Sunday, 26 May 2019

A sample of what's to come? Try my 2011 opera When a Man Knows on video in advance of the premiere of The Gardeners

When a Man Knows - opera by Robert Hugill based on the play by Alan Richardson from Robert Hugill on Vimeo.

With over three weeks to go before the premiere of my new opera The Gardeners (libretto Joanna Wyld), those of you that are curious about what might be in store, musically, might care to explore my 2011 opera When a Man Knows which was filmed at its premiere performances at the Bridewell Theatre and is available on Vimeo

When a Man knows, based on a play by Alan Richardson, featured baritone Dario Dugandzic as the Man and soprano Zoe South as the Woman in a production directed by Ian Caddy and conducted by David Roblou. Do check it out here:

The Gardeners premieres at Conway Hall on 18 June 2019, 7.30pm, with William Vann conducting plus Peter Brathwaite (baritone), Magid El-Bushra (counter-tenor), Julian Debreuil (bass-baritone), Flora McIntosh (mezzo-soprano) and Georgia Mae Bishop (mezzo-soprano). Tickets price £20 are available from TicketTailor.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

A Victorian 'Love Island' - Handel's Partenope from Hampstead Garden Opera

Handel: Partenope  - James Rhoads, Will Pate, Francis Gush, Jennifer Begley - Hampstead Garden Opera (photo Laurent Compagnon)
Handel: Partenope  - James Rhoads, Will Pate, Francis Gush, Jennifer Begley
Hampstead Garden Opera (photo Laurent Compagnon)
Handel Partenope; Jennifer Begley, Francis Gush, Alexander Pullinger, Anne-Sofie Soby Jensen, dir: Ashley Pearson, cond: Bertie Baigent; Hampstead Garden Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019
Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)

A lively and approachable account of one of Handel's lighter serious operas

Handel: Partenope  - Jennifer Begley, Alexander Pullinger - Hampstead Garden Opera (photo Laurent Compagnon)
Handel: Partenope  - Jennifer Begley, Alexander Pullinger
Hampstead Garden Opera (photo Laurent Compagnon)
Partenope is one of Handel's lighter operas, not comic as such but its satirical edge, relative compactness and lovely arias mean that the piece has been popular with opera companies. It is, however, not without its problems. For a start, what comedy there is arises from the mismatch of the expectations of the way characters in opera seria should act, but here don't. Which means that to enjoy the work in its original form, you need an appreciation of opera seria itself. Add to this, the setting requires the second Act to open with a battle, thus giving the modern director the problem of quite how seriously to take the plot. Recent productions have tended to replace the battle with other less serious hi-jinks, Christopher Alden's production for English National Opera set the piece firmly within 1920s artistic society, for instance [see my review].

However, with its relatively compact arias, imaginative use of ensembles (quite rare in Handel) and relatively straightforward plot, the opera makes a very sympathetic approach to Handel opera for non-specialist companies.

Hampstead Garden Opera's Spring 2019 production was thus Handel's Partenope presented at Jackson's Lane Art Centre in Highgate in a production directed by Ashley Pearson with designs by Laura Fontana and lighting by Daniel Carter-Brennan. The production was double cast with young singers, still at college or recently graduated, rather than Handel specialists, and we saw Jennifer Begley as Partenope, Francis Gush as Arsace, Alexander Pullinger as Armindo, Anne-Sofie Soby Jensen as Rosmira (disguised as Eurimene for most of the opera), James Rhoads as Emilio and Will Pate as Ormonte. Bertie Baigent directed the orchestra from the harpsichord.

The theatre at Jackson's Lane Arts Centre is in part of the old church complex, what must have been a huge hall, the raked audience looked on a relatively substantial stage but there was no pit, instead the orchestra was above and behind the singers, stretched out in a thin double line. It was a small ensemble with six strings and two harpsichords. Logistics were efficiently done via via screens, but I thought it a shame that the singers were not able to react directly to Bertie Baigent's expressive direction.

Ashley Pearson and Laura Fontana's solution to Partenope's problems was to set the piece at the Victorian seaside. Fontana's fixed set was a row of beach huts and the cast were all in Victorian bathing costumes. This was an intriguing and economic solution, after all the opera is about love and relationships rather than dynastic action. But the beach setting, with the uniform costumes, rather took everyone out of context and it was difficult to realise who these people were. Why was Partenope so deferred to? If the comedy comes from the leading man behaving inappropriately, then it is important for us to understand his position in the hierarchy. Instead we got a series of beach-side hi-jinks, a sort of Victorian Love Island.

And in an opera which is very much concerned with the gap between surface and content, it seemed unfortunate to put all the men in extremely unflattering all-in-one bathing costumes, thus essentially making them all look ridiculous.

The battle which opens Act Two (which here concluded part one of the evening) was a series of beach games, which emphasised the production's element of hi-jinks. And Pearson's general approach to the opera was to keep things moving on stage, only one or two of the more serious arias allowed the soloist to play alone on the stage.

An eclectic mix: I chat to Clare Stewart of the vocal group Apollo5 about their latest release, O Radiant Dawn

Apollo5  (Oliver Martin-Smith, Penelope Appleyard, Greg Link, Josh Cooter, Clare Stewart)
Apollo5  (Oliver Martin-Smith, Penelope Appleyard, Greg Link, Josh Cooter, Clare Stewart)
O Radiant Dawn, the new album from the a cappella group Apollo5, comes out on 31 May 2019. The album, taking its title from the motet by Sir James MacMillan which is included on the disc, is a typically eclectic mix of composers with music by Byrd, Pérotin, Monteverdi, MacMillan, Schumann and Finzi, plus arrangements written especially for Apollo5 and new commissions from contemporary composers Alexander Levine and Fraser Wilson. Clare Stewart, who sings with the group, feels that the new album reflects the embodiment of what Apollo5 is about, its programming and approach. The new disc is very much about the human journey, with MacMillan's motet O Radiant Dawn representing the dawning of a new day.

A professional vocal quintet based at the VCM Foundation's Gresham Centre, the five singers in Apollo5 (Penelope Appleyard, Clare Stewart, Josh Cooter, Oliver Martin-Smith, Greg Link) mix performing with leading educational programmes at the Gresham Centre and elsewhere, Clare feels that it is important for the singers to inspire another generation of young singers by leading workshops.

All five members of Apollo5 come from the British choral tradition with training firmly rooted in the collegiate/church choral background. But the group also explores other styles of music and tries to perform its repertoire in an engaging way. Clare comes from a standard choral background, studying at Edinburgh and St Andrews, where she had a choral scholarship, and this involved a wide range of styles from plainchant and polyphony to contemporary, so she was used to a varied repertoire and she sees Apollo 5's eclectic mix of styles as an extension of this.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Beyond Boccherini: my pre-concert talk and music from Morgan Szymanski and the Benyounes Quartet at Conway Hall

The Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski and the Benyounes Quartet are giving a concert of music for guitar and strings at Conway Hall on Sunday 26 May 2019 at 6.30pm as part of the Sunday Concerts Series, and I will be giving the pre-concert talk at 5.30pm introducing the music.

The centrepiece of the programme is Boccherini's Fandango Quintet in D, one of a number of works Boccherini arranged from existing movements so that aristocratic patrons could play guitar in his chamber music. Alongside this Szymanski and the quartet will be performing music by Vivaldi and Piazzolla. There will also be music by Paganini, who it turns out was something of a mean guitarist too, Puccini, Thierry Escaich and Symanski's arrangement of two movements of Piazzolla's Histoire du Tango.

There is also a post-concert Q&A with the artists.

Do hope that you can join us:

Polish connections: Grazyna Bacewicz, Witold Lutoslawski, Henryk Gorecki from Southbank Sinfonia

SOuthbank Sinfonia
Southbank Sinfonia
Britten, Lutoslawski, Bacewicz, Gorecki, Grieg; Southbank Sinfonia; Kings Place Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The music of Grazyna Bacewicz at the centre of a thoughtful and engaging programme from the young players of Southbank Sinfonia

The Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz was a major name during her life-time and a significant influence on her Polish contempories such as Witold Lutowlawski and Henryk Gorecki, yet compared to her British contemporary Benjamin Britten (they were almost exact contemporaries) her music today is relatively neglected.

Southbank Sinfonia, directed from the violin by Eugene Lee, brought a programme of music by Benjamin Britten, Witold Lutoslawksi, Grazyna Bacewicz, Henryk Goreck and Edvard Grieg to Kings Place on 23 May 2019. The centrepiece was a pair of Bacewicz's major works for strings, Concerto for String Orchestra and Divertimento for String Orchestra, alongside works by two of her Polish contemporaries whom she influenced, Lutoslawski's Music Funebre and Hneryk Gorecki's Three Pieces in Old Style. The element of old forms made new was also explored in Britten's Simple Symphony and Grieg's Holberg Suite.

Something old, something new: Endellion String Quartet's 40th anniversary at Wigmore Hall

Endellion String Quartet
Endellion String Quartet
The Endellion String Quartet (Andrew Watkinson & Ralph de Souza violins, Garfield Jackson viola, David Waterman cello) is 40! And as part of the celebrations the group is at Wigmore Hall on 29 May 2019 with a programme which combines the traditional with the new. Alongside Beethoven's String Quartet in F major Op.18 No.1 (the first of his first published set of quartets), and Schubert's String Quartet in D minor (‘Death and the Maiden’), there are four new pieces, 40th anniversary commissions, A Myndin' by Sally Beamish, Ritus: Four Portraits for String Quartet by Prach Boodiskulchok, ENdellionIGMA by Giles Swayne and Vanishing Gold by Jonathan Dove.

'A myndin', in Scots, means the ‘remembering’ of a person, by giving them a small gift or souvenir, and Sally Beamish's piece is one of a group which she wrote in 2018 arising from her move from Scotland back to London, the mixing of remembering Scotland and the idea of re-connecting with friends and colleagues in London again.

Prach Boondiskulchok says of his piece 'Ritus is a set of four miniatures for string quartet, each dedicated to the individual members of the Endellion String Quartet, written to celebrate the ensemble’s Fortieth Anniversary. In each movement, the instruments of the quartet take turns at being the principal voice, depicting evocative elements of the different times of the year: Shoots, Crickets, Skein and Melting. An underpinning harmonic framework, derived from the analysis of the natural resonances of St. Endellion church in Cornwall (after which the quartet was named)'.

Jonathan Dove's piece is inspired by two small creatures, both of which may be extinct, the golden toad of Costa Rica and the golden coqui of Puerto Rico, whose two-note call is the starting point for the piece.

Giles Swayne's Endellionigma 'charts the development of a quartet as it evolves from four individual musicians to one integrated instrument'.

Full details from the Wigmore Hall website

The textures of sound: Bastard Assignments at Mountview in Peckham

Bastard Assignments (Photo Max Colson)
Bastard Assignments (Photo Max Colson)
Bastard Assignments at Mountview in Peckham Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A new theatre, new material; the composer/performers on devastating form

The composer/performer collective Bastard Assignments (Edward Henderson, Josh Spear, Timothy Cope and Caitlin Rowley) has had a residency at Snape Maltings, giving them an opportunity to develop creative practice and create new work. The result was on show at the studio theatre at Mountview (Mountview of Theatre Arts) on Wednesday 22 May 2019 with performances of EDGE by Caitlin Rowley, PREP by the group, FLOWER by Edward Henderson, SUGAR CAGE by Timothy Cape and FEED by Josh Spear.

The theatre itself is new, part of a striking brand-new complex which Mountview has created in the heart of Peckham, with a second theatre opening next month. And the black box of the studio theatre was an apt space in which to experience the inspired lunacy which is Bastard Assignments' world. Notionally composer/performers, the group stretches the definition of what is music and what is performance, presenting collective and solo pieces which sometimes hover on the boundaries of music theatre and sometimes are so left-field as to be unclassifiable. To live in Bastard Assignments' world is to experience music in the very essence of the everyday; we still have vivid memories of Caitlin Rowley's solo piece where she simply unwrapped a box of parcels, creating a striking musical experience out of a simple narrative.

Wednesday's show opened with another solo piece from Rowley, EDGE, in which she presented a vividly articulated, yet wordless narrative which evoked the world of Cathy Berberian's Stripsody. It was a piece which managed to combine amusement and anxiety, yet also without the words left you feeling that you were failing to grasp an essential point.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Berners, Stanford, Milford & RVW premieres open English Music Festival

Dorchester Abbey (Photo John Armagh)
Dorchester Abbey (Photo John Armagh)
The 13th English Music Festival start tomorrow (24 May 2019) at Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, providing a weekend of exploration of English music from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries.  The festival opens with a remarkable programme of world premieres from the BBC Concert Orchestra, conductor Martin Yates, including Lord Berners' Portsmouth Point, a work written in the 1920s and perhaps never performed owing to the success of William Walton's overture (both based on a Rowlandson cartoon), a violin concerto by Stanford which dates from his period studying in Leipzig, a symphony by Robin Milford who was a pupil of RVW and Holst, and RVW's The Blue Bird which is incidental music that he wrote for Maeterlinck's play in 1913 which survives only in piano score so many never have been performed.

A recital by Rupert Marshall Luck (violin) and Michael Korstick (piano) will include the first performance of a new Urtext edition of Elgar's Violin Concerto, whilst Nicholas Daniel (oboe) will be performing RVW's Concerto for oboe and string orchestra with the English Arts Orchestra, conductor Leslie Olive as part of a programme of English String music. Lynn Arnold and Charles Matthews (piano duet) will be performing music by York Bowen,William Alwyn, Arthur Bliss, Donald Tovey, Delius and Frances Routh. The Piatti Quartet performs Elgar's String Quartet alongside music by Walton, Britten and Bridge.

The Chapel Choir of Worcester College, Oxford, perform a programme of English choral music, and the the Godwine Choir and Holst Orchestra, conductor Hilary Davan Wetton perform Dyson, Rubbra, Finzi, Howells, Holst and Elgar. The Chamber Ensemble of London, director Peter Fisher, perform RVW's Concerto Grosso alongside music by Bainton, Alwyn, Ireland, Finzi and Clive Jenkins.

Full details from the English Music Festival website

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Jennifer Witton wins inaugural By Voice Alone competition

Finalists at the 2019 By Voice Alone competition
Finalists at the 2019 By Voice Alone competition
A new vocal competition, By Voice Alone, reached its climax on Monday (20 May 2019) at Kings Place when seven young singers competed at the final. Launched in 2018, the competition is distinctive in that the opening round of auditions were done blind, hence the competitions title. Attracting over 400 singers from around the world, the competitions final featured sopranos Siân Dicker, Jeannette Louise van Schaik, Luci Briginshaw, Chloë Morgan and Jennifer Witton, mezzo soprano Kate Howden, and baritone Themba Mvula.

The winner was soprano Jennifer Witton, with her performances of 'Glück das mir verblieb' (Marietta's Lied) from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt and 'Enfin, je suis ici' from Massenet's Cendrillon (an opera in which she was on tour with Glyndebourne Touring Opera as Cendrillon, and she is currently with the main company covering the role for the forthcoming season). Jennifer was joint winner of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's gold medal in 2015.

Second Place and the Audience Prize went to Luci Briginshaw (who is currently on tour with English Touring Opera), whilst the prize for Emerging Artist went to Chloë Morgan, who is currently at Glyndebourne Opera covering the role of Noémie in Massenet's Cendrillon, but who was originally a jazz specialist, performing at Ronnie Scott's and other key venues on the jazz scene.

On tour from Baltimore: Morgan State University Choir

Morgan State University Choir
Morgan State University Choir
The Morgan State University Choir, director Eric Conway, is currently touring the UK in a six date concert tour which culminates in concerts at the Battersea Power Station (27 May 2019) and the Gresham Centre (28 May 2019). The choir's repertoire is a lively mix of gospel songs, spirituals (including one arranged by Bob Chilcott), and excerpts from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, and Leonard Bernstein's Mass.

The choir is based at Morgan State University in Baltimore, and recently the choir sang in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marin Allsop. Other engagements have varied from performing at the White House to supporting Aretha Franklin.

The full tour is Chester Cathedral (24/5/2019, 1pm), The Bramall, Birmingham (25/5/2019, 7.30pm), St. George's Chapel, Windsor (27/5/2019, 1.10pm), Battersea Power Station (27/5/2019, 5pm), Gresham Centre (28/5/2019).

Clive Osgood: Sacred Choral Music

Clive Osgood - Sacred Choral Music
Clive Osgood Sacred Choral Music; Excelsis, London Mozart Players, Rebecca Moon, Robert Lewis; Convivium Records Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 May 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Attractively melodic music from a young contemporary composer, in engaging performances

Clive Osgood is perhaps not a name well known to everybody, but this disc of his sacred music on Convivium Records should help change that. Robert Lewis conducts the choir Excelsis and the London Mozart Players along with soprano Rebecca Moon in a programme which includes Osgood's setting of the Dixit Dominus, Beatus Vir and Miserere Mei alongside a series of smaller scale English anthems.

Osgood studied music at the University of Wales and the University of Surrey, as well as having an organ scholarship at Salisbury Cathedral. He is currently director of music at St Bartholomew's Church in Haslemere and teaches music at the Reed's School, Cobham. He is involved in amateur music making in the community, and many of the smaller pieces on the disc were written for such groups, so that Brightest and Best was first performed his choir at St Bartholomew's Church, and Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life was premiered by the Llandaff Cathedral parish choir. His carol Alleluia! A new work is come on hand was one of six works shortlisted in the 2016 BBC Radio 3 Carol Competition.

I could well imagine Osgood's music being popular with such groups, he writes attractively melodic music which always has an imaginative use of texture. He also writes well for voices, creating imaginative music which is accessible yet satisfyingly challenging for non-professionals is tricky and without having seen any of Osgood's music, it sounds as if he succeeds admirably.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Marilyn Forever

Marilyn Forever
Gavin Bryars' chamber opera Marilyn Forever will receive its UK premiere on Wednesday 22 May 2019 in the Oxford Contemporary Opera Society's inaugural production at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, University of Oxford with further performances on 24 & 25 May 2019. The opera will be directed by Zerlina Vulliamy (founder of the Oxford Contemporary Opera Society and a music student at Exeter College), and conducted by Charlotte Corderoy (a music student at Hereford College).

Bryars' opera, with a libretto by Marilyn Bowering, was premiered in Canada in 2013. It focuses on the actress's last hours, examinining her relationship to love, death and ambition. Since the premiere there have been productions of the opera in Adelaide, Australia (2015) and by Long Beach Opera, California (205).

The Oxford Contemporary Opera Society was founded in 2018 by Zerlina Vulliamy with the objective to perform more contemporary opera in Oxford, as well as encouraging students to have greater interaction with opera.

Full details from the venue's website.

Delicatessen II - More Choice Morsels of Early English Song

Delicatessen II - Kate Semmens, Steven Devine
Delicatessen II - early English Songs; Kate Semmens, Steven Devine; Devine Music Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A charming exploration of the often-ignored English song tradition from the 17th and 18th centuries

Under the title Delicatessen II, this is the second of soprano Kate Semmens and harpsichordist Steven Devine's explorations of early English song on Devine Music. Few of the composers are well known, though there is a sprinkling of material by John Blow, William Boyce, Maurice Greene and Thomas Arne, alongside songs and piano works by Eliza Turner, William Jackson and John Stanley, John Weldon, Samuel Howard, James Hook, and John Frederick Lampe

These are songs from the 17th and 18th centuries, and they were all written for voice and keyboard (no arrangements of orchestral items). So the material on the disc is all designed for intimate domestic use. The works stretch beyond song, there are two cantatas by John Stanley, charming, witty pieces, and there are keyboard collections too, by Maurice Greene and Eliza Turner, who was active as a singer as well. The keyboard music consists of loose groupings of movements, often dances, under the title of Lessons.

Maurice Green set a number of sonnets (25 in all) by Edmund Spencer, a remarkable cycle of work, and we get one here. Perhaps the most intriguing pieces are the pair of songs by William Jackson where the accompaniment is fully written out for keyboard, unlike the other songs on the disc which use the more old-fashioned figured bass leaving the detail to the improvisation of the player.

This is a charming disc, featuring material which is often overlooked. One thread which links the songs is the composers' sympathy to the text. Whilst some of the songs might be musically a bit thin, there is no doubt that all the composers were aiming to bring out the charms of the words.

Kate Semmens and Steven Devine do them ample justice, giving us a window onto a charming and often neglected world.

Delicatessen II
Songs and piano music by John Blow, William Boyce, Maurice Greene, Thomas Arne, Eliza Turner, William Jackson and John Stanley
Kate Semmens (soprano)
Steven Devine (harpsichord)
Recorded in Sendesaal, Bremen, in May 2018
DMCD009 1CD [75.14]

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Dresden Music Festival 2019
    • Three continents, three composers, one concerto - festival debuts its 2019 commission (★★★) - concert review
    • Visitors in fine form: the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla (★★★) - concert review
    • Visions of the original sound: colour, texture & timbre to the fore in the opening concert of the 2019 Dresden Music Festival (★★★) - concert review 
  • Incredibly informative & inspiring: Charlotte Bray discusses her mentor Oliver Knussen in advance of her piece in his memory at the Aldeburgh Festival - interview
  • An English Vespers: Rachmaninov from the Tallis Scholars (★★★) - concert review 
  • Rough for Opera - Speak Red, A Father is Looking for his Daughter, Dreaming Clouds - opera review
  • A young man's passion: Julian Prégardien & Erik Le Sage in Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe (★★★★) - CD review
  • Far more than choral virtuosity: Handel's Israel in Egypt from the BBC Singers & Academy of Ancient Music (★★★★½) - Concert review
  • French inspiration, spectacular scenery & classical music: I chat to festival director Christoph Müller about this year's Gstaad Menuhin Festival  - interview
  • Brainwaves and modernism: the Ligeti Quartet explores consciousness at Kings Place (★★★) - concert review
  • Telemann from Toulouse: music for strings in stylish modern instrument performances (★★½) - CD review
  • A huge undertaking: Busoni's Piano Concerto recorded live in Boston - Kirill Gerstein, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo - CD review
  • Palpable enthusiasm & engagement: An English Coronation from Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli & Gabrieli Roar (★★★★) - CD review
  • The old ethos and a new professionalism: celebrating Garsington Opera at 30  - interview
  • Youthful Verdi revealed: a lithe and impulsive I Lombardi from Heidenheim (★★½)  - CD review
  • Home

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Three continents, three composers, one concerto - Dresden Music Festival debuts its 2019 commission

Jan Vogler, Cristian Macelaru, WDR Sinfonieorchester - Dresden Music Festival
Jan Vogler, Cristian Macelaru, WDR Sinfonieorchester - Dresden Music Festival
Gabriella Smith, Nico Muhly, Sven Helbig, Zhou Long, Beethoven; Jan Vogler, WDR Sinfonieorchester, Cristian Macelaru; Dresden Music Festival at the Kulturpalast Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A new concerto spanning three composers and three continents formed the centrepiece of this imaginative programme

For its 2019 festival commission the Dresden Music Festival had the intriguing idea of commissioning a concerto from not one but three composers, spanning three different continents. Group works have featured in the classical music and the 20th century saw group pieces from Les Six for instance, and the Yellow River Concerto was a effort, but such things are not common.

The new cello concerto Three Continents by Nico Mulhy, Sven Helbig and Zhou Long formed the centrepiece of the concert given by Jan Vogler (cello), WDR Sinfonieorchester and Cristian Macelaru (conductor) at Saturday's (18 May 2019) Dresden Music Festival concert at the Kulturpalast, Dresden. The concert opened with the European premiere of Gabriella Smith's Field Guite and ended with Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 'Eroica'.

Gabriella Smith (born 1991) is a young American composer who has been mentored by John Adams. Her Field Guide was commissioned by Cristian Macelaru who conducted the work's premiere in the USA. It takes the listener in an imaginary journey listening to a wide variety of insects from close to. The work started in striking fashion with unpitched rhythmic figures, catchy rhythms creating a striking sound world. Gradually Smith introduced pitched notes, but throughout the piece there was a fascinating mix of pitched and unpitched creating a series of atmospheric and descriptive textures. Yet overall the piece did not seem contrived, and Smith built it into a terrific climax.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Incredibly informative & inspiring: Charlotte Bray discusses her mentor Oliver Knussen in advance of her piece in his memory at the Aldeburgh Festival

Charlotte Bray (Photo Michael Wickham)
Charlotte Bray (Photo Michael Wickham)
Composer Charlotte Bray has a new piano work being premiered on 10 June 2019 at the Aldeburgh Festival. Written for the pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the new piece Bring Me All Your Dreams is in memory of Oliver Knussen, who was co-artistic director of the festival from 1983 to 1998, and with whom Charlotte studied at Aldeburgh. Charlotte and chatted over Skype about her new piece, about Oliver Knussen and about her background as composer.

Oliver Knussen (credit Mark Allan BBC)
Oliver Knussen (credit Mark Allan BBC)
Charlotte describes Oliver Knussen as an incredible person, and he was very much a mentor to her. She first met him through Mark-Anthony Turnage with whom she studied at the Royal College of Music, and she worked with Knussen at Aldeburgh on the Britten-Pears course So she finds it incredibly special to be writing a piece in memory of him.

As a mentor and teacher, Knussen was 'most of the time' incredibly informative and inspiring. He had a knack of finding exactly what it was about any work that you were writing. He could get to the core of a piece and would know what it was that was required to make the piece work. Charlotte describes Knussen as having 'incredible ears'.

The Gardeners asks more questions than it answers......this is a contemporary problem with no easy solution

Frances Wilson's The Cross-eyed Pianist blog has a lovely article by Joanna Wyld about the creation of the libretto for our opera The Gardeners. If you have ever wondered what goes into the writing of a new text for an opera, then head over to the blog and read on.

'The Gardeners asks more questions than it answers......this is a contemporary problem with no easy solution'

Visitors in fine form: the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla at the Dresden Music Festival

Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and the CBSO
Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and the CBSO
Ligeti, Schumann, Brahms; Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, Kit Armstrong, City of Birmingham Orchestra; Dresden Music Festival at the Kulturpalast Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The Birmingham orchestra on terrific form under its music director on this visit to Dresden

It is some years since I heard the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) and I had not heard it under its new music director Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, and so the opportunity to do so at the Dresden Music Festival was most welcome, though the irony of travelling from London to Dresden to hear an orchestra from Birmingham was not lost on me.

The planned programme for the CBSO and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyle at the Dresden Music Festival at the Kulturpalast on Friday 17 May 2019 had been Ligeti's Concert Romanesc, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 5 with Yuja Wang, and Brahms' Symphony No. 2. But changes in personnel led to changes in repertoire, and instead of Prokofiev we heard Schumann's Piano Concerto with Kit Armstrong as soloist. A safe if unimaginative choice of work.

Ligeti's Concert Romanesc dates from the 1950s when he was still living in Hungary, and whilst it pushes few boundaries it remained unperformed until 1971. It is very much a rhapsodic work based around Romanian folk-songs. In four movements, slow, fast, slow, fast, at first Ligeti presented the folk melodies with little modification, unisons and counter-melodies were a big feature, but gradually the imagination took off and the folk-fiddling of the finale brought things to a close with vivid excitement. Grazinyte-Tyla and the orchestra really made this work a showpiece, from the superbly phrased unison at the opening to the dazzling finale.

Though each section of the strings lost a desk of players for the Schumann concerto, the orchestra was still a little too large to be ideal in this work. Kit Armstrong took a very interventionist view of the piece, making many of the piano statements in the opening movement too artfully poetic for my taste, rather holding up the flow of the argument and giving the feeling that he was overly milking the music in a way that Clara Schumann (who premiered and championed the concerto) would surely have disapproved. [The recording of the concerto by her pupil Fanny Davies, the closes we can come to Clara herself performing it, should be essential listening for every young pianist - see on YouTube].

Friday, 17 May 2019

Visions of the original sound: colour, texture & timbre to the fore in the opening concert of the 2019 Dresden Music Festival

Rene Pape, Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019
Rene Pape, Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019 (Photo Oliver Killig)
Weber Overture to Euryanthe, Schubert songs (orch. Stuchasch Dyma), Schumann Symphony No. 1; Rene Pape, Dresden Festival Orchestra, Ivor Bolton; Dresden Music Festival at the Kulturpalast
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 May 2019
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)

The Dresden Festival's period orchestra brings colour and texture to the music of Weber and Schumann, with an intriguing selection of Schubert lieder orchestrated

Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019 (Photo Oliver Killig)
Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra
(Photo Oliver Killig)
The Dresden Music Festival (Dresdner Musikfestspiele), which this year takes as its theme Visions, opened on Thursday 16 May 2019 at the Kulturpalast in Dresden, the Soviet-era cultural centre which re-opened in 2017 with a brand-new auditorium within the historic building. Ivor Bolton conducted the Dresden Festival Orchestra, the festival's own period-instrument ensemble which specialises in the music of the 19th century, in a programme of Weber, Schubert and Schumann. We began with Weber's overture to Euryanthe and finished with Schumann's Symphony No. 1 'Spring Symphony'. In between the bass Rene Pape, who is something of a local hero, sang orchestrations of Schubert songs, Prometheus and the six Heinrich Heine settings from Schwanengesang, all orchestrated by Stuchasch Dyma.

Ivor Bolton launched into the overture with verve, the orchestra playing with a crisp bright sound, creating a very distinctive sound-world. Compared to a modern-instrument orchestra the strings dominated far less, but there are other factors in play. The technology of instruments developed for a reason, the instruments of the period are more fallible and generally less even in timbre and tone across the range. This means that every not has a different quality and colour, and the sound of the orchestra was very textural.

O/Modernt - From the Ground Up: The Chaconne

O/Modernt - From the Ground Up: The Chaconne
Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt's latest disc From the Ground Up: The Chaconne is released on Signum Classics on 7 June 2019. By way of an early celebration, Ticciati and performers from the disc, Sam West (reader), Johannes Marmén (violin), Alberto Mesirca (guitar/baroque guitar/theorbo), and Luciana Mancini (mezzo-soprano), gathered at St Stephen's Walbrook on Tuesday 14 May 2019 to talk about the disc and to perform a programme of chaconnes stretching from the earliest Spanish dances, through 16th and 17th century Italian music to the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2, linked by improvisations by Hugo Ticciati and Johannes Marmén, and readings of Shakespeare from Sam West.

Luciana Mancini proved to be an engaging and vibrant performer, making the Spanish dances really dance, so that you really wanted to get up and join in, and tugging the heart strings in the Italian repertoire. She was accompanied with virtuosity by Alberto Mesirca on baroque guitar and theorbo, and he also gave us some more modern solos on classical guitar.

In the middle of the programme Hugo Ticciati gave a very personal account of Bach's Chaconne, walking round the atmospheric space of the church to create something very free and very communicative.

The sequence was seamless, with Hugo Ticciati and Johannes Marmén's improvisations bridging the gaps and the centuries, and Sam West effortlessly managing the transition from music to spoken word.

The full Cd features music by Bach, Purcell, Pellegrini, Piconini, Marmén, Bogdanovic, plus overtone singing, improvisations, beat poetry and Shakespeare. And one other feature of it is an interest in breath and breathing, and it was this that featured in the pre-concert talk with each of the performers considering what breath and breathing meant to them. As ever with O/Modernt there is a challenge to the audience, with people being encouraged to listen actively rather than passively.

Further information from the Signum Classics website.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

An English Vespers: Rachmaninov from the Tallis Scholars

Sergei Rachmaninov in the 1910s
Sergei Rachmaninov in the 1910s
Rachmaninov All Night Vigil (Vespers); The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Cadogan Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A lighter more intimate approach to Rachmaninov's Vespers, combined with the music of Sir John Tavener to striking effect

There is an English tradition of Rachmaninov's choral music, the composer even visited All Saints' Church, Margaret Street and heard the choir there under Dr Walter Vale perform Vale's English adaptation of Rachmaninov's Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. But it wasn't until the 1990s that performances of Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil by non-Slavic choirs became commonplace, until then one had to rely on recordings from Russian, Bulgarian and other Slav choirs, all firmly in the Russian Orthodox tradition. With the performance of the work by British choirs, with their very different choral technique, a different way of performing the work developed. Whilst still including the striking low bass parts, the results were often faster and lighter, making a virtue of the very different technique.

So I went along to the Cadogan Hall on Wednesday 15 May 2019 with realistic expectations of what we might be hearing when Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars performed Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil as part of a Rachmaninov and John Tavener programme for Choral At Cadogan.

The ensemble was expanded to 17 singers (with an all-female alto line), including the bass Jeremy White (familiar from the Royal Opera House) providing reinforcement on the low bass line. The programme interspersed the movements from the Rachmaninov with works by Tavener, plus Rachmaninov's setting of The Lord's Prayer from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. In the first half this meant slipping Tavener's Funeral Ikos between movements four and five of the Rachmaninov, which worked well. But in the second half we had Tavener's The Lamb and Lord's Prayer between movements 12 and 13, which seemed to sit more uneasily. Occasional corners suggested that the work was perhaps not quite as well bedded in to the choir as their regular repertoire.

In the Rachmaninov, the choir made a focused but quite light sound with Phillips giving us fast-ish tempos, though not slavishly so.

Royal Opera new season: 2019/20

The view from the main stage orchestra pit at the Royal Opera House - credit ROH/Sim Canetty Clarke 2014
The view from the main stage orchestra pit at the Royal Opera House - credit ROH/Sim Canetty Clarke 2014
With new productions of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Britten's Death in Venice, Beethoven's Fidelio, Janacek's Jenufa, Strauss' Elektra, Gerald Barry's Alice's Adventures Underground and Handel's Agrippina, on the main stage at Covent Garden, and Britten, Barry, Handel and more scheduled for the Linbury Theatre, the new season at Covent Garden has much to recommend it. Yet there is also a slight feeling of sticking to what has worked in the past. Of the directors of new main stage productions only one, Tobias Kratzer, seems to be making his Covent Garden debut and the others Damiano Michieletto, Barrie Kosky, David McVicar, Antony McDonald,  Claus Guth, and Christoph Loy are known quantities. And, as can be noticed, none of these are women. Similarly with conductors, there is only one woman in the whole of the main stage season, Ariane Matiakh. But it is nice to see the young British conductor Finnegan Downie Dear appearing twice in the season.

Things improve a little if we look at the Linbury Season, Jessica Cottis is conducting and there are productions from Katie Mitchell, Isabelle Kettle and Natalie Abrahami, but one gets the suspicion that the more interesting projects are being focused on the Linbury, leaving the main stage available for the multiple Bohemes and Traviatas. Perhaps a necessary feature of the economics of opera today.

Casting features Bryn Terfel, Mark Padmore, Jonas Kaufman, Lise Davidsen, Asmik Grigorian, Karita Mattila, Allan Clayton, Nina Stemme, Joyce DiDonato, Franco Fagioli, Iestyn Davies, Juan Diego Florez, Placido Domingo, Ermonela Jaho, Anna Netrebko and more. So there is plenty to tempt.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale is returning in a new production by Damiano Michieletto, so modified rapture there then, conducted by Evelino Pido and featuring Bryn Terfel in the title role. A new production of Britten's Death in Venice features Mark Padmore as von Aschenbach with Gerald Finley in the baritone roles and Tim Mead as the voice of Apollo, quite a cast. The production is directed by David McVicar and conducted by Mark Elder. The opera hasn't been done at Covent Garden since 1992 (with Philip Langridge) and those of us with long memories will remember Peter Pears giving his last performance in the role at Covent Garden.

In the anniversary year, Beethoven's Fidelio gets a new production, directed by Tobias Kratzer and conducted by Antonio Pappano with Jonas Kaufman and Lise Davidsen as Florestan and Fidelio. The company continues working its way through Janacek's operas and Claus Guth's new production of Jenufa debuts with a strong cast including Asmik Grigorian in the title role, Karita Mattila as Kostelnicka and Allan Clayton as Laca. Vladimir Jurowski conducts. Though you do wonder what Claus Guth's magic realism is going to make of Janacek's opera?

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Rough for Opera - Speak Red, A Father is Looking for his Daughter, Dreaming Clouds

Second Movement's Rough for Opera
Second Movement's Rough for Opera returned to the Cockpit Theatre yesterday (14 May 2019) for its seventeenth edition. Billed as a scratch night for new opera, the event gives composers, librettists and creators the chance to try work out in front of an audience and then get feedback, each performance being followed by a Q&A session. 

Yesterday we heard three works in progress. Excerpts from Speak Red by Santa Buss & FXXX BXXXXX presented by Oedipa with Alice Purton (vocals/cello), Heloise Werner (vocals/cello) and participants from UCL's Division of Psychology and Language Sciences and Communication Clinic. A Father is Looking for his Daughter by Alex Mills and Gareth Mattey with Ella Taylor (father), Rosie Middleton (Auditor), Cecilia Bignall (cello), Calum Huggan & Angela Wai-Nok Hui (percussion), Crispin Lord (director), and Ashil Mistry (conductor). Dreaming Clouds by Alex Ho (composer, co-director, performer) and Julia Cheng (choreographer, co-director, performer).

The company performing Speak Red included 15 people with aphasia, the difficulty with language and communication which can occur after a stroke. The piece was a work in progress, and we heard three scenes, in which the participants' powerful individual stories were combined with that of Ruby McDonough, an American woman whose fight against discrimination in the USA changed the way the law works. There was some strikingly imaginative moments, in a piece which used opera and music theatre to present ideas about the difficulties of non-communication, rising to the challenge of being inclusive whilst creating a work of dramatic interest.

A Father is Looking for his Daughter was, at first hearing, the most finished piece of the evening. A stand alone operatic scene, it had in fact been created in a relatively short period by composer Alex Mills [who wrote Dear Marie Stopes, see my review] and librettist Gareth Mattey, and the performance enabled them to consider how the piece might develop, whether it is stand-alone or not. Dealing with issues of identity, borders and parenthood, the work reacted to the stories about recent separations between parents and children on the USA/Mexico border, yet also had at its heart the chilling way the auditor (Rosie Middleton) was redacting out all reference to the father's (Ella Taylor) being transgender.

The final work, Dreaming Clouds, was the first collaboration between Alex Ho and Julia Cheng, both are second generation Chinese immigrants and the work explored the borders between their Chinese heritage, notably Cantonese Opera, and Western culture. It was a strikingly visual piece, with Julia Cheng's choreography being a powerful and visually entrancing feature of the work.

Classical & jazz giants, movie stars, science: Man & God at the Bloomsbury Theatre

Man & God - Bloomsbury Theatre
The name of Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) is not that well known today, pianist, composer and transcriber of music, he is perhaps best known for his Studies on Chopin Etudes including those transcribed purely for the left hand. His son, Leopold Godowsky, Jnr is even less known and yet his life is all the more astonishing. A talented violinist, he married Frances Gerswhin the younger sister of George Gerswhin, thus uniting two remarkably musical dynasties. But Leopold Godowsky, Jnr was also interested in science and with his friend Lopold Mannes the two experimented with colour photography and were responsible for inventing the first practical colour transparency film, Kodachrome.

All this and more is covered in a new musical Man and God with music by Jake Dorfman. A tale taking in Gershwin, Einstein, and Hitler, this incredible story of classical and jazz giants, movie stars, and science, which is being performed at the Bloomsbury Theatre on Saturday 18 May 2019, as part of University College London's Performance Lab.

Full details from the Bloomsbury Theatre website.

Striking new directions: Markus Reuter's string quartet from Solaire Records

Markus Reuter - String Quartet - Solaire Records
Markus Reuter String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland'; Matangi Quartet; Solaire Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 May 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A large-scale string quartet by rock guitarist Markus Reuter proves surprising and intriguing

A number of musicians have made the transition from pop or rock music to classical, but usually the carry something of the one world to the other. The fascinating thing about the String Quartet by the rock guitarist Markus Reuter is that the work seems to give no indication of its composer's rock background. This premiere recording by the Matangi Quartet on Solaire Records demonstrates that Markus Reuter's String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland' deserves to be taken on its own terms.

So who is Markus Reuter? He has played with the progressive rock band The Stick Men, with the Europa String Choir, he has worked with legendary guitarist Robert Fripp, and helped set up Crimson ProjeKCt, one of the most prestigious and most long lived King Crimson spin-offs. The music on this disc is a very different sound world, just string quartet, yet it has its inspiration in the music imagined by the teenage Markus Reuter.

Monday, 13 May 2019

In Opera Magazine

Review of OperaUpClose's Mary Queen of Scots in Opera Magazine
Nice to see a review of OperaUpClose’s new production of Donizetti’s Mary Stuart in the June 2019 edition of Opera Magazine.  

The production features Flora McIntosh as Mary and Julian Debreuil as Talbot, both Flora and Julian will of course be singing in The Gardeners on 18 June, Flora plays the Grandmother and Julian plays The Gardener. 

Tickets for The Gardeners at Conway Hall on 18 June are available from TicketTailor.

Also featuring in Opera magazine this month, our advert for The Gardeners looking very handsome in in Stephen A. Brown's article 'Carry on Singing' about competitions and young artists' programmes, a lovely way to feature the young artists performing in The Gardeners

The Gardeners advert in Opera Magazine

Huw Wakins' Symphony from Kensington Symphony Orchestra

Huw Watkins
Huw Watkins
Huw Watkins' Symphony receives its London premiere tonight (13 May 2019) when the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, conductor Russell Keable, performs the work at Cadogan Hall as part of a programme which also includes Lyadov's The Enchanted Lake and Sibelius' Four Legends from the Kalevala.

Watkins' Symphony was commissioned by the Halle and premiered by them, conductor Sir Mark Elder, in Manchester and Sheffield in 2017. The work is in two movements, it does not strictly adhere to classical symphonic form. Rather, the composer interprets this great tradition through his development of ideas and use of the orchestra. [see Robert Beale's review of the original performance on Bachtrack]. The Symphony, performed by the Halle under Ryan Wigglesworth, features on a 2018 NMC disc of Watkins' symphonic works [see my review].

As a composer, Anatoly Lyadov was associated with Mussorgsky and the Mighty Handful, and studied with Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov, whilst as a teacher Lyadov's pupils included Sergei Prokofiev and Nikolai Myaskovsky. The Enchanted Lake (1909) is one of Lydaov's tone poems based on Russian legends.

Sibelius originally started composing an heroic opera based on the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala, but changed direction and created a suite of four tone poems, The Lemminkäinen Suite or Four Legends from the Kalevala in 1895. The first two movements were withdrawn by the composer shortly after the premiere and only revised in the 1930s. As a result, the final two movements are best known 'The Swan of Tuonela' and 'Lemminkäinen's Return' and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra's performance is a rare chance to hear all four together.

Further information from the Kensington Symphony Orchestra website,  and the Cadogan Hall website.

A young man's passion: Julian Prégardien & Erik Le Sage in Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe

Schumann: Dichterliebe - Julian Pregardien - Alpha Classics
Robert Schumann Dichterliebe, Robert & Clara Schumann Songs, duets & piano pieces; Julian Prégardien, Erik Le Sage, Sandrine Piau; Alpha Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 May 2019
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)

Schumann's Dichterliebe in an intelligent and lyrically passionate re-thinking

The opening track of this new recording of Robert Schumann's Dicterliebe from tenor Julian Prégardien  and pianist Erik le Sage on Alpha Classics is something of a surprise as the voice that greets us is that of soprano Sandrine Piau. To accompany Schumann's 1840 song cycle, Prégardien has chosen a selection of songs, duets and piano pieces by both Schumanns, Robert & Clara. The beloved is present, implicitly, throughout Dichterliebe and in selecting the accompanying material Prégardien makes us explore the relationship further. Another big feature of the recording is the piano, not a modern grand but an 1856 fortepiano by Julius Bluthner, giving us a window into the sort of sound-world which Schumann might have known.

We start with the duet In der Nacht from the Spanisches Liederspiel, a rather serious and intent piece where the entry of the male voice comes as something of a surprise. This is followed by one of Clara Schumann's expressive, romantic piano works, the second of the Three Romances Op.11. Robert Schumann's Die Lowenbraut setting Adalbert von Chamisso's ballad is something of a strange piece. Prégardien and Piau render it as a duet, with Piau voicing the young bride with Pregardien as narrator. The performance style is a little distant and contained, only in the final verses does Pregardien really let rip with the drama.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Far more than choral virtuosity: Handel's Israel in Egypt from the BBC Singers & Academy of Ancient Music

Handel Israel in Egypt (1756); BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Gergely Madaras; Milton Court Concert Hall
BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Gergely Madaras; Milton Court Concert Hall (Photo BBC Singers)
Handel Israel in Egypt (1756); BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Gergely Madaras; Milton Court Concert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Though we only got the torso of the work, this was a tour de force from both singers and instrumentalists, technique, drama and engagements

The BBC Singers has such a reputation in 20th century and contemporary music that it can be something of a surprise to find them in more standard repertoire, though in fact the ensemble's concert season takes in music from 17th century to the present day.

For the BBC Singers concert at Milton Court Concert Hall on Friday 10 May 2019, the choir was joined by the Academy of Ancient Music and conductor Gergely Madaras for a performance of one of the great 18th century choral showpieces, Handel's oratorio Israel in Egypt. Whilst the work is all about the chorus, there are solos and at this performance the soloists all came from the choir, soprano Emma Tring, altos Nancy Cole and Jessica Gillingwater, tenor Tom Raskin, and basses Jamie W. Hall and Andrew Rupp.

Israel in Egypt has a rather complex history, and the work has never quite found a finished form. Handel's first version used a re-write of the Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline as part one, this failed to gain popularity and he quickly dropped the funeral anthem and added additional solos to the work, later revivals created a variety of different first parts for the piece, with the result that the work survives in the repertoire in a version which Handel never performed, parts two and three of the original three-part work forming a new two-part work. By way of preparation, Gergely Madaras chose the sinfonia to the Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, a logical choice. And once the oratorio proper started there was much to enjoy indeed.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

French inspiration, spectacular scenery & classical music: I chat to festival director Christoph Müller about this year's Gstaad Menuhin Festival

Gstaad, Switzerland
Gstaad, Switzerland
Gstaad is a town in the German-speaking section of the Canton of Bern in southwestern Switzerland. Whilst the area is perhaps well known for its skiing, it is also the home of a major classical musical festival; the Gstaad Menuhin Festival, the second largest festival in Switzerland, founded in 1957 by Yehudi Menuhin, who was director for 40 years. Thanks to the spectacular setting it combines nature with classical music at a high level. This year's festival, which runs from 18 July to 6 September 2019 is presenting 60 concerts in seven weeks. The current director of the festival is Christoph Müller, and we chatted via Skype recently about what this year's festival has to offer.

Saanen Church - one of the Gstaad Menuhin Festival venues
Saanen Church
one of the Gstaad Menuhin Festival venues
Christoph emphasises the festival's special location, which provides not only the natural backdrop but also historic churches with wonderful acoustics, and they use the large festival tent (seating 1800) for symphonic and operatic concerts. Whilst music is the main focus of the festival, it is able to offer a relaxed atmosphere so that visitors can combine relaxing holiday with music, unlike festivals in busier urban areas like Lucerne or Salzburg.

Each year the festival has a theme, and this year it is French music and the city of Paris. Not only is Paris an inspiring melting pot of music, but there is a local aspect to French culture too. Christoph explains that though some sort of barrier exists between German-speaking and French-speaking Switzerland (with two different cultures and two different languages), 500 metres behind the festival venues the French part of Switzerland begins, so French culture is actually very close them. Christoph wants the festival to build a bridge between the two spaces, bringing French music closer to his audience. And French music is not usually performed in such a concentrated way, which makes this year's festival special indeed.

There are different strands, different islands in the programming with chamber music performed in Saanen Church, and symphonic music in the tent. The pianist Bertrand Chamayou is in residence, and in fact Chamayou was very much an inspiration for Christoph to programme this year's festival. Chamamayou will be giving five concerts, both solo recitals and joining with friends such as Sol Gabetta and Alina Ibragimova.

One of the highlights of the symphonic strand is the visit of the Dresden Staatskapelle, which performs at the final concert on 6 September. Usually the orchestra plays at the Lucerne Festival but for the first time its Swiss visit will be to Gstaad instead, where it will be making their festival debut. And Christoph is very proud to be hosting the orchestra. Other festival debutants, include the pianist Yuja Wang and the violinist Hilary Hahn.

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