Out of the Shadows

Friday, 30 April 2021

Questionnaire

Questionnaire is an intriguing new piece for voice and guitar ensemble by David Lang, and the Italian guitarist Sergio Sorrentino has just recorded a new version of the piece in which he plays all of the guitar parts. In Questionnaire a voice asks a series of spoken questions, and the guitar ensemble replies, with the voice spoken by Sorrentino's wife, Barbara Czepulonis.

The result is a tour-de-force in many ways, from the brilliance of Sorrentino's playing to the tantalising way we are forced to think strongly about the guitar ensemble responses

Further details from Bandcamp.

A year of uncertainty & change has encouraged new, radical ways of working: DISRUPT Festival

DISRUPT Festival 2021
One of the things that we have learned from the past 18 months is that, when it comes to our standard performance model, things can change and ought to. Many organisations have invested in the technology to enable live-streaming, and you sense that a 'normal' future (whatever and whenever that may be) will be more of a mixed model for the performing arts.

Arising directly out of the last year's restrictions and trials, the DISRUPT Festival is taking place virtually on 8-9 July 2021, co-ordinated by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Barbican (in partnership with the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, the Culture Mile, the Lived Experience Network, Maya Productions, and Slung Low). The festival is presenting a programme of discussions, panels and workshops with the intention of exploring how the performing arts can support communities during the pandemic, and how a year of uncertainty and change has encouraged new and radical ways of working. The programme has been created entirely from open submissions and selected by a panel of 14 community members and artists. 

The commissions for DISRUPT that will form the programme of work across the festival include:

  • Rebecca Biscuit and Heather Bandenburg's Mummy Vs is a performance that will examine the effect of COVID-19 on the childcare crisis and the pressures on new parents, bringing the domestic to life in the spectacular nature of a wrestling show
  • The Margate Bookie and Co-Relate, the creators of The Feedback Machine, an innovative online platform which provides feedback and support to writers at all levels during the pandemic, will be discussing the project
  • Peer Productions and the National Association for Children of Alcoholics': 50 Days: Alone Together tells the story of ten teens and their first 50 days in lockdown
  • Laura Kenyon and Centre 151:  This project will work with women who have experienced domestic abuse to create a ‘handbook’ using movement and improvisations to empower them to tell their story in their own voices
  • Rhubarb Theatre and Addy Farmer and Lincolnshire County Council and SHINE Network: an animation for schools created by Rhubarb Theatre, as well a selection of resources for adults, schools, and children to help encourage dialogue about depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Maya Productions and Darnall Wellbeing and Ignite Imaginations and Roshni Sheffield: inspired by Maya’s new musical, Benny and the Greycats which tells the story of an Anglo-Indian family moving from South India to Sheffield, this project will work with an over 50s South Asian and ethnically diverse group in Sheffield, providing participants with new skills and respite from the constraints of COVID-19 through memory sharing, music, art and theatre-making
  • Breakfast Club and The Magpie Project:  Over five weeks, Breakfast Club will work with mothers supported by The Magpie Project to produce a series of sonic postcards in response to material developed by the mothers in workshops, which will include instrumental improvisations, spoken word, field recordings and moments captured during workshop conversations
Full details from the festival website.

Bach's Goldberg Variations in a winning new arrangement for violin, guitar and cello

JS Bach, arr. David Juritz Goldberg Variations; David Juritz, Craig Ogden, Tim Hugh; Nimbus

JS Bach, arr. David Juritz Goldberg Variations; David Juritz, Craig Ogden, Tim Hugh; Nimbus Alliance

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A new arrangement of Bach's keyboard masterpiece which deftly combines old and new in wonderfully winning performances

Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations, or to give the work its original title Clavier Ubung bestehend in einer Aria mit verschiedenen Verænderungen vors Clavicimbal mit 2 Manualen (Keyboard exercise, consisting of an Aria with diverse variations for harpsichord with two manuals) was published in 1741 and can be seen to represent the beginning of Bach's final decade with its series of summation works, including the Musical Offering, the Art of Fugue and the Mass in B minor. It is in a form which other composers were using, a short theme and then a series of variations, and both Buxtehude and Handel had published such compendia, but Bach's music takes the genre to the ultimate.

Unusually it was published, the fourth of Bach's Klavierübung (previous printed volumes had included the six keyboard partitas and the Italian Concerto). Unlike works such as the Art of Fugue, we have a clear idea of the forces for which it was written; Bach's preface clearly states that is is for harpsichord and specifically for two manual harpsichord. And there is a strong suggestion of a performance tradition (unlike the Art of Fugue and the Mass in B minor) with the premiere probably being given by the virtuoso harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg for whom the variations are named nowadays. But being written for a two-manual harpsichord (and Bach specifies which variations should use two manuals) means that modern performers playing it on a single manual harpsichord or on the piano are introducing an element of transcription. Perhaps because of this, or because of the sheer virtuosity in the way Bach changes the textures of the music from variation to variation, the work has always attracted adaptations. On a new disc from Nimbus Alliance, violinist David Juritz has arranged Bach's Goldberg Variations for the intriguing combination of violin (David Juritz), guitar (Craig Ogden) and cello (Tim Hugh), and the arrangement is also being published by Nimbus Music Publishing.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Eight Sketches for Piano by the young American composer Aidan Vass

Aidan Vass: Eight Sketches for Piano

Aidan Vass is a young (17-year-old!) composer based in Los Angeles. He is a two-time YoungArts winner and composer fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is studying under composer Andrew Norman, who is the director of the Los Angeles Philarmonic's Composer Fellowship Program for high school composers. As a fellow, Vass has written for ensembles such as the American Youth Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Vass has already developed significant catalogue, with solo pieces, chamber music, choral pieces and orchestra. On 14 March, he released his debut solo piano album, Eight Sketches for Piano, and he has spent the last year on the project and has written, performed, and engineered the album by himself.

Eight Sketches for Piano is, as the title suggests, eight piano solos lasting in total a little over 30 minutes. The titles, 'Life', 'Mourning', 'Sleep', 'Vice', 'Purgatory', 'Crucis', 'Silentium', 'Ascensio' are clear indicators of a narrative. Vass discribes it thus, the work 'captures an individual’s struggle with morality. Each piece explores a distinct topic that contributes to an overarching narrative, which follows the juxtaposition of one’s loss of morality with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.'

This is serious stuff and these are serious pieces, and the music is well away from atmospheric noodling and Vass has created eight rather striking works with an interesting complexity of texture. There are plenty of influences that we can detect, but Vass seems well set to develop his own voice. The music is tonal and uses harmonic development, with some interesting piano textures. It isn't Minimalism, and the voice that emerges from the music is very engaging. You can follow the work's programme, or simply enjoy a series of richly romantic piano sketches.

Vass' on-line offering for Eight Sketches for Piano encompasses not just his performances and his notes, but also PDFs of the music. If you are interested in supporting a talented young composer then do try. Further information from Vass' website and on-line streaming from Hearnow.

Science Fiction, AI, music and collaborative creation: the Lim Fantasy of Companionship for piano and orchestra

Lim Fantasy of Companionship for piano and orchestra - Signum Classics
If we watch one of the classic Broadway musicals, then whose work are we seeing? 

With a work like My Fair Lady the creators are usually listed as Lerner and Loewe. Alan Jay Lerner wrote the book and the lyrics, whilst Frederick Loewe wrote the music. And of course, with many musicals there are three names, book, music and lyrics. But they are not the only ones responsible for creating the work. The work's original director and producers would have a big say, so after pre-Broadway tryouts many musicals had extensive surgery, which means that their final shape is a group affair.

With Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark, the book is by Moss Hart, who also directed, lyrics are by Ira Gerswhin, and the producer was Sam Harris. The musical features three extended dream episodes, mini-operettas, but Weill planned four of these and one was dropped, whilst the show-stopping patter song 'Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)' was added specifically because Danny Kaye had been cast as Russell Paxton and Kaye was good at patter songs!

But this fails to include another important member of the team. Kurt Weill was unusual, he did all his orchestrations, and virtually all the other Broadway composers relied on an orchestrator. The orchestrations for My Fair Lady were done by Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981), a great musician who effectively created the mid-century Broadway sound, working with everyone from Jerome Kerne, to Gershwin, to Cole Porter, to Rogers and Hammerstein, to Lerner and Lowe. To talk about the Broadway musical from this period without mentioning Robert Russell Bennett is to miss out an essential component of the creative team.

There is a similar collective spirit, this time more deliberately so, in the Yellow River Concerto which premiered in China in 1969. It is the result of a group of composers arranging an older work, Yellow River Cantata, into a concerto, but in fact the presiding genius was a non-musician, Madame Mao. She initiated the project and, after the premiere in 1969, it was she who ordered the revisions to create what is now the standard version. There are a number of Chinese works from this period which are collaborative (and political), largely because of the power of political thought in the country at the period, the distrust of individual action and the emphasis on the collective.

Yet, somehow we remain somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of group creation in classical music. We might cheerfully list a whole group of names as co-creators in a Motown song, but we seem to have a need to assign a classical work to a single creator. So that we usually refer to Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark despite the complexities of its creation, and many commentators still seem uncomfortable with the idea that Claudio Monteverdi's final opera, L'Incoronazione di Poppea, which premiered in Venice in 1643 when the composer was 76, is in fact the product of a number of musical minds with the elderly composer guiding a group of younger composers.

Perhaps it is all Richard Wagner's fault. He is responsible for so much of our opera going; the popularisation of using a pit, the idea of sitting in the dark and concentrating on the performance, and the idea of the composer as a single presiding genuis (Wagner planned, wrote the librettos, wrote the music and was involved in the first performances at the festival he created).

Which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to the Lim Fantasy of Companionship for piano and orchestra

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Wild Blue Yonder: new disc of chamber music by Eleanor Alberga

Wild Blue Yonder - Eleanor Alberga; Thomas Bowes, Eleanor Alberga, Richard Watkins, Nicholas Daniel, Ensemble Arcadiana; Navona Records

Wild Blue Yonder
- Eleanor Alberga; Thomas Bowes, Eleanor Alberga, Richard Watkins, Nicholas Daniel, Ensemble Arcadiana; Navona Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The world of sleep, dreams and nightmares explored in this satisfying new disc of chamber music from Eleanor Alberga

Wild Blue Yonder is a new disc from Navona Records featuring four chamber pieces by UK-based Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga performed by Thomas Bowes (violin), Eleanor Alberga (piano), Richard Watkins (horn), Nicholas Daniel (oboe) and Ensemble Arcadiana.

The album was originally planned to have a somewhat different shape, but the events of 2020 forced the cancellation of recordings of two of Alberga's large-scale chamber pieces. So the new disc features new recordings of Alberga's Shining Gate of Morpheus for horn and string quartet (2012) and Succubus Moon for oboe and string quartet (2007) plus live archive recordings of two works for violin and piano, No-man's land Lullaby (1997) and The Wild Blue Yonder (1995).

Often, composer-led discs can end up being a semi-random assemblage of achievable recordings (and I speak from experience here), but despite the changes wrought by 2020, Alberga's programme on the disc has a rather satisfying shape and the four pieces work together as a whole, but I do hope that we get to hear the missing works in the not so distant future!

As Thomas Bowes (violinist on the disc and Alberga's husband) writes, the album can be heard as a journey of several encounters in the realm of sleep and dreams, ranging from demons, comforters, guardian angels and more impish spirits.

Handel and Purcell in an orchard

Eboracum Baroque in the Orchard Tea Garden, Grantchester
Eboracum Baroque in the Orchard Tea Garden, Grantchester

What better place to experience Baroque music outdoors than in an orchard, and one that serves tea to boot. The enterprising Eboracum Baroque is returning to The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester for a series of performances in June 2021. 

Their short season opens on 24 June with an all-Purcell programme which features highlights from his semi-opera The Fairy Queen alongside his opera Dido and Aeneas. Purcell was also the theme of Eboracum Baroque's virtual concert Purcell and a Pint, and they will be doing a live version of it in Grantchester, there is also a programme of popular Baroque classics from Handel, Purcell and Vivaldi including operatic arias, concertos and instrumental suites, and the season finishes with a performance of Handel's pastoral Acis and Galatea.

The Orchard Tea Garden will be serving refreshments before the performances and during the interval. Audience members are invited to bring their own seating if they wish but the famous green deck chairs will also be out. 

Full details from the Eboracum Baroque website.

 

From Beverley to Budleigh Salterton: festivals coming back to life

Beverly and the Minster (photo courtesy of Beverley Minster website)
Beverly and the Minster (photo courtesy of Beverley Minster website)

It is heartening to see smaller festivals coming back to life and announcing (careful) plans, selecting larger venues, doing outdoor gigs, shortening concerts and such. Two that popped into my inbox this week are the Budleigh Music Festival which takes place in the East Devon town of Budleigh Salterton from 9 to 17 July 2021, and the Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival (organised by the National Centre for Early Music in York) which takes place in and around Beverley in Yorkshire from 28 to 30 May 2021 (and online from 5 to 6 June 2021).

The Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival is featuring live concerts in May, but there will be only a limited number of tickets on public sale because of limitations in numbers (due to social distancing) and the festival honouring the bookings of all those from last year's cancelled festival. However all the concerts will be available via a special digital festival in June.

The festival opens with Stile Antico in Toward the Dawn, a programme that moves from Allegri to Nico Muhly, sung in the splendour of Beverley Minster [where my eldest two uncles were christened]. Other performers include Alva (Vivien Ellis voice, Giles Lewin fiddles, bagpipes, Leah Stuttard medieval harps) in Angels in Architecture, La Serenissima with recorder player Tabea Debus, solo violinist Kati Debretzeni in Through the Eye of a Lense, a virtual tour of Europe through the “lens” of a violin, and Ex Corde, director Paul Gameson, in Heaven on Earth: Thomas More’s Utopian Dream, with music by Robert Fayrfax and Josquin des Prez, plus the premiere of a commission by Christopher Fox inspired by Thomas More’s vision. 

Also taking place over the weekend are the hugely popular Ballad Walks, led by Vivien Ellis, brimming with songs and stories from the streets. The tales span 800 years of history and reveal Beverley’s sometimes murky past as well as the fascinating tales of some of the inhabitants.

All five concerts will be filmed and available online, with an added bonus of many exclusive treats.  Historian David Neave will talk about the Pilgrims of the East Riding who left these shores in 1638 to set out for a new, and better, world in the America, Stile Antico share the music of the period through a specially commissioned film and John Bryan, Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, will introduce the festival from the Rococo splendour of Beverley Guildhall. 

Full details from the National Centre for Early Music website

St Peter's Church, Budleigh Salterton
St Peter's Church, Budleigh Salterton
venue for the 2021 Budleigh Music Festival

In Budleigh Salterton the festival is opening with tenor Daniel Norman, pianist Sholto Kyoch and the Brodsky Quartet in their performance of RVW's On Wenlock Edge with Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood's animated film [see my review from the Oxford Lieder Festival] plus music by Ravel and more. Then the next night Jess Gillam and her band arrive in town with music by Luke Howard, Piazzolla, Joby Talbot and Kurt Weill. The festival finale is a recital by baritone Sir Willard White in arias from his greatest roles alongside songs from the shows and a few surprises. 

In between there are recitals from pianist Peter Donohoe, in Schubert, guitarist Craig Ogden and accordionist Milos Milojevic, rising star violinist Coco Tomita with pianist Simon Callaghan, and a series of young musician lunchtime recitals from pianist Alex Wilson, oboist Ella Leonard, violinist Rachel Stonham, pianist Clara Sherratt, percussionist Meadow Brooks, and recorder player Eliza Haskins with Toril Azzalini-Macheler (percussion).

Less traditional is Colourscape, an interactive walk-through labyrinth of colour, light and music.  Held on The Green, it is a family-friendly experience which brings a new element to the Festival, offering visitors the chance to walk into a new world of radiating colour filled with music and dance.

Full details from the festival website.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Opera North launches its 2021/22 season and looks forward to the completion of the new Howard Opera Centre

Garry Walker conducting the Orchestra of Opera North. (Photo Justin Slee)
Garry Walker conducting the Orchestra of Opera North. (Photo Justin Slee)
 

Opera North has announced its plans for 2021/22, and it is heartening to see some of the company's cancelled projects re-appearing, with new productions of Carmen, Rigoletto and Alcina plus a concert staging of Parsifal. Alongside main-stage plans, the company's £18m redevelopment of its city centre home, the Howard Opera Centre, enter its final stages, and the Howard Assembly Room re-opens in October with a full programme.

The season opens with the company's first new production of Bizet's Carmen in over a decade conducted by Garry Walker in his first production as Opera North's new music director, and directed by Edward Dick, who directed Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel in 2017 [see my review]. American mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams sings Carmen with Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger as Don José. 

The second new production is Verdi's Rigoletto directed by British Nigerian actor/director Femi Elufowoju Jr. in his operatic debut. Garry Walker conducts a cast including Eric Greene in the title role, [Greene sang Porgy in ENO's 2018 production of Gerswhin's Porgy and Bess, see our review] Sir Willard White as Monterone, Roman Arndt as the Duke of Mantua and Jasmine Habersham as Gilda. 

To complete the trio, there is a new production of Handel's Alcina, conducted by Laurence Cummings and directed by Tim Albery [whose production of Handel's Giulio Cesare was revived at Opera North in 2019, see my review], with Máire Flavin as Alcina, Fflur Wyn [last seen as Marzelline in Beethoven's Fidelio at Opera North, see my review] as Morgana and Patrick Terry [who we caught in Handel's Berenice at Covent Garden in 2019, see my review] as Ruggiero and this will be Opera North's first environmentally sustainable production. 

There is also a double-bill of works by Bernstein which sees a revival of Trouble in Tahiti paired with a new production of West Side Story Symphonic Dances in collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre.

Next year's concert staging is Wagner's Parsifal which opens at Leeds Grand Theatre before touring to concert halls. Richard Farnes conducts with Katarina Karnéus as Kundry, Brindley Sherratt as Gurnemanz and Toby Spence as Parsifal, the latter two both role debuts and both interesting singers who have been making the journey towards more dramatic roles in recent years [Spence sang Florestan in Opera North's 2020 performance of Fidelio, whilst I chatted to Brindley Sherratt about his Wagner plans in March 2020, see my intervew]. Not to be missed.

Exterior of redevelopment work on New Briggate below Howard Assembly Room
Exterior of redevelopment work on New Briggate below Howard Assembly Room

With the reopening of the Howard Assembly Room, the season there will include Courtney Pine and  pianist Zoe Rahman, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa with Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita, Leveret, and Richard Dawson.

A new Making Music campaign has been launched to drive donations to complete the redevelopment project and fill the new spaces with music. The names of Making Music supporters will become part of a new installation symbolising a musical score. Wrapping around the central staircase in the new glass atrium, the installation will celebrate the making of music in the heart of the building: www.operanorth.co.uk/support-us/making-music/

Full details from the Opera North website.

Scottish Opera's Outreach and Education department celebrates its 50th anniversary

Scottish Opera-Go-Round Bus in 1971 (Photo The Glasgow Herald)
The way we were: the Scottish Opera-Go-Round Bus in 1971 (Photo The Glasgow Herald)

Scottish Opera's Outreach and Education department is rightly celebrating the milestone of reaching its 50th anniversary year, and the events and projects planned show that they are as busy as ever despite restrictions.

A package of digital initiatives for primary school children marks the first time the Company has offered projects to all Primary 1 to 7 ages simultaneously, giving schools the opportunity to engage all pupils in a Scottish Opera primary schools project at the same time ranging from introducing Primary 1 to 3 to brass instruments whilst also supporting delivery of the Early and First Level numeracy curriculum, to a digital storybook project which introduces Mandarin language skills alongside concepts of food preparation and healthy eating (for Primary 3 and 4), whilst a digital performance project invites Primary 5 to 7 pupils on an intergalactic adventure to save Planet Earth and engage with the topic of climate change as Scotland prepares to host the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) later this year.

Scottish Opera’s work with older pupils in secondary schools includes the creation of resources relating to a sequence of filmed scenes in three contrasting stagings, directed by Roxana Haines, of Donizetti’s L'elisir d'amore as part of the Scottish Opera: On Screen collection. Available to schools in Spring 2022, the resources will encourage critical analysis from secondary school pupils studying Music, Art & Design and Theatre Studies.

Scottish Opera online performance of Primary School project Fever! in 2020
Scottish Opera online performance of Primary School project Fever! in 2020

Scottish Opera Young Company returns to the stage for the first time since March 2019 with a new production Kurt Weill’s The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken directed by Roxana Haines. Rehearsals are underway via Zoom and will culminate in outdoor performances in the car park of the Company’s Edington Street Production Studios in Glasgow on 31 July and 1 August. Looking further ahead, in 2022 the company will give the world premiere of Rubble by composer Gareth Williams and writer/director Johnny McKnight, specially commissioned for the department’s milestone anniversary.

With a new Breath Cycle project, the company begins work on a new initiative to create a song collection for and by people affected by Covid-19, and there are further projects to focus on health and wellbeing with plans also underway to engage children with the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

Full information from the Scottish Opera website.

'Art and life are not two separate things' - Fidelio Cafe re-opens with new ticket options

Fidelio Cafe, Clerkenwell
Fidelio Cafe, Clerkenwell

Since it was founded in 2019 the Fidelio Cafe  (formerly the Fidelio Orchestra Cafe) on Clerkenwell Road, London has established itself on the London music scene, serving the local community by day as a cafe, music practice venue and smart working space, and then in the evenings transforming into a food and classical music venue where you can listen to a concert and then eat a three-course meal curated by chef Alan Rosenthal as well as visiting chefs.

The cafe is opening its doors again on Tuesday 16 May 2021 with a calendar of internationally-renowned artists and two new ticket options starting from £15 to make its music offer even more accessible to everyone, while adhering to current safety guidelines. For those on a fixed budget, the new Intermezzo ticket offers one drink of choice and the full concert from the Fidelio lounge, with a standing or restricted view, all for £15. And for the under 30s there is 50% discount on the full concert experience.

Coming up in May are concerts with the Consone Quartet in Mozart and Schumann, pianist Patrick Hemmerlé in the complete Chopin Etudes op 10 and op 25, the Maxwell Quartet and clarinettist Anthony Friend in Beethoven and Brahms, pianist Samson Tsoy in Schubert, violinist Francesca Dego and pianist Francesca Leonardi in Mozart, Busoni and Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and the Benedetti Trio (Nicola Benedetti, Leonard Elschenbroich, Alexei Grynyuk) in Brahms and Beethoven.

'Art and life are not two separate things' - Felix Mendelssohn

Full details from the Fidelio Cafe website.

Black Lives in Music: new organisation, new survey, new video series

Black Lives in Music
Research from Arts Council England has shown that of leadership roles occupied by employees at almost 100 of its leading National Portfolio Organisations, only 10% of Chief Executives, 11% of Senior Managers, 11% of Chairs, and 15% of board members were from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds. But is currently no data about the experience and everyday reality for Black musicians in the UK.

Now a new advocacy organisation,  Black Lives in Music (BLiM) is aiming to change that and is currently running a survey looking at the issues Black creatives faces in multiple areas including racial discrimination, mental health, well-being and economic disparity. The survey is on-line at https://blim.org.uk/change and they are appealing for as many black musicians as possible to fill in the survey, which closes on 16 May 2021.

BLiM is a new advocacy organisation founded in March 2021 to address racial inequality in the music industry and create opportunities for Black musicians and professionals launches today. A part of this, it has launched a new video series, A Celebration of Black Music.The series welcomes different guests each week discussing their experiences as Black artists, from how they got into music and began their careers, to their thoughts on the future of Black lives in the music industry. The first episode features composer, singer, songwriter and cellist Ayanna Witter Johnson and 2018’s BBC Young Jazz Musician winner Xhosa Cole, and the second episode features Sheku Kanneh-Mason, 2016’s BBC Young Musician Award winner, with band leader Shabaka Hutchings, music psychologist and researcher Natasha Hendry and musician Jake Isaac to come.

Full details from the BLiM website.


Monday, 26 April 2021

Spring song continues at Leeds Lieder with Fleur Barron, Gerald Finley, Benson Wilson, Sarah Connolly and many more

Leeds Lieder - Ella O'Neill, Benson Wilson (Image from live stream)
Leeds Lieder - Ella O'Neill, Benson Wilson (Image from live stream)

Fleur Barron, Ashok Klouda, Joseph Middleton, Michael Mofidian, Jâms Coleman, Gerald Finley, Julius Drake, Benson Wilson, Ella O'Neill, Julia Mariko Smith, Christopher Pulleyn, and Dame Sarah Connolly; Leeds Lieder at Leeds Town Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 April 2021
A terrific weekend of song in Leeds mixing mature artists with talent young singers

Leeds Lieder, artistic director Joseph Middleton, continued it Spring season of song with a weekend of recitals (24 & 25 April 2021) from Leeds Town Hall featuring Fleur Barron, Ashok Klouda, Joseph Middleton, Michael Mofidian, Jâms Coleman, Gerald Finley, Julius Drake, Benson Wilson, Ella O'Neill, Julia Mariko Smith, Christopher Pulleyn, and Dame Sarah Connolly, with Michael Mofidian, Julia Mariko Smith, and Christopher Pulleyn Being Momentum Artists, in a series of wide-ranging programmes which took in Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, Chausson and Elgar's explorations of the sea, programmes inspired by a Hong Kong childhood and by Anzac Day along with much else besides.

The weekend began with mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron, cellist Ashok Klouda and pianist Joseph Middleton in a programme entitled Dreams, Homeland and Childhood which Barron, who is Singaporean-British, had created inspired by her upbringing in Hong Kong. She and Middleton began with a sequence which interleaved Brahms' three Heimweh (Homesickness) songs with songs by two contemporary Chinese-American composer Bun-Ching Lam (born 1954) and Chen Yi (born 1954), and Charles Ives' sentimental but touching My Native Land. The result was some intriguing juxtapositions, with Bun-Ching Lam's folk-inspired unaccompanied Music when soft voices dies flowing directly in Brahms' evocative Wie traulich war das Flecken. Chen Yi's Bright Moonlight was more modernist with intriging influences in its delicate textures.

A new film inspired by George Orwell's 1984 has Mihkel Kerem's powerful new orchestral score at its heart

1984 - New European Ensemble, Mihkel Kerem
1984 - New European Ensemble, Mihkel Kerem

George Orwell, Mihkel Kerem 1984; Edward Snowden, Joseph Thompson, Willem Stam, New European Ensemble, Mihkel Kerem, Gijs Besseling, Emlyn Stam and Sophie Hunter; Greengage, OnJam TV

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A powerful new film which uses Mihkel Kerem's dramatic orchestral score to explore themse from Orwell's novel

1984 is a new film directed by Gijs Besseling, Emlyn Stam and Sophie Hunter which debuted on OnJam TV on Friday 23 April 2021. The 65 minute film is inspired by George Orwell's novel, but it not so much a dramatisation of the novel as a cross-arts recreation of themes from Orwell's 1984. The film features just two speaking roles, American National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has a spoken introduction and the actor Joseph Thompson is a George Orwell-like narrator figure. The main emotional impulse comes from a significant new score by Estonian composer Mihkel Kerem who conducts the New European Ensemble. And the score features a significant cello solo played by Willem Stam. The film was produced by the New European Ensemble in collaboration with Greengage which is part of OnJam TV.

The New European Ensemble has popped up a couple of times on this blog as they perform with the Dutch opera company Opera2Day including their productions of Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet in 2018 [see my review] and Peter Maxwell Davies' Eight Songs for a Mad King [see my article], whilst three players from the New European Ensemble (Emlyn Stam, Willem Stam and Rada Ovcharova) performed in Greengage's film The Goldberg Variations: Meditations on Solitude [see my article].

Edward Snowden's spoken introduction at first felt like something of a stunt and I wondered that his role could not have been taken by Joseph Thomspon. But then I came to realise that this introduction is designed to project the world of Orwell's novel 1984 onto contemporary society and show us that the themes are just as relevant today as ever.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

A Life On-Line: debut in Bournemouth, early English at St Martin's, Bach's Pergolesi and John Eliot Gardiner on Monteverdi

Bach: Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083 - Academy Baroque Soloists, Eamonn Dougan - Royal Academy of Music (image from live-stream)
Bach: Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV 1083 - Academy Baroque Soloists, Eamonn Dougan - Royal Academy of Music (image from live-stream)

This week featured a notable debut in Bournemouth, early English orchestral music, postcards from Handel's Amadigi, Benventuo Cellini on the radio, explorations of Monteverdi and his contemporaries, and Bach arranging Pergolesi.

In December 2020, I interviewed the conductor Richard Stamp [see my interview] whose recording of music by Richard Strauss and Aaron Copland included Copland's Clarinet Concerto with the late Ernst Ottensamer (long time principal clarinet of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), what proved to be Ernst Ottensamer's last concerto recording. During the interview the subject of Ernst Ottensamer's two sons, Daniel and Andreas, came up, both are clarinettists and they performed as a trio with their father. Andreas Ottensamer is principal clarinet with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and has made a name for himself as a solo clarinettist. But on Wednesday 21 April 2021, Andreas Ottensamer made his UK debut as a conductor in a performance with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra from the Lighthouse in Poole.

Andreas Ottensamer has worked with the orchestra before as a clarinettist (he was artist in residence for the 2017/18 season), and the original intention for this concert was to include a concerto but the combination of restrictions and the need to keep the programme shorter made them re-consider. So the programme was Mozart's Symphony No. 35 'Haffner', Mendelssohn's The Hebrides Overture and Symphony No. 4 Italian

Saturday, 24 April 2021

The balance between a perfect art form & giving people what they want: conductor George Jackson chats about Mozart's 'Le nozze di Figaro' with which he opens Opera Holland Park's 2021 season

George Jackson and the Orchestra of Teatro Carlo Felice Genovea
George Jackson and the Orchestra of Teatro Carlo Felice Genova

The conductor George Jackson first appeared on these pages in 2014, and since then he has popped up at various times whether it was conducting Elgar's Symphony No. 1 as Trinity Laban's Charles Mackerras Junior Conducting Fellow in 2016 [see my article], Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at Opera Holland Park in 2018 [see my review], or Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera in 2019 [see my review], alongside working with the Ensemble InterContemporain, London Symphony Orchestra and Hamburg State Opera, not to mention replacing Daniel Harding at short notice in Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony with the Orchestre de Paris at the Philharmonie de Paris in 2018.
 
Now George is returning to Opera Holland Park to conduct Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro for a new production which opens the season on 1 June 2021. I recently met up with George, taking advantage of the weather and the relaxation of restrictions to chat on a park bench by Clapham Common about performing Mozart, the importance of being flexible and putting a work into context, as well as discussing contemporary music, Janacek and much more.

During the 18th century no two productions of Le nozze di Figaro
were the same

The auditorium at Opera Holland Park is not necessarily the most obvious space to perform Mozart's music, but George points out that during the 18th century nothing was fixed about opera performances and no two productions of Le nozze di Figaro were the same, and this gives a modern-day company the freedom to be flexible. The opera was regarded as less holy than we do nowadays, and George likens some performances as more akin to pantomime and cites the example of one production which, lacking a singer for the Count, replaced the singing role with a spoken one. 

The 18th century also lacked our concept of a perfect version of a work, so that when Mozart returned to the Burgtheater in Vienna three years after the premiere of Le nozze di Figaro for a revival of the work, his Susanna (Nancy Storace) had returned to England. Faced with a new singer in the role, he wrote her new arias, though these are rarely performed nowadays, but George asked Elizabeth Karani (who sings the role of Susanna at Opera Holland Park) which arias she preferred.

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Nick Pritchard, Nicholas Lester, Sarah Tynan, Peter Coleman Wright, Eleanor Dennis, Kitty Whately - Opera Holland Park 2018 (Photo Robert Workman
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Nick Pritchard, Nicholas Lester, Sarah Tynan, Peter Coleman Wright, Eleanor Dennis, Kitty Whately - Opera Holland Park 2018 (Photo Robert Workman

Friday, 23 April 2021

Thoughtful and imaginative: The Children's Hour sees baritone Gareth Brymor John and pianist William Vann taking a very adult view of childhood

The Children's Hour - Charles Ives, Carl Loewe, Schubert, Schumann, Liza Lehmann, Britten, Mahler, Stanford,Warlock Howells, Faure, Mendelssohn, Richard Rodney Bennett; Gareth Brynmor John, William Vann; Champs Hill Records

The Children's Hour
- Charles Ives, Carl Loewe, Schubert, Schumann, Liza Lehmann, Britten, Mahler, Stanford,Warlock Howells, Faure, Mendelssohn, Richard Rodney Bennett; Gareth Brynmor John, William Vann; Champs Hill Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 April 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A beautifully thought out and finely crafted recital which imaginatively arises out of Charles Ives' title song

We caught baritone Gareth Brynmor John and pianist William Vann in their programme The Children's Hour at Pizza Express at the Pheasantry in Chelsea in 2019 [see my review] and now the programme is out on disc. The Children's Hour on Champs Hill Records features Gareth Brynmor John and William Vann in songs by Charles Ives, Carl Loewe, Schubert, Schumann, Liza Lehmann, Britten, Mahler, Stanford, Warlock, Howells, Faure, and Mendelssohn plus Richard Rodney Bennett's Songs before Sleep.

The recital begins with Charles Ives lovely, intimate setting of Longfellow The Children's Hour which was the starting point for the programme, expanding the song into ideas arising from the time spent with children just before bedtime, usually reading stories and such.

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival 2021

Ensemble 360 filmed at Crucible Theatre by Soundhouse Media
Ensemble 360 filmed at Crucible Theatre by Soundhouse Media

Last year, I was supposed to make my first visit to the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival, which takes place each year in the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, organised by Music in the Round and featuring Ensemble 360 as its resident ensemble. In the event, the festival took place on-line with musicians performing in their own homes. This year's festival is also taking place on-line, from 11 to 15 May 2021, but with the important difference that the musicians will be performing together in the Crucible Studio (without an audience).

The programme will feature musicians from Ensemble 360 alongside guests Paul Lewis, the Doric String Quartet and Concerteenies with Polly Ives in 20 specially curated performances, talks and family events premiering over 5 days. Taking advantage of the on-line format, the festival will present a mixture of live-streamed performances and pre-recorded ones, taking recordings from Music in the Round's regular tour venues,  Cast in Doncaster, Emmanuel Church in Barnsley and The Guildhall in Portsmouth as well as the Crucible Studio, with some concerts being filmed with cutting-edge 360° camera technology.

The Doric String Quartet will be performing Bartok and Schubert, whilst Paul Lewis' recital includes music by Mozart and Schubert. There is also a focus on Stravinsky in this anniversary year. Alongside music by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Bartok and Britten there are works by Reinecke, Amy Beach, York Bowen, Finzi, Bax, Howells, Coleridge Taylor, Sally Beamish.

Full details from Music in the Round's website.

Piano, oud, percussion, lute, theorbo and guitar: NW Arts explores the theme of belonging with an intriguing combination of instruments

Attab Haddad, Christina McMaster, Antonio Romero, Toby Carr (Photo NW Arts)
Attab Haddad, Christina McMaster, Antonio Romero, Toby Carr (Photo NW Arts)

NW Live Arts
latest concert, Belonging on 21 May 2021 at the Salvation Army Hall, 10-16 Haverstock Hill, NW3 2BL, will feature an intriguing combination of instruments. Christina McMaster (piano), Toby Carr (lute, theorbo and Baroque guitar), Attab Haddad (oud), and Antonio Romero (percussion) will perform an imaginative programme ranging from contemporary music to familiar and less familiar classical music, middle eastern music as well as improvisations and a new work by Attab Haddad, all on the theme of belonging, exploring identity and our sense of place in the world. Interwoven with the music will be readings from Write to Life, the writing and performance group from Freedom from Torture.

The programme will include music by Dowland, Scarlatti and Lully, solo piano works by Satie and Bach, and improvisations, alongside contemporary works by Birtwistle, Fasil Say, Ligeti and a new work by Attab Haddad. 

There will be readings of poetry on the theme of belonging created by refugees from creative workshops with Freedom from Torture’s Write to Life creative group, led by writer and filmmaker Sheila Hayman, and the workshop participants met with the musicians to co-curate how the readings of their work will feature alongside the music performed on 21 May.

As a complement to this, NW Live Arts has been seeking public submissions to an online project, #AsYouSeeIt 2 where audiences were invited to share their creative response to the theme of 'belonging' and submit drawings, paintings, words, photos, or something to show what 'belonging' means to them [see NW Arts website]. NW Live Arts' musicians then selected a handful of images which really inspired them, responding to these pictures with a short-improvised performance. Their performances have been filmed and shared on social media in split screen alongside their chosen pictures. 

Further details from Eventbrite.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Muzio Clementi, Mystery Plays, and late-night Bach: Lichfield Festival's lively 2021 programme

Lichfield Cathedral during the 2017 Lichfield Festival (Photo Redlock Photography)
Lichfield Cathedral during the 2017 Lichfield Festival (Photo Redlock Photography)

 It is heartening that Summer festivals are not only coming out of the woodwork but finding creative ways of coping social restrictions. The Lichfield Festival will be running this year from 8 to 18 July 2021 with a lively programme which ranges from Ballet Cymru in Giselle to the Lichfield Mystery Plays (performed on the green in front of the cathedral) to the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

I Fagiolini and narrator Jessica Walker are bringing their programme exploring T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (in slimmed down form) will be playing Bach, Stravinsky and Rameau under its principal conductor Ryan Bancroft (the third year of the orchestra's residency at the festival), and violinist Rachel Podger will be giving an evening of late-night Bach.

The story of Lichfield resident, the 19th century composer, pianist and instrument maker Muzio Clementi, is told through words and music, played on an original Clementi square piano.

Also on the menu is flamenco, Alastair McGowan's The Piano Show,  as well as four artists in residence Chloe Hanslip (violin), Danny Driver (piano),  Jessica Walker (writer/singer) and Joseph Atkins (composer/piano), and daily showcases for the festival's Young Artists.

Full details from the Lichfield Festival website.

Rediscovered: British Clarinet Concertos by Susan Spain-Dunk, Elizabeth Maconchy, Rudolph Dolmetsch, Peter Wishart from Peter Cigleris, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ben Palmer;

Rediscovered: British Clarinet Concertos: Susan Spain-Dunk, Elizabeth Maconchy, Rudolph Dolmetsch, Peter Wishart; Peter Cigleris, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ben Palmer; SIGNUM

Rediscovered: British Clarinet Concertos
: Susan Spain-Dunk, Elizabeth Maconchy, Rudolph Dolmetsch, Peter Wishart; Peter Cigleris, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ben Palmer; SIGNUM

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 April 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Four forgotten British clarinet concertos from the 1930s and 1940s in performances which make you wonder how come these works managed to fall through the cracks

This disc from clarinettist Peter Cigleris with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Ben Palmer on the Cala Signum label is titled Rediscovered: British Clarinet Concertos by Dolmetsch, Maconchy, Spain-Dunk, Wishart and consists of four mid-20th century British clarinet concertos. The four composers, Rudolph Dolmetsch, Elizabeth Maconchy, Susan Spain-Dunk and Peter Wishart are not all well-known and none of the concertos seem to be, they have fallen through the cracks. In fact, of the four, three are world premiere recordings as only Elizabeth Maconchy's Concertino for Clarinet and Strings has been recorded before.

In the booklet notes, Peter Cigleris explains that back in 2014 he was looking for the manuscript of Charles Villiers Stanford's Clarinet Concerto in the Royal Academy of Music and he happened to come across the previously unknown clarinet concerto by Ebenezer Prout. This Cigleris off looking out what other British works have been neglected, and he found a surprising amount with a significant number of women composers in the mid-century period. The four works on the disc are the ones which stood out for Cigleris.

The Islington Festival of Music and Art

Islington Festival of Music and Art

Having presented a series of concerts last Summer in public spaces and private gardens in Islington and Highbury, violinist Joana Ly (of the Corran Quartet) and conductor Martin André have created the first Islington Festival of Music and Art 2021. Across four days at the end of July, the festival is presenting concerts in and around Islington.

There will be a lunchtime series at Islington Square, the former Edwardian postal sorting office recently restored as a retail and residential complex. Evening concerts will take place in Christ Church, Highbury and focus on the chamber music of Schubert and his friends, whilst a late night series featuring the music of Bach and his family, including the solo violin music and four choral motets, will be shared between the recently restored Newington Green Meeting House, No20 Arts which is a contemporary art gallery in Islington and The Old Queens Head.

There will be three workshops during the festival, one for string players and two drawing workshops, whilst on the last afternoon there will be an art market in the gardens of Christ Church, Highbury.

Full details from the Islington Festival website.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

A disc to enjoy: William Towers and Armonico Consort in Handelian Pyrotechnics

Handelian Pyrotechnics; William Towers, Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks; SIGNUM

Handelian Pyrotechnics
; William Towers, Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks; SIGNUM

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The counter-tenor engages and seduces in this selection of Handel arias, all coming from roles that he has performed on stage

To a certain extent titling a disc Handelian Pyrotechnics might seem something of a hostage to fortune, but in his booklet note for his new disc, counter-tenor William Towers explains that the original title for the disc was Handel for Life and all arias on this new disc come from roles that Towers has performed on stage, in some cases many times over. So, on Handelian Pyrotechnics from Signum Classics, counter-tenor William Towers and the Armonico Consort, director Christopher Monks, perform arias from Handel's operas Xerxes, Poro, Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo, Orlando, Rodelinda, Radamisto, Agrippina and Ottone.

Unsurprisingly, six of the nine operas feature leading roles created by the castrato Senesino (who sang 18 new roles for Handel) from Radamisto (in 1720) to Orlando (in 1733), whose voice was described by the composer Quantz in 1719 just before Senesino first sang for Handel, "He had a powerful, clear, equal and sweet contralto voice, with a perfect intonation and an excellent shake. His manner of singing was masterly and his elocution unrivalled. … he sang allegros with great fire, and marked rapid divisions, from the chest, in an articulate and pleasing manner." And we also get an aria from Rinaldo on the disc, a role which Senesino sang for in 1731 for Handel's last revival of an opera originally written in 1711.

So, a lot to live up to.

Spitalfields Music Festival 2021: from fifteen new works to Stravinsky's the Rite of Spring on pianola

Alicia Jane Turner, a place to call home
Alicia Jane Turner, a place to call home

The Spitalfields Music Festival is back with a bang this July with a programme which includes fifteen new works including pieces by Errollyn Wallen, Alicia Jane Turner, Lola De La Mata, Anna Pool, Chisara Agor, Howard Goodall, Charles Amirkhanian and Edmund Finnis. Running from 1 to 11 July 2021, the festival has been programmed by three guest curators, composers Errollyn Wallen and Edmund Finnis, and journalist and broadcaster Kate Molleson, alongside Spitalfields Music Chief Executive, Sarah Gee.

The festival opens at Christchurch, Spitalfields with the premiere of Errollyn Wallen's After Winter and Howard Goodall's Never to Forget peformed by the London Symphony Chorus, conductor Simon Halsey. After Winter was due to be premiered at last year's festival, commissioned by Streetwise Opera as a companion piece to Schubert’s Winterreise, and it celebrates the kindness of strangers, a theme that has taken on particular poignancy in recent times, with lyrics created in collaboration with Streetwise Opera performers (Middlesbrough). Alongside it will be Howard Goodall's new piece, Never to Forget, commissioned by the London Symphony Chorus to commemorate the incredible contribution made by health and care workers over the last year.

And the festival closes at The Octagon, Queens’ Building, Queen Mary University of London with programme of music, dance and commentary centred on Greek myth featuring music by Szymanowski, Stravinsky, and David Matthews, plus choreography from Kim Brandstrup and Dame Marina Warner talking about myths.

Alicia Jane Turner's sound installation, a place to call home will be presented in a unique 1800s flat nestled above a pub in East London, and the installation explores queer spaces over time, from historic LGBTQ+ cu​lture in London to online spaces in the present day.

In addition to established composers, three composers from Spitalfields recent Open Call, Lola De La Mata, Anna Pool and Chisara Agor will have works showcased at Rich Mix. 

Other events include Stravinsky's Rite of Spring on pianola, walking tours of Stepney and Hackney, music by American percussionist Charles Amirkhanian, Irish vocalist, improviser and composer Lauren Kinsella (who specialises in sean-nós, the highly intricate traditional Irish vocal style) joining forces with Kit Downes and Tom Challenger, the Manchester Collective in music by Edmund Finnis, Ligeti, Glass and Stravinsky, and a film of Rameau's Pigmalion performed by Nicholas Mulroy, Anna Dennis, and the Dunedin Consort.

Full details from the festival website.

Mary's Music Cafe: Celebrating the life of Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman title page from the first American edition
Mary Wollstonecraft 's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
title page from the first American edition
Newington Green Meeting House is London's oldest Nonconformist place of worship still in use. It was founded in 1708 by English Dissenters, a community of which had been gathering around Newington Green for at least half a century before that date. 

The newly restored church is about to celebrate the 262nd birthday of one of its attendees, the English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) whose most famous book was A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

From 25 April to 2 May 2021 there will be a programme of talks, concerts, discussion and more on-line celebrating her birthday.

As part of celebrations, there will be two short teaser events for Mary's Music Cafe, a regular quarterly musical event which will be featuring an eclectic range of music by women from around the world and through the ages reflecting the history of radical thought and the people of the Newington Green community. 

The teaser concerts will be exploring themes of feminism, diversity, class, human rights, social activism and dissent,  from Hildegard von Bingen to Barbara Strozzi, Libby Larsen to Undine Moore Smith.

Further information about events of the birthday week from Eventbrite,  and a full list of events at Newington Green Meeting House including Mary's Music Cafe at their website.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Rosalind Ventris and Joseph Fort to be new artistic directors of the Cowbridge Music Festival

Cowbridge Physic Garden with Holy Cross church tower and Old Grammar School in background.
Cowbridge Physic Garden with Holy Cross church tower and Old Grammar School in background.

For those that don't know it, Cowbridge ( in Welsh, Y Bont-faen) is a lovely market town in the Vale of Glamorgan, around 30 minutes drive from Cardiff. Since 2010, the town has had its own festival, the Cowbridge Music Festival which brings classical music, jazz and folk music at an international level for the community of Cowbridge and beyond. The festival's patron is the violinist Nicola Benedetti and its associate artist is Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams. The festival's founder is Mary Elliott-Rose who has just stepped down as artistic director (but will remain as chair of the trustees).

Now the festival has new artistic directors. It has just been announced that husband-and-wife team Rosalind Ventris and Joseph Fort are taking over as artistic director and are currently involved in the planning for events in 2021. 

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with both names. Rosalind Ventris is one of the UK's leading viola players and has played at Cowbridge a number of times [Rosalind featured on my disc Quickening and premiered Three pieces from the Book of Common Prayer], whilst Joseph Fort is a conductor and musicologist based at King’s College London where he directs the choir whose recent discs have included the first recording of his chamber version of Holst's The Cloud Messenger [see my review].

Further information from the festival website, and an announcement about the 2021 festival will be made soon.

Vache Baroque Festival is back

Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at Vache Baroque Festival in September 2020
Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at Vache Baroque Festival in September 2020

Last September (2020), the Vache Baroque Festival launched with performances of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas staged in the gardens of the historic house in Chalfont St. Giles that gives the festival its name. Now, the festival is returning this Summer, with an expanded programme. Running from 28 August to 5 September 2021, this year's Vache Baroque Festival has something of a Miltonian feel. 2021 marks the 350th year since the publication of Milton's Paradise Regained so the festival is collaborating with with local museum, Milton’s Cottage (where the he wrote both Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained) on a number of events.

There will be Bach and Milton: Paradise and Pandemonium, a dramatic reading of extracts from Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained interspersed with Bach cantatas conducted by Jonathan Darbourne with Nick Pritchard (tenor) and Jamie Hall (counter-tenor). Also in the festival the dancers of Ukweli Roach's Birdgang will be marrying modern dance with 17th and 18th century dance music, whilst Sophie Gilpin will be directing a production of Handel's Acis and Galatea, conducted by Jonathan Darbourne with Rowan Pierce (Galatea), James Way (Acis) and Tristan Hambleton (Polyphemus).

As a taster, there is a staging of Bach's Coffee Cantata on Saturday May 29th, directed by Laura Attridge, conducted by Jonathan Darbourne, with  Richard Latham (bass), Betty Makharinsky (soprano) and Bradley Smith (tenor).

Full details, include information about the festival's recently launched Friends scheme, from the festival website.

Flight at the museum: Seattle Opera's new film imaginatively re-locates Jonathan Dove's opera

Jonathan Dove: Flight - Damien Geter, Randall Scotting - Seattle Opera (Photo Philip Newton)
Jonathan Dove: Flight - Damien Geter, Randall Scotting - Seattle Opera (Photo Philip Newton)

Jonathan Dove Flight; Randall Scotting, Sharleen Joynt, Joshua Kohl, Karen Vuong, Margaret Gawrysiak, Sarah Larsen, Joseph Lattanzi, Aubrey Allicock, Karin Mushegain, Damien Gieter, Brian Staufenbiel, Viswa Subbaraman; Seattle Opera

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Still contemporary and still engaging, this new film of Dove's opera from Seattle neatly relocates the production to The Museum of Flight

Jonathan Dove and April de Angelis' opera Flight might be well on its way to its 25th birthday (it premiered in 1998) but its themes remain those which trouble us today. Most of the stories told in the opera revolve around looking for love and negotiating the complexities of relationships, and for all the dated elements in De Angelis' text, she and Dove brilliantly sketch in the characters, mixing poignancy with comedy. At the centre of all this is the Refugee, living in the airport lounge, trapped in immigration limbo and awaiting a brother who, tragically, will never come.

Since the opera was written, immigration and migration have become political hot potatoes all over the world from boats arriving at Greek islands to migrant camps at Calais to the USA/Mexican border. The new production of Flight from Seattle Opera doesn't labour the point, simply presenting the opera resonates in so many ways. The venue for Seattle's new film also resonates. The Museum of Flight presents a superb stand-in for the airport terminal setting, yet even here there are other resonances because a screen at the opening of the film tells us that the museum was built on the homelands of Native American peoples, so we have another layer of refugees and migration.

Seattle Opera was supposed to be staging Flight, but instead have imaginatively opted to film. Seattle Opera's production of Jonathan Dove's Flight was filmed at The Museum of Flight, directed by Brian Staufenbiel, conducted Viswa Subbaraman, with Randall Scotting, Refugee, Sharleen Joynt, Controller, Joshua Kohl, Bill, Karen Vuong, Tina, Margaret Gawrysiak, Older Woman, Sarah Larsen, Stewardess, Joseph Lattanzi, Steward, Aubrey Allicock Minskman, Karen Mushegain, Minskwoman and Damien Geter, Immigration Officer. With the film directed and edited by Kyle Seago. It is available from 23 to 25 April 2021, with early access for subscribers.

Jonathan Dove: Flight - Margaret Gawrysiak, Karen Vuong - Seattle Opera (Photo Philip Newton)
Jonathan Dove: Flight - Margaret Gawrysiak, Karen Vuong - Seattle Opera (Photo Philip Newton)

This is very much a film, not a filmed stage production, as it opens up the opera and plays with the spaces available at The Museum of Flight. Most stage productions of the opera take place on a single, stylised set but here the opera opens in heightened realism. Yet it is never realistic and for much of Act One I was rather too aware of the vast, empty spaces of the building; if this was an airport, then it was very empty. And this disjunct continued as you noticed the way the characters were safely spaced and distanced, lovers never touched. It was all imaginatively done, but the drama really took off at the moments when realism was abandoned, when clever camerawork and imaginative intercutting and editing did the work of what, in the theatre in normal times, would have been highly physical ensembles.

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