Saturday 31 August 2019

A very human drama: Allan Clayton as Handel's Jephtha at the BBC Proms

Handel: Jephtha - Allan Clayton, Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Photo BBC/Chris Christodoulou)
Handel: Jephtha - Allan Clayton, Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Photo BBC/Chris Christodoulou)
Handel Jephtha; Allan Clayton, Jeanine De Bique, Hilary Summers, Tim Mead, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Richard Egarr; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 August 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Some powerful individual performances in Handel's final oratorio

Amazingly, Handel's oratorio Jephtha has only been at the BBC Proms once before, in 2007 when Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. On Friday 30 August 2019, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra returned to the BBC Proms with Handel's Jephtha, with Richard Egarr directing from the harpsichord with Allan Clayton as Jephtha, Jeanine De Bique as Iphis, Hilary Summers as Storge, Tim Mead as Hamor, Cody Quattlebaum as Zebul and Rowan Pierce as the Angel, with the SCO Chorus.

Handel: Jephtha - Jeanine De Bique, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Richard Egarr - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Handel: Jephtha - Jeanine De Bique, Scottish Chamber Orchestra,
Richard Egarr - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
For all the 19th century tradition of large-scale performances of Handel, the Royal Albert Hall is not the ideal space for performing Handel oratorios. Richard Egarr's forces went some way to reflecting the sense of scale, the chorus numbered around 100, the orchestra included four oboes and two bassoons, with two harpsichords (one played by Egarr) and a theorbo.

Egarr's speeds were generally on the fleet side, the idea seemed to be to keep what can be a long oratorio flowing (it was also discreetly cut). Though I thought some moments, such as the quartet, would have benefited from some more space.

The role of Jephtha was written for the great John Beard, who also created the heroic title role in Handel's Samson, yet included the more lyric of Handel's tenor roles in his repertoire. Jephtha thus calls for a tenor who can combine heroic drama with a degree of flexibility, whilst doing justice to the intensity of the drama. Allan Clayton has already explored the John Beard repertoire with Ian Page and Classical Opera [see my review of the CD], so it was lovely to hear him in one of Beard's major roles.

The Gardeners at the Garden Museum

The Courtyard Garden at the Garden Museum
The Courtyard Garden at the Garden Museum
The Garden Museum in Lambeth is the UK's only museum celebrating British gardens and gardening so it seems a piece of wonderful synergy that we are able to give the second performance of Joanna Wyld and my opera The Gardeners at the museum on Monday 9 September 2019. Based in the former church of St Mary at Lambeth (with its monuments to Nancy Storace, the first Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Captain Bligh and the John Tradescants, father and son 17th century gardeners and plant hunters), the opera will be performed in the fine acoustics of the church's former nave. Beforehand we will be serving a glass of wine in the museum's fine Dan Pearson-designed garden, full of the sort of exotic plants which the Tradescants brought back from their plant hunting exploits.

'Hugill's music has a moving serenity' - Opera Magazine
Robert Hugill & Joanna Wyld: The Gardeners - Conway Hall June 2019 (Photo Robert Piwko)
Robert Hugill & Joanna Wyld: The Gardeners - Conway Hall June 2019 (Photo Robert Piwko)

The Gardeners will be performed by the same performers as at the work's premiere in June 2019 at Conway Hall. 
'A beautiful piece, beautifully performed' - Seen and Heard International
William Vann conducts Peter Brathwaite as the Old Gardener, Magid El-Bushra as the Angry Young Man, Julian Debreuill as the Gardener, Flora McIntosh as the Grandmother and Georgia Mae Bishop as the Mother, with Oliver Wass (harp), Sacha Rattle (clarinet), Charlotte Amherst (violin), Joanna Patrick (viola), and Sophie Haynes (cello).

'Quite a feat! ... It lingers in the memory' - Classical Source

Further details from The Gardeners website, and tickets price £25 from Tickettailor.

The success of a competition is nothing more than the success and career development of the competitors: I chat to Lars Flæten, director of the Queen Sonja International Music Competition

Queen Sonja International Music Competition 2019 -  Astrid Nordstad, Natalia Tanasiiciuc, Sergey Kaydalov, Meigui Zhang, Stefan Astakhov, Adam Kutny and Theodore Browne (Photo Adrian Nielsen)
The Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo, Norway celebrated its 30th anniversary this year [see my review of the final at Oslo Opera House], and during my visit to Oslo I was able to sit down with Lars Flæten, the current director of the festival, to chat about its history and its place in the current busy climate of international competitions. 

inal of the Queen Sonja International Music Competition 2019 First prize winner, Sergey Kaydalov (Russia) & H.M. Queen Sonja on Norway (Photo Adrian Nielsen)
Final of the Queen Sonja International Music Competition 2019
First prize winner, Sergey Kaydalov (Russia) & H.M. Queen Sonja of Norway
(Photo Adrian Nielsen)
I was attending the competition as part of a group of journalists from six different countries, Belgium, USA, Spain, Germany, France and the UK, and Lars emphasised that the international recognition of a music competition is important. For him, the success of a competition is nothing more than the success and career development of the competitors. So a competition needs to attract the best singers, and to deliver prize-winners that are in demand. He feels that a competition that fails to deliver this is not relevant.

A competition is dependent on the participants being happy with the competition, yet whilst it has an important role to play Lars certainly does not think that a competition should be everything for a singer's career, in fact the competition is more dependent on the singers than they are on the competition. Lars also feels that the competition has to give a first prize, rather than failing to award one because of the low standard of the competitors (as happens in some international competitions). He comments that if you feel that the standard of the performers reflects badly on the competition then the competition is doing a bad job at attracting performers. And the competition tries to honour the Norwegian tradition of fairness, and ensure that everyone has a chance.

Friday 30 August 2019

The Manchester Collective's new season: diverse and eclectic programmes across 50 shows in 18 cities in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands

The Manchester Collective's 2019/20 season, which kicks off on 19 September 2019 with Scirocco with South African cellist Abel Selacoe and his band Chesaba, features the ensemble's largest and most ambitious touring to date, performing 50 shows in 18 cities across the UK, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The programmes are diverse and eclectic, aiming to highlight the joy of music making and of inclusivity, and venues are varied with abandoned buildings, nightclubs, concert halls as well as the promise of 'more weird and wonderful spaces than ever'!

New work includes an Opera North commission for Leeds Light Night (11 & 12 October, Leeds) in which the ensemble will be performing Erland Cooper's new work The Birds, with pianist Kerry Young, featuring sound, colour, light and music intertwining alongside Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux and Rautavaara's Swans Migrating.

The Manchester Collective gave the premiere of Edmund Finnis' The Centre is Everywhere at the Southbank Centre this Summer, and they will be touring it across the UK in a programme which sees music director Rakhi Singh perform 'an unholy mashup' of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Ligeti’s Metamorphosen Nocturnes.

There is new show collaborating with Danish pipe and drum virtuoso Poul Høxbro, and the Clod Ensemble's Paul Clark will be premiering a new piece. Cries and Whispers will be an intimate string quartet programme featuring Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet and transcriptions of sacred music by Carlo Gesualdo! George Crumb's iconic Vox Balanae will feature in the Voice of the Whale programme which comes to Kings Place next year as part of the Nature Unwrapped season, expect a performance under blue light by anonymous, masked musicians, on instruments that are amplified and modified. Also in the programme is a new piece from Alex Groves and music by Molly Joyce, Andrew Hamilton and Toru Takemitsu.

The season ends with Bach's G Major Cello Suite alongside George Enescu's String Octet.

The next generation of performing musicians will feature in the ensemble's Future Music scheme, where working with the Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and the Royal Scottish Conservatoire, the Collective will produce residencies, orchestral labs, string quartet mentoring sessions, and a professional development curriculum.

Full details from the Manchester Collective's website.

Going out singing and dancing: Belinda Sykes, Joglaresa and Sarcoma UK

Belinda Sykes and members of Joglaresa
Belinda Sykes and members of Joglaresa
It does not come to all of us to choose how we spend our final time on earth. But Belinda Sykes, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in March this year, has decided to go out singing and dancing. She will be spending the Autumn gigging with her Early Music group Joglaresa, and donating 100% of the sales of their back catalogue to raise money for Sarcoma UK, the only bone and soft tissue cancer charity in the UK focusing on all types of sarcoma (you can help support the appeal at their JustGiving website).

Belinda founded Joglaresa in 1992, and it is one of the most popular and busiest of British Early Music ensembles, though that tag hardly does justice to the group's remarkable virtuosity and innovative freedom. The ensemble is constituted of remarkable international performers from different musical backgrounds (classical, jazz, world and folk). Joglaresa has a sound that is both traditional and contemporary, incorporating elements of Flamenco and Celtic, Medieval and Middle Eastern music. Belinda's own background is as an oboist, she has played for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Gabrieli Consort, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, The Hanover Band and The English Concert, and won the Reichenberg Award for Baroque Oboe in 1990.

Belinda said; "Gigging with Joglaresa is what I live for and I want my remaining time to be spent performing and sharing the music I love with as many people as I can. One of Joglaresa's unique features is that it is not a solo singer with backing band, but a team of soloists and we proudly allow our different vocal qualities to shine out (the antithesis of the ‘blended’ English Choral Tradition)."

Concert Dates:
15 November 2019 Enchantress of Seville Benslow
16-17 November 2019 Enchantress of Seville WORKSHOP Benslow
23 November 2019 Enchantress of Seville Lewes
3 December 2019 Sing We Yule London
7 December 2019 Sing We Yule Parbold
10 December 2019 Sing We Yule York
11 December 2019 Sing We Yule Chorley
12 March 2020 Boogie Knights Nottingham Lakeside Arts
18 April 2020 Enchantress of Seville Totnes

Zawazawa: recent works by Dai Fujikura

Zawazawa - Dai Fujikura - Minabel Records
Dai Fujikura Zawazawa, Sawasawa, Tuba concerto; MINABEL RECORDS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 August 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Recent works by Dai Fujikura from onomatopoeic choruses to a tuba concerto and virtuosic solo works for clarinet and for double bass

This disc from Minabel Records and New Focus Recordings features recent pieces by Dai Fujikura, ranging from works for solo soprano and for choir, to solo movements for clarinet, for double bass and for french horn, plus Fujikura's Tuba Concerto, performed by Sarah Kobayashi (soprano), the Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo, conductor Kazuki Yamada, Noriko Tsukagoshi (marimba), Oystein Baadsvik (tuba), Geigeki Wind Orchestra Academy, Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, Shizuo Kuwahara (conductor), Makoto Yoshida (clarinet), Yoji Sato (double bass), Nobuaki Fukukawa (french Horn), and Quartet Amabile.

The majority of the music on the disc was written between 2016 and 2018, thus providing a picture of Fujikura's current thoughts and concerns. The disc opens with ki i te from 2017 for solo soprano, sung by Sarah Kobayashi who also provided the text, and commissioned the piece. In his programme note Fujikura talks about having the idea of writing something grotesque, in contrast to Kobayashi's stage persona. Though the work is hardly grotesque, but it is amazingly virtuosic and Fujikura repeats the short text so it becomes almost like scat, with short repeated motifs providing structure.

Thursday 29 August 2019

Somewhere for the weekend: the 10th Lammermuir Festival

It was in 2010 that the Lammermuir Festival started bringing music to beautiful and sometimes surprising venues in rural and town settings in the area of Scotland between the Lammermuir Hills and the sea. This year the festival celebrates with the 10th festival from 13th to 22nd September 2019.

Quatuor Mosaïques is returning to the festival to perform in one of its best loved venues, Whitekirk’s mediaeval church, for three programmes centred around Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartets. Dunedin Consort directed by John Butt has performed at every Lammermuir Festival and to celebrate, they perform Bach's complete Brandenburg Concertos and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with the violinist, Cecilia Bernardini. Baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Christopher Glynn will be performing Schubert's great song cycles in Jeremy Sams' recent English translations, The Fair Maid of The Mill, Winter Journey and Swansongs. Vox Luminis is visiting the festival for the first time, bringing music by Palestrina, Victoria and Scarlatti.

Flautist Adam Smith will be performing a new piece by Brett Dean and music by Nielsen with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and joining guitarist Sean Shibe for music by Piazzolla and Debussy. Composer Stuart MacRae completes a trio of festival commissions with Prometheus Symphony, a dramatic work for voices and orchestra based on the Prometheus myth. It will be performed at Haddington’s mediaeval church, St Mary’s with soprano Jennifer France and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Matthew Halls.

Scottish Opera is performing a double bill of two unusual 20th century operas, Mascagni’s Zanetto and Wolf-Ferrari’s Susanna’s Secret with mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, sopranos Sinead Campbell Wallace and Clare Presland, and baritone Richard Burkhard, directed by Rose Purdie and conducted by David Parry.

Full details from the Lammermuir Festival website.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Peter Lieberson's Neruda Songs at the Opera in the City festival

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson & Peter Lieberson in 1998 (Photo Emil Miland/Courtesy Peter Lieberson)
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson & Peter Lieberson in 1998 (Photo Emil Miland/Courtesy Peter Lieberson)
The American composer Peter Lieberson (1946-2011) wrote his Neruda Songs for his wife, the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (1954-2006), having unexpectedly come across the poems by the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson premiered the songs in 2005 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and then performed them with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conductor James Levine (with whom she made a commercial recording). Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died the following year, of breast cancer; she is perhaps best associated in the UK with the role of Irene in Handel's Theodora which she performed at Glyndebourne in the premiere of Peter Seller's production.

There is a welcome chance to hear Peter Lieberson's Neruda Songs on Saturday 31 August 2019, when mezzo-soprano Katherine Marriott and pianist Nigel Foster perform them at the Bridewell Theatre at 9pm, as part of the Opera in the City festival. Full details from the Opera in the City website.

Noah Mosley and Elisabetta Campeti's Aurora at the Grimeborn Festival

Katherine Aitken, Isolde Roxby Bury Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Katherine Aitken, Isolde Roxby
Bury Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Noah Mosely & Elisabetta Campeti Aurora; Isolde Roxby, Katherine Aitken, Andrew Tipple, Jean-Max Lattemann, dir: Aylin Bozok; Bury Court Opera at the Grimeborn Festival
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 24 August 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Noah Mosely's irrepressibly romantic new opera returns to Grimeborn after its premiere earlier this year

On Saturday 24 August 2019, Bury Court Opera’s production of Aurora appeared as part of the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre. [See Robert's review of the opera's premiere at Bury Court]. At Saturday’s performance, directed by Aylin Bozok, Isolde Roxby and Katherine Aitken sang Aurora and the Wild Woman; Andrew Tipple the King. Jean-Max Lattemann was the Mountain Witch, whilst Dominic Bowe and Magid El Bushra were the two Princes. Aurora is the second opera Bury Court has commissioned from composer Noah Mosley. Noah is a London based conductor and composer and Music Director of the Helios Collective – is there a theme here, Helios being the sibling of Eos (Aurora)? The libretto is by Elisabetta Campeti.

Aurora the goddess of dawn whose tears fell as morning dew is in this incarnation the protagonist in an Italian folk story set in the Dolomites. The Dolomites’ peculiar shapes and colours have spawned many a tale and myth down the years. It’s not explained upon what particular myth it is based, but the blurb told us that it’s a journey of spiritual awakening, sacrifice and love that ‘deeply resonates with our modern times’.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Less can sometimes be more: Verity Lane's 'The Crane' at the Grimeborn Festival

Verity Lane: The Crane - Grimeborn Festival
Verity Lane: The Crane - Grimeborn Festival
Verity Lane The Crane; Hester Dart, Tomoko Komura, Mirei Yazawa, Kiku Day, Beibei Wang; Grimeborn Festivala at the Arcola Theatre
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 22 August 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A Noh Theatre-inspired multi-media opera installation

Variously described as a "mystical opera" and a "multi-media opera installation", Verity Lane’s production of The Crane at this year’s Grimeborn Festival, a lacework of images, movement and music, takes inspiration from Noh Theatre with a certain amount of cross-cultural pollination. The company is made up of performance artists and musicians from Japan, Denmark, China and London with the animator Rowan O’Brien hailing from Ireland. The music and libretto, both English and Japanese, is by Verity Lane.

At the Arcola Theatre performance of Verity Lane's The Crane on Saturday 24 August, the Crane was Mirei Yazawa, the Old Lady and Old Man were Hester Dart and Tomoko Komura. The ethnomusicologist Kiku Day played 'Japanese flutes' and Beibei Wang percussion. The chorus were Kasia Andrzejewska, Rebecca Hoodless, Dominic Mattos, Rekkha Ray and Holly Slater.

Monday 26 August 2019

Prom 47: A splendid Bruckner Eighth from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under music director Andris Nelsons

Prom 47: Bruckner Symphony no. 8 - Andris Nelsons (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Prom 47: Bruckner Symphony no. 8 - Andris Nelsons (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Bach organ works, Bruckner Symphony No. 8; Michael Schönheit, org: Andres Nelsons, cond: Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert hall
Reviewed by Colin Clarke on 23 August 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Andris Nelsons, conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra as Gewandhauskapellmeister at the BBC Proms for the first time, takes a spacious view of Bruckner's magnificent edifice at the BBC Proms

Prom 47 - Michael Schönheit (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Prom 47 - Michael Schönheit (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
J. S. Bach and Leipzig enjoy a clear link, given Bach’s association with that city’s Thomaskirche; the Leipzig Gewandhaus certainly made the connection, inviting their organist, Michael Schönheit, to give a mini-Bach recital prefacing Bruckner’s great edifice, his Eighth Symphony. Of course, Bruckner was himself an organist, and was at the Walcker organ of the Gewandhaus the day before the premiere of his Seventh Symphony; he also gave recitals on the Albert Hall organ. The connections seem to be endless.

For Prom 47 on Friday 23 August 2019 at the Royal Albert Hall, Michael Schönheit played Bach's Fantasia in G minor, BWV 542, the chorale from Cantata No. 147 'Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben', BWV 147, Prelude in E flat major, BWV 552, Chorale Prelude 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme', BWV 645 and Fugue in E flat major, BWV 552, before Andris Nelsons conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8.

A spine tingling performance from Simone Victor in the title role of Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda at this London Bel Canto Festival showcase performance

Poster for the premiere of Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda at La Fenice, Venice in 1833
Poster for the premiere of Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda at La Fenice, Venice in 1833
Bellini Beatrice di Tenda; Simone Victor, Brian Hotchkin, Taryn Surratt, Sergio Augusto, London City Philharmonic Orchestra, Olsi Qinami; London Bel Canto Festival at St George's Hanover Square
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 22 August 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Bellini's neglected melodrama serio showcasing the young talents from the London Bel Canto Festival

The real-life story of Beatrice Lascaris di Tenda, a woman who by all accounts had a reputation for honesty and modesty, and was seen by some as a martyr, served as inspiration for many writers among them Carlo Tebaldi-Fores whose opus served as Bellini’s inspiration.

Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda is a melodrama serio from a libretto by Felice Romani. Set in the Castle of Binasco, Milan, it tells the story of Beatrice di Tenda widow of the Count of Biandrate the Condottiero Facino Cane. Following the Condottiero’s death Beatrice makes an impetuous marriage to Duke Filippo Maria Visconti thus conferring on him her wealth, cities and the soldiers of Facino. Whether by dint of her age, her power or reputation Filippo tires of his wife and as so commonly happened back in the day a denunciation for adultery followed. Plus ça change.

Sadly neglected, Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, his tale of naked ambition and the abuse of power turned up on Thursday 22 August 2019 at the church of St. George’s Hanover Square courtesy of the London Bel Canto Festival. Part of the festival’s raison d’etre is to teach and champion young artists in the Bel Canto repertoire and singers from around the world came to take part.

At Thursday’s performance the Danish soprano Simone Victor who has appeared at the festival in previous years, eliciting fulsome praise from the Guardian’s Stephen Pritchard, sang the titular Beatrice. Brian Hotchkin and Taryn Surratt, from the USA, sang Filippo and Agnese whilst the Mexican Canadian tenor Sergio Augusto, currently in the UK sang Orombello. Iranian born Sam Elmi was Anchino and Bombay born Shakti Pherwani was Rizzardo. Olsi Qinami conducted the London City Philharmonic Orchestra.

For all that St. George’s is a striking building with its Flemish glass, William Kent Last Supper and historical connection to Handel, it’s not what you’d call a natural fit acoustically or physically for a Bel Canto opera – one of the poor choristers had to make a particularly undignified entrance, though she was rewarded with a round of applause for her efforts.

Sunday 25 August 2019

Final of the Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo

Final of the Queen Sonja International Music Competition 2019 - First prize winner, Sergey Kaydalov (Russia) & H.M. Queen Sonja on Norway (Photo Adrian Nielsen)
Final of the Queen Sonja International Music Competition 2019
First prize winner, Sergey Kaydalov (Russia) & H.M. Queen Sonja on Norway (Photo Adrian Nielsen)
Final of the Queen Sonja International Music Competition; Oslo Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 August 2019
Six young singers from Germany, Poland, Russia, Moldova and China competing in the 30th anniversary edition of the competition

Queen Sonja International Music Competition 2019 - Stefan Astakhov (Germany), Risto Joost (Photo Adrian Nielsen)
Queen Sonja International Music Competition 2019
Stefan Astakhov (Germany), Risto Joost (Photo Adrian Nielsen)
2019 is the 30th anniversary of the Queen Sonja International Music Competition, and this year the biennial event in Oslo, Norway featured over 300 young singers competing. On Friday 23 August 2019, the final involved six singers from Germany, Russia, Poland, China and Moldova, who sang arias and duets at the Oslo Opera House, in front of a distinguished jury from a variety of walks of musical life. The singers were accompanied by the orchestra of Norwegian Opera, conductor Risto Joost, and the event took place in the presence of HM Queen Sonja of Norway, the very active patron of the festival who presented the prizes (amongst which was one of Her Majesty's own prints).

The finalists, all in their 20s and some as young as 21, were German baritone Stefan Astakhov, English-born German tenor Theodore Browne, Russian baritone Sergey Kaydalov, Polish baritone Adam Kutny, Moldovan soprano Natalia Tanasii and Chinese soprano Meigui Zhang, and the judges were Annilese Miskimmon (director of opera at the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet), the Norwegian opera director Stefan Herheim, the soprano Sumi Jo, Tatjana Kandel (head of artistic planning for the DR Ensembles at the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Ensembles in Copenhagen), Robert Korner (director of artistic production at Opera National de Lyon and casting director at Vienna State Opera from 2020), baritone Sergei Leiferkus and Diane Zola (assistant general manager at the Metropolitan Opera, New York).

Saturday 24 August 2019

A stage seven times the size of the Vienna State Opera: I chat to Daniel Serafin, artistic director of Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) in Austria

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte - Oper im Steinbruch, 2019 (Photo  Raimund Bauer Bühnenbild Media Apparat)
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte - Oper im Steinbruch, 2019 (Photo  Raimund Bauer Bühnenbild Media Apparat)
Daniel Serafin (Photo  Lisa Schulcz)
Daniel Serafin (Photo  Lisa Schulcz)
The quarry at St Margarethen im Burgenland (some 50km South-East of Vienna) in Austria has been there since Roman times, and it supplied stone for St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna and many of the buildings on the Ringstrasse, and the modern part of the quarry continues to do so. Within this fascinating landscape, opera has been presented since the 1990s. The festival, Oper im Steinbruch, is now supported by the Esterházy Foundation, which owns the quarry, and the local authority, das Land Burgenland. There was no opera last year, and this year Daniel Serafin took over as artistic director and Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presented Mozart's Die Zauberflöte [see my review].

Whilst attending Die Zauberflöte I was able to meet Daniel and chat with him about his ideas for Oper im Steinbruch and his ambitious plans, whilst sampling the hospitality in The Lounge which is one of the catering options on offer at the opera, complete with a wonderful view of the audience arriving down the striking zig-zag corten ramp which leads down from the quarry edge. The opera's audience, as I learn from Daniel, is 96% German-speaking, and one of the festival's raisons d'être is the way it attracts audiences who might not go to an opera house alongside regular opera goers .

Daniel started out as a baritone, studying at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and then the Juilliard School. But he then did a degree in business administration, which gives him a knowledge of both music and of how to run a business, so he understands how the patchwork of music and business comes together. He has stopped performing as a baritone, in order to concentrate on Oper im Steinbruch, and his artistic directorship of the Viennese Opera Ball in New York (now in its 65th year).

Oper im Steinbruch - 2019
Oper im Steinbruch - 2019
So who comes to Oper im Steinbruch?

Friday 23 August 2019

The Engine Room International Sound Art Competition

The Engine Room logo
The Engine Room, Morley College's platform for the exploration, education and promotion of electronic and experimental music and sound art, has announced its third international sound art competition for emerging sound artists. This year’s competition and events are organised in collaboration with IKLECTIK to celebrate their 5th anniversary.

The competition invites the submission of new sound art – including audio and audio-visual pieces, interactive works and performances, installations, sound sculptures and graphic scores - by 15 September 2019. The competition is open to emerging sound artists from around the world, and will be judged by an award-winning panel of experts. Selected works will be eligible for a number of prizes, and will feature in an accompanying exhibition at Iklectik Art Lab from 5-24 October 2019. Accepted media includes audio-only works (for this edition we encourage multi-channel works), audio–visual works, interactive works, sound Installations & sculptures, graphic scores and performances.

The deadline for entries is 15 September 2019 and submissions must be made online at

Intimate & highly engaging: Mari Eriksmoen & Sveinung Bjelland in recital at Oscarshall Palace, Oslo

Mari Eriksmoen and Sveinung Bjelland at Osarshall Palace, Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
Mari Eriksmoen and Sveinung Bjelland at Osarshall Palace,
Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
Hugo Wolf, Edvard Grieg, Robert Schumann, Richard Strauss; Mari Eriksmoen, Sveinung Bjelland; Queen Sonja International Music Competition at Oscarshall Palace
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 August 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Hosted by the Queen of Norway, an intimate yet highly engaging and vividly performed recital of German and Norwegian lieder

Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway introducing the recital at Osarshall Palace, Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway introducing the recital at Osarshall Palace,
Queen Sonja International Music Competition
(Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
The Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Dronning Sonja Internasjonale Musikkonkurranse), which runs in Oslo, Norway from 13 to 23 August 2019, is a biennial voice competition. Named for the present Queen of Norway, Queen Sonja takes an active role in the competition and on 22 August 2019, the day before the finale, hosted a concert at Oscarshall Palace, their bijou 19th century neo-Gothic Summer palace. The concert was due to be given by soprano Melissa Petit, but she had to withdraw owing to illness and her place was taken at short notice by soprano Mari Eriksmoen, who was a finalist in the 2007 competition. Accompanied by pianist Sveinung Bjelland, Mari Eriksmoen sang a programme of songs by Hugo Wolf, Edvard Grieg, Robert Schumann and Richard Strauss.

Built in 1852, before Norway achieved independence, by King Oscar I (King of Sweden and King of Norway), Oscarshall features interior decoration by some of the most significant Norwegian artists of the day. The concert took place in the dining room, which with its striking Romantic neo-Gothic decoration. Large for a dining room, but small for a concert hall, it proved to have attractively warm acoustics, with a very immediate sound which showed off Mari Eriksmoen's lovely vibrant lyric voice and her excellent diction.

Thursday 22 August 2019

A Tale of Two Violas

A Tale of Two Violas - Meridian
A Tale of Two Violas, Bach, Tertis, Borisovsky; Peter Mallinson, Matthias Wiesner, Evgenia Startseva; Meridian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 August 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An imaginative survey of music written or arranged for viola duo by two of the great viola players of the 20th century

This disc from Meridian, A Tale of Two Violas, features two viola players from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Peter Mallinson and Matthias Wiesener, in an attractive and unusual programme of viola duets, some unaccompanied and some performed with Evgenia Startseva (piano), Anneke Hodnett (harp), Michael Atkinson (cello) and Nicholas Bayley (double bass).

The disc opens with Iain Farrington's arrangement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 for two violas and piano. What follows is then a tribute to two of the great viola pioneers of the 20th century, Lionel Tertis and Vadim Borisovsky, featuring music either composed or arranged by them. The programme is brought up to date with At Two by contemporary composer John Hawkins.

War is my Condition.

Stained glass by Brian Clarke
Stained glass by Brian Clarke
War is my Condition is a new interpretation of Monteverdi's Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda presented by Ante Terminum Productions, a new company that aims to bring out the dramatic potential of music whether in opera, concert or music installation. Their new version of Monteverdi's operatic scena will feature two dancers in the roles of Tancredi and Clorinda, and in fact much of Monteverdi's narrative is allocated to the narrator figure, and to Monteverdi's original the company is adding further of his madrigals to create a piece lasting around an hour.

To add further interest to this cross-arts project the stained-glass artist Brian Clarke (best known for his monumental pieces and his collaboration on major architectural projects) is loaning three of his stained class screens to be used within the staging. The choreography is by Kat Collings, the artistic director is Peter Thickett and the musical director is Frederick Waxmann.

Monteverdi's work sets an extended passage for Torquato Tasso's epic poem Gerusalemme liberata, and was premiered in Venice in 1624, and eventually published in his Eighth book of Madrigals in 1638. But commentators cannot quite agree how to classify it, is it an extended madrigal (after all the majority of the vocal line is allocated to the narrator), or an operatic scena! But it seems that Monteverdi intended the piece to be acted out by the to characters representing Tancredi and Clorinda, even though the majority of the narrative is given to the narrator.

Monteverdi: War is my Condition - Rehearsal pictures taken by Mathew Prichard (@matprichard) at the English National Ballet School - Ante-Terminum Productions
Monteverdi: War is my Condition - Rehearsal pictures taken by Mathew Prichard (@matprichard) at the English National Ballet School - Ante-Terminum Productions
Ante-Terminum Productions previous performances have included staging Karlheinz Stockhausen's Stimmung in the Barts Pathology Museum [see my article]. The performances of War is my condition take place in the atmospheric Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, on 28 August and 2 to 5 September 2019.

Full details from the Ante-Terminum Productions' website.

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Bayreuth’s Tristan und Isolde was grand and convincing in every conceivable way harbouring a sting in its tail

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enric Nawrath)
Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enric Nawrath)
Richard Wagner Tristan und Isolde; Petra Lang, Stefan Vinke, Georg Zeppenfeld, Greer Grimsley, Christa Mayer, dir: Katharina Wagner, cond: Christian Thielemann
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 5 July 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The cast included a formidable trio of Wagner heavyweights: Stefan Vinke, Petra Lang and Georg Zeppenfeld

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enric Nawrath)
Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enric Nawrath)
Arguably, one of the greatest works ever written to pure erotic love echoing the legendary days of King Arthur, this thoughtful and enlightening production of Tristan und Isolde directed by Katharina Wagner first came to the stage in 2015 therefore, sadly, this is its last outing on the Green Hill.

Katharina Wagner's production of Tristan und Isolde at the 2019 Bayreuth Festival (seen 16 August 2019), featured Stefan Vinke as Tristan, Petra Lang as Isolde, Georg Zeppenfeld as King Mark, Greer Grimsley as Kurwenal and Christa Mayer as Brangäne, with Christian Thielemann conducting.

A highly-impressive first act - not just musically speaking but visually speaking, too - focused on Tristan and Isolde frantically searching for each other against all the odds with Kurwenal and Brangäne struggling to keep them apart. When they eventually meet it proved a powerful and emotive scene. The lovers just stared longingly and lovingly at each other in total silence while the love potion that Brangäne prepared for Isolde is immediately discarded by her as the couple’s love was already vacuumed sealed.

What makes this act so highly impressive, engaging and so full of mystery is greatly helped by Frank Philipp Schlößmann and Matthias Lippert’s brilliantly-designed set comprising a three-dimensional labyrinth of stairs evaporating into thin air influenced, no doubt, by the work of Giovanni Piranesi or MC Escher but it was Piranesi’s engraving - Il ponte levatoio: Le Carceri d’Invenzione (The drawbridge: the Imaginary Prison) - cited in the programme.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Electronic music pioneer Roger Doyle honoured by the Irish government

Roger Doyle
The Irish composer Roger Doyle received the honour of Saoi, the highest award open to an Irish artist. Doyle was presented with the symbol of the office of Saoi, the gold Torc by Irish President, Michael D. Higgins on 16 August 2019. The honour is bestowed by Aosdána, the state-supported association of Irish artists. Former award-winners include Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel and Louis Le Brocquy.

Roger Doyle is known for his pioneering work in electronic music. His electronic opera Heresy premiered in Dublin in 2016, and was recorded on the Heresy label [see my review], whilst his 2015 work Time Machine combines electro-acoustic score written and performed by Doyle with answer-phone messages [see my review].

A provocative production in so many ways, Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s Parsifal was sensitively directed and performed by a brilliant cast

Wagner: Parsifal - Ryan McKinny - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Parsifal - Ryan McKinny - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner Parsifal: Günther Groissböck, Ryan McKinny, Elena Pankratova, Andreas Schager, Wilhelm Schwinghammer, Derek Welton, dir: Uwe Eric Laufenberg, cond: Semyon Bychkov; Bayreuth Festival, Germany
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 5 July 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Gérard Naziri’s stardust ride through the Galaxy to the Land of the Grail proved a remarkable and visually-exciting video sequence

Wagner: Parsifal - Elena Pankratova, Andreas Schager - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Parsifal
Elena Pankratova, Andreas Schager
Bayreuth Festival 2019 (photo Enrico Nawrath)
Specifically written for the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, Wagner described Parsifal as ‘ein Bühnenweihfestspiel’ (A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage) not an opera thereby underlying the work’s deeply-religious overtones. The philosophical ideas of the libretto, however, fuses Christianity and Buddhism but the trappings of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th-century poem - focusing on the Arthurian hero Parzival and his long quest for the Holy Grail - are essentially Christian based.

The 2019 revival of Uwe Eric Laufenberg's production of Wagner's Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival (seen 15 August 2019) featured Ryan McKinny as Amfortas, Wilhelm Schwinghammer as Titurel, Günther Groissböck as Gurnemanz, Andreas Schager as Parsifal, Derek Welton as Klingsor and Elena Pankratova as Kundry, conducted by Semyon Bychkov.

In this compelling and rewarding production by German director, Uwe Eric Laufenberg, he sensitively portrayed the religious aspect of the work especially at the end of Act I where one witnesses the Christ-like figure of Amfortas (magnificently portrayed by the gifted American bass-baritone, Ryan McKinny) wearing a crown of thorns covered only by a loin-cloth re-enacting the Crucifixion with members of the Brotherhood - now seen as a community of Christian monks - gathered closely round him receiving Holy Communion partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Working in partnership with dramaturg Richard Lorber, Mr Laufenberg also rethought the traditional scenario of the work by dumping the setting of Montsalvat - the revered castle of the knights of the Holy Grail in medieval Spain - and switching it to Islamic State’s Middle Eastern-held territory of northern Iraq.

A bomb-scarred church provided the setting for Act I (for the mosque featured in Act II a decorative blue-tile wall sufficed) while its sanctuary lamp, used in Christian and Jewish centres of worship, remained intact. Here the monks go about their day-to-day business of serving the needs of the weak and homeless brought about by the ravages of war with families of mixed faiths sleeping on makeshift canvas beds and kept under tight surveillance by a small group of armed soldiers.
Wagner: Parsifal - Derek Welton - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Parsifal - Derek Welton - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (photo Enrico Nawrath)

Monday 19 August 2019

Prom 35: ‘Pictured within’ – Birthday variations for M.C.B. (Martyn Brabbins' 60th birthday)

Martyn Brabbins with nine of the composers contributing to his Proms’ birthday celebration piece (photo: Chris Christodoulou)
Martyn Brabbins with nine of the 14 composers who contributed to his BBC Proms’ 60th birthday celebration piece
(photo: Chris Christodoulou)
Pictured within – Birthday variations for M.C.B.; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Guest Review by Jill Barlow on 13 August 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
John Pickard, composer of new finale: 'This is a new beginning'

The world premiere of Pictured within – Birthday variations for M.C.B., a new Enigma Variations commissioned by the BBC took place at Prom 35 at the Royal Albert Hall on 13 August 2019, when Martyn Brabbins conducted the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in a concert which also included RVW's Serenade to Music and Brahms' Song of Destiny. The new piece, celebrating Brabbins' 60th birthday, reflects the overall shape of Elgar's ever-popular Enigma Variations, using a new theme by an anonymous composer followed by a new set of 14 variations by chosen living composers - Dai Fujikura, David Sawer, Sally Beamish, Colin Matthews, Iris ter Schiphorst, Brett Dean, Wim Henderickx, Richard Blackford, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Dame Judith Weir, Gavin Bryars, Kalevi Aho, Sir Anthony Payne, John Pickard.

Martyn Brabbins decided to celebrate his current 60th Birthday with the world premiere of a new set of Enigma Variations written especially for him by 14 varied composers who were associated with his career. He chose an anonymous composer to write a new theme tune to guide the work along and as reviewer Barry Creasy wrote this week for Music OMH, words to the effect that despite disparate styles:- ‘the new variations hung together extremely well’.

This is what we look for of course in a premiere especially at the ever popular BBC Proms, something that meaningfully engages the mind, imagination and above all the ear. I was particularly drawn to try to get to review this ambitious new work, since by coincidence in August 2017 when having just attended to review, the premiere of to my mind a less successful work, and just about to depart from the Albert Hall Foyer – I reported :- ‘I was about to venture forth into the (blustery) night but was caught in my tracks by the enigmatic sounds of Elgar’s Nimrod issuing forth from the concert hall, played as I’ve never heard it played before, slow and with a hushed opening, absolutely beautiful. Now I don’t usually go much for Elgar, often a touch too pompous by half, but what a composer and what definition of movements – that’s a refreshing thought-----’.

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