quite a variety) and one of the memorable things about their performance was the wonderfully effective and imaginative arrangements, including the lovely sounding Belleplates, a form of hand chimes.

Part two opened with saxophonist Alastair Penman. Penman has masters degrees in Information and Computer Engineering (from the University of Cambridge) and Saxophone Performance (Royal Northern College of Music). He has a strong interest in the fusion of live performance with electronic effects. His first piece, Interference by Will Gregory (born 1959) best known for being part of the electronic music duo, Goldfrapp, Interference for saxophone and electronic accompaniment was written in 1995, and Penman controlled the computer based electronic accompaniment himself via a foot pedal. It was full of atmospherics, and fragments of mis-heard music; Gregory's programme note talked of the nostalgia of trying to tune an AM radio and getting fragments of music and sound. Penman followed this with Raaf Hekkema's transcription of Paganni's Caprice No. 3 for solo violin with Penman combining a lovely nutty tone with some spectacular fingerwork.

Cordelia Williams was the piano winner of BBC Young Musician in 2006. She studied at Chethams School of Music, then gained First in Theology at Clare College, Cambridge before completing a Masters in Performance at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She opened with Schubert's Impromptu in G flat D.899 no. 3, displaying lovely even control and a fine sense of poetry. By complete contrast, we then had the pianistic delirium of Regard de l'esprit de joie from Olivier Messiaen's (1908 - 1992) Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus, written of Messiaen's wife Yvonne Loriod in 1944. Williams showed herself a complete master of the piece's dense piano writing, bringing out some surprisingly jazzy moments in the work.

Mikhail Nemtsov graduated from the Rimsky-Korsakov Special Music School in St Petersburg before studying a Chetham's Music School and the Royal Northern College of Music. He was accompanied by his sister, Elena Nemtsova. They played the 3rd movement from the Sonata in G minor for cello and piano, op.19 by Segei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) and the Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major, Op.3 by Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849). Rachmaninov's sonata was written in 1901, Nemtsov brought out the singing melancholy of the movement in a warm-toned but very soulful performance. He followed this with a very elegantly sung account of Chopin's early work, written in 1829.

Finally, a second folk group. Tir Eolas, an eclectic alternative-folk group, was formed three years ago at the Royal College of Music by Philippa Mercer, Ruari Glasheen, Laura Snowden, Georgie Harris and Hedi Pinkerfeld. They began with a quite traditional arrangement of She Moves Through the Fair following this with Aida written by the band's guitarist Laura Snowden and based on a story from a book about the war in Bosnia. Finally the very lively Watermans/Waters of Whitby a combination of two tunes, one by Michael McGoldrick and the second by the band's flautist Philippa Mercer.

Richard Stilgoe provided the linking moments between the different sets, introducing them as well as keeping us entertained with his own poems when the change-over took some time. All done in a way which combined sheer professionalism with a joyful sense of humour.

Inevitably there was something a little indigestible about the evening, with 19 different works each chosen to show of the performer's best assets rather than making a coherent evening's entertainment. But such was the quality of the music making and the sheer joy that the performers had at being there, that we were well entertained.

The format of the evening needs some though as with each artist performing a 20 minute set and with the time for changing the stage set-ups, we had a very full evening lasting over three hours. Not everyone in the audience made the course, but those that left early missed some stunning performances. All the performers impressed and I look forward to hearing them again during their period working with the City Music Foundation.

Further information about the City Music Foundation from their website.

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