Wednesday 28 February 2018

100 Demons

The Manchester Collective - 100 Demons
The Manchester Collective (managing director Adam Szabo, musical director Rakhi Singh) is presenting the world premiere of Daniel Elms 100 Demons as part of an evening which also includes music by the underground electronic artist Vessel (Sebastian Gainsborough), Steve Reich, Jonathan Harvey, Edmund Finnis and Michael Gordon. They will be at the Chimney House, Sheffield (1/3/2018), The Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool (2/3/2018) and the Stoller Hall, Manchester (3/3/2018). The programme will feature special guest Oliver Coates (cello), a musician who combines classical training with other approaches and who has just finished an international tour where he supported Radiohead

Daniel Elms' 100 Demons is 'a manifestation of Elms' frustrations and feelings of disempowerment in the face of governance that, at the cost of the many, distorts and obscures in the name of personal, political and financial gain'. Inspired by Hyakki Yagyō ("Night Parade of One Hundred Demons"), which in Japanese folklore is a parade of yōkai - a class of supernatural monsters, spirits and demons, the work includes pre-recorded materials – split, sliced and phased through digital recording technology – alongside a live string quartet. The 'tape' element of the composition hosts a series of un-pitched vocals and harmonic fragments, recorded with the collective back in November 2017. The manipulation of the pre-recorded strings and voices blurs the line between real and myth.

Full details from the Manchester Collective website.

Gloriana, the World Opera Forum and a bicentenary: the Teatro Real, Madrid

Gloriana - Teatro Real - Madrid
From 12 to15 April 2018, the Teatro Real, Madrid will become the world centre for opera as it hosts the first World Opera Forum, an international conference of opera experts which will bring together the associations of Opera Europa, Opera America and Ópera Latinoamérica (OLA), along with representatives from Africa, Asia and Oceania. The first time that the international associations of theatres and lyrical festivals come together. The conference will focus on four central topics: Opera as Cultural Heritage, New Operas, Opera and Cultural Diversity in the 21st Century, and Sponsorship for Opera.

The opening session of the World Opera Forum, on April 12, coincides with the premiere in Madrid of Benjamin Britten's Gloriana, a new production (co-produced with the English National Opera and the Vlaamse Opera) directed by David McVicar, conducted by Ivor Bolton with Anna Caterina Antonacci and Alexandra Deshorties in the title role, Leonardo Capalbo and David Butt Philip as the Earl of Essex.

Incidentally, during April 2018 the Teatro Real  is also celebrating the bicentenary of the theatre's foundation.

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Reviews of Quickening in Fanfare Magazine and American Record Guide

I am pleased to say there are reviews in the American Record Guide's Mar/Apr 2018 issue and Fanfare Magazine's Jan/Feb 2018 issue of Quickening, the disc of my songs performed by mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, baritone Johnny Herford, viola player Rosalind Ventris and pianist Will Vann, on the Navona Records label.
Here are some selected quotes

There were two reviews in Fanfare:
Review by Colin Clarke:
* 'Hugill writes with a real awareness of beauty of text and of sound.'
* 'Johnny Herford presents the vocal line with real feeling.'
* Winter Journey: 'Hugill's writing verges on the skeletal. This is remarkable music.'
* 'Hugill's tender setting of 'He Looked at Me' rises admirably to the challenge.'
* 'Anna Huntley ... has a superb voice, just right for the music; Rosalind Ventris's viola itself sings almost vocally.'
* 'There is much beauty here. The warm, intimate recording reflects the nature of the songs themselves.'
Review by Devie DeBoor Canfield:
* 'his compositions focus on the voice for which he writes graciously and idiomatically.'
* 'The piano accompaniments are lovely in their simplicity, and enhance the vocal lines thereby.'
* 'Johnny Herford and Anna Huntley ... sing with sensitivity and expression.'
* 'Lovers of finely crafted art songs will definitely want to check this disc out.'
American Record Guide:
* 'the songs are expressive, fully reflecting the emotions of their verses'
* 'the piano writing is nearly monodic in its starkness'
* 'the violia writing shows complete appreciation of its unique timbre'
* 'performances by singers and accompanists are heartfelt and well executed'
Further information from the Quickening page on my website.

Side by side - young instrumentalists working alongside the City of London Sinfonia

Orchestras Live's Side by Side project in Northamptonshire involved 140 early stage instrumentalists performing alongside members of the City of London Sinfonia. The young performers are not experienced instrumentalists, but are young people from the county music service's Saturday schools, at the start of their instrumental journey.

For this Ten Pieces inspired project, students took part in composition workshops with John K Miles, resulting in the creation of a brand new piece, The Metronome, that was performed by the young musicians side by side with City of London Sinfonia players at a concert on 3 February 2018.

Further information from the Orchestras Live website.

Philip Hagemann double bill from Pegasus Opera

The American composer and choral conductor Philip Hagemann is not a well-known name in the UK, though he has published over 70 choral works and written ten one-act operas and two full-length operas. His best-known choral piece is in fact a Christmas novelty, Fruitcake, which featured in the American version of the television series Nip/Tuck. Pegasus Opera are giving us the chance to hear a pair of Hagemann's works as they present a double bill of Hagemann's The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (a rare example of a composer adapting a George Bernard Shaw play into an opera), and Ruth (based on the biblical story).

The operas are directed by Eduardo Barreto and conducted by the composer and the casts feature soprano Alison Buchanan who is now artistic director of Pegasus Opera following the death of founder Lloyd Newton.

The productions will be at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden (the Actors' Church) from Wednesday 28 February 2018 to Sunday 4 March 2018. Further information from the Pegasus Opera website, tickets from TicketSolve.

Bach on the piano: Sandro Ivo Bartoli in Bach's smaller pieces

Sandro Ivo Bartoli - Bach - Solaire Records
Johann Sebastian Bach Preludes, Fantasias and Minuets; Sandro Ivo Bartoli; SOLAIRE
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 21 2018 Star rating: 4.5
Bach's oft overlooked 'little pieces' in engaging performances on the piano

Whilst not exactly an issue, Bach played on the piano nowadays is always something of a talking point though in fact 18th century performers tended to have a rather fluid attitude to the issue of what music on what keyboard. But today we worry about such details as pedal or no pedal, crisp neo-harpsichord touch or full frequency pianism, not to mention advantage of the pianos greater range. This new Bach recital from Solaire records features Bach's Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue alongside many smaller pieces, include the groups of Kleine Preludium. The pianist on the disc Sandro Ivo Bartoli, pins his colours to the mast in his thoughtful article in the CD booklet. Bartoli expresses his admiration for Ferrucio Busoni, frankly no bad model to have if you are looking to play Bach on the piano, using the full range of pianism, though Bartoli eschews Busoni's degree of interventionsim.

Bartoli expresses it succinctly 'I love my instrument, and in the ultimate analysis I am a pianist and can only play as a pianist'. Bartoli also makes another illuminating comment in his article, 'Bach is fun, so I would have fun with his music'. Not something everyone would admit.

Linked to this approach is the repertoire on the disc, which concentrates on Bach's smaller pieces. Whilst Bartoli has recorded no Bach for 30 years, these are pieces which have never left his piano and which he has always played in private. A number of the works on the disc have uncertain provenance, listed as dubious or more in the catalogue. Bartoli has gone by his instinct and chosen his programme on musical merit rather than scholarly attribution, and the result makes for a highly satisfying programme.

Monday 26 February 2018

Finishing Handel's House

Plans for the restored frontage to Handel's house in Brook Street
Plans for the restored frontage to Handel's house in Brook Street
On Friday 23 February 2018, Handel's birthday, I went along to the Handel's House in Brook Street (part of Handel & Handrix in London) to find out about the museum's exciting plans for both Handel's house and the Jimi Hendrix flat next door. The Handel House Trust has launch the Hallelujah Project: Making Handel's House Happen which is intended to re-integrate the whole of Handel's house into a single historic space used as a museum.

Plans for the restored front parlour at Handel's house in Brook Street
Plans for the restored front parlour at
Handel's house in Brook Street
Though the trust owns the freehold to the house at 25 Brook Street (where Handel lived from 1723 to his death in 1759, and where he wrote and rehearsed many of his major works), the ground floor and basement are sublet to a shop and only the upper floors are displayed as a museum. The new project aims to take the lower floors into the museum, re-create the historic facade and display the rooms as they would have been in Handel's day. The ground floor parlours will be restored to their state when Handel lived there, received visitors and even sold his music there, and the basement will include a re-creation of Handel's kitchen (we know what was in it thanks to the inventory taken at Handel's death).

At the moment visitors to the museum either come in the front door on Brook Street, and then go straight upstairs, or enter via the new block created in the mews behind the museum. The new project will not only restore the frontage and the original railings, but will mean that visitors enter the house in the same way that Handel's own visitors.

Of course, such projects come at a cost. Not just the expense of doing the restorations, but the income from the current letting is a valuable revenue stream for the museum. So the new project has had to be carefully costed. The modern rear extension (not part of Handel's original house) will be turned into a two-story sub-let to provide income, in addition the project includes the creation of an endowment fund. Also, though the recreation of the interiors will be done to the highest historical standards, they will also be done in a way which will enable the rooms to be let to provide the museum with another revenue stream.

The project will also enable the staircase to be restored in the building nextdoor with Jimi Hendrix's flat in it, which gives the prospect of far better circulation around the two museums, and there will also be additional space on the second floor below Jimi Hendrix's flat.

Plans for the restored rear parlour at Handel's house in Brook Street
Plans for the restored rear parlour at Handel's house in Brook Street
This is not a quick project, the current sub-lease on the ground floor and basement does not expire until December 2021, but this gives plenty of time for the financial elements to be put in place, and during 2019 there will also be a Symposion at the Georgian Group to gather experts on 18th century houses and music to inform the final presentation of the house. And all will be revealed in 2023.

Full details from the Halleluja Project website.

Chamber Mahler in a magical venue

The Octagon Library, Queen Mary University of London
The Octagon Library,
Queen Mary University of London
Arnold Schoenberg founded the Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna in 1918, to present performances of newly composed music. Schoenberg also did chamber versions of more well-known works (even Strauss waltzes), and worked on a chamber arrangement of Mahler's Das Liede von der Erde

To help celebrate the centenary of the Society for Private Musical Performances, Finnegan Downie Dear is conducting a chamber version of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde at the The Octagon Library, Queen Mary University of London on 8 March 2018, with Richard Dowling (tenor), Kate Howden (mezzo-soprano) and the Shadwell Ensemble. There is a pre-concert talk at 6pm, with the concert at 7.30pm.

Das Lied von der Erde will be performed in Iain Farrington's new chamber version, which includes trumpet, trombone and bassoon rather than relying on piano and harmonium as Schoenberg's version does. This means the orchestral sound is more readily retained whilst still being able to focus on the transparency of Mahler's often remarked upon chamber music textures with a full orchestra.

The Octagon is a remarkable space, created in 1886 as part of the People's Palace at Mile End. A vast and magnificent hall which boasts a rich and beautiful acoustic, it was created as a library and based on the design of the Reading Room at the British Museum.

Finnegan Downie Dear comments that 'the incorporation songs into symphonic form has always been for me the most intriguing aspect of Mahler's music, the beauty it inspires completely astonishing. I wouldn't say that comparing it to the full orchestral version is particularly useful or pertinent - of course the impact of the piece's full orchestral textures in a chamber version are lost; the transparency of the music perhaps comes across more readily. I would say that the opportunity to hear these two wonderful young singers in the genuinely and extraordinary transportive venue of The Octagon Library, Queen Mary University of London, will provide the music with a directness and immediacy quite different to what is experienced in a concert hall with a full orchestra.'

8 March 2008 at The Octagon Library, Queen Mary University of London
There is also a performance at St Anne's Church, Kew Green on 7 March.

Well worth crossing the Red Sea for: Rossini's Mosè in Egitto from Chelsea Opera Group

Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - Catherine Carby - Chelsea Opera Group (Photo Robert Workman)
Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - Catherine Carby - Chelsea Opera Group
(Photo Robert Workman)
Rossini Mosè in Egitto; James Platt, Catherine Carby, Nico Darmanin, Anush Hovhannisyan, Ji Hun Kim, Daniel Grice, cond: Robin Newton; Chelsea Opera Group at Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 24 2018 Star rating: 4.5
Rossini's opera seria with a wonderfully balanced cast and some vivid drama

Rossini's serious operas still do not crop up that often, and on Saturday 24 February 2018, Chelsea Opera Group, conductor Robin Newton, presented Rossini's Mosè in Egitto at the Cadogan Hall. Mose in Egitto must rank as one of the more popular of Rossini's opera serias, staged by Covent Garden in 1994, and by Welsh National Opera in 2014, but it is hardly a regular occurrence. Part of the problem is the taxing nature of the solo parts, the opera was written for the opera company in Naples with its hand picked team of soloists. Very impressively, Chelsea Opera Group fielded a strong cast whose expertise and balance nature would be the envy of most opera companies.

James Platt sang the title role, with Catherine Carby as Elcia (the Isabella Colbran role) and Nico Darmanin as Osiride (the Andrea Nozzari role), plus Ji Hyun Kim (Aronne), Anush Hovhannisyan (Amaltea), Daniel Grice (Faraone), Christopher Turner (Mambre) and Eirlys Myfanwy Davies (Amenofi).

Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - Daniel Grice, Nico Darmanin - Chelsea Opera Group (Photo Robert Workman)
Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - Daniel Grice, Nico Darmanin
Chelsea Opera Group (Photo Robert Workman)
It is a slightly strange piece, a staged oratorio suitable for lent rather than a traditional opera seria, though to the story of Moses and the children of Israel in Egypt is added a rather contrived story of the love for a Hebrew girl, Elcia (Catherine Carby) by the eldest son of the Pharaoh, Osiride (Nico Darmanin). The piece starts, in media res, with the Egyptians plunged into darkness and the romantic plot is concluded by the end of Act Two (with the death of Osiride from one of God's thunderbolts), so that the final act is basically a scenic spectacular, the crossing of the Red Sea.

But its attractions are obvious. A clear and direct story, with an unusually strong part of the chorus (robustly and enthusiastically sung by the Chelsea Opera Group chorus), and plenty of orchestral interest as Rossini brings a whole range of tonal colours to bear on the depiction of the plagues, all crowned with the orchestral showpiece of the Red Sea crossing. And it was clear that the orchestra was in its element, and we had some lovely sonorous moments and vivid detail.

The original cast for the opera also happened not to include the high tenor Giovanni David, for whom Rossini wrote many roles (including Rodrigo in Otello). Which means that Mosè in Egitto lacks one of the stratospheric tenor parts which make Rossini's Neapolitan operas so tricky to cast, though of course the role of Osiride, written for Andrea Nozzari, is not without its complications!

Sunday 25 February 2018

Music, myth and time: Karen Cargill and the Scottish Ensemble at Kings Place

Pierre-Narcisse Guérin - Énée racontant à Didon les malheurs de la ville de Troie
Pierre-Narcisse Guérin - Énée racontant à Didon les malheurs de la ville de Troie
(from the Louvre)
Stravinsky, Berlioz, Haydn, Purcell; Karen Cargill, Scottish Ensemble, Matthew Truscott; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 23 2018 Star rating: 4.5
Two Didos, Arianna and Apollo in a wide-ranging yet engaging programme

As part of Kings Place's Time Unwrapped season, the Scottish Ensemble, guest leader Matthew Truscott and soprano Karen Cargill presented a programme entitle Prophecy, exploring different aspects of prophecy and myth in music. 'Dido's Lament' from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas was paired with Dido's 'Ah! Ah! je vais mourir! ... Adieu, fière cité' from Les Troyens, plus Haydn's cantata Arianna a Naxos and Igor Stravinsky's ballet Apollon musagète.

We opened with the first seven movements from Stravinsky's ballet Apollon musagète from the height of his neo-Classical period; Apollo was of course not just the God of Music but the God of Prophecy. The Scottish Ensemble play conductor-less, with 12 players, and in Stravinsky there was much delicacy of phrasing with a strong feeling of lyricism and striking sonorities. The group made a remarkably warm sound, with a lovely bounce in Stravinsky's crisp rhythms. This was vital music making, with plenty of energy and vividness.

The first half was completed by Haydn's cantata Arianna a Naxos. Originally written in 1789 for voice and keyboard, the cantata quickly became one of Haydn's most beloved works. A sequence of recitatives and two arias, it depicts Arianna waking up with Theseus absent, her growing anxiety turning to despair as she discovers he has departed. We opened with elegant grace from the Scottish Ensemble, and they brought a rhythmic incisiveness to the work which was comparable to their performance of the Stravinsky.

Saturday 24 February 2018

Rossini: Fireworks!

Rossini Fireworks! - Elena Xanthoudakis; Catherine Carby; John Andrews; Luciano Botelho; John-Colyn Gyeantey - English Touring Opera (Photo William Knight)
Rossini Fireworks! - Elena Xanthoudakis; Catherine Carby; John Andrews; Luciano Botelho; John-Colyn Gyeantey - English Touring Opera (Photo William Knight)
Rossini: Fireworks!; Elena Xanthoudakis, Catherine Carby, Luciano Botelho, John-Colyn Gyeantey, cond: John Andrews; English Touring Opera at Hackney Empire
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 22 2018 Star rating: 3.5
Some spectacular virtuosity and real dramatic intensity illuminate this evening of serious Rossini

Rossini Fireworks! - Elena Xanthoudakis - English Touring Opera (Photo William Knight)
Elena Xanthoudakis - English Touring Opera (Photo William Knight)
Rossini's serious operas are only slowly making their way into the opera house, and it is heartening news that English Touring Opera (ETO), having explored a number of Donizetti's more serious operas, is hoping to stage Rossini's Elisabetta Regina d'Inghilterra (what will be the first UK staging since 1818!). As part of ETO's Spring season the company dipped its toe into Rossini's waters with Rossini: Fireworks! at the Hackney Empire (22 February 2018), an evening of arias, duets and trios from Rossini's Maometto II, Ermione, Elisabetta regina d'Inghilterra, La donna del lago (four of the nine operas he wrote for Naples), plus Guillaume Tell (written for Paris), sung by Elena Xanthoudakis (soprano), Catherine Carby (mezzo-soprano), Luciano Botelho and John-Colyn Gyeantey (tenor), with John Andrews conducting the ETO Orchestra.

Of course, there are reasons why Rossini's opera seria is not regularly performed, the  music is extremely difficult to perform. Rossini wrote his nine Neapolitan operas for a hand picked team of star soloists, and the Rossini revival of the last 30 years had really gone hand in hand with the re-discovery of the vocal techniques needed to be able to sing this complex music. But the operas are well worth exploring, Rossini's position in Naples gave him the luxury of being able to experiment with form and with content, so that a number of his operas are daring experiments. Part of this makes a concert like ETO's rather tricky, because individual numbers tend to be rather long as Rossini moved well away from the simple recitative and aria solution which had typified opera in the 18th century.

A varied career: our interview with violinist Thomas Gould finds him in a thoughtful mood

Thomas Gould (Photo Aga Tomaszek)
Thomas Gould (Photo Aga Tomaszek)
The violinist Thomas Gould has a varied career, establishing himself in a remarkable number of different strands, he is co-leader of the Britten Sinfonia, regularly performs with a wide variety of musicians in chamber music and in programmes which have a strong contemporary emphasis, has a jazz series at Kings Place, yet he also performs as a soloist and is noted for his performances of the Beethoven Violin Concerto having recorded the work live with Sinfonietta Riga. I recently met up with him to find out more, and found him surprisingly thoughtful about violin playing and the whole idea of a solo career.

Thomas feels that we are living in a golden time for classical performance, the standard is high and there are so many people who can do it; if you go to a lunchtime concert at any of the colleges you will hear staggeringly good playing.

So why do it?

Thomas Gould (Photo Aga Tomaszek)
Thomas Gould (Photo Aga Tomaszek)
This is a question which Thomas has struggled with himself, and is the reason why he has his present career with its balance of a variety of different strands. Ten years ago, when he was starting out after music college he was a more conventional soloist. And he hit on this problem, why do it when you know so many people are doing it better, the world does not need so many concerto soloists! All the big arts organisations use the big names, and Thomas felt that he was never going to be that exalted; to play at such a god-like level you are either born with it or have achieved it by the age of 10!

So Thomas felt a little like an imposter and his career doing the solo repertoire had reached something of a plateau. There were certain pieces with which he felt comfortable, where he felt he had a lot to offer such as RVW's Lark Ascending, Beethoven's Violin Concerto, Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,  along with new music. So he found his repertoire and decided to focus his solo playing on that, but to do a bit of everything else, orchestral leading and directing, chamber music, jazz and other non-classical forms.

I was curious how Thomas managed to balance all the competing strands and he explained that he has found a system which works well for him. It can be maddening to be asked to do a lot of things which clash, but he says yes to the first thing that he is asked to do and sticks to it. On only a handful of occasions has he pulled out of something. Having this general rule of saying yes and sticking to it takes the heartache out of it. Whatever the gig, Thomas does the very best he can, and tries to be loyal and reliable.

He worked very hard for a period in his 20s, and probably did too much and packed too much into his diary with very few days off. Now he consciously does less, leaving time between concerts, time to play tennis or to chill out in the garden.

Performing contemporary music

Friday 23 February 2018

Má vlast: Jiri Belohlavek's last recording with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

Smetana: Ma Vlast - Czech Philharmonic - DECCA
Smetana Má vlast; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Jiri Belohlavek; DECCA
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
A treasurable memory of the late Jiri Belohlavek in peak form in Smetana

This disc is the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra's first disc after the death of the orchestra's chief conductor, Jiri Belohlavek, and rather appropriately the recording, on Decca, is Smetana's Má vlast. The recording was made during the opening concerts of the Prague Spring Festival in 2014, recorded at the Smetana Hall in Prague.

Smetana's Má vlast was written over the period 1872 to 1882, a period during which the composer lost his hearing due to an ear infection. The piece takes the form of six tone-poems, with Smetana taking this very Lisztian form and re-shaping it to the purposes of Czech nationalism. Whilst some of Smetana's operas had been accused of being too Wagnerian, this cycle was acclaimed as the epitome of Czech national style.

Premiere of Philip Sawyers' Violin Concerto

Alexander Sitkovetsky
Alexander Sitkovetsky
The composer Philip Sawyers has held the John McCabe Composer-in-Association chair at the English Symphony Orchestra (ESO) since 2015, and works that he has produced for the orchestra include his Third Symphony which was premiered in 2017. On Sunday 25 February 2018, as part of the English Symphony Orchestra's popular Shirehall Sunday afternoon concerts at the Shirehall in Hereford, Philip Sawyer's Violin Concerto will be premiered by violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, with the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Woods. The programme is completed by Mendelsohn's Hebrides Overture and Schumann's Symphony No. 2. There will be a free pre-concert performance by the ESO Youth Orchestras at 2:45pm

Sitkovetsky, Woods and the ESO are recording Sawyer's Violin Concerto for Nimbus, so the concert will be the culmination of this process. The final work of Sawyers' residency will be his new tone poem, The Valley of Vision, inspired by the paintings of Samuel Palmer, which the ESO premiere in Malvern Priory on 14 March 2018.

Born in London in 1951, Philip Sawyers studied at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, violin with Colin Sauer, and composition with Helen Glatz (a pupil of Vaughan Williams and Bartok). Whilst at the Guildhall School of Music in London, he studied violin with Joan Spencer and Max Rostal, and compositional guidance from Buxton Orr, Patric Standford and Edmund Rubbra. For many years Sawyers combined composition with performing as a violinist in the Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden.

Further details from the ESO website.

Thursday 22 February 2018

Georg Muffat festival at St John's Smith Square

Georg Muffat: Toccata Quinta
Georg Muffat: Toccata Quinta
The Brook Street Band is following up its 2017 Handel Festival with another weekend devoted to a single Baroque composer. This time, 23-25 February 2018 at St John's Smith Square will be devoted to Georg Muffat. He was born in the Duchy of Savoy in 1653, his father was Scottish and he trained in Paris (possibly with Lully) and worked extensively in Germany and Austria as well as travelling it Italy.

Muffatt is best known for the performance directions which he printed in his collections of string pieces. Intended to help German musicians perform in the French style, they are invaluable to modern period performance practice.

The Brook Street Band's festival will explore a wide range of Muffatt's music, from chamber pieces to orchestral, in a series of concerts where Muffatt will be played alongside his contemporaries. There are also other events including a dance workshop, examining the steps which would have been used to dance to the music whose dance-forms find their way into Baroque music, and the Brook Street Band's artistic director Tatty Theo will be giving an illustrated talk on Muffatt.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square website.

Notable recital disc debut from French Horn player Ben Goldscheider

Ben Goldscheider - Debut - Willowhayne Records
Jörg Widmann, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Volker David Kirchner, York Bowen, Robert Schumann, Nikolaus von Krufft; Ben Goldscheider, David Hill; Willowhayne Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 14 2018 Star rating: 4.0
An imaginative debut recital from talented young horn player

French horn player Ben Goldscheider reached the final of BBC Young Musician in 2016 and studies with Radek Baborák at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin. This new CD from Willowhayne Records is Goldscheider's recital debut on disc. Accompanied by Daniel Hill (piano), Goldscheider presents a diverse and imaginative programme with music by Jörg Widmann, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Volker David Kirchner, York Bowen, Robert Schumann and Nikolaus von Krufft. A programme which effectively forms a mini-survey of French horn music from the early 19th century to the present day.

Goldscheider starts with Widmann's Air for solo horn, which was written in 2005. Whilst unaccompanied, the piece makes use of the resonance of the piano with the sustaining pedal kept down. The piece starts out as very much an exploration of the horn's natural harmonic scale, and develops into something of a tour de force. Widmann creates almost a dialogue and it is difficult to believe that only one person is playing.

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Wigmore Hall 2018/19

Wigmore Hall
The Wigmore Hall has announced its 2018/19 season, nearly 500 concerts of chamber music, song, piano, early music, contemporary music and jazz. Themes include a Schumann Song Series, with the complete string quartets from the Elias Quartet, a Russian Song Series and Ravel Song Series. An American Series will complement the performance of the complete Elliott Carter quartets by the JACK Quartet. There will be a focus on Sir George Benjamin, including a performance of his chamber opera Into the Little Hill, and Benjamin conducting Ensemble Modern in his Palimpsest. Also recently announced, Edward Hunt has been appointed Royal Philharmonic Society/Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer for 2018.

Artist residencies include Dame Sarah Connolly, Pekka Kuusisto, Marlis Peterson and Alexander Melnikov, and other visitors include Vox Luminis and Ensemble Correspondences.

The Schumann Series, the first year of a two-year exploration of Schumann's songs, will feature performances by baritone Florian Boesch, sopranos Christiane Karg and Anne Schwanewilms, tenor Robin Tritschler, mezzo-soprano Paula Murrhiy, with pianist Malcolm Martineau, plus cellist Stephen Isserlis as well as the Elias Quartet. Pianist Joseph Middleton partners soprano Miah Persson, mezzo-sopranos Sarah Connolly and Clara Mouriz, baritones Henk Neven, James Newby and Roderick Williams in Ravels songs, juxtaposing Ravel's music with works by his contemporaries and influences.

The JACK Quartet will be performing the complete Elliott Carter quartets, alongside an American series with the Escher Quartet featuring music by Charles Ives, Andrew Norman, Philip Glass and Samuel Barber. Russian Song Series offers a showcase for the finest Russian and Russian-speaking singers in songs from Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky to Shostakovich and Shchedrin, with pianist Ian Burnside.

The Wigmore Hall's popular £5 tickets for the under-35s continues to be popular, whilst the LiveStream initiative will stream 10 concerts during the season. The Late Night series will this year include performances by Susan Bullock, Anne Sofie von Otter, Viktoria Mullova, Chineke! Orchestra and Sean Shibe.

Royal Philharmonic Society/Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer Edward Hunt will be writing a new commission for the Diphonon Duo, to be premiered in June 2018, and Hunt will receive mentoring from Wigmore Hall’s Composer in Residence, Helen Grime. He will have the chance to take part in and observe Wigmore Hall Learning workshops and events, working alongside the Composer in Residence and other experienced composers and workshop leaders.

Further details from the Wigmore Hall website.

Heath Quartet and Tom Poster at the Sherriff Centre

The Sherriff Centre
The Sherriff Centre
Earlier this year a new concert series started at the Sherriff Centre in West Hampstead. Having been launched last month by Mark Padmore, the series continues on Friday 23 February 2018 with a concert by pianist Tom Poster and the Heath Quartet in a programme which includes Schumann's Piano quintet in E flat, Ravel's Quartet in E major and Jörg Widmann's Quartet No. 5 (with soprano Carolyn Sampson). Further details and tickets from EventBrite. The concert is also at Kettle's Yard on 22/2

The Sherriff Centre is a unique charity based community centre at the heart of west Hampstead, situated at St James church which aside being a church also functions as a coffee place, a post-office, and playground for children, and the new concert series is intended to offer the public a chance to hear top musicians in a relaxed and more intimate atmosphere in a place rooted in community life.

Further ahead, concerts include Timothy Ridout (viola) and Yehuda Inbar (piano) in Schubert, Brahms and Widmann (14/3), jazz pianist Omer Klein (6/4), and pianist David Kardouch (18/5).

Full details from the Sherriff Centre website (PDF).

18 years after its premiere, Jake Heggie's 'Dead Man Walking' receives its first UK performance

Jake Heggie: Dead Man Walking - Joyce DiDonato, Michael Mayes - Barbican/BBCSymphony Orchestra (photo Mark Allen/Barbican)
Jake Heggie: Dead Man Walking - Joyce DiDonato, Michael Mayes - Barbican/BBC Symphony Orchestra
(photo Mark Allen/Barbican)
Jake Heggie Dead Man Walking; Joyce DiDonato, Michael Mayes, Maria Zifchak, dir: Leonard Foglia, BBC Symphony Orchestra, cond: Mark Wigglesworth; Barbican
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 20 2018 Star rating: 3.5
A powerful contemporary drama, Jake Heggie and Terence McNally's filmic opera gets its UK premiere at last

The work of Philip Glass and John Adams apart, there is a vein of American contemporary opera which appears all to rarely in the UK. Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking is a prime example, premiered in 2000 at San Francisco Opera it has had many productions in the USA and is emblematic of a style of lyrical contemporary opera which deals with contemporary issues. As part of the Barbican Centre's The Art of Change season, exploring how artists respond to, reflect and even change the social and political landscape, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Barbican presented the UK premiere of Dead Man Walking.

Semi-staged in the Barbican Hall, Dead Man Walking was directed by Leonard Foglia, and featured Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen, Michael Mayes as Joseph De Rocher, Maria Zifchak as Mrs Patrick De Rocher and Measha Brueggergosman as Sister Rose, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth; all artists who took part in the recent Spanish premiere of Dead Man Walking at the Teatro Real, Madrid in a production which originated at Chicago City Opera. The cast was completed by Susan Bullock, Toni Marsol, Susan Bickley, Mark LeBrocq, James Creswell and Michael Bracegirdle, with the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Finchley Children's Music Group and singers from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Jake Heggie: Dead Man Walking - Measha Brueggergosman, Joyce DiDonato, Matthew Healy, Louis Hurley, Maria Zifchak - Barbican/BBCSymphony Orchestra (photo Mark Allen/Barbican)
Jake Heggie: Dead Man Walking - Measha Brueggergosman, Joyce DiDonato, Matthew Healy, Louis Hurley, Maria Zifchak - Barbican/BBC Symphony Orchestra (photo Mark Allen/Barbican)
Based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking tells a powerful story with the relationship between two people at its heart. A love story of sorts, it has the advantage of great focus on these two, the nun Sister Helen (Joyce DiDonato), and the killer on death row, Joseph De Rocher (Michael Mayes), who refuses to accept his guilt. Both go on a journey towards the transcendent, transformative ending, and at the Barbican Joyce DiDonato and Michael Mayes gave performances of such stunning strength and complete identification in the central two roles.

The libretto is by the playwright Terence McNally and it takes a naturalistic, almost filmic approach to the piece. There are 18 short scenes in all, and the text is full of naturalistic detail which seems more appropriate in a spoken drama than in an opera. The drama is presented straight, we start with the crime, thus making Joseph De Rocher's guilt clear, and then work from the first meeting of Sister Helen and Joseph De Rocher through to his demise. It is essentially a two hander, all the other roles are secondary, though McNally and Heggie craft powerful moments.

I found the approach a bit too literal, too filmic and came back to the question of why opera, what did the music add to McNally's text?

Tuesday 20 February 2018

UK premiere of the first version of Bartók's second violin rhapsody

Barnabás Kelemen
Barnabás Kelemen
Béla Bartók wrote two Rhapsodies for violin and piano, virtuoso works which he completed in 1928 and wrote without commission. The first was dedicated to the violinist Joseph Szigeti and the second to Zoltán Székely who premiered the work. In 1929 Bartók orchestrated the second rhapsody, and would later return to the work and revise it, producing a revised orchestral version in 1935 and a revised version with piano in 1945. Hungarian violinist Barnabás Kelemen is giving the UK première of Bartók’s Rhapsody No 2 for Violin and Orchestra with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Thomas Dausgaard in Glasgow City Halls on 22 February 2018, in an afternoon concert which also includes more Hungarian music, Zoltán Kodály's Summer Evening, Bartók's ballet The Miraculous Mandarin and Violin Concerto No. 1.

Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 1 was written for the violinist Stefi Geyer, with whom the composer was in love; Geyer did not reciprocate Bartók's feelings and did not play the concerto, which was not played until after Bartók's death. The sexually charged ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin was written between 1918 and 1924, based on a short-story by the Hungarian Jewish writer Melchior Lengyel. Though the ballet was premiered in Cologne in 1926, though its sexual content caused problems and something of a scandal.

Full details from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's website.

Gerstein plays Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F

Kirill Gerstein - Gerswhin
George Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, Piano Concerto in F; Kirill Gerstein, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, David Robertson; Myrios Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 19 2018 Star rating: 4.0
Performances which combine jazz sensibility with classical virtuosity

George Gershwin's symphonic music, the Rhapsody in Blue, the Piano Concerto in F and the Second Rhapsody exist on the cusp between popular jazz and classical. As such the works can have a variety of interpretations, and it says something for the remarkable strength of the Rhapsody in Blue that it can stand up to a wide variety of approaches. The problem comes when classical artists venture too close to jazz, and the results can sometimes seem strained.

This new disc from pianist Kirill Gerstein and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, conductor David Robertson, has an interesting pedigree because Gerstein's training in fact spanned the classical and the jazz, which makes his interpretations well worth hearing. Recorded live, we have a pairing of Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto in F, plus a selection of Earl Wilde's Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin, a piece by Oscar Levant (a composer/pianist much associated with the later recording history of the Rhapsody in Blue), and Gershwin's Summertime.

As a young man in Russia, Kirill Gerstein was much influenced by his parents' jazz record collection, and at the age of 14 he moved to the USA to study jazz piano with Gary Burton (who plays vibraphone on the Oscar Levant piece on the disc) at Berklee College, and only later did Gerstein decide to focus on classical piano.

Philip Glass's Satyagraha at the London Coliseum

Philip Glass: Satygraha - Toby Spence & ENO Chorus - English National Opera (Photo Donald Cooper)
Philip Glass: Satygraha - Toby Spence & ENO Chorus - English National Opera
(Photo Donald Cooper)
Philip Glass Satyagraha; Clive Bayley, Charlotte Beament, Nicholas Folwell, Stephanie Marshall, Anna-Clare Monk, Andri Björn Róbertsson, Toby Spence, Sarah Pring, Eddie Wade, dir: Phelim McDermott/Julian Crouch, cond: Karen Karnensek; English National Opera at London Coliseum, London
Skills Ensemble: Philip Edolls, Janet Etuk, Charlie Folorunsho, Alex Harvey, Nick Haverson, Nesreen Nabil Hussein, Tina Koch, Vic Llewelyn, Charlotte Mooney, Kumar Muniandy, Caroline Partridge, Rob Thirtle

Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Feb 14 2018 Star rating: 4.0
English National Opera’s stunning production of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha makes a welcome return to St Martin’s Lane

Philip Glass: Satygraha - Sarah Pring & ENO Chorus - English National Opera (Photo Donald Cooper)
Sarah Pring - English National Opera (Photo Donald Cooper)
The first performance of this production of Philip Glass's Satyagraha by English National Opera (ENO) (intelligently directed by Phelim McDermott assisted by Julian Crouch responsible also for set design) fell in April 2007 and celebrated the 60th anniversary of India’s independence from Great Britain as well Philip Glass’ 60th birthday. For this revival (seen 14 February 2018) the production was conducted by Karen Kamensek and featured Clive Bayley, Charlotte Beament, Nicholas Folwell, Stephanie Marshall, Anna-Clare Monk, Andri Björn Róbertsson, Toby Spence, Sarah Pring and Eddie Wade.

Forming part of a trilogy comprising Einstein on the Beach and Akhnaten, they all tell about men who have changed the world and, therefore, Satyagraha (a Sanskrit word meaning ‘truth-force’) is most definitely about politics.

The scenario surrounds Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa (from 1893 to 1914) and his development of non-violent protest into a political tool. His philosophy was such that it galvanised a whole political movement in South Africa which later greatly influenced the work of Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday 19 February 2018

West Green House 2018 - Candide. Ba-Ta-Clan and Madama Butterfly

The lake at West Green House at night
The lake at West Green House at night
West Green House's 2018 season includes Puccini's Madame Butterfly, Bernstein's Candide and Offenbach's operetta Ba-ta-clan. Candide will be performed in the version created for the National Theatre in 1999, and features Fflur Wyn as Cunegonde, Robin Bailey as Candide and Ben McAteer as Pangloss, the production will be directed by Richard Studer and conducted by Jonathan Lyness (the two are also artistic director & music director of Mid-Wales Opera).

Puccini's Madame Butterfly features Robin Lyn Evans as Pinkerton, and Katie Bird as Butterfly with Catherine Backhouse as Suzuki and Robert Davies as Sharpless. Richard Studer directs and Jonathan Lyness conducts.

The final opera is Offenbach's Ba-ta-clan, his first significant and commercial success. The opera will be directed by Morag Joss and conducted by James Sherlock. A satire on French political life in the 19th century, Morag Joss will be creating a new English version with contemporary satire.

Full details from the West Green opera website.

Ruth and The Dark Lady of the Sonnets

Alison Buchanan
Alison Buchanan
Pegasus Opera is presenting a pair of one-act operas by the American composer Philip Hagemann, a double bill of Ruth and The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, both showcasing women in the lead roles. Directed by Eduardo Barreto and conducted by Philip Hagemann the productions will be at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden (the Actors' Church) from Wednesday 28 February 2018 to Sunday 4 March 2018.

Ruth is based on the biblical tale, whilst The Dark Lady of the Sonnets is a lighter piece based on George Bernard Shaw's play which imagines William Shakespeare meeting Queen Elizabeth I. The productions feature a cast including Alison Buchanan, Byron Jackson, Kamilla Dunstan, Sarah Champion, Annabelle Williams, and Oliver Brignall.

Pegasus Opera is the leading multi-racial touring Opera Company in the UK and was founded in 1992 by Lloyd Newton. Following his death in 2017, soprano Alison Buchanan took over as Artistic Director.

Further information from the Pegasus Opera website, tickets from TicketSolve.

Musical Arcadia: Handel at Vauxhall

Handel at Vauxhall
Handel at Vauxhall, volume 2; Mary Bevan, Claire Bessent, Eleanor Dennis, Benjamin Bevan, Charles MacDougall, Nicky Spence, Greg Tassell, London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
London Early Opera returns to Vauxhall with a further evocation of the garden's musical charms

Bridget Cunningham and London Early Opera have followed up their Handel in Vauxhall with a second volume, on Signum Classics, which explores the music of Vauxhall Gardens. The disc presents music by Handel and his contemporaries and is in the format that was typically used for concerts at Vauxhall, so we have Handel's Concerto in A minor Op.6, No.4 and his music for Comus, alongside music by William Boyce, John Stanley, Thomas Gladwin, John Lampe, and Johann Adolph Hasse, performed by Mary Bevan, Claire Bessent, Eleanor Dennis, Benjamin Bevan, Charles MacDougall, Nicky Spence, Greg Tassell.

One of the features of Cunningham's Handel in Vauxhall series is the debunking of the idea that the music performed at Vauxhall Gardens was largely trivial. In fact, though there is a wide variety, there is no stinting on the more serious items. So we have Handel's Concerto in A minor from his great Opus 6 set, and in fact the proprietor of Vauxhall, Jonathan Tyers, subscribed to four sets of the original publication.

Sunday 18 February 2018

Motherhood and memory: Helen Grime's Bright Travellers at the Wigmore Hall

Helen Grime
Helen Grime
Robert Schumann, Helen Grime, Mahler, Ives, Britten; Ruby Hughes, Joseph Middleton; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 15 2018
Star rating: 4.0

Ravishing textures from Helen Grime's new song cycle in a programme themed on mother-hood

What female composers there were in the 19th century tended to operate within the confines of the male expectations of society at the time, so that Fanny Mendelssohn's works were published as her brother's and Clara Schumann was a pianist, wife and mother before she was a composer. All this means that we have very little music on motherhood and parenthood from a 19th century woman's point of view. The prime example still remains a male production, Robert Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben, where the limitations of Adelbert von Chamisso's texts are to a certain extent transcended by Schumann's music.

So for a concert themed around motherhood and parenthood given at the Wigmore Hall on Thursday 15 February 2018 by soprano Ruby Hughes and pianist Joseph Middleton, as part of the hall's Seven Ages festival, the centrepiece was Helen Grime's new song cycle Bright Travellers, a welcome setting by a female composer of poems by Fiona Benson about the joys and pains of motherhood, from the first scan to registering the child's birth.

Fiona Benson
Fiona Benson
Ruby Hughes and Joseph Middleton complemented Grime's new piece with Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben and Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. At least Robert Schumann did, to a certain extent, support his wife's compositional activity whereas Mahler actively prevented his wife, Alma, from pursuing her career. By contrast to Adelbert von Chamisso's texts, which commentators decry as 'the impersonation of a woman by male culture', at least Friedrich Ruckert's texts as set by Mahler were the fruits of agonised personal experience.

Sensibly Hughes and Middleton had divided the programme into a German and an English half, performing Charles Ives songs and Benjamin Britten folk songs alongside the Grimes. Whilst these provided an element of contrast, it was a shame we could not get a 20th century woman's voice.

Helen Grime's Bright Travellers sets five poems by Fiona Benson about the experience of motherhood. The poems move from the first scan, Soundings, to considerations of the new being within, Brew, the reaction of others to the baby, Visitations, the baby's reactions to feeding, Milk Fever and a visit to the registrar, Council Offices. I can understand why Grime was attracted to the poems, they have a conciseness and directness which speak of personal experience. Motherhood is not cast in a rosy glow. Benson's voice is often sharp and uneasy, prey to uneasy thoughts about foetuses aborting or other women's still births, and moments of disturbed sleep. How to set such strong texts to music?

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