Monday 7 December 2020

A Life on Line - Being Black in America, A Voice of One's Own from Positive Note and Telling Tales at the Wigmore Hall

Tyshawn Sorey: Cycles of my being - Lawrence Brownlee, Opera Philadelpha (taken from live stream)
Tyshawn Sorey: Cycles of my being - Lawrence Brownlee, Opera Philadelpha (taken from video stream)

This week was something of a catch-up week, viewing work which had appeared in the last few weeks but which we had not had a chance to listen to yet. 

Cycles of my being is a song cycle by American composer Tyshawn Sorey with words by Terrance Hayes which was commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and premiered by tenor Lawrence Brownlee in 2018 [see the review of the 2018 premiere on The Philadelphia Inquirer website]. The work returned to Opera Philadelphia in September this year, when it was recorded and broadcast on-line. Brownlee returned to the solo role, with the composer conducting an ensemble of piano, violin, clarinet and cello. 

It is a strong piece about the experience of being a Black man in America today, a work full of darkness and rage and with few lighter moments. Sorey has something of a jazz background, but his music has a remarkable richness and depth which leaves a particular genre behind. Cycles of my being is not an easy work, and though it is not 50 minutes of rage there were few lighter moments. But it was clear that it had been written with Brownlee in mind, as well as the tenor's strong middle register there were moments where his bel canto experience and sheer technical control were to the fore. The website seemed to lack a printed copy of Terrance Hayes' words, which was a shame as the text seemed to warrant some consideration. [Opera Philadelphia]

I was pleased to be able to catch mezzo-soprano Diana Moore and pianist John Reid's recital, A Voice of One's Own for the Positive Note Autumn Sessions filmed at Radley College, as it chimed in with my interest in the songs of Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979). Mitchell sang two of Clarke's striking songs in a programme which was entirely devoted to 20th century British women composers, including Liza Lehmann, Rebecca Clarke, Muriel Herbert, Ethel Smyth, Phyllis Tate and many more. Embarrassingly, some were little more than names to me. Not only had Moore put together a terrific recital, but the visuals included quotes from and about the composers, which helped illuminate the music. [Positive Note]

Mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and pianist Simon Lepper's concert at Wigmore Hall was a last-minute replacement for another programme cancelled owing to travel restrictions and a delightful evening it proved. The programme, Careful the tale you tell... was something of a family affair as Kitty Whately was joined by her parents, actors Kevin Whately and Madelaine Newton, whilst Simon Lepper's page turner was his husband.

The programme was an interlinking sequence of stories, delightful and disturbing, in words and music. Beginning with Jonathan Dove, ending with Stephen Sondheim and taking in Rebecca Clarke (again!), Judith Weir, Stanford, Samuel Barber (two of the Hermit Songs), and Juliana Hall's monodrama Godiva which was written for Kitty Whately.

Music and word interlinked beautifully, Dove's The Siren was followed by Margaret Attwood's Siren Song, Rebecca Clarke's stunning The Seal Man, setting John Masefield was followed by Masefield's poem Sea Fever. Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs were counterpointed with Colm Toibin's The Testament of Mary. The stunning new monodrama from Juliana Hall was followed by an American composer of a different cast with a sequence of songs from Into the Woods.

Throughout Kitty Whately's attention to text and story-telling, alongside strong musical values meant that the whole evening shone and I regretted not being able to be there live. [Wigmore Hall]

Saturday was the Spitalfields Festival. The festival's third attempt at running an event this year, and after live concerts were cancelled twice they went on-line with a day of events, and I caught two. Fast Food, Fast Music was originally intended as a lunch-time live event when people would bring their lunches and listen to a programme of new music, all of it fast, commissioned and curated by composer Errollyn Wallen. The performers were the violin and viola Miller-Porfiris Duo and pianist Siwan Rhys in a dazzling series of imaginative short works by Errollyn Wallen, Susanna Self, Bobbie-Jane Gardner, Victoria Benito, Joy Effiong, Sarah Rodgers, Millicent James, Heloise Werner, and Jasmin Kent Rodgman. [Spitalfields Festival

In the evening there was a concert by the Dunedin Consort from Christ Church, Spitalfields. Tenor Nicholas Mulroy, Elizabeth Kenny (theorbo), Jonathan Manson (cello and viola da gamba) and John Butt (harpsichord and organ) in  Lagrime mie: Songs of Prayer and Solitude, a lovely programme of early Baroque solo music by Monteverdi, Schutz, Barbara Strozzi, Grandi and Francesca Caccini, all around the theme of prayer and solitude. This was chamber music of the highest order, with some stunning, stylish singing from Mulroy and a responsive sense of group music making. [Spitalfields Festival]

Arcangelo, artistic director Jonathan Cohen, and counter-tenor Tim Mead are planning a new recording for January 2021, a programme of sacred and secular music by Vivaldi. There was an on-line event for friends and supporters to introduce the programme, talk about why this repertoire and this composer, and also Gregory Dowling, Professor at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice sketched in the background to Vivaldi's Venice. Fundraising for the disc is still ongoing, see Tim Mead's website for more details.

The Scottish Ensemble has released the second of its Solo Collaborations. Pardes is a film created by artist Jyll Bradley, composer Anna Clyne and violist Jane Atkins, a striking meditation on creative potential, light and growth inspired by Pardes Rimmonim (Orchard of Pomegranates) by Moses Cordovero, (1522-1570) [YouTube]

Chineke! have returned Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 9 back to its original dedication. Written for George Polgreen Bridgetower (1778-1860) a virtuoso violinist of Black descent, Beethoven changed the dedication after the two fell out over a woman (!). On a new recording violinist Randall Goosby and pianist Zhu Wang perform Beethoven's Violin Sonata no. 9 - the 'Bridgetower' Sonata. [YouTube]

The Lantivet Duo (violinist and violist Anna Brigham, pianist and trumpeter Brendan Musk) were joined by trombonist Patrick Kenny for the latest in their Lantivet Living Room Series (recorded in the home in Penge) for music for striking variety of instruments ( Musk plays trumpet too, whilst Kenny doubles on recorder). This is the last in their series, raising money for Help Musicians [Lantivet Duo]

The Northern Chamber Orchestra's recent concert at Macclesfield Heritage Centre is online for a week. Nicholas Ward leads the ensemble in Mozart, Borodin, Haydn, Mendelssohn [Northern Chamber Orchestra]. The London Handel Festival is also on-line, with the final of the London Handel Singing competition, and their innovative performance of Handel's Messiah which blended live performances from soloists and orchestra with virtual choirs! [London Handel Festival]

And for those that enjoyed my discovery of the Christmas Trilogy by Vakhtang Kakhidze [see my Christmas Cd roundup], there are videos on YouTube of Part Two and Part Three.


  1. For the most accurate, up-to-date information on Rebecca Clarke’s life, career, and works, please see her official website, For further details, use the site's “Contact” page. I am a great-nephew of Clarke’s and the owner of her rights as composer and author.

    1. Many thanks, I look forward to exploring the site.



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