Tuesday 31 May 2016

Der Freischütz to celebrate the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's birthday

esign for Wolf's Glen Scene (Weber  'Der Freischütz') from Weimar, 1822
Design for Wolf's Glen Scene (Weber  Der Freischütz) from Weimar, 1822
Despite the remarkable power of the Wolf's Glen Scene, Weber's opera Der Freischütz does not have the prominence in the UK which it deserves, though it is moderately common in German speaking countries. It was last staged by Covent Garden in 1989 and I am not sure whether ENO has ever performed the work. As part of their 30th anniversary celebrations, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is performing Der Freischütz at the Royal Festival Hall on 7 June 2016, conducted by Mark Elder.

Weber's orchestrations always respond well to period performance, and this will be a chance to hear Weber's Romantic masterpiece with new ears. A strong cast includes Christopher Ventris as Max, Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Agatha, Sarah Tynan as Aenchen, Marcus Farnsworth as Kilian, and Simon Bailey as Caspar. Instead of spoken dialogue, there is a new narration written by David Pountney which will be spoken by John Tomlinson who also sings the Hermit and Samiel.

Full details from the Royal Festival Hall website.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Dresden Music Festival

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain; Dresden Music Festival at the Semper Opera, Dresden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 28 2016
A remarkable confluence of styles: the Ukulele Orchestra in the grand confines of the Semper Opera in Dresden.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is very popular in Dresden. The group made a return visit to Dresden's Semper Opera, as part of the Dresden Music Festival on 28 May 2016. And the event sold out in two weeks. Part of the charm of the events was the combination of seven performers in formal wear playing arrangements of pop classics on ukuleles in the grand auditorium of the Semper Opera. (The full line-up is Peter Brooke Turner, Hester Goodman, Will Grove-White, George Hinchcliffe, Leisa Rea, Ben Rouse, Dave Suich, Richie Williams though one was ill). A cultural disjoint made all the more remarkable by the wild enthusiasm of the audience, whose ages spanned everything from children to the mature and the elderly.

The group all play on ukuleles and sing, six played acoustically with microphones placed just in front of the instruments, whilst the bass line was provided by an electric bass instrument. The performers interspersed the songs with spoken introductions. To a native English speaker, these introductions were only marginally funny, but they seemed to hit the right spot with the predominantly German-speaking audience. The Ukulele Orchestra managed the difficult trick of being funny in a language not the audience's own.

Dresden Music Festival: Klingende Stadt - Musical City

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony performed on the Christopher Street Day stage as part of Dresden Music Festival's Klingende Stadt
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony performed on the Christopher Street Day stage
as part of Dresden Music Festival's Klingende Stadt
Klingende Stadt; Dresden Music Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 28 2016
A city wide day of music in Dresden with amateurs and professionals joining forces

One of the projects at the 2016 Dresden Music Festival (Dresdener Musikfestspiele) was entitled Klingende Stadt (Musical City). On Saturday 28 May 2016, all over Dresden music popped up in many places, both likely and unlikely. But a big feature was the participation of amateurs; the festival had responses from over 1000 amateur music-makers when they advertised. 28 May was also Dresden's Christopher Street Day (the German name for Gay Pride) and a parade with numerous floats made its way around town. The parade was due to arrive at 4pm in the Altmarkt where the Christopher Street Day stage was situated. And in an exciting confluence, this stage was used for a performance of the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with performers being a mixture of professionals and amateurs.

Arriving early we came across a flash-mob by the military band of the Bundeswehr (the German armed forces). The men and women were loitering in uniform with their instruments in the Neumarkt and when a lone trumpeter started playing Amazing Grace the others joined him; simple but effective. They only played two pieces, but the crowd would have been happy for far more. I wondered, is the German military band the only one to use Wagner tubas?

Brass and wind players from the Bundeswehr band were amongst the performers in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the Christopher Street Day stage. In a remarkable mix of styles, the Christopher Street Day floats arrived, all pumping out disco music. They stopped and disgorged their crews of drag queens, scantily clad go-go dances, lesbians and gay men both colourful and ordinary. All stood to listen to the performance of the last movement (the Ode to Joy) from Beethoven's symphony. What was important about it wasn't the quality of performance, though there was much to enjoy, but the sheer enthusiasm and collaboration between amateur and professional.

And when I interviewed the festival's Intendant, Jan Vogler, he told me how much positive feedback the festival had had, from ordinary Dresdeners able to participate in their festival.

You can see a video of the event on Visit Dresden's Facebook page.

Monday 30 May 2016

Kammer Klang finale

Christopher Fox
Christopher Fox
Composer Christopher Fox studied with Hugh Wood and Jonathan Harvey, and from 1984 to 1994 was a member of the composition staff at Darmstadt New Music Summer School. In 1999 to 2001 he wrote Everything You Need To Know, an installation for ensemble (up to 10 players) and voice(s), for Barbara Hannigan and the Ives Ensemble, who premiered it in 2001. The work consists of a series of component works; one of these, Catalogue irraisoné is being performed by the vocal ensemble Exaudi as part of Kammer Klang's Season Six finale at Cafe Oto on 7 June 2016. 

Catalogue irraisoné has been described as an absurdist tourist guide to Everything You Need To Know, and uses texts on the theme of place from authors including Virgil, Dante, Michelin guides, critiques of Rachel Whiteread’s “House”, and the text of the President of Romania’s speech to the 1999 ISCM World Music Days.

The event also includes the Brussels-based contemporary music ensemble Ictus performing music by Christopher Trapani for voice, violin, electric guitar & pedal effects deal with loops, microtonality, distortion and Mississipi Delta blues, plus works by Larry Polansky for voice and the Lou Harrison National Just Intonation Resonator guitar!

Brought thrillingly to life: Enescu's Oedipe at Covent Garden

Enescu's Oedipe - photo ROH/Clive Barda
Enescu's Oedipe - photo ROH/Clive Barda
Enescu Oedipe; Johan Reuter, Sarah Connolly, John Tomlinson, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, dir: Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco, cond: Leo Hussain; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 26 2016
Star rating: 4.0

A chance to reassess Enescu's important yet rarely performed opera, in a spectacular new production

Johan Reuter - Enescu's Oedipe - photo ROH/Clive Barda
Johan Reuter - Enescu's Oedipe - photo ROH/Clive Barda
It has been a long time coming, the Royal Opera's new production of George Enescu's Oedipe (seen Thursday 26 May 2016) represents a valuable opportunity to reassess Enescu's much admired yet rarely performed opera. Directed by Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco of La Fura dels Baus, and designed by Alfons Flores (sets) and Lluc Castells (costumes), the production was a co-production with the Monnaie in Brussels, and the Paris Opera. In London the opera starred Johan Reuter as Oedipe, Sarah Connolly as Jocaste and John Tomlinson as Tirésias with Nicolas Courjal, Alan Oke, Lauren Fagan, Samuel Youn, Hubert Francis, In Sung Sim, Claudia Huckle, Stefan Kocan, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Sophie Bevan and Samuel Dale Johnson, conducted by Leo Hussain.

Oedipe had a long gestation period, finally being premiered in Paris in the 1930s. Since then it has been an opera more admired than loved, and needing a baritone singer willing to champion the taxing title role. The opera works partly because Enescu's collaborator, librettist Edmond Fleg, created such an intelligently dramatic libretto, in four acts, based on Sophocles plays, Act One fills in the back story with Oedipe's birth and the fateful prophesy, Act Two takes the adult Oedipe from Corinth, where he grew up, to Thebes with the encounter with the Sphinx en route. Act Three is the plague in Thebes, ending with Oedipe's self-blinding, and Act Four is the ending at Colonnus.

Sarah Connolly - Enescu's Oedipe - photo ROH/Clive Barda
Sarah Connolly - Enescu's Oedipephoto ROH/Clive Barda
Around the central character (rarely off stage in the last three acts), Enescu has created strongly etched smaller roles, each of which counts, with Oedipe's wife/mother Jocaste (Sarah Connolly), the blind seer Tirésias (John Tomlinson), the shepherd who plays such an important part in the story (Alan Oke), Créon, Jocaste's brother (Samuel Youn), Oedipe's real father Laios (Hubert Francis), Merope Queen of Corinth (Claudia Huckle), the watchman (Stefan Kocan), the Sphinx (Marie-Nicole Lemieux), Antigone, Oedipe's young daughter (Sophie Bevan), Thesée, King of Athens (Samuel Dale Johnson), plus a Theban woman (Lauren Fagan).

Enescu has given each act a particular character, with the first and last more static and oratorio like, whilst the middle two represent the real heart of the dynamic drama. Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco responded to this in striking fashion. For the opening scene we were presented with a huge frieze filling the entire proscenium, which magically came to life. The structure of the frieze was present in the other acts but in the middle two it was shrouded and the characters set in 20th century dress. With the final act the sense of the mythic returned and the characters reverted to the earth coloured historical costumes of the opening act.

This structure enabled the directors to explore the way the mythic elements interacted with the historical present in the story, without pushing the sense of 'relevance' too far. When Oedipe (Johan Reuter) explained to his foster mother Merope (Claudia Huckle) why he could not take part in the celebrations in Corinth because of the prophecy, he did so lying on a couch as if in analysis. And the Sphinx (Marie-Nicole Lemieux) was embedded in a huge World War 2 aircraft (modelled on an American Apache aircraft), and Thebes under the plague was a very 20th century city.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Beethoven piano concertos, Sally Beamish, Amadeus Live - ASMF's new season

Murray Perahia and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Murray Perahia and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields' 2016-17 season is violinst Joshua Bell's sixth as music director. Programmes in London includes a four-concert series at the Barbican with pianist Murray Perahia directing the orchestra from the piano in all of Beethoven's Piano Concertos. At the Cadogan Hall, Joshua Bell will direct Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto from the violin, whilst Martin Fröst is director and soloist in Copland's Clarinet Concerto in a programme which also includes Lutoslawski's Dance Preludes and arrangements of Brahms, Bartok and klezmer. 

The fashion for films with live accompaniment has reached Milos Forman's 1984 film Amadeus and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and the Philharmonia Chorus will be providing live accompaniment to the film at the Royal Albert Hall, conducted by Ludowig Wicki.

Sally Beamish has been appointed the orchestra's first composer in residence, a partnership which runs until the end of the orchestra's Diamond Jubilee in 2018/19. Sally Beamish was at one time a viola player in the orchestra and her mother was also a member. The orchestra will be exploring Beamish's existing works as well as playing new pieces written for them.

The orchestra's programme includes over 80 concerts spread over 16 countries, with 11 different tours. Full details from the orchestra's website.

Saturday 28 May 2016

Thomas Nickell is performing David Matthews' Piano Concerto and his own piano sonata: I catch up with the young American pianist

Thomas Nickell - photo Stephen Sullivan
Thomas Nickell - photo Stephen Sullivan
The American pianist Thomas Nickell is only 17 years old, and already has made quite a name for himself. Both a pianist and composer, he will coming to the UK in July and will be performing David Matthew's Piano Concerto at at Stratford ArtsHouse on 10 July and at Kings Place on 16 July 2015 with the Orchestra of the Swan, as well as performing his own Sonata No. 3 in London and Stratford, and appearing with the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Curtis on 9 July. I caught up with Thomas by email to find out a bit more.

1. You are playing a David Matthews concerto in London, what attracted you to the work?
I am always interested in performing works by contemporary composers. What initially attracted me to David Matthews’ Piano Concerto was that the work is actually titled a “Piano Concerto”. This caught my attention because this implies a certain adherence to traditional forms. This is not something often found among contemporary works. Of course that does not mean that it is not an entirely original work. I was also very attracted to the harmonic writing. It is written in a harmonic style that is unlike anything I have heard before. Kind of Bartok meets Britten meets Gershwin. I also love how Matthews replaced what would typically be viewed as the scherzo or minuet movement of a four movement work with a tango, effectively incorporating a modern and eclectic dance form in the piece.

Thomas Nickell
Thomas Nickell
2. Do you find that being a composer affects your attitude to, and view of contemporary music and the works that you play?
I don’t think that my being a composer affects my attitude toward the contemporary music that I listen to or play, because it, for the most part, just provides me with new ideas and ways of viewing music that will in turn influence my own compositions.

3. What criteria do you use to choose contemporary works for performance?
I don’t suppose I have any criteria in selecting contemporary works for performance so long as they fit in alongside the other works I have selected for the programme. In general, I am interested in providing a totally new musical experience for my audience, that places the old with the new!

4. How much is your own composition influenced by the fact that you are a pianist?
Being a pianist only really influences my compositions when I compose piano music at the piano that I expect to perform myself. My Piano Sonata No. 3 didn’t quite start out that way. The piece actually began as a piece for string quartet, and slowly evolved into a piano piece, because I felt a certain longing for the piano in the themes and I thought it could have more potential as a piano work.

5. How would you describe your Piano Sonata No. 3? What would you say your influences were and what were you trying to achieve?
At the time when I composed my Piano Sonata No. 3, I was largely listening to the 20th century Russian masters, such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev, so I suppose their styles made their way into my piece a bit. Aside from that, my compositions generally draw influence from all of what I hear in my daily life which may include music or any of the unpredictable liveliness of New York City. And that is really what the piece is about: unpredictability. I want the listener to be at the edge of their seat, trying to predict what could come next, while still having the feeling that the music is alive.

6. Many composers nowadays eschew from traditional forms like sonatas, yet you have chosen to keep within the tradition. Would you say your sonata is a traditional work?

Friday 27 May 2016

Nicola Benedetti and Manchester Camerata in Harrogate

Nicola Benedetti
Violinist Nicola Benedetti will be performing an all Mozart programme with the Manchester Camerata, conducted by Andrea Marcon. at the Royal Hall, Harrogate  on 1 June 2016 as part of the Harrogate International Festivals' 50th anniversary celebrations. The programme includes Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, and Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major 'Turkish', plus Symphony No. 34 in C major, and Symphony No. 35 in D major 'Haffner'.

As Mental Health Awareness Week has just finished (16-22 May) it is rather appropriate that the pre-concert talk looks at Mozart and his mental health. Nicola Benedetti commented that "Music helps us deal with all the invisible things in life - to communicate with each other, listen to each other, feel each other’s feelings and empathise. Music, if taught well, can help us deal with this complex part of human interaction in a very painless way."

Thursday 26 May 2016

Live and streamed - the Wigmore Hall's three day 115th birthday bash

Wigmore Hall
The Wigmore Hall is 115 this this year, and not surprisingly there are celebrations, three of them in fact (on 31 May, 1 & 2 June 2016).  With music ranging from JS Bach, and JC Bach, through Schubert to contemporary, showcasing the hall's wide range of programming.

31 May is an all Schubert programme with the great Russian pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja performing Schubert’s Sonata in B flat major, Cuarteto Casals in String Quartet in G major D887, and singers Sophie Bevan (soprano), Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Henk Neven (baritone) and pianist James Baillieu performing Schubert lieder.

1 June is dedicated to Bach (both JS and JC), with Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, plus soloists Rachel Brown (flute), Isabelle Faust (violin), and Anna Lucia Richter (soprano). Then the final evening on 2 June is contemporary, with the JACK Quartet mixing old and new, fourteenth-century French Ars nova and Carlo Gesualdo’s madrigals, alongside UK premières of new work by Caroline Shaw and John Zorn.

The three concerts will be streamed on medici.tv and through the Wigmore Hall website. The live stream will be available to watch for free, without a subscription, from www.wigmore-hall.org.uk/live/stream, replay will be available for three months with a free registration for the 31 May & 2 June, and for one month for the 1 June concert.

Seductive and luminous - Clare Hammond plays Horae pro clara by Kenneth Hesketh

Kenneth Hesketh - Horae (pro clara) - Clare Hammond
Kenneth Hesketh Horae (Pro Clara), Through Magic Casements, Notte Oscura,Three Japanese Miniatures; Clare Hammond; BIS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 24 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Dazzling textures, and luminous playing on this disc of contemporary British piano music

This new disc from pianist Clare Hammond, on BIS (released 27 May), explores the dazzling piano music of the British composer Kenneth Hesketh (born 1968). At the centre of the recital is the work Hesketh wrote for Clare Hammond, Horae (Pro Clara), alongside Through Magic Casements, Notte Oscura and Three Japanese Miniatures.

Kenneth Hesketh began composing whilst a chorister at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, producing his first work for orchestra at the age of thirteen. At nineteen he received his first formal commission for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Charles Groves. He studied at the Royal College of Music, London, with Edwin Roxburgh, Joseph Horovitz and Simon Bainbridge and attended Tanglewood in 1995 as the Leonard Bernstein Fellow where he studied with Henri Dutilleux. He trained as a pianist and percussionist, and his facility at the piano imbues much of the complex figuration in his piano writing. Clare Hammond in her note comments that 'While many figurations are challenging, they are always idiomatic and, as a result, the frequent flights of virtuosity that occur are exhilarating to perform.'

Wednesday 25 May 2016

A remarkable tribute - In memoriam

In memoriam - Delphian
In memoriam William Byrd, Gareth Wilson, Silvina Milstein, Francis Pott, Jean L'Heritier, Robert Busiakiewicz, Rob Keeley, Antony Pitts, Matthew Martin, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Francis Grier; The Choir of King's College Choir London, Gareth Wilson; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 14 2016
A remarkable tribute to a remarkable man

This disc on Delphian, In Memoriam, was produced in memory of the late David Trendell who was music director of the Choir of King's College London, and whose death in 2014 came as such a shock. Conducted by Gareth Williams the choir performs a mixture of contemporary music, much written in David Trendell's memory, and Renaissance polyphony. There is Byrd's Laudibus in Sanctis, Jean L'Heritier's Nigra sum sed formosa, Palestrina's Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui and Jacobus Clemens non Papa's Ego flos campi, plus Matthew Kaner's Duo Seraphim, Gareth Wilson's Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis (Collegium Regale), Silvina Milstein's ushnarasmou - untimely spring, Francis Pott's Nigra sum sed formosa, Robert Busiakiewicz's Ego sum resurrectio et vita, Rob Keeley's Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis, Antony Pitts Pie Jesu (Prayer of the Heart), Matthew Martin's An Invocation to the Holy Spirit and Francis Grier's Panis Angelicus.

Conductor Gareth Wilson was appointed Acting Music Director of the choir on David Trendell's death, and conducted the choir's concert at St John's Smith Square in December 2014 (see my review) which had been planned by David Trendell. The music on the disc reflects Trendell's interests; Jean L'Heritier's Nigra sum sed formosa is given in Trendell's edition. Many of the contemporary pieces were composed by friends, pupils and colleagues (as the programme note puts it, with such a gregarious social person the were often a combination of the three).

This is recognisably David Trendell's choir.

Villiers Quartet new works competition

The Villiers Quartet
The Villiers Quartet
The new works competition run by the Villiers Quartet attracted some 114 entries from composers across 34 countries. The quartet reduced the list to six, and a public vote online came up with the three finalists. These three works will be played by the Villiers Quartet in a public recital in the Jacqueline Du Pre Music Building, Oxford University on 27 May 2016 at 7pm, and the audience will vote for a winner. The three finalists are:
  • Fantasy by Andrew Guo (USA), a 17 year-old young man from Chicago, Illinois
  • String Quartet No. 1 'from an exhibition of Australian woodcuts' by Ian Munro (Australia), an established composer and member of the Australia Ensemble
  • Planctus by Kristina Wolfe (USA/Denmark), sound artist, PhD candidate at Brown University

Further information and tickets from the event website.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Welcoming Xian Zhang - BBC NOW 2016-17 season

Xian Zhang - photo B Ealovega
Xian Zhang - photo B Ealovega
BBC National Orchestra of Wales new season sees Principal Conductor Thomas Søndergård returning, and Principal Guest Conductor Xian Zhang conducting her inaugural concert and a series of concerts celebrating important Welsh composers.
Thomas Søndergård will be continuing his Mahler series as well as conducting Stravinsky's Firebird and Rite of Spring as well as Prokofiev's Scythian Suite. These latter are part of a strand which explores storytelling throughout the season, with performances of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe (conducted by Tadaaki Otaka), Bach's St John Passion (conducted by John Butt), Stravinsky's Petrushka (conducted by Mark Wigglesworth).

Xian Zhang performances include Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 and Romeo and Juliet, Grieg's Peer Gynt, Gliere's Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, Britten's Four Sea Interludes, Shostakovich’s Concerto for piano, trumpet and strings with pianist Peter Donohoe and trumpeter Philippe Schartz, Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherezade, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique and Tan Dun’s Internet Symphony: Eroica, commissioned in 2008 by Google and YouTube. Xian Zhang marks International Women’s Day on 8 March when she and the orchestra will be joined by Latvian violinist Baibe Skride and her sister, pianist Lauma Skride.

Three concerts at Hoddinott Hall celebrate three important Welsh composers: Alun Hoddinott (1929–2008), Daniel Jones (1912-1993) and William Mathias (1934-1992). There will be Alun Hoddinott's The Sun, The Great Luminary of the Universe, Horn Concerto (with Alec Frank-Gemmell), his final Symphony and Violin Concerto (with Jack Liebeck). William Matthias's music to be performed includes Symphony No. 1, Laudi and Piano Concerto No. 3 with Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams.

Cian Ciarán of the Welsh psych-pop band Super Furry Animals will be premiering his first live orchestral work Rhys a Meinir which features poetry by Gruffudd Antur.

Full details from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales' website.

Exploring the Apollonian and Dionysian - premiere of Matthew T Hall's Cantata

Matthew T Hall
Matthew T Hall
Tomorrow morning (25 May 2016 at 11.50am), I will be taking part in the world premiere of Matthew T Hall's Cantata at Blackheath Halls. London Concord Singers will be be joining an instrumental ensemble of 16 students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, conducted Jonathan Tilbrook (head of orchestral studies at Trinity Laban) and soloists Sam Jewison (tenor, as the Voice of Apollo) and David Jones (baritone, as the Voice of Dionysius).

Matthew T Hall is a young composer who is studying at Trinity Laban, and his Cantata is a large-scale piece which explores the Apollonian and Dionysian in art, and in life, via settings of symbolist poetry. Hall has drawn from a range of poets including Alexander Blok, Walt Whitman, Friedrich Nietsche, Arthur Rimbaud, and Pablo Neruda. The text is intended to express the ideals represented by the Greek gods Apollo & Dionysus via a rich network of common symbols (such as the Sun). Dionysius affirms our mortality and our vitality by engaging with the destructive, the creative and the intoxicating (death, sex and wine), whilst Apollo represents a great many things, among them music, the Apollonian ideal appeals to logic, structure and 'beauty through form'. The poems are sung through the 'voices' of the two gods, provided by tenor (Apollo) and baritone (Dionysus) soloists. The chorus, as in a Greek tragedy, speak for the ordinary citizens dealing with these seemingly opposing forces.

Celebrating a milestone - pianist Janina Fialkowska's birthday tour

Janina Fialkowska
Janina Fialkowska
The Polish-Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska was 65 on 7 May 2016, and to celebrate this milestone she is undertaking a year-long concert tour. Her official birthday concert (on 8 May 2016) was in Augsburg (birthplace of Mozart's father) playing Mozart with the Sacconi Quartet. She returns to Britain on 26 May when she will be performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 13 in C K415 at St John's Smith Square with the London Mozart Players, conductor Jamie Martin, the last concert of the orchestra's 1783 Explored series. 

Fialkowska is reunited with the Sacconi Quartet for a concert for The Chopin Society UK, at Westminster Cathedral Hall on 29 May, when they will perform Chopin's Concerto No 1 in E minor Op 11 and Concerto No 2 in F minor Op 21. Fialkowska will again be in the UK when she performs at the Cheltenham Festival on 27 July. Her recital at the Pitville Pump Room is devoted to Chopin, presenting a selection of his greatest works. She has also released an celebratory disc, of Schubert's Piano Sonata No. 7 and Four Impromptus, Op. 142, on ATMA Classique.

Remarkably, Janina Fialkowska was operated on for an aggressive tumour in her left arm in 2002. Surgery, rigorous rehabilitation, and 18 months of performing only single-handed repertoire enabled her to return to the concert platform playing two-handed in 2004.

On the significance of reaching 65, Fialkowska commented "Funnily enough, when I am giving master classes or coaching young pianists for international competitions, I feel as though we are of the same generation and that we are all on the same journey of discovery together. In fact there are times when I end up learning more from them than they learn from me. But then I remember that I am now exactly the same age as my professors Gorodnitzki (at Juilliard) and Lefebure (in Paris) were when I first went to study with them, and they seemed incredibly wise but also ancient at that time,"

Monday 23 May 2016

The Aurora Orchestra is Playing with Fire

Playing with fire
Under the title Playing with Fire, Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra are presenting a programme which combines Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (played from memory) with HK Gruber's ‘pan-demonium’ Frankenstein!! with Marcus Farnsworth. They will be performing at St George's Bristol on 24 May 2016, Grenoble on 26 May, and London's Royal Festival Hall on 29 May.

The performance of Beethoven's symphony is the latest in the Aurora Orchestra's performances from memory and it is thought that this will be the first time the symphony has been played from memory since the Meiningen Court Orchestra played Beethoven under Hans von Bulow in the 1880s.

HK Gruber's Frankenstein!! was premiered in the 1970's and many performances since then have included Gruber himself as the chansonnier, this performance by Marcus Farnsworth will be an exciting opportunity to hear a new generation of performance in the role. Frankenstein!! will be directed by Martin Berry, and the project also features a new film.

There is a trailer for the project on YouTube.

Jonathan Harvey at Evensong - Choir St John's College, Cambridge launch new recording

St John's College Chapel, Cambridge
Chapel of St John's College, Cambridge
On Friday 20 May 2016, St John's College, Cambridge launched its new imprint on the Signum Classics label with a disc of Jonathan Harvey's music from Andrew Nethsingha and the Choir of St John's College (see my review of the CD). Choral Evensong in the college chapel included Harvey's The Annunciation (written for the choir in 2011) and Come, Holy Ghost as well as responses by Richard Shephard (born 1949) and the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from the Service in G by Herbert Sumsion (1899-1995). The voluntary, played by Edward Picton-Turbervill, was Jonathan Harvey's Laus Deo.

After the service there was a reception in the ante-chapel; those present included Jonathan Harvey's daughter Anna, as well as David Hill (Andrew Nethsingha's predecessor at St John's), Christopher Keyte (who was the baritone soloist in the choir's 1974 recording of Durufle's Requiem), representatives from Faber Music (Harvey's publishers) and Signum Classics.

The new St John's imprint is intended to be holistic and recordings will include not only the choir but students at St John's College as well as distinguished alumni. The next disc planned is of Christmas music, to be followed in the Spring by one of masses by Kodaly and Poulenc. Andrew Nethsingha also announced that the choir will be starting a major new collaboration with the composer Michael Finnissy

Deo - music by Jonathan Harvey from St John's College, Cambridge

Deo - Jonathan Harvey - St John's College, Cambridge - Signum
Jonathan Harvey I Love the Lord, Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis, Come Holy Ghost, Praise ye the Lord, Missa Brevis, The Royal Banners Forward Go, The Annunciation, Toccata for Organ and Tape and Laus Deo; Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha, Edward Picton-Turberbill; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 22 2016
Star rating: 5.0

A new imprint from St John's College, Cambridge, launched in fine style by a terrific disc devoted to the sacred music of Jonathan Harvey

Jonathan Harvey - photo Maurice Foxall
Jonathan Harvey
photo Maurice Foxall
This new disc is the first of a new Choir of St John's Cambridge imprint from Signum Classics. And a striking first disc it is too. Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College, Cambridge, with organist Edward Picton-Turbervill, have devoted the disc to an exploration of the sacred music of Jonathan Harvey.

Harvey's music often explored the religious and the numinous, the sense of the presence of God. And here we have his music mainly for the Anglican Liturgy, I Love the Lord, Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis, Come Holy Ghost, Praise ye the Lord, Missa Brevis, The Royal Banners Forward Go, The Annunciation and the two organ pieces Toccata for Organ and Tape and Laus Deo.

I have sung two of the pieces on the disc, I Love the Lord and Come Holy Ghost, neither of them easy. All the writing on the disc is challenging and the programme might seem foolhardy when the trebles, on the top line, have an average age of around 10. But Harvey was a chorister himself and whilst his writing challenges and uses techniques not often found in the music for Evening Service, the music is never less than achievable. On this disc Andrew Nethsingha and his choir do something remarkable, they make you forget the age of the singers and capture your imagination with superb performances.

I Love the Lord, written in 1977 for Winchester Cathedral, takes  a semi-chorus singing a G major triad and places it against the rest of the choir. The tutti part moves in and out of bitonality, almost as the psalmist tests his faith. Here Andrew Nethsingha places the eight singers of the semi-chorus at some distance from the choir, to magical effect. Textures are clear and lines firm, with the bitonal moments placed admirably.

The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge  - photo Ben Ealovega
The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge
 -photo Ben Ealovega
Jonathan Harvey's Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis was written in 1978 for Martin Neary. It starts like a rocket; Harvey talks about the Magnificat painting a picture of a cosmic Mary. For much of the time, the boys sing a type of cantus firmus with the men surrounding it with advanced vocal techniques which, common enough in 20th century secular music, are rarely heard in Anglican choir stalls. Rather than supporting the choir, the organ adds numinous moments. The choir don't just sing the piece, they make it go with a real swing, and there is a magical moment when the treble solo soars above the rest of the choir.

The Nunc Dimittis starts with just a solo baritone singing a highly angular line. The discreet choral accompaniment suddenly develops into something far more as the end of the canticle seems to explode with chaos, and a huge organ chord. The doxology returns to the cantus firmus with elaborations round it.

Harvey's Toccata was written in 1980 for organ and pre-recorded tape, essentially an excitingly fast interaction between high, quiet organ and a pre-recorded drumming sound. It explores a fascinating range of timbres. And then after four minutes of quiet intensity, all hell breaks loose briefly, before the opening rhythms return.

Come, Holy Ghost, written in 1984, is described by Andrew Nethsingha as a theme and variations. Harvey starts with the plain chant Veni creator spiritus sung solo, and then passed around with the choir adding drones as if notes were left hanging. There is a lovely transparency to the performance, with very much a sense of fragments of melody floating. When the trebles start singing multiple fragments in free time the result is a magical web of sound (in St John's College Chapel, Andrew Nethsingha gets the trebles to spread out through the chapel at this moment). Then the trebles return to a cantus firmus whilst the lower parts create a fine sense of free glossolalia. The work is full of magical moments, all beautifully realised in this performance.

Praise ye the Lord (1990) is a short, highly exuberant piece with performances (from both choir and organ) exhibiting great joy despite the trickiness of the writing.

Harvey's Missa Brevis was written for Westminster Abbey in 1995 (the Tercentenary of Henry Purcell). The Kyrie is densely chromatic, yet clear in shape with a great interaction between upper and lower voices. The Gloria starts with a grand gesture, and then goes at a terrific lick, again with two groups in the choir interacting with the final section increasing in density. The Sanctus is dark and intense, building in density and volume to the massive chords of the Hosanna, following a short edgy solo for the Benedictus, the Osanna returns. The Agnus Dei opens quiet and comforting, but the texture develops in intensity and complexity as the cries become more anguished.

Andrew Nethsingha's note makes it clear that a substantial amount of numerology and harmonic theory are involved in Harvey's invoking of the numinous and the apocalyptic. But the beauty of this performance is that, if you wish, you can forget about all this, enjoy the beauties on their own terms, and marvel at the superbly assured performance.

The Royal Banners Forward Go was written in 2004 for St John's College, Cambridge, when David Hill directed the choir. It sets three verses from the Latin hymn, Vexilla Regis. Initially steady and solemn, it becomes more intense and for the final verse a treble soloist floats magically above the texture. Laus Deo is the only piece on the disc played out of chronological context. Written in 1969 it is a high energy work, quite astonishing and a tour de force from both player (there is a video of Edward Picton-Turbervill talking about the piece on YouTube) and composer.

The Annunciation, setting an Edwin Muir poem, was written in 2011 for Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College, Cambridge. It was one of Jonathan Harvey's last works. Using multiple soloists, the piece engenders a magical sense of calm and a feeling for the numinous.

Andrew Nethsingha's excellent article in the CD booklet, makes is clear that the creation of the disc had great significance for him and the choir: 'Our journey of exploration of this music has been the most important and sastifying part of my musical career to date'. As a survey of Jonathan Harvey's sacred music this disc is valuable, and we can appreciate Jonathan Harvey's music sung by the sort of forces (men and boys) for which it was originally written, and sung by a choir clearly on peak form. But by some alchemy Andrew Nethsingha and the choir have given use something far more than that. These are performances to treasure, of great intensity and remarkable power. The disc was recorded over five days in July 2015, in itself a remarkable achievement.

Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012) - I Love the Lord (1977)
Jonathan Harvey - Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (1978)
Jonathan Harvey - Toccata for Organ and Tape (1980)
Jonathan Harvey - Come, Holy Ghost (1984)
Jonathan Harvey - Praise ye the Lord (1990)
Jonathan Harvey - Missa Brevis (1995)
Jonathan Harvey - The Royal Banners Forward Go (2004)
Jonathan Harvey - Laus Deo (1969)
Jonathan Harvey - The Annunciation (2011)
The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge
Edward Picton-Turbervill (organ)
Andrew Nethsingha (conductor)
Recorded in St John's College Chapel, Cambridge, 13-17 July 2015
Available from Amazon.co.uk

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Sunday 22 May 2016

Welcoming Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla - the CBSO's 2016-17 season

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's 2016-17 season arouses more than usual interest because it is the first in which their new music director, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is in charge. And there is plenty of interest, including three complete operas and visits from conductors such as Edward Gardner, Nicholas Collon, Aleksandr Markovic and the return of former chief conductor Andris Nelsons.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla's opening concert sees her conducting Hans Abrahamson's let me tell you with soprano Barbara Hannigan, alongside Mozart and Tchaikovsky, and her other concerts include Mahler's Symphony No. 1 alongside the UK premiere of Fires by fellow Lithuanian Raminta Serksnyte, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, and Rachmaninov's Third Symphony plus Mieczyslaw Weinberg's The Golden Key:Suite No. 4 (another UK premiere) and Copland's Clarinet Concerto, and Tippett's Piano Concerto with Stephen Osborne plus Stravinsky's Petrushka. Gražinytė-Tyla finishes the season with a concert performance of Mozart's Idomeneo with a highly attractive cast including Christoph Strehl as Idomeneo, Ben Johnson as Idamante, Sophie Bevan as Ilia and Joyce El-Khoury as Elettra.

Other delights in the season include Gilbert and Sullivan's Yeomen of the Guard conducted by John Wilson with a cast including Sarah Fox, Heather Shipp, Benjamin Hulett, Simon Butteriss and Sir Thomas Allen, with University of Birmingham Voices, Richard Egarr conducting Handel's Semele with Mhairi Lawson in the title roles, plus Louise Alder, Barbara Kozelj, Tim Mead, Andrew Tortise and Christopher Purves, Cristian Macelaru conducts a complete performance of Bartok's ballet The Wooden Prince.

Edward Gardner is conducting a number of concerts, including Walton's Second Symphony, an all Tchaikovsky programme for the CBSO Benevolent Fund Concert, John Adams' Harmonium plus Beethoven's Violin Concerto with James Ehnes, and Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Whilst Nicholas Collon will be conducting Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, Elgar's The Spirit of England, Korngold's Violin Concerto with Vilde Frang, Holst's The Planets plus Savitri with Sarah Connolly, and Schubert's Symphony No. 8 paired with Sibelius' Symphony No. 7 and Schumann's Konzertstuck for Four Horns.

Alekasandr Markovic, the new music director of Opera North, will be conducting Janacek's Taras Bulba, and a Magic of Vienna concert with music by Strauss, Kreisler and Waldteufel, with violinist Jack Liebeck. Former CBSO music director Andris Nelsons will be returning to conduct Bruckner's Symphony No. 4. Charles Hazlewood will be conducting a concert where the British Paraorchestra will be joined by members of the CBSO for a programming including music by Corelli and Lloyd Coleman.

Full information from the CBSO website.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Riotous Falstaff invades Wiltons

Fulham Opera - Falstaff
Fulham Opera - Falstaff
Having performed their production in their home base of Fulham, and at the Grimeborn Festival in 2015, Fulham Opera is now bringing its lively production of Verdi's Falstaff to Wilton's Music Hall, on 23, 26, 27, 28 May 2016. Directed by Daisy Evans (founder and artistic director of Silent Opera), the production features Keel Watson as Falstaff.

A kind of alchemy - I talk to Lionel Meunier about Vox Luminis and its distinctive sound

Vox Luminis at the Brighton Festival - photo Victor Frankowski
Vox Luminis at the Brighton Festival - photo Victor Frankowski
Lionel Meunier
Lionel Meunier
Lionel Meunier is the artistic director of Vox Luminis, the vocal ensemble which he founded in 2004 and in which he sings baritone. The ensemble was on tour in the UK recently and I was able to catch up with him after their concert at the Cadogan Hall (see my review), to find out more about the ensemble and its distinctive approach the music they sing. Their programme at Cadogan Hall had been, in many ways, quite a daring one; a Belgian ensemble performing all English Tudor composers to an English audience.

My first question though, was about the choir's distinctive sound. For Lionel it is about richness of sound, he likes using many different voices with varying vocal colours, rather than all similar, to create the sound that he imagines in his head. He tries to use each voice in its best range, and describes the process as a kind of alchemy. The ensemble's name is a good indicator, Vox Luminis, and Lionel is interested in the vocal brightness which can be achieved from overtones, rather than something artificial sounding. This interest in the quality of sound, and the issue of vocal placement, Lionel admits, something of an obsession.

Whatever language they sing in, they have a native speaker in the group

Discussion of the quality of the group's sound leads directly to the question of language and clearly for Lionel the two of intimately linked. From the outset the ensemble has had members from a variety of different nationalities. This means that whatever language they sing in, they have a native speaker in the group, who can then coach the others. Though Lionel admits that they can never hope to achieve the fluency of native speakers, they can aim for (and achieve) a sense of unified approach to the language. Being a non-native can, Lionel feels, also be an advantage. He points out that in his native French, the singing is almost routine and requires little effort to shape the syllables.

In a foreign language the singers take care to ensure a unity of approach to the shaping of syllables. At this point in our discussion Lionel demonstrates a couple of English words and with one like 'Lord' points out details in the articulation of the 'L' and the placement of the dipthong that I was completely unware of. It is this understanding which in English, for instance, helps ensure the singers do not fall into the trap of making the English vowels flat.

Beyond simple sounds, most importantly for Lionel, the singer ensure that they understand and express the text. There is a balance here to be achieved between over doing things and being too low key. Lionel feels they do not always reach their goal, but keep striving.

They perform the music in they way that it speaks to them


Friday 20 May 2016


Today at 12 noon (20 May 2016) players from the European Union Youth Orchestra, former players, players from other youth orchestras, professional orchestras, music colleges and academies, conservatoires, young students of music, singers and friends of the EUYO will come together to make their voices heard - through the power of music. Venue: Festival Terrace, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre.

This is one of a number of events happening all over Europe to protest the closure of EUYO thanks to the removal of European Union Funding. Too find out what else is happening,  see the EUYO Facebook page which is run by the players themselves.

Somewhere for the weekend - Sacconi Chamber Music Festival in Folkestone

Sacconi Quartet Chamber Music Festival
The Sacconi Quartet Chamber Music Festival in Folkstone runs from 20 to 22 May 2016, and this year the quartet (Ben Hancox, Hannah Dawson, Robin Sahwell, Cara Berridge) and their friends explore the various chamber combinations from duets and trios, through quartets and quintets to an octet, and a triple quartet. 

The opening night features the world premiere of Jonathan Dove's In Damascus for tenor and string quartet, which will be premiered by Mark Padmore and the Sacconi Quartet, Dove's string quartet Out of Time and Piano Quintet also feature in the festival. Other highlights include Steve Reich's Triple Quartet, and a concert for ten violas featuring music dedicated to the great violist Lionel Tertis by John Ireland, Frank Bridge, York Bowen, Benjamin Dale and Gordon Jacob.

Other composers in the festival include Haydn, Mendelssohn, Martinu, Bartok, Elgar, Mozart, and Brahms. Concerts take place at the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe, Folkstone, and the festal church service there on Sunday 22 May includes Mozart's Mass in G Major and Stainer's anthem I saw the Lord. The Sacconi Quartet are joined during the festival by friends including the Royal College of Music Chamber Orchesra, Morgan Szymanski (guitar), the Royal College of Music Viola Quartet, Charles Owen (piano), Roger Chase (viola) and Pierre Doumenge (cello).

Full information from the festival website.

Last but not least - Rachel Podger and EUBO at the London Festival of Baroque Music

Rachel Podger and the European Union Baroque Orchestra performing in May 2016
Rachel Podger and the European Union Baroque Orchestra performing in May 2016
Lully, Albinoni, Vivaldi, Handel, Wassenaer, Hellendaal; European Union Baroque Orchestra, Rachel Podger; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 19 2016
Star rating: 5.0

Communicative and joyful performances of a programme of baroque concertos, both well-known and lesser known

There was very much a feeling of endings, and new beginnings, at last night's (19 May 2016) London Festival of Baroque Music concert at St John's Smith Square. Under the title Final Word, the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) directed from the violin by Rachel Podger gave the last concert in the festival, and it was the orchestra's last concert in this form. EUBO dissolves and re-creates itself anew each year, and this was the final occasion when this particular group of players was performing together. But of course, we look forward to hearing EUBO's new line-up next year, and to the festival's 2017 incarnation.

Rachel Podger directed EUBO in a programme of baroque overtures and concertos, with Jean-Baptiste Lully's overture and dances from his opera Phaeton, Tomaso Albinoni's Concerto a 5 in C major, Op.10 No.3, Antonio Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in E major, Op.3 No.12 RV265 (from L'estro armonico), George Frideric Handel's Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op.3 No.1 HWV312, Unico Wilhelm  van Wassenaer's Concerto armonico No. 3 in A major, Pieter Hellendaal's Grand Concerto in G minor, Op.3 No.1 and Handel's Concerto grosso in C major, HWV 312 'Alexander's Feast'.

There was another theme running through the programme, more subtle perhaps and you had to read Simon Heighes excellent article in the programme book to really be aware of it. 2016 is probably the 350th anniversary of  the births of John Walsh senior and Estienne Roger, two of the major publishers of the age. Walsh published Handel (at first without permission and then with Handel's cooperation), whilst Roger published Vivaldi. Walsh dominated the English marked and Roger the European, and between then they published much of the music performed in the evening's programme. A tribute to two important but relatively shadowy figures.

Rachel Podger is a highly expressive player who has quite a dramatic use of her body language when playing and this style seemed to have inspired the whole group of players (some 18 in all covering eight different nationalities). Playing standing up (except for the cellos), the young people seemed to take Podger's physicality to heart and made the performance an expressively visual feast as well as aural. What was really noticeable about the music was that the ensemble had developed a real personality. This wasn't just a technically assured and highly creditable account of some tricky pieces. The players formed a real ensemble with a communal sense of vivid expressiveness, sense of vitality and constant feel of enjoyment. Whatever the mood of the music, whether happy, or sad, you felt they were all united in their wish to tell you that this was wonderful stuff.

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