Friday 30 November 2018

NYO 2019

The National Youth Orchestra at the Proms with George Benjamin
The National Youth Orchestra at the Proms with George Benjamin
The 2019 intake of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain will be gathering in December 2018 to rehearse with Kirill Karabits, chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, preparing a programme which includes John Adams's Doctor Atomic Symphony, Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 and a new arrangement of Rick Dior’s Science Fiction

Dior's piece was originally written for percussion and electronics and designed to be performed alongside a film montage of science-fiction film clips. For NYO the work has been specially re-orchestrated and will be performed alongside a film projection featuring sci-fi movie scenes. 

Karabitts and the orchestra will be touring the programme to Warwick Arts Centre (4 January), London’s Barbican (5 January) and Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall (7 January). 

The orchestra's 2019 programme also includes taking part in the world premiere of a new “National Anthem” written by British Indian musician Nitin Sawhney, and a programme of Gerswhin, Copland and Mexican composers with the Mexican conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto. The orchestra is also planning its first American tour which will include a performance at Carnegie Hall, with conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada in a programme of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto performed by Nicola Benedetti and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

The 2019 orchestra will consist of 164 young players, and 53 of these have taken part in the NYO Inspire programme, including NYO 2019 Leader Kynan Walker, aged 16 from Birmingham. NYO Inspire, which provides targeted pathways for musicians from state school and BAME backgrounds, in 2019 will see NYO musicians will volunteer over 1,000 hours of their time, engaging with 1,000 teenage musicians.
"Before taking part in NYO Inspire I had no intention of pursuing a music career, nor did I ever think I’d achieve a place in NYO. The incredible tutoring I received through the programme and the musicians I met opened my eyes and inspired me to work harder and aim higher. I am thrilled to achieve the role of NYO Leader in 2019 and it would not have been possible without the countless opportunities NYO Inspire has given me." - Kynan Walker, Leader of NYO 2019 

NYO 2019 comprises 52% from the state sector, an increase on 2018, and 17% from specialist music schools – of which 99% are on government bursaries. 19% of musicians identify as non-white which is ahead of the 14.1% national average. 

Full details from the NYO website.

Original Handel

St George's Church, Hanover Square in 1787
St George's Church, Hanover Square in 1787
George Frideric Handel was very much a London composer, yet rather frustratingly there are few venues in modern London which can be associated with the premieres of Handel's music. 

Theatres burn down and are re-built, and rather frustratingly the chapel of the Foundling Hospital, which was used for annual performances of Messiah, was demolished in the 1930s. In fact, the only location of a premiere of one of Handel's operas or oratorios to survive seems to be the Sheldonian in Oxford where Handel premiered Athalia. Instead we have his house, which is now a lively museum, and sacred spaces associated with him, such as St Paul's Cathedral and the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace. But the closest relationship is with St George's Church, Hanover Square, which was Handel's parish church.

St George's is not strictly a space where Handel would have expected to hear his oratorios, during his lifetime these were largely secular pieces, and frankly the performing space at St George's Church is not really ideal. But to hear Handel's music in a venue so closely associated with him remains highly evocative. On Thursday 6 December 2018, the London Handel Festival is presenting its annual performance of Handel's Messiah at St George's Church. Simon Williams conducts the choir of St George's Church, Hanover Square and the London Handel Orchestra, with soloists Lauren Lodge-Campbell, Alexandra Gibson,  Alexander Sprague and Trevor Bowes, three of whom are past finalists in the festival's Handel Singing Competition.

Full detatils from the London Handel Festival website.

Landscapes of the mind: Anna Þorvaldsdóttir's Aequa

Aequa - Anna Thorvaldsdottir - ICE - Sono Luminus
Anna Þorvaldsdóttir (Thorvaldsdottir) Aequa; Cory Smythe, International Contemporary Ensemble; Sono Luminus Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 November 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Recent instrumental and chamber music from a composer linking Iceland and the USA

Icelandic composer Anna Þorvaldsdóttir (Thorvaldsdottir) has music performed regularly in both Europe and the USA, she is composer in residence with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra but studied at the University of California, San Diego, and her debut recording Rhizoma was released on the American label Innova recordings.

These cross links are aptly demonstrated on this new disc, Aequa, from the American group, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) on Sono Luminus Records, where the ensemble is joined by pianist Cory Smythe to perform seven of  Thorvaldsdottir's recent pieces, Scape (2011), Spectra (2017), Aequilibria (2014), Sequences (2016), Illumine (2016), Reflections (2016) and Fields (2016). The album is the second by ICE to feature music by Thorvaldsdottir, the group's 2015 release In the Light of Air was a portrait album of the composer.

We start with Scape for solo piano, in which Cory Smyth performs in and on the piano. Thorvaldsdottir uses pitches suspended in mid-air alongside flurries of notes to create a pensive examination of timbre and texture, there is less of a sense of development and more the idea of exploring a landscape of the mind.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Looking ahead: Vale of Glamorgan Festival 2019

Vale of Glamorgan Festival
The Vale of Glamorgan Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary season in 2019 which runs from 18 May 2019 to 24 May 2019. Highlights include more than 30 world premieres, including 14 festival commissions and works by 20 Welsh composers. 10 of the commissions are for Astrid the Dutch Street Organ, for which a variety of composers have been asked to write a short work. 

The artistic director of the festival, John Metcalf, is presenting a new version of 'Polly Garter's Aria' from Under Milkwood for soprano and orchestra. Other composers featured during the festival include Dobrinka Tabakova, Peteris Vasks, Robert Fokkens, Mark David Boden and Graham Fitkin, who will be presenting a programme of his own piano music including music for prepared piano.

Artists performing at the festival include the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the New York percussion quartet Sandbox Percussion, and the Berlin-based Armida String Quartet.

Full details from the festival website.

The Bridge

The Scottish Ensemble
The Scottish Ensemble
With the question mark hanging of United Kingdom's wider cultural relations with the rest of Europe as a result of BREXIT, four organisations are joining together to create a new Europe-wide collaboration. The Bridge is a new collaboration between Scottish Ensemble (UK), Ensemble Resonanz (Germany), Trondheim Soloists (Norway) and PLMF Music Trust (Estonia) supported by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. Over the course of two years, these four organisations will come together to explore, share and develop ideas around artistic innovation and audience diversity in the classical music sector, as well as initiating a string ensembles network.

The Bridge emerged from a shared belief in the importance of embracing new ways of presenting classical music and keeping this art form vibrant, relevant and growing, as well as an awareness of how ambitious and innovative smaller ensembles and organisations can be within the sector.

The Bridge will consist of both industry-focused and public events, so that the two year project will culminate in a three day festival of string music in Glasgow in 2020. The festival will include a major new commission as well as innovative and powerful live experiences designed to showcase the string repertoire.

"With the UK's imminent departure from the EU, strengthening cultural connections has become more important than ever. By fostering and protecting existing cross-cultural respect and understanding, and enriching our shared European musical heritage and finding ways to make it more accessible, responsive, diverse and innovative, we believe The Bridge can inspire long-term change within the classical music sector and encourage more people to enjoy the power of this shared musical tradition." - Jenny Jamison, Chief Executive of Scottish Ensemble

Further information from the Scottish Ensemble website.

Antonio Caldara - cantatas for bass

Caldara - Cantatas for Bass - Stile Galante - Pan Classics
Antonio Caldara Cantatas for Bass; Sergio Foresti, Stile Galante, Stefano Aresi; Pan Classics Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 November 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A valuable opportunity to explore six dramatic yet intimate cantatas by this underrated figure

Despite a significant body of work, perhaps over 3,400 compositions, the work composer Antonio Caldara remains very much undiscovered territory with only occasional discs rather than a consistent exploration as with the oeuvre of some of his contemporaries. This new disc from Pan Classics presents six of Caldara's cantatas for bass voice and continuo, performed by Sergio Foresti and Stile Galante (Agnieszka Oszanca cello, Gabriele Palomba theorbo, Andrea Friggi harpsichord) directed by Stefano Aresi.

The CD booklet article suggests that one reason for the lack of diffusion of Caldara's music in the present day is that his career was almost entirely devoted to working for a series of noble and Imperial families, culminating in his service to the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna from 1716 to 1736. So that much of Caldara's repertoire was performed once, albeit in grand circumstances, and then the manuscripts disappeared into the archives without the dissemination of copies which helped to make music known during the period.

On this disc we hear six cantatas for bass voice and continuo which come from a manuscript created in the 18th century which survives in Bologna and seems to have been created for a particular bass singer, the manuscript also includes music by Antonio and Giovanni Bononcini. One of Caldara's employers, Emperor Charles VI, had a preference for low voices so that Caldara wrote a lot of solo cantatas for this voice and dedicated a volume of 24 cantatas to the Emperor in 1730. In fact, only one of the cantatas on this disc, Il Dario, can be linked to a work written for the Emperor. As Caldara wrote around 350 secular cantatas you cannot help feeling that there is still a lot of work to be done in the archives.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

From Darkness to Light

Not only am I singing but there is a performance of one of my carol arrangements.

From Darkness to Light

London Concord Singers, conductor Jessica Norton
St George's Church, Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2SA
Thursday 6 December 2018, 7.30pm

Bookended by two great works inspired by the past, London Concord Singers concert From Darkness to Light explores the transition through a diverse selection of music from Tallis to Schumann and Saint-Saens to Charles Wood and Britten. The concert starts with Brahms' great motet Warum ist das licht gegeben inspired by the motets of Bach, and ends with Bax's Mater Ora Filium for which Bax took his inspiration from the masses of William Byrd.
The concert also includes contemporary music by John Tavener, Judith Bingham, Ola Gjeilo, and Cecilia McDowall, plus Robert Hugill's arrangement of a carol by Julian Merson.
Ticket price £15 (includes a glass of wine), under 25s £5
Available from EventBrite.

Premiere of Paul Mealor's Symphony No. 3

Illustration for Paradiso by Gustave Dore.
Illustration for Paradiso by Gustave Dore.
On 30 November 2018, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Geoffrey Paterson, will be giving the premiere of Paul Mealor's Symphony No. 3 'Illumination' at the BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff. Inspired by the final section of Dante's The Divine Comedy in which the Italian poet describes his journey through Heaven, the things he sees and the people he encounters on the way to the true home of God, saints, angels and the faithful, the symphony is a single-movement work in which Mealor meditates on the images from Dante's poem and uses a variety of techniques from tuned wine-glasses to structural devices based on the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Section to bring Dante's ideas to musical life.

The concert also includes the UK premiere of Jonathan Dove's Sunshine (originally commissioned by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra), William Mathias' Helios (written in 1975 in memory of Grace Williams), Per Nørgård’s Iris (a work from 1966 which, like Mealor's symphony, uses the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Mean), and Sibelius' Night Ride and Sunrise.

The concert is at 2pm on 30 November 2018 and will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and subsequently available for 30 days on BBC iPlayer. Further details from the BBC website.

Viol music

Violone or great bass viol. Painting by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1640,
Byrd, Purcell, Ferrabosco, Parsons, Gibbons, and Lawes; students from the Royal College of Music and the Salzburg Mozarteum; Royal College of Music Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 November 2018
Mainly English consorts and fantasies for viols in the culmination of the Royal College of Music's Viol Festival

The Royal College of Music has been holding the RCM International Festival of Viols and for the grand finale in the college's Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall on Tuesday 27 November 2018, 10 young players came together to perform a programme of fantasies and consort works by Byrd, Purcell, Ferrabosco, Parsons, Gibbons, and Lawes.

The players were from the RCM and from the Salzburg Mozarteum, nine viol players in all coming together in a variety of configurations, Isabel Esain, Yusuf Lahham, Luke Challinor, Salome Gasselin, Hannah Kilian, Corinna Metz, Vittorio Ghielmi, Christoph Urbanetz, and Sarah Small, with Claire Williams on organ for the final two works by William Lawes. We heard works for a variety of combinations of instruments, from two bass viols and organ, through four-part and six-part to seven-part works, including a remarkable work by Ferrabosco for six bass viols.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

The Secret Life of Carols

Christemas Past - The Telling
Christemas Past - The Telling
Under the delightful name of The Secret Life of Carols, the Medieval music group, The Telling, is touring a pair of carol-themed concerts next month. The group will be touring two programmes, The which explore the history of the medieval carol from its origins as a simple dance from with no relation to Christmas at all. They will be performing a mixture of carols, some well known and some unknown.

The Telling has a growing reputation for intimate, staged concerts to bring old music off the page and reach wider audiences. They create a different concert experience, combining ballads and upbeat instrumental dances with narrative, readings or film. They often perform some numbers while moving around the audience, using lighting and/or candlelight.

The group includes Kaisa Pulkkinen (medieval harp, recorder), Joy Smith (medieval, Celtic harp), Clare Norburn (voice), Ariane Prüssner (voice, harp, percussion), with actor Patience Tomlinson. Many will recognise Clare Norburn's name as one of the founders and artistic directors of the Brighton Early Music Festival, a role she stepped down from last year.

From 2 December 2018 the group will be doing a seven-stop tour starting at St Leonard's on Sea (2/12) and continuing to St John's Church, Wimbledon (5/12), the Nordic Church and Cultural Centre, Liverpool (8/12), Little Missenden Parish Church (14/12), St Thomas More Church, Finsbury Park (15/12), St Andrew's Church, Marks Tey, Colchester (16/12) and St Paul's Community Hub, Worthing (19/12).

Full details from The Telling's website

Naturalism and realism: Puccini's La Boheme with Natalya Romaniw and Jonathan Tetelman

Puccini: La bohème - English National Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Puccini: La bohème - English National Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Puccini La Boheme; Natalya Romaniw, Jonathan Tetelman, Nicholas Lester, Nadine Benjamin, David Soar, Božidar Smiljanic, dir: Jonathan Miller/Natascha Metherell, cond: Alexander Joel; English National Opera at the London Coliseum Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Jonathan Miller's 1930s Paris setting in a stylish revival with a fine young cast

Puccini: La bohème - Jonathan Tetelman, Natalya Romaniw - English National Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Puccini: La bohème - Jonathan Tetelman, Natalya Romaniw
English National Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
English National Opera has revived its production of Puccini's La Boheme, originally directed by Jonathan Miller in 2009 in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Miller's first production at ENO. This revival, revival director Natascha Metherell, featured Natalya Romaniw (making her ENO debut) as Mimi and Jonathan Tetelman (making his European debut) as Rodolfo, with Nicholas Lester as Marcello, Nadine Benjamin as Musetta, David Soar as Colline, Božidar Smiljanic as Schaunard and Simon Butteriss as Benoit & Alcindoro. Alexander Joel conducted.

Miller sets the piece in 1930s Paris, with handsome designs by Isabella Bywater, and it certainly looks very good with an amazing amount of detail in the production. But placing the artists' attic so far up-stage was perhaps not the best idea when casting with young voices in the London Coliseum, and certainly in Acts One and Four the balance often rather favoured the orchestra and you longed to hear this fine young cast in a smaller theatre.

One question which always needs to be answered with La Boheme is how real are these artists, Bohemianism was very much an artistic construct and a case can be made either for them being genuine struggling artists or people simply participating in a lifestyle. Arguments can be made both ways, that the first and last acts include moments from Puccini's own indigent student days, or that the piece is affected by the young Puccini's engagement with the older Italian artists from the Scapigliatura movement (the Italian equivalent of Bohemianism).

Monday 26 November 2018

A 20th century monument: Hindemith's five brass sonatas

Paul Hindemith - Five Brass Sonatas - IndeSens
Paul Hindemith - Five brass sonatas; Eric Aubier, Nicolas Prost, David Alonso, Stephan Labeyrie, Fabrice Millischer, Laurent Wagschal and Helen Tysman; IndeSENS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)

A rare chance to experience the entire 20-year span of Hindemith's five sonatas for brass instruments

Paul Hindemith's music has a complex relationship with the events of the 20th century, as his music moved from a late Romantic idiom to a more avant-garde expressionist style to a tough neo-classicism, Germany moved from the Weimar Republic through the rise of the Nazis to the Third Reich. Rather than becoming a poster image for the Nazi regime, Hindemith's music was sidelined and the composer eventually went into exile.

It is from this period that his series of sonatas for wind and brass instruments dates, from the Flute Sonata of 1936 to the Tuba Sonata of 1955. On this disc are gathered together the sonatas for brass instruments, for trumpet, horn, alto saxhorn (here performed in the version for saxophone), trombone and tuba, performed by Eric Aubier (trumpet), Nicolas Prost (saxophone), David Alonso (horn), Stephane Labeyrie (tuba), Fabrice Millischer (trombone), Laurent Wagschal (pianist on all but the horn sonata) and Helene Tysman (pianist on the horn sonata) on the IndeSens label.

The sonatas were written deliberately with a sense of enriching the repertoire, but they link into Hindemith's interest in writing for unusual groupings of instruments, and yet they also depict a man who is needing to find his place in a changing world, an exile whose music is very much based in the music by past masters from his now inaccessible homeland. Hindemith's late style is often called neo-classical, but it is a far tougher soundworld than that of Stravinsky, and Hindemith is very much inspired by the contrapuntalism of composers like Bach. And whilst the music is technically tonal, Hindemith's use of tonality is distinctive and pushes boundaries in its own way.

Supporting the longest running chamber music series in Europe

Simon Callaghan (photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Simon Callaghan (photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Conway Hall has the longest running chamber music series in Europe, with the history of its Sunday Concerts dating back to the 19th century. The present hall was built in 1929 and has hosted the weekly chamber music concerts since then. It is a lovely space for chamber music and I often given pre-concert talks there [I will be popping up next year on 14 April and 5 May, when the concert includes some of my songs]. The Director of Music at the hall is the pianist Simon Callaghan, whose recent discs have included the first recordings of Roger Sacheverell Coke's piano concertos [see my review] and piano concertos by Rheinberger and Scholz [see my review] in Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series.

Putting on concerts is never cheap, and ticket income alone is rarely sufficient, so on Sunday 2 December 2018 the Sunday Concert is a recital by Simon being given to raise money for the Sunday Concerts series. Simon will be playing one of Beethoven's best loved sonatas, the Pathetique, along with Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy, Schumann's Arabeske, Op.18 and Carnaval, Op.9.

Do go along and support if you can, and you will get an evening of terrific music making. Full details from the Conway Hall website.

Sunday 25 November 2018

Old Bones: Nico Muhly, Iestyn Davies and the Aurora Orchestra at Kings Place

Nico Muhly (Photo Ana Cuba)
Nico Muhly (Photo Ana Cuba)
Nico Muhly, Thomas Adès, Satie, Debussy, Brahms; Iestyn Davies, Aurora Orchestra, Nico Muhly; Kings Place Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 October 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An eclectic mix of old and new in the first of Nico Muhly's residencies with the Aurora Orchestra

The combination of counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, composer Nico Muhly and the Aurora Orchestra meant that the sold out notices appeared early for their concert, Old Bones, at Kings Place on Friday 23 November 2018, the first concert in Nico Muhly's residency with the orchestra.

The concert, programmed by Nico Muhly, gave us an eclectic selection of music centred around Muhly's new version of Old Bones for counter-tenor and ensemble, alongside his Clear Music, Motion, and his arrangement of John Dowland's Time Stands Still plus Thomas Adès' The Lover in Winter and The Four Quarters, Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No. 3, Claude Debussy's Danse Sacree et Danse Profane, and Johannes Brahms' Gestillte sehnsucht. Iestyn Davies joined members of the Aurora Orchestra, Sally Pryce (harp), John Reid (piano/celeste), Alex Wood (violin), Jamie Campbell (violin), Helene Clement (viola), Sebastien van Kujik (cello) and Peter Sparks (clarinet).

The idea behind the programme was evidently to bring together different pieces where the composers were engaging with the music of the past, and also explored the complexities of time in music. There were, indeed, some intriguing juxtapositions such as Satie's Gymnopedie No. 3 flowing straight into the dramatic opening of Thomas Adès' song cycle The Lover in Winter. But overall the programme never quite came into focus, and it felt like an assemblage of interesting ideas rather than a strong single concept.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Brixton Chamber Orchestra Christmas Tour of Lambeth Estates

Matthew O'Keeffe and Brixton Chamber Orchestra on Electric Avenue, Brixton
Matthew O'Keeffe and Brixton Chamber Orchestra on Electric Avenue, Brixton
Classical music is not the first this that you expect to find in a local community centre, but my local orchestra, the Brixton Chamber Orchestra, artistic director Matthew O'Keeffe, is looking to bring some classical festive cheer to community centres in five Council Estates in Lambeth. This is the orchestra's latest initiative in Matthew's ambition to really embed the ensemble within the local community [see my interview with Matthew] and previous projects have included performing on Electric Avenue (see above), joining forces with a local Gospel choir, and performing Brahms' Deutsches Requiem at a local arts festival, and on 9 December they will be playing at the switching on of the Christmas lights in Brixton.

So this festive season, Brixton Chamber Orchestra are bringing a series of music recitals to tenants’ halls across Lambeth, with the orchestra performing for communities in Loughborough, Angel Town, Moorlands, Tulse Hill and Cressingham Gardens estates. This won't be the first time that the ensemble has taken classical music to the local estates, in July this year they performed a concert on the Cressingham Gardens estate, and are eager to take the music back for Christmas.
To help finance the tour the ensemble is running a Kickstarter campaign, rewards range from a free ticket or a credit in the programme, to a music lesson or a private performance.

You can get full details from the project's Kickstarter page, so please go and support them

Storytelling in music: Kevin Puts and his opera 'Silent Night'

Rehearsals for Opera North’s production of Put’s Silent Night, November 2018 - Rupert Charlesworth as Nikolaus Sprink and Máire Flavin as Anna Sørensen - Photo Tom Arber
Rehearsals for Opera North’s production of Kevin Puts' Silent Night, November 2018
Rupert Charlesworth as Nikolaus Sprink and Máire Flavin as Anna Sørensen - Photo Tom Arber
Opera North is giving the UK premiere of Kevin Puts' opera Silent Night at Leeds Town Hall on 30 November 2018. Inspired by the film Joyeux Noel, the opera gives an operatic treatment to the famous Christmas Truce of 1914. It was Kevin Puts' first opera and won at Pullitzer Prize in 2012. I caught up with Kevin, via Skype, to find out more about the opera and his thoughts about creating contemporary opera.

Kevin Puts (Photo David White)
Kevin Puts (Photo David White)
The idea for the opera's subject was not originally Kevin's, the artistic director of Minnesota Opera, Dale Johnson, saw the Christian Caron's 2005 film Joyeux Noel and thought that it would make a good opera. At the time Kevin had not written any opera but Johnson had heard Kevin's orchestral music (which includes four symphonies) and asked Kevin to write the opera. Kevin thought the subject worked very well, not only were two of the characters opera singers, but he felt that he had the musical vocabulary for the subject, both large scale music to depict the scale of the war and music for the more intimate moments.

A cinematic quality to the storytelling

The opera presents a number of challenges to those staging it, not just the depicition of war but the need to present three different fighting groups, the French, the Scots and the Germans. Kevin has seen five or six different productions of the opera, and each had a different solution. At Minnesota Opera, for the work's premiere, they used a turntable which contained the three bunkers (French, Scots and German).

Friday 23 November 2018

Puccini premiere: Opera Rara gives the original version of Le Willis a rare outing

Puccini: Le Willis - Brian Mulligan, Arsen Soghomonyan, Ermonela Jaho, Sir Mark Elder & London Philharmonic  (Photo Russell Duncan)
Puccini: Le Willis - Brian Mulligan, Arsen Soghomonyan, Ermonela Jaho, Sir Mark Elder & London Philharmonic
(Photo Russell Duncan)
Puccini Le Willis; Ermonela Jaho, Brian Mulligan, Arsen Soghomonyan, Opera Rara Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder; Opera Rara at the Royal Festival Hall Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 21 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The London premiere of the original version of Puccini's first opera

It is not often we get to hear a London première of a Puccini work. In fact, it even made it to the morning news bulletin (albeit on Radio 3). Puccini’s first opera, the one-act Le Willis of 1883 was, at the request of Ricordi’s publishers, expanded to a full-length opera and re-orchestrated to become Le Villi that has been performed since 1887. Sir Mark Elder conducted Le Willis with Ermonela Jaho, Brian Mulligan, Arsen Soghomonyan, the Opera Rara Chorus and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, in a programme which also included music by Bizet and Verdi, presented by Opera Rara at the Royal Festival Hall on 21 November 2018.

What we heard at the Festival Hall was the first outing of a new critical edition by Martin Deasy of the original version, with orchestration pared down to its earlier iteration, giving us a chance to hear how as an orchestrator and storyteller Puccini arrived on the scene fully formed at the age of 24. He was to improve his writing for the voice as his career developed – and when he found more voice-friendly librettists and allowed himself more time.

Medea, Alcina, Oedipus, Idomeneo and Orpheus: Salzburg Festival 2019

Achim Freyer, who directs Enescu's Oedipe at Salzburg in 2019 (photo Monika Rittershaus)
Achim Freyer, who directs Enescu's Oedipe at Salzburg in 2019
(photo Monika Rittershaus)
The Salzburg Festival breezed into town on Wednesday to launch the 2019 festival in the elegant surroundings of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Dover Street. The festival is gradually moving towards its major milestone, as 2020 will be the festival's centenary. Whilst attention often focuses on the festival's opera productions (this year there are five new productions, two revivals and two operas presented in concert), the majority of the music at the festival is given at the concerts (over 80 concerts as opposed to around 40 opera performances), and as an English-speaking journalist I find it fatally easy to overlook the festival's spoken word programme. In 2019 there are five plays being presented including Ferenc Molnár's Liliom (perhaps best known in the English-speaking world as the source for Rodgers and Hamerstein's Carousel) and Odon von Horvath's Jugend Ohne Gott, but the centrepiece is always the annual performance of Hugo von Hoffmansthal's Jedermann, which is being performed outdoors in the Domplatz.

The 2019 opera programme at the festival has an implicit theme of myth and how it relates to the human condition. It is noticeable that artist director Markus Hinterhauser has chosen quite a few of the directors from people who worked at previous festivals and there is very much a sense of him creating a house style, working with a selected group of directors.

Simon Stone, who directs Cherubini's Medee at Salzburg in 2019 (Photo Sandra Then)
Simon Stone, who directs Cherubini's Medée
at Salzburg in 2019 (Photo Sandra Then)
The highlight for me must be the new production of Cherubini's Medée, directed by Simon Stone, in a production which is described as 'decidedly contemporary' with Thomas Hengelbrock conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with Sonya Yoncheva in the title role. The opera is being given in French, so we must presume the original version with spoken dialogue is being used though none of the singers is a native French speaker. Another highlight must be on of the real masterworks of the 20th century, Enescu's Oedipe directed by Achim Freyer with Ingo Metzmacher conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, with Chirstopher Maltman in the title role and John Tomlinson as Tiresias.

And the chamber music of Enescu is the focus of one of the festival's concert strands, Zeit mitEnescu, with five concerts each featuring a work by Enescu.

The opera programme opens with a new production of Mozart's Idomeneo directed by Peter Sellars, and with Teodor Currentzis conducting the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, with Russell Thomas and Paula Murrihy as Idomeneo and Idamante.  A lighter approach to myth is Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld which is being directed by Barrie Kosky. And the final new production is Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, what Markus Hinterhauser described as Verdi's most pessimistic and fatalistic work, which is being directed by Andrea Kriegnburg and conducted by Valery Gergiev with Luca Salis, Marina Rebeka, Rene Pape and CHarles Castronovo.

Romeo Castellucci's production of Richard Strauss' Salome is returning, with Asmik Grigorian in the title role, and Damiano Michieletto's new production of Handel's Alcina from the Salzburg Easter Festival is appearing at the Whit Festival with Cecilia Bartoli, Philippe Jaroussky and Sandrine Piau. The two concert performances are Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur with Anna Netrebko, and Verdi's Luisa Miller.

Other approaches to Medea appear in the festival too, with showings of Pasolini's film Medea which features Maria Callas in the title role, and a performance of Pascal Dusapin's opera for solo soprano Medeamaterial which forms the centrepiece of another strand in the festival Zeit mit Dusapin with a series of concerts themed around the work of the French composer as well as an exhibition of his photographs.

The main orchestral strand includes concerts from the Vienna Philharmonic with conductors including Herbert Blomstedt and Bernard Haitink, as well as visiting orchestras including the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Herbert Blomstedt is also conducting the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester with baritone Christian Gerhaher performing Dvorak's Biblical Songs. And Gerhaher is also giving a song recital at the festival performing Purcell, Brahms and Mussorgsky with pianist Gerold Huber.

Full details from the Salzburg Festival website.

Launching Opera Lives

Opera Lives - Linda Kitchen, Nobby Clarke
With a career in opera stretching back to 1982, Linda Kitchen is well placed to consider what makes an opera singer. In her new book, Opera Lives, she interviews 21 of her fellow singers (some current some retired) to discuss what it means to be a performer, how they got into the profession and how who they are affects how they perform. 

Published by Spiramus Press, the book is illustrated with photos of the singers by Nobby Clarke. Last night, there was a launch for the book at the National Opera Studio, where we could admire Nobby Clarke's photos and listen to Mozart, Rossini and Bizet performed by three of the National Opera Studio's current crop of young artists, Charlie Drummond, Jake Muffett and Michael Papadopoulos.

What made the evening rather special was the fact that so many of those involved in the book were able to be present. You can read the full list of participants at the Spiramus Press website.

Long Time Ago

Samling Institute for Young Artists logo
Long Time Ago: Grainger, Britten, Faure, Grieg, Ireland, Mahler, Brahms, Canteloube, Dvorak, Schumann, Schubert, Copland, Sibelius, Rebecca Clarke, James MacMillan, RVW, Henry Bishop; Elin Pritchard, Olivia Warburton, Nicky Spence, Gareth Brynmor John, Jâms Coleman, Christopher Glynn; Samling Institute for Young Artists at the Wigmore Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An engaging showcase with an eclectic mix of song

The Samling Showcase at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 21 November 2018 was intended to showcase the talents of various generations of young artists from the newly renamed Samling Institute for Young Artists. Unfortunately illness prevented James Newby (Samling Artist 2017), so soprano Elin Pritchard (Samling Artist 2011), mezzo-soprano Olivia Warburton (Samling Artist 2017) and tenor Nicky Spence (Samling Artist 2006) were joined at short notice by baritone Gareth Brynmor John, with pianists Jâms Coleman (Samling Artist 2015) and Christopher Glynn sharing the accompaniment honours. Actor Alex Jennings provided readings to punctuate the evening.

The title of the evening was Long Time Ago, and the programme loosely explored music inspired by folklore, with songs by Percy Grainger, Benjamin Britten, Gabriel Faure, Edvard Grieg, John Ireland, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms, Joseph Canteloube, Antonin Dvorak, Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, Aaron Copland, Jean Sibelius, Rebecca Clarke, James MacMillan, RVW and Henry Bishop, divided into roughly thematic groups. Though we gradually learned that the title of the groups did not always quite mean what they said.

So that the opening group I'll sing you a song about two lovers (songs accompanied by Jâms Coleman) certainly did not deal with straightforward true love. We opened with Percy Grainger's wonderful ballad Bold William Taylor, a real tale of 'girl-power' as a young woman dresses as a soldier, goes to find her sweetheart and then shoots him dead on finding him married to someone else. Sung by Nicky Spence with a delightful sense of narrative (and actions too), this was real story telling in music. Gareth Brynmor John then gave a beautifully produced account of Britten's Down by the Sally Gardens, bringing out the underlying melancholy of this tale of unrequited love. Faure's Levati sol was a big surprise, an Italian version of Apres un Reve which may possibly be Faure's original. Whatever, Elin Pritchard sang with a lovely rich lyric sound, making the song really mean something. This group finished with a profoundly thoughtful account of Grieg's Solveig's Song from Olivia Warburton.

Thursday 22 November 2018

Christmas with Vivaldi and a new 18th century flute concerto

The English Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall
The English Chamber Orchestra at Cadogan Hall
The English Chamber Orchestra is pairing the well-known with the lesser known in its concert Christmas with Vivaldi at the Cadogan Hall on 2 December 2018. Whilst the programme includes Vivaldi's Gloria (with the Choir of the 21st Century and City Music Foundation Artists, Raphaela Papadakis and Lotte Betts-Dean) and Winter from The Four Seasons, there is also a chance to hear the Concerto for violin in E flat Major 'La Tempesta di Mare', the Concerto for Violin and Cello in B flat major and the Flute Concerto 'Il cardellino' [the Goldfinch]. The conductor is Michael Collins and the soloists are all drawn from the orchestra's principals, leader Stephanie Gonley, cello Caroline Dale and flute Harry Winstanley.

Rather confusingly the sub-title 'La Tempesta di Mare', the storm at sea, crops up more than once in Vivaldi's output, it is used for a group of three related flute concertos, and also for a violin concerto (unrelated to these), and it is this latter violin concerto that ECO is performing, it comes from Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, Vivaldi's publication of 1725 which also included the four violin concertos known as The Four Seasons.Vivaldi's flute concerto Il cardellino comes from the same Op.10 publication, from 1728, which included the final version of the flute concerto La Tempesta di Mare. Confused? Don't worry, simply go along and listen to the music, be amazed at Vivaldi's sheer invention, he certainly didn't write the same concerto every time!

Further ahead, flautist Ana de la Vega joins the orchestra on 19 February 2019 at Cadogan Hall for the recently re-discovered Flute Concerto by Josef Myslivecek, a Czech contemporary of, friend of and great influence on Mozart. Ana de la Vega has just recorded the concerto with the ECO. And the concert will also include music by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Grieg.

Then on 16 March 2019, the talented young French horn player Ben Goldscheider [see my interview with Ben] and tenor Ben Johnson join Jessica Cottis and the orchestra for Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, along with music by Ravel and Stravinsky, plus Britten's realisations of Purcell songs.

Full details from the English Chamber Orchestra's website.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

A series of concentric circles: Aaron Holloway-Nahum and the Riot Ensemble

Aaron Holloway-Nahum & The Riot Ensemble in Elliott Carter Double Concerto at LSO St Lukes (Photo Ben Clube)
Aaron Holloway-Nahum & The Riot Ensemble in Elliott Carter's Double Concerto at LSO St Lukes (Photo Ben Clube)
Earlier this year Aaron Holloway-Nahum conducted Elliott Carter's challenging Double Concerto with the Riot Ensemble (an ensemble which he co-founded), in a programme which also included a new piece by Molly Joyce and the UK premiere of Pierce Gradone's To Paint their Madness at LSO St Luke's. Aaron balances being artistic director and principal conductor of the Riot Ensemble with a lively career as a composer (he is one of composers on the the 2018-19 Mentorship Programme run through the Peter Eötvös Foundation). I met up with Aaron earlier this year to learn how the concert had gone, and find out more about his work.

[this article got somewhat delayed in production, but with the announcement of the Riot Ensemble's premiere of a new piece by Georg Friedrich Haas next year (see below), it seemed a good opportunity to learn more about them]

Aaron Nahum-Holloway
Aaron Nahum-Holloway
Aaron describes performing the Elliott Carder as thunderously good fun. Not only was the concert virtually sold out, but afterwards the ensemble thought 'shall we do it again'. Aaron did not know the Elliott Carter concerto, for piano, harpsichord and two orchestras, until it was brought to his attention by Goska Isphording, the ensemble's harpsichordist, and it turned out the ensemble's pianist, Adam Swayne, was taught by the person who premiered the harpsichord part.

Aaron found it a tricky piece to learn, with all its metrical modulations it was four weeks of study before he felt that he could conduct it. Yet he realises how far he has come as a conductor. When we spoke, the group was about to go to Iceland and were taking a programme which included music they played three years ago, and Aaron has found that he had been able to simply pick the pieces up again. He is not a professionally trained conductor, he simply started the Riot Ensemble. The ensemble too has developed, a recent concert in Huddersfield was the most in command that he felt the group has been on stage, in command of the challenging repertoire, really playing with each other and having fun.

Aaron founded the Riot Ensemble in 2012, it is a flexible group of artists who create and put on projects, with flexibility being key. Aaron describes the group as operating as a sequence of concentric circles. At the centre are a couple of players who also work part-time for the ensemble, fixing players, promoting the concerts and such. Then there are the players who form the artistic board, those deeply involved in programming the concerts. Then there are the principal players, and finally the new players. And quite often players are drawn further in, becoming more involved in the group.

It is a fluid and flexible structure, and the players are all involved in the programming so that the Elliott Carter concerto was the suggestion of one of the players, as is much of the repertoire that the group took to Iceland on their visit earlier this year. They give around 25 to 30 performances per year, this includes workshops, four concerts in hospitals, big projects as well as solo projects for individuals or small groups of players.

It took a while for the group to articulate it, but flexibility is not a by-product but is at the heart of the ensemble. It is also important for them that when just two players perform a programme, it is still the Riot Ensemble.

The Foyle Opera Rara Collection

Daniela Barcellona & Albina Shagimuratova rehearsing at Opera Rara's studio (photo Russell Duncan)
Daniela Barcellona & Albina Shagimuratova rehearsing
at Opera Rara's studio (photo Russell Duncan)
If you have ever been lucky enough to go to an event at Opera Rara's studio, one of the things strikes you is the huge array of books and scores. Originally collected by Patric Schmid and Don White who founded Opera Rara fifty years ago, the collection comprises a significant collection of first and early editions of 19th-century Italian opera. The collection has been found a new home and a long term future, thanks to a grant from The Foyle Foundation. The library is being transferred to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where it will be known as The Foyle Opera Rara Collection.

The transfer is thanks to one of The Foyle Foundation's biggest ever grants in Wales, and the money will help Opera Rara invest in its five-year plan to continue bringing neglected operas back to life [see my recent interview with Opera Rara's chief executive Henry Little].

Coming up is Puccini's Les Willis (in its original one-act version) which is being given in concert at the Royal Festival Hall tonight (21 November 2018) with Sir Mark Elder conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ermonela Jaho, Arsen Soghomonyan, and Brian Mulligan. Next year, the company is recording Donizetti's Il Paria and will be giving a concert performance at the Barbican on 8 June with the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Sir Mark Elder and starring Albina Shagimuratova, Celso Albelo and Davide Luciano. Also in 2019, the company's recording of Donizetti's L'Ange de Nisida will be released [see my review of the company's recent performance of the opera]

Tuesday 20 November 2018

The European Chamber Music Master Programme

ECMaster partner institutions
Seven top European conservatoires and music colleges are joining together to create a Europe wide master programme in chamber music. The European Chamber Music Master Programme (ECMAster) launches next Autumn (2019) and will provide a two year programme for chamber music ensembles. There is nothing quite like the programme at the moment, Professor Linda Merrick (Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (RNCM), one of the partners) comments that 'It is very much like a finishing school for ensembles, helping some of Europe’s top young chamber musicians make the final transition into the music profession'.  

Partcipants will spend two years, split between their home institution and two of the other partner institutions, thus giving the course a really international outlook. Students will thus be able to experience the expertise, culture and tradition of three separate institutions, and gain valuable access to a wider European network.The course is intended for established ensembles, with a standard instrument combination.

The partner institudions are the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (RNCM), the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (MDW), the Paris Conservatoire of Music and Dance (CNSMDP), the Fiesole School of Music in Italy (SMF), the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague (KC), the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre (LMTA), and the Norwegian Academy of Music (NMH) in Oslo. The course is is an extension of the European Chamber Music Academy (ECMA), a collaboration between European music universities, conservatoires and festivals in the field of chamber music. Since its establishment in 2004, ECMA has been providing regular chamber music sessions, workshops and concert performances across Europe.

Full details from the course website.

Dystopian Dream

Nitin Sawhney - Dystopian Dream
Nitin Sawhney's album Dystopian Dream premiered in 2015, and now Sawhney along with Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez (Wang Ramirez) have devised an interpretation of Dystopian Dream which combines choreography, live music and animated projections into a full length evening event which debuts at Sadlers Wells on 27 November 2018. Performed by Wang Ramirez and singer Eva Stone, the production features costumes by Hussein Chalayan, lighting by Natasha Chivers, set by Shizuka Hariu and animated projections by Nick Hillel. Examining the themes of loss, continuity and isolation, the evening will merge Sawhner's score, performed live, with Wang Ramirez' extremely physical, hip hop-influenced choreography.

A Sadler's Wells associate artists since 2010, Nitin Sawhney's work in the theatre has included the scores for Complicité’s A Disappearing Number and Akram Khan’s zero degrees.

Full details from the Sadlers Wells website.

Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions

Christoph Prégardien, Cyprien Katsaris - Challenge Records
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions; Christoph Prégardien, Cyprien Katsaris Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 November 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A beautifully imaginative disc which pairs each song with its own piano transcription, from Liszt's Schubert, to Clara Schumann's transcription of her husband, to Gerald Moore's Brahms

This disc combines the talents of two great performers in two different yet related art forms. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions on Challenge Records sees tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Cyprien Katsaris performing a series of songs by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Clara Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Wolf,  Richard Strauss and Theodor Kirchner, alongside piano transcriptions of the song by Liszt, Leopold Godowsky, Clara Schumann, August Stradal, Burno Hinze-Reinhold, Walter Gieseking, Theodor Kirchner, Eduard Schutt and Gerald Moore.

The public song recital is a relatively recent phenomenon, and song was often a more domestic genre with public recitals tending to be mixed song and instrumental. It was Liszt's example which transferred song to the concert hall via the piano transcription. So whilst it might not seem an obvious course to us, transcribing a song for voice and piano for just piano, it was an established part of 19th century repertoire, and the melding of melody and accompaniment allowed for quite an element of discreet bravura in the piano.

Christoph Prégardien and Cyprien Katsaris have worked together before, on Schubert's Die Winterreise, but this programme gives both of them their solo spotlight. Throughout the disc I was very aware of Katsaris as very much a partner, his piano accompaniments take a strong character of their own, one which complements the singer and very much creates a discreet whole, even in the songs where the piano's role is relatively straight-forward.

Monday 19 November 2018

Celebrating the Anglo Mexican Foundation

The Anglo Mexican Foundation logo
This year is the 75th anniversary of the Anglo Mexican Foundation and as part of the celebrations, Anglo Arts, the culture department of The Anglo Mexican Foundation, held an event at the residence of the Mexican ambassador on Friday 16 November 2018 to launch a new CD of contemporary Mexican music. 

Serenata Mexicana will be released officially in February 2019 on the Toccata Next label, a new label from Toccata Classics. The disc features music by two contemporary Mexican composers Alejandro Basulto and Arturo Marquez, performed by Morgan Szymanski (guitar), Gabriella Dall'Olio (harp), Jamie MacDougall (tenor) and the Shakespeare Sinfonia conducted by David Curtis, with two of the pieces being commissioned by Anglo Arts. 

We heard David Curtis and members of the Shakespeare Sinfonia performing the final section from Alejandro Basulto's Pequena Serenata Ranchera (from 2018). As Basulto's Jig Variations (from 2016) for guitar and orchestra required forces too large for the venue, Morgan Szymanski, the Shakespeare Sinfonia and David Curtis performed the slow movement 'Nocturne' from Alec Roth's Guitar Concerto which they toured to Mexico. Hearing an extract from Basulto's serenade certainly made me look forward to hearing the complete work on the disc, and Roth's concerto had an imaginative solution to balance problems inherent in guitar concertos by having the instrument in dialogue with the strings.

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