Sunday 30 September 2018

Looking ahead: Britten Weekend at Snape Maltings

Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and the Amadeus Quartet (Photo Royal College of Music)
Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears & the Amadeus Quartet
(Photo Royal College of Music)
For a composer known primarily for opera, Benjamin Britten had a remarkably facility for other genres. A case in point is his string quartets which span his entire career from the 1940s to the end of his life, creating a remarkable monument in 20th century chamber music. For Snape Maltings' annual Britten Weekend this year, 19 to 21 October 2018 the focus is going to be on Britten's string quartets and his other chamber music. 

The Doric Quartet will be performing the works over three days, including playing the final quartet twice. And their viola player, Helene Clement will be performing on Britten's own viola, an instrument  given to him by his revered mentor Frank Bridge. The quartet is joined by oboist Olivier Stankiewicz, pianists Alice Chenyang Zu and Alasdair Beaton, Tesla and Thalea Quartets for a remarkable survey of Britten's chamber music from the early Divertimenti to the Temporal Variations and Phantasy Quintet alongside some of the other major pieces from the 20th century including music by Elgar, Korngold, Mozart, Purcell and Copland, plus the European premiere of John Woolrich's Quartet No. 2 Badinerie from A Book of Inventions, which is the first of a set of six quartets which Woolrich is writing.  ,

Britten's String quartet No. 2 took Purcell as its inspiration, and at Snape it will be performed alongside a transcription for string quartet of Purcell's Fantasias. Britten's String Quartet No. 3, was written in the last year of his life, and premiered by the Amadeus Quartet two weeks after the composere's death. It will be performed alongside a  short story by Henry James. In fact, the quartet will receive two performances, the first with the audience will be surrounding the players on the darkened Snape Maltings stage!

Further information from the Snape Maltings website.

Saturday 29 September 2018

Vividly theatrical, lyrically sung, but.... - Salome at ENO

Richard Strauss: Salome - English National Opera (Photo (c) Catherine Ashmore)
Richard Strauss: Salome - English National Opera (Photo (c) Catherine Ashmore)   
Richard Strauss Salome; Allison Cooke, David Soar, Michael Colvin, Susan Bickley, Stuart Jackson, dir: Adena Jacobs, cond: Martyn Brabbins; English National Opera at the London Coliseum Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 September 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Theatre director Adena Jacobs gives us too many ideas in a new production which thrills but does not always engage.

Richard Strauss: Salome - Allison Cooke - English National Opera (Photo (c) Catherine Ashmore)
Richard Strauss: Salome - Allison Cooke
English National Opera (Photo (c) Catherine Ashmore)   
The opening on 28 September 2018 of English National Opera's 2018/19 season, at the London Coliseum gave us a new production of Richard Strauss' Salome and the UK opera debut of Australian director Adena Jacobs. The title role was sung by Scottish mezzo-soprano Allison Cooke, with David Soar as Jokanaan, Michael Colvin as Herod, Susan Bickley as Herodias, Stuart Jackson as Narraboth and Clare Presland as Herodias' page. The production was designed by Marg Horwell with lighting by Lucy Carter and choreography by Melanie Lane. Martyn Brabbins, music director of ENO, conducted.

With an all-women production team and a gay woman as the director, it was clear that we were going to have an interesting take on Strauss and Wilde's tale of female objectification. Adena Jacobs' background is mainly in the theatre where she has garnered a strong reputation in Australia and her operatic experience, so far, seems to have lain mainly in contemporary repertoire.

Richard Strauss: Salome - David Soar - English National Opera (Photo (c) Catherine Ashmore)
Richard Strauss: Salome - David Soar -
English National Opera (Photo (c) Catherine Ashmore)   
It started promisingly, a blackened stage, a small crowd watching not the moon but a video of a woman (Salome) in a milky bath, the suggestion of crowd control and waiting for a celebrity, the soldiers as security men. Stuart Jackson's Narraboth was superb, self-absorbed, intense, with voice beautifully clear over the well-controlled orchestra and strong diction, and Clare Presland's (female) page was equally strong. Allison Cooke's Salome did not make a grand entrance, she sidled on, poised, controlled and very feminine, she manipulated Narraboth well. Cooke's voice is on the light side, which meant that despite being a mezzo-soprano in a soprano role (albeit one taken by mezzos) she had a lithe, youthful sound. But, in Richard Strauss' equation ('a sixteen-year-old with the voice of Isolde'), she was much more a teenager than Isolde, and it was Brabbins' superb control of the orchestra which kept the balance well.

When Narraboth takes Salome into the cistern, the backdrop rose to display a bare, off-white interior. David Soar's Jokanaan visible only as a pair of pink high-heeled shoes! The scene between Cooke's Salome and Soar's Jokanaan was tense, both self-absorbed. Soar, wearing only a pair of figure-hugging shorts, had some sort of facial cage with a camera on it and his mouth was projected onto the stage. And to make sure we got the idea, at one point the image was rotated 90 degrees, so the mouth made a vagina-like shape. An interesting idea, especially as Jackson's Narraboth was videoing Salome. But Salome's obsession is with multiple parts of Jokanaan, when she is singing about his eyes, his hair, his skin, all we saw was his mouth.

Soar was a superb Jokanaan, focused, sexy and disturbing, so it was only a shame that when he was off stage the amplification flattened and distorted his voice. When on stage he was riveting. Cooke was relatively cool as Salome, yet intense and disturbed. And to make it clear that this was about sexual obsession, even if her voice did not quite convey it, she took her top off.

Sigh, so far we had had female nudity (I am waiting for a really daring production where it is Jokanaan who is naked) and male transvestism, not to forget the overhead fluorescent light tubes. Oh, and plenty of masturbation (both Salome and Narraboth).

Friday 28 September 2018

Composer portrait of Rolf Hind from Octandre at the Print Room

Rolf Hind
Rolf Hind
The final concert of Octandre's residency at the Print Room at The Coronet, Notting Hall, takes place on Sunday 30 September 2018 when they are presenting a composer portrait of Rolf Hind. There will be an interview with Hind, and performances of four of his chamber works culminating in the first ever complete performance of Way Out East three chamber pieces for stage for voice, saxophone, percussion and piano. The concert will feature mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg, saxophonist Stefan Baur, and the GB&SR piano and percussion duo.

The Octandre ensemble, artistic directors Jon Hargreaves & Christian Mason, focuses on music written after 1945, with an emphasis on timbre and ritual. Sound is an eternally fascinating phenomenon, and music can harness its power in ever more original ways: new music, ancient ideas. The ensemble's previous event at the Print Room was a composer portrait of Nicola Lefanu, and you can see a highlight on Vimeo.

Full details from the Octandre website.

City Music Foundation announces its 2018 artists

Tom Millar
Tom Millar - CMF Young Artist 2018
Each year the City Music Foundation (CMF) takes a group of young artists onto its CMF Artist Programme which aims to turn exceptional musical talent into professional success by equipping outstanding musicians with the tools, skills, experience, and networks they need to build and sustain rewarding and profitable careers. 

This year's artists are A4 Brass Quartet, Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano, whom were recently heard singing with the Fieri Consort at its CD launch), Toby Hughes (double bass), Ariana Kashefi (cello), Tom Millar (jazz piano), and Emily Sun (violin).

The CMF Artist Programme is now in its sixth year and previous CMF Artists include jazz bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado (now a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist), recorder player Tabea Debus (now a YCAT Artist), soprano Raphaela Papadakis, and guitarist Andrey Lebedev.

Helen Charlston - CMF Young Artist 2018
Helen Charlston - CMF Young Artist 2018
This year's selection is a varied (and talented!) bunch:
  • A4 Brass Quartet is comprised of principal players from two of the UK’s top brass bands, Grimethorpe Colliery Band and Foden’s
  • mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston received first prize in the 2018 Handel Singing Competition 
  • double bass player Toby Hughes is the first double bassist to win the Bromsgrove International Music Competition, the ROSL string section final, and the Tunbridge Wells International Young Concert Artists competition
  • British cellist Ariana Kashefi is a recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Julius Isserlis Scholarship and recently completed her studies in Berlin with Professor Frans Helmerson
  • Tom Millar is a London-based pianist, composer and bandleader and his debut album, Unnatural Events, was launched in 2017 at Pizza Express Jazz Club (Soho) and was followed by a 20-date UK tour, supported by Arts Council England
  • Australian violinist Emily Sun was the winner of the 2018 ABC Young Performers Award, which will see her perform concertos with the Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras in the coming seasons
See the City Music Foundation's events page for details of the various artists' recitals

A forgotten tradition: premiere recordings of two English symphonic works from John Andrews & BBC Concert Orchestra

Percy Sherwood & Frederic Cowen - EM Records
Percy Sherwood Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, Frederic Cowen Symphony No. 5; Richard Marshall-Luck, Joseph Spooner, BBC Concert Orchestra, John Andrews; EM Records Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 September 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Two striking symphonic works from the English tradition by composers almost forgotten by history

This new disc from EM Records (the recording arm of the English Music Festival) brings together a pair of symphonic works by composers who are hardly household names, Percy Sherwood and Frederick Hymen Cowen, an example of how English music history still has many items to disgorge. On this disc we hear Percy Sherwood's Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, and Frederick Hymen Cowen's Symphony No. 5 in F minor, performed by Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin), Joseph Spooner (cello) and the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by John Andrews.

It is not that long ago when people might have decried that an English symphonic tradition existed in the 19th century. Concert programmes still seem to start with the symphonies of Elgar, though those of Stanford and Parry are becoming better known. But music by their contemporaries remains something of an unknown quantity still, it is not so much that there wasn't a tradition as that it has been forgotten by history. Now records like this are enabling us to explore.

Percy Sherwood was a name entirely new to me. He was born in Germany, to an English father and a German mother. He studied at the Dresden Conservatoire with Felix Draeske and Bertrand Roth, both composers in the circle of Liszt, whilst another of his teachers, Theodor Kirchner was very much in the Brahms, Robert & Clara Schumann circle. Sherwood became a leading light of the music scene in Dresden until the First World War when he and his wife moved to England where Sherwood earned a living by teaching. Though he continued to compose his Germanic influence style was not in favour in England.

Thursday 27 September 2018

Schumann and Schubert to Vessel and George Crumb: Manchester Collective's 2018/19 season

The Manchester Collective
The Manchester Collective
Formed in 2016, the Manchester Collective has just launched its 2018-2019 season. When I chatted to the group's managing director, Adam Szabo, last year [see my article] he said that the group's aim was to 'bring a greater variety of chamber music to North West England, an area rich in orchestral music but with fewer opportunities to hear top level chamber music.' And in December 2017 it was appointed Ensemble in Residence at the Stoller Hall in Manchester. This new season certainly does that, as the group explores a wide variety of composers, genres and eras, with a lively view of what it is to programme a concert.

The season starts with the Romantic Hero tour with pianist Jayson Gillham, which combines Schumann's Piano Quintet and Waldszenen with music by Kurtag and Australian composer Nigel Westlake. This is followed by a Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire performed in a new English translation by David Pountney, with soprano Lotte Betts-Dean (currently a City Music Foundation Young Artist). Famously difficult to approach for many audiences, the work will be presented with broadcaster Elizabeth Alker there to guide audiences. The group will be reviving its show 100 Demons which explores the space between live strings and electronics, with a collaboration with electronic artist Vessel and composer Daniel Elms. As well as music by Elms and Vessel, the programme also includes Iannis Xenakis, Jonathan Harvey, Steve Reich and Edmund Finnis.

The first event of the new year is a tour of George Crumb's iconic Black Angels, written for amplified string quartet, and paired with Schubert's String Quartet in D minor, 'Death and the Maiden'. Then comes Bach's Goldberg Variations in Dmitri Sitkovetsky's remarkable re-imagining for string trio (believe me, it works!). And finally, the group's major commission for 2018/19, Paradise Lost, a new work from composer and electronic musicians Sebastian Gainsborough (AKA Vessel) collaborating with Manchester Collective's music director, Rakhi Singh.

It is a certainly a season to make you think, and to look at chamber music differently. Full details from the Manchester Collective website.

The orchestra now arriving at Platform One is celebrating its 70th birthday

Howard Shelley and London Mozart Players performing at St Pancras Station
Howard Shelley and London Mozart Players performing at St Pancras Station
Music in railway stations tends to be of the random busker variety, with perhaps some charity carol singing at Christmas. But last Tuesday, 25 September 2018, commuters arriving at St Pancras Station were treated to a live performance by the London Mozart Players with pianist Howard Shelley on the iconic Elton John piano performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21.

The chamber orchestra, the UK's longest established, is celebrating its 70th birthday and what better way to celebrate than to appear in London's most striking station. The event was live-streamed by Classic FM on its Facebook page (with the video being permanently accessible), and it had 50,000 views within 12 hours of the event.

The event is part of the station's ongoing calendar of events, including art and music experiences, so next time you are rushing to catch your train you never know whom you might hear.

As if sent from God: Robert & Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms at Conway Hall

Johannes Brahms & Robert Schumann
Johannes Brahms & Robert Schumann
Intertwined musical lives: there will be music by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann & Johannes Brahms from the Primrose Piano Quartet & mezzo-soprano Louise Winter at Conway Hall Sunday Concerts, this Sunday (30 September 2018), preceded by my pre-concert talk introducing the music. 

Including songs Brahms' wrote for his and Clara's mutual friends, violinist (and viola player) Joseph Joachim and his singer wife, songs that Clara wrote as part of a joint musical diary with Robert on their honeymoon, songs Robert wrote as a wedding present for Clara, music that Brahms wrote which testifies to his feelings for Clara, and Robert's Piano Quartet, the undeservedly lesser known of his two chamber works for piano and strings.

My pre-concert talk at 5.30pm As if sent from God, will look at the complex lives intertwined lives relationships of the three composers, with rapturous love, court battles and madness.

Further details from the Facebook event or Conway Hall website.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Huw Watkins - Two concertos and a symphony

Huw Watkins - Two concertos and a symphony - NMC
Huw Watkins Concertos and Symphony; Adam Walker, Alina Ibragimova, Halle, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Ryan Wigglesworth, Edward Gardner; NMC Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 September 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Fine craftsmanship, technical bravura and lyricism in these three symphonic works from Huw Watkins

This new disc from NMC brings together three substantial symphonic works by the Welsh composer Huw Watkins, the Flute Concerto which is performed by Adam Walker (flute) and the Halle conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, the Violin Concerto which is performed by violinist Alina Ibragimova and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner and recorded live at the BBC Proms, and the Symphony performed by the Halle conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth.

Born in Wales in 1976, Watkins studied both piano and composition, the latter with Robin Holloway, Alexander Goehr and Julian Anderson at Cambridge and the Royal College of Music, and he has gained a reputation both as a composer and as a distinguished pianist. In fact, both the concertos on this disc were written for soloists with whom Watkins had developed a performing relationship in chamber music. Both concertos have a strongly virtuosic element, yet paradoxically both come over as rather pastoral too with a strong lyrical element in Watkins' writing.

Swansongs in North Wales

John Brunning - Swansongs - Elin Manahan Thomas
Composer (and Classic FM presenter) John Brunning's new song cycle Swansongs will be receiving its premiere at the North Wales International Music Festival in St Asaph Cathedral on Friday 28 September 2018 when soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and pianist Jocelyn Freeman. The concert also includes music by Dilys Elwyn Edwards, Morfydd Llwyn Owen, Brian Hughes, Purcell, and Handel, with performers also including Family Affair – Brian Hughes (piano), Daniel Brian Hughes (clarinet) & Miriam Hughes (flute).

John Brunning was at one time a guitarist with the band Mungo Jerry, he now broadcasts a number of regular programmes for Classic FM. His song cycle started "in response to the death of a loved one that affected me very profoundly". The work has been recorded by Elin Manahan Thomas and pianist Daniel Grimwood and will be issued on the Signum Classics label in November.

The festival, which is on at the moment, runs until 30 September. Full details from the festival website.

Somewhere for the Weekend: Cremona Musica

Cremona Musica
Cremona Musica
This weekend, 28 to 30 September 2018, Cremona Musica takes place, an exhibition devoted to musical instruments in Cremona, Italy, a town renowned since the 17th century for its violin making (as well as being the place where Monteverdi was born). It is a must for anyone interested in hand-crafted instruments.

This year there are over 320 exhibitors and over 160 events at the exhibition, and it is not just violins there is a 'Piano Experience' and an 'Acoustic Guitar Village'. Performers will include Maxim Vengerov, Boris Berman, Louis Lortie and many others. The event takes place at the Cremona Exhibition Centre.

One of the interesting features this year is an exhibition and conference devoted to the acoustic-guitar making dynasty of Hauser. The concert guitar Hermann Hauser Sr. built for Andrés Segovia is now kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York and Segovia, in the 1950s, called it "the best guitar of our times". At Cremona, there will be an exhibition of historic Hauser guitars as well as a conference. There will also be a homage to Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, with a masterclass about the music of the Florentine composer, plus performances of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Quintetto op. 143 and a selection of Caprichos de Goya op.195.

Full information from Cremona Musica

Tuesday 25 September 2018


Southbank Sinfonia - #ConcertLab
Southbank Sinfonia's #ConcertLab series is designed to explore and experiment with the concert genre, to ask questions of classical music's presentation, experimenting with lighting, layout and our very senses to bring fresh resonance to orchestral performance. 

For the next #ConcertLab Southbank Sinfonia's RushHour Concert on 27 September 2018 is rather later than usual, at 9pm. This is because they are waiting for darkness, because the event is all about combining music and projections to tell stories.

For Rush Hour #13: Atmospheres, at 9.00pm on Thursday 27 September at St John's Waterloo, the Southbank Sinfonia, associate leader Eugene Lee, is presenting a programme which comprises Ravel's Mother Goose, Copland's Quiet City and Dani Howard's Silver Falls, all accompanied by projections to create a vivid staging which brings out the story-telling elements in the music.

Tickets are free, so go along and find out what can be achieved. Full details from the Southbank Sinfonia website.

Jiri Belohlavek & the Czech Philharmonic in Janacek

Jiri Belohlavek - Janacek: Glagolitic Mass - Decca
Janacek Glagolitic Mass, Taras Bulba, Sinfonietta, The Fiddler's Child; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Hibla Gerzmava, Veronika Hajnova, Stuart Neill, Jan Martinik, Ales Barta, Jiri Belohlavek; DECCA  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 September 2018 
Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A rugged, outdoors approach to Jiri Belohlavek's recording of the original version of Janacek's Glagolitic Mass

There has been a tendency to smooth out the awkward corners of Janacek's Glagolitic Mass to make it fit easily into the Western European tradition of choral/orchestral sacred works. Admittedly, this was a process started by the composer, whose revision of the mass following the 1927 premiere removed some of the more ruggedly awkward corners.

Like Sir Charles Mackerras (who recorded the mass with the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra for Chandos in 1993), Jiri Belohlavek opts for Janacek's original version on this new disc from Decca where Belohlavek conducts almost entirely Czech forces, with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Prague Philharmonic Choir and soloists, Hibla Gerzmava (soprano), Veronika Hajnova (alto), Stuart Neill (tenor, the only non-Czech), Jan Martinik (bass) and Ales Barta (organ). Recorded over a span of four years, in Prague's Rudolfinum, this double CD set also contains Janacek's Sinfonietta (dating from around the same time as the mass), the Rhapsody for orchestra Taras Bulba (written originally in 1915, revised in 1918 and premiered in 1921) and the 1917 tone poem The Fiddler's Child

Marking the Centenary of the Armistice in Leeds

Opera North - Silent Night
Marking the centenary of the Armistice, Leeds has a whole variety of events across the city with a collaboration between arts organisations, museums, local councils, historians and volunteers, with music by Kevin Puts, Benjamin Britten, and Will Todd, an immersive artinstallation and much more.

At Leeds Town Hall, Opera North is presenting a concert staging of Kevin Puts' opera Silent Night with Opera North Youth Chorus, and students from the Royal Northern College of Music. Not Such Quiet Girls, an Opera North and Leeds Playhouse co-production at the Howard Assembly Room tells the stories of women who volunteered on the front line, inspired by Helen Zenna Smith’s novel Not So Quiet, Radclyffe Hall’s war account in The Well of Loneliness, and the life of war artist and ambulance driver Olive Mudie-Cooke, , writer Jessica Walker and director Jacqui Honess-Martin combine staged scenes, film projections, music hall songs and forgotten rarities by early-20th century female composers.

The BBC Philharmonic, Leeds Festival Chorus, the City of Glasgow Chorus, Cantabile Choir and soloists Evelina Dobračeva, Andrew Staples and Benjamin Appl, will be performing Britten's War Requiem, whilst the Orchestra of Opera North, the company’s Youth Chorus, Young Voices and Children’s Chorus perform a new micro-opera, The Songs of War by Will Todd. Another collaboration brings the Orchestra of Opera North together with St Peter’s Singers and Sir Michael Morpurgo for War Horse: The Story in Concert. Marking the centenary of both the cessation of hostilities and the formation of the Royal Air Force, the Orchestra of Opera North performs Carl Davis’s live soundtrack for Wings, the barnstorming 1927 silent film.

The director of Leeds Lieder, Joseph Middleton joins Christopher Maltman for From Severn to Somme, charting the soldier’s odyssey from home into battle, and his death and epitaph, through songs by Butterworth, Gurney and Finzi, and works by composers from the other major nations involved in the War including Mahler, Mussorgsky and Schumann. For this year’s visit from the National Opera Studio, the young artists present Last Days, a beautifully staged passage from the gaiety of pre-war Europe to the apocalyptic impact of the war’s outbreak and beyond, devised and directed by Tim Albery.

Leeds Town Hall’s Sullivan Room will be transformed into a frontline field hospital for Sound&Fury's Charlie Ward, an immersive installation as part of Leeds International Film Festival. To boost morale, staff at these makeshift facilities sometimes arranged for Charlie Chaplin films to be shown for the bedridden, with the ward’s ceiling as the silver screen. For one soldier on Charlie Ward, the flickering images, whirring projector and Chaplin’s comic timing trigger complex emotions and memories, and the film show sets him on a journey into a personal no man’s land. Goodbye to all that?, a free exhibition at the University of Leeds’ Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery running until 31 January 2019, focuses on the experiences of the families in Yorkshire and beyond during the First World War. The lasting impact on their lives is explored through themes of grief, memory, disability, women’s rights and politics.

Monday 24 September 2018

Opera Appreciation Talks

If you want to find out more about the operas you are listening to then opera singer Helen Astrid (formerly with English National Opera) is giving a series on the last Tuesday in each month in Teddington starting Tuesday 25 September 2018. 

Helen will use recorded music and visual aids interspersed with group discussions and simple analysis, to take opera from  the birth of opera in Italy during the late-Renaissance through to modern and contemporary opera.

Each session will focus on a different aspect of operatic history and by the end of the evening, you will have a more in-depth understanding, knowledge and enjoyment about opera!

Dates: 25 September | 30 October | 27 November 7.30[m-9.00pm

Tickets: £15 or £38 all three. Includes Wine Reception.
Venue: St Mary's Parish Hall, Langham Road, Teddington, London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, TW11 9HF.

Further details from EventBrite.

New theatre, new season - Royal Opera House's Linbury Theatre re-opens

The Royal Opera House's redesigned Linbury Theatre © Hufton + Crow, 2018.jpg
The Royal Opera House's redesigned Linbury Theatre © Hufton + Crow, 2018
Quite how the Royal Opera House's Open Up project will work in practise, only time will tell as we test the changes in earnest but the re-vamped Linbury Theatre has quite a striking programme of events announced for its first season. Things kick off in January 2019.

The first opera to be presented at the new Linbury is a new one, Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child, based on Francesca Simon's novel, and the latest in a series of contemporary operas aimed at younger audiences being commissioned by the Royal Opera. Directed by Timothy Sheader (artistic director of Regents Park Open Air Theatre and director of English National Opera's recent performances of Britten's Turn of the Screw in Regent's Park) the piece features Marta Fontanals-Simmons [see my interview with Marta] in the title role, Tom Randle, Dan Shelvey, Lucy Schaufer, Elizabeth Karani and Graeme Broadbent with conductor Jessica Cottis.

We move over 250 years earlier with the first performance of Handel's Berenice at Covent Garden since 1737 as a collaboration with the London Handel Festival. Sung in a new English translation by Selma Dimitrijevic, directed by Adele Thomas and conducted by Laurence Cummings, the performances feature Rachael Lloyd, James Laing, William Berger and Jette Parker Young Artists Jacquelyn Stucker and Patrick Terry.

For the annual Jette Parker Young Artists performance, Henze’s final opera, his reworking of Greek myth, Phaedra, is being performed in a new production by Jette Parker Young Artist director Noa Naamat with Southbank Sinfonia, conducted by Edmund Whitehead.

Other opera performances include South African lyric theatre company Isango Ensemble, Belgian director Ivo van Hove and Muziektheater Transparant. The dance programme includes the National Dance Company of Wales, Alessandra Ferri, the Royal Ballet in a programme of new dance to new music including a new core by David Sawer, Ben Duke’s company Lost Dog, Yorke Dance Project, Canadian company Cas Public.

Vital & optimistic: Halle Children's Choir in Jonathan Dove's A Brief History of Creation

Jonathan Dove - A Brief History of Creation - NMC
Jonathan Dove A Brief History of Creation, Gaia Theory; Halle Children's Choir, Halle, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder, Josep Pons; NMC Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 September 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Creation and the Earth are the subjects for two substantial choral and orchestral works by Jonathan Dove

This new disc from NMC brings together two works by Jonathan Dove which depict the Earth and its creation, using quite a scientific point of view yet creating richly vivid works. A Brief History of Creation, with words by Alasdair Middleton, is a sequence of thirteen movements describing creation from the Big Bang onwards, performed in this live recording by the Halle Children's Choir, the Halle, conductor Sir Mark Elder. Gaia Theory is a three movement orchestral work which is performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conductor Josep Pons, again in a live recording.

A Brief History of Creation arose from a commission for the Halle Children's Choir, choir director Shirley Court, and Dove drew his initial inspiration from a James Turrell art installation. Alasdair Middleton's texts take us from the creation of the stars, through the elements and selected animals to man. Dove admits that the narrative has gaps, and that they chose things which would be fun to sing about such as dinosaurs, whales, elephants and a shark.

Sunday 23 September 2018

Somewhere for the weekend: Dresden Music Festival

Beethoven: Leonore - Dresden Music Festival - Ivor Bolton, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Ann Kern, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
Beethoven's Leonore  at the 2017 Dresden Music Festival celebrates the re-opening of the Dresden Kulturpalast
Ivor Bolton, Michael Kupfer-Radecky, Ann Kern, Dresden Festival Orchestra (photo Oliver Killig)
The 2019 Dresden Music Festival takes place from 16 May to 10 June 2019. Under the artistic direction of Jan Vogler the festival's theme is Visions and a particular area of celebration will be the centenary of the Bauhaus. 

The festival opens on 16 May 2019 at the Kulturpalast when Ivor Bolton conducts the Dresden Festival Orchestra in a programme in Weber, Schubert and Schumann including Schubert songs arranged for voice and orchestra with the Dresden-born bass René Pape. Another intriguing highlight is a new Cello Concerto written for Jan Vogler, which will he will be premiering with the WDR Symphony Orchestra under Cristian Măcelaru. Written not by one composer but by three, the concerto will unite the talents of Sven Helbig (Germany), Nico Muhly (USA) and Zhou Long (China). And in a different vein, the festival finale will be provided by legendary guitarist Eric Clapton.

Bauhaus celebrations include the Bavarian Junior Ballet from Munich and the Berlin Academy of the Arts in Gerhard Bohner’s new version of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet at the Dresden Theatre. Originally premiered in Stuttgartin 1922 with music by Paul Hindemith, the geometrically inspired ballet helped to spread the ethos of the Bauhaus. The Russian pianist Nikolai Tokarev will perform Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition accompanied by a video installation which reminds the audience of Kandinsky’s production at the Friedrich Theatre in Dessau in 1928 which Mussorgsky’s work inspired.

Further highlights include appearances of the Staatskapelle Berlin with Daniel Barenboim, the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with Sir Antonio Pappano, the Vienna Philharmonic with Tugan Sokhiev, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with their new chief conductor Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla. Igor Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progress will be performed as part of Equilibrium Artists, a mentoring initiative for young singers created by soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan.

The 2019 festival, the 42nd, will be presenting 56 events at 22 performance venues, many venues historic in their own right.

Full details from the festival website, and read the coverage of past festivals on this blog.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Late Romantic: I chat to pianist Margaret Fingerhut

Margaret Fingerhut (Photo Andy Tyler)
Margaret Fingerhut (Photo Andy Tyler)
Pianist Margaret Fingerhut is making a rare London appearance next month when she joins Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva's London Piano Festival, where Margaret will be participating in the two piano gala. I recently met up with Margaret to find out what we can expect at the gala, and to talk about recent projects and her love for late Romantic piano music.

At the London Piano Festival (this year in its third appearance), Charles and Katya particularly like to invite pianists who are their friends to perform in the two-piano gala. Charles and Margaret have been friends for a number of years and in fact were once neighbours. 

Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson
Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson
With Charles, Margaret will be performing two pieces by Arnold Bax, these seemed a natural fit as the music of Bax has featured a lot in Margaret's life and Bax wrote some wonderful two piano pieces which have not so far been played at the festival, he wrote many of his two piano pieces for Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson (a British piano duo active in the 1930s and 1940s). 

Bax seems to have loved depicting water in his music and Poisoned Fountain for two pianos is incredibly atmospheric, and Margaret describes it as rather spooky and surprisingly advanced for its time (Bax wrote the piece in 1928, when it was premiered by Bartleet and Robinson). As a complement to this, Margaret and Charles will perform Bax's Hardanger which is an homage to Grieg.

With Katya, Margaret will be playing Poulenc, again a contrasting group of pieces. The light-hearted Capriccio, which was written in 1952 and dedicated to Samuel Barber (it is based on Poulenc's 1932 profane cantata Le bal masque) and L'embarquement pour Cythere (from 1951, based on music Poulenc wrote for the film Le Voyage en Amérique by Henri Lavorel), a piece which Margaret describes as very much an earworm, Finally they will play the gorgeous, nostalgic Elegie (dedicated to the memory of Marguerite de Polignac, daughter of the fashion designer Jeanne Lanvina), about which Margaret quotes Poulenc as saying 'music should be played with a cigar and a glass of cognac'!

Margaret has not, in fact, played much two-piano music, though what she has played she has enjoyed. Most of her collaborations have been with other instrumentalists and singers, in chamber music and song. And she feels such collaborations with other pianists are enjoyable because they are different.

Not that it is an easy task; coordinating with another pianist is quite difficult and she has heard performances where the collaboration has not worked at all. For two pianists to play together there is a need for there to be a great unanimity of touch, so that they play as one. When teaching at college, she has found that first-year students, in their chamber music option, sometimes choose two piano works thinking this is an easy option, which it certainly is not.

Charles Owen, Elena Langer, Katya Apekisheva, Lisa Smirnova, Danny Driver, Melvyn Tan, Ilya Itin at the 2017 London Piano Festival at Kings Place. ©ICA Media
Charles Owen, Elena Langer, Katya Apekisheva, Lisa Smirnova, Danny Driver, Melvyn Tan and Ilya Itin
at the 2017 London Piano Festival at Kings Place. ©ICA Media

Friday 21 September 2018

Women of the Windrush Tell Their Stories

Passengers disembarking from the
Empire Windrush at Tilbury Dock, June 1948
As part of the Equator Festival at Kings Place on 22 September 2018, composer Shirley J Thompson is curating an evening commemorating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the MV Empire Windrush in 1948 at Tilbury Docks. Women of the Windrush Tell Their Stories will feature the stories, narratives and memories of the women who came on the Windrush. Shirley J Thompson will be joined by guest artists and composers including Nadine Benjamin (soprano), Rachel Duckett (soprano), Zena Edwards (Mbira/Spoken Word), Gweneth Rand (soprano), Rebekah Reid (Violin & Electronics), Carroll Thompson (Vocalist) and Allyson Devenish (piano), artists themselves descended from the Windrush generation. This multi-media event will showcase a unique mix of music, including classical, electronic, mbira and reggae together with a spoken word element, thus exemplifying the diverse culture of the Windrush communities. An integral part of the event will be the film Memories in Mind: Women of the Windrush Tell Their Stories, which originally inspired Shirley J. Thompson to stage this event.

Between 1948 and 1973, some 524,000 people from the Commonwealth became residents in the UK and Caribbean people currently comprise 3% of Britain's population.

Shirley J. Thompson is an English composer, conductor and violinist of Jamaican descent, and her music was performed at the official Windrush commemoration service at Westminster Abbey earlier in the year.

Full details from the Kings Place website.

Decades - 1830-1840

Decades volume 3 - Vivat
Decades: volume 3, songs from the 1830s; John Mark Ainsley, Lorna Anderson, Alexey Gusev, Angelika Kirchschlager, Soraya Mafi, Malcolm Martineau; Vivat Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 September 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Songs from the 1830s, a valuable survey from the Mendelssohns and Loewe, through Meyerbeer and Berlioz to Alyabyev and Dargomyzhsky

With Volume 3 of Vivat's Decades: A century in Song we reach the 1830s, a period after Schubert's death and before Schumann launched into song. A landscape with fewer towering masterpieces perhaps, but one full of fascinating incident. So here we have songs by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Franz Lachner, Felix Mendelssohn, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Alexander Alyabyev, Alexander Varlamov, Hector Berlioz, Alexander Dargomyzhsky and Carl Loewe, performed by John Mark Ainsley, Lorna Anderson, Alexey Gusev, Angelika Kirchschlager and Soraya Mafi with Malcolm Martineau, artistic director of the series, at the piano.

We start with Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, whose voice we are leaning is different from that of her brother. Soraya Mafi sings three songs, Die Mainacht (Hölty),  Warum sing den die Rosen so blass (Heine, a poet whom Fanny knew personally) and Wanderlied (Goethe). From the first song, we can hear Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel's liking for chromaticism, even in a gentle melody, whilst Warum goes with a flowing lilt and Wanderlied combines a perky piano with characterful voice. All three are sung by Soraya Mafi with a nice simplicity yet attention to detail

Franz Lachner remains best known for adding recitatives to the Italian version of Cherubini's Medea, yet in his youth, he was a friend of Schubert's, and his songs deserve exposure. Here we have three, sung by John Mark Ainsley, all settings of Heine from Lachner's cycle Sängerfahre (Minstrel's Journey) including texts already set by Schubert but where Lachner shows himself to have his own personality. John Mark Ainsley shapes the phrases beautifully in all three, conveying emotion through music. Strophic songs require care, and Ainsely gives us some fine storytelling.

Juditha resurgens: William Vann on reviving Parry's 'Judith'

Judith slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, 1614–18
Judith slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, 1614–18
On 3 April 2019, William Vann (artistic director of the London English Song Festival, and music director of the Royal Hospital Chelsea) will be conducting a performance of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's first oratorio Judith at the Royal Festival Hall, with soloists Eleanor Dennis, Kathryn Rudge, Toby Spence and Henry Waddington, the Crouch End Festival Chorus and the London Mozart Players. Amazingly, this will be the first full London performance of the piece since 1889 (there was a performance with piano at the Royal College of Music in the 1970s). Given that the revival of Parry's music has been gaining strength for some time, it seems strange that the oratorio has languished so much. I met up with Will recently to find out more about his quest to restore Judith.

He first became aware of the oratorio at a Vaughan Williams Society AGM when there was a talk on the origins of hymn tunes, including Repton ('Dear Lord and Father of all mankind') which was originally an aria from Parry's Judith, and the original aria was performed as part of the talk. Will became intrigued and wondered if anyone was performing it. That is when he found out how much the piece had languished, though not done in London since 1889 there were a lot of performances until the 1920s, then things tail off and the last major performance seems to have been in Wales in 1951.

Mahler distilled: Iain Farrington and Rozana Madylus in "On Angels' Wings"

Gustav Mahler in 1892
Gustav Mahler in 1892
On Angels Wings: Mahler, Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner, Schumann, Klopstock, Strauss, Elgar; Iain Farrington, Rozanna Madylus; 1901 Arts Club Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 June 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A fascinating voyage round Mahler's second symphony in the second of Iain Farrington's Mahler piano recitals

Pianist and composer Iain Farrington is perhaps best known for his distillation of composer's larger scores for smaller instrumental forces, and perhaps his current concert series at 1901 Arts Club represents the ultimate distillation as he is exploring Mahler's ten symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde in a series of piano recitals, playing his own transcriptions of many of the Mahler symphonies.

For his second recital in A Mahler Piano Series at the 1901 Arts Club, on Wednesday 19 September 2018, Iain Farrington was joined by mezzo-soprano Rozanna Madylus for On Angels Wings, focused on Mahler's Second Symphony (written between 1888 and 1894, premiered 1895) with Iain Farrington's transcription of the original version of the Totenfeier movement (written 1888) from the symphony, traditional tunes which Mahler used in the symphony, music which influenced him with the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata in A flat major and Die Erlösung from Wagner's Parsifal (1882), a sequence of songs which related to the symphony, Mahler's Wo die schönenen Trompeten, Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt and Urlicht, Schumann's Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen and Klopstock's hymn Die Auferstehung, and a group of songs by Mahler's contemporaries on similar themes to the symphony, Wagner's Der Engel (1857, from the Wesendonck Lieder), Brahms' O Tod wie bitter bist du (1896, from the Four Serious Songs), Richard Strauss' Befreit (1898) and Elgar's The Angel's Farewell (1900, from The Dream of Gerontius).

In an age before computers and synthesisers, the piano transcription was an essential tool in a composer's armoury, composer pianists like Mahler would play their symphonies to selected people and in fact Mahler cut piano rolls of music from his symphonies. Mahler's younger English contemporary RVW would have a play through of his latest symphony in piano form with a trusted pianist before a small group of friends. So the idea of a Mahler symphony on the piano is more suitable than we think.

In the case of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, the size of the piece and the extra forces it uses (including chorus and off-stage brass) rather made it less than possible, hence Iain Farrington's decision to give us a recital around the subject. What was attractive about the programme was that if you knew Mahler's Symphony No. 2 then you found Iain's programme and spoken introductions fascinating and illuminating, shedding new light on the music, whilst if you did not know the symphony then the programme hung together as an entity in its own right, with the sequence of songs in the second half being particularly satisfying.

Iain is playing the Mahler symphonies in his own transcriptions, creating a more pianistic texture than the standard vocal score type transcriptions give us, making the pieces live on the piano.

Thursday 20 September 2018

A pastoral delight: Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne in its original version from The Mozartists

Mozart as a child
Mozart as a child
Mozart Bastien und Bastienne, Haydn Symphony No. 49; Ellie Laugharne, Alessandro Fisher, Darren Jeffery, The Mozartists, Ian Page; Wigmore Hall Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 18 September 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Mozart's early singspiel in its original version, alongside music from the same year

Classical Opera and The Mozartists opened their 2018-19 season this Tuesday 18 September 2018 at the Wigmore Hall with a concert that culminated in a performance of Mozart’s pastoral comedy the one-act singspiel Bastien und Bastienne. Following the rediscovery of the 1768 autograph manuscript this was, it’s claimed, the first performance of the original setting since its premiere 250 years ago. Ian Page conducted The Mozartists with Ellie Laugharne and Alessandro Fisher as the titular Bastienne and Bastien and Darren Jeffery was the local quack Colas.

The programme kicked off with some musical context, a performance of Haydn’s Symphony No.49 also dating from 1768. From the opening portentous Adagio, Ian Page was determined to bring out the intensely expressive dynamics. Perhaps the sombre opening is the reason the work attracted the epithet ‘La passione’, but I didn’t buy the idea that overall this is a tragic piece, and certainly not as Robbins Landon would have it, depicting a “winding line of penitents”. The passion and vitality of Ian Page’s reading were exultant, there was an ebullience that belied the minor home key and the turbulent expressiveness that propelled us on to the magnificent Presto.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Compare, contrast and combine: Spitalfields Music's 2018 festival is launched

André de Ridder
André de Ridder
Spitalfields Music's 2018 Festival will be the second to be curated by conductor André de Ridder. Running from 1 to 9 December 2018 at venues in and around East London, the festival promises a series of experiences which bring early music and contemporary music together. The programme is full of cultural cross-pollination, events which synthesise old and new or which place old and new together in striking contrast.

The festival opens with Unknown Remembered, which fuses Handel's cantata La Lucrezia with a new commission from Shiva Feshareki inspired by the lyrics of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album. These will be combined with a video installation from Haroon Mirza to create an immersive experience in a former warehouse (now nightclub) in Hackney Wick.

If such cultural synthesis does not appeal, then there is the chance to hear Thomas Tallis' Lamentations in a programme from Tom Williams and the Erebus Ensemble which places Tallis alongside contemporary responses from Nico Muhly.  Colm Carey and the Odyssean Ensemble present William Byrd's motets in the historic Chapel Royal of St Peter Ad Vincula at the Tower, a programme which reflects Byrd's support for the struggle of Roman Catholics in Protestant England.

Soprano Mary Bevan joins lutenist Elizabeth Kenny for a recital of Purcell and his contemporaries, and for those brave enough to sample cultural cross pollination, the baroque recital is followed by a set from The Coveryard performing material by The Smiths and Purcell reworked.

The Riot Ensemble with Richard Reed Parry and Aaron Holloway-Nahum is performing a programme of Richard Reed Parry, Nicole Lizee and Christopher Mayo. Festival curator André de Ridder will be conducting the Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra in a concert which mixes Stravinsky's Firebird with music by Anna Meredith and Shiva Feshareki. The Fidelio Trio brings a programme of contemporary music for piano trio by Linda Catlin, Ann Cleare, Luke Styles and Christopher Fox.

Full information from Spitalfields Music

The other Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera's revival of Isouard's Cendrillon

Isouard: Cendrillon - Nicholas Merryweather, Susanne Dymott, Benjamin Durrant, Jenny Stafford - Bampton Classical Opera
Isouard: Cendrillon - Nicholas Merryweather, Susanne Dymott, Benjamin Durrant, Jenny Stafford - Bampton Classical Opera
Nicolo Isouard Cendrillon; Kate Howden, Aoife O'Sullivan, Jenny Stafford, Nicholas Merryweather, Bradley Smith, Benjamin Durrant, Alistair Ollerenshaw, dir: Jeremy Gray, Chroma, cond: Harry Sever Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 September 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A Cinderella opera-comique from a French Maltese composer is an intriguing re-discovery from Bampton

Isouard: Cendrillon - Nicholas Merryweather, Kate Howden - Bampton Classical Opera
Isouard: Cendrillon - Nicholas Merryweather, Kate Howden
Bampton Classical Opera
Nicolo Isouard (1775-1818) is not a well known name and Bampton Classical Opera's performances of his opera Cendrillon this Summer were probably the work's UK premiere. The company brought the opera to St John's Smith Square on Tuesday 18 September 2018 in a production directed and designed by Jeremy Gray with costumes by Jess Iliff. Kate Howden played Cendrillon with Aoife O'Sullivan and Jenny Stafford as her step-sisters, Clorinde and Tisbe, Alistair Ollerenshaw as her step-father, the Baron, Nicholas Merryweather as Alidor, Bradley Smith as Prince Ramir and Benjamin Durrant as Dandini. Harry Sever conducted Chroma. The work was sung in an English translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray.

Isouard was of French-Maltese descent and studied in Malta, Paris, Palermo and Naples, eventually ending up in Paris where he wrote a series of operas, mainly opera comique with spoken dialogue. Cendrillon (1810) was one of his major successes. If the plot of the opera seems rather familiar (no fairy godmother, no step-mother, the step-sisters are not that ugly, the prince has a tutor and swaps places with his squire Dandini) this is because Rossini and his librettist lifted much of the plot for La Cenerentola from Isouard and Charles Guillaume Etienne's opera.

It is a charming, well made piece. Cendrillon, the prince, Clorinde and Tisbe each get solos but the main engine of the music is a series of duets, six in all, plus a trio and a quartet. Isouard's music is melodious and lyrical, with a nice line in melancholy for the title role. His depiction of the sisters is not that sharp, and at times they seem almost sympathetic. He uses two tenors, for the Prince and for Dandini, and whilst the Prince gets his own melancholy romance (about the inability to find a bride who loves him), Dandini is quite a lively character. Alidor remains a bit mysterious, involving himself, disguised as a beggar, in Cendrillon's life and apparently using magic to effect her transformation but that is never explained.

One of the problems with the work is that it simply is not La Cenerentola, and you rather missed the pace, liveliness and character of Rossini's opera. It might have been better if Bampton had chosen one of Isouard's other operas, so we had nothing to compare it to.

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