Monday 31 October 2016

Mother Goose with life animation: Les Siècles at the Royal Festival Hall

Grégoire Pont
Grégoire Pont - Mother Goose
François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles are known for their performances of a wide range of music using period-appropriate instruments, including a performance of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring at the BBC Proms in 2013 using period instruments (see my review). For their latest London appearance the ensemble joins forces with illustrator and animator Grégoire Pont. 

On Wednesday 2 November 2016 at the Royal Festival Hall, François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles will be performing Ravel's ballet Ma mère l'oye with Pont doing live animation to accompany the music. Roth first worked with Pont on Presto!, a primetime series of short films about classical music watched by more than 3 million viewers on French television. You can see a demonstration of Pont's technique on Vimeo.

Also in the programme is Debussy's Jeux and La mer, and Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Full details from the South Bank Centre's website.

Admirable introduction: The Sixteen explores Edmund Rubbra's sacred music

Edmund Rubbra - The Sixteen
Rubbra Tenebrae motets, Missa Cantuariensis; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; CORO
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 13 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Valuable survey of Rubbra's sacred music in fine performances which bring out the sculptural qualities in his music

I first came across Edmund Rubbra's music in the early 1970s when the Grimsby Cleethorpes and District Youth Orchestra played one of his symphonies. I remember my teenage self being extremely taken with Rubbra's music, but until recently I had had very little exposure to Rubbra's choral music. A new disc from Harry Christophers and The Sixteen on Coro remedies that with performances of the Tenebrae motets, Three motets Op.76, Five motets Op.37 and Missa Cantuariensis Op.59.

Edmund Rubbra was a pupil of Holst and of RVW and a friend of Gerald Finzi, but Rubbra's music has remained somewhat on the back-burner and has not developed the prominence that the music of these others came to possess. Partly that is because Rubbra himself never helped things along, but perhaps also because there is a certain contrapuntal seriousness to his orchestral music. Just as the man did not attempt to sell himself, so his music takes a degree of concentration to appreciate it.

Despite Rubbra's love of counterpoint, much of the music on this disc is quite the opposite with a surprisingly amount of near homophonic writing. It is sober, sombre and serious, rather intent, but it is the harmony which strikes you with its fluid harmonic shifts. Though the music is tonal, he takes quite a distinctive route and with all the enharmonic shifts, creates something rather fluid. In fact, in some of the motets you feel the spirit of Gesualdo lurking over Rubbra's shoulder. Another factor in Rubbra's sacred music is that in 1947 he converted to Roman Catholicism, and his faith seems to have imbued his music.

A sort-of opera that fails to ignite: And London Burned at Temple Church

'And London Burned' © Chris Christodoulou
And London Burned © Chris Christodoulou
Matt Rogers And London Burned; Raphaela Papadakis, Gwilym Bowen, Alessandro Fisher, Aoife O’Sullivan, Andrew Rupp, dir: Sinead O'Neill, cond: Christopher Stark; Temple Church
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Oct 28 2016
Star rating: 3.0

Thought-provoking ideas, but opera on the Great Fire of London fails to capitalise on a tricky performance space

Matt Rogers' new opera And London Burned, with libretto by Sally O'Reilly, was presented at Temple Church (28 October 2016) directed by Sinead O’Neill, conductor Christopher Stark with Raphaela Papadakis, Gwilym Bowen, Alessandro Fisher, Aoife O’Sullivan and Andrew Rupp. In one of the many essays in the programme booklet for this event, Donald Cryan, Treasurer of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple from whom this work was commissioned, asserted that events of the Great Fire of London should be commemorated as an opera, rather than a play or oratorio.

Strange, then, that this was so unsatisfying as an "opera". It was designed for Temple Church with its rows of pews facing inwards that provide a long, narrow performing area and impossible acoustic for comprehension of the text. All the singers seemed to do was run from one end of the space to the other, wondering which way to face. There were probably a dozen people in the audience who didn’t have to crane around pillars to see what was going on.

Matt Rogers' score used seven instrumentalists creatively and evocatively: two clarinets, two horns and two cellos provided spectacular effects of chaos and confusion.

Sunday 30 October 2016

The intertwining of music and science: Galileo at the Brighton Early Music Festival

Roger Watkins, the Marian Consort - Galileo - BREMF - photo Robert Piwko
Roger Watkins, the Marian Consort - Galileo - BREMF - photo Robert Piwko
Galileo; The Monteverdi String Band, The Marian Consort; Brighton Early Music Festival at St Paul's Church, Brighton
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 29 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Dramatic performance linking Galileo's life with the remarkable music which surrounded him

Roger Watkins, members of Monteverdi String Band - Galileo - BREMF - photo Robert Piwko
Roger Watkins, members of Monteverdi String Band - Galileo - BREMF
photo Robert Piwko
Having previously explored the life and music of Gesualdo and of Hildegard of Bingen, Clare Norburn and Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) turned their attention to Galileo for this year's festival. Whilst the Renaissance scientist might seem an unlikely figure to be the subject of one of Norburn's plays with music, in fact there are a number of intersections. 

They presented Galileo - A music drama on the life and discoveries of Galileo Galilei at St Paul's Church, Brighton on 29 October 2016. Roger Watkins performed Norburn's text, whilst the Marian Consort (Katie Trethewey and Miriam Allan sopranos, Rory McCleery countertenor & director, Guy Cutting and Simon Wall tenors, Edward Grint bass), and the Monteverdi String Band (Oliver Webber violin/leader, Theresa Caudle violin, Wendi Kelly and David Brooker viola, Christopher Suckling bass violin, Peter McCarthy violone, David Miller lute, Alex McCartney lute, Steven Devine organ/harpsichord) performed music by Monteverdi, Vincenzo Galilei, Francesca Caccini, Francesco Canova da Milano, Joan Ambrosio Dalza, Cristofano Malvezzi, Giovanni Bardi, Giovanni Gabrieli, Cipriano de Rore, Emilio de'Cavalieri, Giovanni Antonio Terzi, Orlando di Lasso, Giuseppe Scarani, Michelangelo Galilei, Domenico Mazocchi, Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, and Alessandro Piccinini. The performance was directed by Stephen Tiller.

Galileo Galilei was born into a family of musicians, his father was a lutenist and Galileo would play lute duets with his father. Throughout his Galileo's life, music intersects his activities. As a young man he assisted his father's experiments to prove that equal temperament was better than mean-tone tuning, and as his father was a member of the Florentine Camerata, whose experiments led to the development of monody and to opera, the music in Galileo's life was cutting edge. Galileo was present at, and almost certainly involved in, the creation of the Florentine Intermedi of 1589, a musico-dramatic presentation which was an important pre-cursor of opera.

The play presented Galileo on the last day of his life, before his execution, reminiscing and remembering with music forming the backdrop to memory.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Apropos Anastasia

Anastasia (1971), Lynn Seymour. Photo © Leslie E. Spatt
Kenneth MacMillan - Anastasia (1971), Lynn Seymour
Photo © Leslie E. Spatt
Perhaps it was Lynn Seymour's first entrance on roller skates, or perhaps it was back-flip that did it, but Kenneth MacMillan's ballet Anastasia has always held a special place in my heart. It wasn't the first MacMillan ballet I had seen, we saw Romeo and Juliet (with Natalia Makarova), but seeing Anastasia with Lynn Seymour in 1975 made a really big impression. This is partly because after 1978 the full three-act ballet passed out of the Royal Ballet repertoire so I never got chance to see it again until 1996 when Deborah MacMillan supervised a new production (with Viviana Durante). Now this has been revived and we caught the performance given by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden on 28 October 2016 with Lauren Cuthbertson in the title role and Sarah Lamb as Mathilde Kschessinskaya, conducted by Simon Hewitt, with Viviana Durante and Jonathan Cope credited with the principal coaching.

Anastasia was MacMillan's first three act ballet using a new story (it was preceded by Romeo and Juliet and versions of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake). Its strength and weakness is that MacMillan uses Tchaikovsky symphonies (nos. 1 and 3) for the first two acts, this means that MacMillan has the advantage of a coherent score which really works in musical terms, but which limits the manoeuvrability when it comes to the dramaturgy. His later ballets in this vein, Manon and Mayerling used scores assembled and arranged (from Massenet by Leighton Lewis for  Manon and from Liszt by John Lanchberry for Mayerling) so that though the score lacks the real coherence and music-drama of a specially composed entity, the shape of it can be made to fit the necessity of the drama. It is a shame that MacMillan's only commissioned score in this vein was from Richard Rodney Bennett for Isadora, which mixed dance and speech and which has never found an entirely satisfactory form. MacMillan's final full length ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas showed what he could do with a fine commissioned score, even against the intransigence of the Britten Estate in not allowing him to cut the score (something which changed on revivals after his death).

So many interesting American composers alive: Odaline de la Martinez on her festival of American music

Odaline de la Martinez
Odaline de la Martinez
Amazingly Odaline de la Martinez's ensemble Lontano is 40 this year and the ensemble is celebrating by presenting the Sixth London Festival of American Music at The Warehouse in Theed Street, London from 6 to 11 November 2016. I recently met up with Odaline to find out more about the festival. 

But she is a woman with a lively range of interests and inevitably our engaging conversation ranged widely, taking in other mutual interests such as the music of Dame Ethel Smyth and Odaline's work to promote it, as well as  many delightful highways and byways, ranging from the problems of dealing with copyright (and the danger that it may increase to 90 years in the USA), to the original French libretto for Smyth's The Wreckers.

Odaline de la Martinez - Imoinda - Manna KnJoi Oko (soprano), Christopher Lilley (tenor)
Odaline de la Martinez - Imoinda
Manna KnJoi Oko (soprano), Christopher Lilley (tenor)
This year's London Festival of American Music is the sixth such festival. Odaline started it because she felt that there were so many interesting American composers alive, yet only five or six are well-known in the UK. She felt it a duty and pleasure to bring them to light. For the first festival, works by only living composers were performed, but since then music by older composers has been included because even now the music of Ruth Crawford Seeger or Amy Beach is not well known in the UK.

This year's festival opens with the film of scenes from Odaline's opera Imoinda (setting a libretto by Joan Anim Addo). The opera is the first part of a trilogy (the second part was performed at the previous festival and Odaline is currently working on the third part). Selected scenes from Imoinda were filmed in 2015 with Opera Ebony in New York City.

Friday 28 October 2016

UK premiere for Steinberg's Passion Week

Steinberg - Passion Week - Clarion Choir - Naxos
Until recently Maximilian Steinberg's Passion Week (written in 1923) was all but forgotten, but now choirs are rediscovering it. Steinberg was a pupil of Rimsky Korsakov; both Steinberg and Stravinsky were class-mates, in fact Steinberg became very close to Rimsky Korsakov, marrying his daughter Nadezhda. But at the revolution Stravinsky left whilst Steinberg stayed. He only became interested in sacred music rather late, and Passion Week was written for Mikhail Klimov and the Imperial Court Capella (renamed Petrograd People's Choral Academy), but shortly after completing the work came a total ban on sacred music.

The work has now been recorded twice, and the recording by Steven Fox (an alumnus of the Royal Academy of Music) and the Clarion Choir on Naxos is being celebrated with a performance of Steinberg's Passion Week by Steven Fox and the Clarion Choir, at the Dukes Hall, Royal Academy of Music on Sunday 30 October 2016 at 5pm. This will be the work's UK premiere and follows the choir giving the work's Russian premiere in St Petersburg on 25 October 2016.

Full details from the Royal Academy of Music website.

La Dolce Vita inspired Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne

Duncan Rock, Brandon Cedel - Don Giovanni - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Duncan Rock, Brandon Cedel - Don Giovanni - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Mozart Don Giovanni; Duncan Rock, Brandon Cedel, Ana Maria Labin, Magdalene Molendowska, Anthony Gregory, Louise Alder, Bozidar Smiljanic, Andrii Goniukov, dir: Jonathan Kent/Lloyd Wood, cond: Pablo Gonzalez; Glyndbourne on Tour at Glyndebourne Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 10 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Seduction and darkness from Glyndebourne's young cast in an engaging account of the rarely performed Vienna version

Magdalena Molendowska, Ana Maria Labin, Anthony Gregory - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Magdalena Molendowska, Ana Maria Labin, Anthony Gregory
Don Giovanni - Glyndebourne on Tour - photo Tristram Kenton
Duncan Rock was back as Don Giovanni in Glyndebourne on Tour's production of Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne on 27 October 2016. Rock had been ill for the previous performance and Jacques Imbrailo had jumped in at very short notice. Rock seemed to be in good vocal health, in Jonathan Kent's production (revived by Lloyd Wood, who was responsible for the production's 2014 main stage revival) with Brandon Cedel as Leporello, Ana Maria Labin as Donna Anna, Andrii Goniukov as Il Commendatore, Anthony Gregory as Don Ottavio, Magdalena Molendowska as Donna Elvira, Louise Alder as Zerlina and Bozidar Smiljanic as Masetto. Pablo Gonzalez conducted the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra, with continuo from Ashok Gupta (forte piano) and Jonathan Tunnell (cello).

The opera was set roughly in the 1950s/early 1960s with Fellini's film La Dolce Vita as a visual reference (though intriguingly we kept seeing hints of references to other more recent films as well). Paul Brown's set was a box which opened origami-like to reveal a variety of configurations. When open, the inside of the box revealed a De Chirico-like city-scape, and the outside presented a huge renaissance portrait of a woman and a massive portal (evidently based on a palazzo in Ferrara). But with the constantly changing perspectives as the elements unfolded and rotated, gave a wide variety of views and rendered the city-scape often in highly surreal manner. The seems to have received varied reviews, both on the main stage and for this touring revival but we certainly enjoyed it.

The version used was Mozart's 1788 Vienna version, an edition of the opera rarely performed.

Tancredi in Albuquerque

Rossini - Tancredi - Opera SouthWest
Rossini - Tancredi - Opera Southwest
Whilst we were in Santa Fe this summer, we met someone from Opera Southwest which is based in Albuquerque. A small-ish company founded in 1972, Opera Southwest produces two or three operas per year yet manages to punch above its weight thanks to an interesting artistic policy by the artistic director and principal conductor, Anthony Barrese. This season the company stages two operas, Leoncavallo's Pagliacci in March 2017 and a Rossini opera in October 2016, but the Rossini isn't one of the standard comedies which crop up regularly on the schedules, it is his early opera seria Tancredi. And a glance at the company's past seasons show this sort of imagination, with productions of not only of Rossini's Il turco in Italia but Otello also, and in 2014 the company mounted a production of Amleto a little known opera by a forgotten contemporary of Verdi's Franco Faccio. 

This year's production of Rossini's Tancredi, was conducted by Anthony Barrese and directed by David Bartholemew, with Heather Johnson as Tancredi, Lindsay Ohse as Amenaide and Heath Huberg as Argirio. The production used  Rossini's revised, tragic, ending to the opera rather than the lieto fine which was given at the work's premiere. Judging from the photographs it was a very handsome production, with costumes borrowed from Santa Fe Opera's production of Rossini's Maometto II and sets (by Dahl Delu) based on dramatic projections (a relative innovation for the company and one which has won them plaudits. You can read more in Charles Jernigan's review on the Opera Journal website.

I understand that the company has it sights on Rossini's Guillaume Tell, so perhaps a trip to Albuquerque is in order.

Thursday 27 October 2016

A Celebration of Shakespeare: Anne Sofie von Otter, Julius Drake and Henry Goodman

Anne Sofie von Otter - © Mats Bäcker
Anne Sofie von Otter - © Mats Bäcker
Purcell, RVW, Britten, Schubert, Korngold, Debussy, Berlioz, Sibelius, Tippett, Wainwright, Cole Porter; Anne Sofie von Otter, Julius Drake, Henry Goodman; Temple Music at Middle Temple Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 27 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Words and music interwine in the celebration of Shakespeare

A Celebration of Shakespeare in Words and Music at Middle Temple Hall on 26 October 2016 was a late celebration of Shakespeare 400 in the only surviving venue from Shakespeare's time where his plays were performed (Middle Temple Hall saw a performance of Twelfth Night in 1602). Presented by Temple Music as part of their Temple Song series, the evening featured mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter accompanied by pianist Julius Drake, with actor Henry Goodman. The programme was curated by Sophie Hunter and featured songs by Purcell, RVW, Britten, Schubert, Korngold, Berlioz, Sibelius, Tippett, Rufus Wainwright and Cole Porter, interleaved with readings from Shakespeare.

The programme was arranged in themed sections, Music, Love, Hamlet, 'Love, Death and Foreboding', The Tempest, Sonnets sometimes sticking to just one play and sometimes mixing sources but keeping the overall theme. There was a highly effective sequence from A Midsummer Night's Dream mixing Britten's opera with selections from the play. The music seemed to have been placed in the programme according to the theme of the text, so that sometimes the conjunction of composers was a little uneven. In the first half we had Purcell, Britten, Schubert, Britten, Korngold, Debussy, Berlioz with Schubert's An Silvia sitting a little oddly in an extended Britten sequence. But the strong end to the first half with Berlioz's La mort d'Ophelie led into a more coherent second half, with striking songs by Sibelius, Tippett and Rufus Wainwright.

Henry Goodman was a relatively late replacement in the programme, not that you could tell. He had the ability to quickly move from character to character, evoking just the right sense of drama for each whether it be Hamlet, Prospero or Puck. He and Anne Sofie von Otter really interacted together, not just in the extended scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream (where Goodman played Puck to von Otter's Oberon) but elsewhere too, and you felt that each really listened when the other was performing. In places, Julius Drake rather effectively overlapped piano introductions and speech to form a continues whole. And for the finale, Goodman joined von Otter in a performance of Cole Porter's Brush up your Shakespeare.

Considering Matthew Shepard

Considering Matthew Shepard - Craig Hella Johnson
Craig Hella Johnson Considering Matthew Shepard; Conspirare, Craig Hella Johnson; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 11 2016
Star rating: 3.5

A lyrical musical response to a difficult subject

On 7 October 1988 Matthew Shepard (then 21 years old) was attacked by two men, who targeted him because he was gay. He was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming, and left to die. This brutal event generated a number of artistic responses, notably the play The Laramie Project. Considering Matthew Shepard is composer/conductor Craig Hella Johnson's musical response to the events of October 1988, here recorded by Hella Johnson and his choir Conspirare on the Harmonia Mundi label.

The night Matthew Shepard died, he had been to a meeting of the University of Wyoming's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Association, where the speaker had been the author Leslea Newman. Newman later wrote a sequence of poems arising out of the event, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Hella Johnson's libretto for Considering Matthew Shepard takes poems from this collection, and adds to them words by Michael Dennis Browne along with texts from authors as diverse as Hildegard of Bingen and Rabindranath Tagore.

These are woven into a poetic narrative which takes the Passion as its inspiration, as Hella Johnson uses solos, and choral numbers linked by short sections of spoken narrative. These are all performed by Conspirare, which consists of a choir of 29 singers (some of whom provide the solos), and eight instrumentalists led by Hella Johnson on piano.

Hella Johnson's musical style is varied, he references a number of popular styles in the various solos ranging from Country and Western, and Blues, to more generic lyrical musical theatre, and the choral writing is equally as varied with both minimalism and the Swingles coming into play at various times. You can hear Hella Johnson talking about the work on YouTube.

New electronic opera, Heresy, premieres in Dublin

Heresy - Roger Doyle
Heresy - Roger Doyle (photo of Iestyn Morris in
a previous workshop performance)
Heresy, a new opera by Irish composer Roger Doyle and librettist Jocelyn Clarke, premieres on Friday 28 October 2016 at the Project Arts Centre: 36 East Essex Street Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland. Doyle can be considered the god-father of Irish electronic music and his score for Heresy combines electronics with live voices, with a cast including Morgan Crowley (tenor / counter tenor), Caitriona O’Leary (mezzo soprano), Daire Halpin (soprano), Robert Crowe (male soprano), Aimee Banks. The work is directed by Eric Fraad and presented by Meta Productions as part of Project 50, a season celebrating 50 years of the Project Arts Centre in Dublin.

Heresy is based on the life of Giordano Bruno, the 16th century Italian philosopher. Born in 1548, at Nola, near Naples and burned at the stake for heresy in 1600 in Rome, Bruna was a philosopher, priest, professor, playwright and occultist whose theories anticipated modern science. The opera combines scenes from Bruno's life with imagined scenes including episodes in his cell the night before he is executed where he is visited by a diversity of characters from his life, his works and from the future including James Joyce. Heresy is Doyle's first opera, his disc Time Machine was issued in 2015 (see my review).

Further information from the Project Arts Centre website. You can see scenes from the opera on YouTube.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Supporting Sophie's Silver Lining Fund: An evening with Sir Thomas Allen

Sir Thomas Allen
Sir Thomas Allen
In February 1998 nineteen-year-old Sophie Large, a talented singer and actor, had a tragic fatal accident. In her memory her parents founded the charity Sophie's Silver Lining Fund, with Dame Judi Dench and Sir Thomas Allen as its patrons. Since then the fund has helped over 100 young singers and actors by giving them bursaries while they are studying at college, to help in time of financial hardship.

On Monday 28 November 2016, Sir Thomas Allen will take part in An evening with Sir Thomas Allen at Middle Temple Hall in aid of Sophie's Silver Lining Fund. During the evening Sir Thomas will sing, and talk about his life and career with his friend Gerald Gouriet QC. Sir Thomas will also give a master-class with mezzo sopranos Catherine Backhouse and Martha Jones and baritone Lancelot Nomura, all of whom received bursaries from Sophie’s Silver Lining Fund whilst at music college.

Others who have received support from the fund include singers Ilona Domnich, Natalya Romaniw and Mary Bevan and actor Lauren O’Neill.

Tickets for the event are available from the Temple Music website, and those booking the top price tickets (£75) are invited to join Sir Thomas and the masterclass participants at a reception after the concert.

The throw of the dice: Josquin's Missa Di Dadi from the Tallis Scholars

Missa Di Dadi - The Tallis Scholars Josquin Missa Di Dadi, Missa Une mousse de Biscaye; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Gimell
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 18 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Two quirky early masses attributed to Josquin, making a rare and welcome appearance on disc

Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars have reached their eleventh disc of Josquin masses on the Gimell label. This latest disc contains two early masses, Missa Di Dadi and Missa Une mousse de Biscaye. Neither work is securely by Josquin, but both are thought to be early masses by the composer. Missa Di Dadi is intriguing because its name 'The Dice Mass' refers not to the tune which forms the cantus firmus, but to the dice references in the score.

Missa Di Dadi uses as its cantus firmus the tenor part of Robert Morton's chanson Naray je jamais mieulx. And each movement of the mass is preceded by a pair of dice, whose numbers seem to indicate the factoring of the note lengths in the cantus firmus. So for the 'Kyrie' a 2 and a 1 indicate note lengths are doubled. Except that this breaks down later in the mass, where Josquin uses the whole tenor cantus firmus rather than part of it. In his CD booklet article Peter Phillips links the dice to the popularity of gambling in Milan under the Sforzas in the 1480s, when Josquin spent time there. But we don't really know.

Missa Une mousse de Biscaye is in some ways more straightforward, a mass based on a secular tune with a French and Basque text, yet it is clearly an early work with the composer exploring what was and wasn't possible. In fact this is true of both works, and part of their charm is the fact that for all their smoothly beautiful surfaces, there are a great many details to explore.

City Music Foundation Young Artists for 2016

City Music Foundation young artists 2016 - photo Ben Ealovega
City Music Foundation young artists 2016 - photo Ben Ealovega
The City Music Foundation (CMF), which supports and mentors young artists, has announced the latest group of talent to join the CMF Artist Programme. Tabea Debus (recorder), Miguel Gorodi (jazz trumpet), Joseph Houston (piano), Hannah Morgan (oboe), the Ligeti Quartet (string quartet), Nérija (contemporary jazz ensemble) and Mihai Ritivoiu (piano) will undertake CMF's two-year development programme which focuses on turning great talent into professional success by equipping musicians at the outset of their careers with the tools, skills, experience and networks they need to pursue music as a viable and rewarding livelihood.
  • Tabea Debus was selected as a St John’s Smith Square Young Artist in 2015/16
  • Miguel Gorodi's latest project the Miguel Gorodi Nonet made its debut performance last year and is due to perform in the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival
  • Joseph Houston was a selected artist on the Making Music Philip and Dorothy Green Award for Young Concert Artists, won a Help Musicians UK 'Emerging Excellence' award
  • Hannah Morgan won 1st Prize at the Third International Barbirolli Competition and she makes her Wigmore Hall debut in November 2016
  • The Ligeti Quartet began a two-year residency as Ensemble in Residence at the University of Sheffield in 2015, have begun as Quartet in Residence at Cambridge and have made a CD for Signum Classics featuring a collection of new British works for string quartet and trumpet
  • Nérija's Manchester Jazz Festival set was featured on BBC Radio 3 and they will perform in the upcoming EFG London Jazz Festival, 
  • Mihai Ritivoiu's future engagements include recitals at St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Steinway Hall, as well as concerto performances with the Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Welcome to club Amnesia: Handel's Alcina from Royal Academy Opera

Handel's Alcina - Royal Academy Opera - photo Robert Workman
Handel's Alcina - Royal Academy Opera - photo Robert Workman
Handel Alcina; Meinir Wyn Roberts, Hannah Poulsom, Richard Walshe, Lorena Paz Nieto, William Blake, Emma Stannard, dir: Olivia Fuchs, cond: Iain Ledingham; Royal Academy Opera at the Round Chapel, Hacknet
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 24 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Handels'opera re-invented in a brilliantly engaging performance

Meinir Wyn Robert - Handel's Alcina - Royal Academy Opera - photo Robert Workman
Meinir Wyn Robert - Handel's Alcina - photo Robert Workman
Royal Academy Opera continues its peregrinations round London, whilst the Royal Academy of Music's theatre is rebuilt, presenting Handel's Alcina at the Round Chapel in Hackney on 24 October 2016. Directed by Olivia Fuchs, with designs by Yannis Thavoris, lighting by Jake Wiltshire and choreography by Victoria Newlyn; Iain Ledingham conducted the Royal Academy Sinfonia. The first night cast featured Meinir Wyn Roberts at Alcina, Hannah Poulsom as Bradamante, Richard Walshe as Melisso, Lorena Paz Nieto as Morgana, William Blake as Oronte and Emma Stannard as Ruggiero.

The Round Chapel, a former United Reformed Church, was built in 1871 and taken over in 1991 by Hackney Historic Buildings Trust which restored the building from derelict. It presents a large U-shaped space with balcony (including cast iron supports) and any theatrical production has to create its own theatre space.

Fuchs and Thavoris placed the audience up in the balcony, using the ground floor nave space as the playing area. Alcina's 'island' (here the club Amnesia) was placed in the centre, a large black platform with the orchestra on one side and the rest of the floor space filled with white balloons. Access to the 'island' was via a walkway, but there were also trapdoors providing access but also allowing a little bit of 'magic' as hands would mysteriously appear holding objects. The lighting rig (all created specially for the show) included an arch over the island which incorporated lighting, a neon 'Amnesia' sign, the screens for the surtitles and even an improvised drinks cabinet!

Not just beer and skittles: Celebrating 10 years of the OAE's The Night Shift

OAE - The Night Shift
OAE - The Night Shift
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) will be premiering Matthew Kaner's Concerto for Four Baroque Violins tonight (25 October 2016), but the performance takes place not in a concert hall but in The Old Queen's Head pub in Islington as part of the OAE's The Night Shift, its monthly series of casual classical gigs where you can drink, talk and listen to classical music in comfort. And to celebrate the fact that The Night Shift is 10 years old the OAE is calling on composers of all varieties (classical to punk, pop, reggae, soul, folk or hip-hop) to write music for the OAE's pub gigs. Composers interested in writing for The Night Shift should email the OAE,

The OAE is Resident Orchestra at The Old Queen’s Head, Islington, The George Tavern, Shadwell and The Bussey Building, Peckham, performing at one of these venues on the last Tuesday of every month. It also has Residency status at gay club night Duckie, in Vauxhall, and tours pubs and clubs across the country with The Night Shift. The orchestra has played more pub gigs than it has concerts at the Royal Festival Hall.

The Night Shift is on tonight (25 October 2016) at The Old Queen's Head, Islington, doors open 7.30pm and the gig starts at 8.30pm. If you can't be there then you can watch is live-streamed on YouTube. The last Night Shift of the year is on 29 November 2016 at the CLF Art Cafe (Bussey Building) in Peckham.

Juliane Banse in Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Marcelo Amaral and Juliane Banse at the Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Marcelo Amaral and Juliane Banse at the Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms; Juliane Banse, Marcelo Amaral; Oxford Lieder Festival at Holywell Music Room
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 21 2016
Despite illness, the German soprano gave a richly satisfying performance

The final concert in my day at the Oxford Lieder Festival on 21 October (see my previous reviews of the Bach Revived lectures, and the daytime recitals), was recital from soprano Juliane Banse and pianist Marcelo Amaral, at the Holywell Music Room, performing Schumann's Fraueliebe und -leben, Op.42, Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op.135 and Requiem, Op.90 No.7, plus songs by Mendelssohn and Brahms.

When Juliane Banse came on, she apologised saying that she had arrived in Oxford the previous night with a slight cold, but that this had got worse so she did not know what was going to happen. In the event she sang the entire programme, and though clearly suffering due to the cold, the result was a triumph of artistry and technique over physical problems. True there were occasions when it was clear Banse's voice did not quite do what it was supposed to do, but such was her skill and ability to communicate that what we took away from the concert was the sense of a highly satisfying exploration of the songs. Banse's voice was soft-grained yet vibrant. She sang from memory and the whole programme was richly complex and communicative with a lovely combination of sense of line and projection of text.

Monday 24 October 2016

Bohuslav Martinů Critical Edition

Bohuslav Martinů Critical Edition
The Bohuslav Martinů Critical Edition was launched something over a year ago, the project is scheduled to roll out over the next half century and is realised with the financial support of Bohuslav Martinů Foundation and in collaboration with the publishers Bärenreiter and Bohuslav Martinů Institute. Already published are volumes on The Epic of Gilgamesh, Symphony No. 4 and Chamber Music for 6-9 Instruments, and the availability of the printed music is leading to an increase in performances. 

In the UK, Aleksandar Marković conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Martinů's Symphony No. 4 (written in 1945 whilst the composer was living in the USA) at the Lighthouse, Poole (26 October 2016), and the Guildhall, Portsmouth (27 October). And further ahead, Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the Memorial to Lidice at the South Bank Centre on 25 January 2017. Though you have to travel to Brno, or to Prague if you want to hear his oratorio The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Further information from the Martinů website.

A day at the Oxford Lieder Festival: lunch with Schubert, tea with Mendelssohn and Gade

Daniel Heide and Andrè Schuen at Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Daniel Heide and Andrè Schuen at Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Schubert, Mendelssohn, Gade; Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide, Phoenix Piano Trio; Oxford Lieder Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 21 2016
Star rating: 4.5

A vividly engaging baritone, and a lyrically passionate piano trio at the Oxford Lieder Festival

My day at the Oxford Lieder Festival on Friday 21 October 2016, combined the Bach Revived lectures (see my article) and evening recital from Juliane Banse (see my review) with a lunchtime recital from the baritone Andrè Schuen and pianist Daniel Heide, and a rush-hour recital from the Phoenix Piano Trio (Jonathan Stone, Christian Elliott and Sholto Kynoch), both at the Holywell Music Room. Shuen and Heide's recital took a break from the festival's theme of Schumann songs and gave us a programme of Schubert songs, whilst the Phoenix Piano Trio performed music by Schumann's friends, Mendelssohn's Piano Trio no. 2 in C minor, Op.66 and Niels Gade's Novelletten, Op.29.

Andrè Schuen is a young baritone from the Südtirol (he is tri-lingual in Ladin, Italian and German) and he was accompanied by his regular accompanist Daniel Heide. They performed a sequence of Schubert songs, taking intertwining themes of love, wandering and the heavens. They opened with Auf der Brück, Schuen singing from memory and we could immediately appreciate his vividly vibrant baritone, allied to a superb command of the words. His was a virile account of Auf der Brück, with a strong sense of the words in the music (something that repeatedly struck me during the recital). He is quite a contained performer, but still gave the impression of an effortless sense of communication whatever the sense of the song.

Sunday 23 October 2016

A day at the Oxford Lieder Festival: Bach Revived

Phoenix Piano Trio performing Schumann at the Weston Library, Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Phoenix Piano Trio performing Schumann at the Weston Library, Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
This year's Oxford Lieder Festival is focusing on Robert Schumann, performing his complete songs and much else besides. Threaded through the day's events on 21 October 2016, was the theme of Bach Revived looking at the Bach revival led by Mendelssohn and which had a big influence on Schumann. As part of my day at the festival (see my reviews of the daytime concerts and Juliane Banse's evening recital) I heard lectures from Robert Quinney on Mendelssohn and Schumann's use of Bachian counterpoint, Hannah French on the revival of the St Matthew Passion, and Richard Wigmore on the influence of Bach in Schumann's songs, plus a short recital from soprano Turiya Haudenhuyse, and the Phoenix Piano Trio (violinist Jonathan Stone, cellist Christian Elliot, pianist Sholto Kynoch).

Robert Quinney lecturing at New College Chapel, Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Robert Quinney lecturing at New College Chapel, Oxford Lieder Festival
photo Tom Herring
Robert Quinney started things off with a fascinating lecture on how Mendelssohn and Schumann studied and were influenced by Bach's counterpoint. Quinney pointed out that, contrary to the popular narrative of Bach's music being ignored between his death and the early 19th century revival, Bach never really went away and that Mozart heard one of Bach's motets in Leipzig and Samuel Wesley was a great proponent. But Bach's music was not much appreciated, yet something changed in the early 19th century.

Mendelssohn had counterpoint lessons when young and he both played Bach's music on the organ and composed using techniques learned from Bach's music, writing two sets of preludes and fugues (Op.35 and Op.37) which use Bach as a model. And in the 1840s as music director of the cathedral in Berlin, Mendelssohn wrote a significant amount of music for the choir again inspired by Bach's models (two of which were to be included in Evensong at New College the following day).

Schumann's engagement with Bach was more private, he studied the Well-Tempered Clavier in 1830, and then in 1845 made an intense study of Bach's counterpoint and the fruits of this were the canonic studies for pedal piano, and the six fugues for organ on the name Bach. Quinney pointed out that in Schumann's songs there is a very strong authorial presence; in Dichterliebe every song is ended by the piano. And Quinney felt that it was this sense of authorial presence which Schumann appreciated in Bach's music. Bach's mature fugues involve a complicated web of interrelationships, Quinney likened them to a novel (a form that was just developing at the time), so that by the end we hear the subject differently because of the events along the way. And it is this subjectivity which we find in Schumann's fugues.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Two hours of Monty Python on acid: Shostakovich's The Nose at Covent Garden

The Nose, The Royal Opera © ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
The Nose, The Royal Opera © ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Shostakovich The Nose; Martin Winkler, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, John Tomlinson, Rosie Aldridge, dir: Barrie Kosky, cond: Ingo Metzmacher; Royal Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 19 2016
Star rating: 3.0

Shostakovich's satirical opera re-invented as highly theatrical vaudeville

Martin Winkler - The Nose, The Royal Opera © ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Martin Winkler - The Nose © ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper
Barrie Kosky's previous production in the UK included the dramatic and highly sexualised Castor et Pollux (Rameau) for English National Opera and the brilliantly re-conceived Saul (Handel) for Glyndebourne (see my review). So his Covent Garden debut, directing Shostakovich's anarchic and satirical early comedy The Nose, was eagerly anticipated (20 October 2016).

Performed in David Pountney's new English translation (at times more of a version rather than strict translation) with a stellar cast including Martin Winkler, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, John Tomlinson, Rosie Aldridge, Susan Bickley and Ailish Tynan, the opera was conducted by Ingo Metzmacher. Sets and lighting were by Klaus Grünberg with Anne Kuhn as associate director, costumes by Buki Shiff and choreography by Otto Pichler.

The absurdist short story by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) is a satire on Russian society and Shostokovich's opera, using a variety of Gogol stories as source materials, extends this. Though the libretto is ostensibly a satire on the Russia of Tsar Alexander I (reigned 1801-1823), it is allied to music of such startling modernity that it is clear that Shostakovich had his sights on contemporary Soviet society.

Shostakovich's score is a musical twin to the modernism which swept artistic Russia in the 10 years following the revolution before the repressions of Stalin took over. By the time the opera came to be performed this was already starting to be felt, and the piece was dropped after 16 performances, not to be performed again in Russia until 1974.

Barrie Kosky had come up with an anarchic vaudeville, two hours (the three acts play without a break) of organised chaos which mirrored Shostakovich's score.

Crossing boundaries: composer Sven Helbig talks about his latest work 'I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain'

Sven Helbig- photo Claudia Weingart
Sven Helbig- photo Claudia Weingart
The German composer Sven Helbig is perhaps best known in the UK for his work with the Pet Shop Boys including their Alan Turing project at the BBC Proms in 2014. Sven is a representative of the new classical music, spanning both the classical and pop worlds, and he uses elements of each in his music. I first met him in connection with his Pocket Symphonies disc, which I heard the Faure Quartet perform live at the Reeperbahn Festival in 2013 (see my review). Sven's latest project, combining choir and electronics, I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain, came out on the Berlin-based Neue Meister label in September, recorded by Vocalconsort Berlin, conducted by Kristjan Järvi. Sven was in London recently and I took advantage of catching up with him, and finding out more about I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain and the philosophy behind the work.

Sven Helbig - I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain - Kristjan Järvi, Vocalconsort Berlin
Sven Helbig - I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain
Kristjan Järvi, Vocalconsort Berlin
At first, our conversation seems to continue the themes from my interview with Kristjan Järvi, as Sven talks about how he is troubled by the current state of the world, and wonders how art can make a difference, feeling that we need to go back to human values. So it comes as no surprise to discover that Kristjan Järvi is a friend, and that the two have worked together on a number of Sven's projects. When, later in the interview, I ask Sven to describe I Eat The Sun And Drink The Rain for someone who has never heard it, he starts not with the music but with the text and with the work's philosophical meaning.

The work is not just a concept album created simply for the recording studio, but something which has a life in the concert hall, combining choral performance with Sven's own live electronics. The work was performed this year at the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, with visuals from Icelandic artist Mani Sigfusson and costumes by Esther Perbandt. Sven comments that the classical part of the festival has grown considerably since I saw him performing there in 2013, and this strand of the festival very much represents the new classical movement, spanning the interface between classical and popular.

Composers like Sven take influence sideways, rather than just from past classical masters

Sven feels that this style of music is very much a product of our times, being influenced by the availability of information via the internet. Composers like him take influence sideways, rather than just from past classical masters so Sven's music uses post-rock and electronics but transforms it by classical instruments.

Sven was born in 1968 in Eisenhüttenstadt in the Eastern part of the DDR close to the Polish border. He talks about how in 1982 if you found a disc which you liked, a recording by Anne Sophie Mutter say, there was little opportunity to find out more information about her or the music, all you could do was ask your friends, and wait until someone came across something. He talks graphically about phoning magazines, ensuring you have enough change for the phone, to try to get a copy of an article about an artist he was interested in. He sees all this as making people more focused, not really able to see what other things are happening, being so focused on Anne Sophie Mutter and probably not taking in music by Miles Davis or Radiohead.

Friday 21 October 2016

Provencal Handel in Faversham

Peter Paul Rubens - The Judgement of Solomon
Peter Paul Rubens
The Judgement of Solomon
On Saturday 22 October 2016, Musique Cordiale International Festival is presenting Handel's Solomon at Faversham Parish Church, in Kent, as part of the Canterbury Festival. Graham Ross conducts the Musique Cordiale Choir and Orchestra with soloists Kate Howden, Dima Bawab, Elizabeth Karani, Paul Young and Johnny Herford.

The Musique Cordiale Choir and Orchestra performed the oratorio with Graham Ross in August as part of the Musique Cordiale International Festival in Provence. It is a multi-generational ensemble made up of young professionals and established musicians, and acts as a platform for burgeoning soloists and orchestras.

Further details from the Musique Cordiale website.

Unequal Times: Club Inégales 5th anniversary season

Peter Wiegold and Notes Inégales by Frederique Bellec
Peter Wiegold and Notes Inégales by Frederique Bellec
The second concert of Peter Wiegold's Club Inégales autumn season, Unequal Times, takes place on Thursday 27 October when Chorale Inégales (made up of singers from Trinity Laban) will perform choral improvisations alongside the re-working of Purcell's King Arthur which premiered at the Spitalfields Festival this Summer (see Ruth's review on this blog). The Euston-based club is celebrating its fifth anniversary, presenting a wide range of events and inviting people from variety of genres to collaborate and to listen with open ears.

Further ahead the trumpeter Byron Wallen is joined on taegum (a form of transverse bamboo flute) by Hyelim Kim (12 November), and the Academy Inegales Weekender (13 November) will be showcasing emerging composers and performers. Cellists Shirley Smart and Kate Shortt will be joined by accordion player Tommie Black-Roff on 8 December for an evening which promises to encompass classical, jazz and Arabic influences. All these events take place in the club premises at 180 North Gower Street, NW1 2NB. Doors open at 7pm, with music from 8pm and there are always sets from the guests and sets from the resident band, Notes Inégales, as well as great food.

For the final even of the season on Wednesday 14 December, the club moves to the Antonin Artaud Building, Brunel University, Kingston Lane, Uxbridge, UB8 3PH, when the poet Benjamin Zephaniah will be performing alongside improvisations from the resident band, Notes Inégales.

Full information from the Club Inégales website.

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