Saturday, 16 October 2021

Thrilling virtuosity and engaging personality in Arias for Ballino, tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado's exploration of rare 18th-century repertoire with Opera Settecento at London Handel Festival

Jorge Navarro Colorado
Jorge Navarro Colorado (Photo Jan Rebuschat)
Pen and brown ink drawing of Annibale Pio Fabri (‘Ballino’) c.1720-30 by Anton Maria Zanetti the Elder (courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust)

Arias for Ballino
- Handel, Mancini, Vivaldi, Corselli, Caldara, Alessandro Scarlatti, Francesco Scarlatti; Jorge Navarro Colorado, Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte; London Handel Festival at St George's Hannover Square

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 October 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
An exploration of arias written for the Italian tenor known as Ballino, who sang for two seasons in London and dazzled Europe with his virtuosity

Annibale Pio Fabri, known as 'Ballino', is not the best-known name amongst the singers who worked for Handel, yet on hearing him for the first time in 1729, Mrs Pendarves wrote described his voice as "sweet, clear and firm ... he sings like a gentleman, without making faces, and his manner is particularly agreeable; he is the greatest master of musick that ever sang upon the stage". For his two seasons in London, Handel both wrote him new roles and adapted existing ones, but Fabri also worked with a wide variety of European composers. There was a chance to explore Fabri and the music written for him in Arias for Ballino, Opera Settecento and Leo Duarte's concert at the London Handel Festival at St George's Hannover Square on Friday 15 October. They were joined by tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado for arias from Handel's Scipione and Partenope, Mancini's Trajano, Vivaldi's L'Incoronazione di Dario, Corselli's Farnace, Caldara's Adriano in Siria, and Alessandro Scarlatti's Marco Attilio Regolo, plus instrumental music by Handel, Vivaldi and Francesco Scarlatti.

Some 80 minutes of rare Baroque arias might sound somewhat forbidding (three of the arias, including those from Handel's Scipione, were first performances in modern times) but with performances so wonderfully engaged and engaging we were entranced. This seems to be very much a passion project for tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado, he described in the programme how singing his first two complete Handel operas (Lotario in Göttingen, and Partenope in Iford) he discovered that both roles fitted him well and that both were written for Fabri, which impelled him to go in search of other arias written for the tenor. And what music it was, clearly Fabri was rather keen on insanely long passages of very fast notes, and even the more lyrical arias were quite busy (in the manner of Johann Adolph Hasse). By the end of the evening, we had a clear idea of Fabri's tenorial style, but this was far more than an academic exercise. 

Freedom and balance: I chat to composer Noah Max whose work is in the Clements Prize for Composers at Conway Hall

Noah Max conducting the Echo ensemble (Photo Liz Isles, Dec 2020.)
Noah Max conducting the Echo Ensemble (Photo Liz Isles, Dec 2020.)

The Conway Hall has revived the Clements Prize for Composers as a way of supporting young musicians and new music. The final takes place on Sunday 17 October 2021 where seven pieces will be performed by members of the Piatti Quartet. Included in the list is Sojourn by Noah Max (written in 2017), and earlier this week I met up with Noah to chat about composition, conducting, playing the cello, painting and more.

If you look at Noah's website there seems to be not one but several Noah's, conductor, founder of the Echo Ensemble, composer, artist and more, and I was intrigued to find out which was the real Noah, how did he want to be remembered? Noah's path has been somewhat varied, he concentrated on the cello whilst he was at the Purcell School, going on to develop as a conductor and as a composer, but it is only recently that he has come to realise that he is a composer foremost. Whilst this is, to some extent, a more ephemeral career he has come to realise that he needs to create something from scratch. Music is his first language, he grew up with music and he enjoys the way composing moves from a solo activity, when writing the music, to being far more collaborative when it comes to working on the new work with performers. By contrast, his painting is a purely solo activity, no-one else is involved, and he sees it as an outlet for the immediate expulsion of emotions.

Noah Max at Wigmore Hall (Photo Quentin Poole, Dec 2019)
Noah Max and Endymion at Wigmore Hall (Photo Quentin Poole, Dec 2019)

Conducting also features his love of collaboration, but he also refers to it as an unusual job adding that he cannot understand why anyone would want to do it! And of course, there is also the philosophical question, what exactly does it mean to be a conductor? Yet, when there are sufficient musicians in a room it is evident that a conductor is needed. 

He sees music as abstract and strange, it deals in emotions not ideas and his hope is that his music will endure, and his aim as a composer is to 'tell the truth'. Much of Western classical music is based around the tension between consonance and dissonance, and he sees this as an abstraction of the same conflict in real life. And with any work of art, he feels that you know you have created something valuable when it means something to someone else.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Interpreter and creator: Uriel Pascucci performs Beethoven, Mussorgsky and his own composition on his latest disc

The idea of the composer / creator is an old one and whilst the concept has a great deal of resonance today with many young contemporary composers, the role of composer / pianist is one which still holds an aura of the past, from Liszt through Grainger to more recent names such as Ronald Stevenson. 

The young Argentinian pianist and composer, Uriel Pascucci is one who combines a pianistic career with that of composer, performing both his own and other composers' music. With his latest album on iMD-Classics, Pascucci wants to bring back an approach of interpreter and creator, and the disc combines Beethoven's Piano Sonata no. 30 in E major and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with his own Prelude, Tango and Fugue. [Link tree]

If you are interested in sampling Pascucci's pianistic talents further, then I can recommend his YouTube video of him performing his own transcription of Astor Piazzolla's Invierno Porteño.

Memorials to the unimaginable: Adam Swayne's 9/11:20

9/11:20 - Karen Walwyn, Henry Cowell, Kevin Malone, Scott Joplin, David Del Tredici; Coviello Contemporary

- Karen Walwyn, Henry Cowell, Kevin Malone, Scott Joplin, David Del Tredici; Coviello Contemporary

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 October 2021
Pianist Adam Swayne's remarkable project poses the question, in what ways can music commemorate disaster?

Pianist Adam Swayne's album 9/11:20 on Coviello Contemporary is subtitled 'Memorials on the twentieth anniversary of September 11th' and includes music by Karen Walwyn, Henry Cowell, Kevin Malone, and David Del Tredici which reflects on the events of that day and on its aftermath. Some of the music was written specifically for this purpose, notably Karen Walwyn's Reflections on 9/11, Kevin Malone's Sudden Memorials (commissioned by Swayne specifically for this project) and David Del Tredici's Missing Towers. To these Swayne adds works by Henry Cowell and Scott Joplin written a hundred years earlier.

Adam Swayne and Kevin Malone at the Royal Northern College of Music (Photo Aaron Holloway-Nahum)
Adam Swayne and Kevin Malone at the Royal Northern College of Music (Photo Aaron Holloway-Nahum)

Karen Walwyn's Reflections on 9/11 from 2008, is a seven-movement work which looks at aspects of 9/11 but not the attack itself. We hear two movements from Reflections on 9/11, 'Anguish' (the third movement) is dramatic, with flowing, unsettled textures and edgy harmonies, and Ravel's piano music (notably a work like Ondine) comes to mind. 'Burial' is completely different, almost on a ground bass, the work unfolds in a more formal manner a melody evolving over the ever moving bass.

A superb tribute to both Handel and Milton: the expansive original 1743 version of Samson at London Handel Festival

Catherine (Kitty) Clive by Willem Verelst 1740
Catherine (Kitty) Clive, the first Dalila
by Willem Verelst 1740

Handel Samson; Stuart Jackson, Paula Murrihy, Sophie Bevan, Matthew Brook, David Shipley, The English Concert, Harry Bicket; London Handel Festival at St George's Hanover Square

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 October 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Stuart Jackson as a moving and finely sung Samson in this rare outing for Handel's expansive 1743 version of his oratorio

Handel's dramatic talents as a composer ran to the expansive, in a way that Handel the promoter found tricky so that many of his works were trimmed and edited for later performances. His oratorio Samson is a case in point, after the first performance on 18 February 1743, cuts were being made and in each revival of the work, there were changes.

The London Handel Festival gave us a rare chance to hear the complete 1743 version of Handel's Samson on Thursday 13 October 2021. At St George's Hanover Square, Harry Bicket conducted the English Concert with Stuart Jackson as Samson, Sophie Bevan as Dalila, Paula Murrihy as Micah, Matthew Brook as Manoah, David Shipley as Harapha plus Rachel Redmond and Gwilym Bowen as the various Israelites and Philistines. There was no separate chorus, just three ripieno singers who joined with the soloists to perform the choruses, a practice that Handel seems to have done when he did not have a chorus available.

John Beard by John Faber Jr, after John Michael Williams 1740 (© National Portrait Gallery)
John Beard, the first Samson
by John Faber Jr, after John Michael Williams 1749
(© National Portrait Gallery)

Handel's Samson is one of his few oratorios, Messiah apart, that kept its reputation over the centuries. In part, this is due to the great admiration for Milton's poetry, though it has to be admitted that Newburgh Hamilton's libretto raids a remarkable number of other Miltonic sources for its text, not just the play Samson Agonistes. But it is only with the revival of interest in Handel's dramatic oratorios since the 1950s that we can place Samson in context and realise that, compared to Belshazzar and Saul, this is a remarkably undramatic piece. Handel, Milton, and Hamilton have created a theatre of the mind; Milton's original play was designed for a moral purpose and to be read privately, and in turning it into an oratorio something of this comes over. Nothing much happens, instead thanks to his series of interactions with his friend Micah, his father, his wife Dalila, and the Philistines' champion Harapha, we gain access to Samson's mind and thought processes. And thanks to the original concept of Milton's play, Samson is on stage throughout. Something almost unheard of in 18th-century drama.

Something of the context for this must be owing to the remarkable tenor who created Samson, John Beard. A product of the Chapel Royal who had started working for Handel in his late teens, Beard's 'day job' was as a singer on the London stage, singing songs, but much of his training was with Handel and that the composer wrote such part as Samson for him is a testament to Beard's dramatic talent. It seems that Beard had a robust, useful voice and up until Handel's death Beard would continue to sing the more lyric roles alongside the dramatic ones such as Samson and Jephtha (both of which were written for him). What the tenor clearly had was the ability to convey the dramatic moment, and stamina. In 18th-century terms, the role of Samson is remarkable for its size, and for the fact that it is a tenor at all. Outside French tragedie lyrique, operatic tenors tended to play bit parts.

Handel's casting in Samson was similarly imaginative for the role of Dalila, she was sung by Kitty Clive who was a musical comedy actress who had sung in Thomas Arne's Alfred. First night reports suggest that she had but a thread of a voice yet what she did with the words was ravishing; clearly Handel was more interested in dramatic truth, the combination of word and music, than sheer vocal pyrotechnics.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Nneka Cummins wins the Liverpool Philharmonic's 2021 Rushworth Composition Prize

Nneka Cummins
Nneka Cummins

The Liverpool Philharmonic has announced that Nneka Cummins is the winner of the 2021 Rushworth Composition Prize. The prize, issued in association with the Rushworth Foundation,  was established in 2015 is open to a North West based composer aged 18 and over who currently lives, works or were born in the North West of England (Merseyside, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Cumbria), or a registered student at a Northwest-based Higher Education institution.

Nneka Cummins, who is from Liverpool, is a composer and music producer who is currently studying composition at Masters level at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Prior to Trinity Laban, they were a solicitor and hold a first-class undergraduate degree in Law from Durham University. 

The prize provides them with a cash prize of £1,000, made possible through the support of the Rushworth Foundation, a year’s complimentary membership of the Ivors Academy, plus the ability to part in a programme of workshops, masterclasses and mentoring sessions from composers, performers, conductors and other industry professionals associated with Liverpool Philharmonic. The year will culminate in  them writing a new work for performance by Ensemble 10/10, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s new music group, which will be premiered in Autumn 2022.

Nneka Cummins’s piece Blend was performed by an ensemble from Chineke! in the Cheltenham Music Festival 2021 and they will have new a work performed by Trinity Laban Symphonic Winds on 15 October 2021 at Blackheath Halls. Further details of the event from Trinity Laban's website.

HARMONY in the City: new augmented reality & music art works created by Guildhall School students for London Wall Place

HARMONY - Griffin at St Alphage Ruins, London Wall Place © Brookfield Properties
HARMONY - Griffin at St Alphage Ruins, London Wall Place
© Brookfield Properties
London Wall Place is the largest green space in London's Square Mile, though its an area that you are just as much liable to simply walk through rather than linger in. But four new, interlinked art works are aiming to encourage people to linger, with augmented reality artworks and music created by students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The new art works, under the collective title HARMONY, were co-commissioned by Culture Mile and Brookfield Properties, and form the second part in a trilogy of creative projects that constitute the PLAY Festival, due to take place next year

HARMONY consists of four augmented reality art works, coupled with newly commissioned pieces of music. The four artworks have been installed at distinct zones across London Wall Place: Ancient & Modern at the Roman St Alphage’s ruins, Stillness & Movement at the One London Wall Place water feature, Natural & Constructed at the gardens near the Minotaur statue and Air & Earth at the highwalks. Each art work is intrinsically connected to the specific site and the nature of the environment they’re set in, with each piece of music featuring a solo (acoustic) instrumental part – flute, trombone, viola and clarinet.

Musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra, including Gareth Davies (flute), Anna Bastow (viola), James Maynard (trombone) and Andy Harper (clarinet), mentored Guildhall School students from the Electronic and Produced Music course to help them create the works. The students involved were Jasmin Meaden, Nicola Clifton Perikhanyan, Sam Dinely and Will Davenport.

Dan Shorten, creative director at Guildhall Live Events led the augmented reality element of the project, supported by a team of graduate animators from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to create the four digital works. Each installation features 3D animation overlaid onto the feed of a user’s phone camera, enabling them to listen to music and watch the animation as they move around the space.

Modified rapture: Diana Damrau and Maciej Pikulski in Schumann, Duparc, Strauss & Spanish songs at Wigmore Hall

Diana Damrau
Diana Damrau

Schumann, Duparc, Granados, Turina, Obradors, Strauss; Diana Damrau, Maciej Pikulski; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 October 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A welcome recital from the German soprano, in an eclectic programme of German, French and Spanish song

Soprano Diana Damrau is a singer whom we have not heard more than we have (most recently in 2018, when illness forced her to drop out of Paris Opera's new production of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, see my review) and we last saw her in 2016 as Lucia in Covent Garden's new production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, see my review), so it was a pleasure to be able to catch her Wigmore Hall recital on Tuesday, and clearly many others thought so. The hall was full and the response to her first entry on stage was nothing short of rapturous.

At Wigmore Hall on Tuesday 12 October 2021, soprano Diana Damrau and pianist Maciej Pikulski gave a recital which moved from Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben, through songs by Duparc to a Spanish group with songs by Granados, Turina and Obradors, then finally a group of songs by Richard Strauss. It was quite an eclectic mix, providing a range of styles and contrasts through the evening rather than centring on a single emotional journey, though love was the prevailing theme throughout.

We began with Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben, a very great cycle indeed though the idea of two male artists (Schumann and poet Chamiso) creating a work about woman's experience must now give us a moment's pause. Damrau and Pikulski didn't contextualise or explain, they simply presented us with the work in a performance where Damrau seemed to embody the female protagonist.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

A chance to hear Alfredo Casella's Concerto for Orchestra next week, performed by the Kensington Symphony Orchestra

Alfredo Casella
Alfredo Casella
The Italian composer, pianist and conductor Alfredo Casella (1883-1947) had a remarkably varied career. He was one of the generazione dell'ottanta (generation of '80), which included Casella himself, Malipiero, Respighi, Pizzetti, and Alfano; composers born around 1880, the post-Puccini generation who concentrated on writing instrumental works, rather than operas. 

Coming from a musical family (his cellist grandfather was a friend of Paganini, his father, mother and brothers were all musicians) he studied composition at the Paris Conservatoire with Faure, where Enescu and Ravel were fellow students and he became acquainted with Debussy, Stravinsky and Falla. From 1927-1929 he as the principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra (to be succeeded by Arthur Fiedler whose name is indelibly linked to the Boston Pops). As a composer his biggest success was with his ballet La Giara to a scenario by Pirandello! And his organisation of a Vivaldi Week in 1939 helped to kick-start the renaissance of Vivaldi's music in the 20th century. His grand-daughter was the actress Daria Nicolodi, and his great-grand-daughter is actress Asia Argento.

Next week there is a chance to hear Casella's 1937 Concerto for Orchestra which was written for the 50th anniversary of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam; an appealing work, rigorously constructed and brilliantly orchestrated.

Russell Keable conducts the Kensington Symphony Orchestra in Casella's Concerto for Orchestra alongside Helen Grimes' Everyone Sang (2010) and Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1 at St John Smith's Square on Monday 18 October 2021. Full details from St John's Smith Square website.

Catalonia, Poland, Canada and more: London Sinfonietta's new season

London Sinfonietta (Photo Kevin Leighton)
London Sinfonietta (Photo Kevin Leighton)

The London Sinfonietta's new season is brimful of new works, and of works exploring new territories whether geographical or metaphysical.

The Autumn season includes two major works by Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard, Libra and Leo, both of which were premiered in 1968. Edmon Colomer conducts a programme which includes the Gerhard pieces alongside works by Catalan composers Joan Magrané Figuera and Raquel García Tomás (Huddersfield, 22/11/21, Southbank, 1/12/21). Poland is the focus for Jessica Cottis' concert which includes Krzysztof Penderecki’s Sinfonietta per archi (1992) alongside two world premieres from Wojciech Błażejczyk and Paweł Mykietyn, both commissions from the newly launched International Centre for Contemporary Music (27/4/2022). Canada is the next country, as Ilan Volkov conducts Lonely Child the master work of Canadian composer Claude Vivier, with soprano Clare Booth, alongside a new work by contemporary Canadian composer Nicole Lizée. The concert is also a training event as the London Sinfonietta will be playing side-by-side with players from the Royal Academy of Music (6/5/2022).

Opera performances include a new chamber version of Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle being performed at Stone Nest as the inaugural production of Theatre of Sound, with Susan Bullock, Gweneth Ann Rand, Gerald Finley and Michael Hayes. The director is Daisy Evans and music director is Stephen Higgins, both of whom have been prime movers in Silent Opera (November 2021). And the orchestra will be in the pit when Tom Coult's opera Violet (much anticipated and much delayed by pandemic cancellations) gets its premiere at the Aldeburgh Festival, with performances at the Hackney Empire, Buxton Festival and more (June 2022)  

Other explorations include jazz with London Third Stream, an evening of new commissions which blur the boundary between classical and jazz, and Cathy Milliken's new work Night Shift which blurs the line between dreams and reality, rehearsal and concert, audience and performer.

London Sinfonietta's Writing the Future programme supports composers at the beginning of their career, allowing them to work with the ensemble. Products of the scheme are on display in February 2022 when Sian Edwards conducts Luke Lewis' The Echoes Return Slow and Alicia Jane Turner's Tell me when you get home. This latter is a theatrical and sensory piece for solo soprano (Ella Taylor) and ensemble, exploring gendered experiences of walking home alone at night (6/2/2022). Another Writing the Future composer is Alex Paxton, and his new work inspired by Grayson Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry and including elements from improvisatory workshops with school children will be premiered alongside a new work by George Lewis (31/3/2022).

London Sinfonietta will taking part in Contemporary Music For All's (COMA) biennial event in which COMA and partners celebrate the joy of participating in contemporary music making (6/3/2022). And the ensemble's annual concert for young people Sound Out Live returns in March 2022 when Patrick Bailey conducts a participatory concert which explores iconic works of contemporary classical music.

From January 2022, the ensemble's digital Channel will resume its World Premiere Wednesday when there are monthly new commissions performed, alongside conversations with the composers. This season all the new pieces will reflect the issues of climate change.

Full details from the London Sinfonietta website.

To enter this music is to enter a different world, one that you wonder why you never discovered it earlier: Martin Jones plays Elisabeth Lutyens' piano music on Resonus Classics

Elisabeth Lutyens: Piano Works, Volume 1; Martin Jones; Resonus Classics

Elisabeth Lutyens: Piano Works, Volume 1
; Martin Jones; Resonus Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 October 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Five piano works by Lutyens spanning the final decade of her life; serialist and uncompromising, yes, but also highly poetic, often spare and often profound

Who knew that Elisabeth Lutyens' music could be so romantic. Lutyens has something of a reputation, partly from hear espousal of serialist techniques when most British composers still shied away from them, and partly from her trenchant, no-nonsense attitudes - she coined the phrase "cow-pat school" to describe the 20th century English pastoral school - that shaded into belligerence. Yet she has always had admirers, as well as some significant pupils including Malcolm Williamson, Richard Rodney Bennett, Brian Elias and Robert Saxton. But during the final decade of her life she was resigned to composing "for myself, for my friends and to pass the time".

It is the fruits of Elisabeth Lutyens' final decade that are on display in volume one of Martin Jones' Elisabeth Lutyens: Piano Works on Resonus Classics, a disc which includes Seven Preludes for Piano, Op. 126, The Great Seas, Op. 132, Five Impromptus, Op. 116, Plenum I, Op. 86 and La natura dell'Acqua, Op. 154.

Monday, 11 October 2021

Opus 1 and Magnum Opus: Britten Sinfonia's initiatives supporting early stage and emerging composers

Aileen Sweeney, Nathan James Dearden and Jonathan Brigg, the Britten Sinfonia's Magnum Opus composers for 2021/2022 (Photo: Milly March)
Aileen Sweeney, Nathan James Dearden and Jonathan Brigg, the Britten Sinfonia's Magnum Opus composers for 2021/2022 (Photo: Milly March)

The Britten Sinfonia has launched two initiatives supporting early stage and emerging composers, Opus 1 for composers at the earliest stage of their professional careers and Magnum Opus for those whose career is further advanced. Both schemes allow composers to interact with the orchestra and come together with their peers for discussion, workshops and performance.

Eight composers, Hugo Bell, Jamie Elless, Pia Rose Scattergood, Pete Walton, Elliott Park, Darius Paymai, Rachael Gibson and John Rivero-Pico joined Britten Sinfonia's Opus 1 scheme this Summer, where they workshopped and discussed their music with Britten Sinfonia musicians, programme directors Joe Cutler and Dobrinka Tabakova and each other. The scheme culminated with members of Britten Sinfonia recording a piece of music by each composer, providing a valuable practical addition to their musical portfolios.  To continue this network of support, Opus 1 composers will be invited to Britten Sinfonia rehearsals, concerts and events throughout this season.  

Three composers who are further along in their careers, Jonathan Brigg, Nathan James Dearden and Aileen Sweeney, will spend the 2021/22 season ‘embedded’ with Britten Sinfonia, culminating in a performance of their work as part of Britten Sinfonia’s London concert season in Autumn 2022. All three composers have previously had work performed by leading professional ensembles; Magnum Opus offers them the chance to build on these earlier experiences over a longer time-frame. The three composers were selected from 134 applications, following an initial anonymised long and short listing process, and interviews by composers Dobrinka Tabakova and Joe Cutler, and the Britten Sinfonia's artistic director Meurig Bowen.

Full details from the Britten Sinfonia website.

OnJam Lounge at the Fidelio Cafe

Harry Rylance & Lotte Betts-Dean filmed at Fidelio Cafe for OnJam
Harry Rylance & Lotte Betts-Dean filmed at Fidelio Cafe for OnJam

A new series of films recorded at the Fidelio Cafe by tenor & film maker Andrew Staples will be premiering as part of OnJam Lounge on Each film is 30 to 40 minutes long, informal concert footage recorded at the Fidelio Cafe. Staples explained that "This is bespoke content made for your screen but aiming to capture that essence of excitement that makes live performances unique. It’s unvarnished - yet highly polished." Each of the films will be premiered exclusively on in late October 2021 and shown in the OnJam Lounge Festival in November 2021.

The performers are British jazz pianist, Jason Rebello, violinist & vocalist Lizzie Ball and accordionist Miloš Milivojević, mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and pianist Natalie Burch, mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean and pianist Harry Rylance, The Marsyas Trio (flautist Helen Vidovich, cellist Val Welbanks and pianist Olga Stezhko), and vocalist & songwriter Anna B Savage.

OnJam Lounge is currently OnJam's only self-produced series; performers are paid an upfront fee and receive a 50% share of net profits, plus 95% of tips or donations.

Further information from website.

Spiorachas – A High Place: Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach

Spiorachas – A High Place; Charlie Grey, Joseph Peach

Spiorachas – A High Place
; Charlie Grey, Joseph Peach

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 October 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Scots Gaelic tunes, a traditional music background, contemporary improvisation and more mix in these engaging and evocative takes on Gaelic songs from the young fiddle and piano duo

Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach are a pair of Scottish folk-musicians, performing on fiddle and piano. On this new album, Spiorachas – A High Place, which is the duo's fourth album together, they perform contemporary improvisations on a variety of Scots Gaelic tunes, both traditional ones and ones written themselves.

A musician and composer, Charlie Grey grew up playing traditional music on the fiddle with influences from his friends, his family and granny (legendary 'Gaelic diva' Ishbel MacAskill), and some of Scotland’s leading folk musicians. Outside of folk music, He has spent time studying and exploring Gypsy Jazz, Bluegrass, Blues-fiddle music, before mastering his aesthetic of liberated improvisation. Joseph Peach, a pianist and composer, hails from the town of Achiltibuie, in the north-west Scottish Highlands. Graduating with a Masters degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, his musical studies also include classical and jazz, and a passion for Scottish pianist/composer Ronald Stevenson.

History is woven into the fabric of these evocative melodies.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Intense and redemptive: Janacek's Jenůfa in the new production at Covent Garden

Janacek: Jenůfa - Asmik Grigorian - Royal Opera House (Photo Tristram Kenton/ROH)
Janacek: Jenůfa - Asmik Grigorian - Royal Opera House (Photo Tristram Kenton/ROH)

Janacek Jenůfa; Asmik Grigorian, Karita Mattila, Nicky Spence, Saimir Pirgu, dir: Claus Guth, cond: Henrik Nanasi; Royal Opera House

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 October 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The abstract nature of Claus Guth's new production leave space for some remarkably powerful performances

For all its status as a masterpiece, Janacek's Jenůfa does not perform itself, it requires strong hands on stage and in the pit, from director and musical director, to ensure the best of the opera reveals itself. Claus Guth's new production at Covent Garden takes a daringly abstract view of the work, Guth allows space for some terrific performances to develop. We caught the fourth performance of Claus Guth's production of Janacek's Jenůfa (his first production of a Janacek opera) at the Royal Opera House on Saturday 9 October 2021, Asmik Grigorian was Jenůfa, Karita Mattila was Kostelnicka, Saimir Pirgu was Steva and Nicky Spence was Laca. Henrik Nanasi conducted, and set designs were by Michael Levine, costumes by Gesine Völlm, video by Rocafilm.

In an article in the programme book, Claus Guth talks about bringing out the universality of the story, so the setting is strikingly non-specific and a weakness of Act One is that we never really understand who these people are. Certainly the Burjya family is all very well dressed and Elena Zilio's Grandmother Buryjovka is positively grand. There is no mill, instead round the edge of the large performing space, we had the regimentation of everyday life (the men in bed, the women peeling potatoes). The dancing in Act One was particularly grim, and there seemed a danger of the characters disappearing into the 'konzept'. But for Act Two, Guth and Levine cleared everything away. The frames of the beds from Act One formed Kostelnicka's house, looking both like a prison and an abstract installation. Throughout this Act, the presence of the villagers was made physical, perhaps in too intrusive a way and certainly the huge raven (product of Jenůfa's overheated imagination?) felt a bit too much. But here, and in Act Three, Guth allowed space for things to happen, to develop and was not frightened of clearing things away.

Janacek: Jenůfa - Saimir Pirgu, Karita Mattila - Royal Opera House (Photo Tristram Kenton/ROH)
Janacek: Jenůfa - Saimir Pirgu, Karita Mattila - Royal Opera House (Photo Tristram Kenton/ROH)

I have to confess that I found the iconography of the production somewhat reductive, and feel that Guth needs to trust his audiences more; we can certainly posit the universality of themes present to us from an early 20th century Czech village or wherever. There was one slightly worrying visual element. Costumes were highly realistic, from the period of the opera's creation, yet Jenůfa's bed-wear in Act Two was a simple, very revealing slip that seemed an unnecessary element of sexualisation of the character.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

If we continue to ignore these composers and their music then we are doing Hitler's work for him: I chat to Simon Wynberg about ARC Ensemble's Music in Exile series on Chandos

ARC Ensemble (Photo Nation Wong)
ARC Ensemble (Photo Nation Wong)

In September, the ARC Ensemble released a disc of chamber works by the Jewish-Ukrainian composer Dmitri Klebanov (1907-1986). Klebanov was a casualty of Soviet-era cultural repression and anti-Semitism and the new disc, the fifth in the group’s Music in Exile series for Chandos, represents the first commercial recording of these Klebanov works. For each disc in the series, the ensemble has focused on a single composer, those who fled Europe in the 1930s to make a career elsewhere, and those whose music was suppressed by Soviet authorities. The ARC Ensemble is based at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada and I spoke to the ensemble's artistic director Simon Wynberg about Klebanov and the series Music in Exile.

Simon Wynberg
Simon Wynberg
Dmitri Klebanov is almost an unknown name in the West, though he is known about in Ukraine. Simon sees this as a result of Klebanov's Soviet-era problems when his music was firmly behind the Iron Curtain and much of it was suppressed. Simon originally came across Klebanov's music via a performance of his Symphony No. 1 online (in fact, Klebanov wrote nine symphonies). The performance was indifferent, but it triggered Simon's interest and he started reading. Klebanov's symphony received performances during 1946 and 1947, and it was well-received. The composer submitted it for a Stalin Prize; he had dedicated it to the victims of Babi Yar massacres (which took place in September 1941 during the Nazi era in Ukraine), but there were Jewish elements to the music and whilst the Soviet authorities were happy to celebrate the Soviet dead, the same could not be true of the Jewish dead. Simon read about this and wondered what the rest of Klebanov's music was like. Thanks to contacts in Moscow, he was able to get scans of Klebanov's music.

The result is a trio of chamber works recorded for the first time, String Quartet No. 4, Piano Trio No. 2, String Quartet No. 5. The works span some 20 years and Simon thinks you can see the way Klebanov's music changed over time. String Quartet No. 4 is the earliest work on the disc from 1945, in an accessible and likeable style with references to Ukrainian folk music. The Piano Trio, dating from some 10 years later, is a big-boned, romantic work and quite a step forward from the quartet. Then String Quartet No. 5 is more modern with hints of the music of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, and a use of bitonality. It dates from the 1960s, and clearly, things were relaxed enough in the Soviet Union for Klebanov to feel he could write it, though it was not published until the 1970s.

Friday, 8 October 2021

A cultural icon finally finds a use: Old Royal High School, Edinburgh to become a National Centre for Music incorporating St Mary's Music School

Visualisation of plans for Royal High School, Edinburgh (courtesy of Royal High School Preservation Trust)
Visualisation of plans for Royal High School, Edinburgh
(courtesy of Royal High School Preservation Trust)

Designed by Thomas Hamilton, the Royal High School was erected on Edinburgh's Calton Hill in the 1820s, a Greek-style building in keeping with the other monuments on the hill. The school moved out, to bigger premises, in 1968 since when the Royal High School has been a building in search of an identity and use. Ideas have come and gone; work was done in the 1970s in run up to the 1979 devolution referendum and I remember occasional concerts there at that period. It famously didn't become the Scottish Parliament in the 1990s and this century has seen controversial plans to create a hotel. 

But a sensible use has finally been found, one which in many ways respects the building's origins. It is going to become a school.

Edinburgh City Council has approved plans, put forward by the Royal High School Preservation Trust to convert the Royal High School as a home for a new National Centre for Music incorporating St Mary's Music School, Scotland's national music school, along with other partners including the Benedetti Foundation and IMPACT (International Music and Performing Arts Charitable Trust) Scotland. The plans include a café, gallery and visitor centre, set in generous and fully accessible public gardens. The bid is backed by an expanded gift from philanthropist Carol Colburn Grigor and Dunard Fund totalling £55 million to cover the capital costs and support the future maintenance of the Thomas Hamilton building. 

Further information from St Mary's Music School website, and Royal High School Preservation Trust.

Beyond Boundaries: Dmitri Alexeev & Friends In Memory of Dmitri Bashkirov

Beyond Boundaries: Dmitri Alexeev & Friends In Memory of Dmitri Bashkirov

The Russian pianist and teacher Dmitri Bashkirov died in March this year, he was 89. He had had a long and distinguished career though perhaps his name is not as well known as it should be. In addition to his pianistic career, which included winning the Marguerite Long Piano Competition in Paris in 1955, he had a long career as a teacher, first in Moscow and then in Madrid, where his pupils included Dmitri Alexeev, Arcadi Volodos, Nikolai Demidenko, his daughter Elena Bashkirova, Kirill Gerstein and many more.

Now, under the title Beyond Boundaries: Dmitri Alexeev & Friends In Memory of Dmitri Bashkirov, Bashkirov's friends, pupils and grand-pupils are coming together in a series of concerts to honour his memory at St John's Smith Square and the Royal College of Music from 23 October to 21 November 2021.

The first concert features Dmitri Alexeev's former pupils from the Royal College of Music, and now established artists in their own right, in Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Liszt and Liszt's transcriptions of Schubert Songs (23/10/21). For the second concert, Dmitri Alexeev is joined by Nikolai Demidenko for piano duo music by Liszt, Saint-Saens and Shostakovich, ending with Alexeev's transcription of Stravinsky's Firebird (4/11/21). Then Alexeev gives a solo recital, featuring Brahms and Schumann, including two of Alexeev's transcriptions of Brahms' Choral Preludes (13/11/21). Finally, under the title Bright Future, there is a concert from a group of Alexeev's current pupils in music from Bach to Ligeti (21/11/21).

The first three concerts are at St John's Smith Square, whilst the final concert is at the Royal College of Music.

Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony - the composer's late symphonic fragments get a new lease of life on disc

Matthew King, Tomas Leakey and The Mahler Players
Matthew King, Tomas Leakey and The Mahler Players
We know from Cosima Wagner's diaries that after writing Parsifal (which premiered in 1882) Wagner was interested in writing purely instrumental music, contemplating the idea of 'symphonic dialogues' and in the final months of his life, her diary makes it clear that he was continuing to think about the symphonic project. In 2010, composer Matthew King became intrigued by one of Cosima's comments about Wagner writing a 'beautiful melody'. It was John Deathridge's book Wagner Beyond Good and Evil that provided an answer in the form of sketches (reproduced in the book) which have simply laid in the Bayreuth archive. There are hints, from these sketches and from Cosima Wagner's diaries, that Wagner was thinking not so much about a large-scale dramatic symphony but writing further in the style of the Siegfried Idyll.

This is the origin of Matthew King's Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony which provides a modern context for these little sketches. King intended the piece to enable Wagner's 'little jewels' to be heard, within a coherent musical context with King writing music which he intends to respond to Wagner's own harmonic idiom. King describes the work as "a piece that plays with history, and tries to imagine something that never happened, drawing connections between tiny scraps of music which would otherwise remain forever separate and fragmentary". 

There is now a chance to hear the results as Tomas Leakey and The Mahler Players have recorded Matthew King's Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony alongside Wagner's Siegfried Idyll on a new disc which is released later this month and can be ordered through the orchestra's website

The disc is the debut recording for The Mahler Players, an ensemble founded by Leakey in 2013 and based in the Highlands of Scotland. As part of the orchestra's Mahler in Miniature project (2013 – 2017) they performed chamber orchestra versions of Mahler’s First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Tenth Symphonies, Das Lied von der Erde, and most of Mahler’s other song cycles. Now the ensemble's focus is on Wagner, performing substantial sections from Götterdämmerung and Parsifal, as well as the complete Act 1 from Die Walküre, arranged for chamber orchestra by Matthew King and Peter Longworth and featuring soloists Peter Wedd, Claire Rutter and Iestyn Edwards. 

The disc was recorded at Strathpeffer Pavilion, built in the late 1870s and based on the casino in Baden Baden, itself inspired by the Festpielhaus at Bayreuth.

Musick's Monument: Lucy Crowe and Fretwork in consort songs by Byrd, Gibbons and Purcell

William Byrd
William Byrd

Musick's Monument
- Byrd, Gibbons, Purcell; Lucy Crowe, Fretwork; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 October 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Still somewhat underappreciated, the consort songs from the Golden Age of English viol music were presented alongside fantasias, in nomines and more in a thoughtful and engaging programme

The consort song, a voice accompanied by four or five viols, was a distinctively English form from the late 16th century, William Byrd wrote plenty but it gradually fell out of favour as more Continental models wielded influence.

For their programme Musick's Monument at Wigmore Hall on Thursday 7 October 2021, Fretwork (Richard Boothby, Asako Mirokawa, Sam Stadlen, Amily Ashton, Joanna Levine) had the intriguing idea of pairing music for viols from the Golden Age of English viol music with songs by the same composers. So soprano Lucy Crowe joined Fretwork for music by William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Henry Purcell, including Byrd's O that most rare breast and My mistress had a little dog, and Gibbons' Now each floery bank of May and Faire is the rose, plus Purcell's O Solitude and Music for a While in Richard Boothby's versions for voice and viols.

The programme's title, Musick's Monument comes from a book written by Thomas Mace. Extremely long-lived, when Mace wrote Musick's Monument in 1676 he was looking back fondly on the Golden Age from a vantage point of the radical changes in fashions of music in the late 17th century after the Restoration. Yet around the same time the young Henry Purcell was, intriguingly, writing music for viol consort. His Fantasias date from 1680, written before he was 21 and seemingly with no reason. Purcell was a choir boy at the Chapel Royal, was taught by one of Orlando Gibbons' sons and one of his pupils, so Purcell would have been aware of the viol consort tradition and perhaps exposed to some performance. Who knows? I have always liked the fantasy image of a teenage Purcell joining three or four elderly gentleman to play viol consort music and being struck by the intriguing textures and harmonic possibilities.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Joy & Devotion: festival of Polish Sacred Music from 13th century to contemporary

Joy & Devotion -  Adam Mickiewicz Institute's festival of Polish sacred music
Joy & Devotion is a new festival taking place at St-Martin-in-the-Fields from 2 to 5 November 2021 under the artistic directorship of Paweł Łukaszewski. Presented by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, this is a new annual festival devoted to Polish sacred music from the medieval to the contemporary. 

The oldest works to be performed at the Festival, 15th century Jerzy Liban’s Ortus de Polonia and 13th century Wincenty of Kielcza’s Gaude Mater Polonia, will be included in Nigel Short and Tenebrae's programme, along with 16th century composer Marcin Leopolita’s Missa Paschalis, the earliest known example of Polish six-part choral polyphony, plus music by Łukaszewski, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933-2010) and Wojciech Kilar (1932-2013).

Owain Park and the Gesualdo Six will be performing Krzystof Borek’s 16th century Missa Mater Matris, based on Josquin's mass of the same name, alongside two premieres by Aleksander Jan Szopa and Łukasz Farcinkiewicz, plus music by Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991), Roxanna Panufnik and post-WWII organist and improviser Marian Sawa(1937-2005).

Sarah Latto conducts the vocal ensemble Echo in 17th century composer Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki’s Missa Paschalis, plus motets by two other 17th century composers Mikołaj Zieleński and Wacław of Szamotuły and music by three contemporary composers Roxanna Panufnik, Aleksandra Chmielewska and Anna Rocławska-Musiałczyk.  Echo will also give a concert in Cambridge as part of the Cambridge Festival of Voice (4/11/2021) with Gorczycki’s Missa Paschalis and Zielenski’s Laetentur caeli alongside works by Italian composers Luca Marenzio, Asprillo Pacelli and Vincenzo Bertolusi. 

Further details from the St Martin-in-the-Fields website.

Con arte e maestria - Virtuoso violin ornamentation from the dawn of the Italian Baroque

Con arte e maestria - Virtuoso violin ornamentation from the dawn of the Italian Baroque, Oliver Webber, Steven Devine, Monteverdi String Band In Focus; Resonus Classics

Con arte e maestria - Virtuoso violin ornamentation from the dawn of the Italian Baroque
, Oliver Webber, Steven Devine, Monteverdi String Band In Focus; Resonus Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A dazzling yet intelligent and engaging exploration of the Italian virtuoso art of ornamentation in the early Baroque

When the Milanese violinist Francesco Rognoni captioned his piece Io son ferito (from the second volume of his Selva di varii passaggi) 'Modo di passeggiar con arte e mestria' - ' manner of ornamenting with art and mastery' he used a phrase which is still used today 'con arte e maestria' to denote excellence and consummate craftsmanship in creative fields.

On this Monteverdi String Band In Focus disc from Resonus Classics, two members of the Monteverdi String Band, Oliver Webber (violin) and Steven Devine (organ and harpsichord) return the phrase to its original use and explore the art of ornamentation in 16th  and early 17th century Italian music.

At its heart, the disc examines the music of five musicians, the Venetian composer and instrumentalist Girolamo dalla Casa (died 1601), the Milanese violinist Riccardo Rognoni (c1550-c1620), the composer and singer Giovanni Battista Bovicelli (fl. late 16th century), Carlo G (fl. 1600-1620) and the composer Francesco Rognoni (died c. 1626), son of Riccardo Rognoni. Each took that art of ornamentation, of diminution (so called because ornaments were inserted by creating patterns of faster notes from slower one) to new and different heights.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

The world's oldest guitar and earliest keyboard instrument with strings: the new Royal College of Music Museum opens this week

Royal College of Music Museum (Photo Phil Rowley)
Royal College of Music Museum (Photo Phil Rowley)
 The Royal College of Music has around 15,000 items in its historic collection, though I suspect that few of us ever got around to going to the old museum in the college's South Kensington headquarters. But as part of the college's current £40 million four-year campus transformation project a brand new museum has been built. 

The new museum opened this week (5 October 2021) and offers visitors the chance to interact with 500 years of musical history. Items on permanent display include the world's oldest guitar and earliest keyboard instrument with strings, along with 56 other instruments from the collection. 

As well as musical instruments, the museum tells its story through art, including an iconic portrait of Farinelli and a remarkable Tischbein featuring an instrument from the collection displayed alongside. A series of portraits by German artist Milein Cosman (1921-2017) will be on display to the public for the first time in the Lavery Gallery, featuring intimate sketches of college alumni Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Imogen Holst and Amaryllis Fleming, alongside many other composers and musicians.

The new museum building features a double-height atrium which includes a hanging artwork installation by Scottish artist Victoria Morton which takes its inspiration from the permanent exhibition, having been specially commissioned and created for the space.

Originally due to open in spring 2021, the new museum was built from scratch as part of the campus transformation project. Since 2017, the college’s Grade II listed South Kensington home has nearly doubled in capacity, designed by architect John Simpson. The new Royal College of Music Museum brings public access to the heart of the historic institution, alongside a new public café and two new performance spaces. 

Full details from the Royal College of Music website.

The Drowning Shore

Alastair White: The Drowning Shore - Clara Kanter
Alastair White: The Drowning Shore - Clara Kanter

Alistair White's The Drowning Shore celebrates the intersection of Scottish and Yiddish culture inspired by Sholem Asch's 1923 play God of Vengeance. The Drowning Shore debuted in 2020 as a film with mezzo-soprano Clara Kanter and pianist Ben Smith, and now there is a chance to see the film in the context of an evening of music, film and poetry with Kanter and Smith celebrating the Scots and Yiddish languages. 

The evening takes place at JW3 in London on Sunday 17 October 2021 as part of Tsitsit Jewish Fringe Festival, in fact the world's first Jewish themed fringe festival which is taking place in London throughout October. 

Full details from the festival website

Chaya Czernowin as composer-in-residence, two James Dillon premieres and much more: Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is back.

Chaya Czernowin, hcmf// composer-in-residence
Chaya Czernowin, hcmf// composer-in-residence

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) returns to in-person, live performance for the (somewhat delayed) 2021 festival, following its online presence for 2020. From 18 to 22 November 2021, hcmf// 2021 features a wide ranging programme of concerts, talks, exhibitions and installations. This year's composer-in-residence is the American/Israeli composer Chaya Czernowin, and there will be two new works by Scottish composer James Dillon. Other premieres include music from composer/improvising saxophonist John Butcher and Cath Roberts, writing for her own trio. UK premieres will include Laurence Osborn (UK), Eva Reiter (Austria), Enno Poppe and Eva-Maria Houben (Germany), and Mauro Lanza and Andreas Valle (Italy).

Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik gives the UK premiere of Czernowin’s latest composition, The Fabrication of Light, whose structure she compares to optical illusions, 'colours that seem striking and deep, but that aren’t really there', whilst The Arditti Quartet and IRCAM perform HIDDEN (2014), one of Czernowin’s most notable compositions, combining string quartet, electronics and multi-speakers. Scotland’s Red Note Ensemble presents Dillon’s immense new work Emblemata: Carnival, and the second Dillon piece is the UK premiere of The Freiburg Diptych, a phenomenal new work for violin and tape that will be performed by Irvine Arditti.

Many of the new works are the result of hcmf//’s own commissioning activity, including its COVID-19 Commissions programme which, since 2020, has been responsible for 30 original compositions, ranging from large-scale pieces to miniatures, providing immediate and direct support for artists, including established composers and new voices. The programme is full of good things, and though shorter than usual includes everything we might expect, including hcmf// shorts, a wide-ranging programme of free concerts and events on the Festival’s final day (Monday, November 22), culminating in a concert devoted to Catalan composers by London Sinfonietta.

Full details from the festival website.

A fine way to celebrate a birthday: Robert King and the Kings Consort return to Purcell's odes with three for Queen Mary's birthday

Henry Purcell Birthday Odes for Queen Mary; The King's Consort, Robert King; Vivat

Henry Purcell Birthday Odes for Queen Mary; The King's Consort, Robert King; Vivat

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 October 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
30 years of performing Purcell's odes has deepened King's approach, yet here with have three of Queen Mary's Birthday presents performed in vividly engaging and stylish fashion

Robert King and the King's Consort are continuing their re-exploration of Purcell's odes, returning to works that King and his ensemble first recorded 30 years ago. On this disc, from Vivat, Robert King directs The King's Consort in Purcell's birthday odes for Queen Mary, Arise, my Muse Z320, Love's goddess sure was blind Z331, Celebrate this festival Z321. The singers are Carolyn Sampson and Emily Owen sopranos, Iestyn Davies and Hugh Cutting countertenors, Charles Daniels and David de Winter tenors, and Matthew Brook and Edward Grint (basses), with the eight singers forming the ensemble and sharing the solos, and the instrumentalists led by Kati Debretzeni.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Back indoors: BREMF returns with an action-packed Autumn weekend

Joglaresa (Photo Andrew Mason)
Joglaresa, who appear at BREMF on 24/10/21
(Photo Andrew Mason)
Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) has kept the faith these last 18 months via on-line offerings and outdoor Summer concerts, now BREMF is back with an indoor, in-person concert series from 20 to 24 October 2021 taking place in St George’s Church, Kemptown and St Martin’s Church, Lewes Road.

The programme includes Clare Norburn's latest concert-play, I Spie, which posits a dramatic spying past for composer John Dowlen, being presented by Norburn's ensemble The Telling (20/10/2021), the festival's own BREMF Consort of Voices in a programme of music by two composers who both died in 1521, Josquin and Fayrfax (21/10/2021), Canzona in French Baroque music by Rameau, Clérambault, Marais and Leclair (22/10/2021), the showcase of emerging talent, BREMF Live! (23/10/2021) and Joglaresa in medieval cantigas telling of weird and wonderful miracles performed by the Virgin Mary (24/10/2021).

For those who are not ready to return to live events yet (or who simply prefer to watch from the comfort of their own home), the Festival is also offering an online BREMF@home edition running 19 – 28 November. BREMF@home events will offer edited and enhanced highlights from BREMF’s Summer and Autumn seasons plus interviews with artists and other bonus content.

Full details from the BREMF website.



MAX (Musician and Artist Exchange) is a network of practitioners drawn from classical music and the arts across the UK, and founded as a response to the impact of the pandemic on the creative sector, a call to action for re-imagination and regeneration.

MAX@245 is their new series of events at 245 Hammersmith Road, London W6 from 18 to 24 October 2021, produced in association with Legal & General Mitsubishi and with counter-tenor Andrew Watts (one of MAX's founded members) as artistic director. The series launches on 18 October 2021 with pianist Joanna Macgregor in It's Time: Music for the Soul with music by Bach, Chopin, Ginastera, Mary Lou Williams, and Piazzolla plus her own For Nina Simone.

Subsequent events include the first appearance from the newly formed Trio Balthasar (Ian Burnside, piano, Michael Foyle, violin, Tim Hugh, cello) in piano trios by Judith Weir, Johannes Brahms and the Irish composer Joan Trimble (1915-2000) who studied with Arthur Benjamin, Herbert Howells and RVW (20/10/21), a showcase from the current young artists of the National Opera Studio (23/10/21), Black Voices, the European female a cappella quintet (23/10/21) and the Pink Singers, Europe's longest running LGBT+ choir (which, incidentally, I directed from 1983 to 1988) in SING - an outdoor jamboree for all the family (24/10/21).

Full details from the MAX website.

Bravely engaging: the Solem Quartet's intriguing new recording of Thomas Adès' The Four Quarters

The Four Quarters - Thomas Adès, Ivor Gurney, Henry Purcell, Cassandra Miller, William Marsey, Florence Price, Bela Bartok, Robert Schumann, Aaron Parker, Kate Bush; Solem Quartet; Orchid Classics

The Four Quarters
- Thomas Adès, Ivor Gurney, Henry Purcell, Cassandra Miller, William Marsey, Florence Price, Bela Bartok, Robert Schumann, Aaron Parker, Kate Bush; Solem Quartet; Orchid Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 October 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The Solem Quartet's recording expands on the themes of Adès' quartet via a striking collage of shorter movements from Baroque to contemporary

The Solem Quartet (Amy Tress, William Newell, Stephen Upshaw, Stephanie Tress) has recorded Thomas Adès' 2010 string quartet The Four Quarters for Orchid Classics but instead of pairing the work with another large-scale piece, they have explored the themes implicit in Adès exploration of the twenty-four hour period during which the earth rotates on its axis. So the four Adès movements are split across the disc, separated by a variety of shorter pieces that explore themes, taking us from night and sleep, through greeting the morning, to a Summer moon, evening in the village and a child falling asleep. The selection of composers and pieces is eclectic, Ivor Gurney, Henry Purcell, Cassandra Miller, William Marsey, Florence Price, Bela Bartok, Robert Schumann, Aaron Parker, and Kate Bush, many in arrangements by members of the quartet.

Monday, 4 October 2021

Strengthening Music in Society: The way forward for UK conservatoires

The Association Européenne des Conservatoires, Académies de Musique et Musikhochschulen (AEC) has recently produced a major report which is the culmination of a four-year project, Strengthening Music in Society. It could not come at a more timely point.

On 16 December 2021, the Institute for Social Impact Research in the Performing Arts at Guildhall School of Music & Drama is presenting a conference, Strengthening Music in Society to consider the report. In association with AEC, Conservatoires UK and SEMPRE the conference will bring together diverse voices from across the music sector concerned to bring about positive change; it will be the first opportunity for those working in the music sector across the UK to collaboratively unpack and respond to the report.

The conference is presented by Jess Gillam (saxophonist, broadcaster and Guildhall School alumna), the keynote presentation will be given by Professor Helen Gaunt, principal of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, whilst other speakers will give a variety of perspectives on the report:

  • Ankna Arockiam, PhD candidate at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and founder of Shared Narratives – the student perspective
  • Diana Salazar, Director of Programmes at the Royal College of Music – the pedagogic perspective
  • Professor Graham Welch, UCL Institute of Education Established Chair of Music Education – the research perspective
  • Linda Begbie (Development Director) Manchester Collective – the employer perspective
  • Gillian Moore, CBE, Director of Music, Southbank Centre, London – the Industry perspectiveJames
  • Njoku-Goodwin, CEO, UK Music – the Government & Policy perspective
As well as an invited, in-person audience, key sections of the conference will be available as a live-stream. Full detail from the Guildhall School website.

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