Sunday, 22 July 2018

My Contemporary Experience - a guest posting from a young violinist

Samson who writes the blog
Samson who writes the blog
Samson is a 16 year old African-American violinist who writes a blog, and here he writes a guest posting for us about his journey to contemporary music.

My journey with music started when I was ten years old. It was summer time, the humidity in the air nearly choking me to death. I wasn’t used to the wet heat, being from Nevada, and was beginning to loathe my family’s decision to move here. That’s when I was handed a violin.

When I was a beginner I heard (and played) much of the regulars, Mozart, Beethoven, some Haydn, but as I became a more mature musician things began to… well, change. Not only was I becoming more accomplished as a musician, I was discovering musical styles I never thought even existed. African rhythms, Puerto Rican Bomba, and even folk music. However, there was one thing that stuck out to me: Contemporary Music.

Now when I say “contemporary music” I mean everything from 1945 to present day. I can’t recall the details of my first run in with contemporary music, but I’ll give you the gist of the experience in one sentence: “Is this even music?!?” Insert face of utter disgust here.

In all seriousness, what I heard that day was very hard to listen to.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Lithe & musically engaging: Verdi's I Lombardi from the Heidenheim Opera Festival

Verdi: I Lombardi - Leon de la Guardia, Pavel Kudinov, Daniel Dropulja - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi: I Lombardi - Arvino and his supporters with the hermit
Leon de la Guardia, Pavel Kudinov, Daniel Dropulja - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi I Lombardi; Pavel Kudinov, Ania Jeruc, Marian Talaba, Leon de la Guardia, dir: Tobias Heyder, Cappella Aquileia, cond: Marcus Bosch; Heidenheim Opera Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 July 2018 Star rating: 4.0
A musically lithe and engaging performance, in production which side-steps the work's problems

Verdi: I Lombardi - Ania Jeruc, Marian Talaba - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Ania Jeruc, Marian Talaba - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
The Heidenheim Opera Festival is working its way chronologically through early Verdi operas, having given us Oberto (in 2016) and Un giorno di regno (in 2017, see my review), this year it was the turn of Nabucco and I Lombardi.

We caught the second performance of Verdi's I Lombardi at the Heidenheim Congress Centre on 20 July 2018. Directed by Tobias Heyder with costumes by Janine Werthmann and lighting by Hartmut Litzinger, the cast featured Leon de la Guardia as Arvino, Pavel Kudinov as Pagano, Anna Werle as Viclinda, Ania Jeruc as Giselda, Daniel Dropulja as Pirro, Christoph Wittmann as the prior of Milan, Andrew Nolen as Acciano, Marian Talaba as Oronte, Kate Allen as Sofia and Klaus Peter Preussger as Folco. Marcus Bosch conducted the Cappella Aquileia with the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno. As with previous productions, Heidenheim takes a more intimate, chamber view of Verdi's operas, with a chamber orchestra in the pit and more lyric voices, thus restoring the operas more to the scale of the early performances.

Verdi wrote I Lombardi for La Scala in 1843, a follow up to Nabucco and with the same librettist, Temistocle Solera. As with Alzira (written two years later, and recently revived at the Buxton Festival, see my review), you sense Verdi experimenting. I Lombardi takes the feud between two brothers and spreads it across Italy and the Middle East during the First Crusade, mixing in religion and redemption.

Verdi: I Lombardi - Leon de la Guardia, Anna Werle - Heidenheim Opera Festival (photo Oliver Vogel)
Leon de la Guardia, Anna Werle - (photo Oliver Vogel)
In many ways, the opera explores themes which Verdi would return to in La forza del destino, the workings of fate, family feuds, the dramatic possibilities of co-incidence, religion and religious conversion. But whereas La forza del Destino sprawls, I Lombardi is highly compact. In four acts, with 11 scenes, it forms more of a series of tableaux, rather than worrying about narrative development. Verdi seizes some strong situations, without bothering about how the characters got there.

Though there is a large cast, the focus is very much on a few characters. The result is tight and fast paced, lots of emotions and drama. And this production, with its lively tempos, lithe textures and impulsive drive really went with the flow of the drama, successfully carrying you along.

Tobias Heyder directed with economy and clarity, using colour to indicate the different factions, red for Arvino, blue for his brother Pagano (turning to neutral when he became a hermit), green for the Muslims. The production used plain colour projections for the back-drop and, with a superb economy of means, relied simply on a table and chairs for all the scenes. Costumes were all modern dress. What the production lacked though was a sense of who these people were and what the 'crusade' really was.

Accessibity, intimacy & engagement: festival co-director Guy Withers on Waterperry Opera Festival

Waterperry Gardens
Waterperry Gardens
Waterperry Opera Festival is a new venture,  presenting opera and more in and around Waterperry Gardens from 17 to 19 August 2018 with Rebecca Meltzer and Guy Withers as festival directors and Bertie Baigent as musical director. The season includes stagings of Mozart's Don Giovanni in the garden's amphitheatre and Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park in the house's ballroom. I recently met up with Guy Withers to find out more.

Waterperry house
Waterperry House
Waterperry includes the historic gardens created by Beatrix Havergal, a house which goes back to the Tudor period and a medieval chapel. A women's horticultural college, founded by Beatrix Havergal, flourished on the site from the 1930s to the 1970s, and since then it has been run as a retreat centre by the School of Economic Science. From 1976 to 2016 the Art in Action festival was run at the gardens, a huge annual event with 26,000 visitors over three days with food, visual arts and performing arts.

After 2016 it was decided to close the festival and re-focus. Guy Withers, Rebecca Meltzer and Bertie Baigent toured a production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte to the amphitheatre in Waterperry Gardens, and the success of this led to the team being asked to curate an opera festival for Waterperry which takes place alongside planned ceramics, family storytelling and other festivals throughout the year.

In fact, some of the team from the current Waterperry Opera Festival were also involved in Art in Action and are keen to keep something of the earlier festival's ethos, aiming at accessibility, participation and encouraging engagement with art and how it is made.

Friday, 20 July 2018

A fantasy coronation at Ely Cathedral

Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli Roar
Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli are celebrating An English Coronation on Monday 23 July 2018 at Ely Cathedral, when they will be performing music from four 20th century coronations, that of Edward VII (1902), George V (1911), George VI (1936), and Elizabeth II (1953). Gabrieli will be bringing together nearly 400 musicians, including 250 young singers from Gabrieli Roar, not to mention a full symphony orchestra and fanfare trumpeters. And the following day will be recording the music for Signum Classics.

The repertoire will include music by Elgar, Wood, Tallis, Howells, Purcell, Vaughan Williams and more, in addition to the world premiere of a new Fanfare and National Anthem by David Matthews.The result will be music for a fantasy coronation service, taking in some of the music iconic British music from the 20th century and beyond.

Gabrieli Roar is a partnership between Gabrieli and a network of diverse British youth choirs. Taking a bold stance on the ability of young singers, Gabrieli challenges the young singers to perform side-by-side with professional musicians and immerses them in the renowned energy of Gabrieli’s performances and recordings.

Full details from the Gabrieli website.

Having the chance to hear the premiere of a mature Donizetti opera does not come every day: L'ange de Nisida from Opera Rara & Royal Opera

Donizetti: L'Ange de Nisida - David Junghoon Kim, Joyce El-Khoury - Opera Rara & Royal Opera (c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Donizetti: L'Ange de Nisida - David Junghoon Kim, Joyce El-Khoury - Opera Rara & Royal Opera
(c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Donizetti L'ange de Nisida; Joyce El-Khoury, David Junghoon Kim, Vito Priante, Lauren Naouri, Sir Mark Elder, Opera Rara; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on July 18 2018 Star rating: (★★★★) 5.0
The world premiere of a mature Donizetti opera!

Donizetti: L'Ange de Nisida - Laurent Naouri - Opera Rara & Royal Opera (c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Laurent Naouri - (c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Whilst Donizetti's success in Paris in the late 1830s and 1840s was sufficient to make critics like Berlioz comment, not every project came to fruition and two notable operas fell by the wayside, Le duc d'Albe for the Paris Opera was abandoned after two acts in favour of La favourite, whilst this latter opera used music from another project, L'ange de Nisida. This latter opera was written for a theatre which went bankrupt and the work was long thought irretrievable. But clever detective work has given us an edition by Candida Mantica which seems to be 96% complete.

Opera Rara in collaboration with the Royal Opera gave the premiere of Donizetti's L'ange de Nisida a the Royal Opera House on Wednesday 18 July 2018. Sir Mark Elder conducted the chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera House, with Joyce El-Khoury as Sylvia (the angel of  the title), David Junghoon Kim was Leone, Laurent Naouri as Don Gaspar, Vito Priante as King Fernand and Evgeny Stavinsky as a Monk.

Donizetti wrote L'ange de Nisida (Nisida is the name of the island near Naples where the heroine resides) for the Theatre de la Renaissance which had just put on the French language Lucie de Lammermoor with some success. L'ange de Nisida reached rehearsals but the opera house went bankrupt and L'ange de Nisida was never produced. As an opera semi-seria with recitative, finding another home for it in Paris was impossible (too grand for the Opera Comique and not grand enough for the Paris Opera) so Donizetti recycled part of it for La favorite written for the Paris Opera, but much of the original score languished.

L'ange de Nisida and La favourite have plot elements in common, a humble hero (Leone) in love with a woman (Sylvia) whom he does not realise is the mistress of the King (Fernand). But L'ange de Nisida is quite a different opera, it is semi-seria for a start with the role of Don Gaspar (the King' chamberlain) central to the part, yet always comic, the heroine is here a coloratura soprano and the main engine of the plot is somewhat different to La favourite is in L'ange de Nisida  the Monk appears at court brandishing a Papal Bull against the King's illicit relationship with Sylvia.

So what is the opera like?

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Amelia Lost and more at Opera in the City

Kathryn Frady in Amelia Lost
Amelia Lost is a new on-woman opera by Larry Dellinger which receives its UK premiere on 23 August 2018 as part of the Opera in the City Festival. Amelia Lost is performed by British-American soprano Kathryn Frady with Laurie Brien (piano). Intriguingly it is the second opera in the last year to deal with Amelia Earhart [see my review of English Touring Opera's production of Russell Hepplewhite's Silver Electra]. In Amelia Lost, a homeless woman believes herself to be aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. The woman's mind goes back and forth between the homeless woman's reality and her firm belief that she is Amelia Earhart reliving her final flight. Whether she is a homeless woman or actually Amelia Earhart is left for the audience to decide.

The opera was premiered by Frady in Knoxville, USA in 2014 when the work was named “Most Memorable Opera Experience in Knoxville, TN of 2014.”

Opera in the City Festival, which runs from 22 August to 8 September 2018, is the second edition of a lively new opera festival aiming to bring opera to the City of London in the summer. This year's events include a chamber version of Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice,  a modern take on the Faust legend, Faust, Alberta, specially commissioned from Simone Spagnolo and Ayanfe, A Yoruba Opera by April Atinuke Koyejo is inspired by her own ancestry and the desire to bring the Yoruba culture to the operatic stage

Further information from the Opera in the City website.

St Marylebone Festival

Lord Byron, one of the local connections celebrated in the St Marylebone Festival
Lord Byron, one of the local connections celebrated
in the St Marylebone Festival
Celebrating both the community and the rich heritage of the area, the St Marylebone Festival runs from 21 to 27 July 2018. Based around St Marylebone Church, the festival's programme has been devised by Festival Artistic Director & Director of Music at St Marylebone Parish Church, Gavin Roberts and The Revd Canon Stephen Evans, Rector of St Marylebone. The festival kicks off on Saturday 22 July with a come and sing event with distinguished composer and choral conductor John Rutter, and on Sunday 22 July there is a festal Eucharist showcasing music by women composers.

Other highlights of the festival include a focus on Marylebone-born Ethel Smyth with contralto Lucy Stevens with pianist Gavin Roberts Grasp the Nettle which tells Smyth's story and showcases her music. There will also be a talk on the composer by Lewis Orchard of the Surrey History Society. James Robinson (tenor), Adam Sullivan (tenor), David Jones (baritone) and Gavin Roberts (piano) will be celebrating the life of Australian pianist Noel Mewton-Wood, who studied at the Royal Academy of Music. Mewton-Wood enjoyed an illustrious performing career and was friends with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, but tragically he was to take his own life following the death of his lover William Fredrick.

Another Marylebone connection is Lord Byron, who was baptised in the parish church, and Amanda Pitt (soprano) and Gavin Roberts (piano) will celebrate his legacy with a programme of song and readings. Another resident was RVW, and there is a free screening of the film Scott of the Antarctic for which RVW wrote the music, and Scott features also on James Way (tenor) and Gavin Roberts (piano) Scott and Schubert – A Winter Journey which combines Schubert's Winterreise with readings from Scott's diary.

Jill Kemp, recorders and Claire Williams, harpsichord, present a colourful programme containing many musical delights that may have been heard in the original Pleasure Gardens of Old Marylebone.

Full details from the festival website.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Birthday celebrations for Michael Berkeley at the Wigmore Hall

Michael Berkeley (Photo BBC)
Michael Berkeley (Photo BBC)
The composer and broadcaster Michael Berkeley is 70 this year, and there is a celebratory birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall on 20 July 2018, when members of the Britten Sinfonia will be joined by oboist Nicholas Daniel for a programme which combines Berkeley's own pieces with music that he has selected.

Nicholas Daniel will give the premiere of Michael Berkeley's Peleus and Thetis (which is inspired by Ted Hughes' version of one of Ovid's Metamorphoses), and Daniel will be joined by the composer himself on crotales. Daniel and members of the Britten Sinfonia will also be playing Berkeley's oboe quintet, Into the ravine, which was written in 2012 and inspired by 'the paintings of John Craxton and Mark Rothko, and the way in which paint can vibrate as colours collide'.

Other works in the programme include Mozart's Adagio and Fugue in C minor K546 , Beethoven's Grosse Fuge in B flat major Op. 133 and Schubert's Quartettsatz in C minor D703 , and the evening ends with Richard Strauss's powerful Metamorphosen in the version for string septet.

This should be a lovely evening, celebrating a much loved figure.

Full details from the Wigmore Hall website.

An impressive achievement: Ariadne auf Naxos, a Richard Strauss first from Opera Holland Park

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos - Laura Zigmantaite, Elizabeth Cragg, Lucy Hall - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos - Laura Zigmantaite, Elizabeth Cragg, Lucy Hall
Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Richard Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos; Mardi Byers, Kor-Jan Dusseljee, Julia Sporsen, Jennifer France, dir: Anthony McDonald, City of London Sinfonia, cond: Brad Cohen Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 July 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Holland Park's first Richard Strauss opera, in Anthony McDonald's intelligently update production, provides glorious rewards for Strauss lovers

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos - Julia Sporsén, Jennifer France  - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Julia Sporsén, Jennifer France - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Opera Holland Park is known for its exploration of unusual repertoire (this season's rarity is Mascagni's Isabeau) but last night, Tuesday 17 July 2018 the company's explorations moved in a different direction when it staged its first opera by Richard Strauss. Anthony McDonald's production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos is shared with Scottish Opera where it opened earlier this year. Mardi Byers was the Prima Donna/Ariadne, with Kor-Jan Dusseljee as the Tenor/Bacchus, Jennifer France as Zerbinetta, Julia Sporsen as the Composer, Alex Otterburn as Harlequin, Daniel Norman as Scaramuccio, Lancelot Nomura as Truffaldino, Elgan Llyr Thomas as Brighella, Eleanor Bron as the Party Planner (the Major Domo), Stephen Gadd as the Professor of Composition (the Music Master), Jamie MacDougall as the Producer (the Dancing Master), Elizabeth Cragg as the Naiad, Laura Zigmantaite as the Dryad, Lucy Hall as Echo, Thomas Humphreys as the Wig Master, Trevor Bowes as the Butler and Oliver Brignall as an Officer. Anthony McDonald also designed, with lighting by Wolfgang Goebbel, choreography by Lucy Burge, and Joe Dieffenbacher was the Circus Skills Director. The prologue was sung in Helen Cooper's English translation, with the opera in the second half in the original German.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Trouble in Tahiti on-line

Opera North’s production of Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, Autumn 2017 Wallis Giunta as Dinah with Nicholas Butterfield, Fflur Wyn and Joseph Shovelton as the Trio (Photo Alastair Muir)
Opera North’s production of Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, Autumn 2017
Wallis Giunta as Dinah with Nicholas Butterfield, Fflur Wyn and Joseph Shovelton as the Trio (Photo Alastair Muir)
Opera North's 2017 production of Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti (performed as part of the Little Greats season, see my review) is now available on-line as part of the celebrations for the centenary of Bernstein's birth.

Commissioned by The Space, the production was filmed live at Leeds Grand Theatre last year and directed by Ross MacGibbon. Starring as disaffected couple Dinah and Sam are Wallis Giunta, Canadian mezzo-soprano and winner of the Young Singer Award at the 2018 International Opera Awards, and Dutch baritone Quirijn de Lang who most recently took the lead role of Fred Graham/ Petruchio in Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate (see my review).

Trouble in Tahiti is available on YouTube and there are additional accessible versions on the Opera North website.

Alissa Firsova - Fantasy

Alissa Firsova - Fantasy - VIVAT
Alissa Firsova - songs and chamber music; Tippett Quartet, Alissa Firsova, Simon Mulligan, Mark van de Wiel, Ellie Laugharne, Nicholas Crawley, Tim Hugh; VIVAT Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 July 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An excellent introduction to the lyrically evocative music of this talented young composer

This new disc from Vivat is something of a portrait of composer Alissa Firsova. Under the title Fantasy, the disc presents us with music in a variety of forms, both chamber music and song, Tennyson Fantasy, Op.36 for string quartet, Bride of the Wind, Op.34 for piano duet, Expressions, Op.9 for clarinet and piano, Loss, Op.10 for clarinet quintet, Paradise poems, Op.22 &26 and Fantasy, for cello and piano, Op.29. The performers are the Tippett Quartet, Firsova herself as pianist, joined by Simon Mulligan for the piano duet, Mark van de Wiel (clarinet), Tim Hugh (cello), Ellie Laugharne (soprano) and Nicholas Crawley (baritone).

The disc opens with Firsova's Tennyson Fantasy, written for the Tippett Quartet in 2016. Like most of the music on the disc, it takes poetry as its inspiration, here four poems by Tennyson. The opening movement arises out of 'Come down, O maid' from The Princess, a romance with a shepherd singing to a princess which Firsova creates as a lyrical pastoral with bittersweet harmonies, and moments of great intensity. The second movement scherzo is based on 'Ring out, wild bells' from In memoriam, opening all strong attack, firm rhythm and anger, with a trio section using the 'Choric Song' from The Lotos-Eaters, a cello solo of pizzicato which gets rather eerie. For the final movement, we return to In memoriam, a passacaglia in response to 'If Sleep & Death be truly one', to which Firsova gives a sustained, evocative, transparent texture with moments of intensity, which evaporates at the end.

John Blow's Venus and Adonis in the North-East.

Samling Academy Opera - Venus and Adonis
John Blow's Venus and Adonis is considered as the first English language opera, written for performance at the court of King Charles II in 1683 when the role of Venus was played by the actress (and Charles II's former mistress) Moll Davies, and Cupid was probably played by Lady Mary Tudor (Charles' daughter by Moll Davies). The text, which has something of a feminist slant to it and uses Cupid's comic scenes to critique behaviour at court, is probably by the poet Anne Kingsmill (who became Countess of Winchilsea) or the poet and playwright Aphra Behn.

The work is an important pre-cursor to Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. But it has plenty of delights in its own right, and audiences in the North-East will get chance to sample them when Samling Academy Opera presents a double bill of Blow's Venus and Adonis and Purcell's Come ye sons of art, alongside the Dunedin Consort, conductor John Butt. Performances are at The Witham, Barnard Castle (20/7/2018) and at Sage Gateshead (26 & 277/2018).

The show will be directed by Samling Artist Miranda Wright, with choreography by Mandy Demetriou and lighting by Alex Edwards, and we are promised sumptuous period costumes.

Founded in 2012 in partnership with Newcastle and Durham universities and Sage Gateshead, Samling Academy is developing the next generation of classical singers in the North East of England. Young people growing up in the area as well as those who have chosen to study in the region benefit from training and performance opportunities, and the Academy aims to reach young singers who might otherwise never have their potential recognised and nurtured.

Full details from the Samling website.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Contemporary works in all-women gala for SWAP'ra at Opera Holland Park.

Extracts from operas by five contemporary composers will feature alongside music from well-established classics in SWAP'ra's gala at Opera Holland Park on 31 July 2018. A series of semi-staged scenes will be presented by a remarkable all-women ensemble, with 40 soloists from rising stars to long-accomplished artists, four women conductors conducting an all-women orchestra and eight women directors.

The contemporary music featured will include the UK premiere of an extract from American composer Mark Adamo's Little Women, plus music from Roxanna Panufnik's Silver Birch (premiered at Garsington Opera last year), Elena Langer's Rhondda Rips it Up! (premiered by Welsh National Opera earlier this year, see my review), Josephine Stephenson's Les Constellations - Une Théorie, and Lucy Pankhurst's The Pankhurst Anthem (commissioned by the BBC in celebration of the centenary of the first UK Women's Suffrage bill in 1918).

The gala will also feature music from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Britten's Peter Grimes and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. There will be a remarkable line-up of performers including Giselle Allen, Jenni Bern, Mary Bevan, Lee Bisset, Rebecca Bottone, Katherine Broderick, Rebecca Caine, Anna Devin, Anne Sophie Duprels, Yvonne Howard, Jennifer Johnston, Fiona Kimm, Gillian Keith, Janis Kelly, Diana Montague, Anna Patalong, Madeleine Pierard, Meeta Raval, Amanda Roocroft, Lucy Schaufer, Helen Sherman, Angela Simkin, Sarah Tynan, Kitty Whately, and Catherine Wyn Rogers, with conductors Jessica Cottis, Alice Farnham, Sonia Ben Santamaria, Susannah Wapshot.

The event is a fund-raising gala for SWAP'ra, the new organisation founded by five women working in opera and the money will go towards the organisations aims to support women and parents working in opera [see my interview with co-founders Madeleine Pierard and Sophie Gilpin].

Full details of the gala from the SWAP'ra website.

The cabaret tradition: Melinda Hughes, Jeremy Limb & friends in Weimar and Back

Weimar & Back - Melinda Hughes & Jeremy Limb - Nimbus Alliance
Weill, Hollaender, Spoliansky, Heyman, Hughes & Limb; Melinda Hughes, Jeremy Limb; Nimbus Alliance Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 June 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Operatic soprano in satirical cabaret mode, Melinda Hughes explores modern mores and contrasts them with Berlin in the Weimar Republic era

Melinda Hughes is an operatic soprano who has built an alternative career as a cabaret artist. In opera her appearances have included the title role in Verdi's Aida with Dorset Opoera. In cabaret she has mined a strong vein of Weimar Republic songs, including a disc devoted mainly to songs by Mischa Spoliansky, combined with her own material written in collaboration with her regular pianist Jeremy Limb.

On this new disc, Weimar and Back from Nimbus Alliance, Melinda Hughes and Jeremy Limb (who also did the arrangements) are joined by Paul Cavaciuti & Jamie Fisher (percussion), Robert Rickenberg (double bass), Martin White (Accordion), Eloise Prouse, Rachel Steadman, Charlie Cross, Jess Cox (string quartet) to perform repertoire which mixes Hughes & Limb's songs, on subjects as various as Berlin, Janacek's Emilia Marty, all the best guys being gay, and a city girl's lament on vising country estates, with songs by Kurt Weill, Werner R Heyman, Friedrich Hollaender and Mischa Spoliansky, not all dating from the Weimar Republic but with a similar cabaret tradition.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

A new, yet familiar piece: Benjamin Zander on his interpretation of Beethoven's Choral Symphony

Benjamin Zander (Photo Paul Marotta)
Benjamin Zander (Photo Paul Marotta)
Benjamin Zander's new recording of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 (available on Brattle Media) is the result of a lifetime's study of Beethoven's score. But spend any time with Benjamin Zander and you come to realise both how absorbed by the music he is, and how his study of it was not intended to perfect his own interpretation but to divine Beethoven's intentions. I recently met up with Benjamin to talk about the new recording and the ideas which lie behind it, particularly with regard to his interpretation of Beethoven's metronome marks. Yet during our extensive conversation to talk about the new recording, Benjamin repeatedly emphasised that the new recording was not about Benjamin Zander but was about the music and Beethoven's original intentions.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 - Benjamn Zander - Battle Media
So does the world need yet another recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Benjamin feels that it does, and feels very strongly. He is passionate about the work he has being doing, investigating Beethoven's original score and feels that the new recording is the first time that all the musicological points have been made in the same recording.

He has worked on the symphony for over 40 years and given many performances of it. One of the focuses of his new recording is Benjamin's interpretation of Beethoven's metronome marks. Every since he was a small boy, Benjamin has been fascinated both with Beethoven and with the tempi of his symphonies. But his approach is about more than just tempi, and metronome marks, and during our interview as well go through the score of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, it is clear that Benjamin takes a very pragmatic yet holistic view of the work.

Back in 1967 he conducted his first performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in Boston and it caused a sensation because of his approach to the tempi and to the music. No-one had heard Beethoven that way, and everyone was talking about it. And this was the period before Historically Informed Performance reached Beethoven. So, in a sense Benjamin has spent a lifetime as a pioneer and is proud of it. His recording of Symphony No. 5 changed a lot of minds.

He points out that now, news travels fast and new interpretations are heard and shared rapidly, but back in the pre-internet days things happened slower. He readily admits that there were other pioneers before him, who experimented with Beethoven's tempi, but none of these made a global impact. He cites the work of Rudolf Kolisch from the New England Conservatory (where Benjamin taught from 1967 to 2012). Benjamin calls Kolisch a great musical mind, and his work on Beethoven's string quartets was influential. Rene Leibowitz did an important set of recordings of the Beethoven's symphonies but though he followed Beethoven's metronome markings, he was rather wayward.

Having performed Beethoven's Ninth Symphony a lot in Boston with his Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin took them to New York's Carnegie Hall in 1992 and Andrew Porter wrote a long review of the concert, discussing Beethoven and the metronome and saying 'Mr Zander is right, we've been listening to the music of the greatest composer in misrepresentative performances'.

Friday, 13 July 2018

New Hardy settings open Thomas Hardy Society conference.

The Wessex Consort at Hardy's Grave
The Wessex Consort at Hardy's Grave
Tomorrow (14 July 2018), the 23 biennial International Thomas Hardy Conference and Festival will open at Kingston Maurward College with a public concert by the Wessex Consort, conductor Andrew King, performing settings of Hardy's poems by the late Graham Stansfield (1940-2018). The festival, organised by the Thomas Hardy Society in its 50 year, will celebrate the life and work of the great author in a series of special events, talks and study sessions.

The Wessex Consort, a professional vocal ensemble, was founded by Graham Stansfield and Andrew King in 2015, and the consort gave the premiere of Stansfield's Hardy settings earlier this year in the composer's presence, a short time before his death. Composer Graham Stansfield had a fascinating career, classically trained first as a chorister in Westminster Abbey Choir and then as a student with composer Herbert Howells at London University, Stansfield would go on to found the prog-rock band Rare Bird (under the name Graham Field), but would eventually return to classical music.

More than just Vox patris coelestis: a new William Mundy disc from Edinburgh

William Mundy: Sacred Choral Music - Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh - DELPHIAn
William Munday sacred choral music; Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, Duncan Ferguson; DELPHIAN Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 June 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A valuable addition to the William Mundy discography in dynamic & vibrant performances from Edinburgh

William Mundy came to maturity at an interesting time. He was a chorister at Westminster Abbey in the 1540s when religious change under Henry VIII was already underway. Though his career spanned the reigns of four monarchs, he lacked the adult experience of  the musical traditions of the pre-Reformation Church, and worked during a time when it was not clear what English Church Music should be. Our view of his music is complicated by the fact that few of his pieces have dates but his talent seems to have flowered under Queen Mary I when there was a return to pre-Reformation elaboration in church music.

This new disc on Delphian from Duncan Ferguson and the choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, features William Mundy's Latin church music. The programme has at its centre, three large scale pieces, each 15 minutes or more in length (though I have known performances of Vox patris coelestis take rather longer than this); the Marian votive antiphon Vox patris coelestis, perhaps Mundy's best known work, and its companion piece Maria virgo sanctissima, plus the Easter procession In exitu Israel written in collaboration with William Byrd and John Sheppard. Maria virgo sanctissima is performed in a new reconstruction by Magnus Williamson which completes the missing tenor part (its lack contributing to the work's relative unfamiliarity). To these are added smaller works. Beatus et sanctus, Allelua: Per te Dei gentrix (I & II) and Adolescentus sum ego.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

UK premiere of Ola Gjeilo's Dreamweaver

Invicta Voices
Ola Gjeilo's Dreamweaver, for choir and string orchestra, will receive its UK premiere on Saturday 14 July 2018 at the Church of St George the Martyr, Borough High Street, when Invicta Voices, musical director Matt Bamford, joins forces with players from Reading Youth Orchestra and Henley Music Centre.

Ola Gjeilo describes Dreamweaver as very close to his heart. It is based on a Norwegian medieval poem, Draumkvedet which has been adapted into English by Charles Anthony Silvestri. The poem tells a story similar to Dante's Divine Comedy with a protagonist, Olav Åsteson, who falls asleep for 13 days and subsequently describes his dreams about his brave, beautiful, terrifying, and ultimately redeeming journey through the afterlife.

For the performance Invicta Voices will be joined by players and tutors from Reading Youth Orchestra and Henley Music Centre, conducted by Matt Bamford

Further information from the BrownPaperTickets website.

75th birthday celebrations: Robin Holloway's chamber music on Sheva Contemporary

Robin Holloway - chamber music - Sheva Contemporary
Robin Holloway chamber music Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 July 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An exploration of Robin Holloway's idiomatic writing and striking ear for timbre and texture

Robin Holloway is 75 this year, this new disc from Sheva Contemporary helps the celebrations with recordings of Holloway's Trio for clarinet, viola and piano, Op. 79, Trio for oboe, violin and piano, Op. 115 and Sonata for viola Op.87 performed by members of the Rest Ensemble, Rees Webster (oboe), Oliver Pashley (clarinet), Rebecca Raimondi (violin), Henrietta Hill (viola) and Alessandro Viale (piano).

Robin Holloway studied at Oxford and Cambridge, as well as studying privately with Alexander Goehr, eventually becoming professor of composition at Cambridge where his pupils included Judith Weir, Huw Watkins, Thomas Ades, and George Benjamin.

The  works on this disc span near 20 years in Holloway's compositional life with the Trio for clarinet, viola and piano dating from 1994, the Sonata for viola from 1999 and the Trio for oboe, violin and piano from 2012.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Didn't manage to get a ticket, fear not - Don Giovanni on the Big Screen

Mozart: Don Giovanni - Mariusz Kwiecien, Hrachuhi Bassenz - Royal Opera - (C) ROH. Photo by Bill Cooper
Mozart: Don Giovanni - Mariusz Kwiecien, Hrachuhi Bassenz - Royal Opera - (C) ROH. Photo by Bill Cooper
If you didn't manage to bag a ticket for Covent Garden's latest revival of Kasper Holten's production of Don Giovanni [see my review], or you simply live too far away, then fear not. Tomorrow, 12 July 2018, the performance is being live-streamed to screens around the country as part of the Royal Opera House BP Big Screens, and you can catch it on Operavision and YouTube too. 

The performance features Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni, Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Donna Anna, Hrachuhi Bassenz as Donna Elvira, Pavol Breslik as Don Ottavio, Chen Reiss as Zerlina [read my interview with Chen about her Covent Garden debut], conducted by Marc Minkowski.

Don Giovanni, Thursday 12 July at 7pm (pre-screening starts at 6.30pm)

Lyric Square in Hammersmith, Canada Square in Canary Wharf, Trafalgar Square, Television Square at White City, General Gordon Square in Woolwich (all London), Tattershall Lakes Country Park (Lincolnshire), Latitude Festival (Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk), Old Eldon Square (Newcastle), Brighton Marina (Brighton), Bristol Millennium Square (Bristol), Sandy Balls Holiday Village (New Forest, Hampshire), Portsmouth Guildhall Square (Portsmouth), The Forum (Southend-on-Sea), Queens Drive (Exmouth), Swansea Castle Square (Swansea, Wales) and The Piazza, University of Warwick (Warwick).

Further information from the Royal Opera House website.

Striking a chord: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home as a musical at the Young Vic

Tesori, Kron & Bechdel: Fun Home - Kaisa Hammarlund - Young VIc (Photo Marc Brenner)
Tesori, Kron & Bechdel: Fun Home - Kaisa Hammarlund - Young VIc (Photo Marc Brenner)
Jeanine Tesori, Lisa Kron, Alison Bechdel Fun Home; Kaisa Hammarlund, Eleanor Kane, Jenna Russell, Zubin Varla, dir: Sam Gold; Young Vic Theatre Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 July 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The musical based on Alison Bechdel's graphic novel exploring her complex relationship with her father

Tesori, Kron & Bechdel: Fun Home - Eleanor Kane, Cherelle Keete - Young VIc (Photo Marc Brenner)
Eleanor Kane, Cherelle Keete - Young VIc (Photo Marc Brenner)
I was a great devotee of Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to watch out for, and so eagerly read her graphic novel Fun Home, which  she describes as a family tragiccomic. I was intrigued, to say the least, by the idea of turning Fun Home into a musical. Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron's musical Fun Home debuted in 2013 in a production by Sam Gold. And Gold's production has now come to the UK, at the Young Vic where we caught in on Friday 6 July 2018. Kaisa Hammarlund played Alison, with Eleanor Kane as Medium Alison, Harriet Turnbull (alternating with Brooke Haynes) as Small Alison, Jenna Russell as Helen, Cherrelle Skeete as Joan, Zubin Varla as Bruce, plus Ashley Samuels, Archie Smith and Eddie Martin. Design was by David Zinn with choreography by Danny Mefford and lighting by Ben Stanton. The instrumental ensemble was conducted by Nigel Lilley, and the orchestrations were by John Clancy.

Alison Bechdel's graphic novel explores her complex relationship with her father, with the Alison of the present looking back on the past with a distinct authorial voice. It is a story in which there were no easy answers, as Alison came to terms with her own sexuality and came out to her parents she learned that her father has had affairs with men throughout his marriage. Not long after Alison's coming out to her parents her father died, apparently committing suicide and the book is an exploration of Alison's relationship with her father in an attempt to make sense of all this.

A taster of things to come - Victoria's Vidi speciosam from The Chamber Choir of London

The Chamber Choir of London - Vidi Speciosum
The Chamber Choir of London, artistic director and chief conductor Dominic Ellis-Peckham, is a new choir which launched last month, made up of 18 of London's finest young consort singers and intending to perform a wide repertoire. Plans in the pipeline include a disc of Alexander Campkin's choral music, but there is a chance to hear the choir on disc before then as they are releasing a series of singles every other month. 

Victoria's Vidi speciosam is out now, released 8 June 2018, and available from iTunes. In August the release will be Alexander Campkin's Sent from God as a taster for the new album, and then in October the 'Kyrie' from Sir James MacMillan's Missa Brevis with Kim Arnesen's Even when he is silent to come.

Vidi speciosam sets the text of the Responsory at Matins on the Feast of the Assumption (15th August), and the text itself derives from the Song of Songs, the elaborate imagery of the text being used to refer to the Virgin Mary rather than the beloved. The motet first appeared in Victoria's 1572 book of motets.

Listening to the new recording of Victoria's Vidi speciosam I was struck by the clarity of the performance. Ellis-Peckham takes quite a spacious view of the tempos, giving the piece a very architectural feel, and the singers perform with a very vibrant, focused sense of line. It is a very balanced, considered performance which brings out the clarity of Victoria's ideas. The recording itself is very present, and certainly makes me look forward to further releases.

Further information from the choir's website.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The City Choir of Washington makes its London debut

The City Choir of Washington
The City Choir of Washington
The City Choir of Washington and their conductor Robert Shafer are currently touring the UK for the first time. Having performed in Gloucester and Ely Cathedrals, and Keble College, Oxford, the choir will be giving a concert in Temple Church on Wednesday 11 July 2018.  

The choir's programme combines Gabriel Faure's Requiem with four contemporary pieces, Eric Whitacre's The Chelsea Carol, John Tavener's The Lamb and Tolstoy's Creed, and I will lift up mine eyes by the choir's conductor, Robert Shafer. John Tavener's Tolstoy's Creed was commissioned by The City Choir of Washington in 2012.

Robert Shafer celebrates 50 years as a choral conductor this year, and he has been artistic director of The City Choir of Washington since its inception in 2007.

Full details from the EventBrite website.

Romantic exploration: Rheinberger and Scholz piano concertos from Simon Callaghan

Rheinberger & Scholz piano concertos - Simon Callaghan - Hyperion
Josef Rheinberger, Bernhard Scholz Piano Concertos; Simon Callaghan, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ben Gernon; Hyperion Records Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 July 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Two lesser known piano-concertos in the Austro-German tradition provide much of interest

The Austro-German symphonic canon goes something like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssoh, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler. Yet if we consider the piano concerto we run out after Brahms, the later history of the piano concerto is with composers born outside this tradition and other Austro-German composers writing in the same tradition are virtually non-existent - at least that is what is implied by the repertoire performed in most concert halls.

This new disc from Hyperion's The Romantic Piano Concerto series (volume 76!) gives us a chance to move away from the canon and explore. It pairs late-Romantic piano concertos by two lesser known composers from the Austro-German tradition, Joseph Rheinberger and Bernhard Scholz, performed by pianist Simon Callaghan with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Ben Gernon

Josef Rheinberger was something of a prodigy who went on to train in Munich and spent most of his life teaching there. Whilst he wrote music in a wide variety of genres, he is best known for his organ sonatas, though lovers of choral music hold his masses in some regard.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Inner demons - Mozart's Idomeneo at the Buxton Festival

Mozart Idomeneo - Paul Nilon, Heather Lowe, Madeleine Pierard - Buxton International Festival 2018 - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Mozart Idomeneo - Paul Nilon, Heather Lowe, Madeleine Pierard - Buxton International Festival 2018
(Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Mozart Idomeneo; Paul Nilon, Rebecca Bottone, Heather Lowe, Madeleine Pierard, Ben Thapa, dir: Stephen Medcalf, cond: Nicholas Kok, Northern Chamber Orchestra; Buxton International Festival at Buxton Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 July 2018 Star rating: 3.5
An Idomeneo riven by his own demons in this striking new production

Mozart Idomeneo - Rebecca Bottone - Buxton International Festival 2018 - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Rebecca Bottone - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Having explored early Mozart with last year's production of Lucio Silla, this year Buxton International Festival moved to the composer's first mature opera, Idomeneo. Opening at Buxton Opera House on Sunday 8 Juy 2018, the production was directed by Stephen Medcalf with designs by Isabella Bywater, and featured Paul Nilon as Idomeneo, Rebecca Bottone as Ilia, Heather Lowe as Idamante, Madeleine Pierard as Elettra and Ben Thapa as Arbace. Nicholas Kok conducted the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

Mozart's opera was premiered in Munich in 1781, though there were only three performances, and the only other performance in his lifetime was a concert performance given in Vienna in 1786 with an amateur cast. The work has a complex textual history, the composition process was somewhat fraught and Mozart had to make significant cuts before the premiere owing to the work's length. He never made planned revisions to the work (tenor Idamante, bass Idomeneo), though he did make some changes for the 1786 performance which had a tenor Idomeneo. For these performances Buxton used the 1781 version, but trimmed to bring the running time to three hours (a single interval in the middle of Act Two after 'Fuor del mar'), and Arbace lost all of his arias.

Mozart Idomeneo - Madeleine Pierard - Buxton International Festival 2018 - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Madeleine Pierard - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Isabella Bywater's striking set seems to have been partly inspired by Romain Veillon's photographs of the ghost town, Kolmanskop, in the Namibian desert which has been taken over by sand. So we had an austere classical structure with views of the sea, yet half taken over by sand. This formed the permanent set, and gave a series of striking locations for the action.

A key to understanding Stephen Medcalf's approach to the opera [see my interview with him] was perhaps that the men's costumes were all military of the World War One era. He suggests that Idomeneo's struggles are due to PTSD, and that the monster is within. Thus the work becomes about Idomeneo's struggle with the guilt he feels arising from the war, rather than an external struggle. This has the advantage that it does not require the depiction of a monster (something with which most directors and designers fail), but does place a lot of focus on Idomeneo.

Paul Nilon was superb at suggesting, from the first moment, a man wracked by guilt and each of his arias had a strong, inner intensity. This was a man struggling with demons from the first moment. That said, I am not sure the scene with the monster (depicted with Idomeneo ravening) quite worked and it left the dramaturgy of the last Act (with Idamante going off to fight the monster) a bit skew. But when Nilon was on stage he held us with the sheer power of his performance, and 'Fuor del mar' was rightly the centre-piece with a bravura yet vivid account of the aria.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Rip-roaring rarity: Verdi's Alzira in a rare outing at the Buxton International Festival

Verdi Alzira  - Luke Sinclair, Jung Soo Yun - Buxton International Festival 2018 (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi Alzira  - Luke Sinclair, Jung Soo Yun - Buxton International Festival 2018 (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Verdi Alzira; Kate Ladner, Jung Soo Yun, James Cleverton, Graeme Danby, dir: Elijah Moshinsky, cond: Stephen Barlow, Northern Chamber Orchestra; Buxton International Festival at Buxton Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 July 2018 Star rating: 4.0
Verdi's Alzira reveals itself as full of vigour, with some striking music and fine singing

Verdi Alzira  - Kate Ladner - Buxton International Festival 2018 (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Kate Ladner - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Alzira is the third of the early Verdi operas to be performed at the Buxton International Festival directed by Elijah Moshinsky and conducted by Stephen Barlow [see my interview with Stephen], following on from Giovanna d'Arco (2015) and the original version of Macbeth (2017). Alzira is seriously rare, one of the most neglected operas in the Verdi canon and the Buxton production, which debuted on Saturday 7 July 2018 at the Buxton Opera House, was the UK's first full staging of the work.

Kate Ladner sang the title role, with Jung Soo Yun as Zamoro, James Cleverton as Gusmano, and Graeme Danby as Alvaro. Designs were by Russell Craig, lighting by Mark Jonathan, sound design by Mic Pool, video by Stanley Orwin Fraser, and movement by Terry John Bates. Stephen Barlow conducted the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

Written for Naples in 1845, Alzira was based on a play by Voltaire set in Spanish colonial Latin America, with Voltaire using the setting to examine philosophical questions regarding the colonisers behaving like savages yet calling the indigenous peoples savages. Librettist Salvatore Cammarano stripped out all the philosophy and left a piece which is highly compact (the Buxton production lasted two hours including the interval). We have little time for development, the characters are introduced and the plot hurtles towards its conclusion with remarkable vitality and dynamism.

The plot is a relatively straight-forward love triangle: Gusmano (James Cleverton) is Spanish governor of Peru, taking over from his father, Alvaro (Graeme Danby). Gusmano is hated by the Incas Peruvians, but he declares an amnesty and plans to seal it with marriage to Alzira (Kate Ladner), daughter of an Inca tribe leader, Atalba (Phl Wilcox). But Alzira is in love with an Inca, Zamoro (Jung Soo Yun), who died in an uprising. Complications arise, Alvaro is taken prisoner by the Incas yet freed on the orders of Zamoro (who is in fact not dead) to show the Spanish that the Incas are not savages. Zamoro's return to Alvira gives them a moment of joy, then sends Gusmano over the edge with jealousy and Act One ends with Zamoro's Inca troops fighting with the Spanish. In Act Two Gusmano forces Alzira to marry him by making it a condition for sparing Zamoro's life. In true tenor fashion, Zamoro leaps to the wrong conclusion and there is a violent denoument when he kills Gusmano at the wedding. On his deathbed, Gusmano has a remarkable conversion and wishes everyone to live in peace.

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