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Monday, 31 August 2020

A Life On-Line: First night of Proms, the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, Samson and Delila in Flanders

BBC Proms - Nicholas Chalmers & BBC Singers (image from live feed)
BBC Proms - Nicholas Chalmers & BBC Singers (image from live feed)

On Friday it was the first of the BBC's live Proms, with Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Nicholas Chalmers conducting the BBC Singers. There was no audience, of course, and the orchestra was spread out far more widely than is usual, but in a way which made the players on film far more easy to see. This became an ensemble of individuals rather than a mass. There were some stunning moments, but the programme was somewhat strange with a trio of American-inspired pieces; a new commission from Hannah Kendall, Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama, inspired by the American artist Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Eric Whitacre's Sleep and Aaron Copland's Quiet City, and then Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 'Eroica'.

Both on the radio and on the TV (the concert was broadcast on BBC Two with a 30-minute delay), the announcers spent a lot of time telling us how special the occasion was, rather than letting the music speak for itself. It would have been good to hear more about Hannah Kendall's inspirations for her piece and see more of Basquiat's images. Her piece was striking, full of imaginative textures and a lovely use of rhythm, though it didn't feel very 1980s and I wondered if it might have been better if we hadn't known about the Basquiat connection. Moving from the Hannah Kendall piece to Eric Whitacre's Sleep, sung by the BBC Singers conducted by Nicholas Chalmers, there was a danger of it being something of a non-sequitur. But the simply stunning performances that Chalmers and the singers gave us (all from memory), giving a real edge to Whitacre's harmonies, meant that the short work had great intensity. This somewhat disparate group of pieces finished with Aaron Copland's Quiet City, always a moving piece but here counterpointed with images of cities under lockdown, and again the performance particularly from Alison Teale (cor anglais) and Phillip Cobb (trumpet) simply blew away any concerns you might have had as to why this piece after the Kendall and the Whitacre.

There followed a wonderfully architectural performance of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, the players giving us strong focussed lines and a terrific sense of Beethoven's structure. This wasn't HIP by a long chalk, but it wasn't late Romantic either, and throughout you sensed the players responding to Oramo's feeling for the work's structure. [BBC iPlayer]

Earlier in the week we caught the TV broadcast of a very special Prom indeed from 2007. The BBC Proms debut of the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela conducted by Gustavo Dudamel in a programme which started with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, and continued with Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and music by Monvayo, Marquez, Ginastera, and Gutierrez. What struck me first was simply how many of them there were, the orchestra was simply huge yet there was no sense of it being unwieldy, and the players responded with almost chamber intensity to Dudamel's direction. The Shostakovich, premiered just after Stalin's death in 1953 and written in the wake of the composer's second denunciation in 1948, is a powerful work. It is also large scale, and what was remarkable was how the young players responded to the intensity of the music, but also followed Dudamel in creating a real sense of scale. Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story are not easy, yet the orchestra threw them off with bravura elan, and followed them with a group of Latin American pieces where their sense of rhythm, and pride in their native composers could thrive. [BBC iPlayer]

Over at Opera Vlaanderen we caught with their 2009 performance of Camille Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila, directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi & Omri Nitzan, conducted by Tomáš Netopil, with Torsten Kerl and Marianna Tarasova in the title roles. Nitzan and Nizar Zuabi are an intriguing duo, one an Israeli Jew, the other Palestinian, and they brought this contemporary focus to Saint-Saens' opera.

Lise Davidsen and James Baillieu live from Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

James Baillieu and Lise Davidsen rehearsing in Oscarshall Palace (Photo Hallvard Bræin)
James Baillieu and Lise Davidsen rehearsing in Oscarshall Palace
(Photo Hallvard Bræin)

Wagner, R. Strauss, Verdi, Puccini, Grieg, Sibelius, Britten, Kalman, Lerner & Loewe; Lise Davidsen, James Baillieu; Oscarshall Palace, Oslo

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 August 2020
The young Norwegian soprano in recital from Norway, combining opera with song and lighter items

On Saturday (29 August 2020) it was the turn of Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen and pianist James Baillieu to perform live as part of the Metropolitan Opera's series Met Stars Live in Concert. Davidsen and Baillieu performed in Oscarshall Palace in Oslo. The recital included operatic arias by Wagner, Richard Strauss, Verdi and Puccini, alongside songs by Grieg, Sibelius, Strauss, Britten, Landon Ronald, Ernest Charles and Lerner and Loewe. [Available on-line until 9 September]

Oscarshall Palace was built in 1852 (before Norwegian independence from Sweden) by King Oscar I. It is rather bijou, a Summer villa rather than large palace, and in the then fashionable neo-Gothic style. The decoration in the dining room, where the concert took place, is a celebration of Norwegian artists. The palace is a venue for the Queen Sonja International Music Competition which Davidsen won in 2015, and which I saw in 2019 [see my article].

We had an introducer to tell us how special the occasion was, though this was soprano Christine Goerke who performed the role with great humour, a short interview between Davidsen and Queen Sonja, and another interview between Davidsen and the Met's Peter Gelb (talking about Davidsen's Met debut as Lise in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades). But the meat of the event was Davidsen and Baillieu's recital.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

At the Gates of the Twighlight Zone: 19'40" explores Bernard Herrmann as part of its eclectic recording series

Recording the 19'40" album 'At the Gates of the Twighlight Zone'
Recording the 19'40" album At the Gates of the Twighlight Zone

Apart from his well-known films, composer Bernard Herrmann's other credits include episodes for the influential television series The Twilight Zone, music which had a big influence on how other composers treated scores for science fiction. Herrmann's music for the series is, perhaps, not as well known to many as it could be, but there is a chance to rectify this. The new subscription-based recording series 19'40" is issuing a disc devoted to Herrmann's music for The Twilight Zone, recordings of performances by 19'40"s own ensemble.

19'40"s Bernard Herrmann disc, At the Gates of the Twighlight Zone is the 12th album in a sequence which began with Progetto Generativo, transcriptions of music from Italian math-rock, noise, avantgarde and metal bands, and then continued with Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat and Il Picchio, music by Louis Andriessen, Edmund Campion, David Lang, Enrico Gabrielli and Nikolay Popov, and since then there have been albums devoted to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (both the original piano version and Emerson, Lake & Palmer's art-rock version), Microcosmicomica, music for children by Cage, Debussy, Bartók, Stravinsky, Gustav Holst's The Planets, and Stockhausen's Tierkreis, alongside releases devoted to music by composers like Chino 'Goia' Sornisi, and Mort Garson, who remain on the very fringes of the average music-lover's consciousness.

19'40" is the brainchild of three Italians, Sebastiano De Gennaro, Francesco Fusaro and Enrico Gabrielli and I caught up with the three of them by Skype to find out more about 19'40". It was a complex call owing the occasional necessity to translate from Italian to English, and the fact that one of the guys was travelling and so his reception was patchy. But their enthusiasm for the project was palpable, and also the sense of a desire to create something distinctive.

19m40s - At the Gates of the Twilight Zone - album cover (Photo and Graphic Design by Rocco Marchi)
19m40s - At the Gates of the Twilight Zone - album cover
(Photo and Graphic Design by Rocco Marchi)

19'40" is not a record label but a subscription based recording series, where people are encouraged to join and thus to explore. They issue three albums per year, with quite a varied repertoire. The three founders all have diverse backgrounds, Enrico Gabrielli is a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, composer and novelist, Sebastiano De Gennaro is a classically trained multi-percussionist, Foley artist, and self-taught composer, and Francesco Fusaro is a DJ, music producer, sound artist and musicologist.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet and James MacMillan's contemporary reflection on the latest disc from Suzi Digby and ORA Singers

Tallis Spem in Alium, MacMillan Vidi Aquam; ORA Singers, Suzi Digby; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 August 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Tallis'40-part motet with a contemporary reflection commissioned to pair with it

Tallis Spem in Alium, MacMillan Vidi Aquam; ORA Singers, Suzi Digby; Harmonia Mundi
On this latest disc from Suzi Digby and ORA Singers on Harmonia Mundi, the choir pairs a pre-existing classic work with a specially commissioned 'reflection', something that they have done with great success on a number of previous discs. Only this time, the context is slightly different in the that classic work is Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet Spem in Alium, and the reflection is James MacMillan's new 40-part motet, Vidi Aquam. For the remainder of the disc, the ensemble (somewhat reduced in size) gives us music by Derrick Gerarde, Alfonso Ferrabosco, William Byrd, Philip van Wilder, and Thomas Tallis.

We don't know much about Thomas Tallis 40-part motet, Spem in Alium. The sources for it all date from after Tallis' death, and the principal source gives it new English words, Sing and Glorify, so it could be used to for the investiture of King James I & VI's son, Prince Henry, as Prince of Wales. It seems curious that such a major piece of English choral history should resound so little in the archives. A letter from the time of the work's revival for Prince Henry, remembered the premiere as being given in the Long Gallery of the Duke of Norfolk's London residence (Has anyone, I wonder, ever tried performing the work in a surviving Elizabethan Long Gallery!) But the Earl of Arundel also owned a copy, and Arundel and owned Nonsuch Palace (built by King Henry VIII) and commentators have long been fascinated with the idea that the motet might have been performed in the round at Nonsuch which had two large octagonal turrets. We will probably never know. Similarly, we can only guess at the occasion for which it was written. And what is even more fascinating is the text, with the suggestion that Spem in Alium may not be the original (it does not fit the music well).

64% of musicians thinking of leaving the profession, and have lost on average £11,300 this year. Horrifying statistics from new survey

Snape Maltings concert hall (Photo Matt Jolly)
Snape Maltings concert hall (Photo Matt Jolly)

The UK music industry contributes £5.2 billion annually to the UK economy and employs nearly 200,000 people [2019 UK Music report], and the vast majority of the people involved are freelancers whose lives have been devastated by the extreme economic effect of the current crisis. So, we all know that the music industry is in trouble, but quite how much of a crisis really is it.

The online musician booking platform, Encore Musicians, recently surveyed 568 musicians to find out exactly what effect the crisis had had on them. Individual cases are heartbreaking, such as the violinist with a 30-year-career who faces the prospect of never playing in an orchestra again, but the way the statistic add up is little less than horrifying.

On average musicians have lost £11,300 from cancellations since March 2020, and 41% have no bookings in the diary for the remainder of 2020 (the average for same period last year was 27 bookings). With an average of two bookings, classical musicians have the lowest number of gigs booked for the remainder of 2020 compared to other genres (Pop musicians are likely to have the fullest diaries with an average of five gigs booked in for the remainder of 2020.)

So, not surprisingly 64% say they are thinking about leaving the music profession, 40% have applied for a non-music job since March, and 20% said they thought it was unlikely they would still be a professional musician 12 months from now.

Predicted earnings in Aug - Dec 2020 vs the same period last year are down by 90% for musicians aged 25-34  (compared to 73% for those aged 65+), and the government is simply not doing enough to support musicians. 41% respondents hadn’t received any government support, whilst 42% had received some kind of non-Governmental support, mainly from the Musicians Union or the charity Help Musicians UK.

You can read more about the survey at the Encore Musicians website, and Encore's CEO James McAulay has created a fascinating (ie horrifying) thread on Twitter complete with graphics.

Using technology to solve the problems of creating live opera in cyberspace: White Snake Projects premiere Jorge Sosa and Cerise Jacobs' 'Alice in the Pandemic'

Jorge Sosa: Alice in the Pandemic - White Snake Projects

Technological limitations restrict what performers can do regarding performing together virtually, this means that everything we hear created in Ccyberspace is carefully constructed, and that the only way to achieve a sense of communal live performance is to have everyone in the same room. 

A new opera, Alice in the Pandemic from the American company White Snake aims to overcome these limitations thanks to a team of technological innovators whose work will enable performers to perform live simultaneously whilst being separate. Led by artistic director Cerise Jacobs, White Snake plans to premiere the virtual opera Alice in the Pandemic in October. Using Jacobs libretto with music by Jorge Sosa, the work aims to be an up-to-the minute versions of Lewis Carroll's story performed in cyberspace by three singers.

But central to the problem of presenting the opera is the issue of latency, electronic delay involved between the time the sound leaves the singer's mouth and the time it reaches its source. With three singers in three different locations performing live, each receiving the accompaniment, the problem is the latency of the internet, the listener will not hear the three singers as simultaneous. As anyone who has tried to perform over Zoom knows, delays occur because transmission is mediated by the internet itself and the speed of individual computers. The result is time differences, discrepancies between the different strands of the broadcast which can be jarring. 

So, White Snake is using technology to create a solution. The various live broadcasts will be aligned (thanks to the work of Kansas City composer and sound designer Jon Robertson), and woven into a single whole (thanks to software from Virginia-based video engineer Andy Carluccio), which means that the resulting broadcast will be experienced in HD. Then there is video and CGI thanks to Curvin Huber, which adds another complex layer to the broadcast!

The performers will be soprano Carami Hilaire as Alice, counter-tenor Daniel Moody as the White Rabbit and mezzo-soprano Eva Gigliotti as Alice's mother, led by musical director Tian Hui Ng, with a pre-recorded accompaniment of strings, electronics and VOICES Boston children's choir. Music is by New York-based Mexican composer Jorge Sosa, and director is Elena Araoz.

Created by Cerise Jacobs, White Snake Projects creates contemporary American opera, combining music, cutting-edge technology, theatre and dance which debuted in 2016 with three new one-act operas, the Ouroboros Trilogy, to librettos by Jacobs with music by Zhou Long, Scott Wheeler and Paola Prestini.

Alice in the Pandemic premieres on 22 October 2020, full details from White Snake Projects.


Thursday, 27 August 2020

Alondra de la Parra's The Impossible Orchestra raises money for vulnerable women & children in Mexico

Conductor Alondra de la Parra has wanted to create a project to raise money to her vulnerable women and children in her native Mexico.  The idea is to send a message of support and hope to those whose position has been exacerbated by the present crisis. And so The Impossible Orchestra was born.

Working with choreographer Christopher Weeldon, dancer Elisa Carrillo Cabrera and distinguished musicians from 14 countries, she has created a video of her arrangement of Márquez’s Danzón No. 2. Musicians performing include violinist Maxim Vengerov, cellist Jan Vogler, flautist Emmanuel Pahud, including Alondra de la Parra on piano, tenor Rolando Villazón the claves,  and many more. See the website for full listing.

The video will raise money for two Mexican foundations working to combat violence directed at women and children: Fondo Semillas and Save The Children Mexico, and the soundtrack is available from Alpha Records.

 Further  information and donate links from the project website.

New music education resource from NMC

GCSE Composition Resource - NMC
What better way to study music composition than to start with a group of contemporary works. A new GCSE Composition Resource from the NMC label does just that, taking a group of pieces from the NMC catalogue, by Judith Weir, Mark Bowden, Howard Skempton, Errollyn Wallen, Martin Butler and Tansy Davies as the starting point for creative inspiration for students of the composition module of the GCSE syllabus. 

The contemporary composers' music is used as examples and starting points for detailed composition tasks, listening exercises and activities for students, to help them develop their own composition writing. Further listening Spotify playlists demonstrate additional examples from NMC’s catalogue for each composition element explored in the resource, enabling students to explore more.

The resource has been written by the composer Dr Steven Berryman, and is available on the interactive music teaching platform Focus on Sound. In its first three months (April to June 2020) the resource has been used over 12,000  times by users from the UK and worldwide.

The resource is just one of a number of NMC's education initiatives, aimed at assisting the development of emerging talent and inspiring an interest in new music in younger audience, further information at their website.

"NMC's GCSE Composition Resource is a core part of our education strategy, helping us bring music by living British and Irish composers to new audiences in the classroom. Steven Berryman provides simple yet expert analysis for each piece in the resource, which pulls out key tools and examples students can use to inspire and encourage creativity in their own compositions." - Alex Wright, Development and Partnerships Manager, NMC Recordings

Further details from the NMC website, and there are also Spotify playlists.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Opening up: Kings Place announces the start of its Autumn Season

Kings Place
Kings Place has announced the start of its Autumn season, which carefully mixes outdoor events, socially distanced indoor concerts and live-streamed events. Events include the Aurora Orchestra, conductor Nicholas Collon performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 from memory (7/9/2020), outdoors but undercover under the West Handyside Canopy at Kings Cross. It will be the orchestra's first performance since Lockdown, and a preview of their BBC Proms performance of the same symphony three days later.

A pair of taster weekends (18-20/9/2020, 2-4/10/2020) present a wide range of music from The Sixteen, I Fagiolini and Voces8, to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, to Abel Selaocoe.

The Aurora Orchestra's Mozart's Piano returns with chamber versions of Mozart's last three piano concertos with Imogen Cooper, Louis Schwizgebel and Javier Perianes alongside new works by Electra Perivolaris, Sasha Scott, and Syliva Lim. Whilst the Brodsky Quartet will be surveying Beethoven's late string quartets.

Full details from Kings Place's website.

Powerful advocacy: Kiveli Dörken, Christian Tetzlaff and friends in piano music and chamber music by Josef Suk

Josef Suk Piano and Chamber-music; Kiveli Dörken, Christian Tetzlaff, Florian Donderer, Timothy Ridout, Tanja Tetzlaff; ARS Produktion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 August 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Powerful advocacy turns this from a disc of rarities into a superb exploration Josef Suk's smaller scale music


Josef Suk Piano and Chamber-music; Kiveli Dörken, Christian Tetzlaff, Florian Donderer, Timothy Ridout, Tanja Tetzlaff; ARS Produktion
The composer and violinist Josef Suk is perhaps best known as the pupil and son-in-law of Antonin Dvorak, and if we think of Suk's own compositions at all, we tend to think first of his mammoth Asrael Symphony which was written in 1905/6 in memory of Dvorak (who died in 1904) and of Otilie, Suk's wife (who died in 1905). This new disc from Ars Produktion gives us another, more intimate side to Josef Suk. Pianist Kiveli Dörken plays Suk's 1909 suite of 10 character pieces Životem a snem (Things Lived and Dreamt), and she is joined by Christian Tetzlaff and Florian Donderer, violins, Timothy Ridout, viola, and Tanja Tetzlaff, violoncello, for Suk's 1893 Piano Quintet in G major, Op. 8.

Suk's earlier compositions date from the 1880s, but he had his first successes with his Piano Quartet, Op1, Piano Trio Op. 2 and Two pieces for Violoncello and piano, Op. 3 and then came the Piano Quintet in 1893. Clearly Suk's own violin playing (and he founded the influential Bohemian String Quartet in 1891) was a big influence. Other significant influences on the young man's music were his teacher and mentor, Dvorak, and of course Brahms (who had been a big supporter of Dvorak's music), and in fact the Piano Quintet is dedicated to Brahms. But that is not the end of the story because, as with much else of Suk's compositional output, he was not entirely satisfied with it (though it was widely praised) and finally in 1915 he revised the work. But, despite the influences, we can hear Suk's own distinctive character in the music too.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Live music-making cautiously moves indoors

The orchestra of Opera North (Photo Justin Slee)
The orchestra of Opera North (Photo Justin Slee)
Music venues continue to cautiously return to live music making, and whilst many are continuing to make music out of doors, the move to indoor music grows apace though the continuing uncertainty about what will be permissible when makes life tricky for concert promoters. Many are going for the mixed model, streaming and live, though Kings Place's Culture Clinic on Saturday 29 August is offering the ultimate in socially distanced performances, a series of bespoke one-to-one encounters!

On Friday 28 August 2020, live music returns to Leeds Town Hall as the orchestra of Opera North, tenor Nicholas Watts and pianist David Cowan perform a programme of Mendelssohn, Schubert and Mozart to a socially distanced audience. Whilst, in London, Cadogan Hall has announced a programme of live music making for the Autumn including performances from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Wigmore Hall has a programme of 100 concerts planned.

The concert at Leeds Town Hall is a pilot indoor event and will involve members of the orchestra of Opera North. The programme opens with Mendelssohn's Octet, and then tenor Nicholas Watts (a former member of the Opera North chorus and Peter Quint in the company's recent performances of Britten's The Turn of the Screw) will be joined at the piano by Opera North's head of music, David Cowan, for a selection of songs from Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, then finally strings, wind and brass come together to perform Mozart's Symphony No. 29. Further details from the Leeds Town Hall website.

Cadogan Hall in London has announced plans for a cautious return to indoor music making with a socially distanced audience. The full programme will be announced next week, but the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be giving three lunchtime concerts (30/9/2020, 14/10/2020, 11/11/2020), each one showcasing a different section of the orchestra. There will also be music from the EFG London Jazz Festival (13-22/11/2020), and a Christmas programme from the Mozart Symphony Orchestra. Full details will be announced on 4 September 2020, see Cadogan Hall website. 

Starting on 13 September 2020, Wigmore Hall has a remarkable season of 100 concerts planned for the Autumn, with over 200 artists two thirds of whom are born in the UK or based in the UK. The concerts will go ahead with or without an audience, and will all be live streamed on the hall's website and free to watch for 30 days. The season opens with baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber in Schubert and Berg, and season focuses include Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Julius Eastmann and Mieczysław Weinberg. Initial plans are for an audience of 56 (10% capacity) so expect competition for the tickets to be keen. Full details from the Wigmore Hall website.

Neeme Järvi conducts Elgar's Violin Concerto with all-Estonian forces

Elgar Violin Concerto, Stenhammar Two Sentimental Romances; Triin Ruubel, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi; SOREL CLASSICS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 August 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Neeme Järvi makes a rare foray into Elgar's music on disc with this intriguing account of the violin concerto with all Estonian forces

Elgar Violin Concerto, Stenhammar Two Sentimental Romances; Triin Ruubel, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi; SOREL CLASSICS
Whilst Elgar is viewed as a giant of English music, thanks in part to the general re-purposing of some of his pieces, at the height of his fame he was regarded by European colleagues as a major talent in European music. The individualist elements in his music which differentiated him from contemporaries Charles Villiers Stanford and Hubert Parry, were just those which appealed to European composers and Richard Strauss would refer to Elgar as the first English progressive composer. This is an aspect of Elgar's music which can sometimes be lost, we forget the wider European context.

His Violin Concerto was written in 1910 for the Austrian-born American violinist Fritz Kreisler and the work represented the composer's last popular triumph, and he was disappointed by the reactions to his Second Symphony which premiered in 1911. The Violin Concerto would survive the long post-war decline in Elgar's reputation, but by the 1970s when I first started going to concerts, performances were rare and it was very much an English work, played by English performers (I heard Martin Milner, leader of the Halle, performing it in Manchester). It was, I think, the work's espousal by Kyung-Wha Chung in the early 1980s which raised its international profile. The catalogue is full of recordings, by a whole range of violinists, yet the majority of recordings still seem to be made with English orchestras.


The music of Elgar has not so far featured much in Estonian American conductor Neeme Järvi's catalogue, which makes this recording made with an Estonian orchestra and an Estonian soloist all the more fascinating. Released on the Sorel Classics label, Neeme Järvi conducts the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and soloist Triin Ruubel in Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto and Wilhelm Stenhammer's Two Sentimental Romances. Ruubel is the concert-master of the orchestra, and in fact I heard her as soloist in Tallinn in 2015 at the Estonian Music Days [see my article].

Monday, 24 August 2020

A Life On-Line: Paul Mealor's Piano Concerto, Zandonai in New York, Turandot in Zagreb

Puccini: Turandot - Renzo Zulian (Calaf) - Croatian National Opera, Zagreb
Puccini: Turandot - Renzo Zulian (Calaf) - Croatian National Opera, Zagreb
Last Saturday (15 August 2020), JAM on the Marsh featured the premiere of Paul Mealor's Piano Concerto which was performed (without an audience) by pianist John Frederick Hudson (for whom the work was written), the London Mozart Players and conductor Michael Bawtree [see my recent interview with Paul for more background on the work]. The final concert in JAM's on-line festival. Mealor's concerto, written for solo piano, strings and percussion, was performed in the context of a programme of music for strings, with The Seafarer by Peter Aviss, The Hythe by Judith Bingham (which JAM commissioned in 2012), Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances.

Mealor's concerto was deliberately written as a musical description of Romney Marsh and Mealor has described how he wrote the piece partly whilst staying on the Marsh, and the programme pre-fixed the premiere with pieces which all, apart from the Barber, seem to partake of a sense of place from the sea in The Seafarer which was written in 2009 by the British composer and conductor (founder of the Oare String Orchestra), to the harbour in Judith Bingham's The Hythe where the composer uses the idea of the harbour or haven (the hythe is an old word for this) as a place of homecoming for the sailor but also an allegory of the soul's returning to god. Interestingly, when the work was premiered in 2012 it was performed (without vibrato and on gut strings) by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances also has a particular sense of place, as each of the short movements is based on a folk dance, each from a different place in Transylvania (at the time the piece was written, this was then in Hungary but had a significant ethnic Romanian population).

Mealor's concerto has something of the tone poem about it, a beautifully evocative description of the marsh starting from virtually nothing and building into music of drama and romance. Mealor is unashamedly heart-on-sleeve at times, though we build to real drama at the end. The writing for piano is often more like a ripieno in a concerto grosso than the full-blown romantic soloist, but towards the end Mealor gave his soloist some moments in the spotlight and John Frederick Hudson, playing from memory, made a sensitive soloist [JamConcert]

Riccardo Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini was the sort of large-scale grand Italian opera that music publisher Tito Riccordi wanted but that his premiere composer, Giacomo Puccini would not give him. Zandonai's 1914 opera must have seemed rather old-fashioned at the time, eight years after the premiere of Richard Strauss' Salome and a year after the premiere of Montemezzi's far more advanced L'amore dei tre re. Zandonai's opera remains on the fringes of the repertory, we saw it at Opera Holland Park in 2010 (with Cheryl Barker and Julian Gavin) and during the week we caught the Metropolitan Opera's 1984 staging with Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo, conducted by James Levine in a production directed by Piero Faggioni. Faggioni seems to have gone all out grand opera with the production and the staging was full of gorgeous settings providing a sympathetic backdrop for the Francesca of Renata Scotto (who was perhaps not quite in the sort of youthful form that the role really required). The singing was superb, but frankly the drama never quite took off and you felt something more focused, less self-indulgent might have worked. But a wonderful chance to hear Renata Scotto, Placido Domingo and Cornell MacNeil in their primes [MetOpera]

Another opera which can suffer from over-lavish production standards is Puccini's Turandot (Franco Zeffirelli's production at the Met is a case in point), but the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb staged the work in 2018 with a remarkable economy and striking psychological insights (seen on OperaVision). The directors were the Italian duo Ricci/Forte and conductor was Marcello Mottadelli. The excellent cast was all new to me, with Rebeka Lokar (Slovenian) as Turandot, Renzo Zulian (Italian) as Calaf, Valentina Fijačko Kobić (Croatian) as Liu and Berislav Puškarić (Croatian) as Timur.

The action all took place inside Turandot's head, she was the 'onlie begetter' of the action and all the cast were placed in glass museum-like cases when not in action. And all were articulated by Turandot's shadows, a team of 12 actors who ended up stripped to their underwear (for reasons that were unclear). Not all the dramaturgy was completely obvious, and I was unclear quite how the ending fitted in (the traditional Alfano/Toscanini ending was used). But this was striking and dramatically engrossing, making a real effort to take us away from the lazy dramaturgy and pseudo-orientalism of many productions. [OperaVision]

In normal circumstances the young singers on the Royal Opera House's Jette Parker Young Artists scheme would have a myriad of showcase performances lined up, from small roles in operas to recitals in the Crush Room to an annual showcase. However, none of this is happening, but this week the Royal Opera House put up on YouTube a series of fascinating masterclasses in which Antonio Pappano took each of five singers through two key roles. There is a playlist on YouTube, which is well worth catching both for the young singers' performances and Pappano's performance insights. We hear, Filipe Manu (who was lucky enough to be in the new production of Fidelo before the close, see my review), Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Stephanie Wake-Edwards (who was in one of the Live from Covent Garden events),  Germán Alcántara, and Yaritza Véliz [YouTube]

Dani Howard's new piece, the first in a series called The Vino Encores features clarinettist John Schertle, from the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the composer herself on wine glass! [YouTube]. Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston shared a taster of what is in store with her Isolation Songbook for which there is a fundraiser for the new recording on Delphian of these 15 new songs [Twitter]. English Touring Opera has been taking opera out and about, Bradley Travis shared a clip of Jenny Stafford singign outside in Hammersmith [Twitter]. Eboracum Baroque have joined up with author Terry Deary to create The Glorious Georgians, a three-episode on-line series. I caught the second one, Opera and Class [YouTube]

BREMF (Brighton Early Music Festival) is going on-line this year, and in a terrific gesture of support a group of young artists associated with the festival have put together a Playathon, 90 minutes of superb music making, and do think about donating to the festival. [BREMF].

This week's column is slightly later than usual as on Sunday we were winging our way to West Green House Gardens where they are presenting a series of lunchtime concerts in the garden. We caught bass-baritone Timothy Dickinson and pianist Nicola Rose in Opera's Villains, an engaging trawl through villainous operatic characters by Handel, Mozart, Weber, Gounod, Berlioz, Boito, Offenbach, G&S and Puccini. The series continues in two week's time when on 5 September, soprano Chloe Morgan will be performing favourite arias. See West Green House website for details.

I trust that everyone caught Sunday's live concert from Conway Hall with violinist Fenella Humphreys and pianist Simon Callaghan. There will be another recital on 13 September when Callaghan is joined by cellist Ashok Klouda for an all-Beethoven concert [ConwayHall]

Is the opera world ready for a Lesbian Cherubino - how opera remains rather tame when it comes to exploring some areas of gender and sexual relations

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos: Julia Sporsén, Jennifer France - Opera Holland Park 2018 (Photo Robert Workman)
Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos - Julia Sporsén (the Composer), Jennifer France (Zerbinetta)
Opera Holland Park 2018 (Photo Robert Workman)

Nerone kisses Poppea in Monteverdi's opera L'Incoronazione di Poppea, but what are the audience really seeing, a male character kissing a female character or a woman kissing another woman. At the premiere of the opera Nerone was played by a (male) castrato but nowadays it is common for the role to be played by (female) mezzo-sopranos and when I interview mezzo-soprano Helen Sherman she talked about the frisson that can come from the audience when the two characters kiss, again man and woman or woman and woman. What do we see, exactly?

There has been a trend in recent years to aim for greater realism in the staging opera, which has led to male characters being played by (male) counter-tenors, and (female) mezzo-sopranos convincingly playing male characters. This wasn't always the case, and I can remember in the 1970s and 1980s that when female singers played men, they still looked in some way feminine. 

Of course, issue of cross gendered casting has in the past been addressed by having tenors and basses playing roles intended for sopranos and mezzo-sopranos, though this leads to transpositions in the vocal lines and alterations to the the balance between voice and orchestra. The great baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded the title role of Handel's Giulio Cesare, transposing it down an octave, and I don't think anyone would regard this as one of his greatest recordings.

But there is one area of realism that remains under explored, having female singers playing male roles as women and introducing a greater element of homo-eroticism into some opera. If it is acceptable for us to see two women kissing on stage and be aware that whilst one is playing a male character, she looks undoubtedly like a woman in men's clothes, then surely it is reasonable and dramaturgically intriguing to play the male character as a woman?

Donizetti: Anna Bolena - Carolyn Dobbin (Smeton) - Longborough Festival Opera 2019 (Photo Matthew Williams Ellis)
Donizetti: Anna Bolena - Carolyn Dobbin (Smeton) - Longborough Festival Opera 2019
(Photo Matthew Williams Ellis)
In short, is the opera world ready for a Lesbian Cherubino?

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Going on-line: Guy Johnston on how the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival plans to bring the house alive with music and to explore the house and its collections

Guy Johnston in the Armoury at Hatfield House (Photo Ben Wright)
Guy Johnston in the Armoury at Hatfield House (Photo Ben Wright)
Every September the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival takes place in and around Hatfield House. The brainchild of cellist Guy Johnston, who was brought up in the area, the festival has always combined the elements of a local festival celebrating local talent with something bigger and grander, partly because of the venue which attracts major artists. Lord Salisbury and his family, who live at Hatfield House, are supporters of the festival, opening up the house for events and helping to re-create something of the atmosphere from the house's Jacobean period when the family supported musicians. 

This year, the 9th festival is a little different thanks to the ongoing crisis. But it will happen, on-line rather than with a live audience, but the festival is taking advantage of this to give their on-line audiences experiences which are very much based around Hatfield House and its history. I caught up with Guy Johnston, via Zoom, to find out more about this year's festival.

This year the festival will explore not only musical connections but Hatfield House and its collections. There will be a tour of the house with Lord Salisbury (whose ancestor, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, built the house in 1611), and art historian Emily Burns will be talking about the collection. For the musical performances, the festival is taking advantage of the new filmed format to use a variety of different historic spaces within the house. 

Friday, 21 August 2020

Taking us on a remarkable journey: the choir of St John's College, Cambridge in a 'Pious Anthems and Voluntaries', a programme of Michael Finnissy premieres

Michael Finnissy Pious Anthems and Voluntaries; Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha; SIGNUM
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 August 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The culmination of Michael Finnissy's residency at the college, and a celebration of the chapel's 150th anniversary proves to be a contemporary sequence in which the composer combines a reflection of the past with a striking present

Michael Finnissy Pious Anthems and Voluntaries; Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha; SIGNUM
St John's College, Cambridge celebrated the 150th anniversary of its Victorian gothic chapel last year, but the college itself is far older and has its roots in St John's Infirmary of 1200, the outline of whose original chapel can still be seen. The chapel's choir is, of course, renowned and in order to celebrate the anniversary Andrew Nethsingha, musical director, invited the composer Michael Finnissy to be composer in residence for two years. Finnissy would write four unaccompanied motets for the choir and the project would culminate in the anniversary year of 2019. Each of Finnissy's motets would take an existing older piece as its template, thus in way reflecting the multi-layering of the college's history.

I attended the Evensong in 2017 when Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College, Cambridge premiered Michael Finnissy's Dum transisset Sabbatum inspired by John Taverner's motet of the same name. The project is now complete and has culminated in a recording of all of the works Finnissy wrote during his two year residency. The project expanded and changed somewhat, and as well as writing four choral works Finnissy wrote partnering instrumental commentaries, and the composers on which he based his music moved from the 16th century, so we have John Taverner, Thomas Tallis, JS Bach and Michael Tippett as inspirations, and the Bach-inspired piece is a cantata which introduces other instrumental forces besides the organ.

Finnissy also created an overall arch for the structure of the cycle, so that it has become something more than just an assemblage of works written for St John's and there is in fact a clear dramaturgical sense to the Biblical events referred to. Pious Anthems and Voluntaries features all of Michael Finnissy's music written for Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College, Cambridge, as part of the residency; three motets, Dum transsiset Sabbatum, Videte Miraculum, Plebs Angelica, the cantata Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn, three organ works, Dum transsiset Sabbatum - double, Videte Miraculum - double, Plebs Angelica - alternativo and an instrumental Commentary on ‘Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern. For the recording the choir is joined by organists Glen Dempsey and James Anderson-Besant, Sarah O'Flynn (flute), and Cecily Ward (violin). The recording is issued on the choir's own label which is done in association with Signum Records.

Live again: Temple Music launches season with three live concerts

Temple Church (Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0)
Temple Church
(Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0)
Temple Music is starting live concerts again in October and November, with three concerts in Temple Church all done in a socially distanced manner. The season opens with soprano Ruby Hughes, cellist Natalie Clein and pianist Julius Drake in recital (6/10/2020), followed by the Sixteen, conductor Harry Christophers (13/10/2020) and then a concert of the jazz-inspired music of John Ashton Thomas (12/11/2020).

Tre Voci, Ruby Hughes, Natalie Clein and Julius Drake's recital will feature Judith Weir's On the palmy beach which they premiered in 2019 (see my review) along with John Tavener's Akhmatova Songs, Brahms Two Songs (originally for alto, viola and piano, in a version for soprano, cello and piano), Kodaly's Sonatina for cello and piano and music by Schubert, Ravel, Bloch, and Chabrier plus two songs for soprano, cello and piano by Pauline Viardot and by Hector Berlioz.

Harry Christophers and the Sixteen will be performing music by secular music by William Cornysh, a pair of motets Philippe da Monte's Super flumine Babylonis and William Byrd's Quomodo cantabimus which were written as complements to each other, and solo songs by Thomas Campion with lutenist David Miller.

The final concert of the three is music by the film composer John Ashton Thomas, who has also written for Temple Church Choir. For this concert Anna Noakes (flute), Roger Chase (viola), Hugh Webb (harp), Trans4mation String Quartet and Roger Sayer (organ) will be performing John Ashton Thomas' jazz-based music including works specially written for the concert.

Full details from Temple Music website.

Bandstand Chamber Festival

The Bandstand in Battersea Park (Photo www.CGPGrey.com)
The Bandstand in Battersea Park (Photo www.CGPGrey.com)
The bandstand at Battersea Park is host to the Bandstand Chamber Festival during September when, as part of the Love Parks Wandsworth campaign, four major string quartets will be performing early evening concerts. The concerts are curated by Anthony Friend (promoter and clarinettist, Anthony took park in the premiere of my opera The Gardeners in June 2019), and he will be performing along with the Doric Quartet, the Maggini Quartet, Solem Quartet and the Hill Quartet. The park's Victorian bandstand is the venue for the concerts, each of which takes place at 6.30pm, and all are free; the idea is to encourage people in using parks.

The festival opens with the Doric Quartet in Mozart and Beethoven (1/9/2020), then the Maggini Quartet in Beethoven and Dvorak (4/9/2020), then Anthony Friend and the Solem Quartet in Haydn and Brahms (10/9/2020) and finally the Hill Quartet in Haydn and Ravel (15/9/2020).

Tickets are free but must be booked in advance, full details from Eventbrite.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

LMP Reach: free on-line recitals for vulnerable groups

Live music for those in vulnerable communities is something which organisations have had to put on hold since the current crisis. To fill this gap, the London Mozart Players (LMP) has created LMP Reach, a community initiative that takes music, digitally, into these spaces. 

Members of the orchestra are filming a series of recitals specifically curated to entertain those living in care homes or at home with carers, those living with dementia, or people in vulnerable groups who may not otherwise have access to community concerts and events. Music enhances the emotional well-being and quality of life of people living and working in care homes, and LMP is delighted to play its part in bringing some joy into communities that have suffered during the pandemic.

Each LMP Reach recital is 30 minutes of music performed by two members of LMP, with everything from Wartime favourites and musical theatre to popular classics. The recitals are free to watch via a passworded link in Vimeo, and access is being offered to care homes, hubs, and centres across the borough of Croydon and further afield.

Full details from London Mozart Players website.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

CBSO celebrates its centenary to the day with a concert conducted by Sir Simon Rattle

CBSO Logo
On 5 September 1920, the fledgling City of Birmingham Orchestra took to the stage for the first time at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham under the baton of their Principal Conductor, Appleby Matthews. Two months later, on 10 November 1920, the orchestra’s first full symphonic performance was given at Birmingham Town Hall, with Edward Elgar conducting a concert of his own works.

This centenary is being celebrated to the day when, on 5 September 2020 the orchestra, now named the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, will be giving a performance in a production warehouse in Birmingham! The current crisis means that the orchestra is unable to give a public concert, but the location at PRG's Live Stage Studio means that the full symphony orchestra can perform in a socially distanced manner. The orchestra's chief conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is on maternity leave and for the celebratory performance the CBSO will be conducted by Sir Simon Rattle who was its chief conductor from 1980 to 1998 and who did so much to cement the orchestra's international reputation.

The programme for the concert includes Camille Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto No. 1 with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason (who made his debut recording with the orchestra), Stravinsky's Suite from Firebird (the suite premiered in 1919, the year before the orchestra's debut, and it was the first piece played at the new Symphony Hall in Birmingham when Simon Rattle conducted the CBSO in 1991), AR Rahman's Slumdog Millionaire Suite (based on Rahman's music for the film, and featuring sitar player Roopa Panesar), Elgar's Serenade for Strings (which featured at the orchestra's first concert), and a new work, Hannah Kendall's The Spark Catchers.

The concert will be broadcast on the CBSO's Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Alpesh Chauhan appointed associate conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Alpesh Chauhan (Photo Patrick Allen)
Alpesh Chauhan (photo Patrick Allen)
The young Birmingham-born British conductor Alpesh Chauhan has been appointed associate conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, alongside chief conductor Thomas Dausgaard and principal guest conductor Ilan Volkov. Chauhan made his debut with the orchestra in 2015 when he stood in at the last minute to replace then chief conductor Donald Runnicles, and Chauhan has since conducted the orchestra a number of times including opening its 2019/20 season.

Chauhan and the BBC SSO will be celebrating their new relationship with a concert at Glasgow City Halls on 26 August 2020 (recorded without audience and available on-line), with Hindemith's Concert music for brass and strings, Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht and Wagner's Siegfried Idyll.

Chauhan is the music director of Birmingham Opera Company (and conducted its 2019 production of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) and he is patron of Awards for Young Musicians, a charity which supports talented young people from low-income families, helping them to overcome financial and social barriers in their musical journeys. From 2014 to 2016 he was assistant conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Further details from the BBC website.

BCMG back on the road with Stockhausen in Birmingham and in Hannover

Stockhausen's Sternklang in Hannover with BCMG, Das neue Ensemble, Nordic Voices
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) will be giving a free live outdoor performance on Thursday (20 August 2020) in Brindley Place in Birmingham, in partnership with IKON. The programme of music by Stockhausen, Henze and Zimmerman is inspired by another forthcoming BCMG performance. On Saturday 29 August 2020, BCMG is joining forces with Das Neue Ensemble and Nordic Voices to give a rare performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Sternklang in a Hanover park, performing the work under the stars as the composer intended (the performance is sold-out).

In Birmingham, BCMG's free programme (its first live concert in Birmingham since lockdown) will consist of Stockhausen's Tierkreis (Zodiac) for solo cello performed by Ulrich Heinen alongside Hans Werner Henze’s Serenade for cello solo and Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Four Short Studies.

In Hannover the players of BCMG will join forces with Das Neue Ensemble and Nordic Voices for Sternklang in Hannover's Königlicher Berggarten Herrenhausen on 29 August 2020. Stockhausen conceived Sternklang (Star Sound) as 'park music' to be played outdoors under the stars and it was premiered in 1971 in Berlin's English Garden, and the composer conducted the work in Birmingham in 1992 when BCMG performed it at Cannon Hill Park. The Hannover performance is led by Stephan Meier who is artistic director of both BCMG and Hannover-based Das Neue Ensemble, and they are joined by Oslo's four-piece a cappella group Nordic Voices.

Sternklang is scored for five groups of four instrumentalists and singers, positioned far apart across the outdoor space,  any instruments can be used and the amplified groups play solo and together, with ‘sound runners’ carrying music from one group to another and allowing strains from the different groups to be heard across the park. From the constellations Stockhausen devised musical ‘models’ from the positions of the stars so that “on a clear night, star constellations can be directly read from the sky and integrated as musical figures”. You can read more about the work in Paul Griffiths' article on the BCMG website.

Further details from the BCMG website.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

What makes the disc work is the sheer verve & engagement of the performances: Adrian Chandler & La Serenissima's Extra Time

Extra Time - Albinoni, Vivaldi, Brescianello, Matteis; La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler; Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 August 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Made up of music left over from other recordings, this disc might be easily overlooked but benefits from a sequence of engaging performances from Adrian Chandler and his ensemble

Extra Time - Albinoni, Vivaldi, Brescianello, Matteis; La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler; Signum
This delightful disc might well be called 'the bits left over', but in fact is Extra Time. On the Signum Classics label, Extra Time is a collection of recordings by Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima, covering music from the Baroque era by Tomaso Albinoni, Antonio Vivaldi, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, and Nicola Matteis the Younger. The music on the disc was recorded over a period of eight years, from 2011 to 2019 and mainly consists of extra pieces from recording sessions which were surplus to requirements at the time.

The results have a slightly eccentric feel to the programming, but essentially what we have is three works for trumpets and ensemble (the Albinoni uses two trumpets, and the Matteis pieces use four trumpets) which provide a beginning, middle and end, then there are three intriguing concertos by Vivaldi plus one by the lesser known Brescianello (an Italian who spent much of his working life in Germany). Adrian Chandler contributes an entertaining and illuminating article which explains the circumstances behind each recording, with happenstance moving towards deliberation as the mix of works grew.

What makes the recording work is the sheer verve and engagement of the performances. As with much Baroque music, the difference between a well-known and a lesser-known work can be marginal and sometimes the work of happenstance. So what we have here is a selection of lesser known works which are presented with such energy and patent enjoyment from the performers that we certainly want to hear them again. Chandler, who is the solo violinist in the four concertos, is not only a fine leader but a very engaging soloist.

Live music returns to the Two Moors Festival

Exmoor
Exmoor
The Two Moors Festival, which presents music events in venues across Dartmoor and Exmoor, was founded in response to the Foot and Mouth crisis which was devastating the area. This year, as the festival approaches its 20th anniversary, it is facing another crisis. In response, the festival is offering two weekends of concerts with limited, socially distanced audiences performed in venues on Dartmoor (26-27 September 2020) and Exmoor (2-4 October 2020).

This year is also the first year that the festival has been under the artistic directorship of violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, who was one of the Young Musician Competition winners in the first festival. Concerts at the festival will include the Albion Quartet in final quartets Brahms and Beethoven, cellist Laura van der Heijden in Bach's Cello Suites, pianist Elisabeth Brauss in Scarlatti, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Chopin,  tenor Nicky Spence and pianist Christopher Glynn in Schubert's The Fair Maid (Die schone Mullerin in Jeremy Sams' new English version), and jazz from Misha Mullov-Abbado.

Full details from the festival website.

Live music returns to Snape Maltings with programme of weekend concerts with audience

Snape Maltings Concert Hall (photo Matt Jolly)
Snape Maltings Concert Hall (photo Matt Jolly)
Snape Maltings Concert Hall is opening for live performances with an audience from 21 August 2020. Britten Pears Arts is bringing together some of the musicians who would have performed during this year's Aldeburgh Festival and Snape Proms. There will be short concerts on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with two performances per day.

The first weekend (21-23 August 2020) will feature Chineke! Chamber Ensemble in Florence B Price and Schubert, violinist Tasmin Little and pianist Martin Roscoe in Franck and Brahms, and cellist and pianist siblings Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason in Beethoven, Bridge and Rachmaninov. The second weekend will feature performances from Joe Stilgoe, the strings of the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner in Tippett, Thomas Ades and Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings with Toby Spence and John Ryan, and accordionist Samuele Telari in Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Every 2pm performance will be 'Pay What You Can', so audiences can hear 45 minutes of music making at a price they feel they can afford, whilst the evening concerts will cost £15.

Full details from the Snape Maltings website.

W11 Opera's Jukebox

W11 Opera's 2020 opera production has moved on-line as a result of the current crisis. Jukebox, the planned new opera, will be a celebration of 49 years of W11 Opera and will be streamed in December 2020. The opera will be created by a cast of young people (9-18 years) working on-line, thus offering them a unique creative opportunity. 

Rehearsals, training and activities will involve solo and small group Zoom sessions with the director (Susan Moore), musical director (Alastair Chilvers) and choreographer (Maggie Rawlinson) as well the visual artist (Chris Glynn) who will illustrate and animate portions of the final film. Production rehearsal videos will also be available online as well as design activities, monologue writing and filming, prop making workshops, vocal, drama, and dance sessions. ‘Rushes’ of the draft film footage will be viewed as a full group activity every few weeks as the recordings are completed.

W11 Opera's artistic director, Susan Moore has created the script and story for Jukebox, based on previous W11 Opera shows and the music draws from a number of these previous shows:

Timothy Kraemer (Ulysses & the Wooden Horse)
Russell Hepplewhite & Helen Eastman (The Price)
John Barber & Hazel Gould (Eliza & the Swans)
Stuart Hancock & Donald Sturrock (Cutlass Crew)
Julian Grant & Christina Jones (Original Features & Shadowtracks)
Graham Preskett & John Kane (Flying High & ANTiphony)
Cecilia McDowall & Christie Dickason (Deep Waters)
Guy Dagul & Jane Asperling (Game Over)

Full details from the W11 Opera website.


Monday, 17 August 2020

Opera returns: Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and Jonathan Dove's Ariel at Waterperry Opera Festival

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton - Waterperry Opera Festival
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton - Waterperry Opera Festival
Mozart Cosi fan tutte, Jonathan Dove Ariel; Isabelle Peters, Beth Moxon, Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton and Oskar McCarthy, Daniella Sicari, Guy Withers, Rebecca Meltzer, Bertie Baigent; Waterperry Opera Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 August 2020
Mozart's comedy in a semi-staging full of youthful energy and imagination

It seems most appropriate that the last opera we saw before lockdown was Mozart (English National Opera's new production of Le nozze di Figaro) and that our first opera since then was also Mozart, Cosi fan tutte. Having cancelled the planned season, Waterperry Opera Festival put on a mini-season, and we caught the closing night on 16 August 2020, with Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in a semi-staging directed by Guy Withers and conducted by Bertie Baigent with Isabelle Peters, Beth Moxon, Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton and Oskar McCarthy, which was preceded by performances of Jonathan Dove's Ariel performed by Daniela Sicari, directed by Rebecca Meltzer.

Usually the main operas at the festival are staged in the amphitheatre in the gardens, but in order to give audience and performers more space, Cosi fan tutte was performed in front of the facade of Waterperry House, with the audience spread out across the lawn. Bertie Baigent conducted an ensemble of string quartet, oboe, bassoon and piano (Gabriella Jones, Hatty Haynes, Oscar Holch, Deni Teo, Will Ball, Emily Newman and Ashley Beauchamp), and Baigent himself provided the harpsichord continuo in the recitatives. Isabelle Peters and Beth Moxon were the sisters with Damian Arnold and Nicholas Morton as their lovers, plus Zoe Drummond as Despina and Oskar McCarthy as Don Alfonso. The opera was sung in Guy Wither's lively modern translation, and whilst the singers had scores there was plenty of action. 

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Isabelle Peters, Beth Moxon, Bertie Baigent, Damian Arnold - Waterperry Opera Festival
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Isabelle Peters, Beth Moxon, Bertie Baigent, Damian Arnold - Waterperry Opera Festival
more serious side was not ignored it was the potential for comedy which was mined. This was youthful and intentionally funny take on the story, which did not look too deeply at the darker elements of the plot which can sometimes overbalance things. Because of the location, the opera was amplified which seemed to give a slight edge to the sound, but I was impressed with the way all concerned delivered the text, and though we had an electronic version of the libretto you never needed to consult it.

A Life On-Line: Jam today, and full of beans

I Fagiolini
I Fagiolini
This week has been one of on-line festivals, with Voces8's Live from London continuing on Saturdays, and the on-line JAM on the Marsh coming from Romney Marsh in Kent. 

We caught up with I Fagiolini's recital for Live from London, which was broadcast live on Saturday 8 August 2020. Monteverdi: the ache of love featured Robert Hollingworth and the ensemble (Rebecca Lea, Clare Wilkinson, Nicholas Mulroy, Matthew Long, Greg Skidmore, Charles Gibbs, Linda Sayce) in madrigals and sacred music by Monteverdi, what Robert Hollingworth described as 'comfort food'. Moving between six-voiced unaccompanied madrigals in Monteverdi's earlier style to single voice pieces with theorbo (Linda Sayce) and organ (Robert Hollingworth), the short recital presented us with the full imaginative range of Monteverdi's music from two works from the 1603 Fourth book of madrigals, to Lamento della ninfa from 1638, and along the way there was the lovely Duo seraphin and Felle Amaro a fascinating sacred contrafactum of Cruda Amarilli. Whilst in one way this was small scale performance, each individual was a vibrant part of the whole, thus giving us a vividly rich and emotional experience. If only we could have been there. [LiveFromLondon]

JAM on the Marsh has been presenting concerts all week, recorded at the churches in Romney Marsh. We caught mezzo-soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones' lovely recital with pianist Anna Tilbrook. They started with Elgar's Sea Pictures which always seem to take on a different quality when performed with piano, and Afonwy-Jones and Tilbrook really brought out the subtle detail of the pieces, with Afonwy-Jones shaping the vocal lines beautifully. It was the sort of performance which made you look at Elgar the song-writer in a different light. This was followed by Jonathan Dove's cycle, Nights not spent alone, which was commissioned in 2015 for Kitty Whately. Setting three Edna St Vincent Millay poems, Dove's complex yet seductive music contrasts nicely with the rather tart sentiments of the poetry, and I have always particularly enjoyed the first song 'Recuerdo' with the evocation of the sounds of the New York ferry in the piano. The composer Madeleine Dring (1923-1977) remains a lesser known 20th century writer of song, so it was lovely to hear two of her Five Betjeman Songs, 'A Bay in Anglesey' and the ever delightful 'The Song of the Nightclub Proprietress'. And we finished on more familiar ground with the Britten/Auden cabaret songs. [JAMConcert]

We returned to JAM for a further concert when the Gesualdo Six were joined by two sopranos and musicians from the London Mozart Players, and Simon Hogan (organ) for a performance of Faure's Requiem conducted by Owain Park.