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Wednesday, 31 March 2021

10 years ago today my opera When a Man Knows got its stage premiere at the Bridewell Theatre

Poster for Robert Hugill's opera When a Man Knows

It was ten years ago today that my opera When a Man Knows received its stage premiere at the Bridewell Theatre in a production directed by Ian Caddy, conducted by David Roblou and with Dario Dugandzic as the Man and Zoe South as the Woman. 

The libretto was based on the play of the same name by Scottish playwright Alan Richardson

The poster image is by Geraldine van Heemstra, and the photo is by Tom Bowles who was also playing clarinet in the ensemble.

Favourably reviewed in both Opera magazine and Tempo, it was a terrific achievement all round and we even managed to film it and you can catch the whole thing on Vimeo.

 

Robert Hugill: When a Man Knows - Zoe South, Dario Dugandzic - Bridewell Theatre, 2011 (Photo Tom Bowles)
Robert Hugill: When a Man Knows - Zoe South, Dario Dugandzic - Bridewell Theatre, 2011 (Photo Tom Bowles)

Proud Songsters: a survey of English song by ten distinguished alumni of King's College, Cambridge on the college's own label

Proud Songsters; Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andy Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone, Simon Lepper; King's College, Cambridge

Proud Songsters; Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andy Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone, Simon Lepper; King's College, Cambridge

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 March 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Distinguished alumni of King's College, Cambridge come together on the college's own label for a lovely programme which is the epitome of 20th century English song

The latest disc from King's College, Cambridge's own label is a very intriguing idea. Under the title of Proud Songsters (the name of a Gerald Finzi song, sung on the disc by Gerald Finley), the disc gathers together nine singers who are college alumni, all former members of the choir, in a recital of English song. Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andy Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone all feature on the disc accompanied by Simon Lepper (also a graduate of King's College) in a programme of songs by William Dennis Browne, Benjamin Britten, RVW, Gerald Finzi, Celia Harper, Roger Quilter, Frank Bridge, Eric Thiman, Jonathan Dove, Rebecca Clarke, Ivor Gurney, Herbert Howells, Peter Warlock and Iain Bell.

The CD booklet does not explain what the impetus for the disc was, but perhaps such an assemblage of vocal talent does not require an excuse. Certainly the line-up features a fascinating mixture of ages and experiences, right down to the most recent graduate Ruairi Bowen. And the bonus track on the CD is Landon Ronald's O lovely night sung a duet by Gerald Finley with his father-in-law, the baritone Christopher Keyte (another former choral scholar of King's College, 1955).

Proud Songsters; Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruairi Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andy Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone, Simon Lepper; King's College, Cambridge
Michael Chance, Tim Mead, Lawrence Zazzo, Ruari Bowen, James Gilchrist, Andrew Staples, Gerald Finley, Ashley Riches, Mark Stone

Repertoire features some of the key stones of the 20th century English song repertoire, but there are also some more intriguing inclusions to spice the mix. Ruari Bowen sings Eric Thiman's engagingly poetic I wandered lonely as a cloud and we certainly don't hear enough of Thiman's songs. James Gilchrist sings Rebecca Clarke's The Seal Man; a terrific performance with some eerie storytelling in a song once woefully neglected by now seemingly coming into its own. 

Sound Generator: Sound UK announces first artists in its new artist development programme

Sound UK's Sound Generator artists 2021

Sound Generator is Sound UK's new artist development programme, intended to support a diverse range of early-career artists to develop excellent, adventurous new work. Following an open call, the first group of artists have been named, these are:

  • Natalie Sharp is a disabled artist at the forefront of what The Quietus described as 'New Weird Britain': "a new wave of underground musicians, creating immersive worlds for their audiences to participate in."
  • Jordan Edge works at the intersection of experience design, sound art and fictional worlds. They present non-human narratives through material forms of expression
  • Alex Ho is an award-winning British-Chinese composer based in London and co-director of Tangram, an artist collective catalysing transnational imagination and celebrating the vitality of Chinese cultures. 
  • NikNak is devoted to developing her distinctive practice as a DJ  Turntablist, sound artist/composer, producer, tutor, sound engineer and radio presenter. She was the first black Turntablist to win the Oram Awards in 2020. 
  • Lori E Allen and Deborah Wale are inter-disciplinary artists working in soundscape, performance, spoken word, experimental composition, illustration and printing.  
  • Chisara Agor is an inter-disciplinary artist whose work spans music, theatre, film and art. Her practice is grounded in her philosophical practice and creation of art work that reimagines and critiques worlds, while engaging local communities
     

Each artist is awarded £2000 each to research and develop their idea across 6 months (April to September 2021). This includes creating a short audio or video sample and proposal for its delivery. 

Full details from the Sound UK website.

The Adam Mickiewicz Institute invites you to explore Penderecki's Garden

Penderecki's Garden

The Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki devoted his spare time to nurturing his remarkable garden in Lusławice, Poland. Now the Adam Mickiewicz Institute has created an online Penderecki's Garden, to combine his two greatest passions – music and flora – to celebrate his life, compositions and inspirations through a virtual garden. Penderecki’s Garden is an interactive space inspired by the work of Krzysztof Penderecki and through the virtual garden’s layout, architectural structures and vegetation, audiences are invited to explore the life of Penderecki alongside compositions, inspirations and poems. 

The website is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the composer’s legacy along with short sound, visual and audio-visual pieces to show the scale and significance of the cultural phenomenon of Penderecki’s music which crosses over multiple genres including film, rock, jazz, classical and electronic. 

Completing the garden analogy, the website is divided into sections (with more to come):

  • The Maestro's Manor - Penderecki's thoughts and reflections as well as memories of family, friends, colleagues and pupils
  • The Park - take a walk in the park designed by Penderecki
  • The Music Salon - listen to the composer's works, learn more about them
  • The Amphitheatre - attend a concert

An imaginative concept and certainly one to tempt you into exploring further.

Explore Penderecki's Garden

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

A Healing Fire: Greek guitarist Smaro Gregoriadou in music by Bach, Britten, Gubaidulina & Hetu played on instruments by George Kertsopoulos

Bach, Britten, Gubaidulina, Hetu; Smaro Gregoriadou; DELOS

Bach, Britten, Gubaidulina, Hetu; Smaro Gregoriadou; DELOS

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 March 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Music by Bach and three 20th century composer performed on modern developments of the classical guitar

Under the title A Healing Fire on Delos, the Greek guitarist Smaro Gregoriadou performs Bach's Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor BWV 1003, Britten's Nocturnal after John Dowland, Op.70, Sofia Gubaidulina's Serenade and Jacques Hetu's Suite pour guitar, Op. 41. Gregoriadou describes the works in the programme as intending to 'offer encouragement and hope against today’s dystopia and chaos; they explore spirituality, self-knowledge and transcendence, illuminating dark and ambiguous regions of the human psyche with a different kind of light, a different sort of fire.'

Rather than playing a standard classical guitar, on this disc Gregoriadou plays a pair of instruments inspired by Kertsopoulos Aesthetics, a programme by guitar maker George Kertsopoulos which sees to explore and develop the possibilities of the classical guitar.

She starts with Bach's Sonata in A minor for unaccompanied violin in her own transcription and performed in D minor (the key Bach used when he transcribed the work for harpsichord) Gregoriadou's sound is quite bright and up front, and she plays on high-tuned guitar with two pedal mechanisms and scalloped frets.

Andrzej Pietrewicz, #4



Andrzej Pietrewicz
Andrzej Pietrewicz

Andrzej Pietrewicz is a young musician, composer and producer based near Toronto, Canada, and he has released his first recording. An EP, simply entitled #4 it contains six tracks, five purely instrumental and one with voice. The music, written for various combinations of piano, strings, guitar, flute and percussion is intriguing in style. Certainly neither new-classical nor minimalist, with a strong contrapuntal feel to it giving all the music a very definite voice.

The EP was written and recorded during lockdown, sometimes in remote collaboration with musicians, including singers Nacre, Timbre, Laura and Caroline Joy Clarke who perform on song 6.

The music is available on YouTube as a playlist, but the EP is also available from Bandcamp and it comes in a homemade paper and cardstock case, which is cut, folded, assembled and glued by hand by Andrzej Pietrewicz using available materials, with hand-written text.

Monday, 29 March 2021

Super-excellent Gabrieli and RVW on viols: National Centre for Early Music's Awaken festival

Title page of Coryat's Crudities, 1611.
Title page of Coryat's Crudities, 1611.

Awaken
- RVW, Johann Christoph Bach, Gabrieli; Iestyn Davies, Fretwork, I Fagiolini, English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, Robert Hollingworth; National Centre for Early Music

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 March 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
From RVW on viols combined with North German 17th century composers to Gabrieli writ large, NCEM's Awaken festival

Last weekend (27 and 28 March 2020) the National Centre for Early Music in York presented Awaken: Music Online for Spring with a variety of concerts from historic venues across York. We caught two of the events, on Saturday counter-tenor Iestyn Davies joined Fretwork for a programme of music by Schein, Scheidt, Johann Christoph Bach, Franz Tunder, Christian Geist and RVW. Then on Sunday evening, Robert Hollingworth conducted I Fagiolini, the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble and former members of the The 24 in Super-excellent a programme of multi-choir pieces by Giovanni Gabrieli, Joan Cererols, Alessandro Grandi, Juan de Araujo, Palestrina arranged Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, Edmund Hooper, and Heinrich Schutz, which was inspired by the writings of the 17th century traveller Thomas Coryat.

Saturday saw Iestyn Davies and Fretwork (Emily Ashton, Richard Boothby, Joanna Levine, Asako Morikawa, and Sam Stadlen viols, Silas Wollston organ, virginals) at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York. They began with an intriguing arrangement of RVW's Silent Noon with the viols accompanying Iestyn Davies. Having just heard Kitty Whately singing this at Leeds Lieder [see my review] with piano, the change in sound-world was fascinating, with Iestyn Davies finely controlled vocal line contrasting with the timbres of the viols.

Young person’s award for innovation: student's project solving acoustic problems in Covent Garden's orchestra pit receives award from Institute of Acoustics

London South Bank University acoustics research

Eric Ballestero, a PhD student from London South Bank University’s (LSBU) Acoustics department has been awarded the Young Person’s Award for Innovation in Acoustical Engineering 2021 by the Institute of Acoustics for a project exploring solutions to noise issues in the Royal Opera House's orchestra pit. Ballestero's research, which has the snappy title of Acoustic conditions in orchestra pits: are metadiffusers a potential solution?, was commissioned by the Royal Opera House to identify noise issues in the orchestra pit, provide a technical solution and create an acoustical improvement to work in the pit’s confined physical space.

The previous feasibility study to reduce sound levels in the pit showed that traditional noise control approaches were impractical and extremely expensive while having a minimal effect. A novel approach had to be developed capable of delivering the ambition of the project, and whilst trying to find the most efficient method of noise reduction in the orchestra pit, Eric Ballestero has created the world's first broadband metamaterial to diffuse sound, using ultra-thin diffuser designs. An innovation which solved the noise reduction/space requirements problem.

The LSBU research project is part of an international collaboration to test the prototype designs with the University of Le Mans in France and the University of Valencia in Spain. A short, six month follow-up music perception study is now underway, funded by the Royal Academy of Music. This will determine the number of panels that need to be installed to create the optimal acoustic balance. 

Further information from the LSBU website.

Opera, systemic racism, mass incarceration: White Snake Projects' Death by Life

White Snake Projects: Death by Life - Artwork by Renaldo Hudson
Artwork by Renaldo Hudson
White Snake Projects, a USA-based activist opera company founded by Singapore-born, USA-based Cerise Jacobs, is presenting a new digital opera in May. Death by Life was conceived as a monument of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The opera explores the intersection of systemic racism and mass incarceration using texts written by incarcerated writers and their families, with a score by five Black composers—Jacinth Greywoode, Leila Adu-Gilmore, Jonathan Bailey Holland, David Sanford and Mary D. Watkins—representing a broad range of ages and styles.

In the run up to the opera's premiere, White Snake Projects is presenting three on-line events exploring themes raised in the opera. The interactive forum Art as Transformation: Music and Drama for Incarcerated Youth (30 March 2021) explores art as a means of transformation for people who have experienced or are experiencing incarceration with Chicago-based Fifth House Ensemble, Oakdale Community Choir which provides choral singing experiences for men at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (Oakdale Prison) and Storycatchers Theatre, which helps youth in the juvenile justice system tell their stories through musical theatre.

Art and Imagination Inside Prisons (6 April 2020) is a roundtable discussion with formerly incarcerated artists about the creative processes involved in making, learning, and teaching art in prisons and a virtual gallery of art by incarcerated artists will be hosted on White Snake Projects’ website. The final event is also a panel discussion Freedom-Making in an Age of Mass Incarceration featuring a number of activists and academics and which will be followed by at Q&A. Both discussions will be moderated by Alice Kim, Director of Human Rights Practice at the University of Chicago’s Pozen Center.

Death by Life will be presented on-line on 20, 22, and 25 May 2021, with Tiana Sorenson, soprano, Lucia Bradford, mezzo-soprano, Aaron Blake, tenor and Nicholas Davis, baritone, directed by Kimille Howard with Tian Hui Ng, music director. The sets are immersive 3D environments created in Unreal Engine by Curvin Huber, White Snake’s Director of Innovation.

Full details from the White Snake Projects website.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

A Life On-Line: Spring is in the air! NCEM, Leeds Lieder, Wigmore Hall, Jayson Gillham, Juliana Koch

Joseph Middleton and Ashley Riches at the Wigmore Hall (photo taken from live stream)
Joseph Middleton and Ashley Riches at the Wigmore Hall (photo taken from live stream)

This seems to be a week of festivals, what with Sunday 21 March being Early Music Day, and Leeds Lieder and National Centre for Early Music having Spring festivals this weekend. For Early Music Day, with dropped in on the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) in York, where the Gesualdo Six gave us a lovely exploration of the music of Josquin and the composers who were inspired by him in After Josquin [NCEM]

Spring continued to be in the air at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday, when Ashley Riches (bass baritone) and Joseph Middleton (piano) gave a programme themed around Winter turning into Spring, which moved, from Schubert, to Britten's Winter Words to Brahms to Finzi. We began with Schubert, a lovely account of Strophe aus 'Die Götter Griechenlands' in which time seemed to be completely suspended, with both performers conjuring up a little bit of magic. Things were darker and and stronger in Auf dem Flusse where the river's flow was a steady tread in the piano and Riches brought a great element of drama to the piece almost reaching anger at the end. Frühlingsehnsucht was impulsive and urgent, yet with the final line of each verse almost standing motionless. Im Frühling had the sense of a carefree walk combining with deep emotions.

Here I have a confession, I have never really warmed to Britten's Thomas Hardy cycle, Winter Words, it is a piece I admire rather than love. Written for Peter Pears, you usually hear it sung by tenors but occasionally by baritones. I was a little unclear about whether there is an official baritone version, or whether singers simply transpose as suitable. 

Surprisingly, this performance absorbed me far more than some, perhaps because Riches and Middleton's approach was characterful without being irredeemably bleak.

Spring weekend of song in Leeds

Leeds Lieder - Joseph Middleton, Fatma Said - Leeds Town Hall (taken from live stream)
Leeds Lieder - Joseph Middleton, Fatma Said - Leeds Town Hall (taken from live stream)

Spring song weekend
; Bernadette Johns, Alexandra Standing, Fatma Said, Joseph Middleton, Laurence Kilsby, Ian Tindale, Kitty Whately, Madelaine Newton, Kevin Whately; Leeds Lieder at Leeds Town Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 March 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A pair of recitals from Leeds with young artists and more established names in everything from exotically seductive Ravel to Shakespeare

This weekend (27 and 28 March 2021) Leeds Lieder launched its programme of Spring concerts with a pair of recital streamed live from Leeds Town Hall. On Friday soprano Fatma Said and pianist Joseph Middleton were joined by Equilibrium Young Artists Bernadette Johns (mezzo-soprano) and Alexandra Standing (piano) for a programme of Schubert, Bridge, Mahler, Ravel, Brahms and Schumann. Then on Saturday mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately, pianist Joseph Middleton and actors Madelaine Newton and Kevin Whately presented their programme This Other Eden preceded by Equilibrium Young Artists Laurence Kilsby (tenor) and Ian Tindale (piano) in Schubert, Schoenberg and Wolf.
 
Leeds Town Hall is hardly the most intimate of spaces, but it was credit to the lighting and filming of the performances that the festival managed to create quite an intimate performance atmosphere from the films.You effectively forgot about the Victorian splendour and concentrated on the music.
 
Leeds Lieder - Alexandra Standing, Bernadette Johns- Leeds Town Hall (taken from live stream)
Leeds Lieder - Alexandra Standing, Bernadette Johns
Leeds Town Hall (taken from live stream)
Friday's recital began with Bernadette Johns and Alexandra Standing in Schubert's Die junge Nonne. Johns sang with a bright mezzo-soprano voice, quite concentrated yet sometimes surprisingly emphatic despite interior moments giving us perhaps a less passive view of the young nun. Next came Frank Bridge's Come to me in my dreams, poised, centred and very much evoking the words rather than luxuriating in the tune. Johns and Standing finished with a pair of Mahler's Rückert Lider. First 'Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder' featured some wonderfully vivid piano playing from Standing, with Johns really making the words count and telling a story here. Johns began 'Um Mitternacht' with bleached tone supported by Standing's strong piano contribution, and the performance developed very much as a very touching exploration of youthful angst.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

He can chisel a mood from just a few bars: pianist Peter Jablonski talks about his new disc of music by Alexey Stanchinsky, and about exploring the darker corners of the repertoire

Peter Jablonski
Peter Jablonski
If asked to list the names of early 20th-century Russian composers, that of Alexey Vladimirovich Stanchinsky (1888-1914) would probably not be high on many people's lists, and his music still remains undeservedly neglected. Having recorded a disc of mazurkas by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) for Ondine, the Swedish pianist Peter Jablonski has followed up the disc with a disc devoted to the music of Scriabin's colleague and friend, Stanchinsky. I recently met up with Peter by Zoom to find out more about Stanchinsky and Peter's discovery of him, but our conversation also managed to take in the music of the Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969), the 19th-century Russian composer Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) and Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015), not to mention the idea of playing Chopin in the spirit of French pianist Alfred Cortot (1877-1962).

Peter finds Stanchinsky's music beautiful and feels that we have not heard enough about him, and Peter admits that despite being relatively well versed in the piano repertoire, he hadn't heard Stanchinsky's name. It was Peter's partner, a musicologist, who brought Stanchinsky's First Nocturne to his attention. Peter listened to the piece and played it through, realising that Stanchinsky was a really good composer, but is also something of a missing link, adding to our fuller knowledge of Russian music.

Alexei Vladimirovich Stanchinsky
Alexey Vladimirovich Stanchinsky
This is music of great originality; Stanchinsky knew and loved Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), they moved in similar circles and had some teachers in common. Stanchinsky had a similar delicate, sensitive nature to Scriabin and Stanchinsky's early works can be Scriabin-esque, but he later found his own voice. But he would die at the age of 26, so this is a young man's music, and we have no idea where he might have gone later. Stanchinsky had the same emotional disposition as Scriabin, and contemporaries seem to have regarded him as unstable, though much is unclear about the composer's biographical details and there isn't even a biography. With such little information, Peter thinks it difficult and dangerous to speculate, particularly as to how Stanchinsky's life and art might or might not have intertwined.

As an example of this danger, Peter cites the rumours about Stanchinsky's death. The young man died quite suddenly and there is a suggestion of suicide, but Peter's partner, who speaks Russian, has spoken to musicologists in Russia who have been in contact with Stanchinsky's family, who say it was not suicide at all. Stanchinsky had reached a good point in his life and died from a heart-attack. But certainly, Stanchinsky seems to have been highly sensitive, a delicate soul, one with his nerve ends tingling.

So why isn't his music better known? Peter points out that Stanchinsky died young at a time when the musical landscape was changing fast. He hadn't published any of his music, and his death robbed him of the ability to promote his music in later life. Whilst Stanchinsky did not write that much music,  it is diverse in scope. His early music is very melody and harmony driven, inspired by Chopin, whilst during his middle period he is more impressionist and then in his later pieces he was inspired by Bach, writing complex fugal music. Peter's new disc covers around half of Stanchinsky's known pieces, there are two further piano sonatas and some preludes and fugues, plus an early piano trio. Perhaps enough to make a further disc?

Friday, 26 March 2021

A musical microcosm of 2020: Isolation Songbook from Helen Charlston, Michael Craddock and Alexander Soares on Delphian

Isolation Songbook; Helen Charlston, Michael Craddock, Alexander Soares; Delphian

Isolation Songbook
; Helen Charlston, Michael Craddock, Alexander Soares; Delphian

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 March 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A musical snapshot of 2020, 24 songs by 15 contemporary composers capturing the musical climate

It all began with a wedding, or rather the lack of one. Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and baritone Michael Craddock were due to be married in April 2020. When this was cancelled, Helen wrote a poem and sent it to their friend Owain Park who created a song, 18th April, and this led to more songs from friends and other contacts including Helen's father, harpsichordist Terence Charlston, thus creating Isolation Songbook. Helen, Michael and pianist Alexander Soares were able to perform the programme once, at a City Music Foundation live-streamed recital in July 2020 and they recorded the disc in Edinburgh in September 2020.

Isolation Songbook on Delphian features songs by Owain Park, Heloise Werner, Andrew Brixey-Williams, Kerensa Briggs, Nathan James Dearden, Richard Barnard, Joshua Borin, Ben Rowarth, Elliott Park, Derri Joseph Lewis, Terence Charlston, Gerda Blok-Wilson, James Davy and Stephen Bick, performed by Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano), Michael Craddock (baritone) and Alexander Soares (piano).

There are fifteen composers on the disc, the majority are of an age to be contemporaries of the performers, friends, colleages, friends of friends, but the net is somewhat wider with a range of birth dates from 1955 to 1997. Some set texts specially written for the project, whilst others set more established poets including Ian McMIllan, A.A.Milne, Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, Ogden Nash, Emily Dickenson and John Milne, as well as some of Eddie Braben's text for The Morecambe & Wise Show!

What is fascinating is that, despite this variety, many of the composers seem to have hit upon aspects of the same mood, which lends the programme a consistency that can be lacking from such enterprises. It is a mood of introspection, many of the works can read almost as stream of consciousness, thoughts flowing. And faced with Helen Charlston's wondrously plangent voice and terrific sense of strong line, many composers opt for a sort of undulating, expressionist line pointed from beneath by the piano, and there are a number of 'walking' songs in the programme.

From Corwall to Cumbria, Southend to Scotland by way of Scunthorpe, children's choirs from across the country to premiere Russell Hepplewhite & Michael Rosen's EVERYTHING

Friday Afternoons

Friday Afternoons is a project that arose out of the Britten Centenary in 2013, when Britten's own set of songs for children, Friday Afternoons (written for his brother's school) were revived in a national project. Since 2013, a new set of songs and other resources has been made available annually with Friday Afternoons projects being run in schools all around the UK and across the world. Past composers have included Errollyn Wallen, Luke Styles, Jonathan Dove, Nico Muhly, Gwyneth Herbert, Jason Yarde, Elliott Kendall, John Woolrich, Jon Boden, Rachel Portman, Sally Beamish, Talvin Singh, The Unthanks, Zoe Dixon and Benjamin Britten’s original songs for Friday Afternoons

Friday Afternoons logo
Last year, it was the turn of Russell Hepplewhite who collaborated with former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen to created EVERYTHING a cycle of 12 songs about...well, pretty much everything! The elements, human discovery, invention, movement, language, atoms and cells all feature. These songs are designed to fire up the imaginations of infant and primary school children with a healthy dose of fun, humour, playfulness, and heart.

Because of restrictions last year, only two of the songs was premiered, but now the remaining 10 songs are receiving their on-line premiere on 14 May 2021 on the Britten Pears Arts' YouTube channel.

Each of the ten unperformed songs will be premiered one of ten choirs that were selected after an open call in December last year, and they hail from right across the Britain and Ireland. The ten choirs are:

  • Amherst School Choir, Kent
  • Cornwall County Choirs
  • Dublin Youth Choir
  • The Grange Choir, Monmouth Boys' Prep
  • Lodge Moor Childrens Choir, Sheffield
  • The National Youth Choir of Scotland
  • Poco Amabile, Cumbria
  • Scunthorpe Co-Operative Junior Choir
  • Somerleyton Primary School Choir, Suffolk
  • Southend Boys' and Girls' Choirs

Further information and resources from the Friday Afternoons website.

Keeping On: The Knights' new video and annotated score


The New York-based ensemble The Knights, artistic directors Colin and Eric Jacobsen, have just released a new video, Keeping On but in fact the ensemble has released two videos, you can watch the video of the orchestra members performing [on YouTube[ but for those interested in the musical nitty-gritty there is also a video [above and on YouTube] of the annotated score.

The project was a group one, with a group of the members of the ensemble being responsible for developing the piece, Michael P. Atkinson, Logan Coale, Zachary Cohen, Christina Courtin, Colin Jacobsen, Dave Nelson, Yaira Matyakubova, Alex Sopp, plus Christina Courtin and Alex Sopp contributing the song, and Michael P. Atkinson doing the arrangement and orchestrations. And the annotated score highlights the various contributions, you can read more about the project in Colin  Jacobsen's post on The Knights' website.

The Knights evolved from late-night chamber music reading parties with friends at the home of violinist Colin Jacobsen and cellist Eric Jacobsen. The Jacobsen brothers, who are also founding members of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider, serve as artistic directors of The Knights, with Eric Jacobsen as conductor. The Knights are committed to creating unusual and adventurous partnerships across disciplines; they perform in traditional concert halls as well as parks, plazas, and bars, all in an effort to reach listeners of all backgrounds. [We caught The Knights at the Dresden Music Festival in 2016 with a programme which included Beethoven's Triple Concerto, see my review]

Further information from The Knights' website.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

From Monteverdi & Cavalli to Abba: 'Rebirth' from Sonya Yoncheva, Leonardo García Alarcón and Cappella Mediterranea on Sony Classical

Rebirth -  Sonya Yoncheva, Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo García Alarcón; Sony Classical

Rebirth
- Monteverdi, Cavalli, Strozzi, Stradella, Alarcón, Marin, de Torrejon y Velazco, Diaz, Gibbons, Dowland, Ferrabosco, Anderson & Ulvaeus; Sonya Yoncheva, Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo García Alarcón; Sony Classical

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 March 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The Bulgarian soprano collaborates with a period instrument ensemble for an intriguing melange of 17th century music spiced with some more recent items

Ten years ago, Bulgarian soprano Sonia Yoncheva sang the role of Poppea in a production of Monteverdi's L'incoronatione which Leonardo García Alarcón conducted at the Geneva Conservatoire where he teaches Baroque music. Yoncheva had an idea for a further project but it took last year's cancellation of existing projects to bring her and Alarcón together. The result is Rebirth a programme of Baroque arias and instrumental music which Sonia Yoncheva has recorded Leonardo García Alarcón and Cappella Mediterranea on the Sony Classical label.

The programme is highly eclectic, mixing sacred and profane, vocal and instrumental. The selection of composers ranges widely with a madrigal by Monteverdi and Arnalta's aria from L'incoronatione di Poppea, a sinfonia from Cavalli's opera L'egisto and an aria from Xerse, an aria from Stradella's oratorio San Giovanne Battista, Barbara Strozzi's L'Eraclito amoroso, music from Alarcón's completion of Antonio Draghi's El Prometeo, 17th century Spanish dance music from Jose Marin and Tomas de Torrejon y Velazco along with music by the contemporary Argentine composer Simon Diaz, Orlando Gibbons' The Silver Swan, John Dowland's Come again, sweet love and a pavan by Alfonso Ferrabosco retrofitted with text by Ben Johnson, a Bulgarian folk-song and Like an Angel passing through the room by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (the writing partnership behind Abba).

From Handel's Tamerlano to Walther's Scherzi da violino solo to Lampe's Dragon of Wantley: The Continuo Foundation awards its first round of grants

Continuo Foundation
The Continuo Foundation has announced its first round of grants to UK period-instrument ensembles, supporting 23 projects involving over 300 freelance musicians. Established in October 2020, Continuo was set up by former City director and classical music lover Tina Vadaneaux to support the community of period-instrument ensembles across the UK, many of whom haven’t played together since March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This first round as was intended to disperse £100,000 in grants but received 65 applications with grant requests totalling £475,000. However generous donations during February 2021 have meant that this first round dispersed £150,000 in recognition both of the urgent need and the abundance of excellent applications. 

The ensembles span both the long-established and the more recently formed, with music ranging from medieval dance music of Joglaresa to the world premiere of Errolyn Wallen’s new opera Dido’s Ghost by the Dunedin Consort. 

Other highlights include 

  • The English Concert recording Handel's Tamerlano at the Sage Gateshead
  • Fretwork recording music by the Flemish composer Leonora Duarte, the only 17th century woman composer for viol consort
  • Barnstorming, the Consone Quartet chamber music tour of beautiful old barns around the UK
  • the Brook Street Band reviving John Frederick Lampe's The Dragon of Wantley
  • The Illyria Consort recording Johann Jacob Walther's Scherzi da violino solo, Op.1
  • London Handel Festival's Messiah Re-imagined project
  • Boxwood & Brass' intriguing-sounding New Sounds for Old Winds project 

Full details from the Continuo Foundation website.

Update: apologies for managing to get entirely the wrong Handel for the English Concert's recording, they are of course giving us his opera Tamerlano rather than the oratorio  Theodora.

Gustav Hoyer's Terra, the Bringer of Life


The American composer Gustav Hoyer mixes life as a composer with a passion for music education and a life-long interest in computers, video and games. He also runs a regular music podcast, designed to open up classical music in non-traditional ways, and the latest episode is Anachronism. 

Hoyer's single Terra, the Bringer of Life has just been released, performed by Peter Pejtsik and The Budapest Film Orchestra, and comes from a forthcoming album to be released in 2021.

Hoyer says of his music, "I want to be a counter-cultural voice advocating for the earnest and authentic in an age of digital cynicism, sarcasm, and commercialism, at the end of it all I want my music to penetrate deeply into a listener and remind them of the transcendent reality of what it is to be human".

Further information from Gustav Hoyer's website.

Dame Ethel Smyth wins a Grammy!

Ethel Smyth The Prison; Dashon Burton, Sarah Brailey, Experiential Chorus and Orchestra, James Blachly; Chandos
In all the fuss about winners of last week's Grammy awards one win rather got neglected. 

That of Dame Ethel Smyth.

In truth, of course, Dame Ethel didn't win the award personally, but the award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album went to the premiere recording of Smyth's late masterpiece The Prison, performed by mezzo-soprano Sarah Brailey, baritone Dashon Burton and the Experiential Chorus and Orchestra conducted by James Blachly which was issued on Chandos records [read my review of the recording, and see my interview with James Blachly]. 

This is a remarkable achievement on many counts, what with a work that few people had heard of, which hardly featured in lists of Smyth's achievements and which had hardly been performed since Smyth's death in 1944 let alone recorded, an orchestra which had never made a commercial recording before along with a recording project which was funded via crowd-funding (on Kickstarter) by an all-American team.

You can see Sarah Brailey's acceptance speech on YouTube, find further information from the Grammys website and find the recording via this link tree.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Connected Skies: six new works from composer Angela Elizabeth Slater debuting digitally

Angela Elizabeth Slater: Connected Skies

Composer Angela Elizabeth Slater set herself a challenge last year, to write six new works for solo instrument and voice, each lasting around ten minutes. The resulting pieces, for double bass, cello, flute, accordion, percussion and mezzo soprano are being debuted digitally as part of a series called Connected Skies. Each month from January 2021 to June 2021, Slater is releasing a filmed performance of one of the works, along with a blog about its creation and more. 

So far we have seen a double bass piece for Maggie Cox, a solo cello piece for Sarah Gait, and an accordion piece for Kamila Olas. To come are a new piece for flute with glissando head piece for Emma Coulthard, a percussion piece for Iris van den Bos, and a piece for mezzo-soprano Kameryn Leoung.

Slater did a Ph.D at Nottingham University and was selected as a 2020/21 Tanglewood Composition Fellow. She was the 2019 Mendelssohn Scholar which enabled her to study with Michael Gandolfi at the New England Conservatory. She was a 2017 Britten-Pears Young Artist through which Angela worked with Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews and Michael Gandolfi, where she developed Soaring in Stasis which received its premiere at 2018 Aldeburgh Festival.
 

Further details from Angela Elizabeth Slater's website.

A castrato in Ireland: Tara Erraught, Peter Whelan & the Irish Baroque Orchestra recapture some of the magic of superstar castrato Tenducci

The Trials of Tenducci - van Maldere, Arne, Giordani, Fischer, JC Bach, Mozart; Tara Erraught, Irish Baroque Orchestra, Peter Whelan; Linn Records

The Trials of Tenducci
- van Maldere, Arne, Giordani, Fischer, JC Bach, Mozart; Tara Erraught, Irish Baroque Orchestra, Peter Whelan; Linn Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 March 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A delightful journey through the eventful musical life of soprano castrato Tenducci whose performing career encompassed London, Dublin and Edinburgh

The Italian soprano castrato Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci (c. 1735–90) seems to have had a remarkably eventful life, including a period in a debtors' prison in Southwark, a short period on the run, becoming secretly married to a 16-year-old which involved, flight, trial and imprisonment (and evenutually the marriage was annulled). He was also reputed, by Casanova, to have father two children but these are thought to be his wife's offspring by her second husband. But Tenducci also found time to sing and much of his career was in Britain and Ireland. On this new disc, The Trials of Tenducci: A castrato in Ireland from Linn Records, the Irish Baroque Orchestra, conductor Peter Whelan and mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught explore music associated with Tenducci, particularly his period in Dublin. We all know about the premiere of Handel's Messiah in Dublin, but Baroque music in Ireland was far richer than just that one work and part of the Irish Baroque Orchestra's mission is to explore this.

From the mid-18th century onwards, the music scene in Dublin was lively and tempted all sorts of visitors as George Frideric Handel's success in the city in the 1740s testifies. The disc opens with a Symphony in G by Pierre van Maldere (1729-1768), a violinist who arrived in 1751 having previoiusly worked at the Brussels court of Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine. For two years, Van Maldere was a leading light of the concert series held at Fishamble Street’s Philharmonic Room and this symphony may well have been written in Dublin. In three movements it is engagingly 'Mozartian', a toe-tapping Allegro assai, elegantly gentle Andantino and robust Presto.

Rising to the challenge: the East Neuk Festival returns in July with alfresco and pop-up performances, digital concerts and much more

2021 East Neuk Festival - ENF Arts Activist David Behrens at Lady's Tower near Elie, Scotland © East Neuk Festival
2021 East Neuk Festival - ENF Arts Activist David Behrens at Lady's Tower near Elie, Scotland © East Neuk Festival

If 2020 proved a nightmare for small arts organisations, then 2021 remains a great challenge, with uncertainty about what will physically be possible for Summer events. Like many smaller organisations the East Neuk Festival in Fife is turning challenge into opportunity and responding imaginatively to potential restrictions. This year's festival, which takes place from 1-4 July 2021, will combine al fresco performances, pop-up events, digital performance, art installations, community-led projects, and radio broadcasts.

During 2020 the festival created a number of recordings with guitarist Sean Shibe and violinist Benjamin Baker in Fife in November 2020, and these helped the festival to engage with a global audience. This will be continued in 2021 with four carefully curated films, featuring oud player Rihab Azar, violinist Benjamin Baker, the Castalian String Quartet in late Beethoven and Janacek, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, guitarist Sean Shibe, The Tallis Scholars marking the 500th anniversary of Josquin and pianist Llŷr Williams in Chopin, Debussy and Mozart. The films will be released daily and will be free, enabling international audiences to be able to drop in to the festival each day. 

BBC Radio 3 is returning to the festival this year and will be recording four concerts for future broadcast with programmes including musicians from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Sean Shibe and  Thomas Adès in Adès, Poulenc, Falla, Janacek and Francisco Coll, and pianist Christian Zacharias. At present these events will not be available to a public audience, but should this change then tickets will be available.

The festival also has a customised van, complete with pop-up stage and musicians, and this will be stopping off throughout the area’s fishing villages and countryside to give free performances of classical, roots, jazz and traditional music, for those willing to brave the weather, on the streets of the Neuk. In the grounds of the National Trust for Scotland’s Kellie Castle in Pittenweem there will be an immense labyrinth cut into the grass of its wildflower meadow, inspired by the contours of the route of the Fife Coastal Path.

The festival will also continue its work behind-the-scenes offering young artists the space and opportunity to take risks, and new directions in their work through its ENF Retreat scheme. It will be offering residencies to guitarist Sean Shibe and violinist Benjamin Baker during the festival to develop new projects which will come to fruition in the 2022 festival and details of two further residences will also be announced shortly. 

Full details from the festival website.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Giving Gluck's Paride ed Elena its due: Bampton Classical Opera's 2021 season

Jacques-Louis David: Paris and Helen (1788), Musée du Louvre, Paris (detail)
Jacques-Louis David: Paris and Helen (1788)
Musée du Louvre, Paris (detail)

 

During the 1760s the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck and librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi collaborated on a sequence of theatrical works which would revolutionise opera performance [see my article To delight the eyes and ears without the risk of sinning against reason or common sense: the creation of Reform Opera]. 

The first of these was the ballet Don Juan, followed by three operas Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste and Paride ed Elena. Orfeo ed Euridice remains iconic whilst Alceste is occasionally performed (though more often in its later French re-composition) yet Paride ed Elena remains virtually unknown getting only very occasional revivals and may never have been staged in London.

This is going to be remedied by Bampton Classical Opera whose 2021 Summer season features a staging of Paride ed Elena directed by Jeremy Gray in a new English translation by Gilly French, conducted by Thomas Blunt with Samantha Louis-Jean, Lucy Anderson,  Lauren Lodge-Campbell and Lisa Howarth. There will be performances in the Deanery Garden, Bampton (23 and 24 July 2021), The Orangery Theatre, Westonbirt School, Gloucestershire (30 August) and St John's Smith Square (24 September).

During Gluck's life-time the work was the least popular of his three Viennese Reform Operas. In the period to 1800, there were more than 100 performances of Orfeo ed Euridice in Vienna, compared to more than 70 of Alceste and just 25 of Paride ed Elena. I was lucky enough to see Paride ed Elena staged at the Drottningholm Festival in 1998 (as part of a season which included Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste) with Magdalena Kozena as Paride, and in 2003 Paul McCreesh conducted the work at the Barbican (this may have been the work's London premiere) with his Gabrieli Consort, again with Magdalena Kozena as Paride, plus Susan Gritton, Carolyn Sampson and Gillian Webster (available on disc).

Bampton is also reviving another Gluck rarity this year, his 1761 one-act opera La Corona (The Crown) which was written for four of Empress Maria Theresa's daughters (the children of the Imperial family were all horribly talented musically and Gluck wrote a number of operas for them). La Corona is being given two concert performances, at St John's Smith Square (18 May 2021) and at University Church, Oxford (22 May 2021).

Audience access and booking details for these performances will be announced in due course. Full details from the Bampton Classical Opera website.

Beyond Beethoven: Anneke Scott and Steven Devine explore how other composers followed the example of Beethoven's horn sonata with works exploiting the abilities of the natural horn

Beyond Beethoven - Ries, Steup, Starke, Thürner; Anneke Scott, Steven Devine; Resonus Classics

Beyond Beethoven
- Ries, Steup, Starke, Thürner; Anneke Scott, Steven Devine; Resonus Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 March 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
An exploration of the horn sonatas that came after Beethoven's; four contrasting works which exploit the possibilities of the natural horn to the utmost.

Beethoven's Sonata in F major for piano and horn was premiered in 1800 at a time when the commissioner, horn player Giovanni Punto was far more famous than the composer. The form was not common at the time, but following Beethoven's example there was a positive explosion of sonatas for piano and horn. Punto (who was in fact Czech, born Jan Václav Stich) pioneered hand-stopping techniques on the natural horn which meant the instrument could play a wider range of notes, which was a boon for composers such as Beethoven.

On this disc from Resonus Classics, Beyond Beethoven, Anneke Scott (natural horn) and Steven Devine (fortepiano) play sonatas by four of Beethoven's contemporaries - Ferdinand Ries, his pupil and secretary, Friedrich Eugen Thürner, his regular dining partner who played in the orchestra for Fidelio, and two composers influenced by Beethoven, Friedrich Starke and Hendrik Coenraat Steup which demonstrate how composers followed Beethoven's example in exploiting the variety and versatility of the natural horn (the instrument which Beethoven wrote for, and which Scott plays on this disc). Anneke Scott plays a Lucien Joseph Roux cor solo from around 1810 whilst Steven Devine plays a Viennese fortepiano by Johann Peter Fritz from 1815 (from the Richard Burnett collection).

Anneke Scott and Steven Devine
Anneke Scott and Steven Devine

Music.Multimedia.Management

What are the challenges we face in enhancing and transforming the world of classical music concerts?

How do we integrate the online experience into a world where live events may soon become possible again?

How do we bring fresh new perspectives to live concert occasions?

A new multidisciplinary international educational and development programme is aiming to help young arts professionals answer some of these questions. Music.Multimedia.Management is a training programme developed by the Szczecin Philharmonic and running throughout the 2021/22 season. Szczecin is Poland's seventh largest city, which is located near the Baltic Sea and the German border, and the city is known in Swedish and German as Stettin.

Aimed at young musicians, artists, aspiring culture managers and arts professionals, the programme is designed to help them in acquiring new skills, to equip them to pursue professional job opportunities, to broaden the idea of interdisciplinary arts, to promote effective use of new technologies and to grow audiences and enhance international collaboration in the arts sector.   

The initial on-line tuition is free, followed by a subsidised two week practical training period in Poland or Norway and a two month paid internship in Poland or Norway for selected candidates to develop their practical skills in the creation and production of international arts projects.  Each module in the programme consists of a series of webinars and masterclasses showcasing a wide range of experts, experienced tutors and special guests and will provide participants with useful and relevant historical, geographical and social contexts to each topic.

The starting point for the programme will be the audience experience with a focus on sound design, lighting and visuals, music education, audience development, artist management and creative arts project management. The result will be a greater awareness of the whole creation and production process among aspiring cultural managers and arts professionals of the future, realised through a range of exciting events to be held at the end of the programme, curated by the participants themselves to demonstrate their newly acquired skills and insights.

The programme has been developed by the Szczecin Philharmonic along with Fjord Cadenza, Norway and the TRAFO Centre for Contemporary Art, Szczecin. They will be working alongside the Music.Design.Form Festival, Szczecin; the International Lutoslawski Youth Orchestra; the Fjord Cadenza Festival and three in-house Gallery exhibitions to offer participants the best all-round creative experience possible.

Registration is now open: applications will be considered from 1st April to 5th May 2021.

Full details from the programme website.

Monday, 22 March 2021

50 minutes of delight: Ravel's L'heure espagnole from Grange Park Opera

Ravel L'heure espagnole; Catherine Backhouse, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Ashley Riches, Ross Ramgobin, Stephen Medcalf; Grange Park Opera
Ravel L'heure espagnole; Catherine Backhouse, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Ashley Riches, Ross Ramgobin, Stephen Medcalf; Grange Park Opera

Ravel L'heure espagnole; Catherine Backhouse, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Ashley Riches, Ross Ramgobin, Stephen Medcalf; Grange Park Opera

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 March 2021
Ravel's comédie musicale transposed from 18th century Spain to a Kensington antique clock dealer

Having given us a film of Britten's Owen Wingrave last year [see my review], Grange Park Opera has gone back into the studio for a filmed performance of Ravel's 1911 comedy, L'heure espagnole filmed in a real antique clock dealers in London's Kensington Church Street with Catherine Backhouse as Concepción, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts as Torquemada, Elgan Llŷr Thomas as Gonzalve, Ashley Riches as Don Iñigo and Ross Ramgobin as Ramiro, directed by Stephen Medcalf, with music from Chris Hopkins, Ognune Lively and Tom Marshall

L'heure espagnole is a tricky work to get right, quite how saucy should it be, and there are all the logistics of male cast members getting in and out of clocks to deal with. The work was premiered at the Opera Comique, so should probably be thought of as saucy rather than bawdy, with the sexual innuendo quite suggestive and knowing rather than explicit. Stephen Medcalf opted for realism, and filming in a clock shop how could he not; with some neat slight-of-camera when it came to the men getting into the clocks and Ramiro's shouldering of them, the results had an engagingly stylised realism too them, emphasising the sheer craziness of it all!. There was some beautifully observed detail, Torquemada was working at a table full of fascinating clock innards and more, whilst the clock maker's eating habits (depicted in the instrumental prologue) were a thing of wonder.

Holy Week Festival at Saint John's Smith Square

The annual Holy Week Festival at St John's Smith Square, artistic director Nigel Short, will be taking place on-line this year from 28 March to 5 April 2021. The festival opens on Palm Sunday with a sequence of music and readings from Nigel Short and Tenebrae with music from Weelkes and Victoria to Casals and Poulenc. 

Violinist Lana Trotovšek will join four of Tenebrae's Associate Artists for a programme which interleaves Bach's music for solo violin with chorales, and the Revolutionary Drawing Room will be performing Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross with readings from The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle. 

There will be live-streamed services on Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with Tenebrae providing music including Victoria, Allegri, Bruckner, and Tallis, and on Easter Saturday, Amici Voices perform Bach's St Matthew Passion.

For me, though the highlight must be violinist Bojan Čičić and organist Steven Devine's two concerts on Easter Sunday covering all of Biber's amazing Rosary Sonatas. On Easter Monday there is the London Handel Festival's Messiah Reimagined, which combines live performance from Lawrence Cummings, the London Handel Orchestra, Lucy Crowe, Iestyn Davies and Edward Grint, with on-line performances of the choruses.

All but the St Matthew Passion are free of charge (donations welcome) and available to watch for 30 days after broadcast.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square website.

Awaken: the National Centre for Early Music celebrates the coming of Spring

NCEM: Awaken

To celebrate the coming of Spring, the National Centre for Early Music in York is planning an online celebration for the weekend of 26-27 March 2021 when a variety of musicians will be performing across a range of historic venues in York.

Events begin with a musical whistle stop by The Gesualdo Six, Beyond these shores: A York Tapestry, visiting Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate; St Olave’s Church; and the medieval splendour of the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. 

Other artists appearing during the weekend include I Fagiolini and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble in a programme of Garbrieli, Grandi and Schutz countertenor Iestyn Davies with the viol consort Fretwork who will be mixing music by JC Bach with that of RVW, BBC New Generation Artists the Consone Quartet in Schubert’s Quintet with cellist Alexander Rolton, and Ensemble Augelletti in an intriguing tale of 18th century music making from an English debtors’ prison.

Further information from the centre's website.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

A Life On-Line: Horror for in Belfast, Suor Angelica in California, Piazzolla from Peckham

Conor Mitchell: The Musician - The Belfast Ensemble (Photo Neil Harrison)
Conor Mitchell: The Musician - The Belfast Ensemble (Photo Neil Harrison)

This week our life on-line was a lovely mixture, with a staging of a new horror opera for children from Belfast, a digital Suor Angelica from California, Astor Piazzolla from Peckham, Young Artists in Holland Park and a saxophone in the Great Hall at Barts, but life on-line has also been extensively non-musical this week as we have been enjoying a series of new films from the BFI Flare festival.

As part of Young at Art, the Belfast Children's Festival the Belfast Ensemble presented The Musician: A Horror Opera for Children by the ensemble's artistic director Conor Mitchell. Neither in its staging nor in its music did the piece pull any punches despite being socially distanced and being a 'children's opera'. It told a fascinating story in a gripping and creepy way, with music which was part of the drama. From the first notes of the opening prelude it was clear that this wasn't going to be a theatre piece with jolly sing-along songs. Mitchell was writer, composer and director, whilst Tom Brady conducted and there was a cast of four. Rebecca Murphy and Sarah Richmond as two young children, a boy and a girl, Paul Carey Jones as a strange musician and Matthew Cavan as narrator. The story developed gradually, character was well drawn and we were engaged. Essentially this was a prequel to The Pied Piper of Hamlin, but until a good way through we had little idea about the way the plot would develop, and there certainly wasn't a simple, happy end. Cleverly, as the plot developed and the young boy grew up, the role was taken by Cavan thus adding an extra layer to the narration.

The piece had all the grisliness of the original Grimm's Fairytales which is often sanitised out, along with a moral about the fact the people are not necessarily nice (the boy, mistreated when young, does not respond with kindnesss when he acquires power). This was a terrific piece, in terrific performances. The Musician is the sort of 'children's opera' which transcends its boundaries. That the Belfast Ensemble created this during pandemic restrictions is amazing, and I certainly hope there is a chance to see it live. This is the sort of piece that needs to tour widely. [Young at Art]

Celebrating Piazzolla: London Concertante (taken from live-stream)
Celebrating Piazzolla: London Concertante (taken from live-stream)

The chamber ensemble London Concertante has started an on-line series of films, Tune In, presenting them weekly (and then available on demand). The series started with Celebrating Piazzolla, a beautifully filmed concert of music by Astor Piazzolla, with a string ensemble plus piano and accordion in the ruined splendour of the chapel as the Asylum in Peckham.