Sunday 31 May 2020

A Life On-Line: Agrippina from The Grange, Sadko from Flanders, Les Troyens from the Met and Messiah from Bristol

Handel: Messiah - Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Jamie Beddard, The Erebus Ensemble, The English Concert - Bristol Old Vic 2017 (Photo Jack Offord)
Handel: Messiah - Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Jamie Beddard, The Erebus Ensemble, The English Concert - Bristol Old Vic 2017 (Photo Jack Offord)

This week our opera viewing had two themes, Handel (in the form of Agrippina and Messiah) and operatic epics (in the form of Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko and Berlioz' Les Troyens).

Our viewing week started with Handel's Agrippina from The Grange Festival in 2018 [see my review]. Walter Sutcliffe's vividly theatrical production sets the piece in a theatre with Anna Bonitatibus, Raffaele Pe and Christopher Ainslie all scheming to succeed Ashley Riches' theatre director Claudio, with Stefanie True as Poppea (what Winton Dean described as one of Handel's 'sex kitten' roles!). In the theatre, the performance made strong use of the small theatre, and film brought us even closer to the singers. With some great Handel singing and playing; Robert Howarth directing the Academy of Ancient Music. The performance is available for a limited time, with Bernstein's Candide and Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro to come; see the festival's streaming page for details.

We have been continuing our exploration of the operas of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; he wrote 16 in all, containing some of his finest music yet they are woefully unexplored in the West. Flemish Opera produced Rimsky-Korsakov's 1895/96 folk-tale Sadko in 2017, directed by Daniel Kramer and conducted by Dmitri Jurowski, with Zurab Zurabishvili, Betsy Horne, Anatoli Kotscherga, Victoria Yarovaya and Raehann Bryce-Davies. It is a strange, complex tale inspired by a Russian oral epic poem, and as with any folk material there is a lot happening below the surface. Kramer's production brought it into the 20th century, and dropped the Russian background, concentrating on the work's dramatic undercurrents. Not everything worked, but Jurowski drew strong performances from his team, and it whets my appetite for seeing it live. See Opera Ballet Vlaamse's streaming page for details.

On Friday there was another operatic epic, Berlioz' Les Troyens from the Metropolitan Opera. We saw Francesca Zamballo's production in New York when it was new in 2004 (with Deborah Voigt, Michelle DeYoung, Ben Heppner and James Levine). This was the 2013 revival, conducted by Fabio Luisi with Deborah Voight returning as Cassandre, Susan Graham as Didon and Bryan Hymel as Aeneas. Zamballo's production is colourful and traditional, though a bit busy for my taste, and she deals with the work's dramaturgical problems by inventing business for characters. Thankfully the aerial ballet for Dido and Aeneas during the Royal Hunt and Storm had been re-thought since 2004; it is interesting that of all the productions of the opera I have seen, only one, that directed by Richard Jones at English National Opera followed Berlioz' stage directions for the Royal Hunt and Storm!. It was lovely to see Hymel's youthful and vibrant Aeneas again [we first saw him in the role in Amsterdam in 2010, see my review, and again at Covent Garden in 2012, see my review]. He makes character's explosive first entry seem easy, in the right way, and impressed throughout. Deborah Voigt was a dignified Cassandre, her dramatic soprano coping with the role's low tessitura with ease. We saw Susan Graham as Didon in John Eliot Gardiner's performance of Les Troyens at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris in 2003, performances notable for the musical rather than dramatic values (there is a DVD recording capturing the vivid historically informed performance), and here ten years later she was profoundly dignified and very, very moving, very much in the Janet Baker mould.

Finally, we returned to Handel for a staging which isn't strictly an opera. It has become common to stage Handel's oratorios, but I had always shied away from the idea of staging Messiah. But there have been successful stagings of Bach's Passions, so why not Messiah and for its librettist Charles Jennens, the piece explicitly told a story even though there were no named characters, and much of the work was done by the chorus. Bristol Old Vic has put its 2017 staging of Handel's Messiah on its streaming platform, available until 5 June 2020, and it is well worth catching. Tom Morris' production is small scale and intimate, using the Erebus Ensemble and the English Concert, directed by Harry Bicket with soloists Julia Doyle, Catherine Wyn Rogers, Joshua Ellicott, Brindley Sherratt and Henry Ashbee (treble). The action starts with the disciples around the body of the Beloved (actor Jamie Beddard), gathered to mourn and then to tell the story, circling back round to the opening again but after a profound communal experience. Not everything worked (the film rather glossed over Beddard's washing of audience member's feet), but having everything off the book, in a small space, creating a tautly dramatic and very vivid performance. This was completely engrossing in a way that concert performances rarely are. And this was very much a communal performance, if soloists on stage during the choruses sang them as well. Full details from the Bristol Old Vic website.

I have always loved Fascinating Aida, in fact appeared on the same bill as them back in the 1980s when directing the Pink Singers! Dillie Keane had her own wonderful take on the present crisis [YouTube]

Conductor John Andrews is one of those people whose work I always enjoy, whether it be conducting a rare Arne opera or excavating unfairly neglected late 19th century English opera. Whilst in lockdown he has been producting his Brief History of Opera; well worth a look [YouTube]. Since April, pianist Anyssa Neumann has been working her way through Bach's Goldberg Variations, every few days performing one from memory, and talking about it before-hand. She has a complete playlist on YouTube. Another pianist, Nafis Umerkulova has been encouraging us to explore rather rarer repertoire, and she has created a video the Russian composer Alexei Stanchinsky and his Three Preludes [YouTube]

Composer Alex Groves was intended to have Curved Form (St Endellion) performed as a commission by the Manchester Collective. As this has not been able to happen yet, he has released it in electronic form. He describes is thus - 'Created whilst on a residency in St Endellion and inspired by the vivid colours of the Cornish coastline, the piece occupies a single harmonic world - an unchanging vista - in which the features remain the same but their appearance is constantly changing.' [BandCamp]. Thomas Foster's Unheard: Unseen project challenged composers to work together collaboratively and anonymously on new pieces of music. The resulting three pieces were streamed, performed by Sarah Parkes Bowen, Gavin Roberts and the Locus Ensemble, featuring 14 different composers [Facebook]

English Touring Opera's sequence of videos continue, and I was rather struct by one where two members of The Old Street Band discussed gut strings, central to the sound-world of period string performance and fascinating to learn more [YouTube]. And the percussion section of the orchestra of the Royal Opera House had intriguing solutions to the problem of how to perform the descent into Nibelheim from Wagner's Das Rheingold under lockdown with no access to all those anvils! [Twitter]. And Nicol Edmonds, a soloist with the Royal Ballet, impressed with his amazing sense of balance, even under lock down; we rather take this for granted in dancers, being seeing him do it in his back garden rather brings it home. [Instagram]

Finally more long distance lieder, pianist Roger Vignoles and soprano Louise Alder in Richard Strauss' Morgen [YouTube] The song itself is fascinating as, though it is commonly sung by a woman, the text was written by a man about a man (thought at the time he set it, we don't think that Richard Strauss knew this), and Strauss' own recorded performances of the song are with a male soloist [see my article Richard Strauss and the gay sensibility]

Saturday 30 May 2020

Thaïs: Massenet's lyric drama gets a rare outing on disc in a stylish performance with Canadian forces conducted by Sir Andrew Davis

Massenet Thaïs; Erin Wall, Joshua Hopkins, Andrew Staples, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis; Chandos
Massenet Thaïs; Erin Wall, Joshua Hopkins, Andrew Staples, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis; Chandos

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 May 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A fine new recording of Massenet's lyric drama with Canadian forces which brings out the work's character and style

Seeing Massenet's Thaïs at the Royal Northern College of Music in the 1970s was the first time that I really fell in love with opera. Thaïs wasn't my first opera, but it was my first exposure to the glamour of 19th century romantic opera and the seductive nature of such performances, even if the critics were a bit sniffy at the college for selecting Thaïs (as opposed to 'proper' Massenet operas like Manon or Werther). It had a good cast too, with Glenville Hargreaves, Mary Thomas and Robin Leggate (plus one Diana Montague as Myrtale). After this first exposure, it was a long, long time before I saw the opera again and the only time I have seen it staged was when Grange Park Opera did it 2006, directed by David Fielding with Anne-Sophie Duprels, Ashley Holland and Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts.

Now, I have a confession, I have always preferred Thaïs to Manon, perhaps because I have always preferred Thaïs, as a character to Manon. Whereas I find the character of Manon profoundly annoying (and have little patience with Des Grieux either), I have no trouble with Thaïs and Athanaël even though critics often have problems with the rather schematic nature of Thaïs; the man of God going bad and the good-time girl going good, on separate but intersecting paths. That also hints at one of the problems with the opera, whilst the role of Thaïs is the name part and is written for a diva (the first Thaïs was Massenet's then muse the American soprano Sybil Sanderson), the role of Athanaël is profoundly important and just as long as, and as significant as, the title role. So to make it work you need a star soprano who can do both sexy and religious, and a charismatic lyric baritone. Not much then.

Not surprisingly, many of the opera's outings have been in concert performances (London has seen it as such at the Royal Opera and from Chelsea Opera Group). This new recording of Massenet's Thaïs on Chandos is based on concert performances with a distinct Canadian slant given by Sir Andrew Davis and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with Erin Wall as Thaïs and Joshua Hopkins as Athanaël (both Canadian), plus Andrew Staples as Nicias, and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

Friday 29 May 2020

We will not make art in isolation: Tête à Tête - a manifesto and a festival for 2020

Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival
For over 20 years each Summer, Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival has been bringing people together to create new opera. From the very beginning, the festival has been about much more than performance. It brings creative artists and performers together to talk about opera, imagine it, create it and experiment with ideas about what opera is exactly, with the festival being as much about the creative act, with operas in various states from tentative beginnings to the fully formed. This year will be no different, despite lockdown.

Tête à Tête and artistic director Bill Bankes-Jones have produced a Manifesto for a real opera festival in an imaginary world. Essentially it is a document supporting the idea of the creation of opera in whatever the circumstances, 'We are artists who create opera', 'We can do anything', 'We work together, and together with our audiences. We will not make art in isolation', 'This can be a real space, or a space in our imaginations'.

So the 2020 festival will be about the creation of opera, whether in a real space or a space of imagination. Bankes-Jones and the team are working towards a real festival, in a real place (The Cockpit Theatre) later this year, but situations and circumstances change. And the fundamental idea about Tête à Tête is that artists come together, in whatever the space.

So Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2020 will indeed be going ahead - whether by the act of imagination, or in an eventual real physical space. Both online and offline, artists and companies involved in the festival will share the creative work behind their imaginary operas, from the draft libretti to the visual references that inspire them.

Further information from their website.

Walking Home: Sound Journeys for Lockdown

Walking Home © Opera North
Opera North has a history of commissioning sound walks and installations, such as 2017's The Height of the Reeds: a sound walk for the Humber Bridge. And as part of BBC Arts and Arts Council England’s Culture in Quarantine programme, Opera North has commissioned Walking Home: Sound Journeys for Lockdown. The commission will feature music from cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe (one of Opera North's 2020 Resonance artists, see my article), qanun virtuoso Maya Youssef, oud player and composer Khyam Allami, vocalist, violinist and songwriter Alice Zawadski, and accordionist/composer Martin Green of the folk trio Lau.

Each of the 15-minute pieces will offer new context for walking and solitary activity, an opportunity to renew our imaginative connections with our environment, and the styles of the various pieces offer a vibrant cross-section of music making in Britain today.

The artists are currently writing and recording their pieces in home studios across the UK and Europe. Walking Home will be available through broadcast slots across BBC Radio and Television, through podcasts on BBC Sounds, and via the BBC Arts website,


A silent scream: Igor Levit to perform Eric Satie's 'Vexations' in support of performing artists world-wide

Igor Levit (Photo Markus C. Hurek)
Igor Levit (Photo Markus C. Hurek)
The pianist Igor Levit has been giving regular performances from home on-line since lockdown, now he will be taking things a little further an on Saturday 30 May 2020 will be performing Eric Satie's Vexations, a 20-hour piece which consists of 840 repetitions of a theme and variations.

Levit is giving the performance to raise awareness of the plight of artists world-wide, with the shutdown of theatres, concert-halls and cinemas, and few guidelines as to when these might be operable in the future. So for countless performing artists, the present crisis is an existential one.

Levit has evidently long wanted to perform Vexations, commenting that "The 840 repetitions herald early on a future of aesthetic repetitiveness.  The sheer duration of over 20 hours of ‘Vexations’ doesn't feel like a ‘nuisance’ to me, as the title would suggest, but rather a retreat into silence and humility. It reflects a feeling of resistance.  That's why it feels right to play the ‘Vexations’ right now. My world and that of my colleagues has been a different one for many weeks now and will probably remain so for a long time. ‘Vexations’ represents for me a silent scream".

Levit's performance is supported by the Gilmore Foundation, and Vexations will be streamed by the Gilmore Foundation, The New Yorker, and Der Spiegel, as well as on Igor Levit's Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Paganini Technique Postcards lead up to the final weekend of the Virtual Benedetti Sessions

Every day this week as part of its Virtual Sessions, violinist Nicola Benedetti's Benedetti Foundation has been featuring a pair of violinists talking about one of the variations from Paganini's Caprice No. 24. So far, the episodes of these Paganini Technique Postcards have included Nancy Zhou and Elena Urioste, Alina Ibragimova and Ilya Gringolts, Timothy Chooi and Augustin Hadelich, Philippe Quint and Pekka Kuusisto [All the postcards are on a playlist on Nicola Benedetti's YouTube channel].

On Saturday 30 May 2020, as part of the final weekend of the Virtual Sessions, there will be a complete performance of Paganini's Caprice No. 24 played by this incredible group of virtuosos, Nancy Zhou, Alina Ibragimova, Yume Fujise, Timothy Chooi, Augustin Hadelich, Ilya Gringolts, Philippe Quint, Andrés Cardenes, Tessa Lark, Pekka Kusisto, Elena Urioste, and Nicola Benedetti.

In the first two weeks of the Virtual Sessions, the foundation has has published over 200 videos, delivered 46 live Zoom sectionals to approx. 1,700 string players weekly, 300 instrumental teachers and delivered 25 live sessions, with 7,157 people signed up for the Virtual Sessions in five days, and YouTube content has been viewed over 400,000 times.

The whole weekend (30 & 31 May) is full of on-line goodies as a celebration of the culmination of the first Virtual Benedetti Sessions. There will be interviews with Nicola Benedetti and her sister Stephanie about their musical childhood, panel discussions on performance anxiety and other topics, Facebook Live sessions with foundation tutors and a final celebration concert  featuring the four pieces that have been worked on over the last three weeks: Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, an abridged version of RVW’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis & a special arrangement of Paganini’s Caprice 24 by the Ayoub Sisters  (Sun 31 May, 16.00/YouTube & Facebook)

Thursday 28 May 2020

Uncompromising large-scale drama: composer and performers on thrilling form in Adès conducts Adès from Deutsche Grammophon

Adès conducts Adès - Thomas Adès Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Totentanz; Kirill Gerstein, Christianne Stotijn, Mark Stone, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Adès; Deutsche Grammophon
Adès conducts Adès
- Thomas Adès Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Totentanz; Kirill Gerstein, Christianne Stotijn, Mark Stone, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Adès; Deutsche Grammophon

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 May 2020
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)

Composer and performers in thrilling form in two of Thomas Adès' recent large scale works recorded live in Boston

This new disc from Deutsche Grammophon, Adès conducts Adès, features composer Thomas Adès conducting live recordings of two of his more recent works with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra of 2018 written for Kirill Gerstein (who is the soloist here) and Totentanz of 2013 with soloists Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano) and Mark Stone (baritone).

Adès has a fruitful relationship with Boston Symphony Orchestra, and was created Artistic Partner in the 2016-2017 season, with Adès conducting a range of his own music and that of other composers with the orchestra. The recording of Totentanz on this disc was taken from Adès' first concerts as the BSO's Artistic Partner in November 2016. The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was BSO's first commission from Adès and the recording is taken from the world premiere performances of the piece.

Kirill Gerstein & Thomas Adès (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Kirill Gerstein & Thomas Adès
(Photo Marco Borggreve)
Pianist Kirill Gerstein has a strong association with Adès, not only was the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra written for him but other works too including the Berceuse from The Exterminating Angel, and the two have performed and recorded Adès' Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face for two pianos (on a forthcoming Myrios release In Seven Days). In Autumn 2012, Adès and Gerstein were preparing for performances of Adès' In Seven Days for piano and orchestra with the BSO, when Gerstein requested a solo work from Adès. It was Adès himself who suggested 'a proper piano concerto'. In earlier works such as his symphony-like Asyla, his concertos for violin (Concentric Paths), piano (Concerto Conciso and In Seven Days), and cello (Lieux retrouvés), Adès approached established genres in somewhat sideways fashion, but in the baldly named Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (no subtitle) Adès confronts the genre head on, in a way few contemporary composer have.

The result has many traditional elements including its three movement, fast-slow-fast form and Adès use of thematic development. The solo part is fearsome and makes full use of Gerstein's phenomenal technique and amazing power (he is a pianist who has recorded Ferrucio Busoni's Piano Concerto, again with the BSO, see my review).

We plunge straight in, with piano and orchestra going at it in a way which evokes concertos by Bartok, Prokofiev and RVW (I would love to hear Gerstein in RVW's piano concerto). Adès does not go for the orchestral peroration and piano response style of concerto, instead the piano is almost continuous and the style fluid, so that in the opening movement, marked 'Allegramente', there are lyrical sections, whilst in the slow movement, 'Andante gravemente' we have tension and highly strenuous moments. The fast and furious final movement brings out, particularly in the orchestra, another influence that has been bubbling under, that of Olivier Messiaen. The sound world is never less than Adès, but there are hints of the older composer.

It is not a comfortable work and for all the moments of lyricism, the piano part feels restless, as if the soloist is constantly searching for something, sometimes supported by the orchestra, sometimes fighting. And there are surprising hints of more popular style which float through the work (Adès has used popular styles in his own way before, and of course Gerstein plays jazz as well).

Applications now open for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and St Mary's Music School's new SCO Youth Academy

SCO Youth Academy
Having successfully created the SCO String Academy and SCO Wind Academy, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) is once again partnering with St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh for the SCO Youth Academy, a new, high quality orchestra for young musicians which will offer school-aged young musicians the opportunity to work with top professionals over a series of Sunday afternoon sessions in the centre of Edinburgh. Designed to complement existing provision, it aims to enhance musical learning in a welcoming environment.

The orchestra will be conducted by SCO violinist Gordon Bragg and tutored by SCO musicians. It will be open to spiring secondary school-aged orchestral musicians who have reached Grade 6+ for strings and timpani and percussion, Grade 7+ for winds and brass and who are able to commit to a series of five sessions. Repertoire for this course is Sibelius' Finlandia and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade movements 1 and 3 and places will be allocated following submission of a successful video audition. The first session is scheduled to take place on 1 November 2020, with SCO String and Wind Academies planned for February to March 2021.

St Mary's Music School was started in 1880 as the Song School of St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, to educate the choristers of the newly built St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh. The school started to expand in the early 1970s to create a Scottish school modelled on the Yehudi Menuhin School in England.

Applications are now open, see the SCO website for details; applications will be emailed full instructions about how to send their audition video.

National Opera Studio's 2019/20 Young Artists' Farewell Concert

National Opera Studio - 2019/20 Young Artists
National Opera Studio - 2019/20 Young Artists
Next Friday, 5 June 2020, should have been the Farewell Concert for the 2019/20 intake of Young Artists at the National Opera Studio (NOS). It doesn't seem five minutes since we caught the Young Artists in one of their showcase concerts at the start of their year [see my article], and in February they presented Opera to Die For at Wales Millennium Centre and Sadler's Wells Theatre. [see my article]

In fact, the Farewell Concert is still taking place, but this year, thanks to the strange times we live in, the concert will be taking something of a different form. Taking place on-line, on the NOS YouTube channel, the event will consist of a wide range of videos celebrating the singers' and repetiteurs' time at the centre, all of it curated by the Young Artists themselves.

The videos will include individually sung arias and creative collaborative ensemble performances, all of which will be brought together into one film and premiered next Friday (5 June) the NOS YouTube Channel. I hope you will join them to wish them well on their way.

Full details from the NOS website.

Wednesday 27 May 2020

A disc that I never wanted to end: Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe displays clarity, structure and an innate sense of elegance in Bach's solo lute music on Delphian

Bach Lute Suite in E minor, Partita in C minor, Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major; Sean Shibe; DELPHIAN
Bach Lute Suite in E minor, Partita in C minor, Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major; Sean Shibe; DELPHIAN

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 May 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Three of Bach's work for lute have a complex textual history, but we forget that faced with such superb Bach playing from the young Scottish guitarist

Bach's relationship to the lute is somewhat tantalising. We know that when he died, he possessed one, and that throughout his life he used the lute as one of the instruments to introduce interesting sonorities into pieces. He was familiar with lutenists, and as late as 1740 the Dresden court lutenist, Sylvius Leopold Weiss visited Bach's house in Leipzig. But if Bach played the instrument, it was probably not with great facility and when Bach wrote for it, he used conventional notation rather than lute tablature.

And over Bach's works for solo lute there hangs the suggestion that he wrote them for a lautenwerk, a lute-harpsichord (a keyboard instrument strung with gut strings). Frustratingly, no examples of the instrument survive from the 18th century, but it has been reconstructed. Back in 1715 in Weimar, one of Bach's employers, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, acquired a lautenwerk from one of Bach's cousins through Bach's good offices, and Bach would have one made for himself in 1740. But Bach used to perform the solo violin works on keyboard, and that he might have used a lautenwerk to play a Lute Suite, does not prevent him having written it for a lutenist.

Part of the problem is that we know Bach's music for the early lute pieces via other people's copies, we don't have Bach's original. So that all we have to go on is reports of him playing the lautenwerk, and mentions of the lautenwerk on later manuscripts in later hands. All very tantalising. Perhaps Bach did write in lute tablature, for lutenists, whilst keeping the music in conventional notation for himself and pupils and what we know is the result of pure serendipity?

Then there is the issue of keys, the Baroque lute tended to be in D minor whilst Bach's Lute Suite BWV 996 is in E minor. The music was popular, many copies (in various keys) of the Partita in C minor BWV 997 survive, for instance. Against this, is that the textures of the pieces work well on the lute. Commentators remain divided, but this is terrific music and deserves to be heard. On this disc from Delphian, Sean Shibe plays three of Bach's lute works in the modern classical guitar, the Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996, the Partita in C minor BWV 997 and the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998.

Regenerate: Orchestras Live's new online conversations series starts with 'Digital: the new performing space'

Orchestras Live - Come Together: The Lost Letters Show  (Photo Paul Bellany)
Orchestras Live - Come Together: The Lost Letters Show  (Photo Paul Bellany)
Orchestras Live has launched a new series of online conversations designed to explore new ideas that challenge the sector’s thinking and help create positive change for our audiences and workforce. Called Regenerate, the series launches on Wednesday 3 June 2020, 11am, with Digital: the new performing space, a panel discussion which goes to the very heart of music making in the current crisis, the issue of artists and ensembles having to put content on-line to try and satisfy artistic demands as a result of the current crisis.

A panel including Jess Gillam (saxophonist), John Nolan (director of Learning & Participation, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) and Paul Carey Jones (bass-baritone, and blogger), discuss such issues as - Can we afford to keep giving our content away for free? Does the sector have the digital skills and workforce to create this content long-term? Are we finding new audiences online or are we talking to an echo chamber? Along with the wider issues of the rush to digitise content.

The event is free, just register at EventBrite.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Richard Danielpour: The Passion of Yeshua

Richard Danielpour The Passion of Yeshua; Hila Plitmann, Matthew Worth, Kenneth Overton, J'Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, James K. Bass, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta; NAXOS
Richard Danielpour The Passion of Yeshua; Hila Plitmann, Matthew Worth, Kenneth Overton, J'Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, James K. Bass, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta; NAXOS

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 May 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint

The Passion of Yeshua is a dramatic oratorio by the contemporary composer Richard Danielpour. Written in 2017, the work has been issued by Naxos in a performance recorded in 2019 with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, UCLA Chamber Singers and soloists Hila Plitmann, Matthew Worth, Kenneth Overton, J'Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon and James K. Bass.

The work is a Passion Oratorio, that is an oratorio written for concert purposes telling the passion story, as opposed to a Passion which sets the Gospel texts and is written for performance in church. (With the adoption of Bach's Passions as concert works we have rather lost the distinction between the two works).

Danielpour has assembled the text himself from both the Christian Gospels and Hebrew Scriptures, to create a work which uses both Hebrew and English for its text. Danielpour's aim seems to have been to get back to an earlier conception of Jesus, perhaps a more Jewish conception, which avoids the '1800 years of European accretions and horrible acts that were committed in Europe in the name of Christianity.' Many of the Hebrew texts, which are sung by the chorus and by the two soprano soloists (as Miryam Magdala and Miryam) are Messianic texts. Another deliberate intention by Danielpour was to bring the role of these two women forward, Miryram Magdala (Mary Magdalene) and Mary the mother of Jesus (Miryam) as they are present in the Gospels but never to the forefront. Women seem to have played a significant role in Jesus' mission, but the creating of the synoptic Gospels during the Roman Empire effectively removed the women from the narrative.

The musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain invite us to come together for a performance of 'Jupiter' from Holsts 'The Planets'

Following the success of the communal (socially-distanced) performance of Beethoven's Ode to Joy (#NYOdetojoy), the musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain are inviting musicians of all standards to share a performance of 'Jupiter' from Holst's The Planets on 29 May 2020 at 5pm. The musicians are looking to inspire others in their local communities, and to make genuine connections through performance using Holst’s rousing ‘Jupiter’ – either putting together a street ensemble, or performing alone somewhere significant to their local area.

The orchestra is asking that every performance, whether physical or digital, be shared using the hashtag #NYOMusicalPlanet, so everyone who takes part can share in the diversity and individuality across our incredible musical planet.

Full details and resources from musicians from the orchestra's website.

The Goldberg Variations: Meditations in Solitude

Trailer 1: Goldberg Variations with Simon Russell Beale from Greengage Ventures on Vimeo.

The conductor Jonathan Berman has been busy during his period of enforced idleness. Berman has curated, directed and produced a film of Bach's Goldberg Variations which combines Bach's music, played by the Ysaye Trio (Willem Stam - cello, Emlyn Stam - viola, Rada Ovcharova - violin) in their own arrangment of the music for string trio, interspersed with poems that illuminate unusual angles on solitude from 19 authors ranging from Wordsworth, Keats and Woolf to Rilke and Hesse, read by Sir Simon Russell Beale, and photographs by the Austrian artist Kristina Feldhammer.

The project is released 31 May 2020, but there is a chance to see it early as there is a preview event on 27 May 2020 which includes a screening and a Q&A with the artists. The preview is pay what you will, with 20% of funds raised going to the Royal Society of Musicians and the remainder to the artists. Details from EventBrite.

Earlier this year, Berman was in the studio with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales recording Symphony No. 1 by the Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Schmidt (1874-1934), as part of Berman's project to record all of Schmidt's four symphonies in time for the 150 anniversary of Schmidt's birth in 2024. The first recording will be issued by Accentus later in the year, and there is a preview on YouTube.

Berman has also created a website, Stand Together Music, which highlights the performances which have been cancelled due to the lockdown.

Monday 25 May 2020

Tracing a youthful relationship: Tony Cooper looks at Britten's links to Norfolk & the city of Norwich

Frank Bridge; Benjamin Britten; Ethel Bridge  by Unknown photographer snapshot print NPG x15184 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Frank Bridge; Benjamin Britten; Ethel Bridge by Unknown photographer
snapshot print NPG x15184 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Norfolk-based music writer, Tony Cooper, traces the steps of Benjamin Britten’s youthful links to the county of Norfolk and, in particular, to the fine city of Norwich.

Born a Suffolk boy on 22nd November 1913 (which also happens to be St Cecilia’s Day, the patron saint of music) at 21 Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft, Edward Benjamin Britten (he dropped his first name early in life) was the son of a dentist and his mother, an amateur choral singer. But practically forgotten about nowadays is to the fact that he forged his early musical talents in Norfolk and, in particular, in the fine city of Norwich. From the tender age of 10, he regularly visited the city for viola lessons with Mrs Audrey Alston, a good friend of his mother and a member of the Norwich String Quartet.

She was heavily involved with classical music in Norwich and practically knew everyone in the music business including the eminent Brighton-born composer, Frank Bridge. He studied at the Royal College of Music from 1899 to 1903 under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and stayed with Mrs Alston while attending meetings of the Norfolk & Norwich Triennial Festival at St Andrew’s Hall, the ‘home’ of the Triennial since its inception in 1824.

What could well be said to be an important part of Britten’s musical education occurred at St Andrew’s Hall on 30th October 1924 when he witnessed Frank Bridge conducting his suite for orchestra, The Sea, while three years later, on 27th October 1927, Mrs Alston urged Bridge (who was in the city conducting the première of his latest work, Enter Spring) to meet the young aspiring Suffolk-born composer. Reluctantly, he agreed to her request. Following an inspection of Britten's music, Bridge heartily accepted him as one of his very few composition pupils.

A young Michael Crawford in the 1959 production of Britten's Noye's Fludde at St Margaret's Church in Lowestoft; cast members pictured with Benjamin Britten (Photo Eastern Daily Press)
A young Michael Crawford in the 1959 production of Britten's Noye's Fludde at St Margaret's Church in Lowestoft; cast members pictured with Benjamin Britten (Photo Eastern Daily Press)
Britten’s links to Norfolk, however, were strengthened when he enrolled at Gresham’s School near Holt in 1928. He was there for less than a couple of years, leaving in July 1930. He found Gresham’s not to his liking. But once he had actually taken leave of his friends and masters he commented: ‘I didn’t think I should be sorry to leave.’ It was at Gresham’s where W H Auden befriended Britten and acted as a mentor to him encouraging him to widen his aesthetic, intellectual and political horizons.

Lifting the Lid: a chance to explore the mysterious world of the piano accompanist

#LiftingtheLid - SImon Lepper & James Baillieu
For those on the outside, the accompanist's art is a somewhat mysterious one, what they do is important and creating partnerships with instrumentalist or vocal is a prime part of their art. Yet few collaborative pianists talk about what they do, it tends to be the other partner whether vocalist or instrumentalist who features in the spotlight. All this is set to change with Simon Lepper's new series on Instagram, #LiftingTheLid, in which he will be talking to fellow collaborative pianists about their art. The first one went out on Friday, with Roger Vignoles and that is still available [Instagram]. Today (25 May 2020) at 4pm (UK time) Simon will be talking to James Baillieu [see my interview with James and violinist Tasmin Little, chatting about their CPE Bach project].

Catch it on Simon's Instagram feed [Instagram:simon_lepper]

Sunday 24 May 2020

A Life On-Line: Der Freischütz and Arabella in Vienna, Orphée et Eurydice in Munich, and Nicky Spence in London

This week we begin and end with tenors; first tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado who with Opera Settecento and Leo Duarte shared a pre-lockdown video, a  lovely account of 'Amor deh lasciami' from Handel's pasticcio, Elpidia - in fact an aria by Orlandini [YouTube, embedded above]. I've managed to miss Jorge's Handel performances at the Göttingen Handel Festival and do look forward to being able to hear him live in the UK soon.

Willingdon House Music is a group of four musicians, Max Mausen (I reviewed Max's debut CD back in 2015), Flavia Hirte, Nicola Barbagli, and Ellen Bundy, living together, who make music regularly on Facebook with delightful programmes ranging from Bach to Bartok to folk-music. Violinist Tasmin Little was on BBC Radio 4 playing Harold Arlen's Somewhere over the rainbow, but only got to play a few notes, so she and her daughter Chloe got together to give us the whole piece [YouTube]. Music on the Rebound contributed a video of flautist Clare Chase in Dai Fujikura's Sandpiper [YouTube]. Pianist Yulia Chaplina's Music for the Mind series this week included a Schubert Impromptu [YouTube], and a chat with pianist Katya Apekisheva [YouTube].

Soprano Gemma Summerfield gave us Ophelie's Mad Scene from Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet accompanied by Ella O'Neil (piano) [YouTube]. Tenor Jesus Leon [see my review of his 2015 CD, Bel Canto] accompanied himself in Ennio Morricone's Se which comes from the film Cinema Paradiso [YouTube]

Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston was remembering performing with lutenist Toby Carr last year for the City Music Foundation and gave us some Barbara Strozzi [YouTube]. Soprano Jessica Hale's account of 'Guardian Angels, O Protect Me' from Handel's The Triumph of Time and Truth was recorded before lockdown with pianist Jo Ramadan [YouTube].

In lieu of talking at the Colorado MahlerFest, Gavin Plumley made a Mahler in Isolation film [Facebook].

Like many people, pianist Simon Lepper has been teaching on-line, and contributed a video of one of his students from the Royal College of Music, soprano Stephanie Hershaw singing Schumann' s Widmung [Facebook]. The problems of rehearsing on-line featured in Richard Barnard's Choir Rehearsal in Lockdown with soprano Elizabeth Karani, tenor Thomas Atkins and pianist Edmund Whitehead [YouTube].

The London Funeral Singers have raised over £1,000 for Hospice UK with their #ASongForThem, providing tribute videos through music for people who have recently been bereaved and shared a special version of Simon & Garfunkel A Bridge over troubled Water [Facebook].

We have attended some lovely concert at Conway Hall over the years, particularly as part of the Sunday Concert Series (which dates back to the 19th century), where I often give pre-concert talks and write the programme notes. And Joanna Wyld and my opera The Gardeners was premiered there last year. The venue is about more than just music, with a regular programme of talks and lectures. They are currently running a #DoorsOpen fundraiser to help them keep going at a time when the venue's income has plummeted [Facebook]

Dutch National Ballet is streaming Ted Brandsen's 2016 ballet Mata Hari all week (until 30 May), and it has a major score by Tarik O'Regan, see the their website.

This week we started off with Weber's Der Freischütz at the Vienna State Opera, a new production by Christian Räth from 2019 which was the first time the opera had been performed there for 20 years (so it isn't just in the UK that Weber's opera gets overlooked). Räth's production replaced the scenario with one where Max was Weber himself, overcoming writer's block via a deal with the devil. I wasn't quite convinced, but there were some spectacular scenes, and terrific performances from Camilla Nylund as Agathe, Andreas Schager as Max, Daniela Fally as Ännchen  and Alan Held as Capar, conducted by Tomáš Netopil.

And we went back to Vienna State Opera for another opera currently rather ignored in the UK, Richard Strauss' Arabella. I have very fond memories of seeing Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role in the 1981 revival of Rudolph Hartmann's 1965 production at Covent Garden conducted by John Pritchard, with Ingvar Wixell as Mandryka (the production lasted right until 1996!). And also remember seeing Josephine Barstow memorably singing the role at English National Opera in the 1980s. Since then, sightings have been rarer. In this 2012 Vienna performance, Emily Magee was a very striking Arabella with Tomasz Konwiczny as a very buttoned up yet rather sexy Mandryka, in a production by Axel Kober which moved the action to the 1920s or 1930s. I am not sure that this translation works, but the performances were very affecting nonetheless.

And over in Munich, at the Bavarian State Opera, there were more unhappy musicians with Vesselina Kasarova's troubled composer Orphée in Nigel Lowery's production of Berlioz's 1859 version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, conducted by Ivor Bolton. Musically this was terrific, with Rosemary Joshua as Eurydice, but Lowery's translating the action to a modern opera house rather weakend the drama somewhat.

We end with another tenor, this time Nicky Spence, whose Janacek recording with Julius Drake won the Vocal category in the BBC Music Magazine Awards. The Friends of English National Opera presented their first on-line event, a delightful evening with Nicky and his partner, pianist Dylan Perez who entertained us with live music from Richard Strauss to Scots song, and chatted as well.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Clouds, Clocks and Improvisation: I chat to composer & pianist Karol Beffa about the separate but related acts of improvisation & composition

Karol Beffa performing at Rencontres de Cannes in 2019 (Photo Loic Thebaud)
Karol Beffa performing at Rencontres de Cannes in 2019 (Photo Loic Thebaud)
The pianist and composer Karol Beffa was due to be giving a concert in London this month, at the Institut Français' Beyond Words literature festival. In the event, the festival went on-line and Beffa performed remotely [available on YouTube], giving a programme in which he improvised on themes provided in advance by the audience.

Beffa is something of a polymath, a distinguished composer and pianist known for his improvisations, he also has degrees in English, History, Mathematics and Musicology, studying in both Paris and at Cambridge. His doctorate in musicology involved a thesis on György Ligeti's Piano Etudes [in 2016 he published a book on the composer], and he now lectures at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. But intriguingly, from the age of seven to 12 he was a child actor, appearing in more than 15 films. As a composer he was written a piano concerto for Boris Berezovsky and a violin concerto for Renaud Capuçon.

I caught up with Karol, via Zoom, at his studio to talk about playing the piano, the act of composition, and how his improvisation relates to his compositions, and not to forget his work in film.

Karol explained that his improvisation in performances came about by accident. Around 20 years ago he was due to give concert, sharing the platform with another pianist, but at short notice he was informed that the other pianist had had to pull out and that Karol would need to play a full programme. There wasn't time to prepare additional repertoire, so he asked if he could improvise. He took themes from the audience and discovered he rather liked it.

Karol admits that part of the excitement of improvising is that it is like a high-wire act in the circus, you have to go from one point to another with the possibility that you will fall into the pit! But clearly, this is the sort of stimulus he enjoys. So though improvisation came about by accident, Karol took it as a sign and it now plays a significant part of his concert-giving as a pianist.

Friday 22 May 2020

From Blackheath to California: moving courses on-line as a result of lockdown has expanded Blackheath Conservatoire's audience to a global one

Blackheath Conservatoire (Photo Alexander Nicolaou )
Blackheath Conservatoire (with Blackheath Halls next door)
(Photo Alexander Nicolaou)
With the rigours of lockdown, didactic arts institutions have had to re-invent themselves so that teaching can continue on-line. In the case of Blackheath Conservatoire, its art, music and drama courses aimed at students of all ages and abilities, have not only been taking place on-line but this has resulted in a significant widening of the audience for classes. Based at London's oldest purpose-built arts centre, Blackheath Conservatoire (founded in 1881, with the present building dating from 1896) used to have around 2000 people a week attending classes, from toddlers to pensioners (there is no audition or entry level requirement, just a desire to learn).

Blackheath Conservatoire logo
Now, post-lock down the conservatoire is offering interactive Zoom classes and on-demand YouTube ‘box sets’ for courses ranging from ukulele for 5-year-olds, to watercolour and drama courses for adults. And going on-line has widened the audience for courses from just those people within commuting distance of Blackheath, so that now there are sign-ups from as far away as Scotland and California.

The conservatoire is best known for its early years music classes that plant the seeds for a lifelong musical journey, the online courses include music sessions for tiny tots, ukulele tuition for three-year-olds and above, and individual instrument lessons for children and adults. But during lockdown, parents are finding that the courses are ideal for those coping with home-schooling, and for those interested in acquiring a new skill.

To encourage uptake of its online courses, special offers will be rolled out on social media, including a Course of the Day offer every day on Facebook, free taster lessons for younger children on Facebook and YouTube during half-term, and exclusive course discounts for their e-newsletter subscribers. Extra tutors will be taken on to support the demand, helping to sustain artists and musicians who have been hit by the loss of work with the closure of venues and orchestras. And the Conservatoire’s roster of summer courses for adults and children of all ages opens for booking in June.

Full details from the Blackheath Conservatoire website, details of the remote-learning courses.


Essential listening for anyone interested in Estonian music: Vox Clamantis' profoundly beautiful account of the music of Cyrillus Kreek, 'The suspended harp of Babel'

The suspended harp of Babel;
Cyrillus Kreek The suspended harp of Babel; Vox Clamantis, Jaan-Eik Tulve, Anna-Liisa Eller, Angela Ambrosini, Marco Ambrosini; ECM Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 May 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Music at once familiar and unfamiliar, the Estonian choir explores the sacred music of one of the founders of the Estonian choral tradition

To listen to the choral pieces on this disc is to hear music which is somehow familiar. The name of the composer Cyrillus Kreek may well be unfamiliar, but his use of Estonian folk-song as material and his way of treating it musically has had great influence in Estonia. To listen to this music is to hear an essential component of the DNA of much 20th century and contemporary Estonian music. The Suspended Harp of Babel from ECM Records features Vox Clamantis and Jaan-Eik Tulve (conductor), Marco Ambrosini and Angela Ambrosini (nyckleharpa), Anna-Liisa Eller (kannel) in four of Kreek's psalm settings, a selection of his arrangements of Estonia folk-hymns, and settings of verses from the Orthodox liturgy.

Estonian folk-music is threaded through Kreek's work, alongside choral music, the two indissolubly intertwined; Kreek would notate nearly 1300 folk songs, both sacred and secular, and would create choral arrangements of around three quarters of these, providing a fundamental component in the make-up of Estonian choirs. [see my article on Cyrillus Kreek for more background]. Whilst in Psalms of David (1923), the music is his own, in Sacred Folk Songs consists of arrangements of existing Estonian folk-material, but there is a continuum between the two and Kreek's own music has all its elements based on folk material, but used in a sophisticated and sympathetic way. To listen to Kreek's music is to hear his influence on Veljo Tormis and Arvo Part, but it is also to hear that Kreek trained in St Petersburg Conservatory (1908-1916) at a time when Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil (Vespers) was premiered. But Kreek's ear for colour, and his way with his material means that he creates his own distinctive world.

Thursday 21 May 2020

Derek Jarman: Words, Music, Pictures and a Garden

The first Derek Jarman film that I saw was Sebastiane (1979) which, at the time, seem unutterably daring with its combination of homo-eroticism, lyrical male nudity and dialogue in dog Latin (the script was written in English then translated by an academic), and reportedly it was the first film passed by the British Board of Film Censors that depicted an erection. Jarman's film making has provided some of my most memorable film images, with two musical ones standing out; the divine Elisabeth Welch singing in The Tempest (and she was in her mid-70s when the film was made), and Annie Lennox singing in Edward II.

Now there is a chance to celebrate Jarman in a different way, as following the Art Fund's successful campaign of Jarman's Prospect Cottage there is a forthcoming exhibition on his art and his garden at the Garden Museum, and BBC Radio 3 celebrates his garden in Words & Music.

Of course, seeing Sebastiane wasn't the first time that I saw Jarman's work, but I found out afterwards that he was production designer on Ken Russell's film The Devils (1971) and Savage Messiah (1972). But Jarman's feature films from this period, Sebastiane, Jubilee (1978), The Tempest (1979), The Angelic Conversation (1985), Caravaggio (1986), right through to Edward II (1991) were some of the few occasions when I saw films in the main-stream cinema which seemed to speak to me as a young gay man.

Jarman purchased Prospect Cottage on the shingle shore at Dungeness in 1986 following his diagnosis as being HIV positive and it formed the backdrop for his 1990 film The Garden. With the death of Jarman's partner, the fate of the cottage, its garden and contents were in doubt and the Art Fund successfully led a campaign to secure Prospect Cottage for the nation.

The cottage is tiny, and unlikely ever to be open to the public in the usual way, but there is a chance to explore it via the Garden Museum's next exhibition, Derek Jarman: my garden's boundaries are the horizon. This will be the first exhibition to focus on Jarman’s love of gardening, and the role of the garden in his life and work, with works of art and film alongside personal artefacts borrowed from inside the cottage, giving a rare opportunity to experience this precious work of art, garden, and life. The exhibition will display paintings and sculptures from throughout Jarman’s career. The museum is currently closed, but check the museum website for details,  and if you want a preview the exhibition catalogue is available to buy.

And on Sunday (24 May 2020), BBC Radio 3's Words & Music programme is on the subject of Derek Jarman's garden, with from Stravinsky's the Rite of Spring to pop songs by the Pet Shop Boys and Annie Lennox which Jarman directed the videos for. Tilda Swinton reads words from Jarman's books Modern Nature, Chroma, and At Your Own Risk, a moving history of homosexuality in the UK, and Samuel Barnett reads poetry including John Donne's The Sun Rising which is inscribed on the wall of Prospect Cottage.

United in Music: international performance of Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins in aid of UN Refugee Agency

United in Music
At 6pm GMT on 28 May 2020, the violinist Schlomo Mintz will lead a group of international instrumentalists in a virtual performance of Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins. The project, United in Music, is to raise funds for the UN Refugee Agency's COVID-19 response (UNHCR), and the performance will be hosted on UNHCR's YouTube channel

The project was initiated by Christine Mori and Alexis Spieldenner of Canadian-based Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts, and now Vivaldi's concerto will be performed by musicians from London, Toronto, Buffalo, New York, San Francisco, Auckland, and Toronto. The soloists in the Vivaldi will be Schlomo Mintz, Carmine Lauri of the London Symphony Orchestra and Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, Jonathan Crow from Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Nikki Chooi from Buffalo Symphony Orchestra.

The programme will also include Mintz's solo rendition of Kreisler's Recitative and Scherzo, and a string version of Rachmaninov's Vocalise performed by young violinists, competition winners and some professors from Albanian, Austria, Australia, Argentine, Brazil, Canada, China, UK, Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Holland, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Taiwan, Singapore, Spain, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, USA and South Korea. Each instrumentalist will rehearse and record in their own home.

You can contribute to UNHCR's fund-raiser by donating at, and the concert will be on UNHCR's YouTube channel.

To establish immediate paid opportunities for music creators, so that they can continue working, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival sets up commissioning fund

Jake Burdass, one of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival's Young Curators
Jake Burdass, one of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival's Young Curators
In response to the ongoing crisis, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival has announced a fundraising campaign to provide five £1,000 commissions for UK-based artists affected by the present crisis. Each commission would be for a 15-minute work to be presented at a future edition of the festival. Through the commissions, the festival is seeking to establish immediate paid opportunities for music creators, so that they can continue working, and earning, while securing a commitment that their work will appear at future events.

As a result of being one of the PRS Foundations' Talent Development Partners, the festival has a number of other initiatives supporting young creatives. The Young Curators’ Programme is supporting five Kirklees-based curators in taking their next career steps, developing talent and leadership amongst the music programmers, promoters and curators of the future. Programme participants include Jake Burdass, founder of Huddersfield venue and studio community hub, BASSment, and you can read more about Jake in a profile on the festival's website.

The festival has partnered with Yorkshire Sound Women Network (YSWN) and the Centre for Research in New Music (CeReNeM) at the University of Huddersfield to create Sound Pioneers, a project offering residencies to create a new piece of music which will be performed at a future edition of the festival.

Please think about donating to the festival's COVID-19 Commissioning Fund.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Music for concentrated and serious listening: Piers Hellawell's Up by the Roots on Delphian

Up by the roots, recent works by Piers Hellawell; Fidelio Trio, Sinead Morrissey, Paul Watkins, Huw Watkins, William Howard, Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, Ulster Orchestra; Delphian
Up by the roots, recent works by Piers Hellawell; Fidelio Trio, Sinead Morrissey, Paul Watkins, Huw Watkins, William Howard, Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, Ulster Orchestra; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 May 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
This disc of music from the last decade showcases the sheer diversity and strength of composer Piers Hellawell's work

This new disc of work by composer Piers Hellawell, the second disc of his work on Delphian, showcases music composed in the decade 2009-2019, as well as celebrating various creative partnerships that Hellawell has developed. We hear Up by the Roots for piano trio and narrator performed by the Fidelio Trio with Sinead Morrissey reading her own words, atria performed by cellist Paul Watkins and pianist Huw Watkins, Ground Truthing performed by the Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, conductor Sinead Hayes, Piani, Latebre performed by pianist William Howard and Wild Flow performed by the Ulster Orchestra, conductor Paul Watkins.

Hellawell is based in Belfast where he is professor of composition at Queen's University, and Bernard Hughes' introductory article in the CD booklet fascinatingly explores the ways that Hellawell is both physically and psychologically somewhat on the fringes of the British musical establishment. There is not doubt that his is a distinctive and characterful talent, and this selection of pieces from a decade helps to form a picture of his current approaches to musical style.

Popular Posts this month