Thursday 30 September 2021

Gounod's opera La nonne sanglante finally receives its UK premiere, from Gothic Opera at Hoxton Hall

Gounod: La nonne sanglante - Gothic Opera at Hoxton Hall

Gounod's opera La nonne sanglante, a five-act opera to a libretto by Eugene Scribe, debuted at the Paris Opera in 1854. It ran for 11 performances, but was poorly received and the opera house was itself in the midst of management crises. A new director immediately cancelled the run and after this unfortunate beginning, no other management would take on the opera.  

The story is based on the bleeding nun episode from the 1796 novel The Monk, written by the English Gothic horror writer Matthew Gregory Lewis, in which the hero accidentally elopes with the ghost of the nun, rather than his beloved Agnes in disguise.

The work's UK premiere is finally taking place during October 2021, when Gothic Opera present Gounod's La nonne sanglante at Hoxton Hall. That the work has taken so long to reach the UK is partly due to the fact that not long after Gounod's opera premiered in Paris, Edward Loder's opera Raymond and Agnes, based on the same novel, debuted in Manchester [read my review of the premiere recording of Raymond and Agnes].

The libretto for La nonne sanglante was not highly regarded, it had been rejected by Auber, Meyerbeer and Verdi, whilst back in 1841 Berlioz had started work on it and failed. For Gounod, Scribe reworked the text but critics were far more positive about Gounod's music than Scribe's words, Berlioz, for example, said in the Journal des débats that was "masterfully done, poetic, and terrifying".

Full details from the Hoxton Hall website.

New Jewish Music: the Azrieli Music Prizes in Canada

New Jewish Music, Vol 3 - Azrieli Music Prize is out on the Analekta label from 1 October 2021.
The Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP) were created by the Azrieli Foundation in 2014 to 'offer opportunities for the discovery, creation, performance and celebration of excellence in music composition'. 

The foundation is a Canadian non-profit organisation whose mission is to improve lives through Education, Research, Healthcare and the Arts mainly in Canada and Israel. There are three main prizes:

  • The Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music is awarded to a composer who has written the best new undiscovered work of Jewish music
  • The Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music is awarded to encourage composers to creatively and critically engage with the question “What is Jewish music?” 
  • The Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music is offered to a Canadian composer to create a new musical work that creatively and critically engages with the complexities of composing concert music in Canada today. 

Part of the prize is a recording and the latest release on the Canada label Analekta, New Jewish Music, Vol. 3 Azrieli Music Prizes, features pieces from the three AMP winners from 2020. There are four works on the disc, one each from the three winners Keiko Devaux, Yitzhak Yedid and Yotam Haber, plus a piece from  Québécois composer Pierre Mercure (1927-1966)

The three AMP winning pieces are Yitzhak Yedid's Kadosh Kadosh and Cursed (The Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music) for 14 musicians, Yotam Haber's Estro Poetico-armonico III (The Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music) for mezzo-soprano, 15 musicians and audio-playback and Keiko Devaux's Arras (The Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music) for 14 musicians, plus Pierre Mercure's Dissidence in an arrangement for soprano and 14 musiciansperformed by the Nouvel ensemble Moderne, conductor Lorraine Vaillancourt with soprano Sharon Azrieli and mezzo-soprano Kristina Szabo

Keiko Devaux is a Montreal-based composer who is currently studying a the University of Montreal. Yotam Haber was born in Holland and grew up in Israel, Nigeria and Milwaukee, and he is Associate Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory and Artistic Director Emeritus of MATA, the non-profit organization founded by Philip Glass that, since 1996, has been dedicated to commissioning and presenting new works by young composers from around the world. Yitzhak Yedid studied at Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the New England Conservatory and Monash University. His style mixes the music of his ancestral Syrian and Iraqi Jewish background with Western art music and he teaches at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University in Brisbane.

New Jewish Music, Vol 3 - Azrieli Music Prize is out on the Analekta label from 1 October 2021.

From letters by Edna St Vincent Millay and Emily Dickinson to pictures by women artists, composer Juliana Hall's inspirations are highly diverse in this disc of four of her song cycles

Bold Beauty - songs by Juliana Hall; Molly Fillmore, Elvia Puccinelli; Blue Griffin

Bold Beauty
- songs by Juliana Hall; Molly Fillmore, Elvia Puccinelli; Blue Griffin

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 September 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A welcome chance to explore four of American composer Juliana Hall's over 60 song cycles, with an intriguing mix of texts

American composer Juliana Hall has been highly prolific when it comes to song-writing, she has written some 60 song-cycles plus other vocal works which represents a remarkable dedication to the song form. And these are real art songs, not contemporary popular lyrics. Yet, we hear very little of her music in the concert hall in the UK. Thanks to singers like Kitty Whately and Nadine Benjamin, I have heard a number of Juliana Hall's songs, yet don't think I have ever come across one of Hall's complete cycles in the concert hall.

This disc from Blue Griffin Records, Bold Beauty, features four of Juliana Hall's song cycles performed by soprano Molly Fillmore and pianist Elvia Puccinelli. The cycles span a considerable period of Hall's career, Syllables of Velvet, Sentences of Plush (1989), Theme in Yellow (1990), Letters from Edna (1993) and Cameos (2017/18). And they demonstrate an intriguing attitude to texts as both Syllables of Velvet, Sentences of Plush and Letters from Edna use writers' letters as the source of the words, the first Emily Dickinson, the second Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

People, ensembles and projects who have made a strong contribution to music and the arts this year: the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards shortlist

Vopera's Ravel's L’enfant et les sortilèges - on the RPS Awards shortlist
Ravel's L’enfant et les sortilèges from Vopera - on the RPS Awards shortlist

The shortlist for the 2021 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards is upon us, and this year the awards reflects very much the spirit of the last year with a new Inspiration Award to celebrate non-professional ensembles who have kept communities connected through the pandemic, and which will be decided by public vote.

There are eleven categories in all, full of people and ensembles who have made a strong contribution to music and the arts in the last year. The shortlist for the new Inspiration Award has a striking list of names, Aberdeen and Phoenix Saxophone Orchestras, Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra, Berkshire, Hilary Campbell and Bristol Choral Society, Orkney Winter Choir and Orkney Camerata, South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus, Themba Mvula and Lichfield Gospel Choir.

The Opera Award shortlist features ENO's Drive & Live: La Boheme, Opera Holland Park [see my reviews of this Summer's operas] and Vopera's innovative on-line version of Ravel's L’enfant et les sortilèges [see my article]. The Young Artist shortlist features horn player Ben Goldscheider [who brought out an innovative centenary tribute to Dennis Brain earlier this year, see my review], contralto Jessica Dandy [who we have been catching a lot on-line] and the Hermes Experiment.

The Singer shortlist features soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn [see my review of her terrific recent Wigmore Hall recital], tenor Nicky Spence [see my review of his performance of Janacek's Diary of One Who Disappeared at Opera Holland Park] and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston, the Instrumentalist shortlist features cellist Abel Selaocoe, oboist Nicholas Daniel and violinist Nicola Benedetti. All amazing names and difficult to select individual winners.

In the Storytelling category it is lovely to see baritone Peter Brathwaite, for his In Their Voices series on BBC Radio 3, alongside Kadiatu Kanneh Mason and Kate Kennedy. Composers on the shortlist include Dun Yun, Huw Watkins, Laura Bowler, Dani Howard, Mark Simpson, Mark-Anthony Turnage spread across two awards.  Organisations and projects include ENO Breathe, Live Music Now, Orchestras for All, Opera North & Leeds Playhouse, chorus of the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Riot Ensemble.

The full list is at the Royal Philharmonic Society website, and the awards ceremony takes place at Wigmore Hall on 1 November 2021.

Bach with a Bang: Cotswold Festival of Music

Bonfire Night concert on 5 November 2021 in the church of St Peter  & St Paul, Northleach

The Costwold Festival of Music is returning to live events with a bang. The festival is presenting a Bonfire Night concert on 5 November 2021 in the church of St Peter  & St Paul, Northleach. Harpsichordist Steven Devine (the festival's director of music) will be directing The Devine Musick Baroque Ensemble in a programme of Baroque music. He will be joined by harpsichordist Robin Bigwood for Bach's Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C Major, BWV 1061, plus Telemann's delightful Overture-Suite 'Don Quichotte' and an anonymous 18th century string arrangement of Handel's Water Music.

The surviving versions of Bach's harpsichord concertos were probably created for the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig which Bach directed in the 1730s and 1740s, though the harpsichord parts are often based on earlier works and many are transcriptions of pre-existing concertos (by Bach and by others). The two harpsichord concerto in C major seems to be the only one which is not a transcription, though it started out as a work for two harpsichords alone, and the orchestral accompaniment may not be by Bach.

The Collegium Musicum performed at Zimmerman's Coffee House in Leipzig (indoors in the Winter but in the Summer there was a garden), and the concert will evoke this setting by placing the audience at tables in the round.

Full details from the Cotswold Festival of Music website

Messe (You are where you need to be)

Calum Builder Messe (You are where you need to be) ILK Music

Calum Builder Messe (You are where you need to be) ILK Music

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 September 2021 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A work which deconstructs the Latin mass to explore the composers own journey, deconstructing and reconstructing his relationship to faith

Messe (You are where you need to be) is a new release from composer Calum Builder on the Danish label ILK Music. Written for seven voices, seven saxophones and seven double basses, the work is recorded by a group of young musicians, including the composer himself on alto saxophone.

In form, the work is structured like a classic Latin mass, except that not every movement has words. Builder has created a piece which he describes as being a deconstruction of the mass and which explores his own complex relationship with his faith. Builder trained for two years to become a minister, but then in his 20s went through a crisis and began to deconstruct his faith. More recently he has begun to reconstruct it, so the work is not so much a picture of a particular view of our relationship with the divine, nor is it a musical work designed for use within a liturgical event. Instead it is something of an exploration of Builder's own journey.

Builder comes from Sydney, Australia and moved to Denmark in 2018 where is both a composer and improvising saxophone player. In 2020 he began an Artistic Research Position (Solist) at the Rytmisk Musikkonservatorium in Copenhagen.

Calum Builder: Messe (You are where you need to be) - recording session
Calum Builder: Messe (You are where you need to be) - recording session

is structured in seven movements, Pater Noster, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Epiclesis, and Agnus Dei. Not every movement has words, and the words are not always completely apparent, instead we are exploring Builder's own thoughts. Things begin moderately conventionally, albeit with a very contemporary twist to the writing, as Builder weaves together his three elements, voices, saxophones and basses, into a sort of modern motet. The music combines complexity with a spareness of texture, and despite the element of spirituality which Builder's art contains, his writing is a long way from the mystical minimalism of the Baltic school and there are moments of real edge and complexity here. 

Tuesday 28 September 2021

Modern times, Folk traditions, Soundtracks, Latin rhythms and Magic: Marisa Muñoz-López at the Bloomsbury Festival

As part of this year's Bloomsbury Festival, pianist and composer Marisa Muñoz-López will be giving a recital on 20 October 2021 the Chancellor’s Hall, at the Senate House. Under the title Lighthouse of Illusions, Muñoz-López will be performing ten new works for piano by composers from across the globe, but it won't just be that. In an intriguing combination, Muñoz-López will be joined by the magician Markhele, who will be creating illusions tailored to the music!

The programme will include new pieces by Lorenzo Basignani, Manuel Pérez Rodriguez, Haribaskar Ganesan, Ángel Hernández-Lovera, Marisa Muñoz López, Nick Coleman, Fraser McKnight, Nathen Durasamy, and K C Cheng.

Further details from EventBrite.

The Cumnock Tryst 2021

The Cumnock Tryst

The Cumnock Tryst, Sir James MacMillan's festival in Cumnock, East Ayrshire, gets underway on Thursday 30 September 2021 with four days of concerts. The festival is opened by mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill and pianist Simon Lepper in a programme of songs by Clara Schumann, Amy Beach and Robert Schumann, this and many of the other concerts in this year's festival is both live, with audience, and live-streamed [see my review of Cargill and Lepper's recent disc of French song].

The artist in residence at this year's festival is saxophonist and composer Christian Forshaw, he will be appearing with the choir Tenebrae in Drop, Drop, Slow Tears, a sequence of penitential settings for Passiontide mixing music by Gibbons, Tallis and Victoria, with new arrangements and Forshaw's own compositions. Forshaw returns on Saturday with soprano Grace Davidson and organist Libby Burgess for Historical Fiction, a programme based on Forshaw and Davidson's recent disc of arrangements of solo vocal music from Gibbons to Handel.

Pianists Steven Osborne and Paul Lewis will be joining forces for a programme of 20th century piano duets, mainly by French composers whilst the Hebrides Ensemble will be performing a programme of music by Dohnanyi, Britten and Klein, culminating in Britten's early Phantasy Quintet. Lomond Brass, a new Scottish brass ensemble, will be giving its first in-person concert with music from Mozart and Aleotta to Piazzolla and Bernstein. And the festival ends in fine style with one of the UK's finest professional Scottish ceilidh bands, It's No' Reel.

The festival will also see artistic director and founder Sir James MacMillan launching his new book. Creative Composition in the Classroom by Sir James and Jennifer Martin is a practical resource aimed at aspiring composers, those teaching creative music-making or composition, and instrumental teachers wanting to add more creativity to their tuition as well as those choosing to present an original composition of their own in Trinity grade exams.

The book is published by Trinity College London Press, and for the past three years, Trinity has been a sponsor of The Cumnock Tryst’s education outreach programme which takes Sir James, Jennifer Martin and others into local, disadvantaged schools in Ayrshire to encourage creativity in music and composition. This has culminated in a performance at the festival with professional musicians and young performers

Full details from the festival website.

Fleur de mon âme: Karen Cargill and Simon Lepper in a terrific recital of 19th and 20th century French song

Fleur de mon âme - Hahn, Debussy, Jongen, Chausson, Duparc; Karen Cargill, Simon Lepper, RSNO Soloists; LINN Records

Fleur de mon âme
- Hahn, Debussy, Jongen, Chausson, Duparc; Karen Cargill, Simon Lepper, RSNO Soloists; LINN Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 September 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The Scottish mezzo-soprano in French mode with a recital notable for its warmth, subtlety and attention to the text

Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill took up the post of Head of Vocal Performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland this month, but certainly I hope this new position does not prevent her from producing further recital discs as her latest one from Linn Records is terrific. Fleur de mon âme features Karen Cargill and pianist Simon Lepper in a programme of French song, with music by Reynaldo Hahn, Claude Debussy, Ernest Chausson and Henri Duparc, plus an item by the Belgian composer Joseph Jongen and for this and a work by Chausson they are joined by RSNO soloists.

When Reynaldo Hahn gave a series of lectures on singing in 1913, he advocated keeping excessive emotion in check in favour of graduated sensations. So the trick for singers is to allow us to luxuriate in the lovely melodies whilst not going too far. Cargill and Lepper begin their recital with a group of five Hahn songs, À Chloris, Le rossignol des lilas, L’énamourée, Infidélité and Les fontaines, the first perhaps the best known but all are profoundly gorgeous. For À Chloris Cargill and Lepper clearly follow the composer's advice, and what we notice is the poise and the control, the way the overall tone is considered and thoughtful. Here, and throughout the disc, Cargill's way with the French language is superb and when I was listening I kept coming back to the way she always shapes the music to the text, with her and Lepper making each song flow naturally. Le rossignol des lilas is nicely flowing and Les fontaines is impulsive, but in both there is still time to shape the melody and bring out details.

Monday 27 September 2021

Black History Month at Pegasus Opera

Arise: Legacy and Hope - Pegasus Opera - Greenwich Theatre

This weekend, 1 and 2 October 2021, Pegasus Opera, artistic director Alison Buchanan, is celebrating Black History Month with three concerts at Greenwich Theatre. Arise: Legacy and Hope will celebrate the legacy and hope of Black History and Diversity in a concert which will present a journey through some operatic greats and explore music inspired by the Black Diaspora.

There will be an eclectic mix of music from traditional classics in opera, Caribbean folk songs, music inspired by the black diaspora, music written by black composers including Kwabena Nketia, Errolyn Wallen and Margaret Bonds and Pegasus Opera's new commission Rush, by Des Oliver, inspired by the Windrush generation. 

Performers will include soprano Alison Buchanan, mezzo-sopranos Idunnu Münch and Yolanda Grant-Thompson, counter-tenor Joshua Elmore; tenors Alex Garziglia and Marco Titus, baritones Themba Mvula and Chuma Sijeqa, accompanied by pianist and musical director Avishka Edrisinghe

Full details from the Greenwich Theatre website.

Black History Month at the African Concert Series

the African Concert Series, artistic director Rebeca Omordia
October is Black History Month and the African Concert Series, artistic director Rebeca Omordia, is participating with a pair of events, a concert and a panel discussion. 

On Thursday 14 October 2021 there is a free lunchtime concert at  St.Olave’s Church, Hart St., Tower Hill, London EC3R 7NB with songs, chamber music and piano solos by African composers. 

Baritone Njabulo Madlala will be singing a selection of African art songs, Rebeca Omordia will give the world premiere of Moroccan composer Nabil Benabdeljalil's Nocturnes for piano nos. 4, 5 & 6, the Ubuntu Ensemble will give the premiere of Robert Matthew-Walker's piano quintet arrangement of the African Suite by Nigerian composer Fela Sowande (1905-1987), and double bass player Leon Bosch plays music from his native South Africa.

Then on 19 October, there is a panel discussion at Oxford Brookes University hosted by Professor Marius Turdă featuring Rebeca Omordia and Leon Bosch.

Full details from the African Concert Series website.

From Rinaldo to Amadigi di Gaula: a look at Handel's highly experimental early London period

Burlington House in 1690s
Burlington House in 1690s, London home of Handel's patron the Earl of Burlington

When Handel came to London in 1710 to compose an opera for the Queen's Theatre, it was certainly not obvious that he would stay in the city until his death, nor that opera and large-scale dramatic oratorio would be his focus. In the early 18th century, opera in England was a somewhat fluid affair and Italian opera was certainly not fully established. It would not be until the 1720s, with the establishment of the Royal Academy of Music with its roster of Italian composers (including Handel) that Italian opera would be produced in the capital with any degree of consistency. The operas from Handel's early years in London reflect this fluidity, each was a separate project and there is a fascinating sense of experiment with form. As English Touring Opera presents its new production of Handel's Amadigi di Gaula at the Hackney Empire on 1 October 2021, we look at the operas of Handel's early London period.

The opera that Handel came to London to stage was Rinaldo, based on an episode in Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata with a libretto by the theatre's impresario Aaron Hill. It premiered in early 1711, the first Italian opera to be composed specifically for London. Though Handel's music is something of a patchwork of existing items and the libretto is a poor thing, it wowed London audiences partly because Handel cherry-picked some of his finest music from his Italian sojourn to reuse in the opera. He could probably safely assume that none of his London audiences would have heard any of the Italian music before. As ever, with these early operas, the staging was the thing and Handel's music would have come a poor second to the spectacular sets and transformation scenes.

Marco Ricci - Rehearsal for an opera
Marco Ricci - Rehearsal for an opera (1709)
Ricci was a stage painter at the Queen's Theatre, and this singer is assumed to depict Nicolini, the house's principal castrato.

There was then something of a gap, and Handel's next opera Il pastor fido did not debut until November 1712. The opera is based on Giovanni Battista Guarini's influential play, which was written in the 1580s and published in 1590 and formed an important source for pastoral text and imagery for both operas and madrigals. The opera represents a surprising change for Handel, moving to the pastoral after the heroic, but it may have been Handel's intention to demonstrate his versatility. 

Sunday 26 September 2021

An engaging young Papageno and fine international cast, David McVicar's production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte is in fine health at Covent Garden

Mozart Die Zauberflöte - Royal Opera House
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte - Royal Opera House

Mozart Die Zauberflöte; Daniel Behle, Salome Jicia, Huw Montague Rendall, Krzysztof Baczyk, Aleksandra Olczyk, dir: David McVicar/Daniel Dooner, cond: Hartmut Haenchen; Royal Opera House

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
David McVicar's now quite venerable production is still in radiant health, and this run featured the fine house debut of baritone Huw Montague Rendall as a very engaging Papageno

The Royal Opera's current production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte debuted in 2003 and somehow we have so far managed to miss it, despite revival on an almost biennial basis. The current revival of David McVicar's production is directed by Daniel Dooner and performances feature a complex web of double casting. On Saturday 25 October 2021, we saw Daniel Behle at Tamino, Salome Jicia as Pamina, Krzysztof Baczyk as Sarastro, Huw Montague Rendall as Papageno, Aleksandra Olczyk as the Queen of the Night, conducted by Hartmut Haenchen. The designs by John Macfarlane are still extremely handsome and the production itself seems to be in superb health.

Mozart Die Zauberflöte - Huw Montague Rendall - Royal Opera House
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte - Huw Montague Rendall - Royal Opera House

McVicar takes quite a straightforward view of the piece, with an Enlightenment setting creating a sense of the all-male, quasi Masonic atmosphere of Sarastro's merry band, with Sarastro (Krzysztof Baczyk) himself as something of an enlightened despot of a ruler. The lighter elements are not shirked, and there is a delightful use of puppetry for the snake and for a bird which manages to foil Papageno (Huw Montague Rendall) and rather reminded me of Rod Hull and Emu! McVicar pretty much takes the plot as read, except for making Monostatos (Michael Colvin) ugly rather than black. The misogyny of the original is there, but toned down and it is clear that the women are not simply content to sit back and let the men have everything.

Saturday 25 September 2021

Lyric intensity: Gluck's Paride ed Elena (Paris and Helen) receives its first London staging from Bampton Classical Opera

Gluck: Paris and Helen - Ella Taylor, Lucy Anderson - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Jeremy Gray)
Gluck: Paris and Helen - Ella Taylor, Lucy Anderson - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Jeremy Gray)

Gluck Paride ed Elena (Paris and Helen); Ella Taylor, Lucy Anderson, Lauren Lodge-Campbell, Jeremy Gray, Chroma, Thomas Blunt; Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 September 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Gluck's final Reform opera in a very rare staging which brings out the focused intensity of the drama in a production with a charming injection of humour too

When it comes to British performances of Gluck's final Viennese opera, Paride ed Elena, there are a lot of maybes. Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort & Players performed it at the Barbican in 2003, which MAY have been the work's London premiere, and this year's revival of the work by Bampton Classical Opera could well be the work's first London staging. But then even in 18th century Vienna, Paride ed Elena rather lagged behind Gluck and librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi's other two operas, so that in the period to 1800, there were more than 100 performances of Orfeo ed Euridice in Vienna, compared to more than 70 of Alceste and just 25 of Paride ed Elena.

So it was with great pleasure that I was able to encounter Gluck's Paride ed Elena, performed in a new English translation by Gilly French as Paris and Helen, with Bampton Classical Opera's performance at St John's Smith Square on Friday 24 September 2021. Thomas Blunt conducted Chroma, with a production directed and designed by Jeremy Gray, and choreographed by Alicia Frost. Ella Taylor was Paris, Lucy Anderson was Helen and Lauren Lodge-Campbell was Amor. There were two cast substitutions, Milly Forrest was a very last minute stand-in for Lisa Howarth as Pallas Athene with Lucy Cronin (from the ensemble) standing in as the high priestess, and tenor Adam Tunnicliffe sang the chorus tenor from the wings whilst stage manager Harvey Evans acted.

Gluck: Paris and Helen - Oliver Adam-Reynolds, Oscar Fonseca - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Jeremy Gray)
Gluck: Paris and Helen - Oliver Adam-Reynolds, Oscar Fonseca - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Jeremy Gray)

There is a lot of commonality between Paride ed Elena and Orfeo ed Euridice. Both concentrate on a trio of soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists, both have a hero in a quest for his beloved and both, of course, weave in a considerable amount of dance. It is worthwhile remembering that Gluck and Calzabigi actually collaborated on four works, not just the three operas (Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste, Paride ed Elena), but their first joint effort was the ballet Don Juan and dance remains a very important element of their style. The idea was to mix the Italian and the French styles, so moving away from large-scale Italian da capo arias and incorporating choruses and dance in a flexible patchwork which owes a lot to French tragedie lyrique. 

Lucas & Irina Meachem's new disc celebrates American art songs & helps promotes representation & diversity in the arts through their new foundation

Irina and Lucas Meachem (Photo Nate Ryan)
Irina and Lucas Meachem (Photo Nate Ryan)
The American baritone Lucas Meachem's schedule for 2021 has rather reflected the changes that the pandemic has brought to the arts. His opera appearances have included appearing as Figaro (something of a signature role) in Rossini's Il barbiere di Sivigla in a drive-in performance from San Francisco Opera, and a relatively last-minute stand-in for the title role of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at Santa Fe Opera as the planned baritone fell foul of travel restrictions. 

Lucas has also been busy in the studio too, releasing his first recital disc. A collection of American art songs on the theme of resilience and togetherness, Shall We Gather on the Rubicon label is billed as 'A Collection of American Art Songs Celebrating Resilience and Togetherness' and it is very much a passion project for Lucas and his wife pianist Irina Meachem, who accompanies him on the disc. And all proceeds from the album are going to Lucas and Irina's new foundation, Perfect Day Music Foundation, which brings awareness to and promotes representation and diversity in the arts. I caught up with Lucas and Irina by Zoom to find out a little more.

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin - Sara Jakubiak (Tatyana) and Lucas Meachem (Eugene Onegin) - Santa Fe Opera, 2021 (Photo: Curtis Brown)
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin - Sara Jakubiak (Tatyana) and Lucas Meachem (Eugene Onegin)
Santa Fe Opera, 2021 (Photo: Curtis Brown)

The repertoire on Shall We Gather is eclectic, with works by Gene Scheer, Arthur Farwell (1872-1952), John Musto, Richard Hageman(1881-1966), Jake Heggie, Carrie Jacob-Bonds (1862-1946), Ricky Ian Gordon, William Grant Still (1895-1978), Kurt Weill (1900-1950), Florence Price (1887-1953), Aaron Copland (1900-1990) and Stephen Foster (1826-1924), with an emphasis on 20th-century and contemporary music. 

Only half jokingly, Lucas suggests that the choice of repertoire was partly because classic songs such as those by Schumann and Brahms have already been recorded. But he and Irina wanted a project which would highlight what it is to be American. They see a rift within the world with people building walls between each other, and wanted a project which would emphasise that it is healthy to have different opinions. And as Lucas points out, in the USA it is legal to differ politically unlike in some countries in the world.

Friday 24 September 2021

Benedetti Sessions return to in-person events at Saffron Hall with virtual sessions continuing for those unable to attend

Nicola Benedetti leading one of the Benedetti Foundation's sessions
Nicola Benedetti leading one of the Benedetti Foundation's sessions

For the first time since March 2020, the Benedetti Foundation will be running in-person Benedetti Sessions this weekend. From 24 to 26 September 2021 there are live Benedetti Sessions at Saffron Hall. During sessions will be delving into the fundamental elements of Baroque music, focusing on a new arrangement of Geminiani’s La Folia, approaching the music in a way that inspires fun and enjoyment, a greater sense of togetherness, a true abandonment of caution, and an embracing of scratches, scrapes and unapologetic flair, as well as connecting to dance and rhythm, to harmony, bass, and improvisation.

These sessions are limited to people from counties around Saffron Hall, but worry not because the foundation's on-line session are returning too and for the first time all Mini Sessions will be available to registered participants on catch up for one month. The Mini Virtual Sessions are short, focused workshops designed to provide in depth and detailed exploration on a wide variety of topics, and if anyone is unable to attend live, participants can still register and will receive a link to the recording to catch up in their own time. Teachers and students can also sign up for a ‘Sessions Pass’ to get access to all their sessions. 

Full details from the Benedetti Foundation website.

A great wind piece of a very special kind composed by Herr Mozart: Mozart's Gran Partita

Harmoniemusik was everywhere in 18th century Vienna; small ensembles of wind players performed everything, including arrangements of popular music. Typically a Harmonie ensemble would consist of six or eight wind players in pairs (two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, two bassoons) and writing for them would often having the instruments hunting in pairs during the music. Whilst there were itinerant bands (Mozart in a letter wrote about one appearing outside his lodgings and playing one of his own serenades), there were aristocratic ensembles too, including that of Emperor Joseph II.

Mozart had already written quite a number of wind serenades when in 1781, freelance and newly settled in Vienna having finally managed to engineer his sacking from his employment by the Archbishop of Salzburg, he wrote a new work for wind ensemble, Serenade No. 10 in B flat major. But this is something rather different, for a start it is written for thirteen instruments 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 basset horns, 2 bassoons, 4 horns and double bass. Apart from the double bass (a more flexible instrument than the 18th century double bassoon), the wind instruments are still in pairs, this is Harmoniemusik write large.

In 1784, Mozart's friend clarinettist Anton Stadler (for whom Mozart wrote the Clarinet Concerto in 1791) put on a public concert and four movements from the Gran Partita were performed, 'a great wind piece of a very special kind composed by Herr Mozart'. Thus confusing generations of historians into thinking Mozart wrote the work in 1784 and wrote it in two parts (there are a total of seven movements).

But analysis of the paper of Mozart's manuscript confirms that the work was written in 1781, but we have no idea why. It isn't helped that at some point someone (not Mozart) has scribbled a nick name on the title page, 'Gran Partita'. In fact, his is a misspelling, but it is the name by which the work has come to be known. 

Mozart had already explored larger groups of wind instruments, in 1773 he wrote a pair of Divertimenti for a ten-piece Harmonie in Milan, though subsequent wind pieces for Salzburg would be for the more usual sextet (pairs of oboes, horns, bassoons). It is possible that Mozart started writing the Gran Partita when he was in Munich producing Idomeneo (in 1781) for Prince-Elector Karl Theodor's court opera which had recently moved there from Mannheim. Mozart was very impressed with the playing of its oboist Friedrich Ramm. He had presented Ramm with his oboe concerto in Mannheim, and wrote the oboe quartet for him in Munich.

Then again, others have suggested that the work is related to Mozart's marriage in 1782. We will probably never know for certain. 

However, there is an opportunity to hear Mozart's Gran Partita, performed in historically informed style by the new historical performance ensemble, Figure. Led by oboist Leo Duarte, Figure perform Mozart's Gran Partita at the Church of St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield on 19 November 2021.

Full details from the ensemble's website.

Red Note Ensemble's Autumn season represents a step in their plans to create a permanent, stable company of musicians rooted within Scotland

Red Note Ensemble (Photo Julie Howden)
Red Note Ensemble (Photo Julie Howden)

The Scottish Contemporary Music group, Red Note Ensemble, performs at Perth Concert Hall tonight (24 September 2021) when Geoffrey Patterson conducts them in a new work by Scottish composer James DillonEMBLEMATA: Carnival, and the performance (which includes discussion about this impressive commission) follows three days of recording two works by Dillon for Delphian Records.

The ensemble has already been performing other music by Dillon this month as they launched their Autumn season with a concert at the Lammermuir Festival on 15 September 2021 in which Jonathan Berman conducted Tansy Davies' Soul Canoe and Dillon's Tanz/Haus: triptych 2017, Red Note's own commission which won the the Royal Philharmonic Society composition award.

Red Note returns to Perth in November with Sub Mari by Martina Corsini and Manuel Figueroa-Bolvarán, a special multimedia commission for COP26 with further performances in Edinburgh and Glasgow and plans for a broadcast.

These performances at Perth are part of Red Note's new residency at Perth Concert Hall, and represent a step in the ensemble's plans to create a permanent, stable company of musicians rooted within Scotland. And they are aiming for a smaller travel-based carbon footprint, longer-term, sustainable community links, international performance excellence within Scotland, and fostering musical equality and diversity with more training and education opportunities within Scottish communities. As well as practical goals, these also serve as themes to inspire both the programming and selection of artists.  

John Harris, Red Note's CEO and artistic director, explained that they are "changing the way we work to proactively address the simultaneous challenges of Brexit, the pandemic and the climate emergency through our work. Facing these issues has led us to transform our working model. For this season, we’ll employ a core group of musicians, moving Red Note away from a project-by-project model towards a sustainable repertoire company. We’ll no longer fly our musicians in and out of Scotland on an almost daily basis. Our core players will have more stability and certainty, working with exciting guest talent to deliver a wide-ranging programme of the highest quality."

Other performances this Autumn include commissions from Ailie Robertson, Luke Styles and Edwin Hillier at sound Festival, Aberdeen, conducted by William Cole (22/10/21), James Dillon, Luke Styles and Aileen Sweeney at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, conducted by Geoffrey Patterson, (19/11/21) and Brian Irvine in Easterhouse, Glasgow (23-26/11/21).

Full details from the Red Note Ensemble's website

Thursday 23 September 2021

On DSCH: Igor Levit combines large-scale works by two two highly independent, creative minds, the Russian Dmitri Shostakovich and the Lancastrian-born Scot Ronald Stevenson

On DSCH - Shostakovich, Stevenson; Igor Levit; Sony Classical
- Shostakovich, Stevenson; Igor Levit; Sony Classical

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 September 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★)
Two highly personal works, Shostakovich's interior monologue and Stevenson's universalist tribute to him brought together to devastating effect

Pierre Boulez wrote his Second Piano Sonata in 1947-1948, it is a work of fearsome technical demands, but whose violent character write Paul Griffiths says "is not just superficial: it is expressive of a whole aesthetic of annihilation, and in particular of a need to obliterate what had gone before", and this would lead to two of Boulez' key works in the 1950s, Le marteau sans maitre and Pli selon pli. At the same period Karlheinz Stockhausen was writing his highly complex Klavierstücke and Messiaen his Catalogue d'oiseaux. In a word, European contemporary piano music could be seen as pushing boundaries in all sorts of directions, with a particular emphasis on serialist and post-serialist techniques.

But we are now coming to understand that the 1950s and 1960s were not just decades where contemporary music went in one direction, styles were various from the highly traditional to the avant garde. For his new disc, On DSCH from Sony Classical, pianist Igor Levit has brought together two works, from two highly independent, creative minds, the Russian Dmitri Shostakovich and the Lancastrian-born Scot Ronald Stevenson. Both Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues (1951) and Ronald Stevenson's Passacaglia on DSCH (1963) are works which challenge the notion of what mid-Century classical music was; each composer wrote in a fiercely independent yet highly personal way. Both works are, in their way, pianistic tours de force, and few pianists indeed would consider pairing them together. This set is much more than a recital, at three substantial discs it represents a challenge to our lazy notions of how piano music developed in the mid-20th century.

The Art of British Song

Nathan Williamson & James Gilchrist
Nathan Williamson & James Gilchrist
Tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Nathan Williamson are in the middle of a three-volume project on SOMM Records, One Hundred Years of British Song, exploring the diverse wealth of British song (see my review of volume 2). This has now led to the creation of a larger project, The Art of British Song (TABS), artistic director Nathan Williamson, which aims to encourage the celebration of British song through creating education projects, commissioning recordings and developing collaborations with composers and poets. The intention is that The Art of British Song be dissociated from any specific artist, place, venue or event and the idea of British song can encompass any specific musical style or practice

Last night (22 September 2021) there was a launch event for the project which included a recital from James Gilchrist and Nathan Williamson, who performed songs from the first and third of their discs for SOMM. So we began with Gustav Holst, two songs which were completely unknown to me, A Vigil of Pentecost and The Floral Bandit, followed by Gurney's Down by the Salley Gardens and Sleep, Rebecca Clarke's June Twilight (another fine song I had not heard before) and The Seal Man, and Frank Bridge's wonderful Humbert Wolfe setting Journey's End.

We then moved to more recent composers, with songs from the third disc which is due for release next year. First off Peter Dickinson in quite serious mode with Look, stranger and What's in your mind, then John Woolrich's terrific cycle, from 1998, The Unlit Suburbs setting three short, almost aphoristic poems by Matthew Sweeney, and finally two of Madeleine Dring's John Betjeman settings, Upper Lambourne and The Song of a Nightclub Proprietress, this latter perhaps one of my favourite songs ever.

Future projects include plans to record previously unpublished songs of Gustav Holst, in association with the Holst Society, and to record the complete songs of Thomas Pitfield (1903-1999), in conjunction with the Pitfield Trust. There are also plans for a study day at the University of Surrey

The evening also saw the launch of a supporters group, The TABS Collective.

Full details from The Art of British Song website and Nathan Williamson's website.

Wednesday 22 September 2021

A Baroque Christmas and Messiah by Candlelight: Eboracum Baroque returns with a lively Autumn season and a new recording

Eboracum Baroque
Eboracum Baroque

Not only is period performance group Eboracum Baroque returning to live performances with audiences, but they have a new disc out. The result of a successful Crowdfunding campaign, their recording of Handel's Messiah conducted by the group's artistic director Chris Parsons, will be launched with three performances of Messiah by candlelight during December in Great Malvern Priory, Great St Mary's Church, Cambridge, and St Andrew's Church, Wimpole, all in aid of Cancer Research UK.

Their busy Autumn season also includes more Handel, his Dixit Dominus is paired with Vivaldi's Gloria and an oboe transcription of one of his violin concertos in Cambridge (23/10/2021, Great St Mary’s, Cambridge). And their Baroque Christmas programme, which features music by Telemann, Bach, and Charpentier will be performed in York (3/12/2021, York Mansion House), Stamford (4/12/2021, St Martin’s Church, Stamford) and Norwich (21/12/2021, St John’s Church, Norwich).

And if you can't make any of these, then An Eboracum Christmas will be released online on 23 December on YouTube and Facebook, featuring a variety of seasonal pieces including some choral performances filmed at Canons Ashby Priory in 2021.

Full details from Eboracum Baroque's website.

Die stille Stadt: Dorothea Herbert's debut recital explores songs by three Viennese contemporaries, Alma Mahler, Franz Shreker & Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Die stille Stadt - Alma Mahler, Schreker, Korngold; Dorothea Herbert, Peter Nilsson; 7 Mountain Records

Die stille Stadt
- Alma Mahler, Schreker, Korngold; Dorothea Herbert, Peter Nilsson; 7 Mountain Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 September 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
For her debut recital, soprano Dorothea Herbert explores songs from early 20th century Vienna but treading an interestingly alternative path

Under the title Die stille Stadt, this recital from soprano Dorothea Herbert and pianist Peter Nilsson on 7 Mountain Records brings together songs from the Vienna of the early 20th century, by two composers who were contemporaries Alma Mahler and Franz Schreker, and one composer who is from the younger generation, Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The disc is Herbert's debut recital and, incidentally, she will be singing the role of Leonore in Glyndebourne on Tour's new production of Beethoven's Fidelio which opens on 8 October.

Daughter of a painter, Alma Mahler (nee Schindler) studied music with Zemlinsky, and married Mahler. A composer herself, her ambitions were supported by the first, but rather quashed by the latter. She destroyed all but 17 of her songs and never returned to composition despite Mahler's tentative support towards the end of his life. Thereafter, married first to architect Walter Gropius and then to writer, Franz Werfelshe, she became something of a muse for artistic Vienna, seeming to live through other artists. Interestingly, none of her surviving songs set female poets.

Tuesday 21 September 2021

What's Next for Opera?

Everyone who is interested in opera has an opinion on the question 'What's Next for Opera?'. The American not-for-profit the National Institute of Social Sciences (NISS) is hosting a webinar on the subject on 23 September 2021 which draws together luminaries from the opera world including soprano Angel Blue (who is a trustee of NISS), mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves (who needs no introduction), counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (who appeared in English National Opera's recent production of Philip Glass' Akhnaten), James Robinson (former General Director of Opera Theatre St. Louis), David Lomeli (artistic administrator of the Santa Fe Opera and casting director of Bayerische Staatsoper) and moderator Marc Scorca (CEO of Opera America). 

The webinar will cover the future of opera, innovation in opera, safety as we move forward with live performances, and "to stream or not to stream” in addition to other items and listener questions and discussion.

Angel Blue stars in Terence Blanchard's Fire Shut Up in My Bones at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 27 September 2021, directed by James Robinson and Camille A Brown. This will be the the first opera by a Black composer ever performed by the Met. 

The webinar takes place at 12pm, EST which is 5pm UK time. Full details from the webinar registration page.

Returning to performance: three young ensembles join forces for immersive performances of Bach's St Matthew Passion

Bach: St Matthew Passion - Scherzo, The Strand Consort, Mozaique Baroque Ensemble, Matthew O'Keeffe
Three young ensembles are coming together to present an ambitious project designed to re-engage the public after the pandemic. Scherzo Ensemble (director Matthew O'Keeffe), the professional development platform for young singers, The Strand Consort (director Joseph Fort), a choir which draws its singers from an elite pool of alumni from the UK’s top musical institutions, and Mozaique, a young international ensemble Mozaïque has its roots at the University Mozarteum Salzburg, will be combining to perform Bach's St Matthew Passion in London, Winchester and Bromley.

Conducted by Matthew O'Keeffe, the performances take place at the chapel of King's College, London (28 October 2021), Winchester College Chapel (30 October 2021) and St Mark's Church, Bromley (31 October 2021) and will include soloist Maria Hegele, mezzo-soprano, Michael Ronan, bass-baritone, Lauren Lodge-Campbell, soprano, and Ruari Bowen, tenor, plus Mozaique Baroque Ensemble and The Strand Consort. The performances will will feature the exhibition of artwork, curated by Dr Imogen Tedbury, which responds to elements of Jesus’ passion story, displayed sequentially during the performance. What’s more, audiences will be invited to sing the chorales with the chorus and to attend a Come & Sing rehearsal half an hour before each concert.

Full details from the Scherzo Ensemble website and the Strand Consort website.

I, Spie: The Telling's new concert/play mixes John Dowland, espionage and Elizabethan music

Clare Norburn: I, Spie - The Telling
The early music/theatre group The Telling is returning to live venues with a six-date tour next month featuring the premiere of Clare Norburn's latest concert play I, Spie [read my interview with Clare in which we chat about her new work including I, Spie and her award-winning online series, Love in the Lockdown]. 

Directed by Nicholas Renton and featuring three actors and five musicians, I, Spie tells the story of Elizabethan composer John Dowland's brush with espionage.

I, Spie is centred around an extraordinary letter which Dowland wrote to Queen Elizabeth's spymaster Sir Robert Cecil in 1595.  At the time, Dowland was travelling Europe, having taken umbrage in having not secured a court post as a lutenist when one fell vacant.  Cecil had signed Dowland’s travel papers and probably told him to "keep his eyes and ears open". So when, as a Catholic Englishman abroad, Dowland was approached by English ex-Pats living in Florence and Rome, who were plotting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I, Dowland sent the information on the plot and key players to Cecil. In I, Spie, Norburn uses her imagination to fill in the gaps in what we know about Dowland's life at that time – what led to the moment of his writing that letter - but also what happened in the aftermath.  

The tour of I, Spie consists of six dates, stopping in North London (Stroud Green Festival), Brighton (Brighton Early Music Festival), Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria and West London from Wednesday 15th October to Sunday 24th October.

The Telling is currently crowd-funding to help support the tour. Please do consider supporting them so that the tour can take place. Further information from the Crowdfunder page.

A very personal sound commentary: Tim Corpus' MMXX

Tim Corpus MMXX; Attacca Publishing

Tim Corpus MMXX; Attacca Publishing

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 September 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Contemporary American composer Tim Corpus explores the themes of 2020, public, political and personal, in a distinctive new album

Looking back 2020 was an eventful year, not just in terms of the pandemic but in politics, society and much else besides. During the year, American composer Tim Corpus was also dealing with major changes in his career and a divorce, and one of his responses was to write the music for a highly personal album, MMXX which is available via Bandcamp. Featuring performances by Tim Corpus alongside Timothy Archbold (cello), Alyssa Arrigo (piano), Matthew Bronstein (French horn), Chris Davis (trumpet), and Derek Fitting (trumpet), MMXX features ten tracks which explicitly or implicitly explore themes from 2020.

Corpus was born in the Chicago area and studied percussion at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and composition at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford. As a composer his work has included classical works alongside film scores, commercials and sound design for the podcast She the People. But, like many young artists, Corpus has a diverse career in the arts and is also an arts administrator, as well as performing percussion, guitar and bass guitar.

The titles of the ten pieces on MMXX all hint at the themes of the album, exploring the various events (personal and public) that took place during the year, though sometimes tangentially. So we have 'Grandma's Piano', 'Is this Science Fiction?', 'Is Today, Tuesday, Friday or Saturday?', 'See the Sun', 'Screen Time', 'This is What Democracy Looks Like', 'Elegy for Justice', 'Cabin Fever', 'Saying Goodbye', and 'Together Again'. Some titles are highly evocative, but Corpus doesn't do more than give us the title, it is up to us to listen.

Monday 20 September 2021

Prioritising the musicians: new boutique, artist-led record label and streaming platform, October House Records launches next month

October House Records
October House Records (OHR), which launches on 1 October 2021, is a new venture by composer and cellist Colin Alexander which will run as both a record label and a paid-for subscription streaming/download platform. It is a boutique online record store run by musicians, whose releases will not be available on any other platform or website

OHR's funding model is intended to prioritise the artists and 85% of royalties will go to artists. Releases will happen four times per year, with coordinated batches of new releases by multiple artists with each of them contributing to each other’s PR efforts by working together with the name 'October House Records'.

OHR will offer listeners the option to stream all releases for a monthly subscription fee whilst also being able to download EP’s and albums for a fee. Downloads will also be available to non-subscribing guests too, as will gift purchases, and a radio channel, playing our entire collection (in a constantly randomised order), will also be available to subscribers. 

The label has an artistic panel whose role form an advisory body which will guide the direction of the label’s output whilst having the opportunity to release their own individual projects and collaborations as and when they wish. Currently the panel is Colin Alexander (coordinator), Max Baillie, Bishi Bhattacharya, David Buckley, Mira Calix, Kit Downes, Shiva Feshareki, inti figgis-vizueta, Antoine Francoise, Jas Kayser, Soosan Lolavar, Zoë Martlew, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Lauri Porra, Jasmin Kent Rodgman, Love Ssega, Shri Sriram, Héloïse Werner and Ayanna Witter-Johnson.

Releases are confirmed for October 2021 and January 2022. October sees releases by Jasmin Kent Rodgman, Zoë Martlew, Colin Alexander, Love Ssega, Max Baillie & Leafcutter John, Héloïse Werner, Max Baillie & Colin Alexander, Kit Downes & Shiva Feshareki, Ongemang, and David Buckley.

Full details from the October House Records website.

In support of Afghan musicians

Recent image from an Afghan music department
Recent image from an Afghan music department

Ulla Benz is a German violinist who teaches at the Berlin University of the Arts, and is also a medical Doctor in Munich working on a voluntary basis for Cultures in Harmony via founder William Harvey who is concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra in Mexico and Emeritus Professor of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music.

The situation in Afghanistan for musicians and artists is tragic, and extremely dangerous. In the past weeks the Taliban have been destroying instruments, and now musicians are also being persecuted, their homes burned and people killed.

A WhatsApp group of over one hundred and sixty Afghan musicians is full of cries for help which Ulla and William see on a daily basis. Some of these musicians have also been victims of previous ISIS bombings. Ulla is personally connected to one young musician - seventeen years old - who’s violin was burnt by the Taliban and then she was seriously injured in the Kabul airport bombing, and is now in hospital. Two of her friends were among the fatalities.

This story in the Hindustani Times is representative; other musicians had their houses searched by the Taliban and have had to flee and spend the night in the open, others have already been killed.

The hoped-for solution is to rescue these musicians from Afghanistan and offer them a safe country to live in. Ulla has a compiled a list of more than three hundred musicians and, currently, this list is available from the foreign ministries of Mexico, Italy, Germany and the USA. We know that not one government can take them all these musicians in, so we want to try to get help from everywhere.

Musicians and politicians from the UK are needed to help support this project to rescue musicians from Afghanistan – can anyone help?

Contact for more information - Ulla Benz

Berkeley Ensemble launches Conway Hall's 2021/22 Sunday Concerts season with Imogen Holst, Lennox Berkeley, John Ireland and Beethoven

Berkeley Ensemble (Photo Louise Mather)
Berkeley Ensemble (Photo Louise Mather)

The Conway Hall's long-running Sunday Concerts series starts its 2021/22 season on 26 September 2021, a welcome return to weekly, in-person concerts at the venue, though all the concerts will be available to watch live-streamed as well. 

The season opener is a pair of concerts from the Berkeley Ensemble with three rare 20th century British works, by Imogen Holst, Lennox Berkeley and John Ireland, followed by Beethoven's youthful Septet, a work whose popularity the composer resented as he felt it overshadowed his later works. The season at Conway Hall continues with the Greenwich Trio, and a chance to hear the Norwegian Engegård Quartet [see my interview with them]. 

17 October sees the final of the Conway Hall's re-launched Clements Prize for Composers when the Piatti Quartet will perform works by seven young composers, Jacob Fitzgerald, Alex Groves, Vivek Haria, Noah Max, Emily Pedersen, Alexander Verster, and Dominic Wills, and a distinguished jury will select a winner. The concert also includes a performance of Joseph Phibbs' String Quartet No. 1.

Other performers during the season include pianist Maria Canyigueral in an all-Bach programme, the Eusebius Quartet, the Fidelio Trio mixing Haydn and Schubert with Robert Saxton, the Coull Quartet, the Galliard Ensemble with pianist Simon Callaghan (who is the series' artistic director), the Alauda Quartet, and violinist Callum Smart and pianist Richard Utley.

Full details from the Conway Hall website.

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