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Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Britten Pears Arts: Festival of New

Photograph used with kind permission of Thorne Old Photos
Photograph used with kind permission of Thorne Old Photos

Britten Pears Arts' Festival of New went on-line earlier this year, but the festival returns to live events at Snape Maltings over two days in September, 10/9/2021 and 11/9/2021, with seven performances and two installations developed during residencies at Snape Maltings which are designed to give artists creative freedom.

  • Singer/songwriter/producer THABO telling stories through song within an immersive environment which offers sights and scents as well as sounds
  • KOGG - an experimental electronic collaboration between Selena Kay and Cerys Hogg, a fusion of their diverse musical backgrounds and collective interests
  • Call Me Unique - singer/songwriter & guitarist who fuses the sounds of jazz, soul, futurebeats, and scat-singing with influences from Lauryn Hill, Ed Sheeran, Ella Fitzgerald & Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes
  • Thea - an opera by composer Amanda Johnson and librettist Jo Clement about a single strong female character, inspired by one of the composer’s Bargee Traveller ancestors. The work aims to challenge the unfavourable portrayal of women in opera, particularly those from Traveller backgrounds
  • PRANASA - Supriya Nagarajan (voice), Sarah Waycott (flute), and Yanna Zissiadou (piano) take their name from the Sanskrit word ‘Prana’, meaning ‘ultimate breath’, and ‘Anasa’, Greek for ‘Breath’
  • Christo Squier: Subatomic - composer Christo Squier and experimental particle physicist Dr. Teppei Katori are joined by a host of instrumentalists to explore this fascinating subatomic world via composition, sonification, projection and performance
  • Sound Voice Project - a visionary exploration of the human voice and possibilities of collaboration from Hannah Conway and Hazel Gould
  • BPYAP Composers Film - specially-commissioned short film by Jessie Rodger, focusing on the creative processes of the six early-career composers currently supported by the Britten Pears Young Artist Programme


Full details from the Britten Pears website.

Medieval Manchester Festival

Chetham's Library
Medieval Manchester: Chetham's Library is 600 years old this year

When I was a student in Manchester in the 1970s, I was barely aware of the city's Medieval history, yet the area around the cathedral comprises of an important group of historic buildings, with the cathedral itself, originally Manchester Collegiate Church, plus what is now Chetham's School of Music and Chetham's Library. Chetham's was originally built in 1421 to accomodate the priests from Manchester Collegiate Church, and the site has developed into the modern day with Chetham's School adding the award winning Stoller Hall in 2017.

Now, a new festival is celebrating Chetham's 600th birthday. Over the weekend of 25 and 26 September 2021 there will be a range of events to commemorate Manchester's oldest buildings, with events held in Chetham's courtyard.

The events range from live music from Manchester Baroque and Chetham's School of Music choristers to performances from Horrible Histories. There are tours of Chetham's Library, the oldest library in the English-speaking world, as well as food, falconry, story-telling and much more.

Further information from the Chetham's website.

Against the odds: a fine musical performance triumphs over unseasonal weather and an unsympathetic sound system in ENO's venture south of the river

Puccini: Tosca - David Junghoon Kim - ENO at South Facing Festival (Photo Lloyd Winters)
Puccini: Tosca - David Junghoon Kim - ENO at South Facing Festival (Photo Lloyd Winters)

Puccini Tosca; Natalya Romaniw, David Junghoon Kim, Roland Wood, English National Opera, Richard Farnes; South Facing Festival at Crystal Palace Bowl

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 August 2021
Powerful performances from a superb cast really lift this outdoor concert staging

The Crystal Palace Bowl is known locally as the rusty laptop; Ian Ritchie's 1996 design for a concert platform in a lake, though, has rather fallen out of use. The South Facing Festival presented a wide array of open-air concerts in Crystal Palace Bowl this August, an admirable effort towards revitalising the venue, though it has to be pointed out that the concerts took place on a modern temporary structure and did not use the 'rusty laptop' itself. The reach of the concerts was wide, with artists ranging from Dizee Rascal, Supergrass and The Streets, to Max Richter and English National Opera in Puccini's Tosca. We went along on Sunday 29 August 2021 to catch the second of two performances of Puccini's Tosca given by English National Opera at Crystal Palace Bowl as part of South Facing Festival, conducted by Richard Farnes with Natalya Romaniw as Tosca, David Junghoon Kim as Cavaradossi, Roland Wood as Scarpia.

The venue is a natural amphitheatre so that as well as people at the front on seats, there were lots people sitting on the ground and views were good. There were two large screens, providing close-ups of the singers and the camera work was very responsive. It was a brilliantly promising idea, and a way for ENO to continue its aim of popping up in unusual locations. Unfortunately, the venue and the nature of the festival rather mitigated against full enjoyment, though thankfully strong and engaging performances ensure that we drew musical and dramatic pleasure from the evening.

Puccini: Tosca - Natalya Romaniw - ENO at South Facing Festival (Photo Lloyd Winters)
Puccini: Tosca - Natalya Romaniw - ENO at South Facing Festival (Photo Lloyd Winters)

Things began badly for us, after after a short but tiring up-hill cycle ride we found the festival venue but entirely failed to locate the badly signposted cycle racks. Bikes finally locked up, we joined the very slow-moving queue to have our bags and bodies checked. The advance information had forbidden the bringing of food and drink, which proved rather puzzling to the audience. For many, coming to the opera on a regular or an occasional basis, Summer outside-opera is associated with picnics and the idea of picnicking on the grass before the opera.

Instead, we had to make do with the rather poor festival catering, clearly aimed at the lowest common-denominator audience, pizza, burgers and such. This, plus a very poorly stocked festival bar suggested that the festival organisers had not really thought about the changes in demographic between their various audiences. 

The same seemed to be true of the sound-system which was set at blast-out level and really emphasised the bass. The sound of the orchestra was bottom heavy but rather muddy (the woodwind disappeared during the large-scale passages) and it might have been better to use a reduced orchestration. The sound-system mitigated against the English translation (a classic one by Edmund Tracey) coming across well, though all the singers tried very hard and you suspected that a better sound-system would have generated a finely comprehensible event. As it was, the text was only patchily understandable, there were no programmes, no on-line synopsis and no surtitles. If this was meant to be an accessible event, attracting those who did not come to the opera very often then it was going about it the wrong way.

However, ENO had fielded a top-notch array of artists and frankly, I would travel a long way to hear a Tosca of this quality of musical performance.

Monday, 30 August 2021

Boxgrove Choral Festival 2021, concerts and sung services at the 12th century church on the South Downs

Joseph Wicks and the Beaufort Singers at Boxgrove Priory Church
Joseph Wicks and the Beaufort Singers at Boxgrove Priory Church

The village of Boxgrove on the South Downs has had a monastic priory there since the early 12th century and the present day parish church is based around the chancel, central tower, transepts and easternmost bay of the nave of the 12th century monastic church, surround by the ruins of the medieval priory The village was also the site of the discovery, in 1993, of Boxgrove Man, a female or male Homo heidelbergensis, an extinct relative of modern humans (Homo sapiens), and dated to roughly half a million years old, thus the oldest human remains to be found in Britain.

This weekend 2-5 September 2021, Boxgrove Priory is the site of a music festival being presented by The Beaufort Singers, conductor Joseph Wicks (who sings tenor with the Gesualdo Six). There are seven live performances across the four days, with three sung services and four concerts, and all events will be filmed and available on-line later in September via OnJam.

The Beaufort Singers is a chamber choir formed at the University of Cambridge in 2016 under the direction of Joseph Wicks.  Named after Lady Margaret Beaufort who founded St John’s College, Cambridge, the choir’s raison d’être has become the Boxgrove Choral Festival, which was founded in 2018.

Things begin this year with Choral Evensong featuring the music of Gibbons, Howells, Stanford, Rachmaninov and Philip Moore, and the festival ends on Sunday morning with a live-streamed mass with music provided by a festival choir consisting of The Beaufort Singers and Boxgrove Priory Choir, conducted by Christopher Robinson in RVW's final Te Deum.

In between, there is a chance to hear the first performance with a live audience of The Isolation Songbook [see my review], a group of newly commissioned songs created during 2020 for mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston, baritone Michael Craddock and pianist Alexander Soares who will perform a selection from the songbook. Festival director, Joseph Wicks, is giving an organ recital on the Priory's fine 2-manual Hill organ, including music by Dupré and Hindemith. 

There is a a short Renaissance Late concert from The Beaufort Singers performing music from the Spanish renaissance by Lobo and Victoria, which will be immediately followed by an atmospheric candlelit service of Compline, featuring music by Owain Park, Neil Cox, Sheppard and Harris. The festival concert features Howells' Take him earth for cherishing, James MacMillan's Christus Vincit and music by Philip Moore, Neil Cox, Peter Philips, Holst, and Naylor.

Full details from the festival website, and the online festival begins on 12 September, see the OnJam website.

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Rich orchestral textures, vibrant performances, political engagement: Max Richter's Exiles from Baltic Sea Philharmonic & Kristjan Järvi.

Max Richter Exiles; Baltic Sea Philharmonic, Kristjan Järvi; Deutsche Grammophon

Max Richter Exiles; Baltic Sea Philharmonic, Kristjan Järvi; Deutsche Grammophon

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 August 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Max Richter revels in this exploration of large-scale orchestral textures in tandem with vibrant performances from Järvi and his young orchestra

Composer Max Richter's latest disc Exiles on Deutsche Grammophon is a collaboration with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and conductor Kristjan Järvi. Six of Richter's works, some new and some old, all in versions created for the ensemble that brings together musicians from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden. Many of the works come originally from larger scale theatre pieces; Exiles is the score for the ballet Singulière OdysséeFlowers of Herself from Woolf Works, On the Nature of Daylight from The Blue Notebooks, The Haunted Ocean from Waltz with Bashir, Infra 5 from Infra, Sunlight from Songs from Before.

Many of the pieces have a degree of political engagement with inspirations varying from the migration crisis arising out of the Arab Spring to the war in Lebanon and terrorist attacks in London. This selection is deliberate; Richter felt that the music's sesne of engagement suited the ethos of the orchestra, bringing together young musicians from countries that were formerly on both sides of the Iron Curtain

Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon are the resident choreographers at Nederlands Dans Theater and their ballet Singulière Odyssée debuted in February 2017, using Richter's score Exiles which was specially composed for the piece. Inspired partly by the events arising from the Arab Spring in 2011 and the subsequent migrant crisis, Exiles is a 30-minute piece based around a repeated motif and Richter describes it thus, "this one pattern which goes around and around as it passes through different landscapes. It’s a very simple idea, but I wanted to put this notion of exile, of walking, of movement, into the heart of the music in a technical sense as well as metaphorical.” 

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Creating the musical language that belongs to the film: I chat to composer Benjamin Woodgates about writing for film, notably his first feature film score for 'Dream Horse'

Benjamin Woodgates
Benjamin Woodgates

Scoring your first feature film is a big deal, particularly for an up-and-coming composer. And the British composer Benjamin Woodgates has done just that with his score for Dream Horse, Euros Lyn's 2020 film. Decca has just released the original motion picture soundtrack, whilst the film is about be released on digital. This isn't Benjamin's first film experience of course, and he has worked widely as an arranger both for film and for artists such as composer/cellist Abel Selaocoe, as well as writing concert works for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and St Paul's Cathedral Choir. Benjamin and I met up by Zoom last month to chat about writing film scores and more.

Dream Horse, starring Toni Collette and Damian Lewis, tells the story of a group of ordinary people who buy and train a winning horse, mixing scenes in the Welsh valleys with those on the horse-racing track. Do you have to be interested in a subject like horse racing to write music for a film like that? Benjamin laughs at my question and says he hopes not as, until starting work on the film he had never been to or watched a horse race. But when he knew he was in the running for doing the score he went to the races at Chepstow (one of the locations for the film) as part of his research and began to understand the thrill that people get at the races.

When he first started getting ideas for the music he worked on using a different cadence based on the way the horses run. Not a lot of this work ended up in the final result, but it was an important part of the process. The horse-racing scenes in the film are scored for strings, so de started by asking himself what instruments you might hear to accompany a race and decided that the elements of horse-hair (in bows) and animal skin drums provided a tangible animal quality to the music. 

Dream Horse - original motion picture soundtrack - Benjamin Woodgates
When Benjamin started work the film more-or-less existed in a rough cut, though this was constantly evolving. He had four or five months in which to write and record the music, though he also had to revisit music already written as the film was edited. Again, this is all part of the process, though it does play havoc with tempos and time changes.

Writing the music was a mixture of planning and free-thinking. Whilst he thinks through a film score, to limit his musical choices, he also has to accept that there will be scenes where the planned music just does not work and he has to go back to the drawing board. With Dream Horse this meant, for a couple of scenes, creating music with less structure and concept behind it.

There is about an hour or 50 minutes of music in the film. There are a lot of bitty moments lasting a minute or 90 seconds, but there are also set pieces lasting five or six minutes that have a self-contained musical structure. There is also 15 minutes of other music, such as songs from South Wales bands of the 1990s, and Benjamin had to be aware that his music needed to sit alongside this. 

Benjamin's way of working is somewhat old-fashioned, as he writes the music out as a score and then records it. He has done a lot of work orchestrating for other composers who create the music using a sequencer and a keyboard, and this can be sent to the director as a demo, with Benjamin then translating this into a written score for orchestra. But when he is writing his own music he admits that he struggles to think vertically and needs to see the score horizontally, so he sketches out in manuscript, very shorthand, and then writes out the music in full.

Friday, 27 August 2021

New historical performance ensemble Figure to launch with Bach's St John Passion

A new historical performance ensemble Figure aims to nurture the rising generation of musicians. The company launches on 17 September 2021 with a performance of Bach's St John Passion at the Church of St Bartholomew the Great, with the orchestra led by Gabriella Jones (Instrumental Award holder at Cambridge University) and singers including Richard Robbins (Handel House Artist and CMF Artist) as the Evangelist, Tristan Hambleton as Jesus, Rowan Pierce (OAE Rising Star), Emily Gray, and Hugo Hymas.

Figure’s repertoire will range from the Renaissance to the beginning of Modernism in music – anything which would have been originally performed on gut strings is their domain, and a full programme for 2021/22 is planned.

Figure is the brainchild of Frederick Waxman, the founder of Ante-Terminum, a cross-arts production company specialising in immersive and site-responsive performance, and his creation of Figure is a direct response to the current reduction in performance opportunities for young artists.

Full details from the Figure website.

Northern Ireland Opera's The Festival of Voice this weekend

Northern Ireland Opera's The Festival of Voice returns to Belfast this weekend (27 to 29 August 2021)
Northern Ireland Opera's The Festival of Voice returns to Belfast this weekend (27 to 29 August 2021) with three recitals, presented in association with BBC Radio 3, and the annual competition with this year's finalists, Amy Conneely (mezzo-soprano), Caroline Behan (soprano), Cerys MacAllister (soprano), Ellen Mawhinney (soprano), Katie Richardson McCrea (mezzo-soprano) and Matthew Mannion (baritone), plus the Peter Rankin Piano Intern is Brendan Kennedy.

There are three recitals from Ben McAteer (baritone), Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano) and Elizabeth Watts (soprano), each with pianist Simon Lepper. The recitals are being performed without an audience but will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3. 

The finale of the Glenarm Festival of Voice Vocal competition will have an audience who will be able to watch the six singers competing for the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize. The six finalists have the opportunity to work with prestigious vocal coaches across the weekend in the build-up to the finale where they compete by performing arias, duets and Irish songs in front of a judging panel of opera experts.

Full details from Northern Ireland Opera's website.

A complex mix of dance, text and music: William K.z.'s The Growth of Silk at Camden Fringe

William K.z. The Growth of Silk - Anna Cabre-Verdiell, Helene Mathiesen - Camden Fringe at Upstairs at the Gatehouse
William K.z. The Growth of Silk - Anna Cabre-Verdiell, Helene Mathiesen
William K.z. The Growth of Silk; Helene Mathiesen, Anna Cabre-Verdiell, dir:Charlotte MacRae; Camden Fringe at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 August 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A new music theatre piece deftly weaves together music, dance, text and more to create a compact yet richly complex contemporary fairy tale

A contemporary fairy tale about wishing for something and getting far more than you bargained for, The Growth of Silk is a new music-theatre piece by the music producer and composer William K.z, presented by It's Casual Presents at Upstairs at the Gatehouse (seen 26 August 2021) as part of the Camden Fringe. Directed by Charlotte MacRae, the work featured soprano Helene Mathiesen and dancer / choreographer Anna Cabre-Verdiell, with Owen Bunting (guitars), George Burrage (bass), Josh Savage (percussion).

The Growth of Silk debuted in 2019 at Tete a Tete, and this year's performances at the Brighton Fringe and Camden Fringe are the debut of William K.z.'s production company It's Casual Presents.

The playing area at the theatre was dressed solely with a barber's chair and a washing line with various props hanging from it, with the three musicians stage right and when we entered, Mathiesen and Cabre-Verdiell were lurking ominously. Both dressed in black pants and lacy black bras; this is a piece about how you look, how you present yourself and the desire to fit into conventional norms of desirability.

The work is technically an opera, but is rather closer to a late 20th-century music-theatre piece, in that it mixes in a variety of genres, and owed a lot to the stripped-back aesthetic of works such as Peter Brook's La tragédie de Carmen. Cabre-Verdiell was an active partner in the whole production, occasionally speaking but using movement to riveting effect.

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Strong impact: Handel's Alcina from Ensemble OrQuesta at Grimeborn

Handel: Alcina - John Holland-Avery, Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada, Maya Wheeler-Colwell - Ensemble OrQuesta, Grimeborn 2021) - (Photo Andreas Grieger)
Handel: Alcina - John Holland-Avery, Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada, Maya Wheeler-Colwell - Ensemble OrQuesta, Grimeborn 2021) - (Photo Andreas Grieger)

Handel Alcina; Helena May, Laura Fleur, Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada, Maya Wheeler-Colwell, Kieran White, Marcio da Silva, Stephanie Gurga, Ensemble OrQuesta; Grimeborn Festival at Arcola Outside

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 August 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
With Alcina as office diva, this production was firmly in the 21st century, with a strong musical impact and fine, balanced cast.

On 25 August 2021, Ensemble OrQesta returned to the Grimeborn Festival with a production Handel's Alcina presented at Arcola Outside, the Arcola Theatre's new covered outdoor space. Directed by Marcio da Silva (who was co-music director), the production featured Helen May as Alcina, Laura Fleur as Ruggiero, Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada as Morgana, Maya Wheeler-Colwell as Bradamante, Kieran White as Oronte, John Holland-Avery as Melisso and Poppy Shotts as Oberto with Ethan Udovich as chorus. The opera was accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble, Stephanie Gurga (harpsichord, co-music director), Cédric Meyer (archlute / baroque guitar), Edmund Taylor and Kirsty Main (violin), Georgie Davis (viola) and Jacob Garside (cello).

Handel had something of a fondness for what might be termed 'bad girls', his anti-heroines are often vividly etched and this is particularly true of his sorceresses, whether we are talking about his early operas such as Rinaldo and Teseo, or a late masterpiece like Alcina. By the time Handel came to write Alcina he was running his own company and answerable to no-one except his audience (which was rather fickle). This means that his late sequence of operas is rather more varied in style than those of the great period of the Royal Academy of Music when Handel was beholden to a committee of aristocrats who decided what operas to present.

When first presented at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1735 the opera was quite a spectacle including dance sequences for Marie Sallé and her company. But this spectacle should not blind us to the fact that by setting a fantasy libretto, in some ways Handel freed himself from the constraints of opera seria plotting, so that Alcina and Morgana can be amoral and certainly not upright citizens, yet still the focus of our attention. That Handel had great sympathy with human foibles and emotions is what makes his operas so satisfying today, his ability to pull out deep emotions in his characters. So we have immense sympathy for Alcina and Morgana despite their behaviour; the plot, shorn of its Romance trappings, says a lot to us today.

Handel: Alcina - Laura Fleur, Helen May - Ensemble OrQuesta, Grimeborn 2021) - (Photo Andreas Grieger)
Handel: Alcina - Laura Fleur, Helen May - Ensemble OrQuesta, Grimeborn 2021) - (Photo Andreas Grieger)

To emphasise this Marcio da Silva set Alcina in a modern office, where Alcina (Helen May) is the reigning diva, using her 'magic' to dominate (mentally, physically and sexually) her staff. And as this is the 21st century, sexuality is fluid so that with all the cross dressing (both mezzo-soprano male roles were played by women as was the boy, Oberto) we were never entirely sure of gender or sexuality. The decision was of great practical sense in that the production needed only simple modern set and costumes. But all was not naturalistic, Da Silva used movement and make-up to heighten the drama, this was a very stylised office.

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

City of Derry International Choir Festival 2021

City of Derry International Choir Festival
First held in 2013, the City of Derry International Choir Festival, artistic director Dónal Doherty, returns to live performances with audiences for this year's festival. 

Running from 20 to 24 October 2021 in venues in and around Derry, the festival has been carefully planned to include a synchronised mix of in-person and virtual events throughout the city as part of an immersive programme of live and digital concerts, performances, workshops, podcasts, and other events.

The festival is opened with a concert from local choirs and singers plus members of the Ulster Orchestra performing Bob Chilcott's The Voyage conducted by the composer, plus premiere of A Topography of Love, Part 3 by Brian Irvine and John McIlduff from Belfast creative production company Dumbworld

Other performers at the festival include Tenebrae and the Derry-based choir Codetta which will be giving the premiere of a new work by Eoghan Desmond, whilst the American ensemble Chanticleer will be presenting a live Zoom workshop and a bespoke recorded concert. 

There will be school performances with a non-competitive format for primary years encouraging children and teachers to take part in the fun and community-spirited Primary Big Sing event on Thursday 21 October including a workshop led by music education expert Lucinda Geoghegan ​and a specially composed piece for young voices by Catalan composer and conductor, Josep Vila i Casañas. Post-primary schools will return for a day of competitions and a senior Big Sing on Friday 22 October. 

The Festival is also hopeful that choirs throughout the island of Ireland will return for a day of competitions in various categories including mixed voice, equal voice, youth, sacred, pop, jazz and gospel, culminating in the brand-new Choir of the Festival competition. 

Full details from the festival's website.

Julia Desbruslais to step down as executive director of London Mozart Players

London Mozart Players
London Mozart Players

In 2016, the players of London Mozart Players (LMP) took over running the orchestra thus making it the only professional orchestra in the UK to be managed both operationally and artistically by the players. The Executive Director for this new regime was the orchestra's co-principal cellist, Julia Desbruslais, and at the end of this year (2021) she is stepping down as Executive Director. It has been something of a rollercoaster ride, with the events of the last 18 months providing the unexpected challenges both in terms of performance and funding which have troubled all UK performing groups.

Resident at Fairfield Halls, the orchestra moved relocated its office from Fairfield Halls to the Church of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, in advance of Fairfield Halls closure in 2016 for restoration. In Upper Norwood, the orchestra has embedded itself in the vibrant and diverse community around the church, putting on concerts in new and unusual venues around the borough, as well as returning to Fairfield Halls for performances as part of the re-opening celebrations. During lockdown the ensemble was an early adopter of digital performance, utilising both its home venue and other distinctive spaces. This year, the orchestra celebrated its 72nd birthday as a vibrant, innovative and community focused ensemble that continues to push boundaries and reinvent itself for the new musical landscape.

Julia comments, "The pandemic released this amazing creativity from within the LMP which has helped the orchestra to reinvent itself for the twenty-first century, kept it relevant and demonstrated how powerful we can be when we all work together. It has been wonderful to be part of such a giving team - from Management and Trustees to the LMP musicians - where there is so much mutual respect."

Full details of Autumn season plans from the orchestra's website.


Chineke! Orchestra returns to the BBC Proms with a programme of discovery, four late-Romantic works by composers of African ancestry

Jeneba Kanneh-Mason, Kalena Bovell, Chineke! Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo Mark Allan)
Jeneba Kanneh-Mason, Kalena Bovell, Chineke! Orchestra - BBC Proms
(Photo BBC / Mark Allan)

Coleridge Taylor, Sowande, Price; Jeneba Kanneh-Mason, Chineke! Orchestra, Kalena Bovell; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 August 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Three composers of African ancestry, three Proms premieres, an evening of engaging discovery from Chineke!

Chineke! Orchestra was back at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 24 August 2021 for its fourth visit. Kalena Bovell conducted a programme of music by composers of African ancestry, with the English composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor's Overture to 'The Song of Hiawatha' and Symphony No. 1, Nigerian composer Fela Sowande's African Suite and American composer Florence Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement (with soloist Jeneba Kanneh-Mason).

With music ranging in date from 1896 to 1944, there was something of an alternative history of early 20th century classical music here, both in terms of the way the composers' work has been either forgotten or marginalised (after its premiere in 1934 the music for Price's concerto simply disappeared for 80 years) and in terms of the way each composer wrote in a late-Romantic style which for much of the later 20th century was deeply unfashionable.

Kalena Bovell, Chineke! Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo Mark Allan)
Kalena Bovell, Chineke! Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Mark Allan)

So we had three Proms premieres (only Coleridge Taylor's overture had been played at the Proms before, way back in 1959), in wonderfully engaging and sophisticated performances from Chineke! Orchestra under Kalena Bovell's inspired direction. The players seemed to radiate the sheer joy of being on the Royal Albert Hall stage, in fact overflowing off it into the stalls, as well as the fact that the programme chimed in with the orchestra's ethos of being a Black and ethnically diverse orchestra. Repeatedly during the evening the joy and enthusiasm of the players seemed to be saying to us, listen to this, isn't it fantastic. And, indeed, fantastic it was with much of the music of a quality which made you wonder why we had not heard it before.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Passion, Poison, Petrifaction and a Prodigal Son: Pegasus Opera Company's new double bill

Pegasus Opera Company - Double Bill

Pegasus Opera Company is returning to the stage with another double bill of works featuring composer Philip Hagemann. The company performs a new double bill at the Royal Academy of Music's Susie Sainsbury Theatre from 10 to 12 September 2021. Hagemann's chamber adaptation of Debussy's L'enfant prodigue will be performed alongside Hagemann's comic melodrama Passion, Poison and Petrifaction which is adapted from a play by George Bernard Shaw. 

The cast for the performances features the company's artistic director, soprano Alison Buchanan, alongside Roberto Abate, Themba Mvulawho, Bernadine Pritchet, George Reynolds, Sandeep Gurrapadi, Chuma Sijeqa and Donna Batemann. Both operas are directed by Harry Fehr.

Pegasus Opera Company is a professional opera company based in Brixton, London with a family of widespread international artists, participants and supporters. They produce high-quality performances and balance this with a focus on artist development of emerging artists of African and Asian heritage and bringing their work onto eminent platforms. For almost thirty years, Pegasus Opera Company has been the go to organisation for opera and musical theatre singers, composers, instrumentalists and directors predominantly, but not exclusively, from diverse African, Caribbean, and Asian backgrounds. 

Ticket information from TicketSource.



Baltic Sea Philharmonic: a new disc of music by Max Richter and Nordic Swans concert tour

Baltic Sea Philharmonic
Baltic Sea Philharmonic

This Summer and Autumn, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic and Kristjan Järvi are really stretching their wings after a long period of lockdown. The orchestra has just released a new disc, Exiles on Deutsche Grammophon of music by Max Richter, and is about to embark on a new concert tour, Nordic Swans.

Exiles features Max Richter's new large orchestral versions of chamber music or other smaller pieces, alongside two works written specially for the disc, Exiles (which explores the tragedy of the migrant crisis) and Flowers of Herself. Many of the pieces on the disc originally come from stage works, such as Woolf Works which was written for the Wayne McGregord and the Royal Ballet, and Sol León and Paul Lightfoot’s ballet Singulière Odyssée.

The selection of music has been thoughtfully matched to the orchestra's ethos, Richter explains "Baltic Sea Philharmonic is a really interesting orchestra. It consists of young players from all the nations around the Baltic Sea so that obviously includes former Western European countries, former Eastern European countries, so it’s a little bit of a social project. It has this ‘peacemaking’ function, people being able to talk to each other in a creative way. It struck me that it would be nice to have that orchestra play music that matched that theme."

Further information about Exiles.

The orchestra's Nordic Swans tour features music by Arvo Pärt and Sibelius alongside Kristjan Järvi's Tchaikovsky arrangement, Swan Lake - Dramatic symphony, performing in Italy (Verona & Merano), Slovenia (Lubljana), Germany (Peenemünde) and Poland (Szczecin). The young musicians perform the programme from memory, and thus able to move freely without the constraints of music stands and scores the programme features specially devised choreography and dynamic lighting.

Full details from the orchestra's website.


BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's Autumn season in Glasgow and Edinburgh

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (photo BBC)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (photo BBC)

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's Autumn season sees the orchestra returning to performances with live audiences in Glasgow City Halls and Edinburgh's Usher Hall. The season opens with guest conductor Joana Carneiro in a programme of music by Magnus Lindberg and Sibelius including Lindberg's Violin Concerto with soloist Pekka Kuusisto, in a season which also includes music by Jörg Widmann,  Einojuhani Rautavara, and Unsuk Chin, arrangements by François Leleux, plus music by Louise Farrenc (1804-1875), Polish-American composer Lucia Dlugoszewski (1925-2000), Japanese composer Yasushi Akutagawa (1925-1989) and Russian composer Vasily Kalinnikov (1866-1901).

There are two programmes spotlighting the talents of Jörg Widmann (clarinettist, composer, conductor) and François Leleux (oboist, conductor). Widmann performs his own Con Brio alongside Weber's First Clarinet Concerto and Schumann's Symphony No. 2. Leleux performs his own arrangements of Mozart arias alongside music by Mendelssohn and Louise Farrenc.

Principal guest conductor Ilan Volkov directs a programme of new music, being recorded for BBC Radio 3's New Music Show, which includes Lucia Dlugoszewski’s Abyss and Caress (1975) with New York jazz trumpeter Peter Evans. Conductor Yutaka Sado's programme includes Triptique for string orchestra (1953) by Yasushi Akutagawa alongside music by Debussy and Beethoven. Hannu Lintu conducts Grieg and Brahms plus Einojuhani Rautavara's Lintukoto (Isle of Bliss). David Afkham will conduct Unsuk Chin's Subito con forza plus music by Beethoven and Schumann.

Tchaikovsky is the focus of a pair of concerts which round off the season.  Associate conductor Alpesh Chauhan directs Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony, Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 2 and Korngold's Abschiedslieder with mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill. Malcolm Brabbins conducts Tchaikvosky's Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Pavel Kolesnikov) and the Symphony No. 1 by Vasily Kalinnikov.

Full details from the orchestra's website.

To the max: supersize polyphony from Armonico Consort for its 20th birthday

Armonico Consort & Christopher Monks (Photo Peter Marsh Ashmore Visuals)
Armonico Consort & Christopher Monks
(Photo Peter Marsh Ashmore Visuals)
The Armonico Consort is 20 this year and to celebrate artistic director Christopher Monks is taking the ensemble on tour during September and October 2021 with a programme of large-scale Renaissance choral music, performing some of the largest scale pieces of the period. Alongside Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium, Armonico Consort will give rare performances of Heinrich Biber's Missa Salisburgensis for 53 voices and Alessandro Striggio's 60-part Missa sopra Ecco sì Beato Giorno, interspersed with the plainsong chants of Hildegard von Bingen.

Italian composer Alessandro Striggio wrote music for the courts in Florence and Ferrara as well as having links with Munich. His mass Missa sopra Ecco si Beato Giorno was probably written in Florence in 1565–6, during the reign of his employer Cosimo I de' Medici. It is thought that Striggio may have had music for this mass or his 40-part motet Ecce beatam lucem (written for the court in Munich) with him when he came to London on a diplomatic visit in 1567, since Thomas Tallis seems to have been inspired and challenged by it, and shortly afterwards wrote his own 40-voice tour-de-force Spem in alium, commissioned by Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk.

Bohemian composer Heinrich Biber worked most of his life in Salzburg and his Missa Salisburgensis (1682) is one of a group of his large-scale polychoral works which were inspired by the grand setting of Salzburg Cathedral and was probably written for the commemoration of the 1100th anniversary of the Archbishopric of Salzburg.

The masses by Striggio and Biber are comparatively recent discoveries to the musical world, both emerging within the last 50 years. The Biber mass, which first came to light in the 1870s, was attributed to Orazio Benevoli until the 1970s and the Striggio was first performed in modern times as recently as 2007. Both masses use the Renaissance tradition of creating choirs mixing voices and instruments, whereas Tallis' motet seems to have been written for purely choral performance.

Armonico Consort recorded their Supersize Polyphony programme in 2019, see my record review.

Armonico Consort's 20th birthday celebration tour of Striggio, Biber and Tallis, takes place in Warwick (25 September), Malvern (1 October), Poole (9 October) and Canterbury Cathedral (16 October).  For full details please see the ensemble's website.

Monday, 23 August 2021

The opera that Bach never wrote!

Jan van Leyden
Jan van Leyden

The conventional image of JS Bach is of a devout, serious man with no interest in contemporary opera, yet if you look at his music there is a different picture with many arias having operatic elements, and now recent research is showing that he was an attender at the opera in Hamburg when opportunity allowed.

Now, the Dutch touring opera company OPERA2DAY is creating a work which tries to imagine Bach the opera composer. The company's new production, J.S. Bach – The Apocalypse is the opera that Bach never wrote! A co-production with the Netherlands Bach Society, whose centenary the production celebrates, J.S. Bach – The Apocalypse will tour from January through March 2022.

The opera evokes the sixteenth-century story of the 16th century Anabaptist leader, Jan van Leyden, who claimed that the end of time was near. He convinced his followers that they could be amongst the chosen ones at the Last Judgement. But his utopia soon became a tyranny and ended in bloodshed and death. (Jan ven Leyden is also the title role of Meyerbeer's opera Le Prophete). 

The dramatic and musical scenario was developed by Serge van Veggel, artistic director of OPERA2DAY, with the libretto written by Thomas Höft. Panos Iliopoulos, composer, harpsichordist and baroque specialist, has created the score from Bach's music.

The production debuts in The Hague on 23 January 2021, more information from the company's website.

New artistic directors Rosalind Ventris & Joseph Fort announce programme for their first Cowbridge Music Festival

Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch (Photo Andy Morgan)
Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch (Photo Andy Morgan)
In April this year it was announced that husband and wife team, Rosalind Ventris and Joseph Fort were the new directors of the Cowbridge Music Festival, based at the Welsh town of Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan. And now their first festival programme has been announced. 

Running from 1 to 16 October 2021, the festival features nine concerts with each evening event being repeated.  The festival is opened by the Feinstein Ensemble in a programme of Baroque concertos, and the closing event is jazz from the Clare Teal Trio. 

In between Welsh harpist Catrin Finch joins forces with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita, mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons and pianist Christopher Glynn are joined by violist and festival artistic director Rosalind Ventris for music by Brahms and Clara Schumann, Franco-Belgian cellist makes her Welsh debut alongside regular duo partner, pianist Julien Brocal in music by Ravel, Franck and Chopin. And there are concerts from the Piatti Quartet, the Hot Club of Jupiter and pianist Luke Jones, who gives the festival's young artists recital performing Liszt's sonata alongside a festival commission from Sarah Lianne Lewis

Full details from the Cowbridge Music Festival website.


Folk ritual and drama: Mozart's Don Giovanni at Nevill Holt Opera rises to the challenge

Mozart: Don Giovanni - Roman Ackley - Nevill Holt Opera(photo Lloyd Winters)
Mozart: Don Giovanni - Roman Ackley - Nevill Holt Opera(photo Lloyd Winters)

Mozart Don Giovanni; Seán Boylan, Nicholas Crawley, Anna Patalong, Aoife Miskelly, Joshua Owen Mills, Olivia Warburton, Benedict Nelson, dir: Jack Furness, Shadwell:Ensemble, cond: Finnegan Downie Dear; Nevill Holt Opera

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 August 2021 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A profoundly satisfying production, using disturbing English folk-ritual alongside some vividly theatrical elements

Mozart's Don Giovanni is an opera which takes place in an urban landscape, much of it at night, so setting the piece outdoors in the middle of the afternoon might seem something of a stretch. But for their production of Mozart's Don Giovanni (seen Sunday 22 August 2021), Nevill Holt Opera and director Jack Furness have risen to the challenge. Conducted by Finnegan Downie Dear and with the new Shadwell:Ensemble, the production featured Seán Boylan as Don Giovanni, Nicholas Crawley as Leporello, Anna Patalong as Donna Anna, Aoife Miskelly as Donna Elvira, Joshua Owen Mills as Don Ottavio, Olivia Warburton as Zerlina and Benedict Nelson as Masetto. Designs were by Alex Berry, movement by Jenny Ogilvie and the sound design by Mark Rogers.

The opera was performed in Mozart's Vienna version, though without the cuts to the Act Two finale which Mozart made in Vienna, and the costumes were 17th century, a decision which at a stroke gives very clear visual definition to the class hierarchy which is so important in the opera.

Mozart: Don Giovanni - Nevill Holt Opera (photo Lloyd Winters)
Mozart: Don Giovanni - Nevill Holt Opera (photo Lloyd Winters)

When I chatted to Jack Furness earlier this year [see my interview], he talked about his feeling that 'there is a tendency when working on an opera to think of the job as like writing an essay, to make a cogent argument about the piece', and how he wanted to 'create a space on stage where people can tell a story, to create insight'. Furness and Berry's approach to Don Giovanni might seem counter-intuitive at first, but it succeeded brilliantly in doing just what Furness had been talking about.

The 17th century setting was placed within the context of the wedding rituals for Zerlina (Olivia Warburton) and Masetto (Benedict Nelson), with Furness, Berry and movement director Jenny Ogilvie utilising the wonderfully disturbing element that can be found in English folk ritual. These happened on and off stage, so that during the early part of Act One, we could see Warburton, Nelson and the chorus in the area between the theatre and the stable block. Furness used the chorus movements as a commentary during the scenes with the aristocratic cast, often seemingly providing a strange and threatening backdrop. This was brilliantly demonstrated in the Act One finale, where the space meant that Ogilvie and Furness really had the ability to create three very different dances, the aristocrats and two different round-dances for the 'lesser folk', yet at the end this turned threatening as the chorus put their masks back and faced Boylan's Don Giovanni en masse, suddenly threatening and strange. 

For Act Two, the folk rituals took a back seat whilst never quite disappearing, until the finale when Furness thrillingly used the idea of the burning man to creative effect. And in Act Two, the rules started to be broken, boundaries blurred. We saw elements of the mechanics behind the 'opera production', hints of modernity, of stage-hands, of the fact that the people in the opera were we just actors in wigs. Yet Furness took the story quite seriously, the production thankfully lacked any of the irony which modern directors often bring to the work's dénouement. Here we really did have a statue that came alive (Dingle Yandell in brilliant form). What there was however, was wit and fun. The production mixed the funny and the serious in fine manner. The result was one of the most satisfying productions of Don Giovanni that I have seen in a long time, lacking any annoying directorial pensées and creative rewriting of the plot.

It helped that we had a finely balanced young cast who each created strongly etched characters.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

'Caro nome' from a balloon and laughing with her voice: I chat to soprano Hila Fahima about performing Gilda and Zerbinetta, along with her discovery of lesser known Donizetti operas

Verdi: Rigoletto - Hilda Fahima - Bregenz Festival (Photo Bregenzer Festspiele / Karl Forster)
Verdi: Rigoletto - Hilda Fahima - Bregenz Festival (Photo Bregenzer Festspiele / Karl Forster)

The Israeli soprano Hila Fahima is based in Vienna where she is a member of the ensemble at the Vienna State Opera, but during July she could be found floating in a balloon above Lake Constance in Bregenz. She was playing Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto on the Seebühne as part of this year's Bregenz Festival, and in June released her debut disc on the Orfeo International label, a recital of arias by Verdi and Donizetti. I caught up with Hila during a break from rehearsals in Bregenz.

She has been finding rehearsals intense, whilst Gilda is a role she has sung before, for these rehearsals they have to cope with the weather and the Seebühne, the floating stage, is so different that she has to be flexible. And at the first rehearsal, it was something of a shock getting used to the acoustic, singing outside and getting no feedback, hearing nothing of your performance. Add to that, the singers can't see the orchestra either. But she is very positive, commenting on the wonderful views you have when singing, the lovely atmosphere and the sense of peace. And of course, her having to sing 'Caro nome' from a balloon, certainly unique.

Gilda can sometimes feel a somewhat passive character in the opera, but Hila feels that though her father treats her as a child, in Gilda's own mind she is grown-up, smart and brave. She has dreams but is locked in a cage and the opera allows us to follow her development. Hila also comments that she feels Gilda is clear in her mind that she wants to meet someone, and of course, the church is her only opportunity. She is certainly not what her father thinks she is, someone clever, brave and looking for adventure yet wearing the mask of a little girl.

Verdi: Rigoletto - Bregenz Festival (Photo Bregenzer Festspiele / Anja Koehler)
Verdi: Rigoletto - Bregenz Festival (Photo Bregenzer Festspiele / Anja Koehler)

With a role like Gilda, the opera being so popular presents a challenge and each singer needs to find her own Gilda. But Hila works hard to sing it as herself, like no-one else and she certainly doesn't do it like a well-known singer such as Edita Gruberova. The different stagings can make a huge difference, and each production produces a somewhat different Gilda. And whether the opera is well-known or unknown, the process is the same, you need to take the role to yourself, dress and feel like the character.

The sheer scale of the production in Bregenz, however, requires some differences to the singers' approach.

Friday, 20 August 2021

The Hallé launches its Autumn / Winter 2021 season

The Hallé - Autumn/Winter 2021

The Hallé has launched its Autumn / Winter 2021 season with a packed programme at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall, plus a new series of lunchtime chamber concerts at Hallé St Peter’s in Ancoats. Alongside Sir Mark Elder, the Hallé’s roster of conductors includes Delyana Lazarova, Gemma New, Christian Reif, Sofi Jeannin and Ryan Wigglesworth, and featured composers include Thea Musgrave, Sofia Gubaidulina, Arya Tsytlianok, Samuel Barber, Florence Price, Lera Auerbach, Ryan Wigglesworth, Dorothy Howell, Josef Suk, Hugo Alfven, Christine Hals and Wynton Marsalis.

Sir Mark Elder opens the season with three concerts where alongside symphonies by Elgar, Sibelius and Brahms, the orchestra will be performing music by Thea Musgrave and Sofia Gubaidulina. The Hallé’s assistant conductor Delyana Lazarova directs an American programme with Florence Price’s haunting Ethiopia’s Shadow in America (written in 1932, it was one of a group of Price's works which were lost until her manuscripts were rediscovered in 2009), plus Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto performed by violinist James Ehnes. 

Walton's Cello Concerto seems to have having something of a moment, having been performed at the Proms last week [see my review], at Hallé it will be performed by cellist Laura van der Heijden with Gemma New conducting, and the programme also includes Copland’s Symphony No.3 and Lera Auerbach’s Icarus

The orchestra's artist in association is conductor / composer Ryan Wigglesworth and he conducts his own Piano Concerto performed by Marc-André Hamelin as well as Schumann’s Second Symphony.  [We caught Wigglesworth himself performing the solo part in the concerto's slow movement with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, see my review]. Other highlights include Natalya Romaniw singing Strauss’s Four Last Songs, and Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto performed by its dedicatee, Nicola Benedetti.

The new lunchtime chamber music series at Hallé St Peter’s includes Benjamin Grosvenor performing the Schumann Piano Quintet alongside Hallé principal players, Brahms' Clarinet Trio with Elizabeth Brauss, Simon Turner and Sergio Castello-Lopez and a recital from Hallé Brass.  

Some of the concerts will be filmed for future broadcast following the huge success of the Halle’s Winter and Summer digital concerts which have been viewed and celebrated around the world.

Full details from the orchestra's website.

Her Ensemble: the UK’s first women and non-binary orchestra makes its concert debut

Her Ensemble (Photo Shane Benson)
Her Ensemble (Photo Shane Benson)

In 2019-2020 only 3.6% of the classical music pieces programmed worldwide were written by women. Last year that figure was just 5% - the highest percentage recorded to date [see my article on the Donne Foundation's recent report], while some of the world’s most renowned orchestras only started admitting female musicians as recently as 2003.

In response to this and to the perceived rigidity of the classical concert format, classically trained violinist and arranger Ellie Consta formed Her Ensemble, the UK’s first women and non-binary orchestra. The group has been performing together since November 2020 (including releasing a debut single, recorded a feature film score for Melt The Fly, and collaborated with Pixie Lott) and now the group makes its concert debut at Battersea Town Hall on 17 September 2021.

The ensemble is formed of like-minded colleagues stemming from the European Union Youth Orchestra, and brings together some of the most in-demand orchestral and chamber musicians in the UK. They will be performing a wide range of music by women, but also making the format of the event closer to a pop concert by allowing drinks, using lighting and interacting with the audience, though having no piece lasting longer than five minutes seems perhaps unnecessarily restricting.

There will be music by Florence Price, Angela Morley, Grażyna Bacewicz, Mari Esabel Valverde, Caroline Shaw, Anna Meredith and Jessie Montgomery, plus arrangements of Hildegard of Bingen, Alma Mahler and Lili Boulanger, with guest appearances from BBC Young Musician string finalist Elodie Chousmer-Howelles, film composer Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres and singer-songwriter Caitlyn Scarlett. 

Full details from the BAC website.

Chamber music for the King: François Couperin's Concerts royaux from American flautist Stephen Schultz and friends

Francois Couperin Concerts Royaux; Stephen Schultz, Jory Vinikour, Alexa Haynes-Pilon, Mindy Rosenfeld; Music & Arts

Francois Couperin Concerts Royaux; Stephen Schultz, Jory Vinikour, Alexa Haynes-Pilon, Mindy Rosenfeld; Music & Arts

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 August 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
American flautist Stephen Schultz brings purity and character of tone to Couperin's Concerts Royaux

Early 18th century France seemed to develop a taste for chamber works with some sort of ad libitum scoring, keyboard plus instruments which could be varied or missed out altogether. These perhaps reflect the fluidity of the music making within aristocratic households where the music was performed. The preface to Francois Couperin's Concerts royaux, published in 1722, implies performance with a group of musicians taken from harpsichord, flute, oboe, violin and viola da gamba.

On this new disc from Music & Arts, American Baroque flute player Stephen Schultz (founder of American Baroque, principal flute with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Musica Angelica) is joined by Paris-based American harpsichordist Jory Vinikour, viola da gamba player Alexa Haynes-Pilon (principal cellist of Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, a co-director and cellist/gambist of Musica Pacifica, and a co-founder of Ensemble Bizarria.), and Baroque flute player Mindy Rosenfeld to perform Couperin's four Concerts royaux.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Baroque and Contemporary, plus a focus on Brian Elias: this year's Music@Malling

Resident ensemble Chamber Domaine performing at a previous Music@Malling
Resident ensemble Chamber Domaine performing at a previous Music@Malling

The music of Brian Elias threads its way through this year's Music@Malling. The fifteen concerts in this year's festival in the Kent town, which runs from 24 September to 3 October 2021, will feature the premiere of Elias' Capriccio for Bassoon and Strings performed by resident ensemble Chamber Domaine, conducted by the festival's artistic director Thomas Kemp, with soloist Adam Mackenzie (principal bassoon at Opera North), whilst pianist Daniel Grimwood plays Elias' Five Pieces in a programme which also includes Beethoven alongside Mark-Anthony Turnage's On Marylebone Road, and members of Chamber Domaine also present a programme of Elias' chamber music alongside Ravel's Piano Trio. Oboist Nicholas Daniel joins the Sacconi Quartet for Elias' Oboe Quartet, and Elias will also be talking about his life and music at a Meet the Composer event. 

Two of the festival's concerts intriguingly interweave Baroque and contemporary. Cellist Richard Harwood and harpsichordist Steven Devine will be performing music by Elias, Gavin Bryars and Mark-Anthony Turnage alongside Baroque repertoire, whilst the viol consort Fretwork performs Purcell's Fantasias alongside music by Alexander Goehr, John Woolwich, and Gavin Bryars. There is more Baroque music from violinist Thomas Bowes who performs Telemann's virtuoso Twelve Fantasias for Solo Violin.

Thomas Kemp conducts the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in Mark-Anthony Turnage's Concertino for Clarinet with soloist Jon Carnac, in a programme which also includes music by Rebecca Saunders and Eleanor Alberga. And Alberga's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs features in an education project at local primary schools.

Like many organisations, the festival is catching up somewhat on last year's Beethoven centenary, and this year's programme includes String Quartets Op.131 and Op18, No.5, and a survey of the Cello Sonatas and as well as Daniel Grimwood's ongoing exploration of the Piano Sonatas.

Music@Malling is partnering with the Royal Academy of Music to support and mentor two promising ensembles, The Hill Quartet and Immy Churchill Trio, that will be featured in the programme and will be given mentoring, outreach and performance opportunities during the 2021/2022 season.

Full details from the Music@Malling website.

Technicolour dreams: Anita Rachvelishvili's Élégie on Sony Classical

Élégie - Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Otar Taktakishvili, Tosti, Duparc, Falla; Anita Rachvelishvili, Vincenzo Scalera; Sony Records

Élégie
- Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Otar Taktakishvili, Tosti, Duparc, Falla; Anita Rachvelishvili, Vincenzo Scalera; Sony Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 August 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The Georgian mezzo-soprano brings rich tones and a full-blooded approach to a programme of Russian, Georgian, Italian, French and Spanish song, yet one not without subtlety too.

The Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili is known for her dramatic roles in Italian opera (her appearances at Covent Garden have included Azucena in Verdi's Il trovatore, Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana as well as the title role in Bizet's Carmen), but there is another side to her as well which enjoys the possibilities offered by the more intimate song repertoire.

For Élégie on Sony Classical, Anita Rachvelishvili is joined by pianist Vincenzo Scalera for a programme of Russian, Georgian, Italian, French and Spanish song with works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Otar Taktakishvili, Tosti, Duparc and Falla.

We begin with three Tchaikovsky songs, None but the lonely heart, Night and Reconciliation and from the outset it is clear that Rachvelishvili's approach is full blooded and she has no qualms about using the full range of colours in her voice. This approach takes None but the lonely heart well away from the drawing room and gives us moments of high drama yet quiet melancholy too. Night is dark and serious whilst there is a sober melancholy to Reconciliation and throughout Scalera's piano matches Rachvelishvili's colours. This isn't operatic, she does not try to turn these piece into mini operatic dramas but possessed of a rich, dramatic vocal instrument, Rachvelishvili's use of it is wonderfully unabashed and full-blooded.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Celebrating 10 years of the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival

Guy Johnston and friends performing in the Marble Hall of Hatfield House (Photo courtesy of Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival)
Guy Johnston and friends performing in the Marble Hall of Hatfield House (Photo courtesy of Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival)

Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with five days of music-making in and around Hatfield House from 29 September to 3 October 2021. The festival includes two celebratory commissions for artistic director, cellist Guy Johnston, a cello sonata from Joseph Phibbs (to be premiered at the opening concert with pianist Tom Poster) and a solo cello suite by Matthew Kaner. Other contemporary works in the programme include music by Paul Wiancko, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Stephen Johnson, Brett Dean, Olav Berg and Stephen Paulus.

Performers at the festival this year include regulars, Magnus Johnston (violin), Brett Dean (viola), Tom Poster (piano), Adam Walker (flute), and Nicholas Daniel (oboe), also resident during the week are the Carducci Quartet and the Orsino Ensemble, with guests including Carolyn Sampson (soprano) and Joseph Middleton (piano), IMS Prussia Cove musicians and vocal ensemble VOCES8.

On the final day of the festival VOCES8 will be inspiring local young choral singers in a singing masterclass in the morning and performing as part of the Finale concert in the Old Palace, giving a solo spot and joining the festival resident musicians for Britten’s Rejoice is the Lamb and Lili Boulanger’s Vieille Prière Bouddhique.

Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton's recital will feature Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Six Songs of Melmoth (commissioned for the 2020 Oxford Lieder Festival), plus music by Schubert, Ravel, Gaubert and Schoenberg. The premiere of Kaner's cello suite will be juxtaposed with an organ recital performed by William Whitehead which explores Hatfield House’s musical archives, and other new pieces are performed alongside works by Schubert, Reicha, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Fauré, Nielsen, Debussy, Poulenc, and André Caplet.

Alongside the public concerts there are activities for local schoolchildren, opportunities both to listen and to perform, plus a family concert with Holst's The Planets, performed by the festival's resident musicians alongside musicians from the Purcell School,  live-illustrated by James Mayhew.

Full details from the festival website.