Thursday, 22 October 2020

From the whole earth dancing to a day in hell: chamber music by Cheryl Frances-Hoad

The Whole Earth Dances - Cheryl Frances Hoad; Champs Hill Records

The Whole Earth Dances
- Cheryl Frances Hoad; Champs Hill Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 October 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Chamber music spanning 20 years in what feels like a very personal disc from composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad

The Whole Earth Dances is the third disc of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's music to appear on Champs Hill Records, a suitable 40th birthday present which has something of a retrospective feel as the disc includes music ranging from the title track, The Whole Earth Dances written in 2016 to The Prophecy written in 1998, with performed by The Schubert Ensemble, the Gildas Quartet, Rozenn Le Trionnaire, Francesca Barritt, Sholto Kynoch, David Cohen, Daniel Grimwood, Rebecca Gilliver, Sophia Rahman, Yshani Perinpanayagam, Sara Minelli and Fenella Humphreys. The music on the disc features chamber music in a variety of forms from duos to large-scale ensembles, but perhaps significantly none has a traditional title.

The disc begins with The Whole Earth Dances a quintet performed by the Schubert Ensemble (William Howard, piano, Simon Blendis, violin, Douglas Paterson, viola, Jan Slmon, cello, Peter Buckoke, double bass). Using the same forces as Schubert's Trout Quintet, the work was commissioned by the Schubert Ensemble as a companion piece and premiered by them at the Spitalfields Music Festival in 2016. The work is inspired by the landscape around Frances-Hoad's house, and by the poetry of Ted Hughes. It is a single movement work divided into five continuous parts, thistles, ferns, thistles, ferns, thistles! Whilst the harmonic language is different, the way Frances-Hoad uses the strings playing long lyrical (sometimes unison) lines and has the piano reverberating against them rather reminded me of Messiaen in his Quartet for the End of Time. And Frances-Hoad's music has a certain rhapsodic, transcendental feel which seems to take it beyond mere descriptions of the countryside into another realm.

BCMG celebrates the centenary of Paul Celan with its first live concert since lockdown

Paul Celan
Paul Celan

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) is launching its 2020/21 season on 22 November 2020 with a concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham which will the group's first live concert for five months (and will be available on-line as well). Words from Abroad will celebrate the centenary of Romanian-born poet Paul Celan (1920-1970) with three world premieres from Spanish composer Francisco Jose Andreo Gázquez and Italian composers Andrea Sordano and Caterina Di Cecca, written in response to the international call for scores launched in collaboration between BCMG, Ensemble O/Modernt, Gehrmans Musikförlag and the Goethe-Institut Schweden earlier this year,  the 2019-20 O/Modernt Composition Award. The concert also features music by Param Vir, Christopher Fox and Donghoon Shin. There will be two performances at 1pm and 4pm on 22/11/2020, with a live stream at 4pm.

Further ahead, on 13 December BCMG will give the  live world premiere of A Dust in Time (Passacaglia for Strings) by New York-based Chinese composer Huang Ruo. Inspired by the symbolism of the Tibetan sand mandala intertwined with the European tradition of the passacaglia, the work is a musical reflection on the lived experience of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Full details from the BCMG website.

The Soldier's Return: Opera Sunderland takes its latest community opera on-line

Austin Gunn, Andri Bjorn Robertsson, Magnus from Meerkat filming The Soldier's Return
Austin Gunn, Andri Bjorn Robertsson, Magnus from Meerkat filming The Soldier's Return

Opera Sunderland's 2020 project was The Soldier;s Return, a new opera by the Spanish compser Marcos Fernandez-Barrero (who studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Royal College of Music) inspired by present day war veterans’ real life experiences. The piece was due to be premiered by professional soloists and a community chorus, but no sooner had the 40-strong intergenerational community chorus been recruited than the UK went into Lockdown in March. The result was a re-think, and The Soldiers Return was re-cast as a film which will premiere on Remembrance Sunday.

Opera Sunderland's artistic director Alison Barton explains, "We decided to collaborate with award-winning North East film makers Meerkat Films and sound engineer Ian Stephenson at Simpson Street Studios to produce The Soldier’s Return as a film instead of a live production. Social distancing rules have meant taking an approach more akin to producing a pop video than an opera, but although it’s quite an experimental approach in the classical music world, it is tried and tested in other genres such as pop and rock. It’s a case of the show must go on, and it will!” 

The Soldier’s Return is drawn from interviews with local people involved in past, recent and ongoing combat situations. It explores the impact of conflict when soldiers return home, not only on the soldiers themselves, but also their families and their relationship with the wider community. The opera features music by Marco Fernandez-Barrero with a libretto by Jacob Polley, directed by Annie Rigby, musical director Marco Romano, with a cast including Ian Priestly, Katherin Aitken, Austin Gunn, and Andri Björn Róbertsson, and a community chorus, filmed by a team from Meerkat Films.

The Solider's Return premieres on 8 November 2020, further details from the Opera Sunderland website.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The case against Wagner - David Faiman's Meyerbeer: The deliberately forgotten composer

David Faiman Giacomo Meyerbeer: The deliberately forgotten composer; Gefen Publishing House

David Faiman Giacomo Meyerbeer: The deliberately forgotten composer; Gefen Publishing House

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 October 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A popular introduction to the composer's work which casts light on the way anti-Semitism affected his reputation

The case of Giacomo Meyerbeer is a strange one. One of the most popular composers of the 19th century (perhaps the most popular in Paris), his music fell out of favour in the 20th century alongside most of the operas of his almost exact contemporary Gioachino Rossini. But with the post-war Italian bel canto revival, there was no parallel Meyerbeer revival. The 2018 production of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots at the Paris Opera [see my review] was the first new production there since the 1930s, yet between 1836 and 1936 the company gave over 1000 performances of the opera. The new book from David Faiman, Giacomo Meyerbeer: The Deliberately Forgotten Composer published by Gefen Publishing House, is a deliberate attempt to explore the reasons why Meyerbeer fell from view.

At the core of the book is a valuable summary of Meyerbeer's life, career, and operatic works, something that is badly needed. Whilst there is plenty of learned coverage of Meyerbeer (notably Robert Ignatius Letellier's writings), there is little in the popular line. Faiman provides a very effective summary, extensively quoting the composer's contemporaries to give us a sense of how highly regarded Meyerbeer and his music were. 

We also get a handy summary of the operas and whilst many will at least know of one or two major operas there are plenty of others!

The piano trio and beyond at Conway Hall

Linos Piano Trio (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Linos Piano Trio (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)

Having given us the Mithras Trio in Haydn, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky [see my review], the Conway Hall Sunday Concerts series continues with further explorations of the piano trio in their live-streamed concerts, and for the first time this season the hall will also be welcoming a socially distanced live audience. 

Over three concerts (1/11/2020, 29/11/2020 and 13/12/2020) the Linos Piano Trio, Greenwich Trio and Rautio Piano Trio will perform music ranging from JS Bach and CPE Bach to Kaija Saariaho.

The Linos Piano Trio has recently released a disc of the complete piano trios by CPE Bach. Dating from a period when the genre was developing, these are works by a highly inventive composer, and the Linos Piano Trio will be performing one at their recital, alongside their own arrangement of Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and Brahms' final Piano Trio in C. Brahms' wrote just three piano trios, though he seems to have sketched out a number of other works in the genre which he was dissatisfied with. The trio's final work will be Light and Matter by the contemporary Paris-based Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho.

Brahms is currently the focus of the Greenwich Trio, as the group is recording the complete Brahm's Piano Trios. At Conway Hall, the group will be performing two trios originally written in different instrumentation. Brahms' Trio in A minor Op. 114, which was originally for clarinet, cello and piano and one of the group of late works inspired by the clarinet playing of Richard Muhlhausen, and the Trio in E flat Op. 40, originally for horn, violin and piano. Brahms allowed both works to be published in versions for piano trio as that was a highly popular and hence lucrative when published.

For the final concert, the Rautio Piano Trio are joined by Robin Ashwell (viola), and Leon Bosch (double bass) for a concert which moves from piano trio to piano quartet and to quintet. They open with Bach, arranged for piano trio, and then comes Schumann's Piano Quartet. Far less well known than the Piano Quintet and written the same year, 1842, Schumann's Piano Quartet is no less fine a work. The concert finishes with Schubert's Trout Quintet, written specifically for a patron who wanted a reference to Schubert's song and wanted an instrumental line up to match an existing work, hence the slightly unusual violin, viola, cello, piano, double bass. It is one of Schubert's most genial works.

As well as welcoming a socially-distanced audience, all the concerts are live-streamed, using Conway Hall's new state-of-the-art equipment. Full details from the Conway Hall website.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Mendelssohn Cello Sonatas and more, in historically informed performances from cellist Viola de Hoog and pianist Mikayel Balyan

Mendelssohn Cello Sonatas, Piano Trio No. 1; Viola de Hoog, Mikayel Balyan, Marten Root; Vivat

Mendelssohn Cello Sonatas, Piano Trio No. 1; Viola de Hoog, Mikayel Balyan, Marten Root; Vivat

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 October 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Uncompromising colours and a wonderful directness characterise these period performances of Mendelssohn's chamber music

For much of the second half of the 19th century, Mendelssohn's Cello Sonatas were the epitome of the cello sonata, though with the dimming of the composer's reputation their presence on the concert stage diminished until the revival of the composer's reputation in the late 20th century. On this disc, from Vivat, we get the chance to hear Mendelssohn's Cello Sonatas performed by two fine period instrument specialists, Viola de Hoog (cello) and Mikayel Balyan (piano), and the filling is equally intriguing Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 in the composer's version for flute, cello and piano.

Viola de Hoog plays a Guadagni cello from 1750, and her tone combines a rich dark expressive quality, with a certain directness. There is a forthrightness to the sound quality here, which is complemented by the piano's striking tones (Balyan plays an 1845 Erard). This historically informed playing which seeks to elucidate the sound-world of the period rather than trying to ingratiate the music with the listeners. There is something forthright about the style of the disc, with De Hoog's highly speaking tones finding a rather different character in Mendelssohn's sonatas than many playing in a 21st century manner.

Beethoven and Black muses at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Stephan Loges
Stephan Loges

Before Beethoven
/ An Imperfect Tapestry; Stephan Loges, Eugene Asti, Gweneth Ann Rand, Simon Lepper; Oxford Lieder Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 October 2020
The final day of the festival, when I catch Beethoven, his contemporaries and predecessors at lunch, and an imperfect tapestry of black muses, composers and performers at tea time

Saturday 17 October 2020 was the last day of this year's Oxford Lieder Festival, and I caught two concerts live from the Holywell Music Room. At lunchtime, baritone Stephan Loges and pianist Eugene Asti performed Before Beethoven, a programme of songs by Beethoven, his contemporaries and predecessors, J.C. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Zelter. Then for the early evening concert, soprano Gweneth Ann Rand and pianist Simon Lepper gave us An Imperfect Tapestry, ‘a personal reflection of Black voices and muses, stretching back in time to the Black Venus, who inspired the poetry of Baudelaire’ with music by Debussy and Ravel, alongside Abel Meeropol, Harry Sever, Errollyn Wallen and Adolphus Hailstork.

Gweneth Ann Rand
Gweneth Ann Rand
With Before Beethoven, rather than presenting us with a random selection of Beethoven's songs (his song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte was performed earlier in the festival), Stephan Loges and Eugene Asti paired Beethoven's songs with those of his contemporaries and predecessors, allowing us to experience Beethoven in context rather than sitting against the sophistications of late Schubert. In song, Beethoven rarely breaks the classical bounds, in the way he does in other genres, so the comparison with contemporaries and predecessors was valuable.

We began with a songs by JC Bach (1714-1788) and Beethoven, four prayers setting texts by Christian Furchtegott Gellert (1715-1769). Bach was a great influence on Mozart, and whilst Grusse Gottes in der Natur and Bitten both seemed rooted in the Baroque there were forward-looking hints too which linked to Beethoven's intense Vom Tode and the powerful Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur, a song which could not but be by anyone else.

Next came a group about relationships, setting mainly texts by Christian Felix Weisse (1726-1804) from the charm and character of Haydn's Die zu späte Ankunft der Mutter and Mozart's Die Verschweigung to Haydn's more sober Lob der Faulheit and the distinctly perky charm of Beethoven's Der Kuss.

For love songs, we had a compare and contrast as Beethoven's rather civilised and classical Andenken was followed by Schubert's touching Adelaide, setting the same text as Beethoven's well-known song. Mozart's Das Traumbild returned us to classical charm, whilst Schubert's Seligkeit was delightfully dancey.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Classical-music aficionado, Tony Cooper, looks in on the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s special anniversary year

Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in 2014 (Photo Sim Canetty-Clarke)
Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in 2014
(Photo Sim Canetty-Clarke)

As the BBC Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 90th birthday on 22 October 2020 with a concert conducted by its Principal Guest Conductor, Dalia Stasevska, our correspondent Tony Cooper looks back over the orchestra's distinguished histor.

The pioneering and well-loved BBC Symphony Orchestra - in which I have heard on so many occasions not least by attending the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall for the past decade - has been at the forefront of British musical life since it was founded by Sir Adrian Boult in 1930, who, incidentally, was no stranger to my home city of Norwich often here conducting a host of British orchestras (most notably the London Philharmonic) at meetings of the Norfolk & Norwich Triennial Festival in St Andrew’s Hall.

Adrian Boult conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1932
Adrian Boult conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1932
Under Boult’s stewardship, the orchestra - firmly in celebratory mood this year chalking up its 90th birthday - received a thorough grounding in a wide and diversified range of music while this well-loved English-born conductor invited leading guest conductors to the podium including the likes of Serge Koussevitzky, Willem Mengelberg and Bruno Walter, thus bringing international attention and prestige to the orchestra. By the end of the decade of the orchestra’s founding, Arturo Toscanini arrived in London to conduct the orchestra in a Beethoven symphony cycle which proved, by all accounts, to be a triumphant occasion.

While championing living composers across the globe the orchestra has enjoyed a long association with new music and has giving world premières of works by such luminous composers as Pierre Boulez, Benjamin Britten, Frederick Delius, Elisabeth Lutyens, Elizabeth Maconchy, Claude Messiaen, Heitor Villa-Lobos and William Walton as well as by such leading contemporary composers as John Adams, Sally Beamish, Helen Grime, Olivier Knussen, Kaija Saariaho, John Tavener and Mark Anthony Turnage.

The orchestra has also championed the works of Arnold Schoenberg, Manuel de Falla, Ferruccio Busoni, Béla Bartók (including performing the world première of his Cantata profana), Sergei Prokofiev, Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud and Karol Szymanowski while giving the UK première of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. Therefore, new music alongside the promotion of living composers remains vital to the orchestra’s work today and among those commissioned in recent years are Tom Coult, Zosha Di Castri, Bryce Dessner, Peter Eötvos, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Raymond Yiu.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Six Songs of Melmoth: premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's new song-cycle at Oxford Lieder Festival

Joseph Middleton, Carolyn Sampson - Oxford Lieder Festival 2020 (Photo taken from live stream)
Joseph Middleton, Carolyn Sampson - Oxford Lieder Festival 2020
(Photo taken from live stream)

Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Schubert, Satie, Poldowski, Walton; Carolyn Sampson, Joseph Middleton; Oxford Lieder Festival at Holywell Music Room

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 October 2020
A striking new song-cycle inspired by a gothic novel alongside Schubert and side-long glances at French song

The advantage of the 2020 Oxford Lieder Festival is that if you miss an event, it is still there on-line to be sampled later. This means, that last night I was finally able to listen to soprano Carolyn Sampson and pianist Joseph Middleton's 13 October 2020 recital at the Holywell Music Room, where they premiered Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Six Songs of Melmoth commissioned by the festival as part of Frances-Hoad's residency. Alongside the new cycle, Sampson and Middleton performed songs by Schubert, Satie, Poldowski and Walton.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad and librettist Sophie Rashbrook describe Six Songs of Melmoth as 'a musical matryoshka', referencing the nested Russian dolls. The cycle is inspired by Charles Maturin's 1820 gothic novel, Melmoth the Wanderer and, as with other classic novels in the gothic genre, Maturin's story is an embedded series of layers of apparently independent stories which in fact each shed light on an aspect of Melmoth, a classic figure, condemned to wander the Earth for all time. Frances-Hoad and Rashbrook also mine Sarah Parry's 2018 novel, Melmoth. The resulting song-cycle neatly solves the problem of the narrative song cycle, where it is fatally easy to fall into the trap of creating an opera by default. Frances-Hoad and Rashbrook have written six songs which add up to a story, but because they are written from different points of view and different time periods, it is up to the listener to piece it together. And only in the last song do we hear the voice of Melmoth themself (in the song-cycle they are a character of fluid gender, like Virginia Woolf's Orlando).

A song is a song is a song: composer Errollyn Wallen on her multi-faceted career and her forthcoming EP with King's College Choir

Errollyn Wallen (Photo Cathy Masser)
Errollyn Wallen (Photo Cathy Masser)

Composer Errollyn Wallen has a new EP out next month, Peace on Earth, three choral works recorded by the choir of King's College, Cambridge conducted by the late Sir Stephen Cleobury, on King's College's own label, King's College Recordings. Errollyn was recently in the public eye, thanks to the BBC commission to produce a new version of Hubert Parry's Jerusalem for the 2020 Last Night of the Proms. But there is a remarkable breadth to Errollyn's music which ranges from her songbook, songs written for her own performance to complex large scale works and opera, and we recently met up via Zoom to chat about the new disc, her career and much more.

Errollyn's original intention was for a new disc which comprised here smaller-scale choir and organ works; she has written a lot of large-scale choral pieces and thought it would be good to bring the smaller ones together. She approached King's College initially with a view just to use the chapel for recording, but Stephen Cleobury invited her to bring the disc out on the King's College label. There is a complete CD planned, with both choral works and organ works, but they have yet to record the organ pieces and as these three choral pieces are some of the last music that Stephen Cleobury recorded, issuing them as an EP seemed appropriate.

The three choral works on the new disc are not necessarily linked. See that I am God, setting a text by the 14th century visionary Julian of Norwich, was an occasional work, written for a service at St Paul's Cathedral in 2014 as a rather moving celebration the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Church of England. As such it has only been performed once (by the St Paul's Cathedral Consort) so it is fantastic to have a recording. She describes it as a challenging work and says that she was amazed by the choir's performance on the disc. Pace, the most recent work on the disc, sets the single word 'pace' (the Latin for peace) was commissioned for an anthology.  Peace on Earth was originally written as a song for Errollyn herself to sing, and she still sings it quote often, though it has been done by choirs. It is a relatively straightforward piece, themed on Winter and Christmas, about the darkness of Winter and the yearning for light.

Errollyn Wallen, Sir Stephen Cleobury, choir of King's College, Cambridge (Photo Benjamin Sheen)
Errollyn Wallen, Sir Stephen Cleobury, choir of King's College, Cambridge
(Photo Benjamin Sheen)

So the works all have diverse origins, but for each commission she receives Errollyn thinks deeply about what music is for, and even for something like the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar she was able to find something that struck a chord.

Friday, 16 October 2020

ORA Singers announce second Composer Competition for pupils from UK state schools

ORA Singers' 2019 Composer Competition Final Concert (Photo Nick Rutter)
ORA Singers' 2019 Composer Competition final concert (Photo Nick Rutter)

ORA Singers (artistic director Suzi Digby) has announced its second Composer Competition, following on from a successful one in 2019. As in 2019, the competition is aimed at UK state school students only, and the idea is to mentor and develop young composers with limited access to specialist tuition.

'Nothing else I’ve done this year-including school! - has taught me, inspired me and moulded me as much as this competition. Thank you so much to everyone at ORA, it’s been incredible.'
Emily Pedersen (2019 Competition Winner)

Anyone with a good understanding of music notation can apply, the competition is not looking for finished pieces and simply asks that applicants submit something they’ve written at school, home or for a friend, alongside a personal statement.

Finalists will receive specialist mentoring in order to write a new a cappella choral work, so even if applicants don’t have any experience in choral writing yet, that’s not a problem! The ten selected finalists will be assigned a personal mentor and receive ten hours (or the equivalent) of compositional guidance. This will be slotted around school studies and aimed to assist the young aspiring composers in their musical development, each aspiring composer will be ‘trained by’ one of ORA’s commissioned composers. 

Finalists will also get the chance to take part in a compositional workshop and meet their peers part-way through the mentoring programme. And, at the end of the programme, Finalists’ works will then be performed/presented in the Competition Final Concert/Presentation, at which a winner will be chosen by the Final Adjudication Panel. Each finalist will also receive a recording of their work for promotional purposes!

Full details from the ORA website


The children of Rathfern Primary School get creative: A Boat In An Endless Sea

A Boat in an Endless Sea - Rathfern Primary School, Kelly Poukens, Alastair White, Joel China

Despite lockdown, the children of Rathfern Primary School in Catford have managed to still be creative. Aided by soprano Kelly Poukens and composer Alastair White, [whose opera Robe we caught at Tête à Tête last year, see my review] the children have written and performed an experimental opera,  A Boat In An Endless Blue Sea which is being premiered on-line next Wednesday, 21 October 2020. The opera is about the children's experience of COVID-19, and the work utilises the on-line form with visual artist Joel China, through a fusion of graphic scores, conduction techniques, sound art, poetry and physical theatre, rather than trying to simply re-create a live opera on-line.

Alastair White explains, "In the spring of 2020, under Covid restrictions, it was no longer possible to create live opera. Rather than translating traditional performance online, we tried to see this as an opportunity to reimagine the form.  In doing so, we proceeded from the idea that: everything is always possible. Nothing lasts forever. Not youth, not political oppression, not even this universe. Central to this axiom is the notion of contingency - of non-relation, and total transformation.

Of course, the material basis of this was the fact that much of the process necessitated participants being separate and apart, linked digitally through videocall, projection and isolated recording. Strange at first, but new forms of relationship and community emerged from these breaks and spaces. And then, in turn, new techniques of storytelling - of understanding what was happening to one another, of what had happened to the world.

Rathfern Primary School is a vibrant community in Catford which pioneered the development of ‘learning about learning’, or metacognition. Led by Naheeda Maharasingam, with Max Ellington, Sally McPherson, Rose Powell and Olivia Zulver, their commitment to putting the individual at the heart of the educational experience is central to the opera’s process

The YouTube trailer for the work provides the Zoom link for the premiere, and the work will be available on YouTube after the premiere.

From early Schubert to late Geoffry Bush: Robin Tritschler and Graham Johnson at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Graham Johnson & Robin Tritschler at the Oxford Lieder Festival 2020
Graham Johnson & Robin Tritschler at the Oxford Lieder Festival 2020
(Photo taken from live-stream)

Barber, Schubert, Ives, Duke, St Edmonds, Clarke, Argento, Bush; Robin Tritschler, Graham Johnson; Oxford Lieder Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 October 2020
Schubert's earliest song-cycle and an exploration of the signs of the zodiac by Geoffrey Bush form the centrepiece of this fascinating recital

The Oxford Lieder Festival is in full swing with a whole host of events on-line. I caught tenor Robin Tritschler and pianist Graham Johnson's lunchtime recital on Monday 12 October 2020, which was streamed live from the Holywell Music Room. Entitled Songs of the Zodiac, the programme centred on the song cycle of that name by Geoffrey Bush setting 12 poems by David Gascoyne, alongside songs by Samuel Barber, Charles Ives, John Duke, John St Edmunds, Rebecca Clarke, Dominick Argento and Gottfried Stölzel/JS Bach and
Schubert's first song-cycle.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Author of Light: The Sixteen in an engaging and uplifting programme of Tudor music at Temple Church

Thomas Campion
Thomas Campion

Author of Light
- Campion, Cornysh, Byrd, De Monte; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers, David Miller; Temple Church

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 October 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Tudor music, sacred and secular, early and late, mixed in this engaging programme for Temple Music

Under the title Author of Light, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, with lutenist David Miller, presented a concert of Tudor music, sacred and secular, at Temple Church on Tuesday 13 October 2020 as part of Temple Music's Autumn programme. Social distancing meant that the church was rather emptier than is usual for these occasions and The Sixteen performed with just ten singers, plus lutenist David Miller. The programme began and ended with choral pieces by Thomas Campion (1567-1620) and in the middle interwove Campion's solo songs with lute with motets by William Byrd (c1540-1623) and Philippe de Monte (1521-1603), and music both sacred and secular by William Cornysh (1465-1523) including the anthem Woefully array'd.

We began with Campion's Author of Light, perhaps more of a sacred madrigal than an anthem. The ensemble's sound was beautifully smooth, enlivened by crisp detail in the moving parts. One of Cornysh's secular pieces followed, My love she mourn'th. If William Cornysh wrote everything attributed to him, then he had a very wide range from Eton Choirbook motets to popular-inspired songs, but some commentators think that some repertoire is attributable to his father (also William Cornysh). My love she mourn'th set Ben Davies' shapely unaccompanied solo line against the sober melancholy of the male-voice ensemble, in a performance full of felicitous detail. 

Byrd's Ad Dominum cum tribularer provided a complete change of scale, an eight-part motet setting words from psalm 120 which may date from the 1560s and Byrd's time at Lincoln. It had a gorgeous rich, dense texture full of false relations and overall gave a sense of slowly unfolding whilst busy inner parts provided felicitous detail. 

Bloomsbury Festival 2020: live, on-line and on the radio

Bloomsbury Festival 2020 

On 16 October 2020, the Bloomsbury Festival launches with over 100 events in and around Bloomsbury, inside, outside, on-line and on Bloomsbury Radio. Running until 25 October, the festival features world premieres, cross-genre collaborations, classical and world music. Established in 2006, each October the festival brings a creative explosion to venues in Bloomsbury.

Romantic Remnants is a cross-art collaboration, which combines Owen Ho's arrangement of Schumann's Scenes from Childhood with American composer Joan Tower's Petroushskates, choreography, video and photography. In The Colours of Music, pianist Anna Szałucka and cellist Margarita Balanas perform Pärt, Bartók, Chopin, Ravel, Szymanowski and Debussy whilst Balans will be live-painting during the piano solos! 

Another cross genre concert, Music & Renewal presented by NW Live Arts, will be mixing Kiljit Bhamra on tabla, Andres Ticino on percussion and the Alkyona String Quartet, moving from improvisation on tabla, to Ravel and Ligeti, to a new piece by Caroline Heslop, and video art exploring how music renews the mind, body and spirit created by members of a community workshop led by artist Antonia Attwood.

Archicantores will be performing Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle in Holy Cross Church. And regular lunchtime concerts will be streamed on-line from the Music Room, Great Ormond Street, and available throughout the festival including recitals from pianist Siyu Sun, lutenist Sergio Bucheli, soprano Adaya Malka Peled and pianist Chavdar Mazgelov,  saxophonist Robert Finegan and harpist Tara Viscardi, and violinist Kevin Ng and pianist Thomas Ang.

Full details from the festival website.

Leeds Lieder's Autumn weekend, on-line and in person

Leeds Lieder - Autumn weekend - 29-31 October

What are you doing for Halloween this year? Leeds Lieder hopes that you will be settling down with counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, pianist Joseph Middleton for a recital of Schubert song. The recital is the conclusion of Leeds Lieder's Autumn Weekend, amongst the first socially distanced song recitals outside of London since the outbreak of the pandemic. From 29 to 31 October 2020, artistic director Joseph Middleton, Ian Bostridge, Louise Alder, Iestyn Davies, Nardus Williams, Benson Wilson and Harriet Burns will fill Leeds Town Hall with song, with a socially-distanced live audience and every concert live-streamed.

The weekend opens with tenor Ian Bostridge and Joseph Middleton in Schubert's Winterreise. This will be preceded by the first of three rising star recitals over the weekend, for the first one Harriet Burns performs Schubert's Ellens Gesang I, II & III, the recital taking place under the auspices of Barbara Hannigan’s Momentum Equilibrium initiative.

On Friday, soprano Louise Alder joins Middleton for a programme including Grieg's Six Songs, Op.  48 and Rachmaninov's Six songs, Op. 38. Grieg's songs, dating from the 1880s, represent his first German settings since the early 1860s and the subjects might reflect the new harmony in his marriage following problems. Rachmaninov's songs, written in 1916 a year before he left Russia for ever, and they seem to be virtually the last songs that he wrote. The recital ends with Strauss' Four last songs. This recital is preceded by baritone Benson Wilson (winner of the 2019 Kathleen Ferrier Award) in English and Samoan song.

Saturday sees the festival returning to Schubert as counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and Joseph Middleton perform Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, preceded by soprano Nardus Williams in Liszt, Brahms and Wolf.

There will be pre-concert talks, shared via social media, whilst texts, translations and programme notes will be available to download from the festival website and emailed out to ticket holders. The festival's education programme is also continuing on-line, reaching 1000s of school children, and this year's young artists will be receiving on-line coaching from Roderick Williams, Louise Alder, Iain Burnside and Malcolm Martineau.

 Full details from the Leeds Lieder website 

Tuesday, 13 October 2020


Musicians' Movement
Whilst the announcements of the government's emergency funding for arts organisations is welcome news, much of this money seems destined not to trickle down to freelance artists many of whom are struggling in the present climate of uncertainty. Last week, the Musicians' Movement announced a new campaign partnership with the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM). There are two prongs to this, support for a COVID-Secure Freelance Performers' Support Scheme and the extension and expansion of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

The first of these would guarantee performers a minimum fee, even if restrictions change, and help to create a route back to work. It would give venues and promoters the opportunity to programme in advance without financial insecurity, thus enabling them to curate coherent programmes again.

Many musicians have fallen through the gaps in the current Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, and the campaign calls upon the government to deliver on its pledge to ensure parity between employees and the self-employed by maintaining the level of support provided by the Self Employment Income Support Scheme and by expanding the eligibility criteria.

The arts sector is not a negligible part of the UK economy, it contributes 2.8billion a year to the Treasury via taxation alone, generates a further £23billion a year and employs over 360,000 people across the UK economy. All of this is at risk. The UK’s rich cultural heritage has been built up over generations and is being thrown away. 

The Musicians' Movement is a UK based organisation run by musicians, for musicians, and was set up as a response to the current pandemic.

Full details from the Musicians' Movement website.

The City of Derry International Choir Festival

The City of Derry International Choir Festival
The City of Derry International Choir Festival has been part of Northern Ireland's musical life since 2013,  with its combination of participatory events for choirs of all ages and abilities and wide range of guest artists. This year, the festival will be somewhat different as from 21 to 25 October 2020, it all takes place online.

Belfast's composer laureate, Brian Irvine, has written a new piece specially for the festival A new topography of love which will be performed by the Derry-based chamber choir Codetta and the Beckmann Foundation Choir from Tequila, Mexico, accompanied by an animation. There will be concerts from the chamber choir Tenebrae (in Allegri, Bach, Lassus and Reger), and Irish six-piece a cappella group Ardú. And there will be a series of video performances from choirs from all over the globe.

Bob Chilcott will direct a 350-strong virtual chorus made from singers all over the globe, and on the opening night young pupils from post-primary schools across Derry, Strabane, Omagh and Donegal will join forces for a virtual school choir. 

Other on-line treats include interviews with special festival guests including renowned choral conductors Ragnar Rasmussen and Josep Vila i Casañas, extracts from archives of previous festivals, and a livestreamed symposium called Sing Joyfully, where 6 panellists and leaders in music will come together for an inspiring conversation on how music-makers can move forward and adapt their work to suit our extraordinary times.

Full details from the festival website.

Huddersfield Choral Society commissions two new works in memory of departed colleagues

Like choral groups the world over, the Huddersfield Choral Society was silenced by the pandemic and it lost members to COVID-19. To create something new out of the experience and to remember departed friends, the choir commissioned texts from Huddersfield-born Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate, and commissioned composers Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Daniel Kidane to set the words.

Armitage had asked each member of the choir to send him a single word which summed up their experience of lockdown, and out of these he created two lyrics, We'll sing and The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash, and these have been set by Frances-Hoad and Kidane.

Simon Armitage commented: 'I wanted to try and catch some of the mood of lockdown in the lyrics, both the difficulties people have gone through and the great resilience they’ve shown. The pandemic has been devastating for the creative arts but especially hard on singers, with the world reduced to whispers and masked mumblings. I didn’t just want to put words in their mouths, I wanted to put air in their lungs and blood in their hearts!’

Last week members began to rehearse in groups of fifteen, in accordance with current government guidelines, led by the Society’s Choral Director, Gregory Batsleer. Century Films will piece it all together to create two videos of each work which will receive their world premiere on-line on 28 November at 7.30pm at the choir's website.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Glyndebourne's outdoor Offenbach comes indoors with a terrific ensemble cast

Offenbach: In the market for Love - Rupert Charlesworth, Nardus Williams, Matthew Rose, Brenden Gunnell, Michael Wallace - Glyndebourne (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Offenbach: In the market for Love - Rupert Charlesworth, Nardus Williams, Matthew Rose, Brenden Gunnell, Michael Wallace
Glyndebourne (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

Offenbach In the market for love; Kate Lindsey, Nardus Williams, Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, Matthew Rose, Brenden Gunnell, Rupert Charlesworth, Michael Wallace, Stephen Langridge, Ben Glassberg; Glyndebourne

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 October 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The sheer joy of performing; Offenbach's frothy market-set operetta is a first for Glyndebourne

Stephen Langridge's production of Offenbach's In the market for love (Mesdames de la Halle) at Glyndebourne this Summer was a quick thinking response to the lockdown. With a new English version by Stephen Plaice, the initial run of performances took place out of doors and were a direct response to the pandemic. Slightly re-cast, the production has now made its way indoors, still as topical as ever and still socially distanced. On Sunday 11 October 2020 we caught Stephen Langridge's production of Offenbach's In the market for love at Glyndebourne with Brenden Gunnell as Mademoiselle Bouillabaisse, Rupert Charlesworth as Madame Beurrefondu, Michael Wallace as Madame Mangetout, Matthew Rose as the police inspector, Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts as Raflafla, Kate Lindsey as Harry Coe and Nardus Williams as Ciboulette. Ben Glassberg conducted the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra.

A Life On-Line: Walton & Sitwell in Art-Deco splendour, Handel in Italy, Purcell in London, Frederic Rzewski in New York

Reginald Mobley & Quodlibet Ensemble at Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York City
Reginald Mobley & Quodlibet Ensemble at Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York City

The Freemasons Hall might seem a strange location for William Walton and Edith Sitwell's entertainment, Facade, yet the work premiered in 1923 and the Freemasons Hall opened just 10 years later, so an art deco masterpiece is not quite as unlikely as it may seem. London Mozart Players performed Facade at the Freemasons Hall as part of its on-line Classical Club, joining with conductor Benjamin Pope and actor Samuel West. Sitwell's poems were not necessarily written for Walton, they come from a collection in which she was experimenting with rhythm, they are about rhythms rather than sense. Butcommentators suggest a closely argued logic to the allusions the text with a number of references to Sitwell's childhood (the mariner man is her father's valet and black Mrs Behemoth, Sitwell's mother). So, I have to confess that I got rather annoyed at the way LMP introduced the work referring to the 'eccentric' poems.

Thankfully, Samuel West is probably one of the best people around to take the role of narrator and having heard him doing the narrations in live accounts of Britten and Auden's film The Night Mail it was terrific to be able to hear him in action. His performances were wonderfully rhythmic, and clearly part of the ensemble, rather than worrying about 'making sense', though there was plenty of sense too. The result, with LMP's sparkling playing, is a complete delight [London Mozart Players' Classical Club].

On Tuesday we went to the English Concert's evening of Purcell at St John's Smith Square when Kristian Bezuidenhout directed a lovely programme of Birthday Odes for Queen Mary along with the first modern performance of a newly authenticated Purcell duet. And Come ye, sons of art was given in a new edition restoring it to more like Purcell's (lost) original [see my review]. The good news is that you can also enjoy this terrific performance on-line [EnglishConcert]. And on Friday, I caught another of the Britain's Orpheus concerts on-line.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Their job is to be advocates for the music: Rakhi Singh of Manchester Collective on the group's recent EP 'Recreation'

Rakhi Singh (Photo César Vásquez Altamirano)
Rakhi Singh (Photo César Vásquez Altamirano)

During lockdown the Manchester Collective has been continuing to be active, the group's website has been busy, and the group itself has been recording with a series of recordings planned. The first of these, Recreation on the Icelandic record label Bedroom Community, came out last month, and it interweaves movements from Ligeti's String Quartet No. 1 with movements from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons plus a chorale by Bach, all linked by interludes from composer Paul Clark (co-founder of the Clod Ensemble). I recently met up with the violinist on the disc, Rakhi Singh who is the collective's co-founder and music director to find out more.

Rakhi had performed Vivaldi's Four Seasons as a soloist with the Manchester Camerata in 2017, and whilst she enjoyed the music she had wondered whether it was necessary to perform all the concertos. She also does a lot of listening and having String Quartet No. 1 by Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006) on her playlist made her think of the Vivaldi, somehow the two very different works had a certain brightness and vivacity in common. Then she started to think about a set which mixed the two works (and in the end they have added some Bach too), and she adds that this type of idea can come when you are not thinking about them and that when you have those moments, they are joyful. There is also the hope that if the combination of music means something to you, it will mean something to others as well.

Manchester Collective
Manchester Collective

The group first performed the programme on tour, and of course the first thing that had to happen, before even the first rehearsal, was that they cut up the Ligeti and Vivaldi instrumental parts, interleaving the different movements to create the collage of music. And then, as often happens, at the first rehearsal her first thought was 'what have we done', will people enjoy it. 

Friday, 9 October 2020

Introducing Poem No. 1 by Jan Harris

Poem No. 1 for large-orchestra by Essex-born composer Jan Harris has been broadcast on BBC Introducing and was performed by the Andover Light Orchestra (in an arrangement to suit the instruments available). Harris' Poem No. 2 was due to be premiered this year, but that performance has been cancelled and the work will be premiered in 2021 by Westmorland Youth Orchestra.

Jan Harris is largely self-taught as a composer, though he acknowledges invaluable help from Kevin Riley (of Andover Light Orchestra), and his background includes writing and playing in a folk/rock project and performing keyboards in a Pink Floyd tribute act. His earliest memories of music at junior school are of disliking it, and it was only hearing the Canadian rock band Rush that helped transform things, along with hearing Beethoven's Symphony No. 5

Birmingham Opera Company to stage Das Rheingold in a disused metalworks

Historic photo of the Tubeworks, Birmingham
Historic photo of the Tubeworks, Birmingham

Ever since the Centenary Ring at Bayreuth in 1976, when Patrice Chéreau famously staged the tetralogy in the context of 19th century capitalism and industrialism with Richard Peduzzi's sets bringing industrial monuments onto the stage, it has been common for stagings of the Ring bring out the work's commentary on 19th century industrialism. But for their 2021 production of Wagner's Das Rheingold, Graham Vick and Birmingham Opera Company plan to perform go even further, and perform the work in a 19th century industrial monument. 

The new production will take place in a disused metalworks, The Tubeworks on Icknield Port Loop, which is set to be developed into a community and cultural hub. The production will be conducted by Birmingham Opera Company's newly appointed music director, Alpesh Chauhan with a diverse international cast and volunteer local performers. Now I have to confess that usually, if Das Rheingold is performed alone without the rest of the Ring, the prospect does not appeal particularly, but the idea of one of Birmingham Opera Company's thrilling productions in an old industrial monument is rather appealing.

The cast includes Eric Greene as Wotan (Greene seems to be expanding his Wagner range, having previously sung Donner and Gunther for English National Opera and Opera North), Brenden Gunnell  as Loge (Gunnell sang the Lover in Birmingham Opera Company's 2019 production of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk), Ross Ramgobin  as Alberich (Ramgobin sang Yuri in Birmingham Opera Company's 2015 production of Tippett's The Icebreak), Chrystal E Williams as Fricka (Willams sang the Wife in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) with Francesca Chiejina (Freia), Amar Muchhala (Froh), Byron Jackson (Donner), Gweneth-Ann Rand (Erda), Keel Watson (Fasolt) and Andrew Slater (Fafner).

To help fund the production, the company has launched a Going for Gold campaign, where all donations through the Fedora platform will be matched by a generous grant from the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation (UK) to a maximum of 45,000 Euros.

Wagner 22: Oper Leipzig says farewell to its music director with all 13 of Wagner's operas

Wagner: The Ring - Siegfried - Oper Leipzig (photo Tom_Schulze)
Wagner: The Ring - Siegfried - Oper Leipzig in 2018 (photo Tom_Schulze)

In 2018, our correspondent Tony Cooper saw Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle at Oper Leipzig [see Tony's review], conducted by the company's music director and intendant, Prof. Ulf Schirmer. In 2022, Oper Leipzig will bid farewell to Prof. Schirmer with Wagner 22, a spectacular leaving present consisting of performances of all 13 of Richard Wagner's music dramas, with all the operas (except for the Ring Cycle) performed in chronological order, and the festival will include Wagner's three rarely performed early works, Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi. The Leipzig Gewandhausorchester will perform for all the events. 

To date, the list of confirmed guests includes Evelyn Herlitzius (Kundry), Jennifer Holloway, Lise Lindstrom, Daniela Sindram, Manuela Uhl, Markus Eiche, René Pape, Iain Paterson, Andreas Schager (Tristan), Stefan Vinke, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Michael Volle (Wotan in Das Rheingold).

The event will also be accompanied by a scholarly and artistic programme.

Wagner 22 is being dedicated to the memory of Gustav Brecher (1879-1940), who was music director and opera director from 1923 to 1933 and did much to put Oper Leipzig on the map, and Brecher is intimately linked with the idea of performing all of Wagner's operas, as Oper Leipzig's press release explains:

Gustav Brecher saw in Richard Wagner’s musical dramas the representation of the ideal union of music, text, and drama. That is why he wanted to present the composer’s complete works in Leipzig, the city of the composer's birth. Gustav Brecher’s dismissal and expulsion from Leipzig took place immediately after the premiere of Kurt Weill’s Silbersee in 1933. His vision of an artistic Wagner festival was ideologically seized upon by the Nazi’s unjust state, and five years later, the project was realized for the first and only time in the 20th century, in celebration of the composer’s 125th birthday. The antisemitic dismissal, the exile that followed, and fear cost Gustav Brecher his life: Brecher, along with his wife and mother-in-law, committed suicide while fleeing Germany in 1940.

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Live and on-line: Sage Live 2020 launches with three concerts from the Royal Northern Sinfonia

Sage Gateshead (Photo Simon Burgon)
Sage Gateshead (Photo Simon Burgon)

The Sage Gateshead is returning to live performances with Sage Live 2020, a seven-week season of live concerts beginning 23 October 2020, with all performances being live-streamed. The concerts are being announced in waves, with the first three weeks of concerts now confirmed.

The Royal Northern Sinfonia will be giving three Friday evening concerts. Jessica Cottis conducts a programme which includes Jean Francaix's Concerto for Double Bass (with Philip Nelson) and work by the contemporary American composer Jessie Montgomery. Lars Vogt will be directing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 'Emperor' from the piano, alongside a new commission from Kristina Arakelyan. Chloe van Soeterstède conducts a programme which includes Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile (with cellist Steffan Morris) and Iain Farrington's chamber version of Sibelius' Symphony No.5. Other gigs include an appearance from she of the Northumbrian pipes, Katheryn Tickell.

Sage Gateshead also recently launched its 20/21 season of online activity, including Make Music – its weekly programme of adult music classes, its Young People’s Programme which usually offers musical activity for over 10,000 young people, and its artist development programme which supports musicians from across the region. This activity has now moved online to ensure that people across the North can continue their music making as we head into the winter months.

The centre has also launched an ambitious fundraising campaign to raise £3 million to enable it to continue working in the current climate.

Full details from the Sage Gateshead website

Rarity & intensity: Ermonela Jaho's debut recital, Anima Rara, explores repertoire associated with her great predecessor Rosina Storchio

Anima Rara - Puccini, Verdi, Boito, Catalini, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Massenet; Ermonela Jaho,Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Andrea Battistoni; Opera Rara

Anima Rara
- Puccini, Verdi, Boito, Catalini, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Massenet; Ermonela Jaho,Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Andrea Battistoni; Opera Rara

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 October 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
The Albanian soprano's debut recital sees her exploring a wide variety of vocal styles in her tribute to the great Italian soprano Rosina Storchio

The Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945) is best known for creating the title role in Puccini's Madama Butterfly, but she was in fact associated with a number of contemporary Italian composers as well as having a repertory which was remarkably wide, incorporating not just Verismo works but Massenet, Weber, and Mozart as well as Italian composers of the bel canto era.

This new disc from Opera Rara, with soprano Ermonela Jaho, the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana and Andrea Battistoni, draws together a whole range of roles associated with Storchio. Anima Rara is Jaho's debut disc, and on it she sings excerpts from Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Verdi's La traviata, as well as music operas by Boito (Mefistofele), Catalini (La Wally), Giordano (Siberia), Leoncavallo (La bohème), Mascagni (Iris, Lodoletta and L’amico Fritz) and Massenet (Manon and Sapho)

We start with Madama Butterfly which not a conspicuous success at its premiere in 1904, though Rosina Storchio's performance in the title role was praised. Here Ermonela Jaho sings the Act II aria, 'Un bel di, vedremo' with fragile-sounding tone but with a core of strength. Certainly, she does not sound 16, but she gives us beautifully shape, long phrases and a strong sense of emotion. You don't at first think that Jaho will have the power for the climaxes, but she certainly does.

Recording sessions - Ermonela Jaho, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana - Valencia, 2019 (Photo Simon Weir)
Recording sessions - Ermonela Jaho, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana - Valencia, 2019
(Photo Simon Weir)

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Reviving Villa Lobos' Floresta do Amazonas

Poster for the 1959 film, Green Mansions

Heitor Villa Lobos' Floresta do Amazonas (Forest of the Amazon) is fascinating yet frustrating. The work started off as a film score to the 1959 film Green Mansions, directed by Mel Ferrer and based on William Henry Hudson's book of the same name. The film, which is set in the Amazon, starred Audrey Hepburn (who was married to Ferrer at the time) and Anthony Perkins. But Villa Lobos (who was 70 at the time he wrote the score) was new to making Hollywood films and in the end most of his score was jettisoned. Villa Lobos then adapted it as a sort of symphony. It is his final major work, yet extremely little known partly because the performing materials remained in manuscript and there seemed to be no definitive edition.

Recently, the Academia Brasileira de Música revised and edited the material, and the conductor Simone Menezes worked with them to create a Suite for Symphony Orchestra and soprano formed by the best music parts for a concert version for a “normal” symphony orchestra and soprano. Now there is a chance to hear this as Menezes will be conducting the suite in concert at the Philharmonie de Paris next year (10/4/2021) with the combined forces of Orchestre de l'Opéra de Rouen Normandie and Orchestre Régional de Normandie, plus soprano Camilla Titinger, with a concert this year on the orchestras' home ground at Rouen's Theatre des Arts on Saturday 17 October 2020. The concert will also include parts of Philip Glass' Aguas da Amazonas and will feature photographs by Sebastiao Selgado.

The new suite is in 11 movements (4 of them with soprano), and Simone Menezes describes the soprano pieces as amazing. These have been recorded separately, but in the real context of the full work they are astonishing. Menezes calls the work an eloquent composition, but also simple and direct, a work of genius. The whole work is rhapsodic, something for which Villa Lobos has been criticised, but this is music which has grown out of Argentinian soil, so as Menezes comments, we can hardly expect sonata form! Something of the work's primitivism might evoke Stravinsky, but the orchestration had a significant effect on Olivier Messiaen who mentioned Villa-Lobos' influence over Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony.

Villa Lobos said that his works were letters written for posterity, and for Simone Menezes Floresta do Amazonas is a letter we must read.

Further information from the Orchestre Régional de Normandie website, and the Philharmonie de Paris website.

Your chance to eavesdrop on musical jollity in Toronto: on-line gala benefiting the Royal Conservatory of Music

The Resounding Concert - Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto
One of the effects of the way much of classical music is going on-line, as a result of the present crisis, is that we can eavesdrop on events which are taking place a long way away, and which in normal circumstances would be unavailable to us. 

The Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) in Toronto, Canada is having an on-line gala event on 17 October 2020, The Resounding Concert which will feature a number of well-known performers who have performed at RCM's Koerner Hall, including sopranos Sondra Radvanovsky, and Barbara Hannigan, pianists Lang Lang and Jan Lisiecki (who is an alumnus of the conservatory), violinists James Ehnes and Daniel Hope, along with artists from other performing worlds including actress Meryl Streep, the singer k.d.lang and the singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie.

The live-stream is free, but the conservatory is soliciting donations, and if you live in the area there are all sorts of other ways you can support. Full details from the RCM's website.

Intimacy, grandeur, a new work and a new edition: Purcell odes and more from the English Concert

Whitehall Palace in the late 17th century
Whitehall Palace in the late 17th century

Purcell; English Concert, Kristian Bezuidenhout; St John's Smith Square

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 October 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A newly attributed work, and a striking new edition to a familiar work enliven an engaging programme of music by Purcell emphasising both intimacy and grandeur

As part of its on-line series of concerts of music by Handel and by Purcell, Britain's Orpheus, the English Concert presented a programme of music by Purcell at St John's Smith Square on Tuesday 6 October 2020 which was streamed on-line but also welcomed a live audience. Directed from the keyboard by Kristian Bezuidenhout, the English Concert performed Purcell's Love's Goddess sure was Blind Z331, Oh that my grief, Since God so tender a regard Z143 and Come ye, songs of art Z323 with soloists Rowan Pierce (soprano), James Laing and Hugh Cutting (countertenors), Anthony Gregory and Hugo Hymas (tenor) and Ashley Riches (bass).

As well as being a chance to hear live performances of some of Purcell's finest works in a venue built less than 25 years after his death (Purcell died in 1695 and St John's Smith Square was completed in 1728), the concert was also the chance to hear a newly identified work by Purcell, as well as to hear a familiar work in a striking new edition which restored it to something more like the state that Purcell would have known it in.

The English Concert
The English Concert

Bookending the programme was a pair of birthday odes which Purcell wrote for Queen Mary.

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