Out of the Shadows

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

11 premieres, Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage, Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto, and much more: the London Philharmonic Orchestra's 2021-22 season

London Philharmonic Orchestra - 2021/22 season

Edward Gardner is beginning his stint at principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra with what can only be described as a declaration of intent, Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage, a programme of Lili Boulanger, Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto and Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique, and Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle across three concerts at the Royal Festival Hall this Autumn. The start of an action packed 2021/22 season for the orchestra which also includes Karina Canellakis' first full season as principal guest conductor. Brett Dean continues as the orchestra's composer in residence with a number of UK premieres during a season which features 11 premieres in total with music by James MacMillan, Jimmy Lopez, Danny Elfman, Tan Dun, Missy Mazzoli, Rebecca Saunders, Mason Bates, George Walker and Helmut Lachenmann.

Gardner opens the season in September 2021 at the Royal Festival Hall with Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage with Robert Murray and Sophie Bevan as Mark and Jennifer, plus Ashley Riches, Jennifer France, Toby Spence, Susan Bickley and Clive Bayley, then Nicholas Altstaedt is the soloist in Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto, plus Lili Boulanger and Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique, and John Relyea and Ildiko Komlosi star in Bartok's  Bluebeard's Castle

He returns in March 2022, for a programme of Judith Weir and Daniel Kidane, plus Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 2 (with Sheku Kanneh-Mason) and Bartok, Bryn Terfel in Brahms' Four Serious Songs, the UK premieres of Missy Mazzoli's River Rouge Transfiguration, Rebecca Saunders to an utterance (with Nicolas Hodges), Mason Bates' Liquid Interface and George Walker's Sinfonia No. 5, Brahms' German Requiem with Christiane Karg and Roderick Williams, the UK premiere of Brett Dean's Cello Concerto (with Alban Gerhardt) plus Britten and RVW's Symphony No. 5, and a celebration of the music of Oliver Knussen. Gardner brings the season to a close in May 2022 with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (with Magdalena Kozena and Andrew Staples) and Harrison Birtwistle's Deep Time.

Karina Canellakis' programmes with the orchestra include John Adams, Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F (with Inon Barnatan), Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 (with Stephen Hough), Victoria Borisova-Ollas, Sibelius' Violin Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff, Lili Boulanger, Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (with Cedric Tiberghian) and Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy.

Other highlights of the season include Mark Elder conducting the delayed UK premiere of James MacMIllan's Christmas Oratorio with Lucy Crowe and Roderick Williams, Vladimir Jurowski conducts the world premiere of the revised version of Brett Dean's Nottuno Inquieto (Rivisitato) along with Shostakovich (with Leonidas Kavakos) and the UK premiere of Helmut Lachenmann's Marche fatale with Mitsuko Ushida in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, Hannu Linttu conducts Brett Dean's Viola Concerto (always an interesting prospect as Dean is a viola player himself) with Lawrence Power, Tan Dun conducts the UK premiere of his Buddha Passion, Klaus Makela conducts the world premiere of Jimmy Lopez' Piano Concerto (with Javier Perianes) plus John Adams, Kaija Saariaho and Richard Strauss, and Colin Currie is the soloist in the world premiere of Danny Elfman's Percussion Concerto.

Full details from the London Philharmonic Orchestra's website.

We have come a long way: Pegasus Opera presents Mami Wata at Royal Opera House

Pegasus Opera - Mami Wiata

As part of the Royal Opera House's Engender Festival, Pegasus Opera is presenting Mami Wata at the Linbury Theatre on 16 and 17 July 2021. Conceived by soprano Alison Buchanan, artistic director of Pegasus Opera, Mami Wiata is a celebration of trailblazing, diverse women in opera with music by Bushra El-Turk, Errollyn Wallen, Nkeiru Okoye, Lettie Beckon Alston (1953-2014), Margaret Bonds (1913-1972), Dorothy Rudd Moore and Nahla Mattar, performed by Alison Buchanan, April Koyejo-Audiger, Simone Ibbett-Brown, Camille Maalawy and dancer choreographer Monique Jonas, directed by TD Moyo.

Mami Wata, the inspiration behind the concert, is the earliest black mermaid found in widespread creation myths across Africa. Alison Buchanan comments, "Mami Wata ... brings together female artists to celebrate the vocal works of diverse female composers. It is an introduction to a rich, varied, yet often unheard body of work. It reflects the huge shift in consciousness when it comes to diversity and inclusion. To have Mami Wata at the Royal Opera House, world leaders in opera is significant. 30 years ago I was the first Black British woman to give a solo recital in the Royal Opera House crush bar after winning the Maggie Teyte competition. This time I share the stage with a host of beautiful, talented women of colour as we honour and celebrate amazing women composers of color. We have come a long way!

Further information from the Pegasus Opera website, tickets and booking information from the Royal Opera House website.


LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled from string quintet Wooden Elephant

LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled; Wooden Elephant; Backlash Music
LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled
; Wooden Elephant; Backlash Music

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 June 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A gloriously imaginative transcription for classical string quintet of Radiohead's album.

I have to confess that I have never listened to much music by Radiohead, but I have been constantly impressed with the way the group's guitarist, Johnny Greenwood, has spanned styles and genres, including being composer in residence with the BBC Concert Orchestra. I was thus, intrigued, when I was sent a copy of the album LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled by the string quintet Wooden Elephant on the Backlash Music label, as the album features arrangements of Radiohead's album Kid A.

Now evidently, Kid A was the greatest album of the 2000s according to Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, and in it, the rock band started exploring electronic music. As a string quintet, Wooden Elephant specialise in creating acoustic re-imaginings of iconic albums such as Björk’s Homogenic, Beyoncé’s Lemonade and they have now turned their attention to Radiohead’s Kid A

Wooden Elephant is an international group, with members from Ireland, Scotland, Bulgaria, and Norway, featuring Aoife Ni Bhriain and Hulda Jonsdottir, violins, Ian Anderson, viola, Stefan Hadjiev, cello and Nikolai Mattews, bass. It so happens that the violist of the group, Ian Anderson, had worked with Johnny Greenwood as part of the London Contemporary Orchestra and Johnny’s experimentation with how the orchestra’s instruments were used such as extended string techniques and detuning and using non-musical objects to create sounds had a massive influence on how Wooden Elephant works on this album.

They do not just play the five string instruments, there are also ratchets, party blowers, milk frothers, toy archery bows, vibrators, balloon pumps, music boxes, bird water-whistles, wine glasses, bathroom sink plug chains, handheld fans, squeaky pig dog toys, power drills and aluminium foil on the album. But whilst these add colour and texture, the main sound is still that of a contemporary string quartet.

Wooden Elephant's recording session for LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled
Wooden Elephant's recording session for LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled

And it feels live and acoustic. Whilst Radiohead might have been experimenting with electronica on the album, here Wooden Elephant give us a gloriously acoustic recreation, recorded as-live in Poland with only a few overdubs.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Lincolnshire International Chamber Music Festival

Lincolnshire International Chamber Music Festival
After a year's silence the Lincolnshire International Chamber Music Festival is back with five days of concerts (13-17 July 2021) across Lincolnshire, curated by pianist and composer Alissa Firsova and with tenor Mark Padmore as artist in residence. The festival opens at Doddington Hall and then travels to Grimsby Minster, All Saints Church, Gainsborough, Centenary Methodist Church, Boston, and the County Assembly Rooms, Lincoln.

Firsova's theme for the festival is Love and Loss with Mark Padmore and guitarist Morgan Szymanski performing music from the 17th to the 21st centuries, the Navarra String Quartet in Puccini, Kurtág, Janáček and Schubert, Alissa Firsova and Mark Padmore in Schumann, Brahms and Britten, the Britten Sinfonia in Mozart, Beethoven and Jon Paul Mayse, Alissa Firsova and cellist Yoanna Prodanova in music by Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and Firsova's father, the late Dmitri Smirnov.

The festival was founded in 2005 under artistic director Graham Oppenheimer, and Lincolnshire-born pianist Ashley Wass took over as artistic director in 2007 and Matthew Trusler joined as co-artistic director in 2017. Alissa Firsova's first festival was in 2019 and her 2020 festival had been planned to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower.

Full details from the festival website.

From rare Vivaldi to Strauss' Elektra outdoors: Irish National Opera announces its ambitious new season

Giselle Allen takes the title role in Richard Strauss' Elektra with Irish National Opera this Summer
Giselle Allen takes the title role in Richard Strauss' Elektra with Irish National Opera this Summer

Formed in 2018, Irish National Opera's first two years of operation produced 72 performances of 14 different operas in 24 Irish venues, and then 2020 happened with lockdown coming right in the middle of rehearsals for a new production of Bizet's Carmen. Nothing daunted, the company produced Mozart's Seraglio as an imaginative on-line mini-series, as well as 20 Shots of Opera, 20 short contemporary operas all produced within six months, and much else besides.

Now the company has announced its plans for the coming year, combining filmed productions with both outside and inside performances. The headline news will, inevitably, be the assumption of the title role in Richard Strauss' Elektra by Belfast-born soprano Giselle Allen in a production being staged in August outside in Castle Yard, Kilkenny presented in association with Kilkenny Arts Festival. The production is directed by Conall Morrison, and conducted by Fergus Sheil with a pre-recorded orchestral contribution. The cast also includes Máire Flavin, Imelda Drumm and Tómas Tómasson. Being played outside, one hopes they get good weather and yet Elektra on a warm and balmy evening seems wrong and you feel that constant drizzle and a nasty wind would be more suitable for the subject matter!

There are three films being featured during the year, Edwina Casey's film of Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse, Amanda Feery’s A Thing I Cannot Name, a new filmed opera exploring experiences of female desire, with a libretto by Megan Nolan and Gerald Barry’s comic tour-de-force Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. This latter was originally planned as a live production for last season, but with the cast, sets, costumes and crew all available, the only way to get it done was as a film, with Claudia Boyle in the title role, Hugh O’Conor directs the film of Antony McDonald’s visually ravishing and production. 

The company's first live, indoor offering is Beethoven's Fidelio with Sinéad Campbell Wallace in the title role, Robert Murray as Florestan and James Rutherford as Rocco, in a new production directed by  Annabelle’s Comyn at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin.

As if that wasn't imaginative enough, in January 2022 things get really interesting as the company performs Vivaldi's 1735 pasticcio Bajazet (covering the similar ground to Handel's Tamerlano), directed by Adele Thomas with Italian bass-baritone Gianluca Margheri in the title role and Irish mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly makes her company debut as Irene, plus James Laing as Tamerlano. Peter Whelan conducts the Irish Baroque Orchestra. The opera tours Ireland in January 2022 and then there is a run at Covent Garden's Linbury Theatre in February 2022. 

Finally, in March 2022 that cancelled production of Carmen comes back, directed by Paul Curran, conducted by Kenneth Montgomery with Paula Murrihy, Dinyar Vania and Celine Byrne. Then in June 2022, mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught is in the title role and Anna Devin is Elisabetta in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, so sparks will be flying at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre and in Wexford and Cork. Tom Creed directs, Fergus Sheil conducts.

There is much else besides, including Elaine Agnew and Jessica Traynor’s new community opera Paper Boat which is a Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture legacy project being presented by Music for Galway, and INO’s first-ever specially-commissioned youth opera Horse Ape Bird by composer David Coonan and writer Dylan Coburn Gray.

Full details from the Irish National Opera's website.

Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Grange Festival

Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream - Alexander Chance, Chris Darmanin - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)
Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream - Alexander Chance, Chris Darmanin - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)

Britten A Midsummer Night's Dream; Alexander Chance, Samantha Clarke, Chris Darmanin, Roberto Lorenzi, Angharad Lyddon, Peter Kirk, Alex Otterburn, Andela Simkin, Eleanor Dennis, Henry Waddington, William Thomas, Ben Johnson, Sion Goronwy, Gwilym Bowen, Johnny Herford, dir: Paul Curran, cond: Anthony Kraus; The Grange Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 June 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Britten's Dream in a strong ensemble production with a stylish, modernist twist, plus a notable debut from Alexander Chance

Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream - Henry Waddington, Samantha Clarke - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)
Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Henry Waddington, Samantha Clarke
The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)
Paul Curran's production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream first appeared in Valencia and the director's re-working of this production for The Grange Festival was scheduled for last year. In the event, 2021 saw the production's debut at the festival with a somewhat adjusted cast. Paul Curran directed and designed the sets, with costumes by Gabriella Ingram and lighting by Paul Pyant. Alexander Chance was Oberon, Samantha Clarke was Tytania, Chris Darmanin was Puck, with Roberto Lorenzi and Angharad Lyddon as Theseus and Hippolyta, Peter Kirk, Alex Otterburn, Angela Simkin, and Eleanor Dennis as the lovers, Henry Waddington, William Thomas, Ben Johnson, Sion Goronwy, Gwilym Bowen, and Johnny Herford as the Mechanicals, Francesca Pringle, May Abercrombie, Isabel Irvine and Ceferina Penny as the fairies. Anthony Kraus was in the pit, conducting using a pre-recorded orchestral contribution from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (original conductor Sian Edwards).

Curran took a modish, modern view of the work and showed that Britten and Pears' take on Shakespeare works well without twee designs, cute boy trebles and such-like. There wasn't even a forest, just a classical ruin but Paul Pyant's lighting conjured many different atmospheres. Costumes were cutting edge modern, neo-Versace for the lovers, Theseus and Hippolyta, designs so achingly hip that they almost cut themselves. The fairy band were sci-fi modern with built-in lights, these weren't comfortable cutesy fairies. And in keeping with this, the fairy crew were far more involved in the actions of the humans, taking great delight in meddling, than is seen in some productions.

The opera began with a neat trick, effectively setting the scene. The ruin's modern keepers appeared on stage, these would be the mechanicals, setting things up for a party where the lovers, Theseus and Hippolyta appeared. In a quick dumb-show were introduced to all the humans, and to the complexities of their interrelationships. Bearing in mind that the production originated from out of the UK, where the audience's familiarity with the plot cannot be taken for granted, this was a lovely way to start.

Monday, 28 June 2021

A wartime Manon: Puccini's opera set in Occupied France in Stephen Lawless' new production at The Grange Festival

Puccini: Manon Lescaut: Kamil Bien, Stephen Richardson, Elin Pritchard, Nicholas Lester - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)
Puccini: Manon Lescaut - Kamil Bien, Stephen Richardson, Elin Pritchard, Nicholas Lester - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)

Puccini Manon Lescaut; Elin Pritchard, Peter Auty, Nicholas Lester, Stephen Richardson, dir: Stephen Lawless, cond: Francesco Cilluffo; The Grange Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 June 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Puccini's re-working of the Manon story in an imaginative updating to France in the 1940s with powerful pair of lead performances

Puccini: Manon Lescaut: Peter Auty, Elin Pritchard - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)
Puccini: Manon Lescaut - Peter Auty, Elin Pritchard
The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)

Stephen Lawless' production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut opened at The Grange Festival on 26 June 2021, the third of this year's three opera productions all originally planned for 2020. Elin Pritchard was Manon with Peter Auty as Des Grieux, Nicholas Lester as Lescaut and Stephen Richardson as Geronte, plus Kamil Bien, Angharad Lyddon and Stuart Orme. Designs were by Adrian Linford, lighting by Paul Pyant and movement by Lynne Hockney. Francesco Cilluffo conducted with a pre-recorded orchestral contribution from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

The Grange, with its limited sized pit, took the decision to turn to technology for the orchestra, using a clever new system whereby the pre-recorded orchestral part seems able to follow the conductor's beat. The result was remarkably successful and whilst it did sound like a recording and certainly does not replace a live orchestra, in the present circumstances it was a viable compromise.

Lawless took an imaginative and intimate view of the opera, concentrating on the four protagonists. The action was moved to the years 1939 to 1943 with each act preceded by black and white film footage (mainly archive with some specially shot scenes). Act One was set in a run-down boys school and the distressed mansion formed the setting for all the acts. The setting gave the excuse for the entrance of Geronte (Stephen Richardson), Lescaut (Nicholas Lester) and Manon (Elin Pritchard) in a stylish period sports car. Though it also meant the male (and some female) chorus members and some principals dressing in shorts. But once this embarrassment was over, the act worked well.

Talking to us through the music: Rachel Podger in a programme of music for unaccompanied violin by Bach at Kings Place

Rachel Podger - Kings Place (Photo  Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place)
Rachel Podger - Kings Place (Photo  Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place)

Bach Music for unaccompanied violin; Rachel Podger; Kings Place

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 June 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Rachel Podger was wonderfully eloquent in a programme combining Bach's music for unaccompanied violin with a transcription of one of the cello suites

A woman, a violin, a full audience (socially-distanced) and the music of Bach. Violinist Rachel Podger opened Kings Place's Bach Weekend on Friday 25 June 2021 with a programme of Bach's unaccompanied instrumental music, the Sonata No. 2 in A minor for solo violin, BWV 1003, the Partita No. 2in D minor for solo violin BWV 1004 and in between them the Cello Suite No. 3 in C BWV 1009 transposed into G major for violin.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

It should be essential repertoire: former BBC New Generation Artist trumpeter Simon Höfele chats about the 20th-century works for trumpet and piano on his new disc on Berlin Classics

Simon Höfele (Photo credit Joy Dana)
Simon Höfele (Photo credit Joy Dana)

The young German trumpeter, Simon Höfele, has a new disc out on the Berlin Classics label. Titled New Standards, the disc features music for trumpet and piano by six significant 20th-century composers, Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), Karl Pilss (1902-1979), Georges Enescu (1881-1955), Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), Jean Françaix (1912-1997) and Alexander Arutjunjan (1920-2012) with pianist Elisabeth Brauß. The disc is a companion piece to Simon's first disc for Berlin Classics, Standards (released in early 2020), where he played the Haydn and Hummel trumpet concertos, along with the trumpet concerto by Arutjunjan and A Quiet City by Aaron Copland (1900-1990),  accompanied by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Duncan Ward (a testament to Simon's time as a BBC New Generation Artist). I caught up with Simon recently to find out more about the repertoire on his new disc.

Whilst not all the music on New Standards is well known and probably the names of two of the composers will be unfamiliar to many listeners, Simon explains that for a trumpeter these works are the core essentials of chamber music. Honegger, Enescu, Hindemith and Francaix are all established 20th-century figures, but the names of Karl Pilss and Alexander Arutjunjan are less well known. Arutjunjan was a Soviet Armenian composer who wrote both the Aria et Scherzo, which is on the disc, and a Trumpet Concerto [which is on the previous disc and is also on YouTube]. These were written for a major Russian trumpeter and the concerto is very much a virtuoso showpiece. Simon describes Arutjunjan's music as fantastic, and the Aria et Scherzo is in a style similar to, but not as strident as Hindemith's Sonata which is also on the disc. In fact, Simon describes Arutjunjan's Aria et Scherzo as refreshing, and adding that it is fun to play.

Elisabeth Brauß and Simon Höfele (Photo credit Michael Winkler)
Elisabeth Brauß and Simon Höfele (Photo credit Michael Winkler)

The other lesser-known name is that of Karl Pilss (1902-1979), an Austrian composer who studied with Franz Schmidt (1874-1939). Pilss is a recent discovery for Simon.

Friday, 25 June 2021

On-line & Radio Happenings: record number of BBC New Generation Artists, WNO's Modern Life podcast and Radio Café Zimmermann

Whilst we are all relishing the prospect of live performances, there is still plenty happening on-line an on the radio, with the announcement of new BBC New Generations Artists (a record number), new podcasts from Welsh National Opera (WNO) looking at the adaptation of opera to fit contemporary themes, and an internet classical radio station, Radio Cafe Zimmermann.

BBC Radio 3 has announced a record number New Generation Artists joining the scheme. The eight artists who become members of the scheme in September 2021 and stay until December 2023 are British-Israeli pianist Tom Borrow, British mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston (whose recital with lutenist Toby Carr we caught at Grosvenor Chapel, see my review), Spanish violinist María Dueñas, German-Romanian baritone Konstantin Krimmel, Indian-American collaborative pianist Kunal Lahiry, the London-based Mithras Trio (see my review of their Conway Hall concert last year), Paris-based string quartet Quatuor Mona, and British bass William Thomas.

Also, for the second year running, the current New Generation Artists stay on for an additional year to give them more of the performing and recording opportunities that were lost during the time of COVID-19. These include, among others: Leeds International Piano Competition winner Chinese-American pianist Eric Lu, London-born jazz guitarist, composer Rob Luft, Macedonian-born Canadian mezzo-soprano Ema Nikolovska (winner of the Ferrier Loveday Song Prize at the Kathleen Ferrier Awards) and London-based Consone Quartet, the first period instrument quartet to be part of the scheme.

Over in Wales, WNO is presenting a mini-podcast series Modern Life, broadcaster Gareth Jones explores how traditional operas have been adapted to reflect contemporary themes and poses the question, should opera reflect modern life? Gareth is joined by a guests including former Daily Telegraph opera critic Rupert Christiansen and opera director Sir David Pountney.

Radio Café Zimmermann, named for the coffee-house in Leipzig where Bach performed many of his orchestral pieces, is a private internet radio station produced in Munich. The station covers music from the Renaissance to the present-day, is ad free (!), without registration and subscription and produces a new programme every day and opera arias every evening. They say that the idea behind Radio Cafe Zimmermann is to bring joy to everyday life with easily accessible classical music. Further information from their website (much of the info in German), with a separate streaming URL.

Scottish piano music: Christopher Guild continues his explorations with disc devoted to Francis George Scott and to Ronald Stevenson's transcriptions

Ronald Stevenson: Piano Music, Volume Five: Transcription

The history of music is never straightforward and that of 20th century music is often more complex and varied than simply those composers regarded as part of the accepted canon. A case in point might be 20th century Scottish music, where there have been several generations of composers who operated at something of a tangent to the main stream. 

Whilst literary scholars might be familiar with the 20th century Scottish Renaissance and the central figure of the poet, Hugh McDiarmid, the musical parallels are often less well understood. One of McDiarmid's teachers and a long-time collaborator was the composer Francis George Scott (1880-1958), known for his output of some 300 songs. 

But Scott also wrote piano music and the recent advent of Christopher Guild's recital on Toccata Classics, Francis George Scott: Complete Piano Music, is a valuable new insight into a composer whose output remains under-performed and under-appreciated.

Another of Guild's recent recitals on Toccata Classics is Ronald Stevenson: Piano Music, Volume Five and the two are linked because Stevenson's transcription Eight Songs of Francis George Scott is on Guild's Scott disc. Scott and Stevenson are two points in what we might term a constellation of 20th century Scottish composers, all under-performed and often under-valued. The two others are Erik Chisholm (1904-1965), and Ronald Center (1913-1973), and there are many links between them. Chisholm married Scott's daughter, whilst Stevenson was a great proponent of the music of the other three and included Center's magnificent piano sonata in his repertoire.

Thanks to the wonders of recording, we can explore all this music in a way which has not always been possible. Chisholm's complete piano music has been recorded on seven discs on the Divine Art label by pianist Murray McLachlan, whilst Christopher Guild's disc for Toccata Classics, Ronald Center: Instrumental and Chamber Music, Vol. I includes Center's fine Piano Sonata. So do consider exploring.

To help children afford a classical music education regardless of their financial background: Decca announces auction in support of the 2021 Decca Bursary

Decca Bursory logo
The Decca Bursary supports young artists overcoming barriers when entering the classical world – be it music lessons, access to instruments, equipment or courses spanning niches within the genre. It provides grants to children at the very beginning of their musical journey, funding tuition, instrument/equipment purchase or hire, and music courses within the classical genre. It also supports schools to buy new classical instruments for peripatetic lessons, to help children afford a classical music education regardless of their financial background.

Quotes from two of the 2020 awardees:

"The funding has been really helpful for my child who loves her music but it can be financially difficult to fund"

"Without the grant, we wouldn't have been able to keep up the lessons"

Decca has announced an auction to support this year's Bursary. Taking place on-line with a deadline of 4pm (BST) on 6 July, the auction has some striking items up for auction, many of the sort of personal access which can be difficult otherwise.

  • Andrea Bocelli: 2 VIP tickets to any Andrea Bocelli UK tour date in 2022 with an exclusive meet and greet following the show
  • Benjamin Grosvenor:  2 tickets to Prom 42, ‘Benjamin Grosvenor performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4’ on 7th September 2021 at 730pm at the Royal Albert Hall, London. An exclusive peek behind the scenes at the Royal Albert Hall and meet Benjamin himself.
  • Jess Gillam: Join saxophonist, Jess Gillam, as she records her next tracks in the studio and spend the day with Jess and her ensemble at a London recording studio in August and see and hear the process in action.
  • Sheku and Bramiah Kanneh-Mason: Meet two of the Kanneh-Masons, Sheku and Bramiah, for a private online meet and chat! Also includes a signed LP cover, notepad, copy of ‘The House of Music’ and signed Collector’s Edition ‘Carnival’ print. 
  • Lise Davidsen: Meet Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen for an intimate one-to-one conversation
  • Karl Jenkins: A signed conductor’s baton used by Sir Karl Jenkins, signed Adiemus score, and signed tile pages of Adiemus and Palladio, each framed in A4 beech frames.
  • Pavarotti art-work: Hand painted by Will McNally exclusively for the Decca Bursary auction. Painting is 90x60cm, hand painted onto canvas using acrylic.
  • Craig Armstrong: Signed score book of Piano Works by Craig Armstrong, composer to Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby and Love Actually
  • Miloš Karadaglic: An opportunity to learn from one of the greatest classical guitarists of our time, Miloš Karadaglic is offering a 45 minute, one to one Zoom classical guitar lesson. Open to both beginners and seasoned professionals.
Full details from the Decca Bursary website

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Celebrating Alexander von Zemlinsky's influential period as music director of the New German Theatre in Prague

Alexander von Zemlinsky
Alexander von Zemlinsky

Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) was the music director of the New German Theatre (now the State Opera) in Prague from 1911 to 1927, during which time he expanded the repertoire and premiered numerous works, including his own compositions, but also Arnold Schönberg's Erwartung, as well as performing music by Ernst Krenek, Paul Hindemith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Franz Schreker.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth, on 14 October 2021, a festival will be held in his honour in Prague from 8 to 10 October 2021 as part of the Musica non grata programme. The highlight of this will be the world premiere of the fragment of his opera Malva based on a story by Maxim Gorky will be premiered at the  State Opera on 10 October 2021, orchestrated and edited by Antony Beaumont. In addition, four concerts with works by Zemlinsky, his contemporaries and composers close to him, will be part of the programme during the festival. 

During 2021/22, Musica non grata will also be featuring music by Hans Krása, Kurt Weill, Arnold Schönberg, Franz Schreker's Der ferne Klang and Erwin Schulhoff's Flammen.

Full details from the Musica non grata website.

OperaFest Lisboa 2021: Puccini, Menotti, Weill and a premiere under the stars in Lisbon

OperaFest Lisboa
It is heartening to see smaller opera festivals springing back, despite the current climate. Still in Portugal [see my review of Portuguese baritone Ricardo Panela's Berlin im Licht disc], the second OperaFest Lisboa is taking place this Summer, 20 August to 11 September 2021, in the gardens of the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. Directed by soprano Catarina Molder, the festival features operas by Puccini, Menotti and Weill, plus a world premiere as well as a song competition and more.

Puccini's Madama Butterfly will be directed by choreographer Olga Roriz with musical direction by Jan Wierzba. Actress and stage director Sandra Faleiro will be directing her first opera with Menotti's The Medium with musical direction from Rita Castro Blanco. Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Mahogany Songspiel will be presented in a double bill with a new opera, Until death tears us apart by Ana Seara, composer in residence at the festival. This is based on the novel Ana Teresa Pereira with an irresistible film noire atmosphere, under the musical direction of Jan Wierzba and staged by António Pires.

There is also an opera gala, Soul on Fire, plus a song competition Maratona Ópera XXI which will focus not on existing music but on new arias! Whilst, Lyric machine - singing lessons for curious amateurs will be offering 40 sessions of singing lessons for those interested in learning more.

For those of us unable to travel to experience opera under the stars in the beautiful Garden of National Museum for Ancient Art, right in the heart of the Lisbon, with a mind-blowing views over Tagus river, Ana Seara's new opera will be broadcast on by Portuguese National TV RTP2.

Full details from the festival website.

Berlin im Licht: A Kurt Weill songbook from Ricardo Panela and Nuno Vieira de Almeida

Berlin im Licht - songs by Kurt Weill; Ricardo Panela, Nuno Vieira de Almeida; Artway Records

Berlin im Licht
- songs by Kurt Weill; Ricardo Panela, Nuno Vieira de Almeida; Artway Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 June 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The young Portuguese baritone reveals a deep connection to Weill's songs from Germany, France and the USA

The name of Portuguese baritone Ricardo Panela may well be familiar to UK audiences as his training included periods at the Guildhall School of Music and at Welsh International Academy of Voice, and he has made a number of notable UK appearances including at Opera Holland Park and at Longborough Festival Opera.

Under the title Berlin im Licht: A Kurt Weill Song Book, Ricardo Panela's new disc on Artway Records, with pianist Nuno Vieira de Almeida is a survey of Kurt Weill's songs, starting with a group written in Germany, then a group written in France and finally songs from Weill's Broadway career including the Four Walt Whitman Songs.

The songs thus not only cross two continents, setting three languages (German, French, English) but move through styles as well. Whilst Panela and Vieira de Almeida do not include any songs from Weill's stage collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, the four songs included her move through some of that territory. Yet there is also a sentimental element to them, they lack the really pointed bitter element of some of the Brecht/Weill collaborations, and if we look at the dates things become a lot less clear. Whilst the earliest song on the disc is Berlin im Licht, the two Brecht settings Nanna's Lied and Un was bekam des Soldaten weib? date respectively from 1939 (by which time Weill had already written Johnny Johnson and Knickerbocker Holiday for Broadway) and 1943 (the year of One Touch of Venus), well after Weill left Germany in 1933, whilst the Jean Cocteau setting, Es regnet, might be in German but dates from the Paris years. Neither his life nor his art fitted quite as neatly into periods as we might think.

Panela's approach is very much as an opera and lieder singer, quite sensibly he does not attempt to emulate a cabaret manner (whatever that might be) and it is worth bearing in mind that Weill wrote the wonderfully moving Nanna's Lied for his wife Lotte Lenya but Lenya never sang it in public. It was one of a group of songs that Lenya gave to soprano Teresa Stratas and which Stratas made familiar via her Unknown Kurt Weill disc. 

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Barnstorming! The Consone String Quartet plays unusual repertoire in unusual places

The Consone String Quartet is launching a new on-line concert series, title Barnstorming! The concerts will be filmed in beautiful barns across the UK, with the idea that the series would utilise new concert settings without a reliance on in person audiences.

The first concert in the series is on OnJam.tv on 1 July 2021, filmed at the Barn at Willards Farm, Dunsfold. The quartet will be joined by with cellist Alexander Rolton for Beethoven's Sonata for piano and cello, op. 5/1 in F major in an arrangement for string quintet by his pupil Ferdinand Ries and String Quintet in C minor, op. 38 'The Bullet by George Onslow (1784-1853), a French composer of English descent. Further information from OnJam

Then on 12 August 2021, the quartet will be at Hurlands Barn, Dunsfold performing  Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben, op.42, in an arrangement for soprano and string quartet by Bill Thorpe with soprano Mary Bevan, and Schumann's String Quartet in A minor, op.41/1.

The Consone String Quartet are the first string quartet playing on period instruments to join the BBC New Generation Artists Scheme.

Further dates in the series will be confirmed. Further information from the Consone Quartet website.

Music in an iconic landscape, and you don't even need to travel: Lake District Summer Music

Lake District Summer Music

Cellist and conductor Stephen Threlfall took over as artistic director of Lake District Summer Music in October 2020, when founder Renna Kennaway retired. Threlfall's first festival, which takes place from 30 July to 8 August 2021, is thus taking place under challenging circumstances. Not only will there be 28 live events over nine days, but 18 will be streamed on-line. 

Performers at the festival include the Manchester Collective, the Albion Quartet, Gould Piano Trio, Freeman Quartet, Ruisi Quartet, Connaught Brass, Magnard Wind Ensemble, guitarist Saki Kaiko, mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist Steven Osborne, cellist Robert Cohen, and Balkan folk-fusion group Paprika. 

Artist James Mayhew will be creating a live visual response to Schoenberg's Transfigured Night performed by the Manchester Collective, whilst dancer Mayuri Boonham joins the Gould Piano Trio, for Huw Watkins’ Four Fables with her own original choreography.

There will be masterclasses from Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Steven Osborne, Robert Cohen and members of the Gould Piano Trio with students from UK conservatoires. There will also be community sessions for local youth orchestras, play days for local amateur string players and a unique opportunity for piano duos. 

Away from the concert hall,  walking guide Steve Watts of Lakeland Walks & Talks will treat festival goers to a guided tour of Grasmere, Rydal caves and one of the best Lakeland panoramas at Loughrigg summit. Whilst Liz Frost will be telling stories of mythical mermaids, pirates, and strange creatures from the deep at Windermere Jetty Museum.

Full details from the Lake District Summer Music.

Tosca in an iconic location: Seattle Opera film's Puccini's opera at St James Cathedral, Seattle

Puccini: Tosca - Alexandra LoBianco during filming of Act Three - Seattle Opera at St James Cathedral (Photo Philip Newton)
Puccini: Tosca - Alexandra LoBianco during filming of Act Three - Seattle Opera at St James Cathedral (Photo Philip Newton)

Puccini Tosca; Alexandra LoBianco, Dominick Chenes, Michael Chioldi, dir: Dan Wallace Miller, cond: Kazem Abdullah; Seattle Opera filmed on location at St James Cathedral, Seattle

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 June 2021
A film of Tosca in real locations which also manages to pay tribute to the work's melodramatic side

For all that Victorien Sardou's play La Tosca could be described as a 'shabby little shocker',  Giacomo Puccini exercised great care when writing his opera Tosca based on Sardou's play. And whilst the action is pure melodrama, Puccini's anchors it both with the sophisticated way he writes musically for the characters, and the fact that the work is set in real places. For instance, the opening prelude Act Three with its bells, is based quite closely on the actual sounds of the bells in Rome.

But Puccini plays up the melodramatic element too, the way the action in compressed so that the entire opera lasts well under two hours and the second act imaginatively plays two of Sardou's acts simultaneously (Tosca's singing of the celebratory cantata for the Queen off-stage whilst Scarpia and Cavaradossi are on-stage).

This combination of realism and melodrama can trip productions up on stage; I have only seen one production (directed by Anthony Besch for Scottish Opera in 1980 and still going strong) where the religious procession at the end of Act One is liturgically convincing.

Seattle Opera, for its final opera in its digital season, has created a performance of Puccini's Tosca which is filmed almost entirely at St James Cathedral, Seattle. Directed by Dan Wallace Miller and conducted by Kazem Abdullah, the production featured Alexandra LoBianco as Tosca, Dominick Chenes as Cavaradossi, and Michael Chioldi as Scarpia with Adam Lau as Angelotti, Matthew Burns as the Sacristan, Andrew Stenson as Spoletta, José Rubio as Sciarrone, Ellaina Lewis as the Shepherd boy and Ryan Bede as the jailer.

Puccini: Tosca - Alexandra LoBianco, Michael Chioldi - Seattle Opera at St James Cathedral (Photo Philip Newton)
Puccini: Tosca - Alexandra LoBianco, Michael Chioldi - Seattle Opera at St James Cathedral (Photo Philip Newton)

Liesl Alice Gatcheco's costumes were in correct period (1800) and production designer Christopher Mumaw made very effective use of the cathedral which has a very neo-classical look to it. Act Two took place in a room, dressed very much as you might expect, but Act Three opened in the confined area of Cavaradossi's cell, though we transferred to the outer spaces of the cathedral for an imaginatively filmed ending.

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Bastille Day celebrations at Institut français du Royaume-Uni

Agathe Max, Nexcyia (Adam Wilkie-Dove), Charlotte Kaslin at Institut français du Royaume-Uni
Agathe Max, Nexcyia (Adam Wilkie-Dove), Charlotte Kaslin

The Institut français du Royaume-Uni in South Kensington is planning to celebrate 14 July 2021, Bastille Day, in style. They will be sharing on-line, on YouTube and Facebook, a concert which is being filmed with a live audience at the Institut on 6 July 2021. The concert will feature the cross-arts and cross-genre talents of multi-instrumentalist and composer Agathe Max, cellist Charlotte Kaslin who is a member of the De Beauvoir Trio, and Nexcyia (Adam Wilkie-Dove), an African-American/Scottish/French sound artist, experimental ambient musician and alumnus of the Royal College of Art.

The performers will be drawing inspiration from a mixed repertoire including pieces by French and British composers and their own compositions, melding classical and contemporary music with electronics. You can read (and hear) more about Nexcyia on The Wire, whilst Agathe Max's performance recent with pianist Anne Lovett at the Institut is available on YouTube.

Further information from the Institut's website.

Snapping back to live performances: Mahogany Opera's year of Snappy Operas

A Snappy Opera is a ten-minute opera for primary aged children (7-11) which introduces all the essential elements of opera – singing, acting and making – in fun, colourful and bite-size chunks. The Snappy Opera programme was created by Mahogany Opera and working with partners & schools across the UK they have collaborated with over 2,500 primary school children.

Now, in partnership with Edinburgh International Festival, Hull Music Service, Leicester-Shire Schools Music Service, North Tyneside Music Education Hub and Villages Music Festival, Mahogany Opera has announced a Year of Snappy Operas, bringing the programme to schools up and down the country from East Sussex to Edinburgh, from June 2021 until July 2022. Around 750 children, aged 7-11, from 21 different schools will join Mahogany Opera in a magical year of singing, making and theatre.

The programme is delivered using Mahogany Opera’s twelve commissioned Snappy Operas with a specially trained team of delivery artists – director, music director and repetiteur – working alongside the children and teachers in their schools. The Year of Snappy Operas will include Snappy Operas written by Errollyn Wallen [whose new opera, Dido's Ghost is a Mahogany Opera co-commission, see my review] and two new Snappy Operas developed remotely with children in schools over the last year by composer/writer teams Raymond Yiu & Russell Plows and Pippa Murphy & Karine Polwart. Each opera is designed to be performed by a class sized group of children, divided into groups and accompanied by professional musicians.

Frederic Wake-Walker, artistic director of Mahogany Opera, explained the ethos behind the programme, "Our dream at Mahogany is for every child to experience opera before they leave school; not just to foster a life-long love of music and theatre but because of the incalculably positive effect creative expression can have on young people’s lives.  Within opera lie the fundamental building blocks of human development and Snappy Operas are the most wonderful learning tools to access this."

Further information from the Mahogany Opera website.

The Constant Heart: the Marian Consort at the Dunster Festival

Allegorical portrait of Sir John Luttrell by Hans Eworth, 1550
Allegorical portrait of Sir John Luttrell
by Hans Eworth, 1550
The Constant Heart
- Tallis, Giles, McKevitt, Van Wilder, Parsons, Rowarth, Clemens non Papa, Parsley; Marian Consort; Dunster Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 June 2021
Themed around 16th century Sir John Luttrell's personal motto from his remarkable portrait by Hans Eworth, the Marian Consort's imaginative programme encompassed familiar and unfamiliar 16th century sacred music alongside two contemporary pieces

This year's Dunster Festival took place between 28 and 30 May 2021 when there were three live concerts presented to small socially distanced audiences, but the festival has also created a Digital Festival which has been going on-line since 11 June, taking footage from the three live concerts and combining it with extra material to create three digital events.

This week the second event went on-line, The Constant Heart, a programme of 16th century and contemporary music presented by the Marian Consort, whose artistic director Rory McCleery is co-artistic director of the Dunster Festival. The concert was themed around a remarkable picture which hangs in Dunster Castle, this is a copy made in the 1590s of a remarkable allegorical portrait of Sir John Luttrell painted by Hans Eworth in 1550 which makes reference to Sir John's military and naval service as well as including his motto, 'More than the Rock Amydys the Raging Seas, / The Constant Hert no Danger Dreddys nor Fearys' which gives the concert its name.

The programme included Lamentations of Jeremiah by Tallis and by his lesser-known contemporary Osbert Parsley, motets by Tallis, Nathaniel Giles, Robert Parsons, Philip van Wilder,  and Clemens non Papa plus two contemporary works, Donna McKevitt's Lament 16 and Ben Rowarth's Ave Maris Stella which was commissioned for the concert and whose text includes Sir John's motto. The on-line concert featured footage from the live concert at Dunster's Priory Church of St George along with items filmed at Cleeve Abbey, where the monks' refectory survives intact.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Finalists announced for Northern Ireland Opera's 11th Glenarm Festival of Voice

The finalists for Northern Ireland Opera's Glenarm Festival of Voice
The finalists for Northern Ireland Opera's Glenarm Festival of Voice
With one vocal competition in Cardiff over (and congratulations to Claire Barnett Jones for her success), there is news of Northern Ireland Opera's 11th Glenarm Festival of Voice the finale of which is on 29 August 2021. For the competition, singers from applicants across Ireland are chosen after submitting a recording and they spend four days working with top opera and song professionals including former Director of the National Opera Studio, Kathryn Harries, Simon Lepper, and Ingrid Surgenor. 

The six finalists this year are Caroline Behan (soprano), Amy Conneely (mezzo-soprano), Cerys MacAllister (soprano), Matthew Mannion (bass- baritone) Ellen Mawhinney (soprano), and Katie Richardson McCrea (mezzo-soprano). and they will compete for the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize and the Audience Prize in a series of live performances on 29 August including solos, ensembles and Irish song in front of an audience and the judging panel. And the performances will be broadcast live on BBC Radio Ulster’s Classical Connections.

Each year the festival appoints a Peter Rankin Piano Intern who will work with the singers during the festival and perform with them in the Irish Song section of the Competition Finale.  This year's intern is Brendan Kennedy who recently graduated from RIAM.

Further details from the Northern Ireland Opera website.

We can certainly dream! Tempting Summer plans for the largest classical music festival in Canada, the Festival de Lanaudière

Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay, the main venue of the Festival de Lanaudière
Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay, the main venue of the Festival de Lanaudière

International travel might be tricky at the moment, but we can certainly dream! And this Summer's Festival de Lanaudière in Canada certainly has plenty to tempt. Set in Lanaudière, a region in Quebec that is North East of Montreal and which is popular as a holiday destination, it is the largest classical music festival in Canada. Under artistic director Renaud Loranger, this year's festival is the 44th edition and is presenting four weekends of concerts from 17 July to 8 August 2021, featuring the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and its chorus, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Les Violons du Roy and Orchestre Métropolitain.

There is a diverse range of programmes from a new ballet to Brahms' German Requiem, soprano Karina Gauvin in arias by Mozart and Gluck, Poulenc's Concert Champetre,  pianist Marc-André Hamelin in all five Beethoven piano concertos over two concerts with Orchestre Métropolitain and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Piazzolla's Seasons of Buenos Aires,  Martinu's Frescoes of Piero della Francesca and a new work by Canadian composer Barbara Assiginaak. There are also smaller scale concerts in churches, and fifteen concerts in open air spaces.

Four concerts are being broadcast on-line, so we can catch some of the magic even if we can't travel:

The concerts will be available on the Thursday of the week following the concert,  and the video will be available for 14 days. Once downloaded, you have 48 hours to listen to it. Price : 15$ (CAN) 

Further information from the festival website.    

Rush: Pegasus Opera debuts a new anthem for Lambeth Windrush Day 2021

Pegasus Opera Community Choir
Pegasus Opera Community Choir

As part of the Lambeth Windrush Day 2021 celebrations, Pegasus Opera is premiering a new Lambeth Windrush Anthem sung by the company's community choir. The performance debut's on Pegasus Opera's YouTube channel at 2pm on Tuesday 22 June 2021.

The new anthem, Rush, was written for the choir by composer Des Oliver. Oliver studied composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and was recently appointed as Jerwood Composer-in-Residence at the London Symphony Orchestra. Oliver says of creating the song, 'What struck me most about the conversation with the Pegasus Community Choir is the dichotomy that lies at the heart of Windrush between the unrelenting sense of hopefulness, triumph and positivity, against a history of struggle grounded in racism. Focus only on the former and we risk romanticising the story in away that does not do justice to their achievements, focus on the latter and we risk presenting this history (and ourselves) always and only within the context of racism.

And so both of these aspects needed to be represented in the music/lyrics—it does give rise to a slightly humorous irony, "here are my dreams and ambitions and this is the reality", but that humour too, is part of our identity!
'

Looking further ahead,  Pegasus Opera is working in collaboration with the Royal Opera House to produce its first live performance of 2021, a celebration of Black female composers entitled Mami Wata on 16 and 17 July 2021 at the Linbury Theatre. Further information from the Royal Opera House website.

Grange Park Opera gives us a rare chance to see Rimsky Korskov's first opera, Ivan the Terrible in a striking production by David Pountney

Rimsky Korsakov: Ivan the Terrible - Grange Park Opera (Photo Marc Brenner)
Rimsky Korsakov: Ivan the Terrible - Grange Park Opera (Photo Marc Brenner)

Rimsky Korsakov: Ivan the Terrible (The Maid of Pskov); Clive Bayley, Evelina Dobracheva, Carl Tanner, David Shipley, dir: David Pountney, cond: Mikhail Tatarnikov; Grange Park Opera

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 June 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Grange Park makes a strong case for Rimsky Korsakov's first opera in what may well be its UK premiere, with Clive Bayley on superb form as the autocratic Tsar

Rimsky Korsakov wrote 15 operas yet few have attained any sort of currency outside of Russia. As part of The Spaced Season 2021, Grange Park Opera presented Rimsky Korsakov's Ivan the Terrible and the production's opening night on 19 June 2021 may well have been the work's UK premiere. The production was directed by David Pountney and conducted by Mikhail Tatarnikov, with Evelina Dobracheva as Olga, Carl Tanner as Tucha, David Shipley as Prince Tokmakov, Adrian Thompson as Matuta, Liubov Sokolova as Olga's nurse, and Clive Bayley as Ivan the Terrible. Designs were by Francis O'Connor and lighting by Malcolm Rippeth.

Rimsky Korsakov wrote the opera which he knew as Псковитя́нка (The Maid of Pskov) in the period 1868-1872, a time when he was sharing an apartment (and a piano) with Mussorgsky who was writing Boris Godunov at the same time (on the same piano). It was Rimsky Korsakov's first opera and he must have retained a fondness for it as he revised it in 1876/77 and created a final version in 1891/92. But the work's history is rather more complex than this. It is based on a four-act play by Lev Mei with the first act of the play set 15 years before the action and featuring largely different characters, explaining the circumstances of the heroine Olga's birth. For his first version, Rimsky Korsakov omitted Mei's first act and placed the information in narration, for the second version he created a prologue set 15 years earlier, this was not a success so for the final version he removed the prologue again. Throughout this period the opera was known by its title of The Maid of Pskov but when Serge Diaghilev presented it in Paris in 1909 as part of his Russian season there, the big draw was the bass Feodor Chaliapin as Ivan, so the opera was renamed for this character and became, in the West, Ivan the Terrible.

Rimsky Korsakov: Ivan the Terrible - Clive Bayley, Evelina Dobracheva - Grange Park Opera (Photo Marc Brenner)
Rimsky Korsakov: Ivan the Terrible - Clive Bayley, Evelina Dobracheva - Grange Park Opera (Photo Marc Brenner)

At David Pountney's suggestion, Grange Park Opera performed Rimsky Korsakov's final version of the opera but preceded it by the prologue from the second version. The prologue tells how Vera Sheloga (Evelina Dobracheva), wife of the Boyar Ivan Sheloga (John Ieuan Jones) had an affair with a mysterious stranger (Tsar Ivan) whilst her husband was away and gave birth to her daughter Olga. When her husband returns he suspects and Vera's sister, Nadezhda (Amy Sedgwick) claims the baby is her own and her prospective husband, Prince Tokmakov (David Shipley) accepts it. Only Tokmakov and the nurse Vlasyevna (Liubov Sokolova) feature in the main opera.

This is set 15 years later, Olga (Evelina Dobracheva, who thus played both mother and daughter) is living with her foster father Prince Tokmakov (David Shipley) who is governor of the free city of Pskov. The Tsar has just devastated the sister city of Novgorod (another free city) and there are worries about the Tsar coming. As the opera develops it places three stories alongside each other. Olga's love for Tucha (Carl Tanner) who is a troublemaker, even though she is betrothed to Matuta (Adrian Thompson), her gradual knowledge of the circumstances of her birth and her mysterious father, and the Tsar (Clive Bayley) who finally appears in Pskov and threatens the city. The work ends with a scene where the Tsar and Olga recognise each other as father and daughter, he spares the city but Tucha's attack with his rebels leads to the death of Olga.

It is a strange piece, and the dramaturgy is perhaps not what Verdi or Wagner would have created.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Still encouraging us to listen in new ways: O/Modernt Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary with a festival live and on-line

Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt at Confidencen, Ulriksdal Palace, Stockholm
Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt at Confidencen, Ulriksdal Palace, Stockholm

O/Modernt Festival 2021 at Confidencen, Ulriksdal Palace, Stockholm

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 June 2021
O/Modernt is 10 and celebrated with a festival bringing together old and new in typically (un)familiar ways

This year we celebrate anniversaries for Josquin, Stravinsky and Miles Davies though I suspect few festivals will manage to slip all three into the same programme. It says much about the ethos of Hugo Ticciati's O/Modernt Festival based at the 18th century theatre, Confidencen, at Ulriksdal Palace in Stockholm that for their concert on 15 June 2021 as part of this year's O/Modernt Festival, Ticciati and his orchestra along with jazz pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock created a programme which moved easily between all three composers, beginning with Josquin's Ave Maria .... virgo serena and ending with Simcock's arrangement of selections from Miles Davies' Live-Evil whilst along the way taking in Stravinsky's Three pieces for string quartet and Concerto in D (‘Basle’).

The festival this year ran from 11 to 16 June 2021 and whilst the concerts had a small audience at Confidencen they are also available on-line for 30 days through takt1 and I was able to catch up with a selection of music from the festival. This year is O/Modernt's 10th anniversary and essential Ticciati's programmes for the festival celebrated the festival's ethos which embodies Ticciati's ideas. He feels we need to listen with new ears and that juxtaposing different styles of music, there being no correct style so that for the opening concert we even had a new piece combining the music of Beethoven and David Bowie!

Confidencen, Ulriksdal Palace, Stockholm
Confidencen, Ulriksdal Palace, Stockholm

The opening concert was on 11 June 2021 and titled Inventing the past. The first half was a journey around Bach whilst for the second Beethoven became the focus, though in surprisingly different ways. The ensemble combined the players from O/Modernt with young players from O/Modernt New Generation Artists. We began with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in a vivid performance where it was clear that the players were having a great time. These are modern instruments but very present and full of colours. For the middle movement, just two notes, we had a very 21st century improvisation featuring an electric guitar. 

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Directing the Don and discovering Dido: I chat to director Jack Furness in advance of his production of Mozart's Don Giovanni at Nevill Holt Opera

Jack Furness with Rebecca Meltzer, movement director on Shadwell Opera's production of Oliver Knussen's 'Where the Wild Things are'
Jack Furness with Rebecca Meltzer, movement director on Shadwell Opera's production of Oliver Knussen's Where the Wild Things are (Photo Nick Rutter)
Director Jack Furness has made something of a name for himself with contemporary and 20th-century works, directing such operas as Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse [see our review], Schoenberg’s Erwartung (in a double bill with Mark Anthony Turnage’s Twice through the Heart), and Oliver Knussen's Where the Wild Things Are with his company, Shadwell Opera. But Jack's work during the last three years has had another thread running through it, that of Mozart notably Don Giovanni. In 2019, Jack was the revival director for the performances of Kasper Holten's production of Don Giovanni at Covent Garden, and Jack directed his own production of Don Giovanni at the Teatru Manoel in Malta. Then in 2020, Jack was planning to direct Don Giovanni at Nevill Holt Opera. But fate had other ideas, but now Jack is returning to Nevill Holt and to Don Giovanni as he will direct a production in Nevill Holt's new outdoor theatre this Summer. And Jack is also returning to Covent Garden, for a further revival of Holten's production in July this year..

During May, Jack was in London to direct Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at the Royal Academy of Music, so we took advantage of the weather to meet up and chat about Don Giovanni, directing opera, discovering Dido and Aeneas and much more.

Nevill Holt Opera's 2021 season will take place not in their theatre but in a temporary outdoor theatre which will enable the company to seat an audience of 650 safely. It also features an outdoor stage some 30 metres wide, quite a challenge for a relatively intimate work like Don Giovanni. But Jack points out another challenge, in an opera that famously takes place under cover of darkness, the Nevill Holt performances will be outside in daylight, something which is exciting but challenging. Luckily Jack is working with a designer, Alex Berry with whom he has worked before, including on Britten's The Rape of Lucretia at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse with Shadwell Opera, and the two also worked on a planned production of Handel's Giulio Cesare in Scotland for 2020 which was cancelled.

Jack Furness, Director  (Photo Scottish Opera/Tommy Ga-Ken Wan)
Jack Furness (Photo Scottish Opera/Tommy Ga-Ken Wan)

The scale of the production at Nevill Holt this Summer will have to be so much bigger than usual, but the setting outside is also beautiful. Jack and Alex plan to take advantage of the scale and bring the audience into a whole world in a very filmic way. They plan to embrace the scale and enjoy the fact that it takes place outdoors in mid-afternoon, treating these as strengths. There are different ways for the drama to be confusing and psychologically disturbing, and Jack and his team have some interesting ideas which I look forward to seeing reach fruition this Summer.

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