Thursday 30 November 2017

Contemporary carols in style: Suzi Digby & ORA launch their Advent Calendar

Suzi Digby and ORA at the Royal Hospital Chelsea
Suzi Digby and ORA at the Royal Hospital Chelsea
ORA Advent Calendar; ORA, Suzi Digby; Royal Hospital Chelsea
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 30 2017
Star rating: 4.5

ORA celebrates the launch of its Advent Calendar with a programme of contemporary music for Advent and Christmas including two new commissions

On Friday 1 December 2017, the choir ORA (artistic director Suzi Digby) launches its Advent Calendar, releasing a recording of a contemporary Christmas carol each day from 1 to 24 December, including two new commissions from John Rutter and Debbie Wiseman. To celebrate this, Suzi Digby and the choir gave a pair of concerts at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and we were lucky enough to catch the first concert on Wednesday 29 November 2017 when they performed carols and arrangements by a remarkable range of living composers, John Rutter, Debbie Wiseman, Jim Clements, Adrian Peacock, Richard Allain, Fredrik Sixten, Roderick Williams, James Burton, Ola Gjeilo and Steven Sametz, along with music by Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, Judith Weir, Tomas Luis de Victoria, and Morten Lauridsen.

Suzi Digby and ORA at the Royal Hospital Chelsea
Suzi Digby and ORA at the Royal Hospital Chelsea
As ever, the visual presentation was highly dramatic and imaginative. We started out in the Great Hall, with the choir singing from outside and gradually moving into the hall, processing to plainsong. Various locations were used in the hall, so that everyone had a variety of different views of the group. Then during Judith Weir's My Guardian Angel the choir processed to the chapel and the audience followed; and it all worked perfectly!

We opened with Jim Clements' arrangement of Gabriel's Message sung with the choir outside of the hall. This started from a striking opening and developed into a clean yet romantic harmonisation of the traditional carol. With the choir outside, the sound was a little quiet to hear details but it was very atmospheric when they processed in to the plainchant Alma Redemptoris Mater. Adrian Peacock's Venite Gaudete started by setting up a lightly rhythmic accompaniment from the women, and then the men sang a richly harmonised tune over this, and then the roles were reversed to create a strong and striking piece.

The Coventry Carol was sung first in the original three-part medieval version, the results not at all neo-medieval but just finely sung. Richard Allain's arrangement of the carol followed; Allain has added an undulating harmonic line to the carol to rather striking effect. Rather lovely and effective, the harmony and textures gradually took over and the undulating line reminded me of a passage from Schnittke's Choir Concerto, though the style is very very different.

We DARE you: looking for artists and scientists to collaborate

Transmission - multimedia piece conceived by the late Becs Andrews during her time as DARE Cultural Fellow in Opera-Related Arts (Photo Chris Nash)
Transmission - multimedia piece conceived by the late Becs Andrews
during her time as DARE Cultural Fellow in Opera-Related Arts
(Photo Chris Nash)
The University of Leeds and Opera North are challenging artists and scientists to work together on new approaches to the creative process. The two organisations have announced the second DARE Art Prize and are seeking applications (closing date 12 January 2018) from creative practitioners in all media.

The prize was launched last year to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the DARE partnership between Opera North and the University of Leeds. Last year's inaugural prize had in its shortlist a whale choir and an exploration of cosmic bubbles, and the winning entry was from USA-born, Berlin-based composer Samuel Hertz, a proposal for an electro-acoustic chamber piece incorporating sounds below the level of human hearing. Samuel is currently working on his commission with performers from Opera North and academics from the University of Leeds, and as part of his research into low-level frequency sound, he wrote a piece for the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, which premiered at the Annual Science Museum Group Research Conference on 23 November. A Shadow Feeling uses the exceptional capabilities of the sound system in the Museum’s IMAX cinema to produce resonances elsewhere in the building.There is more information about Samuel Hertz's work on the Opera North website.

Applications should be sent in the form of a pdf or Word document to Lesley Patrick, Partnerships Director at DARE:, before the deadline of 12 January 2018. Shortlist interviews will take place in the week commencing 5 February 2018, and the recipient will be announced on 12 February.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition

Emma Wernig
Emma Wernig
Eighteen-year-old Emma Wernig from Los Angeles has won the Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition which was held this month (18-24 November 2017) at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Performing William Walton’s ‘Concerto for Viola and Orchestra’ (1929), Emma won the overall Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Prize of £5,000, a recording contract with Champs Hill Records and several high profile recitals as part of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Concert Series, including the opportunity to perform a recital in Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

Hosted in conjunction with the Arts Council of England, British Viola Society and Birmingham Services for Education and dedicated to Cecil Aronowitz, the South African violist and long-term collaborator with Benjamin Britten, the competition was open to violists from anywhere in the world aged 21 or under at the time of the competition.

Emma Wernig currently studies at the Colburn Conservatory with Scottish violist Paul Coletti.

Lara Albesano, aged 21 and from Italy, was awarded the Lionel Tertis Prize of £3,000 for finishing in second place, while third place was bestowed upon 18-year-old Parisian Sáo Soulez Larivière, who secured the Gwyn Williams Charitable Trust For Young Viola Prize of £1,000. Royal Birmingham Conservatoire student, Yue Yu, aged 20 and from Shenzhen, Guangdong, China, won the award for Best Sonata from her third round performance of York Bowen’s ‘Viola Sonata No. 1 in C Minor’ (1905). Her prize was a Pierre Guillaume viola bow from Sean Bishop worth £5,000. Twenty-year-old Silas Zschocke from Karlsruhe, Germany completed the line-up of finalists.

Enticing programme: RVW, Bernstein & Emma-Ruth Richards

Politican John Bright, whose words are used in RVW's Dona Nobis Pacem
Politican John Bright, whose words are used
in RVW's Dona Nobis Pacem
On Saturday 2 December 2017 the choir of King's College, Cambridge joins the Britten Sinfonia for an enticing programme at the Barbican which pairs RVW's Dona Nobis Pacem with Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, conducted by Stephen Cleobury with soloists Ailish Tynan (soprano) and Neal Davies (baritone). The programme also includes the world premiere of Emma-Ruth Richards' Sciamachy. The programme will be repeated at Saffron Hall on 16 February 2018.

Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, written for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival in Chichester and commissioned by the then Dean of Chichester, the Very Rev. Walter Hussey, have proved one of Bernstein's most enduringly popular works perhaps because Bernstein based some of the music in the piece on discarded and unused material from his musical theatre works.

RVW's cantata Dona Nobis Pacem was premiered bythe Huddersfield Choral Society in 1936, and unlike some of the composer's more abstract works of the period, does have an explicit link to the international situation at the time. The text combines sections of the Latin mass with poems by Walt Whitman, sections of the Book of Jeremiah and a parliamentary speech by the politician John Bright (RVW speculated that it was the first time such a speech had been set to music).

The concert opens with the world premiere of Emma-Ruth Richards’s Sciamachy for chamber orchestra, directed by Britten Sinfonia leader Jacqueline Shave. Commissioned by the William Alwyn Foundation with support from individual donors to Britten Sinfonia’s Musically Gifted crowd-funding scheme, Sciamachy (taken from the Greek ‘skiamakhia’ meaning ‘fighting your shadow’) draws on the themes of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms to journey through various fields of peace, conflict and resolution.

Full details from the Barbican website.

Metastasian first encounter: teenage Mozart's Il sogno di Scipione

Mozart - Il sogno di scipione - Classical Opera, Signum Classics
Mozart Il sogno di Scipione; Stuart Jackson, Klara Ek, Soraya Mafi, Krystian Adam, Robert Murray, Chiara Skerath, Classical Opera, Ian Page; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 22 2017 Star rating: 3.5
A stylish performance of Mozart's early serenata, though the composer seems to have been only intermittently engaged

Mozart's Il sogno di Scipione is fascinating because the opera represents an early encounter with Metastasio, the writer of the original libretto for Mozart's final opera seria, La Clemenza di Tito. During Mozart's lifetime Metastasio's librettos would come to be regarded as somewhat old-fashioned, but clearly they continued to hold a fascination for him.

This new recording of Il sogno di Scipione on Signum Classics is part of Ian Page and Classical Opera's complete Mozart edition. Page conducts Classical Opera with a strong cast featuring Stuart Jackson, Klara Ek, Soraya Mafi, Krystian Adam, Robert Murray and Chiara Skerath.

Il sogno di Scipione was composed in 1770, following the successful performances of Mitridate, re di Ponto in Milan. Il sogno di Scipione was actually written for Mozart's employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, though the circumstances are somewhat unclear. It seems to have been written for the licenza, the annual celebration of the Archbishop's consecration. But, because of a change of Archbishop, the work may never have been performed.

Prior to Il sogno di Scipione Mozart had composed a number of arias to Metastasio texts, but no complete work. Il sogno di Scipione is a serenata originally written in 1735 for the birthday celebrations of the Hapsburg Emperor. The plot is hardly revolutionary. Scipio, the famous Roman general falls asleep and dreams. The allegorical figures of Fortune and  Constancy appear to him, as do his father Emilio and adoptive grandfather Publio. With advice from Emilio and Publio, Scipione chooses between Fortune and Constancy, and he chooses the latter. When Scipione wakes up he takes the meaning of the dream to heart, and in the licenza at the end the muse explains the story was in fact about the Archbishop, cue chorus of praise.

Mozart's music is never less than interesting, and considering he was only 14 or 15 when he wrote it, then the result is astonishing.

Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. Mahler: Symphony No 3 in D minor

Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Cornelius Meister, Karen Cargill (Photo DSO Berlin)
Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Cornelius Meister, Karen Cargill (Photo DSO Berlin)
Mahler: Symphony No 3 in D minor; Toshio Hosokawa: Meditation für Orchester;Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, conducted by Cornelius Meister, Karen Cargill mezzo-soprano; Berliner Philharmonie
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Nov 25 2017 Star rating: 5.0
A symphony of gargantuan proportions that encapsulates the majesty, isolation and beauty of Nature so dear to Mahler’s heart

Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in June 2016
Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in June 2016
Mahler worked on his third symphony - a challenging, inspiring and uplifting work like no other and one of my favourites of his symphonic canon - when holding the first conductor’s chair at Hamburg State Opera while at the same time successfully carving out for himself a reputation that would eventually take him to the directorship of the Vienna Court Opera, one of the most influential positions in the musical world at the time.

Mahler's Symphony No 3 in D minor was performed alongside Toshio Hosokawa's Meditation für Orchester at the Berlin Philharmonie on Saturday 25 November 2017, when Cornelius Meister (standing in for an indisposed Robin Ticciati) conducted the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (DSO), with Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano)

Mahler referred to it as the ‘Great Symphony of Nature’ and it was voted the tenth greatest symphony of all time in a survey carried out by BBC Music Magazine. This is Mahler’s longest work and, indeed, the longest symphony in the standard repertoire - a performance lasts a good 90 minutes. Although planned for seven movements Mahler dumped the last movement but used it later as the finale of his fourth symphony.

Most of the writing was undertaken during the summer months when the opera was not working thereby offering Mahler all the scope and freedom he needed to devote himself to the art of composing. The third symphony (and, indeed, part of the second) was written at the composer’s country retreat of Steinbach-am-Attersee in Upper Austria. Here Mahler (who stayed at Lake Attersee on and off between the years 1893 to 1896) worked in a small cabin overlooking the lake.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

I, Object

Raphaela Papadakis
Raphaela Papadakis
Rather amazingly, it is over 30 years since the first performance of Michael Nyman's opera The Man who mistook his Wife for a Hat. To celebrate the City Music Foundation (CMF) is presenting Nyman's opera in a double bill with Kate Whitley's Unknown position (from 2011) at the ICA (the venue where Nyman's opera was premiered in 1986) on Thursday 30 November 2017. The CMF is bringing together a group of CMF Artists to form the core group of performers for the operas, which will be directed by Rosalind Parker, and designed by Ana-Sofia Londono. The operas feature soprano Raphaela Papadakis, tenor Nathan Vale, and bass-baritone Joseph Padfield with Mark Biggins conducting the CMF Orchestra.

The double bill will be preceded by a discussion with the panel including the composer Michael Nyman, Christopher Rawlence (librettist of The who mistook his Wife for a Hat), and Professor Jonathan Cole, Consultant in clinical neurophysiology and former colleague of Oliver Sacks on whose work the opera is based.

Nyman’s The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is adapted from a case study by Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who died last year, concerning events of Dr P, a music professor, who has gradually lost the ability to comprehend or interpret what he sees, a neurological deficit known as ‘visual agnosia’. Kate Whitley’s Unknown Position was inspired by Erika Eiffel, who famously married the Eiffel Tower in a real life example of object sexuality or objectophila. In the libretto, by Emma Hogan, the woman portrayed falls in love with a chair.

Full details from the City Music Foundation website.

Anna Dennis & Sounds Baroque at the Conway Hall

Anna Dennis
Anna Dennis
Purcell, Corbetta, Draghi, Marais; Anna Dennis, Sounds Baroque, Julian Perkins; Conway Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 26 2017 A delightful selection of Purcell's songs alongside music by his contemporaries

On Sunday 26 November 2017, the concert at the Conway Hall (part of the hall's long running Sunday Concerts series) was given by Julian Perkins and Sounds Baroque with soprano Anna Dennis, performing an attractive selection of songs by Henry Purcell, alongside instrumental music by his contemporaries Francesco Corbetta, Giovannia Battista Draghi and Marin Marais, plus two harpsichord pieces by Stephen Dodgson. I was there to give the pre-concert talk, but enjoyed the concert so much I thought I would write about it.

Anna Dennis was unfortunately recovering from illness and so the programme was altered slightly, reducing the number of songs and adding some instrumental pieces by Marin Marias instead. The instrumental ensemble consisted of Julian Perkins (harpsichord), Henrik Persson (bass viol) and James Akers (theorbo and guitar).

We started with a group of Purcell songs, Sweeter than Roses, On the brow of Richmond Hill, Cupid the slyest rogue alive and She loves and she confesses too. With her rich timbre and plangent tone, Anna Dennis brought a rather sculptural quality to the vocal line in Sweeter than Roses, making the piece almost dramatic at times, whilst On the brow of Richmond Hill had a charming sense of narrative. Cupid, the slyest rogue alive was wonderfully characterful, but powerful too, whilst She loves and she confessess too was a toe-tapping piece over a ground bass.

Revolting Rhymes and Marvellous Music from the Magnard Ensemble

Revolting Rhymes and Marvellous Music - Magnard Ensemble
Patterson Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs; Magnard Ensemble; Orchid Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 21 2017 Star rating: 5.0
Roald Dahl's marvellous stories with Paul Patterson's wittily inventive music, in infectious performances

This delightful disc features two works by Paul Patterson based on stories by Roald Dahl, Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, along with Martin Butler's Dirty Beast, also based on Roald Dahl. The works are performed by the Magnard Ensemble (Suzannah Watson, flute/piccolo, Mana Shibata, oboe, Joseph Shiner, clarinet/bass clarinet, Catriona McDermid, bassoon, Jonathan Farey, horn and Sulling King, piano), with narrator Rebecca Kenny.

Little Red Riding Hood was written by Paul Patterson in 1992 to a commissin from  Roald Dahl's widow and was first performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This orchestral version was followed by a number of others, including the one used on this disc for piano and wind quintet, originally designed to facilitate performance at children's concerts. Roald Dahl's original story has been expanded slightly somewhat by Donald Sturrock, but the essential Dahl magic is still there, engagingly narrated by Rebecca Kenny.

Of course, the story has some interesting twists, including the ending. But Patterson's delightful music is fully the story's equal.

Monday 27 November 2017

Celebrating 25 years: Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake

Middle Temple Hall
Middle Temple Hall
Tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Julius Drake celebrate a collaboration that stretches back 25 years with a concert at Middle Temple Hall on Wednesday 29 November 2017 as part of Temple Song. The programme of the concert echoes that of Bostridge and Drake's first collaboration as at Middle Temple Hall they will be joined by the Piatti String Quartet to perform RVW's On Wenlock Edge, a work Bostridge and Drake first performed together in 1992. The programme will be complete with Purcell’s The Queen’s Epicedium and The Holy Sonnets of John Donne by Benjamin Britten. Incidentally, over 70 volumes of John Donne's personal library are in the Rare Book and Manuscript Collection of Middle Temple Library.

Further details from the Temple Music Foundation's website.

A Housman Dichterliebe: Gareth Brynmor John, Nigel Foster & Gabriel Woolf

Gareth Brynmor John
Gareth Brynmor John
Schumann Dichterliebe, A.E.Housemann; Gareth Brynmor John, Nigel Foster, Gabriel Woolf; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 24 2017 Star rating: 4.5
A generously lyrical account of Schumann's great song-cycle interleaved with Housman poems

The London Song Festival continued its theme of Circles, Cycles and Revolutions at Hinde Street Methodist Church on Friday 24 November with Robert Schumann's great song cycle Dichterliebe setting poems by Heinrich Heine. Baritone Gareth Brynmor John and pianist Nigel Foster performed Schumann's song cycle alongside the four Heine settings which were dropped from the cycle (either by Schumann or his publisher), and three Heine settings from Schumann's Myrthen. Under the title of A Housman Dichterliebe, the songs were interleaved with readings, as actor Gabriel Woolf read from A.E. Housman's late poetry (More Poems, Late Poems and Additional Poems).

Schumann's Dichterliebe sets sixteen poems by Heinrich Heine selected from a far longer sequence about a young knight's adventures in love. There is little knightly in Schumann's selection, what we get is a young man's journey through the pains of love and though the Schumann wrote the cycle during his wonder year of 1840, when he finally got to marry his beloved Clara, Dichterliebe reflects the period 1835 to 1836 when the two became estranged and eventually reconciled. And it is these themes which remarkably chime with Houseman's poetry. His late poetry can be more explicitly homo-erotic but there is still something contained and at a distance about Houseman's writing, he writes about his feeling but at one remove, yet the concerns are the same as in the Heine poems.

Gabriel Woolf read poems between some of the songs, and the effect was rather as if the older poet was addressing the younger, and this was particularly true as Gareth Brynmor John remained fully present when not singing, alert to what Woolf was saying.

Sunday 26 November 2017

Portable operatic delights for everyone: Pop-Up Opera's Hansel & Gretel & the V&A

Humperdinck: Hansel & Gretel - Polly Leech, Sofia Larsson, Pop-Up Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Humperdinck: Hansel & Gretel - Polly Leech, Sofia Larsson, Pop-Up Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Humperdink Hansel & Gretel; Sofia Larsson, Polly Leech, Ailsa Mainwaring, James Harrison, dir: James Huntley, md: Berrak Dyer; Pop-Up Opera at the Victoria & Albert Museum
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Nov 18 2017 Star rating: 4.5
Pop-Up Opera's delightful chamber-version of Humperdinck's classic

Humperdinck: Hansel & Gretel - Ailsa Mainwaring, Pop-Up Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Ailsa Mainwaring, Pop-Up Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
This was my first visit to a Pop-Up Opera show, and the first time I had seen a staged performance of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel staged. In a way it is two different works. Scored for a Wagner-sized orchestra, early productions were conducted by Richard Strauss (1893) and Mahler (1894). But singers who look and act like children and can also make their mark above such forces can’t be that easy to come by.

Pop-Up Opera’s chamber version in the Lecture Theatre at the Victoria & Albert Museum on 18 November 2017 took the piece back to its roots as a children’s entertainment, performed by Sofia Larsson, Polly Leech, Ailsa Mainwaring, James Harrison, Rebecca Moon, director James Hurley, movement director Caitlin Fretwell Walsh, musical director Berrak Dyer. Cut to less than two hours, it was child-friendly as well as adult-friendly. Everyone had things to laugh at as well as things to think about. The Brothers Grimm and Dr Freud and their dark forests of the middle-European mind are not far away, and you don’t have to be a grown-up to be thinking about how being poor is really bad for families – or how sugar makes you an addict. And how to play all this post-Savile when there are actual children in the audience…

I felt that Pop-Up Opera got all this right.

Saturday 25 November 2017

The man behind the music of War Horse: I chat to composer Adrian Sutton

Adrian Sutton (photo Matthew Gough)
Adrian Sutton (photo Matthew Gough)
War Horse: The Story in Concert is a striking project which combines original music from the play War Horse (which premiered at the National Theatre in 2007) with Michael Morpurgo's book on which the play was based. Performed live at the Royal Albert Hall in 2016, War Horse: The Story in Concert is now being released on CD with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Michael Morpurgo and Joanna Lumley do the narrations. 

National Theatre production of War Horse
Composer Adrian Sutton has been with the project since he first wrote the music for Nick Stafford's play at the National Theatre. Adrian's other credits at the National Theatre include Coram Boy, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Angels in America, yet Adrian did not start out writing music for the theatre. I recently met up with him at the National Theatre to find out more.

First of all, I wondered what exactly listeners to War Horse: The Story in Concert were going to get. Adrian explained that it is a hybrid, a complete reading of the book with music from the play, and he likens it to Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.  For people who have seen the show, Adrian feels that the music will allow people to enjoy the sense and the atmosphere of the play, to put them back in that world. But as they use the original book, you don't actually have to have seen the play to appreciate the piece.

War Horse: The Story in Concert  is entirely separate from the War Horse Suite which Adrian created six or seven years ago. This is effectively a symphonic poem, and to create it Adrian spread all the music out on his desk and worked out how he could use to to tell the story of War Horse on its own musical terms.

As well as Adrian's music, War Horse: The Story in Concert includes the songs by John Tams which were part of the original production. It was John Tams, who describes himself as a song maker, who source and adapted songs as appropriate material for particular scenes and Adrian then orchestrated them.

It was happenstance that he came to work in the theatre

Adrian came to writing for the theatre by a rather circuitous route.

Henry Purcell: Songs, Theatre & more: pre-concert talk at Conway Hall

Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys
I am giving a pre-concert talk at Conway Hall on Sunday (26 November 2017), Henry Purcell: Songs, Theatre & more, when I will be talking about Henry Purcell and his contemporaries Henry Lawes, Francesco Corbetta, Giovanni Battista Draghi, and even Samuel Pepys, in advance of the concert that evening from Julian Perkins, Sounds Baroque and soprano Anna Dennis. There will even be a little contemporary nod with the music of Stephen Dodgson.

Further information from the Conway Hall website

Friday 24 November 2017

An epicentre of the extraordinary: Salzburg Festival 2018 including Henze, Penderecki & von Einem

Salzburg Festival - Hofstallgasse (Photo © SF/Kolarik)
Salzburg Festival - Hofstallgasse (Photo © SF/Kolarik)
On Wednesday we were invited to high tea at the Austrian Ambassador's Residence in Belgrave Square for high tea (English sandwiches and Austrian cakes) with Helga Rabl-Stadler, president of the Salzburg Festival, and Markus Hinterhäuser, intendant of the festival, to learn about the festival's plans for 2018. There is much to look forward to, 206 performances over 42 days at 18 venues (20 July to 30 August 2018) with five new opera productions, a revival of a production from the Whitsun Festival and two concert performances, including opers by Hans Werne Henze and Gottfried von Einem, alongside a programme of concerts which includes the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra alongside visiting guests, as well as a performance of Penderecki's St Luke Passion.

The highlight for me must be the final new production, Hans Werner Henze's The Bassarids which was commissioned by the festival and first performed there in 1966. Kent Nagano conducts the new production, directed by Krysztof Warlikowski, with a cast includng Sean Panikkar, Russell Braun, and Willard White. And rather strikingly, Gottfried von Einem's centenary is celebrated with a concert performance of his Kafka-based opera, Der Prozess, with HK Gruber conducting.

The first new opera production of the festival is Mozart's Die Zauberflöte directed by Lydia Steier (an American director who staged Handel's Jephtha at the Vienna Festival) with Matthias Goerne as Sarastro, Albina Shagimuratova as the Queen of the Night, Mauro Peter as Tamino and Christiane Karg as Pamina, conducted by Constantinos Carydis. Franz Welser-Möst conducts Richard Strauss's Salome with Asmik Grigorian singing the title role for the first time, and Italian director Romeo Castellucci (who also designs the sets, costumes and lighting) promising a production without a drop of blood. John Daskak and Anna Maria Chiuri sing Herod and Herodias.

The festival had intended to revive the 2017 production of Verdi's Aida, but without Anna Netrebko and Riccardo Muti it was decided not to, and instead this has morphed into a new production of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades. Mariss Jansons conducts and Hans Neuenfels directs, with Brandon Jovanivich as Hermann.

A year after the Monteverdi celebrations, the festival is celebrating Monteverdi with a new production of L'Incoronazione di Poppea, an opera Markus Hinterhäuser sees as not that dissimilar to Die Zauberflöte. The work will be staged by Jan Lauwers and his arts collective Needcompany, with William Christie conducting Les Arts Florissants. The soloists are an interesting mix of period and modern expeerience, with Sonya Yoncheva (seen recently at Covent Garden as Bellini's Norma) as Poppea, Kate Lindsey as Nerone and Stehanie d'Oustrac as Ottavia.

Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier's production of Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri from the Whitsun Festival is being performed with Cecilia Bartoli in the title role, Jean-Christophe Spinosi conducts his Ensemble Matheus. There is also a concert performance of Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles makes an appearance, with Patrick Fournillier conducting and a cast which includes Javier Camarena, Aida Garifullina and Placido Domingo. Not a cast for the ages, or for French stylists but one to intrigue perhaps.

The festival's Overture Spirituelle commences with a performance of Penderecki's huge St Luke Passion with Kent Nagano conducting the Orchestra Symphonique de Montreal and the Krakow Philharmonic choir.  The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's concerts feature conductors Andris Nelsons, Esa-Pekka Salonon, Riccardo Muti, Herbert Blomstedt and Franz Welser-Möst in repertoire including Bernd Alois Zimmerman, Hans Werner Henze and Luciano Berio. Visiting orchestras include the London Symphony Orchestra, with Simon Rattle conductin Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 'The Age of Anxiety and Jancek's Sinfonietta and Mahler's Symphony No. 2, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Kirill Peternko. Teodor Currentzis and musicaAeterna will be giving a complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies.

There is a festival focus on two striking contemporary composers, Galina Ustvolskaja (1919-2006), with a chance to hear three of her symphonies alongside smaller scale works including all six piano sonatas, and Beat Furrer (born 1954) with his music-theatre piece Bergehren plus six more of his works in four concerts.

There is a third arm to the festival's output, theatre, but this is almost exclusively in German (deliberately so) and so, perhaps, excludes a significant number of the foreign visitors to the festival. Yet drama is important and the performances of Hugo von Hofmannshal's Jedermann reflect a tradition which started at the first festival. For those familiar with the language, the possibility of seeing Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea is also tempting.

Whilst the festival does not celebrate its centenary until 1920, 2018 is an important year being the centenary of the first meeting of the festival society which ultimately led to the first festival.

As with many arts organisations, young people and young audiences are a concern, but there is also a need for financial prudency. For 2018 over 200,000 tickets will be issued and whilst the top price is 450 euros, the lowest price is 5 euros with nearly half the available tickets at 105 euros or less. There are affordable tickets for young people, as well as concerts with young artists and of course the Nestle conductor's competition.

Festival's such as Salzburg are essential to artistic life but they have to continuously strive to put on work which would not be available in the regular opera houses, and the festival seeks to be 'an epicentre of the extraordinary' Markus Hinterhäuser's vision is to challenge audiences in a serious and artistic way.

Full details from the Salzburg Festival website.

Divine Consolations: Stile Antico in Schütz & Bach at Cadogan Hall

Stile Antico (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Stile Antico (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Schütz, Bach, Lassus, Handl, Hassler, Daser Knofel; Stile Antico; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 23 2017 Star rating: 3.5
Intimate accounts of two great monuments of German Baroque music in this intelligent programme

For its concert at Cadogan Hall on Thursday 23 November 2017 as part of Choral at Cadogan, the vocal ensemble Stile Antico brought a programme based on two monuments of the German Baroque vocal music, Heinrich Schütz's Musikalische Exequien (from 1636) and Johann Sebastian Bach's motet Jesu meine Freude (from the 1720s). Both works are in some sense funerary, Schütz's piece was written for the funeral of Henry II, Count of Reuss-Gera, whilst Bach's also seems to have been written for a similar occasion. To this pair of works the ensemble added a selection of Latin motets on similar themes, a choice which at first seems strange but which was informed by the knowledge that Bach's choir in Leipzig performed this Latin repertoire regularly. The members of the ensemble were supported by a continuo group of organ (Oliver John Ruthven), theorbo (Alex McCartney) and violone (Kate Aldridge).

The evening opened with a calm and unhurried account of Orlande de Lassus' motet Justorum animae. Perhaps a little but too self-consciously calm, but the music was beautifully shaped indeed .

Schütz's Musikalische Exequien followed; this is a large scale work, setting a selection of scriptural text chosen by the Count of Reuss-Gera before his demise. As such, it pre-figures Brahms' Deutches Requiem.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Songs and Sounds

Donna Lennard
Donna Lennard
We had a terrific concert last night (22 November 2017) with soprano Donna Lennard and pianist Gavin Roberts performing an all contemporary programme at Old Paradise Yard in Waterloo, with works by Leslie Phillips, myself, Stephen McNeff, Julian Philips and Cecilia McDowall.

Donna and Gavin performed Leslie Phillips' The wind that shakes the barley (setting Katharine Tynan) and My own country (setting Hilaire Beloc), both recent works, my own He Wishes... a cycle of settings of W.B.Yeats which dates from a few years ago and which was receiving its World Premiere, Stephen McNeff's Four Theatre Songs which were written in 1982 setting poems by Edward Bond, Julian Philips' Love Songs of Amy Lowell from 2011 setting poems by Amy Lowell (1874-1925), and Cecilia McDowall's Flights of Angels, a sequence of four songs about angels settings texts by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Caroline Natzler, Sean Street and Simon Mundy.

All five composers were present, and it turned into a lively and sociable evening.

Bold, collaborative choral music - new audiences - unexpected venues

Festival Voices, musical director Greg Batsleer, is a group which describes itself thus, 'We make bold, collaborative choral music, performing to new audiences in unexpected venues'. For the group's Session at Ugly Duck, a warehouse space at 47/49 Tanner Street, London, SE1 3PL, on 25 November 2017 they will be music by Arvo Pärt, Frank Martin and Purcell, collaborating with a mime artist, a lighting designer and an electronic music producer.

Pärt’s Magnificat and The Woman with the Alabaster Box will be illuminated by bespoke lighting design from Zoe Spurr, Martin’s Five Songs of Ariel will be embodied by Paris-based mime artist Jason Ribes, and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is rescored with electronic music by producer and DJ Nico Bentley and the Pencil Collective.

Full details from Festival Voices website

A link with history: Alamire in Thomas Tallis

Thomas Tallis Queen Katharine Parr & songs of Reformation; Alamire, Fretwork, David Skinner; Obsidian
Thomas Tallis Queen Katharine Parr & songs of Reformation; Alamire, Fretwork, David Skinner; Obsidian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2017 Star rating: 5.0
An important historical document, but also some terrific performances

I was lucky enough to be present at the conference at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in 2015, Thomas Tallis: Chronology, Contexts, Discoveries (see my article), when David Skinner announced his edition of Thomas Tallis's Se lord and behold [See Lord and behold],the contrafactum of Gaude gloriosa dei mater, and identified the author of the text, and we heard Alamire and a group of choral scholars from Cambridge University perform the work. I subsequently heard Alamire performing Se lord and behold at St John's Smith Square in 2017 (see my review).

So it is with great pleasure that I received this disc on the Obsidian label, where David Skinner directs Alamire in Se lord and behold and the related Litany, plus Gaude gloriosa dei mater, and English motets by Tallis from the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I. The viol ensemble Fretwork also play instrumental versions of four of Tallis's motets.

The surviving music for Tallis's Se lord and behold was found in 1978, fragments of manuscript stuffed into a wall. It was obviously Tallis's Gaude gloriosa dei mater but with English words. Enough survived for David Skinner to do a full reconstruction of the motet, and he has discovered that the words come from Katharine Parr's Psalms or Prayers and the whole is related to the Rogationtide service at St Paul's Cathedral in 1544 when the nation was praying for Henry VIII's success in his war against France. It places Tallis more firmly in the Protestant Reformation than might have been expected.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Penderecki conducts Penderecki in Warner Classics

Penderecki conducts Penderecki
Penderecki conducts Penderecki - volume 2, choral music; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir, Krzysztof Penderecki; Warner Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2017 Star rating: 4.5
A fine overview of Krzysztof Penderecki's choral writing, conducted by the composer

On this terrific new disc in Warner Classics' Penderecki conducts Penderecki series we have Krzysztof Penderecki conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir (Chor Filharmonii Narodowej) in a wide selection of his choral music, from movements from the St Luke Passion to the Missa Brevis, the music ranges in date from 1962 to 2014.

We start with the unaccompanied movements from Penderecki's St Luke Passion of 1965, Stabat Mater, Ut quid, Miserere and In pulverem mortis. These are powerful, intense pieces, using all manner of vocal techniques with dark, angular and sometimes angry material. Despite the challenges (the St Luke Passion is almost entirely atonal) the choir give a remarkably concentrated performance which passages of remarkable sustained power, and moments of stupendous intensity.

Bampton Classical Opera's Young Singers Competition

Emma Stannard as Ruggiero in Royal Academy Opera's Alcina (photo Robert Workman)
Emma Stannard as Ruggiero in Royal Academy Opera's Alcina
(photo Robert Workman)
Bampton Classical Opera's 2017 Young Singers Competition reached its finals last Sunday, 19 November 2017, at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, when the winner was announced as being mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard, and with tenor Wagner Moreira as the runner up. A new prize, accompanists’ prize, went to pianist Keval Shah.

The competition, which is biennial, was launched in 2013 for the company's 20th anniversary and is intended to identifying the finest emerging singers currently studying or working in the UK. 58 young singers aged between 21 and 32 entered year and six singers reached the final in the Holywell Music Room: Corinne Cowling (soprano), Kamilla Dunstan (mezzo-soprano), Wagner Moreira (tenor), Emma Stannard (mezzo-soprano), Samuel Pantcheff (baritone) and Olivia Warburton (mezzo-soprano). The adjudicators were British singers Bonaventura Bottone and Jean Rigby. and Conductor and accompanist from the Royal Opera House, Paul Wynne Griffiths, was an additional adjudicator in the preliminary rounds.

The winner, Emma Stannard’s programme accompanied by pianist Keval Shah included ‘Que fais tu blanche tourterelle’ from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Schumann's Belsatzar, Op.57, ‘Parto, parto’ from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito, ‘The Highland Balou’ from Britten’s Charm of Lullabies and ‘Polo’ from de Falla’s 7 canciones populares españolas. Emma has recently completed her studies with Royal Academy Opera where she sang Ruggiero in Alcina in October 2016 (see my review), and she was Minerva in Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria at the Grange Festival (see my review)

Audience participation & great fun: A Whistle-Stop Hansel and Gretel at the actors church

Andrea Tweedale as the Witch, Hansel and Gretel, Concordia Foundation (Photo Jonathan Rose0
Andrea Tweedale as the Witch, Hansel and Gretel, Concordia Foundation (Photo Jonathan Rose)
Humperdinck Hansel and Gretel, Whistle-Stop Opera production for schools, Concordia Foundation at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2017
Engaging introduction, and great fun; a schools version of the opera classic

Ros Savournin as the Dew Fairy, Hansel and Gretel, Concordia Foundation (Photo Jonathan Rose0
Ros Savournin as the Dew Fairy,
(Photo Jonathan Rose)
St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden is packed with lively school children (aged seven to nine I'd imagine) along with their teachers. At the front Ros Savournin, wearing a pair of wings in her persona as the Dew Fairy, is taking the children through the songs and dances that they have previously learned at school. Singing is lusty and the participation in the dance routines completely enthusiastic despite the confined space of the pews. Then John Savournin comes in from the back, singing the opening of the Sandman's aria from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, and the show has started.

For the next 45 minutes, John and Ros Savournin (in fact, brother and sister) along with Andrea Tweedale (mother and witch), Ellie Laugharne (Gretel), Polly Leech (Hansel, a role she was singing recently with Pop-Up Opera) and accordionist Milo Milivojevic, will keep the children entertained and more with a Whilst-Stop Opera production of Hansel and Gretel which was originally devised for Opera North and which is being presented by the Concordia Foundation. John and Ros set the performance in the context of imagination and day dreamining, with a call for 'volunteers' from the audience eliciting Ellie Laugharne and Polly Leech as Gretel and Hansel, and John Savournin engages the children in the process of deciding what the stage children will do.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

He Wishes....

Looking forward to the premiere of my W.B. Yeats songs tomorrow, He Wishes ... with Donna Lennard (soprano) and Gavin Roberts (piano), plus music by Cecilia McDowall, Stephen McNeff, Julian Phillips, Leslie Phillips.

Songs and Sounds 

22nd November 8pm 
Old Paradise Yard SE1 7LG

Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton launch Leeds Lieder 2018

Soprano Carolyn Sampson and pianist Joseph Middleton (director of Leeds Lieder) gave a recital of songs by Schumann, RVW, Frank Bridge and William Walton at 22 Mansfield Street on Monday 20 November 2017 to help launch Leeds Lieder's 2018 programme.

Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton began their programme with a selection of lieder from Robert Schumann's Myrthen. Sampson and Middleton will be joined by tenor Julian Pregardien to perform the complete Myrthen (Robert Schumann's wedding present to his wife Clara) as the opening concert of Leeds Lieder on Thursday 19 April 2018.

The programme on Monday was completed by a lovely selection of English lyrics, with RVW's Orpheus with his lute, and Silent noon, William Walton's Three Edith Sitwell Songs and Frank Bridge's When most I wink, Go not happy day, Adoration, Come to me in my dreams and Love went a-riding, a rare opportunity to hear a larger group of Bridge songs.

Joseph Middleton and Carolyn Sampson at Rhinegold Live
Joseph Middleton and Carolyn Sampson (at Rhinegold Live in 2015)
Leeds Lieder runs from 19 to 22 April 2018. Under the banner Poetry into Song the festival features an action packed four day with recitals by Julian van Mellaers (Kathleen Ferrier Award winner), Louise Alder, Kathryn Rudge, Matthew Rose, and Nick Pritchard, and concludes with bass-baritone Robert Holl and pianist Graham Johnson performing Schubert's Winterreise. The festival commission this year is a new song cycle by Daniel Kidane which will be premiered by tenor Nick Pritchard and pianist Ian Tindale.

The festival will also be speed-dating (Joseph Middleton's description!) a group of local poets and composers from national conservatories to produce new works which will be showcased during the festival. The festival also features a full programme of talks and masterclasses.

Joseph Middleton has been director of Leeds Lieder for three years, and has found it fascinating 'sitting on the other side of things', finding out how to fund raise, how to engage artists, and how to build a thread which runs through the concerts in the whole weekend. Whilst he passionately wants to keep art song alive, he feels that Londoners have a rather warped view of the medium because the Wigmore Hall features so much art song. But outside London, organisations like Leeds Lieder are rarer. 

Audience numbers are up for the festival, and the 2017 festival had a 36% increase in ticket sales over the previous year. The festival also does a lot of education work, not only working with schools on projects but taking the best artists into schools. And each year the culmination of the schools project is when all the children come to Leeds Town Hall to sing.

Full details from the Leeds Lieder website.

99 Words: Voce Chamber Choir launches its debut CD

99 Words to my Darling Children,
99 Words to my Darling Children, Roxanna Panufnik's setting of Sir John Tavener's last message to his family, is the centre piece of the concert from Voce Chamber Choir, artistic director Suzi Digby, on 24 November 2017 at the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer, Exmouth Market, Camberwell. 

The concert is the launch for the choir's debut CD, 99 Words and the concert will feature works from the CD including Panufnik's new piece, narrated by Theodora Taverner, alongside works by John Taverner, and the choir will also be performing movement from Victoria's Requiem. Suzi Digby and the choir will also be joined by cellist Guy Johnston and organist Jeremiah Stephenson.

Full details from the Voce Chamber Choir website.

Afluencias: music from Brazil

Villa Lobos, Torres, Pitombeira, Bujes, Huff, Coelho; Paula Bujes, Pedro Huff; Drama Musica
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Lively disc of new music for violin and cello duo from Brazil

This intriguing new disc is entirely devoted to 20th and 21st century music from Brazil, on the Drama Musica label. And rather enterprisingly all the music on the disc is for violin and cello duo. Paula Bujes (violin) and Pedro Huff (cello) [see the duo's Facebook page] perform music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Dierson Torres, Liduino Pitombeira, Adriano Coleho and two of their own pieces.

We open with Deux Choros (bis), Villa-Lobos' only work for violin and cello duo. A first movement full of folk-ish hints pits a vigorous cello against a lyrical violin, with the second movement combining rhapsodic moments with rich double stopping and meaty harmonies.

Dierson Torres' Toada e desafio explores what happens when two strong but independent lines interact, again with some vigorous folk-inspired music. Liduino Pitombeira's Jaguaribe is a three movement suite which describes the various musical genres of the areas the river passes through. Again we feel the influence of folk music, but like much of the music on the disc, it is digested into the more complex textures of the music. So we start with strong gestures and rhapsodic moments, and explore a variety of textures, including lyrically intense lines, and tough harmonies. There is something of a restless and uncompromising feeling to the work.

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